The Orientation of Reason: Léon Brunschvicg on Philosophy, Mathematics, and the Sciences

October 14, 2023
Department of Philosophy, University of Bristol

Merchant Venturers Building Room 1.11
University of Bristol
Bristol BS8 1QU
United Kingdom


  • British Society for the History of Philosophy
  • Brigstow Institute Ideas Exchange Project


Open University (UK)
Kingston University
Ghent University
University of Queensland
Maastricht University
University Paris Nanterre (PhD)
Bristol University


Open University (UK)
Kingston University
University Paris Nanterre (PhD)

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The Orientation of Reason: Léon Brunschvicg on Philosophy, Mathematics and the Sciences

Léon Brunschvicg (1869-1944) was, alongside Henri Bergson, the central figure in Francophone philosophy at the turn of the 20th century. His work represents a shift from the Spiritualist and Positivist philosophical heritage of the 19th century to a historicised neo-Kantianism that laid the foundations for both historical epistemology and other tendencies within the distinctive brand of French philosophy of science. He developed his philosophy through the reinterpretation of early modern thinkers (especially Descartes, Pascal, Spinoza, and Kant), and philosophical reflection on the scientific revolutions that took place between the end of the 19th and the early 20th century. The impact of Brunschvicg’s legacy cannot be overstated, as an entire generation of thinkers had to define themselves in relation to his work. He supervised the doctoral theses of J. Cavaillès, A. Lautman, G. Bachelard, and R. Aron, whereas M. Merleau-Ponty, J. -P. Sartre, and S. De Beauvoir, who were also his students, partly developed their own philosophies in opposition to his “intellectualism”. Institutionally, he was a crucial figure (along with X. Léon, E. Halévy, A. Lalande, L. Couturat, and others), in the foundation of both the Revue de métaphysique et de morale and the Sociéte française de philosophie, central organs for the formation of French philosophy in the 20th century. Further, his project is a methodological precursor to contemporary work in France in the philosophy of science—and in particular in the philosophy of mathematics.

This workshop gathers researchers to promote the historical and philosophical research on Brunschvicg’s work, as well as broader investigation into this period of French philosophy and into the French tradition in the philosophy and history of the sciences.

This workshop is possible due to the funding of the British Society for the History of Philosophy and the Brigstow Institute Ideas Exchange project.

Provisional Schedule:

09:30 Massimiliano Simons
The Argument against Introspective Epistemology: Léon Brunschvicg and Auguste Comte

10:30 Knox Peden
Why Brunschvicg's neo-Kantian commitments distort his understanding of Pascal

11:30 Cristina Chimisso
Liberté, laïcité, inégalité: Brunschvicg’s Eurocentric ‘story’ of the mind


13:30 Matt Hare
Progress Between Singular Essences: Rationalist Nominalism in Brunshcvicg and Cavaillès

14:30 Pietro Terzi
Brunschvicg on Einstein's Relativity: Interpretation and Context


16:00 Marjolein Holvoet
From Brunschvicg to Lautman: a logical development of Ideas?

17:00 Tzuchien Tho
Tho Brunschvicg on infinity in the 17th Century

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