Home      Discussion      Topics      Dictionary      Almanac
Signup       Login
Gaston Bachelard

Gaston Bachelard

Overview
Gaston Bachelard was a French philosopher. He made contributions in the fields of poetics
Poetics
Aristotle's Poetics is the earliest-surviving work of dramatic theory and the first extant philosophical treatise to focus on literary theory...

 and the philosophy of science
Philosophy of science
The philosophy of science is concerned with the assumptions, foundations, methods and implications of science. It is also concerned with the use and merit of science and sometimes overlaps metaphysics and epistemology by exploring whether scientific results are actually a study of truth...

. To the latter he introduced the concepts of epistemological obstacle and epistemological break
Epistemological rupture
The notion of epistemological rupture was introduced by Gaston Bachelard. He proposed that the history of science is replete with "epistemological obstacles"--or unthought/unconscious structures that were immanent within the realm of the sciences, such as principles of division...

(obstacle épistémologique et rupture épistémologique). He rose to some of the most prestigious positions in the Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

 and influenced many subsequent French philosophers, among them Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

, Louis Althusser
Louis Althusser
Louis Pierre Althusser was a French Marxist philosopher. He was born in Algeria and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he eventually became Professor of Philosophy....

, Dominique Lecourt
Dominique Lecourt
Dominique Lecourt is a French philosopher and editor born on 5 February 1944 in Paris. He is known in the anglophone world primarily for his work developing a materialist interpretation of the philosophy of science of Gaston Bachelard....

 and Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. He developed the critical theory known as deconstruction and his work has been labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy...

.

Bachelard was a postmaster in Bar-sur-Aube
Bar-sur-Aube
Bar-sur-Aube is a commune of France in the Aube department, of which it is a sub-prefecture.-Population:The inhabitants of the commune are called Baralbains.-Culture:*Market every Saturday morning in the halls...

, and then studied physics before finally becoming interested in philosophy.
Discussion
Ask a question about 'Gaston Bachelard'
Start a new discussion about 'Gaston Bachelard'
Answer questions from other users
Full Discussion Forum
 
Quotations

To disappear into deep water or to disappear toward a far horizon, to become part of depth of infinity, such is the destiny of man that finds its image in the destiny of water.

Introduction

A man is a man to the extent that he is a superman. A man should be defined by the sum of those tendencies which impel him to surpass the human condition.

Introduction

True poetry is a function of awakening. It awakens us, but it must retain the memory of previous dreams.

Introduction

The reflected world is the conquest of calm

"Clear Waters, Springtime Waters"

If I were asked to name the chief benefit of the house, I should say: the house shelters day-dreaming, the house protects the dreamer, the house allows one to dream in peace.

Ch. 1

The mollusk's motto would be: one must live to build one's house, and not build one's house to live in.

Poetry is one of the destinies of speech.... One would say that the poetic image, in its newness, opens a future to language.

Introduction, sect. 2

Ideas are refined and multiplied in the commerce of minds. In their splendor, images effect a very simple communion of souls.

Introduction, sect. 4

A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream.

Introduction, sect. 6
Encyclopedia
Gaston Bachelard was a French philosopher. He made contributions in the fields of poetics
Poetics
Aristotle's Poetics is the earliest-surviving work of dramatic theory and the first extant philosophical treatise to focus on literary theory...

 and the philosophy of science
Philosophy of science
The philosophy of science is concerned with the assumptions, foundations, methods and implications of science. It is also concerned with the use and merit of science and sometimes overlaps metaphysics and epistemology by exploring whether scientific results are actually a study of truth...

. To the latter he introduced the concepts of epistemological obstacle and epistemological break
Epistemological rupture
The notion of epistemological rupture was introduced by Gaston Bachelard. He proposed that the history of science is replete with "epistemological obstacles"--or unthought/unconscious structures that were immanent within the realm of the sciences, such as principles of division...

(obstacle épistémologique et rupture épistémologique). He rose to some of the most prestigious positions in the Académie française
Académie française
L'Académie française , also called the French Academy, is the pre-eminent French learned body on matters pertaining to the French language. The Académie was officially established in 1635 by Cardinal Richelieu, the chief minister to King Louis XIII. Suppressed in 1793 during the French Revolution,...

 and influenced many subsequent French philosophers, among them Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

, Louis Althusser
Louis Althusser
Louis Pierre Althusser was a French Marxist philosopher. He was born in Algeria and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he eventually became Professor of Philosophy....

, Dominique Lecourt
Dominique Lecourt
Dominique Lecourt is a French philosopher and editor born on 5 February 1944 in Paris. He is known in the anglophone world primarily for his work developing a materialist interpretation of the philosophy of science of Gaston Bachelard....

 and Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida
Jacques Derrida was a French philosopher, born in French Algeria. He developed the critical theory known as deconstruction and his work has been labeled as post-structuralism and associated with postmodern philosophy...

.

Life and work


Bachelard was a postmaster in Bar-sur-Aube
Bar-sur-Aube
Bar-sur-Aube is a commune of France in the Aube department, of which it is a sub-prefecture.-Population:The inhabitants of the commune are called Baralbains.-Culture:*Market every Saturday morning in the halls...

, and then studied physics before finally becoming interested in philosophy. He was a professor at Dijon
Dijon
Dijon is a city in eastern France, the capital of the Côte-d'Or département and of the Burgundy region.Dijon is the historical capital of the region of Burgundy. Population : 151,576 within the city limits; 250,516 for the greater Dijon area....

 from 1930 to 1940 and then became the inaugural chair in history and philosophy of the sciences at the Sorbonne
University of Paris
The University of Paris was a university located in Paris, France and one of the earliest to be established in Europe. It was founded in the mid 12th century, and officially recognized as a university probably between 1160 and 1250...

.

Bachelard's psychology of science


Bachelard's studies of the history and philosophy of science in such works as Le nouvel esprit scientifique ("The New Scientific Mind", 1934) and La formation de l'esprit scientifique ("The Formation of the Scientific Mind", 1938) were based on his vision of historical epistemology as a kind of psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis
Psychoanalysis is a psychological theory developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud. Psychoanalysis has expanded, been criticized and developed in different directions, mostly by some of Freud's former students, such as Alfred Adler and Carl Gustav...

 of the scientific mind, or rather of the psychological factors in the development of sciences. For instance, he takes the example of Heisenberg's first chapters of the Physical principles of the quantum theory, where he alternatively defends a corpuscular theory and an undulatory theory, correcting each by the others (The New Scientific Mind, IV). This, claims Bachelard, is an excellent example of the importance of psychological training in sciences, as one should correct spontaneous errors by taking the opposite stance.

In the English-speaking world, the connection Bachelard made between psychology
Psychology
Psychology is the study of the mind and behavior. Its immediate goal is to understand individuals and groups by both establishing general principles and researching specific cases. For many, the ultimate goal of psychology is to benefit society...

 and the history of science has been little understood. Bachelard demonstrated how the progress of science could be blocked by certain types of mental patterns, creating the concept of obstacle épistémologique ("epistemological obstacle"). One task of epistemology is to make clear the mental patterns at use in science, in order to help scientists overcome the obstacles to knowledge.

Epistemological breaks: the discontinuity of scientific progress


Bachelard was critical of Auguste Comte
Auguste Comte
Isidore Auguste Marie François Xavier Comte , better known as Auguste Comte , was a French philosopher, a founder of the discipline of sociology and of the doctrine of positivism...

's positivism
Positivism
Positivism is a a view of scientific methods and a philosophical approach, theory, or system based on the view that, in the social as well as natural sciences, sensory experiences and their logical and mathematical treatment are together the exclusive source of all worthwhile information....

, which considered science as a continual progress
Progress (history)
In historiography and the philosophy of history, progress is the idea that the world can become increasingly better in terms of science, technology, modernization, liberty, democracy, quality of life, etc...

. To Bachelard, scientific developments such as Einstein's theory of relativity
Theory of relativity
The theory of relativity, or simply relativity, encompasses two theories of Albert Einstein: special relativity and general relativity. However, the word relativity is sometimes used in reference to Galilean invariance....

 demonstrated the discontinuous nature of the history of sciences. Thus models that framed scientific development as continuous, such as that of Comte and Émile Meyerson
Émile Meyerson
Emile Meyerson was Polish-born French epistemologist, chemist, and philosopher of science. Emile Meyerson was born in Lublin, Poland. He died in his sleep of a heart attack at the age of 74....

, seemed simplistic and erroneous to Bachelard.
Through his concept of "epistemological break", Bachelard underlined the discontinuity at work in the history of sciences. However the term "epistemological break" itself is almost never used by Bachelard, but became famous through Louis Althusser
Louis Althusser
Louis Pierre Althusser was a French Marxist philosopher. He was born in Algeria and studied at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where he eventually became Professor of Philosophy....

.

He showed that new theories integrated old theories in new paradigms, changing the sense of concepts (for instance, the concept of mass, used by Newton
Isaac Newton
Sir Isaac Newton PRS was an English physicist, mathematician, astronomer, natural philosopher, alchemist, and theologian, who has been "considered by many to be the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived."...

 and Einstein in two different senses). Thus, non-Euclidean geometry
Non-Euclidean geometry
Non-Euclidean geometry is the term used to refer to two specific geometries which are, loosely speaking, obtained by negating the Euclidean parallel postulate, namely hyperbolic and elliptic geometry. This is one term which, for historical reasons, has a meaning in mathematics which is much...

 did not contradict Euclidean geometry
Euclidean geometry
Euclidean geometry is a mathematical system attributed to the Alexandrian Greek mathematician Euclid, which he described in his textbook on geometry: the Elements. Euclid's method consists in assuming a small set of intuitively appealing axioms, and deducing many other propositions from these...

, but integrated it into a larger framework.

The role of epistemology in science


Bachelard was a rationalist in the Cartesian sense, although he recommended his "non-Cartesian epistemology" as a replacement for the more standard Cartesian epistemology. He compared "scientific knowledge" to ordinary knowledge in the way we deal with it, and saw error as only illusion: "Scientifically, we think the truth as the historical rectification of a long error, and we think experience as the rectification of the common and original illusion (illusion première).

The role of epistemology is to show the history of the (scientific) production of concepts; those concepts are not just theoretical propositions: they are simultaneously abstract and concrete, pervading technical and pedagogical activity. This explains why "The electric bulb is an object of scientific thought… an example of an abstract-concrete object." To understand the way it works, one has to pass by the detour of scientific knowledge. Epistemology is thus not a general philosophy that aims at justifying scientific reasoning. Instead it produces regional histories of science
History of science
The history of science is the study of the historical development of human understandings of the natural world and the domains of the social sciences....

.

Shifts in scientific perspective


Bachelard saw how seemingly irrational theories often simply represented a drastic shift in scientific perspective. For instance, he claimed that the theory of probabilities was just another way of complexifying reality through a deepening of rationality (even though critics like Lord Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin
William Thomson, 1st Baron Kelvin OM, GCVO, PC, PRS, PRSE, was a mathematical physicist and engineer. At the University of Glasgow he did important work in the mathematical analysis of electricity and formulation of the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and did much to unify the emerging...

 found this theory irrational).

One of his main theses in The New Scientific Mind was that modern sciences had replaced the classical ontology
Ontology
Ontology is the philosophical study of the nature of being, existence or reality as such, as well as the basic categories of being and their relations...

 of the substance
Substance theory
Substance theory, or substance attribute theory, is an ontological theory about objecthood, positing that a substance is distinct from its properties. A thing-in-itself is a property-bearer that must be distinguished from the properties it bears....

 with an "ontology of relations", which could be assimilated to something as a process philosophy
Process philosophy
Process philosophy identifies metaphysical reality with change and dynamism. Since the time of Plato and Aristotle, philosophers have posited true reality as "timeless", based on permanent substances, whilst processes are denied or subordinated to timeless substances...

. For instance, the physical concepts of matter and rays correspond, according to him, to the metaphysical concepts of the thing and of movement; but whereas classical philosophy considered both as distinct, and the thing as ontologically real, modern science can not distinguish matter from rays: it is thus impossible to examine an immobile thing, which was precisely the conditions of knowledge according to classical theory of knowledge (Becoming being impossible to be known, in accordance with Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 and Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

's theories of knowledge).

In non-Cartesian epistemology, there is no "simple substance" as in Cartesianism
Cartesianism
Cartesian means of or relating to the French philosopher and mathematician René Descartes—from his name—Rene Des-Cartes. It may refer to:*Cartesian anxiety*Cartesian circle*Cartesian dualism...

, but only complex objects built by theories and experiments, and continuously improved (VI, 4). Intuition
Intuition (philosophy)
Intuition is a priori knowledge or experiential belief characterized by its immediacy. Beyond this, the nature of intuition is debated. Roughly speaking, there are two main views. They are:...

 is therefore not primitive, but built (VI, 2). These themes led Bachelard to support a sort of constructivist epistemology
Constructivist epistemology
Constructivist epistemology is an epistemological perspective in philosophy about the nature of scientific knowledge. Constructivists maintain that scientific knowledge is constructed by scientists and not discovered from the world. Constructivists claim that the concepts of science are mental...

.

Other academic interests


In addition to epistemology, Bachelard's work deals with many other topics, including poetry, dreams, psychoanalysis, and the imagination. The Psychoanalysis of Fire (1938) and The Poetics of Space
The Poetics of Space
The Poetics of Space is a book by Gaston Bachelard published in 1958. Bachelard applies the method of phenomenology to architecture basing his analysis not on purported origins but on lived experience of architecture. He is thus led to consider spatial types such as the attic, the cellar, drawers...

(1958) are among the most popular of his works. Sartre cites the former and Bachelard's "Water and Dreams" in his Being and Nothingness.

Legacy


Thomas S. Kuhn
Thomas Kuhn
Thomas Samuel Kuhn was an American historian and philosopher of science whose controversial 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was deeply influential in both academic and popular circles, introducing the term "paradigm shift," which has since become an English-language staple.Kuhn...

 used Bachelard's notion of "epistemological rupture" (coupure or rupture épistémologique) as re-interpreted by Alexandre Koyré
Alexandre Koyré
Alexandre Koyré , sometimes anglicised as Alexander Koiré, was a French philosopher of Russian origin who wrote on the history and philosophy of science.-Life:...

 to develop his theory of paradigm shift
Paradigm shift
A Paradigm shift is, according to Thomas Kuhn in his influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions , a change in the basic assumptions, or paradigms, within the ruling theory of science...

s; Althusser, Georges Canguilhem
Georges Canguilhem
Georges Canguilhem was a French philosopher and physician who specialized in epistemology and the philosophy of science .-Life and work:...

 (his successor at the Sorbonne) and Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault
Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

 also drew upon Bachelard's epistemology.

Bachelard's daughter, Suzanne, translated Husserl's Formale und transzendentale Logik into French.

Quotations

  • List of quotes
  • Et, quoi qu’on en dise, dans la vie scientifique, les problèmes ne se posent pas d’eux-mêmes. C’est précisément ce sens du problème qui donne la marque du véritable esprit scientifique. Pour un esprit scientifique, toute connaissance est une réponse à une question. S’il n’y a pas eu de question, il ne peut y avoir de connaissance scientifique. Rien ne va de soi. Rien n’est donné. Tout est construit, Gaston Bachelard (La formation de l'esprit scientifique, 1934)
"And, irrespective of what one might assume, in the life of a science, problems do not arise by themselves. It is precisely this that marks out a problem as being of the true scientific spirit: all knowledge is in response to a question. If there were no question, there would be no scientific knowledge. Nothing proceeds from itself. Nothing is given. All is constructed."
  • It is the pen which dreams. (The Poetics of Reverie, 1960)
  • It is not a question of observation which propels mankind forward as if toward a looking glass of great magnitude; it is an instance of aggrandized reflection that insinuates the human psyche to the inhuman.
  • Michel Foucault
    Michel Foucault
    Michel Foucault , born Paul-Michel Foucault , was a French philosopher, social theorist and historian of ideas...

    : Bachelard "plays against his own culture with his own culture".

English translations


Though most of Bachelard's major works on poetics have been translated into English, only a few of his works on the philosophy of science have been translated.
  • The Philosophy of No: A Philosophy of the New Scientific Mind. Orion Press, New York, 1968. Translation by G.C. Waterston. (La philosophie du non)
  • The New Scientific Spirit. Beacon Press, Boston, 1985. Translation by A. Goldhammer. (Le nouvel esprit scientifique)
  • Dialectic of Duration. Clinamen, Bolton, 2000. Translation by M. McAllester Jones. (La dialectique de la durée.)
  • The Formation of the Scientific Mind. Clinamen, Bolton, 2002. Translation by M. McAllester Jones. (La formation de l'esprit scientifique)

-->

Sources

  • Dominique Lecourt
    Dominique Lecourt
    Dominique Lecourt is a French philosopher and editor born on 5 February 1944 in Paris. He is known in the anglophone world primarily for his work developing a materialist interpretation of the philosophy of science of Gaston Bachelard....

    , L’épistémologie historique de Gaston Bachelard (1969). Vrin, Paris, 11e édition augmentée, 2002.
  • Dominique Lecourt, Pour une critique de l’épistémologie : Bachelard, Canguilhem, Foucault (1972, réed. Maspero, Paris, 5e éd. 1980).
  • D. Lecourt, Marxism and Epistemology: Bachelard, Canguilhem and Foucault, New Left Books, London (1975),
  • Dominique Lecourt, Bachelard, Epistémologie, textes choisis (1971). PUF, Paris, 6e édition, 1996.
  • Dominique Lecourt, Bachelard, le jour et la nuit, Grasset, Paris, 1974.
  • Didier Gil, Bachelard et la culture scientifique, Presses Univesitaires de France, 1993.
  • Didier Gil, Autour de Bachelard - esprit et matière, un siècle français de philosophie des sciences (1867-1962), Les Belles Lettres, Encre marine, 2010.
  • Hommage à Gaston Bachelard. Etudes de philosophie et d'histoire des sciences, by C. Bouligand, G. Canguilhem
    Georges Canguilhem
    Georges Canguilhem was a French philosopher and physician who specialized in epistemology and the philosophy of science .-Life and work:...

    , P. Costabel, F. Courtes, François Dagognet, M. Daumas, Gilles Granger, J. Hyppolite
    Jean Hyppolite
    Jean Hyppolite was a French philosopher known for championing the work of Hegel, and other German philosophers, and educating some of France's most prominent post-war thinkers....

    , R. Martin, R. Poirier and R. Taton
  • Actes du Colloque sur Bachelard de 1970 (Colloque de Cerisy)
  • L'imaginaire du concept: Bachelard, une epistemologie de la pureté by Francoise Gaillard
    Francoise Gaillard
    Françoise Gaillard is a French literary critic and Professor at University of Paris VII specializing in fin-de-siècle French literature, aesthetics and art.-Background :...

    , MLN, Vol. 101, No. 4, French Issue (Sep., 1986), pp. 895–911
  • Gaston Bachelard ou le rêve des origines, by Jean-Luc Pouliquen, L'Harmattan, Paris, 2007.

See also


  • Georges Canguilhem
    Georges Canguilhem
    Georges Canguilhem was a French philosopher and physician who specialized in epistemology and the philosophy of science .-Life and work:...

  • Constructivist epistemology
    Constructivist epistemology
    Constructivist epistemology is an epistemological perspective in philosophy about the nature of scientific knowledge. Constructivists maintain that scientific knowledge is constructed by scientists and not discovered from the world. Constructivists claim that the concepts of science are mental...

  • Epistemological psychology
    Epistemological psychology
    Epistemological psychology is a multi-sided perspective in psychology uncovering simple primary hidden inklings in ideas, actions, feelings and all social interactions....


Further reading

  • Cristina Chimisso. (2001). Gaston Bachelard: Critic of Science and the Imagination, Routledge.

External links