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Bachelard Studies

Études Bachelardiennes

Bachelardian Studies



Gaston Bachelard and today's philosophy of science


Edited by Charles ALUNNI







Gaston Bachelard's "conceptual personality" is inscribed in history and time - he is not a "dry and frozen" monolith - so it is useful to reconstruct the exponential stages that inscribe him in this history.


We could speak of three waves that punctuated and punctuated Bachelardian studies between the early 1960s and the first quarter of the 21st century.


A - First wave: We can point to this first phase as the period in which the problem of Bachelardian dualism essentially emerges. What were the interpretations that rejected the "dualist vulgate" and then worked in favour of a strictly dual revaluation of Bachelard? These were the inaugural studies of Jean Hyppolite, Georges Canguilhem and François Dagognet, which at the time were overshadowed by the success of an Althusserian and Marxist-inspired reading of Bachelardian epistemology: a wave that rose up and dominated in France from the 1960s to the 1980s.


In 1954, Jean Hyppolite, in a first text devoted to the work of the man he defined as his master and friend, and whose enigmatic dimension he would emphasise ten years later, invited us to consider Gaston Bachelard's philosophy, following a formula that would become proverbial, namely: "a romanticism of the intelligence, a theory of the creative imagination". In this regard, Hyppolite points out:


It is not uninteresting to observe the development of these two apparently very different paths. At times they seem to arise from a common centre where they intersect, at other times they seem to be radically opposed, serving mutually as a dialectical antithesis; one serves to purify the other. It is clear, however, without being able to state it explicitly yet, that they belong to the same philosophy, to a speculative and aesthetic existentialism[1].


Hyppolite, resumed this theme in 1963, nine years later, in the form of a self-critique:


The unity of thought of the scientist and the poet is not a scholastic unity, which is discovered in a general idea, a false abstraction. There is definitely a centre, a point of reconciliation, a living nucleus in which everything converges. [2]


It is in a similar vein that Georges Canguilhem intervenes in the debate on the occasion of the collective volume Hommage à Gaston Bachelard, bringing together various studies collected by colleagues, pupils, disciples and friends. Canguilhem introduces his speech by going straight to the point, underlining a considerable difficulty:


"if it is true that it is the 'same man' who actually wrote about science and poetry, and if it is possible, after a careful reading of the work and thorough reflection, to identify a 'same approach' in Bachelard's different works, this does not necessarily appear to be the case in the first approximation".


With François Dagognet, we note that in his first significant work, he addresses the problem of the duality of Bakelardism through his essay: "The Problem of Unity":


We speak out against splitting, against this excessive dissociation. We will develop the thesis not so much of a contrast between the two regions of his Universe as of a mutual contamination of one with the other. The two edges, which Bachelard so much disjoined, join, unbeknownst to him, from below[3].


It is interesting that in this same text, Dagognet insists on the almost epistemological dimension of Bachelard's research on images: Bachelard actually elaborates what he pretends to reject: "And what he did not want, he has, in spite of everything, elaborated, a neo-science of Literature". [4]


B - Second wave

The second wave began in the 1970s. Setting aside the important volume - to which we will return - published in 1970 under the title Bachelard. Colloque de Cerisy, this second wave corresponds to the sequences of a Marxist reading of Bachelard, a sort of "inaugural closure" or "entrance from the bottom" of the Master's work. This was a very stimulating and at the same time deeply disappointing, unsatisfying moment. It was the time when Dominique Lecourt was teaching at the Sorbonne and Althusser and Derrida at the École normale.

The orientation given to Bachelardism, by Louis Althusser and his acolytes, is essentially directed towards the sense of a "dialectical materialism" thought in exclusively epistemological terms. This has largely conditioned the reception and approach to Bachelard's work in France, with the risk of conveying a deformed and simplified image of Bachelardism, an image that no longer conforms to what we find when reading the texts that make up the work in its entirety, with its speculative audacity and its sometimes enigmatic visions. A work that we must strive to analyse and explain and not disqualify a priori on the basis of a petition of principle.

We can therefore speak of this period as that of a "Bachelardian vulgata" as a simple approximation to Bachelardism, an immediate and naive approximation that was waiting to be rectified by a second approximation. The watchword was therefore "epistemological rupture", a formula that Bachelard never used, but which became the almost exclusive key to penetrating the interior of his work.

We can cite the works of Michel Vadé[5] and Dominique Lecourt[6], who applied to their reflection on Bachelard's work an extrinsic structure of pre-understanding, too distant from the questions, themes and concepts that animated it, both from the point of view of organisation and internal developments. Both put forward the problem of interpreting Bachelard through the prism of Marxist inheritance and its French reception, placing themselves in the theoretical space opened up by Althusser's reading of dialectical materialism. Georges Canguilhem, in the Preface to Dominique Lecourt's book L'épistémologie historique de Gaston Bachelard published in 1969, had caught this distortion by inviting readers to become aware that Bachelard "mobilise, pour son étude, certains concepts épistémologiques dont le lieu d'importation n'est pas dissimulé". [7]

It cannot be denied that in the framework of a reconstruction of official Bachelardism in France, it is clearly necessary to recall the work of Dominique Lecourt, who constitutes in this period the very paradigm of the French reception of Bachelard, constituting an essential axis of it. Since his first publications, Lecourt has been working on the valorisation of Bachelard's heritage, in particular through the invention of the neologism "historical epistemology", proposed in 1969 to qualify Bachelard's philosophy of science.

Finally, it is to him that we owe this insistence on the enigmatic duplicity of the work and the character inscribed in the title of his own work, Bachelard ou le jour et la nuit. [8]

In conclusion, and in short, we can say that in this second historical phase, the vision of Bachelard's work is falsified, denatured, deformed and incomplete, not to say mutilated, despite this wave of renewal.


C - Third wave. From the 1980s to today.

This much more recent and also much more complex wave is the contemporary one. The importance of certain specialists such as Jean-Jacques Wunenburger, Daniel Parrochia, Giuseppe Sertoli, Gaspare Polizzi, Carlo Vinti, Maria Rita Abramo, Francesca Bonicalzi or Mario Castellana must be stressed, and among the new generations, Fabrizio Palombi, Gerardo Ienna, Aurosa Alison, Paola Donatiello, Francesco Garofalo, Michel-Élie Martin, Julien Lamy and Vincent Bontems.




We started from a base represented by the first two waves, conceived as a progression in the studies devoted to the work of Gaston Bachelard, preserving the spirit of an alleged enigmatic duality.

It seems necessary, therefore, not only to resume the "internal" reading of the texts, often more difficult than it may seem, but to extend the analysis to the way Bachelard approaches the most important philosophers-scientists of his time, who shared with him what we call "surrationalism". (Edmund Husserl will speak in 1935 of " ein Art Überrationalismus "), a fundamental category elaborated by Bachelard in 1936. [9]


Another way of formulating this new horizon, that of a rectified Gaston Bachelard, would be to introduce Bachelard's spectres. [10]

This general framework, which is that of "Surrationalism", is characterised by the dialectics of reason, which call into question axiomatics and reform themselves from the experiences that refute them. The spectres, present everywhere, imply at the same time scientific and epistemological oncepts that distribute the "philosophies" of the new scientific spirit and as "ghosts" of epistemological acts of the scientists who elaborate their epistemological description.


In this regard, what are the essential traits of the "Bachelard figure" and of his "conceptual character", which should be rectified (or added to) with respect to the various profiles elaborated earlier in these three waves (and which would make him our contemporary)?

It is essentially the mathematical "trait" of the great specialist in mathematical physics. This treatise is the one that emerges from his doctoral thesis, L'Essai sur la connaissance approchée, in 1927, and his complementary thesis Étude sur l'évolution d'un problème de physique. La propagation thermique dans les solides. It would be appropriate to add, forming a constitutive triptych, La Valeur inductive de la relativité published in 1929.

It can be shown that the 'mathematising figure' of a Bachelard as a philosopher of science, extremely sensitive to contemporary algebraic developments, to non-Euclidean geometries, to Weylian gauge theory, but also to logical and axiomatic questions, is already fully present and dominant in these three inaugural[11] texts.



While a part of Bachelard's studies devoted in particular to Einstein's theory of general relativity or to 'modern'[12] mathematics is already at an advanced stage, there is still the absolutely fundamental analysis of quantum mechanics to be analysed from other angles.

Similarly, we must continue to question the interactions with the 'supra-rationalist school' of physicists, mathematicians and philosophers of the time, as well as with the extensions of his work to our contemporaries.


The journal encourages both approaches that focus on Bachelard's work and approaches oriented towards contemporary scientific problems addressed from a Bachelardian perspective.


Charles ALUNNI


[1] Jean Hyppolite, Gaston Bachelard ou le romantisme de l'intelligence , " Revue philosophique " (gennaio - marzo 1954), in Figures de la pensée philosophique. Écrits de Jean Hyppolite (1931-1968), tomo II, Paris, PUF, 1971, p. 644-645.


[2] Jean Hyppolite, L'imaginaire et la science chez Bachelard, Conferenza tenuta a Bruxelles il 7 Febbraio 1963, in Figures de la pensée philosophique, op. cit. p. 677.


[3] François Dagognet, Le problème de l'unité, " Revue Internationale de Philosophie ", 1984, vol. 38, N° 150 (3), Bachelard. Inédit, Correspondence with Buber (1984), pp. 245-256 (cit. p. 248).


[4] Ibid, p. 248.

[5] Michel Vadée, Bachelard ou le nouvel idéalisme épistémologique, Paris, Éditions sociales, 1975.


[6] Dominique Lecourt, Bachelard ou le jour et la nuit, Paris, Grasset, 1974.

[7] Dominique Lecourt, L'Épistémologie historique de Gaston Bachelard [1969], Paris, Vrin, 19785, Prefazione di Georges Canguilhem, p. 7.


[8] Dominique Lecourt, Bachelard ou le jour et la nuit, Paris, Grasset, "Essais et documents", 1974.

[9]. Gaston Bachelard, Le surrationalisme, "Inquisitions", "Organe du Groupe d'Études pour la Phénoménologie Humaine", n° 1, Giugno 1936, eds. Louis Aragon, Roger Caillois, Jules-M. Monnerot, Tristan Tzara, Paris, Éditions sociales. Nuova edizione, Inquisitions. Du Surréalisme au Front Populaire, Paris, Éditions du Cnrs, 1990. 


[10]. V. Charles Alunni, Spectres de Bachelard. Gaston Bachelard and the surrational school

iste, Paris, Hermann, coll "Pensée des sciences", 2019.


[11] See on this point Roger Martin's central and profoundly ambiguous role in the misinterpretation he gives of Bachelard's relationship with the world of mathematics in his lecture Bachelard et les Mathématiques de 1970, in Bachelard. Colloque de Cerisy, Paris, Union Générale d'Éditions, coll. "10/18", 1974, ed. Henri Gouhier, René Poirier. Charles Alunni, " Bachelard face aux mathématiques ", in Spectres de Bachelard, op. cit., ch. IV, p. 113-138.


[12] We refer to the nomenclature established by Fernando Zalamea in his Philosophie synthétique de la mathématique contemporaine, Paris, Hermann, coll. " Pensée des sciences ", 2018 ; and in particular on the fundamental distinction between " modern mathematics " and " contemporary mathematics " (and between " elementary mathematics " and " advanced mathematics "), Chap. 1 and Chap. 2, p. 19-78.


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