Louis Rougier, the French philosopher, was a pupil of Edmond Goblot. Rougier taught philosophy at the universities of Besançon and Caen. In 1935 he organized and presided over the Paris International Congress of Scientific Philosophy, where the leading spokesmen for logical empiricism, at the time little known in France, presented their views in a body.
From the start, Rougier's thought had been marked by the contemporary upheavals in the sciences of physics, mathematics, and logic. To these developments he devoted several of his early books, including La philosophie géométrique d'Henri Poincaré (Paris, 1920), La structure des théories déductives (Paris, 1921), La matiére et l'energie selon la théorie de la relativité et la théorie des quanta (Paris, 1921), and En Marge de Curie, de Carnot et d'Einstein (Paris, 1922).
In his view, the upsets in the sciences reinforced the closely pressed critique which he had directed in his doctoral thesis, Les paralogismes du rationalisme (Paris, 1920), against the theory academic philosophers call "rationalism."
This is an a priori rationalism, quite different from scientific and experimental rationalism. It asserts the existence of a universal, immutable reason and of eternal, necessary truths, with all the theological, ontological, and epistemological implications that such a thesis requires.
According to Rougier, the body of notions and principles that constitute "reason" in the classic sense is simply the characteristic of a certain mental structure, the ontological or metaphysical temperament, which is also the subject of his detailed study La scolastique et le thomisme (Paris, 1925).
Besides the temperament dominated by "reason," history discloses other temperaments—animistic, symbolic, scientific—having command of other types of explanation. The human mind possesses an infinite plasticity; it is able to take delight in quite varied forms of intelligibility, without any internal necessity having compelled it to evolve in just the direction that it has.
If the laws of logic are necessary truths, it is only because they are tautologies in the sense of Ludwig Wittgenstein; that is, they are devoid of any information about the universe and hence stripped of any ontological import. Even this logical necessity, as is shown by the existence of a plurality of logics, is relative to a given system of axioms and rules.
This rejection of all a priori synthesis, this radical separation between logico-mathematical statements and empirical statements, and the condemnation it entails of all metaphysics as victim of the imperfections of our natural languages (La métaphysique et le langage, Paris, 1960), closely ally Rougier's philosophy to that of logical empiricism.
His long Traité de la connaissance (Paris, 1955) offers analyses illustrated with abundant examples from the past and contemporary history of the sciences; in style and ideas it is probably closer than any other French book to the majority of central European and American works on epistemology.
Nevertheless, certain features testify to his originality in comparison with the logical empiricism of the Vienna circle. Rougier rejects the physicalist reduction and upholds a plurality of languages. Nor does he agree that all basically unsolvable problems must by their nature alone be regarded as devoid of meaning; besides, meaninglessness is a notion relative to the language chosen.
Further, several of the ideas he developed in works other than the Traité, for example his thesis of the diversity of mental structures and the plasticity of the intellect, do not strictly belong to the common stock of the school of logical empiricism, but have been added to it.
Although epistemology and the critique of knowledge are at the center of Rougier's philosophy, he wrote in two other fields. One is the history of scientific, philosophical, and religious ideas, to which he devoted Celse ou le conflit de la civilisation antique et du christianisme primitif (Paris, 1926) and La religion astrale des Pythagoriciens (Paris, 1959).
|critique of knowledge|
The other is contemporary political problems; he dealt critically with the democratic and egalitarian ideology of the "men of 1789" and their successors in such works as Les mystiques politiques et leurs incidences internationales (Paris, 1935), Les mystiques économiques (Paris, 1949), and L'erreur de la démocratie française (Paris, 1963).
Rougier systematically omitted these two aspects of his thought from the account he himself gave of his "philosophical itinerary" (La revue libérale, no. 33, : 6–79), an account which can well serve as an overall study of his theory of knowledge.