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Maine de Biran, Marie Francois Pierre Gouthier

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one of the most eminent French philosophers of our age, "the modern Malebranche," as he has been aptly termed, was born near Bergerac Nov. 29, 1766. Upon the completion of his collegiate studies he entered the army, and was engaged in the stormy days of the first French Revolution. Later he devoted himself to politics, and in 1795 became a member of the department of Dordogne, from which, in 1797, he was deputed to the Council of the Five Hundred. From 1809 to 1814 he was a member of the legislative body; after the Restoration of 1816 he became a moderate royalist, and represented the people as such. All this time he was deeply engaged also in philosophical studies. In 1800 the National Institute offered a prize for the best essay "On the Influence of Habit upon the Faculty of Thinking;" he wrote for it, and secured the prize. In 1803 he bore off another prize for an essay "On the Decomposition of the Faculty of Thinking;" and in 1807 he was awarded a third prize, this time from the Berlin Academy of Science, for a memoir on the question "Whether there is in man an inordinate internal intuition. and in what it differs from the perception of the senses." Further honors he gained shortly after from Copenhagen, for an exposition of "The Mutual Relation of Man's Moral and Physical Constitution." In these different contributions to philosophical literature, Maine de Biran had gradually brought a new philosophy to maturity. To give his system to the public in a more completed form, he published a short work entitled L'Examen de la Philosophie de Laromiguiere; and finally crowned his philosophical labors by his magnificent article on Leibnitz, in the Biographie Universelle; and died, "too soon for the interest of philosophy," in 1824, leaving behind, however, many traces of extraordinary philosophical genius, not only in France, but in various parts of Europe besides.

His Philosophy. The principal point in M. Maine de Biran's philosophy was the distinguishing of the will, as a faculty, from the emotions. He argues that "the soul is a cause, a force, an active principle," and that "the phenomena of consciousness can never be explained until we clearly apprehend the voluntary nature of its thoughts and impulses." "In order," says Morell, "to unfold the fact and expound the nature of man's natural activity (the hinge upon which the entire system turns), M. Maine de Biran analyzes the whole of what is contained or implied in a given action; for example, a movement of the arm. When I move my arm there are three things to be observed:

1. The consciousness of a voluntary effort;

2. The consciousness of a movement produced; and,

3. A fixed relation between the effort, on the one hand, and the movement, on the other.

Now the source or cause of the whole movement is the will and this term will we now use as virtually synonymous with self. Whether we say, I moved my arm, or my will moved it, the sentimentis exactly identical. Hence the notions of cause, of will, of self we find to be fundamentally the same; and several truths are by this means brought to light of great importance in metaphysical science (Preface to the Nouvelles Considerations [a posthumous work of Maine de Biran], p. 10). First, it becomes evident that we possess a natural activity, the seat of which is in the will, so that whether we regard man as a thinking or an acting being, yet it is the will which alike presides over and regulates the flow of our thoughts or the course of our actions. Secondly, we infer that the will is the foundation of personality; that my will is virtually myself. And, thirdly, we infer that to will is to cause, and that from the inward consciousness of volition, viewed in connection with the effect produced, we gain our first notion of causality. These three points, as Cousin has shown us, embrace in a small compass the whole philosophy of Maine de Biran. He first seizes, with admirable sagacity, the principle of all human activity as resident in the power of the will, exemplifying it even in the case of those muscular movements which may appear to the unreflecting to be simply the result of nervous excitement. Having established the principle of activity, as residing in the will, he proceeds to identify the will with our very personality itself, showing that the soul is in its nature a force, the very essence of which is not to be acted upon, but to act. Finally, he proves that we gain our first notion of causality from the consciousness of our own personal effort, and that having once observed the conjunction of power exerted and effect produced in this particular case, we transfer the notion of cause thus originated into the objective world, and conclude by analogy the necessity of a sufficient power existing for every given effect" (Hist. of Mod. Philippians p. 639, 640; compare the memoire De la Decomposition de la Pensee; preferable even, Nouvelles Considerations, part i, sec. 1, and part 2, sec. 1 and 3; also the Examen des Leyons de Philosophie, sec. 8 and 9). "In the whole of the process by which our author had gradually advanced from the ideology of Cabanis to the absolute dynamical spiritualism of Leibnitz, he had relied simply upon his own power of reflection. Disciple of none, he had philosophized simply within the region of his own consciousness; so that whatever merit some may deny him, there are none, assuredly, who can reject the claim to that of complete originality" (Morell, p. 638-9). "Of all the masters of France," says Cousin, "Maine de Biran, if not the greatest, is unquestionably the most original. M. Laromiguiere only continued the philosophy of Condillac, modifying it in a few important points. M. Royer-Collard came from the Scottish philosophy, which, with the vigor and natural power of his reason, he would have infallibly surpassed, had he completely followed out the labors which form only the least solid part of his glory. As for,myself, I come at the same time from the Scottish and German school. M. Maine de Biran alone comes from himself, and from his own meditations" (Preface to the Fragmens Philosophiques). See, besides the authorities already quoted, Ernest Naville, Alaine de Biran, sa vie et ses Pensees (1857); Damiron, Essai sur l'histoire de la Philosophie en France au dix-neuvieme Siecle; Brit. Qu. Rev. 1866 (Oct.); Hoefer, Nouv. Biog. GCnerale, vol. 32, s.v.; The Academy (Lond.), Sept. 15, 1872 (. (H. W.)


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Maine de Biran, Marie Francois Pierre Gouthier'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/m/maine-de-biran-marie-francois-pierre-gouthier.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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