1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gérando, Marie Joseph de
GÉRANDO, MARIE JOSEPH DE (1772–1842), French philosopher, was born at Lyons on the 29th of February 1772. When the city was besieged in 1793 by the armies of the Republic, de Gérando took up arms, was made prisoner and with difficulty escaped with his life. He took refuge in Switzerland, whence he afterwards fled to Naples. In 1796 the establishment of the Directory allowed him to return to France. At the age of twenty-five he enlisted as a private in a cavalry regiment. About this time the Institute proposed as a subject for an essay this question,—“What is the influence of symbols on the faculty of thought?” De Gérando gained the prize, and heard of his success after the battle of Zürich, in which he had distinguished himself. This literary triumph was the first step in his upward career. In 1799 he was attached to the ministry of the interior by Lucien Bonaparte; in 1804 he became general secretary under Champagny; in 1805 he accompanied Napoleon into Italy; in 1808 he was nominated master of requests; in 1811 he received the title of councillor of state; and in the following year he was appointed governor of Catalonia. On the overthrow of the empire, de Gérando was allowed to retain this office; but having been sent during the hundred days into the department of the Moselle to organize the defence of that district, he was punished at the second Restoration by a few months of neglect. He was soon after, however, readmitted into the council of state, where he distinguished himself by the prudence and conciliatory tendency of his views. In 1819 he opened at the law-school of Paris a class of public and administrative law, which in 1822 was suppressed by government, but was reopened six years later under the Martignac ministry. In 1837 he was made a baron. He died at Paris on the 9th of November 1842.
De Gérando’s best-known work is his Histoire comparée des systèmes de philosophie relativement aux principes des connaissances humaines (Paris, 1804, 3 vols.). The germ of this work had already appeared in the author’s Mémoire de la génération des connaissances humaines (Berlin, 1802), which was crowned by the Academy of Berlin. In it de Gérando, after a rapid review of ancient and modern speculations on the origin of our ideas, singles out the theory of primary ideas, which he endeavours to combat under all its forms. The latter half of the work, devoted to the analysis of the intellectual faculties, is intended to show how all human knowledge is the result of experience; and reflection is assumed as the source of our ideas of substance, of unity and of identity. It is divided into two parts, the first of which is purely historical, and devoted to an exposition of various philosophical systems; in the second, which comprises fourteen chapters of the entire work, the distinctive characters and value of these systems are compared and discussed. In spite of the disadvantage that it is impossible to separate advantageously the history and critical examination of any doctrine in the arbitrary manner which de Gérando chose, the work has great merits. In correctness of detail and comprehensiveness of view it was greatly superior to every work of the same kind that had hitherto appeared in France. During the Empire and the first years of the Restoration, de Gérando found time to prepare a second edition (Paris, 1822, 4 vols.), which is enriched with so many additions that it may pass for an entirely new work. The last chapter of the part published during the author’s lifetime ends with the revival of letters and the philosophy of the 15th century. The second part, carrying the work down to the close of the 18th century, was published posthumously by his son in 4 vols. (Paris, 1847). Twenty-three chapters of this were left complete by the author in manuscript; the remaining three were supplied from other sources, chiefly printed but unpublished memoirs.
His essay Du perfectionnement moral et de l’éducation de soi-même was crowned by the French Academy in 1825. The fundamental idea of this work is that human life is in reality only a great education, of which perfection is the aim.
Besides the works already mentioned, de Gérando left many others, of which we may indicate the following:—Considérations sur diverses méthodes d’observation des peuples sauvages (Paris, 1801); Éloge de Dumarsais,—discours qui a remporté le prix proposé par la seconde classe de l’Institut National (Paris, 1805); Le Visiteur de pauvre (Paris, 1820); Instituts du droit administratif (4 vols., Paris, 1830); Cours normal des instituteurs primaires ou directions relatives à l’éducation physique, morale, et intellectuelle dans les écoles primaires (Paris, 1832); De l’éducation des sourds-muets (2 vols., Paris, 1832); De la bienfaisance publique (4 vols., 1838). A detailed analysis of the Histoire comparée des systèmes will be found in the Fragments philosophiques of M. Cousin. In connexion with his psychological studies, it is interesting that in 1884 the French Anthropological Society reproduced his instructions for the observation of primitive peoples, and modern students of the beginnings of speech in children and the cases of deaf-mutes have found useful matter in his works. See also J. P. Damiron, Essai sur la philosophie en France au XIX e siècle.