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1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Renouvier, Charles Bernard

Renouvier, Charles Bernard (1815-1903), French philosopher, was born at Montpellier on the 1st of January 1815, and educated in Paris at the École Polytechnique. In early life he took an interest in politics, and the approval extended by Hippolyte Carnot to his Manuel républicain de l'homme et du citoyen (1848) was the occasion of that minister's fall. He never held public employment, but spent his life writing, retired from the world. He died on the 1st of September 1903. Renouvier was the first Frenchman after Malebranche to formulate a complete idealistic system, and had a vast influence on the development of French thought. His system is based on Kant's, as his chosen term "Néo-criticisme" indicates; but it is a transformation rather than a continuation of Kantianism. The two leading ideas are a dislike to the Unknowable in all its forms, and a reliance on the validity of our personal experience. The former accounts for his acceptance of Kant's phenomenalism, combined with rejection of the thing in itself. It accounts, too, for his polemic on the one hand against a Substantial Soul, a Buddhistic Absolute, an Infinite Spiritual Substance; on the other hand against the no less mysterious material or dynamic substratum by which naturalistic Monism explains the world. He holds that nothing exists except presentations, which are not merely sensational, and have an objective aspect no less than a subjective. To explain the formal organization of our experience he adopts a modified version of the Kantian categories. The insistence on the validity of personal experience leads Renouvier to a yet more important divergence from Kant in his treatment of volition. Liberty, he says, in a much wider sense than Kant, is man's fundamental characteristic. Human freedom acts in the phenomenal, not in an imaginary noumenal sphere. Belief is not intellectual merely, but is determined by an act of will affirming what we hold to be morally good. In his religious views Renouvier makes a considerable approximation to Leibnitz. He holds that we are rationally justified in affirming human immortality and the existence of a finite God who is to be a constitutional ruler, but not a despot, over the souls of men. He would, however, regard atheism as preferable to a belief in an infinite Deity.

His chief works are: Essais de critique générale (1854-64), Science de la morale (1869), Uchronie (1876), Esquisse d'une classification systématique des doctrines philosophiques (1885-86), Philosophie analytique de l'histoire (1896-97), Histoire et solution des problèmes métaphysiques (1901); Victor Hugo: Le Poète (1893), Le Philosophe (1900); Les Dilemmes de la métaphysique pure (1901); Le Personnalisme (1903); Critique de la doctrine de Kant (1906, published by L. Prat).

See L. Prat, Les Derniers entretiens de Charles Renouvier (1904); M. Ascher, Renouvier und der französische Neu-Kriticismus (1900); E. Janssens, Le Néocriticisme de C. R. (1904); A. Darlu, La Morale de Renouvier (1904); G. Séailles, La Philosophie de C. R. (1905); A. Arnal, La Philosophie religieuse de C. R. (1907).