Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci. 35 (2004) 873–881 www.elsevier.


Essay review

Kuhn’s missed opportunity and the multifaceted lives of Bachelard: mythical, institutional, historical, philosophical, literary, scientific
Teresa Castelao-Lawless ˜
Department of Philosophy, Grand Valley State University, Allendale, MI 49401-9403, USA

Gaston Bachelard. Critic of science and the imagination. Cristina Chimisso; Routledge, London & New York, 2001, pp. xii+285, Price £68.00, hardback, ISBN 0-415-26905-9.

1. Encounters with Bachelard At the end of the 1940s, Thomas Kuhn (1924–1994), carrying with him a letter ´ of recommendation from historian of physics and astronomy Alexandre Koyre, visited Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962) in his Paris apartment at the rue St. Gene` vieve. A couple of years prior to that meeting, Kuhn had read Bachelard’s La philosophie du non: Essai d’une philosophie du nouvel esprit scientifique (1940) with great interest suspecting that they might share important philosophical and historical insights on scientific progress. But the encounter with Bachelard was utterly disappointing. As Kuhn recollects, ‘I delivered the note, was invited to come over, climbed the stairs . . . I’d heard he did brilliant work on American literature, and on Blake and other things of the sort. I assumed he would greet me and be willing to talk in English. A large burly man in his undershirt, came to the door, invited me in; I said, ‘‘My French is bad, may we talk in English?’’ No, he made me talk French. Well, this all didn’t last very long. It is perhaps a pity, because although I think I have read a bit more of the relevant material since, and have real reservations about it, nevertheless he was a figure who was seeing at least some of the
E-mail address: (T. Castelao-Lawless). ˜ 0039-3681/$ - see front matter # 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.shpsa.2004.08.002

La poetique de la reverie (1960) and La flamme d’une chandelle (1961). she made me wait outside of her door while she rushed to pick up a copy ´ of Bachelard’s Fragments d’une poetique du feu (1988) and wrote a short dedication celebrating our encounter. and had published three books on literary creativity and the liberating function of its images. while still a graduate student in Science and Technology Studies at Virginia Tech.D. More than a decade later. drinking hot chocolate and discussing biographical and epistemological issues. This was a unique opportunity to gain almost firsthand knowledge about aspects of Bachelard’s work that had always intrigued me. this time permanently. 35 (2004) 873–881 ˜ thing. the epistemology ‘in-between’ that Bachelard was producing at the time of Kuhn’s visit no longer contained the kind of ‘rigid’ categories towards which Kuhn had reservations. water. We spent a couple of hours at a cafe nearby. since 1942. After the interview. was generous ´ with her time. But there were things to be discovered there that I did not discover. In fact. In 1991. the importance of rhetoric in science. a French colleague told me that climbing those stairs was a privilege given to few. to the side of reverie with works such ´ ´ ˆ as La poetique de l’espace (1957). Professor Bachelard was protective of her father’s work and still holding strongly to the mythical legacy of his public persona. Just as Gaston Bachelard had been with Kuhn. Nevertheless. By the time he returned to epis´ ´ temology of science with Le rationalisme applique (1949). It also made . p. philosopher and historian of biology Jean Gayon. Most interviewers were only allowed to remain on the ground floor of the building. I had been recommended to Bachelard’s daughter Suzanne by one of my Ph. mentors. . 1997. the year of the publication ˆ of L’eau et les reves. I was not disappointed by the outcome of the interview. Sci. herself an accomplished philosopher of mathematics and phenomenologist. It is plausible Kuhn was not aware that. These were insights that Kuhn should have been looking forward to discussing with Bachelard. the purpose and the methodologies he used had been transformed from a historical and psychoanalytical interpretation into an intensely phenomenological and surrealistic approach to scientific practices and objects. and Le materialisme rationnel (1953). earth). air. and moved the thing up an escalator too systematically for me. including the connections of his epistemology of quantum physics and quantum chemistry—sciences that he had explored relentlessly after 1949—to the philosophical writings of Heisenberg and Bohr. and the defence of scientific claims against charges of scientific relativism. I climbed with her the three flights of stairs that led to her apartment. In fact. and methodological categories. at this point Bachelard was already drawn to the socialization of scientific claims. Castelao-Lawless / Stud. . 169). I too chanced to enter the same building. Although she did not answer my question about the relations between Bachelard’s conceptions and German-language scientists. He was trying to put it in too much of a constrain . or not discover in that way’ (Kuhn. Professor Suzanne Bachelard. he went back. Before we departed. Bachelard had become keenly interested in the elements of the imagination (fire. Hist. He has categories. After this return to the studies of science. Phil. it increased my admiration for the work of Bachelard.874 T. L’activite rationaliste de ´ la physique contemporaine (1951).

Hist. At the time of his encounter with Bachelard. Michael Polanyi. gave an incomplete picture of how the scientific mind develops through constant ruptures with out´ moded (‘perimee’) ways of thinking. Kuhn admitted in the preface to The structure of scientific revolutions (1962) that most of his intellectual mentors were not American but Europeans such ´ ´` as Emile Meyerson.133. Instruments in modern sciences like quantum mechanics are materialized theories. extensions of the mind rather than extensions of the body (Bachelard. with Newtonian science. From his study of the historical record he concluded that scientific knowledge is approximate. psychology. He needed help. and that modern science. Metaphysics of science such as rationalism. constituted to him obstacles to the progress of science. Ludwik Fleck. realism. Actually. p. Furthermore. including a special blend of history. first published 1934). and with ‘chosisme’. 1978. philosophy. this was not so much ‘direct’ or empirical . In La philosophie du non. 1996. The hope of being able to discuss some of these matters with Bachelard was reasonable. What about Bachelard’s epistemology of science? Bachelard had been writing on the discontinuous structure of knowledge since ´ 1927. Alexandre Koyre. ix. first published 1962). p. all of which had derived their images of science from textbooks and biased science pedagogy. positivism. which according to him started in 1905 with Einstein’s theory of relativity. This technical construction was not possible in pre-modern science because of the trust scientists had in immediate knowledge up until the end of the nineteenth century. Even if. and physical reality. he charted the epistemological profile of the development of his own conceptions of physicalist terms such as ‘energy’ and ‘mass’ to demonstrate their hold on one’s mind and the resistance that even the scientifically educated tend to offer towards innovations that require radical breaks with previous systems of thought (including metaphysics). the year of his Essai sur la connaissance approchee (one of his two doctoral theses). Kuhn read only La philosophie du non carefully. It was therefore only on the Continent that he could find support for his interdisciplinary research.T. To Bachelard. and Helene Metzger. Phil. Sci. 2. and sociology of science. He also recognized that parts of his research required delving into the sociology of the scientific community (Kuhn. the expectation that science is about the given and that truth is correspondence between theories. In fact. fixed categorical men` tal structures a la Kant. as it seems to have been the case. the book already illustrated chief characteristics of Bachelardianism. Castelao-Lawless / Stud. philosophers of science in the United States were not particularly interested in a historically or sociologically-based philosophy of science. to Bachelard science constructs its objects and each object stays glued to a stage in the historical development of a scientific discipline. But the reaction of Kuhn was understandable. demanded an ‘epistemological break’ with immediate experience. as disciplinary boundaries between these fields of inquiry were then quite rigid. 35 (2004) 873–881 ˜ 875 me realize that reading his literature on the imagination was pivotal for understanding the evolution of his historical epistemology of science.

one is puzzled at every step not only by the rhetoric. together with the rejection of the dichotomy between object and subject in favour of the historical nature of scientific entities and the underdetermination of theories by data came to America only after Kuhn and Popper. to project pre-scientific desires and attitudes into the interpretation of data. It is a tendency that needs. Bachelard’s multifaceted lives Bachelard’s work is extremely complex. but also by his refusal to take a stand on the political turmoil of inter-war France and his apparent blindness toward the destructive powers of science. But the more one constructs scientific entities and the more scientists subject them to rigorous rational and technical scrutiny. that is. This is the ‘icon’ whose . Sci. Lavoisier. Bachelard’s ‘applied rationalism’. to be counteracted at all times because of its being permanently attached to the complexes of the unconscious and thus to the act of knowing itself. the borrowing of terms from philosophies he vehemently rejected. I agree with her that the challenge of deconstructing Bachelardianism bears on the legitimation. Unfortunately. Castelao-Lawless / Stud. free from the reveries of the solitary mind and bounded by collective agreements. 1979). destroying the respect one owes to his revolutionary and powerful thinking. diverged radically from the logical positivist tradition in philosophy of science. Phil. natural philosophy. the constant coinage of concepts. Priestley. Newton. in turn. of the myth of Bachelard the Philosopher. In fact. Critic of science and the imagination (2001) answers many of these questions. his strong convictions on the role of education for citizenship. 35 (2004) 873–881 ˜ knowledge as it was a reflection of the tendency. 3.876 T. many questions remain regarding the philosophical and historical underpinnings of his work. through ‘the manipulation of his physical appearance’. all supposedly following the via contemplativa and carrying with them the wisdom and the ‘moral authority’ given only to truth seekers (p. and even in Lavoisier’s chemistry. She shows convincingly how he gradually became not only the proudly provincial ‘teacher of happiness’ (p. the book puts Bachelard’s epistemology into perspective without. Descartes. therefore. Scientific objects are constructed ‘against’ nature. 13). In addition. Bachelard’s notion of objectivity. and Boerhaave as pre-scientific? Why did he turn midway in his work from psychoanalysis to phenomenology? Why did his criticism of science teaching bear more on secondary school than on university education? What was psychoanalysis doing in a territory that should belong to philosophy? Chimisso’s Gaston Bachelard. but part of a long line of white-bearded figures in the Western canon. the more objective knowledge becomes truly intersubjective. 8). Hist. Why did he choose discontinuity over continuity to explain scientific change? Why did his contemporaries criticize him for arguing that the categories of the mind are fluid rather than static? Why did he spend so much effort studying alchemy when he believed it was a serious obstacle to science? Why did he consider Bacon. Furthermore. and then later in the 1970s when it became attached to the social constructivist movement in science and technology studies (Latour & Woolgar. illustrated in alchemy. in addition.

and natural philosophy. 80). She demonstrates that the plurality of Bachelard’s activities. perception. I concur that all of these authors ‘fail ˜ to recognize the crucial epistemological consequences of Bachelard’s pedagogical stance’ and to ‘pinpoint the historical reasons for his defence of rationalism’(Chimisso. 58). choice of sources and his approach to texts’(p. alchemy. history. is to prove that Bachelard’s philosophy is a rich and coherent body of sustained pedagogical and moral concerns about the limitless possibilities of the human mind. They cover an ideological spec´ trum stretching from Louis Althusser’s Marxist interpretation to Michel Vadee’s idealistic approach. Castelao-Lawless / Stud. surrealism. Sci. sociology. 247). 2001. 1995). morals (personal. p.T. psychoanalysis. Science pedagogy and morality Bachelard was first and foremost a teacher. 248). Also included in her book are those Bachelards that have been reconstructed over time by both critics and admirers. family. style. but of Bachelard’s ‘philosophical perspective. Bruno Latour’s appropriation of Bache´ ´ lardian concepts such as ‘phenomenotechnique’ contributed to the assumption made by some intellectuals on this side of the Atlantic that Bachelard was a relativist avant la lettre (Castelao-Lawless. logic (processes of thought and the methods of the sciences). connected to the blending of fields in secondary schools. phenomenology. From 1919 to 1930. social. 4. The alternative offered by Chimisso is an account. But other parts of Bachelard are equally real. not of his personality. which remains ever elusive. She does so by peering carefully into the institutional history and the cultural setting in which this work took place and then weaving them with claims made by Bachelard about the cognitive structure of science and the human psyche. Hist. he taught physics and chemistry at a secondary school in his native town of Bar-sur-Aube. 35 (2004) 873–881 ˜ 877 traces Kuhn and I found at Bachelard’s apartment in Paris. Phil. abstraction. He got . Another purpose of Chimisso’s book. An examination of the official ´es ` timetables of lyce and colleges in France in the mid-1920s demonstrates that psychology (sensation. and the relations of thought and language). are inextricably intertwined with the ´ ´ debates in French academia over the role of culture generale for citizenship and the controversies over disciplinary boundaries during the second half of the twentieth century. economic and political life). She shows that the chaotic choices in bibliography made by Bachelard were not unusual for the time. and general philosophy (epistemology and metaphysics) all belonged to the territory of philosophy (p. To these I would add social constructivism. It is my belief that these two perspectives fill important gaps in French and English Bachelardian scholarship. his devotion to the arts and to the sciences. I agree wholeheartedly with Chimisso’s thesis in her magnificently crafted work that ‘there are many Bachelards in this book’ (p. his interest in ethnography. and from the search by materialist Dominique Lecourt for a night-and-day Bachelardian dualism to Georges Canguilhem’s attempt at making Bachelard’s discourse dialectic in the Socratic (but not the Hegelian) sense.

from 1909 to 1939. 35 (2004) 873–881 ˜ his philosophy licence (equivalent to an American Masters’ degree) in 1920. In fact. thus fashioning their scientific conscience . . . In my view. Sci.. Hist. Bachelard’s philosophy of pedagogy ‘promoted a .. To him. Until 1940. these natural propensities of the mind. Second. 1996. . the year he was called to the Sorbonne to replace Abel Rey as professor of history and philosophy of science. 97).. By fostering an acritical acceptance of authority and encouraging easy associations between abstract thought and childish imagery. his ´ agregation (equivalent to tenure in an American high school) in 1922. To this he added compelling remarks about how mistakes in scientific education at this level percolate into positivistic conceptions of science at the university. and the Doctorate in 1927. p. and reinforced by sanctions . p. Although he was already fortysix years old when he got to the Sorbonne. disinterestedness. 80). A responsible science teacher must constantly fight against. there was his attack on how science was being taught. in ‘The ethos of science’. Bachelard agreed with most educators that national education at secondary school was ‘a moral and political problem. Merton claimed that institutionalized values and norms such as universalism. . Two main reasons were at the core Bachelard’s critique of science education. The dialectic between the teacher and the student fosters a morally improved mind in both. inferred from the moral consensus of scientists as expressed in use and wont . In fact. 2001. and organized skepticism are ‘transmitted by precept and example. there was his stance on the academic commitment of the French government ` ´ ´ vis-a-vis the culture generale. 52–53).’ (Merton. pp. . ‘communism’. Phil. which in turn leads to a morally improved citizenry (ibid. in Dijon. p.878 T. Bachelard’s antagonism toward French pedagogy comes out as late as 1953 when. in the introduc´ tion to Le materialisme rationnel. he taught philosophy of science at the University of Bourgogne. . modern science is anti-intuitive. Scientific education was for Bachelard also bound up with morality because morality ‘belonged to the very cognitive structure of the sciences’ (ibid. First. 267–268.’ because it was about the formation of the individual and the citizen (ibid. 92). he accuses Maria Montessori’s teaching methodologies of arresting the development of the scientific mind in the adolescent. p. first published 1942). In fact. his academic career was not unusual. the link that he found between the increasingly rational force of science and the moral improvement of scientists as practitioners is similar to Robert Merton’s conception of the self-correcting mechanisms of science. these tendencies quickly become epistemological obstacles to science. Castelao-Lawless / Stud. rather than stimulate. seventy five percent of all Sorbonne professors started as secondary school teachers and then obtained university posts through degrees and academic affiliations (Chimisso. [and] are in varying degrees internalized by scientists. It is therefore not surprising that much of Bachelard’s epistemological work is interspersed with subjects included in the philosophy syllabus and also with criticisms of the scientific curriculum in secondary schools (where the status of chemistry and physics was not well defined). 51). pp. But Bachelard went even further than Merton in his optimism regarding the evolution of science when he argued that the ‘mind’ has to change because it has to improve itself morally (Chimisso 2001. To teach science as if it were continuous either with common sense or intuitive imagination was therefore immensely problematic.

Later in his work he added Bohr’s quantum physics to the list. First. 35 (2004) 873–881 ˜ 879 movement of liberation based on rationality and criticism. could be applied here. One of the examples she offered was the impact of Levy-Bruhl’s La menta´ lite primitive (1923) on the study of the mind. Scientific controversies Although Chimisso is exceptionally thorough in her detailing of the institutional and cultural settings in which Bachelard’s work was produced. ethnography. They ‘came to deform primordial concepts. Levy-Bruhl. Bachelard resolved it when he ‘found a compromise between the fixidity and the historicity of the mind by breaking the unity of the mind: on the one hand he emphasized the historical character of the scientific mind. this was also an insti` tutional divide between the College de France and the Sorbonne. Let us apply Chimisso’s method to Bachelard’s reaction to the scientific context of the time. Then there were those who. sociology. first published 1938). she does not cover the scientific context of early twentieth-century France. and ethnologists. I did find. p. there was the skepticism with which relativity had been received . and Heisenberg’s quantum physics. 2001. Here. believed that the development of the mind toward rationality could be illustrated by the evolution from primitive (religious) to scientific thinking. This is why to him ‘Society will be made for School’ and not the other way around (Bachelard. His compromise was the result of his using physics and chemistry as his philosophical laboratory. and believed that human beings can and should free themselves from prejudices and false beliefs’ (ibid. p. reason multiplies its objections. I always found this categorization problematic. Those following in the ´ steps of Auguste Comte. 7. however. it rehearses the most fundamental abstractions’ (Bachelard.T. Hist. From then on. 176). and so on. on the other regarded the mind as relatively fixed and stable’(Chimisso. 5. Louis de Broglie’s wave mechanics. The same can be said of her suggestion that the way Bachelard used his sources reflected the closure he brought to whatever intellectual conflict he wit´ nessed. 1986. and how the book originated a divide between philosophers. He tested both sides of the divide against his observations of the scientific mind at work and concluded that fixidity and mobility were complementary rather than opposite. 99). p. Castelao-Lawless / Stud. because it made invisible two historical episodes that would have provided perfect case studies for his claim that tension and consensus are part of the normal dialectical movement of science. thought that ethnographical data proved that reason works in the same way everywhere. p. and Emile Durkheim. relativity and quantum theory. it dissociates and relates fundamental notions. Marcel Mauss. 252). the controversies were not so much over disciplinary boundaries as they were about the epistemological consequences of non-Euclidean geometries. that Chimisso’s treatment of the academic conflict over boundaries in the fields of psychology.. Bachelard was very much aware of the epistemological consequences of revolutionary developments such as Einstein’s relativity. Sci. like Meyerson. sociologists. Interestingly. Phil. 1986. and Metzger.

and then made up his mind. Her list includes conceptions that she analyzed and explained throughout her book: ‘scientific objects as the outcome of social relationships and technical outcomes. Ein´ ´ ´ stein wrote the introduction to Meyerson’s Identite et realite (1908). There is more. De Broglie expressed his amazement at the intuitions of Bergson over quantum mechanics. Bachelard attended scientific conferences with De Broglie. Objectivity is not lost. and Heisenberg and Bohr. there was the conflict over quantum mechanics between scientists such as Einstein and De Broglie (after 1951). 6. and without ever mentioning it directly. The connections between scientists and philosophers were definitely there. but with his final decisions on the matter. but it needs intellectual supervision by itself and by those minds of other scientists (‘la surveillance intellectuelle de soi’) to be constantly prompted into becoming ever dialectical (the ‘philosophy of no’). it is clear that he decided on a compromise similar to the one he found over the interpretation of ethnographical data (and even perhaps because of it). In the second. phenomenology. Phil. Bachelard never attempted to explain the controversy that quickly originated between those who sided with Emile Meyerson and Paul Langevin. that is. listened to the scientists and the philosophers. observed the conflicts. The mind tends to stabilize itself confidently when working inside a system of knowledge such as Newtonianism. For just as Bachelard did in the case of the humanities debates—he read the scientific sources. ´ ´ ´ Bergson wrote Duree et simultaneite (1922) to disagree with Einstein’s conception ´ of time. ˜ there are no traces in Bachelard’s writings of this extraordinarily important scientific and epistemological controversy. 1997). He just explained the controversy away.880 T. Again. and Bachelard wrote La dialectique de la duree (1936) to disagree with Bergson. More research is needed I agree with Chimisso that. believed that they were discontinuous with each other (Duhem. and who saw relativity as continu´ ous with Newtonianism. Second. not surprisingly. which was. who believed otherwise (Castelao. This time he used the humanities. he opted for the Copenhagen Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics. Castelao-Lawless / Stud. and those who. especially before 1916. like Pierre Duhem and Leon Brunschvicg. independently of the institutional and disciplinary motives that underlie it. the official view among professional physicists. His works present us not with his thinking processes. But a history of the scientific and institutional setting of this period in France is still to be written. 35 (2004) 873–881 ˜ by French philosophers and scientists alike. and of linear and progressive history of . of course. who saw it as an incomplete picture of reality. but correspondence has to be substituted by complementarity. Until this happens. was to find this discontinuity unacceptable). as a laboratory for testing the epistemological viability of the hard sciences. of science as a dialectical activity. Hist. Sci. much in the epistemology of science of Bachelard can contribute to contemporary debates in philosophy and historiography of the sciences. Chimisso’s methodology comes in handy. In the first case.

Kuhn. G. 2nd enl. T. (1996). ˜ ¸ ´ ´ ´ Actualite et posterites de Gaston Bachelard (pp. A discussion with Thomas S. 100–115). a physicist who became a historian for philosophical purposes: A discussion between Thomas S. Castelao-Lawless. (1986). (1988). (First published 1942) Castelao.. Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. (First published 1938) Bachelard. 145–200. 35 (2004) 873–881 ˜ 881 science as ‘‘rationalized’’ and anachronistic reconstruction of events’ (p. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. (1978). Hist. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. In P. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France. (1995). Gaston Bachelard et le milieu scientifique et intellectuel francais. G. (1997). Neusis. Le nouvel esprit scientifique (14th ed). Let us not be like Kuhn and miss the opportunity. Its origins and implications ˜ for philosophy of science. 62. Vasso Kindi. ed. T. Laboratory life: The construction of scientific facts. Kuhn and Aristides Baltas. Sci. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ` Bachelard. & Woolgar. B. (1994). Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press.). S. Princeton. (First published 1962. G. La philosophie du non: Essai d’une philosophie du nouvel esprit scientifique (4th ed). (1979). The structure of scientific revolutions. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. La formation de l’esprit scientifique. Latour. ‘Phenomenotechnique’ in historical perspective. Contribution a une psychanalyse de la connaissance scientifique (13th ed). (1996). (First published 1940) ´ Bachelard. Castelao-Lawless / Stud. References Bachelard. Merton. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France (First published 1934). 252). Kostas Gavroglu. published 1970) Kuhn. Philosophy of Science.T. On social structure and science. Kuhn. Nouvel (Ed. R. 44–59. G. Phil. Vrin. (1997). (First published 1942) . Fragments d’une poetique du feu. 6. T. T.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful