Synopses & Reviews
Renouvier emerged from youthful positivism and left-wing political activity to create a philosophy of science that challenged any political ideology that claimed the status of a science. At the same time, he revealed the political character of the sciences. Renouvier challenged Kant's distinction between theoretical and practical reason and argued that the principles of our knowledge, like morality and the law, also rest on our freely given consent. The sciences are made possible through social contracts in which scientists agree to be bound at least for the time being by a set of conventions governing their disciplines.
Renouvier thus provides the historical link between Comte's positivism and Poincar 's conventionalism. Conventionalism is often caricatured as a conservative philosophy, holding back scientific progress. Although Renouvier may have held some relatively conservative ideas about mathematics and evolution, they were not due to his conventionalism, as this book shows. Rather, his conventionalism was a liberal philosophy of science, encouraging research in domains where no greater certainty than the consent of the scientific community could be found.
French philosopher Charles Renouvier played an influential role in reviving philosophy in France after it was proscribed during the Second Empire. Drawn to the ideals of the French Revolution, Renouvier came to recognize that the free will and civil liberties he supported were essential to the pursuit of science, contrary to the ideologies of positivists and socialists who would restrict liberty in the name of science. He struggled against monarchy and religious authority in the period up through 1848 and defended a liberal, secular form of political organization at a critical turning point in French history, the beginning of the Third Republic. As Warren Schmaus argues, Renouvier's work provides an example of one way in which philosophy of science can succeed in bringing about change in political life--by critiquing political ideologies that falsely claim absolute certainty on religious, scientific, or any other grounds. Liberty and the Pursuit of Knowledge explores the understudied relationship between Renouvier's philosophy of science and his political philosophy, shedding new light on the significance of his thought for the history of philosophy.