Victor Cousin

28 Nov 1792
14 Jan 1867
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Victor Cousin ( 28 November 1792 – 14 January 1867) was a French philosopher. He was the founder of “eclecticism,” a briefly influential school of French philosophy that combined elements of German idealism and Scottish Common Sense Realism.

As the administrator of public instruction for over a decade, Cousin also had an important influence on French educational policy.

The son of a watchmaker, he was born in Paris, in the Quartier Saint-Antoine. At the age of ten he was sent to the local grammar school, the Lycée Charlemagne, where he studied until he was eighteen.

“Lycées” being organically linked to the University of France and its Faculties since their Napoleonic institution (the “baccalauréat” was awarded by juries made of university professors) Cousin was “crowned” in the ancient hall of the Sorbonne for a Latin oration he wrote which owned him a first prize at the “concours général”, a competition between the best pupils at “lycées” (established under the Ancien Régime and reinstated under the First Empire, and still extant).

The classical training of the lycée strongly disposed him to literature, or “éloquence” as it was then called. He was already known among his fellow students for his knowledge of Greek.

From the lycée he graduated to the most prestigious of higher education schools, École Normale Supérieure (as it is now called), where Pierre Laromiguière was then lecturing on philosophy.

In the second preface to the Fragments philosophiques, in which he candidly states the varied philosophical influences of his life, Cousin speaks of the grateful emotion excited by the memory of the day in 18.., when he heard Laromiguière for the first time.

“That day decided my whole life.” Laromiguière taught the philosophy of John Locke and Étienne Bonnot de Condillac, happily modified on some points, with a clearness and grace which in appearance at least removed difficulties, and with a charm of spiritual bonhomie which penetrated and subdued.”

That school has remained ever since the living heart of French philosophy — Henri Bergson, Jean-Paul Sartre and Jacques Derrida are among its past students.

During the last years of his life he occupied a suite of rooms in the Sorbonne, where he lived simply and unostentatiously.

The chief feature of the rooms was his noble library, the cherished collection of a lifetime.

He died in Cannes on 14 January 1867, in his seventy-fifth year.

In the front of the Sorbonne, below the lecture rooms of the faculty of letters, a tablet records an extract from his will, in which he bequeaths his noble and cherished library to the halls of his professorial work and triumphs.

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