The Psychology of Maine de Biran [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 25 (4):763-764 (1972)


This admittedly sympathetic exposition of Maine de Biran's psychology represents a competent and comprehensive introduction into the main philosophical thought of the French thinker and into the conditions and value of his published and unpublished writings as well as of the literature dealing with his life and work. It is inspired by the conviction that there is a need for this new addition to the vast bibliography of the philosopher, not only because Biran is almost without readers in the English philosophical tradition, but especially because his philosophizing centers around matters of current concern in English philosophy. The philosophical psychology which Biran considered, and hoped to develop, as the foundation not only of moral and religious philosophy, but also of empirical psychology, was above all a philosophical analysis of psychological concepts, as the author shows in his discussion of Biran's ideas about the method and the original concept of psychology in the two main parts of his text. In a critical account of Biran's argumentation, seen against the background of the philosophical problematics of today, his refutation of the mathematical analysis of traditional philosophy, of the inductive reasoning of the natural sciences, and of metaphysical or abstractive reasoning together with his defense of reflective consciousness as the appropriate method of psychological studies, are explained. The unique object of psychology, the private inner life, demands reflection as its corresponding method. An analysis of the data of consciousness is, then, to lead to the recognition of the true primitive fact of all inner experience which is to serve as the foundation of psychology. Biran finds it in the will, the awareness of our effort or willed action. The nature of this foundation of psychology and of the "twofold humanity" in man's being, i.e., of affective, passive life and of active, conscious life, indicates that Biran's philosophical psychology truly is a philosophy of mind, not a philosophy of man. The book ends with a classified select bibliography of 44 pages, various Appendixes and Indexes. It should be required reading for any student interested in Maine de Biran's philosophy.--M. S.

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