Cousin, Victor

Cousin, Victor

Cousin, Victor (vēktôrˈ), 1792–1867, French educational leader and philosopher, founder of the eclectic school. He lectured at the Sorbonne from 1814 until 1821, when political reaction forced him to leave. Recalled to teaching in 1828, Cousin was named in 1830 to the council of public instruction and was made councillor of state. In 1832 he became a peer of France, and in 1840 he accepted the position of minister of public instruction. He became virtually the national arbiter of educational and philosophical matters. His chief works in education were the complete reorganization and centralization of the primary system and the establishment of a policy of philosophical freedom in the universities. As an eclectic, Cousin sought to develop a system that combined the psychological insights of Maine de Biran, the common sense of the Scottish school, and the idealism of Hegel and Schelling. He argued that each of these philosophies contains an element of truth that can be grasped by intuition. Cousin's approach to philosophy was historical, and he introduced the study of the history of philosophy into the French academic course. His works include Fragments philosophiques (1826), Du vrai, du beau et du bien (1836; tr. Lectures on the True, the Beautiful, and the Good, 1854), Cours de l'histoire de la philosophie (8 vol., 1815–29), various studies of educational systems, and a brilliant translation of Plato.


See G. Boas, French Philosophies of the Romantic Period (1925); W. V. Brewer, Victor Cousin as a Comparative Educator (1971).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Cousin, Victor


Born Nov. 28, 1792, in Paris; died Jan. 14, 1867, in Cannes. French idealist philosopher and politician.

Cousin taught philosophy at the Ecole Normale from 1814 to 1820 and later was its director. He visited Germany in 1817–18 and in 1824 and became personally acquainted with G. Hegel and F. W. von Schelling. He was professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne from 1828 to 1851. An advocate of constitutional monarchy, Cousin was a member of the Conseil d'Etat under Louis Philippe and was a peer of France. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1830 and to the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques in 1832. As minister of education in 1840 he introduced reforms aimed at a rapprochement of the universities with the church.

Cousin's philosophical views were formed under the direct influence of P. P. Royer-Collard and M. F. Maine de Biran and were on the whole eclectic. He affirmed that all philosophical truths had already been expressed and that therefore the only task of philosophy was the critical selection of truths from previous philosophical systems on the basis of common sense. Cousin attacked materialism, especially 18th-century French materialism, which was based, in his view, on the sensualism of E. de Condillac. Cousin contributed to the popularization of history of philosophy. He translated Plato into French, edited works of Plato, Proclus, Abelard, Pascal, and Descartes, and acquainted French readers with the philosophy of Kant, Schelling, and Hegel. Marx classified Cousin among the “true interpreters” of the “sober reality” of bourgeois society (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 8, p. 120) and called him a “weak eclectic” (ibid., vol. 27, p. 376).


Oeuvres complétes, vols. 1–16. Paris, 1851–55.
Histoire de la philosophic du XVIII siècle, vols. 1–2, Paris, 1826. Cours de Vhistoire de la philosophic moderne, 2nd series, vols. 1–2, new ed. Paris, 1846–47.
Histoire générale de la philosophic, new ed. Paris, 1863.
Du Vrai, du beau et du bien, 29th ed. Paris, 1904.


Taine, H. Frantsuzskaia filosofiia pervoipoloviny XlX-go veka. St. Petersburg, 1896. Chapters 4–8. (Translated from French.)
Janet, P. Victor Cousin et son oeuvre. Paris, 1885.
Simon, J. Victor Cousin, 3rd ed. Paris, 1891.
Barthélemy-Saint-Hilaire, J. Victor Cousin, sa vie et sa correspondance, vols. 1–3. Paris, 1895.
Ody, H. J. Victor Cousin. Saarbriicken, 1933.
Cornelius, A. Die Geschichtslehre V. Cousins unter besonderer Berucksichtigung des hegelschen Einflusses. Geneva-Paris, 1958.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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