Maine de Biran, Marie François Pierre Gonthier

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Maine de Biran, Marie François Pierre Gonthier


Born Nov. 29, 1766, in Bergerac; died July 20, 1824, in Paris. French idealist philosopher and political figure; a royalist.

From 1785 to 1789, Maine de Biran served in the king’s guards. During the Thermidorian period he was a member of the Council of Five Hundred; during the Restoration he was a member of the Chamber of Deputies and the Council of State. He initially was attracted to the idéologues (which included A.L.C. Destutt de Tracy), who had developed a sensualist theory of knowledge along the lines of J. Locke and E. B. Condillac. Maine de Biran later published a critique of sensualism (Essay on the Foundations of Psychology, 1812, published in full in 1859), in which he maintained that sensualism falsely presented psychic forces on the model of external physical causes. Man’s self and his inner world cannot be understood by analogy with objects from the external world. Although the metaphysical nature of the soul is unfathomable, its inner motions are revealed to us through self-observation. The basis of consciousness is a willed effort (effort voulu}, through our resistance to this effort we can understand the being of external things.

During the 1820’s, Maine de Biran developed the ideas of Christian metaphysics. In his New Essays in Anthropology (1823–24), which was left unfinished, he distinguished three stages in human life—the animal, the human, and the divine—which are expressed, respectively, as sensation, will, and love.

Maine de Biran’s voluntarist ideas exerted considerable influence on the later development of idealist philosophy in France (V. Cousin) and in Russia (L. M. Lopatin). They also influenced the philosophies of personalism and existentialism.


Oeuvres, vols. 1–14. Paris, 1920–49.
Journal, vols. 1–3. Paris, 1954–57.


Kudriavtsev, N. Filosofiia Men de Birana v nachaVnoi stadii ee razvitiia. Moscow, 1911.
Istoriia filosofii, vol. 3. Moscow, 1943.
Fessard, G. La Méthode de réflexion chez Maine de Biran. Paris, 1938.
Funke, G. von. Maine de Biran. Bonn, 1947. (With bibliography.)
Gresson, A. Maine de Biran: Sa Vie, son oeuvre. Paris, 1950.
Hallie, P. P. Maine de Biran: Reformer of Empiricism. Cambridge (Mass.), 1959.
Lacroze, R. Maine de Biran. Paris, 1970.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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