|Born||June 27, 1884
|Died||October 16, 1962
|Era||20th century philosophy|
|Main interests||Historical epistemology
constructivist epistemology, history and philosophy of science, philosophy of art, psychoanalysis, literary theory, education
|Notable ideas||Epistemological break, rational materialism, technoscience
Gaston Bachelard (French: [baʃlaʁ]; June 27, 1884 – October 16, 1962) was a French philosopher. He made contributions in the fields of poetics and the philosophy of science. To the latter he introduced the concepts of epistemological obstacle and epistemological break (obstacle épistémologique et rupture épistémologique). He rose to some of the most prestigious positions in the Académie française and influenced many subsequent French philosophers, among them Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Dominique Lecourt, and Jacques Derrida.
Life and work 
Bachelard was a postmaster in Bar-sur-Aube, and then studied physics before finally becoming interested in philosophy. He was a professor at Dijon from 1930 to 1940 and then became the inaugural chair in history and philosophy of the sciences at the Sorbonne.
Bachelard's psychology of science 
Bachelard's studies of the history and philosophy of science in such works as Le nouvel esprit scientifique ("The New Scientific Spirit", 1934) and La formation de l'esprit scientifique ("The Formation of the Scientific Mind", 1938) were based on his vision of historical epistemology as a kind of psychoanalysis of the scientific mind, or rather of the psychological factors in the development of sciences. For instance, he takes the example of Heisenberg's first chapters of the Physical principles of the quantum theory, where he alternatively defends a corpuscular theory and an undulatory theory, correcting each by the others (The New Scientific Mind, IV). This, claims Bachelard, is an excellent example of the importance of psychological training in sciences, as one should correct spontaneous errors by taking the opposite stance.
In the English-speaking world, the connection Bachelard made between psychology and the history of science has been little understood. Bachelard demonstrated how the progress of science could be blocked by certain types of mental patterns, creating the concept of obstacle épistémologique ("epistemological obstacle"). One task of epistemology is to make clear the mental patterns at use in science, in order to help scientists overcome the obstacles to knowledge.
Epistemological breaks: the discontinuity of scientific progress 
Bachelard was critical of Auguste Comte's positivism, which considered science as a continual progress. To Bachelard, scientific developments such as Einstein's theory of relativity demonstrated the discontinuous nature of the history of sciences. Thus models that framed scientific development as continuous, such as that of Comte and Émile Meyerson, seemed simplistic and erroneous to Bachelard.
Through his concept of "epistemological break", Bachelard underlined the discontinuity at work in the history of sciences. However the term "epistemological break" itself is almost never used by Bachelard, but became famous through Louis Althusser.
He showed that new theories integrated old theories in new paradigms, changing the sense of concepts (for instance, the concept of mass, used by Newton and Einstein in two different senses). Thus, non-Euclidean geometry did not contradict Euclidean geometry, but integrated it into a larger framework.
The role of epistemology in science 
Bachelard was a rationalist in the Cartesian sense, although he recommended his "non-Cartesian epistemology" as a replacement for the more standard Cartesian epistemology. He compared "scientific knowledge" to ordinary knowledge in the way we deal with it, and saw error as only illusion: "Scientifically, we think the truth as the historical rectification of a long error, and we think experience as the rectification of the common and original illusion (illusion première).
The role of epistemology is to show the history of the (scientific) production of concepts; those concepts are not just theoretical propositions: they are simultaneously abstract and concrete, pervading technical and pedagogical activity. This explains why "The electric bulb is an object of scientific thought… an example of an abstract-concrete object." To understand the way it works, one has to pass by the detour of scientific knowledge. Epistemology is thus not a general philosophy that aims at justifying scientific reasoning. Instead it produces regional histories of science.
Shifts in scientific perspective 
Bachelard saw how seemingly irrational theories often simply represented a drastic shift in scientific perspective. For instance, he claimed that the theory of probabilities was just another way of complexifying reality through a deepening of rationality (even though critics like Lord Kelvin found this theory irrational).
One of his main theses in The New Scientific Mind was that modern sciences had replaced the classical ontology of the substance with an "ontology of relations", which could be assimilated to something as a process philosophy. For instance, the physical concepts of matter and rays correspond, according to him, to the metaphysical concepts of the thing and of movement; but whereas classical philosophy considered both as distinct, and the thing as ontologically real, modern science can not distinguish matter from rays: it is thus impossible to examine an immobile thing, which was precisely the conditions of knowledge according to classical theory of knowledge (Becoming being impossible to be known, in accordance with Aristotle and Plato's theories of knowledge).
In non-Cartesian epistemology, there is no "simple substance" as in Cartesianism, but only complex objects built by theories and experiments, and continuously improved (VI, 4). Intuition is therefore not primitive, but built (VI, 2). These themes led Bachelard to support a sort of constructivist epistemology.
Other academic interests 
In addition to epistemology, Bachelard's work deals with many other topics, including poetry, dreams, psychoanalysis, and the imagination. The Psychoanalysis of Fire (1938) and The Poetics of Space (1958) are among the most popular of his works. Sartre cites the former and Bachelard's "Water and Dreams" in his Being and Nothingness.
Thomas S. Kuhn used Bachelard's notion of "epistemological rupture" (coupure or rupture épistémologique) as re-interpreted by Alexandre Koyré to develop his theory of paradigm changes; Althusser, Georges Canguilhem (his successor at the Sorbonne) and Michel Foucault also drew upon Bachelard's epistemology.
Bachelard's daughter, Suzanne, translated Husserl's Formale und transzendentale Logik into French.
- Et, quoi qu’on en dise, dans la vie scientifique, les problèmes ne se posent pas d’eux-mêmes. C’est précisément ce sens du problème qui donne la marque du véritable esprit scientifique. Pour un esprit scientifique, toute connaissance est une réponse à une question. S’il n’y a pas eu de question, il ne peut y avoir de connaissance scientifique. Rien ne va de soi. Rien n’est donné. Tout est construit — Gaston Bachelard (La formation de l'esprit scientifique, 1934)
- "And, irrespective of what one might assume, in the life of a science, problems do not arise by themselves. It is precisely this that marks out a problem as being of the true scientific spirit: all knowledge is in response to a question. If there were no question, there would be no scientific knowledge. Nothing proceeds from itself. Nothing is given. All is constructed."
- It is the pen which dreams. (The Poetics of Reverie, 1960)
- It is not a question of observation which propels mankind forward as if toward a looking glass of great magnitude; it is an instance of aggrandized reflection that insinuates the human psyche to the inhuman.
- Michel Foucault: Bachelard "plays against his own culture with his own culture".
His works include:
- Essai sur la connaissance approchée (1928)
- Étude sur l'évolution d'un problème de physique: la propagation thermique dans les solides (1928)
- La valeur inductive de la relativitée (1929)
- La pluralisme cohérent de la chimie moderne (1932)
- L'Intuition de l'instant (1932)
- Les intuitions atomistiques: essai de classification (1933)
- Le nouvel esprit scientifique (1934)
- La dialectique de la durée (1936)
- L'experience de l'espace dans la physique contemporaine (1937)
- La formation de l'esprit scientifique: contribution à une psychanalyse de la connaissance objective (1938)
- La psychanalyse du feu (The Psychoanalysis of Fire, 1938)
- La philosophie du non: essai d'une philosophie du nouvel esprit scientifique (1940), publisher it:Pellicanolibri, 1978
- L'eau et les rêves (Water and Dreams, 1942)
- L'air et les songes (Air and Dreams, 1943)
- La terre et les rêveries du repos (Earth and Reveries of Repose, 1946)
- La terre et les rêveries de la volonté (Earth and Reveries of Will, 1948)
- Le Rationalisme appliqué (1949)
- L'activité rationaliste de la physique contemporaine (1951)
- Le matérialisme rationnel (1953)
- La poétique de l'espace (The Poetics of Space) English translation ISBN 0-8070-6473-4 (1958)
- La poétique de la rêverie (1960 )
- La flamme d'une chandelle (1961)
- L'engagement rationaliste [The Rationalist Engagement] (1972)
English translations 
Though most of Bachelard's major works on poetics have been translated into English, only a few of his works on the philosophy of science have been translated.
- The Philosophy of No: A Philosophy of the New Scientific Mind. Orion Press, New York, 1968. Translation by G.C. Waterston. (La philosophie du non)
- The New Scientific Spirit. Beacon Press, Boston, 1985. Translation by A. Goldhammer. (Le nouvel esprit scientifique)
- Dialectic of Duration. Clinamen, Bolton, 2000. Translation by M. McAllester Jones. (La dialectique de la durée)
- The Formation of the Scientific Mind. Clinamen, Bolton, 2002. Translation by M. McAllester Jones. (La formation de l'esprit scientifique)
- Dominique Lecourt, L’épistémologie historique de Gaston Bachelard (1969). Vrin, Paris, 11e édition augmentée, 2002.
- Dominique Lecourt, Pour une critique de l’épistémologie : Bachelard, Canguilhem, Foucault (1972, réed. Maspero, Paris, 5e éd. 1980).
- D. Lecourt, Marxism and Epistemology: Bachelard, Canguilhem and Foucault, New Left Books, London (1975).
- Dominique Lecourt, Bachelard, Epistémologie, textes choisis (1971). PUF, Paris, 6e édition, 1996.
- Dominique Lecourt, Bachelard, le jour et la nuit, Grasset, Paris, 1974.
- Didier Gil, Bachelard et la culture scientifique, Presses Universitaires de France, 1993.
- Didier Gil, Autour de Bachelard - esprit et matière, un siècle français de philosophie des sciences (1867-1962), Les Belles Lettres, Encre marine, 2010.
- Hommage à Gaston Bachelard. Etudes de philosophie et d'histoire des sciences, by C. Bouligand, G. Canguilhem, P. Costabel, F. Courtes, François Dagognet, M. Daumas, Gilles Granger, J. Hyppolite, R. Martin, R. Poirier and R. Taton
- Actes du Colloque sur Bachelard de 1970 (Colloque de Cerisy).
- L'imaginaire du concept: Bachelard, une épistémologie de la pureté by Francoise Gaillard, MLN, Vol. 101, No. 4, French Issue (Sep 1986), pp. 895–911.
- Gaston Bachelard ou le rêve des origines, by Jean-Luc Pouliquen, L'Harmattan, Paris, 2007.
See also 
- A term for the combination of technology and science as disciplines coined in 1953 by Bachelard; see: Gaston Bachelard, La materialisme rationel, Paris: PUF, 1953; Don Ihde, Expanding Hermeneutics: Visualism in Science, Northwestern University Press, 1999, p. 8.
- M. Serres, "La réforme et les sept péchés," L'Arc, 42, Bachelard special issue (1970).
- Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers. London: Routledge. 1996. pp. 41–42. ISBN 0-415-06043-5.
- The New Scientific Mind, conclusion.
- The New Scientific Mind, VI, 6.
- in Le Rationalisme appliqué (1949, 2e ed. of 1962, p. 104ff).
- The New Scientific Mind, V (p. 120 French ed., 1934).
- Michel Foucault, Interview of Foucault on Bachelard, INA (video)
Further reading 
- Cristina Chimisso. (2001). Gaston Bachelard: Critic of Science and the Imagination, Routledge.
- Dagognet, F. (1970). "Bachelard, Gaston". Dictionary of Scientific Biography 1. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 365–366. ISBN 0-684-10114-9.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Gaston Bachelard|
- Website of the Association of Friends of Gaston Bachelard (French)
- Centre Gaston Bachelard de Recherche sur l'Imaginaire et la Rationalité, Université de Bourgogne (French)
- Works of Bachelard on-line (French)
- List of quotes