Future, Present, & Past:

~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Friday, May 13, 2011

Louis Lavelle

A while ago I touched upon the question of philosophers I wish would be translated. This post finally got some comments; I hope to see more. Here's one: Erich Przywara, whose controversy with Karl Barth on the analogia entis is one of the great chapters of 20th century theology, but whose works are almost non-existent in English. Or another:Eric Weil, a translation of whose Logic of Philosophy is still nowhere to be seen. (You can get Hegel and the State easily and a collection of essays edited by Kluback if you keep checking the online used book sources religiously.)

Another would be Louis Lavelle. Lavelle's philosophy may seem like a transition between Bergson's and Sartre's, not only in terms of chronology (he held the chair formerly occupied by Bergson at the College of France, and he died in 1951 as existentialism was coming into ascendancy), but in terms of doctrine: we associate the phrase "existence precedes essence" with Sartre, but in Of the Act (1937), Lavelle had already declared that "we need to posit our existence [before] discover[ing] our essence." But unlike either Sartre of Bergson, Lavelle's name did not catch on outside of France. A 1947 article by James Collins of St Louis University called "Louis Lavelle on Human Participation" (ah yes, that explains my interest) is almost the only secondary piece I know, aside from some book reviews (there is also supposed to be a study on The Experience of Being in the philosophy of Louis Lavelle by Joanne Opalek, but I have never seen it). For a very long time almost nothing has been available by Lavelle himself for the anglophone. I have owned a little blue volume called The Dilemma of Narcissus for about 10 years (this one you can get fairly cheap), and recently tracked down Introduction to Ontology, which, I don't mind telling you, was not an easy task. Nothing else has been Englished except a book on four saints (St. Francis, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis de Sales) called The Meaning of Holiness, which I've not seen. But all these books are from Lavelle's "minor," "moralist" writings (though I commend Dilemma to you; there's a brief post touching on it here by Bill Vallicella). What I've longed to sink my teeth into was Lavelle's tetralogy Dialectic of the Eternal Present.

Now it can finally happen. The website of the French Association Louis Lavelle has made available selections from Lavelle's major works, translated by Robert Jones, along with very helpful introductory essay and notes by Jones. Serious students of philosophy and scholars of French thought are indebted to him.


  1. Hi, skholiast.

    I'm an engineer from Brazil and I fell in love for Lavelle's philosophy in such a way that I decided to learn french by myself just ti read him properly.

    Whether we like it or not, thats the only way we can get his works. And there are even more of his books translated to portuguese than to english.

    Actually, I'm at the second book of 'Dialectique'.

  2. Beside Jean Louis Vieillard Baron and his fellows from Lavelles Association, there are two scholars specialists in Lavelle, both portuguese speakers, Américo Pereira from Portugal and Tarcísio Padilha from Brazil.


  3. Hi Eder, and welcome. Glad you found this post. Thanks too for these names of Lavelle scholars.
    I am impressed (to say the least) by your willingness to master a language for the sake of reading a serious and important thinker. After all, the requisite vocabulary and grammar to master intricate thought is far beyond the intermediate level.

  4. Hi Skholiast, sorry for the late response.

    There is, in fact, a great difficulty concerning the vocabulary necessary to read a thinker as Lavelle properly. But the familiarity between the two latin languages have helped me a lot there.

    The task still remains hard, though.

    Best regards.


  5. There is also a virtual library from the Québec's University at Chicoutimi (UQAC) where many of Lavelles books were published as e-books. Search for 'uqac classiques', 'auteurs'.