Gaston Bachelard

Gaston Bachelard (/ˌbæʃəˈlɑːr/ ; French: [baʃlaʁ]; 27 June 1884 – 16 October 1962) was a French philosopher.[9] 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 and rupture épistémologique). He influenced many subsequent French philosophers, among them Michel Foucault, Louis Althusser, Dominique Lecourt and Jacques Derrida, as well as the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu.

For Gaston the scientific object should be constructed and therefore different from the positivist sciences information is in continuous construction. Empiricism and rationalism are not regarded as dualism or opposition but complementary, therefore studies of a priori and a posteriori or in other words reason and are dialectic and are part of scientific research.[10]

Gaston Bachelard
Gaston Bachelard 1965
Born27 June 1884
Bar-sur-Aube, France
Died16 October 1962 (aged 78)
Paris, France
EducationUniversity of Paris
(B.A., 1920; D.-ès-Lettres, 1927)[1]
Era20th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolContinental philosophy
French rationalism
French historical epistemology[2]
InstitutionsUniversity of Dijon[3]
University of Paris
Doctoral advisorLéon Brunschvicg
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

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. In 1958 he became a member of the Royal Academy of Science, Letters and Fine Arts of Belgium.[11]

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.

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.[12] He compared "scientific knowledge" to ordinary knowledge in the way we deal with it, and saw error as only illusion: "Scientifically, one thinks truth as the historical rectification of a persistent error, and experiments as correctives for an initial, common illusion (illusion première)."[13]

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."[14] To understand the way it works, one has to take 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).[15]

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 like 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 condition for 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, and the latter had a wide reception in architectural theory circles. Jean-Paul Sartre cites the former and Bachelard's Water and Dreams in his Being and Nothingness (1943).


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 relativité (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'expérience 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 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 (Applied Rationalism, 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)
  • Intuition of the Instant. Northwestern University Press, 2013. Translation by Eileen Rizo-Patron (L'intuition de l'instant)

See also


  1. ^ Cristina Chimisso, Gaston Bachelard: Critic of Science and the Imagination, Routledge, 2013, p. 51.
  2. ^ E. Reck (ed.), The Historical Turn in Analytic Philosophy, Springer, 2016: ch. 2.1.
  3. ^ Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy (1998): "Bachelard, Gaston (1884-1962)".
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Joseph W. Dauben and Christoph J. Scriba (eds.), Writing the History of Mathematics – Its Historical Development, 2002, p. 33.
  6. ^ Eileen Rizo-Patron, Edward S. Casey, Jason M. Wirth (eds.), Adventures in Phenomenology: Gaston Bachelard, SUNY Press, 2017, p. 123 n. 11.
  7. ^ François Dosse. Castoriadis. Une vie. Paris: La Découverte, 2014, pp. 43–4.
  8. ^ M. Serres, "La réforme et les sept péchés," L'Arc, 42, Bachelard special issue (1970).
  9. ^ Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers. London: Routledge. 1996. pp. 41–42. ISBN 0-415-06043-5.
  10. ^ Lima, Marcos Antonio Martins; Marinelli, Marcos (13 July 2011). "A epistemologia de Gaston Bachelard: uma ruptura com as filosofias do imobilismo". Revista de Ciências Humanas. 45 (2). doi:10.5007/2178-4582.2011v45n2p393. ISSN 2178-4582.
  11. ^ Index biographique des membres et associés de l'Académie royale de Belgique (1769-2005) p 19.
  12. ^ The New Scientific Mind, conclusion.
  13. ^ The New Scientific Mind, VI, 6.
  14. ^ in Le Rationalisme appliqué (1949, 2nd ed. of 1962, p. 104ff).
  15. ^ The New Scientific Mind, V (p. 120 French ed., 1934).


  • 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 Françoise 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.

Further reading

External links


Bar-sur-Aube (French: [baʁ syʁ ob] (listen)) is a French commune and a sub-prefecture in the Aube department in the Grand Est region of France.Surrounded by hills and Champagne vineyards, the city is traversed by the river Aube, from which it derives its name.

The inhabitants of the commune are known as Baralbins or Baralbines and Barsuraubois or Barsurauboises.The commune has been awarded three flowers by the National Council of Towns and Villages in Bloom in the Competition of cities and villages in Bloom.


Dialectica is a quarterly philosophy journal published by Blackwell. The journal was founded in 1947 by Gaston Bachelard, Paul Bernays and Ferdinand Gonseth. Dialectica is edited in Switzerland and has a focus on analytical philosophy. The journal is the official journal of the European Society for Analytic Philosophy.

Dominique Lecourt

Dominique Lecourt (French: [ləkuʁ]; born 5 February 1944) is a French philosopher. He is known in the anglophone world primarily for his work developing a materialist interpretation of the philosophy of science of Gaston Bachelard.

Epistemological rupture

Epistemological rupture (epistemological break or epistemological obstacle; French: obstacle épistémologique, rupture épistémologique), is a notion introduced in 1938 by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard, and later used by Louis Althusser.

Ferdinand Gonseth

Ferdinand Gonseth (1890–1975) was a Swiss mathematician and philosopher.He was born on 22 September 1890 at Sonvilier, the son of Ferdinand Gonseth, a clockmaker, and his wife Marie Bourquin. He studied at La Chaux-de-Fonds, and read physics and mathematics at EPF Zurich, from 1910 to 1914.In 1929 Gonseth succeeded Jérôme Franel as Professor of Higher Mathematics at ETH. In 1947 he founded Dialectica, with Paul Bernays and Gaston Bachelard. In the same year he took the newly-created chair of philosophy of science at ETH.Gonseth died on 17 December 1975 at Lausanne. He was noted for his "open philosophy", according to which science and mathematics lacked absolute foundations. See Idoneism.

Hélène Metzger

Hélène Metzger (26 August 1889 – 7 March 1944) was a French philosopher of science and historian of science. In her writings she focused mainly on the history of chemistry. Due to her Jewish background, she became a victim of the Holocaust in the Second World War, dying in Auschwitz concentration camp.

Because of her early death, her oeuvre is limited in size, but has nonetheless been influential. She published nine books, thirty-six articles and numerous reviews. Contemporaries such as Gaston Bachelard and Émile Meyerson referred often to her works and also Thomas Kuhn, in the introduction of his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) referred to her as one of his main inspirations. She was the niece of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, an influential French anthropologist.

Jean Lescure

Jean Lescure (14 September 1912 – 17 October 2005) was a French poet.

List of philosophers of science

This is a chronological list of philosophers of science. For an alphabetical name-list, see Category:Philosophers of science.


In communication, logosphere is the interpretation of words' meanings based on language and context. The word is derived from its Greek roots: logos the word and sphere here in the meaning of the universe. The universe of words as in universe of information.

The term was later taken up by virtual reality enthusiasts to describe the logical universe.The logosphere, in decades past, has been used in reference to the new world of communication created by the invention of the radio. French philosopher Gaston Bachelard proclaimed, "Everyone can hear everyone else and we can all listen in peace." This "domain of world speech" should be called the logosphere, he reasoned.Many academics today liken the term logosphere to "the sum-total of ideas, concepts and facts that inhabit the collective texts — digital, printed, handwritten, carved or otherwise — of the human race." What is accessible to whom within the logosphere is a point of interest for many communications researches and social scientists alike. The control of information — the logosphere — and how much of it is publicly available has been a point of socioeconomic oppression and revolution throughout history.

Lúcio Alberto Pinheiro dos Santos

Lúcio Alberto Pinheiro dos Santos (Braga, 19 April 1889 - Rio de Janeiro, 11 November 1950) was a Portuguese philosopher and teacher, noted for coining the term and writing the first theory of rhythmanalysis, focused on its physiological dimensions. His ideas on rhythmanalysis have been later further developed by French philosophers Gaston Bachelard and Henri Lefebvre.

Michel Tournier

Michel Tournier (French: [tuʁnje]; 19 December 1924 − 18 January 2016) was a French writer. He won awards such as the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française in 1967 for Friday, or, The Other Island and the Prix Goncourt for The Erl-King in 1970.

His inspirations included traditional German culture, Catholicism and the philosophies of Gaston Bachelard. He resided in Choisel and was a member of the Académie Goncourt. His autobiography has been translated and published as The Wind Spirit (Beacon Press, 1988). He was on occasion in contention for the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Ophelia complex

Ophelia complex is the term used by Gaston Bachelard to refer to the links between femininity, liquids, and drowning which he saw as symbolised in the fate of Shakespeare's Ophelia.

Phenomenology (architecture)

Phenomenology in architecture can be understood as a discursive and realist attempt to understand and embody the philosophical insights of phenomenology. "Phenomenology shares the conviction that the critical stance proper to philosophy requires a move away from a straightforward metaphysical or empirical investigation of objects," Dr. Dan Zahavi, "to an investigation of the very framework of meaning and intelligibility that makes any such straightforward investigation possible in the first place. It precisely asks how something like objectivity is possible in the first place. Phenomenology has also made important contributions to most areas of philosophy. Contemporary phenomenology is a somewhat heterogeneous field." Its contributions in architecture are among the most significant and lasting in architecture due to architecture's direct involvement with experience.

Rouben Melik

Rouben Melik (Ռուբեն Մելիք, 14 November 1921 – 21 May 2007) was a French-Armenian poet and a member of the French Resistance. Officer of Ordre des Arts et Lettres (1963).

Rouben Melik studied in Sorbonne with Gaston Bachelard, before his entrance to the literature under the aegis of the Resistance. One year after the publication in 1941 of Variations of triptyches, he joined the French Communist Party where he became a friend of Paul Eluard, alongside the Manouchian group and took part in the liberation of Paris. After the war, he founded "Armenian Youth of France" organization.

Winner of Apollinaire prize in 1948.

Sculptures Bachelard

Sculptures Bachelard is an In Situ work by French artist Jean-Max Albert installed in 1986 in the Parc de la Villette, Paris, France. It is named after the author of The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard. It consists of a set of 8 sculptures arranged around the perimeter of the Jardin de la Treille.

Sociology of scientific knowledge

The sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) is the study of science as a social activity, especially dealing with "the social conditions and effects of science, and with the social structures and processes of scientific activity." The sociology of scientific ignorance (SSI) is complementary to the sociology of scientific knowledge. For comparison, the sociology of knowledge studies the impact of human knowledge and the prevailing ideas on societies and relations between knowledge and the social context within which it arises.

Sociologists of scientific knowledge study the development of a scientific field and attempt to identify points of contingency or interpretative flexibility where ambiguities are present. Such variations may be linked to a variety of political, historical, cultural or economic factors. Crucially, the field does not set out to promote relativism or to attack the scientific project; the aim of the researcher is to explain why one interpretation rather than another succeeds due to external social and historical circumstances.

The field emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s and at first was an almost exclusively British practice. Other early centers for the development of the field were in France, Germany, and the United States (notably at Cornell University). Major theorists include Barry Barnes, David Bloor, Sal Restivo, Randall Collins, Gaston Bachelard, Harry Collins, Paul Feyerabend, Steve Fuller, Martin Kusch, Bruno Latour, Mike Mulkay, Derek J. de Solla Price, Lucy Suchman and Anselm Strauss.

Suzanne Bachelard

Suzanne Bachelard (October 18, 1919, Voigny – November 3, 2007, Paris) was a French philosopher and academic. In 1958 she published La Conscience de la rationalité. She was the daughter of philosopher Gaston Bachelard, of whom she edited the posthumous book Fragments d'une Poétique du Feu. She taught at Sorbonne, where she also had Jacques Derrida as her assistant.

She was the first translator to French of the Husserl's book, Formal and Transcendental Logic.


In common usage, technoscience refers to the entire long-standing global human activity of technology combined with the relatively recent scientific method that occurred primarily in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries. Technoscience is the study of how humans interact with technology using the scientific method.

Technoscience thus comprises the history of human application of technology and modern scientific methods, ranging from the early development of basic technologies for hunting, agriculture, or husbandry (e.g. the well, the bow, the plow, the harness) and all the way through atomic applications, biotechnology, robotics, and computer sciences. This more common and comprehensive usage of the term technoscience can be found in general textbooks and lectures concerning the history of science.

An alternate, more narrow usage occurs in some philosophic science and technology studies. In this usage, technoscience refers specifically to the technological and social context of science. Technoscience recognises that scientific knowledge is not only socially coded and historically situated but sustained and made durable by material (non-human) networks. Technoscience states that the fields of science and technology are linked and grow together, and scientific knowledge requires an infrastructure of technology in order to remain stationary or move forward.

The latter, philosophic use of the term technoscience was popularized by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard in 1953. It was popularized in the French-speaking world by Belgian philosopher Gilbert Hottois in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and entered English academic usage in 1987 with Bruno Latour's book Science in Action.In translating the concept to English, Latour also combined several arguments about technoscience that had circulated separately within science and technology studies (STS) before into a comprehensive framework:

the intertwinement of scientific and technological development as e.g. shown by the lab studies;

the power of laboratories (and engineering workshops) to change the world as we know and experience it;

the seamless webs that connect scientists, engineers and societal actors in actual practice (cf. John Law's concept of heterogeneous engineering);

the propensity of technoscientific world to create new nature–culture hybrids, and hence to complicate the borders between nature and culture.

The Poetics of Space

The Poetics of Space (French: La Poétique de l'Espace) is a 1958 book about architecture by the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard. Commentators have compared Bachelard's views to those of the philosopher Martin Heidegger.


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