Victor Cousin, a French philosopher, born in Paris, Nov. 28, 1792, died at Cannes, Jan. 15, 1867. His father was a clock-maker, a disciple of Jean Jacques Rousseau, and a revolutionist. The first public school that he attended was the lycee Charlemagne, where he gained the highest prizes. Especially interested in rhetoric, the imitative arts, and music, he determined to make literature his vocation, and as a distinguished student his name was in 1811 placed first on the list of pupils admitted into the newly organized normal school. He became assistant Greek professor in this school in 1812, master of the conferences" in 1814, held a chair in the lycee Napoleon (soon after called college Bourbon), and during the hundred days was enrolled in the elite corps of royal volunteers. Meantime his attention had been diverted from belles-lettres to philosophy. The attractive lectures of Laromiguiere, one of the society of Auteuil, and the most graceful of the followers of Condillac, first interested him in sensationalism or ideology, the reigning philosophy of the 18th century. The first who openly revolted from the authority of Condillac was Royer-Collard, who developed in France the theories of the Scottish school, and of whom Cousin was the favorite pupil.
When at the close of 1815 Royer-Collard was raised to civil office under the restoration, Cousin became his successor as deputy professor of philosophy in the Sorbonne, and for five years he lectured both at the university and the normal school. From the speculations of Maine de Biran concerning the will he derived the germs of his ideas of personality, causality, and liberty; and his earliest courses followed the system of Reid, and were devoted in general to an exposition of ideal truth. He spent the vacations of 1817 and 1818 in Germany, acquainting himself with the literature and thinkers of that country; and the metaphysics of Kant tinged the lectures delivered after his return. In 1821, in consequence of the royalist reaction in the state, his views of free agency were thought to have a political intent, and his course was indefinitely suspended. The next year the normal school was closed by a royal ordinance. The leisure thus afforded he occupied in prosecuting his editions of Proclus (6 vols., Paris, 1820-'27) and Descartes (11 vols., 1826), and his translation of Plato, with summaries, on which he employed, like Raphael, the labor of his pupils subject to his own revision (13 vols., 1825-'40). He also took charge of the education of a son of Marshal Lannes, and in 1824 visited Germany with his pupil.
He was arrested at Dresden, on suspicion of being an accomplice of the carbonari, was taken to Berlin, where he suffered a captivity of six months, and was visited in prison by Hegel, whose philosophy was then predominant in Germany. He also became intimately acquainted with Schleiermacher and Schelling. Returning to Paris, he published in 1826 the first series of his Fragments phi-losophiques (followed by a series of Nouveaux fragments in 1828), and favored the increasing liberal party. In 1827 the Villele ministry was supplanted by that of Martignac, and he was restored to the chair of philosophy in the Sorbonne, with Guizot and Ville-main for colleagues. The successful triumvirate at once attracted audiences to the university unexampled in numbers and enthusiasm since the time of Abelard. Stenographic reports of their lectures were distributed throughout France. Cousin had already unfurled the banner of eclecticism in the preface to his Fragments philosophiques, and he now fully developed the theory that four systems of philosophy have alternately prevailed, each of which is a partial truth, and that the human mind can escape from past error only by uniting the elements of truth contained in each system, so as to form a composite and complete philosophy.
He found in the East, in Greece, in mediaeval scholasticism, and in all modern speculations, only different phases of sensualism, idealism, skepticism, and mysticism. His forte lay in developing a system from its central principle till it took in the universe in its consequences. His eloquence was at once impetuous and grave, and his style and splendid language recalled the stateli-ness of the old French classics. The students, accustomed to the calm dissertations of the sensationalists, followed with admiration his adventurous flight. He was the first to unfold to French audiences the speculations and strange technology of the German philosophical development from Kant to Hegel, giving popular expression to theories of the absolute. His lectures derived additional interest from the political temper of the time, a liberal audience gladly discovering political allusions in the words of a liberal professor. At this period Cousin enjoyed his highest reputation. He took no part in the revolution of 1830, but immediately after dedicated a volume of Plato to the memory of one of his pupils who had fallen in the fight.
He soon became councillor of state, member of the royal council of public instruction, officer of the legion of honor, titular professor in the Sorbonne, member of the French academy, to succeed Baron Fourier (1830), and of the academy of moral and political sciences at its foundation, director of the reestablished normal school, and peer of France (1832). He reorganized the system of primary instruction in France, arranged the plan of studies which is still retained in the normal school, and visited Prussia (1833) and Holland (1837) to observe the institutions of public instruction, concerning which he published full and valuable reports, which were translated into English by Mrs. Austin. He urged that national instruction should be associated with religion and founded on the Christian principle, and maintained that education which is not specially religious is likely to be hurtful rather than beneficial, illustrating this view in speeches delivered in the chamber of peers. In 1840 he became minister of public instruction in the cabinet of Thiers, which lasted but eight months. In 1844 he gained his greatest parliamentary distinction by his speech in the chamber of peers in defence of the university and of philosophy.
Though surprised by the revolution of 1848, he gave it his aid, and began the series of publications undertaken by the institute at the request of Gen. Cavaignac in behalf of popular morality. He issued an edition of Rousseau's Profession de foi du vi-caire Savoyard, and in short treatises entitled Philosophie populaire and Justice et charite combated the doctrines of socialism. He had become after 1830 one of the writers for the Journal des Savants and the Revue des Deux Mondes, in which many of the articles composing his volumes of Fragments de philosophie ancienne, Fragments de philosophie scho-lastique, Fragments de philosophie moderne, Fragments litteraires, and other collections, first appeared. His other chief philosophical publications are, an introduction to the history of philosophy (1828), a history of philosophy in the 18th century (1829), a translation of Ten-nemann's history of philosophy (1829), a treatise on the metaphysics of Aristotle (1838), lectures on the philosophy of Kant (1842), lectures on moral philosophy delivered between 1816 and 1820 (1840-'41), a work entitled Du 'vrai, du beau, et du Men (1853), and editions of the Sic et Non of Abelard (1836), of the works of Maine de Biran (1834-'41), of the Pensees of Pascal (1842), of the works of Andre (1843), and of the works of Abelard (1849). One of the most acceptable fruits of his research is the recovery of the original MS. of the Pensees sur la religion of Pascal. The biography of Jacqueline Pascal (1845) is founded chiefly on inedited or unknown documents. - As a philosopher, the plan of Cousin was to publish systems, and from systems to deduce an eclectic philosophy.
The reason, in his view, has spontaneous consciousness of absolute truths, and furnishes to the mind ideas of infinite objects which could not be formed by any power of abstraction from observation of particular, finite, and contingent things; to know these ideas is the aim of philosophy, and the reason would be perfectly cognizant of them if it were not misled by the senses, passions, and imagination. There is something true in every system of philosophy, since error can never reach to utter extravagance; this element of truth exists in the reason, and may be found by impartial examination of the consciousness, and of the history of humanity. From the drama of changing systems, which is the history of philosophy, let the truth which constitutes the positive side of every system be taken, exclusive of whatever constitutes its negative and false side; the ideas thus obtained will furnish a spectacle of the universal consciousness, and will be the sum of eclectic philosophy. If the question be raised concerning the authority of the reason, and the certainty that its ideas are universal truths, Cousin, in order to answer, passes from psychology to ontology.
Human reason, he says, is not a part of the human personality, but in its nature impersonal, absolute, and infallible, the logos of Pythagoras and Plato, a mediator between God and man; its qualities are those precisely opposed to individuality, namely, universality and necessity; and its spontaneous ideas rightly understood are revelations of a world unknown to man. This theory finds its completion in theodicy. As every phenomenon implies a substance, as our faculties, volitions, and sensations imply a person to whom they belong, so absolute truths have their last foundation in an absolute being, and ideal truth, beauty, and goodness are not mere abstractions, but are the attributes of the infinite Being whom we call God. Cousin was more learned than original. He was alternately under the influence of the Scotch and German schools of philosophy, and did not found any well defined school of his own. His eclecticism does not survive him. Yet he gave to abstruse subjects the charm of his vivid and eloquent style, and will always be remembered as a metaphysician and psychologist. The last 15 years of his life were devoted to histories and biographies illustrating French society in the 17th century.
His series of studies on Mme. de Longueville (1853), Mme. de Sable (1854), Mme. de Chevreuse and Mme. de Hautefort (1856), and that entitled La so-ciete francaise au XVIIe siecle, d'apres le Grand Cyrus de Mlle, de Scudery (1858), have the same elevation of thought and sentiment, the same poetical and eloquent style, which mark his discussions and histories of philosophy. His later works are: Histoire generale de philosophie (1864), La jeunesse de Mme. de Longueville (4th ed., enlarged, 1864), and La jeunesse de Mazarin (1865). A complete edition of his works up to that time was published in 1847, in 22 vols. Cousin was economical even to parsimony, and accumulated a considerable fortune. His library, containing 14,-000 volumes, especially rich in memorials of the 17th century, was bequeathed to the college of the Sorbonne, with a fund for its preservation. A monument to his memory was erected in the courtyard of the Sorbonne, March 1, 1873. - The principal American editions of Cousin's philosophical writings are the "Introduction to the History of Philosophy," translated by Henning Gottfried Linberg (Boston, 1832); the "Elements of Psychology," from his lectures, by C. S.Henry (Hartford, 1834; lasted., New York, 1856); selections from his works, with introductory and critical notices, in Ripley's "Philosophical Miscellanies" (Boston, 1838); his "Course of Modern Philosophy," by O. W. Wight (New York, 1855); his "Lectures on the True, the Beautiful, and the Good," also by O. W. Wight (New York, 1857); and a portion of the memoirs and studies, under the title of " Secret History of the French Court under Richelieu and Mazarin," by Mary L. Booth (New York, 1858).