BACHELARD Gaston—philosopher, b. 27 July, 1884 in Bar-sur-Aube (Champagne), d. 16 October, 1962 in Paris.
From 1903 to the outbreak of the First World War he was a postal worker and studied at the same time. In 1912 he received a licentiate in mathematics. In 1914 he was drafted and served in the army for the entire war. In 1919 he returned to Bar-sur-Aube where he taught physics and chemistry in the local college. During that time he became interested in philosophy. In 1920 he received a licentiate in philosophy, and in 1927 a doctorate. He wrote his dissertation under A. Rey and L. Brunschvieg. From 1930 he taught philosophy at the university in Dijon. In 1954 he went to the Sorbonne and following A. Rej in the chair of the history and philosophy of science.
Bachelard published books in the philosophy of science, and on time, consciousness, and poetic imagination. His most important works include: Essai sur la connaissance approchée (P 1928, 19734)s; Le nouvel esprit scientifique (P 1934, 198315); La formation de l’esprit scientifique. Contribution à une psychoanalyse de la connaissance objective (P 1938, 199315); La philosophie de non. Essai d’une philosophie du nouvel esprit scientifique (P 1940, 19818); L’eau et les rêves. Essai sur l’imagination de la matière (P 1942); Le rationalisme appliqué (P 1949, 19866); L’activité rationaliste de la physique contemporaine (P 1951, 19755); Le matérialisme rationnel (P 1953); La poétique de l’espace (P 1957, 1748); La poétique de la rêverie (P 1960, 19848; Poetyka marzenia [Poetics of dreaming], Gd 1996); La flamme d’une chandelle (P 1961, 19963; Płomień Ŷwiecy [Light of a candle], Gd 1996). A collection of Bachelard’s works has also been published in Polish: Wyobraźnia poetycka. Wybór pism. [Poetic imagination. Collection of writings], (Wwa 1975). A collection of works was published posthumously under the title Épistémologie (P 1971, 19925).
Bachelard saw the philosophical importance of the findings of science since the beginning of the twentieth century: the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. These theories are not a simple completion or correction of existing knowledge but are a radical change in the way we understand many basic concepts: time, space, causality, object, and subject. The empirical foundation of science also changed: the investigated phenomena are created and modified in laboratories with instruments and are not discovered in nature. Bachelard thought that the foundationalist epistemology that appeals to “ultimate data” and presupposes a cognitive structure (whether formal logic, or subjective a priori categories) cannot explain contemporary science. Bachelard therefore proposed a new non-Cartesian epistemology that grasps “the new scientific spirit of open rationalism”. The typical scientific attitude is expressed in the question: “Why not?”. Bachelard called his position open rationalism or dialectical philosophy (the dialogue or reason and the senses, of mathematics and experiment). The most important concepts of Bachelard’s epistemology include dialectical reasoning (although not in the Hegelian sense), epistemological rupture, cognitive hindrance, and the recurrent history of science. Dialectical reasoning allows us to move from a closed system in a certain respect to a system more open under the same respect. An example of this is the transition from Euclid’s geometry to non-Euclidean geometry. This “dialectical development” is a “cognitive rupture” from the previous tradition because it introduces a cognitive discontinuity that forces us to redefine concepts or introduce new concepts (and there is no simple logical dependence between the new concepts and the preceding ones). It introduces a reorganization of the field of study and an evaluation of the cognitive value of previously acquired knowledge. Science that develops dialectically is therefore “compelled” periodically to evaluate the achievements of its past. It will value some as “true progress” and others as “errors”. Bachelard called this work of evaluation the recurrent history of science. “Cognitive obstacles” are subjective factors that operate at the level of the unconscious and “make rigid” our thought. They make us recognize certain statements as evident and beyond discussion. We obtain objective knowledge when we overcome these obstacles and draw new lines between theoretical reflection and practice, between the object and subject, and between the conscious and the unconscious. It is not surprising that the unconscious factors, which condition and limit our cognition, and not only prepared theories, must also become an object of epistemological study. Bachelard proposes, according to his own definition, “a psychoanalysis of objective cognition” that appeals to the Jungian conception of archetypes that reveals these factors. In La psychoanalyse du feu (P 1938), Bachelard describes how visions of fire as dangerous, destructive, and purifying had influence the mode of thought and language of eighteenth-century science. Bachelard made similar analyses with the concepts of water, air, and earth.
Bachelard, however, did not think that what is subjective and personal is harmful to science. On the contrary, the human mind’s ability for unbridled imagination is a condition for the development of science. In order to go beyond the framework defined by a conceptual net, a creative thinker must dream dreams without concerning himself with whether they agree with currently accepted scientific theories. Emotional engagement is a condition for productivity in science.
Bachelard’s conceptions anticipated some conceptions developed later by K. Popper and T. Kuhn. Bachelard had a great influence on French thinkers contemporary to him (e.g., M. Foucault), especially in epistemology and poetics, and also had a great influence on the contemporary mentality.
M. Lalonde, La théorie de la connaissance scientifique selon Gaston B., Mo 1966; P. Ginestier, La pensée de B., P 1968; D. Lecourt, L’épistémologie historique de Gaston B., P 1969, 19785; J. P. Roy, B. ou le concept contre l’image, Mo 1977; O. Roy, Le Nouvel esprit scientifique de Gaston B., P 1979; R. C. Smith, C. Roch, Gaston B., Bs 1982; M. Schaettel, Gaston B. Le rêve et la raison, Saint-Seine-l’Abbaye 1984; M. Tiles, B. Science and Objectivity, C-NY 1984; B. aujourd’hui, P 1986; Gaston B. Profils épistémologiques, Ot 1987; C. M. Cesar, B. Ciencia e poesia, São Paulo 1989; The Philosophy and Poetics of Gaston B., Wa 1989; D. Gil, B. et la culture scientifique, P 1993; H. Choe, Gaston B. Épistémologie. Bibliographie, F-NY 1994; A. Parinaud, B., P 1997; A. Deregibus, La filosofia di Gaston B. tra scienza e immaginazione, Fi 1997; Gaston B. Un rationaliste romantique, Di 1997.