By reviving Charles Renouvier’s philosophy of science, Warren Schmaus contributes to the growing literature on political philosophy of science, given that Renouvier argues that science rests on a social contract based on conventions. Compellingly written and thoroughly researched, this book adds essential components to the history of the philosophy of science.
French philosopher Charles Renouvier played an influential role in reviving philosophy in France after it was proscribed during the Second Empire. Drawn to the ideals of the French Revolution, Renouvier came to recognize that the free will and civil liberties he supported were essential to the pursuit of science, contrary to the ideologies of positivists and socialists who would restrict liberty in the name of science. He struggled against monarchy and religious authority in the period up through 1848 and defended a liberal, secular form of political organization at a critical turning point in French history, the beginning of the Third Republic. As Warren Schmaus argues, Renouvier’s work provides an example of one way in which philosophy of science can succeed in bringing about change in political life—by critiquing political ideologies that falsely claim absolute certainty on religious, scientific, or any other grounds. Liberty and the Pursuit of Knowledge explores the understudied relationship between Renouvier’s philosophy of science and his political philosophy, shedding new light on the significance of his thought for the history of philosophy.
Renouvier certainly deserves more consideration than he has received to date. As Schmaus shows quite convincingly, Renouvier’s philosophy is a crucial step between Comte’s positivism and Poincaré’s conventionalism. The way Renouvier grounds his epistemology on a liberal social theory will prove useful for anyone who wishes to give sense to the idea of a social philosophy of science.
Warren Schmaus is professor of philosophy at Illinois Institute of Technology. He is the author of Rethinking Durkheim and His Tradition and Durkheim’s Philosophy of Science and the Sociology of Knowledge: Creating an Intellectual Niche, and is coeditor of Love, Order, & Progress: The Science, Philosophy, & Politics of Auguste Comte.