Émile Boutroux

Émile Boutroux
Émile Boutroux, French philosopher
Born Étienne Émile Marie Boutroux
July 28, 1845
Montrouge, now in the Hauts-de-Seine
Died November 22, 1921
Alma mater École Normale Supérieure
Heidelberg University
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School French spiritualism
Institutions University of Nancy
University of Paris
Main interests
Philosophy of religion
Notable ideas
Religion and science are compatible
The contingent character of the laws of nature[1]

Étienne Émile Marie Boutroux (French: [butʁu]; July 28, 1845 – November 22, 1921) was an eminent 19th century French philosopher of science and religion, and an historian of philosophy. He was a firm opponent of materialism in science. He was a spiritual philosopher who defended the idea that religion and science are compatible at a time when the power of science was rising inexorably. His work is overshadowed in the English-speaking world by that of the more celebrated Henri Bergson. He was elected membership of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences in 1898 and in 1912 to the Académie française.


Émile Boutroux was born at Montrouge, now in the Hauts-de-Seine département, near Paris. He attended the lycée Napoléon (now lycée Henri IV), and graduated in 1865 to the École Normale Supérieure. He then continued his education at Heidelberg University between 1869–1870 where he was taught by Hermann von Helmholtz and encountered German philosophy.

His first employment was the post of philosophy professor at the lycée in Caen. In 1874 he published his book on which he based his doctoral thesis. The Contingency of the laws of the nature was an analysis of the implications of Kantian philosophy for science.

Between 1874 and 1876 Boutroux taught at the Faculty of Letters at the University of Nancy and while there he fell in love with and married Aline Poincaré the sister of the scientist and mathematician Henri Poincaré. In 1880 his son, Pierre, was born. Pierre Boutroux was himself to become a distinguished mathematician and historian of science.

In 1888 Boutroux was made professor of history of modern philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris.

He was elected a member of Academy of the Moral and Political Sciences in 1898 and in 1902 he became Director of the Thiers Foundation, a residency for France's brightest students. He was elected to the Académie Française in 1912.


  • De la Contingence des Lois de la Nature (1874).
  • De Veritatibus Æternis apud Cartesium (1874; translated into French by G. Canguilhem, Des Vérités Éternelles Chez Descartes, Paris: Alcan, 1927; Paris: Vrin-Reprise, 1985).
  • La Grèce Vaincue et les Premiers Stoïciens (1875).
  • La Monadologie de Leibnitz (1881).
  • Socrate, Fondateur de la Science Morale (1883).
  • Les Nouveaux Essais, de Leibnitz (1886).
  • Questions de Morale et d'Éducation (1895).
  • De l'Idée de Loi Naturelle dans la Science et la Philosophie Contemporaines (1895).
  • Études d'Histoire de la Philosophie (1897).
  • Du Devoir Militaire à Travers les Âges (1899).
  • Pascal (1900).
  • Essais d'Histoire de la Philosophie (1901).
  • La Philosophie de Fichte. Psychologie du Mysticisme (1902).
  • Science et Religion dans la Philosophie Contemporaine (1908).
  • William James (1911).



  • La Nature et l'Esprit (1925).
  • Études d'Histoire de la Philosophie Allemande (1926).
  • La Philosophie de Kant (1926).
  • Nouvelles Études d'Histoire de la Philosophie (1927).
  • Leçons sur Aristote (1990).

Works in English translation

  • Pascal (1902, trans. by Ellen Margaret Creak).
  • William James (1911, trans. by Archibald & Barbara Henderson).
  • Science and Religion in Contemporary Philosophy (1911, trans. by Jonathan Nield).
  • Historical Studies in Philosophy (1912, trans. by Fred Rothwell).
  • Education and Ethics (1913, trans. by Fred Rothwell).
  • Science and Culture (1914, lecture).
  • Natural Law in Science and Philosophy (1914, trans. by Fred Rothwell).
  • The Contingency of the Laws of Nature (1916, trans. by Fred Rothwell).
  • Philosophy and War (1916, trans. by Fred Rothwell).
  • The Relation Between Thought and Action (1918, lecture).

Selected articles


  1. Frederick Charles Copleston, A History of Philosophy: Maine de Biran to Sartre, Paulist Press, 1946, p. 169.
  2. "Émile Boutroux, 1845–1921, Professor of Philosophy, Sorbonne", by Michael W. DeLashmutt, University of Glasgow.
  3. Sutton, Michael (1982). Nationalism, Positivism, and Catholicism. The Politics of Charles Maurras and French Catholics 1890-1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-22868-9. p. 124.

Further reading

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