The Introduction of Phenomenology into French from 1900 to 1940

Maria-Luz Pintos

This list reports the process of phenomenology’s entrance into France and Belgium between 1900 – when Husserl’s Logische Untersuchungen appeared – and 1940 – when Hitler’s army invaded these countries and academic activity came to a halt. Having in one place everything published about phenomenology in French during that period gives us an objective basis through which to avoid mistaken assumptions and partial knowledge-based hypothesis.


This list contains references to explicitly phenomenological publications written in French, i.e., books, journal essays, reviews, and announcements or news. Lectures, lessons and phenomenology-related courses in French are included as well. Likewise, this list includes many texts, which, despite not having a phenomenological approach or any reference to phenomenology in their titles, do include some express statements about phenomenology. All these publications are indicative of how the phenomenological tradition became present in French.

As the main purpose of this list is to present how phenomenology gradually entered France and Belgium, the steps it has taken, as well as by whom and how these steps were taken, we believe it is useful for researchers to have not only a chronological list of all these references but, more specifically, the numbers of references of each type. For this purpose, we have differentiated fifteen “Sections”, listed below, and we have arranged the list in two different ways:

In the first list, there are fifteen different sections, with the corresponding references inside each of them. Thus, the investigator can ascertain the numbers of books and their authors, book chapters, reviews, lessons and courses, conferences, etc. available. From this information, it can be established whether there were more reviews of phenomenological publications than phenomenological writings in a particular year or set of years or whether a given phenomenologist was the object of special attention, and so on. It would be tough to articulate an overview on the reception of phenomenology without the adequate information to make these distinctions.

The second list is chronological. Each one of the listed elements here is always preceded by two numbers: one is the year when an item appeared and the other is the number corresponding to the section to which the reference belongs in accordance with its type. For instance, “1928.5” indicates that we deal with a review published that year and related to some text by Husserl, Scheler, or Heidegger, these being the authors with whom phenomenology in French started. For example, “1932.13a” refers to some phenomenologically-related news published that year. We deem this particularly useful for researchers in order to quickly identify the section to which a text or activity belongs and draw their own conclusions.

This picture of the genesis of phenomenology in French gives us much information with regard to phenomenology itself. The amount of information is indeed astonishing, but to find so many references in contexts other than phenomenology is even more relevant. When we face the total volume of data here, one must recognize that phenomenology gradually achieved a very important place for intellectuals who wrote in French at that time. Just one example is the considerable quantity of reviews not only of Husserl’s, Scheler’s or Heidegger’s writings, but also of quite a few other German phenomenologists.

That said, however, two cautionary notes are in order. The first one is that although the initial year of this collection of data linked to Husserlian phenomenology is 1900 because the Logische Untersuchungen were published that year, nonetheless the first date mentioned in this list refers to 1910 [1. There is actually some reference to Husserl in French language before 1900, but it is a mention to his early work as a mathematician. For instance, this news regarding “Der Folgerungscalcul und die Inhaltslogik”, Vierteljahrsschriftfür wissenschaftliche Philosophie, vol. 15 (1892) 168-189 in Revue philosophique de la France et de l’étranger, vol. 33 (janvier-juin 1892), p. 570.] However, the fact that between 1900 and 1909 there was an “absence” of phenomenology in French speaks for itself. This absence is a revealing piece of information and that is why we have wanted to mark the year 1900 and not 1910 to establish the course of phenomenology in French, with its absence, its presence and its gradual increase of presence. Our second remarks is that from 1913 to 1922, years around the First World War, there are no references to phenomenology in French for understandable reasons.

It has often been said that phenomenology entered France via Scheler, but the list we are presenting clearly shows that Husserl was there right from the start. Nevertheless, his involvement in epistemology, logic, and psychology was not the type of philosophy that appealed to young people – when the impact of the Great War encouraged them to rebel against Neo-Kantian idealism at the same time that they felt the strong attraction to a more existential philosophy. Yet, before the perception of Husserlian phenomenology started to change, attracting onlookers and gaining followers, he was already playing a role, as this list shows. On the other hand, the tardiness in translating Husserl and Heidegger into French is striking, but a likely explanation for this was the feeling against Germany after the First and Second World Wars. Where Heidegger is concerned, there was probably a stronger rejection due to his politics. Strangely enough, however, there was continuing information in French and Belgian journals about phenomenological texts which were being published in Germany. All this, together with all the reviews written, seemed to compensate for the few translations. In view of the above and for very different reasons, it may still be said that interest in phenomenology grew energetically in the French language.

It can be gathered from this that throughout the 1930’s, it was increasingly usual to refer to phenomenology in all kinds of texts, many of which were not only unrelated to phenomenology, but also unconnected to philosophy. In these texts (most of them in Section 12b), we find general statements or specific mentions of phenomenological views, both for and against. We even see that in the 1930’s the use of the adjective “phénoménologique” became very popular to refer to analyses that are essentially descriptive.

Despite the care I have taken to provide complete and correct information, I will be pleased if others finds missing items. Together we can bring more clarity to the genesis of this aspect of our phenomenological tradition.

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