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Étienne Vacherot

Étienne Vacherot (July 29, 1809 - July 28, 1897), French philosophical writer, was born of peasant parentage at Torcenay, near Langres in the Haute-Marne département of France.

He was educated at the École Normale, and returned thither as director of studies in 1838, after some years spent in provincial schoolmasterships. In 1839 he succeeded his master Cousin as professor of philosophy at the Sorbonne. His Histoire critique de l'école d'Alexandrie (3 vols. 1846-51), his first and best-known work, drew on him attacks from the Clerical party which led to his suspension in 1851. Shortly afterwards he refused to swear allegiance to the new imperial government, and was dismissed the service. His work Démocratie (1859) led to a political prosecution and imprisonment.

In 1868 he was elected to the Académie française. On the fall of the Empire he took an active part in politics, was maire of a district of Paris during the siege, and in 1871 was in the National Assembly, voting as a Moderate Liberal. In 1873 he drew nearer the Conservatives, after which he was never again successful as a parliamentary candidate, though he maintained his principles vigorously in the press.

Vacherot was a man of high character and adhered strictly to his principles, which were generally opposed to those of the party in power. His chief philosophical importance consists in the fact that he was a leader in the attempt to revivify French philosophy by the new thought of Germany, to which he had been introduced by Cousin, but of which he never had more than a second-hand knowledge. Metaphysics he held to be based on psychology. He maintains the unity and freedom of the soul, and the absolute obligation of the moral law. In religion, which was his main interest, he was much influenced by Hegel, and appears somewhat in the ambiguous position of a sceptic anxious to believe. He sees insoluble contradictions in every mode of conceiving God as real, yet he advocates religious belief, though the object of that belief have but an abstract or imaginary existence.

His other works are:

See Olle-Laprune, Etienne Vacherot (Paris, 1898).

This entry was originally from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.