Louis Rougier

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Louis Auguste Paul Rougier (French:  [ʁuʒje] ; 10 April 1889 – 14 October 1982) was a French philosopher. Rougier made many important contributions to epistemology, philosophy of science, political philosophy and the history of Christianity.



Rougier was born in Lyon. Debilitated by pleurisy in his youth, he was declared unfit for service in World War I and devoted his adolescence to intellectual pursuits.

After receiving the agrégation de philosophie degree from the University of Lyon, Rougier taught until 1924 at various lycées and obtained his doctorate from the Sorbonne in 1920. His doctoral thesis work was published that year as La philosophie géometrique de Poincaré and Les paralogismes du rationalisme. Rougier already had several publications to his name, however, beginning with a 1914 paper on the use of non-Euclidean geometry in relativity theory.

Rougier taught in Algiers from 1917-1920, and then in Rome from 1920 to 1924. His first university appointment in France was at the University of Besançon in 1925, where he served on the faculty until his dismissal in 1948 for political reasons. Further university appointments were in Cairo from 1931–36, the New School for Social Research from 1941–43 and the Université de Montréal in 1945. Rougier's final academic appointment was to the Université de Caen in 1954, but he retired at the age of 66 after only one year there.


Rougier lived to the age of 93 and was survived by his third wife, Lucy Friedman. Dr. Friedman, whom he married in 1942, was a former secretary to Moritz Schlick. Although Friedman had a daughter from a previous marriage, Rougier himself had no children.


Under the influence of Henri Poincaré and Wittgenstein, Rougier developed a philosophy based on the idea that systems of logic are neither apodictic (i.e., necessarily true and therefore deducible) nor assertoric (i.e., not necessarily true and whose truth must therefore be induced through empirical investigation.) Instead, Rougier proposed that the various systems of logic are simply conventions that are adopted based on contingent circumstances.

This view, which implies that there are no "objective," a priori truths that exist independently of the human mind, closely resembled the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle. Many members of this group, including Philipp Frank, greatly admired Rougier's 1920 work Les paralogismes du rationalisme. Rougier soon became the group's only French associate and formed close personal ties to several of its leading members, including Moritz Schlick (to whom Rougier's 1955 book Traité de la connaissance is dedicated) and Hans Reichenbach. Rougier also participated as an organizer and contributor to many Vienna Circle activities, including the International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. Rougier's own contribution to the Encyclopedia never materialized, however, because he soon became one of many participants who ended up quarreling with Otto Neurath, the project's editor-in-chief.


Rougier's conventionalist philosophical position naturally led him to oppose Neo-Thomism, which had been the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church since the 1879 encyclical Aeterna Patris but was gaining particular momentum during the 1920s and 1930s. Rougier published several works during this period attacking this contemporary revival of scholasticism, thereby earning the personal enmity of prominent Thomists such as Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain.

Rougier's objections to Neo-Thomism were not merely philosophical, however, but formed part of a general opposition to Christianity that he had already begun to develop during his adolescence under the influence of Ernest Renan. This early opposition to Christianity continued to influence intellectual work of Rougier's maturity, leading him in 1926 to publish a translation of Celsus that is still in use today.


Rougier was also a political philosopher in the liberal tradition of Montesquieu, Constant, Guizot, and Tocqueville. Consistent with his conventionalist epistemology, Rougier believed that political power rests not upon eternally valid claims, but upon conventions that he called mystiques. The only possible reason to prefer one political system over another, he believed, depends not on eternal truths but on purely pragmatic grounds. In other words, political systems should be chosen not based on how "true" they are, but rather on how well they work.

After visiting the Soviet Union in 1932 on a visit sponsored by France's Ministry of Education, Rougier became convinced that planned economies do not work as well as market economies. This conviction led him to participate in the organization of the first neoliberal organization of the twentieth century, the Colloque Walter Lippmann , in 1938. During the same year, Rougier helped to found the Centre international d'études pour la rénovation du libéralisme. The political network established by these two groups eventually led to the 1947 foundation of the famous Mont Pelerin Society, to which Rougier was elected in the 1960s through the personal backing of Friedrich von Hayek.

Rougier, as one of the founding fathers of neoliberalism, would no doubt have been admitted to the first meeting of the Mont Pelerin Society had it not been for a second political engagement that proved disastrous to his career and reputation: his activities on behalf of the Vichy regime in France during World War II. In October 1940, Philippe Pétain sent Rougier on a secret mission to the British government in London, where he met with Winston Churchill between 21-25 October.

Rougier later claimed in several published works that these meetings resulted in an agreement between Vichy and Churchill that he called the " Mission secrète à Londres : les Accords Pétain-Churchill ", an allegation that the British government later denied in an official White Paper. Although these activities and publications eventually led to Rougier's dismissal in 1948 from his teaching position at the University of Besançon, Rougier continued to be active throughout the 1950s in organizations that defended Pétain. He also published works denouncing the épuration (the French equivalent of denazification that was carried out on formerly Vichy territory by the Allies after the war) as illegal and totalitarian. Finally, Rougier was active in an effort that petitioned the United Nations in 1951, alleging that the Allies had committed human rights violations and war crimes during the Libération.

During the 1970s, Rougier formed a second controversial political alliance: with the Nouvelle Droite of the French writer Alain de Benoist. Rougier's long-standing opposition to Christianity, together with his conviction that "the West" possesses a pragmatically superior mentalité to those of other cultures, aligned closely with the views of this movement. Benoist reissued and wrote prefaces to several of Rougier's earlier works, and in 1974 Benoist's think tank GRECE published an entirely new book by Rougier: Le conflit du Christianisme primitif et de la civilisation antique.

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