Maine de Biran

Maine de Biran
Maine de Biran
Full name Maine de Biran
Other names François-Pierre-Gonthier Maine de Biran (full name)
Born November 29, 1766(1766-11-29)
Grateloup (near Bergerac), Périgord
Died July 20, 1824(1824-07-20) (aged 57) (uncertain)
Era Modern philosophy
Region Western philosophy
Notable ideas "Volo, ergo sum"

François-Pierre-Gonthier Maine de Biran (November 29, 1766 in Bergerac, France – July 20, 1824 in Paris, France), usually known simply as Maine de Biran, was a French philosopher.



Maine de Biran was born at Bergerac. The name Maine he assumed (some time before 1787) from an estate called Le Maine, near Mouleydier. After studying with distinction at Périgueux, he entered the life guards of King Louis XVI of France, and was present at Versailles during the events of October 1789. He entered politics and was part of the Conseil des Cinq Cents.[1] On the breaking up of the gardes du corps Biran retired to his patrimonial inheritance of Grateloup, near Bergerac, where he avoided the excesses of the French Revolution.

It was at this period that, to use his own words, he "passed per saltum from frivolity to philosophy". He began with psychology, which he made the study of his life. After the Reign of Terror, Maine de Biran took part in politics. Having been excluded from the Council of the Five Hundred on suspicion of royalism, he took part with his friend Joseph Lainé in the commission of 1813, which first expressed direct opposition to the will of the emperor Napoleon. After the restoration of the monarchy, he became treasurer to the chamber of deputies, retiring during each autumn recess to study at home. The exact date of his death is uncertain.


Maine de Biran's philosophical reputation has suffered because of his obscure and laboured style, and the fact that only a few of the least characteristic of his writings appeared during his lifetime: the essay on habit (Sur l'influence de l'habitude, 1803), a critical review of Pierre Laromiguière's lectures (1817), and the philosophical portion of the article "Leibnitz" in the Biographie universelle (1819). A treatise on the analysis of thought (Sur la décomposition de la pensée) was never printed. In 1834 these writings, together with the essay entitled Nouvelles considérations sur les rapports du physique et du moral de l'homme, were published by Victor Cousin, who in 1841 added three volumes, under the title Œuvres philosophiques de Maine de Biran. But the publication (in 1859) by E. Naville (from manuscripts placed at his father's disposal by Biran's son) of the Œuvres inédites de Maine de Biran, in three volumes, first rendered possible a connected view of his philosophical development.

At first a sensualist, like Condillac and John Locke, next an intellectualist, he finally became a mystical theosophist. The Essai sur les fondements de la psychologie represents the second stage of his philosophy, the fragments of the Nouveaux essais d'anthropologie the third. Maine de Biran's early essays in philosophy were written from the point of view of Locke and Condillac, but showed signs of his later interests. Dealing with the formation of habits, he is compelled to note that passive impressions do not furnish a complete or adequate explanation. With Laromiguière he distinguishes attention as an active effort, of no less importance than the passive receptivity of sense, and like Joseph Butler, he distinguishes passively formed customs from active habits. He concluded that Condillac's notion of passive receptivity as the one source of conscious experience was an error of method – in short, that the mechanical mode of viewing consciousness as formed by external influence was fallacious and deceptive. For it he proposed to substitute the genetic method, whereby human conscious experience might be exhibited as growing or developing from its essential basis in connection with external conditions. The essential basis he finds in the real consciousness, of self as an active striving power, and the stages of its development, corresponding to what one may call the relative importance of the external conditions and the reflective clearness of self-consciousness he designates as the affective, the perceptive and the reflective. In connexion with this Biran treats most of the obscure problems which arise in dealing with conscious experience, such as the mode by which the organism is cognized, the mode by which the organism is distinguished from extra-organic things, and the nature of those general ideas by which the relations of things are known to us – cause, power, force, etc.

In the last stage of his philosophy, Biran distinguished the animal existence from the human, under which the three forms above noted are classed, and both from the life of the spirit, in which human thought is brought into relation with the supersensible, divine system of things. This stage is left imperfect. Altogether Biran's work presents a very remarkable specimen of deep metaphysical thinking directed by preference to the psychological aspect of experience.


  1. ^  "François-Pierre-Gonthier Maine de Biran". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 

See also


  • The Œuvres inédites of Maine de Biran by E. Naville contains an introductory study
  • in 1887 appeared Science et psychologie: nouvelles œuvres inédites, with introduction by A. Bertrand
  • O. Merton, Étude critique sur Maine de Biran (1865)
  • E Naville, Maine de Biran, sa vie et ses pensées (1874)
  • J. Gerard, Maine de Biran, essai sur sa philosophie (1876)
  • Mayonade, Pensées et pages inédites de Maine de Biran (Périgueux, 1896)
  • G. Allievo, Maine de Biran e la sua dottrina antropologica (Turin, 1896, in Memorie dell' accademia delle scienze, 2nd ser., xlv, pt. 2)
  • A. Lang, Maine de Biran und die neuere Philosophie (Cologne, 1901)
  • monographs by A. Kühtmann (Bremen, 1901) and M. Couailhac (1905)
  • A. de La Valette Monbrun, Maine de Biran (1766–1824): essai de biographie historique et psychologique..., Paris, 1914.
  • N. E. Truman in Cornell Studies in Philosophy, No. 5 (f 904) on Maine de Biran's Philosophy of Will.
  • Michel Henry. The Essence of Manifestation. The Hague: Nijoff, 1973

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 


  • Drawing by Jean Bernard Duvivier, 1798 and published by de La Valette Monbrun in 1914

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • Maine de Biran — François Pierre Gonthier Maine de Biran (* 29. November 1766 in Bergerac, Frankreich; † 20. Juli (?) 1824 in Paris), gewöhnlich unter dem Namen Maine de Biran bekannt, war ein französischer Philosoph. Biografie …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Maine de Biran —     François Pierre Gonthier Maine de Biran     † Catholic Encyclopedia ► François Pierre Gonthier Maine de Biran     A philosopher; born at Grateloup near Bergerac, Dordogne, France, 29 November, 1766; died at Paris, 16 July, 1824. He studied at …   Catholic encyclopedia

  • Maine de Biran — Nacimiento 29 de novi …   Wikipedia Español

  • Maine de Biran — (spr. mǟn dö biráng), François Pierre Gauthier, franz. Philosoph, geb. 29. Nov. 1766 in Bergerac, gest. 16. Juli 1824, diente in der Leibgarde und lebte während der Revolution, in der er Vater, Mutter und zwei Brüder verlor, seinen Studien auf… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Maine de Biran — (spr. Mähn d Birang), geb. 1766 zu Bergerac im Departement Dordogne, trat 1784 in die adelige Leibgarde, wurde 1795 Administrator des Departements Dordogne, 1797 Mitglied des Rath der Fünfhundert, zog sich nach dem Staatsstreich vom 18. Fructidor …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Maine de Biran —   [mɛndəbi rã], eigentlich Marie François Pierre Gonthier de B. [gɔ̃ tje də ], französischer Philosoph und Politiker, * Bergerac 29. 11. 1766, ✝ Paris 16. 7. 1824; 1797 im Rat der 500, 1806 Unterpräfekt von Bergerac, 1809 Mitglied der… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Maine de Biran — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Biran. Maine de Biran Philosophe français XVIIIe} XIXe siècles Naissance 29 no …   Wikipédia en Français

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