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On November 3, 1958, Maurice Merleau-Ponty presented a “Paper in favor of the creation of a chair of Social Anthropology” to the Assembly of Professors at the Collège de France. It is a remarkable document in several respects. First, in support of Claude Lévi-Strauss’s candidacy, Merleau-Ponty sketched out a sort of genealogy of sociological studies at the Collège de France, where, he said, “general teaching on society was offered without interruption” from 1897 until the death of Maurice Halbwachs (Merleau-Ponty 1958, 1). Second, the man praising this internal tradition, what he called the Collège’s “living past,” was a philosopher who had for six years held the chair of Philosophy that had previously been Henri Bergson’s (and remained associated with him for a long time). Finally, Merleau-Ponty’s paper is also one of the last documents of this nature in the archives of the Collège that deals with Émile Durkheim, forty years after his death, making it almost the terminus ad quem of the history we are interested in here: that of the relationships between Durkheim and the philosophers of the Collège de France, which is one chapter of the broader history of the relationships between Durkheim and Durkheimism, on the one hand, and philosophy on the other.
This appeal from an eminent philosopher, delivered on a prestigious platform, may seem surprising when we think of the rather turbulent history of relations between Durkheimian sociology and philosophy: Durkheim’s disdain for dialectics, abstractions, and philosophical generalities…


The history of the relationship between Durkheim and philosophy at the Collège de France is closely linked to the emblematic figure of Henri Bergson. The confrontation between Durkheim and Bergson is usually depicted as one of mutual and stubborn hostility. Yet on closer inspection things appear more complex as one must distinguish their personal and academic relationships, their theoretical positions, and the symbolic representations which became attached to them at a certain point in their careers (“Durkheimism” and “Bergsonism”). Considering the question from the point of view of the Collège de France, with its unique institutional practices (the creation and transformation of chairs, reports on the various candidates, debates of the Assembly of Professors) can throw new light on this remarkable chapter in the history of the relationships between sociology and philosophy in France.

  • Durkheim
  • Bergson
  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Collège de France
  • philosophy

L’histoire des rapports entre Durkheim et la philosophie au Collège de France tourne autour de celui qui fut longtemps l’emblème de celle-ci : Henri Bergson. On présente d’ordinaire la relation entre les deux hommes comme une hostilité réciproque et tenace. Pourtant, si l’on y regarde de près, le tableau paraît beaucoup plus nuancé et il faut y distinguer les relations personnelles et institutionnelles, les positions théoriques et les représentations symboliques dont l’un et l’autre firent l’objet à certains moments de leurs carrières (le « durkheimisme » et le « bergsonisme »). Adopter la perspective du Collège de France en tant qu’institution, avec ses pratiques particulières (la création et la transformation des chaires, les rapports de présentation des candidats, les délibérations de l’Assemblée des professeurs), permet d’examiner de nouveau, sur plusieurs générations, un sujet qui forme un chapitre remarquable dans l’histoire de la relation entre la sociologie et la philosophie en France.

  • Durkheim
  • Bergson
  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Collège de France
  • philosophie
Giovanni Paoletti
Giovanni PAOLETTI attended the Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa. He is now Professor of the History of Philosophy at the University of Pisa. He has published several studies of Durkheim, including Durkheim et la philosophie: Représentation, réalité et lien social (Garnier, 2012).
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