In several previous projects – on Foucault, Heidegger, Canguilhem, territory – I’ve briefly mentioned the work of Alexandre Koyré. He’s coming up again in the new work in relation to Benveniste, Dumézil, Lévi-Strauss and Jakobson. Koyré introduced Lévi-Strauss to Jakobson in New York, and Jakobson recommended Lévi-Strauss contact Dumézil when back in Paris. Apparently Lacan and Lévi-Strauss first met at a dinner at Koyré’s house. For such a significant figure, there seems to be limited literature.
Koyré had an extraordinary life – born in Russia, exiled to Germany and France, attended lectures by Bergson, Husserl and Heidegger, French foreign legion, taught in Cairo, Paris and New York, colleague of Leo Strauss and Alexandre Kojève, possibly a spy. Koyré was the first administrator of the Ecole libre des hautes études in New York, defeated for a chair at Collège de France (Martial Gueroult was successful), visiting positions at the Princeton IAS, and other major US institutions. He brought notes on some of Heidegger’s lecture courses to Paris, where Jean Wahl used them for his teaching, and these were read by Foucault. Koyré wrote important works on Galileo, Descartes, Newton, on the philosophy of space and mathematics, but also on Heidegger, Hegel, Plato, religion. The Astronomical Revolution and From the Closed World to the Infinite Universe are both great books. He did important editorial and introductory work on several of the thinkers mentioned. He’s a fascinating and historically significant figure.
So why is there so little work on Koyré? I know a biography in Italian by Paola Zambelli, the book-length bibliography of Jean-François Stoffel, Gérard Jorland’s much older French study, and a couple of recent edited collections mainly on the philosophy and history of science – i.e. Jean Seidengart, Vérité scientifique et vérité philosophique dans l’œuvre d’Alexandre Koyré and Raffaele Pisano, Joseph Agassi & Daria Drozdova, Hypotheses and Perspectives in the History and Philosophy of Science.
There is a Centre Alexandre-Koyré as part of the EHESS. His papers are archived there. There are obviously lots of references to Koyré in studies of movements and other people. But that still seems limited, and especially little in English. Am I missing anything good?
Update: some suggestions are listed here. I’ll add more if any are provided. Thanks to everyone for the engagement.
Update 2: Zambelli’s biography is translated into French as Alexandre Koyré, un juif errant? and available open access.
The most significant figure of the 1930s generation, imho, and he has a really central place in my “An Atheism that is not Humanist.” I think he developed the logic that allowed a bridge from history of religion and mysticism (read also: metaphysics) to philosophy of science, and a basic epistemology that enabled both existentialism and structuralism. Shocking how little good work on him there is, but part of it is due to his intentional publication of his own more middle-ground arguments, not so much his philosophical commitments.
Thanks so much Stef. Yes, I should return to your Atheism book, with these new questions of mine in mind. Some really good points here and I’ll take them on board. Not sure how far I will go with this, but part of it is that I’d like to hear someone discuss the relation to Dumézil, Benveniste, etc. from the perspective of a Koyré scholar, but I’m finding little.
Pingback: Alexandre Koyré and a network of ideas – some additional reading suggestions | Progressive Geographies
Pingback: Indo-European thought in twentieth-century France update 11: Dumézil and Charachidzé’s work on Ubykh; Lévi-Strauss and his archive; Eliade’s correspondence; Koyré’s networks; and continuing work with Dumézil’s archive | Progressive Geographi
he came up here in relation to Foucault & Kuhn
Thanks – yes, I think Koyré’s importance to Foucault and Kuhn helps to explain the Foucault-Kuhn relation better than a simple influence of one on the other.
Pingback: The end of WordPress-Twitter functionality | Progressive Geographies