Jean Wahl  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Jean André Wahl (May 25, 1888 in Marseille - June 19, 1974 in Paris) was a French philosopher.


Early career

He was a professor at the Sorbonne from 1936 to 1967, broken by World War II. He was in the U.S. from 1942 to 1945, having been interned as a Jew at the Drancy internment camp (north-east of Paris) and then escaped.

He began his career as a follower of Henri Bergson and the American pluralist philosophers William James and George Santayana. He is known as one of those introducing Hegelian thought in France in the 1930s, ahead of Alexandre Kojève's more celebrated lectures. He was also a champion in French thought of the Danish proto-existentialist Kierkegaard. These enthusiasms, which became the significant books Le malheur de la conscience dans la philosophie de Hegel (1929) and Études kierkegaardiennes (1938) were controversial, in the prevailing climate of thought. However, he influenced a number of key thinkers including Emmanuel Levinas and Jean-Paul Sartre. In the second issue of Acéphale, Georges Bataille's review, Jean Wahl wrote an article titled "Nietzsche and the Death of God", concerning Karl Jaspers' interpretation of this work. He became known as an anti-systematic philosopher, in favour of philosophical innovation and the concrete.

In exile

While in the USA, Wahl with Gustave Cohen and backed by the Rockefeller Foundation founded a 'university in exile', the École Libre des Hautes Études, in New York. Later, at Mount Holyoke where he had a position, he set up the Décades de Mount Holyoke, also known as Pontigny-en-Amérique, modelled on meetings run from 1910 to 1939 by Paul Desjardins at the site of the Cistercian abbey of Pontigny in Burgundy. These successfully gathered together French intellectuals in wartime exile, ostensibly studying the English language, with Americans including Marianne Moore, Wallace Stevens and Roger Sessions. Wahl, already a published poet, made translations of poems of Stevens into French. He was also an avid reader of the Four Quartets and toyed with the idea to publish a poetical refutation of the poem. (See, e.g., his "On Reading the Four Quartets."

Post World War II

In post-war France Wahl was an important figure, as a teacher and editor of learned journals. In 1946 he founded the Collège philosophique, influential center for non-conformist intellectuals, alternative to the Sorbonne. Starting in 1950, he headed the Revue de Métaphysique et de Morale.

Wahl translated the second hypothesis of the Parmenides of Plato as "Il y a de l'Un", and Lacan adopted his translation as a central point in psychoanalysis, as a sort of antecedent in the Parmenides of the analytic discourse. This is the existential sentence of psychoanalytic discourse according to Lacan, and the negative one is "Il n'ya pas de rapport sexuel" — there is no such a thing as a sexual relationship.


  • Le Malheur de la conscience dans la philosophie de Hegel, 1929.
  • Étude sur le Parménide de Platon, Paris, Rieder, 1930.
  • Vers le concret, Vrin, 1932; rééd. avec un avant propos de Mathias Girel, Paris, Vrin, 2004.
  • Études kierkegaardiennes, 1938.
  • Les Problèmes platoniciens : la La République, Euthydème, Cratyle, Paris, CDU, 3 fasc., 1938-1939.
  • Existence humaine et transcendance, Neufchâtel, La Baconnière, 1944.
  • Tableau de la philosophie française, Gallimard, 1946.
  • Introduction à la pensée de Heidegger, livre de poche, 1946.
  • Petite histoire de l'existentialisme, Paris, L'Arche, 1947.
  • Poésie, pensée, perception, Paris, Calman-Levy, 1948.
  • Jules Lequier, La Baconnière, 1948.
  • La Pensée de l'existence, 1952.
  • Traité de Métaphysique, 1953.
  • La structure du monde réel d'après N. Hartmann, Paris: Centre de documentation universitaire, 1953. (Cours de la Sorbonne enseigné en 1952).
  • La théorie des catégories fondamentales dans Nicolai Hartmann, Paris: Centre de documentation universitaire, 1954. (Cours de la Sorbonne enseigné en 1953).
  • La Philosophie de l'existence, 1954.
  • Les aspects qualitatifs du réel. I. Introduction, la philosophie de l'existence; II. Début d'une étude sur Husserl; III. La philosophie de la nature de N. Hartmann, Paris: Centre de documentation universitaire 1955. (Cours de la Sorbonne enseigné en 1954).
  • Vers la fin de l'ontologie, 1956.
  • L'Expérience métaphysique, 1964.
  • Cours sur l’athéisme éclairé de Dom Deschamps, 1967.
  • Du rôle de l'idée d'instant dans la philosophie de Descartes, 1920; réédition avec une préface de Frédéric Worms, Descartes&co, 1994.
  • Les Philosophies pluralistes d'Angleterre et d'Amérique, 1920; rééd. préface de Thibaud Trochu, Les Empêcheurs de penser en rond, 2005.

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