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  • Present Trends of French Philosophical Thought
  • Alexandre Koyré and Paola Zambelli

The paper that is published here for the first time was read to the Graduate Faculty of the New School for Social Research by Alexandre Koyré, probably during one of his first trips to the United States as a visiting professor in the fall of 1946 or in the fall of 1950. 1 Given its content and the secondary literature he quoted, the paper seems to go back to the end of 1946, when eight lectures were announced in the Bulletin of the New School, 2 but Koyré probably read only the first of them, deciding to postpone the later ones, because the other subject chosen for his 1946 seminars at the New School (“Les philosophes et la machine”) gained more interest and grew longer. He came back to the New School in 1950 to give some lectures on existentialism [End Page 521] in France, but this time he was the guest of Horace Kallen. 3 But we read in this paper that Koyré had spoken in a series of seminars organized by Albert Salomon. It was determined that Koyré should speak on a broad subject—not only on Sartre’s existentialism, but also on French philosophical trends in general in the first year after the Second World War. His American listeners were obviously interested in hearing about Sartre, Camus, Merleau-Ponty, and the development of the new existentialist school in France.

The result was that Koyré prepared a long paper—one that began by mentioning philosophers who had died in the War and the Resistance and concluded with an analysis of Sartre’s ontology and ethics. In the archives of the Centre Koyré in Paris there are three originals of this paper: a longer manuscript which, though earlier in date than the other two, is more complete and provides the basis of my edition, and two shorter typescripts, possibly prepared by the author’s typist with a view to publishing the piece in an American journal. In the first of the two typed versions several sentences, names, and words are missing in the typescript but were inserted into the text by an unknown hand. The second of the typescripts is complete in these points, but its preparation was interrupted for unknown reasons, and the copies (an original and two carbons) bear a final handwritten note: “Le texte s’arrête là.” Happily, the present manuscript version continues to the paper’s original conclusion.

Perhaps Koyré, having temporarily mislaid the last pages of the manuscript among his many notes, decided not to publish the paper. 4 The omission from the [End Page 522] body of his published work is regrettable, since this is one of the few papers in which Koyré took a position on contemporary philosophical problems. On the basis of his deep knowledge of Husserl’s and Heidegger’s philosophies, he was able to give a serious interpretation of Sartre. In discussing Sartre, Koyré predominantly used Sartre’s polemical lecture L’exis-tentialisme est un humanisme, read, and published in 1946 as a response to Catholic and Marxist critiques. This was certainly a simpler text than the bulky but more authoritative L’être et le néant. And perhaps it was to avoid taking this latter work in his suitcase that Koyré—as he often did—prepared a selection of fundamental passages for his American trip, copying them first in French and then making what was their first translation into English (published below in an appendix).

No doubt, after five years of exile, Koyré wished to familiarize himself with the work of contemporary thinkers, both French and German. Indeed, he had already been doing this, since just before the lecture in New York, Koyré took part in a private debate with Jean Wahl, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Georges Blin, Maurice de Gandillac, and Gabriel Marcel on the subject of Heidegger’s philosophy. The last two speakers, together with Koyré himself, published their papers from the exchange in a journal and later in a volume introduced by Wahl. In his contribution Koyré emphasized Heidegger’s ideas of “concern [Sorge, souci]” and of “being unto death [zum Tode sein],” writing...

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pp. 521-530
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