Corrationalism and the problematic

Dossier: Bachelard and the Concept of Problematic

RP 173 () / Article, Bachelard and the Concept of Problematic, Dossier

If the fear of being accused of psychologism were not so keenly felt by epistemologists they would no doubt pay more attention to the problem of the acquisition of ideas.* They would then notice that to each new idea there remains attached a perspective of acquisition, an approach structure which develops in a kind of space–time of essences. They would also see how every new idea, which is at first a maker of mental solitude, becomes in inter-rationalism a need for proselytism. The dialectic ‘I was alone and we will be reunited’ is at play with respect to the validity of each idea, of each experience considered in terms of a broader cultural awareness. It is in the same detail of thoughts that the non-psychologism of the rational I and you become reduced to the psychologism of the isolated subject. The necessary isolation of the subject confronted with a new idea and its communication to another subject do not take place in a general rupture that places the thinking being in the midst of a universal doubt, which would be strictly incommunicable. It requires instead, for each notion, confronted with each object, an appropriate doubt, an applied doubt. Correlatively, the solitude of the subject is not created by a simple declaration; it can only come to consciousness through a minute psychoanalysis – of the empirical memory in search of a rational memory. And before wanting to conquer others, it needs to be very sure that it is not enslaved by the ideas that others have deposited in us by pure tradition. A rational culture must be in possession of a memory rationalized in such a way that all of its results are re-memorized along with the programme of their development.

In effect, when it is a question of presenting an object to scientific thought, one cannot confine oneself to the immediacy of a not-self opposed to a self. The scientific object is presented in the light of its definition, after the self is already engaged in a particular kind of thought, consequently in a particular kind of existence. The rationalist cogito which tends to affirm the thinking subject in an activity of apodeictic thought must also function as an emergence over and above that of an existence already affirmed more or less empirically. The world destroyed by universal doubt could only give way, through constructive reflection, to a fortuitous world. If one does not give oneself the right to go via the circuit of the notion of a creator God, one does not in effect see what guarantee one would have, after a totally destructive doubt, of having reconstructed precisely that real world about which one had previously raised fundamental doubts. The Cartesian universe could say to the philosopher: you will not rediscover me if you have really lost me.

Thus between the two poles of the world destroyed and the world constructed, we propose simply to slip the world rectified.

And immediately the rational self is conscious of the rectification. To describe the full span of the grasp of rational consciousness it is sufficient to pass from the disorganized given to a given organized in the light of a rational end. Universal doubt will irremediably pulverize the given into a mass of heteroclite facts. It does not correspond to any real demand of scientific research. Scientific research demands, instead of the parade of universal doubt, the constitution of a problematic. It really starts with a problem, however ill-posed the problem. Once the scientific self is a programme of experiments,1 the scientific non-self is correspondingly already constructed as a problematic. In modern physics, one never works on the whole unknown. A fortiori, contrary to all theses that affirm something fundamentally irrational, one does not work on something unknowable.

In other words, a scientific problem is posed by starting from correlations expressed as laws.


Translated by Mary Tiles


1. [Note that the French expérience covers both ‘experience’ and ‘experiment’. Where it is used in a scientific context I have translated expérience as ‘experiment’. Trans.]

* This text is a translation of sections seven and eight of the third chapter of Gaston Bachelard, Le Rationalisme appliqué, taken from the fifth edition, 1975, pp. 50–60. It appears with the kind permission of Presses …