Jacques Bouveresse (born 1940) is a philosopher who has written on subjects including Ludwig Wittgenstein, Musil, Karl Kraus, the philosophy of science, epistemology, the philosophy of mathematics, and analytical philosophy. As a result of his attacks on Michel Foucault, Lyotard, Derrida, and others, he has sometimes been likened to neo-conservative thinkers.
He is known for his critical writings on what he considers scientific and intellectual impostures (particularly in French philosophy of the 1970s and the nouveaux philosophes) and the press coverage he has attracted through his own philosophical journalism.
He is currently Professor at the Collège de France, where he occupies the chair of philosophy of language and epistemology.
Born on 20 August 1940 in Épenoy in the Doubs département of France into a farming family, Jacques Bouveresse completed his secondary education at the seminary of Besançon. He spent two years of preparation for the baccalauréat in philosophy and scholastic theology at Faverney in Haute-Saône. He followed his preparatory literary classes at the Lycée Lakanal in Sceaux, and in 1961 entered the École normale supérieure in Paris.
He presented his doctoral thesis in philosophy on Wittgenstein, entitled "Le mythe de l'intériorité. Expérience, signification et langage privé chez Wittgenstein" .
Beginning with his earliest works, he has consistently constructed his own philosophical and intellectual path, without following the normal routes and modes of academia. In 1976, Wittgenstein was practically unknown in France, as were Musil and the logic and analytical philosophy which he had begun to study in the 1960s. These two last domains notably propelled him towards the lectures of Jules Vuillemin and Gilles-Gaston Granger, who at the time were practically alone in occupying themselves with these problems, and with whom he has maintained a lasting friendship.
Academic career :
Avowed inheritor of the Age of Reason and of the intellectual and philosophical tradition of central Europe (Brentano, Boltzmann, Helmholtz, Frege, the Vienna Circle, Kurt Gödel), the contemporary figures to whom he is close belong mostly to the Anglo-Saxon world, to which many central-European intellectuals fled in the Nazi period.
Jacques Bouveresse is interested in the thought of the early 20th-century Austrian writer Robert Musil (who wrote a thesis on philosophy) famous for his novel The Man without Qualities, as well as the aversion/fascination with which Paul Valéry regarded philosophy.
Apart from his work on Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jacques Bouveresse is interested in the incompleteness theorems of Kurt Gödel and their philosophical consequences. It is on this account that he has attacked, in a popular work Prodiges et vertiges de l'analogie, the use made of these theorems by Régis Debray. Bouveresse denounces the literary distortion of a scientific concept for the purpose of a thesis. This distortion, according to him, has no other purpose than to overwhelm a readership which lacks the training necessary to comprehend this such complex theorems. Bouveresse's reproach to Debray is not that he uses a scientific concept for the purpose of an analogy, but that he uses such a difficult to understand theorem in the attempt to provide an absolute justification in the form of the classic sophism of the argument from authority.
The incompleteness of a formal system which applies to certain mathematical systems in no way implies th incompleteness of sociology, which is not, by definition, a formal system.
(Unless stated otherwise, published by Éditions de Minuit)