COUSIN, VICTOR (1792-1867), French philosopher, was born in Paris, in the Quartier St. Antoine, on Nov. 28, 1792. He was educated at the Lycee Charlemagne, and at the age of 18 passed to the Normal School, where he later lectured on Phi losophy. In 1815-16 he was assistant to Royer-Collard in the chair of history of modern philosophy. In these early years the influences to which he owed most were those of Laromiguiere, who taught the philosophy of Locke and Condillac, Royer-Collard, who introduced him to the Scottish philosophy, and Maine de Biran, on the psychological side. He then began to study German philosophy, especially that of Schelling, whose influence can also be traced in his work. In 1817 he met Hegel at Heidelberg, and in 1818, going to Munich, he met Schelling and Jacobi.
Political changes deprived him of his offices in 1821-22, and he went again to Germany; in Berlin in 1824 he was imprisoned, on some political charge, for six months, and continued under sus picion for three years. During this period of enforced abandon ment of teaching his philosophy took definite shape, and in 1826 he published the Fragmens Philosophiques, which contains most that is distinctive in his thought. To this period also belong his edition of Proclus (182o-27), and of Descartes (11 vols. 1826), and the beginning of the translation of Plato (13 vols.), which occupied him from 1825-40. In 1828 Cousin and Guizot were recalled to the university, and the three years that followed were the period of his greatest triumph as a lecturer. The hall of the Sorbonne was crowded, and a taste for history revived in France to an extent unknown since the 17th century. Guizot's ministry then made him a member of the Council of Public Instruction, and in 1832 he ceased to lecture. In 184o he became minister of public instruction under Thiers, remaining at the same time director of the normal school and virtual head of the university.
The most important work he accomplished at this time was the organization of primary education. Owing to his efforts, France followed in this matter the example of Prussia, which he regarded as affording the best example of organized national education. In 1831 he visited Germany to study the system, and his results were published as "Rapport sur l'etat de l'instruction publique . . . en Prusse." Then followed the law of primary instruction, which, in the words of the Edinburgh Review (July 1833) "marks an epoch in the progress of national education." During this pe riod he also published revised editions of his lectures and studies of various periods in the history of philosophy. In 1854 he pub lished Du vrai, du beau, et du bien. At the close of the reign of Louis Philippe he retired from public life. He occupied a suite of rooms in the Sorbonne, and died at Cannes on Jan. 13, 1867.
The three distinctive points in Cousin's philosophy are method, the results of the method, and its application to the history of philosophy. The method is that of observation, analysis and de duction, applied to the facts of consciousness, supplemented by inferences about the nature of reality necessitated by the data of consciousness ; this gives us psychology as the basis of metaphysics or ontology. The results to which this method leads are sensibility, activity or liberty and reason. His doctrine of liberty contains a distinction between the spontaneous and reflective activity of the will, while the distinctive point of his theory of reason is the doctrine of the impersonality of reason, which he thought Kant missed by putting necessity as the criterion of the principles of knowledge, and thus making them relative to the human intelli gence, and therefore incapable of revealing substantial reality. The primary principles of reason are cause and substance, and by means of these we pass from psychology to ontology, the knowl edge of objective reality. From the reciprocally limitative ideas of the me and the not-me we reach that of the absolute, which is the cause of both.
Finally, he applies the three stages he has discovered, the spon taneous, the reflective and the recognition of the relation of the finite and infinite to the history of philosophy.
Cousin's gifts lay in the direction of observation and generaliza tion rather than analysis or original speculation. He left no dis tinctive permanent principle of philosophy. But his eclecticism, proceeding as it did from an appreciation of nearly every system of philosophy ancient and modern, was a valuable influence in the direction of toleration and width of view.
BIBLIOGRAPHY.-J. Barthelemy St. Hilaire, V. Cousin, sa vie et sa Bibliography.-J. Barthelemy St. Hilaire, V. Cousin, sa vie et sa correspondance (1895) ; H. Hoffding, Hist. of Mod. Phil., ii. 311, Eng. trans. (1900) ; C. E. Fuchs, Die Philoso phie Victor Cousins (1847) ; J. Alaux, La Philos. de M. Cousin (1864) ; P. Janet, Victor Cousin et son oeuvre 0885); Jules Simon, V. Cousin (1887) ; Adolphe Franck, Moralistes et philosophes (1872) ; J. P. Damiron, Souvenirs de vingt ans d'enseignement (1859) ; H. Taine in Les Philosophes pp. 79-202 (1868) ; P. F. Dubois, Cousin, Joufroy, Damiron (1902) .