Bergson, Reichenbach and Piaget

  • Milič Čapek
Part of the Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science book series (BSPS, volume 7)


An interesting affinity with Bergson’s biologically oriented epistemology can be found in certain aspects of Hans Reichenbach’s theory of knowledge and in “the genetic epistemology” of Jean Piaget. Reichenbach’s biological orientation, only one ingredient in his epistemology, is not always compatible with other ingredients, especially with his conventionalism.1 In this respect there is a similarity between him and Poincare. Reichenbach’s emphasis on the steady adaptation (ständige Anpassung)2 of experience shows his affinity with Mach’s similar view from which it differs, however, in one important aspect: Reichenbach is far more explicit than Mach in stressing the incomplete character of this adaptation. Already in his early book Relativitätstheorie und Erkenntnis apriori Reichenbach upheld the mutability of reason.3 In Atom und Cosmos, published a decade later, he coined the term “the world of the middle dimensions” designating the zone intermediate between the microphysical world of quanta and the world of the fleeting galaxies; only to this zone is the conceptual framework of classical physics applicable.4 This today sounds as a mere truism; but this truism acquires a full significance only in the evolutionary perspective. If the traditional frame of thought developed by the interaction between the human psycho–physiological organism and the “world of the middle dimensions”, then its limited applicability is not only understandable, but inevitable; as we said before, its unlimited applicability would be nothing short of a miracle.


Modern Physic Biological Theory Permanent Object Creative Evolution Human Intellect 
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  1. 1.
    Cf. my article ‘The Development of Reichenbach’s Epistemology’ The Review of Metaphysics XI (1957), p. 42–67.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    H. Reichenbach, Ziele und Wege der heutigen Naturphilosophie, Leipzig 1931, p. 54.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Relativitatstheorie und Erkenntnis a priori, Braunschweig 1920, p. 70. Cf. also Atom and Cosmos (transl. by E. S. Allen), G. Braziller, New York 1957, p. 293: “natural science taught us that reason is not a rigid chest of logical drawers, that thought is not the eternal repetition of inherited norms….”Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Atom and Cosmos, pp. 288–293. Cf. also A. March, Die physikalische Theorie und seine Grenzen, Braunschweig 1960, pp. 11–20.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    W. Finkelburg, Atomic Physics, New York, McGraw Hill, 1950, p. 245.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    The Rise of Scientific Philosophy, Univ. of California Press, Berkeley, 1951, pp. 189–190.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    J. Piaget, Psychology of Intelligence, Littlefield, Adams & Co., Patterson, 1960, p. 4.Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Neuchatel, 1962. Cf. also his Vintroduction a I’ipistimologie ginetique, Presse Universitaire de France, Paris, 1951, II, pp. 146–152; and his article ‘A propos de la psychologie de l’atomisme’, Thalis V (1949) 3–7.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    J. Piaget, Genetic Epistemology, Columbia Univ. Press, 1970, p. 53.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    J. Piaget, Biologie et connaissance, Gallimard, Paris, 1967, pp. 313–314. Interesting facts are mentioned by Karl von Frisch, Man and his Living World (transl. by Elsa B. Lowenstein), Harcourt & Brace, New York, 1962, pp. 277–278.Google Scholar

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© D. Reidel Publishing Company, Dordrecht, Holland 1971

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  • Milič Čapek

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