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Alexandre Koyré


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Russian-born French philosopher and science historian. The son of middle-class importers, Koyré was born in Taganrog in Southern Russia. As a teenager, he took part in the political activities of the failed 1905 revolution, for which he was briefly imprisoned. At 17, he went to Göttingen in Germany to study with Edmund Husserl and from there to Paris to work with Léon Brunschvicg. He also attended the lectures of Henri Bergson, then one of the most famous philosophers in France—Koyré would later be the first philosopher to introduce Bergson's work in Germany. He was also instrumental in smuggling Husserl's thought into France. When war broke out in 1914, he returned to Russia and joined the infantry. He took part in the unsuccessful February Revolution in 1917, but opposed the successful October Revolution in the same year. He left Russia permanently in 1919, settling in France where he resumed his studies in philosophy. He taught religion and philosophy at the Fifth Section of the École Pratique des Hautes Études from 1931 onwards. In the academic year of 1932–3, Koyré wrote a series of articles and lectures to mark the centenary of Hegel's death. He then took a job teaching in Cairo, which gave his friend and fellow Russian Alexandre Kojève an opportunity to teach in his place. In his work, Koyré emphasized the significance of the Napoleonic wars to Hegel in the so-called Jena period during which he wrote Phänomenologie des Geistes (1807). Koyré argued that if a Hegelian mode of history is possible, then it is conditioned on the possibility of history being able to come to an end. Napoleon's victory at Jena was one such moment because in Hegel's view it precipitated the end of the old order of the world and ushered in a new order for which a new philosophy was required. It was a provocative thesis and one that profoundly influenced a number of scholars, particularly Kojève. During the Second World War he took refuge in New York, introducing fellow exiles and future collaborators Roman Jakobson and Claude Lévi-Strauss to one another.

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