Philippe Devaux (1902–1979)

Philippe Devaux was Professor at the Université de Liège from 1935 to 1970 and Associated Professor at the Université libre de Bruxelles from 1941 to 1970. He has contributed significantly to the promotion of Whiteheadian process thought in the Francophone community. A music lover, he has also taught philosophy to the artists in residence at the Chapelle musicale Reine Elisabeth. His first important philosophical work was in the form of his PhD dissertation on Alexander’s metaphysical system, which was later published under the title Le Système d’Alexander (1929). In 1930–1931, he was on leave at Harvard and Berkeley. At Harvard, he followed the seminar of Whitehead and the seminar of C.I. Lewis.

Among his works which concentrate on Anglo-Saxon philosophy, let us draw attention to his translation of Russell’s La méthode scientifique en philosophie, (1930) and to his article “Lotze et son influence sur la pensée anglo-saxonne,” published in 1933. In 1939, he translated and wrote a preface for Le Devenir de la religion. In 1955 appeared his L’Utilitarisme. Introduction à J. Bentham et J.S. Mill. In 1958, he published another translation of Russell, Signification et vérité (2nd edition, 1969). During this time he was also frequently visiting colleagues and friends in the United Kingdom. In 1947, he was visitingprofessor at Manchester University. In 1959–1960, he was visitingprofessor at Hull University and London University. In 1965, he published his third translation of Russell, L’Analyse de la Matière. Four years later, in collaboration with Evelyn Griffin, he published a translation of a few essays of Whitehead under the title La Fonction de la Raison et autres essais, (1969, republished in 2007). In 1970, his translation of Russell’s famous 1905 article was included in the journal L’Âge de la Science (“De la Dénotation”). In 1973 Popper’s La logique de la découverte scientifique (translated with Nicole Rutten) was published with a preface by Jacques Monod. In 1974, with Suzanne Stern-Gillet and myself he published Le Problème de la reference—a translation of an epoch-making book by L. Linsky.

Philippe Devaux has also written original monographs, among which one can find the first French-speaking monograph devoted to a systematic presentation of Russell, which was later translated into Italian and Spanish—Bertrand Russell ou la paix dans la vérité (1967). He especially clarified the rationale for the a priori status Russell gives to mathematical propositions: their generality, he writes, “neither involves nor concerns empirical beings [existants empiriques]” (1967, 45). He devoted his last years to a Whiteheadian magnum opus, La Cosmologie de Whitehead, the first volume of which has just been published by Chromatika Editions in Louvain-la-Neuve. One finds in it a mine of information on Anglo-Saxon philosophy from 1880-1940. Because he personally knew Whitehead and Russell—arguably the most important British philosophers of the first half of the twentieth century—Philippe Devaux was the ideal witness to recount the history of that period and especially to throw light on the complex network of influence of the philosophical streams of the time: evolutionism, idealism, pragmatism and neo-realism. Devaux has not only described these influences, he has made them intelligible.

Furthermore, Ph. Devaux authored a monumental history of philosophy—De Thalès à Bergson, 1950 (2nd expanded ed. 1955). The main original aspect of this work is to be found in the interpretational matrix used by the author to re-animate past systems and make their succession understandable. According to Devaux, Western thought can be seen as a succession of four phases: primitive thinking, qualitative rationalism, quantitative rationalism and experimental rationalism. This scheme of course allows for “regressive” phases whose meaning and significance become clearer when situated in a larger historical context.

In addition to his purely historical work, Ph. Devaux has produced an outline of a personal worldview, whose main concern is to preserve the balance between philosophy qua science and philosophy qua wisdom. His Les Modèles de l’Expérience (1976) is the last book he published in his lifetime. It gathers together, in a revised form, a few of his most representative articles written between 1939 and 1976.

Works Cited and Further Readings

Devaux, Philippe. 1929. Le Système d’Alexander, Paris, Vrin.

Devaux, Philippe. 1930. L’Ordre et la vie intérieure, Bruxelles, Larcier.

Devaux, Philippe. 1932. Expérience et Formalisme (Nicod et Whitehead), Bruxelles, Arch. Soc. Phil.

Devaux, Philippe. 1933. Lotze et son influence sur la pensée anglo-saxonne, Bruxelles, Arch. Soc. Phil.

Devaux, Philippe. 1950. De Thalès à Bergson, Liège, Thone/

Devaux, Philippe. 1955. L’Utilitarisme. Introduction à J. Bentham et J.S. Mill, Paris/Bruxelles, Renaissance du Livre.

Devaux, Philippe. 1967. Russell, Paris, Seghers.

Devaux, Philippe. 1976. Les Modèles de l’Expérience, Wetteren, Universa.

Devaux, Philippe. 2007.  L’Epistémologie de Whitehead, tome I, édité par Michel Weber, Louvain-la-Neuve, Chromatika.

Gochet, Paul. 1985. “Notice sur Philippe Devaux”, Annuaire de l’Académie Royale de Belgique (Bruxelles, Palais des Académies), 153-74.

Gochet, Paul. 2006. “Philippe Devaux, découvreur de la pensée anglo-saxonne”, in Michel Weber et Pierfrancesco Basile (sous la direction de), Chromatikon II. Annuaire de la philosophie en procès—Yearbook of Philosophy in Process (Louvain-la-Neuve, Presses universitaires de Louvain), 151-60.

Author Information

Paul Gochet
Séminaire de Logique et d’Épistémologie
Faculté de Philosophie et Lettres, Université de Liège

How to Cite this Article

Gochet, Paul, “Philippe Devaux (1902–1979)”, last modified 2008, The Whitehead Encyclopedia, Brian G. Henning and Joseph Petek (eds.), originally edited by Michel Weber and Will Desmond, URL = <>.