Phenomenology in France – The Institut français de Berlin

The story of how phenomenology infiltrated the French academic scene is a complicated one. The works of Nicolas Monseu and Christian DuPont have done an excellent job of beginning to trace this history, but there are still details of the story that remain elusive.

One such detail centers around the Institut français de Berlin. From 1931-1933, Raymond Aron attended the Institut, and during his time in Berlin became interested in the work of Husserl. Upon his return to Paris, Aron met with Beauvoir and Sartre at the Bec de gaz on Rue Montparnasse. Over drinks, he convinced Sartre that phenomenology was the philosophical school which would satisfy his intellectual interests. (See Beauvoir’s famous retelling in the image below.)

To be clear, this was not Sartre’s first exposure to phenomenology. He had already learned of phenomenology via (at least) two of Husserl’s Freiburg students – Fernando Gerassi and Shūzō Kuki. But who had introduced Aron to phenomenology? Was there someone at the Institut français de Berlin, or part of the Berlin academic scene, who might have steered Aron in this direction? Perhaps Bernard Groethuysen? And while Sartre was in Berlin the following year, did he visit with this same person? If you know the answers to these questions, please comment below.

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