Atomistic Intuitions

An Essay on Classification

By Gaston Bachelard
Translated by Roch C. Smith
Introduction by Roch C. Smith
Preface by Daniel Parrochia

Subjects: Philosophy Of Science, Philosophy, Epistemology, Continental Philosophy, History Of Philosophy
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary French Thought
Hardcover : 9781438471273, 152 pages, October 2018
Paperback : 9781438471280, 152 pages, July 2019

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Table of contents

Translator’s introduction
Preface to the French Edition

Introduction: The Fundamental Complexity of Atomistics

Part I.

1. The Metaphysics of Dust

2. Realist Atomism

3. Problems of the Composition of Phenomena

Part II.

4. Positivist Atomism

5. Critical Atomism

6. Axiomatic Atomism


An English translation of Bachelard's sixth book, in which he seeks to develop a metaphysical context for modern atomistic science.


French philosopher Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962) is best known in the English-speaking world for his work on poetics and the literary imagination, but much of his oeuvre is devoted to epistemology and the philosophy of science. Like Thomas Kuhn, whose work he anticipates by three decades, Bachelard examines the revolution taking place in scientific thought, but with particular attention to the philosophical implications of scientific practice. Atomistic Intuitions, published in 1933, considers past atomistic doctrines as a context for proposing a metaphysics for the scientific revolutions of the twentieth century. As his subtitle indicates, in this book Bachelard proposes a classification of atomistic intuitions as they are transformed over the course of history. More than a mere taxonomy, this exploration of atomistic doctrines since antiquity proves to be keenly pedagogical, leading to an enriched philosophical appreciation of modern subatomic physics and chemistry as sciences of axioms. Though focused on philosophy of science, the perspectives and intuitions Bachelard garnered through this work provide a unique and even essential key to understanding his extensive writings on the imagination. Roch C. Smith's translation and explanatory notes will help to make this aspect of Bachelard's thought accessible to a wider readership, particularly in such fields as aesthetics, literature, and history.

Roch C. Smith is Professor Emeritus of French Studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. He is the author of Gaston Bachelard, Revised and Updated: Philosopher of Science and Imagination, also published by SUNY Press, as well as books on Alain Robbe-Grillet and André Malraux.


"…[Bachelard's] analysis of the different schools of thought on the nature of atomism was quite illuminating … his challenge both to natural scientists and to philosophers and theologians to construct a metaphysical system not as an end in itself but as a tool for further research and reflection was quite thought-provoking. " — Process Studies