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Connaître par accointance
et non pas Savoir par description

Séminaire du 31 janvier 2013

«Il faut distinguer, par rapport à tous les ordres de phénomènes, deux ordres de sciences naturelles: les unes abstraites, générales, ont pour objet la découverte des lois qui régissent les divers classes de phénomènes, en considérant tous les cas qu'on peut concevoir; les autres concrètes, particulières, descriptives, et qu'on désigne quelquefois sous le nom de sciences naturelles proprement dites, consistent dans l'application de ces lois à l'histoire effective des différents êtres existants.» Auguste Comte, deuxième leçon du Cours de philosophie positive (1830).

Mais il faut attendre Bertrand Russell en 1910 pour analyser de près le processus mental de la description. Russell part d'une distinction, faite avant lui par William James entre autres, entre connaître par accointance (knowledge by acquaintance) et savoir par description.

Distinction inscrite dans le lexique des langues indo-européennes:

γνῶναι ≠ εἰδέναι
JÑĀ- ≠ VID- (sanskrit)
noscere ≠ scire
kennen ≠ wissen
connaître ≠ savoir
Perception ≠ Parole (Inde: deux sources de la connaissance)

Richard Fumerton, Knowledge by Acquaintance vs. Description [revised 2008], The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (sur internet).

I am acquainted with many people and things, which I know very little about, except their presence in the places where I have met them. I know the color blue when I see it, and the flavor of a pear when I taste it; I know an inch when I move my finger through it; a second of time, when I feel it pass; an effort of attention when I make it; a difference between two things when I notice it; but about the inner nature of these facts or what makes them what they are, I can say nothing at all. I cannot impart acquaintance with them to any one who has not already made it himself I cannot describe them, make a blind man guess what blue is like, define to a child a syllogism, or tell a philosopher in just what respect distance is just what it is, and differs from other forms of relation. At most, I can say to my friends, Go to certain places and act in certain ways, and these objects will probably come. William James, The Principles of Psychology: Volume One, Henry Holt and Company, (New York), 1890, p. 221.

russell_acquaintance_ description.pdf

Bertrand Russell, Knowledge by Acquaintance and Knowledge by Description, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society (New Series), Vol.XI, (1910-1911), pp. 108-128. [Read to the Society on 6 March 1911.]

(112) By a "description" I mean any phrase of the form "a so-and-so" or "the so-and-so." A phrase of the form "a so-and-so" I shall call an "ambiguous" description; a phrase of the form "the so-and-so" (in the singular) I shall call a "definite" description. Thus "a man" is an ambiguous description, and "the man with the iron mask" is a definite description. There are various problems connected with ambiguous descriptions, but I pass them by, since they do not /113/ directly concern the matter I wish to discuss. What I wish to discuss is the nature of our knowledge concerning objects in cases where we know that there is an object answering to a definite description, though we are not acquainted with any such object. This is a matter which is concerned exclusively with definite descriptions. I shall, therefore, in the sequel, speak simply of "descriptions" when I mean "definite descriptions." Thus a description will mean any phrase of the form "the so-and-so" in the singular.

I shall say that an object is "known by description" when we know that it is "the so-and-so," i.e. when we know that there is one object, and no more, having a certain property; and it will generally be implied that we do not have knowledge of the same object by acquaintance. We know that the man with the iron mask existed, and many propositions are known about him; but we do not know who he was.

L'accointance est une connaissance immédiate, le produit d'une rencontre ou d'une expérience vécue; dans la pensée allemande de la fin du XIXe siècle (Wilhelm Dilthey), en effet, la connaissance par accointance correspond à «l'expérience» (das Erlebnis). Le langage n'est pas indispensable à cette forme de connaissance, alors qu'à l'inverse la description implique une médiation par le langage.