The Chaïm Perelman collection

The Université libre de Bruxelles has a large archival collection, donated by Fela Perelman in 1984, following the death of her spouse. It contains a collection of documents linked, to a large extent, to Chaïm Perelman’s scientific activity. There are, for example, around forty reading notebooks which bear witness to his intellectual interests since the 1930s, as well as a large number of articles in various forms of text (handwritten, typewritten etc.); minutes of faculty meetings, course programmes... Nonetheless, most of the items in the collection are elements of the correspondence maintained by Perelman with individuals from the university world, and, more broadly, intellectual world – be it administrative or scientific letters or exchanges linked to his activities within Jewish organisations. To a lesser extent, there are also letters which have more to do with the extra-university or associative milieu, but are nonetheless linked to the Perelmans’ public life: loans of works of art, sociability etc.

The documents contain information on Perelman’s different areas of activity: professor at the ULB and, as a visiting professor, in several foreign universities (mainly American ones); a philosopher in a variety of learned societies; head of various national and international Jewish organisations; etc. The oldest items date back to 1934, whereas the most recent were produced just a few days before Chaïm Perelman’s death on 22 January 1984. The majority of the documents are from the period 1957-1983. We suppose that the collection is incomplete (as, with one exception, there are no direct exchanges with his collaborator and friend Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca), as are the majority of items of correspondence that have been preserved. This vast documentary collection nonetheless bears witness to Chaïm Perelman’s participation in the intellectual life of his time.

In concrete terms, the contents of the Université libre de Bruxelles’ Perelman Collection are divided into six sub-collections, which are in turn subdivided into folders:

Sub-collection 1: Academic activities - Université Libre de Bruxelles: Contains letters and documents linked to Perelman’s activities at the ULB: attribution of classes, faculty minutes, programmes; exchanges with decision-making authorities (Rectorate for example), colleagues, assistants, collaborators and students. Also contains a copy of the speech given in homage to Perelman and made by his colleagues when he was awarded an honorary degree;

Sub-collection 2: Para-university activities: Contains the letters and documents linked to Perelman’s activities within the various scientific organisations: the Centre National de Recherches de Logique [Belgian National Center for Research in Logic], Centre de Philosophie du Droit [Centre for Legal Philosophy], International Federation of Philosophical Societies etc. These are mainly letters relating to the organisation of these activities, and in particular Perelman’s participation in colloquiums and conferences; minutes, the publication of the Logique et analyse, review etc;

Sub-collection 3: Scientific production: Contains letters and documents linked to Perelman’s scientific production. There are his logbooks, proofs of articles and correspondence relating to the publication of his own works (Traité de l’argumentation, De la Justice, L’empire rhétorique etc.) or of collectives he was responsible for. This correspondence consists of exchanges with editors, collaborators for the collectives, and the translators (German, Italian, English) of some of his works. There are also a large number of critical accounts of the works published. There is also mention of Perelman’s participation in colloquiums and conferences, as well as invitations to foreign universities. Finally, the sub-collection contains Perelman’s general scientific correspondence, incoming and outgoing, touching on the different sectors of his scientific activity;

Sub-collection 4: Activities within Jewish organisations: Contains letters and documents linked to Perelman’s involvement in Jewish, Belgian or foreign organisations;

Sub-collection 5: Prizes and distinctions: Contains letters, cards and telegrams received when Chaïm Perelman was awarded distinctions (the Francqui Prize for the most part), as well as documents relating to this (press clippings for example);

Sub-collection 6: General correspondence: Contains Chaïm Perelman’s general outgoing correspondence, between 1962 and 1983, that’s to say duplicates of his letters on carbon paper, whatever the theme – scientific, administrative etc.-, most probably from his secretariat. There are sometimes duplicates with carbon copies present in the other boxes (e.g.: General scientific correspondence). There is also an unclassified box of correspondence, relating to aspects of Perelman’s social life.


Perelman - Les archives