Stefan Gigacz: Philosopher of the See-Judge-Act

Philosophical Father of the See-Judge-Act

Another Ozanam

Léon Ollé-Laprune can be considered, along with Alphonse Gratry from whom he drew inspiration, as one of the key philosophers of Marc Sangnier’s Sillon movement and later of the YCW movement founded by Joseph Cardijn.

Cardijn read the philosophy of Léon Ollé-Laprune as a young seminarian, cf. My Reading. Indeed, this influence is evident as soon as you start reading the works of Léon Ollé-Laprune.

Born in Paris in 1839, Léon Ollé-Laprune was a brilliant student at the Ecole Normale Supérieure where he would later become maître de conférences in 1875, a position he held until his premature death as a result of appendicitis on 13 February 1898.

He was much influenced by Frédéric Ozanam, who is most well known as founder of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, but was also a pioneer supporter of the workers democracy founded after the February Revolution of 1848. Ozanam had also been a lecturer in the French university system and it was his Christian commitment lived out in his lay life which most influenced Léon Ollé-Laprune.

As mentioned, Léon Ollé-Laprune’s philosophy drew heavily on the work of Alphonse Gratry, another democrat of 1848.

Léon Ollé-Laprune and the Sillon

Léon Ollé-Laprune and his family were also close to the parents of the young Marc Sangnier and it is evident that the philosopher had a great influence on the founder of the Sillon movement. Indeed, Albert Lamy, also from the Sillon, wrote of Léon Ollé-Laprune, that “sa philosophie de la vie est la nôtre”, his philosophy of life is our philosophy.

In fact, in a small virtually forgotten book, Les Sources de la Paix Intellectuelle (The Sources of Intellectual Peace) published in 1892, Ollé-Laprune discussed the need to build a “movement” based around the idea that everyone has “quelque chose à faire dans la vie”, that each person has “something to do in life” as a co-operator of God.

Marc Sangnier and a number of students at the Stanislas University College in Paris were the first to take up this challenge of building such a movement dedicated to enabling people to discover their lay mission in the world in this way. Originally known as the Crypt, their group later adopted the name, Le Sillon (The Furrow) for their soon to be famous movement.

Léon Ollé-Laprune and the See, Judge, Act method

Although it was Cardijn who formulated the famous expression “see, judge, act” it was Léon Ollé-Laprune who was mainly responsible for developing the philosophical theory that lay behind the method.

In fact, the foundation of the see-judge-act method had already been developed by Léon Ollé-Laprune’s neighbour, Frédéric Le Play, the pioneering social scientist. Le Play’s méthode d’observation sociale formed the basis of the enquiry method later adopted by the Sillon, the YCW and other lay apostolate movements. Le Play, however, held to an elitist, paternalist conception of social organisation as indicated by the subtitle of his famous work La Méthode Sociale, “ouvrage destiné aux classes dirigeantes” (a study addressed to the ruling classes).

Léon Ollé-Laprune rejected Le Play’s elitist conception of society in favour of a democratic ideal. Ollé-Laprune’s writings thus developed a notion of the “moral person” acting in the world based on Aristotle’s conception of prudence (Phronesis – a much broader concept than the modern understanding of prudence) as the virtue necessary for political leader.

Ancient Greek democracy, however, had been restricted to the elite. Ollé-Laprune saw that a modern democratic society required that every citizen needed to develop the level of prudence necessary for participating in governance. For Ollé-Laprune, prudence therefore became the democratic virtue and education for democracy was necessary to foster the growth of the ‘moral person’ as a responsible citizen.

Marc Sangnier’s Sillon movement took up the challenge of building the necessary movement of democratic education, a notion later adapted by Cardijn as the basis of the worker education methodology of the YCW.

Léon Ollé-Laprune’s philosophy therefore lies at the heart of the YCW method and he can therefore justly be considered as the philosophical father of the See, Judge, Act.

Version 2.1, October 2001

© Stefan Gigacz 1999 – 2001


See Judge and Conclude with Léon Ollé-Laprune (Cardijn Research)

Seek, Judge and Act – the Sertillanges side of the story (Cardijn Research)