Bergson, Henri (18 October 1859 - 4 January 1941)

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Henri Bergson (18 October 1859 - 4 January 1941)

Philip B. Dematteis
Saint Leo University






1927 Nobel Prize in Literature Presentation Speech

Bergson: Banquet Speech

BOOKS: La spécialité (Angers: Lachèse & Dolbeau, 1882);

Extraits de Lucrèce, avec un commentaire, des notes et une étudie sur la poésie, la philosophie, la physique, le texte et la langue de Lucrèce (Paris: Delagrave, 1884); edited and translated by Wade Baskin as The Philosophy of Poetry: The Genius of Lucretius (New York: Philosophical Library, 1959);

Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience (Paris: Alcan, 1889); translated by F. L. Pogson as Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (London: Sonnenschein / New York: Macmillan, 1910);

Le bon sens et les études classiques: Discours prononcé a la distribution des prix du Concours général le 30 juillet 1895 (Paris: Delalain, 1895);

Matière et mémoire: Essai sur la rélation du corps a I’ésprit (Paris: Alcan, 1896); translated by Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer as Matter and Memory (London: Allen & Unwin, 1911; New York: Holt, 1911);

Le rire: Essai sur la signfication du comique (Paris: Alcan, 1901); translated by Cloudesley Brereton and Fred Rothwell as Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic (New York: Macmillan, 1911);

Introduction à la métaphysique, Cahiers de la quinzaine, fourth series, no. 12 (Paris: Suresnes, 1903); translated by T. E. Hulme as An Introduction to Metaphysics (London: Macmillan, 1913; Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1955);

Notice sur la vie et les oeuvres de M. Felix Ravaisson-Mollien (Paris: Firmin-Didot, 1904);

L’évolution cre’atrice (Paris: Alcan, 1907); translated by Arthur Mitchell as Creative Evolution (London & New York: Macmillan, 1911);

La Perception du changement: Conferences faites à I’Universite d’Oxford les 26 et 27 mai 1911 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1911);

Dreams, translated by Edwin E. Slosson (New York: Huebsch, 1914);

La philosophie (Paris: Larousse, 1915);

La signification de la guerre,“Pages actuelles,” 1914-1915, no. 18 (Paris: Bloud k Gay, 1915); translated as The Meaning of the War: Life ir Matter in Conflict (London: Unwin, 1915);

L’énergie spirituelle: Essais et conférences (Paris: Alcan, 1919); translated by H. Wildon Carr as Mind-Energy: Lectures and Essays (New York: Holt, 1920; London: Macmillan, 1920);

Durée et simultanéité à propos de la théorie d’Einstein (Paris: Alcan, 1922; enlarged, 1923); translated by Leon Jacobson as Duration and Simultaneity, with Reference to Einstein’s Theory (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965);

L’intuition philosophique: Communication faite, au Congrés philosophique de Bologne le x avril M. CM. XI. (Paris: Helleu & Sergent, 1927);

Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion (Paris: Alcan, 1932); translated by Brereton, R. Ashley Audra, and W. Horsfall Carter as The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (New York: Holt, 1935; London: Macmillan, 1935);

La pensée et le mouvant: Essais et conférences (Paris: Alcan, 1934)—comprises “Croissance de la vérité: Mouvement rétrograde du vrai,” “De la position des problémes,” “Le possible et le réel,” “L’intuition philosophique,” “La perception du changement,” “Introduction à la métaphysique,” “La philoso-phie de Claude Bernard,” “Sur le pragmatisme de William James: Vérité et realite,” and “La vie et l’oeuvre de Ravaisson”; translated by Mabelle L. Andison as The Creative Mind (New York: Philosophical Library, 1946)—comprises “Growth of Truth: Retrograde Movement of the True,” “Stating the Problems,” “The Possible and the Real,” “Philosophical Intuition,” “The Perception of Change,” “Introduction to Metaphysics,” “The Philosophy of Claude Bernard,” “On the Pragmatism of William James: Truth and Reality,” and “The Life and Work of Ravaisson”;

Mémoire et vie: Textes choisis, edited by Gilles Deleuze (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1957);

Ecrits et paroles: Textes, 3 volumes, edited by Rose-Marie Mossé-Bastide (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1957-1959);

Oeuvres, Edition du Centenaire, edited by André Robinet (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1959);

La nature de l’âme: Suivi de Le problème de la personalité, edited by André and Martine Robinet, Les Etudes bergsoniennes, no. 7 (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1966);

Mélanges: L’idée de lieu chez Aristote, Durée et simultanéite, correspondance, pièces diverses, documents (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1972); translated by Melissa McMahon, edited by Keith Ansell Pearson and John Mullarkey as Key Writings (New York & London: Continuum, 2002);

Cours I: Leçons de psychologie et de métaphysique (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1990);

Cours II: Leçons d’esthétique. Leçons de morale, psychohgie et métaphysique (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1992);

Cours III: Leçons d’histoire de la philosophie moderne, théories de I’âme, edited by Henri Hude and Jean-Louis Dumas (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1995);

Bergson professeur: Au lycée Blaise Pascal de Clermont-Ferrand (1883-1888); cows 1885-1886; Essai sur la nature de I’enseignement philosophique initial, edited by Jean Bardy (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1998);

Cours de Bergson sur la philosophie grecque, edited by Hude and Françoise Vinel (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2000).

Editions in English: Selections from Bergson, edited by Harold A. Larrabee (New York: Appleton Century-Crofts, 1949);

The World of Dreams, translated by Wade Baskin (New York: Philosophical Library, 1958);

Duration and Simultaneity, edited by Robin Durie (Manchester, U.K.: Clinamen Press, 1999).

Between the publication of his best-known work, L’évolution cr’atrice (translated as Creative Evolution, 1911), in 1907 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the French philosopher Henri Bergson developed a virtually cult-like international following among professional philosophers and laypersons alike. His colleague and disciple Edouard Le Roy could write with only slight exaggeration in 1913:

There is a thinker whose name is today on everybody’s lips, who is deemed by acknowledged philosophers worthy of comparison with the greatest, and who, with his pen as well as his brain, has overleapt all technical obstacles, and won himself a reading both outside and inside the schools. Beyond any doubt, and by common consent, Mr. Henri Bergson’s work will appear to future eyes among the most characteristic, fertile, and glorious of our era. It marks a never-to-be-forgotten date in history; it opens up a phase of metaphysical thought; it lays down a principle of development the limits of which are indeterminable; and it is after cool consideration, with full consciousness of the exact value of words, that we are able to pronounce the revolution which it effects equal in importance to that effected by Kant, or even by Socrates. Everybody, indeed, has become aware of this more or less clearly.

Among his contemporaries, Bergson influenced not only other philosophers but also figures in literature, art, and music. His vitalistic, nonmechanistic concept of evolution appealed to many educated people who felt compelled to accept the scientific underpinnings of Darwinism but wanted to believe in a more exalted conception of humanity than descent from ape-like ancestors seemed to imply. His emphasis on intuition rather than intellect as providing an insight into ultimate reality seemed to many a welcome antidote to scientific rationalism. Furthermore, Bergson’s ideas were presented in an elegant and lucid style, rich in metaphor, image, and analogy, that won him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1927. But his influence declined precipitously within a few years after his death in 1941, and he left no “Bergsonian” school or movement. As Leszek Kolakowski notes, “Bergson has survived only as a dead classic. Even in France interest in his work is only residual. To be sure, sometimes, somewhere, someone writes a doctoral thesis on ’Bergsonism,’ yet it may fairly be said that today’s philosophers, both in their research and in their teaching, are almost entirely indifferent to his legacy.”

Bergson developed his philosophy in four major books: Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience (1889; translated as Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, 1910), Matière et mémoire: Essai sur la relation du corps a l’esprit (1896; translated as Matter and Memory, 1911), L’évolution creatrce, and Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion (1932; translated as The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, 1935). Although he deliberately eschewed the construction of a comprehensive philosophical system, his ideas are consistent throughout as each successive work builds on the preceding ones by applying to new topics his fundamental distinction between the faculties of intuition and intelligence.

Henri-Louis Bergson was born in Paris on 18 October 1859—as many commentators have noted, the year in which Charles Darwin published On the Evolution of Species by Means of Natural Selection. He was the second of the seven children—four boys and three girls—of Jewish parents, Michel and Catherine Levison Bergson. Michel Bergson, a pianist and composer, was the son of a Polish trader named Berek Zbitkower; his adopted surname derives from Berek-son (the son of Berek). Catherine Bergson was from Doncaster in northern England; Henri Bergson learned English from her as a child and was later able to supervise the translations of his books. The family lived at 18 rue Lamartine, near the Opera. In 1863 they moved to Switzerland when Michel Bergson took a position as a professor at the Geneva Conservatory; there they lived on the boulevard de Philosophes. They returned to Paris in 1866 and settled at 154 boulevard Magenta.

In 1868 Bergson enrolled at the Lycée Imperial Bonaparte (now the Lycee Condorcet) and boarded at the Jewish Springer Institution at 34 rue de La Tour d’Auvergne. In 1870 the rest of the family moved to London, where Bergson visited them during vacations from school. One of his brothers became a banker, another a businessman, and the third an actor; their sister Mina married the magician and occultist Samuel Liddell MacGregor Mathers, cofounder of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, and changed her name to Moina. Michel Bergson died in 1898; Catherine Bergson died in Folkestone, England, at age ninety-eight.

In 1875 Bergson won the first prize in rhetoric in the prestigious Concours Général, a national competition for the best students in each field taught in French colleges; in 1876 he won the first prize in philosophy; and in 1877 he won the prize in mathematics for his solution to the problem of the three circles, posed by the seventeenth-century French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal. His solution appeared the following year in the Annales de mathématiqués-his first published work, it has been collected in Ecrits et paroks: Textes (1957-1959, Writings and Speeches: Texts) and in Mélanges: L’idée de lieu chei Aristote, Durée et simultanéité, correspondance, piéces diverses, documents (1972, Melanges: Aristotle’s Concept of Place, Duration and Simultaneity, Correspondence, Diverse Pieces, Documents; translated as Key Writings, 2002). When he decided to enroll in the letters and humanities section of the Ecole Normale Supérieure, the institution at which university teachers were trained, his mathematics teacher complained to his parents that their son could have been a mathematician but would instead be a mere philosopher.

Bergson entered the Ecole Normale Supérieure in 1878, along with the future socialist politician Jean Jaurés and the future sociologist Emile Durkheim. He studied under the spiritualist philosophers Félix Ravaisson and Jules Lachelier and discovered the writings of the English philosopher of evolution, Herbert Spencer. He scored second highest in the agrégation de philosophk, a national competitive examination required of prospective teachers, in 1881 and took a teaching position at the lycee in Angers. Two years later he moved to Clermont-Ferrand, where he taught both at the Lycee Blaise-Pascal and at the university. In 1884 he published a volume of selections from the Roman Epicurean philosopher Lucretius’s poem De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things), with a critical study of the texts, that went through several editions.

Bergson submitted Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, along with the required Latin thesis, “Quid Aris-toteles de loco senserit” (Aristotle’s Conception of Place), for the degree of docteur-és-lettres from the University of Paris in 1889; the essay was published that same year by Félix Alcan in Paris in the series La bibliothèque de phi-losophie contemporaine (The Library of Contemporary Philosophy). Bergson argues that the traditional philosophical issue of the conflict of free will and determinism is a pseudoproblem that has arisen from misapprehending subjective experience as a succession of static mental states that follow one another as events in the external world do; accordingly, mental “states” are viewed in cause-and-effect terms just as external events are, and later states are taken to be determined by earlier ones. This mistake arises from viewing the mind through the faculty of the intelligence or intellect, which evolved to deal with and control external objects in space. The mind, however, is not spatial, and mental states do not exist. One’s inner experience should instead be apprehended by means of intuition; in this case it will be seen correctly as la durée (duration), lived time as opposed to the time measured externally by clocks–a continuous, irreversible, unrepeatable flow. In duration there is no juxtaposition of events; therefore, there is no causation of one event by another. The deeper self thus reached is the seat of free will; in duration freedom is experienced directly:

Il y aurait donc enfin deux moi différents, dont l’un serait comme la projection extérieure de l’autre, sa représentation spatiale et pour ainsi dire sociale. Nous atteignons le premier par une réflexion approfonie, qui nous fait saisir nos êtats internees comme des êtres vivants, sans cesse en voie de formation, comme des êtats réfractaires à la mesure, qui se pénètrent les uns les autres, et dont la succession dans la durée n’a rien de commun avec une juxtaposition dans l’espace homogène. Mais les moments où nous ressaisissons ainsi nous-mêmes sont rares, et e’est pourquoi nous sommes rarement libres. La plupart du temps, nous vivons extérieurement à nous-mêmes, nous n’apercevons de notre moi que son fantôme décoloré, ombre que la pure duree projette dans l’espace homogène. Notre existence se déroule done dans l’espace plutôt que nous ne pensons; nous “sommes agis” plutôt que dans le temps: nous vivons pour le monde extérieur plutôt que pour nous; nous parlons plutôt que nous n’agissons nous-méemes. Agir librement, e’est reprendre possession do soi, c’est se replacer dans la pure durée.

(Hence there are finally two different selves, one of which is, as it were, the external projection of the other, its spatial and, so to speak, social representation. We reach the former by deep introspection, which leads us to grasp our inner states as living things, constantly becoming, as states not amenable to measure, which permeate one another and of which the succession in duration has nothing in common with juxtaposition in homogeneous space. But the moments at which we thus grasp ourselves are rare, and that is just why we are rarely free. The greater part of the time we live outside ourselves, hardly perceiving anything of ourselves but our own ghost, a colorless shadow which pure duration projects into homogeneous space. Hence our life unfolds in space rather than in time; we live for the external world rather than for ourselves; we speak rather than think; we “are acted” rather than act ourselves. To act freely is to recover possession of oneself, and to get back into pure duration [translated by F. L. Pogson.)

Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience was widely reviewed in philosophy journals. Some reviewers suggested that the basic ideas came from the American Pragmatist philosopher William James’s article “On Some Omissions of Introspective Psychology” (1884), which depicts thought as a stream of consciousness that the intellect distorts by dividing it into concepts. Bergson, however, denied having read or heard of James’s article when he wrote Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience.

In 1889 Bergson began teaching at the collège Rollin in Paris; he moved to the Lycée Henri V. the following year. In 1891 he married Louise Neuberger, a cousin of Marcel Proust; the future author served as best man at the wedding. The Bergsons’ only child, Jeanne, was born the following year. Deaf from birth, she went on to study under the expressionist painter and sculptor Emile Antoine Bourdelle.

In 1896, after spending five years in a detailed study of recent research into pathological mental conditions—especially aphasia, the loss of the ability to use language—Bergson published Matière et mémoire, which is generally regarded as the most difficult of his works. In this volume he deals with another venerable philosophical issue: the relationship of mind and body, or, more specifically, of mind and the brain:

D’une manière générate, l’état psychologique nous parait, dans la plupart des cas, déborder énormément l’état cérébral. Je veux dire que l’état cérébral n’en dess-ine qu’une petite partie, celle qui est capable de se traduire par des mouvements de locomotion....

Le cerveau ne doit done pas être autre chose, à notre avis, qu’une espèce de bureau téléphonique central: son rôle est de “donner la communication,” ou de la faire attendre. II n’ajoute rien à ce qu’il reçoit....

(Speaking generally, the psychical state seems to us to be, in most cases, immensely wider than the cerebral state. I mean that the brain state indicates only a very small part of the mental state, the part which is capable of translating itself into movements of locomotion....

In our opinion, then, the brain is no more than a kind of central telephonic exchange: its office is to allow communication, or to delay it. It adds nothing to what it receives.... [translated by Nancy Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer])

Matter, according to Bergson, is just what it appears to be in perception and nothing else; there is no Kantian “thing-in-itself” that lies beyond the images one perceives. Therefore, matter has no occult or unknown powers; and the brain is material.

La vérité est qu’il y aurait un moyen, et un seul, de réfuter le matérialisme: ce serait d’établir que la matière est absolument comme elle parait être. Par là on éliminerait de la matière tout virtualite, toute puissance cachée, et les phénomènes de l’esprit auraient une réal-ité indépendante.

(The truth is that there is one, and only one, method of refuting materialism: it is to show that matter is precisely that which it appears to be. Thereby we eliminate all virtuality, all hidden power from matter, and establish the phenomena of spirit as an independent reality [translated by Paul and Palmer].)

The occurrence of aphasia shows that memories are not stored in specific areas of the brain: a person with a lesion in the brain that causes aphasia understands what others say, knows what he or she wants to say, and does not suffer from paralysis of the speech organs, yet is unable to speak; also, in some forms of aphasia the parts of speech are forgotten in a semantic order, beginning with proper names, proceeding through common nouns, and ending with verbs, while in other forms some letters of the alphabet are forgotten but others are not. Thus, it is not memory that has been lost but the bodily mechanism that is needed to express it.

Bergson distinguishes two kinds of memory. One kind is a set of acquired bodily habits, dispositions to action such as walking or reciting a poem that one has learned; these habits can be put into effect without conscious thought, and they can be affected by lesions in the brain. The other is pure memory, which records everything that ever occurs during the course of one’s life in every detail. Perception is permeated by this kind of memory; pure perception, unaccompanied by memory, does not exist. The brain filters out the vast amount of pure memory that is not needed for conscious action in the present. The mind is, thus, independent of the brain and uses the brain to carry out its purposes.

In 1898 Bergson became maíte de conférences— roughly equivalent to a reader in a British university—at his alma mater, the Ecole normale supérieure. The following year he published an article in the Revue de Paris that is a departure from his metaphysical speculations but consistent with them; based on a lecture he had given during his early years in Auvergne, it appeared in book form in 1900 as Le rire: Essai sur la signification du comique (translated as Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, 1911). Bergson says that humor results from the incongruity between the essential freedom of the human spirit and situations in which someone acts in a mechanistic fashion similar to a marionette or a jack-in-the-box: clowns tumbling in the circus, someone slipping on a banana peel, or a person being made the victim of a practical joke that depends on people being creatures of habit. He analyzes verbal humor according to the same principles, saying that it depends applying to language, as if to a lifeless thing, the mechanical processes of repetition, reversal, transposition, and mutual interference. Each of these processes is the opposite of a living process: life is continually changing and never repeats itself or goes backward in time; and a living being is a system of interdependent elements so exclusively made for one another that none of them could belong to two different organisms and so could not interfere with elements in another system. Humor is disinterested: one cannot laugh if one cares too deeply about the butt of the joke. The comical situation is universal, where the tragic one is individual: thus, the titles of comedies tend to refer to character types, such as the miser, the misanthrope, or the shrew, whereas tragedies tend to be named for individuals, such as Oedipus, Antigone, King Lear, or Hamlet. Laughter is intrinsically social: one laughs as a member of a group, even if the other members of the group are only present in one’s imagination. Laughter corrects the unsocial individual by punishment in the form of humiliation. Literary theorists influenced by Bergson’s book on laughter include Arthur Koestler, who wrote The Act of Creation (1964).

In 1900 Bergson succeeded Charles Leveque as professor of Greek and Latin philosophy at the Collége de France, the most prestigious academic institution in the country. At the First International Congress of Philosophy, held in Paris in August 1900, Bergson presented the paper “Sur les origines psychologiques de notre croyance a la loi de causalite” (On the Psychological Origins of the Belief in the Law of Causality). In 1901 he was elected to the Academie des sciences morales et politiques.

In January 1903 Bergson contributed to the prestigious Revue de metaphysique et de morale the essay “Introduction à la metaphysique”; it was published in book form that same year (translated as An Introduction to Metaphysics, 1913). The method of intuitive introspection—the direct apprehension of process introduced in Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience--is here applied to the cognition of ultimate reality: intuition provides truth about the world. The intellect is guided by the needs of the organism; the knowledge it acquires is not disinterested but is related to those needs. It gathers knowledge through analysis, dividing objects into the perspectives from which they are viewed and then reconstructing them by synthesizing the perspectives. This synthesis, while enabling the organism to satisfy its needs, never penetrates to the inner being of the objects. Intuition consists in entering into the object sympathetically, rather than looking at it from the outside, and provides absolute knowledge:

les philosophes s’accordent, en dépit de leurs divergences apparentes, à distinguer deux manières profondément différentes de connaître une chose. La première implique qu’on tourne autour de cette chose; la seconde, qu’on entre en elle. La premiere dé pend du point de vue oύ I’on se place et des symboles par lesquels on s’exprime. La seconde ne se prend d’aucun point de vue et ne s’appuie sur aucun symbole. De la première connaissance on dira qu’elle s’arrête au relatif; de làseconde, là où elle est possible, qu’elle atteint I’absolu.

(philosophers, in spite of their apparent divergencies, agree in distinguishing two profoundly different ways of knowing a thing. The first implies that we move round the object; the second that we enter into it. The first depends on the point of view at which we are placed and on the symbols by which we express ourselves. The second neither depends on a point of view nor relies on any symbol. The first kind of knowledge may be said to stop at the relative; the second, in those cases where it is possible, to attain the absolute [trans- lated by T.E. Hulme].)

In 1904 Bergson succeeded Gabriel Tarde in the chair of modern philosophy at the Collège de France. Three years later he published his best-known work, L’évolutim creatrke, in which he introduces the concept of the élan vital (vital pulse) as the motive force in evolution. The élan vital is the living, enduring spirit with which one becomes acquainted in intuitive introspection. Life began in the form of simple unicellular organisms; if survival were all that counted, it could have remained at that level, since such organisms still exist and are, therefore, adapted to their environments. But the élan vital could not rest at that level; it wanted to break free of matter entirely, but this goal was unachievable. At first its effort took the form of increase in size, but matter is elastic only to a limited degree; therefore, the élan vital began to divide into various organs and organisms and ultimately into millions of individuals pursuing divergent paths of development, and it has striven ever upward into greater and greater complexity. The similar development of a complex organ such as the eye in such widely divergent organisms as mollusks and vertebrates shows that the basic impulse is the same in all of these organisms. It also shows the inadequacy both of a mechanistic theory of evolution, such as that advanced by Darwin, and of a teleological one that posits some final goal that the evolutionary process was designed to reach:

La machine qu’est l’oeil est done composée d’une infinité de machines, toutes d’une complexité extreme. Pourtant la vision est un fair simple. Dès que l’oeil s’oeuvre, la vision s’opère. Précisément parce que la fonctionnement est simple, la plus légère distraction de la nature dans la construction de la machine infiniment compliquée eût rendu la vision impossible. C’est ce contraste entre la complexité de l’organe et l’unité de la fonction qui déconcerte 1’esprit.

Une théorie mécanistique sera celle qui nous fera assister à la construction graduelle de la machine sous l’influence des circonstances extérieures, intervenant directement par une action sur les tissus ou indirectement par la sélection des mieux adaptés. Mais, quelque forme que prenne cette thése, à supposer qu’elle vaille quelque chose pour le détail des parties, elle ne jette aucune lumière sur leur corrélation.

Survient alors la doctrine de la finalité. Elle dit que les parties on été assemblées, sur un plan préconçu, en vue d’un but. En quoi elle assimile le travail de la nature à celui de l’ouvrier qui procéde, lui aussi, par assemblage de parties en vue de la réalisation d’une idée ou de l’imitation d’un modèle. Le mécanisme reprochera done avec raison au finalisme son caractère anthropomorphique. Mais il ne s’aperçoit pas qu’il procède lui-mâme selon cette méthode, en la tronquant simplement. Sans doute il a fail table rase de la fin poursuivie ou du modèle idéal. Mais il veut, lui aussi, que la nature ait travaillé comme l’ouvrier humain, en assem-blant des parties. Un simple coup d’oeil jeté sur le développement d’un embryon lui eût pourtant montre que la vie s’y prend tout autrement. Elle ne procède pas par association et addition d’élements mais par dissociation et de’doublement.

(The mechanism of the eye is ... composed of an infinity of mechanisms, all of extreme complexity. Yet vision is one simple fact. As soon as the eye opens, the visual act is effected. Just because the act is simple, the slightest negligence on the part of nature in the building of the infinitely complex machine would have made vision impossible. This contrast between the complexity of the organ and the unity of the function is what must give us pause.

A mechanistic theory is one which means to show us the gradual building up of the machine under the influence of external circumstances intervening either directly by action on the tissue or indirectly by the selection of better-adapted ones. But, whatever form this theory may take, supposing it avails at all to explain the detail of the parts, it throws no light on their correlation.

Then comes the doctrine of finality, which says that the parts have been brought together on a preconceived plan with a view to a certain end. In this it likens the labor of nature to that of the workman, who also proceeds by the assemblage of parts with a view to the realization of an idea or the imitation of a model. Mechanism, here, reproaches finalism with its anthropomorphic character, and rightly. But it fails to see that itself proceeds according to this method—somewhat mutilated! True, it has got rid of the end pursued or the ideal model. But it also holds that nature has worked like a human being by bringing parts together, while a mere glance at the development of an embryo shows that life goes to work in a very different way. Life does not proceed by the association and addition of elements, but by dissociation and division [translated by Arthur Mitchell].)

Evolution, then, is truly creative. It does not proceed by the rearrangement of preexisting parts; nor does it aim for an end that is already determined. In one of his best-known metaphors, Bergson compares the movement of evolution to “un obus qui a tout de suite éclaté en fragments, lesquels, étant eux-mêmes des espèces d’obus, ont éclaté à leur tour en fragments destinés à éclater encore, et ainsi de suite pendent fort longtemps” (a shell, which suddenly bursts into fragments, which fragments, being themselves shells, burst in their turn into fragments destined to burst again, and so on for a time incommensurably long). The élan vital has taken many paths as it cut its way through matter in its quest for freedom; it has had to adapt itself to its inorganic environment, just as a road has to follow the ups and downs of the hills through which it passes. The path that has led to the vegetable kingdom is a retrogression to torpor; the path that has led to the animal kingdom has continued the quest for freedom. Within the animal world two successful highways have been formed: that of the invertebrates and that of the vertebrates. On the side of consciousness or spirit, these orders have opposite and complementary means of acting on the world. In the invertebrates it is instinct, the faculty of using organized instruments—that is, instruments that form a part of the body of the organism that is using them, such as claws and teeth. In the vertebrates it is intelligence or intellect, the faculty of manufacturing and using unorganized instruments—that is, tools. Instinct culminates in the hymenoptera, the social insects such as bees and ants; intelligence culminates in the human species. Humanity, according to Bergson, should be designated not as Homo sapiens (man the wise) but as Homo faber (man the maker). The intellect has developed as a means of survival; it thinks in a “spatializing” manner that is useful in dealing with matter; it divides up the flow of reality, in which everything interpenetrates, into individual objects that exist beside one another. It applies the same procedure to time, dividing it into equal parts such as seconds, minutes, hours, and so on. Thus, intellect is inadequate for grasping the duration that characterizes ultimate reality.

But instinct and intelligence are not self-contained and mutually exclusive; both are manifestations of the élan vital. There is, therefore, some intelligence in all animals, including the insects, and some instinct in human beings. Instinct that is divorced from practical concerns and made disinterested and contemplative is intuition— which, as Bergson showed in his earlier works, is the means by which the philosopher can grasp duration, spirit, and life, which is the ultimate reality:

Une évolution autre eût pu conduire à une humanité ou plus intelligenté encore, ou plus intuitive. En fait, dans l’humanité dont nous faisons partie, l’intuition est à peu pres complètement sacrificee a l’intelligence. II semble qu’a conquérir la matiere, et a se reconquérir de sa force. Cette conquête... exigeait que la conscience s’adaptat aux habitudes de la matière et concentrât toute son attention sur elles, enfin se déterminât plus specialment en intelligence. L’intuition est lè cependant, mais vague et surtout discontinue. C’est une lampe presque éteinte, qui ne se ranime que de loin en loin, pour quelques instants a peine. Mais elle se ranime, en somme, la ou un interet vital est en jeu. Sur notre per-sonnalité, sur notre liberté, sur la place que nous occu-pons dans l’ensemble de la nature, sur notre origine et peut-être aussi sur notre destinée, elle projette une lumière vacillante et faible, mais qui n’en perce pas moins l’obscurité de la nuit oύ nous laisse l’intelligence.

De ces intuitions évanouissantes, et qui n’éclairent leur objet que de distance en distance, la philosophic doit s’emparer, d’abord pour les soutenir, ensuite pour les dilater et les raccorder ainsi entre elles. Plus elle avance dans ce travail, plus elle s’apercoit que l’intuition est l’esprit même et, en un certain sens, la vie même: l’intelligence s’y découpe par un processus imi-tateur de celui qui a engendré la matieire.

(A different evolution might have led to a humanity either more intellectual still or more intuitive. In the humanity of which we are a part, intuition is, in fact, almost completely sacrificed to intellect. It seems that to conquer matter, and to reconquer its own self, consciousness has had to exhaust the best part of its power. This conquest... has required that consciousness should adapt itself to the habits of matter and concentrate all its attention on them, in fact determine itself more especially as intellect. Intuition is there, however, but vague and above all discontinuous. It is a lamp almost extinguished, which only glimmers now and then, for a few moments at most. But it glimmers wherever a vital interest is at stake. On our personality, on our liberty, on the place we occupy in the whole of nature, on our origin and perhaps also on our destiny, it throws a light feeble and vacillating, but which none the less pierces the darkness of the night in which the intellect leaves us.

These fleeting intuitions, which light up their object only at distant intervals, philosophy ought to seize, first to sustain them, then to expand them and so unite them together. The more it advances in this work, the more it will perceive that intuition is mind itself, and in a certain sense, life itself: the intellect has been cut out of it by a process resembling that which has generated matter [translated by Mitchell].)

The fourth and final chapter of L’évolution créatrke,“Le mécanisme cinématographique de la pensée et l’illu-sion mécanique” (The Cinematographical Mechanism of Thought and the Mechanistic Illusion), reviews the his tory of Western philosophy from Zeno of Elea to Herbert Spencer to show that by relying on the intellect, philosophers have failed to grasp the true nature of time and change and have falsified reality by imposing static and discrete concepts on experience. The book increased Bergson’s popularity not only with professional philosophers but also with the general reading public; by 1918 it had gone through twenty-one editions.

In 1908 Bergson met William James in London. In a 4 October 1908 letter James wrote, “So modest and unpretending a man but such a genius intellectually! I have the strongest suspicions that the tendency which he has brought to a focus, will end by prevailing, and that the present epoch will be a sort of turning point in the history of philosophy.” Shortly after their meeting, James presented the Hibbert Lectures at Manchester College of the University of Oxford, in which he said that Bergson had led him “to renounce the intellectualist method and the current notion that logic is an adequate measure of what can or cannot be” and “TO GIVE UP THE LOGIC, squarely and irrevocably” as a method, because “reality, life, experience, concreteness, immediacy, use what word you will, exceeds our logic, overflows, and surrounds it.” The lectures were published in 1909 as A Pluralistic Universe and led many British and American readers to investigate Bergson’s philosophy themselves. At that time James was assisting Arthur Mitchell in translating L’évolutim créatrice into English and planned to write an introduction to the volume, but Mitchell died in August 1910. Creative Evolution appeared the following year and resulted in even more interest in Bergson in the English-speaking world. That same year Bergson wrote a preface titled “Sur le pragma-tisme de William James: Vérité et réalité” (translated as “On the Pragmatism of William James: Truth and Reality,” 1946) for the French translation of James’s Pragmatism; in this preface he expressed both sympathy for and reservations about James’s work.

From 5 to 11 April 1911 Bergson attended the Fourth International Congress of Philosophy in Bologna, Italy, where he gave the address “L’intuition philosophique” (translated as “Philosophical Intuition,” 1946). In May he delivered two lectures at the University of Oxford; they were published that year in French by the Clarendon Press as La perception du Changement (translated as “The Perception of Change,” 1946). Oxford conferred on him an honorary doctor of science degree. Two days later, he delivered the Huxley Memorial Lecture “La conscience et la vie” (translated as “Life and Consciousness,” 1920) at Birmingham University; it appeared in The Hibbert Journal h\ October.

By 1911 students were calling the Collége de France “the house of Bergson.” The following decade was the high point of the Bergson cult. His lectures were filled not only with students, including the future eminent philosophers Etienne Gilson and Jean Wahl, but also with other academics, society ladies and their escorts, tourists, and poets, including T. S. Eliot. Many of the attendees sat through lectures by other professors to be sure of hearing Bergson.

Even at the height of the “Bergson boom,” however, dissenting voices were heard. Among them was the British philosopher Bertrand Russell, who published “The Philosophy of Bergson” in The Monist in 1912. Russell quotes from Creative Evolution:

the great climax in which life is compared to a cavalry charge. “All organized beings, from the humblest to the highest, from the first origins of life to the time in which we are, and in all places as in all times, do but evidence a single impulsion, the inverse of the movement of matter, and in itself indivisible. All the living hold together, and all yield to the same tremendous push. The animal takes its stand on the plant, man bestrides animality, and the whole of humanity, in space and in time, is one immense army galloping beside and before and behind each of us in an overwhelming charge able to beat down every resistance and to clear many obstacles, perhaps even death.”

Russell asks “whether there are any reasons for accepting such a restless view of the world” and answers that “there is no reason whatever for accepting this view, either in the universe or in the writings of M. Bergson.” Russell says that the “two foundations of Bergson’s philosophy, in so far as it is more than an imaginative and poetic view of the world, are his doctrines of space and time,” and Russell goes on to argue in some detail that both doctrines are erroneous. Bergson was also criticized by the French philosopher Julien Benda, who attacked him from a Cartesian rationalist standpoint in many articles and two books: Le Bergsonisme; ou, Philosophie de mobilité (1912, Berg-sonism; or, Philosophy of Mobility) and Une philosophic pathétique (1913, A Pathetic Philosophy). Benda held that Bergson wanted to replace logical thought with emotion, and philosophy with poetry; the supposed insight into absolute reality available through intuition is unverifiable and, therefore, unscientific. Bergsonism, he said, was a symptom of the cultural degradation of a democratic age in which science and philosophy were considered elitist.

In January 1913 Bergson made his first visit to the United States, at the invitation of Columbia University. In February he gave two lectures at the university; the first traffic jam in the history of Broadway is said to have occurred before the first lecture. Bergson went on to lecture before large audiences in several other American cities. In May he accepted the presidency of the British Society for Psychical Research and delivered the address “Fantômes de vivants’ et ’recherche psychique’” (translated as ’“Phantasms of the Living’ and ’Psychical Research,’” 1920). Translations of his works appeared in English, German, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Hungarian, Polish, and Russian.

In 1914 Bergson was elected president of the Academie des sciences morales et politiques and named Officier de la Légion d’honneur and Officier de l’lnstruction publique. That same year he was the first Jew elected to membership in the Academie française; he succeeded the historian Emile Ollivier, who had died in 1913. In May and June he delivered a course of eleven Gifford Lectures under the title “The Problem of Personality” at Edinburgh University.

Also in 1914, however, Bergson’s work was attacked by Jacques Maritain from the standpoint of Thomism—the Christian Aristotelianism of St. Thomas Aquinas, which forms the official philosophy of the Roman Catholic Church—in his La Philosophic bergsonienne: Etudes-critiques (The Bergsonian Philosophy: Critical Studies; translated as Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism, 1955). Maritain, who had been a disciple of Bergson before becoming a Thomist, charged that Bergson’s metaphysics of pure becoming has no room for the concept of substance and, therefore, for the distinction between substance and accident, which is essential to the notion of transubstantiation that underlies the sacrament of the Eucharist. Also, Bergson’s denial of fixed essences is incompatible with the notion that created beings have essences that reflect ideas in the mind of the Creator and, therefore, with the claim that the human essence was corrupted by Adam’s sin and requires redemption through Christ. Furthermore, by making the élan vital immanent in the universe, Bergson’s view eliminates the distinction between God and creation and, therefore, amounts to pantheism. On 1 June 1914 the Roman Catholic Church placed Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience, Matière et mémoire, and L’évolutim créatrice on the Index of Prohibited Books.

A second course of Gifford Lectures planned for the fall was canceled because of the outbreak of World War I in August. On 4 November 1914 Bergson published the article “La force qui s’use et celle qui ne s’use pas” (Wearing and Nonwearing Forces) in Le Bulletin des Armées de la République Française. In December he delivered the presidential address to the Academie des sciences morales et politiques; it was published in 1915 as La significatkm de la guerre and, along with the article “La force qui s’use et celle qui ne s’use pas,” was translated that same year as The Meaning of the War: Life & Matter in Conflict. To concentrate on political and diplomatic activities related to the war, Bergson retired from all active duties at the Collége de France at the end of 1914 but did not resign from his professorship; his lectures were taken over by his assistant, Le Roy, who served as his “permanent substitute.”

In 1915 Bergson was succeeded as president of the Academie des sciences morales et politiques by Alexandre Ribot. He also published a short summary of French philosophy at the request of the minister of public instruction. He began his diplomatic career with a trip to Spain in 1916, which was followed in 1917 by a mission to the United States as an emissary to President Woodrow Wilson. Bergson was officially inducted into the Academie française in January 1918.

In 1919 Bergson was made a commander of the Légion d’honneur. A collection of his shorter pieces appeared in 1919 as L’énergie spirituelle: Essais et conférences (Spiritual Energy: Essays and Lectures; translated as Mind-Energy: Lectures and Essays, 1920). It comprises “La conscience et la vie”; “Lâme et le corps” (translated as “The Soul and the Body”); “‘Tantômes de vivants’ et ’recherche psychique’”; “Le rêve” (translated as “Dreams”); “Le souvenir du présent et la fausse reconnaissance” (translated as “Memory of the Present and False Recognition”); “L’effort intellectuel” (translated as “Intellectual Effort”); and “Le cerveau et la pensée: Une illusion philosophique” (translated as “Brain and Thought: A Philosophical Illusion”), a lecture he had given to the Congress of Philosophy in Geneva in 1904 under the title “Le paralogisme psycho-physiologique” (The Psycho-Physiological Paralogism).

In June 1920 Bergson received an honorary degree of doctor of letters from the University of Cambridge. He resigned his professorship at the Collège de France in 1921 and was appointed president of the International Commission for Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). At a meeting of the Societé de Philosophie in April 1922 he participated in a debate with Albert Einstein, who had won the Nobel Prize in physics the previous year, on Einstein’s theory of relativity; Bergson published his views as Durée et simultanéité à propos de la théorie dEinstein (1922; translated as Duration and Simultaneity, with Reference to Einstein’s Theory, 1965). He criticizes the special theory of relativity on both mathematical and philosophical grounds. From a mathematical standpoint, he attacks the notion of multiplicity in Riemannian geometry that forms the basis of Einstein’s theory. Philosophically, he holds that relativity depends on the notions of instants of time and simultaneity, which are spatialized abstractions that are incompatible with the real, irreversible, nonquantifiable time of duration. Bergson’s views were attacked by the physicists Jean Becquerel and André Metz; he admitted in an appendix to the second edition of Durée et simultanéité à propos de la théorie d’Einstein that the mathematics he had used were inadequate, but he continued to uphold his philosophical critique of Einstein. He is generally—though not universally—regarded as having lost the debate with Einstein, and some scholars contend that the dispute dealt a blow to his reputation from which it never recovered. He did not allow the book to be republished during his lifetime, and it was not included in the first edition of his Oeuvres (Works) in 1959.

Bergson suffered from crippling bouts of arthritis from 1925 until the end of his life. His term as president of the International Commission for Intellectual Cooperation ended in 1926. In 1927 he won the Nobel Prize in Literature “in recognition of his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brilliant skill with which they have been presented.” Because of his illness, Bergson was unable to attend the Nobel banquet at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm on 10 December 1928; thus, instead of an address by the laureate, a letter from Bergson was read by the French minister, Armand Bernard. It was preceded by a brief comment by Professor Gösta Forssell: “Henri Bergson has given us a philosophical system which could have served Nobel’s idea as a basis and support, the idea of acknowledging with his Prizes not human deeds but new ideas revealed through select personalities. Bergson’s high-minded works strive to regain for man’s consciousness the divine gift of intuition and to put reason in its proper place: serving and controlling ideas.” While the literature prize is usually conferred on poets, playwrights, or fiction writers, Bergson’s enormous contemporary importance and the gracefulness of his style made it impossible for the Nobel committee to ignore him. Also, since there is no Nobel Prize in philosophy, and philosophy is not a hard science like physics, chemistry, or medicine, the literature prize was the only available means of recognition at the committee’s disposal. (In 1950 Bertrand Russell—who, like Bergson, was renowned for his writing style as well as for his accomplishments in philosophy—won the literature prize. Since 1993 the Schock Prize has been awarded every two years by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in the fields of logic and philosophy and of mathematics; it is considered the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in those fields, although it is much less widely known.)

In 1932 Bergson published the last of his four major works, Les deux sources de la morale de la religion. Certain species, Bergson says, have evolved in such a way that individuals of the species cannot exist in isolation but require the support of a community; bees and ants are the prime examples among the arthropods, and human beings are the prime example among the vertebrates. The communities, or societies, formed by the members of such species must be held together by some force that can overcome the selfish impulses of the individual members. In the insects, this role is played by instinct, which imposes precise and detailed obligations on each individual to assure the cohesion and orderly functioning of the group. In human societies, where more latitude is left to individual choice, it is played by habit:

Chacune de ces habitudes, qu’on pourra appeler “morales,” sera contingente. Mais leur ensemble, je veux dire l’habitude de contracter ces habitudes, étant à la base même des sociétés et conditionnant leur existence, aura une force comparable à celle de l’instinct, et comme intensité et comme régularité. C’est là precise-ment ce que nous avons appelé “le tout de l’obligation.” II ne s’agira d’ailleurs que des sociétés humaines telles qu’elles sont au sortir des mains de la nature. II s’agira de sociétés primitives et élémentaires. Mais la société humaine aura beau progresser, se compliquer et se spiritualiser: le statut de sa fondation demeurera, ou plutôt l’intention de la nature.

(Each of these habits, which may be called “moral,” would be incidental. But the aggregate of them, I mean the habit of contracting these habits, being at the very basis of societies and a necessary condition of their existence, would have a force comparable to that of instinct in respect of both intensity and regularity. This is exactly what we have called the “totality of obligation.” This, be it said, will apply only to human societies at the moment of emerging from the hands of nature. It will apply to primitive and to elementary societies. But, however much human society may progress, grow complicated and spiritualized, the original design, expressing the purpose of nature, will remain [translated by R. Ashley Audra, Cloudesley Brereton, and W. Horsfall Carter].)

In human beings, the habit of acquiring moral obligations is natural and instinctive, but the particular obligations are not; they vary from society to society, just as the capacity for language is instinctive but the syntax and grammar vary from language to language.

Both insect and human societies are “sociétés closes” (closed societies): each such society distinguishes itself from other societies formed by members of the same species, and the rules obeyed in each case are peculiar to the society in question; thus, in the case of the human society, the sum total of moral obligations is what Bergson calls a “morale close” (closed morality). Closed morality ensures the survival of the particular society and excludes other societies; thus, closed morality is necessarily concerned with war.

Bergson disagrees with the German philosopher Immanuel Kant that morality can be based on reason; morality is rooted in emotion, while reason, or what Bergson calls intelligence, can only rationalize and try to find support for the moral rules imposed by society. But intelligence allows the individual to question the norms of his or her society and is, therefore, a dangerous and potentially disruptive force. Nature, however, steps in and creates religion by means of “la fonction fabulatrice” (the mythmaking function) of the imagination. Deities are created who serve as the sources and enforcers of the moral rules. Religion also serves the vital function of providing an image of a life after death, since human beings, alone among the animals, are able to envision their own deaths and would, without the hope of an afterlife, become too depressed to act at all. Religion further allows people to believe that nature is controlled by friendly powers whose help may be invoked or even by unfriendly ones who might be propitiated, and thus it gives people a belief in their ability to exercise some control over their environment. This kind of religion, which serves to support the closed morality of a closed society, Bergson calls “religion statique” (static religion).

Closed morality and static religion are characteristic of primitive societies, but they continue to exist in more highly developed societies, which are still closed societies. In these more highly developed societies, however, the vision of another kind of society becomes possible: the “société ouverte” (open society), which would include all of humanity, and, corresponding to this society, a “morale ouverte” (open morality). Whereas closed morality is a morality of obligation and is felt as pressing on the individual from outside, the open morality is a morality of aspiration and attraction and is felt as pulling on the individual from within. It results from the contact, whether in person or by hearsay, with exceptional moral teachers—prophets, sages, and saints. These individuals, in turn, are inspired by their ability to perceive the èlan vital in mystical experiences in which they feel at one with the universe as a whole and the source of all being. The religion that results from such experiences is “religion dynamique” (dynamic religion). It does not invoke personified deities who may be appeased through rituals but is a direct intuition of the creative life-force itself. It does not have doctrines; religion with rigid doctrines is static. Open morality and dynamic religion are concerned with creativity and progress, not with social cohesion; open morality is universal and aims at peace. Genuine, or complete, mystical experience must result in action; it cannot rest in contemplation of God.

Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion had a respectful reception from the philosophical community and the public, but Bergson’s days as a philosophical luminary were past. The final book he published during his lifetime was La pensee et le mouvant: Essais et conferences (1934; translated as The Creative Mind, 1946), a collection of essays and lectures from earlier years.

By the time he wrote Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion, Bergson considered himself a Catholic in all but name. In his will, written on 8 February 1937, he said:

Mes réflexions m’ont amené de plus en plus près du catholicisme où je vois l’achévement complet du judaïsme. Je me serais converti, si je n’avais vu se préparer depuis des années la formidable vague d’anti-sémitisme qui va déferler sur le monde. J’ai voulu rester parmi ceux qui seront demain des persécutés.

(My reflections have led me closer and closer to Catholicism, in which I see the complete fulfillment of Judaism. I would have become a convert, had I not foreseen for years a formidable wave of anti-Semitism about to break upon the world. I wanted to remain among those who tomorrow were to be persecuted.)

He went on to request that a priest pray at his funeral if the cardinal archbishop of Paris would authorize it; if not, he asked that a rabbi be invited to do so, without concealing from the clergyman or anyone else Bergson’s moral adherence to Catholicism or his preference for a priest. After France fell to the Germans on 14 June 1940, he refused the Vichy government’s offer to exempt him from its anti-Semitic laws and renounced all positions and honors he had received from the French government that could be construed as indicating his approval of the German puppet regime. In July, Bergson and his wife and daughter left Paris to spend the rest of the summer in Saint-Cyr-sur-Loire. They returned in November to the apartment at 47 boulevard Beausejour where they had lived since 1929. At the end of the year, wearing a bathrobe and supported by a servant, Bergson stood in line to register as a Jew; some sources claim that he there contracted the bronchitis from which he died on 4 January 1941. A priest he had called to his deathbed arrived too late to administer last rites. He was buried in the small Garches Cemetery. After his death, Maritain’s wife, Raissa, claimed that Bergson had secretly been baptized a Catholic; but in a letter to Emmanuel Mounier that was published in the Gazette de Lausanne on 9 September 1941, Bergson’s widow denied the allegation and quoted the passage from his will in which he gave his reason for not converting. She died in 1946; their daughter, Jeanne, died in 1961.

Bergson’s popularity with the public and his prestige among philosophers had diminished well before his death. After World War II, they declined even further. The graceful, flowing style and vivid metaphors that had been admired in the early years of the twentieth century came to be regarded as rhetorical flourishes concealing thought that would not withstand close scrutiny. Furthermore, times had changed. As Harold A. Larrabee noted in the introduction to his edition of Selections from Bergson, published in 1949:

Philosophers are still debating whether Bergson’s philosophy as a whole deserves the epithets “irrational” or “anti-intellectual” which some have applied to it. But the mere suspicion that those tags are not wholly inappropriate is enough to put us on our guard.

For we, unlike Bergson’s earlier readers, are survivors of the Axis onslaught of 1939-45. In 1907, the enemy appeared to be what William James called “the beast, Intellectualism,” and as against it, and all manner of nineteenth-century scientific and social rigidities, vitality and animal vigor had much in their favor. When Bergson attacked all the dead hands which close in upon the living, he spoke for the romantic rebel in all of us. But far worse beasts than intellectualism, overflowing, too, with savage vitality, have since come forth; and praise of blind instinct at the apparent expense of intelligent discrimination has a hollow ring indeed to those who have witnessed the abominations committed by the fanatics who boasted that they “thought with their blood.”

This is not to accuse Bergson of the slightest sympathy with the instinct-trusting madmen who embittered his own last years on earth.

Bergson left behind no “Bergsonian” school, but his work influenced philosophers such as James, George Santayana, Alfred North Whitehead, Arnold Hauser, Claude Simon, the political theorist Georges Sorel, and the existentialists Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and Jean-Paul Sartre; Sartre said that Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience was the text that first attracted him to philosophy. Like Bergson, the existentialists wanted to attain a pure view of phenomena that was not colored by concepts and categories borrowed from the physical sciences; they, however, preferred the more rigorous epoché, or “bracketing,” method of the phenomenologist Edmund Husserl to Bergson’s intuition. In literature, Bergson made an impact on Charles Péguy, Paul Valery, George Bernard Shaw, John Dos Passos, Wallace Stevens, Willa Cather, and his wife’s cousin Proust; in art, on the painter Claude Monet; and in music, on the composer Claude Debussy. Interest in Bergson was briefly reawakened in France by Gilles Deleuze’s Le Bergsonisme (1966; translated as Bergsonism, 1988) and his use of Bergson’s ideas in his analysis of the cinema. Deleuze himself died in 1995, and Bergson’s philosophy is now primarily of historical interest.


Correspondences, edited by André Robinet, Nelly Bruyére, Brigitte Sitbon-Peillon, and Suzanne Stern-Gillet (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 2002);

Henri Bergson et Albert Kahn: Correspondences, edited by Sophie Coeuré and Frédéric Worms (Strasbourg: Desmaret / Boulogne: Musée départemental Albert-Kahn,2003).


P. A. Y. Gunter, Henri Bergson: A Bibliography (Bowling Green, Ohio: Philosophy Documentation Center, Bowling Green University, 1974; revised, 1986).


Jean Guitton, La vocation de Bergson (Paris: Gallimard, 1960);

Jean-Louis Vieillard-Baron, Bergson (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1991);

Philippe Soulez and Frédéric Worms, Bergson: Biographie (Paris: Flammarion, 1997).


Lydie Adolphe, La dialectique des images chez Bergson (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1951);

Adolphe, La philosophic religieuse de Bergson (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1946);

Ian W Alexander, Bergson, Philosopher of Reflection (London: Bowes & Bowes, 1957; New York: Hillary House, 1957);

Mark Antliff, ed., Inventing Bergson: Cultural Politics and the Parisian Avant-Garde (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993);

Roméo Arbour, Henri Bergson et les lettres françaises (Paris: Corti, 1955);

Randall E. Auxier, “A Dialogue on Bergson,” Process Studies, 28 (Fall-Winter 1999): 339-345;

Gaston Bachelard, The Dialectic of Duration, translated by Mary McAllester Jones (Manchester, U.K.: Clinamen Press, 2000);

Michel Barlow, Henri Bergson (Paris: Editions universitaires, 1966);

Madeleine Barthélemy-Maudale, Bergson (Paris: Seuil, 1967);

Barthélemy-Maudale, Bergson, adversaire du Kant (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1964);

Barthélemy-Maudale, Bergson et Teilhard de Chardin (Paris: Seuil, 1963);

Albert Béguin and Pierre Thevenaz, eds., Henri Bergson: Essais et témoignages (Neuchâtel: La Baconnière, 1943);

Julien Benda, Le bergsonisme; ou, Philosophie de la mobilité (Paris: Mercure de France, 1912);

Benda, Une philosophie patheétique (Paris: J. Crémieu, 1913);

Benda, Sur le succès du bergsonisme: Précédé d’une réponse aux défenseurs de la doctrine (Paris: Mercure de France, 1914);

Richard Bilsker, On Bergson (Belmont, Cal.: Wadsworth, 2002);

Richard L. Brougham, “Reality and Appearance in Bergson and Whitehead,” Process Studies, 24 (1995): 39-43;

Walter Brunting, “La filosofia irraciotialista de la historia en la actualidad,” Revista de Filosofia, 5, no. 2 (1958): 3-17;

Frederick Burwick and Paul Douglass, eds., The Crisis in Modernism: Bergson and the Vitalist Controversy (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992);

Milik Capec, Bergson and Modern Physics: A Reinterpretation and Re-evaluation (Dordrecht: Reidel, 1971);

Marie Cariou, L’atomisme: Trois essais. Gassendi, Leibniz, Bergson et Lucrèce (Paris: Montaigne, 1978);

Cariou, Bergson et Bachelard (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1995);

Cariou, Bergson et le fait mystique (Paris: Montaigne, 1976);

Cariou, Lectures Bergsoniennes (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1990);

Herbert Wildon Carr, Henri Bergson: The Philosophy of Change (London: Jack / New York: Dodge, 1912);

Jacques Chevalier, Bergson (Paris: Plon, 1926); translated by Lilian A. Clare as Henri Bergson (New York: Macmillan, 1928); French version revised and enlarged as Bergson (Paris: Plon, 1948);

Chevalier, Entretiens avec Bergson (Paris: Plon, 1955);

Frederick C. Copleston, Bergson on Morality (London: Oxford University Press, 1955);

André Cresson, Bergson: Sa vie, son oeuvre, avec un exposé de sa philosophie (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1941);

Gustavus Watts Cunningham, A Study in the Philosophy of Bergson (New York: Longmans, Green, 1916);

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Henri Bergson’s will directed that all of his papers be destroyed, and his widow burned them in the fireplace. Thus, the Bergson Archives at the Librairie Jacques Doucet in Paris contain only Bergson’s personal library.

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Bergson, Henri (18 October 1859 - 4 January 1941)

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