Bergson

Bergson

Contemporary philosophy

Bergson was a 20th century French philosopher (1859-1941). As a student at the Lycée Condorcet, he won first prize in the general mathematics competition. However, he preferred literature and entered the Ecole Normale Supérieure, where he was awarded the agrégation in philosophy. He was appointed lycée teacher in Angers, Clermont-Ferrand, Henri IV in Paris, the Ecole Normale Supérieure and finally the Collège de France. His works met with considerable success, and he was elected president of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques.


Bergson's works summarised on this site

coming soon

The Two Sources of Morality and Religion

In this book, Bergson distinguishes between two types of morality, closed morality and open morality, and proceeds in the same way with religion.


Bibliography

Here are the essential books if you wish to better understand the thought of this author:

Ansell-Pearson, Keith. Bergson. Thinking Beyond the Human Condition. London: Bloomsbury, 2018.
Canales, Jimena. The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time. Princeton, Princeton Press, 2015.
Guerlac, Suzanne. Thinking in Time: An Introduction to Henri Bergson. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006.
Lawlor, Leonard. The Challenge of Bergsonism: Phenomenology, Ontology, Ethics. London: Continuum Press, 2003.
Mullarkey, John. Bergson and Philosophy. Edinburgh University Press, 1999.

Recommended videos

Conferences, symposia, radio broadcasts... here are 10 videos that will help you better understand Bergson's thought.

To choose your video from the list, click below on the drop-down menu icon at the top right:


Biography: life of Bergson

Youth

Henri Bergson was born in Paris in 1859. His parents, of Jewish origin, soon moved to London, where he lived until the age of nine, before returning to France.

His father, a composer, was unsuccessful.


Once his parents had returned to England, he stayed on his own in Paris and became a boarder at the Lycée Condorcet. A brilliant student, he won first prize in the general mathematics competition at the age of eighteen.

However, he was destined for a literary career and entered the Ecole Normale Supérieure the following year. His classmates included Durkheim and Jean Jaurès.

With a degree in literature, he came fourth in the agrégation in philosophy, behind Jaurès, in 1881.


Bergson was then appointed professor and taught at Angers and then Clermont-Ferrand for five years.

He wrote Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, which he presented to obtain his thesis in arts, and which was immediately published, in 1889.

First works

He was then appointed to the Lycée Henri IV in Paris, where he taught for eight years. He married and had a daughter, who was deaf and dumb.

He began writing his new work, Matter and Memory, published in 1896.

In 1898, he became a lecturer at the Ecole normale supérieure, where he taught for only two years, as he was appointed professor at the Collège de France, from 1900.

In 1900, he wrote Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, and in 1901 was elected to the Académie des sciences morales et politiques.

He gave lectures at the International Congress of Philosophy.

In 1903, the Revue de métaphysique et de morale published one of his articles. This one, a kind of manifesto, is entitled "Introduction to Metaphysics", and can be seen as the starting point of Bergsonism, a preface to all his work.

Photo of Henri Bergson
Photo of young Bergson

Creative Evolution appeared in 1907, and was a great success. His name was now known to the general public. This fundamental work, which looks at the theory of evolution in a new light, aroused interest in intellectual circles, even though some biologists expressed reservations.


In 1908, he travelled to London where he met William James. The two authors introduced their respective works to the French and English public. However, he encountered opposition from Russell, who was unconvinced by his notion of intuition.

Bergson lectured at Oxford and Birmingham Universities. In 1913, he travelled to the United States, and in the same way gave lectures at several American universities.


His work was then translated into several languages, he was appointed president of the Académie des sciences morales et politiques, and he became an officer of the Légion d'honneur. However, his books were blacklisted by the Catholic Church, and listed in the Index.

Fame and political involvement

The Tout-Paris flocked to his lectures at the Collège de France: grand dames and their valets mingled with the students. He received baskets of flowers: "I'm not a dancer after all " he had to justify himself.


In 1914, Bergson began a series of lectures at Scottish universities, interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War. Bergson devoted several speeches and articles to this event. He came into contact with President Wilson, to influence the United States' entry into the war on the side of the Allies.


In 1918, he was admitted to the Académie française.

He brought together several articles in a new work, under the title Mind-Energy.


While retaining his chair at the Collège de France, Bergson was excused from giving lectures, to allow him to devote himself fully to his own work.

In 1921, he became President of the International Office for Intellectual Cooperation within the League of Nations. This structure would become UNESCO a few decades later.


He met Albert Einstein, and tried to defend the notion of universal time, which had been undermined by the theory of relativity.

Old age

Bergson began to feel the first effects of deforming rheumatism, which made his every movement painful.

In 1927, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, but, half-paralysed, he was unable to travel to Stockholm to receive it.


In 1932, he wrote The Two Sources of Morality and Religion.


When the Second World War broke out, he insisted on being listed as a Jew by the Vichy authorities, even though he had turned to Catholicism, and was exempt because of his notoriety, out of solidarity with other Jews.


In 1941, he died, aged 81, in Paris. His last words are said to have been: Gentlemen, it's five o'clock and the lesson is over..

An inscription in his honour appears in the Panthéon.

Main works

Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, New York: Dover Publications, 2001
Matter and Memory, New York: Cosimo Classics, 2007
Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, New York: Dover Publications, 2013
Creative Evolution, New York: Dover Publications, 1998