- Bergson, Henri
- (1859–1941)French philosopher and evolutionist. Born in Paris, in 1900 Bergson became professor at the Collège de France, and held the post until 1921. His fluent and accessible works with their uplifting spiritual content led to many honours in France, and the Nobel prize for literature in 1927. Bergson's philosophy was hostile to materialism and mechanism, and while embracing evolution saw it as driven by a creative force or original impetus of life (the élan vital ) rather than the blind operation of natural selection. His ‘dynamism’ focuses upon the continuous nature of experience, and the artificial nature of the divisions we impose with the intellect; the flow of life becomes the prime datum falsified by mechanistic and scientistic philosophies. This flow is an active, melting process or ‘pure’ time, quite different from the abstract time of natural science. This difference recurs in Bergson's analysis of memory, which retains the whole of the past in the present, with the brain acting as a kind of censor, selecting only those apprehensions of the past that are useful for the present occasion. In an analogous manner the theories of natural science, which purport to be complete theories of reality, are better seen as partial and limited reflections of the way the mind functions. In spite of the sweep of Bergson's philosophy the spiritual, indeed rhapsodic, aspect of his work has not stood the test of time, nor does the spiritual interpretation of evolution fare well against modern developments. His books included Matière et mémoire (1896, trs. as Matter and Memory, 1911), Le Rire: essai sur la signification du comique (1900, trs. as Laughter: an Essay on the Meaning of the Comic, 1921), and L’Évolution créatrice (1907, trs. as Creative Evolution, 1911).
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.