Henri Bergson (1859-1941)
|Bergson, Henri (1859-1941),
French philosopher and Nobel laureate, who advanced a theory of evolution,
based on the spiritual dimension of human life, that had widespread influence
in a variety of disciplines.
Born in Paris, October 18, 1859, Bergson was educated at the Ecole Normale Superieure and the University of Paris. He taught in various secondary schools from 1881 until 1898, when he accepted a professorship at the Ecole Normale Superieure. Two years later he was appointed to the chair of philosophy at the College de France.
|Meanwhile Bergson's doctoral dissertation,
Time and Free Will (1889; trans. 1910), was published and aroused great
interest among philosophers. It presents his theories on the freedom of
the mind and on duration, which he regarded as the succession of conscious
states, intermingling and unmeasured. This work was followed by Matter and
Memory (1896; trans. 1911), emphasizing the selectivity of the human brain;
Laughter (1900; trans. 1901), an essay on the mechanistic basis of comedy
that is probably his most quoted work; and Creative Evolution (1907; trans.
1911), probing the entire problem of human existence and defining the mind
as pure energy, the elan vital, or vital force, responsible for all organic
evolution. In 1914 Bergson was elected to the French Academy.
In 1921 Bergson resigned from the College de France to devote his time to international affairs, politics, moral problems, and religion; he was converted to Roman Catholicism (his parents were Jewish). He published only one book during the last two decades of his life, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932; trans. 1935), in which he aligned his own philosophy with Christianity. In 1927 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature. He died January 4, 1941.The influence of Bergson's earlier books, as well as his many papers and lectures, on the philosophers, artists, and writers of the 20th century is extensive. He was a master prose stylist and a brilliant lecturer, his mystical yet vital style contrasting with the formalistic materialism of his peers.
||Although often associated with
the intuitionalist school of philosophy, Bergsonism is too original and
eclectic a philosophy to be thus categorized. Bergson did, however, emphasize
the importance of intuition over intellect, as he promoted the idea of two
opposing currents: inert matter in conflict with organic life as the vital
urge strives toward free creative action.
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