Education and career
|In Paris from 1868 to 1878 Bergson attended the Lycée
Fontaine, now known as the Lycée Condorcet. While there he won a
prize for his scientific work and another, when he was eighteen, for the
solution of a mathematical problem. This was in 1877, and his solution was
published the following year in Annales de Mathématiques. It is of
interest as being his first published work. After some hesitation over his
career, as to whether it should lie in the sphere of the sciences or that
of "the humanities," he decided in favour of the latter, and when
nineteen years of age, he entered the famous (Click link for more info and
facts about Ecole Normale Supérieure) Ecole Normale Supérieure.
While there he obtained the degree of Licence-ès-Lettres, and this
was followed by that of Agrégation de philosophie in 1881.
The same year he received a teaching appointment at the (A school for students intermediate between elementary school and college; usually grades 9 to 12) Lycée in (A strong emotion; a feeling that is oriented toward some real or supposed grievance) Angers, the ancient capital of (A former province of western France in the Loire valley) Anjou. Two years later he settled at the Lycée Blaise-Pascal in (Click link for more info and facts about Clermont-Ferrand) Clermont-Ferrand, préfecture (capital) of the (Click link for more info and facts about Puy-de-Dôme) Puy-de-Dôme (Click link for more info and facts about département) département, a town whose name is usually more of interest for motorists than for philosophers, it being the home of (Click link for more info and facts about Michelin) Michelin tyres and the (Click link for more info and facts about Charade Circuit) Charade Circuit racing track.
The year after his arrival at Clermont-Ferrand Bergson displayed his ability in the humanities by the publication of an excellent edition of extracts from (Roman philosopher and poet; in a long didactic poem he tried to provide a scientific explanation of the universe (96-55 BC)) Lucretius, with a critical study of the text and the philosophy of the poet (1884), a work whose repeated editions are sufficient evidence of its useful place in the promotion of classical study among the youth of France. While teaching and lecturing in this part of his country (the (A region in central France) Auvergne region), Bergson found time for private study and original work. He was engaged on his Essai sur les données immediates de la conscience. This essay, which, in its English translation, bears the more definite and descriptive title Time and Free Will, was submitted, along with a short (Any dialect of the language of ancient Rome) Latin thesis on (One of the greatest of the ancient Athenian philosophers; pupil of Plato; teacher of Alexander the Great (384-322 BC)) Aristotle, for the degree of Docteur-ès-Lettres, to which he was admitted by the (A university in Paris; intellectual center of France) University of Paris in 1889. The work was published in the same year by Felix Alcan, the Paris publisher, in his series La Bibliothèque de philosophie contemporaine.
It is interesting to note that Bergson dedicated this volume to Jules Lachelier, then public education minister, who was an ardent disciple of Felix Ravaisson and the author of a rather important philosophical work Du fondement de l'Induction (On the Founding of Induction, 1871). Lachelier endeavoured "to substitute everywhere force for inertia, life for death, and liberty for fatalism." (Note: Lachelier was born in 1832, Ravaisson in 1813. Bergson owed much to both of these teachers of the Ecole Normale Supérieure. Cf. his memorial address on Ravaisson, who died in 1900.)
Bergson now settled again in Paris, and after teaching for some months at the Municipal College, known as the College Rollin, he received an appointment at the Lycée Henri-Quatre, where he remained for eight years. In 1896 he published his second large work, entitled Matière et Mémoire. This rather difficult, but brilliant, work investigates the function of the brain, undertakes an analysis of (The process of perceiving) perception and (An electronic memory device) memory, leading up to a careful consideration of the problems of the relation of body and mind. Bergson had spent years of research in preparation for each of his three large works. This is especially obvious in Matière et Memoire, where he shows a very thorough acquaintance with the extensive amount of pathological investigation which had been carried out during the period, and for which France is justly entitled to a very honourable mention.
In 1898 Bergson became (Click link for more info and facts about Maître de conférences) Maître de conférences at his (Your alma mater is a school you graduated from) Alma Mater, L'Ecole Normale Supérieure, and was later promoted to a Professorship. The year 1900 saw him installed as Professor at the (Click link for more info and facts about Collège de France) Collège de France, where he accepted the Chair of (Click link for more info and facts about Greek Philosophy) Greek Philosophy in succession to Charles L'Eveque.
At the First International Congress of Philosophy, held in Paris during the first five days of August, 1900, Bergson read a short, but important, paper, Sur les origines psychologiques de notre croyance à la loi de causalité (Psychological origins of the belief in the law of causality). In 1901 Felix Alcan published a work which had previously appeared in the Revue de Paris, entitled Le rire (Laughter), one of the most important of Bergson's minor productions. This essay on the meaning of "the comic" was based on a lecture which he had given in his early days in the Auvergne. The study of it is essential to an understanding of Bergson's views of life, and its passages dealing with the place of the artistic in life are valuable.
In 1901 Bergson was elected to the (Click link for more info and facts about Académie des Sciences morales et politiques) Académie des Sciences morales et politiques, and became a member of the Institute. In 1903 he contributed to the Revue de metaphysique et de morale a very important essay entitled (Click link for more info and facts about Introduction à la metaphysique) Introduction à la metaphysique (Introduction to Metaphysics), which is useful as a preface to the study of his three large books.
On the death of (Click link for more info and facts about Gabriel Tarde) Gabriel Tarde, the eminent sociologist, in 1904, Bergson succeeded him in the Chair of Modern Philosophy. From the 4th to the 8th of September of that year he was at (A city in southwestern Switzerland at the western end of Lake Geneva; it is the headquarters of various international organizations) Geneva attending the Second International Congress of Philosophy, when he lectured on Le Paralogisme psycho-physiologique, or, to quote its new title, Le Cerveau et la Pensée: une illusion philosophique (The Mind and Thought: A Philosophical Illusion). An illness prevented his visiting (A republic in central Europe; split into East German and West Germany after World War II and reunited in 1990) Germany to attend the Third Congress held at (Click link for more info and facts about Heidelberg) Heidelberg.
His third major work, L'Evolution créatrice,
appeared in 1907, and is undoubtedly the most widely known and most discussed.
It constitutes one of the most profound and original contributions to
the philosophical consideration of the ((biology) a scientific theory
of the origin of species of plants and animals) theory of evolution. "Un
livre comme L'Evolution créatrice," remarks Imbart de la Tour,
"n'est pas seulement une oeuvre, mais une date, celle d'une direction
nouvelle imprimée à la pensée." (A book such
as Creative Evolution is not so much a work, but a milestone in print
of a new direction of thought.) By 1918, (Click link for more info and
facts about Alcan) Alcan, the publisher, had issued twenty-one editions,
making an average of two editions per annum for ten years. Following the
appearance of this book, Bergson's popularity increased enormously, not
only in academic circles, but among the general reading public.