Henri Bergson
Relationship with James
Bergson came to London in 1908 and visited (United States pragmatic philosopher and psychologist (1842-1910)) William James, the American philosopher of (American philanthropist who left his library and half his estate to the Massachusetts college that now bears his name (1607-1638)) Harvard, who was Bergson's senior by seventeen years, and who was instrumental in calling the attention of the Anglo-American public to the work of the French professor. This was an interesting meeting and we find James's impression of Bergson given in his Letters under date of October 4, 1908. "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."

As early as 1880 James had contributed an article in French to the periodical La Critique philosophique, of Renouvier and Pillon, entitled Le Sentiment de l'Effort. Four years later a couple of articles by him appeared in "Mind: What is an Emotion?" and "On some Omissions of Introspective Psychology." Of these articles the first two were quoted by Bergson in his work of 1889, Les données immédiates de la conscience. In the following years 1890-91 appeared the two volumes of James's monumental work, (Click link for more info and facts about The Principles of Psychology) The Principles of Psychology, in which he refers to a pathological phenomenon observed by Bergson. Some writers, taking merely these dates into consideration and overlooking the fact that James's investigations had been proceeding since 1870 (registered from time to time by various articles which culminated in "The Principles"), have mistakenly dated Bergson's ideas as earlier than James's.

It has been suggested that Bergson owes the root ideas of his first book to the 1884 article by James, "On Some Omissions of Introspective Psychology," which he neither refers to nor quotes. This article deals with the conception of thought as a (The continuous flow of ideas and feelings that constitute an individual's conscious experience) stream of consciousness, which (A person who uses the mind creatively) intellect distorts by framing into concepts. Bergson replied to this insinuation by denying that he had any knowledge of the article by James when he wrote Les données immédiates de la conscience. The two thinkers appear to have developed independently until almost the close of the century. They are further apart in their intellectual position than is frequently supposed. Both have succeeded in appealing to audiences far beyond the purely academic sphere, but only in their mutual rejection of "intellectualism" as final is there real unanimity. Although James was slightly ahead in the development and enunciation of his ideas, he confessed that he was baffled by many of Bergson's notions. James certainly neglected many of the deeper metaphysical aspects of Bergson's thought, which did not harmonize with his own, and are even in direct contradiction. In addition to this, Bergson is no pragmatist—for him "utility," so far from being a test of truth, is rather the reverse, a synonym for error.

Nevertheless, William James hailed Bergson as an ally. Early in the century (1903) he wrote: "I have been re-reading Bergson's books, and nothing that I have read since years has so excited and stimulated my thoughts. I am sure that that philosophy has a great future, it breaks through old cadres and brings things into a solution from which new crystals can be got." The most noteworthy tributes paid by him to Bergson were those made in the Hibbert Lectures (A Pluralistic Universe), which James gave at (Click link for more info and facts about Manchester College, Oxford) Manchester College, Oxford, shortly after meeting Bergson in London. He remarks on the encouragement he has received from Bergson's thought, and refers to the confidence he has in being "able to lean on Bergson's authority."

The influence of Bergson had led him "to renounce the intellectualist method and the current notion that (The branch of philosophy that analyzes inference) logic is an adequate measure of what can or cannot be." It had induced him, he continued, "to give up logic, squarely and irrevocably" as a method, for he found that "reality, life, experience, concreteness, immediacy, use what word you will, exceeds our logic, overflows, and surrounds it."

Naturally, these remarks, which appeared in book form in 1909, directed many English and American readers to an investigation of Bergson's philosophy for themselves. A certain handicap existed in that his greatest work had not then been translated into English. James, however, encouraged and assisted Dr. (United States dancer who formed the first Black classical ballet company (born in 1934)) Arthur Mitchell in his preparation of the English translation of L'Evolution créatrice. In August of 1910 James died. It was his intention, had he lived to see the completion of the translation, to introduce it to the English reading public by a prefatory note of appreciation. In the following year the translation was completed and still greater interest in Bergson and his work was the result. By a coincidence, in that same year (1911), Bergson penned for the French translation of James's book, "Pragmatism", a preface of sixteen pages, entitled Vérité et Realité. In it he expressed sympathetic appreciation of James's work, coupled with certain important reservations.

In April (5th to 11th) Bergson attended the Fourth International Congress of Philosophy held at (Large smooth-textured smoked sausage of beef and veal and pork) Bologna, in (A republic in southern Europe on the Italian Peninsula; was the core of the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire between the 4th century BC and the 5th century AD) Italy, where he gave a brilliant address on L'Intuition philosophique. In response to invitations received he came again to England in May of that year, and paid England several subsequent visits. These visits were always noteworthy events and were marked by important deliverances. Many of these contain important contributions to thought and shed new light on many passages in his three large works: Time and Free Will, Matter and Memory, and Creative Evolution. Although necessarily brief statements, they were of more recent date than his books, and thus showed how this acute thinker could develop and enrich his thought and take advantage of such an opportunity to make clear to an English audience the fundamental principles of his philosophy.