Bergson, Henri-Louis (1859–1941)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD008-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved July 01, 2022, from

1. Life

Bergson was born in Paris on 18 October 1859 with a musician as father and a mother from Yorkshire. He married Louise Neuberger, a relative of Proust, and had one daughter. After teaching in Angers, Clermont-Ferrand and Paris, he held a chair at the Collège de France from 1900 to 1921, where his lectures before the First World War attracted so many people that it was seriously proposed to move them to the Opéra. After the war, interest in his lectures declined and he turned from academic teaching (though only partly from writing) to promoting international understanding as a prophylactic against war. Fiercely patriotic, he died at France’s darkest hour on 3 January or 4 January 1941, after seventeen years of crippling arthritis, and after supporting his fellow Jews by refusing an offer of exemption from anti-Semitic regulations; the same sympathy may have stopped him officially adopting the Catholic religion, to which in later life he became spiritually close (despite having his books placed on the Index in 1914).

Bergson was a man of wide intellectual attainments. At seventeen he won first prize in an open mathematical competition and also solved a problem left unsolved by Pascal. His subsidiary degree thesis (written in Latin) dealt with Aristotle on place, and he lectured on Lucretius. He devoted several years to a detailed study of the literature on aphasia, in connection with memory, and similarly used detailed scientific evidence to support his views on evolution. He was also a great stylist and his books can stand beside those of Berkeley, Russell and the early Plato as among the more readable works of philosophy.

Citing this article:
Lacey, A.R.. Life. Bergson, Henri-Louis (1859–1941), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD008-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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