Bergson, Henri-Louis (1859–1941)

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

8. Morality and religion

Bergson turned to morality, and to an explicit discussion of religion, late in life in his last major work, Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion (The Two Sources of Morality and Religion) (1932). On both topics he uses a dualistic framework, but not, as in previous works, to show how two antagonistic approaches share a common premise. He contrasts closed morality with open morality and static religion with dynamic religion, and in each case his preference for the second term is unambiguous. The open morality is one of aspiration rather than impulsion and is universal in scope. Dynamic religion is somewhat similar, culminating in mysticism, of whose nature and development he gives an extended account. Obligation he sees as the pull of instinct against the waywardness introduced by intelligence, and he rightly emphasizes that we perform the great majority of our obligations as a matter of course and without any heroic Kantian struggle. The contrast between trajectory and movement is used twice here. Just as we can never build up a movement out of elements of its trajectory, but must treat it as something distinct and unitary, we can never construct a motive for moral action from individual intellectual considerations: the motive must already be there, given by instinct (there are echoes of Hume here). The second point is that we can never pass from ever-expanding group loyalties, which always require some out-group as a foil, to the universal love of mankind that open morality demands and that only the mystic can provide.

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