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Bergson, Henri-Louis (1859–1941)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD008-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved April 20, 2024, from

Article Summary

Bergson’s thinking focuses on the major questions of philosophy: What is time? What is the nature of consciousness? What is the significance of evolution? What are the sources of morality? Many readers, including prominent philosophers of the twentieth century, have admired him for the clarity, rigour, and precision he seeks to bring to bear on these topics. He has had his detractors too (the most prominent example being Bertrand Russell). Bergson’s thinking orients itself around a philosophy of life and the attempt is made to think beyond the human condition: that is, beyond our established and prevailing habits of representation. It is from the primacy that is to be accorded to life that adequate conceptions of other areas of philosophy, including metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, can be developed. Such a method of thinking has to work against the most inveterate habits of the mind and consists in an interchange of insights that correct and add to each other. For Bergson such an enterprise ends by expanding the humanity within us and so allows humanity to surpass itself by reinserting itself in the whole. This is accomplished through philosophy, for it is philosophy that provides us with the means for reversing the normal directions of the mind, so upsetting its habits. According to Bergson, the human intellect has evolved as a practical instrument for manipulating material reality and its habits are fundamentally those of utility and control. By contrast, philosophy has the ‘duty’ to ‘examine the living without any reservation as to practical utility’, and it seeks to free itself from habits that are strictly intellectual (Bergson [1907] 2007a: 126).

Citing this article:
Ansell-Pearson, Keith. Bergson, Henri-Louis (1859–1941), 2017, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD008-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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