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Bergson, Henri (1859-1941)

French philosopher and diplomat. His life straddles the turn of the twentieth century and his very complex thought also marks a turn from scientifically minded positivism of the nineteenth century to the more suspicious attitude towards mathematically based physical science, typical of the twentieth century. His own philosophy combined respect for maths and physics with a sense of their limitations as the key to metaphysical reality.

His most famous works are Creative Evolution, Matter and Memory and Time and Simultaneity. In 1928 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and during the First World War he acted as a diplomat in the precursor to what is nowadays known as UNESCO. His importance lies in his influence over much of the twentieth century French thought that followed him. Bergson set the agenda for French philosophy with a focus on embodiment, concreteness, rejection of rationality modelled on physics and maths, as well as the recognition of time and the concept of ‘becoming’.

By way of his philosophy of dynamism he described a vital principle, or living impulse, at work in the universe.  Contrary to Darwin’s notion of natural selection, Bergson posited such a non-materialistic, non-mechanistic creative urge in nature as the driving force of biological evolution.


Contributed by: Richard P Whaite and Marty Maddox/CTNS

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