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Biography of Henri-Louis Bergson (1859-1941)

French philosopher called the philosopher of intuition, Bergson seeks the solution to the metaphysical problems in the analysis of the phenomena of consciousness. In the philosophical field, he revived the tradition of French spiritualism and embodied the reaction against positivism and the intellectualism of turn of the century.

Life and work.

A member of a Jewish family of Polish origin, Bergson was born in Paris in 1859 and died on January 4, 1941. He made his studies at the Lycée Condorcet, excelling in the classical disciplines and even more so in math. In 1891 he married Louise Neuburger, cousin of Marcel Proust. He obtained the doctorate in philosophy with two Dissertations: Quid crazy senserit Aristotle and Essai sur le données immediates of conscience (1889). In 1897 he was appointed "Maitre de conférences" at the Normal School, and two years later began to teach in the Chair of modern philosophy at the Collège de France. Their teaching achieved enormous success. Access to the Sorbonne was not allowed by the opposition of the Group of academic traditionalists. In 1914 he was appointed member of the Academy of France, and in 1927 Nobel Prize for literature won the award. During the first world war, he developed an intense work as a lecturer in support of the Entente. To be within the League of Nations Committee for cultural cooperation, Bergson was in charge of the Presidency. In recent years he felt even closer to Catholicism, but he shunned the official conversion because, as he confessed in his testament, he feared to support with its prestige anti-Semitism promoted in Europe by the Nazis.

His main works are: matière et mémoire (1896); Le rire (1901); L' évolution créatrice (1907, work that earned enormous resonance and dissemination); L' énergie spirituelle (1919); Durée et simultaneite (1922); Le pensée et le mouvement (1934, collection of essays and lectures, which include the Introduction à la métaphysique, 1903, brilliant synthesis of the philosophy of Bergson, and L'intuition philosofique lecture at the Congress of Bologna, 1911); Le possible et le reel (1930); Les deux sources de morale et de religion (1932).

Philosophical thought.

Consciousness and time.

Bergson had a mainly positivist formation. Teaching in French schools, and specifically in the Normal where he studied under the guidance of the professors Ollé-Laprune and Boutroux, continued the tradition of Kantian doctrines; but Bergson preferred the study of English, mainly of Spencer. Initially Bergson wanted to refine the theories of Spencer but to pretend such a task ran into what was to become the central issue of his thought: the question of time. Real time, lived, cannot enter formulas of science, because they are interested only in what is susceptible of measurement. This led Bergson to modify your program and to give himself to the study of all those ways of being beyond measure and the science, and that require a mode of different knowledge. It thus separating from positivism to delve into the "philosophy of intuition". Also leaving the way of explanation through mathematics to try through the science of biological, psychological and sociological, keeping the same respect for the experience. Always based on this "respect for the experience", Bergson proposes a description of States of consciousness apprehended directly through introspection, and against the positivist experimental psychology, which aims to put in relation the internal data of consciousness with the external physical facts. Now, the psychic events live in a dimension other than the physical facts. For example, the time lived by the conscience is an actual duration in which the psychic State present retains process which comes and at the same time is something new. All States of consciousness are harmonized and give life to an amalgam in continuous evolution. In addition, the Science (and common sense) hits unsolvable dualisms: materia-espiritu, extension-pensamiento, necesidad-libertad.

This problem faces it in his book matter and memory. Pure and spiritual memory is that characterizes the deep life of the psyche. Which limits our total consciousness is the body, and more specifically the brain, by imposing the oblivion of some concepts. The brain is an organ of translation and union: hand means the activity of the consciousness movements, and on the other linked consciousness to external reality. The body's essential function "limit, with views of the action, the life of the spirit", but the spirit precedes and transcends the body, pushing it beyond the present and the past into the future; it reabsorbs it inside its own duration. Matter, therefore, described by a certain vibration equivalent among themselves. The more you go down inside our spirit, both more increases tension and decreases the homogeneity of the movements.

Metaphysics and the intuition.

In his Introduction to la métaphysique widely develops this concept, distended and uniform durations (typical of the materiality, of which the procedures of science are occupied), and more qualitative, which tend to limit a total concentration, "eternity of life", (own object of metaphysics). Metaphysics penetrates into the Fund, investing the natural direction of thought with an act of inner knowledge that Bergson called intuition. The intuition is that sympathy through which one is inserted into the Interior of an object to coincide with what is unique. With intuition, Bergson found a cognitive method to the method scientific and adapted to the object that science, by its very nature, leaves out.

The evolution.

On these bases, Bergson tackle the issue of evolution in his book L' évolution créatrice which, as it shows us the experience, also affects the universe. It begins rejecting Spencer (determinism) model as well as finalist evolutionism, since both deny spontaneity and novelty of the actual process. The evolution of reality is "vital impetus" ("elan vital"), action that is continuously created and enriched. Natural life grows as a bundle of stars, like a fire of artifice that splits broke out in several directions. The first fork of vital momentum leads to the distinction between the animal and the plant. The plant stopped very soon its own evolution; the animal, however, is projected beyond, thanks to the movement and the instinct, in various directions, some of which are fertile, and others do not. Instinct produces its own organic instruments, but in themselves their limit. Human intelligence, however, is able to build its own inorganic instruments, as to fill a shortfall of natural instinct. Intelligence placed the man on the road of the conscience and the concept, so that it can better meet their vital needs. Why builds 'empty forms', categories and schemes (and especially the language, which do not reach the animal). The highest expression of abstraction is in science, whose instrument is the intellect, and whose characteristic is the analysis. But the intellect is not the only means of expression of intelligence. This is also expressed in awareness accompanied by instinct. That selfless and self-conscious, return to the instinct is what Bergson calls "intuition". Intuition becomes the body of a real participatory knowledge that is expressed in art, if it is addressed to the individual, and in metaphysics, if refers to the entirety of the life in its vital momentum.

These two books Introduction and L' évolution créatrice was which did enter Bergson at the level of Fame.

Ethics and religion.

Bergson's main contribution to art the doctrine of intuition, because thanks to her man is able to capture in images, not less than in thoughts, the essence deep, indivisible and, as such, is ineffable, of reality. The artist, as the philosopher, is expressed not so much through the language, as despite the language.

Linking with the "vital impetus" that has brought the world to its evolution, Bergson noted that nature has oriented man social evolution, just as ants or bees. But the achievements of the man are not default as the ones, they depend on their intelligence and willingness. What more closer to the man with the creative impulse, is precisely the morals and religion. But you have to distinguish a double standard: the closed, which is a morality of habits, that the community instills in its members for its self-survival, and that applies only to members of that community, and an open moral, even love that knows no bounds, extending to all men, and even to all creation. The two sources of morality and religion are, therefore, social pressure and the impulse of love. The difference between them is not gradual, but qualitative. In practice, however, ambas both go together: the first provides the second some of its mandatory nature, and second, some of its momentum. The closed society it is a religion of myths that seeks to curb the excesses of the men. It is typical of the old, static, superstitious and violent societies. With the advent of science and industrialization, prepared by the great spiritual revolution of Christianity, an open, dynamic and democratic society it is possible for man and non-violent. Not ignore Bergson the negative effects carried by technological progress, but this is due to that man has replaced the creator joy by the pursuit of pleasure. The technique should be an instrument of liberation for all, instead of being a continuous source of wars and even a danger of self-destruction.

Bergson opposes this gloomy Outlook a new evolutionary leap of the species in a new mysticism that, propelled by the force of the intuition and technique translates into love "universal and active". Mysticism, says Bergson, called mechanics, and mechanics to mysticism, i.e. mechanics calls a "soul supplement" capable of Taming the exceptional forces unleashed by the intelligence of man. Only in this way you can develop "the social function of the universe, which is a machine to make gods".

The teaching of Bergson was continued at the Collège de France by E. Le Roy, who emphasized the utilitarian interpretation of science, and spread the ideas of Bergson in the area of religious reform of modernism. His influence extended to the field of Arts and letters. Not you can speak of bergsoniana school, but the cultural phenomenon of the "bergsonismo".


CHEVALIER, j., conversations with Bergson, Madrid, 1960.

García MORENTE, M., the philosophy of Henry Bergson, Madrid, 1972.

LEVESQUE, g., Bergson, life and death of man and God, Barcelona, 1975.

MARITAIN, j., La philosophie bergsonienne, Paris, 1913.

MARTINS, D., Bergson. Intuition as a method in metaphysics, Madrid, 1947.

MARITIAN, j., Bergson to Santo Tomás de Aquino, Buenos Aires, 1967.

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