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- Bergson and His Philosophy - 3/33 -

out,[Footnote: See p. 142.] Change cannot be the last word in our characterization of Reality. Pure Change is not only unthinkable--that perhaps Bergson would allow--but it is something which cannot be experienced. There must be points of reference--a starting point and an ending point at least. Pure Change, as is the way with "pure" anything, turns into its contradictory. Paradoxical though it may seem, it ends as static. It becomes the One and Indivisible. This, at least, was recognized by Heraclitus and is expressed by him in his figure of the Great Year.

It is not my purpose, however, to usurp the function of the author of this useful handbook to Bergson. The extent of my introductory remarks is an almost involuntary tribute to the material and provocative nature of Bergson's discussions, just as the frequent use by the author of this book of the actual words of Bergson are a tribute to the excellence and essential rightness of his style. The Frenchman, himself a free and candid spirit, would be the last to require unquestioning docility in others. He knows that thereby is the philosophic breath choked out of us. If we read him in the spirit in which he would wish to be read, we shall find, however much we may diverge from him on particular issues, that our labour has been far from wasted. He undoubtedly calls for considerable effort from the student who takes him, as he ought to be taken, seriously; but it is effort well worth while. He, perhaps, shines even more as a psychologist than as a philosopher--at least in the time- honoured sense. He has an almost uncanny introspective insight and, as has been said, a power of rendering its result in language which creates in the reader a sense of excitement and adventure not to be excelled by the ablest romancer. Fadaises, which are to be met with in philosophical works as elsewhere, are not to be frequently encountered in his writings. There is always the fresh breeze of original thought blowing here. He is by nature as well as by doctrine the sworn foe of conventionality. Though he may not give us all we would wish, in our haste to be all-wise, let us yet be grateful to him for this, that he has the purpose and also the power to shake us out of complacency, to compel us to recast our philosophical account. In this he is supremely serviceable to his generation, and is deserving of the gratitude of all who care for Philosophy. For, while Philosophy cannot die, it may be allowed to fall into a comatose condition; and this is the unpardonable sin. ALEXANDER MAIR


This huge vision of time and motion, of a mighty world which is always becoming, always changing, growing, striving, and wherein the word of power is not law, but life, has captured the modern imagination no less than the modern intellect. It lights with its splendour the patient discoveries of science. It casts a new radiance on theology, ethics and art. It gives meaning to some of our deepest instincts, our strangest and least explicable tendencies. But above and beyond all this, it lifts the awful weight which determinism had laid upon our spirits and fills the future with hope; for beyond the struggle and suffering inseparable from life's flux, as we know it, it reports to us, though we may not hear them, "the thunder of new wings."

Evelyn Underhill



Birth and education--Teaches at Clermont-Ferrand--Les donnees immediates de la conscience--Matiere et Memoire--Chair of Greek Philosophy, then of Modern Philosophy, College de France--L'Evolution creatrice--Relations with William James--Visits England and America--Popularity--Neo- Catholics and Syndicalists--Election to Academie francaise--War-work-- L'Energie spirituelle.

Bergson's life has been the quiet and uneventful one of a French professor, the chief landmarks in it being the publication of his three principal works, first, in 1889, the Essai sur les donnees immediates de la conscience, then Matiere et Memoire in 1896, and L'Evolution creatrice in 1907. On October 18th, 1859, Henri Louis Bergson was born in Paris in the Rue Lamartine, not far from the Opera House.[Footnote: He was not born in England as Albert Steenbergen erroneously states in his work, Henri Bergsons Intuitive Philosophie, Jena, 1909, p. 2, nor in 1852, the date given by Miss Stebbing in her Pragmatism and French Voluntarism.] He is descended from a prominent Jewish family of Poland, with a blend of Irish blood from his mother's side. His family lived in London for a few years after his birth, and he obtained an early familiarity with the English language from his mother. Before he was nine years old his parents crossed the Channel and settled in France, Henri becoming a naturalized citizen of the Republic.

In Paris from 1868 to 1878 he attended the Lycee Fontaine, now known as the Lycee Condorcet. While there he obtained a prize for his scientific work and also won a prize when he was eighteen for the solution of a mathematical problem. This was in 1877, and his solution was published the following year in Annales de Mathematiques. It is of interest as being his first published work. After some hesitation over his career, as to whether it should lie in the sphere of the sciences or that of "the humanities," he decided in favour of the latter, and when nineteen years of age, he entered the famous Ecole Normale Superieure. While there he obtained the degree of Licencie-es-Lettres, and this was followed by that of Agrege de philosophie in 1881.

The same year he received a teaching appointment at the Lycee in Angers, the ancient capital of Anjou. Two years later he settled at the Lycee Blaise-Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand, chief town of the Puy de Dome department, whose name is more known to motorists than to philosophers. The year after his arrival at Clermont-Ferrand he displayed his ability in "the humanities" by the publication of an excellent edition of extracts from Lucretius, with a critical study of the text and the philosophy of the poet (1884), a work whose repeated editions are sufficient evidence of its useful place in the promotion of classical study among the youth of France. While teaching and lecturing in this beautiful part of his country (the Auvergne region), Bergson found time for private study and original work. He was engaged on his Essai sur les donnees immediates de la conscience. This essay, which, in its English translation, bears the more definite and descriptive title, Time and Free Will, was submitted, along with a short Latin Thesis on Aristotle, for the degree of Docteur-es-Lettres, to which he was admitted by the University of Paris in 1889. The work was published in the same year by Felix Alcan, the Paris publisher, in his series La Bibliotheque de philosophie contemporaine.

It is interesting to note that Bergson dedicated this volume to Jules Lachelier, then ministre de l'instruction publique, who was an ardent disciple of Ravaisson and the author of a rather important philosophical work Du fondement de l'Induction (1871), who in his view of things endeavoured "to substitute everywhere force for inertia, life for death, and liberty for fatalism."[Footnote: Lachelier was born in 1832, Ravaisson in 1813. Bergson owed much to both of these teachers of the Ecole Normale Superieure. Cf. his memorial address on Ravaisson, who died in 1900. (See Bibliography under 1904.)]

Bergson now settled again in Paris, and after teaching for some months at the Municipal College, known as the College Rollin, he received an appointment at the Lycee Henri-Quatre, where he remained for eight years. In 1896 he published his second large work, entitled Matiere et Memoire. This rather difficult, but brilliant, work investigates the function of the brain, undertakes an analysis of perception and memory, leading up to a careful consideration of the problems of the relation of body and mind. Bergson, we know, has spent years of research in preparation for each of his three large works. This is especially obvious in Matiere et Memoire, where he shows a very thorough acquaintance with the extensive amount of pathological investigation which has been carried out in recent years, and for which France is justly entitled to very honourable mention.

In 1898 Bergson became Maitre de conferences at his Alma Mater, L'Ecole Normale Superieure, and was later promoted to a Professorship. The year 1900 saw him installed as Professor at the College de France, where he accepted the Chair of Greek Philosophy in succession to Charles L'Eveque. The College de France, founded in 1530, by Francois I, is less ancient, and until recent years has been less prominent in general repute than the Sorbonne, which traces back its history to the middle of the thirteenth century. Nevertheless, it is one of the intellectual headquarters of France, indeed of the whole world. While the Sorbonne is now the seat of the University of Paris, the College is an independent institution under the control of the Ministre de l'Instruction publique. The lectures given by the very eminent professors who fill its forty- three chairs are free and open to the general public, and are attended mainly by a large number of women students and by the senior students from the University. The largest lecture room in the College was given to Bergson, but this became quite inadequate to accommodate his hearers.

At the First International Congress of Philosophy, which was held in Paris, during the first five days of August, 1900, Bergson read a short, but important, paper, Sur les origines psychologiques de notre croyance a la loi de causalite. In 1901 Felix Alcan published in book form a work which had just previously appeared in the Revue de Paris entitled Le Rire, one of the most important of his minor productions. This essay on the meaning of the Comic was based on a lecture which he had given in his early days in the Auvergne. The study of it is essential to an understanding of Bergson's views of life, and its passages dealing with the place of the artistic in life are valuable. In 1901 he was elected to the Academie des Sciences morales et politiques, and became a member of the Institute. In 1903 he contributed to the Revue de metaphysique et de morale a very important essay entitled Introduction a la metaphysique, which is useful as a preface to the study of his three large books.

On the death of Gabriel Tarde, the eminent sociologist, in 1904, Bergson succeeded him in the Chair of Modern Philosophy. From the 4th to the 8th of September of that year he was at Geneva attending the Second International Congress of Philosophy, when he lectured on Le Paralogisme psycho-physiologique, or, to quote its new title, Le Cerveau et la Pensee: une illusion philosophique. An illness prevented his visiting Germany to attend the Third Congress held at Heidelberg.

His third large work--his greatest book--L'Evolution creatrice, appeared in 1907, and is undoubtedly, of all his works, the one which is most widely known and most discussed. It constitutes one of the most profound and original contributions to the philosophical consideration of the theory of Evolution. Un livre comme L'Evolution creatrice, remarks Imbart de la Tour, n'est pas seulment une oeuvre, mais une date, celle d'une direction nouvelle imprimee a la pensee. By 1918, Alcan, the publisher, had issued twenty-one editions, making an average of two editions per annum for ten years. Since the appearance of this book, Bergson's popularity has increased enormously, not only in academic circles, but among the general reading public.

He came to London in 1908 and visited William James, the American philosopher of Harvard, who was Bergson's senior by seventeen years, and

Bergson and His Philosophy - 3/33

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