Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Henri Bergson (1859-1941)

Sierra Club


When we make the cerebral state the beginning of an action, and in no sense the condition of a perception, we place the perceived images of things outside the image of our body, and thus replace perception within the things themselves.


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The French philosopher Henri Bergson, b. Oct. 18, 1859, d. Jan. 4, 1941, was internationally known for his concepts of inner duration, creative evolution, and the limits of human intelligence. After beginning his teaching career at Clermont-Ferrand in 1883, he joined (1900) the College de France, where his lectures enjoyed unparalleled success until his retirement in 1921. In 1918 he was accepted into the French Academy. During World War I he participated in diplomatic missions designed to bring the United States into the conflict. Afterwards he participated in the League of Nations, presiding over the creation of the Committee for Intellectual Cooperation, later to become UNESCO. In his later years Bergson was forced by crippling arthritis into virtual seclusion. He was unable to accept in person the Nobel Prize for literature awarded him in 1927.

As a student, Bergson was tempted to pursue a career in mathematics; he was also a disciple of the mechanist Herbert Spencer. But by the time of his doctoral thesis, Time and Free Will (1889), Bergson had rejected the primacy of mathematical and mechanical concepts. He pointed out that the flow of experienced duration cannot be measured and that human personalities, as they grow in duration, express themselves in acts that cannot be predicted. These key insights were expanded in Matter and Memory (1896) to include a theory of mind-body interrelations and in An Introduction to Metaphysics (1903), to include a theory of knowledge in which intuition (that which grasps the dynamic flux of duration) plays a central role. In Creative Evolution (1907), he applied his intuitive method to the problem of biological evolution, concluding that the expansive and creative thrust of life cannot be explained by Darwinian mechanism. In The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932), he described the Judeo-Christian tradition as a culminating point in human social evolution. [Adapted from Pratt Institute]

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