In 1912, Bertrand Russell presented his Philosophy of Bergson to ‘The Heretics’ society in Cambridge. Though not the first – and certainly not the last – attack against Bergsonian thought from an analytic philosopher, Russell’s criticism played a crucial part in the rejection of Bergson by the mainstream of English-speaking philosophy. In the past few years, this has, for the first time, started to change. His work has begun to receive rigorous and ingenious reassessments from philosophers from outside the philosophical traditions with which he is almost canonically bound. One of the aims of the Reassessing Bergson event, which took place on 11-12th September 2019 in Pembroke College, Cambridge, was not merely to undo the damage instigated by Russell over one hundred years ago, but also to expand and reassess Bergson’s legacy.
Twelve leading scholars of Bergson’s work gave their papers in Cambridge – their presentations represented a wide range of topics, philosophical traditions, and answers to Bergsonian questions. The programme included both applications of Bergsonian approaches to problems in contemporary analytic philosophy of time (Sonja Deppe, Florian Fischer, Anne-Sophie Meincke, Yaron Wolf), as well as a return to key themes in Bergson’s philosophy: free will (Mark Sinclair) or engagement with physics (Élie During, Steven Savitt, Barry Dainton). There were thoughtful readings of Bergson’s relevance to the future (Suzanne Guerlac, Frédéric Worms), as well as new Bergsonian readings of the past (Caterina Zanfi), and of issues pertaining to collective aspirations in general (Emmanuel Picavet).
The conference also attracted interest from people without expertise in Bergson’s philosophy – this was greatly facilitated by a reading workshop centred around four key texts aimed at (but not limited to) graduate students, which took place on September 10th 2019.
The conference provided not only an opportunity for formal and informal discussions between philosophers coming from different philosophical traditions but has also presented Bergson’s philosophy to the wider philosophical public – the audience of the conference comprised scholars from several continents and with a diverse range of philosophical and non-philosophical interests.
We hope that the interest from philosophers in this event suggests that our conference will serve as a starting point for further interdisciplinary events focused on Bergson’s work, bridging classical divides and creating new dialogues between a plurality of philosophical traditions and methodologies.
The organisers are grateful to the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Aristotelian Society, the British Society for the History of Philosophy, Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge, the Mind Association, and Pembroke College, Cambridge, without whose support this event would not have taken place. The conference was co-organised together with the Société des amis de Bergson and the Society for Philosophy of Time.