Call for Abstracts: Bergson and Vitalism(s): An Online Workshop – April 29-30, 2021 | University of Ghent

Workshop Organizer: Mathilde Tahar (Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès)

In his 1907 bestseller Creative Evolution, the French philosopher Henri Bergson, weighed in on one of the burning issues of the day: biological evolution. He used an “image”, the élan vital (vital impetus) to describe the unpredictability, unity and branching nature of the history of life. The book earned Bergson international fame but also cemented the association between his name and a controversial label with a complex history: vitalism. In the words of philosophers Daniel Nicholson and Richard Gawne, nowadays, “to publicly accuse someone of harbouring vitalist views amounts to condemning them to the scorching fires of scientific hell”. This partially explains why current (in particular anglophone) historians and philosophers often ignore or disregard Bergson’s contribution to the history and philosophy of biology. As a result, the importance of Bergson’s philosophy of life in such areas has, until now, mostly been underplayed.                                                                                            

This workshop aims to provide a much-needed reassessment of the relationship between Bergson’s philosophy of life and vitalism by combining perspectives from historians of philosophy, historians of science, and philosophers. Such a reassessment is needed to gain better understanding of Bergson’s role in the history and philosophy of biology as well as provide a reappraisal of Bergson’s important contribution to current debates in biology and philosophy of biology.

The questions and themes we would like to address in the workshop include (but are not limited to):

  •       Bergson in the history of vitalism.
  •       The status and the function of the élan vital in Bergson’s philosophy of life.
  •       Bergson’s biological sources and his attitude towards vitalism(s).
  •       Debates surrounding vitalism in the early 20th century.
  •       The problematic association between Bergson’s philosophy of life and Hans       Driesch’s neo-vitalism.
  •       The reception of Bergson’s philosophy among biologists.
  •       Bergson’s philosophy of life and current biology and philosophy of biology.

To participate please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words to before Friday January 8, 2021. Abstracts must be in PDF or Word format, and should be anonymised and prepared for blind review.



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