Book Review: The Bergsonian Mind. Mark Sinclair and Yaron Wolf (eds), 2021

Bruno Rates – University of São Paulo (FFLCH/USP), Brazil, Grant 2020/15114-5, São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP)During his lifetime, Bergson enjoyed considerable influence on the Anglophone intellectual scene, notably in the United Kingdom and the United States. After his death, however, Bergsonian studies in English were not consolidated in a continuous and structured way, and it was necessary to wait a few decades for this situation begin to be reversed. Driven by Gilles Deleuze’s increasing penetration into the Anglo-Saxon cultural (not necessarily philosophical) world, as well as through the efforts of researchers such as Keith Ansell-Pearson, John Mullarkey (among others) and, perhaps also, by a kind of “analytic philosophy fatigue” from its own practitioners (as seen in the growing interest in metaphysical themes, for example), the critical bibliography in English found a new impetus from the 2000s onwards. But, though since then we have witnessed a small editorial boom on Bergson, whether in England or the USA, a work that was both comprehensive and specialized was still lacking. In other words, a book that would function as an instigating gateway for those who would like to establish a first contact with Bergson’s thought and, at the same time, as a rich source of research for Bergsonian scholars interested in deepening their knowledge in specific topics that could be related to their own research.


The Bergsonian Mind, published in 2022 by Routledge in the “Philosophical Minds” Series timely and exemplarily fills such a gap. Edited by Mark Sinclair and Yaron Wolf, the book contains 36 texts (plus one short “Introduction”) written by specialists from many parts of the world, and covers a wide spectrum of subjects explored by Bergson. This geographic and thematic diversity can be felt in the five parts that constitute its 510 pages: “Sources and Scene”, “Mind and World”, “Ethics and Politics”, “Reception” and “Bergson and Contemporary Thought.” In this review, given the lack of unity of the book and the heterogeneity of its texts, I will give a brief presentation of each essay followed by a critical analysis. At the end, I will make some final comments vis-à-vis the bibliography and the internationalization of Bergsonian studies. It goes without saying that this volume is a great contribution to those interested in Bergson’s philosophy, and that my critiques have the goal to promote and advance the discussion, in a true spirit of academic comradeship.


The first part, “Sources and Scene”, comprises three essays and aims to give historical context to some aspects of Bergson’s philosophy. Such an undertaking is of lively interest for the clarification not only of Bergsonian philosophy, but also of a little explored period of French philosophy, roughly understood between 1850-1900, and dominated above all by the debate between positivism and spiritualism. The first text, “The roots of Bergson’s conception of duration reconsidered”, written by one of the book’s editors, Mark Sinclair, makes an original and thought-provoking contribution by highlighting the role of two obscure figures of the period in question in the development of the notion of duration, Albert Lemoine and, to a lesser extent, Victor Egger. Seeking to go beyond the analyses offered by Arthur Lovejoy and Ben-Ami Scharfstein, since both underlined, respectively, the influence of Ravaisson and Delboeuf on Time and Free Will, Sinclair understands that the notion of habit and the distinction established by Lemoine between inorganic and organic duration is crucial for a proper understanding of Bergsonian duration. Also, Lemoine’s book, L’habitude et l’instinct : études de psychologie comparée, from 1875, would bring in germ the notions of indivisibility and interpenetration. Without these notions the thesis that the moments of duration merge with each other, in the indefinite extension of the past into the present, is unintelligible. Finally, Sinclair makes use of an audacious scheme that seeks to reorganize the theoretical lineage of Bergsonism. In addition to the well-known spiritualist/neo-spiritualist affiliation that goes from Maine de Biran to Boutroux, passing through Ravaisson and Lachelier, the names of Lemoine and Egger would open a new perspective of the historical understanding of Time and Free Will, complementing some results presented by Sinclair himself in his other two solid works dedicated to the topic, Bergson (Routledge, 2019) and Being Inclined: Félix Ravaisson’s Philosophy of Habit (OUP, 2019).


The second essay, “Bergson vs. Spencer. Real becoming and false evolutionism”, by Heike Delitz, deals with the differences between both philosophers. Despite being an essential thinker for Bergson, having accompanied him from the beginning of his education until The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, there is no monographic study of his relationship with Spencer, so this text is another welcome contribution to the sparse bibliography on the topic. Delitz‘s objectives are threefold: 1. understand the distinction between duration and space made in Time and Free Will as a reaction “to the epistemology and ontology of Spencer”; 2. confront the theory of evolution of both, focusing on the criticism of false evolutionism made in Creative Evolution; and 3. to analyze such theoretical gains in the light of the “new vitalism” envisioned by Bergson and Canguilhem, in which living beings must be considered not only the object but also the subject of any knowledge about life. Although suggestive, the text fails by fully assuming the criticism made by Bergson to Spencer, leaving in the shadow not only its possible inconsistencies, but also the Spencerian elements contained in the philosophy of duration. Furthermore, would it not be preferable to conceive the reception of Spencer by Bergson not “as a whole”, but in view of the specificity of the different books that make up both the Bergsonian oeuvres and the synthetic philosophy? It is not by chance, then, that the relationship between Spencer and Bergson is totally ignored in several works of the latter, notably in Matter and Memory, whose influence exerted by Spencer has been very well studied, for example, by Mara Meletti Bertolini in her Bergson e la psicologia (Franco Angeli, 1984). Additionally, given that the text is part of a section entitled “Sources and Scene”, it would be interesting if the author had brought up historical-philosophical elements that would help us understand the assimilation and influence of Spencer’s thought on the French philosophical scene of the time (the mediation of Ribot and Espinas, etc ), and how such state of affairs relates to the way in which Bergson interprets the British thinker.


The last article in this section, “Bergson at the Collège de France”, by Céline Surprenant, offers a good overview of the transformations that took place at this prestigious educational institution during the long period that Bergson taught there, from 1900 to 1921 (in practice, however, his last courses at the Collège date from 1914). Furthermore, in view of the recent publication of some of these courses, the article can be used as a useful contextualization tool, going beyond the somewhat mythologized image of crowded auditoriums, listeners squeezed outside the window, or Parisian socialites whose seats were reserved in advance by their servants. Since the Lumières, with their numerous salons and secret societies (unlike the Scottish Enlightenment, essentially institutionalized) and, later, with the creation of the grande écoles (unlike in Germany, where the University was the place par excellence of intellectual activities), the production and dissemination of knowledge in France was always marked by a tension between the university model and alternative models. In short, between tradition and innovation. It was a matter of a conflict between two conceptions of education, and the Collège itself was created in 1530 to face the conservatism of the old Sorbonne. In a methodological choice that makes the reader follow not only the history of the Collège through Bergson, but also Bergson through the Collège, Surprenant reveals the internal controversies that involved themes such as the greater or lesser influence of the State in the choice of teachers and chairs, in addition to the workload and the nature of the classes taught, initiatives that sought to direct the very nature of the institution. Is it an educational establishment aimed at training students or a place where courses were given with the goal of informing listeners? Is it an environment composed of professors who mostly exercise a pedagogical activity or of free researchers who present the results of their investigations, without major didactic concerns? Although the text does not intend to approach the philosophical content of the courses taught by Bergson at the Collège de France, it would be interesting to understand the reasons that prevented the flourishing of Bergsonians avant la lettre (with the exception perhaps of Édouard Le Roy) or of bergsonism in an institutional sense of the term in light of the inclination of the Collège, at the time of Bergson, to the listener-research model. It is true that the Collège never aspired to be a university, with a system of supervisors and mentors, thesis defense, etc., but it would be useful to investigate the extent to which the largely non-academic audience who attended Bergson’s famous lectures affected the development of his philosophy.We then move on to the largest and most heterogeneous part of the book, “Mind and World”, whose texts mostly employ an “internal” reading, without historical contextualization, in contrast to the previous section. There is also a welcome confrontation with current issues stemming from the analytical tradition, which provides an original tenor to some of the essays in this section of the book. The first text, “Duration: A fluid concept”, by Suzanne Guerlac, seeks to understand the transformations of the idea of duration through the well-known path that goes from Time and Free Will to Creative Evolution, passing through Matter and Memory, that is, from the qualitative psychological experience to the vital impulse through the theory of memory. It is an essay that can be instructive to readers unfamiliar with the philosophy of duration, since almost its entirety (pp. 45-51) consists of a traditional summary of Bergson’s positions. In the last pages, the author makes a quick incursion into the scientific revolution of the 20th century (perhaps too quickly, given the magnitude of the problem), whose roots go back to the previous century, and, relying on the classic study by Milič Čapek, claims that Bergson would have provided in advance the philosophical basis for such a turnaround. It is noteworthy that the text, in defending the thesis that the “social sciences” (p. 52) absorbed mechanism as a “ferocious authority” (p. 52) – despite its gradual abandonment by the “physical sciences” – includes quite extravagant and unorthodox examples of what “social sciences” would be, such as Hypolite Taine’s De L’intelligence and Gustav Fechner’s psychophysics, partially compromising its argument.


We then move on to the text of the other editor of the book, Yaron Wolf, “Bergson on the Immediate Experience of Time”. In it, Wolf seeks to apprehend duration in its “purity”, below the mediations that a posteriori turn it into a “mixed”, to use an expression popularized by Deleuze. Finally, the text offers a debate with current views on time by English-speaking authors.


The next two essays are devoted to the analysis of the ambivalent relationship between Bergson and Kant, a classic topic among scholars of Bergsonian philosophy. Bergson never hid his aversion to Kantianism, but both texts go beyond such belligerent statements and understand, quite rightly, that Bergson operates a constructive criticism of the Königsberg philosopher. The first one, “The Perception of change and self-knowledge: Bergson and Kant” by Yaron Senderowicz, chooses Time and Free Will, An Introduction to Metaphysics and Creative Evolution to analyze Bergson’s triple criticism of the Critique of Pure Reason: the confusion between time and space, the “subject” that synthesizes representations and the impossibility of metaphysics. Regarding the hypothesis put forward by some commentators that intellectual intuition – prohibited by Kant – should be the starting point for thinking about Bergsonian intuition, Senderowicz proposes an alternative solution. According to him, absolute knowledge is provided by a non-conceptual intuition: “an intuition of oneself qua simple substance that continually changes” (p. 75). On the differences between the Bergsonian and Kantian “self”, and also on intellectual intuition, it would be interesting to know if the author sees any similarity between Bergson and some philosophers of German Idealism who have dealt extensively with the problem. It would be equally fruitful to assess the “dogmatic” risk that haunts those who have sought to “overcome” Kant’s Critical philosophy.


We then move on to Mathew J. Barnard ‘s excellent text, “The Kantian Basis of Bergson’s conception of Freedom”. Although focused on the debate undertaken in Time and Free Will with the first Kritik, Barnard covers an unexplored path, concerning the problem, important to Kant, of the fact of freedom. In addition to the originality of the chosen subject, the author supports his analysis in a material that is rarely used for the realization of the Bergson-Kant confrontation: the Critique of Practical Reason, the Critique of Judgment, the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and, most importantly, the course on the evolution of the problem of liberty taught by Bergson in 1904-1905 at the Collège de France. Two points deserve to be highlighted: 1. the individual and personal character of freedom in Bergson in contrast to the impersonal universality of Kantian freedom, even if we take into account the gradual attempt to reconcile freedom and “nature” in the path that leads Time in Free Will to the course on freedom (let’s not forget the last chapter of Matter and Memory among these texts, ignored by Barnard!); and 2. the place of the idea of “Critique” in Bergsonian philosophy. On this last point, it is possible that Barnard follows, perhaps unconsciously – and with very different consequences – the path opened by Deleuze in the first chapter of his Bergsonism, as well as by the classic study by Bento Prado Jr., in which the Bergsonian intuitive method is “Kantianized” through the idea of “Critique of the Critique”.


In “Character and Personality”, Donald Landes also addresses the question of the subject in Bergson, but through the concept of personality, declared by Bergson himself as the central problem of his philosophy. Exploring a wide range of texts, Landes argues that personality must be identified with duration itself. Such a condition would lead to what he calls the “logical paradox of expression”, based on the tension between what we are and what we become, and whose consequences would be both ethical and metaphysical. In other words, the concept of personality forces us to think of a “personal metaphysics”, in which the universal and the individual can only be reconciled through intuition.


The problem of personality in Bergson reappears in “Subject and Person in Bergson”, by Camille Riquier, although the question now is approached through the concept of subject as it is presented by Modern Philosophy. According to Riquier, the “self” as duration, that is, as an “immanent synthesis of the moments that are organized in it” (p. 117), allows Bergson to circumvent the paralogisms presented by Kant in the transcendental dialectic of the Critique of Pure Reason. The immediate consequence of this thesis, at the same time fruitful and ambitious – previously presented in Riquier‘s excellent book, Archéologie de Bergson. Temps et métaphysique (PUF, 2009) – is that the Bergsonian “soul” would recover the Cartesian cogito in temporal terms. From the subject as sub specie aeternitatis we pass to the person as sub specie durationis. Deep, “rational” psychology is thus rehabilitated in other terms, allowing the realization of metaphysics and true “intellectual intuition”, linked to concrete duration. Such a state of affairs would neutralize the accusations, mentioned by us above, of Bergson as a pre-critical or a dogmatic thinker. Read together with the two precedent essays, by Senderowicz and Barnard, Riquier‘s text, although drawing different conclusions, forms an extremely rich block for those who seek to understand the relationship between Bergson and Kant, with consequences that go far beyond those thought by the pioneering study by Barthélemy-Madaule on the subject, Bergson adversaire de Kant (PUF, 1966). A supplementary question, important to contemporary philosophy, would be to confront this renewed Cartesianism of Bergson with the considerations about the “transcendental self” of Husserl, as presented in the lectures given at the Sorbonne, in 1929, which became known three years later under the title of Cartesian Meditations.


In “Attention to Life and Psychopathology”, John Ó Maoilearca places the little studied notion of attention at the center of Bergson’s philosophy. Furthermore, the text sheds light on a period of difficult apprehension, between 1886-1907, that is, in the far from obvious passage from Matter and Memory to Creative Evolution. There is also an effort by the author to use a material that has been little explored for understanding this period, the recently published courses at the Collège de France. Maoilearca draws consequences not only regarding psychopathology but also ethics when addressing the disturbances that occur in the memory-perception circuit. Although he does not develop, he indicates some interesting connections between such questions and some rarely commented texts, such as La politesse (1885) and Le bon sens (1895) (with regard to ethical developments), as well as with authors such as Pierre Janet and Eugène Minkowski (in relation to psychopathology).


In “Bergson and the emotions”, Keith Ansell-Pearson emphasizes the problem of emotion, in view of Time and Free Will and The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, despite elliptical and somewhat unwarranted mentions of James and Darwin. The idea of emotion, as shown by Time and free Will, cannot be quantified, constituting itself as an aesthetic feeling (as the example of grace of the book of 1889). Also, according to the author, from the Two Sources it’s not grace that is at stake anymore, but joy. Such a change would give an emotional rather than a rational character to morals and ethics. The rather abrupt conclusion in which new insights are offered from Sartre and Montaigne, although suggestive, deserves further explanation.


We then come to the only text dedicated exclusively to Laughter, Bergson’s book on the meaning of the comic, “Bergson’s Social Philosophy of Laughter”, by Stephen Crocker. Aware that laughter was the object of investigation by several philosophers, Crocker offers us a brief historical overview of the problem, passing through Plato, Hobbes, Kant, Schopenhauer, Freud and Helmut Plessner. It is from this tour de force that the author underlines Bergson’s Kantian heritage. Despite the differences, the idea that laughter arises “if a tense expectation is transformed into nothing” (Critic of Judgment) enabled Bergson to think of the comic as “du mécanique plaqué sur du vivant.” Crocker also offers current examples of comedians and comedy shows and, at the end of the text, points out some of Laughter ‘s connections with Two Sources and a possible dialogue with Durkheim.


Focusing exclusively on Matter and Memory and, more specifically, on what would be the “phenomenic character of perception”, Robert Watt, in “The naïve realism of Henri Bergson”, aims to understand the Bergsonian concept of “concrete perception” within an Anglophone debate on the subject. According to Watt, contemporary philosophy of mind is divided into at least two schools with regard to the phenomenal character of experience: the intentionalist position and naive realism. Bergson, according to Watt, should be understood as a naive realist.

In “Bergson and metaphysical empiricism”, Stéphane Madelrieux wonders about the possibility of reconciliation between empiricism and metaphysics in Bergsonian philosophy. Bergson never hid that his own project could be classified as positive metaphysics, and some of his followers, like Deleuze, tried to undertake a philosophical program sometimes called “higher empiricism” or “transcendental empiricism”. Specialist in William James, Madelrieux lays down comparisons with pragmatism, and understands that the combination of “naturalistic pragmatism and a supernatural spiritualism in Bergson’s thinking is another way of formulating his metaphysical empiricism” (p. 183). But wouldn’t this be the project carried out by the second generation of spiritualists at the end of the 19th century, called in the canonical formula of Paul Janet and Félix Ravaisson (among others) as realistic or positivist spiritualism? Strangely, and perhaps for opposite reasons, Madelrieux also echoes the criticism made by René Berthelot on Bergson, in which Berthelot characterized the philosophy of duration as a “partial pragmatism”. It would be a pragmatism based on the natural critique of intelligence, complemented by strong metaphysical ambitions that would be anchored in romanticism and spiritualism. However, it is not this more evident historiographical path that Madelrieux will take. His conclusion points to a secret French tradition of “radical experiences ”. Such a tradition would be marked by an interest in an experience that lies beyond (or below) the pragmatic domain of action, and would involve thinkers such as Georges Bataille, Maurice Blanchot and Michel Foucault. It is a controversial thesis, but one that can prove to be quite fruitful, allowing the opening of new ways to evaluate the influence of Bergson’s thought in the post-Second War French scene. Despite the lack of further clarification, this thesis could be better evaluated in Madelrieux‘s forthcoming book, fully dedicated to the topic, Philosophie des expériences radicales (Le Seuil éditions).

Many scholars of Creative Evolution try to understand the idea of life exclusively as an expansion of the psychological duration of Time and Free Will, contenting themselves with justifying this hypothesis from the first pages of the 1907 book. It is at this moment that Bergson explicitly recovers the idea of the “self that endures” presented in his first book, expanding it to unorganized and organized bodies, and to the “life in general”. Fortunately, this is not the path taken by Tano Posteraro in his “The Psychological Interpretation of Nature”, a thought-provoking text that constitutes one more piece in the difficult understanding of the period that precedes Creative Evolution. Having as a guide the thesis professed in Creative Evolution that life is of psychological essence, Posteraro seeks to understand it from the concepts of attention and effort, important to the philosopher between 1896-1907. This would be the key to understand the transition from psychological effort to vital effort. To be more precise, according to Posteraro, the notion of life in Creative Evolution will give rise to at least three modifications in the previous reflections on attention and effort: 1. from effort we pass to tendency; 2. from the psychological dimension to the vital dimension; and 3. from the subject to the “a-subject”, to a “de-subjectivation”. Also noteworthy is the author’s insistence on underlining the idea of image in order to understand the élan vital, detaching it from any realistic or “materialist” meaning. But isn’t in Matter and Memory that Bergson defines the image as something “between the thing and the representation”? As Posteraro never addresses Matter and Memory, the book in which the idea of image arises, this is one of the many questions that cannot be answered by the article. Bento Prado Jr.’s notion of a “transcendental field without a subject”, developed from Matter and Memory, could perhaps enrich Posteraro‘s reflections regarding the antecedents of the idea of life in Creative Evolution.

“Bergson on virtuality and Possibility” by Tatsuya Murayama, discusses Deleuze’s legacy in relation to the developments of the problem of the virtual in Bergson. Subsequently, through the recovery of the Bergsonian critique of the idea of the possible, Murayama seeks to outline his own interpretation of this critique made by Bergson .

Based on some considerations obtained in his book The Evolution of Modern Metaphysics (CUP, 2012), A.W. Moore, in “Bergsonian Metaphysics. Virtuality, possibility, and creativity”, guides his interpretation of any metaphysics considering it as “the most general attempt to make sense of things” (p. 216). It is from this reading key that he understands the actual/virtual and real/possible dualities, the latter being of great interest to metaphysics scholars in the analytic tradition. Moore then goes on to compare Bergson’s position with that defended by David Lewis in his influential On the plurality of Worlds. It is at this moment that he proposes a hybrid position, between Bergson and Lewis to, in the end, point to the mutual benefit of an approximation between metaphysics and science and between intuition and analysis.

When we think about the concept of system in Creative Evolution, we commonly refer to two different problems. The first concerns the distinction made by Bergson between artificially and naturally closed systems (sometimes the expressions “relatively independent system” and “relatively closed” are employed). Its use serves to distinguish not only life and matter, but also the way in which we approach life and matter (when we talk about organisms or about solar system, for example). The second problem concerns philosophical systems as analyzed in the fourth and last chapter of the book, and is directly related to the congenital vice present throughout the history of philosophy, that is, the “cinematographic illusion of thought. Defying the supposed disconnection between these two dimensions of the concept of system, “Reflections on the notion of System in Creative Evolution”, by Arnaud François, seeks to build his argument. François – responsible for an excellent critical edition of Creative Evolution – understands that the relationship between the philosophical system and intelligence is the link that would allow such an approximation. The author then proposes a new conception of truth, based on creation and not on adequacy, as a way out of the idea that “everything is given”, proper to the logic of the system.

“Infinite divisibility vs. absolute indivisibility: What Separates Einstein and Bergson” by Yuval Dolev, is the only essay devoted exclusively to the relationship between the physicist and the philosopher, an important chapter in Bergsonism. Einstein’s statement made during his meeting with Bergson in Paris is well known: there are only two types of time, physical and psychological, there is no philosophical time. Contesting this assertion, Dolev begins his argument by explaining the tacit metaphysics that permeates Einstein’s considerations, calling it eternalist. For eternalism there is no past, present and future, as observers do not have the “same present”. Therefore, temporal modalities would be a mental attribute by which we apprehend things, and not properties of them. It is from that point that the author distinguishes indivisibility and unity, insisting on the indivisible, but not unitary, character of Bergson’s movement. It is this “simple” indivisibility, which includes moments, “articulations”, that would distance Bergson from Einstein’s Eleaticism. Dolev then proposes an instigating discussion with Zeno and the problem of the One and the Multiple, suggesting an approximation – already made by Milič Čapek – between Bergson and the famous Dutch mathematician Brouwer (who, as we know, was an “intuitionist” and anti-formalist). The conclusion is that Bergson is more faithful to the spirit of empiricism than Einstein, and that his criticism of the physicist is addressed not to Einstein’s considerations in the field of physics, but to the eternalist presuppositions of special relativity. Finally, while admitting the difficulty, Dolev argues in favor of collaborative work between philosophy and science, relying, in his words, on the “humanist” background of both.

We then move on to the third part of the book, “Ethics and Politics”, devoted to the moral and practical aspects of Bergsonian philosophy. Despite being composed of good texts, the section fails to focus only on the most obvious reference in relation to such themes, the book Two Sources of Morality and Religion. It would be interesting if at least one essay investigated the ethical and political dimension in other works by Bergson.

The first essay, “Closed and Open Societies”, written by Alexandre Lefebvre and Nils Schott, argues that Two Sources not only diagnoses problems but also suggests solutions to important ethical issues of its time. Lefebvre and Schott have recently edited another great and comprehensive collection of Bergson in the English language entitled Interpreting Bergson. Critical Essays (CUP, 2020). Moreover, Lefebvre has devoted himself to the theme of morals in Bergsonian philosophy (Human Rights as a Way of Life. On Bergson’s Political Philosophy, SUP, 2013; Bergson, Politics, and Religion, DUP, 2012). Extending such research, the text emphasizes the congenital relationship between closed society and war, confronting, from there, the difference between Bergson and Émile Durkheim. Against the gradualist hypothesis of the latter (from the family to the nation, and from the nation to humanity), Bergson understands that closure does not represent the repeal of social morality, but its natural way. Such a position frees him from the legacy of a long “progressive” tradition, roughly initiated by Voltaire, Turgot and Condorcet, extending to Comte and Spencer. Bergson is then allowed to think about the destructive background that underlies all societies, including the so-called civilized societies. But if war is naturalized, would peace be situated in a supernatural dimension? This is not the answered proposed by Lefebvre and Schott. Despite the fact that the title of Bergson’s last great work explicitly indicating that there are two – and not one – sources of morality and religion, the authors defend, inspired by Frédéric Worms interpretation, that the dynamic and the static, the open and the closed, constitute, in fact, two tendencies (p. 260) of a single source: life. It is this thought-provoking hypothesis that allows the text to indicate, albeit in an incipient way, that both the total obligation and the mystical experience of love must be understood from a sociobiological point of view, a theme that will be explored in another essay in this volume.

But before commenting on it, we shall review the next text, “Bergson on emotion and ethical Mobilization”, by Arnaud Bouaniche. Bouaniche draws attention to the relationship between emotion, movement and action. However, the author warns us, action in this context has a moral meaning. This is why the “philosophy of movement” inaugurated in Two Sources of Morality and Religion, unlike previous works, should be considered as a “philosophy of mobilization”, whose moral action implies the communication of emotion, always involving, it should be noted, an act of will. This philosophy of mobilization is completely different, for example, to the empty talk of Homo loquax, since it is motivated by a true feeling of indignation. Bouaniche does not mention it, but this idea seems to be in line with Bergson’s speech to the Academie des Sciences Morales et Politiques on December 12, 1914, despite the controversial context in which it is uttered: “we say that the last word of philosophy is ‘to understand and not to be indignant’. I don’t know, but if I had to choose, I would prefer, in the face of crime, to be indignant and not understand” (Mélanges, p. 1108).

We continue with Melanie White‘s text, “Bergson and Sociobiology”, on the relationship between social life and biological life. The author differentiates Bergson’s sociobiology from that proposed by the creator of the term, the American biologist Edward Osborne Wilson. According to Wilson, biological factors determine human organization and social behavior. On the contrary, for Bergson, social life is just a particular expression of the evolution of life. White very astutely uses not only Two Sources, but also Laughter, revealing an important – and little explored – connection between the two works, although crucial differences are highlighted. Because laughter is a uniquely human phenomenon, Bergson cannot develop in Laughter, as he does in Two Sources, the distinction between human and non-human societies, and between necessary and rational obligation. The relationship with Auguste Comte and Émile Durkheim is also explored, although the quick summary of the state of biology at the time of Bergson has some inaccuracies and seem a little off- topic (in 1900, biology was far from being a “new science”, as stated in the p. 273, for example). Finally, the author points to the difference between living (surviving) and living well, rightly highlighting the centrality of aesthetics in Laughter and ethics in Two Sources regarding the art of living well.

Bergson’s controversial participation in the First World War with the French government is well known through texts, speeches and diplomatic missions. “The Phantom presence of War in Bergson’s Two Sources”, by Mélanie Weill, is part of a growing interest in recent years in this topic, long ignored by Bergsonian studies, despite the excellent and pioneering work of Philippe Soulez, Bergson politique (PUF, 1989) (Caterina Zanfi recently organized an Annales bergsoniennes volume entirely devoted to the subject). But the merits of Weill‘s essay do not lie there alone. In addition to offering an overview of the biographical and historical aspects that involve her object of investigation, Weill also suggestively approaches a range of problems that are difficult to articulate: the philosophical character of Bergson’s intellectual production from 1914-18, the influence of war on his later writings, the relationship between philosophy and propaganda and, perhaps most importantly, the role of the intellectual and the place of engagement, a problem that forces us to think radically about the historicity of Bergson’s philosophy .

We then come to the fourth part, entitled “Reception” and dedicated to the way in which Bergsonian philosophy has been read by different authors and traditions.
The influence that French philosophy of the second half of the 19th century had on James is well known, especially through the neo-criticism of Charles Renouvier. But when it comes to Bergson, despite the mutual praise and the exchange of letters between him and James, there is a relative consensus that, from a philosophical point of view, the philosophy of duration did not influence the famous American psychologist. It is precisely this idea that the text “Bergson and William James”, by Jeremy Dunham, confronts. Supported by rich and unpublished material, such as James’ notes in his copy of Time and Free Will, Dunham argues about the similarities and dissimilarities between the two. Both James and Bergson focus their analyses on the “experience of change”. However, while the second aims at “pure duration”, the first is interested in the replacement of a “block of duration” by another. Faithful to the logical principle of identity (the difference between the One and the Multiple), James identifies the experience of change with the existence of transitive and conjectural relationships. It is the passage from one state to another that interests him, and not exactly the passage as such, in its “purity”, as it would be for Bergson. The text is then dedicated to analyzing the impact of An Introduction to Metaphysics and Creative Evolution in James’ critique of intellectualism and his praise of intuition. The conclusion is that Bergson’s influence on James only occurred in a really significant way towards the end of James life and in his last writings, hence the difficulty in assessing his “conversion” to Bergsonism (p. 303)

In the next essay, “Bergson and German Philosophy”, by Caterina Zanfi, we go to the old world and are invited to follow the intricacies of Bergson’s tortuous and little explored reception in the Germany of his time. The author very clearly summarizes her solid study, Bergson e la filosofia tedesca (Quodlibet, 2013, translated into French, German and Russian, with a preface by Frédéric Worms), and approaches her object of study through an original geographically oriented history, guided by four German university cities: Jena, Berlin, Heidelberg and Göttingen, to finally discuss the Franco-German “cultural transfers” from the perspective of the First World War. In Jena the theme of anti-intellectualism revolves primarily around Rudolf Eucken, the Baron Friedrich von Hügel and the editor Eugen Diederichs. The problem of negativity and the tragic, and the figure of Georg Simmel sets the tone for the reception of Bergsonism in Berlin. In Heidelberg, the debate between historicism and naturalism is the most relevant, through philosophers such as Hans Driesch, Wilhelm Windelband and Heinrich Rickert. In Göttingen, we follow the interpretations of intuition made by phenomenologists (orthodox and heterodox), with Max Scheler being the main interlocutor. Zanfi‘s essay could be the starting point for his aforementioned book to be translated into English. The English-speaking audience interested in the philosophical and cultural landscape of the turn of the 19th-20th century would then have in their hands a precious and extremely rich material for their research.

After following the German reception, we follow the way in which Bergson was received by biologists at the beginning of the 20th century. Against the commonly accepted idea that Creative Evolution was interpreted in a mostly negative way by scientists, who would have considered it as a novel, Emily Herring, in “The Vital Impulse and Early 20th Century Biology”, offers a new perspective by examining the influence of the controversial notion of élan vital on the British biology of the period. In an original way, Herring recovers several references, such as Julian Huxley, one of the pioneers in the synthetic theory of evolution, but also names such as D. Darbishire, J. A. Thomson and E. S. Russell, revealing that Bergson was read and appreciated by biologists of finalist as well as mechanistic inspiration. According to Herring, these savants were mainly impacted by three ideas from Bergsonian philosophy: 1. the élan vital as a theoretical instrument for thinking about life as creation; 2. the epistemological autonomy of biology resulting from the phenomenal or ontological autonomy of vital processes; 3. the critique of intelligence and its limits in dealing with life. However, despite the richness of the text, I wish to point out two theses that I think are problematic: the definition of the image as a metaphor (p.320) and the application of this definition to the élan vital. One-sidedly relying on certain passages of An Introduction to Metaphysics, Herring does not consider the numerous occasions in which the term image is used by Bergson, many of them with a much more realistic (Matter and Memory, for example) or metaphysics tone (absolute knowledge versus relative knowledge of science, in the 1903 essay) than the author seems to defend. Furthermore, by supporting a thesis with a strong aesthetic content, that insists on the “poetic insights of philosophers” (p. 329) that could inspire science, wouldn’t Herring partially invalidate the Bergsonian influence on biology defended by the article? After all, when defining the élan vital as a metaphor, wouldn’t the author end up agreeing precisely with the numerous criticisms that have been addressed on this notion by the scientists?

From biology we return to Germany, only this time focused on the enfant terrible of phenomenology, Martin Heidegger. In “From Time to Temporality. Heidegger’s critique of Bergson” Heath Massey is very convincing in demonstrating the influence that Bergson’s thought had on the philosopher of the Black Forest, especially in the period between his first writings (mainly courses and lectures) and Being and Time. The idea presented in the famous footnote of Being and Time that Bergson did not free himself from the Aristotelian conception of time (time as the measure of movement) is skillfully analyzed, and its assumptions and developments in earlier works are explained in a clear and instructive way, devoid of any of the Heideggerian jargon. Massey also raises important points about the flaws and vices of the Heideggerian critique of duration (Heidegger’s total ignorance of Matter and Memory, for example). The text is a great contribution to understanding the relationship between two of the most important philosophers of the 20th century, coming from very different traditions and concerned about the problem of time.

It is in this same spirit that the next essay, “Russell Reading Bergson”, should be read. Andreas Vrahimis examines the intricacies of one of the most known critiques of Bergsonism, offering a rich bibliographic material and a clear and consistent argumentation. From biographical events to the importance of figures such as H. W Carr and Costelloe-Stephen. Passing through Russell’s caustic review of Laughter, as well as the well-known attacks on anti-intellectualism and Time and Free Will’s conception of number, Vrahimis offers us a broad analysis of the controversy, instigating the readers to read his other works on the topic. The astute articulation between philosophy and politics explored in the last part of the text, based on the alliance established by Russell between anti-intellectualism and conservatism and, specifically in the French context, between the cult of the irrational and the vile Vichy regime is particularly noteworthy. Finally, the use of the Russell-Bergson controversy as a possible “lens” for reading the infamous continental-analytical split is very suggestive. If properly developed, the Russellian division between “analytical philosophies” and “synthetic philosophies” recovered by Vrahimis can shed new light on the already consolidated works on the subject, joining, for example, the Heidegger/Cassirer (and Carnap) controversy analyzed by M. Friedman in the classic A Parting of the Ways (Open Court, 2000) as well as the canonical definition proposed by M. Dummett, who considers the “linguistic turn” (and not the concept of analysis) as a characteristic feature of the analytical tradition (Origins of Analytical Tradition, HUP, 1994).

Miguel José Paley, in “The Concept of Substitution in Bergson and Lévinas”, returns to the theme of Bergson’s reception by phenomenology, offering an excellent examination of the influence of the philosophy of duration on the Franco-Lithuanian thinker. Lévinas’ statements about the impact of Time and Free Will in his philosophical training are well known. But Paley goes further, showing how Bergson helps Lévinas to overcome the inadequacies of phenomenology in its Husserlian and Heideggerian versions, both haunted by the problem of the “Same”. It is in this sense that the philosophy of duration opens the field of ethics through the revelation of the radical alterity of the “Other”, marked by openness and incompleteness. Paley then focuses on the Lévinasian concept of “substitution”, bringing it closer to Bergson’s critique of Nothingness and Disorder. Nothingness is the substitution of something by something, and disorder is the substitution of one order by another. For Lévinas, inspired by Bergsonism, substitution is what allows us to think that the Subject is always Other before being itself. The clarity with which Paley invites us to examine the problem, even in the face of a difficult thinker like Lévinas, is remarkable.

The last text of the “Reception” section, “The Way of the Africans. Césaire, Senghor and Bergson’s Philosophy”, by Souleymane Bahir Diagne, is the only one devoted to the unusual relationship between Bergson and post-colonial studies. Diagne focuses on the problem of “Négritude”, whose contributions by Césaire and Senghor were essential. The essay merges biographical and historical data with more speculative interpretations to understand the reasons that underlie the “revolution” operated by Time and Free Will, that is, the “1889 revolution” (p. 382). Finally, the idea of “Négritude” is read through the prism of Bergsonian notions of life and creative emotion.

We move on to the final part of the book, “Bergson and contemporary Thought”. The first three texts are dedicated to the confrontation between Bergson and some current themes in analytical philosophy. In “Irreducibility, Indivisibility and Interpenetration”, Barry Dainton uses Bergsonian duration in order to dialogue with important questions to the current philosophy of time. Matyáš Moravec takes a more historical turn and makes a comparison between duration and McTaggart’s considerations about the unreality of time. But Moravec’s “A Bergsonian Response to McTaggart’s Paradox” is not an introduction to the two authors. This is an article for those already initiated on the subject, which does not prevent it from being considered as another contribution in the understanding of the relationship between Bergson and Anglophone philosophy. However, in this case, it is not about the analytical tradition, but its contender, the somewhat forgotten current outside England, British Idealism.

In “Bergson and Process Philosophy of Biology”, Anne Sophie Meincke explores the possible connections between the idea of movement and change in Bergson and the thesis defended by some exponents of process ontology in the field of biology, such as J. Dupré and D. J. Nicholson. It is from this discussion that Meincke explores the debate that takes place within contemporary process philosophy of biology and its opposition to substantialist ontologies, moving Bergson away from the position defended by the “four-dimensionalist” current.

The field of biology is also the focus of the following chapter, “Bergson as Visionary in Evolution Biology”, by Mathilde Tahar. Unlike the texts by Posteraro and Herring analyzed earlier, Tahar understands that the élan vital must be read not as an image, but as a “fluid concept”. Such a denomination would prevent us from approaching Bergson’s contributions to biology from a very aestheticizing point of view. In my opinion, it is a good alternative to the reservations that I had stated above in relation to the conception of image as a metaphor. The “fluid-concept” would preserve Bergson’s project within its proper scope, that is, knowledge. Tahar analyzes five points regarding the relationship between Bergson and biology: 1. the critique of the mechanistic approach; 2. the propulsive dimension of evolution from an initial impulsive; 3. the divergence of tendencies; 4. the efficiency of duration; and 5. its unpredictability. Throughout the text, the author mobilizes a large number of themes, examples and contemporary biologists, with special emphasis on the great American scientist Stephen Jay Gould.

The next text, “Living Pictures’. Bergson, cinema and film-philosophy”, by David Deamer, is the only one dedicated to the cinematographic contributions that could arise from Bergson’s philosophy. Following Deleuze’s pioneering studies, the essay goes beyond the well-known criticism made by Creative Evolution to the “cinematographic mechanism of thought”, exploring the Bergsonian idea that memory is like cinema, the “living eye of a cinematograph”. Deamer then dialogues with classic and contemporary films and film critics (Méliès , Bazin , Epstein, among many others), and from there he tries to think of a Bergsonian-inspired philosophy of cinema.

The last text of the book, “Anti-Intellectualism. Bergson and contemporary encounters” by Matt Dougherty, revisits this well-known theme of Bergsonian studies. But, unlike what, for example, Léon Husson does in his classic L’intellectualisme de Bergson (PUF, 1947), Dougherty assumes the theoretical label of anti-intellectualism, and invites us to think about it in its Bergsonian version, vis-à-vis the current debates on the subject, which involve names such as Gilbert Ryle, M. Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty. The concept of intuition is then analyzed, and the author reconstructs an interesting debate between Hubert Dreyfus and John McDowell, distancing Bergson from the more recent anti-intellectualist trends, since they do not deal with metaphysical questions about the ultimate reality of things.

To conclude this long review, I would like to emphasize once again the importance and usefulness of The Bergsonian Mind and congratulate the editors, Sinclair and Wolf, for this initiative. It is also worth noting the fact that they invited professors and young researchers from all over the world, following the direction taken by the research on Bergson. In recent years, Bergsonian studies have been experiencing a strong internationalization, which is attested by the recent activities of Société des Amis de Bergson, the new journal Bergsoniana, and the Global Bergsonism Research Project. Another point worth mentioning is the bibliographic variety of the essays. There’s much to improve regarding this problem. However, aside from some exceptions, one can see the efforts of this book in overcoming linguistic barriers in the use of sources and works on Bergson, a relatively rare gesture among Bergsonian studies until recently.

Citer ce billet
eherring (2022, 18 avril). Book Review: The Bergsonian Mind. Mark Sinclair and Yaron Wolf (eds), 2021. Société des amis de Bergson. Consulté le 29 février 2024, à l’adresse

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