Henri Bergson (1859 – 1941) and His Philosophy


Henri Bergson was born in Paris in 1859. His mother was English and his father was Polish-Jewish. He spoke French as his mother tongue and spent his working life teaching philosophy in universities. Due to his attractive and simplistic way of writing, his works were widely read outside of the academic world. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927. In the later part of his life, Bergson may have been converted into a Roman Catholic.

Key Concepts in his Philosophy

Life Force (Elan Vital)

Bergson believed that human beings are to be explained primarily in terms of their evolutionary process. The environment or surrounding of an individual provides the stimulus in which we react in a life-preserving manner. Sensory organs and a central nervous system are some of the equipment that human beings have developed to increase their chances of survival.


Because everything changes all the time, the flow of time is one of the fundamental building blocks to all of reality. Bergson believed that we actually experience this flow within us in the most direct way instead of through our senses. This unmediated knowledge is what he calls ‘intuition’. 


Bergson’s philosophy states that reality is a continuum. There is a difference between measured time (every minute of a watch is the same amount of ‘time’) and experienced time (every minute of your life is different as it will never be repeated). In experienced time, there are no instants, no stopping the stopwatch. Experienced time is a continuous flow that cannot be divided into separable units and not marked off with measurable lengths. In short, we live in two worlds. Our inner world is where everything is in a state of flux and perpetual flow and in our outer world, separate objects occupy a specific time and space (Magee, 2010).

“Space in an aggregate of points, from any one of which we can pass to any other; time, on the other hand, is irreversible, it has a direction, and every moment of time is unsubstitutable, irreplaceable, a true creation which cannot be repeated and to which we cannot return (Marias, 1967).”


Famous Quotes

“When we think this present as going to be; and when we think it as existing, it is already past.”

“The movement of the stream is distinct from the river bed, although it must adopt its winding course.”

“By intuition I mean instinct that has become disinterested, self-conscious, capable of reflecting upon its object and of enlarging it indefinitely.”

Key Works by Bergson (Magee, 2010)


1889 Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness (Bergson, 2001)
1896 Matter and Memory
1907 Creative Evolution
1932 The Two Sources of Morality and Religion


Bergson, H. (2001). Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness. London: George Allen & Company, Ltd.

Magee, B. (2010). The Story of Philosophy. (L. Maiklem, Ed.) London, Great Britain: Dorling Kindersley Limited.

Marias, J. (1967). History of Philosophy. United States: Dover Publications, Inc.


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