In no sense was Henri Bergson’s philosophy a mere compilation of the scientific findings of his time. Nevertheless, his kind of empiricism required him to investigate on his own principles the subject matter of various sciences. His early works may be viewed as studies in psychology. In L’Évolution créatrice (1907; Creative Evolution, 1911), he turned to biology. His last great work, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, took him into the fields of sociology and cultural anthropology. Here he made the élan vital (vital impulse) the key to understanding morality, religion, and history. The work is admittedly more speculative than its predecessors. Whereas in Creative Evolution, he had tried to “keep as close as possible to facts,” in this later work, he permitted himself to argue from “probabilities” on the grounds that “philosophical certainty admits of degrees.” Whenever possible, philosophic intuition should be “backed up by science”; however, where science falls short, Bergson maintained, it is legitimate to appeal to the testimony of great prophetic and mystical teachers. The author regarded this work as a valuable confirmation of the thesis presented in Creative Evolution. Others have found it rewarding for the fresh perspectives it has brought to social studies.
As the title indicates, the author’s approach was a genetic one. Understanding of the phenomena under...
(The entire section is 442 words.)