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Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution and 20th-Century British Biology

Herring, Emily (2019) Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution and 20th-Century British Biology. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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In 1907, French philosopher Henri Bergson published his fourth book, a metaphysical interpretation of biological evolution, L’Evolution créatrice (Creative Evolution). The book propelled him to international fame, and he counted many biologists among his thousands of readers. However, historians of biology have generally minimised or ignored the different ways in which biologists read Bergson. Drawing on archival as well as printed sources, this thesis follows the reception and various appropriations of Bergson’s philosophy of life among several 20th-century British biologists. In doing so, three new points are made. The first concerns Bergson’s biological turn: the reason why Bergson – who had up until then been concerned with questions to do with psychology and the metaphysics of time – developed a philosophy of life, was to give a stronger foundation to his theory of knowledge. Bergson was pursuing a theoretical ambition he had held dear since his youth: to produce a synthesis between metaphysics and science that would account for the complementarity and profound differences between the two forms of knowledge. Second, the reason Bergson mattered to many biologists was precisely the synthetic nature of his philosophy. The biologists who read Bergson favourably believed that the questions raised by their biological research exceeded the boundaries of science. To be a Bergsonian biologist meant to be a synthesiser of knowledge, drawing upon ideas and methods external to biology. Third, the case of Bergson’s reception among biologists reveals a little-studied aspect of early 20th-century biology: biologists’ enthusiasm for Bergsonian metaphysics, and their calls for a closer cooperation between science and philosophy should encourage us to rethink the traditional representation of the 20th century as the era of irresistible scientific and institutional specialisation.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Henri Bergson, History of Biology, French philosophy, Creative Evolution, Neo-Darwinism, Vitalism
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of Philosophy, Religion and the History of Science
Depositing User: Emily Herring
Date Deposited: 06 May 2020 15:17
Last Modified: 06 May 2020 15:17
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/26865

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