Bergson and the theory of natural selection


In this paper I compare Henri Bergson’s theoretical attitudes towards life with the ones embedded in the theory of natural selection, as found in Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species. I identify five “meta-theoretical attitudes” along the lines of which this comparison is made. I also argue that Bergson attempted to provide a general theory meant to solve certain difficulties of the theory of evolution by natural selection that occupied the mind of the evolutionary theorists of his time – and most notably that of the “co-ordination of parts”, found, among others, in works by Herbert Spencer and August Weismann. But the general allure of Bergson’s view of evolution is, I argue, Lamarckian (though not neo-Lamarckian!) in some crucial respects and is thus at odds with the Darwinian view. Therefore, though Bergson seems to adopt (even in a more radical form than Darwin himself) some of the meta-theoretical attitudes that are inherent to the theory of natural selection, his reintroduction of a “principle” of life (conceived of as an interiority, i.e. as a striving, tendency or impetus) leads him to positions that are, in fact, across the board opposed to those embedded in the theory of natural selection.

Keywords: Henri Bergson; Charles Darwin; natural selection; élan vital; anti-essentialism; anti-determinism; relativism

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