[SydPhil] HPS Seminar Thursday 12th June - How Bergson Helped 20th-Century Biologists Get Creative About Evolution

Debbie Castle debbie.castle at sydney.edu.au
Tue Jun 11 09:51:28 AEST 2019

Emily Herring
PhD candidate, History and Philosophy of Science, University of Leeds

Thursday, June 13th, 3.30-5.00pm, Muniment Room, Quadrangle (just under the clock tower)

How Bergson Helped 20th-Century Biologists Get Creative About Evolution

When French philosopher Henri Bergson published his metaphysical interpretation of biological evolution, L’Evolution créatrice (Creative Evolution) in 1907, he was already something of a celebrity but he was suddenly propelled to international fame. His ideas were discussed in most intellectual and scientific circles. However, Bergson’s reception among 20th-century biologists has not been subjected to thorough study. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate that, given the wide reception of Creative Evolution among biologists, Bergson can no longer be left out of historical accounts of 20th-century biology.

Bergson provided many biologists with the intellectual tools to reflect on the theoretical boundaries of their own discipline and resist the general trend towards specialisation which is often seen as characteristic of 20th-century science. These biologists believed that the very questions their discipline raised (biological evolution, the nature of heredity, animal minds, etc.) forced them to go beyond the limitations of scientific knowledge. They saw Bergson as raising the status of biology by making it the most philosophical of all sciences.

We will see that taking the biological appropriations of Bergson’s ideas seriously sheds new light on some of the philosophical motivations of 20th-century biologists and more generally, on the complex interplay between science and philosophy.


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