Henri Bergson

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Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.

Henri-Louis Bergson (18 October 18594 January 1941) was a major French philosopher, influential in the first half of the 20th century.


  • I cannot escape the objection that there is no state of mind, however simple, that does not change every moment.
    • An Introduction to Metaphysics (1903), translated by T. E. Hulme. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1912, p. 44.
  • The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause.
    • Creative Evolution (1907), Chapter I, translated by Arthur Mitchell. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911, p. 14. (Bergson italicized this sentence.)
  • All the living hold together, and all yield to the same tremendous push. The animal takes its stand on the plant, man bestrides animality, and the whole of humanity, in space and in time, is one immense army galloping beside and before and behind each of us in an overwhelming charge able to beat down every resistance and clear the most formidable obstacles, perhaps even death.
    • Creative Evolution (1907), Chapter III. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911, p. 271
  • Un philosophe digne de ce nom n'a jamais dit qu'une seule chose : encore a-t-il plutôt cherché à la dire qu'il ne l'a dite véritablement. Et il n'a dit qu'une seule chose parce qu'il n'a su qu'un seul point : encore fut-ce moins une vision qu'un contact...
    • A philosopher worthy of the name has never said more than a single thing: and even then it is something he has tried to say, rather than actually said. And he has said only one thing because he has seen only one point: and at that it was not so much a vision as a contact...
    • "L’intuition philosophique (Philosophical Intuition)" (10 April 1911); translated by Mabelle L. Andison in: Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics, Courier Dover Publications, 2012, p. 91.
  • The prestige of the Nobel Prize is due to many causes, but in particular to its twofold idealistic and international character: idealistic in that it has been designed for works of lofty inspiration; international in that it is awarded after the production of different countries has been minutely studied and the intellectual balance sheet of the whole world has been drawn up. Free from all other considerations and ignoring any but intellectual values, the judges have deliberately taken their place in what the philosophers have called a community of the mind.
  • Religion is to mysticism what popularization is to science.
    • The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932), Chapter III.
  • La société ouverte est celle qui embrasserait en principe l’humanité entière.
    • The open society is one that is deemed in principle to embrace all humanity.
    • The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932), Chapter IV.
  • Toute notre civilisation est aphrodisiaque
    • Sex-appeal is the keynote of our whole civilization.
    • The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932), Chapter IV. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002, p. 302.
  • Men do not sufficiently realise that their future is in their own hands. Theirs is the task of determining first of all whether they want to go on living or not. Theirs the responsibility, then, for deciding if they want merely to live, or intend to make just the extra effort required for fulfilling, even on their refractory planet, the essential function of the universe, which is a machine for the making of gods (la fonction essentielle de l'universe, qui est une machine à faire des dieux).
    • The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932), concluding sentences. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2002, p. 317.
    • Often just the last part of the last sentence is quoted, in the form: "The universe is a machine for making gods."
  • Je dirais qu'il faut agir en homme de pensée et penser en homme d'action.
    • I would say act like a man of thought and think like a man of action.
    • Speech at the Descartes Conference in Paris, 1937.
    • Quoted in The Forbes Scrapbook of Thoughts on the Business of Life (1950), p. 442, as "Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought."
  • Intuition is a method of feeling one's way intellectually into the inner heart of a thing to locate what is unique and inexpressible in it.
    • Quoted in Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986 : Flowers in the Desert (2000) by Britta Benke, p. 28


  • The eyes see only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.
    • Robertson Davies as quoted in The White Bedouin‎ (2007) by George Potter, p. 241

Quotes about Bergson[edit]

  • One of the bad effects of an anti-intellectual philosophy, such as that of Bergson, is that it thrives upon the errors and confusions of the intellect. Hence it is led to prefer bad thinking to good, to declare every momentary difficulty insoluble, and to regard every foolish mistake as revealing the bankruptcy of intellect and the triumph of intuition. There are in Bergson’s works many allusions to mathematics and science, and to a careless reader these allusions may seem to strengthen his philosophy greatly. As regards science, especially biology and physiology, I am not competent to criticize his interpretations. But as regards mathematics, he has deliberately preferred traditional errors in interpretation to the more modern views which have prevailed among mathematicians for the last eighty years. In this matter, he has followed the example of most philosophers. In the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the infinitesimal calculus, though well developed as a method, was supported, as regards its foundations, by many fallacies and much confused thinking. Hegel and his followers seized upon these fallacies and confusions, to support them in their attempt to prove all mathematics self-contradictory. Thence the Hegelian account of these matters passed into the current thought of philosophers, where it has remained long after the mathematicians have removed all the difficulties upon which the philosophers rely. And so long as the main object of philosophers is to show that nothing can be learned by patience and detailed thinking, but that we ought rather to worship the prejudices of the ignorant under the title of ‘reason’ if we are Hegelians, or of ‘intuition’ if we are Bergsonians, so long philosophers will take care to remain ignorant of what mathematicians have done to remove the errors by which Hegel profited.
  • The philosophy of Bergson, which is a spiritualist restoration, essentially mystical, medieval, Quixotesque, has been called a demi-mondaine philosophy. Leave out the demi; call it mondaine, mundane. Mundane — yes, a philosophy for the world and not for philosophers, just as chemistry ought to be not for chemists alone. The world desires illusion (mundus vult decipi) — either the illusion antecedent to reason, which is poetry, or the illusion subsequent to reason, which is religion.

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