Human Rights as a Way of Life: On Bergson's Political Philosophy

By Alexandre Lefebvre | Go to book overview

2
Bergson’s Critical Philosophy

In the labyrinth of acts, states and faculties of mind, the thread which one must
never let go of is the one provided by biology. Primum vivere.

Henri Bergson, The Creative Mind

We saw in the previous chapter that Bergson’s innovation with respect to war is to treat it as the ratio cognoscendi of morality: it discloses the exclusivist tendency of moral obligation. But now we need to ask why moral obligation is inherently exclusive. Only then will we be in a position to see why human rights cannot be based on the picture of morality.

A good place to begin to answer this question is with the famous closing words of chapter 1 of Two Sources. Here, Bergson drives home the central point of the book: the source of morality is biology.

Everything is obscure if we confine ourselves to mere manifestations, whether they
are all together called social, or whether one examines, in social man, more par-
ticularly the intelligence. All becomes clear, on the contrary, if we go and search,
beyond these manifestations, for life itself. Let us then give to the word biology
the very wide meaning it should have [le sens très compréhensif qu’il devrait avoir],
and will perhaps have one day, and let us say in conclusion that all morality, be it
pressure or aspiration, is in essence biological. (DS 1060–61/100–101)

Many terms in this passage—such as intelligence, pressure, aspiration, and most of all, life and biology—will have to be defined and elucidated. But for now, we can take Bergson’s main argument to be that an adequate understanding of morality society and social life must start from the fact that they are based in biology. As Worms states, “The main philosophical

-15-

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Human Rights as a Way of Life: On Bergson's Political Philosophy
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page v
  • Contents xi
  • Preface xiii
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • Abbreviations xxi
  • Part I - Human Rights and the Picture of Morality 1
  • Introduction - The Picture of Morality 3
  • 1 - A Dialogue on War 6
  • 2 - Bergson’s Critical Philosophy 15
  • 3 - The Closed Society- Bergson on Durkheim 32
  • 4 - Human Rights and the Critique of Practical Reason 49
  • Part II - An Introduction to the Open Life 71
  • 5 - Human Rights as Conversion 73
  • 6 - The Open Society 83
  • 7 - The Two Faces of Human Rights 110
  • Reference Matter 143
  • Notes 145
  • Bibliography 167
  • Index 177
  • Cultural Memory in the Present 182
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