«The social underlies the vital»

On Bergson’s Social Philosophy from Creative Evolution to The Two Sources


  • Caterina Zanfi CNRS/ENS




Henri Bergson, Georges Sorel, Émile Durkheim, philosophy of biology, social philosophy


Immediately after reading Creative Evolution, Georges Sorel claimed that the true place of Bergson’s philosophy was in social studies. At the time, the ancient analogy between society and the organism had ignited a debate in French sociology, wherein the Durkheim school opposed followers of Spencerism such as Espinas and Worms. Well aware of the European debate on biological sociology, and having remained cautious about addressing social issues for many years, Bergson himself only made the entanglement between the biological and the social more explicit in his 1932 work. Without following either of the two major positions of the contemporary French debate, he proposed a theory of society based on the assumptions set out in Creative Evolution. Bergson argued that «the social underlies the vital» and grounded his theory of a closed and open society on biology «in a comprehensive sense». Through a cross reading of Creative Evolution and The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, I will examine how Bergson developed his social theory in relation to his philosophy of biology, while at the same time responding to a core question of the contemporary sociological debate.