Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Logue, William, 1934-

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)


Department of History


Bergson, Henri, 1859-1941||Nietzsche, Friedrich Wilhelm, 1844-1900


Friedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson were two thinkers of the latter half of the nineteenth century whose works have been linked together by critics describing a neo-Romantic revolt against materialism and mechanism. The thesis of this paper is that Henri Bergson not only belonged to the same movement of thought as did Nietzsche, but represented a further development of the revolt against materialism and mechanism; that certain of the concepts that may have seemed to run parallel in Nietzsche and Bergson—such as their ideas of the Will and of evolution—were actually distinctly different ideas; and, that Bergson's philosophy contained carefully reasoned answers that were applicable to questions that Nietzsche posed. Finally, some effort is made to discover why Bergson was able to solve problems that sent Nietzsche into blatant contradictions and anguish. Thus certain ambivalences and contradictions in Nietzsche's thought represented philosophical deadlocks into which he had been driven by the social and intellectual context in which he lived. In particular, the social interpretations of Darwinism and the mechanism and materialism of his age led him to believe that natural laws were in conflict with or had triumphed over Christian conceptions of God and morality. This line of thought led Nietzsche to have problems in developing his conception of existence in time, of the will-to-power, and of the nature of truth and morality. At the heart of each of Nietzsche's difficulties seemed to lie the fact that he could not disengage himself completely from his mechanist-materialist heritage. Henri Bergson addressed some of the same problems that caused Nietzsche so much anguish, and by carefully analyzing the basic assumptions involved, he came to develop a supra-rationalist philosophy that seemed to answer many of Nietzsche's problems. Thus Bergson examined the mechanist's mode of thought and sought to limit the applications of this mode of thought. In attempting to re-affirm non-mechanist conceptions of the universe, he developed concepts of élan vital and duration, of a model personality, and of a common human morality that seemed to go beyond the social morality that Nietzsche wished to transcend. The historical contexts in which Nietzsche and Bergson lived help to explain their different orientations to their philosophical problems. First of all, the different political atmospheres and traditions in which the two men lived may have caused Nietzsche to repress revolutionary feelings more severely than did Bergson. Secondly, the wider educational background and more cosmopolitan upbringing of Bergson may have enabled him to gain a fuller perspective on his problems, and to question assumptions found in his immediate cultural context. Finally, the general cultural milieu in which Bergson lived seemed more conducive to the consideration of non-rational elements than did that of Nietzsche.


Includes bibliographical references.


3, 87 pages




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