The Southern Journal of Philosophy vol:53 issue:1 pages:54-73
The received view of Bergson’s philosophy of life is that it advances some form of vitalism under the heading of an “élan vital.” This paper argues against the vitalistic interpretation of Bergson’s élan vital as it appears in Creative Evolution in favor of an interpretation based on his overlooked ideas on entropy and energetics. Within the interpretation developed here, the élan vital is characterized not as a spiritualistic “vital force” but as a tendency of organization opposed to the tendency of entropic degradation. It is then shown how Bergson’s view of evolution and living organization resonates with more contemporary scientific approaches belonging to a “thermodynamic paradigm” in theoretical biology in different respects, including the critique of neo-Darwinism and the positing of a driving force behind evolution. Finally, the special interest that Bergson’s philosophical biology bears today is considered in terms of the connection between the concepts of élan vital and duration.