- May 11, 2014
A series of six classes was given by Professor Arnaud François of University of Toulouse II.
Professor François heads the EU side of the Hosei Program, while back in France he is a leading young scholar of Henri Bergson （1859-1941）. The theme of classes on this occasion was a search for scientific (particularly biological) sources in L'évolution créatrice（Creative Evolution ; 1907）, one of Bergson's four great works. (The following is an example of Professor François' research relating to this theme : « Les sources biologiques de L'évolution créatrice de Bergson » (2007), in Frédéric Worms and Anne Fagot-Largeault (eds.), Annales bergsoniennes, vol. IV : L'évolution créatrice (1907-2007) : épistémologie et métaphysique, Paris, PUF, coll. « Épiméthée », 2008, pp. 95-109).
The issue of mechanism and teleology raised in the lectures made a great impression upon me. The second half of Chapter 1 of Creative Evolution considers each of the evolutionary theories of Charles Robert Darwin（1809-1882）and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck（1744-1829）. During Bergson's era, neo−Darwinism, of the former's lineage, upheld the theory of mechanism by which the evolution of living things is necessarily influenced by the relationship of physical cause and effect. Meanwhile, neo−Lamarckism, of the latter's lineage, advocated the theory of teleology which identifies the source of evolution in the effort and will exerted by a living body in order to achieve a specific goal. Darwin's original theory of evolution, widely known as "natural selection", described how an individual with properties advantageous to survival leaves a greater number of descendants. It emphasized external environmental factors: a giraffe with a long neck, for example, can reach the leaves of tall trees, which is advantageous for producing offspring. Lamarck's theory of evolution, on the other hand, searched the evolution process for individuality exhibited by a living thing in order to adapt to an environment: for example, moving to a warmer area or growing extra hair when it is cold. We might call these internal, psychological, environmental factors. According to Bergson, both arguments err in their understanding of the evolution of living beings as a determined thing, for whichever reason. For Bergson, the essence of life is the infinite change towards the new; furthermore it is a "creative evolution" that comes from undetermined freedom. From this emerges the notion of élan vital that is central to Bergson's philosophy of life.
The above is just a part of the lectures given by Professor François. I felt strongly, however, that Bergson's argument that transcends the mechanism-teleology debate, and develops to span science and philosophy, has great relevance to us today.