The Emergence of a Speculative Empiricism: Whitehead Reading Bergson

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The main purpose of this chapter is to make sense of the homage Whitehead paid to Bergson in his preface to Process and Reality: ‘I am also greatly indebted to Bergson, William James, and John Dewey.’1 There are many readers, particularly in France, who have seen this as attesting to a continuity between the two philosophers.2 This impression seems all the more justified given the similar homage Whitehead had earlier paid Bergson in The Concept of Nature: ‘I believe that in this doctrine I am in full accord with Bergson, though he uses “time” for the fundamental fact which I call the “passage of nature”.’3 These declarations would seem to point to a similar movement, a shared orientation in thought, which, even if expressed using different concepts, nevertheless derived from the same intuition. The same vision, it is supposed, connects Creative Evolution and Process and Reality, according to which, as Bergson writes, we understand, we feel, that reality is a perpetual growth, a creation pursued without end’.4 Certainly, the terms differ: where Bergson refers to duration, vital force and the event, Whitehead, in Process and Reality, prefers to speak of becoming, creativity and actual entities. But a common trajectory seems to extend beyond the divergent vocabulary.

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... e critical response to this suggestion is exemplified by Victor Lowe, who argues that Bergson exerted little to no positive influence on Whitehead, seeing the two thinkers as having developed some broadly similar general commitments independently (Lowe 1949, 271, 272, 278). In his more recent study on the topic, Didier Debaise concedes an initial convergence, but argues for a basic difference in the way each develops his system (Debaise 2009). Neither Lowe nor Debaise addresses the idea of canalization. ...
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