Spirit precedes matter

Summary of Matter and memory

France at the turn of the century

The end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 was followed by a phase of détente and peace in Europe, during which France was initially supported by the President of the Third French Republic Adolphe Thiers was conducted. Like the other major European powers, France also continued its imperialist aspirations. Rapid advances in science, especially in medicine (Louis Pasteur developed a vaccination against rabies) and physics (Pierre and Marie Curie researched radioactive elements), significantly improved the standard of living.

Domestically, the process concerned the alleged traitor governor Alfred Dreyfus for a sensation, which became the cause of clashes between the radical bloc and anti-Semitic nationalist groups.

Pan-European relations deteriorated from 1890 at the latest, when Otto von Bismarck resigned. Above all, the “European idea”, the idea of ​​a community of nations, was gradually lost and the differences, triggered also by colonial disputes, deepened. In terms of foreign policy, France moved closer to Russia and England, while Germany became increasingly isolated. It was in this atmosphere that the First World War finally broke out around 15 years later.


The mind-body problem and the relationship between spirit and matter has been preoccupying philosophy since ancient times. While Plato laid the foundation for idealism, came about through Democritus and Epicurus the opposite position of materialism. The centuries-old debate consistently formed the background of Bergson's elaborations. However, this was mainly based on the knowledge of the rationalist RenéDescartes, the English sensualist George Berkeley and the German idealist Immanuel Kant a. The greatest contemporary influence on Bergson took Herbert Spencer, from which Bergson initially took over a lot, only to gradually break away from him.

Matter and memory is the second of Bergson's four major works. The concept of duration runs through all four like a red thread, yet they only build loosely on one another. Bergson applied the theses developed in these works to various questions in various smaller writings and anthologies. The starting point of his entire philosophy is the simple intuition of duration, something, as he himself explains, “so simple, so infinitely simple, so extraordinarily simple that the philosopher never succeeded in expressing it. And that's why he talked about it all his life ”. In Matter and memoryhe examined this intuitive thought with regard to the tension between spirit and matter.

Impact history

This is true for many critics Matter and memory as Bergson's most important book. Martin Heidegger For example, said: "It is fundamental to modern biology and contains insights that are far from exhausted." Bergson's effect on the European and American intellectuals of the 20th century can hardly be specified in detail because it often occurred subliminally. His influence is noticeable everywhere and nowhere: Nowhere because his name has not found a permanent place in general knowledge, everywhere because his ideas were also processed in apparently completely different subject areas and opposing trends.

His influence is with personalities as diverse as Ernst Cassirer, Gilles Deleuze, Walter benjamin and Jean-Paul Sartre noticeable. Many theses, such as those of French existentialism, arose precisely from the critical examination of Bergson. Bergson's distinction between time and duration had the greatest influence on the various philosophical schools of the 20th century.

Analytical philosophy - just like the proponents of Marxism, by the way - was unanimous in its rejection of Bergson. The allegations ranged from irrationalism to hostility towards science. On Ludwig Wittgenstein the judgment that Bergson is "a bad philosophical architect" should go back. Bergson's work, however, had a great influence Alfred North Whitehead and George HerbertMead. Among the German philosophers was especially Georg SImmel strongly influenced by Bergson, but also by Edmund Husserl there are parallels, especially in his concept of time. Max Horkheimer noted that he "owes a lot" to Bergson.