First published in French in 1907, Henri Bergson’s L’évolution créatrice is a scintillating and radical work by one of the great French philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This outstanding new translation, the first for over a hundred years, brings one of Bergson’s most important and ambitious works to a new generation of readers.

    A sympathetic though critical reader of Darwin, Bergson argues in Creative Evolution against a mechanistic, reductionist view of evolution. For Bergson, all life emerges from a creative, shared impulse, which he famously terms élan vital and which passes like a current through different organisms and generations over time. Whilst this impulse remains as forms of life diverge and multiply, human life is characterized by a distinctive form of consciousness or intellect. Yet as Bergson brilliantly shows, the intellect’s fragmentary and action- oriented nature, which he likens to the cinematograph, means it alone cannot grasp nature’s creativity and invention over time. A major task of Creative Evolution is to reconcile these two elements. For Bergson, the answer famously lies in intuition, which brings instinct and intellect together and takes us “into the very interior of life.”

    A work of great rigour and imaginative richness that contributed to Bergson winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927, Creative Evolution played an important and controversial role in the trajectory of twentieth-century philosophy and continues to create significant discussion and debate. The philosopher and psychologist William James, who admired Bergson’s work, was writing an introduction to the first English translation of the book before his death in 1910.

    This new translation includes a foreword by Elizabeth Grosz and a helpful translator’s introduction by Donald Landes. Also translated for the first time are additional notes, articles, reviews and letters on the reception of Creative Evolution in biology, mathematics, and theology. This edition includes fascinating commentaries by philosophers Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Georges Canguilhem, and Gilles Deleuze.

    Foreword Elizabeth Grosz

    Translator’s Introduction Donald A. Landes

    Creative Evolution, by Henri Bergson, translated by Donald A. Landes

    Bilingual Table of Contents


    1. On the Evolution of Life. Mechanism and Finality

    2. The Diverging Directions of Life: Torpor, Intellect, and Instinct

    3. On the Meaning of Life, the Order of Nature, and the Form of the Intellect

    4. The Cinematographic Mechanism of Thought and the Mechanistic Illusion. A Glance at the History of Systems. Real Becoming and False Evolutionism.

    Correspondence, Reception, and Commentaries


    1. Correspondence

    James–Bergson Correspondence (1907)

    Letter to H. Wildon Carr (1908)

    Letter to Florian Znaniecki (1911)

    2. Critical Reception in Biology

    Bergson and Le Dantec in Dialogue

    "Bergson’s Biology" (1907), by Félix Le Dantec, translated by Kathleen Hulley

    Letter to the Editor of Revue du mois (1907), by Henri Bergson

    Ruyer as Reader of Bergson

    "Bergson and the Ammophila Sphex" (1959), by Raymond Ruyer, translated by Tano S. Posteraro

    3. Critical Reception in Mathematics

    Bergson and Borel in Dialogue

    "The Evolution of Geometrical Intellect" (1907), by Émile Borel, translated by Kathleen Hulley

    "In Response to ‘The Evolution of Geometrical Intellect’" (1908), by Henri Bergson

    "Letter to the Editor of Revue de métaphysique et de morale" (1908), by Émile Borel

    4. Critical Reception in Theology

    Bergson and Tonquédec in Dialogue

    "Preface" (1912), by Joseph de Tonquédec

    "How Should We Interpret the Order of the World" (1908), by Joseph de Tonquédec

    Letter from Bergson to Joseph de Tonquédec (May 12, 1908)

    "Is Bergson a Monist?" (1912), by Joseph de Tonquédec

    Letter from Bergson to Joseph de Tonquédec (February 20, 1912)

    5. Notable Commentaries

    Canguilhem as Reader of L’évolution créatrice

    Commentary on the Third Chapter of L’évolution créatrice (1943), by Georges Canguilhem

    Merleau-Ponty as Reader of L’évolution créatrice

    "The Ideas of Bergson," from Merleau-Ponty’s Course on Nature at the Collège de France (1956–1957), by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, translated by Robert Vallier

    Deleuze as Reader of L’évolution créatrice

    "Lecture Course on Chapter Three of Bergson’s ‘Creative Evolution,’" by Gilles Deleuze, translated by Bryn Loban.

    Critical Apparatus

    Editorial Endnotes, by Arnaud François. Selected, translated, and edited by Donald A. Landes


    Works by Henri Bergson

    Bibliography of Works Cited by Bergson in L’évolution créatrice

    Additional Works Cited in Editorial Endnotes or Translator’s Notes

    Works Cited in Correspondence, Reception, and Commentaries

    Notable Reviews of and Contemporary Responses to L’évolution créatrice.



    Henri Bergson (1859–1941) was born in Paris, the year Darwin’s Origin of Species was published. Initially drawn equally by the sciences and philosophy, at the age of eighteen Bergson won a prestigious prize for solving a mathematical problem. Choosing philosophy, he attended the École Normale Supérieure and the University of Paris before working as a school teacher in Angers and Clermont-Ferrand while completing his doctorate at the University of Paris in 1889. He worked for eight years at the Lycée Henri-IV before taking a position as Chair of Greek and Roman Philosophy at the Collège de France in Paris 1900. His weekly lectures soon attracted beyond capacity crowds, and his visits abroad to England and the United States filled venues and reportedly caused the first-ever traffic jam on Broadway in New York City. Bergson engaged with some of the leading contemporary thinkers, including a famous debate with Einstein in 1922 over the nature of time. He influenced Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, and the philosopher William James, and was a pioneering figure in the Modernist intellectual movement of the early twentieth century.

    "I have been re-reading Bergson's books, and nothing that I have read for years has so excited and stimulated my thoughts. I am sure that his philosophy has a great future; it breaks through old frameworks and brings things to a solution from which new crystallizations can be reached." - William James (1903)

    "An updated translation of Bergson’s most significant and most misunderstood book was long overdue. … Landes – who has previously translated Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception, another, notoriously elegant yet challenging text – more than meets these requirements. … There is no doubt that this new translation will become an absolute reference, not least because Landes has included illuminating passages from the critical apparatus of the most recent French edition of L’Evolution créatrice. But Landes’s most remarkable improvement is in his recreation of the effortless flow of Bergson’s philosophical prose." - Emily Herring, Times Literary Supplement

    "This new translation by Donald Landes captures the mesmerizing work that turned Henri Bergson into one of the century’s most provocative thinkers—with expert annotations, correspondence and additional material by influential thinkers from William James to Gilles Deleuze." - Jimena Canales, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, USA

    "Henri Bergson, who personally oversaw the translation of all his books into English, would be delighted by this new edition of his greatest work. Donald Landes’s translation is exquisite and the extensive editorial notes are indispensable for the serious study of Creative Evolution." - Alexandre Lefebvre, University of Sydney, Australia

    "This splendid new translation provides an exceptional, scholarly tool for serious specialists as well as all readers interested in Bergson’s work. It will swiftly become the definitive reference text for all Anglophone Bergson scholarship." - Christina Howells, University of Oxford, UK

    "A major event in post-Kantian philosophy. Featuring a lucid introduction, helpful translator’s notes, and a judicious selection from Arnaud François’s illuminating critical dossier, this fine translation of Creative Evolution means that English-language Bergson scholarship has begun to gain the serious editions of his texts that it deserves." - Mark Sinclair, Roehampton University, UK

    "This superb translation will introduce a new generation to Bergson. Landes's cogent introduction and editorial notes and the accompanying dossier of correspondence, reception and commentaries not only situates Creative Evolution in relation to Bergson's oeuvre, but also to the myriad scientific and philosophical sources informing his thought. An outstanding achievement." - Mark Antliff, Duke University, USA

    "This wonderful new translation of Bergson’s classic Creative Evolution is warmly welcomed, as are the rich introduction, comprehensive editorial notes, and thoughtful selection of commentaries. There are many improvements to the original translation published over a century ago." - Emily Thomas, Durham University, UK

    "Creative Evolution is essential reading today. To translate it well requires a serious engagement with Bergson’s entire body of work, sustained philosophical attention, a feel for context (including discoveries in thermodynamics) and, most importantly, enormous care. Happily, this is what Donald Landes offers us here." - Suzanne Guerlac, University of California, Berkeley, USA