Emily Herring

(Residential Fellow, 2018-19)

Emily Herring

Emily Herring

Residential Fellow

Philosophical Biology: The Reception of Henry Bergson’s Creative Evolution in French and British Biology

Video: Lecture, Nov. 29, 2018

 Emily Herring is a PhD researcher in the Centre for History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Leeds. In Kansas City, she will be making use of the Linda Hall Library’s extensive journal holdings in the context of her research on the reception of French philosopher Henri Bergson in French and British biology.

Although Bergson’s metaphysical take on biological evolution, developed in L’Evolution Créatrice (1907), was often dismissed as vitalistic, it appealed to many biologists. They saw Bergson as raising the status of their science by giving it philosophical significance. Emily’s thesis shows that their enthusiasm for Bergson’s metaphysics clashes with the traditional representation of the 20th century as the era of extreme scientific specialization and of the definitive separation between science and philosophy. Indeed, these biologists believed that the very nature of their research (biological evolution, the nature of heredity, animal behavior, etc.) implied the need to take into consideration psychological, philosophical and sometimes even theological questions and the acclaimed Bergson gave them the intellectual resources to do so.

Emily has recently published articles on one of the British Bergsonian biologists in her study, Julian Huxley, in the Annals of Science. and on a little-studied case of 20th-Century institutionalized Lamarckism in the Revue d’Histoire des Sciences.