Bergson and the Development of Sartre’s Thought

In: Research in Phenomenology

The aim of this paper is to demonstrate the importance of Henri Bergson to the philosophical development of Jean-Paul Sartre’s thought. Despite Sartre’s early enthusiasm for Bergson’s description of consciousness, and the frequent references to Bergson in Sartre’s early work, there has been virtually no analysis of the influence of Bergson’s thought on Sartre’s development. This paper addresses this deficit. The first part of the paper explores Sartre’s analysis of the function of the imagination in his two early works on the subject, The Imagination, and The Imaginary. I argue that many of Sartre’s central criticisms of what he calls “the illusion of immanence” can be traced back to Bergson, and that, despite Sartre’s rejection of Bergson’s account of consciousness, Sartre’s account of the imagination is still heavily indebted to Bergson’s logic of multiplicities. The second part argues that Sartre’s analysis of the imagination leads, in Being and Nothingness, to an account of freedom that still bears traces of his early Bergsonism, even if it reverses the direction of Bergson’s own analysis of freedom.

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