Friedrich Nietzsche and Henri Bergson: a comparison of their moral philosophies

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

The similarities between Nietzsche and Bergson can be seen in the reactions of both thinkers to Darwinism, the vitalism that both philosophers utilized to explain life's evolution, the distinction made by the two thinkers between men and great men, the developmental frame of reference applied by both men to their moral enquiries, and the impact that these positions had on their moral philosophies. The division of men into two unequal categories is paralleled by a distinction between types of morality in the thought of both philosophers, and Nietzsche's slave and master moralities prove to be similar to Bergson's closed and open types respectively. The master and open moral types are created by superior individuals and are more relevant to life, reflecting man's continuously developing potential.

In the history of moral development, Nietzsche and Bergson discern moral progress, but hold that this progress is highly erratic. To explain both movement and stability in morals, Nietzsche and Bergson refer to nonlogical processes and divide them into two categories, one fostering moral change, the other inhibiting it. The major similarities between the two moral philosophers appear to exist in the structure and direction of their thought and seem to be the result of the two major interests they shared--the nature and role of both creativity and nonrational processes--and the frames of reference that both men adopted-- a vitalism that issued in elitism and the developmental perspective that this evolutionary theory entailed.