The vitalist metaphysics of Bergson and Nietzsche

Meechan, John S. (2018) The vitalist metaphysics of Bergson and Nietzsche. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


This thesis presents a comparative study of Heri Bergson and Friedrich Nietzsche through the lens of vitalism. Despite being two of the most provocative and original thinkers of life, few studies exist on Bergson and Nietzsche's philosophical affinity : apart from appearing in close connection in the work of Gilles Deleuze and Keith Ansell Pearson, only Elizabeth Grosz has dedicated a full-length study to their thinking, which takes place alongside Darwin and in view of a contestatory politics ('The nick of time : politics, evolution, and the untimely', 2004). I look to highlight in a focussed and comprehensive way the multiple points of intersection across their philosophical projects, with particular reference to their overlapping metaphysical orientations. I do this through vitalism not only because it serves to foreground life as a key reference point in their work - a reference point that has received recent treatment in Nietszche scholarship and merits further attention in the literature on Bergson - but because the vitalist tradition provides an especially generative methodological platform for their comparative study. The history of vitalism, surveyed in Chapter One, indicates a series of concerns and commitments that go beyond the narrow effort to outline a concept of life or defend a vital kingdom within a kingdom, and this broad scope makes of it a useful lens through which to appreciate the complex ways in which the concept of life functions in Bergson and Nietzsche's work, to articulate the problematics and trajectories their philosophical projects, and to permit a comprehensive analysis of their philosophical kinship. I argue that, on the basis of three vitalistic platforms, the core components of Bergson and Nietzsche's shared metaphysical visions can be seen to emerge across a range of philosophical issues. A heuristic 'appeal to life' (Chapter Two) anchors their engagements with epistemology, science and Darwinism, and discloses their discernment of a kind of activity that is irreducible to mechanism (duration and will to power). An 'anti-reductionist' ethos (Chapter Three) informs the 'transhuman' scope of key methodological tropes, naturalising and reversing, and underlines the role of immanence within their thinking. And the search for an alternative 'empiricism of the irreducible' (Chapter Four) converges, through their unorthodox perspectives on duality, time and causality, on a notion of 'prodigality' that forms the centre of their metaphysical institutions, and gives onto the transformative aspects of their philosophies of life. Across these four chapters, the optic of vitalism allows for a close comparison of the two thinkers according to a rubric that both elucidates their significance within post-Kantian philosophy and enriches vitalism itself by inscribing their thinking within the recent return to that tradition under the 'new vitalism'.

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