Philosophy and science: critique of Bergson’s use of Boltzmann’s argument against the reversibility of the universe

Ronald Durán


This paper seeks to understand the relationships and exchanges between philosophy and science by analysing a specific case: Bergson’s use of Boltzmann’s argument against the reversibility or recurrence of the universe (“Zermelo’s paradox”). This argument is used by Bergson to indirectly support his conception of the irreversibility of the universe based on an élan vital. We criticize Bergson’s interpretation that turns into an “absolute impossibility” what Boltzmann states only as a “practical impossibility”. We will show that the French philosopher distorts the argument, leaving aside two fundamental points: a) Boltzmann’s particular epistemological position with respect to scientific theories and their relation to experience, b) the atomism that serves as the basis for Boltzmann’s argument, an atomism that Bergson rejects. We conclude that Boltzmann’s argument is not valid in Bergson’s metaphysical (epistemological and ontological) framework. We hope this paper contributes to a better understanding of the problems arising in the conceptual exchanges between science and philosophy.

Keywords: Bergson, Boltzmann, irreversibility.

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