Public debate

Frédéric Worms

Life is certainly the ultimate reality. But it is not a simple notion; it is divided, polarised, critical. No life without opposition to death, no difference between the living; no difference between power and care!”

An eminent philosopher specialising in Bergson, Frédéric Worms studies the history of 20th-century philosophy and today’s societies, by singling out different important “moments”.

Updated on 05/06/2019

2 min

What is a French philosopher? Frédéric Worms responds by citing three elements: peer recognition, production of an oeuvre and participation in public discourse.

Those criteria which could certainly be applied to his career. First of all he had a brilliant academic career, from the entry examinations for the École Normale Supérieure to achieving his licence to direct scientific research, by way of a PhD thesis on Bergson defended in 1995. He is currently a professor of contemporary philosophy at the École Normale Supérieure.

For him, the second criterion is met through the construction of a broad philosophical corpus, built around the work of Bergson, as well as the concepts of care and the living (The Moment of Care (“Le Moment du soin”), 2010; The Moment of the Living (“Le Moment du vivant”), 2016).

Finally, Frédéric Worms is involved in public discourse through his participation in the review Esprit, in which he publishes a regular column and, since 2017, through his hosting of the weekly TV programme "Matières à penser” (“Food for Thought”) on France Culture.

Frédéric Worms initially took an interest in Bergson through his Introduction to Matter and Memory (1998), his Vocabulary of Bergson (“Vocabulaire de Bergson”) (2000) and a critical edition of Two Sources of Morality and Religion (2004). In 2009, he then published French Philosophy in the 20th Century – Moments (“La Philosophie en France au XXe siècle – Moments”), in which he proposes splitting the period into four major “moments”: the “1900” moment, linked to the question of the spirit, the “Second World War” moment, faced with the problem of existence, the moment of the “60s”, characterised by the problem of structure, and finally the “contemporary” moment.

In his work The Moment of Care, To What do we Tend? (“Le Moment du soin. À quoi tenons-nous ?”), the philosopher examines the first decade of the 21st century, which he links to the notion of “care” – both a condition of life and a consideration given to others – which is at risk in our current societies.

Frédéric Worms' writings shed light on the history of French philosophy and its influence on the academic world. By problematizing the historical notion of “moment,” which can both describe the singularity of an era and obscure its links with what comes before and after, he offers to the history of thought a theoretical tool for escaping determinism and anachronism.

Frédéric Worms is also a leader at the Centre international d’étude de la philosophie française contemporaine (International Centre for the Study of Contemporary French Philosophy). Its goal: "to test the uniqueness of contemporary French philosophy through its relationships with other major philosophical movements".

  • 1995


    Frédéric Worms defends his PhD thesis “The problem of the mind: psychology, knowledge theory and metaphysics in Bergson’s work” at the université Blaise-Pascal in Clermont-Ferrand.

  • 2004


    He is a professor at Lille-III, and participates in the first critical edition of Bergson’s works (PUF).

  • 2009


    With French Philosophy in the 20th Century – Moments, he becomes a leader in the history of French ideas.

  • 2010


    The Moment of Care, To What do we Tend? Summarises his articles and work on the concept of care.

  • 2017


    The political dimension of his work becomes more explicit in The Chronic Illnesses of Democracy (“Les Maladies chroniques de la démocratie”).

The Institut français and the philosopher

Frédéric Worms is the founder of the “Critical European News” seminar, a series of meetings organised across Europe in partnership between the ENS and the Institut français, launched in 2019 at the Night of Ideas at the ENS.

L'institut français, LAB