The Henri Bortoft Lectures: Day One

Henri Bortoft lecturesI am very happy to be publishing the first of Henri Bortoft’s 2009 Schumacher lectures. If you have not already seen it, you may wish to read my introductory article which explains the background and context of this series of lectures: The Henri Bortoft Lectures: Introduction.

Henri taught the first week of Holistic Science at Schumacher College. In this opening lecture you will immediately gain a sense of Henri’s sense of humour, as he opens by commenting on the backgrounds of those of us electing to study Holistic Science. He also comments on the reasons for creating the video and also explains how best to appreciate his classes.

At the time of the recording Henri was close to finish his book, with the working title of The Dynamics of Being. His analysis of why he had still been unable to finish it is an exemplary example of both his intellectual brilliance as well as his great humility.

As Henri explains, if you follow the movement of the language in his book (which would be published in 2012 as Taking Appearance Seriously), it takes you in to what he describes as the movement of thinking.

For Henri there were three “divergent” philosophical movements of the twentieth century which in fact could be seen as belonging together – the Romantic movement, the Phenomenological movement and the history of science. As he explains, these three movements ‘belong together’ when seen in their movement of thinking – that which they seek to explain. In Henri’s words, “the understanding often gets lost by philosophers covering this with a thick layer of impenetrable jargon”.

One of Henri’s greatest attributes was to avoid getting lost in intellectual jargon and seeking to use language in such a way to be able to reveal the true meaning of philosophy as opposed to retaining technical language which makes it inaccessible to the lay person, however intelligent and curious. Throughout these lectures Henri reads key quotes from his work, including this introduction which comes from the opening pages of Taking Appearance Seriously:

The dynamic way of thinking appears again in European thought in the first part of the twentieth century in the philosophy of phenomenology and hermeneutics. Here once again we are too easily seduced by the specifics of the occasion to notice the more universal element. Divergent as these philosophical movements may seem outwardly – and they are divergent – they nevertheless belong together when they are seen in terms of the movement of thinking which each expresses in its own different way. The significance of this dynamic way of understanding easily gets lost in the obfuscations of philosophers who, in their endless attempts to justify what they are doing, all too often succeed only in covering it over with a dense layer of what to others seems to be just impenetrable jargon.

The vision gets lost, and what is left descends into an intellectual exercise, which turns round upon itself endlessly until it ceases to be of interest to any but a few. This is such a pity, because there is something here which is potentially of much wider interest and which needs to be brought out. I believe this can be done by taking a more concrete approach. This is what I am going to do here, and for this reason I am going to begin by going back to my own first encounters with the dynamic way of thinking.

From this foundation Henri then takes us into an understanding of the question of wholeness, and how it relates to systems thinking. His thinking began to take form in the 1960s when working on the question of wholeness with David Bohm at Birkbeck College in London. It was this way of thinking about wholeness and the way in which holographic plates functioned which had been developed in the same era which led to a certain form of holographic thinking in relation to organisations, business culture and transformational change.

You can watch the lecture in full here:

The lecture finishes with a discussion of Ingrid Stefanovic’s book Safeguarding Our Common Future. Having watched the lecture you may wish to read my review of this book in which Henri is cited: Ingrid Stefanovic’s Phenomenological Contribution to Sustainability.

Suggested Readings

These references can be read to accompany this lecture:

Henri Bortoft, Into the Dynamic Way of Thinking, Taking Appearance Seriously, chapter 1, pp10-27

Henri Bortoft, Authentic and Counterfeit Wholes, The Wholeness of Nature, pp22-26

Simon Robinson and Maria Moraes Robinson, Holonomics: Business Where People and Planet Matter, pp14-53

You may also wish to read Henri’s paper first published in 1970 which he also cites in his lecture: The Whole: Counterfeit and Authentic.

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These lectures are ©Jacqueline Bortoft and has been made available with the kind permission of both herself and Schumacher College (

One response to “The Henri Bortoft Lectures: Day One

  1. Pingback: The Henri Bortoft Lectures: An Introduction | Transition Consciousness·

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