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A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson by Edouard le Roy

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at it in this light, no one can deny that it does constitute one of the
fundamental tendencies of life. Only the truth is that the tendency to
individuality remains always and everywhere counterbalanced, and therefore
limited, by an opposing tendency, the tendency to association, and above
all to reproduction. This necessitates a correction in our analysis.
Nature, in many respects, seems to take no interest in individuals. "Life
appears to be a current passing from one germ to another through the medium
of a developed organism." ("Creative Evolution", page 29.)

It seems as if the organism played the part of a thoroughfare. What is
important is rather the continuity of progress of which the individuals are
only transitory phases. Between these phases again there are no sharp
severances; each phase resolves and melts imperceptibly into that which
follows. Is not the real problem of heredity to know how, and up to what
point, a new individual breaks away from the individuals which produced it?
Is not the real mystery of heredity the difference, not the resemblance,
occurring between one term and another?

Whatever be its solution, all the individual phases mutually extend and
interpenetrate one another. There is a racial memory by which the past is
continually accumulated and preserved. Life's history is embodied in its
present. And that is really the ultimate reason of the perpetual novelty
which surprised us just now. The characteristics of biological evolution
are thus the same as those of human progress. Once again we find the very
stuff of reality in duration. "We must not then speak any longer of life
in general as an abstraction, or a mere heading under which we write down
all living beings." ("Creative Evolution", page 28.) On the contrary, to
it belongs the primordial function of reality. It is a very real current
transmitted from generation to generation, organising and passing through
bodies, without failing or becoming exhausted in any one of them.

We may, already, then, draw one conclusion: Reality, at bottom, is
becoming. But such a thesis runs counter to all our familiar ideas. It is
imperative that we should submit it to the test of critical examination and
positive verification.

One system of metaphysics, I said some time ago, underlies common-sense,
animating and informing it. According to this system, which is the inverse
of that which we have just intimated, reality in its very depths is fixity
and permanence. This is the completely static conception which sees in
being exactly the opposite of becoming: we cannot become, it seems to say,
except in so far as we are not. It does not, however, mean to deny
movement. But it represents it as fluctuation round invariable types, as a
whirling but captive eddy. Every phenomenon appears to it as a
transformation which ends where it began, and the result is that the world
takes the form of an eternal equilibrium in which "nothing is created,
nothing destroyed." The idea does not need much forcing to end in the old
supposition of a cyclic return which restores everything to its original
conditions. Everything is thus conceived in astronomical periods. All
that is left of the universe henceforward is a whirl of atoms in which
nothing counts but certain fixed quantities translated by our systems of
equations; the rest has vanished "in algebraical smoke." There is
therefore nothing more or less in the effect than in the group of causes;
and the causal relation moves towards identity as towards its asymptote.

Such a view of nature is open to many objections, even if it were only a
question of inorganised matter. Simple physics already betoken the
insufficiency of a purely mechanic conception. The stream of phenomena
flows in an irreversible direction and obeys a determined rhythm. "If I
wish to prepare myself a glass of sugar and water, I may do what I like,
but I must wait for my sugar to melt." ("Creative Evolution", page 10.)
Here are facts which pure mechanism does not take into account, regarding
as it does only statically conceived relations, and making time into a
measure only, something like a common denominator of concrete successions,
a certain number of coincidences from which all true duration remains
absent, which would remain unchanged even if the world's history, instead
of opening out in consecutive phases, were to be unfolded before our eyes
all at once like a fan. Do we not indeed speak today of aging and atomic
separation. If the quantity of energy is preserved, at least its quality
is continually deteriorating. By the side of something which remains
constant, the world also contains something which is being used up,
dissipated, exhausted, decomposed.

Further still, a specimen of metal, in its molecular structure, preserves
an indelible trace of the treatment it has undergone; natural philosophers
tell us that there is a "memory of solids." These are all very positive
facts which pure mechanism passes over. In addition, must we not first of
all postulate what will afterwards be preserved or deteriorated? Whence we
get another aspect of things: that of genesis and creation; and in reality
we register the ascending effort of life as a reality no less startling
than mechanic inertia.

Finally, we have a double movement of ascent and descent: such is what
life and matter appear to immediate observation. These two currents meet
each other, and grapple. It is the drama of evolution, of which Mr Bergson
once gave a masterly explanation, in stating the high place which man fills
in nature:

"I cannot regard the general evolution and progress of life in the whole of
the organised world, the co-ordination and subordination of vital functions
to one another in the same living being, the relations which psychology and
physiology combined seem bound to establish between brain activity and
thought in man, without arriving at this conclusion, that life is an
immense effort attempted by thought to obtain of matter something which
matter does not wish to give it. Matter is inert; it is the seat of
necessity; it proceeds mechanically. It seems as if thought seeks to
profit by this mechanical inclination in matter to utilise it for actions,
and thus to convert all the creative energy it contains, at least all that
this energy possesses which admits of play and external extraction, into
contingent movements in space and events in time which cannot be foreseen.
With laborious research it piles up complications to make liberty out of
necessity, to compose for itself a matter so subtile, and so mobile, that
liberty, by a veritable physical paradox, and thanks to an effort which
cannot last long, succeeds in maintaining its equilibrium on this very

"But it is caught in the snare. The eddy on which it was poised seizes and
drags it down. It becomes prisoner of the mechanism it has set up.
Automatism lays hold of it, and life, inevitably forgetting the end which
it had determined, which was only to be a means in view of a superior end,
is entirely used up in an effort to preserve itself by itself. From the
humblest of organised beings to the higher vertebrates which come
immediately before man, we witness an attempt which is always foiled and
always resumed with more and more art. Man has triumphed; with difficulty,
it is true, and so incompletely that a moment's lapse and inattention on
his part surrender him to automatism again. But he has triumphed..."
("Report of the French Philosophical Society", meeting, 2nd May 1901.)

And Mr Bergson adds in another place: ("Creative Evolution", pages 286-
287.) "With man consciousness breaks the chain. In man and in man only it
obtains its freedom. The whole history of life, till man, had been the
history of an effort of consciousness to lift matter, and of the more or
less complete crushing of consciousness by matter falling upon it again.
The enterprise was paradoxical; if indeed we can speak here, except
paradoxically, of enterprise and effort. The task was to take matter,
which is necessity itself, and create an instrument of liberty, construct a
mechanical system to triumph over mechanism, to employ the determinism of
nature to pass through the meshes of the net it had spread. But
everywhere, except in man, consciousness let itself be caught in the net of
which it sought to traverse the meshes. It remained taken in the
mechanisms it had set up. The automatism which it claimed to be drawing
towards liberty enfolds it and drags it down. It has not the strength to
get away, because the energy with which it had supplied itself for action
is almost entirely employed in maintaining the exceedingly subtile and
essentially unstable equilibrium into which it has brought matter. But man
does not merely keep his machine going, he succeeds in using it as it
pleases him.

"He owes it without doubt to the superiority of his brain, which allows him
to construct an unlimited number of motor mechanisms, to oppose new habits
to old time after time, and to master automatism by dividing it against
itself. He owes it to his language, which furnishes consciousness with an
immaterial body in which to become incarnate, thus dispensing it from
depending exclusively upon material bodies, the flux of which would drag it
down and soon engulf it. He owes it to social life, which stores and
preserves efforts as language stores thought, thereby fixing a mean level
to which individuals will rise with ease, and which, by means of this
initial impulse, prevents average individuals from going to sleep and urges
better people to rise higher. But our brain, our society, and our language
are only the varied outer signs of one and the same internal superiority.
Each after its fashion, they tell us the unique and exceptional success
which life has won at a given moment of its evolution. They translate the
difference in nature, and not in degree only, which separates man from the
rest of the animal world. They let us see that if, at the end of the broad
springboard from which life took off, all others came down, finding the
cord stretched too high, man alone has leapt the obstacle."

But man is not on that account isolated in nature: "As the smallest grain
of dust forms part of our entire solar system, and is involved along with
it in this undivided downward movement which is materiality itself, so all
organised beings from the humblest to the highest, from the first origins
of life to the times in which we live, and in all places as at all times,
do but demonstrate to our eyes a unique impulse contrary to the movement of
matter, and, in itself, indivisible. All living beings are connected, and
all yield to the same formidable thrust. The animal is supported by the
plant, man rides the animal, and the whole of humanity in space and time is
an immense army galloping by the side of each of us, before and behind us,
in a spirited charge which can upset all resistance, and leap many
obstacles, perhaps even death." ("Creative Evolution", pages 293-294.)

We see with what broad and far-reaching conclusions the new philosophy
closes. In the forcible poetry of the pages just quoted its original
accent rings deep and pure. Some of its leading theses, moreover, are
noted here. But now we must discover the solid foundation of underlying

Let us take first the fact of biological evolution. Why has it been
selected as the basis of the system? Is it really a fact, or is it only a
more or less conjectural and plausible theory?

Notice in the first instance that the argument from evolution appears at
least as a weapon of co-ordination and research admitted in our day by all
philosophers, rejected only on the inspiration of preconceived ideas which
are completely unscientific; and that it succeeds in the task allotted to
it is doubtless already the proof that it responds to some part of reality.
And besides, we can go further. "The idea of transformism is already
contained in germ in the natural classification of organised beings. The
naturalist brings resembling organisms together, divides the group into
sub-groups, within which the resemblance is still greater, and so on;
throughout the operation, the characteristics of the group appear as
general themes upon which each of the sub-groups executes its particular

"Now this is precisely the relation we find in the animal world and in the
vegetable world between that which produces and what is produced; on the
canvas bequeathed by the ancestor to his posterity, and possessed in common
by them, each broiders his original pattern." ("Creative Evolution", pages

We may, it is true, ask ourselves whether the genealogical method permits
results so far divergent as those presented to us by variety of species.
But embryology answers by showing us the highest and most complex forms of
life attained every day from very elementary forms; and palaeontology, as
it develops, allows us to witness the same spectacle in the universal
history of life, as if the succession of phases through which the embryo
passes were only a recollection and an epitome of the complete past whence
it has come. In addition, the phenomena of sudden changes, recently
observed, help us to understand more easily the conception which obtrudes
itself under so many heads, by diminishing the importance of the apparent
lacunae in genealogical continuity. Thus the trend of all our experience
is the same.

Now there are some certainties which are only centres of concurrent
probabilities; there are some truths determined only by succession of
facts, but yet, by their intersection and convergence, sufficiently

"That is how we measure the distance from an inaccessible point, by
regarding it time after time from the points to which we have access."
("Report of the French Philosophical Society", meeting, 2nd May 1901.)

Is not that the case here? The affirmative seems all the more inevitable
inasmuch as the language of transformism is the only language known to the
biology of today. Evolution can, it is true, be transposed, but not
suppressed, since in any actual state there would always remain this
striking fact that the living forms met with as remains in geological
layers are ranged by the natural affinity of their characteristics in an
order of succession parallel to the succession of the ages. We are not
really then inventing a hypothesis in beginning with the affirmation of
evolution. But what we have to do is to appreciate its object.

Evolution! We meet the word everywhere today. But how rare is the true
idea! Let us ask the astronomers who originate cosmogonical hypotheses,
and invent a primitive nebula, the natural philosophers who dream that by
the deterioration of energy and the dissipation of movement the material
world will obtain final rest in the inertia of a homogeneous equilibrium,
let us ask the biologists and psychologists who are enemies of fixed
species and inquisitive about ancestral history. What they are anxious to
discern in evolution is the persistent influence of an initial cause once
given, the attraction of a fixed end, a collection of laws before the
eternity of which change becomes negligible like an appearance. Now he who
thinks of the universe as a construction of unchangeable relations denies
by his method the evolution of which he speaks, since he transforms it into
a calculable effect necessarily produced by a regulated play of generating
conditions, since he implicitly admits the illusive character of a becoming
which adds nothing to what is given.

Finality itself, if he keeps the name, does not save him from his error,
for finality in his eyes is nothing but an efficient cause projected into
the future. So we see him fixing stages, marking periods, inserting means,
putting in milestones, continually destroying movement by halting it before
his gaze. And we all do the same by instinctive inclination. Our concept
of law, in its classical form, is not general: it represents only the law
of co-existence and of mechanism, the static relation between two
numerically disconnected terms; and in order to grasp evolution we shall
doubtless have to invent a new type of law: law in duration, dynamic
relation. For we can, and we must, conceive that there is an evolution of
natural laws; that these laws never define anything but a momentary state
of things; that they are in reality like streaks determined in the flux of
becoming by the meeting of contrary currents. "Laws," says Monsieur
Boutroux, "are the bed down which passes the torrent of facts; they have
dug it, though they follow it." Yet we see the common theories of
evolution appealing to the concepts of the present to describe the past,
forcing them back to prehistoric times, and beyond the reasoning of today,
placing at the beginning what is only conceivable in the mind of the
contemporary thinker; in a word, imagining the same laws as always existing
and always observed. This is the method which Mr Bergson so justly
criticises in Spencer: that of reconstructing evolution with fragments of
its product.

If we wish thoroughly to grasp the reality of things, we must think
otherwise. Neither of these ready-made concepts, mechanism and finality,
is in place, because both of them imply the same postulate, viz. that
"everything is given," either at the beginning or at the end, whilst
evolution is nothing if it is not, on the contrary, "that which gives."
Let us take care not to confound evolution and development. There is the
stumbling-block of the usual transformist theories, and Mr Bergson devotes
to it a closely argued and singularly penetrating criticism, by an example
which he analyses in detail. ("Creative Evolution", chapter i.) These
theories either do not explain the birth of variation, and limit themselves
to an attempt to make us understand how, once born, it becomes fixed, or
else through need of adaptation they look for a conception of its birth.
But in both cases they fail.

"The truth is that adaptation explains the windings of the movement of
evolution, but not the general directions of the movement, still less the
movement itself. The road which leads to the town is certainly obliged to
climb the hills and go down the slopes; it adapts itself to the accidents
of the ground; but the accidents of the ground are not the cause of the
road, any more than they have imparted its direction." ("Creative
Evolution", pages 111-112.)

At the bottom of all these errors there are only prejudices of practical
action. That is of course why every work appears to be an outside
construction beginning with previous elements; a phase of anticipation
followed by a phase of execution, calculation, and art, an effective
projecting cause, and a concerted goal, a mechanism which hurls to a
finality which aims. But the genuine explanation must be sought elsewhere.
And Mr Bergson makes this plain by two admirable analyses in which he takes
to pieces the common ideas of disorder and nothingness in order to explain
their meaning relative to our proceedings in industry or language.

Let us come back to facts, to immediate experience, and try to translate
its pure data simply. What are the characteristics of vital evolution?
First of all it is a dynamic continuity, a continuity of qualitative
progress; next, it is essentially a duration, an irreversible rhythm, a
work of inner maturation. By the memory inherent in it, the whole of its
past lives on and accumulates, the whole of its past remains for ever
present to it; which is tantamount to saying that it is experience.

It is also an effort of perpetual invention, a generation of continual
novelty, indeducible and capable of defying all anticipation, as it defies
all repetition. We see it at its task of research in the groping attempts
exhibited by the long-sought genesis of species; we see it triumphant in
the originality of the least state of consciousness, of the least body, of
the tiniest cell, of which the infinity of times and spaces does not offer
two identical specimens.

But the reef which lies in its way, and on which too often it founders, is
habit; habit would be a better and more powerful means of action if it
remained free, but in so far as it congeals and becomes materialised, is a
hindrance and an obstacle. First of all we have the average types round
which fluctuates an action which is decreasing and becoming reduced in
breadth. Then we have the residual organs, the proofs of dead life, the
encrustations from which the stream of consciousness gradually ebbs; and
finally we have the inert gear from which all real life has disappeared,
the masses of shipwrecked "things" rearing their spectral outlines where
once rolled the open sea of mind. The concept of mechanism suits the
phenomena which occur within the zone of wreckage, on this shore of
fixities and corpses. But life itself is rather finality, if not in the
anthropomorphic sense of premeditated design, plan, or programme, at least
in this sense, that it is a continually renewed effort of growth and
liberation. And it is from here we get Mr Bergson's formulae: vital
impetus and creative evolution.

In this conception of being consciousness is everywhere, as original and
fundamental reality, always present in a myriad degrees of tension or
sleep, and under infinitely various rhythms.

The vital impulse consists in a "demand for creation"; life in its humblest
stage already constitutes a spiritual activity; and its effort sends out a
current of ascending realisation which again determines the counter-current
of matter. Thus all reality is contained in a double movement of ascent
and descent. The first only, which translates an inner work of creative
maturation, is essentially durable; the second might, in strictness, be
almost instantaneous, like that of an escaping spring; but the one imposes
its rhythm on the other. From this point of view mind and matter appear
not as two things opposed to each other, as static terms in fixed
antithesis, but rather as two inverse directions of movement; and, in
certain respects, we must therefore speak not so much of matter or mind as
of spiritualisation and materialisation, the latter resulting automatically
from a simple interruption of the former. "Consciousness or
superconsciousness is the rocket, the extinguished remains of which fall
into matter." ("Creative Evolution", page 283.)

What image of universal evolution is then suggested? Not a cascade of
deduction, nor a system of stationary pulsations, but a fountain which
spreads like a sheaf of corn and is partially arrested, or at least
hindered and delayed, by the falling spray. The fountain itself, the
reality which is created, is vital activity, of which spiritual activity
represents the highest form; and the spray which falls is the creative act
which falls, it is reality which is undone, it is matter and inertia. In a
word, the supreme law of genesis and fall, the double play of which
constitutes the universe, comprises a psychological formula.

Everything begins in the manner of an invention, as the fruit of duration
and creative genius, by liberty, by pure mind; then comes habit, a kind of
body, as the body is already a group of habits; and habit, taking root,
being a work of consciousness which escapes it and turns against it, is
little by little degraded into mechanism in which the soul is buried.


The main lines and general perspective of Mr Bergson's philosophy now
perhaps begin to appear. Certainly I am the first to feel how powerless a
slender resume really is to translate all its wealth and all its strength.

At least I wish I could have contributed to making its movement, and what I
may call its rhythm, clearer to perception. It is from the books of the
master himself that a more complete revelation must be sought. And the few
words which I am still going to add as conclusion are only intended to
sketch the principal consequences of the doctrine, and allow its distant
reach to be seen.

The evolution of life would be a very simple and easy thing to understand
if it were fulfilled along one single trajectory and followed a straight
path. "But we are here dealing with a shell which has immediately burst
into fragments, which, being themselves species of shells, have again burst
into fragments destined to burst again, and so on for a very long time."
("Creative Evolution", page 107.) It is, in fact, the property of a
tendency to develop itself in the expansion which analyses it. As for the
causes of this dispersion into kingdoms, then into species, and finally
into individuals, we can distinguish two series: the resistance which
matter opposes to the current of life sent through it, and the explosive
force--due to an unstable equilibrium of tendencies--carried by the vital
impulse within itself. Both unite in making the thrust of life divide in
more and more diverging but complementary directions, each emphasising some
distinct aspect of its original wealth. Mr Bergson confines himself to the
branches of the first order--plant, animal, and man. And in the course of
a minute and searching discussion he shows us the characteristics of these
lines in the moods or qualities signified by the three words--torpor,
instinct, and intelligence: the vegetable kingdom constructing and storing
explosives which the animal expends, and man creating a nervous system for
himself which permits him to convert the expense into analysis. Let us
leave aside, as we must, the many suggestive views scattered lavishly
about, the many flashes of light which fall on all faces of the problem,
and let us confine ourselves to seeing how we get a theory of knowledge
from this doctrine. There we have yet another proof of the striking and
fertile originality of the new philosophy.

More than one objection has been brought against Mr Bergson on this head.
That is quite natural: how could such a novelty be exactly understood at
once? It is also very desirable; it is the demands for enlightenment which
lead a doctrine to full consciousness of itself, to precision and
perfection. But we must be afraid of false objections, those which arise
from an obstinate translation of the new philosophy into an old language
steeped in a different metaphysic. With what has Mr Bergson been
reproached? With misunderstanding reason, with ruining positive science,
with being caught in the illusion of getting knowledge otherwise than by
intelligence, or of thinking otherwise than by thought; in short, of
falling into a vicious circle by making intellectualism turn round upon
itself. Not one of these reproaches has any foundation.

Let us begin by a few preliminary remarks to clear the ground. First of
all, there is one ridiculous objection which I quote only to record. I
mean that which suspects at the bottom of the theories which we are going
to discuss some dark background, some prepossession of irrational
mysticism. On the contrary, the truth is, we have here perhaps better than
anywhere, the spectacle of pure thought face to face with things. But it
is a complete thought, not thought reduced to some partial functions, but
sufficiently sure of its critical power to sacrifice none of its resources.
Here, we may say, really is the genuine positivism, which reinstates all
spiritual reality. It does not in any way lead to a misunderstanding or
depreciation of science. Even where contingency and relativity are most
visible in it, in the domain of inert matter, Mr Bergson goes so far as to
say that physical science touches an absolute. It is true that it touches
this absolute rather than sees it. More particularly it perceives all its
reactions on a system of representative forms which it presents to it, and
observes the effect on the veil of theory with which it envelops it. At
certain moments, all the same, the veil becomes almost transparent. And in
any case the scholar's thought guesses and grazes reality in the curve
drawn by the succession of its increasing syntheses. But there are two
orders of science. Formerly it was from the mathematician that we borrowed
the ideal of evidence. Hence came the inclination always to seek the most
certain knowledge from the most abstract side. The temptation was to make
a kind of less severe and rigorous mathematics of biology itself. Now if
such a method suits the study of inert matter because in a manner
geometrical, so much so that our knowledge of it thus acquired is more
incomplete than inexact, this is not at all the case for the things of
life. Here, if we were to conduct scientific research always in the same
grooves and according to the same formulae, we should immediately encounter
symbolism and relativity. For life is progress, whilst the geometrical
method is commensurable only with things. Mr Bergson is aware of this; and
his rare merit has been to disengage specific originality from biology,
while elevating it to a typical and standard science.

But let us come to the heart of the problem. What was Kant's point of
departure in the theory of knowledge? In seeking to define the structure
of the mind according to the traces of itself which it must have left in
its works, and in proceeding by a reflective analysis ascending from a fact
to its conditions, he could only regard intelligence as a thing made, a
fixed system of categories and principles.

Mr Bergson adopts an inverse attitude. Intelligence is a product of
evolution: we see it slowly and uninterruptedly constructed along a line
which rises through the vertebrates to man. Such a point of view is the
only one which conforms to the real nature of things, and the actual
conditions of reality; the more we think of it, the more we perceive that
the theory of knowledge and the theory of life are bound up with one
another. Now what do we conclude from this point of view? Life,
considered in the direction of "knowledge," evolves on two diverging lines
which at first are confused, then gradually separate, and finally end in
two opposed forms of organisation, intelligence and instinct. Several
contrary potentialities interpenetrated at their common source, but of this
source each of these kinds of activity preserves or rather accentuates only
one tendency; and it will be easy to mark its dual character.

Instinct is sympathy; it has no clear consciousness of itself; it does not
know how to reflect; it is hardly capable of varying its steps; but it
operates with incomparable certainty because it remains lodged in things,
in communion with their rhythm and with inner feeling of them. The history
of animals in this respect supplies many remarkable examples which Mr
Bergson analyses and discusses in detail. As much might be said of the
work which produces a living body, and of the effort which presides over
its growth, maintenance, and functions. Take a natural philosopher who has
long breathed the atmosphere of the laboratory, who has by long practice
acquired what we call "experience"; he has a kind of intimate feeling for
his instruments, their resources, their movements, their working
tendencies; he perceives them as extensions of himself; he possesses them
as groups of habitual actions, thus discoursing by manipulations as easily
and spontaneously as others discourse in calculation. Doubtless that is
only an image; but transpose it and generalise it, and it will help you to
understand the kind of action which divines instinct. But intelligence is
something quite different. We are talking, of course, of the analytic and
synthetic intelligence which we use in our acts of current thought, which
works throughout our daily action and forms the fundamental thread of our
scientific operations. I need not here go back to the criticism of its
ordinary proceedings. But I must now note the service which suits them,
the domain in which they apply and are valid, and what they teach us
thereby about the meaning, reach, and natural task of intelligence.

Whilst instinct vibrates in sympathetic harmony with life, it is about
inert matter that intelligence is granted; it is a rider to our faculty of
action; it triumphs in geometry; it feels at home among the objects in
which our industry finds its supports and its tools. In a word, "our logic
is primarily the logic of solids." (Preface to "Creative Evolution".) But
if we enter the vital order its incompetence is manifestly apparent.

It is very important that deduction should be so impotent in biology.
Still more impotent is it perhaps in matters of art or religion; whilst, on
the contrary, it works marvels so long as it has only to foresee movements
or transformations in bodies. What does this mean, if not that
intelligence and materiality go together, that language with its analytic
steps is regulated by the movements of matter? Philosophy once again then
must leave it behind, for the duty of philosophy is to consider everything
in its relation to life.

Do not conclude, however, that the philosopher's duty is to renounce
intelligence, place it under tutelage, or abandon it to the blind
suggestions of feeling and will. It has not even the right to do so.
Instinct, with us who have evolved along the grooves of intelligence, has
remained too weak to be sufficient for us. Besides, intelligence is the
only path by which light could dawn in the bosom of primitive darkness.
But let us look at present reality in all its complexity, all its wealth.
Round intelligence itself exists a halo of instinct. This halo represents
the remains of the first nebulous vapour at the expense of which
intelligence was constituted like a brilliantly condensed nucleus; and it
is still today the atmosphere which gives it life, the fringe of touch, and
delicate probing, inspiring contact and divining sympathy, which we see in
play in the phenomena of discovery, as also in the acts of that "attention
to life," and that "sense of reality" which is the soul of good sense, so
widely distinct from common-sense. And the peculiar task of the
philosopher is to reabsorb intelligence in instinct, or rather to reinstate
instinct in intelligence; or better still, to win back to the heart of
intelligence all the initial resources which it must have sacrificed. This
is what is meant by return to the primitive, and the immediate, to reality
and life. This is the meaning of intuition.

Certainly the task is difficult. We at once suspect a vicious circle. How
can we go beyond intelligence except by intelligence itself? We are
apparently inside our thought, as incapable of coming out of it as is a
balloon of rising above the atmosphere. True, but on this reasoning we
could just as well prove that it is impossible for us to acquire any new
habit whatsoever, impossible for life to grow and go beyond itself

We must avoid drawing false conclusions from the simile of the balloon.
The question here is to know what are the real limits of the atmosphere.
It is certain that the synthetic and critical intelligence, left to its own
strength, remains imprisoned in a circle from which there is no escape.

But action removes the barrier. If intelligence accepts the risk of taking
the leap into the phosphorescent fluid which bathes it, and to which it is
not altogether foreign, since it has broken off from it and in it dwell the
complementary powers of the understanding, intelligence will soon become
adapted and so will only be lost for a moment to reappear greater,
stronger, and of fuller content. It is action again under the name of
experience which removes the danger of illusion or giddiness, it is action
which verifies; by a practical demonstration, by an effort of enduring
maturation which tests the idea in intimate contact with reality and judges
it by its fruits.

It always falls therefore to intelligence to pronounce the grand verdict in
the sense that only that can be called true which will finally satisfy it;
but we mean an intelligence duly enlarged and transformed by the very
effect of the action it has lived. Thus the objection of "irrationalism"
directed against the new philosophy falls to the ground.

The objection of "non-morality" fares no better. But is has been made, and
people have thought fit to accuse Mr Bergson's work of being the too calm
production of an intelligence too indifferent, too coldly lucid, too
exclusively curious to see and understand, untroubled and unthrilled by the
universal drama of life, by the tragic reality of evil. On the other hand,
not without contradiction, the new philosophy has been called "romantic,"
and people have tried to find in it the essential traits of romanticism:
its predilection for feeling and imagination, its unique anxiety for vital
intensity, its recognised right to all which is to be, whence its radical
inability to establish a hierarchy of moral qualifications. Strange
reproach! The system in question is not yet presented to us as a finished
system. Its author manifests a plain desire to classify his problems. And
he is certainly right in proceeding so: there is a time for everything,
and on occasion we must learn to be just an eye focussed upon being. But
that does not at all exclude the possibility of future works, treating in
due order of the problem of human destiny, and perhaps even in the work so
far completed we may descry some attempts to bring this future within ken.

But universal evolution, though creative, is not for all that quixotic or
anarchist. It forms a sequence. It is a becoming with direction,
undoubtedly due, not to the attraction of a clearly preconceived goal, or
the guidance of an outer law, but to the actual tendency of the original
thrust. In spite of the stationary eddies or momentary backwashes we
observe here and there, its stream moves in a definite direction, ever
swelling and broadening. For the spectator who regards the general sweep
of the current, evolution is growth. On the other hand, he who thinks this
growth now ended is under a simple delusion: "The gates of the future
stand wide open." ("Creative Evolution", page 114.) In the stage at
present attained man is leading; he marks the culminating point at which
creation continues; in him, life has already succeeded, at least up to a
certain point; from him onwards it advances with consciousness capable of
reflection; is it not for that very reason responsible for the result?
Life, according to the new philosophy, is a continual creation of what is
new: new--be it well understood--in the sense of growth and progress in
relation to what has gone before. Life, in a word, is mental travel,
ascent in a path of growing spiritualisation. Such at least is the intense
desire, and such the first tendency which launched and still inspires it.
But it may faint, halt, or travel down the hill. This is an undeniable
fact; and once recognised does it not awake in us the presentiment of a
directing law immanent in vital effort, a law doubtless not to be found in
any code, nor yet binding through the stern behest of mechanical necessity,
but a law which finds definition at every moment, and at every moment also
marks a direction of progress, being as it were the shifting tangent to the
curve of becoming?

Let us did that according to the new philosophy the whole of our past
survives for ever in us, and by means of us results in action. It is then
literally true that our acts do to a certain extent involve the whole
universe, and its whole history: the act which we make it accomplish will
exist henceforward for ever, and will for ever tinge universal duration
with its indelible shade. Does not that imply an imperious, urgent,
solemn, and tragic problem of action? Nay, more; memory makes a persistent
reality of evil, as of good. Where are we to find the means to abolish and
reabsorb the evil? What in the individual is called memory becomes
tradition and joint responsibility in the race.

On the other hand, a directing law is immanent in life, but in the shape of
an appeal to endless transcendence. In dealing with this future
transcendent to our daily life, with this further shore of present
experience, where are we to seek the inspiring strength? And is there not
ground for asking ourselves whether intuitions have not arisen here and
there in the course of history, lighting up the dark road of the future for
us with a prophetic ray of dawn? It is at this point that the new
philosophy would find place for the problem of religion.

But this word "religion," which has not come once so far from Mr Bergson's
pen, coming now from mine, warns me that it is time to end. No man today
would be justified in foreseeing the conclusions to which the doctrine of
creative evolution will one day undoubtedly lead on this point. More than
any other, I must forget here what I myself may have elsewhere tried to do
in this order of ideas. But it was impossible not to feel the approach of
the temptation. Mr Bergson's work is extraordinarily suggestive. His
books, so measured in tone, so tranquil in harmony, awaken in us a mystery
of presentiment and imagination; they reach the hidden retreats where the
springs of consciousness well up. Long after we have closed them we are
shaken within; strangely moved, we listen to the deepening echo, passing on
and on. However valuable already their explicit contents may be, they
reach still further than they aimed. It is impossible to tell what latent
germs they foster. It is impossible to guess what lies behind the
boundless distance of the horizons they expose. But this at least is sure:
these books have verily begun a new work in the history of human thought.


I. Mr Bergson's Work and the General Directions of Contemporary Thought.

A broad survey of the new philosophy was bound to be somewhat rapid and
summary; and now that this is completed it will doubtless not be
superfluous to come back, on the same plan as before, to some more
important or more difficult individual points, and to examine by themselves
the most prominent centres on which we should focus the light of our
attention. Not that I intend to probe in minute detail the folds and turns
of a doctrine which admits of infinite development: how can I claim to
exhaust a work of such profound thought that the least passing example
employed takes its place as a particular study? Still less do I wish to
undertake a kind of analytic resume; no undertaking could be less
profitable than that of arranging paragraph headings to repeat too briefly,
and therefore obscurely, what a thinker has said without any extravagance
of language, yet with every requisite explanation.

The critic's true task, as I understand it, in no way consists in drawing
up a table of contents strewn with qualifying notes. His task is to read
and enable others to read between the lines, between the chapters, and
between the successive works, what constitutes the dynamic tie between
them, all that the linear form of writing and language has not allowed the
author himself to elucidate.

His task is, as far as possible, to master the accompaniment of underlying
thought which produced the resonant atmosphere of the inquirer's intuition,
the rhythm and toning of the image, resulting in the shade of light which
falls upon his vision. His task, in a word, is to help understanding, and
therefore to point out and anticipate the misunderstandings to be feared.
Now it seems to me that there are a few points round which the errors of
interpretation more naturally gather, producing some astounding
misconceptions of Mr Bergson's philosophy. It is these points only that I
propose to clear up. But at the same time I shall use the opportunity to
supply information about authorities, which I have hitherto deliberately
omitted, to avoid riddling with references pages which were primarily
intended to impart a general impression.

Let us begin by glancing at the milieu of thought in which Mr Bergson's
philosophy must have had birth. For the last thirty years new currents are
traceable. In what direction do they go? And what distance have they
already gone? What, in short, are the intellectual characteristics of our
time? We must endeavour to distinguish the deeper tendencies, those which
herald and prepare and near future.

One of the essential and frequently cited features of the generation in
which Taine and Renan were the most prominent leaders was the passionate,
enthusiastic, somewhat exclusive and intolerant cult of positive science.
This science, in its days of pride, was considered unique, displayed on a
plane by itself, always uniformly competent, capable of gripping any object
whatever with the same strength, and of inserting it in the thread of one
and the same unbroken connection. The dream of that time, despite all
verbal palliations, was a universal science of mathematics: mathematics,
of course, with their bare and brutal rigour softened and shaded off, where
feasible; if possible, supple and sensitive; in ideal, delicate, buoyant,
and judicious; but mathematics governed from end to end by an equal
necessity. Conceived as the sole mistress of truth, this science was
expected in days to come to fulfil all the needs of man, and unreservedly
to take the place of ancient spiritual discipline. Genuine philosophy had
had its day: all metaphysics seemed deception and fantasy, a simple play
of empty formulae or puerile dreams, a mythical procession of abstraction
and phantom; religion itself paled before science, as poetry of the grey
morning before the splendour of the rising sun.

However, after all this pride came the turn of humility, and humility of
the very lowest. This deified science, borne down in its hour of triumph
by too heavy a weight, had necessarily been recognised as powerless to go
beyond the order of relations, and radically incapable of telling us the
origin, end, and basis of things. It analysed the conditions of phenomena,
but was ill-suited ever to grasp any real cause, or any deep essence.
Further, it became the Unknowable, before which the human mind could only
halt in despair. And in this way destitution arose out of ambition itself,
since thought, after trusting too exclusively to its geometrical strength,
was compelled at the end of its effort to confess itself beaten when
confronted with the only questions to which no man may ever be indifferent.

This double attitude is no longer that of the contemporary generation. The
prestige of illusion has vanished. In the religion of science we see now
nothing but idolatry. The haughty affirmation of yesterday appears today,
not as expressing a positive fact or a result duly established, but as
bringing forward a thesis of perilous and unconscious metaphysics. Let us
go even further. If true intelligence is mental expansion and aptitude for
understanding widely different things, each in its originality, to the same
degree, we must say that the claim to reduce reality to one only of its
modes, to know it in one only of its forms, is an unintelligent claim.
That is, in brief formula, the verdict of the present generation. Not, of
course, that it in any way misconceives or disdains the true value of
science, whether as an instrument of action for the conquest of nature, or
as intelligible language, allowing us to know our whereabouts in things and
"talk" them.

It is aware that in all circumstances positive methods have their evidence
to produce, and that, where they pronounce within the limits of their
power, nothing can stand against their verdict. But it considers first of
all that science was conceived of late under much too stiff and narrow a
form, under the obsession of too abstract a mathematical ideal which
corresponds to one aspect of reality only, and that the shallowest. And it
considers afterwards that science, even when broadened and made flexible,
being concerned only with what is, with fact and datum, remains radically
powerless to solve the problem of human life. Nowhere does science
penetrate to the very depth of things, and there is nothing in the world
but "things."

Experience has shown where the dream of universal mathematics leads us.
Number is driven to the heart of phenomena and nature dissected with this
delicate scalpel. Speaking in more general terms, we adopt spatial
relation as the perfect example of intelligible relation. I do not wish to
deny the use of such a method now and again, the services it may render, or
the beauty of construction peculiar to the systems it inspires. But we
must see what price we pay for these advantages. Do we choose geometry for
an informing and regulating science? The more we advance towards the
concrete and the living, the more we feel the necessity of altering the
pure mathematical type. The sciences, as they get further from inert
matter, unless they agree to reform, pale and weaken; they become vague,
impotent, anaemic; they touch little but the trite surface of their object,
the body, not the soul; in them symbolism, artifice, and relativity become
increasingly evident; at length, arbitrary and conventional elements crop
up and devour them. In a word, the claim to treat the living as inert
matter conduces to the misconception in life of life itself, and the
retention of nothing but the material waste.

This experience furnishes us with a lesson. There is not so much one
science as several sciences, each distinguished by an autonomous method,
and divided into two great kingdoms.

Let us therefore from the outset follow Mr Bergson in tracing a very sharp
line of demarcation between the inert and the living. Two orders of
knowledge will thereby become separate, one in which the frames of
geometrical understanding are in place, the other where new means and a new
attitude are required. The essential task of the present hour will now
appear to us in a precise light; it will henceforward consist, without any
disregard of a glorious past, in an effort to found as specifically
distinct methods of instruction those sciences which take for objects the
successive moments of life in its different degrees, biology, psychology,
sociology;--then in an effort to reconstruct, setting out from these new
sciences and according to their spirit, the like of what ancient philosophy
had attempted, setting out from geometry and mechanics. By so doing we
shall succeed in throwing knowledge open to receive all the wealth of
reality, while at the same time we shall reinstate the sense of mystery and
the thrill of higher anxieties. A further result will be that the phantom
of the Unknowable will be exorcised, since it no longer represents anything
but the relative and momentary limit of each method, the portion of being
which escapes its partial grip.

This is one of the first controlling ideas of the contemporary generation.
Others result from it. More particularly, it is for the same body of
motives, in the same sense, and with the same restrictions, that we
distrust intellectualism; I mean the tendency to live uniquely by
intelligence, to think as if the whole of thought consisted in analytic,
clear and reasoning understanding.

Once again, it is not a question of some blind abandonment to sentiment,
imagination, or will, nor do we claim to restrict the legitimate rights of
intellectuality in judgment. But around critical reason there is a
quickening atmosphere in which dwell the powers of intuition, there is a
half-light of gradual tones in which insertion into reality is effected.
If by rationalism we mean the attitude which consists in cabining ourselves
within the zone of geometrical light in which language evolves, we must
admit that rationalism supposes something other than itself, that it hangs
suspended by a generating act which escapes it.

The method therefore which we seek to employ everywhere today is
experience; but complete experience, anxious to neglect no aspect of being
nor any resource of mind; shaded experience, not extending on the surface
only, in a homogeneous and uniform manner; on the contrary, an experience
distributed in depth over multiple planes, adopting a thousand different
forms to adapt itself to the different kinds of problems; in short, a
creative and informing experience, a veritable genesis, a genuine action of
thought, a work and movement of life by which the guiding principles, forms
of intelligibility, and criteria of verification obtain birth and stability
in habits. And here again it is by borrowing Mr Bergson's own formula from
him that we shall most accurately describe the new spirit.

That the attitude and fundamental procedure of this new spirit are in no
way a return to scepticism or a reaction against thought cannot be better
demonstrated than by this resurrection of metaphysics, this renaissance of
idealism, which is certainly one of the most distinctive features of our
epoch. Undoubtedly philosophy in France has never known so prosperous and
so pregnant a moment. Notwithstanding, it is not a return to the old
dreams of dialectic construction. Everything is regarded from the point of
view of life, and there is a tendency more and more to recognise the
primacy of spiritual activity. But we wish to understand and employ this
activity and this life in all its wealth, in all its degrees, and by all
its functions: we wish to think with the whole of thought, and go to the
truth with the whole of our soul; and the reason of which we recognise the
sovereign weight is reason laden with its complete past history.

And what is that, really, but realism? By realism I mean the gift of
ourselves to reality, the work of concrete realisation, the effort to
convert every idea into action, to regulate the idea by the action as much
as the action by the idea, to live what we think and think what we live.
But that is positivism, you will say; certainly it is positivism. But how
changed! Far from considering as positive only that which can be an object
of sensation or calculation, we begin by greeting the great spiritual
realities with this title. The deep and living aspiration of our day is in
everything to seek the soul, the soul which specifies and quickens, seek it
by an effort towards the revealing sympathy which is genuine intelligence,
seek it in the concrete, without dissolving thought in dreams or language,
without losing contact with the body or critical control, seek it, in fine,
as the most real and genuine part of being.

Hence its return to questions which were lately declared out of date and
closed; hence its taste for problems of aesthetics and morality, its close
siege of social and religious problems, its homesickness for a faith
harmonising the powers of action and the powers of thought; hence its
restless desire to hark back to tradition and discipline.

A new philosophy was required to answer this new way of looking at things.
Already, in 1867, Ravaisson in his celebrated "Report" wrote these
prophetic lines: "Many signs permit us to foresee in the near future a
philosophical epoch of which the general character will be the predominance
of what may be called spiritualist realism or positivism, having as
generating principle the consciousness which the mind has in itself of an
existence recognised as being the source and support of every other
existence, being none other than its action."

This prophetic view was further commented on in a work where Mr Bergson
speaks with just praise of this shrewd and penetrating sense of what was
coming: "What could be bolder or more novel than to come and predict to
the physicists that the inert will be explained by the living, to
biologists that life will only be understood by thought, to philosophers
that generalities are not philosophic?" ("Notice on the Life and Works of
M. Felix Ravaisson-Molien", in the Reports of the Academy of Moral and
Political Sciences, 1904.)

But let us give each his due. What Ravaisson had only anticipated Mr
Bergson himself accomplishes, with a precision which gives body to the
impalpable and floating breath of first inspiration, with a depth which
renews both proof and theses alike, with a creative originality which
prevents the critic who is anxious for justice and precision from insisting
on any researches establishing connection of thought.

One reason for the popularity today enjoyed by this new philosophy is
doubtless to be found in the very tendencies of the milieu in which it is
produced and in the aspirations which work it. But, after once remarking
these desires, we must further not forget that Mr Bergson has contributed
more than anyone else to awaken them, determine them, and make them become
conscious of themselves. Let us therefore try to understand in itself and
by itself the work of genius of which just now we were seeking the dawning
gleams. What synthetic formula will be best able to tell us the essential
direction of its movement? I will borrow it from the author himself: "It
seems to me," he writes, ("Philosophic Intuition" in the "Revue de
Metaphysique et de Morale", November 1911.) "that metaphysics are trying at
this moment to simplify themselves, to come nearer to life." Every
philosophy tends to become incarnate in a system which constitutes for it a
kind of body of analysis.

Regarded literally, it appears to be an infinite complication, a complex
construction with a thousand alcoves of high architecture, "in which
measures have been taken to provide ample lodging for all problems."
(Ibid.) Do not let us be deceived by this appearance: it signifies only
that language is incommensurable with thought, that speech admits of
endless multiplication in approximations incapable of exhausting their
object. But before constructing such a body for itself, all philosophy is
a soul, a mind, and begins with the simple unity of a generating intuition.
Here is the fitting point at which to see its essence; this is what
determines it much better than its conceptual expression, which is always
contingent and incomplete. "A philosophy worthy of the name has never said
but one thing; and that thing it has rather attempted to say than actually
said. And it has only said one thing, because it has only seen one point:
and that was not so much vision as contact; this contact supplied an
impulse, this impulse a movement, and if this movement, which is a kind of
vortex of a certain particular form, is only visible to our eyes by what it
has picked up on its path, it is no less true that other dust might equally
well have been raised, and that it would still have been the same vortex."
("Philosophic Intuition" in the "Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale",
November 1911.)

Hence comes the fact that a philosophy is at bottom much more independent
of its natal environment than one might at first suppose; hence also the
fact that ancient philosophies, though apparently relative to a science
which is out of date, remain always living and worthy of study.

What, then, is the original intuition of Mr Bergson's philosophy, the
creative intuition whence it comes forth? We cannot hesitate long: it is
the intuition of duration. That is the perspective centre to which we must
indefatigably return; that is the principle which we must labour to expose
in its full light; and that is, finally, the source of light which will
illumine us. Now a philosophy is not only an expressed intuition; it is
further and above all an acting intuition, gradually determined and
realised, and tested by its explanatory works; and it is by its fruits that
we can understand and judge it. Hence the review upon which we are

II. Immediacy.

The philosopher's first duty is in clear language to declare his starting-
point, with what a mathematician would call the "tangent to the origin" of
the path along which he is travelling, as afterwards the critic's first
duty is to describe this initial attitude. I have therefore first of all
to indicate the directing idea of the new philosophy. But it is not a
question of extracting a quintessence, or of fencing the soul of doctrine
within a few summary formulae. A system is not to be resumed in a phrase,
for every proposition isolated is a proposition falsified. I wish merely
to elucidate the methodical principle which inspires the beginning of Mr
Bergson's philosophy.

To philosophy itself falls the task and belongs the right to define itself
gradually as it becomes constituted. On this point, an anticipation of
experience seems hardly possible; here, as elsewhere, the finding of a
synthetic formula is a final rather than preliminary question. However, we
are obliged from the outset of the work to determine the programme of the
inquiry, if only to direct our research. It is the same on the threshold
of every science. There, it is true, the analogy ceases. For in any
science properly speaking the determination of beginning consists in the
indication of an object, and a matter, and beyond that, to each new object
a new science reciprocally corresponds, the existence of the one involving
the legitimacy of the other. But if the various sciences--I mean the
positive sciences--divide different objects thus between them, philosophy
cannot, in its turn, come forward as a particular science, having a
distinct object, the designation of which would be sufficient to
characterise and circumscribe it. Such was always the traditional
conception: such will ours continue to be. For, as a matter of fact,
every object has a philosophy and all matter can be regarded
philosophically. In short, philosophy is chiefly a way of perceiving and
thinking, an attitude and a proceeding: the peculiar and specific in it is
more an intuition than a content, a spirit rather than a domain.

What, then, is the characteristic function of philosophy, at least its
initial function, that which marks its opening?

To criticise the works of knowledge spontaneously effected; that is to say,
to scrutinise their direction, reach, and conditions: that is today the
unanimous answer of philosophers when questioned about the goal of their
labours. In other terms, what they study is not so much such and such a
particular "thing" as the relation of mind to each of the realities to be
studied. Their object, if we must employ the word, is knowledge itself, it
is the act of knowing regarded from the point of view of its meaning and
value. Philosophy thus appears as a new "order" of knowledge, co-extensive
with what is knowable, as a kind of knowledge of the second degree, in
which it is less a question of learning than of understanding, in which we
aim at progressing in depth rather than in extent; not effort to extend the
quantity of knowledge, but reflection on the quality of this knowledge.
Spontaneous thought--vulgar or scientific--is a direct, simple, and
practical thought turned towards things and partial to useful results;
seeking what is formulable rather than what is true, or at least so fond of
formulae which can be handled, manipulated, or transmitted, that it is
always tempted to see the truth in them; a thought which, moreover, sets
out from more or less unguarded postulates, abandons itself to the motive
impulses of habits contracted, and goes straight on indefinitely without
self-examination. Philosophy, on the contrary, desires to be thought about
thought, thought retracing its life and work, knowledge labouring to know
itself, fact which aspires to fact about itself, mental effort to become
free, to become entirely transparent and luminous in its own eyes, and, if
need be, to effect self-reform by dissipating its natural illusions. What
we have before our eyes then are the initial postulates themselves, the
first spontaneous thoughts, the obscure origins of reason; and we are
proceeding towards a point of departure rather than arrival.

The new philosophy does not refuse to carry out this first critical task;
but it carries it out in its own way after determining more precisely the
real conditions of the problem. At the hour when methodical research
begins, the philosopher's mind is not clean-swept; and it would be
chimerical to wish to place oneself from the beginning, by some act of
transcendence, outside common thought. This thought cannot be inspected
and judged from outside. It constitutes, whether we wish it or no, the
sole concrete and positive point of departure. Let us add that common-
sense constitutes also our sole point of insertion into reality. It can
only then be a question of purifying it, not in any way of replacing it.
But we must distinguish in it what is pure fact, and what is ulterior
arrangement, in order to see what are the problems which really are
presented, and what are, on the contrary, the false problems, the illusory
problems, those which relate only to our artifices of language.

The search for facts is then the first necessary moment of all philosophy.

But common thought comes before us at the outset as a piece of very
composite alluvial ground. It is a beginning of positive science, and also
a residue of all philosophical opinions which have had some vogue. That,
however, is not its primary basis. Primum vivere, deinde philosophari,
says the proverb. In certain respects, "speculation is a luxury, whilst
action is a necessity." ("Creative Evolution", page 47.) But "life
requires us to apprehend things in the relation they have to our needs."
("Laughter", page 154.) Hence comes the fundamental utilitarianism of
common-sense. Therefore if we wish to define it in itself and for itself,
and no longer as a first approximation of such and such a system of
metaphysics, it appears to us no longer as rudimentary science and
philosophy, but as an organisation of thought in view of practical life.
Thus it is that outside all speculative opinion it is effectively lived by
all. Its proper language, we may say, is the language of customary
perception and mechanical fabrication, therefore a language relative to
action, made to express action, modelled upon action, translating things by
the relations they maintain to our action; I mean our corporal and
synthetic action, which very evidently implies thought, since it is a
question of the action of a reasonable being, but which thus contains a
thought which is itself eminently practical.

However, we are here regarding common-sense considered as a source of fact.
Its utilitarianism then becomes a kind of spontaneous metaphysics from
which we must detach ourselves. But is it not the very task of positive
science to execute this work of purification? Nothing of the kind, despite
appearances and despite intentions. Let us examine more closely. The
general categories of common thought, according to Mr Bergson,
("Philosophic Intuition" in the "Metaphysical and Moral Review", November
1911, page 825.) remain those of science; the main roads traced by our
senses through the continuity of reality are still those along which
science will pass; perception is an infant science and science an adult
perception; so much so that customary knowledge and scientific knowledge,
both of them destined to prepare our action upon things, are of necessity
two visions of the same kind, though of unequal precision and reach. It
does not follow that science does not practise a certain disinterestedness
as far as immediate mechanical utility is concerned; it does not follow
that it has no value as knowledge. But it does not set itself genuinely
free from the habits contracted in common experience, and to inform its
research it preserves the postulates of common-sense; so that it always
grasps things by their "actable" side, by their point of contact with our
faculty for action, under the forms by which we handle them conceptually or
practically, and all it attains of reality is that by which nature is a
possible object of language or industry.

Let us turn now towards another aspect of natural thought, to discover in
it the germ of the necessary criticism. By the side of "common-sense,"
which is the first rough-draft of positive science, there is "good sense,"
which differs from it profoundly, and marks the beginning of what we shall
later on call philosophic intuition. (Cf. an address on "Good Sense and
Classical Studies", delivered by Mr Bergson at the Concours general prize
distribution, 30th July 1895.) It is a sense of what is real, concrete,
original, living, an art of equilibrium and precision, a fine touch for
complexities, continually feeling like the antennae of some insects. It
contains a certain distrust of the logical faculty in respect of itself; it
wages incessant war upon intellectual automatism, upon ready-made ideas and
linear deduction; above all, it is anxious to locate and to weigh, without
any oversights; it arrests the development of every principle and every
method at the precise point where too brutal an application would offend
the delicacy of reality; at every moment it collects the whole of our
experience and organises it in view of the present. It is, in a word,
thought which keeps its freedom, activity which remains awake, suppleness
of attitude, attention to life, an ever-renewed adjustment to suit ever-new

Its revealing virtue is derived from this moving contact with fact, and
this living effort of sympathy. This is what we must tend to transpose
from the practical to the speculative order.

What, then, will be for us the beginning of philosophy? After taking
cognisance of common utilitarianism, and to emerge from the relativity in
which it buries us, we seek a departure-point, a criterion, something which
decides the raising of inquiry. Where are we to find such a principle,
except in the very action of thought; I mean, this time, its action of
profound life independent of all practical aim? We shall thus only be
imitating the example of Descartes when solving the problem of temporary
doubt. What we shall term return to the immediate, the primitive, the pure
fact, will be the taking of each perception considered as an act lived, a
coloured moment of the Cogito, and this will be for us a criterion and

Let us specify this point. Immediate data or primitive data or pure data
are apprehended by us under forms of disinterested action; I mean that they
are first of all lived rather than conceived, that before becoming material
for science, they appear as moments of life; in brief, that perception of
them precedes their use.

It is at this stage previous to language that we are by these pure data in
intimate communion with reality itself, and the whole of our critical task
is to return to them through a regressive analysis, the goal of which is
gradually to make our clear intelligence equal to our primordial intuition.
The latter already constitutes a thought, a preconceptual thought which is
the intrinsic light of action, which is action itself so far as it is
luminous. Thus there is no question here of restricting in any degree the
part played by thought, but only of distinguishing between the perceptive
and theoretic functions of mind.

What is "the image" of which Mr Bergson speaks at the beginning of "Matter
and Mind" except, when grasped in its first movement, the flash of
conscious existence "in which the act of knowledge coincides with the
generating act of reality"? ("Report of the French Philosophical Society",
philosophical vocabulary, article "Immediate".)

Let us forget all philosophical controversies about realism and idealism;
let us try to reconstruct for ourselves a simplicity, a virginal and candid
glance, freeing us from the habits contracted in the course of practical
life. These then are our "images": not things presented externally, nor
states felt internally, not portraits of exterior beings nor projections of
internal moods, but appearances, in the etymological sense of the word,
appearances lived simply, without our being distinguished from them, as yet
neither subjective nor objective, marking a moment of consciousness
previous to the work of reflection, from which proceeds the duality of
subject and object. And such also, in every order, appear the "immediate
feelings"; as action in birth, previous to language. (Cf. "Matter and
Memory", Foreword to the 7th edition.)

Why depart from the immediate thus conceived as action and life? Because
it is quite impossible to do otherwise, for every initial fact can be only
such a pulsation of consciousness in its lived act, and the fundamental and
primitive direction of the least word, were it in an enunciation of a
problem or a doubt, can only be such a direction of life and action. And
we must certainly accord to this immediacy a value of absolute knowledge,
since it realises the coincidence of being and knowledge.

But let us not think that the perception of immediacy is simple passive
perception, that it is sufficient to open our eyes to obtain it, today when
our utilitarian education is completed and has passed into the state of
habit. There is a difference between common experience and the initial
action of life; the first is a practical limitation of the second. Hence
it follows that a previous criticism is necessary to return from one to the
other, a criticism always in activity, always open as a way of progressive
investigation, always ready for the reiteration and the renewal of effort.

In this task of purification there is doubtless always to be feared an
illusion of remaining in the primitive stage. By what criteria, by what
signs can we recognise that we have touched the goal? Pure fact is shown
to be such on the one hand because it remains independent of all
theoretical symbolism, because the critique of language allows it to exist
thus as an indissoluble residue, because we are unable not to "live" it,
even when we free ourselves from the anxiety of utility; on the other hand,
because it dominates all systems, and imposes itself equally upon them all
as the common source from which they derive by diverging analyses, and in
which they become reconciled. Assuredly, to attain it, to extricate it, we
must appeal to the revelations of science, to the exercise of deliberate
thought. But this employment of analysis against analysis does not in any
way constitute a circle, for it tends only to destroy prejudices which have
become unconscious: it is a simple artifice destined to break off habits
and to scatter illusions by changing the points of view. Once set free,
once again become capable of direct and simple view, what we accept as fact
is what bears no trace of synthetic elaboration. It is true that here a
last objection presents itself: how shall we think this limit, purely
given, to any degree at all in fact, if it must precede all language?

The answer is easy. Why speak thus of limit? This word has two senses:
at one time it designates a last term in a series of approximations, and at
another a certain internal character of convergence, a certain quality of

Now, it is the second sense only which suits the case before us. Immediacy
contains no matter statically defined, and no thing. The notion of fact is
quite relative. What is fact in one case may become construction in
another. For example, the percepts of common experience are facts for the
physicist, and constructions for the philosopher; the same applies to a
table of numerical results, for the scholar who is trying to establish a
theory, or for the observer and the psychologist. We may then conceive a
series in which each term is fact in relation to those which follow it, and
constructed in relation to those which precede it. The expression
"primitive fact" then determines not so much a final object as a direction
of thought, a movement of critical retrogression, a journey from the most
to the least elaborate, and the "contact with pure immediacy" is only the
effort, more and more prolonged, to convert the elements of experience into
real and profound action.

III. Theory of Perception.

Of what the work of return to immediacy consists, and how the intuition
which it calls up reveals absolute fact, we shall see by an example, if we
study more closely a capital point of Mr Bergson's philosophy, the theory
of external perception.

If the act of perceiving realises the lived communion of the subject and
object in the image, we must admit that here we have the perfect knowledge
which we wish to obtain always: we resign ourselves to conception only for
want of perception, and our ideal is to convert all conception into
perception. Doubtless we might define philosophy by this same ideal, as an
effort to expand our perceptive power until we render it capable of
grasping all the wealth and all the depth of reality at a single glance.
Too true it is that such an ideal remains inaccessible to us. Something,
however, is given us already in aesthetic intuition. Mr Bergson has
pointed it out in some admirable pages, ("Laughter", pages 153-161.) and
has explained to us also how philosophy pursues an analogous end. (First
lecture on "The Perception of Change", delivered at Oxford, 26th May 1911.)

But philosophy must be conceived as an art implying science and criticism,
all experience and all reason. It is when we look at metaphysics in this
way that they become a positive order of veritable knowledge. Kant has
conclusively established that what lies beyond language can only be
attained by direct vision, not by dialectic progress. His mistake was that
he afterwards believed such a vision for ever impossible; and whence did
this mistake arise, if not from the fact that, for his new vision, he
exacted intuitive faculties quite different from those at man's disposal.
Here again the artist will be our example and model. He appeals to no
transcendent sense, but detaches common-sense from its utilitarian
prejudices. Let us do the same: we shall obtain a similar result without
lying ourselves open to Kant's objections. This work is everywhere
possible, and it is, par excellence, the work of philosophy: let us try
then to sketch it in relation to the perception of matter.

We must distinguish two senses of the word "perception." This word means
first of all simple apprehension of immediacy, grasp of primitive fact.
When we use it in this sense, we will agree to say pure perception. It is
perhaps in place to see in it nothing but a limit which concrete experience
never presents unmixed, a direction of research rather than the possession
of a thing.

However that may be, the first sense is the fundamental sense, and what it
designates must be at the root of all ordinary perception; I mean, of every
mental operation which results in the construction of a percept: a term
formed by analogy with concept, representing the result of a complex work
of analysis and synthesis, with judgment from externals. We live the
images in an act of pure perception, whilst the objects of ordinary
perception are, for example, the bodies of which we speak in common

With regard to the relation of the two senses which we have just
distinguished, common opinion seems very precise. It might be thus
resumed: at the point of departure we have simple sensations, similar to
qualitative atoms (this is the part of pure perception), and afterwards
their arrangement into connected systems, which are percepts.

But criticism does not authorise this manner of looking at it. Nowhere
does knowledge begin by separate elements. Such elements are always a
product of analysis. So there is a problem to solve to regain the basis of
pure perception which is hidden and obscured by our familiar percepts.

Do not suppose that the solution of this problem is easy. One method only
is of any use: to plunge into reality, to become immersed in it, in a
long-pursued effort to assimilate all the records of common-sense and
positive science. "For we do not obtain an intuition of reality, that is
to say, an intellectual sympathy with its inmost content, unless we have
gained its confidence by long companionship with its superficial
manifestations. And it is not a question merely of assimilating the
leading facts; we must accumulate and melt them down into such an enormous
mass that we are sure, in this fusion, of neutralising in one another all
the preconceived and premature ideas which observers may have unconsciously
allowed to form the sediment of their observations. Thus, and only thus,
is crude materiality to be disengaged from known facts." ("Introduction to
Metaphysics" in the "Metaphysical and Moral Review", January 1903. For the
correct interpretation of this passage ("intellectual sympathy") it must
not be forgotten that before "Creative Evolution", Mr Bergson employed the
word "intelligence" in a wider acceptation, more akin to that commonly

A directing principle controls this work and reintroduces order and
convergence, after dispensing with them at the outset; viz. that, contrary
to common opinion, perception as practised in the course of daily life,
"natural" perception does not aim at a goal of disinterested knowledge, but
one of practical utility, or rather, if it is knowledge, it is only
knowledge elaborated in view of action and speech.

Need we repeat here the proofs by which we have already established in the
most positive manner that such is really the meaning of ordinary
perception, the underlying reason which causes it to take the place of pure
perception? We perceive by habit only what is useful to us, what interests
us practically; very often, too, we think we are perceiving when we are
merely inferring, as for example when we seem to see a distance in depth, a
succession of planes, of which in reality we judge by differences of
colouring or relief.

Our senses supplement one another. A slow education has gradually taught
us to co-ordinate their impressions, especially those of touch to those of
vision. (H. Bergson, "Note on the Psychological Origins of Our Belief in
the Law of Causality". Vol. i. of the "Library of the International
Philosophical Congress", 1900.)

Theoretical forms come between nature and us: a veil of symbols envelops
reality; thus, finally, we no longer see things themselves, we are content
to read the labels on them.

Moreover, our perception appears to analysis completely saturated with
memories, and that in view of our practical insertion in the present. I
will not come back to this point which has been so lucidly explained by Mr
Bergson in a lecture on "Dream" ("Report of the International Psychological
Institute", May 1901.) and an article on "Intellectual Effort",
("Philosophical Review", January 1902.) the reading of which cannot be too
strongly recommended as an introduction to the first chapter of "Matter and
Memory", in which further arguments are to be found. I will only add one
remark, following Mr Bergson, as always: perception is not simply
contemplation, but consciousness of an original visual emotion combined
with a complete group of actions in embryo, gestures in outline, and the
graze of movement within, by which we prepare to grasp the object, describe
its lines, test its functions, sound it, move it, and handle it in a
thousand ways. (This is attested by the facts of apraxia or psychic
blindness. Cf. "Matter and Memory", chapter ii.)

From the preceding observations springs the utilitarian and practical
nature of common perception. Let us attempt now to see of what the
elaboration which it makes reality undergo consists. This time I am
summing up the fourth chapter of "Matter and Memory". First of all, we
choose between the images, emphasising the strong, extinguishing the weak,
although both have, a priori, the same interest for pure knowledge; we make
this choice above all by according preference to impressions of touch,
which are the most useful from the practical point of view. This selection
determines the parcelling up of matter into independent bodies, and the
artificial character of our proceeding is thus made plain. Does not
science, indeed, conclude in the same way, showing us--as soon as she frees
herself even to a small extent from common-sense--full continuity re-
established by "moving strata," and all bodies resolved into stationary
waves and knots of intersecting fluxes? Already, then, we shall be nearer
pure perception if we cease to consider anything but the perceptible stuff
in which numerically distinct percepts are cut. Even there, however, a
utilitarian division continues. Our senses are instruments of abstraction,
each of them discerning a possible path of action. We may say that
corporal life functions in the manner of an absorbing milieu, which
determines the disconnected scale of simple qualities by extinguishing most
of the perceptible radiations. In short, the scale of sensations, with its
numerical aspect, is nothing but the spectrum of our practical activity.
Commonly we perceive only averages and wholes, which we contract into
distinct "qualities". Let us disengage from this rhythm what is peculiar
to ourselves.

Above all, let us strive to disengage ourselves from homogeneous space,
this substratum of fixity, this arbitrary scheme of measurement and
division, which, to our greater advantage, subtends the natural,
qualitative, and undivided extension of images. (We usually represent
homogeneous space as previous to the heterogeneous extension of images: as
a kind of empty room which we furnish with percepts. We must reverse this
order, and conceive, on the contrary, that extension precedes space.) And
we shall finally have pure perception in so far as it is accessible to us.

There is no disputing the absolute value of this pure perception. The
impotence of speculative reason, as demonstrated by Kant, is perhaps, at
bottom, only the impotence of an intelligence in bondage to certain
necessities of the corporal life, and exercised upon a matter which it has
had to disorganise for the satisfaction of our needs. Our knowledge of
things is then no longer relative to the fundamental structure of our mind,
but only to its superficial and acquired habits, to the contingent form
which it takes on from our corporal functions and our lower needs.

The relativity of knowledge is therefore not final. In unmaking what our
needs have made we re-establish intuition in its original purity, and
resume contact with reality. ("Matter and Memory", page 203.)

That is how things are really presented. Here we are confronted by the
moving continuity of images. Pure perception is complete perception. From
it we pass to ordinary perception by diminution, throwing shadows here and
there: the reality perceived by common-sense is nothing else actually than
universal interaction rendered visible by its very interruption at certain

Whence we have this double conclusion already formulated higher up: the
relation of perception to matter is that of the part to the whole, and our
consciousness is rather limited than relative. It must be stated that
primarily we perceive things in themselves, not in us; the subjectivity of
our current perception comes from our work of outlining it in the bosom of
reality, but the root of pure perception plunges into full objectivity.
If, at each point of matter, we were to succeed in possessing the stream of
total interaction of which it marks a wave, and if we were to succeed in
seeing the multiplicity of these points as a qualitative heterogeneous flux
without number or severance, we should coincide with reality itself. It is
true that such an ideal, while inaccessible on the one hand, would not
succeed on the other without risk to knowledge; in fact, says Mr Bergson,
("Matter and Memory", page 38.) "to perceive all the influences of all the
points of all bodies would be to descend to the state of material object."

But a solution of this double difficulty remains possible, a dynamic and
approximate solution, which consists in looking for the absolute intuition
of matter in such a mobilisation of our perspective faculties that we
become capable of following, according to the circumstances, all the paths
of virtual perception of which the common anxiety for the practical has
made us choose one only, and capable of realising all the infinitely
different modes of qualification and discernment.

But we have still to see how this "complete experience" can be practically

IV. Critique of Language.

The perception of reality does not obtain the full value of knowledge,
except when once socialised, once made the common property of men, and
thereby also tested and verified.

There is one means only of doing that; viz. to analyse it into manageable
and portable concepts. By language I mean the product of this
conceptualisation. Thus language is necessary; for we must always speak,
were it only to utter the impotence of words. Not less necessary is a
critique of spontaneous language, of the laws which govern it, of the
postulates which it embraces, of the methods which convey its implicit
doctrines. Synthetic forms are actually theories already; they effect an
adaptation of reality to the demands of practical use. If it is impossible
to escape them, it is at least fitting not to employ them except with due
knowledge, and when properly warned against the illusion of the false
problems which they might arouse.

Let us first of all consider thought in itself, in its concrete life. What
are the principal characteristics, the essential steps? We readily say,
analysis and synthesis.

Nothing can be known except in contrast, correlation, or negation of
another thing; and the act of knowledge, considered in itself, is
unification. Thus number appears as a fundamental category, as an absolute
condition of intelligibility; some go so far as to regard atomism as a
necessary method. But that is inexact. No doubt the use of number and the
resulting atomism are imposed by definition, we might say, on the thought
which proceeds by conceptual analysis, and then by unifying construction;
that is to say, on synthetic thought. But, in greater depth, thought is
dynamic continuity and duration. Its essential work does not consist in
discerning and afterwards in assembling ready-made elements. Let us see in
it rather a kind of creative maturation, and let us attempt to grasp the
nature of this causal activity. (H. Bergson, "Intellectual Effort" in the
"Philosophical Review", January 1902.)

The act of thought is always a complex play of moving representations, an
evolution of life in which incessant inner reactions occur. That is to
say, it is movement. But there are several planes of thought, from
intuition to language, and we must distinguish between the thought which
moves on the surface among terms displayed on a single plane, and the
thought with goes deeper and deeper from one plane to another.

We do not think solely by concepts or images; we think, first of all,
according to Mr Bergson's expression, by dynamic schemes. What is a
dynamic scheme? It is motive rather than representative, inexpressible in
itself, but a source of language containing not so much the images or
concepts in which it will develop as the indication of the path to be
followed in order to obtain them. It is not so much system as movement,
progress, genesis; it does not mark the gaze directed upon the various
points of one plane of deliberate contemplation so much as an effort to
pass through successive planes of thought in a direction leading from
intuition to analysis. We might define it by its function of calling up
images and concepts, representations which, for one and the same scheme,
are neither strictly determined nor anything in particular in themselves,
concurrent representations which have in common one and the same logical

The representations called up form a body to the scheme, and the relation
of the scheme to the concepts and images which it calls up resembles,
mutatis mutandis, the relation pointed out by Mr Bergson between an idea
and its basis in the brain. In short, it is the very act of creative
thought which the dynamic scheme interprets, the act not yet fixed in

Nothing is easier than to illustrate the existence of this scheme. Let us
merely remark a few facts of current observation. Recall, for example, the
suggestive anxiety we experience when we seek to remember a name; the
precise syllables of the name still escape us, but we feel them
approaching, and already we possess something of them, since we immediately
reject those which do not answer to a certain direction of expectancy; and
by endeavouring to secure a more intimate feeling of this direction we
suddenly arouse the desired recollection.

In the same way, what does it mean to have the sense of a complex situation
in active life, if not that we perceive it, not as a static group of
explicit details, but as a meeting of powers allied or hostile, convergent
or divergent, directed towards this or that, of which the aggregate whole
tends of itself to awaken in us the initial reactions which analyse it?

In the same way again, how do we learn, how can we assimilate a vast system
of conceits or images? Our task is not to concentrate an enumerative
attention on each individual factor; we should never get away from them,
the weight would be too heavy.

What we entrust to memory is really a dynamic scheme permitting us to
"regain" what we should not have succeeded in "retaining." In reality our
only "knowledge" is through such a scheme, which contains in the state of
potential implication an inexhaustible multiplicity ready to be developed
in actual representations.

How, finally, is any discovery made? Finding is solving a problem; and to
solve a problem we must always begin by supposing it solved. But of what
does such a hypothesis consist?

It is not an anticipated view of the solution, for then all would be at an
end; nor is it a simple formula putting in the present indicative what the
enunciation expressed in the future or the imperative, for then nothing
would be begun. It is exactly a dynamic scheme; that is to say, a method
in the state of directed tension; and often, the discovery once realised as
theory or system, capable of unending developments and resurrections,
remains by the best of itself a method and a dynamic scheme.

But one last example will perhaps reveal the truth still more. "Anyone who
has attempted literary composition knows well that when the subject has
been long studied, all the documents collected, all the notes taken, we
need, to embark on the actual work of composition, something more, an
effort, often very painful, to place oneself suddenly in the very heart of
the subject, and to seek as deep down as possible an impulse to which
afterwards we shall only have to let ourselves go. This impulse, once
received, projects the mind on a road where it finds both the information
which it had collected and a thousand other details as well; it develops
and analyses itself in terms, the enumeration of which would have no end;
the further we advance, the more we discover; we shall never succeed in
saying everything; and yet, if we turn sharply round towards the impulse we
feel behind ourselves, to grasp it, it escapes; for it was not a thing but
a direction of movement, and though indefinitely extensible, it is
simplicity itself." (H. Bergson, "Metaphysical and Moral Review", January
1903. The whole critique of language is implicitly contained in this
"Introduction to Metaphysics".)

The thought, then, which proceeds from one representation to another in one
and the same plane is one kind; that which follows one and the same
conceptual direction through descending planes is another. Creative and
fertile thought is the thought which adopts the second kind of work. The
ideal is a continual oscillation from one plane to the other, a restless
alternative of intuitive concentration and conceptual expansion. But our
idleness takes exception to this, for the feeling of effort appears
precisely in the traject from the dynamic scheme to the images and
concepts, in the passing from one plane of thought to another.

Thus the natural tendency is to remain in the last of these planes, that of
language. We know what dangers threaten us there.

Suppose we have some idea or other and the word representing it. Do not
suppose that to this word there is one corresponding sense only, nor even a
finished group of various distinct and rigorously separable senses. On the
contrary, there is a whole scale corresponding, a complete continuous
spectrum of unstable meanings which tend unceasingly to resolve into one
another. Dictionaries attempt to illuminate them. The task is impossible.
They co-ordinate a few guiding marks; but who shall say what infinite
transitions underlie them?

A word designates rather a current of thought than one or several halts on
a logical path. Here again a dynamic continuity exists previous to the
parcelling out of the acceptations. What, then, should be the attitude of
the mind?

A supple moving attitude more attentive to the curve of change than to the
possible halting-points along the road. But this is not the case at all;
the effort would be too great, and what happens, on the contrary, is this.
For the spectrum a chromatic scale of uniform tints is very quickly
substituted. This is in itself an undesirable simplification, for it is
impossible to reconstitute the infinity of real shades by combinations of
fundamental colours each representing the homogeneous shore, which each
region of the spectrum finally becomes.

However cleverly we proportion these averages, we get, at most, some vulgar
counterfeit: orange, for example, is not a mixture of yellow and red,
although this mixture may recall to those who have known it elsewhere the
simple and original sensation of orange. Again, a second simplification,
still more undesirable, succeeds the first.

There are no longer any colours at all; black lines serve as guide-marks.
We are therefore with pure concepts decidedly in full symbolism. And it is
with symbols that we shall henceforward be trying to reconstruct reality.

I need not go back to the general characteristics or the inconveniences of
this method. Concepts resemble photographic views; concrete thickness
escapes them. However exact, varied, or numerous we suppose them, they can
certainly recall their object, but not reveal it to any one who had not had
any direct intuition of it. Nothing is easier than to trace the plan of a
body in four dimensions; all the same, this drawing does not admit
"visualisation in space" as is the case with ordinary bodies, for want of a
previous intuition which it would awaken: thus it is with concepts in
relation to reality. Like photographs and like plans, they are extracted
from reality, but we are not able to say that they were contained in it;
and many of them besides are not so much as extracts; they are simple
systematised notes, in fact, notes made upon notes. In other terms,
concepts do not represent pieces, parts, or elements of reality. Literally
they are nothing but simple symbolic notations. To wish to make integral
factors of them would be as strange an illusion as that of seeing in the
co-ordinates of a geometric point the constitutive essence of that point.

We do not make things with symbols, any more than we should reconstruct a
picture with the qualifications which classify it.

Whence, then, comes the natural inclination of thought towards the concept?
From the fact that thought delights in artifices which facilitate analysis
and language.

The first of these artifices is that from which results the possibility of
decomposition or recomposition according to arbitrary laws. For that we
need a previous substitution of symbols for things. Nothing demonstrates
this better than the celebrated arguments which we owe to Zeno of Elea. Mr
Bergson returns to the discussion of them over and over again. ("Essay on
the Immediate Data", pages 85-86; "Matter and Memory", pages 211-213,
"Creative Evolution", pages 333-337.)

The nerve of the reasoning there consists in the evident absurdity there
would be in conceiving an inexhaustible exhausted, an unachievable
achieved; in short, a total actually completed, and yet obtained by the
successive addition of an infinite number of terms.

But the question is to know whether a movement can be considered as a
numerical multiplicity. Virtual divisibility there is, no doubt, but not
actual division; divisibility is indefinite, whereas an actual division, if
it respects the inner articulations of reality, is bound to halt at a
limited number of phases.

What we divide and measure is the track of the movement once accomplished,
not the movement itself: it is the trajectory, not the traject. In the
trajectory we can count endless positions; that is to say, possible halts.
Let us not suppose that the moving body meets these elements all ready-
marked. Hence what the Eleatic dialectic illustrates is a case of
incommensurability; the radical inability of analysis to end a certain
task; our powerlessness to explain the fact of the transit, if we apply to
it such and such modes of numerical decomposition or recomposition, which
are valid only for space; the impossibility of conceiving becoming as
susceptible of being cut up into arbitrary segments, and afterwards
reconstructed by summing of terms according to some law or other; in short,
it is the nature of movement, which is without division, number, or

But thought delights in analyses regulated by the sole consideration of
easy language; hence its tendency to an arithmetic and geometry of
concepts, in spite of the disastrous consequences; and thus the Eleatic
paradox is no less instructive in its specious character than in the
solution which it embodies.

At bottom, natural thought, I mean thought which abandons itself to its
double inclination of synthetic idleness and useful industry, is a thought
haunted by anxieties of the operating manual, anxieties of fabrication.

What does it care about the fluxes of reality and dynamic depths? It is
only interested in the outcrops scattered here and there over the firm soil
of the practical, and it solidifies "terms" like stakes plunged in a moving
ground. Hence comes the configuration of its spontaneous logic to a
geometry of solids, and hence come concepts, the instantaneous moments
taken in transitions.

Scientific thought, again, preserves the same habits and the same
preferences. It seeks only what repeats, what can be counted. Everywhere,
when it theorises, it tends to establish static relations between composing
unities which form a homogeneous and disconnected multiplicity.

Its very instruments bias it in that direction. The apparatus of the
laboratory really grasps nothing but arrangement and coincidence; in a
word, states not transitions. Even in cases of contrary appearance, for
example, when we determine a weight by observing the oscillation of a
balance and not its rest, we are interested in regular recurrence, in a
symmetry, in something therefore which is of the nature of an equilibrium
and a fixity all the same. The reason of it is that science, like common-
sense, although in a manner a little different, aims only in actual fact at
obtaining finished and workable results.

Let us imagine reality under the figure of a curve, a rhythmic succession
of phases of which our concepts mark so many tangents. There is contact at
one point, but at one point only. Thus our logic is valid as infinitesimal
analysis, just as the geometry of the straight line allows us to define
each state of curve. It is thus, for example, that vitality maintains a
relation of momentary tangency to the physico-chemical structure. If we
study this relation and analogous relations, this fact remains indisputably
legitimate. Let us not think, however, that such a study, even when
repeated in as many points as we wish, can ever suffice.

We must afterwards by genuine integration attain moving continuity. That
is exactly the task represented by the return to intuition, with its proper
instrument, the dynamic scheme. From this tangential point of view we try
to grasp the genesis of the curve as envelope, or rather, and better still,
the birth of successive tangents as instantaneous directions. Speaking
non-metaphorically, we cling to genetic methods of conceptualisation and
proceed from the generating principle to its conceptual derivatives.

But our thought finds it very difficult to sustain such an effort long. It
is partial to rectilineal deduction, actual becoming horrifies it. It
desires immediately to find "things" sharply determined and very clear.
That is why immediately a tangent is constructed, it follows its movement
in a straight line to infinity. Thus are produced limit-concepts, the
ultimate terms, the atoms of language. As a rule they go in pairs, in
antithetic couples, every analysis being dichotomy, since the discernment
of one path of abstraction determines in contrast, as a complementary
remainder, the opposite path of direction. Hence, according to the
selection effected among concepts, and the relative weight which is
attributed to them, we get the antinomies between which a philosophy of
analysis must for ever remain oscillating and torn in sunder. Hence comes
the parcelling up of metaphysics into systems, and its appearance of
regulated play "between antagonistic schools which get up on the stage
together, each to win applause in turn." (H. Bergson, "Report of the
French Philosophical Society", meeting, 2nd May 1901.)

The method followed to find a genuine solution must be inverse; not
dialectic combination of pre-existing concepts, but, setting out from a
direct and really lived intuition, a descent to ever new concepts along
dynamic schemes which remain open. From the same intuition spring many
concepts: "As the wind which rushes into the crossroads divides into
diverging currents of air, which are all only one and the same gust."
("Creative Evolution", page 55.)

The antinomies are resolved genetically, whilst in the plane of language
they remain irreducible. With a heterogeneity of shades, when we mix the
tints and neutralise them by one another, we easily create homogeneity; but
take the result of this work, that is to say, the average final colour, and
it will be impossible to reconstitute the wealth of the original.

Do you desire a precise example of the work we must accomplish? Take that
of change; (Cf. two lectures delivered by Mr Bergson at Oxford on "The
Perception of Change", 26th and 27th May 1911.) no other is more
significant or clearer. It shows us two necessary movements in the reform
of our habits of imagination or conception.

Let us try first of all to familiarise ourselves with the images which show
us the fixity deriving from becoming.

Two colliding waves, two rollers meeting, typify rest by extinction and
interference. With the movement of a stone, and the fluidity of running
water, we form the instantaneous position of a ricochet. The very movement
of the stone, seen in the successive positions of the tangent to the
trajectory, is stationary to our view.

What is dynamic stability, except non-variation arising from variation
itself? Equilibrium is produced from speed. A man running solidifies the
moving ground. In short, two moving bodies regulated by each other become
fixed in relation to each other.

After this, let us try to perceive change in itself, and then represent it
to ourselves according to its specific and original nature.

The common conception needs reform on two principal points:

(1) All change is revealed in the light of immediate intuition, not as a
numerical series of states, but a rhythm of phases, each of which
constitutes an indivisible act, in such a way that each change has its
natural inner articulations, forbidding us to break it up according to
arbitrary laws, like a homogeneous length.

(2) Change is self-sufficient; it has no need of a support, a moving body,
a "thing" in motion. There is no vehicle, no substance, no spatial
receptacle, resembling a theatre-scene, no material dummy successively
draped in coloured stuffs; on the contrary, it is the body or the atom
which should be subordinately defined as symbols of completed becoming.

Of movement thus conceived, indivisible and substantial, what better image
can we have than a musical evolution, a phrase in melody? That is how we
must work to conceive reality. If such a conception at first appears
obscure, let us credit experience, for ideas are gradually illuminated by
the very use we make of them, "the clarity of a concept being hardly
anything, at bottom, but the assurance once obtained that we can handle it
profitably." (H. Bergson, "Introduction to Metaphysics".)

If we require to reach a conception of this kind with regard to change, the
Eleatic dialectic is there to establish it beyond dispute, and positive
science comes to the same conclusion, since it shows us everywhere nothing
but movements placed upon movements, never fixed "things," except as
temporary symbols of what we leave at a given moment outside the field of

In any case, the difficulty of such a conception need not stop us; it is
little more than a difficulty of the imaginative order. And as for the
conception itself, or rather the corresponding intuition, it will share the
fate of all its predecessors: to our contemporaries it will be a scandal,
a century later a stroke of genius, after some centuries common evidence,
and finally an instinctive axiom.

V. The Problem of Consciousness. Duration and Liberty.

Armed with the method we have just described, Mr Bergson turned first of
all toward the problem of the ego: taking up his position in the centre of
mind, he has attempted to establish its independent reality by examining
its profound nature.

The first chapter of the "Essay on the Immediate Data" contains a decisive
criticism of the conceptions which claim to introduce number and measure
into the domain of the facts of consciousness.

Not that it is our business to reject as false the notion of psychological
intensity; but this notion demands interpretation, and the least that we
can say against the attempt to turn it into a notion of size is that in
doing so we are misunderstanding the specific character of the object
studied. The same reproach must be levelled against association of ideas,
the system of mechanical psychology of which the type is presented us by
Taine and Stuart Mill. Already in chapters ii. and iii. of the "Essay",
and again all through "Matter and Memory", the system is riddled with
objections, each of which would be sufficient to show its radical flaw.
All the aspects, all the phenomena of mental life come up for successive
review. In respect of each of them we have an illustration of the
insufficiency of the atomism which seeks to recompose the soul with fixed
elements, by a massing of units exterior to one another, everywhere and
always the same: this is a grammatical philosophy which believes reality
to be composed of parts which admit of number just as language is made of
words placed side by side; it is a materialist philosophy which improperly
transfers the proceedings of the physical sciences to the sciences of the
inner life.

On the contrary, we must represent the state of consciousness to ourselves
as variable according to the whole of which it forms a part. Here and
there, although it always bears the same name, it is no longer the same
thing. "The more the ego becomes itself again, the more also do its states
of consciousness, instead of being in juxtaposition, penetrate one another,
blend with one another, and tinge one another with the colouring of all the
rest. Thus each of us has his manner of loving or hating, and this love or
hate reflect our entire personality." ("Essay on the Immediate Data",
pages 125-126.)

At bottom Mr Bergson is bringing forward the necessity, in the case before
us, of substituting a new notion of continuous qualitative heterogeneity
for the old notion of numerical and spatial continuity. Above all, he is
emphasising the still more imperious necessity of regarding each state as a
phase in duration; and we are here touching on his principal and leading
intuition, the intuition of real duration.

Historically this was Mr Bergson's starting-point and the origin of his
thought: a criticism of time under the form in which common-sense imagines
it, in which science employs it. He was the first to notice the fact that
scientific time has no "duration." Our equations really express only
static relations between simultaneous phenomena; even the differential
quotients they may contain in reality mark nothing but present tendencies;
no change would take place in our calculations if the time were given in
advance, instantaneously fulfilled, like a linear whole of points in
numerical order, with no more genuine duration than that contained in the
numerical succession. Even in astronomy there is less anticipation than
judgment of constancy and stability, the phenomena being almost strictly
periodic, while the hazard of prediction bears only upon the minute
divergence between the actual phenomenon and the exact period attributed to
it. Notice under what figure common-sense imagines time: as an inert
receptacle, a homogeneous milieu, neutral and indifferent; in fact, a kind
of space.

The scholar makes use of a like image; for he defines time by its
measurement, and all measurement implies interpretation in space. For the
scholar the hour is not an interval, but a coincidence, an instantaneous
arrangement, and time is resolved into a dust of fixities, as in those
pneumatic clocks in which the hand moves forward in jerks, marking nothing
but a sequence of pauses.

Such symbols are sufficient, at least for a first approximation, when it is
only a question of matter, the mechanism of which, strictly considered,
contains nothing "durable." But in biology and psychology quite different
characteristics become essential; age and memory, heterogeneity of musical
phases, irreversible rhythm "which cannot be lengthened or shortened at
will." ("Creative Evolution", page 10.)

Then it is that the return of time becomes necessary to duration. How are
we to describe this duration? It is a melodious evolution of moments, each
of which contains the resonance of those preceding and announces the one
which is going to follow; it is a process of enriching which never ceases,
and a perpetual appearance of novelty; it is an indivisible, qualitative,
and organic becoming, foreign to space, refractory to number.

Summon the image of a stream of consciousness passing through the
continuity of the spectrum, and becoming tinged successively with each of
its shades. Or rather imagine a symphony having feeling of itself, and
creating itself; that is how we should conceive duration.

That duration thus conceived is really the basis of ourselves Mr Bergson
proves by a thousand examples, and by a marvellous employment of the
introspective method which he has helped to make so popular. We cannot
quote these admirable analyses here. A single one will serve as model,
specially selected as referring to one of the most ordinary moments of our
life, to show plainly that the perception of real duration always
accompanies us in secret.

"At the moment when I write these lines a clock near me is striking the
hour; but my distracted ear is only aware of it after several strokes have
already sounded; that is, I have not counted them. And yet an effort of
introspective attention enables me to total the four strokes already struck
and add them to those which I hear. If I then withdraw into myself and
carefully question myself about what has just happened, I become aware that
the first four sounds had struck my ear and even moved my consciousness,
but that the sensations produced by each of them, instead of following in
juxtaposition, had blended into one another in such a way as to endow the
whole with a peculiar aspect and make of it a kind of musical phrase. In
order to estimate in retrospect the number of strokes which have sounded, I
attempted to reconstitute this phrase in thought: my imagination struck
one, then two, then three, and so long as it had not reached the exact
number four, my sensibility, on being questioned, replied that the total
effect differed in quality. It had therefore noted the succession of the
four strokes in a way of its own, but quite otherwise than by addition, and
without bringing in the image of a juxtaposition of distinct terms. In
fact, the number of strokes struck was perceived as quality, not as
quantity: duration is thus presented to immediate consciousness, and
preserves this form so long as it does not give place to a symbolical
representation drawn from space." ("Essay on the Immediate Data", pages

And now are we to believe that return to the feeling of real duration
consists in letting ourselves go, and allowing ourselves an idle relaxation
in dream or dissolution in sensation, "as a shepherd dozing watches the
water flow"? Or are we even to believe, as has been maintained, that the
intuition of duration reduces "to the spasm of delight of the mollusc
basking in the sun"? This is a complete mistake! We should fall back into
the misconceptions which I was pointing out in connection with immediacy in
general; we should be forgetting that there are several rhythms of
duration, as there are several kinds of consciousness; and finally, we
should be misunderstanding the character of a creative invention
perpetually renewed, which is that of our inner life.

For it is in duration that we are free, not in spatialised time, as all
determinist conceptions suppose in contradiction.

I shall not go back to the proofs of this thesis; they were condensed some
way back after the third chapter of the "Essay on the Immediate Data". But
I will borrow from Mr Bergson himself a few complementary explanations, in
order, as far as possible, to forestall any misunderstanding. "The word
liberty," he says, "has for me a sense intermediate between those which we
assign as a rule to the two terms liberty and free-will. On one hand, I
believe that liberty consists in being entirely oneself, in acting in
conformity with oneself; it is then, to a certain degree, the 'moral
liberty' of philosophers, the independence of the person with regard to
everything other than itself. But that is not quite this liberty, since
the independence I am describing has not always a moral character.
Further, it does not consist in depending on oneself as an effect depends
on the cause which of necessity determines it. In this, I should come back
to the sense of 'free-will.' And yet I do not accept this sense completely
either, since free-will, in the usual meaning of the term, implies the
equal possibility of two contraries, and on my theory we cannot formulate,
or even conceive in this case the thesis of the equal possibility of the
two contraries, without falling into grave error about the nature of time.
I might say then, that the object of my thesis, on this particular point,
has been precisely to find a position intermediate between 'moral liberty'
and 'free-will.' Liberty, such as I understand it, is situated between
these two terms, but not at equal distances from both. If I were obliged
to blend it with one of the two, I should select 'free-will.'" ("Report of
the French Philosophical Society", philosophical vocabulary, article

After all, when we place ourselves in the perspective of homogeneous time;
that is to say, when we substitute for the real and profound ego its image
refracted through space, the act necessarily appears either as the
resultant of a mechanical composition of elements, or as an
incomprehensible creation ex nihilo.

"We have supposed that there is a third course to pursue; that is, to place
ourselves back in pure duration...Then we seemed to see action arise from
its antecedents by an evolution sui generis, in such a way that we discover
in this action the antecedents which explain it, while at the same time it
adds something absolutely new to them, being an advance upon them as the
fruit upon the flower. Liberty is in no way reduced thereby, as has been
said, to obvious spontaneity. At most this would be the case in the animal
world, where the psychological life is principally that of the affections.
But in the case of man, a thinking being, the free act can be called a
synthesis of feelings and ideas, and the evolution which leads to it a
reasonable evolution." ("Matter and Memory", page 205.)

Finally, in a most important letter, ("Report of the French Philosophical
Society", meeting, 26th February 1903.) Mr Bergson becomes a little more
precise still. We must certainly not confuse the affirmation of liberty
with the negation of physical determinism; "for there is more in this
affirmation than in this negation." All the same, liberty supposes a
certain contingence. It is "psychological causality itself," which must
not be represented after the model of physical causality.

In opposition to the latter, it implies that between two moments of a
conscious being there is not an equivalence admitting of deduction, that in
the transition from one to the other there is a genuine creation. Without
doubt the free act is not without explanatory reasons.

"But these reasons have determined us only at the moment when they have
become determining; that is, at the moment when the act was virtually
accomplished, and the creation of which I speak is entirely contained in
the progress by which these reasons have become determining." It is true
that all this implies a certain independence of mental life in relation to
the mechanism of matter; and that is why Mr Bergson was obliged to set
himself the problem of the relations between body and mind.

We know that the solution of this problem is the principal object of
"Matter and Memory". The thesis of psycho-physiological parallelism is
there peremptorily refuted.

The method which Mr Bergson has followed to do so will be found set out by
himself in a communication to the French Philosophical Society, which it is
important to study as introduction. ("Report" of meeting, 2nd May 1901.)
The paralogism included in the very enunciation of the parallelist thesis
is explained in a memoire presented to the Geneva International
Philosophical Congress in 1904. ("Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale",
November 1904.) But the actual proof is made by the analysis of the
memoire which fills chapters ii. and iii. of the work cited above. (An
extremely suggestive resume of these theses will be found in the second
lecture on "The Perception of Change".) It is there established, by the
most positive arguments, (Instead of brutally connecting the two extremes
of matter and mind, one regarded in its highest action, the other in its
most rudimentary mechanism, thus dooming to certain failure any attempt to
explain their actual union, Mr Bergson studies their living contact at the
point of intersection marked by the phenomena of perception and memory: he
compares the higher point of matter--the brain--and the lower point of
mind--certain recollections--and it is between these two neighbouring
points that he notes a difference, by a method no longer dialectic but
experimental.) that all our past is self-preserved in us, that this
preservation only makes one with the musical character of duration, with
the indivisible nature of change, but that one part only is conscious of
it, the part concerned with action, to which present conceptions supply a
body of actuality.

What we call our present must be conceived neither as a mathematical point
nor as a segment with precise limits: it is the moment of our history
brought out by our attention to life, and nothing, in strict justice, would
prevent it from extending to the whole of this history. It is not
recollection then, but forgetfulness which demands explanation.

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