Part 3 out of 3
According to a dictum of Ravaisson, of which Mr Bergson makes use, the
explanation must be sought in the body: "it is materiality which causes
forgetfulness in us."
There are, in fact, several planes of memory, from "pure recollection" not
yet interpreted in distinct images down to the same recollection actualised
in embryo sensations and movements begun; and we descend from the one to
the other, from the life of simple "dream" to the life of practical
"drama," along "dynamic schemes." The last of these planes is the body; a
simple instrument of action, a bundle of motive habits, a group of
mechanisms which mind has set up to act. How does it operate in the work
of memory? The task of the brain is every moment to thrust back into
unconsciousness all that part of our past which is not at the time useful.
Minute study of facts shows that the brain is employed in choosing from the
past, in diminishing, simplifying, and extracting from it all that can
contribute to present experience; but it is not concerned to preserve it.
In short, the brain can only explain absences, not presences. That is why
the analysis of memory illustrates the reality of mind, and its
independence relative to matter. Thus is determined the relation of soul
to body, the penetrating point which it inserts and drives into the plane
of action. "Mind borrows from matter perceptions from which it derives its
nourishment, and gives them back to it in the form of movement, on which it
has impressed its liberty." ("Matter and Memory", page 279.)
This, then, is how the cycle of research closes, by returning to the
initial problem, the problem of perception. In the two opposing systems by
which attempts have been made to solve it, Mr Bergson discovers a common
postulate, resulting in a common impotence. From the idealistic point of
view we do not succeed in explaining how a world is expressed externally,
nor from the realistic point of view how an ego is expressed internally.
And this double failure comes again from the underlying hypothesis,
according to which the duality of the subject and object is conceived as
primitive, radical, and static. Our duty is diametrically opposed. We
have to consider this duality as gradually elaborated, and the problem
concerning it must be first stated, and then solved as a function of time
rather than of space. Our representation begins by being impersonal, and
it is only later that it adopts our body as centre. We emerge gradually
from universal reality, and our realising roots are always sunk in it. But
this reality in itself is already consciousness, and the first moment of
perception always puts us back into the initial state previous to the
separation of the subject and object. It is by the work of life, and by
action, that this separation is effected, created, accentuated, and fixed.
And the common mistake of realism and idealism is to believe it effected in
advance, whereas it is relatively second to perception.
Hence comes the absolute value of immediate intuition. For from what
source could an irreducible relativity be produced in it? It would be
absurd to make it depend on the constitution of our brain, since our brain
itself, so far as it is a group of images, is only a part of the universe,
presenting the same characteristics as the whole; and in so far as it is a
group of mechanisms become habits, is only a result of the initial action
of life, of original perceptive discernment. And, on the other hand, no
less absurd would be the fear that the subject can ever be excluded or
eliminated from its own knowledge, since, in reality, the subject, like the
object, is in perception, not perception in the subject--at least not
primitively. So that it is by a trick of speech that the theses of
fundamental relativity take root: they vanish when we return to immediacy;
that is to say, when we present problems as they ought to be presented, in
terms which do not suppose any conceptual analysis yet accomplished.
VI. The Problem of Evolution: Life and Matter.
After the problem of consciousness Mr Bergson was bound to approach that of
evolution, for psychological liberty is only truly conceivable if it begins
in some measure with the first pulsation of corporal life. "Either
sensation has no raison d'etre or it is a beginning of liberty"; that is
what the "Essay on the Immediate Data" (Page 25.) already told us.
It was easy then to foresee the necessity of a general theoretical frame in
which our duration might take a position which would render it more
intelligible by removing its appearance of singular exception.
Thus in 1901, I wrote ("Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale", May 1901) with
regard to the new philosophy considered as a philosophy of becoming: "It
has been prepared by contemporary evolution, which is investigates and
perfects, sifting it from its ore of materialism, and turning it into
genuine metaphysics. Is not this the philosophy suited to the century of
history? Perhaps it indicates that a period has arrived in which
mathematics, losing its role as the regulating science, is about to give
place to biology." This is the programme carried out, in what an original
manner we are well aware, by the doctrine of Creative Evolution.
When we examine ancient knowledge, one characteristic of it is at once
visible. It studies little but certain privileged moments of changing
reality, certain stable forms, certain states of equilibrium. Ancient
geometry, for example, is almost always limited to the static consideration
of figures already traced. Modern science is quite different. Has not the
greatest progress which it has realised in the mathematical order really
been the invention of infinitesimal analysis; that is to say, an effort to
substitute the process for the resultant, to follow the moving generation
of phenomena and magnitudes in its continuity, to place oneself along
becoming at any moment whatsoever, or rather, by degrees at all successive
moments? This fundamental tendency, coupled with the development of
biological research, was bound to incline it towards a doctrine of
evolution; and hence the success of Spencer.
But time, which is everywhere in modern science the chief variable, is only
a time-length, indefinitely and arbitrarily divisible. There is no genuine
duration, nothing really tending to evolution in Spencer's evolution: no
more than there is in the periodic working of a turbine or in the
stationary tremble of a diapason. Is not this what is emphasised by the
perpetual employment of mechanical images and vulgar engineering metaphors,
the least fault of which is to suppose a homogeneous time, and a motionless
theatre of change which is at bottom only space? "In such a doctrine we
still talk of time, we pronounce the word, but we hardly think of the
thing; for time is here robbed of all effect." ("Creative Evolution", page
Whence comes a latent materialism, ready to grasp the chance of self-
expression. Whence the automatic return to the dream of universal
arithmetic, which Laplace, Du Bois-Reymond, and Huxley have expressed with
such precision. (Ibid., page 41.)
In order to escape such consequences we must, with Mr Bergson, reintroduce
real duration, that is to say, creative duration into evolution, we must
conceive life according to the mode exhibited with regard to change in
general. And it is science itself which calls us to this task. What does
science actually tell us when we let it speak instead of prescribing to it
answers which conform to our preferences? Vitality, at every point of its
becoming, is a tangent to physico-chemical mechanism. But physico-
chemistry does not reveal its secret any more than the straight line
produces the curve.
Consider the development of an embryo. It summarises the history of
species; ontogenesis, we are told, reproduces phylogenesis. And what do we
Now that a long sequence of centuries is contracted for us into a short
period, and that our view is thus capable of a synthesis which before was
too difficult, we see appearing the rhythmic organisation, the musical
character, which the slowness of the transitions at first prevented us from
seeing. In each state of the embryo there is something besides an
instantaneous structure, something besides a conservative play of actions
and reactions; there is a tendency, a direction, an effort, a creative
activity. The stage traversed is less interesting than the traversing
itself; this again is an act of generating impulse, rather than an effect
of mechanical inertia. So must the case be, by analogy, with general
evolution. We have there, as it were, a vision of biological duration in
miniature; expansion and relaxation of its tension bring its homogeneity to
notice, but at the same time, properly speaking, evolution disappears.
And further, Mr Bergson establishes by direct and positive arguments that
life is genuine creation. A similar conclusion is presented as the
envelope of his whole doctrine.
It is imposed first of all by immediate evidence, for we cannot deny that
the history of life is revealed to us under the aspect of a progress and an
ascent. And this impulse implies initiative and choice, constituting an
effort which we are not authorised by the facts to pronounce fatalistic:
"A simple glance at the fossil species shows us that life could have done
without evolution, or could have evolved only within very restricted
limits, had it chosen the far easier path open to it of becoming cramped in
its primitive forms; certain Foraminifera have not varied since the
silurian period; the Lingulae, looking unmoved upon the innumerable
revolutions which have upheaved our planet, are today what they were in the
most distant times of the palaeozoic era." ("Creative Evolution", page
111.) Moreover, if, in us, life is indisputably creation and liberty, how
would it not, to some extent, be so in universal nature? "Whatever be the
inmost essence of what is and what is being made, we are of it: ("Revue de
Metaphysique et de Morale", November 1911.) a conclusion by analogy is
therefore legitimate. But above all, this conclusion is verified by its
aptitude for solving problems of detail, and for taking account of observed
facts, and in this respect I regret that I can only refer the reader to the
whole body of admirable discussions and analyses drawn up by Mr Bergson
with regard to "the plant and the animal," or "the development of animal
life." ("Creative Evolution", chapter ii.)
As regards matter, two main laws stand out from the whole of our science,
relative to its nature and its phenomena: a law of conservation and a law
of degradation. On the one hand, we have mechanism, repetition, inertia,
constants, and invariants: the play of the material world, from the point
of view of quantity, offers us the aspect of an immense transformation
without gain or loss, a homogeneous transformation tending to maintain in
itself an exact equivalence between the departure and arrival point. On
the other hand, from the point of view of quality, we have something which
is being used up, lowered, degraded, exhausted: energy expended, movement
dissipated, constructions breaking up, weights falling, levels becoming
equalised, and differences effaced. The travel of the material world
appears then as a loss, a movement of fall and descent.
In addition, there is only a tendency to conservation, a tendency which is
never realised except imperfectly; while, on the contrary, we notice that
the failure of the vital impulse is most infallibly interpreted by the
appearance of mechanism. Reality falling asleep or breaking up is the
figure under which we finally observe matter: matter then is secondary.
Finally, according to Mr Bergson, matter is defined as a kind of descent;
this descent as the interruption of an ascent; this ascent itself as
growth; and thus a principle of creation is at the base of things.
Such a view seems obscure and disturbing to the mathematical understanding.
It cannot accustom itself to the idea of a becoming which is more than a
simple change of distribution, and more than a simple expression of latent
wealth. When confronted with such an idea, it always harks back to its
eternal question: How has something come out of nothing? The question is
false; for the idea of nothing is only a pseudo-idea. Nothing is
unthinkable, since to think nothing is necessarily to think or not to think
something; and according to Mr Bergson's formula, (Cf. the discussion on
existence and non-existence in chapter iv. of "Creative Evolution", pages
298-322.) "the representation of void is always a full representation."
When I say: "There is nothing," it is not that I perceive a "nothing." I
never perceive except what is. But I have not perceived what I was
seeking, what I was expecting, and I express my deception in the language
of my desire. Or else I am speaking a language of construction, implying
that I do not yet possess what I intend to make.
Let us abruptly forget these idols of practical action and language. The
becoming of evolution will then appear to us in its true light, as phases
of gradual maturation, rounded at intervals by crises of creative
discovery. Continuity and discontinuity will thus admit possibility of
reconciliation, the one as an aspect of ascent towards the future, the
other as an aspect of retrospection after the event. And we shall see that
the same key will in addition disclose to us the theory of knowledge.
VII. The Problem of Knowledge: Analysis and Intuition.
We know what importance has been attached since Kant to the problem of
reason: it would seem sometimes that all future philosophy is a return to
it; that it is no longer called to speak of anything else. Besides, what
we understand by reason, in the broad sense, is, in the human mind, the
power of light, the essential operation of which is defined as an act of
directing synthesis, unifying the experience and rendering it by that very
fact intelligible. Every movement of thought shows this power in exercise.
To bring it everywhere to the front would be the proper task of philosophy;
at least it is in this manner that we understand it today. But from what
point of view and by what method do we ordinarily construct this theory of
The spontaneous works of mind, perception, science, art, and morality are
the departure-point of the inquiry and its initial matter. We do not ask
ourselves whether but how they are possible, what they imply, and what they
suppose; a regressive analysis attempts by critical reflection to discern
in them their principles and requisites. The task, in short, is to
reascend from production to producing activity, which we regard as
sufficiently revealed by its natural products.
Philosophy, in consequence, is no longer anything but the science of
problems already solved, the science which is confined to saying why
knowledge is knowledge and action action, of such and such a kind, and such
and such a quality. And in consequence also reason can no longer appear
anything but an original datum postulated as a simple fact, as a complete
system come down ready-made from heaven, at bottom a kind of non-temporal
essence, definable without respect to duration, evolution, or history, of
which all genesis and all progress are absurd. In vain do we persist in
maintaining that it is originally an act; we always come round to the fact
that the method followed compels us to consider this act only when once
accomplished, and when once expressed in results. The inevitable
consequence is that we imprison ourselves hopelessly in the affirmation of
Such a system can only be true as a partial and temporary truth: at the
most, it is a moment of truth. "If we read the "Critique of Pure Reason"
closely, we become aware that Kant has made the critique, not of reason in
general, but of a reason fashioned to the habits and demands of Cartesian
mechanism or Newtonian physics." (H. Bergson, "Report of French
Philosophical Society", meeting, 2nd May 1901.) Moreover, he plainly
studies only adult reason, its present state, a plane of thought, a
sectional view of becoming. For Kant, men progress perhaps in reason, but
reason itself has no duration: it is the fixed spot, the atmosphere of
dead eternity in which every mental action is displayed. But this could
not be the final and complete truth. Is it not a fact that human
intelligence has been slowly constituted in the course of biological
evolution? To know it, we have not so much to separate it statically from
its works, as to replace it in its history.
Let us begin with life, since, in any case, whether we will or no, it is
always in life and by life that we are.
Life is not a brute force, a blind mechanism, from which one could never
conceive that thought would spring. From its first pulsation, life is
consciousness, spiritual activity, creative effort tending towards liberty;
that is, discernment already luminous, although the quality is at first
faint and diffused. In other terms, life is at bottom of the psychological
nature of a tendency. But "the essence of a tendency is to develop in
sheaf-form, creating, by the mere fact of its growth, diverging directions
between which its impulse will be divided." ("Creative Evolution", page
Along these different paths the complementary potentialities are produced
and intensified, separating in the very process, their original
interpretation being possible only in the state of birth. One of them ends
in what we call intelligence. This latter therefore has become gradually
detached from a less intense but fuller luminous condition, of which it has
retained only certain characteristics to accentuate them.
We see that we must conceive the word mind--or, if we prefer the word,
thought--as extending beyond intelligence. Pure intelligence, or the
faculty of critical reflection and conceptual analysis, represents only one
form of thought in its entirety, a function, a determination or particular
adaptation, the part organised in view of practical action, the part
consolidated as language. What are its characteristics? It understands
only what is discontinuous, inert, and fixed, that which has neither change
nor duration; it bathes in an atmosphere of spatiality; it uses mathematics
continually; it feels at home only among "things," and everything is
reduced by it to solid atoms; it is naturally "materialist," owing to the
very fact that it naturally grasps "forms" only. What do we mean by that
except that its object of election is the mechanism of matter? But it
supposes life; it only remains living itself by continual loans from a
vaster and fuller activity from which it is sprung. And this return to
complementary powers is what we call intuition.
From this point of view it becomes easy to escape Kantian relativity. We
are confronted by an intelligence which is doubtless no longer a faculty
universally competent, but which, on the contrary, possesses in its own
domain a greater power of penetration. It is arranged for action. Now
action would not be able to move in irreality. Intelligence, then, makes
us acquainted, if not with all reality, at least with some of it, namely
that part by which reality is a possible object of mechanical or synthetic
More profoundly, intuition falls into analysis as life into matter: they
are two aspects of the same movement. That is why, "provided we only
consider the general form of physics, we can say that it touches the
absolute." ("Creative Evolution", page 216.)
In other terms, language and mechanism are regulated by each other. This
explains at once the success of mathematical science in the order of
matter, and its non-success in the order of life.
For, when confronted with life, intelligence fails. "Being a deposit of
the evolutive movement along its path, how could it be applied throughout
the evolutive movement itself? We might as well claim that the part equals
the whole, that the effect can absorb its cause into itself, or that the
pebble left on the shore outlines the form of the wave which brought it."
(Preface to "Creative Evolution".)
Is not that as good as saying that life is unknowable? Must we conclude
that it is impossible to understand it?
"We should be forced to do so, if life had employed all the psychic
potentialities it contains in making pure understandings; that is to say,
in preparing mathematicians. But the line of evolution which ends in man
is not the only one. By other divergent ways other forms of consciousness
have developed, which have not been able to free themselves from external
constraint, nor regain the victory over themselves as intelligence has
done, but which, none the less for that, also express something immanent
and essential in the movement of evolution.
"By bringing them into connection with one another, and making them
afterwards amalgamate with intelligence, should we not thus obtain a
consciousness co-extensive with life, and capable, by turning sharply round
upon the vital thrust which it feels behind it, of obtaining a complete,
though doubtless vanishing vision?" ("Creative Evolution", Preface.) It
is precisely in this that the act of philosophic intuition consists. "We
shall be told that, even so, we do not get beyond our intelligence, since
it is with our intelligence, and through our intelligence, that we observe
all the other forms of consciousness. And we should be right in saying so,
if we were pure intelligences, if there had not remained round our
conceptual and logical thought a vague nebula, made of the very substance
at the expense of which the luminous nucleus, which we call intelligence,
has been formed. In it reside certain complementary powers of the
understanding, of which we have only a confused feeling when we remain shut
up in ourselves, but which will become illumined and distinct when they
perceive themselves at work, so to speak, in the evolution of nature. They
will thus learn what effort they have to make to become more intense, and
to expand in the actual direction of life." ("Creative Evolution",
Preface.) Does that mean abandonment to instinct, and descent with it into
infra-consciousness again? By no means. On the contrary, our task is to
bring instinct to enrich intelligence, to become free and illumined in it;
and this ascent towards super-consciousness is possible in the flash of an
intuitive act, as it is sometimes possible for the eye to perceive, as a
pale and fugitive gleam, beyond what we properly term light, the ultra-
violet rays of the spectrum.
Can we say of such a doctrine that it seeks to go, or that it goes "against
intelligence"? Nothing authorises such an accusation, for limitation of a
sphere is not misappreciation of every legitimate exercise. But
intelligence is not the whole of thought, and its natural products do not
completely exhaust or manifest our power of light.
Besides, that intelligence and reason are not things completed, for ever
arrested in their inner structure, that they evolve and expand, is a fact:
the place of discovery is precisely the residual fringe of which we were
speaking above. In this respect, the history of thought would furnish
examples in plenty. Intuitions at first obscure, and only anticipated,
facts originally admitting no comparison, and as it were irrational, become
instructive and luminous by the fruitful use made of them, and by the
fertility which they manifest. In order to grasp the complex content of
reality, the mind must do itself violence, must awaken its sleeping powers
of revealing sympathy, must expand till it becomes adapted to what formerly
shocked its habits so much as almost to seem contradictory to it. Such a
task, moreover, is possible: we work out its differential every moment,
and its complete whole appears in the sequence of centuries.
At bottom, the new theory of knowledge has nothing new in it except the
demand that all the facts shall be taken into account: it renews duration
in the thinking mind, and places itself at the point of view of creative
invention, not only at that of subsequent demonstration. Hence its
conception of experience, which, for it, is not simple information, fitted
into pre-existing frames, but elaboration of the frames themselves.
Hence the problem of reason changes its aspect. A great mistake has been
made in thinking that Mr Bergson's doctrine misunderstands it: to deny it
and to place it are two different things. In its inmost essence, reason is
the demand for unity; that is why it is displayed as a faculty of
synthesis, and why its essential act is presented as apperception of
relation. It is unifying activity, not so much by a dialectic of
harmonious construction as by a view of reciprocal implication. But all
that, however shaded we suppose it, entails a previous analysis. Therefore
if we place ourselves in a perspective of intuition, I mean, of complete
perception, the demand for reason appears second only, without being
deprived, however, of its true task: it is an echo and a recollection, an
appeal and a promise of profound continuity, our original anticipation and
our final hope, in the bosom of the elementary atomism which characterises
the transitory region of language; and reason thus marks the zone of
contact between intelligence and instinct.
Is thought only possible under the law of number? Does reality only become
an object of knowledge as a system of distinct but regulated factors and
moments? Do ideas exist only by their mutual relations, which first of all
oppose them and afterwards force intelligence to move endlessly from one
term to another? If such were the case, reason would certainly be first,
as alone making an intelligible continuity out of discontinuous perception
and restoring total unity to each temporary part by a synthetic dialectic.
But all this really has meaning only after analysis has taken place. The
demand for rational unity constitutes in the bosom of atomism something
like a murmur of deep underlying continuity: it expresses in the very
language of atomism, atomism's basic irreality. There is no question of
misunderstanding reason, but only of putting it in its proper place. In a
perspective of complete intuition nothing would require to be unified.
Reason would then be reabsorbed in perception. That is to say, its present
task is to measure and correct in us the limits, gaps, and weaknesses of
the perceptive faculty. In this respect not a man of us thinks of denying
it its task. But we try with Mr Bergson to reduce this task to its true
worth and genuine importance. For we are decidedly tired of hearing
"Reason" invoked in solemn and moving tones, as if to write the venerable
name with the largest of capital R's were a magic solution of all problems.
Mind, in fact, sets out from unity rather than arrives at it; and the order
which it appears to discover subsequently in an experience which at first
is manifold and incoherent is only a refraction of the original unity
through the prism of a spontaneous analysis. Mr Bergson admirably points
out ("Creative Evolution", pages 240-244 and 252-257.) that there are two
types of order, geometric and vital, the one a static hierarchy of
relations, the other a musical continuity of moments. These two types are
opposed, as space to duration and matter to mind; but the negation of one
coincides with the position of the other. It is therefore impossible to
abolish both at once. The idea of disorder does not correspond to any
genuine reality. It is essentially relative, and arises only when we do
not meet the type of order which we were expecting; and then it expresses
our deception in the language of our expectation, the absence of the
expected order being equivalent, from the practical point of view, to the
absence of all order. Regarded in itself, this notion is only a verbal
entity, unduly taking form as the common basis of two antithetic types.
How therefore do we come to speak of a "perceptible diversity" which mind
has to regulate and unify? This is only true at most of the disjointed
experience employed by common-sense. Reason, accepting this preliminary
analysis, and proceeding to language, seeks to organise it according to the
mathematical type. But it is the vital type which corresponds to absolute
reality, at least when it is a question of the Whole; and only intuition
has re-access to it, by soaring above synthetic dissociations.
As my last word and closing formula I come back to the leitmotiv of my
whole study: Mr Bergson's philosophy is a philosophy of duration.
Let us regard it from this point of view, as contact with creative effort,
if we wish to conceive aright the original notions which it proposes to us
about liberty, life, and intuition.
Let us say once more that it appears as the enthronement of positive
metaphysics: positive, that is to say, capable of continuous, regular, and
collective progress, no longer forcibly divided into irreducible schools,
"each of which retains its place, chooses its dice, and begins a never-
ending match with the rest." ("Introduction to Metaphysics" in the "Revue
de Metaphysique et de Morale", January 1903. Psychology, according to Mr
Bergson, studies the human mind in so far as it operates in a useful manner
to a practical end; metaphysics represent the effort of this same mind to
free itself from the conditions of useful action, and regain possession of
itself as pure creative energy. Now experience, the experience of the
laboratory, allows us to measure with more and more accuracy the divergence
between these two planes of life; hence the positive character of the new
Let us next say that until the present moment it constitutes the only
doctrine which is truly a metaphysic of experience, since no other, at
bottom, explains why thought, in its work of discovery and verification,
remains in subjection to a law of probation by durable action. We have now
only to show how it evades certain criticisms which have been levelled
against its tendencies.
Some have wanted to see in it a kind of atheist monism. Mr Bergson has
answered this point himself. What he rejects, and what he is right in
rejecting, are the doctrines which confine themselves to personifying the
unity of nature or the unity of knowledge in God as motionless first cause.
God would really be nothing, since he would do nothing. But he adds: "The
considerations put forward in my "Essay on the Immediate Data" result in an
illustration of the fact of liberty; those of "Matter and Memory" lead us,
I hope, to put our finger on mental reality; those of "Creative Evolution"
present creation as a fact: from all this we derive a clear idea of a free
and creating God, producing matter and life at once, whose creative effort
is continued, in a vital direction, by the evolution of species and the
construction of human personalities." (Letter to P. de Tonquedec,
published in the "Studies" of 20th February 1912, and quoted here as found
in the "Annals of Christian Philosophy", March 1912.) How can we help
finding in these words, according to the actual expression of the author,
the most categorical refutation "of monism and pantheism in general"?
Now to go further and become more precise, Mr Bergson points out that we
must "approach problems of quite a different kind, those of morality."
About these new problems the author of "Creative Evolution" has as yet said
nothing; and he will say nothing, so long as his method does not lead him,
on this point, to results as positive, after their manner, as those of his
other works, because he does not consider that mere subjective opinions are
in place in philosophy. He therefore denies nothing; he is waiting and
searching, always in the same spirit: what more could we ask of him?
One thing only is possible today: to discern in the doctrine already
existing the points of a moral and religious philosophy which present
themselves in advance for ultimate insertion.
This is what we are permitted to attempt. But let us fully understand what
is at issue. The question is only to know whether, as has been claimed,
there is incompatibility between Mr Bergson's point of view and the
religious or moral point of view; whether the premisses laid down block the
road to all future development in the direction before us; or whether, on
the contrary, such a development is invited by some parts at least of the
previous work. The question is not to find in this work the necessary and
sufficient bases, the already formed and visible lineaments of what will
one day complete it. To imagine that the religious and moral problem is
bound to be regarded by Mr Bergson as arising when it is too late for
revision, as admitting proposition and solution only as functions of a
previous theoretical philosophy beyond which we should not go; that in his
eyes the solution of this problem will be deduced from principles already
laid down without any call for the introduction of new facts or new points
of view, without any need to begin from a new intuition; that his view
precludes all considerations of strictly spiritual life, of inner and
profound action, regarding things in relation to God and in an eternal
perspective: such a view would be illegitimate and unreasonable, first of
all, because Mr Bergson has said nothing of the kind, and secondly, because
it is contrary to all his tendencies.
After the "Essay on the Immediate Data" critics proceeded to confine him in
an irreducible static dualism; after "Matter and Memory" they condemned him
as failing for ever to explain the juxtaposition of the two points of view,
utility and truth: why should we require that after "Creative Evolution"
he should be forbidden to think anything new, or distinguish, for example,
different orders of life?
The problems must be approached one after the other, and, in the solution
of each of them, it is proper to introduce only the necessary elements.
But each result is only "temporarily final." Let us lose the strange habit
of asking an author continually to do something other than he has done, or,
in what he has done, to give us the whole of his thought.
Till now, Mr Bergson has always considered each new problem according to
its specific and original nature, and, to solve it, he has always supplied
a new effort of autonomous adaptation: why should it be otherwise for the
future? I seek vainly for the decree forbidding him the right to study the
problem of biological evolution in itself, and for the necessity which
compels him to abide now by the premisses contained in his past work. (For
Mr Bergson, the religious sentiment, as the sentiment of obligation,
contains a basis of "immediate datum" rendering it indissoluble and
The only point which we have to examine is this: will the moral and
religious question compel Mr Bergson to break with the conclusions of his
previous studies, and can we not, on the contrary, foresee points of
In the depths of ourselves we find liberty; in the depths of universal
being we find a demand for creation. Since evolution is creative, each of
its moments works for the production of an indeducible and transcendent
future. This future must not be regarded as a simple development of the
present, a simple expression of germs already given. Consequently we have
no authority for saying that there is for ever only one order of life, only
one plane of action, only one rhythm of duration, only one perspective of
existence. And if disconnections and abrupt leaps are visible in the
economy of the past--from matter to life, from the animal to man--we have
no authority again for claiming that we cannot observe today something
analogous in the very essence of human life, that the point of view of the
flesh, and the point of view of the spirit, the point of view of reason,
and the point of view of charity are a homogeneous extension of it. And
apart from that, taking life in its first tendency, and in the general
direction of its current, it is ascent, growth, upward effort, and a work
of spiritualising and emancipating creation: by that we might define Good,
for Good is a path rather than a thing.
But life may fail, halt, or travel downwards. "Life in general is mobility
itself; the particular manifestations of life accept this mobility only
with regret, and constantly fall behind. While it is always going forward,
they would be glad to mark time. Evolution in general would take place as
far as possible in a straight line; special evolution is a circular
advance. Like dust-eddies raised by the passing wind, living bodies are
self-pivoted and hung in the full breeze of life." ("Creative Evolution",
page 139.) Each species, each individual, each function tends to take
itself as its end; mechanism, habit, body, and letter, which are, strictly
speaking, pure instruments, actually become principles of death. Thus it
comes about that life is exhausted in efforts towards self-preservation,
allows itself to be converted by matter into captive eddies, sometimes even
abandons itself to the inertia of the weight which it ought to raise, and
surrenders to the downward current which constitutes the essence of
materiality: it is thus that Evil would be defined, as the direction of
travel opposed to Good. Now, with man, thought, reflection, and clear
consciousness appear. At the same time also properly moral qualifications
appear: good becomes duty, evil becomes sin. At this precise moment, a
new problem begins, demanding the soundings of a new intuition, yet
connected at clear and visible points with previous problems.
This is the philosophy which some are pleased to say is closed by nature to
all problems of a certain order, problems of reason or problems of
morality. There is no doctrine, on the contrary, which is more open, and
none which, in actual fact, lends itself better to further extension.
It is not my duty to state here what I believe can be extracted from it.
Still less is it my duty to try to foresee what Mr Bergson's conclusions
will be. Let us confine ourselves to taking it in what it has expressly
given us of itself. From this point of view, which is that of pure
knowledge, I must again, as I conclude, emphasise its exceptional
importance and its infinite reach. It is possible not to understand it.
Such is frequently the case: thus it always has been in the past, each
time that a truly new intuition has arisen among men; thus it will be until
the inevitable day when disciples more respectful of the letter than the
spirit will turn it, alas, into a new scholastic. What does it matter!
The future is there; despite misconceptions, despite incomprehensions,
there is henceforth the departure-point of all speculative philosophy; each
day increases the number of minds which recognise it; and it is better not
to dwell upon the proofs of several of those who are unable or unwilling to
Adaptation, value of.
Analysis, conceptual, contrasted with intuition.
Art, and philosophy.
Automaton, of daily life.
Being, as becoming.
Brain, work of.
Concepts, analysis by and functions of, as symbols, creation of, as general
frames, practical reach of, inferior to intuition, further discussed.
Conservation, law of.
Constants, search for, represented.
Criticism, of language.
Deduction, impotence of.
Degradation, law of.
Duration, real, perpetually new, and thought, and time, pure.
Dynamic connection, schemes.
Ego, encrustations of the.
Embryology, evidence of.
Evil, a reality.
Evolution, drama of, biological, value and meaning of, not indispensable,
distinguished from development, as dynamic continuity, as activity, further
Existence, as change.
Genesis, law of.
Good, a reality, a path.
Habit, as obstacle.
Homogeneity, absence of.
Instinct, is sympathy, contrasted with intelligence.
Intelligence, product of evolution, and instinct, broad meaning of.
Intuition, as starting-point, intransmissible without language, aesthetic,
triumph of, and duration, and analysis.
Intuitional effort, content.
Kant, his point of departure, conclusions of, escape from.
Knowledge, absolute, utilitarian nature of, new theory of.
Language, dangers of.
Law, concept of.
Liberty, personal importance of.
Life, tendencies of, is finality, is progress, further discussed.
Mechanism, psychological, failure of.
Memory, problem of, perception complicated by, importance of, racial,
planes of, memory of solids.
Metaphor, justification of.
Palaeontology, evidence of.
Perception, an art, affected by memory, further explained, fulfilment of
guesswork, utilitarian signification, subjectivity of, pure and ordinary,
further discussed, relation to matter, perception of immediacy.
Philosophy, duty of, function of.
Planes, of consciousness.
Progress, and reality.
Quality, and inner world.
Quantity, and quality.
Reality, contact with, a flux, recognition of, absolute, elusive nature of,
personal, essentially qualitative, pure, inner, contrasting views about,
Relation, between mind and matter.
Religion, its place in philosophy.
Science, prisoner of symbolism, cult of, impotence of.
Sense, good, and common-sense.
Spencer, criticism of, success and weakness of.
Thought, methods of common.
Time, required by Mr Bergson's philosophy, in space, and common-sense, and
Transformism, errors of.
Utility, as goal of perception.
Zeno of Elea.
Zone, of feeling.