Henri Bergson was the leading French philosopher of our age. He influenced William James and Whitehead and greatly influenced French thought. Basically, the impact of Bergson’s philosophy was conservative, it was easily consistent with the movement that culminated in Vichy.
Bergson’s philosophy, unlike most systems of the past, is dualistic. The world for him is divided into two radically different parts: on the one hand, life, on the other, matter, or rather, the inert “something” that the intellect regards as matter.
The whole universe is a collision and conflict of two opposing movements: life, which seeks up, and matter, which falls down. Life is the only great power, the only great life impulse, given once, at the beginning of the world; resisting matter; struggling to break through matter; gradually learning how to use matter with the help of organizations; divided by obstacles on which it runs, on various currents, like the wind at the corner of the street; partially suppressed by matter due to the changes to which matter is subjected to it: yet always, retaining its capacity for free activity, always struggling to find a new way out; always seeking greater freedom of movement between the hostile walls of matter.
Evolution can not be explained, considering the main reason for contact with the environment. Mechanism and teleology suffer from the same drawback: both teachings believe that there are no significant innovations in the world. The mechanism views the future as contained in the vast, and teleology, because it believes that the end to be reached can be known in advance, denies that the result contains anything essentially new.
In contrast to both these views, although more sympathetic to teleology than to mechanism, Bergson argues that evolution is truly creative, like the work of an artist. The urge to act, an indefinite desire exists in advance, but when the desire is not satisfied, it is impossible to know the nature of what will satisfy this desire. For example, we can assume that some animals lack sight of a vague desire to be aware of objects prior to contact with these objects. Effort flowed from here; which eventually led to the creation of the eyes. Vision satisfied this desire, but the vision could not be imagined beforehand. On this basis, evolution cannot be predicted, and determinism cannot serve as a means of refuting defenders of free will.
This general outline is filled with a description of the actual development of life on Earth. First, the stream is divided into animals and plants; plants are meant to store energy in a reservoir, animals to use energy for sudden and quick movements. But later a new ramification appears among the animals: the intellect and instinct are more or less divided. They are never completely without each other, but basically the intellect is the misfortune of man, while instinct at its best is seen in ants, bees and Bergson. The distinction between intelligence and instinct is central to Bergson’s philosophy.
Instinct at its best is called intuition. The intelligence separating things, according to Bergson, is a kind of dream: it is not active as our whole life should be, but purely contemplative. When we sleep, says Bergson, our “I” is scattered, our past is broken into pieces; things that actually interpenetrate each other seem to be separate solids.
As intelligence is connected with space, so instinct or intuition is connected with time. One of the most remarkable features of Bergson’s philosophy is that, unlike most thinkers, he sees time and space as deeply different things. The space characteristic of the material arises when the flow is dissected; it is actually illusory, useful to some extent in practice, but extremely misleading in theory. Time, on the contrary, is an essential characteristic of life or mind. But time, which is not a mathematical time, is not a homogeneous collection of mutually external moments. Mathematical time, according to Bergson, is indeed a form of space; time, which is the essence of life, he calls duration. The concept of duration is one of the main ones in his philosophy, it appears already in his earliest book, Time and Free Will.
“Questions relating to the subject and object, their differences and their unity should be put more as a function of time than as a function of space.” In the duration in which we view our actions, there are separate elements, but in the duration in which we actually act, our states dissolve into each other. Duration is the very material of reality, which is in eternal becoming, never being something complete.
First of all, duration finds itself in memory, since it is in memory that the past continues to exist in the present. Thus, the theory of memory is of great importance in the philosophy of Bergson.
Bergson says that the term “memory” is usually combined with two radically different things, and Bergson pays special attention to this distinction. “The past is experiencing itself, he writes, in two different forms: first, in the form of motor mechanisms, and second, in the form of independent memories.” For example, a person is told that he remembers a poem, if he can repeat it by heart, that is, if he has acquired some habit or mechanism that allows him to repeat a previously performed action. But he could, at least theoretically, be able to repeat the poem, and not remembering those previous instances when he had read it before. Thus, this kind of memory does not include the awareness of past events.
The second type, which is only one and deserves the name of “memory”, is represented by the memories of those individual cases when a person read a poem, each case is different from other cases and is associated with a specific date. This is not a question of habit, since each event happened only once and was immediately impressed. It is assumed that in some way everything that ever happened to us is remembered, but, as a rule, only that which is useful comes to consciousness. Apparent memory lapses, as Bergson argues, are in fact not the failures of psychiatric memory, but the motor mechanism that brings memory into action. This view is supported by consideration of the physiology of the brain and the phenomena of memory loss, from which, according to Bergson, it follows that true memory is not a function of the brain.
“Memory”, in principle, should be a force completely independent of matter. And if spirit is reality, then it is here in the phenomenon of memory that we can experimentally come into contact with it. ”
For Bergson, pure memory is the opposite of pure perception, in relation to which he takes an ultra-realistic position. Pure perception is formed by a stimulating action, its reality lies in its activity. It is in this way that the brain is connected with perception, since it is not an instrument of action. It can be concluded that if it were not for the brain, we could perceive everything, but in reality we perceive only what interests us.
Now let us return to instinct or intuition, which are opposed to the intellect. Bergson wants to force the intellect to turn on himself, and to awaken the potential possibilities of intuition, which are still dormant in him. The ratio of instinct to the intellect is compared with the ratio of sight to touch.
The essential feature of intuition is that it does not divide the world into separate things, as intellect does. Intuition embraces diversity, but it is a variety of interpenetrating processes, and not spatially external bodies. In fact, things do not exist. This view of the world seems to the intellect difficult and unnatural, simple and natural for intuition. Memory does not give examples of what is meant, in memory, the past continues to live in the present and permeates it.
Without the mind, the world would be forever dying and reborn, the past would have no reality, and therefore there would be no past. It is memory, with its desire to correlate everything, makes the past and the future real, and thus creates true duration and time. Only intuition can comprehend this mixture of past and future; for the intellect they remain external.
Bergson’s teaching of freedom and his praise of action are closely related to the virtues of intuition. Arguments against free will are based in part on the assumption that the intensity of mental states is a quantity that can be measured, at least in theory. Denial of this view Bergson undertook in the first chapter of his book “Time and free will”. He concludes that true freedom is possible. “We are free when our actions derive from our individuality when they express it, when they have the same vague similarity with it, which sometimes happens between the artist and his work.”
The basis of Bergson’s philosophy, since it represents something more than just a poetic and imaginative view of the world, is his teaching on space and time. The doctrine of space is required in order to convict the intellect. If he fails to condemn the intellect, then the intellect will succeed in condemning him, since there is war between them.
The doctrine of time is necessary for Bergson to defend freedom, for his doctrine of the “eternal flow” and for his whole idea of the relationship between spirit and matter.
Bergson’s theory of space is fully and clearly stated in his book, Time and Free Will, and belongs to the earliest parts of his philosophy. Bergson in it argues that the concepts of “more” and “less” include space, which more contains less. He gives a clear idea “As if one can speak of magnitude where there is neither multiplicity nor space.” In the next chapter, he put forward the same thesis, but with respect to numbers. “As soon as we want to represent a number and not just numbers or words, we are forced to refer to a spatial image.”
In the statement above, Bergson confuses three different things, namely:
1. Number as a general concept applicable to different numbers.
2. Actually different numbers.
3. Different sets, to which different numbers apply.
In the works of Bergson, mathematics and science are often mentioned, and it may seem to the thoughtless reader that these references strongly reinforce Bergson’s position. In terms of mathematics, Bergson deliberately prefers traditional mistakes in interpretation to more modern views, prevalent among mathematicians in the last 80 years. In addition to the concept of number that we have already discussed, the main point in which Bergson touches on mathematics is his denial of what he calls the “cinematic” view of the world.
According to him, mathematics interprets change, even continuous change, as formed by a series of states; Bergson, on the contrary, argues that no series of states can give an idea of what is continuous and that a changing thing is never in any state. True change can only be explained with the help of true duration, which includes the mutual penetration of past and present. Thus, Bergson’s argument against the mathematical view of motion is simply a play on words.
Bergson’s theory of duration is related to his theory of memory. According to this theory, what we remember continues to exist in memory and therefore penetrates into the present; the past and the present are not mutually external, but are mixed in the unity of knowledge. “The past is, in essence, that which no longer acts.” Thus, its definition forms a vicious circle. In fact, he says: “The past is the action of which in the past.” “What constitutes our pure perception is our nascent action. Thus, the reality of our perception lies in its effectiveness. The past is only an idea, the present is an ideomotor (135 hp).”
The whole theory of Bergson’s duration and time confusion of real phenomena, memories with past events. The confusion of present and recalled past events, which appear to be the basis of the theory of time, is an example of the confusion of the act of knowledge and that of knowledge. This confusion of the act of knowledge with a knowable object inevitably passes through the entire book Matter and Memory. Here, Bergson writes, “I call matter a collection of images, and perception of matter are the same images in their relation to the possible action of one particular image — my body.”
When Bergson says that an image can exist, and without being perceived, he explains that for images to be and be consciously perceived, these are states that differ only in degree. Shakespeare called life a stray shadow. Shelley said she is like a dome of multicolored glass. Bergson compared it with a projectile torn apart, which are also projectiles. The good that Bergson hopes to see realized in the world is action for action.