THE GOSPEL OF INTUITION
Intelligence and Intuition not opposed–Intellectual sympathy–Synthesis and analysis. “Understanding as one loves”–Concepts–Intellect not final–Man’s spirit and intuitions–Joy, creative power and art–Value of Intuitive Philosophy.
We now approach the grand climax of Bergson’s philosophy, his doctrine of Intuition, which he preaches with all the vigour of an evangelist. Our study of his treatment of Change, of Perception, of la duree, and of Instinct, has prepared us for an investigation of what he means by Intuition, for in dealing with these subjects he has been laying the foundations of his doctrine of Intuition. He pointed out to us that Life is Change, but that our intellect does not really grasp the reality of Change, for it is adapted to solids and to concepts, it resembles the cinematograph film. Then he has tried to show us that in Perception there is really much more than we think, for our intellect carves out what is of practical interest, while the penumbra or vague fringes of perceptions which have no bearing on action are neglected. By his advocacy of a real psychological Time, in opposition to the physical abstraction which bears the name, he again brought out the inadequacy of intellect to grasp Life in its flow and has put before us the soul’s own appreciation of Time, which is a valuation rather than a magnitude, an intuition of our consciousness. Then, in examining the Evolution of Instinct and Intelligence, we found that Instinct, however blind intellectually, contained a wonderful and unique element of immediacy or direct insight. These are just preparatory indications of the direction of Bergson’s thought all the time.
It is admittedly difficult to determine with very great definiteness what Bergson’s view of Intuition really is, for he has made many statements regarding it which appear at first sight irreconcilable and, in his earlier writings, has not been sufficiently careful when speaking of the distinction between Intelligence and Intuition. Some of his early statements are reactionary and crude and give the impression of a purely anti-intellectualist position involving the condemnation of Intellect and all its work. [Footnote: E.g., the statement “To philosophize is to invert the habitual direction of the work of thought”–Introduction to Metaphysics p. 59.] In his later work, however, Bergson has made it more clear that he does not mean to throw Intellect overboard; it has its place, but is not final, nor is it the supreme human faculty which most philosophers have thought it to be. It must be lamented, however, that Bergson’s language was ever so ill defined as to encourage the many varied and conflicting views which are held regarding his doctrine of Intuition. Around this the greatest controversy has raged. Little is to be gained by heeding the shouts of either those who acclaim Bergson as a revolutionary against all use of the Intellect, or of those who regard him as no purely anti-intellectualist at all. We must turn to Bergson himself and study carefully what he has said and written, reserving our judgment until we have examined his own statements.
What is this “Intuition”? In what is now a locus classicus [Footnote: Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 7.] he says, “By Intuition is meant the kind of INTELLECTUAL SYMPATHY by which one places oneself within an object in order to coincide with what is unique in it and consequently inexpressible. Analysis is the operation which reduces the object to elements already known, that is, to elements common to it and other objects. To analyse, therefore, is to express a thing as a function of something other than itself. All analysis is thus a translation, a development into symbols, a representation taken from successive points of view from which we note as many resemblances as possible between the new object which we are studying and others which we believe we know already. In its eternally unsatisfied desire to embrace the object around which it is compelled to turn, analysis multiplies without end the number of its points of view in order to complete its always incomplete representation, and ceaselessly varies its symbols that it may perfect the always imperfect translation. It goes on therefore to infinity. But Intuition, if Intuition be possible, is a simple act. It is an act directly opposed to analysis, for it is a viewing in totality, as an absolute; it is a synthesis, not an analysis, not an intellectual act, for it is an immediate, emotional synthesis.”
Two illustrations, taken from the same essay, may serve to make this point clearer. A visitor in Paris, of an artistic temperament, makes some sketches of the city, writing underneath them, by way of memento, the word “Paris.” As he has actually seen Paris he is able, with the help of the original Intuition he has had of that unique whole which is Paris itself, to place his sketches therein, and synthesize them. But there is no way of performing the inverse operation. It is impossible, even with thousands of sketches, to achieve the Intuition, to give oneself the impression of what Paris is like, if one has never been there. Or again, as a second illustration, “Consider a character whose adventures are related to me in a novel. The author may multiply the traits of his hero’s character, may make him speak and act as much as he pleases, but all this can never be equivalent to the simple and indivisible feeling which I should experience if I were able, for an instant, to identify myself with the person of the hero himself. Out of that indivisible feeling, as from a spring, all the words, gestures, and actions of the man would appear to me to flow naturally. They would no longer be accidents which, added to the idea I had already formed of the character, continually enriched that idea without ever completing it. The character would be given to me all at once, in its entirety, and the thousand incidents which manifest it, instead of adding themselves to the idea and so enriching it, would seem to me, on the contrary, to detach themselves from it, without, however, exhausting it or impoverishing its essence. All the things I am told about the man provide me with so many points of view from which I can observe him. All the traits which describe him and which can make him known to me, only by so many comparisons with persons or things I know already, are signs by which he is expressed more or less symbolically. Symbols and points of view, therefore, place me outside him; they give me only what he has in common with others, and not what belongs to him, and to him alone. But that which is properly ‘himself,’ that which constitutes his essence, cannot be perceived from without, being internal by definition, nor be expressed by symbols, being incommensurable with everything else. Description, history, and analysis leave me here in the relative. Coincidence with the person himself would alone give me the absolute.” [Footnote: An Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 3.] This, as Gaston Rageot puts it, is “to understand in the fashion in which one loves.” This statement is of suggestive interest in considering the practical problem of how we may be said to “know” other people, and has vital bearing on the revelation of one personality to another, urging, as it does, the value and necessity of some degree of sympathy and indeed of love, for the full understanding and knowledge of any personality.
In another place Bergson says: “When a poet reads me his verses, I can interest myself enough in him to enter into his thought, put myself into his feelings, live over again the simple state he has broken into phrases and words. I sympathize then with his inspiration, I follow it with a continuous movement which is, like the inspiration itself, an undivided act.” If this sympathy could extend its object and so reflect upon itself, it would give us the key to vital operations in the same way as Intelligence, developed and corrected, introduces us into Matter. Intelligence, by the intermediary of science, which is its work, tells more and more completely the secret of physical operations; of Life it gives and pretends only to give an expression in terms of inertia. We should be led into the very interior of Life by Intuition, that is, by Instinct become disinterested, conscious of itself, capable of reflecting on its object and enlarging it indefinitely.
In proclaiming the gospel of Intuition, Bergson’s main point is to show that man is capable of an experience and a knowledge deeper than that which the Intellect can possibly give. “At intervals a soul arises which seems to triumph… by dint of simplicity–the soul of an artist or a poet, which, remaining near its source, reconciles, in a harmony appreciable by the heart, terms irreconcilable by the intelligence” [Footnote: From the address on Ravaisson, delivered before the Academie des Sciences morales et politiques 1904.] His point of view is here akin to that of an earlier French thinker, Pascal, who said: “The heart hath reasons that the reason cannot know.” The Intellect is, by its nature, the fabricator of concepts, and concepts are, in Bergson’s view, mischievous. They are static, they leave out the flux of things, they omit too much of experience, they are framed at an expensive cost, the expense of vital contact with Life itself. Of course he admits a certain value in concepts, but he refuses to admit that they help us at all to grasp reality in its flux. “Metaphysics must transcend concepts in order to reach Intuition. Certainly concepts are necessary to it, for all the other sciences work, as a rule, with concepts, and Metaphysics cannot dispense with the other sciences. But it is only truly itself when it goes beyond the concept, or at least when it frees itself from rigid and ready-made concepts, in order to create a kind very different from those which we habitually use; I mean supple, mobile, and almost fluid representations, always ready to mould themselves on the fleeting forms of Intuition.” [Footnote: An Introduction to Metaphysics, p. 18.]
The true instrument of Metaphysics is intuition. We can only grasp ourselves, Bergson points out, by a metaphysical Intuition, for the soul eludes thought; we cannot place it among concepts or in a category. Intuition, however, reveals to us Real Time (la duree) and our real selves, changing and living as free personalities in a Time which, as it advances, creates.
Intuition is in no way mysterious, Bergson claims. Every one of us has had opportunities to exercise it in some degree, and anyone, for example, who has been engaged in literary work, knows perfectly well that after long study has been given to the subject, when all documents have been collected and necessary drafts worked out, one thing more is needful–an effort, a travail of soul, a setting of oneself in the heart of the subject; in short, the getting of inspiration. Metaphysical Intuition seems to be of this nature, and its relation to the empirical data contributed by the Intellect is parallel to the relation between the literary man’s inspiration and his collected material. Of course “it is impossible to have an Intuition of reality, that is, an intellectual sympathy, with its innermost nature, unless its confidence has been won by a long comradeship with its external manifestation.” In his study of Lucretius [Footnote: Extraits de Lucrece avec etude sur la poesie, la philosophie, la physique le texte et la langue de Lucrece (1884). Preface, p. xx.] he remarks that the chief value of the Latin poet-philosopher lay in his power of vision, in his insight into the beauty of nature, in his synthetic view, while at the same time he was able to exercise his keenly analytic intellect in discovering all he could about the facts of nature in their scientific aspect. At the same time, metaphysical Intuition, although only to be obtained through acquaintance with empirical data, is quite other than the mere summary of such knowledge. [Footnote: See protest: L’Intuition philosophique in Revue de metaphysique et de morale, 1911, p. 821.] It is distinct from these data, as the motor impulse is distinct from the path traversed by the moving body, as the tension of the spring is distinct from the visible movements of the pendulum. In this sense Metaphysics has nothing in common with a generalization of facts. It might, however, be defined as “integral experience.” Nevertheless Intuition, once attained, must find a mode of expression in well-defined concepts, for in itself it is incommunicable. Dialectic is necessary to put Intuition to the proof, necessary also in order that Intuition should break itself up into concepts and so be propagated to others. But when we use language and concepts to communicate it, we tend to make these in themselves mean something, whereas they are but counters or symbols used to express what is their inspiration–Intuition. Hence we often forget the metaphysical Intuitions from which science itself has sprung. What is relative in science is the symbolic knowledge, reached by pre-existing concepts which proceed from the fixed to the moving. A truly intuitive philosophy would bring science and metaphysics together. Modern science dates from the day when mobility was set up as an independent reality and studied as such by Galileo. But men of science have mainly fixed their attention on the concepts, the residual products of Intuition, the symbols which have lent a symbolic character to every kind of science. Metaphysicians, too, have done the same thing. Hence it was easy for Kant to show that our science is wholly relative and our metaphysics entirely artificial. For Kant, science was a universal mathematic and metaphysics a practically unaltered Platonism. The synthetic Intuition was hidden by the analysis to which it had given rise. For Kant, Intuition was infra-intellectual, but for Bergson it is supra-intellectual. Kant’s great error was in concluding that it is necessary for us, in order to attain Intuition, to leave the domain of the senses and of consciousness. This was because of his views of Time and Change. If Time and Change really were what he took them to be, then Metaphysics and Intuition alike are impossible. For Bergson, however, Time and Change lead up to Intuition; indeed it is by Intuition that we come to see all things, as he expresses it, sub specie durationis. This is the primary vision which an intuitive philosophy supplies. Such a philosophy will not be merely a unification of the sciences.
In an article contributed to the Revue de metaphysique et de morale in January of 1908, under the title L’Evolution de l’intelligence geometrique, we find Bergson remarking: “Nowhere have I claimed that we should replace intelligence by something else, or prefer instinct to it. I have tried to show merely that when we leave the region of physical and mathematical objects for the realm of life and consciousness, we have to depend on a certain sense of living, which has its origin in the same vital impulse that is the basis of instinct, although instinct, strictly speaking, is something quite different.”
Intellect and Intuition, Bergson says very emphatically, at the close of his Huxley Lecture on Life and Consciousness, are not opposed to one another. “How could there be a disharmony between our Intuitions and our Science, how, especially, could our Science make us renounce our Intuition, if these Intuitions are something like Instinct–an Instinct conscious, refined, spiritualized–and if Instinct is still nearer Life than Intellect and Science? Intuition and Intellect do not oppose each other, save where Intuition refuses to become more precise by coming into touch with facts, scientifically studied, and where Intellect, instead of confining itself to Science proper (that is, to what can be inferred from facts, or proved by reasoning), combines with this an unconscious and inconsistent metaphysic which in vain lays claim to scientific pretensions. The future seems to belong to a philosophy which will take into account the whole of what is given.” [Footnote: Life and Consciousness, as reported in The Hibbert Journal, Vol. X, Oct., 1911, pp. 24-44.] Intuition, to be fruitful, must interact with Intellect. It has the direct insight of Instinct, but its range is widened in proportion as it blends with Intellect. To imagine that the acceptance of the gospel of Intuition means the setting aside of all valuation in regard to the Intellect and its work would be preposterous. Bergson, however unguarded his language at times has been, does not mean this. He does not mean that we must return to the standpoint of the animal or that we must assume that the animal view, which is instinctive, is higher than the view which, through Intellect, gives it a meaning and value to the percipient. That would involve the rejection of all that our culture has accumulated, all our social heritage from the past, the overthrow of our civilization, the undoing of all that has developed in our world, since man’s Intelligence came into it. We cannot obtain Intuition without intellectual labour, for it must have an intellectual or scientific basis. Yet, however valuable Intellect is, it is not final. “It is reality itself, in the profoundest meaning of the word, that we reach by the combined and progressive development of science and philosophy.” [Footnote: Creative Evolution, p. 210 (Fr. p. 217).] We need, therefore, if we are to get into touch with the deeper aspects of reality, something more than bare science. We cannot live on its dry bread alone; we need philosophy–an intuitional philosophy.
In his brilliant paper L’Intuition philosophique Bergson shows us, by a splendid study of Berkeley and Spinoza, that the great Intuition underlying the thought of a philosopher is of more worth to the world than the logic and dialectic through the aid of which it is made manifest, and elaborated. [Footnote: He makes this clear in a letter to Dr. Mitchell in the latter’s Studies in Bergson’s Philosophy, p. 31.] Then in the Lectures La Perception du Changement and in his little work on Laughter he sets forth the meaning of Intuition in relation to Art. From time to time Nature raises up souls more or less detached from practical life, seers of visions and dreamers of dreams, men of Intuition, with powers of great poetry, great music, or great painting. The clearest evidence of Intuition comes to us from the works of these great artists. What is it that we call the “genius” of great painters, great musicians, and great poets? It is simply the power they have of seeing more than we see and of enabling us, by their expressions, to penetrate further into reality ourselves. What makes the picture is the artist’s vision, his entry into the subject by sympathy or Intuition, and however imperfectly he expresses this, yet he reveals to us more than we could otherwise have perceived.
The original form of consciousness, Bergson asserts, was nearer to Intuition than to Intelligence. But man has found Intellect the more valuable faculty for practical use and so has used it for the solution of questions it was never intended to solve, by reason of its nature and origin. Yet “Intuition is there, but vague and, above all, discontinuous. It is a lamp almost extinguished which only glimmers now and then for a few moments at most. But it glimmers whenever a vital interest is at stake. On our personality, on our liberty, on the place we occupy in the whole of Nature, on our origin, and perhaps also on our destiny, it throws a light, feeble and vacillating, but which, none the less, pierces the darkness of the night in which the Intellect leaves us.” [Footnote: Creative Evolution, p. 282 (Fr. p. 290).]
Science promises us well-being, or, at the most, pleasure, but philosophy, through the Intuition to which it leads us, is capable of bestowing upon us Joy. The future belongs to such an intuitive philosophy, Bergson holds, for he considers that the whole progress of Evolution is towards the creation of a type of being whose Intuition will be equal to his Intelligence. Finally, by Intuition we shall find ourselves in–to invent a word–“intunation” with the elan vital, with the Evolution of the whole universe, and this absolute feeling of “at-one-ment” with the universe will result in that emotional synthesis which is deep Joy, which Wordsworth describes as:
“that blessed mood In which the burthen of the mystery, In which the heavy and the weary weight Of all this unintelligible world, Is lightened:–that serene and blessed mood, In which the affections gently lead us on,– Until, the breath of this corporeal frame And even the motion of our human blood Almost suspended, we are laid asleep In body, and become a living soul: While with an eye made quiet by the power Of harmony and the deep power of joy We see into the life of things.”