Bergson’s Dualism in ‘Time and Free Will’
The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp. 83-106, Vol. 4, Number 2, Summer, 1974. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.
Bergsonian philosophy consists in a bold attempt to justify metaphysical knowledge on an intuitional basis. This current in Bergson’s thought is professedly anti-Cartesian. Bergson’s doctrine of durational embodiment constitutes, in fact, an early and highly original chapter in the effort to by-pass the nineteenth-century stalemate between intellectualistic-idealism and objectivistic-empiricism.
The philosophical enterprise of Henri Bergson (1859-1941) forcefully illustrates his own pronouncement: a philosopher worthy of the name has never said more than a single thing” (CM 132 — OE 1350). Bergson’s own philosophical statement of “a single thing,” of course, consists in his ever renewed and ever expansive articulations of the intuition of duration. Throughout his works, Bergson attempts to communicate his intuition of that at once interpenetrative unity and qualitatively heterogeneous continuity which, in his developing metaphysics, constitutes the experiential foundation of all agency, freedom, and creative innovation. This positive intuition of the durational actuality of consciousness constitutes the radically empirical basis of affirmation in Bergson’s metaphysics of integral experience.
Bergsonian philosophy thus consists in a bold attempt to justify metaphysical knowledge on an intuitional basis. Bergson fully realized that, in the wake of Kant’s critique, the claims of metaphysics could be reestablished only through an appeal to a broadened notion of experience. Sensistic, associationist epistemologies and psychologies — theories of knowledge and consciousness such as those which stand at the base of the empiricism of J. S. Mill and the mechanistic evolutionism of Herbert Spencer — proved hopelessly inadequate for the task which Bergson posed for himself:
But this duration which science eliminates, and which is so difficult to conceive and express, is what one feels and lives. Suppose we try to find out what it is? — How would it appear to a consciousness which desired only to see it without measuring it, which would then grasp it without stopping it, which in short, would take itself as object, and which, spectator and actor alike, at once spontaneous and reflective, would bring ever closer together — to the point where they would coincide — the attention which is fixed, and the time which passes? (CM 13 = O 1255)
To state the problem is to indicate a method and to inaugurate a program of inquiry. The problem is fundamentally that of transcending certain bifurcative contrasts — contrasts which issue in the Cartesian dichotomies: subject-object, thought-extension, soul-body; and which culminate in the Kantian divisions: noumenal-phenomenal, moral freedom-physical determinism. The method consists in bringing these traditional conceptual dichotomies into a dialectical confrontation with the immediate and irreducible claims of durational experience. The program is that of developing a metaphysics wherein “no quality, no aspect of the real would be substituted for the rest ostensibly to explain it” (CM 134 = O 1370).
Critics, however, have recurrently focused upon a problem which, in their view, is intimately connected with the underlying thrust of Bergson’s program. The starting-point of Bergson’s projected metaphysics is inextricably linked with a psychological fact: In the dynamic immediacy of self-consciousness, it is claimed, one encounters a privileged instance of experience which evidences the durational character of fundamental reality. Critics, noting the psychological character of Bergson’s starting-point, tend to formulate the basic internal problem of Bergsonian metaphysics as follows: Inasmuch as this metaphysics has its starting-point in a privileged psychological fact, how does its author propose to extend this de facto psychological experience into a principle of general metaphysical validity and import? Can duration, first encountered as psychological fact, serve to ground a unified and coherent account of man’s integral experience of materiality, vitality, and consciousness? Having posed the problem in these terms, the critics then conclude that Bergson, in his efforts to avoid the subjectivistic and even solipsistic implications of his starting-point, formulated an incoherent ontological dualism, or at best vacillated indecisively between monism and dualism.
The force of this criticism — a criticism which strikes at the very heart of the Bergsonian systematic — is clearly exhibited in two relatively recent analyses.
(1) Albert William Levi, in his article “Bergson or Whitehead?”, concludes that Bergson’s metaphysics is a thoroughgoing dualism (PD 139-59). Levi contends that the systematics of Bergson and Whitehead pose a contemporary metaphysical option which parallels, in pivotal respects, the focal seventeenth-century option: Cartesian dualism or Leibnizian pluralism? The dualistic facets of Bergson’s thought, Levi maintains, are “essentially Cartesian”: “For Bergson (as for Descartes) there are selves and there are material objects. . . . Bergson’s dualism means that the two elements are recalcitrantly there, and their ultimate unification is impossible” (PD 157). Thus Bergson’s dualism, like Descartes’ before him, constitutes a bifucation of nature (PD 147). From the perspective of Whitehead’s systematic, this bifurcation comprises an instance of incoherence — comprises an instance of “the arbitrary disconnection of first principles” (PR 9).
This incoherent bifurcation of nature, Levi claims, is a direct consequence of Bergson’s psychologistic and subjectivistic starting-point (PD 158). A pure metaphysical impulse — the impulse to by-pass Kant’s strictures against the possibility of intellectual intuition — animates Bergson’s thought. Bergson seeks to transcend the limiting categories of the analytic, scientific understanding, and to experience the self directly as a noumenal reality. In Bergson’s metaphysics, a psychological experience, the intuition of durational selfhood, stands as the paradigm of cognition and is said to evidence the durational character of reality.
Bergson thus attempts to reestablish the claims of metaphysics on a psychological base. Nevertheless, Bergson, from his psychological vantage point, cannot simply disregard the phenomena of matter, nor can he dismiss the successful advance of physical science. In Levi’s view, the oppositional contrast between the “inner” heterogeneous personal time of intuitional experience and an “outer” homogeneous physical time of scientific analysis constitutes the very cornerstone of the Bergsonian systematic. Levi concludes that “this duality of time indicates and symbolizes a duality of matter and life” (PD 146) — a duality of spatial necessity and durational freedom, a duality of physical system and organic evolution. Inert matter and vital duration stand as mutually exclusive opposites.
In Levi’s account, then, Bergson’s intuition of duration is a psychological experience at the level of felt-immediacy — an experience which may well evidence “vestiges of that same imagination which inspired mythical thought before it was expurgated by the scientific mentality” (PD 143). Experience at this primitive level, indeed, may inspire Bergson to poetic visions of the durational unity of life; nevertheless, such experience cannot ground a coherent account of the relation “between the ‘animated’ matter of evolutionary development and the ‘inert’ matter which defines a physical system” (PD 142). Bergson’s subjectivist starting-point, like Descartes’, ultimately issues in an unintelligible bifurcation of experience and nature.
(2) James D. Collins, writing from the Thomist perspective, has succinctly expressed the criticism that Bergson’s systematic must ever vacillate between monism and dualism (HMEP 819-21, 827-31). Collins contends that Bergson, because of his subjectivist starting-point and the resulting psychological tenor of his metaphysics, failed to develop “a coherent doctrine of the analogical unity and multiplicity of experience” (HMEP 830, cf. 818, 820). Instead, Bergson resorted to “a rapid oscillation between images conveying the unity of personal life and images suggesting its many phases” (HMEP 830). Bergson thus “alternates between a psychological monism (the oneness of the stream of duration or consciousness) and a functional dualism (the diversity of directions in which consciousness can move)” (HMEP 830).1 Collins concludes that Bergson, in order to avoid the charge of solipsism, was forced to suppose “that durational reality is the same” (HMEP 831) wherever it is encountered, whether in the self, as an unavoidably psychologistic starting-point, or beyond the self in the material universe. Bergson, it seems, can effect “passage from the primary object of intuition (inner psychic duration) to its secondary object (duration as the principle of the material universe)” (HMEP 830f), only on the ad hoc supposition of the univocal continuity of duration. Although “Bergson’s alternation between psychological monism and functional dualism is precisely what he needs to avoid the charge of solipsism” (HMEP 830), nevertheless the alternation as such is self-perpetuating and cannot provide an intelligible account of the relation of subject to object.
Although the critiques of Levi and Collins vary considerably in detail, they unite in the claim that Bergson’s speculative philosophy is subjectivistic and psychologistic in its starting-point and tone. They also converge in the charges that Bergson, far from surmounting the bifurcative contrasts which have haunted the Western tradition since Descartes, ultimately found “the disjunction between spirit and matter absolute” (Levi, PD 154), or concluded that “matter and spirit are polar opposites within the embracing realm of duration” (Collins, HMEP 830). As noted earlier, the general line of criticism common to both Levi and Collins comes to focus in a pivotal question; Can Bergson’s doctrine of duration transcend the psychologistic character of his starting-point, admit of analogical elaboration, and thereby, as a truly metaphysical principle, ground a unified interpretation of our integral experience of the differentiated levels of existence? To this question, the critics respond: Duration, as a psychological principle, is too narrow a foundation for an adequate and coherent account of the entire range of experienced spirituality, vitality, and materiality.
The foregoing line of criticism constitutes the oppositional backdrop for the remaining considerations of this article. My inquiries focus upon Bergson’s first major work, Time and Free Will (1889), and are guided by the following questions: (1) What, in fact, constitutes Bergson’s speculative starting-point — does it consist in a psychological experience at the level of felt-immediacy? (2) Is Bergson’s dualism characterized by oppositional contrasts which issue in a clear-cut bifurcation of nature? My investigations are limited in scope and do not constitute a point by point refutation of Bergson’s individual critics. These inquiries, nonetheless, are highly relevant to any assessment of the general interpretative stance exhibited in the critiques of Levi and Collins. Time and Free Will — since it provides an elaborate account of Bergson’s starting-point and also stands as the most “Cartesian” expression of his thought — admirably commends itself to inquiries which illuminate our central themes. Indeed, this early work provides us with a fine test case: If, in Time and Free Will, Bergson’s starting-point is not wholly psychological in its origin and import and if his dualism does not constitute a bifurcation of nature, then the validity of the above line of criticism is quite suspect, and it may be argued that Bergson’s metaphysics admits of a pluralistic interpretation.
I. Bergson’s Starting-Point in “Time And Free Will”
This section first focuses upon the implications of Bergson’s accounts of the genesis of his foundational insight, and then upon his initial characterization of his starting-point in Time and Free Will.
A. Convergent Interests and Influences: The Genesis of Bergson’s Metaphysical Starting-Point
Bergson’s career took its decisive turn when he noted that the instantaneities of mechanistic science and positivistic philosophies do not endure and that objective clock-time is an explanatory abstraction rather than a concrete, active principle. Fortunately, Bergson has provided us with several complementary accounts of the interests and influences which, in 1883-1884, converged in his philosophical reflection upon the tension between objective time and lived-duration.2 Of his several accounts, none is more generally illuminating than that communicated to Charles Du Bos in the course of a conversation on February 22, 1922 (OE 1541-43). When asked to comment on J. Desaymard’s claim that he had first attained the intuition of duration while explaining Zeno’s paradoxes, Bergson provided Du Bos with a somewhat different and more elaborate account.
Bergson first stated that when he was completing his degree, two opposed factions dominated the philosophical life of the university. Those who maintained that Kant had stated the major problems in their definitive form constituted the far larger group. Kantianism, however, held little spontaneous attraction for the young Bergson; his own sympathies linked him with a second group which rallied around the evolutionism of Herbert Spencer. The concrete character of Spencer’s philosophy appealed to the young Bergson; indeed, Bergson informed Du Bos, Spencer’s “desire always to bring the mind back upon the terrain of facts” (OE 1541) remained influential in Bergson’s developing thought even after he had himself abandoned all of Spencer’s particular philosophic views.
Spencer’s treatment, in his First Principles, of the foundational notions of mathematics and mechanics commanded Bergson’s interest in 1883-1884. Analyses of the notion of time which functioned in mechanistic physics — analyses of that time which, like space, is a homogeneous medium, containing juxtaposed parts, and consequently is amenable to precise mathematical description — led Bergson to the vague and disquieting awareness that any attempt to identify experienced temporality with scientific time must issue in insurmountable difficulties. This awareness, although it did not generate any positive insight into the bases of these difficulties, did stimulate further investigations.
One day at Clermont-Ferrand, while explicating Zeno’s paradoxes for his students, Bergson began to see just what direction his inquiries should take. Further reflections on the notion of objective time exploded Bergson’s former ideas and led him to conclude that scientific time does not endure in any sense:
that nothing would have changed in our scientific knowledge of things if the totality of the real had been unfurled all at a stroke in an instant, and that positive science essentially consists in the elimination of duration. (EP II 295)3
Spurred on by this conclusion, Bergson pursued the investigations which culminated, during the years 1884-1886, in the writing of the pivotal second and third chapters of Time and Free Will.
In light of the continued ascendancy of Kant in the philosophical circles of that day, Bergson found it necessary to modify his third chapter with a view to Kantian criticism. The introductory chapter, with its psychophysical considerations, was then inserted in hopes that its addition would render Bergson’s own views more accessible. In fact, this first chapter commanded the committee’s attention, and the central, second chapter, much to Bergson’s displeasure, received little positive notice. Bergson then recast the second chapter in a final attempt to communicate his own position.
Bergson concluded this phase of the conversation with thc remark that the scientific rather than the psychological notion of time served as his point of departure. He thereby distinguished his own doctrine from that of William James, who, he remarked, “was a born psychologist” (OE 1542). Bergson’s inquiries, it seems, took a psychological turn only in the face of the experienced tension between the objective time of scientific interpretation and the lived-duration of consciousness.
As this conversation clearly indicates, both Spencer and Zeno of Elea were pivotal influences in the emergence of Bergson’s speculative starting-point. Kantian thought is displayed as exercising an important negative and oppositional role in the development of Bergson’s distinctive stance.4 Bergson’s contrast between his own and William James’s starting-point also will prove significant. For the present, however, the positive influences of Spencer and Zeno demand further exploration.
(1) Spencer’s Influence. Bergson’s accounts of Spencer’s contribution to his developing interests, and to the advent of the tensional awareness which inaugurated his own distinctive inquiries, manifest marked continuity. In a 1908 letter to William James, for example, Bergson writes that in 1881 the philosophy of Spencer commanded his almost unreserved allegiance and that his primary interest was then directed to the “philosophy of sciences” — particularly to the examination of fundamental scientific notions (EP II 294f). Indeed, Bergson first envisioned his own doctoral thesis as consisting in a continuation, consolidation, and completion of certain fundamental elements of Spencer’s philosophy.
Writing in 1922, Bergson elaborates upon his admiration for the concrete character of Spencer’s empiricism:
The only explanation we should accept as satisfactory is one which fits tightly to its object, with no space between them, no crevice in which any other explanation might equally well be lodged; one which fits the object only and to which alone the object lends itself. Scientific explanation can be of such a kind; it involves complete or mounting evidence. Can one say as much for philosophical theories?
There was one doctrine, however, which seemed to me as a youth to be an exception, and that is probably why I was drawn to it. The philosophy of Spencer aimed at taking the impression of things and modeling itself on the facts in every detail. (CM 11 = QE 1253f)
The young Bergson judged that Spencer’s thought, in its emphasis upon facts, stood in opposition to philosophical systems which, as vast assemblages of abstract concepts, might contain, in addition to the real, all that is possible and even impossible. Since such systems had abandoned the terrain of fact and sought their foundations in mere abstract, conceptual possibilities, their explanations were all too arbitrary — they lacked justification in terms of “complete or mounting evidence.”
Bergson’s admiration for Spencer’s attempted fidelity to facts remained constant; his projected completion of Spencer’s doctrine of the foundations of science, however, was soon abandoned. The young Bergson became increasingly aware that lived-time — the time of development, growth, and emergent novelty — the duration “which plays the leading part in any philosophy of evolution, eludes mathematical treatment” (CM 12=OE 1254). Real time, the essence of which is to flow, does not admit of the superposition “of one part on another with measurement in view” (CM 12 = OE 1254). as does the spatialized time of mechanics. Whereas real time is truly effectual in the sense that it retards and “hinders everything from being given at once,” in Spencer’s mechanistic evolutionism “time served no purpose, did nothing” (CM 93 = OE 1333). Spencerian time, in its ineffectuality, could not serve as a “vehicle of creation and of choice” (CM 93 = OE 1333). As Bergson’s own investigations progressed, he became convinced that Spencer s empirical evolutionism,” far from evidencing fidelity to the facts of the evolving, was thoroughly vitiated by its acceptance of evolved symbol as adequately accounting for evolving fact, with the result that “the usual device of the Spencerian method consists in reconstructing evolution with fragments of the evolved” (CE 396 = OE 802).
Thus, in Bergson’s developing philosophy “fidelity to facts” was to take on a sense quite foreign to Spencer’s original intent. Bergson soon recognized that “facts,” within the context of Spencer’s sensistic, associationist psychology and phenomenalist epistemology, were all too tinged by what Whitehead was later to term “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness” — Spencer’s presentation of “fads” neglects the degree of abstraction involved when experience is viewed as exemplifying certain categories of thought (1:102-21). According to Bergson, “facts” or immediate data” — far from being the percept-objects of simple acts of sensory apprehension or the conclusions of the surest mathematical demonstrations or the common subjects of universal agreement — are established only with the greatest difficulty, through the convergence of diverse lines of inquiry, which lines of inquiry themselves presuppose many sustained efforts of analysis.5 Habits and symbols — the instruments of vital need, social life, and practical utility — very effectively veil “facts,” rendering “immediate data” all but inaccessible to consciousness.
Spencer’s attempted fidelity to facts, nonetheless, must be viewed as a perduring, positive influence upon Bergson’s methodology both in his initial quest for the immediate data of consciousness and in his sustained elaboration of an evolutionary metaphysics founded upon the intuition of duration (1:102-21; OE xvii-xx). Bergson’s ideal of a philosophy which molds itself upon facts, follows the sinuosities of the real, and, like positive science, justifies itself by means of complete or mounting evidence also indicates a certain Spencerian inspiration. Finally, Spencer’s thought doubtlessly supported the young Bergson in his dissatisfaction with abstract, conceptual elaboration of all possible experience and fostered the hope that he might yet articulate the concrete, positive conditions of all real experience.
(2) The Influence of Zeno’s Paradoxes. Bergson’s conversation with Du Bos does not expressly indicate the manner in which reflection upon Zeno’s paradoxes contributed to the progress of his own thought. References to Zeno’s argumentation, however, are encountered throughout the Bergsonian corpus; indeed, their recurrence, as Henri Gouhier suggests, may well be likened to a Wagnerian leitmotiv (OE xv). The initial impact of Zeno’s paradoxes upon Bergson is evident in his first explicit consideration of the Eleatic’s argumentation — a consideration which, significantly, occupies a central position in the pivotal, innovative second chapter of Time and Free Will.
This first reference to the paradoxes occurs within the context of Bergson’s account of the psychological process whereby heterogeneous, qualitative duration “assumes the illusory form of a homogeous medium” and thus becomes, as an interpretative category, “a fourth dimension of space” (TFW 109f = OE 73f). Bergson maintains that this process whereby lived-duration is transmuted into the homogeneous quantitative time of mechanistic science is strikingly exhibited through an analysis of the concept of motion. The concept of motion as dealt with in mechanics, Bergson claims, is, above all else, the symbol of a “seemingly homogeneous duration” — the symbol of that time which, as interpretative category, is derived from the abstract concept of homogeneous space (TFW 110= GE 74).6
The concept of motion is grounded in the almost instinctive assumption that moving bodies are contained in an independent and immutable, homogeneous, spatial medium; indeed, this almost instinctive conviction is manifest in our habitual modes of symbolic representation, for instance, in the fact that “we generally say that a movement takes place in space” (TFW 110 = OE 74). Homogeneity is the primary attribute of this spatial medium, for
space is what enables us to distinguish a number of identical and simultaneous sensations from one another; it is thus a principle of differentiation other than that of qualitative differentiation, and consequently it is a reality with no quality. (TFW 95 = OE 64)
As a homogeneous medium, space consists in “a simultaneity of terms which, although identical in quality, are yet distinct from one another” (TFW 95 = OE 64). In virtue of its homogeneity, the concept of space is a necessary condition for quantitative differentiations; moreover, the concept of homogeneous space of itself admits of no privileged positions or directions. As a homogenous medium, space admits neither of absolute limits in the direction of the infinitely great, nor of absolute limits in the direction of the infinitesimally small. Homogeneous space, consequently, is unbounded and possesses that mathematical continuity which is more aptly described as the infinite divisibility of all spatial intervals.
As an instrument of social utility, Bergson claims, the human mind is directed to action, and action is rendered more efficient when directed to the stabilized terms of a process rather than to the dynamics of the process itself. Because of its pragmatic character, human intelligence tends to interpret the simple, indivisible continuity of an act in progress wholly in terms of the spatially sedimented object produced. Nevertheless, motion, as true passage, is an ongoing durational synthesis, an experienced qualitative progress, “a gradual organization of our successive sensations, a unity resembling that of a phrase in a melody” (TFW 111 = GE 74). When we suddenly perceive a shooting star, Bergson continues, we naturally and spontaneously separate the space traversed — the objectively sedimented line of fire — from the absolutely indivisible, simple continuity of the act in progress, namely, the sensation of motion. Similarly, when consciousness abstains from objectifying, spatial concerns, a “rapid gesture, made with one’s eyes shut, will assume . . . the form of a purely qualitative sensation” (TFW 112 = OE 75).
Thus, we must distinguish two aspects of motion: (1) the space traversed considered as an infinitely divisible, objectified, homogeneous quantity and (2) the act in progress experienced as an indivisibly continuous, heterogeneous quality. In our symbolical interpretations, however,
we attribute to the motion the divisibility of the space which it traverses, forgetting that it is quite possible to divide an object, but not an act: and . . . we accustom ourselves to projecting this act itself into space, to applying it to the whole of the line which the moving body traverses, in a word, to solidifying it. (TFW 112 = OE 75)
We thus tend to confuse act with object, to confuse the immediate experience of motion with its projective interpretation in terms of the concept of the space traversed. In virtue of its pragmatic efficacy, the concept of homogeneous space leads us: (1) to reduce heterogeneous duration to the concept of homogeneous time, (2) to interpret durational agency and emergent novelty solely in terms of static, objectifying concepts and precontained possibilities, and (3) to construct movement a priori out of static, objective spatiotemporal intervals and thereby to disregard its experienced durational significance (EP II 284f).
Bergson next notes that Zeno’s paradoxes are founded on this same confusion of motion with the space traversed. As homogeneous space, the interval separating any two points is infinitely divisible; hence, if motion is conceived as consisting of parts like those which compose the spatial interval, motion would possess only mathematical continuity, and no interval would ever be crossed. Achilles does in fact win his race with the tortoise, because each of his steps is a simple, indivisible act. The series of Achilles’ steps, “each of which is of a definite kind and indivisible” (TFW 113 = OE 75), cannot be identified with the homogeneous space which we conceive as subtending it. Achilles outstrips the tortoise because each of his steps and each step of the tortoise are, as movements, indivisible and are, as space, different magnitudes. As act and progress, motion does not consist of parts which are homogeneous and divisible; rather, each step is qualitatively heterogeneous and indivisible, with the result that Achilles soon overcomes his initial handicap. Zeno, aware that the homogeneous space admitted by his adversaries can be divided and reconstructed according to any law whatsoever, simply “reconstructs the movement of Achilles according to the same law as the movement of the tortoise” (TFW 113 = OE 75) and draws the conclusions which must necessarily follow if motion is regarded as wholly assimilable to homogeneous space.
The directional thrust which reflection upon Zeno’s paradoxes lent to Bergson’s foundational inquiries is now apparent. As Bergson later notes, Zeno’s paradoxes are manifest sophisms if one accepts them as attempting to demonstrate the impossibility of real motion; these arguments, however, take on great value when they are interpreted as demonstrating the impossibility of reconstructing motion, which as act-process is a primary fact of experience, on the basis of a priori, object-product, homogeneous, spatial concepts (EP II 284f). The qualitatively heterogeneous, durational reality is fundamental and irreducible, whereas our symbolical representations — especially the interpretative categories of homogeneous space and time — are derivative.
Thus Bergson’s interest ” philosophy of the sciences” — an interest fostered by Spencer’s call to remain faithful to facts — focused ever more acutely on the disparity between immediate experience and the foundational concepts of mechanistic science. Bergson’s awareness of this disparity, once drawn into the context of Zeno’s paradoxes, issued in a basic distinction which ordered his subsequent investigations: the distinction between the experiential act-process and the pragmatically instrumental object-product. Bergson, in virtue of this distinction, became increasingly aware that Spencer’s empiricism — and indeed any account of experience which is grounded in a sensistic, associationist psychology and epistemology — was vitiated by the fallacy of misplaced concreteness. A new, non-sensistic notion of experience and consciousness emerged, and Bergson’s interests converged in his investigation of lived-duration. Reflections upon Zeno’s argumentation, moreover, led Bergson to reformulate the distinction between the act-process and the object-product as an operant contrast between qualitative heterogeneity and quantitative homogeneity. We must now thoroughly analyze the manner in which this operant contrast provides the context for Bergson’s initial account of duration in Time and Free Will.
B. The Operant Contrast, Homogeneity-Heterogeneity, and Bergson’s Initial Account of Duration
In his initial statement of the durational character of consciousness, Bergson approaches duration by way of a contrast between quantitative homogeneity and qualitative heterogeneity — between “the multiplicity of juxtaposition and that of interpenetration (TFW 75 = OE 51). This operant contrast involves a distinction between two modes of synthesis and between the two kinds of wholes in which these syntheses issue; thus, Bergson’s first statements concerning duration emerge in the course of a methodical analysis of two forms of relation.
The first form of relation, a quantitative multiplicity of juxtaposition. is intimately associated with the abstract concept of homogeneous space. In a quantitative multiplicity of juxtaposition, the terms of the relation are homogeneous, qualitatively equivalent, mutually substituent spatial parts. The principle whereby the terms are differentiated, homogeneous space as unbounded parts outside of parts, is a wholly external principle, a homogeneous container which remains absolutely indifferent to its content. A synthesis of the many terms into a mere sum total does not in itself result in any real unity: the equivalence of the univocal quantitative parts does not provide the basis for any intrinsic order — the terms, in their inert passivity and absence of qualitative differentiation, possess only the vacuous actuality of simply located entities.
Whatever unity results from additive synthesis is at best a provisional unity, for the homogeneous space, which is the material principle of the synthesis, possesses only static, mathematical continuity — a continuity which admits of infinite divisibility. Such mathematical continuity stands ever in potency to further acts of mental attention — to those acts which constitute the formative principle of synthesis — so that the provisional unity of the synthesis continually tends to expand, by way of subsequent additions, into the infinitely great and to contract, by further divisions, into the infinitesimally small. In spite of its apparent objective solidity, the numerical whole which is the product of additive synthesis remains arbitrary and unstable in the extreme — it can be divided and reconstructed according to any law whatsoever. The unity of the numerical whole is provisional, that is, derived from a wholly external principle — the attentive act of consciousness. Every synthesis of a quantitative whole presupposes a prior synthesis and invites subsequent syntheses.
Each member of a quantitative whole, in virtue of its mutually substituent homogeneity, can fulfill the function of any other member, and the whole will remain precisely what it is: the sum of its parts. The mode of additive synthesis thus proceeds from a many, each member of which, insofar as it is subject to synthesis, is devoid of internal qualitative differentiations, to a one which is simply a one from the many. Through additive synthesis, the character of the many is in no way enhanced; the parts are merely brought together, are merely externally related by force of sheer addition.
The second form of relation, a qualitative multiplicity of interpenetration, is linked with the experience of durational consciousness, and is particularly evident in our perception of melodic and rhythmic wholes. A qualitative multiplicity of interpenetration is grounded in the heterogeneity of its parts — in their internal, qualitative differentiations. As effectual and qualitatively differentiated, the many parts, the phases of consciousness, which enter into synthesis by way of dynamic, qualitative progress, are truly capable of sustaining internal relations. Consequently, the one which issues from such a progressive synthesis is a dynamically ordered whole.7
Such a dynamically ordered whole does not consist merely in the parts, externally related, nor in the relation of each part to those other parts which are immediately prior or posterior to it; rather, a dynamically ordered whole consists in the interpenetrating, internal relations of all the parts. Such internal relatedness is the experienced interpenetration of part and whole; moreover, the very expressions “part” and “whole” bear a meaning markedly different from that borne with reference to a whole which is merely the sum of its parts. In the dynamically ordered whole there is mutual solidarity between part and part, each part and the whole, all parts and the whole. This mutual solidarity itself consists in the organic continuity of a progress, not in the static continuity of a product — not in the infinitely divisible “continuity” of our mathematical, objectifying categories. In a dynamic, qualitative whole, all relations are internal, real relations, in the sense that any change in the parts is a modification of the whole, and any further synthesis of the whole is at the same time the modification of the parts. Indeed, whole-part terminology, and even the description of durational parts as moments or phases of consciousness distinguished with reference to an objectified past, present, and future, only belie the basic character of the durational whole, namely, its dynamic continuity of progress.
With regard to synthesis by mode of qualitative progress — with regard to that mode of synthesis which is proper to durational consciousness — all progress is growth. Each phase of durational development, in virtue of its qualitative heterogeneity, stands in a unique and ongoing continuity with all the other phases. Durational progress consists in the developmental enhancement of that dynamically ordered unity — of that unity of continuity — which is consciousness as an emergent organic whole. In virtue of the dynamism of the whole, in virtue of this synthesis by mode of qualitative progress, the mutual interpenetration of the parts, ever differentiating, nevertheless ever manifests qualitative continuity. Throughout the course of its developmental differentiations, each of the parts — each phase of consciousness — establishes and reestablishes its own proper identity through its ever renewed reference to the qualitative continuity of the whole. Hence, durational consciousness is experience in its dynamic and irreducibly analogical immediacy — is the lived immediacy, the self-presence, of that agency which, ever differentiating, remains ever the same. Lived similarity-in-difference, continuity-in-process, tensional unity throughout the progressive assimilation of novelty — such is durational consciousness.
Thus, in establishing his speculative starting-point Bergson notes that a tensional opposition between two modes of relatedness pervades the experience of reflective consciousness. One pole of this tension, the quantitative multiplicity of juxtaposition, is wholly grounded in the abstract concept of spatial homogeneity and issues in arbitrary systems of external relations. The second pole, that of the qualitative multiplicity of interpenetration, consists in real, dynamic, internal relations — consists in that durational heterogeneity which characterizes the foundational immediacy of lived experience. The first pole is correlated with the spectator viewpoint and objectivist bias which dominated the modern period of Western thought from Descartes to Kant. The second pole takes on its full significance when consciousness adopts the agent-participant attitude.
Durational consciousness manifests ilseif in the irreducible fact of lived agency — in that lived agency which stands as the perduring basis for real dynamic relations. Immediate experience evidences a fundamental qualitative continuity — evidences that continuity whereby the past remains influential in its vital presence and whereby the creative present ever opens upon a novel future with its prospects of further qualitative enhancement. La durée réelle, as a process of active self-differentiation and creative advance, is not exhaustively assimilable to the static grid-work of homogeneous space-time. Durational consciousness, Bergson insists, cannot be integrally interpreted in terms of spatialized time — in terms of an abstract quantitative medium wherein homogeneous parts are, at will, juxtaposed and superimposed with a view toward mathematical description and scientific prediction.
Once he has articulated the tensional polarizations of experience, Bergson then indicates that the quantitative pole is derived, by way of abstraction, from the foundational level of qualitative experience. Bergson insists that “it is through the quality of quantity that we form the idea of quantity without quality” (TFW 123 = OE 82). It is though our qualitative and durational experience of an extensive perceptual field — through experiences such as those of shape or figure and of change of direction — that the concept of homogeneous space arises. The perception of a qualitatively differentiated extensive field and the durational continuity of consciousness both antedate our subsequent acts of quantitative synthesis.
The doctrine of Time and Free Will thus substantiates Bergson’s frequent claims that his metaphysics is not founded solely upon the psychological experience of lived duration: “. . . the metaphysics propounded in my various works . . . has as its basis the experience of duration, along with the constatation of a certain connection between this duration and the space employed to measure it” (CM 301n5 = OE 1280n1). In a similar vein, Bergson never fails to distinguish between the psychological origin and function of William James’s “stream of consciousness” and the critically epistemological and metaphysical character of his own starting-point. In a 1915 response to H. M. Kallen, Bergson notes that whereas James arrived at his “stream of consciousness” purely by way of psychological considerations, he himself was led to the doctrine of “real duration” by way of a critique of the mathematical and physical conception of time, together with “the comparison of this idea with reality” (EP III 443).
This difference of origin explains the difference of function for “duration” and for the “stream.” The “stream of thought” has especially a psychological explanatory force, whereas “duration” has principally an epistemological or, if you will, metaphysical explanatory force. (EP 443f).8
These textual considerations clearly oppose the contention that Bergson’s starting-point is wholly subjectivistic and psychologistic in its origin and import.
Bergson’s starting-point, then, does not consist in the introspective, psychological immediacy of the stream of consciousness. To be sure, the intuition of the enduring self is a necessary and irreducible foundational principle of Bergsonian metaphysics; nevertheless, the intuition of duration, when unreflectively proposed as a psychological fact, presented at the level of some nebulous felt-immediacy, does not possess metaphysical import. Bergson’s works, in a sense, may display “the vestiges of that same imagination which inspired mythical thought before it was expurgated by the scientific mentality” (PD 143). Whatever vestiges they exhibit, however, do not occur in isolation from the dialectical influence of developed scientific consciousness. Indeed, as Bergson insists, it was neither historically possible, nor even desirable, that a systematic knowledge of enduring consciousness — that a science which would have its starting-point in the vital grasp of the mind by the mind — develop in independence of intelligence’s efforts to construct a quantitative science of matter:
It was not possible, because mathematical science was already in existence at the dawn of the modern era, and it was therefore necessary to begin by drawing from it what it had to give for our knowledge of the world in which we live. We do not let go the prey to grasp what may be only a shadow.. it was not desirable for psychical science itself, that the human mind should have applied itself first of all to it. For though, without doubt, had there been expended on psychical science the amount of work, of talent and of genius, which has been consecrated to the sciences of matter, the knowledge of mind would have been pushed very far, yet something would have been always lacking, something of inestimable price and without which all the rest would lose much of its value, — the precision, the exactness, the anxiety for proof, the habit of distinguishing between what is simply possible or probable and what is certain…. Therefore, science, had it been applied in the first instance to the things of mind, would probably have remained uncertain and vague, however far it might have advanced. (ME 82f = OE 877f)
These words are hardly those of a man who would establish his metaphysics simply on the basis of some vague awareness at the level of felt-immediacy. Rather, they evidence Bergson’s conviction that, from the standpoint of developed consciousness, the precision which characterizes conceptual intelligence, and the sense of durational agency presented in the immediacy of intuition, interpenetrate and complement one another.
Bergson’s starting-point is radically empirical in that it arises out of durational man’s awareness of the lived tension between his qualitative experience and his quantitative interpretations; moreover, accounts of this starting-point, from Time and Free Will onward, develop not only in terms of an oppositional contrast between the qualitative heterogeneity of duration and the quantitative homogeneity of spatial concepts, but also in terms of the endosmotic tension whereby one pole of experience stands in dialectical relation to the other. Intuition, as Bergson insists, is a reflective activity (CM 87f = OE 1328).9 In elaborating this theme, Ian Alexander has aptly remarked:
To make explicit this nexus of qualitative-quantitative relations is the task of intuitive reflection. This is the concrete method demanded by a concrete philosophy, that is a philosophy sensitive to the coin-presence and complementarity, in every event and act, of mind and matter, time and space, consciousness and the world. (BPR 16f)
Thus, Bergsonian philosophy never emphasizes the subjective-psychological pole of experience to the exclusion of the objective-material pole of that same experience. In this metaphysics of integral experience, the subject as durational agent can in no sense be wholly isolated from the world as the environing context of that agency.
II. Bergson’s Dualism in “Time and Free Will”
The preceding considerations notwithstanding, it must be granted that Time and Free Will invites interpretation in terms of a dualistic bifurcation of experience and reality. On first reading, at any rate, this work seems to assert that real duration is encountered as a psychological fact, and that, once this fact is acknowledged, nature fragments into the immanent realm of durational consciousness and freedom, on the one hand, and, on the other, into an irreconcilable, ever transcendent domain of spatial matter and determinism:
Thus in consciousness we find states which succeed, without being distinguished from one another; and in space simultaneities which without succeeding, are distinguished from one another, in the sense that one has ceased to exist when the other appears. Outside us, mutual externality without succession; within us, succession without mutual externality. (TWF 227 =148f)
Here, the contrast between inner duration and outer simultaneity appears as an absolute opposition between enduring consciousness and nondurational, perpetually perishing materiality.
Numerous passages reinforce this sense of bifurcative opposition. We are repeatedly informed that material things do not endure as does vital consciousness.10 The moments of the external world are “equivalent to one another” (TFW 230 = OE 150), whereas thc qualitatively heterogeneous duration lived by consciousness admits of no equivalent moments, and thus is not to be confused with physical time, the variable “t” of mechanistic formulae, “which glides over the inert atoms without penetrating and altering them” (TFW 154 = OE 102). Inert matter “does not bear the mark of the time that has elapsed” (TFW 200 = OE 131); consequently, the physicist encounters repetitive, elementary conditions. Duration, however, “is something real for the consciousness which preserves the trace of it, and we cannot here speak of identical conditions, because the same moment does not occur twice” (TFW 200=131). Such passages stress, in an almost Cartesian fashion, the mutually exclusive characteristics of inner, durational consciousness and outer, spatial materiality.11
Other passages, however, attest to the qualified and provisional character of Bergson’s dualistic contrasts: “Inert matter does not seem to endure or to preserve any trace of past time” (TFW 153 = OE 101),” and “things considered apart from our perception do not seem to endure” (TFW 209 = OE 137).” In a particularly significant passage Bergson notes:
“. . . we certainly feel . . . that although things do not endure as we do ourselves, nevertheless there must be some reason why phenomena are seen to succeed one another instead of being set out all at once” (TFW 209f = OE 137).14
Clearly, such passages express some dissatisfaction with any radical denial of the durational character of material entities, and with an absolute dichotomization of experience in terms of a durational “inner” sphere and a nondurational “outer” sphere.
Time and Free Will, moreover, provides us with the basis for drawing two distinctions which further evidence the qualified and provisional character of Bergson’s dualistic oppositions: (1) the distinction between the abstract concept of homogeneous space and the concrete perception of heterogeneous extensity; (2) the implicit distinction between “material entity” and “object-construct of mechanistic physics.”
(1) In Bergson’s view, the abstract concept of homogeneous space — the foundational notion for any abstract, quantitative multiplicity of juxtaposition — stands in polar tension with the concrete experience of durational selfhood — a lived, qualitative multiplicity of interpenetration.
Bergson maintains that the concept of homogeneous space, together with its extension in the concept of homogeneous time, constitute two of man’s most powerful, pragmatic conceptual tools. Spatial homogeneity constitutes the very foundation of the corpuscular kinetic view of nature which, in 1889, seemed to guarantee man’s total mastery of matter. This concept of space is man’s primary tool of analysis and classification. As a homogeneous medium, Bergsen notes, abstract space admits “of a simultaneity of terms which, although identical in quality, are yet distinct from one another” (TFW 95 = OE 64). The concept of space thus “enables us to distinguish a number of identical and simultaneous sensations from one another,” and, as such, is “a principle of differentiation other than that of qualitative differentiation” (TFW 95 = OE 64).
This conceived space constitutes the very foundation of science as a public, objective enterprise. Mechanistic physics successfully pursues its goal of measuring and forecasting only on the condition that qualitative matter — matter as perceived — be assimilated to the grid-work of homogeneous space-time. Material objects and their properties are amenable to the system of mathematical physics only in virtue of their identification with, or derivation from, the homogeneous medium which subtends and defines them. For Bergson, the very clarity, precision, and impersonal objectivity of scientific understanding are all deeply rooted in spatial homogeneity.
This spatial concept, however, does not exhaust man’s experience of the extensive. Living organisms also possess a concrete perception of a qualitative, spatial field (TFW 96f = OE 64-66). This perception of extensity is manifest in the natural feeling whereby we distinguish our right from our left, for example, or in the homing instincts of certain animal species. This perceived space, as opposed to abstract, conceived space, is similar to durational consciousness. Like durational consciousness, the perception of extensity is an active affair of qualitative differentiations. When compared with the perception of extensity, the conception of space manifests itself as:
something far more extraordinary, being a kind of reaction against the heterogeneity which is the very ground of our experience instead of saying that animals have a special sense of direction, we may as well say that men have a special faculty of perceiving or conceiving a space without quality…. This latter, clearly conceived by the human intellect, enables us to use clean-cut distinctions, to count, and perhaps also to speak. (TFW 97 = OE 65f)
This concept of space is the foundational principle for a specifically human mode of experience. In this experiential modality, the human mind “perceives under the form of extensive homogeneity what is given it as qualitative heterogeneity” (TFW 97 = OE 65f). Qualitative extensity is the fundamental perceptual datum; nevertheless, this qualitative field is habitually interpreted in terms of an alien quantitative homogeneity — is habitually interpreted as if the concept were the more fundamental reality. Mankind’s habitual interpretations in terms of spatializing categories — interpretations born of utility and reinforced through their survival value — if they are extended beyond the range of their pragmatic applicability, redound in fallacies of misplaced concreteness. A lived qualitative heterogeneity, however, pervades that extensity which is perceived rather than projected as an interpretative category. The perception of extensity — space as lived — is best characterized as the vital involvement of the organism with its qualitatively differentiated environment. This perceived space comprises that qualitative immediacy which links the situated durational agent with the diverse poles of his action. As such, perceived space is an irreducible datum which grounds any developed account of man’s durational embodiment.
Time and Free Will thus articulates a doctrine which is of pivotal Importance for any assessment of Bergson’s dualism. The perception of extensity mediates the tensional polarization of human experience. Between the inner immediacy of duration experienced as qualitative continuity, on the one hand, and that externalized projection of experience which employs spatial homogeneity as its interpretative principle, on the other, we encounter, in the perception of extensity, the situated agency of consciousness — we experience vital consciousness embodied as a center of action in communion with other centers of action. As a consequence, the universe of lived experience does not simply bifurcate into the durational “inner” and the nondurational “Outer.” That qualitative heterogeneity which is the very ground of our experience is present to us in a mode of perception which consists in immediate, vital involvement and which evidences the real interrelatedness of self and the durational otherness of material entities.
(2) Bergson’s explicit distinction between the concept of space and the perception of extensity permits us to draw a further distinction: the distinction between “material entity” and “object-construct of mechanistic physics.” The passages in which Bergson seems to deny that external objects have durational characteristics occur, without exception, in contexts wherein the term “external object” is convertible with “object-construct of mechanistic physics.” All such denials occur within the context of Bergson’s critiques of physical determinatism, of the phenomenalistic account of causality, and of the corpuscular-kinetic model of conservative system.
In the context of these critiques, Bergson maintains that the object-constructs of mechanistic physics are characterized by a wholly non-durational, abstract simultaneity. Consequently, material entities, insofar as they are successfully interpretable in terms of the corpuscular-kinetic vision of matter, cannot be said to endure as we ourselves do. Nevertheless, we cannot simply maintain that material entities which, unlike the object-constructs of physics, are present to us in our perception of the qualitatively differentiated extensive field, have no durational characteristics whatsoever. Rather, we must note that for “some inexpressible reason” (TFW 227 = OE 148) we cannot examine material entities at successive moments of lived-duration without observing that they, in their turn, succeed one another.
Material entities, although they do not endure as we ourselves do, nonetheless are encountered in the qualitative immediacy of concrete perception. Material entities, inasmuch as they change with the qualitative advance of duration, manifest an analogical kinship with durational consciousness. As qualitative presences, material entities evidence a dynamic affinity with durational consciousness in its character as act-process.
Idealized object-constructs, by way of contrast, are nondurational through and through. The universe of mechanistic physics is the interpretative product of man’s employment of his habitual spatializing categories. As an object-product, the universe depicted in mechanistic physics constitutes an abstract realm of perpetually perishing simultaneities. This realm, as object-product, must be sharply distinguished from the immediate, durational matrix of concrete experience as act-process. Bergson’s early efforts at demarcating this distinction may appear in the guise of a bifurcation between the inner-sphere of consciousness and the outer-sphere of spatial materiality; these bifurcative statements, however, are best viewed as articulating the opposition between the underived immediacy of all durational facets of experience, and the derivative character of the object-constructs of classical physics.
Such an interpretation is borne out by a comment which Bergson made in 1928. When asked about the relation between his early doctrine of duration, with its bifurcative implications, and his later doctrine, which is clearly articulated with a view toward by-passing traditional dualistic oppositions, Bergson responded that his later doctrine in no way contradicted what he had written in Time and Free Will. He then added:
At that moment (1889), I discovered duration by way of discovering the inner life, . . . that is why, terming “duration” that which I grasped within me, I withheld application of “duration” to outer things — I mean to say this duration — because it was not the same in them as it was within myself. In things, I noticed only some pulsations, some beats coinciding with certain moments of my inner life, and corresponding, doubtlessly, with something qualitatively distinct.15
Clearly, Bergson, even from the period of his early reflections, was grappling with the problem of the analogical extension of durational predicates to material entities.
The distinctions which are explicitly and implicitly present in Time and Free Will are elaborated in Matter and Memory (189e), with the express purpose of mitigating the bifurcative character of the traditional Cartesian oppositions. In this later work, Bergson articulates his own mitigated dualism in terms of three central notions: (1) situated agency, the durational category which integrates Bergson’s doctrine of “my body” as “center of action,” with his doctrine of the durational mobility which is inherent to the universe of material images; (2) qualitative durational continuity, the category which is operative in developing his doctrine of pure memory, both as retentive synthesis and unique agency of consciousness; (3) qualitative extensive continuity, the durational category which results from Bergson’s explicated notions of perception, motion, and materiality.16 In Time and Free Will, Bergson stresses that outer things do not endure as does human consciousness; yet he also grants a certain continuity linking material entities with durational consciousness. Insofar as the oppositional aspects of the tension between qualitative heterogeneity and quantitative homogeneity dominate the thematic of his first major work, Bergson tends to deny that durational predicates are applicable to outer things. In Matter and Memory, however, focus shifts to the endosmotic aspects of Bergson’s tensional starting-point; as a consequence, in his second work Bergson emphasizes the derivative character both of the concept of homogeneous space and of the corpuscular-kinetic model of matter which is grounded in that concept. Elements of this later focus, however, are clearly prefigured in Time and Free Will.
The doctrine of Time and Free Will, then, does not constitute a clear-cut bifurcation of nature. Indeed, Bergson’s statements concerning the perception of extensity have far-reaching implications for any consideration of durational consciousness in its situated agency, and demand exploration in terms of an acknowledged plurality of centers of action.
The character of Bergson’s dualism is intimately linked with that of his starting-point. Bergson’s operant contrast, homogeneity-heterogeneity, issues in a sustained reflection upon two distinct modes of relatedness whereby experienced diversity is brought to cognitive unity: (1) the abstract, external relatedness of a multiplicity of juxtaposition; and, (2) the real, internal relatedness of a multiplicity of interpenetration. This reflection is the true starting-point of Bergsonian metaphysics as a systematic, cognitive endeavor. Analysis of Bergson’s reflection reveals that he anticipated, to a marked degree, Whitehead’s critiques of the vacuous actuality of simply-located entities and of those fallacies of misplaced concreteness which have pervaded much of Western thought.
Bergson’s starting-point, then, consists in a reflection upon integral man’s experience of the tension between two aspects of developed consciousness — the tension between duration as an active continuity of qualitative self-differentiation and the abstract concept of homogeneous space as an objectifying, stabilizing, quantitative principle. Reflection upon this endosmotic tension attests both to the underived, qualitative immediacy of lived-duration as act-process and to the derivative, pragmatic instrumentality of our various object-product notions. Bergson’s metaphysics, in its fidelity to integral experience, has its starting-point in the dialectical, analogical character of that same experience. This starting-point, although it involves confrontation with duration as an experiential, nonformal principle, does not consist in a simple intuitive act at the level of felt-immediacy. The intuition of duration takes on metaphysical import because Bergson’s starting-point remains faithful to the integral experience of the whole durational man taken in his spontaneity and reflexivity, in his character as actor and spectator, in his intuitional immediacy and conceptual distance. As a consequence, the dualistic stance which evolves from this tensional starting-point — first in the implicit and provisional formulations of Time and Free Will, later in the developed articulations of Matter and Memory — bears a much greater affinity to Whitehead’s doctrine of the dipolarity of actual entities than to Descartes’ bifurcation of nature.
Duration, as experienced continuity of progress throughout qualitatively distinct phases of active self-differentiation, is interpretable only by means of analogical notions and terms. The analogical character of duration is evident both in Bergson’s analysis of the multiplicity of interpenetration and in his negative judgment that duration, as active and lived, does not admit of adequate interpretation by means of reduction to univocal spatiotemporal concepts. This consideration suggests others which counter Collins’ claim that Bergson failed “to resolve the question of the analogical predication of existence and essence, as well as of experience and duration” (HMEP 820), and therefore vacillated between monism and dualism.
Although Bergson does not employ the term “analogy” in a technical sense, nevertheless, in Time and Free Will it is evident that he views durational experience as analogous: the identity of the self is a dynamic identity-in-difference, and is not to be confused with any static, univocal conceptual identity. Clearly, the self-differentiating sell is neither univocally self-identical throughout its progress, nor does it dissociate into unrelated and equivocal states. If it can be maintained that St. Thomas Aquinas’ doctrine of the analogy of being is founded in “the irreducible diversity of the real order, which cannot be enclosed by man within the limits of a clear concept,” and leads to a rejection of “the logical demand for clarity and definability” which can be met only in univocal concepts, then Bergson has much in common with St. Thomas.”
I have indicated that the doctrine of Time and Free Will, insofar as it touches upon the question of the analogical elaboration and extension of durational notions to entities other than the self, is implicit and provisional. The Time and Free Will account, nonetheless, does distinguish two facets of qualitative immediacy and the multiplicity of interpretation: (1) durational consciousness as a qualitatively self-differentiating agency; and, (2) the perception of extensity as a qualitatively differentiated, mobile continuum. The primary weakness of Time and Free Will consists in Bergson’s failure to provide a detailed account of the interrelations of these two facets of experiential immediacy. Bergson, however, gives no indication that the perception of extensity, as the object-pole of lived experience, can be wholly derived from durational consciousness as the subject-pole of experience. Moreover, both the durational character of consciousness and the object-oriented perception of extensity are irreducibly relevant to his account of why real motion — whether in the experience of perceiving a shooting star or in that of lifting one’s arm — cannot be reduced to the objectifying, subtending space traversed (TFW 110 ff. = OE 73 ff.). In short, there is no suggestion that the qualitative object-pole of lived experience admits of reduction to the subject-pole, nor that these two experiential aspects of qualitative immediacy are wholly discontinuous.
I suggest that Bergson’s further reflections upon these two tendentially distinct yet experientially interdependent facets of qualitative immediacy led him, in Matter and Memory, to extend analogical durational predicates to the entire range of experienced being. “Duration,” then, much like the Thomists’ “esse,“ designates nonformal, existential act. Bergson’s analogical expansion of his doctrine of duration occurs within the context of an acknowledged pluralism of centers of action and develops in terms of two important analogical notions: “tensions of consciousness” and “rhythms of duration.” Further exploration of these issues transcends the limits of this article, but the foregoing considerations warrant two conclusions. (1) The accounts of duration and Bergsonian dualism in Time and Free Will and Matter and Memory evidence far greater continuity than is generally admitted. (2) Although Bergson develops and elaborates his analogical notions without utilizing a technical vocabulary which focuses upon the word “analogy,” his analyses, nonetheless, provide a wide range of experiential content and dialectical argumentation which both illuminates the significance and justifies the use of analogical, judgmental notions in metaphysics.
One article cannot resolve all the problems which have been raised concerning monistic, dualistic, and pluralistic aspects of Bergson’s thought. I have raised issues, however, which to my mind thoroughly counter Levi’s contention that Bergson’s dualism, like that of Descartes, constitutes a bifurcation of nature. Levi’s parallel between Cartesian and Bergsonian dualism, in fact, seriously distorts Bergson’s position in the history of ideas. Bergson’s doctrine, even as early as Time and Free Will with its notion of the concrete perception of extensity, clearly notes the situated, embodied character of durational agency. In this focus, Bergsonian philosophy foreshadows more recent efforts which, like those of Whitehead and Merleau-Ponty, seek to reinterpret the subject-object relation in terms of tensional polarization rather than dualistic opposition. Bergson’s attempts in this regard, like subsequent efforts, involve the adoption of the agent-participant attitude and an abandonment of the predominantly passive, spectator viewpoint which dominated the modern period of Western thought.
In the explicit formulations of Matter and Memory, Bergson’s reinterpretation of the subject-object relation is experientially grounded in the lived awareness of “my body” as “center of action.” In this account which is dialectically continuous with that of Time and Free Will, “my body” — durational consciousness as situated agency — manifests itself as that matrix of concrete human existence which is at once my durational presence to the world and the world’s dynamic presence to me. This current of Bergson’s thought is professedly anti-Cartesian. Bergson’s doctrine of durational embodiment constitutes, in fact, an early and highly original chapter in the effort to by-pass the nineteenth-century stalemate between intellectualistic-idealism and objectivistic-empiricism. Bergsonian metaphysics thus consists in a sustained effort to provide a durational account of those experiential continuities which undercut supposedly irreconcilable conceptual oppositions. As an experiential and dialectical enterprise, the Bergsonian systematic comprises a search for new modes of cognition and interpretation. in its root tendency, this metaphysics of durational embodiment rejects any bifurcation of reality and seeks both to reintegrate man and nature and to rekindle mankind’s spirit of solidarity in the face of creative adventure.
BPR — Ian W. Alexander. Bergson: Philosopher of Reflection. London: Bowes and Bowes, 1957.
CE — Henri Bergson. Creative Evolution. Trans. Arthur Mitchell. New York: The Modem Library, 1944.
CM — Henri Bergson. Creative Mind. Trans. Mabelle L. Andison. Totowa, New Jersey: Littlefield, Adams and Company, 1965.
EP — Henri Bergson. Ecrits et paroles, textes rassembles par R.-M. Mossé-Bastide. Paris: Presses Universitares de France, 1959.
HMEP — James D. Collins. A History of Modern European Philosophy. Milwaukee: The Bruce Publishing Company, 1954.
ME — Henri Bergson. Mind-Energy. Trans. H. W. Carr. London: Macmillan, 1920.
OE — Henri Bergson. Oeuvres. Ed. André Robinet. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1959. (The definitive one-volume centenary edition of Bergson’s major writings.)
PD — William L. Reese and Eugene Freeman, eds. Process and Divinity. LaSalle, Illinois: Open Court, 1964.
TFW — Henri Bergson. Time and Free Will, authorized translation from the French Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience by F. L. Pogson, New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960.
1. Pierre d’Aurec, “De Bergson Spencerian au Bergson de l’Essai,“ Archives de philosophie 17 (1947), 102-21.
2. Nann Clark Barr, “The Dualism of Bergson,” The Philosophical Review 22 (1913), 639-52.
1 Collins. in support of this view, cites 2:639-52; pp. 649-52 are particularly pertinent to Collins’ claim.
2 Cf. OE xiv-xx, 1541-43; CM 11-17, 26-29, 91-95 = OE 1253-59, 1268-70, 1331-35; EP I 204, II 238-40, 294-95, and III 456.
3 Lettre à W. James (9 mai 1908): “Ce fut l’analyse de la notion de temps, telle qu’elle intervient en mécanique ou en physique, que bouleversa toutes mes idées. Je m’aperçus, à mon grand étonnement, que le temps scientifique no dure pas, qu’il n’y aurait rien à changer à notre connaissance scientifique des choses si la totalité du réel était déployée tout d’un coup dans l’instantané, et que la science positive consiste essentiellement dans l’élimination de la durée.” Translation mine.
4 Although it remained a negative and oppositional influence, the impact of Kantianism upon Bergson’s own reflections must not be underestimated. Some measure of the extent and continuity of Kant’s influence may be gauged from the fact that in the centenary edition of Bergson’s Oeuvres more entries follow the heading “Kant” than any other heading of the “Index des personnes citées,”
5 The nature of a Bergsonian “fact” or “immediate datum” is well depicted in Jacques Chevalier’s class notes of 1901: “Les faits, nous disait Bergson, sont notre grande lumière; ce sont eux qui départagent los théories adverses; mais il no faut pas croiro, nous disait-il, qu’il suffise d’ouvrir los yeux pour los voft: il faut, au contraire, los regarder attentivement, et non n’est plus difficile à établier qu’un fait, qu’une donnée immédiate.” Jacques Chevalier, Entretiens avec Bergson (Paris: Librarie Plon, 1959), p. 4.
6 For a succinct and illuminating analysis of the concepts of space and time which are operative in the corpuscular-kinetic world-view of classical mechanics — an account which reflects Bergson’s focus upon homogeneity as the fundamental attribute of both concepts — see Milic Capec, The Philosophical Impact of Contemporary Physics (Princeton, New Jersey: D. van Nostrand and Company, 1961), pp. 7-53.
7 For an interesting treatment of the character of ordered wholes, see Stephen Strasser. The Soul m Metaphysical and Empirical Psychology, trans. Henry J. Koren (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Duquesne University Press, 1957), pp. 117-26.
8 “Cette différence d’origine explique la différence de fonction, de la ‘durée’ et du ‘stream’. Le ‘stream of thought’ a surtout une puissance d’explication psychologique, tandis quo la ‘durée’ a principalement une puissance d’explication épistémologique ou, si vous voulez, métaphysique.” Translation mine.
9 “I recommend a certain manner of thinking which courts difficulty; I value effort above everything. How could certain people have mistaken my meaning? To say nothing of the kind of person who would insist that my ‘intuition’ was instinct or feeling. Not one line of what I have written could lend itself to such an interpretation. And in everything I have written there is assurance to the contrary: my intuition is reflection.”
This claim is directed to those critics who, with Bertrand Russell, would insist that: “Intuition is an aspect and development of instinct, and like all instinct, is admirable in those customary surroundings which have molded the habits of the animal in question, but totally incompetent as soon as the surroundings are changed in a way which demands some non-habitual mode of action. . . . [Intuition lacks] largeness of contemplation, impersonal disinterestedness, freedom from practical preoccupations,” Bertrand Russell, Mysticism and Logic (Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday and Company, 1957), pp. 16f.
10 TFW 153f, 200, 209f, 215, 227f, 230 = OE 102, 131, 137f, 141, 148f, 150.
11 The collective force of such passages led an early twentieth-century commentator to conclude: “Time and Free Will develops the antithesis between inner and outer states, represented by time and space, quality and quantity, freedom and determinism. The opposition is absolute. Though both members are factors of our mental life, they do not interpenetrate: they are present as solidified crust and deep flowing reality. Time and Free Will leaves us with this separation and gives us no hint of a possible reconciliation” (2:640). Bergson, as shall be shown, does “hint” at a reconciliation precisely in terms of the interpenetration of the two facets of experience.
12 [L) a matière inerte no parait pas durer, ou du moins no conserve aucune trace du temps ecoulé,” Emphasis mine.
13″[L)es choses, considérées en dehors de notre perception, ne nous paraissent pas durer Emphasis mine.
14 “Nous sentons bien, il est vrai, que si les choses ne durent pas comme non,, il dolt néanmoins y avoir en elles quelque incompréhensible raison qui fasse que les phénomènes paraissent se succéder, et non pas se déployer tous à la fois.” Emphasis mine.
15 A ce moment, j’ai découvert la durée, en découvrant la vie intérieure, . . .c’est pourquoi, appelant ‘durée’ ce que je saisissais en moi, j’ai refusé aux choses extérioures ‘a ‘durée’ — je veux dire cette durée — parce qu’ello n’était pas en dies la même qu’en moi. Tout ce quo je constatais dans les choses, c’étaient des battements coincidant avec certains moments de ma vie intérieure, et correspondant sans doute à quelque chose de qualitativement distinct,” Jacques Chevalier,.Eutretiens avec Bergson (Paris: Librairie Plon, 1959), p. 95.
16 The terms I use to designate these categories are not Bergson’s, but they faithfully express his doctrine.
17 George P. Klubertanz, S. J., St. Thomas Aquinas on Analogy (Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1960), p. 26. In Time and Free Will, Bergson acknowledges in the immediate process-progress character of durational self-consciousness, that kind of relation which Klubertanz terms ‘the analogy of participation in a totality”: “a three-term analogy, whore the one is the whole in which the members share unequally or in a certain order” (p. 128).
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