//!-- -->//

An open mind, an open question…

Categories

VIII – CHAPTER III

You are here:
< Back
image_pdfimage_print

THE ORGANIZATION OF CONSCIOUS STATES

FREE WILL
Mechanism, dynamism and free will.

It is easy to see why the question of free will brings into conflict these two rival systems of nature, mechanism and dynamism. Dynamism starts from the idea of voluntary activity, given by consciousness, and comes to represent inertia by gradually emptying this idea: it has thus no difficulty in conceiving free force on the one hand and matter governed by laws on the other. Mechanism follows the opposite course. It assumes that the materials which it synthesizes are governed by necessary laws, and although it reaches richer and richer combinations, which are more and more difficult to foresee, and to all appearance more and more contingent, yet it never gets out of the narrow circle of necessity within which it at first shut itself up.

For dynamism facts more real than laws: mechanism reverses this attitude. This idea of spontaneity simpler than that of inertia.

A thorough examination of these two conceptions of nature will show that they involve two very different hypotheses as to the relations between laws and the facts which they govern. As he looks higher and higher, the believer in dynamism thinks that he perceives facts which more and more elude the grasp of laws: he thus sets up the fact as the absolute reality, and the law as the more or less symbolical expression of this reality. Mechanism, on the contrary, discovers within the particular fact a certain number of laws of which the fact is thus made to be the meeting point, and nothing else: on this hypothesis it is the law which becomes the genuine reality. Now, if it is asked why the one party assigns a higher reality to the fact and the other to the law, it will be found that mechanism and dynamism take the word simplicity in two very different senses. For the first, any principle is simple of which the effects can be foreseen and even calculated: thus, by the very definition, the notion of inertia becomes simpler than that of freedom, the homogeneous simpler than the heterogeneous, the abstract simpler than the concrete. But dynamism is not anxious so much to arrange the notions in the most convenient order as to find out their real relationship: often, in fact, the so-called simple notion—that which the believer in mechanism regards as primitive—has been obtained by the blending together of several richer notions which seem to be derived from it, and which have more or less neutralized one another in this very process of blending, just as darkness may be produced by the interference of two lights. Regarded from this new point of view, the idea of spontaneity is indisputably simpler than that of inertia, since the second can be understood and defined only by means of the first, while the first is self-sufficient. For each of us has the immediate knowledge (be it thought true or fallacious) of his free spontaneity, without the notion of inertia having anything to do with this knowledge. But, if we wish to define the inertia of matter, we must say that it cannot move or stop of its own accord, that every body perseveres in the state of rest or motion so long as it is not acted upon by any force: and in both cases we are unavoidably carried back to the idea of activity. It is therefore natural that, a priori, we should reach two opposite conceptions of human activity, according to the way in which we understand the relation between the concrete and the abstract, the simple and the complex, facts and laws.

Determinism: (1) physical (2) psychological. Former reducible to latter, which itself rests on inaccurate conception of multiplicity of conscious states or duration.

A posteriori, however, definite facts are appealed to against freedom, some physical, others psychological. Sometimes it is asserted that our actions are necessitated by our feelings, our ideas, and the whole preceding series of our conscious states; sometimes freedom is denounced as being incompatible with the fundamental properties of matter, and in particular with the principle of the conservation of energy. Hence two kinds of determinism, two apparently different empirical proofs of universal necessity. We shall show that the second of these two forms is reducible to the first, and that all determinism, even physical determinism, involves a psychological hypothesis: we shall then prove that psychological determinism itself, and the refutations which are given of it, rest on an inaccurate conception of the multiplicity of conscious states, or rather of duration. Thus, in the light of the principles worked out in the foregoing chapter, we shall see a self emerge whose activity cannot be compared to that of any other force.

Physical determinism stated in the language of the molecular theory of matter.

Physical determinism, in its latest form, is closely bound up with mechanical or rather kinetic theories of matter. The universe is pictured as a heap of matter which the imagination resolves into molecules and atoms. These particles are supposed to carry out unceasingly movements of every kind, sometimes of vibration, sometimes of translation; and physical phenomena, chemical action, the qualities of matter which our senses perceive, heat, sound, electricity, perhaps even attraction, are thought to be reducible objectively to these elementary movements. The matter which goes to make up organized bodies being subject to the same laws, we find in the nervous system, for example, only molecules and atoms which are in motion and attract and repel one another. Now if all bodies, organized or unorganized, thus act and react on one another in their ultimate parts, it is obvious that the molecular state of the brain at a given moment will be modified by the shocks which the nervous system receives from the surrounding matter, so that the sensations, feelings and ideas which succeed one another in us can be defined as mechanical resultants, obtained by the compounding of shocks received from without with the previous movements of the atoms of the nervous substance. But the opposite phenomenon may occur; and the molecular movements which go on in the nervous system, if compounded with one another or with others, will often give as resultant a reaction of our organism on its environment: hence the reflex movements, hence also the so-called free and voluntary actions. As, moreover, the principle of the conservation of energy has been assumed to admit of no exception, there is not an atom, either in the nervous system or in the whole of the universe, whose position is not determined by the sum of the mechanical actions which the other atoms exert upon it. And the mathematician who knew the position of the molecules or atoms of a human organism at a given moment, as well as the position and motion of all the atoms in the universe capable of influencing it, could calculate with unfailing certainty the past, present and future actions of the person to whom this organism belongs, just as one predicts an astronomical phenomenon.[1]

If principle of conservation of energy is universal, physiological and nervous phenomena are necessitated, but perhaps not conscious states.

We shall not raise any difficulty about recognizing that this conception of physiological phenomena in general, and nervous phenomena in particular, is a very natural deduction from the law of the conservation of energy. Certainly, the atomic theory of matter is still at the hypothetical stage, and the purely kinetic explanations of physical facts lose more than they gain by being too closely bound up with it. We must observe, however, that, even if we leave aside the atomic theory as well as any other hypothesis as to the nature of the ultimate elements of matter, the necessitating of physiological facts by their antecedents follows from the theorem of the conservation of energy, as soon as we extend this theorem to all processes going on in all living bodies. For to admit the universality of this theorem is to assume, at bottom, that the material points of which the universe is composed are subject solely to forces of attraction and repulsion, arising from these points themselves and possessing intensities which depend only on their distances: hence the relative position of these material points at a given moment—whatever be their nature—would be strictly determined by relation to what it was at the preceding moment. Let us then assume for a moment that this last hypothesis is true: we propose to show, in the first place, that it does not involve the absolute determination of our conscious states by one another, and then that the very universality of the principle of the conservation of energy cannot be admitted except in virtue of some psychological hypothesis.

To prove conscious states determined, we should have to show a necessary connexion between them and cerebral states. No such proof.

Even if we assumed that the position, the direction and the velocity of each atom of cerebral matter are determined at every moment of time, it would not at all follow that our psychic life is subject to the same necessity. For we should first have to prove that a strictly determined psychic state corresponds to a definite cerebral state, and the proof of this is still to be given. As a rule we do not think of demanding it, because we know that a definite vibration of the tympanum, a definite stimulation of the auditory nerve, gives a definite note on the scale, and because the parallelism of the physical and psychical series has been proved in a fairly large number of cases. But then, nobody has ever contended that we were free, under given conditions, to hear any note or perceive any colour we liked. Sensations of this kind, like many other psychic states, are obviously bound up with certain determining conditions, and it is just for this reason that it has been possible to imagine or discover beneath them a system of movements which obey our abstract mechanics. In short, wherever we succeed in giving a mechanical explanation, we observe a fairly strict parallelism between the physiological and the psychological series, and we need not be surprised at it, since explanations of this kind will assuredly not be met with except where the two series exhibit parallel terms. But to extend this parallelism to the series themselves in their totality is to settle a priori the problem of freedom. Certainly this may be done, and some of the greatest thinkers have set the example; but then, as we said at first, it was not for reasons of a physical order that they asserted the strict correspondence between states of consciousness and modes of extension. Leibniz ascribed it to a preestablished harmony, and would never have admitted that a motion could give rise to a perception as a cause produces an effect. Spinoza said that the modes of thought and the modes of extension correspond with but never influence one another: they only express in two different languages the same eternal truth. But the theories of physical determinism which are rife at the present day are far from displaying the same clearness, the same geometrical rigour. They point to molecular movements taking place in the brain: consciousness is supposed to arise out of these at times in some mysterious way, or rather to follow their track like the phosphorescent line which results from the rubbing of a match. Or yet again we are to think of an invisible musician playing behind the scenes while the actor strikes a keyboard the notes of which yield no sound: consciousness must be supposed to come from an unknown region and to be superimposed on the molecular vibrations, just as the melody is on the rhythmical movements of the actor. But, whatever image we fall back upon, we do not prove and we never shall prove by any reasoning that the psychic fact is fatally determined by the molecular movement. For in a movement we may find the reason of another movement, but not the reason of a conscious state: only observation can prove that the latter accompanies the former. Now the unvarying conjunction of the two terms has not been verified by experience except in a very limited number of cases and with regard to facts which all confess to be almost independent of the will. But it is easy to understand why physical determinism extends this conjunction to all possible cases.

Physical determinism, when assumed to be universal, postulates psychological determinism.

Consciousness indeed informs us that the majority of our actions can be explained by motives. But it does not appear that determination here means necessity, since common sense believes in free will. The determinist, however, led astray by a conception of duration and causality which we shall criticise a little later, holds that the determination of conscious states by one another is absolute. This is the origin of associationist determinism, an hypothesis in support of which the testimony of consciousness is appealed to, but which cannot, in the beginning, lay claim to scientific rigour. It seems natural that this, so to speak, approximate determinism, this determinism of quality, should seek support from the same mechanism that underlies the phenomena of nature: the latter would thus convey to the former its own geometrical character, and the transaction would be to the advantage both of psychological determinism, which would emerge from it in a stricter form, and of physical mechanism, which would then spread over everything. A fortunate circumstance favours this alliance. The simplest psychic states do in fact occur as accessories to well-defined physical phenomena, and the greater number of sensations seem to be bound up with definite molecular movements. This mere beginning of an experimental proof is quite enough for the man who, for psychological reasons, is already convinced that our conscious states are the necessary outcome of the circumstances under which they happen. Henceforth he no longer hesitates to hold that the drama enacted in the theatre of consciousness is a literal and even slavish translation of some scenes performed by the molecules and atoms of organized matter. The physical determinism which is reached in this way is nothing but psychological determinism, seeking to verify itself and fix its own outlines by an appeal to the sciences of nature.

Is the principle of conservation of energy universal valid?

But we must own that the amount of freedom which is left to us after strictly complying with the principle of the conservation of energy is rather limited. For, even if this law does not exert a necessitating influence over the course of our ideas, it will at least determine our movements. Our inner life will still depend upon ourselves up to a certain point; but, to an outside observer, there will be nothing to distinguish our activity from absolute automatism. We are thus led to inquire whether the very extension of the principle of the conservation of energy to all the bodies in nature does not itself involve some psychological theory, and whether the scientist who did not possess a priori any prejudice against human freedom would think of setting up this principle as a universal law.

It implies that a system can return to its original state. Neglects duration, hence inapplicable to living beings and conscious states.

We must not overrate the part played by the principle of the conservation of energy in the history of the natural sciences. In its present form it marks a certain phase in the evolution of certain sciences; but it has not been the governing factor in this evolution and we should be wrong in making it the indispensable postulate of all scientific research. Certainly, every mathematical operation which we carry out on a given quantity implies the permanence of this quantity throughout the course of the operation, in whatever way we may split it up. In other words, what is given is given, what is not given is not given, and in whatever order we add up the same terms we shall get the same result. Science will for ever remain subject to this law, which is nothing but the law of non-contradiction; but this law does not involve any special hypothesis as to the nature of what we ought to take as given, or what will remain constant. No doubt it informs us that something cannot come from nothing; but experience alone will tell us which aspects or functions of reality must count for something, and which for nothing, from the point of view of positive science. In short, in order to foresee the state of a determinate system at a determinate moment, it is absolutely necessary that something should persist as a constant quantity throughout a series of combinations; but it belongs to experience to decide as to the nature of this something, and especially to let us know whether it is found in all possible systems, whether, in other words, all possible systems lend themselves to our calculations. It is not certain that all the physicists before Leibniz believed, like Descartes, in the conservation of a fixed quantity of motion in the universe: were their discoveries less valuable on this account or their researches less successful? Even when Leibniz had substituted for this principle that of the conservation of vis viva, it was not possible to regard the law as quite general, since it admitted of an obvious exception in the case of the direct impact of two inelastic bodies. Thus science has done for a very long time without a universal conservative principle. In its present form, and since the development of the mechanical theory of heat, the principle of the conservation of energy certainly seems to apply to the whole range of physico-chemical phenomena. But no one can tell whether the study of physiological phenomena in general, and of nervous phenomena in particular, will not reveal to us, besides the vis viva or kinetic energy of which Leibniz spoke, and the potential energy which was a later and necessary adjunct, some new kind of energy which may differ from the other two by rebelling against calculation. Physical science would not thereby lose any of its exactitude or geometrical rigour, as has lately been asserted: only it would be realized that conservative systems are not the only systems possible, and even, perhaps, that in the whole of concrete reality each of these systems plays the same part as the chemist’s atom in bodies and their combinations. Let us note that the most radical of mechanical theories is that which makes consciousness an epiphenomenon which, in given circumstances, may supervene on certain molecular movements. But, if molecular movement can create sensation out of a zero of consciousness, why should not consciousness in its turn create movement either out of a zero of kinetic and potential energy, or by making use of this energy in its own way? Let us also note that the law of the conservation of energy can only be intelligibly applied to a system of which the points, after moving, can return to their former positions. This return is at least conceived of as possible, and it is supposed that under these conditions nothing would be changed in the original state of the system as a whole or of its elements. In short, time cannot bite into it; and the instinctive, though vague, belief of mankind in the conservation of a fixed quantity of matter, a fixed quantity of energy, perhaps has its root in the very fact that inert matter does not seem to endure or to preserve any trace of past time. But this is not the case in the realm of life. Here duration certainly seems to act like a cause, and the idea of putting things back in their place at the end of a certain time involves a kind of absurdity, since such a turning backwards has never been accomplished in the case of a living being. But let us admit that the absurdity is a mere appearance, and that the impossibility for living beings to come back to the past is simply owing to the fact that the physico-chemical phenomena which take place in living bodies, being infinitely complex, have no chance of ever occurring again all at the same time: at least it will be granted to us that the hypothesis of a turning backwards is almost meaningless in the sphere of conscious states. A sensation, by the mere fact of being prolonged, is altered to the point of becoming unbearable. The same does not here remain the same, but is reinforced and swollen by the whole of its past. In short, while the material point, as mechanics understands it, remains in an eternal present, the past is a reality perhaps for living bodies, and certainly for conscious beings. While past time is neither a gain nor a loss for a system assumed to be conservative, it may be a gain for the living being, and it is indisputably one for the conscious being. Such being the case, is there not much to be said for the hypothesis of a conscious force or free will, which, subject to the action of time and storing up duration, may thereby escape the law of the conservation of energy?

The idea of the universality of conservation depends on confusion between concrete duration and abstract time.

In truth, it is not a wish to meet the requirements of positive science, but rather a psychological mistake which has caused this abstract principle of mechanics to be set up as a universal law. As we are not accustomed to observe ourselves directly, but perceive ourselves through forms borrowed from the external world, we are led to believe that real duration, the duration lived by consciousness, is the same as the duration which glides over the inert atoms without penetrating and altering them. Hence it is that we do not see any absurdity in putting things back in their place after a lapse of time, in supposing the same motives acting afresh on the same persons, and in concluding that these causes would again produce the same effect. That such an hypothesis has no real meaning is what we shall prove later on. For the present let us simply show that, if once we enter upon this path, we are of course led to set up the principle of the conservation of energy as a universal law. For we have thereby got rid of just that difference between the outer and the inner world which a close examination shows to be the main one: we have identified true duration with apparent duration. After this it would be absurd to consider time, even our time, as a cause of gain or loss, as a concrete reality, or a force in its own way. Thus, while we ought only to say (if we kept aloof from all presuppositions concerning free will) that the law of the conservation of energy governs physical phenomena and may, one day, be extended to all phenomena if psychological facts also prove favourable to it, we go far beyond this, and, under the influence of a metaphysical prepossession, we lay down the principle of the conservation of energy as a law which should govern all phenomena whatever, or must be supposed to do so until psychological facts have actually spoken against it. Science, properly so called, has therefore nothing to do with all this. We are simply confronted with a confusion between concrete duration and abstract time, two very different things. In a word, the so-called physical determinism is reducible at bottom to a psychological determinism, and it is this latter doctrine, as we hinted at first, that we have to examine.

Psychological determinism depends on associationist conception of mind.

Psychological determinism, in its latest and most precise shape, implies an associationist conception of mind. The existing state of consciousness is first thought of as necessitated by the preceding states, but it is soon realized that this cannot be a geometrical necessity, such as that which connects a resultant, for example, with its components. For between successive conscious states there exists a difference of quality which will always frustrate any attempt to deduce any one of them a priori from its predecessors. So experience is appealed to, with the object of showing that the transition from one psychic state to another can always be explained by some simple reason, the second obeying as it were the call of the first. Experience really does show this: and, as for ourselves, we shall willingly admit that there always is some relation between the existing state of consciousness and any new state to which consciousness passes. But is this relation, which explains the transition, the cause of it?

The series of associations may be merely an ex post facto attempt to account for a new idea.

May we here give an account of what we have personally observed? In resuming a conversation which had been interrupted for a few moments we have happened to notice that both we ourselves and our friend were thinking of some new object at the same time.—The reason is, it will be said, that each has followed up for his own part the natural development of the idea at which the conversation had stopped: the same series of associations has been formed on both sides.—No doubt this interpretation holds good in a fairly large number of cases; careful inquiry, however, has led us to an unexpected result. It is a fact that the two speakers do connect the new subject of conversation with the former one: they will even point out the intervening ideas; but, curiously enough, they will not always connect the new idea, which they have both reached, with the same point of the preceding conversation, and the two series of intervening associations may be quite different. What are we to conclude from this, if not that this common idea is due to an unknown cause—perhaps to some physical influence—and that, in order to justify its emergence, it has called forth a series of antecedents which explain it and which seem to be its cause, but are really its effect?

Illustration from hypnotic suggestion.

When a patient carries out at the appointed time the suggestion received in the hypnotic state, the act which he performs is brought about, according to him, by the preceding series of his conscious states. Yet these states are really effects, and not causes: it was necessary that the act should take place; it was also necessary that the patient should explain it to himself; and it is the future act which determined, by a kind of attraction, the whole series of psychic states of which it is to be the natural consequence. The determinists will seize on this argument: it proves as a matter of fact that we are sometimes irresistibly subject to another’s will. But does it not also show us how our own will is capable of willing for willing’s sake, and of then leaving the act which has been performed to be explained by antecedents of which it has really been the cause?

Illustration from deliberation.

If we question ourselves carefully, we shall see that we sometimes weigh motives and deliberate over them, when our mind is already made up. An inner voice, hardly perceivable, whispers: “Why this deliberation? You know the result and you are quite certain of what you are going to do.” But no matter! it seems that we make a point of safe-guarding the principle of mechanism and of conforming to the laws of the association of ideas. The abrupt intervention of the will is a kind of coup d’état which our mind foresees and which it tries to legitimate beforehand by a formal deliberation. True, it could be asked whether the will, even when it wills for willing’s sake, does not obey some decisive reason, and whether willing for willing’s sake is free willing. We shall not insist on this point for the moment. It will be enough for us to have shown that, even when adopting the point of view of associationism, it is difficult to maintain that an act is absolutely determined by its motive and our conscious states by one another. Beneath these deceptive appearances a more attentive psychology sometimes reveals to us effects which precede their causes, and phenomena of psychic attraction which elude the known laws of the association of ideas. But the time has come to ask whether the very point of view which associationism adopts does not involve a defective conception of the self and of the multiplicity of conscious states.

Associationism involves a defective conception of the self.

Associationist determinism represents the self as a collection of psychic states, the strongest of which exerts a prevailing influence and carries the others with it. This doctrine thus sharply distinguishes co-existing psychic phenomena from one another. “I could have abstained from murder,” says Stuart Mill, “if my aversion to the crime and my dread of its consequences had been weaker than the temptation which impelled me to commit it.”[2] And a little further on: “His desire to do right and his aversion to doing wrong are strong enough to overcome … any other desire or aversion which may conflict with them.”[3] Thus desire, aversion, fear, temptation are here presented as distinct things which there is no inconvenience in naming separately. Even when he connects these states with the self which experiences them, the English philosopher still insists on setting up clear-cut distinctions: “The conflict is between me and myself; between (for instance) me desiring a pleasure and me dreading self-reproach.”[4] Bain, for his part, devotes a whole chapter to the “Conflict of Motives.”[5] In it he balances pleasures and pains as so many terms to which one might attribute, at least by abstraction, an existence of their own. Note that the opponents of determinism agree to follow it into this field. They too speak of associations of ideas and conflicts of motives, and one of the ablest of these philosophers, Alfred Fouillée, goes so far as to make the idea of freedom itself a motive capable of counterbalancing others.[6] Here, however, lies the danger. Both parties commit themselves to a confusion which arises from language, and which is due to the fact that language is not meant to convey all the delicate shades of inner states.

This erroneous tendency aided by language. Illustration.

I rise, for example, to open the window, and I have hardly stood up before I forget what I had to do.—All right, it will be said; you have associated two ideas, that of an end to be attained and that of a movement to be accomplished: one of the ideas has vanished and only the idea of the movement remains.—However, I do not sit down again; I have a confused feeling that something remains to be done. This particular standing still, therefore, is not the same as any other standing still; in the position which I take up the act to be performed is as it were prefigured, so that I have only to keep this position, to study it, or rather to feel it intimately, in order to recover the idea which had vanished for a moment. Hence, this idea must have tinged with a certain particular colouring the mental image of the intended movement and the position taken up, and this colouring, without doubt, would not have been the same if the end to be attained had been different. Nevertheless language would have still expressed the movement and the position in the same way; and associationism would have distinguished the two cases by saying that with the idea of the same movement there was associated this time the idea of a new end: as if the mere newness of the end to be attained did not alter in some degree the idea of the movement to be performed, even though the movement itself remained the same! We should thus say, not that the image of a certain position can be connected in consciousness with images of different ends to be attained, but rather that positions geometrically identical outside look different to consciousness from the inside, according to the end contemplated. The mistake of associationism is that it first did away with the qualitative element in the act to be performed and retained only the geometrical and impersonal element: with the idea of this act, thus rendered colourless, it was then necessary to associate some specific difference to distinguish it from many other acts. But this association is the work of the associationist philosopher who is studying my mind, rather than of my mind itself.

Illustration from “associations” of smell.

I smell a rose and immediately confused recollections of childhood come back to my memory. In truth, these recollections have not been called up by the perfume of the rose: I breathe them in with the very scent; it means all that to me. To others it will smell differently.—It is always the same scent, you will say, but associated with different ideas.—I am quite willing that you should express yourself in this way; but do not forget that you have first removed the personal element from the different impressions which the rose makes on each one of us; you have retained only the objective aspect, that part of the scent of the rose which is public property and thereby belongs to space. Only thus was it possible to give a name to the rose and its perfume. You then found it necessary, in order to distinguish our personal impressions from one another, to add specific characteristics to the general idea of rose-scent. And you now say that our different impressions, our personal impressions, result from the fact that we associate different recollections with rose-scent. But the association of which you speak hardly exists except for you, and as a method of explanation. It is in this way that, by setting side by side certain letters of an alphabet common to a number of known languages, we may imitate fairly well such and such a characteristic sound belonging to a new one; but not with any of these letters, nor with all of them, has the sound itself been built up.

Associationism fails to distinguish between the multiplicity of juxtaposition and that of fusion.

We are thus brought back to the distinction which we set up above between the multiplicity of juxtaposition and that of fusion or interpenetration. Such and such a feeling such and such an idea, contains an indefinite plurality of conscious states: but the plurality will not be observed unless it is, as it were, spread out in this homogeneous medium which some call duration, but which is in reality space. We shall then perceive terms external to one another, and these terms will no longer be the states of consciousness themselves, but their symbols, or, speaking more exactly, the words which express them. There is, as we have pointed out, a close connexion between the faculty of conceiving a homogeneous medium, such as space, and that of thinking by means of general ideas. As soon as we try to give an account of a conscious state, to analyse it, this state, which is above all personal, will be resolved into impersonal elements external to one another, each of which calls up the idea of a genus and is expressed by a word. But because our reason, equipped with the idea of space and the power of creating symbols, draws these multiple elements out of the whole, it does not follow that they were contained in it. For within the whole they did not occupy space and did not care to express themselves by means of symbols; they permeated and melted into one another. Associationism thus makes the mistake of constantly replacing the concrete phenomenon which takes place in the mind by the artificial reconstruction of it given by philosophy, and of thus confusing the explanation of the fact with the fact itself. We shall perceive this more clearly as we consider deeper and more comprehensive psychic states.

Failure of associationism to explain the deeper states of the self.

The self comes into contact with the external world at its surface; and as this surface retains the imprint of objects, the self will associate by contiguity terms which it has perceived in juxtaposition: it is connexions of this kind, connexions of quite simple and so to speak impersonal sensations, that the associationist theory fits. But, just in proportion as we dig below the surface and get down to the real self, do its states of consciousness cease to stand in juxtaposition and begin to permeate and melt into one another, and each to be tinged with the colouring of all the others. Thus each of us has his own way of loving and hating; and this love or this hatred reflects his whole personality. Language, however, denotes these states by the same words in every case: so that it has been able to fix only the objective and impersonal aspect of love, hate, and the thousand emotions which stir the soul. We estimate the talent of a novelist by the power with which he lifts out of the common domain, to which language had thus brought them down, feelings and ideas to which he strives to restore, by adding detail to detail, their original and living individuality. But just as we can go on inserting points between two positions of a moving body without ever filling up the space traversed, in the same way, by the mere fact that we associate states with states and that these states are set side by side instead of permeating one another, we fail to translate completely what our soul experiences: there is no common measure between mind and language.

The self is not an aggregate of conscious states. Freedom is self-expression, admitting of degrees, and may be curtailed by education.

Therefore, it is only an inaccurate psychology, misled by language, which will show us the soul determined by sympathy, aversion, or hate as though by so many forces pressing upon it. These feelings, provided that they go deep enough, each make up the whole soul, since the whole content of the soul is reflected in each of them. To say that the soul is determined under the influence of any one of these feelings is thus to recognize that it is self-determined. The associationist reduces the self to an aggregate of conscious states: sensations, feelings, and ideas. But if he sees in these various states no more than is expressed in their name, if he retains only their impersonal aspect, he may set them side by side for ever without getting anything but a phantom self, the shadow of the ego projecting itself into space. If, on the contrary, he takes these psychic states with the particular colouring which they assume in the case of a definite person, and which comes to each of them by reflection from all the others, then there is no need to associate a number of conscious states in order to rebuild the person, for the whole personality is in a single one of them, provided that we know how to choose it. And the outward manifestation of this inner state will be just what is called a free act, since the self alone will have been the author of it, and since it will express the whole of the self. Freedom, thus understood, is not absolute, as a radically libertarian philosophy would have it; it admits of degrees. For it is by no means the case that all conscious states blend with one another as raindrops with the water of a lake. The self, in so far as it has to do with a homogeneous space, develops on a kind of surface, and on this surface independent growths may form and float. Thus a suggestion received in the hypnotic state is not incorporated in the mass of conscious states, but, endowed with a life of its own, it will usurp the whole personality when its time comes. A violent anger roused by some accidental circumstance, an hereditary vice suddenly emerging from the obscure depths of the organism to the surface of consciousness, will act almost like a hypnotic suggestion. Alongside these independent elements there may be found more complex series, the terms of which do permeate one another, but which never succeed in blending perfectly with the whole mass of the self. Such is the system of feelings and ideas which are the result of an education not properly assimilated, an education which appeals to the memory rather than to the judgment. Here will be found, within the fundamental self, a parasitic self which continually encroaches upon the other. Many live this kind of life, and die without having known true freedom. But suggestion would become persuasion if the entire self assimilated it; passion, even sudden passion, would no longer bear the stamp of fatality if the whole history of the person were reflected in it, as in the indignation of Alceste;[7] and the most authoritative education would not curtail any of our freedom if it only imparted to us ideas and feelings capable of impregnating the whole soul. It is the whole soul, in fact, which gives rise to the free decision: and the act will be so much the freer the more the dynamic series with which it is connected tends to be the fundamental self.

Our every-day acts obey the laws of association. At great great crises our decisions are really free as expressing the fundamental self.

Thus understood, free acts are exceptional, even on the part of those who are most given to controlling and reasoning out what they do. It has been pointed out that we generally perceive our own self by refraction through space, that our conscious states crystallize into words, and that our living and concrete self thus gets covered with an outer crust of clean-cut psychic states, which are separated from one another and consequently fixed. We added that, for the convenience of language and the promotion of social relations, we have everything to gain by not breaking through this crust and by assuming it to give an exact outline of the form of the object which it covers. It should now be added that our daily actions are called forth not so much by our feelings themselves, which are constantly changing, as by the unchanging images with which these feelings are bound up. In the morning, when the hour strikes at which I am accustomed to rise, I might receive this impression σὺν ὄλῃ τῇ ψυχῆ, as Plato says; I might let it blend with the confused mass of impressions which fill my mind; perhaps in that case it would not determine me to act. But generally this impression, instead of disturbing my whole consciousness like a stone which falls into the water of a pond, merely stirs up an idea which is, so to speak, solidified on the surface, the idea of rising and attending to my usual occupations. This impression and this idea have in the end become tied up with one another, so that the act follows the impression without the self interfering with it. In this instance I am a conscious automaton, and I am so because I have everything to gain by being so. It will be found that the majority of our daily actions are performed in this way and that, owing to the solidification in memory of such and such sensations, feelings, or ideas, impressions from the outside call forth movements on our part which, though conscious and even intelligent, have many points of resemblance with reflex acts. It is to these acts, which are very numerous but for the most part insignificant, that the associationist theory is applicable. They are, taken all together, the substratum of our free activity, and with respect to this activity they play the same part as our organic functions in relation to the whole of our conscious life. Moreover we will grant to determinism that we often resign our freedom in more serious circumstances, and that, by sluggishness or indolence, we allow this same local process to run its course when our whole personality ought, so to speak, to vibrate. When our most trustworthy friends agree in advising us to take some important step, the sentiments which they utter with so much insistence lodge on the surface of our ego and there get solidified in the same way as the ideas of which we spoke just now. Little by little they will form a thick crust which will cover up our own sentiments; we shall believe that we are acting freely, and it is only by looking back to the past, later on, that we shall see how much we were mistaken. But then, at the very minute when the act is going to be performed, something may revolt against it. It is the deep-seated self rushing up to the surface. It is the outer crust bursting, suddenly giving way to an irresistible thrust. Hence in the depths of the self, below this most reasonable pondering over most reasonable pieces of advice, something else was going on—a gradual heating and a sudden boiling over of feelings and ideas, not unperceived, but rather unnoticed. If we turn back to them and carefully scrutinize our memory, we shall see that we had ourselves shaped these ideas, ourselves lived these feelings, but that, through some strange reluctance to exercise our will, we had thrust them back into the darkest depths of our soul whenever they came up to the surface. And this is why we seek in vain to explain our sudden change of mind by the visible circumstances which preceded it. We wish to know the reason why we have made up our mind, and we find that we have decided without any reason, and perhaps even against every reason. But, in certain cases, that is the best of reasons. For the action which has been performed does not then express some superficial idea, almost external to ourselves, distinct and easy to account for: it agrees with the whole of our most intimate feelings, thoughts and aspirations, with that particular conception of life which is the equivalent of all our past experience, in a word, with our personal idea of happiness and of honour. Hence it has been a mistake to look for examples in the ordinary and even indifferent circumstances of life in order to prove that man is capable of choosing without a motive. It might easily be shown that these insignificant actions are bound up with some determining reason. It is at the great and solemn crisis, decisive of our reputation with others, and yet more with ourselves, that we choose in defiance of what is conventionally called a motive, and this absence of any tangible reason is the more striking the deeper our freedom goes.

Determinism sets on the one side the ego, always self-identical and on the other contrary feelings. But this is mere symbolism.

But the determinist, even when he refrains from regarding the more serious emotions or deep-seated psychic states as forces, nevertheless distinguishes them from one another and is thus led to a mechanical conception of the self. He will show us this self hesitating between two contrary feelings, passing from one to the other and finally deciding in favour of one of them. The self and the feelings which stir it are thus treated as well defined objects, which remain identical during the whole of the process. But if it is always the same self which deliberates, and if the two opposite feelings by which it is moved do not change, how, in virtue of this very principle of causality which determinism appeals to, will the self ever come to a decision? The truth is that the self, by the mere fact of experiencing the first feeling, has already changed to a slight extent when the second supervenes: all the time that the deliberation is going on, the self is changing and is consequently modifying the two feelings which agitate it. A dynamic series of states is thus formed which permeate and strengthen one another, and which will lead by a natural evolution to a free act. But determinism, ever craving for symbolical representation, cannot help substituting words for the opposite feelings which share the ego between them, as well as for the ego itself. By giving first the person and then the feelings by which he is moved a fixed form by means of sharply defined words, it deprives them in advance of every kind of living activity. It will then see on the one side an ego always self-identical, and on the other contrary feelings, also self-identical, which dispute for its possession; victory will necessarily belong to the stronger. But this mechanism, to which we have condemned ourselves in advance, has no value beyond that of a symbolical representation: it cannot hold good against the witness of an attentive consciousness, which shows us inner dynamism as a fact.

Freedom and character. The determinist next asks, could your act have been different or can it be foretold?

In short, we are free when our acts spring from our whole personality, when they express it, when that indefinable resemblance to it which one sometimes finds between the artist and his work. It is no use asserting that we are then yielding to the all-powerful influence of our character. Our character is still ourselves; and because we are pleased to split the person into two parts so that by an effort of abstraction we may consider in turn the self which feels or thinks and the self which acts, it would be very strange to conclude that one of the two selves is coercing the other. Those who ask whether we are free to alter our character lay themselves open to the same objection. Certainly our character is altering imperceptibly every day, and our freedom would suffer if these new acquisitions were grafted on to our self and not blended with it. But, as soon as this blending takes place, it must be admitted that the change which has supervened in our character belongs to us, that we have appropriated it. In a word, if it is agreed to call every act free which springs from the self and from the self alone, the act which bears the mark of our personality is truly free, for our self alone will lay claim to its paternity. It would thus be recognized that free will is a fact, if it were agreed to look for it in a certain characteristic of the decision which is taken, in the free act itself. But the determinist feeling that he cannot retain his hold on this position, takes refuge in the past or the future. Sometimes he transfers himself in thought to some earlier period and asserts the necessary determination, from this very moment, of the act which is to come; sometimes, assuming in advance that the act is already performed, he claims that it could not have taken place in any other way. The opponents of determinism themselves willingly follow it on to this new ground and agree to introduce into their definition of our free act -perhaps not without some risk—the anticipation of what we might do and the recollection of some other decision which we might have taken. It is advisable, then, that we should place ourselves at this new point of view, and, setting aside all translation into words, all symbolism in space, attend to what pure consciousness alone shows us about an action that has come to pass or an action which is still to come. The original error of determinism and the mistake of its opponents will thus be grasped on another side, in so far as they bear explicitly on a certain misconception of duration.

Determinist and libertarian doctrines of possible acts.

“To be conscious of free will,” says Stuart Mill, “must mean to be conscious, before I have decided, that I am able to decide either way.[8] This is really the way in which the defenders of free will understand it; and they assert that when we perform an action freely, some other action would have been “equally possible.” On this point they appeal to the testimony of consciousness, which shows us, beyond the act itself, the power of deciding in favour of the opposite course. Inversely, determinism claims that, given certain antecedents, only one resultant action was possible. “When we think of ourselves hypothetically,” Stuart Mill goes on, “as having acted otherwise than we did, we always suppose a difference in the antecedents. We picture ourselves as having known something that we did not know, or not known something that we did know.”[9] And, faithful to his principle, the English philosopher assigns consciousness the rôle of informing us about what is, not about what might be. We shall not insist for the moment on this last point: we reserve the question in what sense the ego perceives itself as a determining cause. But beside this psychological question there is another, belonging rather to metaphysics, which the determinists and their opponents solve a priori along opposite lines. The argument of the former implies that there is only one possible act corresponding to given antecedents: the believers in free will assume, on the other hand, that the same series could issue in several different acts, equally possible. It is on this question of the equal possibility of two contrary actions or volitions that we shall first dwell: perhaps we shall thus gather some indication as to the nature of the operation by which the will makes its choice.

Geometrical (and thereby deceptive) representation of the process of coming to a decision.

I hesitate between two possible actions X and Y, and I go in turn from one to the other. This means that I pass through a series of states, and that these states can be divided into two groups according as I incline more towards X or in the contrary direction. Indeed, these opposite inclinations alone have a real existence, and X and Y are two symbols by which I represent at their arrival-or termination-points, so to speak, two different tendencies of my personality at successive moments of duration. Let us then rather denote the tendencies themselves by X and Y; will this new notation give a more faithful image of the concrete reality? It must be noticed, as we said above, that the self grows, expands, and changes as it passes through the two contrary states: if not, how would it ever come to a decision? Hence there are not exactly two contrary states, but a large number of successive and different states within which I distinguish, by an effort of imagination, two opposite directions.

Thus we shall get still nearer the reality by agreeing to use the invariable signs X and Y to denote, not these tendencies or states themselves, since they are constantly changing, but the two different directions which our imagination ascribes to them for the greater convenience of language. It will also be understood that these are symbolical representations, that in reality there are not two tendencies, or even two directions, but a self which lives and develops by means of its very hesitations, until the free action drops from it like an over-ripe fruit.

The only reality is the living developing self, in which we distinguish by abstraction two opposite tendencies or directions.

But this conception of voluntary activity does not satisfy common sense, because, being essentially a devotee of mechanism, it loves clear-cut distinctions, those which are expressed by sharply defined words or by different positions in space. Hence it will picture a self which, after having traversed a series Μ Ο of conscious states, when it reaches the point Ο finds before it two directions Ο X and Ο Y, equally open. These directions thus become things, real paths into which the highroad of consciousness leads, and it depends only on the self which of them is entered upon. In short, the continuous and living activity of this self, in which we have distinguished, by abstraction only, two opposite directions, is replaced by these directions themselves, transformed into indifferent inert things awaiting our choice. But then we must certainly transfer the activity of the self somewhere or other. We will put it, according to this hypothesis, at the point Ο: we will say that the self, when it reaches Ο and finds two courses open to it, hesitates, deliberates and finally decides in favour of one of them. As we find it difficult to picture the double direction of the conscious activity in all the phases of its continuous development, we separate off these two tendencies on the one hand and the activity of the self on the other: we thus get an impartially active ego hesitating between two inert and, as it were, solidified courses of action. Now, if it decides in favour of Ο X, the line Ο Y will nevertheless remain; if it chooses Ο Y, the path Ο X will remain open, waiting in case the self retraces its steps in order to make use of it. It is in this sense that we say, when speaking of a free act, that the contrary action was equally possible. And, even if we do not draw a geometrical figure on paper, we involuntarily and almost unconsciously think of it as soon as we distinguish in the free act a number of successive phases, the conception of opposite motives, hesitation and choice—thus hiding the geometrical symbolism under a kind of verbal crystallization. Now it is easy to see that this really mechanical conception of freedom issues naturally and logically in the most unbending determinism.

If this symbolism represents the facts, the activity of the self has always tended in one direction, and determinism results.

The living activity of the self, in which we distinguish by abstraction two opposite tendencies, will finally issue either at X or Y. Now, since it is agreed to localize the double activity of the self at the point O, there is no reason to separate this activity from the act in which it will issue and which forms part and parcel of it. And if experience shows that the decision has been in favour of X, it is not a neutral activity which should be placed at the point O, but an activity tending in advance in the direction Ο X, in spite of apparent hesitations. If, on the contrary, observation proves that the decision has been in favour of Y, we must infer that the activity localized by us at the point Ο was bent in this second direction in spite of some oscillations towards the first. To assert that the self, when it reaches the point O, chooses indifferently between X and Y, is to stop half way in the course of our geometrical symbolism; it is to separate off at the point Ο only a part of this continuous activity in which we undoubtedly distinguished two different directions, but which in addition has gone on to X or Y: why not take this last fact into account as well as the other two? Why not assign it the place that belongs to it in the symbolical figure which we have just constructed? But if the self, when it reaches the point O, is already determined in one direction, there is no use in the other way remaining open, the self cannot take it. And the same rough symbolism which was meant to show the contingency of the action performed, ends, by a natural extension, in proving its absolute necessity.

Libertarians ignore the fact that one path has been chosen, and not the other.

In short, defenders and opponents of free will agree in holding that the action is preceded by a kind of mechanical oscillation between two points X and Y. If I decide in favour of X, the former will tell me: you hesitated and deliberated, therefore Y was possible. The others will answer: you chose X, therefore you had some reason for doing so, and those who declare that Y was equally possible forget this reason: they leave aside one of the conditions of the problem. Now, if I dig deeper underneath these two opposite solutions, I discover a common postulate: both take up their position after the action X has been performed, and represent the process of my voluntary activity by a path Μ Ο which branches off at the point O, the lines Ο X and Ο Y symbolizing the two directions which abstraction distinguishes within the continuous activity of which X is the goal. But while the determinists take account of all that they know, and note that the path Μ Ο X has been traversed, their opponents mean to ignore one of the data with which they have constructed the figure, and after having traced out the lines Ο X and Ο Y, which should together represent the progress of the activity of the self, they bring back the self to the point Ο to oscillate there until further orders.

But the figure merely gives the stereotyped memory of the process, and not the dynamic progress which issued in the set.

It should not be forgotten, indeed, that the figure, which is really a splitting of our psychic activity in space, is purely symbolical, and as such, cannot be constructed unless we adopt the hypothesis that our deliberation is finished and our mind made up. If you trace it beforehand, act you assume that you have reached the end and are present in imagination at the final act. In short this figure does not show me the deed in the doing but the deed already done. Do not ask me then whether the self, having traversed the path Μ Ο and decided in favour of X, could or could not choose Y: I should answer that the question is meaningless, because there is no line Μ Ο, no point O, no path Ο X, no direction O Y. To ask such a question is to admit the possibility of adequately representing time by space and a succession by a simultaneity. It is to ascribe to the figure we have traced the value of a description, and not merely of a symbol; it is to believe that it is possible to follow the process of psychic activity on this figure like the march of an army on a map. We have been present at the deliberation of the self in all its phases until the act was performed: then, recapitulating the terms of the series, we perceive succession under the form of simultaneity, we project time into space, and we base our reasoning, consciously or unconsciously, on this geometrical figure. But this figure represents a thing and not a progress; it corresponds, in its inertness, to a kind of stereotyped memory of the whole process of deliberation and the final decision arrived at: how could it give us the least idea of the concrete movement, the dynamic progress by which the deliberation issued in the act? And yet, once the figure is constructed, we go back in imagination into the past and will have it that our psychic activity has followed exactly the path traced out by the figure. We thus fall into the mistake which has been pointed out above: we give a mechanical explanation of a fact, and then substitute the explanation for the fact itself. Hence we encounter insuperable difficulties from the very beginning: if the two courses were equally possible, how have we made our choice? If only one of them was possible, why did we believe ourselves free? And we do not see that both questions come back to this: Is time space?

Fundamental error is confusion of time and space The self infallible in affirming immediate experience of freedom, but cannot explain it.

If I glance over a road marked on the map and follow it up to a certain point, there is nothing to prevent my turning back and trying to find out whether it branches off anywhere. But time is not a line along which one can pass again. Certainly, once it has elapsed, we are justified in picturing the successive moments as external to one another and in thus thinking of a line traversing space; but it must then be understood that this line does not symbolize the time which is passing but the time which has passed. Defenders and opponents of free will alike forget this—the former when they assert, and the latter when they deny the possibility of acting differently from what we have done. The former reason thus: “The path is not yet traced out, therefore it may take any direction whatever.” To which the answer is: “You forget that it is not possible to speak of a path till the action is performed: but then it will have been traced out.” The latter say: “The path has been traced out in such and such a way: therefore its possible direction was not any direction whatever, but only this one direction.” To which the answer is: “Before the path was traced out there was no direction, either possible or impossible, for the very simple reason that there could not yet be any question of a path.” Get rid of this clumsy symbolism, the idea of which besets you without your knowing it; you will see that the argument of the determinists assumes this puerile form: “The act, once performed, is performed,” and that their opponents reply: “The act, before being performed, was not yet performed.” In other words, the question of freedom remains after this discussion exactly where it was to begin with; nor must we be surprised at it, since freedom must be sought in a certain shade or quality of the action itself and not in the relation of this act to what it is not or to what it might have been. All the difficulty arises from the fact that both parties picture the deliberation under the form of an oscillation in space, while it really consists in a dynamic progress in which the self and its motives, like real living beings, are in a constant state of becoming. The self, infallible when it affirms its immediate experiences, feels itself free and says so; but, as soon as it tries to explain its freedom to itself, it no longer perceives itself except by a kind of refraction through space. Hence a symbolism of a mechanical kind, equally incapable of proving, disproving, or illustrating free will.

Is prediction of an act possible? Probable and infallible conclusions.

But determinism will not admit itself beaten, and, putting the question in a new form, it will say: “Let us leave aside actions already performed: let us consider only actions that are to come. The question is whether, knowing from now onwards all the future antecedents, some higher intelligence would not be able to predict with absolute certainty the decision which will result.” —We gladly agree to the question being put in these terms: it will give us a chance of stating our own theory with greater precision. But we shall first draw a distinction between those who think that the knowledge of antecedents would enable us to state a probable conclusion and those who speak of an infallible foresight. To say that a certain friend, under certain circumstances, will very probably act in a certain way, is not so much to predict the future conduct of our friend as to pass a judgment on his present character, that is to say, on his past. Although our feelings, our ideas, our character, are constantly altering, a sudden change is seldom observed; and it is still more seldom that we cannot say of a person whom we know that certain actions seem to accord fairly well with his nature and that certain others are absolutely inconsistent with it. All philosophers will agree on this point; for to say that a given action is consistent or inconsistent with the present character of a person whom one knows is not to bind the future to the present. But the determinist goes much further: he asserts that our solution is provisional simply because we never know all the conditions of the problem: that our forecast would gain in probability in proportion as we were provided with a larger number of these conditions; that, therefore, complete and perfect knowledge of all the antecedents without any exception would make our forecast infallibly true. Such, then, is the hypothesis which we have to examine.

To know completely the antecedents and conditions of an action is to be actually performing it.

For the sake of greater definiteness, let us imagine a person called upon to make a seemingly free decision under serious circumstances: we shall call him Peter. The question is whether a philosopher Paul, living at the same period as Peter, or, if you prefer, a few centuries before, would have been able, knowing all the conditions under which Peter acts, to foretell with certainty the choice which Peter made.

There are several ways of picturing the mental condition of a person at a given moment. We try to do it when e.g. we read a novel; but whatever care the author may have taken in depicting the feelings of his hero, and even in tracing back his history, the end, foreseen or unforeseen, will add something to the idea which we had formed of the character: the character, therefore, was only imperfectly known to us. In truth, the deeper psychic states, those which are translated by free acts, express and sum up the whole of our past history: if Paul knows all the conditions under which Peter acts, we must suppose that no detail of Peter’s life escapes him, and that his imagination reconstructs and even lives over again Peter’s history. But we must here make a vital distinction. When I myself pass through a certain psychic state, I know exactly the intensity of this state and its importance in relation to the others, not by measurement or comparison, but because the intensity of e.g. a deep-seated feeling is nothing else than the feeling itself. On the other hand, if I try to give you an account of this psychic state, I shall be unable to make you realize its intensity except by some definite sign of a mathematical kind: I shall have to measure its importance, compare it with what goes before and what follows, in short determine the part which it plays in the final act. And I shall say that it is more or less intense, more or less important, according as the final act is explained by it or apart from it. On the other hand, for my own consciousness, which perceived this inner state, there was no need of a comparison of this kind: the intensity was given to it as an inexpressible quality of the state itself. In other words, the intensity of a psychic state is not given to consciousness as a special sign accompanying this state and denoting its power, like an exponent in algebra; we have shown above that it expresses rather its shade, its characteristic colouring, and that, if it is a question of a feeling, for example, its intensity consists in being felt. Hence we have to distinguish two ways of assimilating the conscious states of other people: the one dynamic, which consists in experiencing them oneself; the other static, which consists in substituting for the consciousness of these states their image or rather their intellectual symbol, their idea. In this case the conscious states are imagined instead of being reproduced; but, then, to the image of the psychic states themselves some indication of their intensity should be added, since they no longer act on the person in whose mind they are pictured and the latter has no longer any chance of experiencing their force by actually feeling them. Now, this indication itself will necessarily assume a quantitative character: it will be pointed out, for example, that a certain feeling has more strength than another feeling, that it is necessary to take more account of it, that it has played a greater part; and how could this be known unless the later history of the person were known in advance, with the precise actions in which this multiplicity of states or inclinations has issued? Therefore, if Paul is to have an adequate idea of Peter’s state at any moment of his history, there are only two courses open; either, like a novelist who knows whither he is conducting his characters, Paul must already know Peter’s final act, and must thus be able to supplement his mental image of the successive states through which Peter is going to pass by some indication of their value in relation to the whole of Peter’s history; or he must make up his mind to pass through these different states, not in imagination, but in reality. The former hypothesis must be put on one side since the very point at issue is whether, the antecedents alone being given, Paul will be able to foresee the final act. We find ourselves compelled, therefore, to alter radically the idea which we had formed of Paul: he is not, as we had thought at first, a spectator whose eyes pierce the future, but an actor who plays Peter’s part in advance. And notice that you cannot exempt him from any detail of this part, for the most common-place events have their importance in a life-story; and even supposing that they have not, you cannot decide that they are insignificant except in relation to the final act, which, by hypothesis, is not given. Neither have you the right to cut short—were it only by a second—the different states of consciousness through which Paul is going to pass before Peter; for the effects of the same feeling, for example, go on accumulating at every moment of duration, and the sum total of these effects could not be realized all at once unless one knew the importance of the feeling, taken in its totality, in relation to the final act, which is the very thing that is supposed to remain unknown. But if Peter and Paul have experienced the same feelings in the same order, if their minds have the same history, how will you distinguish one from the other? Will it be by the body in which they dwell? They would then always differ in some respect, viz., that at no moment of their history would they have a mental picture of the same body. Will it be by the place which they occupy in time? In that case they would no longer be present at the same events: now, by hypothesis, they have the same past and the same present, having the same experience. You must now make up your mind about it: Peter and Paul are one and the same person, whom you call Peter when he acts and Paul when you recapitulate his history. The more complete you made the sum of the conditions which, when known, would have enabled you to predict Peter’s future action, the closer became your grasp of his existence and the nearer you came to living his life over again down to its smallest details: you thus reached the very moment when, the action taking place, there was no longer anything to be foreseen, but only something to be done. Here again any attempt to reconstruct ideally an act really willed ends in the mere witnessing of the act whilst it is being performed or when it is already done.

Hence meaningless to ask whether an act can be foreseen when all its antecedents are given.

Hence it is a question devoid of meaning to ask: Could or could not the act be foreseen, given the sum total of its antecedents? For there are two ways of assimilating these antecedents, the one dynamic the other static. In the first case we shall be led by imperceptible steps to identify ourselves with the person we are dealing with, to pass through the same series of states, and thus to get back to the very moment at which the act is performed; hence there can no longer be any question of foreseeing it. In the second case, we presuppose the final act by the mere fact of annexing to the qualitative description of the previous states the quantitative appreciation of their importance. Here again the one party is led merely to realize that the act is not yet performed when it is to be performed, and the other, that when performed it is performed. This, like the previous discussion, leaves the question of freedom exactly where it was to begin with.

The two fallacies involved: (1) regarding intensity as a magnitude, not a quality; (2) substituting material symbol for dynamic process.

By going deeper into this twofold argument, we shall find, at its very root, the two fundamental illusions of the reflective consciousness. The first consists in regarding: intensity as a mathematical property of psychic states and not, as we said at the beginning of this essay, as a special quality, as a particular shade of these various states. The second consists in substituting for the concrete reality or dynamic progress, which consciousness perceives, the material symbol of this progress when it has already reached its end, that is to say, of the act already accomplished together with the series of its antecedents. Certainly, once the final act is completed, I can ascribe to all the antecedents their proper value, and picture the interplay of these various elements as a conflict or a composition of forces. But to ask whether, the antecedents being known as well as their value, one could foretell the final act, is to beg the question; it is to forget that we cannot know the value of the antecedents without knowing the final act, which is the very thing that is not yet known; it is to suppose wrongly that the symbolical diagram which we draw in our own way for representing the action when completed has been drawn by the action itself whilst progressing, and drawn by it in an automatic manner.

Claiming to foresee an action always comes back to confusing time with space.

Now, in these two illusions themselves a third one is involved, and you will see that the question whether the act could or could not be foreseen always comes back to this: Is time space? You begin by setting side by side in some ideal space the conscious states which succeed one another in Peter’s mind, and you perceive his life as a kind of path Μ Ο X Y traced out by a moving body M in space. You then blot out in thought the part Ο X Y of this curve, and you inquire whether, knowing Μ Ο, you would have been able to determine the portion Ο X of the curve which the moving body describes beyond O.

Such is, in the main, the question which you put when you bring in a philosopher Paul, who lives before Peter and has to picture to himself the conditions under which Peter will act. You thus materialize these conditions; you make the time to come into a road already marked out across the plain, which we can contemplate from the top of the mountain, even if we have not traversed it and are never to do so. But, now, you soon notice that the knowledge of the part Μ Ο of the curve would not be enough, unless you were shown the position of the points of this line, not only in relation to one another, but also in relation to the points of the whole line Μ O X Y; which would amount to being given in advance the very elements which have to be determined. So you then alter your hypothesis; you realize that time does not require to be seen, but to be lived; and hence you conclude that, if your knowledge of the line Μ Ο was not a sufficient datum, the reason must have been that you looked at it from the outside instead of identifying yourself with the point M, which describes not only Μ Ο but also the whole curve, and thus making its movement your own. Therefore, you persuade Paul to come and coincide with Peter; and naturally, then, it is the line Μ Ο X Y which Paul traces out in space, since, by hypothesis, Peter describes this line. But in no wise do you prove thus that Paul foresaw Peter’s action; you only show that Peter acted in the way he did, since Paul became Peter. It is true that you then come back, unwittingly, to your former hypothesis, because you continually confuse the line Μ Ο X Y in its tracing with the line Μ Ο X Y already traced, that is to say, time with space. After causing Paul to come down and identify himself with Peter as long as was required, you let him go up again and resume his former post of observation. No wonder if he then perceives the line Μ Ο X Y complete: he himself has just been completing it.

Confusion arising from prediction of astronomical phenomena.

What makes the confusion a natural and almost an unavoidable one is that science seems to point to many cases where we do anticipate the future. Do we not determine beforehand the conjunctions of heavenly bodies, solar and lunar eclipses, in short the greater number of astronomical phenomena? Does not, then, the human intellect embrace in the present moment immense intervals of duration still to come? No doubt it does; but an anticipation of this kind has not the slightest resemblance to the anticipation of a voluntary act. Indeed, as we shall see, the reasons which render it possible to foretell an astronomical phenomenon are the very ones which prevent us from determining in advance an act which springs from our free activity. For the future of the material universe, although contemporaneous with the future of a conscious being, has no analogy to it.

Illustration from hypothetical acceleration of physical movements.

In order to put our finger on this vital difference, let us assume for a moment that some mischievous illustration genius, more powerful still than the mischievous genius conjured up by Descartes decreed that all the movements of the universe should go twice as fast. There would be no change in astronomical phenomena, or at any rate in the equations which enable us to foresee them, for in these equations the symbol t does not stand for a duration, but for a relation between two durations, for a certain number of units of time, in short, for a certain number of simultaneities: these simultaneities, these coincidences would still take place in equal number: only the intervals which separate them would have diminished, but these intervals never make their appearance in our calculations. Now these intervals are just duration lived, duration which our consciousness perceives, and our consciousness would soon inform us of a shortening of the day if we had not experienced the usual amount of duration between sunrise and sunset. No doubt it would not measure this shortening, and perhaps it would not even perceive it immediately as a change of quantity; but it would realize in some way or other a decline in the usual storing up of experience, a change in the progress usually accomplished between sunrise and sunset.

Astronomical prophecy such as acceleration.

Now, when an astronomer foretells e.g. a lunar eclipse, he merely exercises in his own way the power which we have ascribed to our mischievous genius. He decrees that time shall go ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times as fast, and he has a right to do so, since all that he thus changes is the nature of the conscious intervals, and since these intervals, by hypothesis, do not enter into the calculations. Therefore, into a psychological duration of a few seconds he may put several years, even several centuries of astronomical time: that is his procedure when he traces in advance the path of a heavenly body or represents it by an equation. What he does is nothing but establishing a series of relations of position between this body and other given bodies, a series of simultaneities and coincidences, a series of numerical relations: as for duration properly so called, it remains outside the calculation and could only be perceived by a consciousness capable of living through the intervals and, in fact, living the intervals themselves, instead of merely perceiving their extremities. Indeed it is even conceivable that this consciousness could live so slow and lazy a life as to take in the whole path of the heavenly body in a single perception, just as we do when we perceive the successive positions of a shooting star as one line of fire. Such a consciousness would find itself really in the same conditions in which the astronomer places himself ideally; it would see in the present what the astronomer perceives in the future. In truth, if the latter foresees a future phenomenon, it is only on condition of making it to a certain extent a present phenomenon, or at least of enormously reducing the interval which separates us from it. In short, the time of which we speak in astronomy is a number, and the nature of the units of this number cannot be specified in our calculations; we may therefore assume them to be as small as we please, provided that the same hypothesis is extended to the whole series of operations, and that the successive relations of position in space are thus preserved. We shall then be present in imagination at the phenomenon we wish to foretell; we shall know exactly at what point in space and after how many units of time this phenomenon takes place; if we then restore to these units their psychical nature, we shall thrust the event again into the future and say that we have foreseen it, when in reality we have seen it.

In dealing with states of consciousness we cannot vary their duration without altering their nature.

But these units of time which make up living duration, and which the astronomer can dispose of as he pleases because they give no handle to science, are just what concern the psychologist, for psychology deals with the intervals themselves and not with their extremities. Certainly pure consciousness does not perceive time as a sum of units of duration: left to itself, it has no means and even no reason to measure time; but a feeling which lasted only half the number of days, for example, would no longer be the same feeling for it; it would lack thousands of impressions which gradually thickened its substance and altered its colour. True, when we give this feeling a certain name, when we treat it as a thing, we believe that we can diminish its duration by half, for example, and also halve the duration of all the rest of our history: it seems that it would still be the same life, only on a reduced scale. But we forget that states of consciousness are processes, and not things; that if we denote them each by a single word, it is for the convenience of language; that they are alive and therefore constantly changing; that, in consequence, it is impossible to cut off a moment from them without making them poorer by the loss of some impression, and thus altering their quality. I quite understand that the orbit of a planet might be perceived all at once or in a very short time, because its successive positions or the results of its movement are the only things that matter, and not the duration of the equal intervals which separate them. But when we have to do with a feeling, it has no precise result except its having been felt; and, to estimate this result adequately, it would be necessary to have gone through all the phases of the feeling itself and to have taken up the same duration. Even if this feeling has finally issued in some definite action, which might be compared to the definite position of a planet in space, the knowledge of this act will hardly enable us to estimate the influence of the feeling on the whole of a life-story, and it is this very influence which we want to know. All foreseeing is in reality seeing, and this seeing takes place when we can reduce as much as we please an interval of future time while preserving the relation of its parts to one another, as happens in the case of astronomical predictions. But what does reducing an interval of time mean, except emptying or impoverishing the conscious states which fill it? And does not the very possibility of seeing an astronomical period in miniature thus imply the impossibility of modifying a psychological series in the same way, since it is only by taking this psychological series as an invariable basis that we shall be able to make an astronomical period vary arbitrarily as regards the unit of duration?

Difference between past and future duration in this respect.

Thus, when we ask whether a future action could have been foreseen, we unwittingly identify that time with which we have to do in the exact sciences, and which is reducible to a number, with real duration, whose so-called quantity is really a quality, and which we cannot curtail by an instant without altering the nature of the facts which fill it. No doubt the identification is made easier by the fact that in a large number of cases we are justified in dealing with real duration as with astronomical time. Thus, when we call to mind the past, i.e. a series of deeds done, we always shorten it, without however distorting the nature of the event which interests us. The reason is that we know it already; for the psychic state, when it reaches the end of the progress which constitutes its very existence, becomes a thing which one can picture to oneself all at once. Here we find ourselves in the same position as the astronomer, when he takes in at a glance the orbit which a planet will need several years to traverse. In fact, astronomical prediction should be compared with the recollection of the past state of consciousness, not with the anticipation of the future one. But when we have to determine a future state of consciousness, however superficial it may be, we can no longer view the antecedents in a static condition as things; we must view them in a dynamic condition as processes, since we are concerned with their influence alone. Now their duration is this very influence. Therefore it will no longer do to shorten future duration in order to picture its parts beforehand; one is bound to live this duration whilst it is unfolding. As far as deep-seated psychic states are concerned, there is no perceptible difference between foreseeing, seeing, and acting.

 

The determinist argument that psychic phenomena are subject to the law “same antecedents, same consequent.”

Only one course will remain open to the determinist. He will probably give up asserting the possibility of foreseeing a certain future act or state of consciousness, but will maintain that every act is determined by its psychic antecedents, or, in other words, that the facts of consciousness, went, the phenomena of nature, are subject to laws. This way of arguing means, at bottom, that he will leave out the particular features of the concrete psychic states, lest he find himself confronted by phenomena which defy all symbolical representation and therefore all anticipation. The particular nature of these phenomena is thus thrust out of sight, but it is asserted that, being phenomena, they must remain subject to the law of causality. Now, it is argued, this law means that every phenomenon is determined by its conditions, or, in other words, that the same causes produce the same effects. Either, then, the act is inseparably bound to its antecedents, or the principle of causality admits of an incomprehensible exception.

But as regards inner states the same antecedents will never recur.

This last form of the determinist argument differs less than might be thought from all the others which have been examined above. To say that the same inner causes will reproduce the same effects is to assume that the same cause can appear a second time on the stage of consciousness. Now, if duration is what we say, deep-seated psychic states are radically heterogeneous to each other, and it is impossible that any two of them should be quite alike, since they are two different moments of a life-story. While the external object does not bear the mark of the time that has elapsed and thus, in spite of the difference of time, the physicist can again encounter identical elementary conditions, duration 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. It is no use arguing that, even if there are no two deep-seated psychic states which are altogether alike, yet analysis would resolve these different states into more general and homogeneous elements which might be compared with each other. This would be to forget that even the simplest psychic elements possess a personality and a life of their own, however superficial they may be; they are in a constant state of becoming, and the same feeling, by the mere fact of being repeated, is a new feeling. Indeed, we have no reason for calling it by its former name save that it corresponds to the same external cause or projects itself outwardly into similar attitudes: hence it would simply be begging the question to deduce from the so-called likeness of two conscious states that the same cause produces the same effect. In short, if the causal relation still holds good in the realm of inner states, it cannot resemble in any way what we call causality in nature. For the physicist, the same cause always produces the same effect: for a psychologist who does not let himself be misled by merely apparent analogies, a deep-seated inner cause produces its effect once for all and will never reproduce it. And if it is now asserted that this effect was inseparably bound up with this particular cause, such an assertion will mean one of two things: either that, the antecedents being given, the future action might have been foreseen; or that, the action having once been performed, any other actionals seen, under the given conditions, to have been impossible. Now we saw that both these assertions were equally meaningless, and that they also involved a false conception of duration.

Analysis οf the conception of cause, which underlies the whole determinist argument.

Nevertheless it will be worth while to dwell on this latter form of the determinist argument, even though it be only to explain from our point of view the meaning of the two words “determination” and “causality.” In vain do we argue that there cannot be any question either of foreseeing a future action in the way that an astronomical phenomenon is foreseen, or of asserting, when once an action is done, that any other action would have been impossible under the given conditions. In vain do we add that, even when it takes this form: “The same causes produce the same effects,” the principle of universal determination loses every shred of meaning in the inner world of conscious states. The determinist will perhaps yield to our arguments on each of these three points in particular, will admit that in the psychical field one cannot ascribe any of these three meanings to the word determination, will probably fail to discover a fourth meaning, and yet will go on repeating that the act is inseparably bound up with its antecedents. We thus find ourselves here confronted by so deep-seated a misapprehension and so obstinate a prejudice that we cannot get the better of them without attacking them at their root, which is the principle of causality. By analysing the concept of cause, we shall show the ambiguity which it involves, and, though not aiming at a formal definition of freedom, we shall perhaps get beyond the purely negative idea of it which we have framed up to the present.

Causality as “regular succession” does not apply to conscious states and cannot disprove free will.

We perceive physical phenomena, and these phenomena obey laws. This means: (i) that phenomena a, b, c, d, previously perceived, can occur again in the same shape; (2) that a certain phenomenon P, which appeared after the conditions a, b, c, d, and after these conditions only, will not fail to recur as soon as the same conditions are again present. If the principle of causality told us nothing more, as the empiricists claim, we should willingly grant these philosophers that their principle is derived from experience; but it would no longer prove anything against our freedom. For it would then be understood that definite antecedents give rise to a definite consequent wherever experience shows us this regular succession; but the question is whether this regularity is found in the domain of consciousness too, and that is the whole problem of free will. We grant you for a moment that the principle of causality is nothing but the summing up of the uniform and unconditional successions observed in the past: by what right, then, do you apply it to those deep-seated states of consciousness in which no regular succession has yet been discovered, since the attempt to foresee them ever fails? And how can you base on this principle your argument to prove the determinism of inner states, when, according to you, the determinism of observed facts is the sole source of the principle itself? In truth, when the empiricists make use of the principle of causality to disprove human freedom, they take the word cause in a new meaning, which is the very meaning given to it by common sense.

To assert the regular succession of two phenomena is, indeed, to recognize that, the first being given, we already catch sight of the second. But this wholly subjective connexion between two ideas is not enough for common sense. It seems to common sense that, if the idea of the second phenomenon is already implied in that of the first, the second phenomenon itself must exist objectively, in some way or other, within the first phenomenon. And common sense was bound to come to this conclusion, because to distinguish exactly between an objective connexion of phenomena and a subjective association between their ideas presupposes a fairly high degree of philosophical culture. We thus pass imperceptibly from the first meaning to the second, and we picture the causal relation as a kind of prefiguring of the future phenomenon in its present conditions. Now this prefiguring can be understood in two very different ways, and it is just here that the ambiguity begins.

Causality, as the prefiguring of the future phenomenon in its present conditions, in one form destroys concrete phenomena.

In the first place, mathematics furnishes us with one type of this kind of prefiguring. The very movement by which we draw the circumference of a circle on a sheet of paper generates all the mathematical properties of this figure: in this sense an unlimited number of theorems can be said to pre-exist within the definition, although they will be spread out in duration for the mathematician who deduces them. It is true that we are here in the realm of pure quantity and that, as geometrical properties can be expressed in the form of equations, it is easy to understand how the original equation, expressing the fundamental property of the figure, is transformed into an unlimited number of new ones, all virtually contained in the first. On the contrary, physical phenomena, which succeed one another and are perceived by our senses, are distinguished by quality not less than by quantity, so that there would be some difficulty in at once declaring them equivalent to one another. But, just because they are perceived through our sense-organs, we seem justified in ascribing their qualitative differences to the impression which they make on us and in assuming, behind the heterogeneity of our sensations, a homogeneous physical universe. Thus, we shall strip matter of the concrete qualities with which our senses clothe it, colour, heat, resistance, even weight, and we shall finally find ourselves confronted with homogeneous extensity, space without body. The only step then remaining will be to describe figures in space, to make them move according to mathematically formulated laws, and to explain the apparent qualities of matter by the shape, position, and motion of these geometrical figures. Now, position is given by a system of fixed magnitudes and motion is expressed by a law, i.e. by a constant relation between variable magnitudes; but shape is a mental image, and, however tenuous, however transparent we assume it to be, it still constitutes, in so far as our imagination has, so to speak, the visual perception of it, a concrete and therefore irreducible quality of matter. It will therefore be necessary to make a clean sweep of this image itself and replace it by the abstract formula of the movement which gives rise to the figure. Picture then algebraical relations getting entangled in one another, becoming objective by this very entanglement, and producing, by the mere effect of their complexity, concrete, visible, and tangible reality,—you will be merely drawing the consequences of the principle of causality, understood in the sense of an actual prefiguring of the future in the present. The scientists of our time do not seem, indeed, to have carried abstraction so far, except perhaps Lord Kelvin. This acute and profound physicist assumed that space is filled with a homogeneous and incompressible fluid in which vortices move, thus producing the properties of matter: these vortices are the constituent elements of bodies; the atom thus becomes a movement, and physical phenomena are reduced to regular movements taking place within an incompressible fluid. But, if you will notice that this fluid is perfectly homogeneous, that between its parts there is neither an empty interval which separates them nor any difference whatever by which they can be distinguished, you will see that all movement taking place within this fluid is really equivalent to absolute immobility, since before, during, and after the movement nothing changes and nothing has changed in the whole. The movement which is here spoken of is thus not a movement which actually takes place, but only a movement which is pictured mentally: it is a relation between relations. It is implicitly supposed, though perhaps not actually realized, that motion has something to do with consciousness, that in space there are only simultaneities, and that the business of the physicist is to provide us with the means of calculating these relations of simultaneity for any moment of our duration. Nowhere has mechanism been carried further than in this system, since the very shape of the ultimate elements of matter is here reduced to a movement. But the Cartesian physics already anticipated this interpretation; for if matter is nothing, as Descartes claimed, but homogeneous extensity, the movements of the parts of this extensity can be conceived through the abstract law which governs them or through an algebraical equation between variable magnitudes, but cannot be represented under the concrete form of an image. And it would not be difficult to prove that the more the progress of mechanical explanations enables us to develop this conception of causality and therefore to relieve the atom of the weight of its sensible qualities, the more the concrete existence of the phenomena of nature tends to vanish into algebraical smoke.

It thus leads to Descartes’ physics and Spinoza’s metaphysics, but cannot bind future to present without neglecting duration.

Thus understood, the relation of causality is a necessary relation in the sense that it will indefinitely approach the relation of identity, as a curve approaches its asymptote. The Principle of identity is the absolute law of our consciousness: it asserts that what is thought is thought at the moment when we think it: and what gives this principle its absolute necessity is that it does not bind the future to the present, but only the present to the present: it expresses the unshakable confidence that consciousness feels in itself, so long as, faithful to its duty, it confines itself to declaring the apparent present state of the mind. But the principle of causality, in so far as it is supposed to bind the future to the present, could never take the form of a necessary principle; for the successive moments of real time are not bound up with one another, and no effort of logic will succeed in proving that what has been will be or will continue to be, that the same antecedents will always give rise to identical consequents. Descartes understood this so well that he attributed the regularity of the physical world and the continuation of the same effects to the constantly renewed grace of Providence; he built up, as it were, an instantaneous physics, intended for a universe the whole duration of which might as well be confined to the present moment. And Spinoza maintained that the indefinite series of phenomena, which takes for us the form of a succession in time, was equivalent, in the absolute, to the divine unity: he thus assumed, on the one hand, that the relation of apparent causality between phenomena melted away into a relation of identity in the absolute, and, on the other, that the indefinite duration of things was all contained in a single moment, which is eternity. In short, whether we study Cartesian physics, Spinozistic metaphysics, or the scientific theories of our own time, we shall find everywhere the same anxiety to establish a relation of logical necessity between cause and effect, and we shall see that this anxiety shows itself in a tendency to transform relations of succession into relations of inherence, to do away with active duration, and to substitute for apparent causality a fundamental identity.

The necessary determination of phenomena implies non-duration; but we endure and are therefore free.

Now, if the development of the notion of causality, understood in the sense of necessary connexion, leads to the Spinozistic or Cartesian conception of nature, inversely, all relation of necessary determination established between successive phenomena may be supposed to arise from our perceiving, in a confused form, some mathematical mechanism behind their heterogeneity. We do not claim that common sense has any intuition of the kinetic theories of matter, still less perhaps of a Spinozistic mechanism; but it will be seen that the more the effect seems necessarily bound up with the cause, the more we tend to put it in the cause itself, as a mathematical consequence in its principle, and thus to cancel the effect of duration. That under the influence of the same external conditions I do not behave to-day as I behaved yesterday is not at all surprising, because I change, because I endure. But things considered apart from our perception do not seem to endure; and the more thoroughly we examine this idea, the more absurd it seems to us to suppose that the same cause should not produce to-day the effect which it produced yesterday. We certainly feel, it is true, 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. And this is why the notion of causality, although it gets indefinitely near that of identity, will never seem to us to coincide with it, unless we conceive clearly the idea of a mathematical mechanism or unless some subtle metaphysics removes our very legitimate scruples on the point. It is no less obvious that our belief in the necessary determination of phenomena by one another becomes stronger in proportion as we are more inclined to regard duration as a subjective form of our consciousness. In other words, the more we tend to set up the causal relation as a relation of necessary determination, the more we assert thereby that things do not endure like ourselves. This amounts to saying that the more we strengthen the principle of causality, the more we emphasize the difference between a physical series and a psychical one. Whence, finally, it would result (however paradoxical the opinion may seem) that the assumption of a relation of mathematical inherence between external phenomena ought to bring with it, as a natural or at least as a plausible consequence, the belief in human free will. But this last consequence will not concern us for the moment: we are merely trying here to trace out the first meaning of the word causality, and we think we have shown that the prefiguring of the future in the present is easily conceived under a mathematical form, thanks to a certain conception of duration which, without seeming to be so, is fairly familiar to common sense.

Prefiguring, as having an idea of a future act which we cannot realize without effort, does not involve necessary determination.

But there is a prefiguring of another kind, still more familiar to our mind, because immediate prefiguring, as consciousness gives us the type of it. We go, in fact, through successive states of consciousness, and although the later was not contained in the earlier, we had before us at the time a more or less confused idea of it. The actual realization of this idea, however, did not appear as certain but merely as possible. Yet, between the idea and the action, some hardly perceptible intermediate processes come in, the whole mass of which takes for us a form sui generis, which is called the feeling of effort. And from the idea to the effort, from the effort to the act, the progress has been so continuous that we cannot say where the idea and the effort end, and where the act begins. Hence we see that in a certain sense we may still say here that the future was prefigured in the present; but it must be added that this prefiguring is very imperfect, since the future action of which we have the present idea is conceived as realizable but not as realized, and since, even when we plan the effort necessary to accomplish it, we feel that there is still time to stop. If, then, we decide to picture the causal relation in this second form, we can assert a priori that there will no longer be a relation of necessary determination between the cause and the effect, for the effect will no longer be given in the cause. It will be there only in the state of pure possibility and as a vague idea which perhaps will not be followed by the corresponding action. But we shall not be surprised that this approximation is enough for common sense if we think of the readiness with which children and primitive people accept the idea of a whimsical Nature, in which caprice plays a part no less important than necessity. Nay, this way of conceiving causality will be more easily understood by the general run of people, since it does not demand any effort of abstraction and only implies a certain analogy between the outer and the inner world, between the succession of objective phenomena and that of our subjective states.

This second conception of causality leads to Leibniz as the first led to Spinoza.

In truth, this second way of conceiving the relation of cause to effect is more natural than the first in that it immediately satisfies the need of a mental image. If we look for the phenomenon Β within the phenomenon A, which regularly precedes it, the reason is that the habit of associating the two images ends in giving us the idea of the second phenomenon wrapped up, as it were, in that of the first. It is natural, then, that we should push this objectification to its furthest limit and that we should make the phenomenon A itself into a psychic state, in which the phenomenon Β is supposed to be contained as a very vague idea. We simply suppose, thereby, that the objective connexion of the two phenomena resembles the subjective association which suggested the idea of it to us. The qualities of things are thus set up as actual states, somewhat analogous to those of our own self; the material universe is credited with a vague personality which is diffused through space and which, although not exactly endowed with a conscious will, is led on from one state to another by an inner impulse, a kind of effort. Such was ancient hylozoism, a half-hearted and even contradictory hypothesis, which left matter its extensity although attributing to it real conscious states, and which spread the qualities of matter throughout extensity while treating these qualities as inner i.e. simple states. It was reserved for Leibniz to do away with this contradiction and to show that, if the succession of external qualities or phenomena is understood as the succession of our own ideas, these qualities must be regarded as simple states or perceptions, and the matter which supports them as an unextended monad, analogous to our soul. But, if such be the case, the successive states of matter cannot be perceived from the outside any more than our own psychic states; the hypothesis of pre-established harmony must be introduced in order to explain how these inner states are representative of one another. Thus, with our second conception of the relation of causality we reach Leibniz, as with the first we reached Spinoza. And in both cases we merely push to their extreme limit or formulate with greater precision two half-hearted and confused ideas of common sense.

It does not involve necessary determination.

Now it is obvious that the relation of causality, understood in this second way, does not involve the necessary determination of the effect by the cause. History indeed proves it. We see ancient hylozoism, the first outcome of this conception of causality, explained the regular succession of causes and effects by a real deus ex machina: sometimes it was a Necessity external to things and hovering over them, sometimes an inner Reason acting by rules somewhat similar to those which govern our own conduct. Nor do the perceptions of Leibniz’s monad necessitate one another; God has to regulate their order in advance. In fact, Leibniz’s determinism does not spring from his conception of the monad, but from the fact that he builds up the universe with monads only. Having denied all mechanical influence of substances on one another, he had to explain how it happens that their states correspond. Hence a determinism which arises from the necessity of positing a pre-established harmony, and not at all from the dynamic conception of the relation of causality. But let us leave history aside. Consciousness itself testifies that the abstract idea of force is that of indeterminate effort, that of an effort which has not yet issued in an act and in which the act is still only at the stage of an idea. In other words, the dynamic conception of the causal relation ascribes to things a duration absolutely like our own, whatever may be the nature of this duration; to picture in this way the relation of cause to effect is to assume that the future is not more closely bound up with the present in the external world than it is in our own inner life.

Each of these contradictory interpretations of causality and duration by itself safeguards freedom; taken together they destroy it.

It follows from this twofold analysis that the principle of causality involves two contradictory conceptions of duration, two mutually exclusive ways of prefiguring the future in the present. Sometimes all phenomena, physical or psychical, are pictured as enduring in the same way, and therefore in the way that we do: in this case the future will exist in the present only as an idea, and the passing from the present to the future will take the form of an effort which does not always lead to the realization of the idea conceived. Sometimes, on the other hand, duration is regarded as the characteristic form of conscious states; in this case, things are no longer supposed to endure as we do, and a mathematical pre-existence of their future in their present is admitted. Now, each of these two hypotheses, when taken by itself, safeguards human freedom; for the first would lead to the result that even the phenomena of nature were contingent, and the second, by attributing the necessary determination of physical phenomena to the fact that things do not endure as we do, invites us to regard the self which is subject to duration as a free force. Therefore, every clear conception of causality, where we know our own meaning, leads to the idea of human freedom as a natural consequence. Unfortunately, the habit has grown up of taking the principle of causality in both senses at the same time, because the one is more flattering to our imagination and the other is more favourable to mathematical reasoning. Sometimes we think particularly of the regular succession of physical phenomena and of the kind of inner effort by which one becomes another; sometimes we fix our mind on the absolute regularity of these phenomena, and from the idea of regularity we pass by imperceptible steps to that of mathematical necessity, which excludes duration understood in the first way. And we do not see any harm in letting these two conceptions blend into one another, and in assigning greater importance to the one or the other according as we are more or less concerned with the interests of science. But to apply the principle of causality, in this ambiguous form, to the succession of conscious states, is uselessly and wantonly to run into inextricable difficulties. The idea of force, which really excludes that of necessary determination, has got into the habit, so to speak, of amalgamating with that of necessity, in consequence of the very use which we make of the principle of causality in nature. On the one hand, we know force only through the witness of consciousness, and consciousness does not assert, does not even understand, the absolute determination, now, of actions that are still to come: that is all that experience teaches us, and if we hold by experience we should say that we feel ourselves free, that we perceive force, rightly or wrongly, as a free spontaneity. But, on the other hand, this idea of force, carried over into nature, travelling there side by side with the idea of necessity, has got corrupted before it returns from the journey. It returns impregnated with the idea of necessity: and in the light of the rôle which we have made it play in the external world, we regard force as determining with strict necessity the effects which flow from it. Here again the mistake made by consciousness arises from the fact that it looks at the self, not directly, but by a kind of refraction through the forms which it has lent to external perception, and which the latter does not give back without having left its mark on them. A compromise, as it were, has been brought about between the idea of force and that of necessary determination. The wholly mechanical determination of two external phenomena by one another now assumes in our eyes the same form as the dynamic relation of our exertion of force to the act which springs from it: but, in return, this latter relation takes the form of a mathematical derivation, the human action being supposed to issue mechanically, and therefore necessarily, from the force which produces it. There is no doubt that this mingling of two different and almost opposite ideas offers advantages to common sense, since it enables us to picture in the same way, and denote by one and the same word, both the relation which exists between two moments of our life and that which binds together the successive moments of the external world. We have seen that, though our deepest conscious states exclude numerical multiplicity, yet we break them up into parts external to one another; that though the elements of concrete duration permeate one another, duration expressing itself in extensity exhibits moments as distinct as the bodies scattered in space. Is it surprising, then, that between the moments of our life, when it has been, so to speak, objectified, we set up a relation analogous to the objective relation of causality, and that an exchange, which again may be compared to the phenomenon of endosmosis, takes place between the dynamic idea of free effort and the mathematical concept of necessary determination?

Though united in popular thought, the ideas of free effort and necessary determination are kept apart by physical science.

But the sundering of these two ideas is an accomplished fact in the natural sciences. The physicist may speak of forces, and even picture their mode of action by analogy with an inner effort, but he will never introduce this hypothesis into a scientific explanation. Even those who, with Faraday, replace the extended atoms by dynamic points, will treat the centres of force and the lines of force mathematically, without troubling about force itself considered as an activity or an effort. It thus comes to be understood that the relation of external causality is purely mathematical, and has no resemblance to the relation between psychical force and the act which springs from it.

They should be kept apart too by psychology.

It is now time to add that the relation of inner causality is purely dynamic, and has no analogy with the relation of two external phenomena which condition one another. For as the latter are capable of recurring in a homogeneous space, their relation can be expressed in terms of a law, whereas deep-seated psychic states occur once in consciousness and will never occur again. A careful analysis of the psychological phenomenon led us to this conclusion in the beginning: the study of the notions of causality and duration, viewed in themselves, has merely confirmed it.

Freedom real but indefineable.

We can now formulate our conception of freedom. Freedom is the relation of the concrete self to the act which it performs. This relation is indefinable, just because we are free. For we can analyse a thing, but not a process; we can break up extensity, but not duration. Or, if we persist in analysing it, we unconsciously transform the process into a thing and duration into extensity. By the very fact of breaking up concrete time we set out its moments in homogeneous space; in place of the doing we put the already done; and, as we have begun by, so to speak, stereotyping the activity of the self, we see spontaneity settle down into inertia and freedom into necessity. Thus, any positive definition of freedom will ensure the victory of determinism.

Shall we define the free act by saying of this act, when it is once done, that it might have been left undone? But this assertion, as also its opposite, implies the idea of an absolute equivalence between concrete duration and its spatial symbol: and as soon as we admit this equivalence, we are led on, by the very development of the formula which we have just set forth, to the most rigid determinism.

Shall we define the free act as “that which could not be foreseen, even when all the conditions were known in advance?” But to conceive all the conditions as given, is, when dealing with concrete duration, to place oneself at the very moment at which the act is being performed. Or else it is admitted that the matter of psychic duration can be pictured symbolically in advance, which amounts, as we said, to treating time as a homogeneous medium, and to reasserting in new words the absolute equivalence of duration with its symbol. A closer study of this second definition of freedom will thus bring us once more to determinism.

Shall we finally define the free act by saying that it is not necessarily determined by its cause? But either these words lose their meaning or we understand by them that the same inner causes will not always call forth the same effects. We admit, then, that the psychic antecedents of a free act can be repeated, that freedom is displayed in a duration whose moments resemble one another, and that time is a homogeneous medium, like space. We shall thus be brought back to the idea of an equivalence between duration and its spatial symbol; and by pressing the definition of freedom which we have laid down, we shall once more get determinism out of it.

To sum up; every demand for explanation in regard to freedom comes back, without our suspecting it, to the following question: “Can time be adequately represented by space?” To which we answer: Yes, if you are dealing with time flown; No, if you speak of time flowing. Now, the free act takes place in time which is flowing and not in time which has already flown. Freedom is therefore a fact, and among the facts which we observe there is none clearer. All the difficulties of the problem, and the problem itself, arise from the desire to endow duration with the same attributes as extensity, to interpret a succession by a simultaneity, and to express the idea of freedom in a language into which it is obviously untranslatable.


[1] On this point see Lange, History of Materialism, Vol. ii, Part ii.

[2] Cf. Examination of Sir W. Hamilton’s Philosophy.5th ed., (1878), p. 583.

[3] Ibid. p. 585.

[4] Ibid. p. 585.

[5] The Emotions and the Will, Chap. vi.

[6] Fouillée, La Liberté et le Déterminisme.

[7] In Molière’s comedy Le Misanthrope, (Tr.).

[8] Examination of Sir W. Hamilton’s Philosophy. 5th ed., (1878), p. 580.

[9] Ibid. p. 583.

Table of Contents