A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson

Overview:

Edouard Le Roy’s “A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson” introduces the core tenets of Bergson’s thought. It calls for a shift in philosophical method, urging a return to direct intuition to grasp the essence of reality, which is characterized by constant change, or duration. Traditional intellectual analysis, bound by spatial and numerical concepts, fails to capture the dynamic, heterogeneous nature of consciousness and life.

Bergson’s philosophy champions the concept of “duration,” a qualitative, indivisible flow of time where past, present, and future interpenetrate. This understanding of time underpins his arguments for human freedom and creative evolution. He posits that both consciousness and life, driven by a “vital impetus,” are forces of continual invention and novelty. This “creative evolution” is contrasted with the tendency of matter towards inertia and degradation.

Key Findings:

  • Duration as Reality: Reality is not static but a constant state of becoming, best understood through the concept of “duration,” a continuous, indivisible flow of time.
  • Limitations of Intellect: Traditional intellectual analysis, bound by spatial and numerical concepts, is inadequate to grasp the dynamic and heterogeneous nature of consciousness and life.
  • Intuition as a Path to Knowledge: A direct, intuitive understanding is necessary to grasp the true essence of reality, especially in the realms of consciousness, life, and evolution.
  • Primacy of Life: Life is a force of continual invention and novelty, driven by a “vital impetus” that pushes against the inertia of matter.
  • Human Freedom Rooted in Duration: True freedom arises from the creative and unpredictable nature of duration, liberating us from deterministic views based on spatialized time.

Learning:

  • Understanding Duration: The reader will learn about the concept of “duration” as a non-linear, heterogeneous flow of time that contrasts with the traditional, spatialized view. It emphasizes the interpenetration of past, present, and future, and highlights the constantly evolving nature of reality.
  • Limitations of Conceptual Analysis: The text reveals how analyzing reality through fixed concepts, particularly those rooted in space and number, leads to a fragmented and incomplete understanding, especially when dealing with consciousness and life.
  • The Importance of Intuition: The reader will grasp the value of intuition, a direct and immediate form of understanding that allows us to connect with the dynamic flow of reality, bypassing the limitations of intellectual analysis.
  • The Creative Nature of Evolution: The text introduces the concept of “creative evolution,” where life is not merely a mechanical process but a force of constant innovation, driven by a “vital impetus” that pushes against the inertia of matter.
  • New Perspective on Human Freedom: The reader will gain a new perspective on human freedom, understanding it as arising from the unpredictable and creative nature of duration, challenging deterministic views based on linear time.

Historical Context:

Written in 1912, “A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson” emerges at a time when the scientific worldview dominated intellectual discourse. The text directly challenges the prevailing faith in a purely mechanistic universe explainable through mathematics and physics. It seeks to reintroduce a sense of mystery and vitalism into philosophy, emphasizing the dynamism and creativity inherent in life and consciousness.

Facts:

  1. Reality is constantly in flux: This is true because, according to Bergson, duration, a continuous and indivisible flow of time, is the true nature of reality.
  2. Consciousness cannot be reduced to a sum of its parts: This is because psychological states are phases of duration, interpenetrating and influencing each other, defying quantitative analysis.
  3. Intuition is a legitimate form of knowledge: This is true because intuition allows us to grasp the dynamic unity of reality that eludes intellectual analysis.
  4. Life is characterized by creative evolution: This is true because life, driven by a “vital impetus,” constantly generates novelty and transcends predictable mechanistic processes.
  5. Matter tends towards inertia and degradation: This is true because matter represents the counter-current to the upward thrust of life, signifying a falling away from the creative impulse.
  6. Human beings are capable of true freedom: This is true because our actions arise from the ever-evolving, unpredictable nature of duration, breaking free from deterministic frameworks.
  7. The human brain functions as a filter for memory: This is true because the brain primarily selects memories relevant to present actions, relegating others to unconsciousness.
  8. Perception is primarily a utilitarian process: This is true because, in daily life, we perceive selectively, focusing on what serves our practical needs and actions.
  9. Our understanding of the world is shaped by our practical needs: This is true because our senses and intellect have evolved to guide our actions within the world, influencing how we perceive and conceptualize reality.
  10. Space and number are inadequate to describe consciousness: This is true because they are static forms that fail to capture the dynamic, qualitative flow of inner experience.
  11. Instinct is a form of unconscious intelligence: This is true because instinct operates through a direct, sympathetic connection with the object, bypassing conscious analysis.
  12. Intelligence excels in understanding inert matter: This is true because intelligence, through analysis and abstraction, is adept at dissecting and quantifying the static aspects of the material world.
  13. Language is inherently symbolic and limited: This is true because language, based on fixed concepts, can only represent reality indirectly, obscuring its dynamic flow.
  14. Concepts are like snapshots of a moving reality: This is true because concepts capture a specific moment of becoming, failing to grasp the continuity and interconnectedness of the process.
  15. Philosophical systems often arise from different perspectives on the same intuition: This is true because an initial intuition, inexpressible in language, can be analyzed and interpreted in diverse ways, leading to various philosophical interpretations.
  16. The notion of “nothingness” is a pseudo-idea: This is true because it arises from our practical experience of not finding something we expected or desired, not from a perception of actual void.
  17. Disorder is a relative concept: This is true because it arises from our expectations of a specific type of order, expressing our disappointment when that order is not found.
  18. The body is an instrument of action for the mind: This is true because the body, including the brain, enables the mind to interact with the material world, translating mental impulses into physical movements.
  19. The relationship between mind and matter is not one of simple parallelism: This is true because the mind possesses a creative freedom that transcends the deterministic processes of the material world.
  20. Human beings are participants in the creative evolution of the universe: This is true because our actions, informed by consciousness, contribute to the ongoing process of creation and becoming within the universe.

Terms:

  1. Duration: A continuous, indivisible flow of time, where past, present, and future interpenetrate, contrasting with the traditional, linear view of time.
  2. Intuition: A direct, immediate form of understanding that allows us to grasp the essence of reality, especially the dynamic aspects of consciousness and life, bypassing intellectual analysis.
  3. Vital Impetus: The inherent creative force driving life’s evolution, pushing it towards greater complexity, diversity, and freedom.
  4. Creative Evolution: The concept that evolution is not a purely mechanistic process but a continuous creation of novelty, driven by the vital impetus inherent in life.
  5. Dynamic Scheme: A pre-conceptual, motive force in thought that guides the generation of images and concepts, representing the act of creative thought in motion.
  6. Image: A moment of pure perception where subject and object are not yet distinguished, representing a direct experience of reality prior to conceptual analysis.
  7. Concept: An abstract, static representation of reality, capturing a particular aspect of a dynamic process, used by intelligence for analysis and communication.
  8. Pure Perception: The direct, unmediated apprehension of reality, unaffected by practical needs or conceptual frameworks, representing an ideal limit of experience.
  9. Ordinary Perception: Perception as practiced in daily life, shaped by our practical needs and habits, filtering and organizing reality through a utilitarian lens.
  10. Mechanism: A system governed by predictable, deterministic laws, often used to describe the behavior of inert matter but inadequate to explain the creativity and freedom of life.

Examples:

  1. Melting Sugar: The process of waiting for sugar to dissolve in water illustrates the irreversible nature of duration and the inadequacy of purely mechanistic explanations that ignore the temporal aspect of phenomena.
  2. The Running Man: The perceived stillness of a runner’s form in a photograph exemplifies how our perception simplifies movement, condensing a continuous process into a static representation.
  3. Remembering a Name: The experience of feeling a forgotten name on the verge of recall illustrates the presence of dynamic schemes, pre-conceptual forces that guide our retrieval of memories.
  4. The Spectrum of Color: The continuous spectrum of color, reduced to a limited set of primary colors, demonstrates how conceptual analysis simplifies reality, losing the nuance and richness of direct perception.
  5. Zeno’s Paradox: The paradox of Achilles and the tortoise highlights the limitations of analyzing movement through infinitely divisible units of space, revealing the indivisible nature of change in duration.
  6. Embryonic Development: The development of an embryo, recapitulating the evolutionary history of a species, reveals the creative, rhythmic unfolding of life over time, defying purely mechanistic explanations.
  7. Fossil Records: The existence of unchanged species in fossil records shows that evolution is not a predetermined necessity but a creative process involving choice and contingency.
  8. The Skilled Engineer: The engineer’s intuitive understanding of a machine, surpassing the theorist’s abstract knowledge, exemplifies the power of lived experience and a dynamic connection with the object.
  9. The Statue and the Rose: The phrase “I am the scent of roses” used to describe a statue’s perception illustrates the qualitative, holistic nature of conscious experience, where sensations interpenetrate and defy spatial separation.
  10. The Clock Striking the Hour: The perception of a series of clock strikes as a unified musical phrase demonstrates how duration is directly experienced as a qualitative flow, not a mere sum of separate units.

Conclusion:

“A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson” offers a radical rethinking of philosophical methodology and our understanding of reality. It champions intuition over static conceptual analysis, revealing the dynamic nature of consciousness and life. By emphasizing duration as the true reality, the text champions a view of the universe as a continuous process of creative evolution, where human beings, endowed with freedom and memory, are active participants in this ongoing becoming.

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