Lecture given at the Philosophical Congress in Bologna, April 10th, 1911
Is it possible for us to recapture this intuition itself? We have just two means of expression, concept and image. It is in concepts that the system develops; it is into an image that it contracts when it is driven back to the intuition from which it comes: so that, if one wishes to go beyond the image by rising above it, one necessarily falls back on concepts, and on concepts more vague, even more general than those from which one started in search of the image and the intuition. Reduced to this form, bottled as it were the moment it comes from the spring, the original intuition will then become superlatively insipid and uninteresting: it will be banal in the extreme. If we were to say for example that Berkeley considers the human soul as partially united with God and partly independent, that it is conscious of itself at every moment as of an imperfect activity which would join a higher activity if there were not, interposed between the two, something which is absolutely passive, we should be expressing all of the original intuition of Berkeley that can be directly translated into concepts, and still we should have something so abstract as to be almost empty. Let us stick to these formulas since we cannot find better ones, but let us try to put a little life into them. Let us take all that the philosopher has written, let us bring back these scattered ideas to the image from which they had descended; and let us raise them enclosed now in the image, up to the abstract formula enlarged by its absorption of the image and ideas, let us now attach ourselves to this formula and watch it, simple as it is, grow simpler still, all the more' simple for our having pushed into it a greater number of things: finally let us rise with it, go up to the point where everything that was given extended in the doctrine contracts in tension: we shall picture to ourselves this time how from this centre of force, which is moreover inaccessible, there springs the impulse which gives the impetus, that is to say the intuition itself. It is from this that the four theses of Berkeley came, because this movement met on its way the ideas and problems the contemporaries of Berkeley were raising. In other times Berkeley would doubtless have formulated other theses; but, the movement being the same, these theses would have been situated in the same way with regard to one another; they would have had the same relationship to one another, like new words of a new sentence through which runs the thread of an old meaning: and it would have been the same philosophy.
The relation of a philosophy to earlier and contemporary philosophies is not, then, what a certain conception of the history of systems would lead us to assume. The philosopher does not take pre-existing ideas in order to recast them into a superior synthesis or combine them with a new idea. One might as well believe that in order to speak we go hunting for words that we string together afterwards by means of a thought. The truth is that above the word and above the sentence there is something much more simple than a sentence or even a word: the meaning, which is less a thing thought than a movement of thought, less a movement than a direction. And just as the impulsion given to the embryonic life determines the division of an original cell into cells which in turn divide until the complete organism is formed, so the characteristic movement of each act of thought leads this thought, by an increasing sub-division of itself, to spread out more and more over the successive planes of the mind until it reaches that of speech. Once there it expresses itself by means of a sentence, that is, by a group of preexisting elements; but it can almost arbitrarily choose the first elements of the group provided that the others are complementary to them; the same thought is translated just as well into diverse sentences composed of entirely different words, provided these words have the same connection between them. Such is the process of speech. And such also is the operation by which a philosophy is constituted. The philosopher does not start with preexisting ideas; at most one can say that he arrives at them. And when he gets there the idea thus caught up into the movement of his mind, being animated with a new life like the word which receives its meaning from the sentence, is no longer what it was outside the vortex.
One would find the same kind of relationship between a philosophical system and the whole body of scientific knowledge of the epoch in which the philosopher lived. There is a certain conception of philosophy which requires that all the effort of the philosopher should be to embrace in one large synthesis the results of the particular sciences. Indeed, the philosopher, for a long time, was he who possessed universal knowledge; and today even, when the multiplicity of particular sciences, the diversity and complexity of methods, the enormous mass of facts collected make the accumulation of all human knowledge in a single mind impossible, the philosopher remains the man of universal knowledge, in this sense, that if he can no longer know everything, there is nothing that he should not have put himself in a position to learn. But does it necessarily follow, that his task is to take possession of existing science to bring it to increasing degrees of generality, and to proceed, from condensation to condensation, to what has been called the unification of knowledge? May I be pardoned if I consider it strange that this conception of philosophy is proposed to us in the name of science, out of respect for science: I know of no conception more offensive to science or more injurious to the scientist. Here, if you like, is a man who, over a long period of time, has followed a certain scientific method and laboriously gained his results, who says to us: "Experience, with the help of reasoning, leads to this point; scientific knowledge begins here, it ends there; such are my conclusions"; and the philosopher would have the right to answer: "Very well, leave it to me, and I'll show you what I can do with it! The knowledge you bring me unfinished, I shall complete. What you put before me in bits I shall put together. With the same materials, since it is understood that I shall keep to the facts, which you have observed, with the same kind of work, since I must restrict myself as you did to induction and deduction, I shall do more and better than you have done." Truly a very strange pretention! How could the profession of philosopher confer upon him who exercises it the power of advancing farther than science in the same direction as science? That certain scientists are more inclined than others to forge ahead and to generalize their results, more inclined also to turn back and to criticize their methods, that in this particular meaning of the word they should be dubbed philosophers, moreover that each science can and should have its own philosophy thus understood, I am the first to admit. But that particular philosophy is still science, and he who practises it is still a scientist. It is no longer a question, as it was a moment ago, of setting up philosophy as a synthesis of the positive sciences and of claiming, in virtue of the philosopher's mind alone, to raise oneself above science in the generalization of the same facts.
Such a conception of the role of the philosopher would be unfair to science. But how much more unfair to, philosophy! Is it not evident that if the scientist stops at a certain point along the road of generalization and synthesis it is because beyond that point objective experience and sure reasoning do not permit us to advance? And hence in claiming to go further in the same direction, should we not be placing ourselves systematically in the arbitrary or at least the hypothetical? To make of philosophy an ensemble of generalities which goes beyond scientific generalization, is to insist that the philosopher be content with the plausible and that probability be sufficient for him. I am perfectly well aware that for most of those who follow our discussions from a distance, our domain is in fact that of the simple possible, at most that of the probable; they would be very much inclined to say that philosophy begins where certitude leaves off. But who among us would like philosophy to be in such a situation? Doubtless everything is not equally verified or verifiable in what a philosophy brings us, and it is the essence of the philosophical method to demand that at many moments, on many points, the mind should take risks. But the philosopher runs these risks only because he has insured himself and because there are things of which be feels himself unshakeably certain. He will make us certain in our turn to the extent that he is able to communicate to us the intuition from whence he draws his strength.
The truth is that philosophy is not a synthesis of particular sciences, and that if it often places itself on the terrain of science, if it sometimes embraces in a simpler vision the objects of science, it is not by intensifying science, it is not by carrying the results of science to a higher degree of generality. There would not be place for two ways of knowing, philosophy and science, if experience did not present itself to us under two different aspects; on the one hand in the form of facts side by side with other facts, which repeat themselves more or less, which can to a certain extent be measured, and which in fact open out in the direction of distinct multiplicity and spatiality; on the other hand in the form of a reciprocal penetration which is pure duration, refractory to law and measurement. In both cases, experience signifies consciousness; but in the first case, consciousness unfolds outward and externalizes itself in relation to itself in the exact measure to which it perceives things as external to one another; in the second, it turns back within itself, it takes possession of itself and develops in depth. In thus probing its own depth does it penetrate more deeply into the interior of matter, of life, or reality in general? One could dispute this if consciousness had been superadded to matter as an accident; but I believe I have shown that such a hypothesis, according to the way in which it is generally taken, is absurd or false, self-contradictory or contradicted by the facts. One might still dispute it, if human consciousness, although related to a higher and vaster consciousness, had been put aside, as if man had to stand in a corner of nature like a child being punished. But no! the matter and life which fill the world are equally within us; the forces which work in all things we feel within ourselves; whatever may be the inner essence of what is and what is done, we are of that essence. Let us then go down into our own inner selves: the deeper the point we touch, the stronger will be the thrust which sends us back to the surface. Philosophical intuition is this contact, philosophy is this impetus. Brought back to the surface by an impulsion from the depth, we shall regain contact with science as our thought opens out and disperses. Philosophy then must be able to model itself upon science, and an idea of so-called intuitive origin which could not manage, by dividing itself and subdividing its divisions, to cover the facts observed outwardly and the laws by which science joins them to each other, which would not be capable even of correcting certain generalizations and of rectifying certain observations, would be pure fantasy; it would have nothing in common with intuition. But on the other hand the idea which succeeds in fitting perfectly this dispersion of itself upon the facts and laws, was not obtained by a unification of external experience; for the philosopher did not arrive at unity, he started from it. I am speaking, naturally, of a unity which is at once restricted and relative, like the unity which marks off a living being from the rest of the universe. The process by which philosophy seems to assimilate the results of positive science, like the operation in the course of which a philosophy appears to re-assemble in itself the fragments of earlier philosophies, is not a synthesis but an analysis.
Science is the auxiliary of action. And action aims at a result. The scientific intelligence asks itself therefore what will have to be done in order that a certain desired result be attained, or more generally, what conditions should obtain in order that a certain phenomenon take place. It goes from an arrangement of things to a rearrangement, from a simultaneity to a simultaneity. Of necessity it neglects what happens in the interval; or if it does concern itself with it, it is in order to consider other arrangements in it, still more simultaneities. With methods meant to seize the ready-made, it cannot in general enter into what is being done, it cannot follow the moving reality, adopt the becoming which is the life of things. This last task belongs to philosophy. While the scientist, obliged to take immobile views of movement and to gather repetitions along a path where nothing is repeated, intent also upon dividing reality conveniently on successive planes where it is deployed in order to submit it to the action of man, is obliged to use craft with nature, to adopt toward it the wary attitude of an adversary, the philosopher treats nature as a comrade. The rule of science is the one posited by Bacon: obey in order to command. The philosopher neither obeys nor commands; he seeks to be at one with nature. From this point of view, moreover, the essence of philosophy is the spirit of simplicity. Whether we contemplate the philosophical spirit in itself or in its works, whether we compare philosophy to science or one philosophy with other philosophies, we always find that any complication is superficial, that the construction is a mere accessory, synthesis a semblance: the act of philosophising is a simple one.
The more we become imbued with this truth, the more we shall be inclined to take philosophy out of the school and bring it into closer contact with life. No doubt the attitude of common-sense, as it results from the structure of the senses, of intelligence and of language, is nearer to the attitude of science than to that of philosophy. By that I do not mean only that the general categories of our thought are the very categories of science, that the highways traced by our senses across the continuity of the real are those along which science will travel, that perception is a science in the process of being born, science an adult perception, and that ordinary knowledge and scientific knowledge, both destined to prepare our action upon things, are necessarily two visions of a kind, although of unequal precision and range; what I wish particularly to say, is that ordinary knowledge is forced, like scientific knowledge and for the same reasons, to take things in a time broken up into an infinity of particles, pulverised so to speak, where an instant which does not endure follows another equally without duration. Movement is for it a series of positions, change a series of qualities, and becoming, generally, a series of states. It starts from immobility (as though immobility could be anything but an appearance, comparable to the special effect that one moving body produces upon another when both move at the same rate in the same direction), and by an ingenious arrangement of immobilities it recomposes an imitation of movement which it substitutes for movement itself: an operation which is convenient from a practical standpoint but is theoretically absurd, pregnant with all the contradictions, all the pseudo-problems that Metaphysics and Criticism find before them.
But precisely because it is right there that common sense turns its back upon philosophy, all we shall have to do is to have it make a volte-face on that point in order to head it again in the direction of philosophical thought. Intuition doubtless admits of many degrees of intensity, and philosophy many degrees of depth; but the mind once brought back to real duration will already be alive with intuitive life and its knowledge of things will already be philosophy. Instead of a discontinuity of moments replacing one another in an infinitely divided time, it will perceive the continuous fluidity of real time which flows along, indivisible. Instead of surface states covering, successively some neutral stuff and maintaining with it a mysterious relationship of phenomenon to substance, it will seize upon one identical change which keeps ever lengthening as in a melody where everything is becoming but where the becoming, being itself substantial, has no need of support. No more inert states, no more dead things; nothing but the mobility of which the stability of life is made. A vision of this kind, where reality appears as continuous and indivisible, is on the road which leads to philosophical intuition.
For, in order to reach intuition it is not necessary to transport ourselves outside the domain of the senses and of consciousness. Kant's error was to believe that it was. After having proved by decisive arguments that no dialectical effort will ever introduce us into the beyond and that an effective metaphysics would necessarily be an intuitive metaphysics, he added that we lack this intuition and that this metaphysics is impossible. It would in fact be so if there were no other time or change than those which Kant perceived and which, moreover, we too must reckon with; for our usual perception cannot get but of time nor grasp anything else than change. But the time in which we are naturally placed, the change we habitually have before us, are a time and change that our senses and our consciousness have reduced to dust in order to facilitate our action upon things. Undo what they have done, bring our perception back to its origins, and we shall have a new kind of knowledge without having been obliged to have recourse to new faculties.
If this knowledge is generalized, speculation will not be the only thing to profit by jt. Everyday life can be nourished and illuminated by it. For the world into which our senses and consciousness habitually introduce us is no more than the shadow of itself: and it is as cold as death. Everything in it is arranged for our maximum convenience, but in it, everything is in a present which seems constantly to be starting afresh; and we ourselves, fashioned artificially in the image of a no less artificial universe, see ourselves in the instantaneous, speak of the past as of something done away with, and see in memory a fact strange or in any case foreign to us, an aid given to mind by matter. Let us on the contrary grasp ourselves afresh as we are, in a present which is thick, and furthermore, elastic, which we can stretch indefinitely backward by pushing the screen which masks us from ourselves farther and farther away; let us grasp afresh the external world as it really is, not superficially, in the present, but in depth, with the immediate past crowding upon it and imprinting upon it its impetus; let us in a word become accustomed to see all things sub specie durationis: immediately in our galvanized perception what is taut becomes relaxed, what is dormant awakens, what is dead comes to life again. Satisfactions which art will never give save to those favoured by nature and fortune, and only then upon rare occasions, philosophy thus understood will offer to all of us, at all times, by breathing life once again into the phantoms which surround us and by revivifying us. In so doing philosophy will become complementary to science in practice as well as in speculation. With its applications which aim only at the convenience of existence, science gives us the promise of well-being, or at most, of pleasure. But philosophy could already give us joy.
Henri Bergson/The Creative Mind/Philosophical Intuition
Translated by Mabelle L. Andison
1946 Philosophical Library New York
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