Thursday, February 4, 2021

Henri Bergson - Summary of main ideas

Hostile to materialist positivism, Henri  Bergson, French vitalist philosopher,  made a return to the immediate data of consciousness, to a pure and qualitative "duration", one of Bergson's central concepts.

Bergson's intuition:

Bergson's influence was considerable. At the end of the 19th century and during the first half of the 20th century, he questioned both intellectualist philosophies, which claimed to access reality through the exercise of intelligence, and “scientist” solutions, according to which only valid knowledge would be that provided by the sciences.

Now, how can intelligence make us grasp reality?

- It is in the mold of the action that it was cast.

- It does not originally designate a purely speculative faculty, but an active power.

- Considered in what appears to be the first step, it consists in making artificial objects and varying their manufacture.

-          Homo Faber ( man fabricator) before being Homo Sapiens (wise man), the human being first tried to dominate nature and to make it serve its uses.

Intelligence therefore enables action to be foreseen and usefully organized.

- But when a philosopher proposes to penetrate the Absolute (which is perfect in that he is perfectly what he is, which does not depend on any relative symbol), should he not take another path? and try to refrain from methods and approaches essentially adapted to the world of action? (ex: analysis , operation bringing the object back to elements already known, recomposition ...)

- Science is based on intelligence and has applied calculation and measurement processes to matter.

- In doing so, she built useful diagrams and continued into practice, but she did not go beyond the sphere of the relative.

- It has built scientific laws , that is to say constant relations between sizes which vary, without obviously penetrating the Absolute.

By what way can we hope to reach the Absolute?

- We must repudiate not only intelligence, but language , which is intimately linked to it.

- Instrument of intelligence, language represents a set of verbal signs noting things that their most common and most banal aspect, signs fixing and freezing what changes and varies.

- Linguistic signs are just labels stuck on things.

- Words designate genres, general ideas corresponding to a group of beings with common characteristics. They can neither express the real objective nor our deep psyche: like intelligence, they are instruments of action.

Consequently, does not seeing it of immediacy have a privilege over those of the concept, of discourse and of discursive intelligence?

- By an immediate, direct mode of knowledge, by a sympathy making us coincide with what the object has of unique and inexpressible, in a word by an intuition , we penetrate the deep being of the real.

- Intuition represents a return to oneself and to what we authentically are, a return taking place without intermediaries.

Bergson and the interior life: duration, freedom, memory

It is the inner life that intuition will first allow us to discover. And, in fact, intuitive knowledge allows us to rediscover pure duration , the form that our states of consciousness take when our ego allows itself to be lived, when it refrains from establishing a separation between the present state and the previous states.

- Fluid unfolding, pure heterogeneity, qualitative fusion, duration represents the very stuff of our self.

- An uninterrupted, flexible and qualitative becoming, this is what a metaphysical investigation based on intuition reveals to us.

However, this qualitative development is always unpredictable. For the fundamental self, the self revealed to us by the "immediate data of consciousness", is freedom.

- If the superficial self , the part of our psyche modeled by conventions and society, very often amounts to a series of automatism, our authentic interior life, our duration, are in depth, freedom .

When are we free?

- When we go beyond the superficial crust of the linguistic sign, of the words, of the social, when our acts emanate from our entire personality and express it.

- Freedom is experienced through contact with our deep self, through a real agreement with it.

- It is then the ego below which rises to the surface. Freedom is one with the outpouring of the deep self.

Finally, our interior life is memory. Here takes place the famous distinction of the two memories.

- There is a memory-habit , made up of automatisms and motor mechanisms: when I learn a text by heart, I perform and repeat a certain number of known gestures; memory-habit designates a real bodily mechanism.

- As opposed to these automatisms, pure memory is that of my story: the past then survives in me, in the form of pure, unalterable memories, independent of the body. Pure memory contains our past and it represents our authentic spiritual essence.

Bergson and the vital momentum:

Intuition opens us, not only to our spiritual dynamism, but also to the duration of the universe and to the great breath of life.

Just as our inner experience is made up of duration and qualitative changes, just as it is woven by constantly developing threads, so reality is becoming and evolution.

But how to understand this evolution?

-          Bergson rejects both the doctrines and postulates mechanistic of Darwin that the teleology .

- In the first case (mechanism), the psycho-chemical explanation is supposed to suffice, but the mechanism is blind to the thrust of the living, to time, to dynamism. With the mechanism, everything is given and the impetus of life is put on hold.

- But the finalist doctrine (which refers to an intention and a plan which is actualized within life), also puts time and creative becoming in parentheses: it too, as if everything were given initially, by advanced. A preformed intention would explain everything.

Consequently, it is the idea of ​​an original impetus which is offered to us, the living species having diverged from this impetus.

-          The vital impulse indicates an unpredictable creative process, a current crossing the bodies which it organizes.

- Thus, this original impulse of creation invents increasingly complex forms.

- To understand the essence of this vital impulse, let us think of pure duration, which is creative spontaneity.

- The vital impetus is also an invention: it realizes new instincts, organs that did not exist, creating, thanks to its spontaneity, complex and unexpected shapes that simple mechanical combinations cannot explain.

Thus, all of Bergson's analyzes lead him to see in life a creative movement and an effort to go up the slope that matter descends.

Bergson, Morality, religion and art:

The same dynamic perspective illuminates moral, religious and artistic phenomena. The term "open" is fundamental here to unederstand Bergson:

- Is "open" all together escaping the suffocation of a circle of rigid rules opening up to the impetus of life and creation.

- Thus, in open morality, a spiritual impetus is at work.

- While closed morality designates only a fixed set of prescriptions presenting a mandatory character, simple organized products of society, open morality is dynamic: it expresses, not a fixed system of social obligations, but a moral invention, a call linked to spiritual energy.

- The open morality of the saint and the hero takes its source in a momentum and a duration which push forward and shake humanity.

- Likewise, dynamic religion , that of the great mystics, imbued with a surge of love, transports the soul far beyond itself and thus infinitely exceeds static religion , the invention of humanity to defend and guard against the dissolving idea of ​​death and ensure its conservation.

- Dynamic religion, grasped by contact with creative duration, appears immediate experience, in the mystical soul, of the Divine and of God.

Finally, like open morality, like dynamic religion, authentic art designates an immediate coincidence with reality, an unveiling of reality itself, a direct vision of what is, beyond practically useful symbols.

If Bergson's voice and philosophy are not always heard in contemporary culture and the world, nevertheless, his philosophy, of mystical inspiration, has illuminated, in a limpid prose, deep spiritual dynamisms and refers to a metaphysical experience. integral. What, in this perspective, is to philosophize ? To place oneself in the object itself by an effort of intuition and to coincide with it.

Works by Bergson:

See also: