Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Summary: Time and Free Will / Henri Bergson

Time and Free Will is a work by the French philosopher Henri Bergson published in 1889. The work is mainly devoted to the idea of duration , a key concept in Bergsonian thought. Duration escapes consciousness, which itself passes through a multiplicity of states.

Preface and Chapter I: "From the intensity of psychological states" 

The example of the artwork 

Before discussing the authors who according to him confuse duration and space with harmful consequences on the way of conceiving interior life, he is interested in grace and art, in particular dance. : “If grace prefers curves to broken lines, it is because the curved line changes direction at any time, but each new direction was indicated in the one that preceded it. The perception of an ease of movement therefore merges here in the pleasure of stopping, in a way, the march of time, and of holding the future in the present. A third element occurs when the graceful movements obey a rhythm, and the music accompanies them. Is that the pace and extent, allowing us to provide even better movements of the artist, we do believe that once we are masters. Arnaud Bouaniche explains why the grace just mentioned in connection with music and dance, or, more generally, art announces what Bergson will call duration . The grace or art, he said further "monopolizes our whole soul  ." This invasion of the soul by emotion, writes Arnaud Bouhaniche, “in contact with the work of art is important: it is based on the criterion through which the experience of duration will be manifested throughout the Essay , that of a total change in our being (…) We can therefore see, from now on, that there is a privileged link between art and duration, and this will be the case for all of Bergson's work … ”

Refutation of positivist theories on the sensations 

Bergson quotes here various theorists like Alexander Bain whose theory of an activity stored in the muscles feeds the belief of a psychic state likely to increase in the extent. Or Wilhelm Wundt for whom a paralytic very clearly perceives the effort he deploys by activating (in the brain), a limb that he no longer has would be the proof that there would be a psychic force independent of expression. body, a theory that will "in the sense of belief of common sense in a continuation of the intensive to extensive, psychic to the extended 6 ." On p.  44-52 of the Essay , Bergson undertakes an analysis of the law of. This law establishes that there is a constant relationship between the amount of excitation necessary to vary a sensation and that necessary to trigger it. What Bergson disputes is not this law but the transformation that Gustav Theodor Fechner proposes of this law, a transformation known as the Weber-Fechner Law which establishes "an equation which relates the quantity of sensation to the corresponding excitement. This passage is illegitimate according to Bergson, because it involves treating sensations like quantities 7 . "Whether it is the psychophysicist Fechner or the Belgian philosopher Joseph Delboeuf, these two authors commit the same error: "all psychophysics is condemned by its very origin to turn in a vicious circle, because the theoretical postulate on which it rests condemns it to an experimental verification and it can only be verified experimentally if the we first admit our postulate ", this postulate being the assimilation of quantity to quality or the assimilation of quality to quantity, in short the expression of the sensations of the interior life in terms which refer to others. realities, namely objects perceived in space and external to each other.

Chapter II: “On the multiplicity of states of consciousness. The idea of ​​duration ” 

Definition of duration 

What then is duration? “Pure duration is the form that the succession of our states of consciousness takes when our ego allows itself to live, when it refrains from establishing a separation between the present state and the previous states. It does not need, for that, to be completely absorbed in the sensation or the idea which passes, because then, on the contrary, it would cease to last. He does not need to forget the previous states either: it suffices that by remembering these states he does not juxtapose them with the current state as a point to another point, but organizes them with him, as he does. happens when we remember, melted together so to speak, the notes of a melody 8. "

Bergson having "admitted that homogeneous space is a form of our sensibility ", he considers that Kant missed the experience of duration because of the undue parallel which he established between time and space, confusing "the true duration and its symbol".

Chapter III: “On the organization of states of consciousness. Freedom. " 

The object of this chapter of Time and Free Will is to apply to the problem of freedom, the method that Bergson followed when he analyzes the notions of time, of intensity of states of consciousness as well as to further clarify the notion of duration which brought up the notion of subject or "me" and, to come back to the question of freedom, to see how we can say that this subject is at the origin of acts that we can say free . Bergson intends to send back to back the "dynamism" which "starts from the idea of ​​voluntary activity, provided by consciousness, and gradually arrives at the representation of inertia by gradually emptying this idea: he therefore conceives without difficulty a free force on one side, and on the other a matter governed by laws ”. As for the mechanism, … ”Now according to Bergson, admitting the determinism of matter, dynamism is no less deterministic than determinism proper and this is what he wants to demonstrate.

The criticism of determinism and free act  and Psychological determinism 

Here the criticism is shorter. It is simply a question of showing as it was done in chapter I and chapter II that the thesis of a determination of the states of consciousness one by the other, rests on a spatialized representation of consciousness as an assembly of distinct states while they merge into each other, which is the very definition of duration. Spatialized or even symbolic. For Bergson, “The image is an adequate representation of reality; the symbol brings about a correspondence of two elements of a heterogeneous nature. The line on the map is an "image" of the advance of the army, because it has traveled through space; the branches of a decision tree, however, are a "symbol," because when I choose, I will not pass by a path and forks, but by temporal states.