Guide Henri Bergson: A Study in Radical Evolution

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Madelrieux, in turn, reads in this move the seeds of the marriage of pragmatism truth with pluralism reality-experience. In fact, following such a reconstruction, according to Bergson the conclusions about the pluralistic character of experience and reality at which James would arrive are nothing but a corollary of his pragmatic conception of truth, that in its turn cannot be understood independently from such conclusions.

According to such third axe, whose pith is explored by James in his Principles of Psychology , being our mental constitution built as to form a stream of consciousness in which we subjects of experience are connected in a dynamic and practical way with its very objects, the truths which we predicate would be a function of our very attitude to reality.

This anti-spectatorial picture of the mind would represents the backup for the pragmatist picture of truth animating Pragmatism , and reflects the two kinds of truths that Bergson reads in the text: respectively, artificial and spiritual truths Both kinds of truths are grounded in reality, but while the former express our coping with reality with the purpose of achieving some artificial goals, the latter convey our penetration of reality with the purpose of achieving some goals that would exalt its inner and most intimate aspects.

It would be the presence of this latter practical introspection to secure the second type of truths, and thus rescue pragmatism from the charges of brute positivism. As Bergson writes, for James truth is an invention , since the kind of agreement with reality it conveys is a practical one in which truths denote future-oriented leadings into reality that are worth while taking.

According to James we in fact invent truths in order to engage with reality and thus, being so, such truths should necessarily be rooted in reality. The active character of our stance toward reality governing our practices of truth causes all our encounters with the world being practical and inventive, and its various articulations mark no metaphysical, but only practical, possibilities within experience.

Philosophy has a natural tendency to have truth look backward: for James it looks ahead. This lesson, a variant of which was championed by Aristotle — or at least by some of his twentieth century readers —, should be handled with care, at risk of charging James with more than he himself envisioned for it and thus turning pragmatism into yet another metaphysical option that instead he was so keen to resist.

Bergson, because of exigencies internal to his own philosophical system, turned James into a religious mystic by reading a metaphysical dichotomy where in his writings there was only a pragmatic distinction. However, we might read the investigations of those mental states other than ordinary as simply unusual stances one might take on experience so to envision disregarded and distinctive possibilities of action, where for ordinary ones James would have classified those states of mind generating experiences that would raise no question about their justification of evidences like those science uses to offer us.

For James in fact spiritual energies or mystical experiences are valuable to postulate not because they allow us securing a more authentic contact with reality, but rather because they disclose and make us available genuine practical possibilities. That being so, their pragmatic value is of no categorical difference than those of what we usually call ordinary ones, and it can always be the case that what was considered at one stage a spiritual and exceptional truth might suddenly enter the vocabulary of the ordinary — and maybe even of the sciences —, or the other way around as the history of ideas suggests.

James is neither arguing for the existence of two or more realities and hence of a some dichotomy ies within experience, nor trying to order them axiologically; rather, he is voicing a felt discomfort about the philosophical shrinkage of some provinces of experience at the expense of others. However, by opening the world indefinitely, and characterizing truth as standing for the various dynamic stances we might take toward reality, James was resisting precisely the temptation to advance any closed list of truths to which human beings ought to respond at pains of being lacking subjects of experience.

A pragmatist progress would rather encourage us to explore ourselves those possibilities of experiencing that would fit at best our practical necessities without sublimating them into any higher region of being, thus violating the pragmatic maxim itself according to which the difference that makes a difference, instead of being univocal and theoretical, is always perspectival to, and practical for, those who are sensitive to it. Such a theme, pervasive as it is in both James and Bergson, finds an interesting articulation in their fashioning a philosophical friendship lasting eight years and a number of intense encounters, both live and written.

Although I can merely point toward it, since its exhaustive examination would take as much space as the one already employed to sketch the one line actually chosen to pursue, such a path represents a very promising one due to the richness of its possible articulations. Its developments would have interested the commentary of those texts included in the volume where the theme of philosophical friendship surfaces in one of its multiple forms. The two major lines along which to articulate such an alternative investigation would be the philosophical characterization of the possibility to communicate intimate experiences —where such a communication is presented by Bergson as itself an experience of a spiritual kind —, and the description of such possibility as a practical challenge in which what is at stake is the capacity to establish a community of virtues between peers.


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Madelrieux explores aspects of such inquiries and presents some passages of their correspondence as illustrations of the intertwinement between a philosophical theorization of such concepts and their actual realization in a flesh-and-blood philosophical friendship xix, , A path at which us, their heirs and scholars, should look with extreme attention in our own philosophical as well as non-philosophical journeys.

The quality of its contents and the feature of their arrangement will be in fact of exceptional value for those interested in understanding such a seminal passage of the history of philosophy and culture. Sur le pragmatisme de William James is a new book by Bergson, and as such us his contemporary readers should be grateful to the editor for his attentive and resourceful work. Forcing the temporal categories even further, had James the possibility of reading it he would have appreciated the thrilling intellectual activity generated by his encounter with Bergson, and, likely enough, he would have been as much fascinated as challenged by such a variety of possible interpretations of his own work.

Gavin W. James H. James W. Madelrieux S. Taylor E.


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  • The locus classicus of such program is ch. For an articulated treatment of the Jamesian pronouncement, see W. James Jr. School of Philosophy, University College Dublin sarin. Author retains copyright and grants the European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy right of first publication with the work simultaneously licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4. European Journal of Pragmatism and American Philosophy.

    Contents - Previous document - Next document. Book Review. Sarin Marchetti. However, we could therefore not know whether or not it exists, and that it is nothing but a pragmatic faith. Based on this he concluded that determinism is an impossibility and free will pure mobility, which is what Bergson identified as being the Duration.

    Duration, as defined by Bergson, then is a unity and a multiplicity, but, being mobile, it cannot be grasped through immobile concepts. Bergson hence argues that one can grasp it only through his method of intuition.

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    Two images from Henri Bergson's An Introduction to Metaphysics may help one to grasp Bergson's term intuition, the limits of concepts, and the ability of intuition to grasp the absolute. The first image is that of a city. Analysis, or the creation of concepts through the divisions of points of view, can only ever give us a model of the city through a construction of photographs taken from every possible point of view, yet it can never give us the dimensional value of walking in the city itself.

    One can only grasp this through intuition; likewise the experience of reading a line of Homer. One may translate the line and pile commentary upon commentary, but this commentary too shall never grasp the simple dimensional value of experiencing the poem in its originality itself.

    Emil Carl Wilm (Author of Henri Bergson)

    The method of intuition, then, is that of getting back to the things themselves. This concept led several authors to characterize Bergson as a supporter of vitalism —although he criticized it explicitly in The Creative Evolution , as he thought, against Driesch and Johannes Reinke whom he cited that there is neither "purely internal finality nor clearly cut individuality in nature": [45]. Hereby lies the stumbling block of vitalist theories It is thus in vain that one pretends to reduce finality to the individuality of the living being. If there is finality in the world of life, it encompasses the whole of life in one indivisible embrace.

    In Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of the Comic , Bergson develops a theory not of laughter itself but of how laughter can be provoked see his objection to Delage, published in the 23rd edition of the essay. From his first publications, Bergson's philosophy attracted strong criticism from different quarters, although he also became very popular and durably influenced French philosophy. But he did not have the equivalent of graduate students who might have become rigorous interpreters of his thought.

    Thus Bergson's philosophy—in principle open and nonsystematic—was easily borrowed piecemeal and altered by enthusiastic admirers". Alfred North Whitehead acknowledged Bergson's influence on his process philosophy in his Process and Reality. Although acknowledging Bergson's literary skills, Russell saw Bergson's arguments at best as persuasive or emotive speculation but not at all as any worthwhile example of sound reasoning or philosophical insight.

    Many writers of the early 20th century criticized Bergson's intuitionism , indeterminism, psychologism and interpretation of the scientific impulse. Those who explicitly criticized Bergson, either in published articles or in letters, included Bertrand Russell [56] George Santayana , [57] G. Perry , E. Sellars , C. Strong, and A. The Vatican accused Bergson of pantheism , while free-thinkers [ who? Still others have characterized his philosophy as a materialist emergentism — Samuel Alexander and C.

    Lloyd Morgan explicitly claimed Bergson as their forebear. Hude alleges that a mystical experience , roughly outlined at the end of Les Deux sources de la morale et de la religion , is the inner principle of his whole philosophy, although this has been contested by other commentators.

    by Wilm, Emil Carl, -

    Charles Sanders Peirce took strong exception to those who associated him with Bergson. In response to a letter comparing his work with that of Bergson he wrote, "a man who seeks to further science can hardly commit a greater sin than to use the terms of his science without anxious care to use them with strict accuracy; it is not very gratifying to my feelings to be classed along with a Bergson who seems to be doing his utmost to muddle all distinctions.

    See, for example, Horace Kallen 's book on the subject James and Bergson. As Jean Wahl described the "ultimate disagreement" between James and Bergson in his System of Metaphysics : "for James, the consideration of action is necessary for the definition of truth, according to Bergson, action Gide even went so far as to say that future historians will overestimate Bergson's influence on art and philosophy just because he was the self-appointed spokesman for "the spirit of the age".

    As early as the s, Santayana attacked certain key concepts in Bergson's philosophy, above all his view of the New and the indeterminate:.

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    This is no great renunciation; for that consummation of science According to Santayana and Russell, Bergson projected false claims onto the aspirations of scientific method, claims which Bergson needed to make in order to justify his prior moral commitment to freedom. Russell takes particular exception to Bergson's understanding of number in chapter two of Time and Free-will. According to Russell, Bergson uses an outmoded spatial metaphor "extended images" to describe the nature of mathematics as well as logic in general.

    The external world, according to certain [ which? In brief, one should not confuse the moral, psychological, subjective demand for the new, the underivable and the unexplained with the universe. Suzanne Guerlac has argued that the more recent resurgence of scholarly interest in Bergson is related to the growing influence of his follower Deleuze within continental philosophy : "If there is a return to Bergson today, then, it is largely due to Gilles Deleuze whose own work has etched the contours of the New Bergson. This is not only because Deleuze wrote about Bergson; it is also because Deleuze's own thought is deeply engaged with that of his predecessor, even when Bergson is not explicitly mentioned.

    Thus Bergson became a resource in the criticism of the Hegelian dialectic , the negative. Several Hindu authors have found parallels to Hindu philosophy in Bergson's thought. The integrative evolutionism of Sri Aurobindo , an Indian philosopher from the early 20th century, has many similarities to Bergson's philosophy. Whether this represents a direct influence of Bergson is disputed, although Aurobindo was familiar with many Western philosophers. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.


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      TRANSLATOR'S NOTE

      Continental philosophy French spiritualism philosophy of life [1]. Metaphysics epistemology philosophy of language philosophy of mathematics studies of immediate experience. See also: Duration philosophy.