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But, when we put immutable Ideas at the base of the moving reality, a
whole physics, a whole cosmology, a whole theology follows necessarily.
We must insist on the point. Not that we mean to summarize in a few
pages a philosophy so complex and so comprehensive as that of the
Greeks. But, since we have described the cinematographical mechanism of
the intellect, it is important that we should show to what idea of
reality the play of this mechanism leads. It is the very idea, we
believe, that we find in the ancient philosophy. The main lines of the
doctrine that was developed from Plato to Plotinus, passing through
Aristotle (and even, in a certain measure, through the Stoics), have
nothing accidental, nothing contingent, nothing that must be regarded as
a philosopher's fancy. They indicate the vision that a systematic
intellect obtains of the universal becoming when regarding it by means
of snapshots, taken at intervals, of its flowing. So that, even to-day,
we shall philosophize in the manner of the Greeks, we shall rediscover,
without needing to know them, such and such of their general
conclusions, in the exact proportion that we trust in the
cinematographical instinct of our thought.

* * * * *

We said there is _more_ in a movement than in the successive positions
attributed to the moving object, _more_ in a becoming than in the forms
passed through in turn, _more_ in the evolution of form than the forms
assumed one after another. Philosophy can therefore derive terms of the
second kind from those of the first, but not the first from the second:
from the first terms speculation must take its start. But the intellect
reverses the order of the two groups; and, on this point, ancient
philosophy proceeds as the intellect does. It installs itself in the
immutable, it posits only Ideas. Yet becoming exists: it is a fact. How,
then, having posited immutability alone, shall we make change come forth
from it? Not by the addition of anything, for, by the hypothesis, there
exists nothing positive outside Ideas. It must therefore be by a
diminution. So at the base of ancient philosophy lies necessarily this
postulate: that there is more in the motionless than in the moving, and
that we pass from immutability to becoming by way of diminution or

It is therefore something negative, or zero at most, that must be added
to Ideas to obtain change. In that consists the Platonic "non-being,"
the Aristotelian "matter" - a metaphysical zero which, joined to the
Idea, like the arithmetical zero to unity, multiplies it in space and
time. By it the motionless and simple Idea is refracted into a movement
spread out indefinitely. In right, there ought to be nothing but
immutable Ideas, immutably fitted to each other. In fact, matter comes
to add to them its void, and thereby lets loose the universal becoming.
It is an elusive nothing, that creeps between the Ideas and creates
endless agitation, eternal disquiet, like a suspicion insinuated between
two loving hearts. Degrade the immutable Ideas: you obtain, by that
alone, the perpetual flux of things. The Ideas or Forms are the whole of
intelligible reality, that is to say, of truth, in that they represent,
all together, the theoretical equilibrium of Being. As to sensible
reality, it is a perpetual oscillation from one side to the other of
this point of equilibrium.

Hence, throughout the whole philosophy of Ideas there is a certain
conception of duration, as also of the relation of time to eternity. He
who installs himself in becoming sees in duration the very life of
things, the fundamental reality. The Forms, which the mind isolates and
stores up in concepts, are then only snapshots of the changing reality.
They are moments gathered along the course of time; and, just because we
have cut the thread that binds them to time, they no longer endure. They
tend to withdraw into their own definition, that is to say, into the
artificial reconstruction and symbolical expression which is their
intellectual equivalent. They enter into eternity, if you will; but what
is eternal in them is just what is unreal. On the contrary, if we treat
becoming by the cinematographical method, the Forms are no longer
snapshots taken of the change, they are its constitutive elements, they
represent all that is positive in Becoming. Eternity no longer hovers
over time, as an abstraction; it underlies time, as a reality. Such is
exactly, on this point, the attitude of the philosophy of Forms or
Ideas. It establishes between eternity and time the same relation as
between a piece of gold and the small change - change so small that
payment goes on for ever without the debt being paid off. The debt could
be paid at once with the piece of gold. It is this that Plato expresses
in his magnificent language when he says that God, unable to make the
world eternal, gave it Time, "a moving image of eternity."[100]

Hence also arises a certain conception of extension, which is at the
base of the philosophy of Ideas, although it has not been so explicitly
brought out. Let us imagine a mind placed alongside becoming, and
adopting its movement. Each successive state, each quality, each form,
in short, will be seen by it as a mere cut made by thought in the
universal becoming. It will be found that form is essentially extended,
inseparable as it is from the extensity of the becoming which has
materialized it in the course of its flow. Every form thus occupies
space, as it occupies time. But the philosophy of Ideas follows the
inverse direction. It starts from the Form; it sees in the Form the very
essence of reality. It does not take Form as a snapshot of becoming; it
posits Forms in the eternal; of this motionless eternity, then, duration
and becoming are supposed to be only the degradation. Form thus posited,
independent of time, is then no longer what is found in a perception; it
is a _concept_. And, as a reality of the conceptual order occupies no
more of extension than it does of duration, the Forms must be stationed
outside space as well as above time. Space and time have therefore
necessarily, in ancient philosophy, the same origin and the same value.
The same diminution of being is expressed both by extension in space and
detention in time. Both of these are but the distance between what is
and what ought to be. From the standpoint of ancient philosophy, space
and time can be nothing but the field that an incomplete reality, or
rather a reality that has gone astray from itself, needs in order to run
in quest of itself. Only it must be admitted that the field is created
as the hunting progresses, and that the hunting in some way deposits the
field beneath it. Move an imaginary pendulum, a mere mathematical point,
from its position of equilibrium: a perpetual oscillation is started,
along which points are placed next to points, and moments succeed
moments. The space and time which thus arise have no more "positivity"
than the movement itself. They represent the remoteness of the position
artificially given to the pendulum from its normal position, _what it
lacks_ in order to regain its natural stability. Bring it back to its
normal position: space, time and motion shrink to a mathematical point.
Just so, human reasonings are drawn out into an endless chain, but are
at once swallowed up in the truth seized by intuition, for their
extension in space and time is only the distance, so to speak, between
thought and truth.[101] So of extension and duration in relation to pure
Forms or Ideas. The sensible forms are before us, ever about to recover
their ideality, ever prevented by the matter they bear in them, that is
to say, by their inner void, by the interval between what they are and
what they ought to be. They are for ever on the point of recovering
themselves, for ever occupied in losing themselves. An inflexible law
condemns them, like the rock of Sisyphus, to fall back when they are
almost touching the summit, and this law, which has projected them into
space and time, is nothing other than the very constancy of their
original insufficiency. The alternations of generation and decay, the
evolutions ever beginning over and over again, the infinite repetition
of the cycles of celestial spheres - this all represents merely a certain
fundamental deficit, in which materiality consists. Fill up this
deficit: at once you suppress space and time, that is to say, the
endlessly renewed oscillations around a stable equilibrium always aimed
at, never reached. Things re-enter into each other. What was extended in
space is contracted into pure Form. And past, present, and future shrink
into a single moment, which is eternity.

This amounts to saying that physics is but logic spoiled. In this
proposition the whole philosophy of Ideas is summarized. And in it also
is the hidden principle of the philosophy that is innate in our
understanding. If immutability is more than becoming, form is more than
change, and it is by a veritable fall that the logical system of Ideas,
rationally subordinated and coördinated among themselves, is scattered
into a physical series of objects and events accidentally placed one
after another. The generative idea of a poem is developed in thousands
of imaginations which are materialized in phrases that spread themselves
out in words. And the more we descend from the motionless idea, wound on
itself, to the words that unwind it, the more room is left for
contingency and choice. Other metaphors, expressed by other words, might
have arisen; an image is called up by an image, a word by a word. All
these words run now one after another, seeking in vain, by themselves,
to give back the simplicity of the generative idea. Our ear only hears
the words: it therefore perceives only accidents. But our mind, by
successive bounds, leaps from the words to the images, from the images
to the original idea, and so gets back, from the perception of
words - accidents called up by accidents - to the conception of the Idea
that posits its own being. So the philosopher proceeds, confronted with
the universe. Experience makes to pass before his eyes phenomena which
run, they also, one behind another in an accidental order determined by
circumstances of time and place. This physical order - a degeneration of
the logical order - is nothing else but the fall of the logical into
space and time. But the philosopher, ascending again from the percept to
the concept, sees condensed into the logical all the positive reality
that the physical possesses. His intellect, doing away with the
materiality that lessens being, grasps being itself in the immutable
system of Ideas. Thus Science is obtained, which appears to us, complete
and ready-made, as soon as we put back our intellect into its true
place, correcting the deviation that separated it from the intelligible.
Science is not, then, a human construction. It is prior to our
intellect, independent of it, veritably the generator of Things.

And indeed, if we hold the Forms to be simply snapshots taken by the
mind of the continuity of becoming, they must be relative to the mind
that thinks them, they can have no independent existence. At most we
might say that each of these Ideas is an _ideal_. But it is in the
opposite hypothesis that we are placing ourselves. Ideas must then exist
by themselves. Ancient philosophy could not escape this conclusion.
Plato formulated it, and in vain did Aristotle strive to avoid it. Since
movement arises from the degradation of the immutable, there could be no
movement, consequently no sensible world, if there were not, somewhere,
immutability realized. So, having begun by refusing to Ideas an
independent existence, and finding himself nevertheless unable to
deprive them of it, Aristotle pressed them into each other, rolled them
up into a ball, and set above the physical world a Form that was thus
found to be the Form of Forms, the Idea of Ideas, or, to use his own
words, the Thought of Thought. Such is the God of Aristotle - necessarily
immutable and apart from what is happening in the world, since he is
only the synthesis of all concepts in a single concept. It is true that
no one of the manifold concepts could exist apart, such as it is in the
divine unity: in vain should we look for the ideas of Plato within the
God of Aristotle. But if only we imagine the God of Aristotle in a sort
of refraction of himself, or simply inclining toward the world, at once
the Platonic Ideas are seen to pour themselves out of him, as if they
were involved in the unity of his essence: so rays stream out from the
sun, which nevertheless did not contain them. It is probably this
_possibility of an outpouring_ of Platonic Ideas from the Aristotelian
God that is meant, in the philosophy of Aristotle, by the active
intellect, the [Greek: nous] that has been called [Greek:
poiêtikos] - that is, by what is essential and yet unconscious in human
intelligence. The [Greek: nous poiêtikos] is Science entire, posited all
at once, which the conscious, discursive intellect is condemned to
reconstruct with difficulty, bit by bit. There is then within us, or
rather behind us, a possible vision of God, as the Alexandrians said, a
vision always virtual, never actually realized by the conscious
intellect. In this intuition we should see God expand in Ideas. This it
is that "does everything,"[102] playing in relation to the discursive
intellect, which moves in time, the same rôle as the motionless Mover
himself plays in relation to the movement of the heavens and the course
of things.

There is, then, immanent in the philosophy of Ideas, a particular
conception of causality, which it is important to bring into full
light, because it is that which each of us will reach when, in order to
ascend to the origin of things, he follows to the end the natural
movement of the intellect. True, the ancient philosophers never
formulated it explicitly. They confined themselves to drawing the
consequences of it, and, in general, they have marked but points of view
of it rather than presented it itself. Sometimes, indeed, they speak of
an _attraction_, sometimes of an _impulsion_ exercised by the prime
mover on the whole of the world. Both views are found in Aristotle, who
shows us in the movement of the universe an aspiration of things toward
the divine perfection, and consequently an ascent toward God, while he
describes it elsewhere as the effect of a contact of God with the first
sphere and as descending, consequently, from God to things. The
Alexandrians, we think, do no more than follow this double indication
when they speak of _procession_ and _conversion_. Everything is derived
from the first principle, and everything aspires to return to it. But
these two conceptions of the divine causality can only be identified
together if we bring them, both the one and the other, back to a third,
which we hold to be fundamental, and which alone will enable us to
understand, not only why, in what sense, things move in space and time,
but also why there is space and time, why there is movement, why there
are things.

This conception, which more and more shows through the reasonings of the
Greek philosophers as we go from Plato to Plotinus, we may formulate
thus: _The affirmation of a reality implies the simultaneous affirmation
of all the degrees of reality intermediate between it and nothing._ The
principle is evident in the case of number: we cannot affirm the number
10 without thereby affirming the existence of the numbers 9, 8, 7, ...,
etc. - in short, of the whole interval between 10 and zero. But here our
mind passes naturally from the sphere of quantity to that of quality.
It seems to us that, a certain perfection being given, the whole
continuity of degradations is given also between this perfection, on the
one hand, and the nought, on the other hand, that we think we conceive.
Let us then posit the God of Aristotle, thought of thought - that is,
thought _making a circle_, transforming itself from subject to object
and from object to subject by an instantaneous, or rather an eternal,
circular process: as, on the other hand, the nought appears to posit
itself, and as, the two extremities being given, the interval between
them is equally given, it follows that all the descending degrees of
being, from the divine perfection down to the "absolute nothing," are
realized automatically, so to speak, when we have posited God.

Let us then run through this interval from top to bottom. First of all,
the slightest diminution of the first principle will be enough to
precipitate Being into space and time; but duration and extension, which
represent this first diminution, will be as near as possible to the
divine inextension and eternity. We must therefore picture to ourselves
this first degradation of the divine principle as a sphere turning on
itself, imitating, by the perpetuity of its circular movement, the
eternity of the circle of the divine thought; creating, moreover, its
own place, and thereby place in general,[103] since it includes without
being included and moves without stirring from the spot; creating also
its own duration, and thereby duration in general, since its movement is
the measure of all motion.[104] Then, by degrees, we shall see the
perfection decrease, more and more, down to our sublunary world, in
which the cycle of birth, growth and decay imitates and mars the
original circle for the last time. So understood, the causal relation
between God and the world is seen as an attraction when regarded from
below, as an impulsion or a contact when regarded from above, since the
first heaven, with its circular movement, is an imitation of God and all
imitation is the reception of a form. Therefore, we perceive God as
efficient cause or as final cause, according to the point of view. And
yet neither of these two relations is the ultimate causal relation. The
true relation is that which is found between the two members of an
equation, when the first member is a single term and the second a sum of
an endless number of terms. It is, we may say, the relation of the
gold-piece to the small change, if we suppose the change to offer itself
automatically as soon as the gold piece is presented. Only thus can we
understand why Aristotle has demonstrated the necessity of a first
motionless mover, not by founding it on the assertion that the movement
of things must have had a beginning, but, on the contrary, by affirming
that this movement could not have begun and can never come to an end. If
movement exists, or, in other words, if the small change is being
counted, the gold piece is to be found somewhere. And if the counting
goes on for ever, having never begun, the single term that is eminently
equivalent to it must be eternal. A perpetuity of mobility is possible
only if it is backed by an eternity of immutability, which it unwinds in
a chain without beginning or end.

Such is the last word of the Greek philosophy. We have not attempted to
reconstruct it _a priori_. It has manifold origins. It is connected by
many invisible threads to the soul of ancient Greece. Vain, therefore,
the effort to deduce it from a simple principle.[105] But if everything
that has come from poetry, religion, social life and a still rudimentary
physics and biology be removed from it, if we take away all the light
material that may have been used in the construction of the stately
building, a solid framework remains, and this framework marks out the
main lines of a metaphysic which is, we believe, the natural metaphysic
of the human intellect. We come to a philosophy of this kind, indeed,
whenever we follow to the end, the cinematographical tendency of
perception and thought. Our perception and thought begin by substituting
for the continuity of evolutionary change a series of unchangeable forms
which are turn by turn, "caught on the wing," like the rings at a
merry-go-round, which the children unhook with their little stick as
they are passing. Now, how can the forms be passing, and on what "stick"
are they strung? As the stable forms have been obtained by extracting
from change everything that is definite, there is nothing left, to
characterize the instability on which the forms are laid, but a negative
attribute, which must be indetermination itself. Such is the first
proceeding of our thought: it dissociates each change into two
elements - the one stable, definable for each particular case, to wit,
the Form; the other indefinable and always the same, Change in general.
And such, also, is the essential operation of language. Forms are all
that it is capable of expressing. It is reduced to taking as understood
or is limited to _suggesting_ a mobility which, just because it is
always unexpressed, is thought to remain in all cases the same. - Then
comes in a philosophy that holds the dissociation thus effected by
thought and language to be legitimate. What can it do, except objectify
the distinction with more force, push it to its extreme consequences,
reduce it into a system? It will therefore construct the real, on the
one hand, with definite Forms or immutable elements, and, on the other,
with a principle of mobility which, being the negation of the form,
will, by the hypothesis, escape all definition and be the purely
indeterminate. The more it directs its attention to the forms delineated
by thought and expressed by language, the more it will see them rise
above the sensible and become subtilized into pure concepts, capable of
entering one within the other, and even of being at last massed together
into a single concept, the synthesis of all reality, the achievement of
all perfection. The more, on the contrary, it descends toward the
invisible source of the universal mobility, the more it will feel this
mobility sink beneath it and at the same time become void, vanish into
what it will call the "non-being." Finally, it will have on the one hand
the system of ideas, logically coördinated together or concentrated into
one only, on the other a quasi-nought, the Platonic "non-being" or the
Aristotelian "matter." - But, having cut your cloth, you must sew it.
With supra-sensible Ideas and an infra-sensible non-being, you now have
to reconstruct the sensible world. You can do so only if you postulate a
kind of metaphysical necessity in virtue of which the confronting of
this All with this Zero _is equivalent_ to the affirmation of all the
degrees of reality that measure the interval between them - just as an
undivided number, when regarded as a difference between itself and zero,
is revealed as a certain sum of units, and with its own affirmation
affirms all the lower numbers. That is the natural postulate. It is that
also that we perceive as the base of the Greek philosophy. In order then
to explain the specific characters of each of these degrees of
intermediate reality, nothing more is necessary than to measure the
distance that separates it from the integral reality. Each lower degree
consists in a diminution of the higher, and the _sensible_ newness that
we perceive in it is resolved, from the point of view of the
_intelligible_, into a new quantity of negation which is superadded to
it. The smallest possible quantity of negation, that which is found
already in the highest forms of sensible reality, and consequently _a
fortiori_ in the lower forms, is that which is expressed by the most
general attributes of sensible reality, extension and duration. By
increasing degradations we will obtain attributes more and more special.
Here the philosopher's fancy will have free scope, for it is by an
arbitrary decree, or at least a debatable one, that a particular aspect
of the sensible world will be equated with a particular diminution of
being. We shall not necessarily end, as Aristotle did, in a world
consisting of concentric spheres turning on themselves. But we shall be
led to an analogous cosmology - I mean, to a construction whose pieces,
though all different, will have none the less the same relations between
them. And this cosmology will be ruled by the same principle. The
physical will be defined by the logical. Beneath the changing phenomena
will appear to us, by transparence, a closed system of concepts
subordinated to and coördinated with each other. Science, understood as
the system of concepts, will be more real than the sensible reality. It
will be prior to human knowledge, which is only able to spell it letter
by letter; prior also to things, which awkwardly try to imitate it. It
would only have to be diverted an instant from itself in order to step

Online LibraryHenri BergsonCreative evolution → online text (page 26 of 34)