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experiment continually on ourselves and on others, of the palpable
injury by which the wrongness of a medical or a pedagogical practice
is made manifest and punished at once, we are amazed at the stupidity
and especially at the persistence of errors. We may easily find their
origin in the natural obstinacy with which we treat the living like the
lifeless, and think all reality, however fluid, under the form of the
sharply-defined solid. We are at ease only in the discontinuous, in the
immobile, in the dead. The intellect is characterised by a natural inability
to comprehend life " (Creative Evolution, p. 174). (Italics mine.)

2 " I look and I think I see, I listen and I think I hear, I examine
myself and I think I am reading the very depths of my heart. But
what I see and hear of the outer world is purely and simply a selection
made by my senses to serve as a light to my conduct ; what I know of
myself is what comes to the surface, what participates in my actions.
My senses and my consciousness, therefore, give me no more than a
practical simplification of reality in the vision they furnish me of myself


our vital needs ; our intellect is adapted, not
for the understanding or the purely rational
(" abstract ") comprehension of " causality " and
the "life of things," but for the maintenance
and furtherance of our own lives, and for the
creation of the instruments and agencies (signs,
language, tools, imagined sequences and laws,
essences, causes, the "descriptions" of science,
the special senses, the convolutions of the brain,
etc.) that minister to this. Science is to-
day still penetrated through and through with
primitive metaphysics, with the metaphysics
of animism, with a belief in separate things
like forces, atoms, elements, or what not —
indicative all of them of its attempt to " divide
up " the real that it may command it for theoretical
and practical purposes. We can see this in the
' structural psychology " 1 of the day and its
analysis of our mental life into " elements," in

and of things, the differences that are useless to man are obliterated,
the resemblances that are useful to him are emphasised ; ways are
traced out for me in advance along which my activity is to travel.
These ways are the ways which all mankind has trod before me. Things
have been classified with a view to the use I can derive from them "
(Laughter, p. 151). " Life implies the acceptance of the utilitarian side
of things in order to respond to them by appropriate reactions ; all
other impressions must be dimmed or else reach us vague and blurred "
(ibid. p. 131). These last words give us a glimpse of a very important
part of Bergson's teaching— his idea, namely (Voltaire has it in his
Micromegas), that " matter " is greater than our perceptions, that our
perceptions reveal to us only those aspects of the physical universe
with which we are practically concerned.

1 Some years ago psychologists began to distinguish a " structural "
from a " functional " psychology, meaning by the former what is
otherwise called Psycho- Physics or (to some extent) Experimental


respect of the number and character of which
there are lasting differences of opinion among the
masters of the science — into " impressions," and
" affections," and sensations, images, memories,
ideas, and so on. And we can see it, too, in the
erroneous attempts sometimes made by psycho-
logists to treat these entities as if they had clearly
defined temporal and spatial characteristics or

The supreme mistake of philosophy, according
to Bergson, has been to import into the domain of
speculation a method of thinking that was origin-
ally destined for action. It has forgotten that
nearly all the leading conceptions of common
sense and of science and of " analysis " have
been invented, not for final and general, but for
relative and particular purposes. And it has
fallen too readily under the influence of a certain
traditional view of the relations between meta-
physics and science — the view, namely, that
philosophy should just take the findings of
science and of common -sense about the world
as its initial material, subjecting them, of course,
to a certain preliminary reinterpretation, but
finally reconstructing them, almost as they were,
into a system. 1 The one thing, in short, that

1 Cf. " At first sight it may seem prudent to leave the consideration
of facts to positive science, to let physics and chemistry busy them-
selves with matter, the biological and psychological sciences with life.
The task of the philosopher is then clearly defined. He takes facts and
laws from the scientist's hand, and whether he tries to go beyond them
in order to reach their deeper causes, or whether he thinks it impossible
to go further, and even proves it by the analysis of scientific knowledge,


philosophy has failed to understand is the life
and the movement and the process of the
world, as an infinitely more important fact than
the endless terms and conceptions and entities
(" will," " reason," " Ideas," etc.) into which it
has been analysed. We might sum up the whole
by saying that Bergson's anti-intellectualism is
simply a protest, not against the use, but only
against the " systematic misuse " x of general con-
ceptions that have been current in science and
philosophy " since the time of Socrates," a protest,
however, that in his case is not merely general and
negative, but particularised and positive.


in both cases he has for the facts and relations, handed over by science,
the sort of respect that is due to a final verdict. To this knowledge he
adds a critique of the faculty of knowing, and also, if he thinks
proper, a metaphysic ; but the matter of knowledge he regards as the
affair of science, and not of philosophy " (Creative Evolution, pp. 204-5).
[All this represents only too faithfully what even some of our Neo-
Kantians have been saying, and teaching, although there is an error
in their whole procedure here.]

1 Schopenhauer's phrase. See my book upon Schopenhauer's

2 It is chiefly in Matter and Memory (in which, by the way, there
are pages and pages of criticism of the rationalism of philosophy that
are as valuable as anything we have in philosophy since the time of
Descartes — Kant not excepted) that we are to look for the detailed
philosophy of sensation and of perception, and the detailed philosophy
of science upon which this protest of Bergson's against the excesses of
" conceptualism " rests. I indicate, too, at different places in this
chapter some of the other special considerations upon which it rests.
The gist of the whole is to be found, perhaps, in his contention that our
science and our philosophy of the past centuries have both regarded
" perception " as teaching us (somehow) what things are independently
of their effect upon us, and of their place in the moving equilibrium of
things — the truth being on the contrary (with Pragmatism and Human-
ism) that our knowledge has throughout a necessary relation to
ourselves and to our place in the universe, and to our liberation from
matter in the life of the spirit.


Like any and all anti-intellectualism, Bergson's
anti-intellectualism is liable to serious misinter-
pretation, and it is currently misinterpreted and
misrepresented as " irrationalism." His intention,
however, is not to destroy and to condemn philo-
sophy and reasoning, and to exalt mere in-
tuition and faith, but rather to " liberate " x
our human consciousness of ourselves and of the
world from the dogmatism of what he regards to
be the utilitarian intellect, from the many hopeless
contradictions and antinomies and puzzles of
the mere analytic understanding. Philosophy, in
particular, he would free from the last traces and
symptoms of scientific rationalism, although fully
aware of the fact that our modern philosophy had
its very departure from the rationalism of the
great founders of modern science like Kepler and
Galileo and the rest.

He would strike at the roots of all this confident

1 He expresses this idea in the following way in the Introduction to
Matter and Memory: " Psychology has for its object the study of the
human mind for practical utility," whereas in " metaphysics " we see
" this same mind striving (the idea, as we say elsewhere, is not free from
difficulty) to transcend the conditions of useful action and to come back
to itself as to a pure creative energy." Or in the following sentences
from his Creative Evolution : " We must remember that philosophy,
as we define it, has not yet become completely conscious of itself. Physics
understands its role when it pushes matter into the direction of
spatiality ; but has metaphysics understood its role when it has simply
trodden the steps of physics, in the chimerical hope of going farther
in the same direction ? Should not its own task be, on the contrary, to
remount the incline that physics descends, to bring matters back to its
origins, and to build up progressively a cosmology which would be, so to
speak, a reversed psychology. All that which seems positive to the
physicist and to the geometrician would become, from this new point
of view, an interruption or inversion of the true positivity which would
have to be defined in psychological terms " (pp. 219-20, italics mine).


rationalism or scientific philosophy by opening
up a broader and a deeper view of truth than
that afforded to the merely piece-meal and
utilitarian view.

As for the Actionism and the action philosophy
of Bergson, this is perhaps more in line than any
other tendency of the day with the new life and
the new thought of the twentieth century, although
(like Pragmatism) it stands in need of correction
or revision by the principles of a sound ethical
philosophy, by the Idealism that is not, and can-
not be, the mere creation of to-day or yesterday.
In essence it is, to begin with, but an extension to
the mind as a whole and to all its so-called special
faculties (" sensation," " perception," " memory,"
" ideation," " judgment," " thinking," " emotion,"
and the rest) of the " dynamic," * instead of the

1 As an indication of what the acceptance of the dynamic instead of
the static view of matter on the part of Bergson means, I cite the phrase
(or the conception) on p. 82 of Matter and Memory, the effect that " matter
is here as elsewhere the vehicle of an action," or the even more emphatic
declaration on p. 261 of Creative Evolution, " There are no things, there
are only actions." It is impossible, of course, that these mere extracts
can convey to the mind of the casual reader the same significance
that they obtain in their setting in the pages of Bergson, although it is
surely almost a matter of common knowledge about his teaching, that
one of the first things it does is to begin with the same activistic or
" actionistic " view of nature and matter that seems to be the stock
in trade of the physics of our time since the discoveries pertaining to
radio-activity, etc. Being only a layman in such matters, I may be
excused for quoting from a recent booklet (whose very presence in the
series in which it appears is to people like myself a guarantee of its
scientific reliability) in which I find this same activistic view of
matter that I find in Bergson. " What are the processes by which the
primary rock material is shifted ? There is the wind that, etc. etc. . . .
There are the streams and rivers that, etc. . . . There is the sea
constantly wearing away, etc. . . . Then there are ' subtle ' physical


older, static point of view that the recent science
of our time has applied to matter and to life, and
that Pragmatism and the " hypothetical method '
have sought to apply to all the ordinary concep-
tions and constructions that exist in the different
domains of the different sciences. 1 It is also,
from our point of view, as we may see, an attempt
at the expression, in the terms of a comparatively
simple philosophy, of many of the considerations
in respect of knowledge and conduct that have
been brought forward in the preceding pages of
this book. We have already dwelt in different
ways, for example, upon the fact that there is
no perception or sensation without an organic
reaction on the part of the percipient or the
sentient being, that an idea is in a sense a motor

and ' chemical ' forces. And the action of plants. . . . Hence by
various mechanical, organic, and chemical processes the materials origin-
ally scattered through the rocks of the earth's crust, and floating
in the air or water, are collected into layers and form beds of sand,
clay, limestone, salt, and the various mineral fuels, including peat and
coal " (The Making of the Earth, by Professor Gregory, F.R.S., of
Glasgow University: Williams and Norgate).

It is only right to state here, or to remind the reader in this matter
of a " dynamic " view of matter, that Bergson not only dissipates
matter into force or energy or activity (as do the physicists of
to-day), but also actually credits the world of matter and life with a
kind of consciousness (and why not be courageous about it ? ) in
which what I have already called the " susceptibility of everything to
everything else," or the action of everything upon everything else,
becomes credible and intelligible. " No doubt, also, the material universe
itself, defined as the totality of images, is a kind of consciousness in which
everything compensates and neutralises everything else, a consciousness of
which all the potential parts, balancing each other by a reaction which is
always equal to the action, reciprocally hinder each from standing out "
(Matter and Memory, p. 313).

1 See Chapter III., and also the references to Mach, Ostwald,
Poincare, and others, in the second chapter and elsewhere.



attitude (a way of comprehending particulars or
particular facts in relation to our purposes and
our ends), that a logical judgment represents
a " division " of the real, or of the processes of
Nature, for some purpose or other, that our
whole mental life is purposive, that there is no
" pure " cognition without attendant emotion and 1
volition, that it is in action that desire and
thought come together, that our whole know-
ledge of the world is necessarily a knowledge of it
in terms of our purposes and our highest attitudes,
and so on. All of this is, as it were, an indication
of the psychological and the logical considerations
upon which Bergson bases his positive, 2 activistic,
philosophy of mind.

1 " There is no intelligence in which some traces of instinct are not
to be discovered, more, no instinct that is not surrounded with a fringe
of intelligence" (Creative Evolution, p. 143).

2 ' ' We will not dwell here upon a point we have dealt with in former
works. Let us merely recall that a theory [the theory of contemporary
physiological psychology] such as that according to which consciousness
is attached to certain neurons, and is thrown off from their work like
a phosphorescence, may be accepted by the scientist for the detail of
analysis ; it is a convenient mode of expression. But it is nothing else.
In reality, a living being is a centre of action. It represents a certain
sum of contingency entering into the world, that is to say, a certain
quantity of possible action — a quantity variable with individuals and
especially with species. The nervous system of an animal marks out
the flexible lines on which its action will run (although the potential
energy is accumulated in the muscles rather than in the nervous system
itself) ; its nervous centres indicate, by their development and their
configuration, the more or less extended choice it will have among
more or less numerous and complicated actions. Now, since the
awakening of consciousness in a living creature is the more complete,
the greater the latitude of choice allowed to it and the larger the amount
of action bestowed upon it, it is clear that the development of conscious-
ness will appear to be dependent on that of the nervous centres. On
the other hand, every state of consciousness being, in one aspect of it,


It is to be remembered in Bergson's interest
that when we speak of his Actionism * we do not
mean a narrowing down 2 on his part of the activities
of the soul to physical labour and to mere utili-
tarian effort, but its capacity, also, for that
creative activity which he takes to be the very
keynote of personal life and the evolutionary

As for the freedom-philosophy with which
Bergson's Actionism is to be associated, this is
worked out by him, firstly, in the most perfect
correspondence with what he believes to be the
facts of life and mind ; and, secondly, in terms of
that anti-rationalism (or hostility to the merely

a question put to the motor activity and even the beginning of a reply,
there is no psychical event that does not imply the entry into play of the
cortical mechanisms. Everything seems, therefore, to happen as if
consciousness sprang from the brain, and as if the detail of conscious
activity were modelled on that of the cerebral activity. In reality
consciousness does not spring from the brain, but brain and conscious-
ness correspond because equally they measure . . . the quantity of
choice that the living being has at its disposal " (Creative Evolution,
pp. 266-7).

1 " Instead of starting from affection [or ' sensation ' in the old
sense of the haphazard sensation] of which we can say nothing, since
there is no reason why it should be what it is rather than anything else,
we start from action, that is to say, from our power of effecting changes
in things, a faculty attested by consciousness, and towards which all
the powers of the organised body are seen to converge. So we place
ourselves at once in the midst of extended images [to Bergson as an
idealist things are at the same time images or ideas for a con-
sciousness in other things, or in us, or in beings other than ourselves],
and in this material universe we perceive centres of indetermination
characteristic of life " (Matter and Memory, p. 67).

a Cf. the words in the Preface to Matter and Memory: " The whole
personality, which, normally narrowed down by action, expands with the
unscrewing of the vice in which it has allowed itself to be squeezed," or the
words in the same place about the task of metaphysics being the attempt
of the " mind striving to transcend the conditions of useful action."


scientific intellect) which is his working theory of
knowledge. His views upon this subject have
also been depreciated and misunderstood by some
of his opponents who attack what they call his
" intuitional " treatment of the freedom-question
— his insistence upon the direct intuition of our
life that we have when we act consciously, and
when we are " most ourselves " — when we act out
" freely " our own nature. To him the primary
fact for any human being is the life-impulse that
is both instinctive and reflective, that is certainly
far more of a fundamental reality than any of
those entities or concepts (" cells," " atoms,"
" forces," " laws," or what not) which, with Kant,
he clearly sees to be the creation of the intellect
for its descriptive and practical purposes. This
life is " free " in the sense that we are not " deter-
mined " by any or all of those forces and laws to
which our intellect subjects everything else, but
which it cannot apply to the life that is more than
mere matter, that is a real becoming and a
real process, a real creation and development.

The " spiritualism," again, of his interpreta-
tion of this life and activity rests, to begin with,
upon his opinion that the very inception of
the activity, and the adjustment, and the
selection in which the simplest life-effort, and
the simplest perception of a living being con-
sist, indicate the presence and the operation of a
controlling agency, 1 or mind, or principle of

1 We refer elsewhere in this chapter to Bergson's idea that living


spiritual " choice " that is not, and cannot be,
explained on the principles of a mechanical science
or philosophy. This principle is, in a word, the
life-force, or the creative activity, the elan vital

beings are " centres of indetermination," that is to say, creatures who
hold their place in nature and that of their species by " persisting in
their own being " (the language of Spinoza) by acting and reacting
upon some of the many forces of nature that act upon them, and by
avoiding the action of other forces and other animals. " They allow
to pass through them," he says, " so to speak, those external influences
which are indifferent to them ; the others isolated become ' perceptions '
by their very isolation" {Matter and Memory, pp. 28, 29) . We also refer to
Bergson's idea that the life-force has expressed itself along different
grades of being (mineral, animal, and so on). Both these ideas are a
partial explanation of what we mean by the presence of a spiritual
activity in both inanimate and animate nature. So also is Bergson's
idea that the purely mechanical explanation either of nature or of
life is but a device of the intellect for the purposes of description.
More specifically it is expressed, too, in his idea that " Our representa-
tion of matter is the measure of our possible action upon bodies ; it
results from the discarding of what has no interest for our needs, or
more generally for our functions" {Matter and Memory, p. 30), or that
" Consciousness" is just this choice of *' attaining to " or attending to
" certain parts and certain aspects of those parts " of the " material
universe " {ibid. p. 31), or that" sense-perception " is an" elementary
question to my motor activity." " The truth is that my nervous
system, interposed between the objects which affect my body and
those which I can influence, is a mere conductor, transmitting, sending
back, or inhibiting movement. This conductor is composed of an
enormous number of threads which stretch from the periphery to the
centre, and from the centre to the periphery. As many threads pass
from the periphery to the centre, so many points of space are there able
to make an appeal to my will, and to put, so to speak, an elementary
question to my motor activity. Every such question is what is termed a
perception " {ibid. 40, 41 ; italics mine). Or, as he puts it, on p. 313, " No
doubt the choice of perception from among images in general is the
effect of a discernment which foreshadows spirit. . . . But to touch the
reality of spirit we must place ourselves at the point where an individual
consciousness, continuing and retaining the past in a present enriched
by it, thus escapes the law of necessity, the law which ordains that the
past shall ever follow itself in a present which merely repeats it in
another form, and that all things shall ever be flowing away. When
we pass from pure perception to memory, we definitely abandon matter
for spirit."


of which we read so much in his books, that has
"seized upon matter," vitalizing it into force and
energy, into the " play " upon each other of all
the varied activities and grades and forms of the
will to live, and into the various forms of socialized
and co-operative living on the part of animals and
men. We shall immediately remark upon the
matter of the apparent limitations of this spiritual
philosophy of life, or reality, that is here but
indicated or stated.

One of its essential features, so far as we are
at present concerned, is his claim that his in-
troduction of a spiritual principle into the life-
force, or the creative activity that has expressed
itself in the various grades and forms of life, both
animal and human, is not a phase of the old philo-
sophy 1 or theology of " final causes " or of a pre-
determined 2 " teleology." To this old finalism or

1 Bergson is always able to detect the relapses even of " mechanism "
and of the mechanical philosophy of science into " finalism," as
when he says on p. 72 of his Creative Evolution, " To sum up, if the
accidental variations that bring about evolution are insensible varia-
tions, some good genius must be appealed to — the genius of the future
species — in order to preserve and accumulate these variations, for

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Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellPragmatism and idealism → online text (page 19 of 21)