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" selection " will not look after this. If, on the other hand, the acci-
dental variations are sudden, then, for the previous function to go on,
or for a new function to take its place, all the changes that have
happened together must be complementary. So we have to fall back
on the good genius again to obtain the convergence of simultaneous
changes, as before to be assured of the continuity of direction of succes-
sive variations."

2 We must remember that to Bergson evolution has taken place
along different lines — those of Automatism (in plant-life), Instinct (in
animal life), and Intelligence (in human life and the higher animals), and
that along none of those lines are we to fall into the errors either of
materialism, or of " Darwinism " (the belief in " accidental variations "),
or of the " design-philosophy," or even of theories like neo-Lamarckian-



THE PHILOSOPHY OF BERGSON 247

teleology 1 the life of organic nature (the " organs "
and " cells," the " instinctive " actions, and the
" adjustments " of animals, and so on) were all
due to the work of a pre-existing, calculating
intelligence operating upon matter ; whereas to
him they are but different expressions or creations
of the life-force that is as little predetermined
in organic evolution, as it is in the realm of the
activities interpreted for us (in part) by the newer
physics and the newer chemistry — in the processes,
for example, that are exemplified in the generation
of a star out of a nebula. This entire treatment,
however, of the notion of purpose in nature is a
matter of great difficulty in the philosophy of
Bergson, and his own thought (as I shall presently
state) is apt to strike us as just as hypothetical as
some of the views he attempts to combat. It
raises, too, the question of the valuation of his
philosophy as a whole, and of its relation to the
great thinker who still stands in the very centre
of the entire modern movement from Copernicus
to Comte and Darwin — Immanuel Kant. 2

We shall best get at the matter of the fuller
developments of the philosophy of Bergson that
are of interest to us at present, by indicating some



ism " or neo-vitalism. To him all these philosophies are but imperfect
and hypothetical attempts to grasp " movement " and " life " which
both " transcend finality, if we understand by finality the realisation of
an idea conceived or conceivable in advance" (Creative Evolution, p. 236).

1 " Paleyism " or " Miltonism " are still good names for the thing,
I have read in some competent book upon Evolution.

2 See below, p. 261.



248 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

of the results that would accrue from it to the
constructive philosophy in which we are interested
as the outcome of Pragmatism and Idealism.
Among these would be, firstly, a new and a fresh,
and yet a perfectly rational apprehension of the
fact of the necessarily abstract and hypothetical *
character of the analyses to which our world
is subjected by the science and by the technic
and the supposed " economy " of our present
culture. 2 Then an equally new and equally

1 To Bergson concepts are just as hypothetical in the realm of
science, as they are to thinkers like Mach and Poincare, and
Professor Ward of Cambridge. See the following, for example,
from Matter and Memory (p. 263) : " We shall never explain by
means of particles, whatever these may be, the simple properties of
matter ; at most we can thus follow out into corpuscles as artificial as
the corpus, the body itself — the actions and reactions of this body
with regard to all the others. This is precisely the object of chemistry.
It studies bodies rather than matter ; and so we understand why it stops
at the atom, which is still endowed with the general properties of
matter. But the materiality of the atom dissolves more and more
under the eyes of the physicist. We have no reason, for instance, for
representing the atom to ourselves as a solid, rather than as a liquid
or gaseous, nor for picturing the reciprocal action of atoms by shocks
rather than in any other way." Or, the following characteristic
passage from the same book (p. 280) in respect of the hypothetical
character of the concepts of " pure time " and " pure space " : " Homo-
geneous space and homogeneous time are then neither properties of
things nor essential conditions of our faculty of knowing them ; they
express, in an abstract form, the double work of solidification and of
division, which we effect on the moving continuity of the real in order
to obtain there a fulcrum for our action, in order to fix within it
starting-points for our operation, in short, to introduce into it real
changes. They are the diagrammatic designs of our eventual action
upon matter."

2 Like his celebrated contemporary Eucken, and like many other
thinkers of their time, Bergson is profoundly convinced of the one-
sidedness of the so-called scientific culture of our day, and of the
error of any and all conceptions of education and of social policy that
are based upon it. Although I refer below to the limitations of his view
that the intellect is adapted only to matter and to mechanical construe-



THE PHILOSOPHY OF BERGSON 249

rational (or " rationally grounded ") conviction
of the inadequacy of the physical and the scientific
categories to the comprehension and the explana-
tion of life and of the life of the spirit. Thirdly,
a confirmation of many of the tendencies to which
the Pragmatism and the Voluntarism and the
Humanism of the last century have given a more
or less one-sided and imperfect formulation.
Among such confirmed tendencies are (a) the
attempt they have all made to attain to a deeper x
view of human nature than the view hitherto
taken by rationalism and intellectualism, (/3) their
emphasis upon the freedom and the initiative 2

tion, I append the following quotation as symptomatic of his value
as a spiritual teacher in our scientific age: " As regards human in-
telligence (Creative Evolution, pp. 145-6) it has not been sufficiently
noted that mechanical invention has been from the first its essential
feature, that even to-day our social life gravitates around the manufacture
and use of artificial instruments. . . . This we hardly realise, because it
takes longer to change ourselves than to change our tools. ... In thousands
of years, when seen from the distance, only the broad lines of our present
age will be visible, our wars and our revolutions will count for little, even
supposing they are remembered at all, but the steam-engine, and the
procession of inventions of every kind that accompanied it, will perhaps
be spoken of as we speak of the bronze or of the chipped stone of pre-
historic times ; it will serve to define an age."

1 I find this in Bergson's whole attribution of much of our " per-
ceptual " and " scientific " knowledge of things to the " needs of
action," and in the detailed reasons that we attempt on pp. 236-238 to
indicate for his polemic against rationalism.

2 This confirmation I find in Bergson's whole philosophy of per-
ception and sensation referred to on p. 236, and in his idea of a living
being as a " centre of action " or " a centre of indetermination." In
fact it is obvious that he is one of the very greatest of the upholders
of the "freedom" of the life of the individual, and of the fact that
each new individual contributes something new of its own to the sum-
total of existence, to the life of its species, and to the life of the world.
Of course there is no more an explanation in his teaching of the causes
of " variation" or the differences at birth between the off-spring of
men and of animals, than there is in the philosophy of Darwin.



250 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

of the individual and upon the necessity, on the
part of philosophy, of a " dynamic " or " motive-
awakening " 1 theory of reality, (7) their insistence 2

1 The idea of this necessity is confirmed in Bergson's whole philosophy
of man's life as a life of action, as a constant surmounting of obstacles,
as a life that reacts in its own way upon the life of nature, upon the life
of the human species as such, upon the infinite life and energy and
" love " of God — if we may soar to this great thought. See, for
example, what he writes in explanation of the " discordance " of
which he speaks thus : " Our freedom, in the very movements by
which it is affirmed, creates the growing habits that will stifle it
if it fails to renew itself by a constant effort : it is dogged by
automatism. The letter kills the spirit. And our most ardent enthusi-
asm, as soon as it is externalised into action, is so naturally congealed
into the cold calculation of interest or vanity, the one takes so easily
the shape of the other, that we might confuse them together, doubt
our sincerity, deny goodness and love." The explanatory words are
the following. [They are quite typical of the kind of philosophy of life
that Bergson thinks of as alone worthy of the name of a philosophy of
the living. And the reference to " love," as the highest " dynamic "
force in this world of ours, occurs at their close.] " The profound cause
of this discordance lies in an irremediable difference of rhythm. Life
is general, is mobility itself ; particular manifestations of life accept
this mobility reluctantly, and constantly lag behind. It is always
going ahead ; they want to mark time. Evolution in general would
fain go on in a straight line ; each special evolution is a kind of circle.
Like eddies of dust raised by the wind as it passes, the living turn on
themselves, borne up by the great blast of life. They are therefore
relatively stable, and counterfeit immobility so well that we treat each
of them as a thing rather than as a progress, forgetting that the very
permanence of their form is only the outline of a movement. At times,
however, in a fleeting vision, the invisible breath that bears them is
materialised before our eyes. We have this sudden illumination before
certain forms of maternal love, so striking and in most animals so touching,
observable even in the solicitude of the plant for its seed. This love >
in which some have seen the great mystery of life, may possibly deliver us
life's secret. It shows us each generation leaning over the generation
that shall follow. It allows us a glimpse of the fact that the living
being is above all a thoroughfare, and that the essence of life is in the
movement by which life is transmitted " (Creative Evolution, pp. 134-5 >
italics mine). It is surely needless to point out how much truer to
human nature, truer therefore to an important part of reality, this life-
philosophy is than the abstractionism of Professor Bosanquet in the
preceding chapter.

2 This insistence is, I think, amply confirmed by the very fact of



THE PHILOSOPHY OF BERGSON 251

similarly upon the necessity to our thought of a
direct contact with reality, and upon the impossi-
bility of our beginning in philosophy without
assumptions of one kind or another, (8) their
refusal to make any ultimate separation * between
the intellect and the will, between the highest
thought and the highest emotion, (e) their
tendency to regard belief 2 rather than know-

the immediate contact with life and reality indicated in the quotation
that is given in the preceding note upon the " motive-awakening,"
or the " dynamic " character of the philosophy of Bergson. It is also
confirmed in his manifest insistence upon the one fact that all philosophy
must assume (and has for ever assumed) the fact of life, the fact of the
life and thought of God that underlies all our life and all our thought.

1 This position of the pragmatists is certainly confirmed by Bergson's
entire doctrine of the brain and of the intellect — that their main service
is, in the first instance, to interpret the " life " of things, its relation to
our own will and to our practical activity. I have suggested, too, in
this chapter that it is obviously a characteristic, or a consequence, of
the philosophy of Bergson that our highest thought about ourselves
and about the world should be relative to, and provocative, of our
highest emotion.

2 It is only with some degree of care and reservation that I wish to
refer to any apparent confirmation of this idea by Bergson. And, as
always, I object to the idea of any ultimate separation or " dualism "
between faith and knowledge — faith being implied in all " knowledge."
There is no opposition in Bergson, or in the principles of his philosophy,
between faith and knowledge ; it is rather his idea that " the faculty
of seeing should be made one with the act of willing " (Creative Evolu~
Hon, 250; his italics), and that " philosophy" should "proceed, with
the powers of conceptual thought alone, to the ideal reconstruction of all
things, even of life (C.E. xi. ; italics mine). My reasons for finding in his
writings a confirmation of the idea that it is indeed our rational and
spiritual faith, rather than our demonstrable knowledge, that is to us
the measure of truth and reality, are such considerations as the
following (in addition to those of the clauses just quoted), his close
association between the intellectual and the " volitional," his general
faith in " creative evolution," in the idea that our " consciousness "
means for us " new choices " and (real) " new possibilities," his faith
in the higher intuitions of the mind, in the spiritual nature of man, his
belief that the building up of the true philosophy of the future will
involve " the collective and progressive effort of many thinkers, of



252 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

ledge as our fundamental estimate of truth and
reality.

A fourth constructive result, however, of the
philosophy of Bergson would be not the mere
confirmation of any number of pragmatist and
humanist tendencies, but their integration, and
their transformation into the evidences and the
manifestation of a new spiritual philosophy
of life and of the universe generally. It is this
possible quasi integration and transformation of so
many of the tendencies of Pragmatism and
Voluntarism and of the Philosophy of Science of
the day, that makes Bergson the greatest of
all the pragmatists — although the term hardly
occurs in his main writings, and although he
breathes from first to last the air of an idealism 1
and a spiritualism that is above and beyond
all the mere instrumentalism, and the mere
empiricism and the ethical opportunism of
Pragmatism.

The following are some of the difficulties and
counter-considerations that stand in the way of the
intelligibility and the supposed novelty of the philo-
sophy of Bergson. (i) It is in some respects but
a biological philosophy after all, a would-be philo-
sophical interpretation of the " evolutionary pro-
cess ' which takes many things for granted and

many observers also, completing, correcting, and improving one an-
other " (C.E. xiv.), etc. etc.
1 See below, p. 257, note 1.



THE PHILOSOPHY OF BERGSON 253

ignores many difficulties. Some of these things
are the life-force itself, the ilan de vie, the vital
aspects that he sees in the forces of nature, the
" eternal movement " of which he is always
speaking as the only reality and as the very life
of the universe, the whole " adaptation ' philo-
sophy that characterises his own teleology despite
his attacks on "mechanism" and on "finalism,"
and so on. One is tempted, indeed, to think
that in much of all this he forgets his own doctrine
of the hypothetical character of science and
philosophy, and that, in his very anxiety to
escape from mechanism and from rationalism,
and Paleyism, he credits Nature with a con-
tingency and a " freedom " l that corresponds
in their way to the chaos, of which the Greeks
thought as a necessary background to the
cosmos. He seems, in other words, to deify into
a kind of eternal " becoming " and a quasi free
and creative " duration," his own (necessary)
inability to grasp the system of things.

Then, secondly, there is a veritable crop of
difficulties that arise out of his contention that our
intellect is adapted " only to matter." What, for
example, of the various non-utilitarian 2 intuitions
of art and morality and religion, that are as un-

1 See p. 14 in reference to Dr. Schiller's suggestion that " freedom "
may " pervade the universe."

2 " From time to time, however, in a fit of absent-mindedness,
nature raises up souls that are more detached from life. . . . Were this
detachment complete, did the soul no longer cleave to action by any
of its perceptions, it would be the soul of an artist such as the world
has never yet seen " {Laughter, p. 154).



254 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

doubtedly facts of our conscious experience as is
our comprehension and utilisation of " matter "
for the various purposes of civilisation ? 1 If it be
literally true that our understanding is " in-
capacitated " for the comprehension of life and
of the creative activities of the soul, a new set
of categories and a higher form of intelligence
(than the merely material) must be elaborated
for this special purpose. And if this higher form
of intelligence be the " intuition " of which
Bergson undoubtedly makes so much, then he
must be more careful than he often is in suggesting
that intuition and a philosophy of our intuitions
" must go counter to the intellect." 2 His theory
of art reduces itself, for example, in the main to
the negative contention that spiritual perception
is always simply " anti-mechanical," 3 simply the
power of seeing things in another way than that
of the engineer or the craftsman, the homofaber.

1 Cf. p. 235.

2 Cf. " We must break with scientific habits which are adapted to
the fundamental requirements of thought, we must do violence to the
mind, go counter to the natural bent of the intellect. But that is just the
function of philosophy " (Creative Evolution, p. 31).

3 " So art, whether it be painting or sculpture, poetry or music, has
no other object than to brush aside the utilitarian symbols, the con-
ventional and socially accepted generalities, in short, everything that
veils reality from us, in order to bring us face to face with reality itself "
(Laughter, p. 157). It is true that if we read further on this page, and
elsewhere in Bergson, we will be able to see that there is for him in art
and in the spiritual life a kind of intelligence and knowledge. But it
is difficult to work out an expression or a characterisation of this in-
telligence and this knowledge. " Art," he says, " is only a more direct
vision of reality." And again : " Realism is in the work when idealism
is in the soul, and it is only through ideality that we can resume contact
with reality " (ibid.).



THE PHILOSOPHY OF BERGSON 255

Thirdly, there are many dualisms or oppositions
in his doctrine or expressed teaching, reducible
all of them to the one great Cartesian dualism
between the mind and the matter that are said
by him to intersect in memory, and in percep-
tion, and in the life of the spirit generally — the
opposition, for example, between instinct and in-
telligence, that between intelligence and intuition, 1
between the "mechanical" and the "organic,"
between the " upward " and the " downward "
movements that he attributes to the life-force.
And there is a striking inconsistency between
his apparent acceptance of the teaching of Kant
in respect of the limitations of the physical and
the temporal way of looking at things (ourselves
included and our actions) and his belief in an
eternal " duration," 2 or movement, or process of

1 It is only fair to Bergson to remember that he is himself aware of
the appearances of this dualism in his writings, that he apologises as it
were for them, intending the distinction to be, not absolute, but relative.
" Let us say at the outset that the distinctions we are going to make
will be too sharply drawn, just because we wish to define in instinct
what is instinctive, and in intelligence what is intelligent, whereas all
concrete instinct is mingled with intelligence, as all real intelligence is
penetrated by instinct. Moreover [this is quite an important ex-
pression of Bergson's objection to the old " faculty " psychology],
neither intelligence nor instinct lends itself to rigid definition ; they are
tendencies and not things. Also it must not be forgotten that .... we
are considering intelligence and instinct as going out of life which deposits
them along its course" (Creative Evolution, p. 143).

2 He talks in the Creative Evolution of a " real time " and a "pure
duration " of a real duration that " bites " into things and leaves on
them the mark of its tooth, of a " ceaseless upspringing of something
new," of " our progress in pure duration," or a " movement which
creates at once the intellectuality of mind and the materiality of
things" (p. 217). I have no hesitation in saying that all this is un-
thinkable to me, and that it might indeed be criticised by Rational-
ism as inconsistent with our highest and most real view of things.



256 PRAGMATISM AND IDEALISM

which he is always speaking as the very life
and texture of everything. This " real " or
"pure" "duration" is a thing that troubles all
students of his philosophy ; it seems to make
Bergson believe in what James talked of as a
" strung-along " universe. And there is an in-
consistency between the supremacy that he seems
willing to accord to mind and spirit in the case of
the new individuals who are always being born
into the world, and the absence of a similar
supremacy (or determining role) in the case of
the mind or spirit without whose existence and
operation the universe is unthinkable. 1

As for the latter contradiction, we may note in
his favour that he talks, at least once or twice, of
"God" as "unceasing life " 2 and " active freedom,"
and I am inclined to take this master thought as
possibly a kind of foundation for his rich and
suggestive philosophy of life and reality. But
there is in his writings nothing like the thorough-
going attempt that we find in the philosophy of
Aristotle 3 to ground the motion and the life of

1 He admits himself that " If our analysis is correct, it is conscious-
ness, or rather supra-consciousness that is at the origin of life "
(Creative Evolution, p. 275).

2 " Now, if the same kind of action is going on everywhere, whether
it is that which is striving to remake itself, I simply express this probable
similitude when I speak of a centre from which worlds shoot out as rockets
in a fireworks display — provided, however, that I do not present [there
is a great idea here, a true piece of ' Kantianism '] this centre as a
thing, but as a continuity of shooting out. God thus defined has
nothing of the already made. He is unceasing life, action, freedom.
Creation so conceived is not a mystery ; we experience it in ourselves
when we act freely " (Creative Evolution, p. 262).

3 See p. 155, note 1.



THE PHILOSOPHY OF BERGSON 257

the world in God as its final cause and its
ultimate explanation. Equally little is there in
Bergson a thorough-going attempt to work out
the Idealism 1 upon which his whole system reposes
— his initial conception of objects as " images,"
or " ideas " for a consciousness, or for the life-
force, or for the different " centres of activity "
with which he peoples the worlds.

Fourthly, there is the drawback from the point
of view of social philosophy about the thought
of Bergson to which we have already made
reference — that it lacks somehow the ethical and
the social idealism that would warrant us in think-
ing of it as a worthy rival or substitute for the
philosophy of history of the great idealists of the

1 It is somewhat difficult, and it is not necessary for our purposes,
to explain what might be meant by the " Idealism " of Bergson — at
least in the sense of a cosmology, a theory of the " real " It is
claimed for him, and he claims for himself that he is in a sense both an
"idealist" and a "realist," believing at once (i) that matter is an
"abstraction" (an unreality), and (2) that there is more in matter
than the qualities revealed by our perceptions. [We must remember
that he objects to the idea of qualities in things in the old static
sense. " There are no things ; there are only actions."] What we might
mean by his initial idealism is the following : " Matter, in our view, is an
aggregate of images. And by ' image ' we mean [Matter and Memory,
the Introduction] a certain existence which is more than that which
the idealist calls a representation, but less than that which the realist


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Online LibraryWilliam CaldwellPragmatism and idealism → online text (page 20 of 21)