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Art. 7. THE PHILOSOPHY OF HENRI BERGSON.
1. Essai sur les Données Immédiates de la Conscience. Matière et Mémoire. L'Evolution Créatrice. Le Rire. Par Henri Bergson. Paris: Félix Alcan, 1889-1910. 2. Time and Free Will. Translated by F. L. Pogson. Matter and Memory. Translated by Nancy M. Paul and W. S. Palmer. London: Sonnenschein, 1910-11. 3. Creative Evolution. Translated by Arthur Mitchell. Laughter. Translated by Cloudesley Brereton and Fred Rothwell. London: Macmillan, 1911.
4. The Philosophy of Bergson. By A. D. Lindsay. London: Dent, 1911.
5. A Pluralistic Universe. Some Problems of Philosophy.
6. Body and Mind.
OXFORD has always piqued herself on being the home of lost causes; and it is a curious commentary on this claim that, of our two ancient Universities, she should be the one to extend the warmer welcome to those philosophical movements of the day that happen to have scored a popular success. Hitherto Prof. Bergson's writings have on the whole left the academic world in this country cold; but now there comes from Balliol, the very shrine of Aristotelian tradition, an enthusiastic exposition of the new philosophy by Mr Lindsay; while Pragmatism, which, as is well known, has been treated in professional circles with little respect, has its foremost living representative at Oxford in Dr Schiller, who has gathered disciples round him, and has done more than anyone else, except the late William James, to make Pragmatism known at home and abroad. Again, it was an Oxford college which invited William James to give, in the summer of 1909, the course of lectures since published under the title of A Pluralistic Universe;' and the impassioned eulogy which he then devoted to the young French philosopher, who has so much in common with the Pragmatists, seems to have aroused sympathetic
*To this list may be added Mr J. McKellar Stewart's 'Critical Exposition of Bergson's Philosophy,' which came in too late for review in the following article.
echoes in Oxford cloisters. 'Open Bergson,' William James said, and new horizons loom on every page you read. . . . It tells of reality itself instead of merely reiterating what dusty-minded professors have written about what other previous professors have thought. Nothing in Bergson is shop-worn or at second hand.' Before discussing Prof. Bergson's philosophy itself, I propose to say a few words as to the affinity, which prompted this vigorous outburst, between his views and those of the Pragmatists.
In Some Problems of Philosophy' William James touches again on this affinity, and he had evidently intended to say much more on the subject; but death cut him off in the plenitude of his powers some eighteen months ago, so that the appearance of this posthumous and fragmentary volume must intensify for his many friends and readers their sense of what has been lost. Even so, it is easy enough to see in a general way that there is some real likeness between the work of William James and that of Bergson. For one thing, they have in common a strongly emotional cast of mind which may be described as the spirit of revolt against traditional methods in philosophy. But this by itself does not explain William James's enthusiasm, since almost all philosophers rebel against the methods and traditions of their predecessors. Yet to discover what, beyond this, is the precise bond between them is not so easy. It may perhaps be explained in the following way. Among the principal tasks that philosophers have constantly tried to perform is that of giving a general description of the contents of the universe-of determining, as they sometimes put it, the ultimate nature of all reality. In the course of doing this, various questions always arise, of which the following may be mentioned as typical: Are space and the things in it infinitely divisible or not? Is space infinite in extent or not? Is time infinitely divisible or not? Is the course of time of infinite extent in two directions, backwards and forwards, or not? Now, whoever tries to think about such questions with the idea of answering them, quickly sees that any answer is full of difficulties-difficulties which consist in the fact that there seem to be reasons, between which it is very hard to decide, both for and against any answer.
In fact, in many cases there seem to be equally good reasons for two different answers, which yet cannot both be true because they contradict one another.
I do not intend to give any of the reasons which might be urged both for and against answering any of the above questions in any particular way; I wish merely to point out that it is generally assumed that the only hope of solving such metaphysical problems lies in examining the reasons for and against particular answers. William James, although most of his published work lay in the more special departments of psychology and ethics, was, like other philosophers, constantly exercised by these metaphysical problems, and he seems towards the end of his life to have come to a certain conclusion about them. His conclusion was this: that these problems are absolutely insoluble in accordance with the laws of logic, and that the true solution lies in abandoning those laws. If we wish to understand reality, we must frankly admit that reality is non-rational. In his Oxford lectures, at all events, he took up this position emphatically; nor is it abandoned in the later book, for his view, he there says (p. 136), does make the world partly alogical or non-rational from a purely intellectual point of view.'
Thus he holds that the changes which we perceive as taking place around us-'the perceptual durcheinander,' as he calls it really are continuous; but this continuity is irrational in the sense that it defies all logical explanation, the triumphs of modern mathematicians in defining a continuity which involves no contradictions being, in his opinion, illusory. At the same time he inclines towards the view that the temporal process of the universe 'increases by finite and perceptible units' (p. 185). Apparently he admits that this supposition involves logical absurdities; but he embraces it on the ground that it works more satisfactorily than the incredible results to which we should be driven by a strict adherence to logic. So again with his pluralism; he thinks that the universe is composed of many different things because this belief works satisfactorily, and because, though 'intellectually' irrational, it is no more so than the contrary belief that there is no difference between any two things in the universe. We can thus see the reason why of
late years he devoted so much of his energy to maintaining against all comers the characteristic doctrines of Pragmatism-the definition, that is to say, of true beliefs as those beliefs which give satisfaction or forward some human purpose, and the theory that, in order to decide philosophical questions, we must enquire into the practical results of believing one solution rather than the other. For these doctrines are simply an attempt to prepare the ground for a proper understanding of reality, by destroying what he calls the traditional intellectualist' logic. And, whatever we may think of their validity, it must be admitted that, in concentrating himself upon them, William James displayed true philosophical instinct. For the theory of truth is fundamental; so long as it is doubtful what we mean by calling a belief true,' we cannot profitably enquire whether or not such and such a view of the universe is true. It was because Bergson's work is equally permeated by the view that it is hopeless to attempt a determination of reality by adhering to ordinary logical procedure, that William James welcomed him as a brother-in-arms in the battle against obscurantism. It must be observed, however, that Bergson never seriously attacks any problem so fundamental as that which concerns the nature of truth. William James left no more than hints and adumbrations of a system of metaphysics, but he tried to lay a foundation. Bergson, on the other hand, with Gallic passion for symmetry and completeness, evolves a whole theory of the Universe, which, from his want of interest in the logic of his position, remains, as I hope to show, vague and fantastic. I shall first try to state the main features of this attempt to describe the nature of the principal contents of the universe.
Bergson's three principal books are all now available for English readers in excellent translations, which, it may be noticed, have one merit not possessed by the originals-they are are provided with full indices and summaries of chapters. The subject of the first of these books is not very clearly indicated by the title: 'Les Données Immédiates de la Conscience,' nor by that of 'Time and Free Will,' substituted by the translator with the author's approval. It would be better described as a
treatise on the nature of mind. For it aims at performing one part of the above-mentioned distinctively philosophical task of describing the contents of the universe; it tries to prove that all the things in the universe of the kind that may be called mental or spiritual have certain characteristics not generally recognised; and it also tries to point out how it happens that certain false opinions about the nature of mind are so generally entertained. The second book, 'Matière et Mémoire,' goes a step further. Its aim is to determine the nature of all the things of that other kind called physical or material, which are commonly believed to be also among the contents of the universe; and, further, to explain what the relation is in which these two sorts of things, mind and matter, stand to one another. The way is thus prepared for the more detailed exposition of the nature of reality as a whole which is given in 'L'Evolution Créatrice.'
Many philosophers, perhaps most, believe, and try to persuade their readers, that their views are merely common sense; and Bergson is no exception to this rule. But we must observe that, if the arguments of 'Les Données' are sound, the nature of our minds is something very different from what it is usually supposed to be. It would seem natural, for instance, if we were asked to explain what we mean by saying that we have minds— that we are conscious beings-to mention such facts as these as that we feel, perceive, think, and will; that at different times we have different feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and volitions; that in the course of our lives we perform a great number of these different mental acts, so many that it would probably be impossible to count them, although it is conceivable that they should be counted; that some of these mental acts differ from others in the way expressed by saying that one is more intense than another; and that some of these acts sometimes cause others. But, according to Bergson, none of these supposed facts can serve as illustrations of the sort of thing that a mind is, because on his theory some of them are not facts at all, and others are only facts in some sense quite different from that in which they would usually be understood.
His argument is roughly as follows. All sensations