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These antinomies of concepts and positions, according to him, result from the normal or habitual way our intelligence works. Here we find Bergson's connection to American pragmatism. The normal way our intelligence works is guided by needs and thus the knowledge it gathers is not disinterested; it is relative knowledge.

Comprehensive analytic knowledge then consists in reconstruction or re-composition of a thing by means of synthesizing the perspectives. This synthesis, while helping us satisfy needs, never gives us the thing itself; it only gives us a general concept of things. Thus, intuition reverses the normal working of intelligence, which is interested and analytic synthesis being only a development of analysis. This placement of oneself up above the turn is not easy; above all else, Bergson appreciates effort.

What sort of experience? As we have seen from our discussion of multiplicity in Time and Free Will , sympathy consists in putting ourselves in the place of others. Bergsonian intuition then consists in entering into the thing, rather than going around it from the outside. In order to help us understand intuition, which is always an intuition of duration, let us return to the color spectrum image.

Bergson says that we should suppose that perhaps there is no other color than orange. If we make more of an effort, we sense that the darkest shade of orange is a different color, red, while the lightest is also a different color, yellow. Thus, we would have a sense, beneath orange, of the whole color spectrum. So, likewise, I may introspect and sympathize with my own duration; my duration may be the only one.

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But, if I make an effort, I sense in my duration a variety of shades. In other words, the intuition of duration puts me in contact with a whole continuity of durations, which I could, with effort, try to follow upwardly or downwardly, upward to spirit or downward to inert matter The Creative Mind , p.

Thus Bergsonian intuition is always an intuition of what is other. Here we see that Bergson has not only tried to break with Kant, but also with Parmenides's philosophy of the same. But this starting point in a part implies — and Bergson himself never seems to realize this— that intuition never gives us absolute knowledge of the whole of the duration, all the component parts of the duration. The whole is never given in an intuition; only a contracted part is given. Nevertheless, this experience is an integral one, in the sense of integrating an infinity of durations.

And thus, even though we cannot know all durations, every single one that comes into existence must be related, as a part, to the others. The duration is that to which everything is related and in this sense it is absolute. This series of acts is why Bergson calls intuition a method. The first act is a kind of leap, and the idea of a leap is opposed to the idea of a re-constitution after analysis. One should make the effort to reverse the habitual mode of intelligence and set oneself up immediately in the duration.

But then, second, one should make the effort to dilate one's duration into a continuous heterogeneity.

The Challenge of Bergsonism

Third, one should make the effort to differentiate as with the color orange the extremes of this heterogeneity. With the second and third steps, one can see a similarity to Plato's idea of dialectic understood as collection and division. The method resembles that of the good butcher who knows how to cut at the articulations or the good tailor who knows how to sew pieces of cloth together into clothes that fit.

Indeed, for Bergson, intuition is memory; it is not perception. Since its publication in , Matter and Memory has attracted considerable attention see, for example, Deleuze In the history of philosophy, these theoretical difficulties have generally arisen from a view of external perception, which always seems to result in an opposition between representation and matter. But, in order to show this, Bergson starts with a hypothesis that all we sense are images.

Now we can see the basis of Bergson's use of images in his method of intuition. He is re-stating the problem of perception in terms of images because it seems to be an intermediate position between realism and idealism Matter and Memory, p. Bergson is employing the concept of image to dispel the false belief — central to realism and materialism — that matter is a thing that possesses a hidden power able to produce representations in us. There is no hidden power in matter; matter is only images. Bergson, however, not only criticizes materialism its theory of hidden powers , but also idealism insofar as idealism attempts to reduce matter to the representation we have of it.

For Bergson, image differs from representation, but it does not differ in nature from representation since Bergson's criticism of materialism consists in showing that matter does not differ in nature from representation.

The psycho-physics of phenomenology: Bergson and Henry

For Bergson, the image is less than a thing but more than a representation. It also indicates that perception is continuous with images of matter. Through the hypothesis of the image, Bergson is re-attaching perception to the real. In perception — Bergson demonstrates this point through his theory of pure perception — the image of a material thing becomes a representation.

A representation is always in the image virtually. We shall return to this concept of virtuality below. In any case, in perception, there is a transition from the image as being in itself to its being for me. But, perception adds nothing new to the image; in fact, it subtracts from it. According to Bergson, selection occurs because of necessities or utility based in our bodies. In other words, conscious representation results from the suppression of what has no interest for bodily functions and the conservation only of what does interest bodily functions. If we can circle back for a moment, although Bergson shows that we perceive things in the things, the necessary poverty of perception means that it cannot define intuition.

Turning back from the habitual use of intelligence for needs, intuition, as we can see now, places us above or below representations.

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Intuition is fundamentally un-representative. In this regard, the following passage from the third chapter of Matter and Memory becomes very important:. Like the descriptions of intuition, this passage describes how we can resolve the images of matter into mobile vibrations. In this way, we overcome the inadequacy of all images of duration. We would have to call the experience described here not a perception of matter, but a memory of matter because of its richness.

As we have already suggested, Bergsonian intuition is memory. So, we turn now to memory. As we saw in the discussion of method above, Bergson always makes a differentiation within a mixture. On the one hand, there is habit-memory, which consists in obtaining certain automatic behavior by means of repetition; in other words, it coincides with the acquisition of sensori-motor mechanisms. In other words, we have habit-memory actually aligned with bodily perception. Pure memory is something else, and here we encounter Bergson's famous or infamous image of the memory cone.

The image of the inverted cone occurs twice in the third chapter of Matter and Memory pp. The image of the cone is constructed with a plane and an inverted cone whose summit is inserted into the plane. As we descend, we have an indefinite number of different regions of the past ordered by their distance or nearness to the present.

The second cone image represents these different regions with horizontal lines trisecting the cone. The inverted cone image is no exception to Bergson's belief that all images are inadequate to duration. The inverted cone is really supposed to symbolize a dynamic process, mobility.

Memories are descending down the cone from the past to the present perception and action. The idea that memories are descending means that true memory in Bergson is progressive. Whenever Bergson in any of his works mentions contemplation, he is thinking of Plotinus, on whom he lectured many times. But, in contrast to Plotinus, for Bergson, thinking is not mere contemplation; it is the entire or integral movement of memory between contemplation and action. Thinking, for Bergson, occurs when pure memory moves forward into singular images. This forward movement occurs by means of two movements which the inverted cone symbolizes.

On the one hand, the cone is supposed to rotate. Bergson compares the experience of true memory to a telescope, which allows us to understand the rotating movement. What we are supposed to visualize with the cone is a telescope that we are pointing up at the night sky. Thus, when I am trying to remember something, I at first see nothing all.

What will help us understand this image is the idea of my character. When I try to remember how my character came about, at first, I might not remember anything; no image might at first come to mind.


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Pure memory for Bergson precedes images; it is unconscious. Rotation is really the key to Bergson's concept of virtuality. Always, we start with something like the Milky Way, a cloud of interpenetration; but then the cloud starts to condense into singular drops, into singular stars. This movement from interpenetration to fragmentation, from unity to multiplicity, and even from multiplicity to juxtaposition is always potential or virtual.

But the reverse process is also virtual. If we remain with the telescope image, we can see that the images of the constellation must be narrowed, brought down the tube so that they will fit into my eye. Here we have a movement from singular images to generalities, on which action can be based. The movement of memory always results in action. But also, for Bergson, this twofold movement of rotation and contraction can be repeated in language. Even though Bergson never devotes much reflection to language — we shall return to this point below— he is well aware that literary creation resembles natural creation.

Here we should consult his early essay on laughter. But, with this creative movement, which is memory, we can turn to creative evolution. For Bergson, the notion of life mixes together two opposite senses, which must be differentiated and then led into a genuine unity. On the one hand, it is clear from Bergson's earlier works that life is the absolute temporal movement informed by duration and retained in memory.

But, on the other hand, he has shown that life also consists in the practical necessities imposed on our body and accounting for our habitual mode of knowing in spatial terms. More specifically then, Bergson's project in Creative Evolution is to offer a philosophy capable of accounting both for the continuity of all living beings—as creatures—and for the discontinuity implied in the evolutionary quality of this creation.

Bergson starts out by showing that the only way in which the two senses of life may be reconciled without being collapsed is to examine real life, the real evolution of the species, that is, the phenomenon of change and its profound causes. His argument consists of four main steps. Second, the diversity resulting from evolution must be accounted for as well.

If the original impulse is common to all life, then there must also be a principle of divergence and differentiation that explains evolution; this is Bergson's tendency theory. Third, the two main diverging tendencies that account for evolution can ultimately be identified as instinct on the one hand and intelligence on the other. Human knowledge results from the form and the structure of intelligence. Unlike instinct, human intelligence is therefore unable to attain to the essence of life in its duration.

The paradoxical situation of humanity the only species that wants to know life is also the only one that cannot do so must therefore be overcome. So, fourth, the effort of intuition what allows us to place ourselves back within the original creative impulse so as to overcome the numerous obstacles that stand in the way of true knowledge which are instantiated in the history of metaphysics. We are going to look at each of these four steps. First, we are going to look at the concept of vital impulse.

In Creative Evolution , Bergson starts out by criticizing mechanism as it applies to the concepts of life and evolution. The mechanistic approach would preclude the possibility of any real change or creativity, as each development would be potentially contained in the preceding ones. Nevertheless, Bergson argues, there is a certain form of finalism that would adequately account for the creation of life while allowing for the diversity resulting from creation.

It is the idea of an original vital principle. If there is a telos to life, then, it must be situated at the origin and not at the end contra traditional finalism , and it must embrace the whole of life in one single indivisible embrace contra mechanism. But, this hypothesis does not yet account for evolution in the diversity of its products, nor does it explain the principle of the nature of life. The successive series of bifurcations and differentiations that life undergoes organize itself into two great opposite tendencies, namely, instinct and intelligence.

Bergson arrives at this fundamental distinction by considering the different modes through which creatures act in and know the external world. Animals are distinguished from plants on the basis of their mobility, necessitated by their need to find food,whereas plants survive and grow through photosynthesis, which does not require locomotion.

While the relationship between consciousness and matter instantiated in the instinct of animals is sufficient and well adapted to their survival from the point of view of the species , humans are not adequately equipped in this respect; hence the necessity of something like intelligence, defined by the ability to make tools.


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Humanity is essentially homo faber. Once again, from the point of view of real, concrete life that Bergson is here embracing, intelligence is essentially defined by its pragmatic orientation and not speculation, as a dogmatic intellectualist approach would assume. From this, Bergson deduces not only the cognitive structure and the scientific history of intelligence which he examines in detail , but also its limitations.

This essentially pragmatic, hence analytic and quantitative orientation of intelligence precludes its immediate access to the essentially qualitative nature of life. Notice that the distinction between the two tendencies relies on the original distinction between the qualitative and the quantitative multiplicities. In any case, in order that human intelligence may attain true knowledge of the essence of the vital impulse, it will have to proceed by means of a mode of knowing that lies at the opposite end of intelligence, namely, instinct.

Throughout Creative Evolution , Bergson's crucial point is that life must be equated with creation, as creativity alone can adequately account for both the continuity of life and the discontinuity of the products of evolution. But now the question is: if humans only possess analytic intelligence, then how are we ever to know the essence of life? Bergson's answer — his third step — is that, because at the periphery of intelligence a fringe of instinct survives, we are able fundamentally to rejoin the essence of life.

For, as the tendency and the multiplicity theories made clear, instinct and intelligence are not simply self-contained and mutually exclusive states. They must be called tendencies precisely because they are both rooted in, hence inseparable from, the duration that informs all life, all change, all becoming.

There is, therefore, a little bit of instinct surviving within each intelligent being, making it immediately — if only partially — coincide with the original vital impulse. This partial coincidence, as we described above, is what founds intuition. Finally, we can return to the question of intuition.

Thanks to intuition, humanity can turn intelligence against itself so as to seize life itself. By a very different route than the one we saw before, Bergson shows, once again, that our habitual way of knowing, based in needs, is the only obstacle to knowledge of the absolute. Here he argues that this obstacle consists in the idea of disorder.

All theories of knowledge have in one way or another attempted to explain meaning and consistency by assuming the contingency of order. His answer consists in showing that it is not a matter of order versus disorder, but rather of one order in relation to another. According to Bergson, it is the same reasoning that underlies the ideas of chance as opposed to necessity , and of nothingness as opposed to existence. In a word, the real is essentially positive. The real obeys a certain kind of organization, namely, that of the qualitative multiplicity. Structured around its needs and interests, our intelligence fails to recognize this ultimate reality.

However, a fringe of intuition remains, dormant most of the time yet capable of awakening when certain vital interests are at stake. The role of the philosopher is to seize those rare and discontinuous intuitions in order to support them, then dilate them and connect them to one another. Other topics of discussion include Bergson's Creative Evolution Chs. This dataset includes: two mp3 recordings of the lecture total time, , an aggregate version of the audio recordings into a single mp3, and the complete French transcription of the recorded lecture in both pdf 34 pp and plain text.

Note: The last paragraph of the transcription in square brackets on p. BibTex EndNote. This research has been generously supported through a grant from the College of Liberal Arts, Purdue University.


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Special thanks to the family of Gilles Deleuze and the University of Paris 8 for permission to reproduce the material published here. Lawlor presents a philosophy that fundamentally challenges three trends in continental philosophy: Phenomenology, Ontology, and Ethics. He focuses on the primary Bergsonian innovation, Duration. In a mere pages The result is a meticulous yet clear tour through the fundamental concepts of a philosophy that so far has not received the proper attention.

Lawlor manages to simultaneously explain the theory and waken interest in further study of a body of thought that offers a refreshing alternative to the dominant approaches to philosophy Highly recommended.