By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon

We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

´╗┐Title: A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson
Author: Le Roy, Edouard Louis Emmanuel Julien, 1870-1954
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson" ***


by Edouard le Roy

Translated from the French by Vincent Benson


This little book is due to two articles published under the same title
in the "Revue des Deux Mondes", 1st and 15th February 1912.

Their object was to present Mr Bergson's philosophy to the public at
large, giving as short a sketch as possible, and describing, without too
minute details, the general trend of his movement. These articles I
have here reprinted intact. But I have added, in the form of continuous
notes, some additional explanations on points which did not come within
the scope of investigation in the original sketch.

I need hardly add that my work, though thus far complete, does not in
any way claim to be a profound critical study. Indeed, such a study,
dealing with a thinker who has not yet said his last word, would today
be premature. I have simply aimed at writing an introduction which will
make it easier to read and understand Mr Bergson's works, and serve as a
preliminary guide to those who desire initiation in the new philosophy.

I have therefore firmly waived all the paraphernalia of technical
discussions, and have made no comparisons, learned or otherwise, between
Mr Bergson's teaching and that of older philosophies.

I can conceive no better method of misunderstanding the point at
issue, I mean the simple unity of productive intuition, than that of
pigeon-holing names of systems, collecting instances of resemblance,
making up analogies, and specifying ingredients. An original philosophy
is not meant to be studied as a mosaic which takes to pieces, a compound
which analyses, or a body which dissects. On the contrary, it is by
considering it as a living act, not as a rather clever discourse, by
examining the peculiar excellence of its soul rather than the formation
of its body, that the inquirer will succeed in understanding it.
Properly speaking, I have only applied to Mr Bergson the method which
he himself justifiably prescribes in a recent article ("Revue de
Metaphysique et de Morale", November 1911), the only method, in fact,
which is in all senses of the word fully "exact." I shall none the less
be glad if these brief pages can be of any interest to professional
philosophers, and have endeavoured, as far as possible, to allow them
to trace, under the concise formulae employed, the scheme which I have
refused to develop.

It has become evident to me that even today the interpretation of Mr
Bergson's position is in many cases full of faults, which it would
undoubtedly be worth while to assist in removing. I may or may not have
succeeded in my attempt, but such, at any rate, is the precise end I had
in view.

In conclusion, I may say that I have not had the honour of being Mr
Bergson's pupil; and, at the time when I became acquainted with his
outlook, my own direct reflection on science and life had already
produced in me similar trains of thought. I found in his work
the striking realisation of a presentiment and a desire. This
"correspondence," which I have not exaggerated, proved at once a help
and a hindrance to me in entering into the exact comprehension of so
profoundly original a doctrine. The reader will thus understand that I
think it in place to quote my authority to him in the following lines
which Mr Bergson kindly wrote me after the publication of the articles
reproduced in this volume: "Underneath and beyond the method you have
caught the intention and the spirit...Your study could not be more
conscientious or true to the original. As it advances, condensation
increases in a marked degree: the reader becomes aware that the
explanation is undergoing a progressive involution similar to the
involution by which we determine the reality of Time. To produce this
feeling, much more has been necessary than a close study of my works: it
has required deep sympathy of thought, the power, in fact, of rethinking
the subject in a personal and original manner. Nowhere is this sympathy
more in evidence than in your concluding pages, where in a few words you
point out the possibilities of further developments of the doctrine. In
this direction I should myself say exactly what you have said."

Paris, 28th March 1912.




I. Method.

Scope of Henri Bergson's Philosophy. Material and Authorities.
Investigation of Common-sense. Value of Science. Perception Discussed.
Practical Life and Reality. Concepts and Symbolism. Intuition and
Analysis. Use of Metaphor. The Philosopher's Task.

II. Teaching.

The Ego. Space and Number. Parallelism. Henri Bergson's View of Mind
and Matter. Qualitative Continuity. Memory. Real Duration Heterogeneous.
Liberty and Determinism. Meaning of Reality. Evolution and Automatism.
Triumph of Man. The Vital Impulse. Objections Refuted. Place of Religion
in the New Philosophy.


I. Henri Bergson's Work and the General Directions of Contemporary

Mathematics and Philosophy. The Inert and the Living. Realism and
Positivism. Henri Bergson and the Intuition of Duration.

II. Immediacy.

Necessity of Criticism. Utilitarianism of Common-sense. Perception of

III. Theory of Perception.

Pure and Ordinary Perception. Kant's Position. Relation of Perception to
Matter. Complete Experience.

IV. Critique of Language.

Dynamic Schemes. Dangers of Language. The Eleatic Dialectic. Scientific
Thought and the Task of Intuition. Discussion of Change.

V. The Problem of Consciousness: Duration and Liberty.

States as Phases in Duration. The Scientific View of Time. Duration
and Freedom. Liberty and Determinism in the Light of Henri Bergson's

VI. The Problem of Evolution: Life and Matter.

Evolution and Creation. Laws of Conservation and Degradation. Quantity
and Quality. Secondary Value of Matter.

VII. The Problem of Knowledge: Analysis and Intuition.

Difficulties of Kant's Position. Insufficiency of Intelligence. Henri
Bergson and the Problem of Reason. Geometric and Vital Types of Order.

VIII. Conclusion.

Moral and Religious Problems. Henri Bergson's Position.



I. Method.

There is a thinker whose name is today on everybody's lips, who is
deemed by acknowledged philosophers worthy of comparison with the
greatest, and who, with his pen as well as his brain, has overleapt all
technical obstacles, and won himself a reading both outside and inside
the schools. Beyond any doubt, and by common consent, Mr Henri Bergson's
work will appear to future eyes among the most characteristic, fertile,
and glorious of our era. It marks a never-to-be-forgotten date in
history; it opens up a phase of metaphysical thought; it lays down a
principle of development the limits of which are indeterminable; and it
is after cool consideration, with full consciousness of the exact value
of words, that we are able to pronounce the revolution which it effects
equal in importance to that effected by Kant, or even by Socrates.

Everybody, indeed, has become aware of this more or less clearly. Else
how are we to explain, except through such recognition, the sudden
striking spread of this new philosophy which, by its learned rigorism,
precluded the likelihood of so rapid a triumph?

Twenty years have sufficed to make its results felt far beyond
traditional limits: and now its influence is alive and working from one
pole of thought to the other; and the active leaven contained in it can
be seen already extending to the most varied and distant spheres:
in social and political spheres, where from opposite points, and not
without certain abuses, an attempt is already being made to wrench it
in contrary directions; in the sphere of religious speculation, where
it has been more legitimately summoned to a distinguished, illuminative,
and beneficent career; in the sphere of pure science, where, despite old
separatist prejudices, the ideas sown are pushing up here and there;
and lastly, in the sphere of art, where there are indications that it
is likely to help certain presentiments, which have till now remained
obscure, to become conscious of themselves. The moment is favourable to
a study of Mr Bergson's philosophy; but in the face of so many attempted
methods of employment, some of them a trifle premature, the point of
paramount importance, applying Mr Bergson's own method to himself, is
to study his philosophy in itself, for itself, in its profound trend and
its authenticated action, without claiming to enlist it in the ranks of
any cause whatsoever.


Mr Bergson's readers will undergo at almost every page they read an
intense and singular experience. The curtain drawn between ourselves
and reality, enveloping everything including ourselves in its illusive
folds, seems of a sudden to fall, dissipated by enchantment, and display
to the mind depths of light till then undreamt, in which reality itself,
contemplated face to face for the first time, stands fully revealed. The
revelation is overpowering, and once vouchsafed will never afterwards be

Nothing can convey to the reader the effects of this direct and intimate
mental vision. Everything which he thought he knew already finds new
birth and vigour in the clear light of morning: on all hands, in the
glow of dawn, new intuitions spring up and open out; we feel them big
with infinite consequences, heavy and saturated with life. Each of them
is no sooner blown than it appears fertile for ever. And yet there is
nothing paradoxical or disturbing in the novelty. It is a reply to our
expectation, an answer to some dim hope. So vivid is the impression of
truth, that afterwards we are even ready to believe we recognise the
revelation as if we had always darkly anticipated it in some mysterious
twilight at the back of consciousness.

Afterwards, no doubt, in certain cases, incertitude reappears, sometimes
even decided objections. The reader, who at first was under a magic
spell, corrects his thought, or at least hesitates. What he has seen
is still at bottom so new, so unexpected, so far removed from familiar
conceptions. For this surging wave of thought our mind contains none of
those ready-cut channels which render comprehension easy. But whether,
in the long run, we each of us give or refuse complete or partial
adhesion, all of us, at least, have received a regenerating shock, an
internal upheaval not readily silenced: the network of our intellectual
habits is broken; henceforth a new leaven works and ferments in us; we
shall no longer think as we used to think; and be we pupils or critics,
we cannot mistake the fact that we have here a principle of integral
renewal for ancient philosophy and its old and timeworn problems.

It is obviously impossible to sketch in brief all the aspects and all
the wealth of so original a work. Still less shall I be able to answer
here the many questions which arise. I must decide to pass rapidly
over the technical detail of clear, closely-argued, and penetrating
discussions; over the scope and exactness of the evidence borrowed from
the most diverse positive sciences; over the marvellous dexterity of the
psychological analysis; over the magic of a style which can call up
what words cannot express. The solidity of the construction will not be
evidenced in these pages, nor its austere and subtle beauty. But what
I do at all costs wish to bring out, in shorter form, in this new
philosophy, is its directing idea and general movement.

In such an undertaking, where the end is to understand rather than to
judge, criticism ought to take second place. It is more profitable to
attempt to feel oneself into the heart of the teaching, to relive its
genesis, to perceive the principle of organic unity, to come at the
mainspring. Let our reading be a course of meditation which we live.
The only true homage we can render to the masters of thought consists in
ourselves thinking, as far as we can do so, in their train, under their
inspiration, and along the paths which they have opened up.

In the case before us this road is landmarked by several books which it
will be sufficient to study one after the other, and take successively
as the text of our reflections.

In 1889 Mr Bergson made his appearance with an "Essay on the Immediate
Data of Consciousness".

This was his doctor's thesis. Taking up his position inside the human
personality, in its inmost mind, he endeavoured to lay hold of the
depths of life and free action in their commonly overlooked and fugitive

Some years later, in 1896, passing this time to the externals of
consciousness, the contact surface between things and the ego, he
published "Matter and Memory", a masterly study of perception and
recollection, which he himself put forward as an inquiry into the
relation between body and mind. In 1907 he followed with "Creative
Evolution", in which the new metaphysic was outlined in its full
breadth, and developed with a wealth of suggestion and perspective
opening upon the distances of infinity; universal evolution, the meaning
of life, the nature of mind and matter, of intelligence and instinct,
were the great problems here treated, ending in a general critique of
knowledge and a completely original definition of philosophy.

These will be our guides which we shall carefully follow, step by step.
It is not, I must confess, without some apprehension that I undertake
the task of summing up so much research, and of condensing into a few
pages so many and such new conclusions.

Mr Bergson excels, even on points of least significance, in producing
the feeling of unfathomed depths and infinite levels. Never has anyone
better understood how to fulfil the philosopher's first task, in
pointing out the hidden mystery in everything. With him we see all at
once the concrete thickness and inexhaustible extension of the most
familiar reality, which has always been before our eyes, where before we
were aware only of the external film.

Do not imagine that this is simply a poetical delusion. We must be
grateful if the philosopher uses exquisite language and writes in a
style which abounds in living images. These are rare qualities. But
let us avoid being duped by a show of printed matter: these unannotated
pages are supported by positive science submitted to the most minute
inspection. One day, in 1901, at the French Philosophical Society, Mr
Bergson related the genesis of "Matter and Memory".

"Twelve years or so before its appearance, I had set myself the
following problem: 'What would be the teaching of the physiology and
pathology of today upon the ancient question of the connection between
physical and moral to an unprejudiced mind, determined to forget all
speculation in which it has indulged on this point, determined also to
neglect, in the enunciations of philosophers, all that is not pure and
simple statement of fact?' I set myself to solve the problem, and I
very soon perceived that the question was susceptible of a provisional
solution, and even of precise formulation, only if restricted to the
problem of memory. In memory itself I was forced to determine bounds
which I had afterwards to narrow considerably. After confining myself to
the recollection of words I saw that the problem, as stated, was
still too broad, and that, to put the question in its most precise and
interesting form, I should have to substitute the recollection of the
sound of words. The literature on aphasia is enormous. I took five
years to sift it. And I arrived at this conclusion, that between the
psychological fact and its corresponding basis in the brain there must
be a relation which answers to none of the ready-made concepts furnished
us by philosophy."

Certain characteristics of Mr Bergson's manner will be remarked
throughout: his provisional effort of forgetfulness to recreate a
new and untrammelled mind; his mixture of positive inquiry and bold
invention; his stupendous reading; his vast pioneer work carried on with
indefatigable patience; his constant correction by criticism, informed
of the minutest details and swift to follow up each of them at every
turn. With a problem which would at first have seemed secondary and
incomplete, but which reappears as the subject deepens and is thereby
metamorphosed, he connects his entire philosophy; and so well does he
blend the whole and breathe upon it the breath of life that the final
statement leaves the reader with an impression of sovereign ease.

Examples will be necessary to enable us, even to a feeble extent, to
understand this proceeding better. But before we come to examples, a
preliminary question requires examination. In the preface to his
first "Essay" Mr Bergson defined the principle of a method which was
afterwards to reappear in its identity throughout his various works; and
we must recall the terms he employed.

"We are forced to express ourselves in words, and we think, most often,
in space. To put it another way, language compels us to establish
between our ideas the same clear and precise distinctions, and the same
break in continuity, as between material objects. This assimilation
is useful in practical life and necessary in most sciences. But we
are right in asking whether the insuperable difficulties of certain
philosophical problems do not arise from the fact that we persist in
placing non-spatial phenomena next one another in space, and whether,
if we did away with the vulgar illustrations round which we dispute, we
should not sometimes put an end to the dispute."

That is to say, it is stated to be the philosopher's duty from the
outset to renounce the usual forms of analytic and synthetic thought,
and to achieve a direct intuitional effort which shall put him in
immediate contact with reality. Without doubt it is this question of
method which demands our first attention. It is the leading question.
Mr Bergson himself presents his works as "essays" which do not aim at
"solving the greatest problems all at once," but seek merely "to define
the method and disclose the possibility of applying it on some essential
points." (Preface to "Creative Evolution".) It is also a delicate
question, for it dominates all the rest, and decides whether we shall
fully understand what is to follow.

We must therefore pause here a moment. To direct us in this preliminary
study we have an admirable "Introduction to Metaphysis", which appeared
as an article in the "Metaphysical and Moral Review" (January 1903): a
short but marvellously suggestive memoire, constituting the best preface
to the reading of the books themselves. We may say in passing, that we
should be grateful to Mr Bergson if he would have it bound in volume
form, along with some other articles which are scarcely to be had at all


Every philosophy, prior to taking shape in a group of co-ordinated
theses, presents itself, in its initial stage, as an attitude, a frame
of mind, a method. Nothing can be more important than to study this
starting-point, this elementary act of direction and movement, if
we wish afterwards to arrive at the precise shade of meaning of the
subsequent teaching. Here is really the fountain-head of thought; it
is here that the form of the future system is determined, and here that
contact with reality takes effect.

The last point, particularly, is vital. To return to the direct view of
things beyond all figurative symbols, to descend into the inmost depths
of being, to watch the throbbing life in its pure state, and listen to
the secret rhythm of its inmost breath, to measure it, at least so far
as measurement is possible, has always been the philosopher's ambition;
and the new philosophy has not departed from this ideal. But in what
light does it regard its task? That is the first point to clear up. For
the problem is complex, and the goal distant.

"We are made as much, and more, for action than for thought," says Mr
Bergson; "or rather, when we follow our natural impulse, it is to act
that we think." ("L'Evolution Creatrice", page 321.) And again, "What
we ordinarily call a fact is not reality such as it would appear to an
immediate intuition, but an adaptation of reality to practical interests
and the demands of social life." ("Matiere et Memoire", page 201.) Hence
the question which takes precedence of all others is: to distinguish in
our common representation of the world, the fact in its true sense
from the combinations which we have introduced in view of action and

Now, to rediscover nature in her fresh springs of reality, it is not
sufficient to abandon the images and conceptions invented by human
initiative; still less is it sufficient to fling ourselves into the
torrent of brute sensations. By so doing we are in danger of dissolving
our thought in dream or quenching it in night.

Above all, we are in danger of committal to a path which it is
impossible to follow. The philosopher is not free to begin the work of
knowledge again upon other planes, with a mind which would be adequate
to the new and virgin issue of a simple writ of oblivion.

At the time when critical reflection begins, we have already been long
engaged in action and science, by the training of individual life, as
by hereditary and racial experience, our faculties of perception and
conception, our senses and our understanding, have contracted habits,
which are by this time unconscious and instinctive; we are haunted by
all kinds of ideas and principles, so familiar today that they even pass
unobserved. But what is it all worth?

Does it, in its present state, help us to know the nature of a
disinterested intuition?

Nothing but a methodical examination of consciousness can tell us that;
and it will take more than a renunciation of explicit knowledge to
recreate in us a new mind, capable of grasping the bare fact exactly
as it is: what we require is perhaps a penetrating reform, a kind of

The rational and perceptive function we term our intelligence emerges
from darkness through a slowly lifting dawn. During this twilight period
it has lived, worked, acted, fashioned and informed itself. On the
threshold of philosophical speculation it is full of more or less
concealed beliefs, which are literally prejudices, and branded with a
secret mark influencing its every movement. Here is an actual situation.
Exemption from it is beyond anyone's province. Whether we will or no,
we are from the beginning of our inquiry immersed in a doctrine which
disguises nature to us, and already at bottom constitutes a complete
metaphysic. This we term common-sense, and positive science is itself
only an extension and refinement of it. What is the value of this work
performed without clear consciousness or critical attention? Does
it bring us into true relation with things, into relation with pure

This is our first and inevitable doubt, which requires solution.

But it would be a quixotic proceeding first to make a void in our mind,
and afterwards to admit into it, one by one, after investigation, such
and such a concept, or such and such a principle. The illusion of
the clean sweep and total reconstruction can never be too vigorously

Is it from the void that we set out to think? Do we think in void, and
with nothing? Common ideas of necessity form the groundwork for the
broidery of our advanced thought. Further, even if we succeeded in our
impossible task, should we, in so doing, have corrected the causes
of error which are today graven upon the very structure of our
intelligence, such as our past life has made it? These errors would not
cease to act imperceptibly upon the work of revision intended to apply
the remedy.

It is from within, by an effort of immanent purgation, that the
necessary reform must be brought about. And philosophy's first task is
to institute critical reflection upon the obscure beginnings of thought,
with a view to shedding light upon its spontaneous virgin condition,
but without any vain claim to lift it out of the current in which it is
actually plunged.

One conclusion is already plain: the groundwork of common-sense is sure,
but the form is suspicious.

In common-sense is contained, at any rate virtually and in embryo, all
that can ever be attained of reality, for reality is verification, not

Everything has its starting-point in construction and verification. Thus
philosophical research can only be a conscious and deliberate return to
the facts of primal intuition. But common-sense, being prepossessed in a
practical direction, has doubtless subjected these facts to a process of
interested alteration, which is artificial in proportion to the labour
bestowed. Such is Mr Bergson's fundamental hypothesis, and it is
far-reaching. "Many metaphysical difficulties probably arise from our
habit of confounding speculation and practice; or of pushing an idea
in the direction of utility, when we think we fathom it in theory;
or, lastly, of employing in thought the forms of action." (Preface to
"Matter and Memory". First edition.)

The work of reform will consist therefore in freeing our intelligence
from its utilitarian habits, by endeavouring at the outset to become
clearly conscious of them.

Notice how far presumption is in favour of our hypothesis. Whether we
regard organic life in the genesis and preservation of the individual,
or in the evolution of species, we see its natural direction to be
towards utility: but the effort of thought comes after the effort of
life; it is not added from outside, it is the continuance and the flower
of the former effort. Must we not expect from this that it will preserve
its former habits? And what do we actually observe? The first gleam
of human intelligence in prehistoric times is revealed to us by an
industry; the cut flint of the primitive caves marks the first stage
of the road which was one day to end in the most sublime philosophies.
Again, every science has begun by practical arts. Indeed, our science of
today, however disinterested it may have become, remains none the less
in close relation with the demands of our action; it permits us to speak
of and to handle things rather than to see them in their intimate and
profound nature. Analysis, when applied to our operations of knowledge,
shows us that our understanding parcels out, arrests, and quantifies,
whereas reality, as it appears to immediate intuition, is a moving
series, a flux of blended qualities.

That is to say, our understanding solidifies all that it touches. Have
we not here exactly the essential postulates of action and speech? To
speak, as to act, we must have separable elements, terms and objects
which remain inert while the operation goes on, maintaining between
themselves the constant relations which find their most perfect and
ideal presentment in mathematics.

Everything tends, then, to incline us towards the hypothesis in
question. Let us regard it henceforward as expressing a fact.

The forms of knowledge elaborated by common-sense were not originally
intended to allow us to see reality as it is.

Their task was rather, and remains so, to enable us to grasp its
practical aspect. It is for that they are made, not for philosophical

Now these forms nevertheless have existed in us as inveterate habits,
soon becoming unconscious, even when we have reached the point of
desiring knowledge for its own sake.

But in this new stage they preserve the bias of their original
utilitarian function, and carry this mark with them everywhere, leaving
it upon the fresh tasks which we are fain to make them accomplish.

An inner reform is therefore imperative today, if we are to succeed in
unearthing and sifting, in our perception of nature, under the veinstone
of practical symbolism, the true intuitional content.

This attempt at return to the standpoint of pure contemplation and
disinterested experience is a task very different from the task of
science. It is one thing to regard more and more or less and less
closely with the eyes made for us by utilitarian evolution: it is
another to labour at remaking for ourselves eyes capable of seeing, in
order to see, and not in order to live.

Philosophy understood in this manner--and we shall see more and
more clearly as we go on that there is no other legitimate method of
understanding it--demands from us an almost violent act of reform and

The mind must turn round upon itself, invert the habitual direction of
its thought, climb the hill down which its instinct towards action has
carried it, and go to seek experience at its source, "above the critical
bend where it inclines towards our practical use and becomes, properly
speaking, human experience." ("Matter and Memory", page 203.) In short,
by a twin effort of criticism and expansion, it must pass outside
common-sense and synthetic understanding to return to pure intuition.

Philosophy consists in reliving the immediate over again, and in
interpreting our rational science and everyday perception by its light.
That, at least, is the first stage. We shall find afterwards that that
is not all.

Here is a genuinely new conception of philosophy. Here, for the first
time, philosophy is made specifically distinct from science, yet remains
no less positive.

What science really does is to preserve the general attitude of
common-sense, with its apparatus of forms and principles.

It is true that science develops and perfects it, refines and extends
it, and even now and again corrects it. But science does not change
either the direction or the essential steps.

In this philosophy, on the contrary, what is at first suspected and
finally modified, is the setting of the points before the journey

Not that, in saying so, we mean to condemn science; but we must
recognise its just limits. The methods of science proper are in their
place and appropriate, and lead to a knowledge which is true (though
still symbolical), so long as the object studied is the world of
practical action, or, to put it briefly, the world of inert matter.

But soul, life, and activity escape it, and yet these are the spring and
ultimate basis of everything: and it is the appreciation of this
fact, with what it entails, that is new. And yet, new as Mr Bergson's
conception of philosophy may deservedly appear, it does not any the
less, from another point of view, deserve to be styled classic and

What it really defines is not so much a particular philosophy as
philosophy itself, in its original function.

Everywhere in history we find its secret current at its task.

All great philosophers have had glimpses of it, and employed it in
moments of discovery. Only as a general rule they have not clearly
recognised what they were doing, and so have soon turned aside.

But on this point I cannot insist without going into lengthy detail,
and am obliged to refer the reader to the fourth chapter of "Creative
Evolution", where he will find the whole question dealt with.

One remark, however, has still to be made. Philosophy, according to
Mr Bergson's conception, implies and demands time; it does not aim at
completion all at once, for the mental reform in question is of the kind
which requires gradual fulfilment. The truth which it involves does
not set out to be a non-temporal essence, which a sufficiently powerful
genius would be able, under pressure, to perceive in its entirety at one
view; and that again seems to be very new.

I do not, of course, wish to abuse systems of philosophy. Each of them
is an experience of thought, a moment in the life of thought, a method
of exploring reality, a reagent which reveals an aspect. Truth undergoes
analysis into systems as does light into colours.

But the mere name system calls up the static idea of a finished
building. Here there is nothing of the kind. The new philosophy desires
to be a proceeding as much as, and even more than, to be a system.
It insists on being lived as well as thought. It demands that thought
should work at living its true life, an inner life related to itself,
effective, active, and creative, but not on that account directed
towards external action. "And," says Mr Bergson, "it can only be
constructed by the collective and progressive effort of many thinkers,
and of many observers, completing, correcting, and righting one
another." (Preface to "Creative Evolution".)

Let us see how it begins, and what is its generating act.


How are we to attain the immediate? How are we to realise this
perception of pure fact which we stated to be the philosopher's first

Unless we can clear up this doubt, the end proposed will remain to our
gaze an abstract and lifeless ideal. This is, then, the point which
requires instant explanation. For there is a serious difficulty in which
the very employment of the word "immediate" might lead us astray.

The immediate, in the sense which concerns us, is not at all, or at
least is no longer for us the passive experience, the indefinable
something which we should inevitably receive, provided we opened our
eyes and abstained from reflection.

As a matter of fact, we cannot abstain from reflection: reflection is
today part of our very vision; it comes into play as soon as we open
our eyes. So that, to come on the trail of the immediate, there must be
effort and work. How are we to guide this effort? In what will this work
consist? By what sign shall we be able to recognise that the result has
been obtained?

These are the questions to be cleared up. Mr Bergson speaks of them
chiefly in connection with the realities of consciousness, or,
more generally speaking, of life. And it is here, in fact, that the
consequences are most weighty and far-reaching. We shall need to refer
to them again in detail. But to simplify my explanation, I will here
choose another example: that of inert matter, of the perception on which
the physical is based. It is in this case that the divergence between
common perception and pure perception, however real it may be, assumes
least proportions.

Therefore it appears most in place in the sketch I desire to trace of an
exceedingly complex work, where I can only hope, evidently, to indicate
the main lines and general direction.

We readily believe that when we cast our eyes upon surrounding objects,
we enter into them unresistingly and apprehend them all at once in their
intrinsic nature. Perception would thus be nothing but simple passive
registration. But nothing could be more untrue, if we are speaking of
the perception which we employ without profound criticism in the
course of our daily life. What we here take to be pure fact is, on
the contrary, the last term in a highly complicated series of mental
operations. And this term contains as much of us as of things.

In fact, all concrete perception comes up for analysis as an
indissoluble mixture of construction and fact, in which the fact is only
revealed through the construction, and takes on its complexion. We all
know by experience how incapable the uneducated person is of explaining
the simple appearance of the least fact, without embodying a crowd of
false interpretations. We know to a less extent, but it is also true,
that the most enlightened and adroit person proceeds in just the same
manner: his interpretation is better, but it is still interpretation.

That is why accurate observation is so difficult; we see or we do not
see, we notice such and such an aspect, we read this or that, according
to our state of consciousness at the time, according to the direction of
the investigation on which we are engaged.

Who was it defined art as nature seen through a mind? Perception, too,
is an art.

This art has its processes, its conventions, and its tools. Go into a
laboratory and study one of those complex instruments which make our
senses finer or more powerful; each of them is literally a sheaf of
materialised theories, and by means of it all acquired science is
brought to bear on each new observation of the student. In exactly the
same way our organs of sense are actual instruments constructed by the
unconscious work of the mind in the course of biological evolution;
they too sum up and give concrete form and expression to a system
of enlightening theories. But that is not all. The most elementary
psychology shows us the amount of thought, in the correct sense of the
term, recollection, or inference, which enters into what we should be
tempted to call pure perception.

Establishment of fact is not the simple reception of the faithful
imprint of that fact; it is invariably interpreted, systematised, and
placed in pre-existing forms which constitute veritable theoretical
frames. That is why the child has to learn to perceive. There is an
education of the senses which he acquires by long training. One day,
which aid of habit, he will almost cease to see things: a few lines, a
few glimpses, a few simple signs noted in a brief passing glance, will
enable him to recognise them; and he will hardly retain any more of
reality than its schemes and symbols.

"Perception," says Mr Bergson on this subject, "becomes in the end only
an opportunity of recollection." ("Matter and Memory", page 59.)

All concrete perception, it is true, is directed less upon the
present than the past. The part of pure perception in it is small, and
immediately covered and almost buried by the contribution of memory.

This infinitesimal part acts as a bait. It is a summons to recollection,
challenging us to extract from our previous experience, and construct
with our acquired wealth a system of images which permits us to read the
experience of the moment.

With our scheme of interpretation thus constituted we encounter the few
fugitive traits which we have actually perceived. If the theory we have
elaborated adapts itself, and succeeds in accounting for, connecting,
and making sense of these traits, we shall finally have a perception
properly so called.

Perception then, in the usual sense of the word, is the resolution of a
problem, the verification of a theory.

Thus are explained "errors of the senses," which are in reality errors
of interpretation. Thus too, and in the same manner, we have the
explanation of dreams.

Let us take a simple example. When you read a book, do you spell each
syllable, one by one, to group the syllables afterwards into words, and
the words into phrases, thus travelling from print to meaning? Not at
all: you grasp a few letters accurately, a few downstrokes in their
graphical outline; then you guess the remainder, travelling in the
reverse direction, from a probable meaning to the print which you
are interpreting. This is what causes mistakes in reading, and the
well-known difficulty in seeing printing errors.

This observation is confirmed by curious experiments. Write some
everyday phrase or other on a blackboard; let there be a few intentional
mistakes here and there, a letter or two altered, or left out. Place the
words in a dark room in front of a person who, of course, does not
know what has been written. Then turn on the light without allowing the
observer sufficient time to spell the writing.

In spite of this, he will in most cases read the entire phrase, without
hesitation or difficulty.

He has restored what was missing, or corrected what was at fault.

Now, ask him what letters he is certain he saw, and you will find he
will tell you an omitted or altered letter as well as a letter actually

The observer then thinks he sees in broad light a letter which is not
there, if that letter, in virtue of the general sense, ought to appear
in the phrase. But you can go further, and vary the experiment.

Suppose we write the word "tumult" correctly. After doing so, to direct
the memory of the observer into a certain trend of recollection, call
out in his ear, during the short time the light is turned on, another
word of different meaning, for example, the word "railway."

The observer will read "tunnel"; that is to say, a word, the graphical
outline of which is like that of the written word, but connected in
sense with the order of recollection called up.

In this mistake in reading, as in the spontaneous correction of the
previous experiment, we see very clearly that perception is always the
fulfilment of guesswork.

It is the direction of this work that we are concerned to determine.

According to the popular idea, perception has a completely speculative
interest: it is pure knowledge. Therein lies the fundamental mistake.

Notice first of all how much more probable it is, a priori, that the
work of perception, just as any other natural and spontaneous work,
should have a utilitarian signification.

"Life," says Mr Bergson with justice, "is the acceptance from objects of
nothing but the useful impression, with the response of the appropriate
reactions." ("Laughter", page 154.)

And this view receives striking objective confirmation if, with the
author of "Matter and Memory", we follow the progress of the perceptive
functions along the animal series from the protoplasm to the higher
vertebrates; or if, with him, we analyse the task of the body, and
discover that the nervous system is manifested in its very structure as,
before all, an instrument of action. Have we not already besides proof
of this in the fact that each of us always appears in his own eyes to
occupy the centre of the world he perceives?

The "Riquet" of Anatole France voices Mr Bergson's view: "I am always in
the centre of everything, and men and beasts and things, for or against
me, range themselves around."

But direct analysis leads us still more plainly to the same conclusion.

Let us take the perception of bodies. It is easy to show--and I regret
that I cannot here reproduce Mr Bergson's masterly demonstration--that
the division of matter into distinct objects with sharp outlines is
produced by a selection of images which is completely relative to our
practical needs.

"The distinct outlines which we assign to an object, and which bestow
upon it its individuality, are nothing but the graph of a certain kind
of influence which we should be able to employ at a certain point in
space: it is the plan of our future actions which is submitted to our
eyes, as in a mirror, when we perceive the surfaces and edges of things.
Remove this action, and in consequence the high roads which it makes
for itself in advance by perception, in the web of reality, and
the individuality of the body will be reabsorbed in the universal
interaction which is without doubt reality itself." Which is tantamount
to saying that "rough bodies are cut in the material of nature by a
perception of which the scissors follow, in some sort, the dotted line
along which the action would pass." ("Creative Evolution", page 12.)

Bodies independent of common experience do not then appear, to an
attentive criticism, as veritable realities which would have an
existence in themselves. They are only centres of co-ordination for our
actions. Or, if you prefer it, "our needs are so many shafts of light
which, when played upon the continuity of perceptible qualities, produce
in them the outline of distinct bodies." ("Matter and Memory", page
220.) Does not science too, after its own fashion, resolve the atom into
a centre of intersecting relations, which finally extend by degrees to
the entire universe in an indissoluble interpenetration?

A qualitative continuity, imperceptibly shaded off, over which pass
quivers that here and there converge, is the image by which we are
forced to recognise a superior degree of reality.

But is this perceptible material, this qualitative continuity, the pure
fact in matter? Not yet. Perception, we said just now, is always in
reality complicated by memory. There is more truth in this than we had
seen. Reality is not a motionless spectrum, extending to our view
its infinite shades; it might rather be termed a leaping flame in the
spectrum. All is in passage, in process of becoming.

On this flux consciousness concentrates at long intervals, each time
condensing into one "quality" an immense period of the inner history of
things. "In just this way the thousand successive positions of a runner
contract into one single symbolic attitude, which our eye perceives,
which art reproduces, and which becomes for everybody the representation
of a man running." ("Matter and Memory", page 233.)

In the same way again, a red light, continuing one second, embodies such
a large number of elementary pulsations that it would take 25,000
years of our time to see its distinct passage. From here springs the
subjectivity of our perception. The different qualities correspond,
roughly speaking, to the different rhythms of contraction or
dilution, to the different degrees of inner tension in the perceiving

Pushing the case to its limits, and imagining a complete expansion,
matter would resolve into colourless disturbances, and become the "pure
matter" of the natural philosopher.

Let us now unite in one single continuity the different periods of the
preceding dialectic. Vibration, qualities, and bodies are none of them
reality by themselves; but all the same they are part of reality. And
absolute reality would be the whole of these degrees and moments, and
many others as well, no doubt. Or rather, to secure absolute intuition
of matter, we should have on the one hand to get rid of all that our
practical needs have constructed, restore on the other all the effective
tendencies they have extinguished, follow the complete scale of
qualitative concentrations and dilutions, and pass, by a kind of
sympathy, into the incessantly moving play of all the possible
innumerable contractions or resolutions; with the result that in the
end we should succeed, by a simultaneous view as it were, in grasping,
according to their infinitely various modes, the phases of this matter
which, though at present latent, admit of "perception."

Thus, in the case before us, absolute knowledge is found to be the
result of integral experience; and though we cannot attain the term, we
see at any rate in what direction we should have to work to reach it.

Now it must be stated that our realisable knowledge is at every moment
partial and limited rather than exterior and relative, for our effective
perception is related to matter in itself as the part to the whole. Our
least perceptions are actually based on pure perception, and "we are
aware of the elementary disturbances which constitute matter, in the
perceptible quality in which they suffer contraction, as we are aware of
the beating of our heart in the general feeling that we have of living."
("The Journal of Philosophy, Psychology, and Scientific Methods", 7th
July 1910.)

But the preoccupation of practical action, coming between reality and
ourselves, produces the fragmentary world of common-sense, much as an
absorbing medium resolves into separate rays the continuous spectrum
of a luminous body; whilst the rhythm of duration, and the degree of
tension peculiar to our consciousness, limit us to the apprehension of
certain qualities only.

What then have we to do to progress towards absolute knowledge? Not to
quit experience: quite the contrary; but to extend it and diversify it
by science, while, at the same time, by criticism, we correct in it the
disturbing effects of action, and finally quicken all the results thus
obtained by an effort of sympathy which will make us familiar with the
object until we feel its profound throbbing and its inner wealth.

In connection with this last vital point, which is decisive, call to
mind a celebrated page of Sainte-Beuve where he defines his method:
"Enter into your author, make yourself at home in him, produce him under
his different aspects, make him live, move, and speak as he must have
done; follow him to his fireside and in his domestic habits, as closely
as you can...

"Study him, turn him round and round, ask him questions at your leisure;
place him before you...Every feature will appear in its turn, and take
the place of the man himself in this expression...

"An individual reality will gradually blend with and become incarnate in
the vague, abstract, and general type...There is our man..." Yes, that
is exactly what we want: it could not be better put. Transpose this page
from the literary to the metaphysical order, and you have intuition, as
defined by Mr Bergson. You have the return to immediacy.

But a new problem then arises: Is not our intuition of immediacy in
danger of remaining inexpressible? For our language has been formed in
view of practical life, not of pure knowledge.


The immediate perception of reality is not all; we have still to
translate this perception into intelligible language, into a connected
chain of concepts; failing which, it would seem, we should not have
knowledge in the strict sense of the word, we should not have truth.

Without language, intuition, supposing it came to birth, would remain
intransmissible and incommunicable, and would perish in a solitary cry.
By language alone are we enabled to submit it to a positive test: the
letter is the ballast of the mind, the body which allows it to act, and
in acting to scatter the unreal delusions of dream.

The act of pure intuition demands so great an inner tension from thought
that it can only be very rare and very fugitive: a few rapid gleams here
and there; and these dawning glimpses must be sustained, and afterwards
united, and that again is the work of language.

But while language is thus necessary, no less necessary is a criticism
of ordinary language, and of the methods familiar to the understanding.
These forms of reflected knowledge, these processes of analysis really
convey secretly all the postulates of practical action. But it is
imperative that language should translate, not betray; that the body of
formulae should not stifle the soul of intuition. We shall see in what
the work of reform and conversion imposed on the philosopher precisely

The attitude of the ordinary proceedings of common thought can be stated
in a few words. Place the object studied before yourself as an exterior
"thing." Then place yourself outside it, in perspective, at points of
vantage on a circumference, whence you can only see the object of your
investigation at a distance, with such interval as would be sufficient
for the contemplation of a picture; in short, move round the object
instead of entering boldly into it. But these proceedings lead to what I
shall term analysis by concepts; that is to say, the attempt to resolve
all reality into general ideas.

What are concepts and abstract ideas really, but distant and simplified
views, species of model drawings, giving only a few summary features of
their object, which vary according to direction and angle? By means of
them we claim to determine the object from outside, as if, in order to
know it, it were sufficient to enclose it in a system of logical sides
and angles.

And perhaps in this way we do really grasp it, perhaps we do establish
its precise description, but we do not penetrate it.

Concepts translate relations resulting from comparisons by which each
object is finally expressed as a function of what it is not. They
dismember it, divide it up piece by piece, and mount it in various
frames. They lay hold of it only by ends and corners, by resemblances
and differences. Is not that obviously what is done by the converting
theories which explain the soul by the body, life by matter, quality
by movements, space itself by pure number? Is not that what is done
generally by all criticisms, all doctrines which connect one idea to
another, or to a group of other ideas?

In this way we reach only the surface of things, the reciprocal
contacts, mutual intersections, and parts common, but not the organic
unity nor the inner essence.

In vain we multiply our points of view, our perspectives and plane
projections: no accumulation of this kind will reconstruct the concrete
solid. We can pass from an object directly perceived to the pictures
which represent it, the prints which represent the pictures, the scheme
representing the prints, because each stage contains less than the one
before, and is obtained from it by simple diminution.

But, inversely, you may take all the schemes, prints, pictures you
like--supposing that it is not absurd to conceive as given what is by
nature interminable and inexhaustible, lending itself to indefinite
enumeration and endless development and multiplicity--but you will never
recompose the profound and original unity of the source.

How, by forcing yourself to seek the object outside itself, where it
certainly is not, except in echo and reflection, would you ever find
its intimate and specific reality? You are but condemning yourself to
symbolism, for one "thing" can only be in another symbolically.

To go further still, your knowledge of things will remain irremediably
relative, relative to the symbols selected and the points of view
adopted. Everything will happen as in a movement of which the appearance
and formula vary with the spot from which you regard it, with the marks
to which you relate it.

Absolute revelation is only given to the man who passes into the object,
flings himself upon its stream, and lives within its rhythm. The
thesis which maintains the inevitable relativity of all human knowledge
originates mainly from the metaphors employed to describe the act of
knowledge. The subject occupies this point, the object that; how are we
to span the distance? Our perceptory organs fill the interval; how are
we to grasp anything but what reaches us in the receiver at the end of
the wire?

The mind itself is a projecting lantern playing a shaft of light on
nature; how should it do otherwise than tint nature its own colour?

But these difficulties all arise out of the spatial metaphors employed;
and these metaphors in their turn do little but illustrate and
translate the common method of analysis by concepts: and this method is
essentially regulated by the practical needs of action and language.

The philosopher must adopt an attitude entirely inverse; not keep at a
distance from things, but listen in a manner to their inward breathing,
and, above all, supply the effort of sympathy by which he establishes
himself in the object, becomes on intimate terms with it, tunes himself
to its rhythm, and, in a word, lives it. There is really nothing
mysterious or strange in this.

Consider your daily judgments in matters of art, profession, or sport.

Between knowledge by theory and knowledge by experience, between
understanding by external analogy and perception by profound intuition,
what difference and divergence there is!

Who has absolute knowledge of a machine, the student who analyses it in
mechanical theorems, or the engineer who has lived in comradeship with
it, even to sharing the physical sensation of its laboured or easy
working, who feels the play of its inner muscles, its likes and
dislikes, who notes its movements and the task before it, as the machine
itself would do were it conscious, for whom it has become an extension
of his own body, a new sensori-motor organ, a group of prearranged
gestures and automatic habits?

The student's knowledge is more useful to the builder, and I do not wish
to claim that we should ever neglect it; but the only true knowledge
is that of the engineer. And what I have just said does not concern
material objects only. Who has absolute knowledge of religion, he who
analyses it in psychology, sociology, history, and metaphysics, or he
who, from within, by a living experience, participates in its essence
and holds communion with its duration?

But the external nature of the knowledge obtained by conceptual analysis
is only its least fault. There are others still more serious.

If concepts actually express what is common, general, unspecific, what
should make us feel the need of recasting them when we apply them to a
new object?

Does not their ground, their utility, and their interest exactly consist
in sparing us this labour?

We regard them as elaborated once for all. They are building-material,
ready-hewn blocks, which we have only to bring together. They are atoms,
simple elements--a mathematician would say prime factors--capable of
associating with infinity, but without undergoing any inner modification
in contact with it. They admit linkage; they can be attached externally,
but they leave the aggregate as they went into it.

Juxtaposition and arrangement are the geometrical operations which
typify the work of knowledge in such a case; or else we must fall back
on metaphors from some mental chemistry, such as proportioning and

In all cases, the method is still that of alignment and blending of
pre-existent concepts.

Now the mere fact of proceeding thus is equivalent to setting up the
concept as a symbol of an abstract class. That being done, explanation
of a thing is no more than showing it in the intersection of several
classes, partaking of each of them in definite proportions: which is
the same as considering it sufficiently expressed by a list of general
frames into which it will go. The unknown is then, on principle, and
in virtue of this theory, referred to the already known; and it thereby
becomes impossible ever to grasp any true novelty or any irreducible

On principle, once more, we claim to reconstruct nature with pure
symbols; and it thereby becomes impossible ever to reach its concrete
reality, "the invisible and present soul."

This intuitional coinage in fixed standard concepts, this creation of
an easily handled intellectual cash, is no doubt of evident practical
utility. For knowledge in the usual sense of the word is not a
disinterested operation; it consists in finding out what profit we can
draw from an object, how we are to conduct ourselves towards it, what
label we can suitably attach to it, under what already known class
it comes, to what degree it is deserving of this or that title which
determines an attitude we must take up, or a step we must perform. Our
end is to place the object in its approximate class, having regard to
advantageous employment or to everyday language. Then, and only then,
we find our pigeon-holes all ready-made; and the same parcel of reagents
meets all cases. A universal catechism is here in existence to meet
every research; its different clauses define so many unshifting points
of view, from which we regard each object, and our study is subsequently
limited to applying a kind of nomenclature to the preconstructed frames.

Once again the philosopher has to proceed in exactly the opposite
direction. He has not to confine himself to ready-made business
concepts, of the ordinary kind, suits cut to an average model, which fit
nobody because they almost fit everybody; but he has to work to measure,
incessantly renew his plant, continually recreate his mind, and meet
each new problem with a fresh adaptive effort. He must not go from
concepts to things, as if each of them were only the cutting-point
of several concurrent generalities, an ideal centre of intersecting
abstractions; on the contrary, he must go from things to concepts,
incessantly creating new thoughts, and incessantly recasting the old.

There could be no solution of the problem in a more or less ingenious
mosaic or tessellation of rigid concepts, pre-existing to be employed.
We need plastic fluid, supple and living concepts, capable of being
continually modelled on reality, of delicately following its infinite
curves. The philosopher's task is then to create concepts much more than
to combine them. And each of the concepts he creates must remain open
and adjustable, ready for the necessary renewal and adaptation, like
a method or a programme: it must be the arrow pointing to a path which
descends from intuition to language, not a boundary marking a terminus.
In this way only does philosophy remain what it ought to be: the
examination into the consciousness of the human mind, the effort towards
enlargement and depth which it attempts unremittingly, in order to
advance beyond its present intellectual condition.

Do you want an example? I will take that of human personality. The
ego is one; the ego is many: no one contests this double formula. But
everything admits of it; and what is its lesson to us? Observe what is
bound to happen to the two concepts of unity and multiplicity, by
the mere fact that we take them for general frames independent of the
reality contained, for detached language admitting empty and blank
definition, always representable by the same word, no matter what
the circumstances: they are no longer living and coloured ideas, but
abstract, motionless, and neutral forms, without shades or gradations,
without distinction of case, characterising two points of view from
which you can observe anything and everything. This being so, how
could the application of these forms help us to grasp the original and
peculiar nature of the unity and multiplicity of the ego? Still further,
how could we, between two such entities, statically defined by
their opposition, ever imagine a synthesis? Correctly speaking, the
interesting question is not whether there is unity, multiplicity,
combination, one with the other, but to see what sort of unity,
multiplicity, or combination realises the case in point; above all,
to understand how the living person is at once multiple unity and
one multiplicity, how these two poles of conceptual dissociation are
connected, how these two diverging branches of abstraction join at
the roots. The interesting point, in a word, is not the two symbolical
colourless marks indicating the two ends of the spectrum; it is the
continuity between, with its changing wealth of colouring, and the
double progress of shades which resolve it into red and violet.

But it is impossible to arrive at this concrete transition unless we
begin from direct intuition and descend to the analysing concepts.

Again, the same duty of reversing our familiar attitude, of inverting
our customary proceeding, becomes ours for another reason. The
conceptual atomism of common thought leads it to place movement in a
lower order than rest, fact in a lower order than becoming. According
to common thought, movement is added to the atom, as a supplementary
accident to a body previously at rest; and, by becoming, the
pre-existent terms are strung together like pearls on a necklace.
It delights in rest, and endeavours to bring to rest all that moves.
Immobility appears to it to be the base of existence. It decomposes
and pulverises every change and every phenomenon, until it finds
the invariable element in them. It is immobility which it esteems
as primary, fundamental, intelligible of itself; and motion, on the
contrary, which it seeks to explain as a function of immobility. And
so it tends, out of progresses and transitions, to make things. To see
distinctly, it appears to need a dead halt. What indeed are concepts but
logical look-out stations along the path of becoming? what are they
but motionless external views, taken at intervals, of an uninterrupted
stream of movement?

Each of them isolates and fixes an aspect, "as the instantaneous
lightning flashes on a storm-scene in the darkness." ("Matter and
Memory", page 209.)

Placed together, they make a net laid in advance, a strong meshwork in
which the human intelligence posts itself securely to spy the flux of
reality, and seize it as it passes. Such a proceeding is made for the
practical world, and is out of place in the speculative. Everywhere we
are trying to find constants, identities, non-variants, states; and we
imagine ideal science as an open eye which gazes for ever upon objects
that do not move. The constant is the concrete support demanded by our
action: the matter upon which we operate must not escape our grasp and
slip through our hands, if we are to be able to work it. The constant,
again, is the element of language, in which the word represents its
inert permanence, in which it constitutes the solid fulcrum, the
foundation and landmark of dialectic progress, being that which can be
discarded by the mind, whose attention is thus free for other tasks. In
this respect analysis by concepts is the natural method of common-sense.
It consists in asking from time to time what point the object studied
has reached, what it has become, in order to see what one could derive
from it, or what it is fitting to say of it.

But this method has only a practical reach. Reality, which in its
essence is becoming, passes through our concepts without ever letting
itself be caught, as a moving body passes fixed points. When we filter
it, we retain only its deposit, the result of the becoming drifted down
to us.

Do the dams, canals, and buoys make the current of the river? Do the
festoons of dead seaweed ranged along the sand make the rising tide? Let
us beware of confounding the stream of becoming with the sharp outline
of its result. Analysis by concepts is a cinematograph method, and it
is plain that the inner organisation of the movement is not seen in the
moving pictures. Every moment we have fixed views of moving objects.
With such conceptual sections taken in the stream of continuity, however
many we accumulate, should we ever reconstruct the movement itself, the
dynamic connection, the march of the images, the transition from one
view to another? This capacity for movement must be contained in the
picture apparatus, and must therefore be given in addition to the views
themselves; and nothing can better prove how, after all, movement is
never explicable except by itself, never grasped except in itself.

But if we take movement as our principle, it is, on the contrary,
possible, and even easy, to slacken speed by imperceptible degrees, and
stop dead.

From a dead stop we shall never get our movement again; but rest can
very well be conceived as the limit of movement, as its arrest or
extinction; for rest is less than movement.

In this way the true philosophical method, which is the inverse of the
common method, consists in taking up a position from the very outset
in the bosom of becoming, in adopting its changing curves and variable
tension, in sympathising with the rhythm of its genesis, in perceiving
all existence from within, as a growth, in following it in its inner
generation; in short, in promoting movement to fundamental reality,
and, inversely, in degrading fixed states to the rank of secondary and
derived reality.

And thus, to come back to the example of the human personality, the
philosopher must seek in the ego not so much a ready-made unity or
multiplicity as, if I may venture the expression, two antagonistic and
correlative movements of unification and plurification.

There is then a radical difference between philosophic intuition and
conceptual analysis. The latter delights in the play of dialectic, in
fountains of knowledge, where it is interested only in the immovable
basins; the former goes back to the source of the concepts, and seeks
to possess it where it gushes out. Analysis cuts the channels; intuition
supplies the water. Intuition acquires and analysis expends.

It is not a question of banning analysis; science could not do without
it, and philosophy could not do without science. But we must reserve for
it its normal place and its just task.

Concepts are the deposited sediment of intuition: intuition produces the
concepts, not the concepts intuition. From the heart of intuition you
will have no difficulty in seeing how it splits up and analyses into
concepts, concepts of such and such a kind or such and such a shade. But
by successive analyses you will never reconstruct the least intuition,
just as, no matter how you distribute water, you will never reconstruct
the reservoir in its original condition.

Begin from intuition: it is a summit from which we can descend by
infinite slopes; it is a picture which we can place in an infinite
number of frames. But all the frames together will not recompose the
picture, and the lower ends of all the slopes will not explain how
they meet at the summit. Intuition is a necessary beginning; it is the
impulse which sets the analysis in motion, and gives it direction; it is
the sounding which brings it to solid bottom; the soul which assures its
unity. "I shall never understand how black and white interpenetrate,
if I have not seen grey, but I understand without trouble, after once
seeing grey, how we can regard it from the double point of view of black
and white." ("Introduction to Metaphysics.")

Here are some letters which you can arrange in chains in a thousand
ways: the indivisible sense running along the chain, and making one
phrase of it, is the original cause of the writing, not its consequence.
Thus it is with intuition in relation to analysis. But beginnings and
generative activities are the proper object of the philosopher. Thus
the conversion and reform incumbent on him consist essentially in a
transition from the analytic to the intuitive point of view.

The result is that the chosen instrument of philosophic thought is
metaphor; and of metaphor we know Mr Bergson to be an incomparable
master. What we have to do, he says himself, is "to elicit a certain
active force which in most men is liable to be trammelled by mental
habits more useful to life," to awaken in them the feeling of the
immediate, original, and concrete. But "many different images, borrowed
from very different orders of things, can, by their convergent action,
direct consciousness to the precise point where there is a certain
intuition to be seized. By choosing images as unlike as possible, we
prevent any one of them from usurping the place of the intuition it is
intended to call up, since it would in that case be immediately routed
by its rivals. In making them all, despite their different aspects,
demand of our mind the same kind of attention, and in some way the same
degree of tension, we accustom our consciousness little by little to a
quite peculiar and well-determined disposition, precisely the one which
it ought to adopt to appear to itself unmasked." ("Introduction to

Strictly speaking, the intuition of immediacy is inexpressible. But it
can be suggested and called up. How? By ringing it round with concurrent
metaphors. Our aim is to modify the habits of imagination in ourselves
which are opposed to a simple and direct view, to break through the
mechanical imagery in which we have allowed ourselves to be caught; and
it is by awakening other imagery and other habits that we can succeed in
so doing.

But then, you will say, where is the difference between philosophy and
art, between metaphysical and aesthetic intuition? Art also tends to
reveal nature to us, to suggest to us a direct vision of it, to lift the
veil of illusion which hides us from ourselves; and aesthetic intuition
is, in its own way, perception of immediacy. We revive the feeling of
reality obliterated by habit, we summon the deep and penetrating soul of
things: the object is the same in both cases; and the means are also the
same; images and metaphors. Is Mr Bergson only a poet, and does his work
amount to nothing but the introduction of impressionism in metaphysics?

It is an old objection. If the truth be told, Mr Bergson's immense
scientific knowledge should be sufficient refutation.

Only those who have not read the mass of carefully proved and positive
discussions could give way thus to the impressions of art awakened by
what is truly a magic style. But we can go further and put it better.

That there are analogies between philosophy and art, between
metaphysical and aesthetic intuition, is unquestionable and uncontested.

At the same time, the analogies must not be allowed to hide the

Art is, to a certain extent, philosophy previous to analysis, previous
to criticism and science; the aesthetic intuition is metaphysical
intuition in process of birth, bounded by dream, not proceeding to the
test of positive verification. Reciprocally, philosophy is the art which
follows upon science, and takes account of it, the art which uses the
results of analysis as its material, and submits itself to the demands
of stern criticism; metaphysical intuition is the aesthetic intuition
verified, systematised, ballasted by the language of reason.

Philosophy then differs from art in two essential points: first of all,
it rests upon, envelops, and supposes science; secondly, it implies a
test of verification in its strict meaning. Instead of stopping at the
acts of common-sense, it completes them with all the contributions of
analysis and scientific investigation.

We said just now of common-sense that, in its inmost depths, it
possesses reality: that is only quite exact when we mean common-sense
developed in positive science; and that is why philosophy takes the
results of science as its basis, for each of these results, like
the facts and data of common perception, opens a way for critical
penetration towards the immediate. Just now I was comparing the two
kinds of knowledge which the theorist and the engineer can have of a
machine, and I allowed the advantage of absolute knowledge to
practical experience, whilst theory seemed to me mainly relative to the
constructive industry. That is true, and I do not go back upon it. But
the most experienced engineer, who did not know the mechanism of his
machine, who possessed only unanalysed feelings about it, would have
only an artist's, not a philosopher's knowledge. For absolute intuition,
in the full sense of the word, we must have integral experience; that is
to say, a living application of rational theory no less than of working

To journey towards living intuition, starting from complete science and
complete sensation, is the philosopher's task; and this task is governed
by standards unknown to art.

Metaphysical intuition offers a victorious resistance to the test of
thorough and continued experiment, to the test of calculation as to that
of working, to the complete experiment which brings into play all the
various deoxidising agents of criticism; it shows itself capable of
withstanding analysis without dissolving or succumbing; it abounds in
concepts which satisfy the understanding, and exalt it; in a word, it
creates light and truth on all mental planes; and these characteristics
are sufficient to distinguish it in a profound degree from aesthetic

The latter is only the prophetic type of the former, a dream or
presentiment, a veiled and still uncertain dawn, a twilight myth
preceding and proclaiming, in the half-darkness, the full day of
positive revelation...

Every philosophy has two faces, and must be studied in two
movements--method and teaching.

These are its two moments, its two aspects, no doubt co-ordinate and
mutually dependent, but none the less distinct.

We have just examined the method of the new philosophy inaugurated by
Mr Bergson. To what teaching has this method led us, and to what can we
foresee that it will lead us?

This is what we have still to find.

II. Teaching.

The sciences properly so called, those that are by agreement termed
positive, present themselves as so many external and circumferential
points from which we view reality. They leave us on the outside of
things, and confine themselves to investigating from a distance.

The views they give us resemble the brief perspectives of a town which
we obtain in looking at it from different angles on the surrounding

Less even than that: for very soon, by increasing abstraction,
the coloured views give place to regular lines, and even to simple
conventional notes, which are more practical in use and waste less
time. And so the sciences remain prisoners of the symbol, and all the
inevitable relativity involved in its use. But philosophy claims to
pierce within reality, establish itself in the object, follow its
thousand turns and folds, obtain from it a direct and immediate feeling,
and penetrate right into the concrete depths of its heart; it is not
content with an analysis, but demands an intuition.

Now there is one existence which, at the outset, we know better and more
surely than any other; there is a privileged case in which the effort
of sympathetic revelation is natural and almost easy to us; there is one
reality at least which we grasp from within, which we perceive in its
deep and internal content. This reality is ourselves. It is typical of
all reality, and our study may fitly begin here. Psychology puts us
in direct contact with it, and metaphysics attempt to generalise this
contact. But such a generalisation can only be attempted if, to begin
with, we are familiar with reality at the point where we have immediate
access to it.

The path of thought which the philosopher must take is from the inner to
the outer being.


"Know thyself": the old maxim has remained the motto of philosophy
since Socrates, the motto at least which marks its initial moment, when,
inclining towards the depth of the subject, it commences its true work
of penetration, whilst science continues to extend on the surface. Each
philosophy in turn has commented upon and applied this old motto. But Mr
Bergson, more than anyone else, has given it, as he does everything
else he takes up, a new and profound meaning. What was the current
interpretation before him? Speaking only of the last century, we may
say that, under the influence of Kant, criticism had till now been
principally engaged in unravelling the contribution of the subject
in the act of consciousness, in establishing our perception of things
through certain representative forms borrowed from our own constitution.
Such was, even yesterday, the authenticated way of regarding the
problem. And it is precisely this attitude which Mr Bergson, by a
volte-face which will remain familiar to him in the course of his
researches, reverses from the outset.

"It has appeared to me," says he, ("Essay on the Immediate Data of
Consciousness", Conclusion.) "that there was ground for setting oneself
the inverse problem, and asking whether the most apparent states of the
ego itself, which we think we grasp directly, are not most of the time
perceived through certain forms borrowed from the outer world, which in
this way gives us back what we have lent it. A priori, it seems fairly
probable that this is what goes on. For supposing that the forms of
which we are speaking, to which we adapt matter, come entirely from the
mind, it seems difficult to apply them constantly to objects without
soon producing the colouring of the objects in the forms; therefore
in using these forms for the knowledge of our own personality, we
risk taking a reflection of the frame in which we place them--that is,
actually, the external world--for the very colouring of the ego. But
we can go further, and state that forms applicable to things cannot be
entirely our own work; that they must result from a compromise between
matter and mind; that if we give much to this matter, we doubtless
receive something from it; and that, in this way, when we try to possess
ourselves again after an excursion into the outer world, we no longer
have our hands free."

To avoid such a consequence, there is, we must admit, a conceivable
loophole. It consists in maintaining on principle an absolute analogy,
an exact similitude between internal reality and external objects. The
forms which suit the one would then also suit the other.

But it must be observed that such a principle constitutes in the highest
degree a metaphysical thesis which it would be on all hands illegal to
assert previously as a postulate of method. Secondly, and above all, it
must be observed that on this head experience is decisive, and manifests
more plainly every day the failure of the theories which try to
assimilate the world of consciousness to that of matter, to copy
psychology from physics. We have here two different "orders." The
apparatus of the first does not admit of being employed in the second.
Hence the necessity of the attitude adopted by Mr Bergson. We have
an effort to make, a work of reform to undertake, to lift the veil of
symbols which envelops our usual representation of the ego, and thus
conceals us from our own view, in order to find out what we are in
reality, immediately, in our inmost selves. This effort and this work
are necessary, because, "in order to contemplate the ego in its original
purity, psychology must eliminate or correct certain forms which bear
the visible mark of the outer world." ("Essay on the Immediate Data
of Consciousness", Conclusion.) What are these forms? Let us confine
ourselves to the most important. Things appear to us as numerable
units, placed side by side in space. They compose numerical and spatial
multiplicity, a dust of terms between which geometrical ties are

But space and number are the two forms of immobility, the two schemes of
analysis, by which we must not let ourselves be obsessed. I do not say
that there is no place to give them, even in the internal world. But the
more deeply we enter into the heart of psychological life, the less they
are in place.

The fact is, there are several planes of consciousness, situated at
different depths, marking all the intervening degrees between pure
thought and bodily action, and each mental phenomenon interests all
these planes simultaneously, and is thus repeated in a thousand higher
tones, like the harmonies of one and the same note.

Or, if you prefer it, the life of the spirit is not the uniform
transparent surface of a mere; rather it is a gushing spring which,
at first pent in, spreads upwards and outwards, like a sheaf of corn,
passing through many different states, from the dark and concentrated
welling of the source to the gleam of the scattered tumbling spray; and
each of its moods presents in its turn a similar character, being itself
only a thread within the whole. Such without doubt is the central and
activating idea of the admirable book entitled "Matter and Memory". I
cannot possibly condense its substance here, or convey its astonishing
synthetic power, which succeeds in contracting a complete metaphysic,
and in gripping it so firmly that the examination ends by passing to
the discussion of a few humble facts relative to the philosophy of the
brain! But its technical severity and its very conciseness, combined
with the wealth it contains, render it irresumable; and I can only in a
few words indicate its conclusions.

First of all, however little we pride ourselves on positive method, we
must admit the existence of an internal world, of a spiritual activity
distinct from matter and its mechanism. No chemistry of the brain, no
dance of atoms, is equivalent to the least thought, or indeed to the
least sensation.

Some, it is true, have brought forward a thesis of parallelism,
according to which each mental phenomenon corresponds point by point
to a phenomenon in the brain, without adding anything to it, without
influencing its course, merely translating it into another tongue,
so that a glance sufficiently penetrating to follow the molecular
revolutions and the fluxes of nervous production in their least
episodes would immediately read the inmost secrets of the associated

But no one will deny that a thesis of this kind is only in reality a
hypothesis, that it goes enormously beyond the certain data of current
biology, and that it can only be formulated by anticipating future
discoveries in a preconceived direction. Let us be candid: it is not
really a thesis of positive science, but a metaphysical thesis in the
unpleasant meaning of the term. Taking it at its best, its worth today
could only be one of intelligibleness. And intelligible it is not.

How are we to understand a consciousness destitute of activity and
consequently without connection with reality, a kind of phosphorescence
which emphasises the lines of vibration in the brain, and renders in
miraculous duplicate, by its mysterious and useless light, certain
phenomena already complete without it?

One day Mr Bergson came down into the arena of dialectic, and,
talking to his opponents in their own language, pulled their
"psycho-physiological paralogism" to pieces before their eyes; it
is only by confounding in one and the same argument two systems of
incompatible notations, idealism and realism, that we succeed in
enunciating the parallelist thesis. This reasoning went home, all
the more as it was adapted to the usual form of discussions between
philosophers. But a more positive and more categorical proof is to
be found all through "Matter and Memory". From the precise example of
recollection analysed to its lowest depths, Mr Bergson completely grasps
and measures the divergence between soul and body, between mind and
matter. Then, putting into practice what he said elsewhere about the
creation of new concepts, he arrives at the conclusion--these are his
own expressions--that between the psychological fact and its counterpart
in the brain there must be a relation sui generis, which is neither
the determination of the one by the other, nor their reciprocal
independence, nor the production of the latter by the former, nor of the
former by the latter, nor their simple parallel concomitance; in short,
a relation which answers to none of the ready-made concepts which
abstraction puts at our service, but which may be approximately
formulated in these terms: ("Report of the French Philosophical
Society", meeting, 2nd May 1901.)

"Given a psychological state, that part of the state which admits of
play, the part which would be translated by an attitude of the body
or by bodily actions, is represented in the brain; the remainder is
independent of it, and has no equivalent in the brain. So that to
one and the same state of the brain there may be many different
psychological states which correspond, though not all kinds of states.
They are psychological states which all have in common the same motor
scheme. Into one and the same frame many pictures may go, but not all
pictures. Let us take a lofty abstract philosophical thought. We do
not conceive it without adding to it an image representing it, which we
place beneath.

"We do not represent the image to ourselves, again, without supporting
it by a design which resumes its leading features. We do not imagine
this design itself without imagining and, in so doing, sketching certain
movements which would reproduce it. It is this sketch, and this sketch
only, which is represented in the brain. Frame the sketch, there is a
margin for the image. Frame the image again, there remains a margin, and
a still larger margin, for the thought. The thought is thus relatively
free and indeterminate in relation to the activity which conditions it
in the brain, for this activity expresses only the motive articulation
of the idea, and the articulation may be the same for ideas
absolutely different. And yet it is not complete liberty nor absolute
indetermination, since any kind of idea, taken at hazard, would not
present the articulation desired.

"In short, none of the simple concepts furnished us by philosophy could
express the relation we seek, but this relation appears with tolerable
clearness to result from experiment."

The same analysis of facts tells us how the planes of consciousness,
of which I spoke just now, are arranged, the law by which they are
distributed, and the meaning which attaches to their disposition. Let us
neglect the intervening multiples, and look only at the extreme poles of
the series.

We are inclined to imagine too abrupt a severance between gesture and
dream, between action and thought, between body and mind. There are not
two plane surfaces, without thickness or transition, placed one above
the other on different levels; it is by an imperceptible degradation of
increasing depth, and decreasing materiality, that we pass from one term
to the other.

And the characteristics are continually changing in the course of the
transition. Thus our initial problem confronts us again, more acutely
than ever: are the forms of number and space equally suitable on all
planes of consciousness?

Let us consider the most external of these planes of life, and one which
is in contact with the outer world, the one which receives directly the
impressions of external reality. We live as a rule on the surface of
ourselves, in the numerical and spatial dispersion of language and
gesture. Our deeper ego is covered as it were with a tough crust,
hardened in action: it is a skein of motionless and numerable habits,
side by side, and of distinct and solid things, with sharp outlines and
mechanical relations. And it is for the representation of the phenomena
which occur within this dead rind that space and number are valid.

For we have to live, I mean live our common daily life, with our body,
with our customary mechanism rather than with our true depths. Our
attention is therefore most often directed by a natural inclination to
the practical worth and useful function of our internal states, to the
public object of which they are the sign, to the effect they produce
externally, to the gestures by which we express them in space. A
social average of individual modalities interests us more than the
incommunicable originality of our deeper life. The words of language
besides offer us so many symbolic centres round which crystallise groups
of motor mechanisms set up by habit, the only usual elements of our
internal determinations. Now, contact with society has rendered these
motor mechanisms practically identical in all men. Hence, whether it be
a question of sensation, feeling, or ideas, we have these neutral
dry and colourless residua, which spread lifeless over the surface of
ourselves, "like dead leaves on the water of a pond." ("Essay on the
Immediate Data," page 102.)

Thus the progress we have lived falls into the rank of a thing that can
be handled. Space and number lay hold of it. And soon all that remains
of what was movement and life is combinations formed and annulled, and
forces mechanically composed in a whole of juxtaposed atoms, and to
represent this whole a collection of petrified concepts, manipulated in
dialectic like counters.

Quite different appears the true inner reality, and quite different
are its profound characteristics. To begin with, it contains nothing
quantitative; the intensity of a psychological state is not a
magnitude, nor can it be measured. The "Essay on the Immediate Data of
Consciousness" begins with the proof of this leading statement. If it
is a question of a simple state, such as a sensation of light or weight,
the intensity is measured by a certain quality of shade which indicates
to us approximately, by an association of ideas and thanks to our
acquired experience, the magnitude of the objective cause from which it
proceeds. If, on the contrary, it is a question of a complex state,
such as those impressions of profound joy or sorrow which lay hold of
us entirely, invading and overwhelming us, what we call their intensity
expresses only the confused feeling of a qualitative progress, and
increasing wealth. "Take, for example, an obscure desire, which has
gradually become a profound passion. You will see that the feeble
intensity of this desire consisted first of all in the fact that it
seemed to you isolated and in a way foreign to all the rest of your
inner life. But little by little it penetrated a larger number of
psychic elements, dyeing them, so to speak, its own colour; and now
you find your point of view on things as a whole appears to you to have
changed. Is it not true that you become aware of a profound passion,
once it has taken root, by the fact that the same objects no longer
produce the same impression upon you? All your sensations, all your
ideas, appear to you refreshed by it; it is like a new childhood." (Loc.
cit., page 6.)

There is here none of the homogeneity which is the property of
magnitude, and the necessary condition of measurement, giving a view of
the less in the bosom of the more. The element of number has vanished,
and with it numerical multiplicity extended in space. Our inner states
form a qualitative continuity; they are prolonged and blended into one
another; they are grouped in harmonies, each note of which contains an
echo of the whole; they are encircled by an innumerable degradation of
halos, which gradually colour the total content of consciousness; they
live each in the bosom of his fellow.

"I am the scent of roses," were the words Condillac put in the mouth of
his statue; and these words translate the immediate truth exactly, as
soon as observation becomes naive and simple enough to attain pure fact.
In a passing breath I breathe my childhood; in the rustle of leaves, in
a ray of moonlight, I find an infinite series of reflections and dreams.
A thought, a feeling, an act, may reveal a complete soul. My ideas,
my sensations, are like me. How would such facts be possible, if the
multiple unity of the ego did not present the essential characteristic
of vibrating in its entirety in the depths of each of the parts descried
or rather determined in it by analysis? All physical determinations
envelop and imply each other reciprocally. And the fact that the soul
is thus present in its entirety in each of its acts, its feelings,
for example, or its ideas in its sensations, its recollections in its
percepts, its inclinations in its obvious states, is the justifying
principle of metaphors, the source of all poetry, the truth which
modern philosophy proclaims with more force every day under the name of
immanence of thought, the fact which explains our moral responsibility
with regard to our affections and our beliefs themselves; and finally,
it is the best of us, since it is this which ensures our being able
to surrender ourselves, genuinely and unreservedly, and this which
constitutes the real unity of our person.

Let us push still further into the hidden retreat of the soul. Here we
are in these regions of twilight and dream, where our ego takes shape,
where the spring within us gushes up, in the warm secrecy of the
darkness which ushers our trembling being into birth. Distinctions fail
us. Words are useless now. We hear the wells of consciousness at their
mysterious task like an invisible shiver of running water through the
mossy shadow of the caves. I dissolve in the joy of becoming. I abandon
myself to the delight of being a pulsing reality. I no longer know
whether I see scents, breathe sounds, or smell colours. Do I love? Do I
think? The question has no longer a meaning for me. I am, in my complete
self, each of my attitudes, each of my changes. It is not my sight which
is indistinct or my attention which is idle. It is I who have resumed
contact with pure reality, whose essential movement admits no form of
number. He who thus makes the really "deep" and "inner" effort necessary
to becoming--were it only for an elusive moment--discovers, under the
simplest appearance, inexhaustible sources of unsuspected wealth; the
rhythm of his duration becomes amplified and refined; his acts become
more conscious; and in what seemed to him at first sudden severance or
instantaneous pulsation he discovers complex transitions imperceptibly
shaded off, musical transitions full of unexpected repetitions and
threaded movements.

Thus, the deeper we go in consciousness, the less suitable become these
schemes of separation and fixity existing in spatial and numerical
forms. The inner world is that of pure quality. There is no measurable
homogeneity, no collection of atomically constructed elements. The
phenomena distinguished in it by analysis are not composing units, but
phases. And it is only when they reach the surface, when they come in
contact with the external world, when they are incarnated in language
or gesture, that the categories of matter become adapted to them. In
its true nature, reality appears as an uninterrupted flow, an impalpable
shiver of fluid changing tones, a perpetual flux of waves which ebb and
break and dissolve into one another without shock or jar. Everything is
ceaseless change; and the state which appears the most stable is already
change, since it continues and grows old. Constant quantities are
represented only by the materialisation of habit or by means of
practical symbols. And it is on this point that Mr Bergson rightly
insists. ("Creative Evolution", page 3.)

"The apparent discontinuity of psychological life is due, then, to
the fact that our attention is concentrated on it in a series of
discontinuous acts; where there is only a gentle slope, we think we
see, when we follow the broken line of our attention, the steps of a
staircase. It is true that our psychological life is full of surprises.
A thousand incidents arise which seem to contrast with what precedes
them, and not to be connected with what follows. But the gap in their
appearances stands out against the continuous background on which they
are represented, and to which they owe the very intervals that separate
them; they are the drumbeats which break into the symphony at intervals.
Our attention is fixed upon them because they interest it more, but
each of them proceeds from the fluid mass of our entire psychological
existence. Each of them is only the brightest point in a moving zone
which understands all that we feel, think, wish; in fact, all that we
are at a given moment. It is this zone which really constitutes our
state. But we may observe that states defined in this way are not
distinct elements. They are an endless stream of mutual continuity."

And do not think that perhaps such a description represents only or
principally our life of feeling. Reason and thought share the same
characteristic, as soon as we penetrate their living depth, whether it
be a question of creative invention or of those primordial judgments
which direct our activity. If they evidence greater stability, it is in
permanence of direction, because our past remains present to us.

For we are endowed with memory, and that perhaps is, on the whole, our
most profound characteristic. It is by memory we enlarge ourselves and
draw continually upon the wealth of our treasuries. Hence comes the
completely original nature of the change which constitutes us. But it
is here that we must shake off familiar representations! Common-sense
cannot think in terms of movement. It forges a static conception of it,
and destroys it by arresting it under pretext of seeing it better. To
define movement as a series of positions, with a generating law, with a
time-table or correspondence sheet between places and times, is surely
a ready-made presentation. Are we not confusing the trajectory and its
performance, the points traversed and the traversing of the points, the
result of the genesis of the result; in short, the quantitative distance
over which the flight extends, and the qualitative flight which puts
this distance behind it? In this way the very mobility which is the
essence of movement vanishes. There is the same common mistake about
time. Analytic and synthetic thought can see in time only a string of
coincidences, each of them instantaneous, a logical series of relations.
It imagines the whole of it to be a graduated slide-rule, in which the
luminous point called the present is the geometrical index.

Thus it gives form to time in space, "a kind of fourth dimension,"
("Essay on the Immediate Data".) or at least it reduces it to nothing
more than an abstract scheme of succession, "a stream without bottom
or sides, flowing without determinable strength, in an indefinable
direction." ("Introduction to Metaphysics".) It requires time to be
homogeneous, and every homogeneous medium is space, "for as homogeneity
consists here in the absence of any quality, it is not clear how two
forms of homogeneity could be distinguished one from the other." ("Essay
on the Immediate Data", page 74.)

Quite different appears real duration, the duration which is lived.
It is pure heterogeneity. It contains a thousand different degrees of
tension or relaxation, and its rhythm varies without end. The magic
silence of calm nights or the wild disorder of a tempest, the still joy
of ecstasy or the tumult of passion unchained, a steep climb towards
a difficult truth or a gentle descent from a luminous principle to
consequences which easily follow, a moral crisis or a shooting pain,
call up intuitions admitting no comparison with one another. We have
here no series of moments, but prolonged and interpenetrating phases;
their sequence is not a substitution of one point for another, but
rather resembles a musical resolution of harmony into harmony. And
of this ever-new melody which constitutes our inner life every moment
contains a resonance or an echo of past moments. "What are we really,
what is our character, except the condensation of the history which we
have lived since our birth, even before our birth, since we bring with
us our prenatal dispositions? Without doubt we think only with a small
part of our past; but it is with our complete past, including our
original bias of soul, that we desire, wish, and act." ("Creative
Evolution", pages 5-6.) This is what makes our duration irreversible,
and its novelty perpetual, for each of the states through which it
passes envelops the recollection of all past states. And thus we see,
in the end, how, for a being endowed with memory, "existence consists
in change, change in ripening, ripening in endless self-creation."
("Creative Evolution", page 8.)

With this formula we face the capital problem in which psychology and
metaphysics meet, that of liberty. The solution given by Mr Bergson
marks one of the culminating points of his philosophy. It is from this
summit that he finds light thrown on the riddle of inner being. And it
is the centre where all the lines of his research converge.

What is liberty? What must we understand by this word? Beware of the
answer you are going to give. Every definition, in the strict sense of
the term, will imply the determinist thesis in advance, since, under
pain of going round in a circle, it will be bound to express liberty
as a function of what it is not. Either psychological liberty is
an illusive appearance, or, if it is real, we can only grasp it by
intuition, not by analysis, in the light of an immediate feeling. For a
reality is verified, not constructed; and we are now or never in one
of those situations where the philosopher's task is to create some new
concept, instead of abiding by a combination of previous elements.

Man is free, says common-sense, in so far as his action depends only on
himself. "We are free," says Mr Bergson, ("Essay on the Immediate Data
of Consciousness", page 131.) "when our acts proceed from our entire
personality, when they express it, when they exhibit that indefinable
resemblance to it which we find occasionally between the artist and his
work." That is all we need seek; two conceptions which are equivalent
to each other, two concordant formulae. It is true that this amounts to
determining the free act by its very originality, in the etymological
sense of the word: which is at bottom only another way of declaring it
incommensurable with every concept, and reluctant to be confined by any
definition. But, after all, is not that the only true immediate fact?

That our spiritual life is genuine action, capable of independence,
initiative, and irreducible novelty, not mere result produced from
outside, not simple extension of external mechanism, that it is so much
ours as to constitute every moment, for him who can see, an essentially
incomparable and new invention, is exactly what represents for us the
name of liberty. Understood thus, and decidedly it is like this that
we must understand it, liberty is a profound thing: we seek it only in
those moments of high and solemn choice which come into our life, not
in the petty familiar actions which their very insignificance submits to
all surrounding influences, to every wandering breeze. Liberty is rare;
many live and die and have never known it. Liberty is a thing which
contains an infinite number of degrees and shades; it is measured by
our capacity for the inner life. Liberty is a thing which goes on in us
unceasingly: our liberty is potential rather than actual. And lastly, it
is a thing of duration, not of space and number, not the work of moments
or decrees. The free act is the act which has been long in preparing,
the act which is heavy with our whole history, and falls like a ripe
fruit from our past life.

But how are we to establish positive verification of these views? How
are we to do away with the danger of illusion? The proof will in this
case result from a criticism of adverse theories, along with direct
observation of psychological reality freed from the deceptive forms
which warp the common perception of it. And it will here be an easy task
to resume Mr Bergson's reasoning in a few words.

The first obstacle which confronts affirmation of our liberty comes
from physical determinism. Positive science, we are told, presents the
universe to us as an immense homogeneous transformation, maintaining
an exact equivalence between departure and arrival. How can we possibly
have after that the genuine creation which we require in the act we call

The answer is that the universality of the mechanism is at bottom only
a hypothesis which is still awaiting demonstration. On the one hand it
includes the parallelist conception which we have recognised as effete.
And on the other it is plain that it is not self-sufficient. At least it
requires that somewhere or other there should be a principle of position
giving once for all what will afterwards be maintained. In actual
fact, the course of phenomena displays three tendencies: a tendency to
conservation, beyond question; but also a tendency to collapse, as in
the diminution of energy; and a tendency to progress, as in biological
evolution. To make conservation the sole law of matter implies an
arbitrary decree, denoting only those aspects of reality which will
count for anything. By what right do we thus exclude, with vital effort,
even the feeling of liberty which in us is so vigorous?

We might say, it is true, that our spiritual life, if it is not a simple
extension of external mechanism, yet proceeds according to an internal
mechanism equally severe, but of a different order. This would bring
us to the hypothesis of a kind of psychological mechanism; and in many
respects this seems to be the common-sense hypothesis. I need not
dwell upon it, after the numerous criticisms already made. Inner
reality--which does not admit number--is not a sequence of distinct
terms, allowing a disconnected waste of absolute causality.

And the mechanism of which we dream has no true sense--for, after all,
it has a sense--except in relation to the superficial phenomena which
take place in our dead rind, in relation to the automaton which we are
in daily life. I am ready to admit that it explains our common actions,
but here it is our profound consciousness which is in question, not the
play of our materialised habits.

Without insisting, then, too strongly on this mongrel conception, let
us pass to the direct examination of inner psychological reality.
Everything is ready for the conclusion. Our duration, which is
continually accumulating itself, and always introducing some irreducible
new factor, prevents any kind of state, even if superficially identical,
from repeating itself in depth. "We shall never again have the soul we
had this evening." Each of our moments remains essentially unique. It is
something new added to the surviving past; not only new, but unable to
be foreseen.

For how can we speak of foresight which is not simple conjecture, how
can we conceive an absolute extrinsic determination, when the act in
birth only makes one with the finished sum of its conditions, when these
conditions are complete only on the threshold of the action beginning,
including the fresh and irreducible contribution added by its very date
in our history? We can only explain afterwards, we can only foresee when
it is too late, in retrospect, when the accomplished action has fallen
into the plan of matter.

Thus our inner life is a work of enduring creation: of phases which
mature slowly, and conclude at long intervals the decisive moments of
emancipating discovery. Undoubtedly matter is there, under the forms of
habit, threatening us with automatism, seeking at every moment to devour
us, stealing a march on us whenever we forget. But matter represents in
us only the waste of existence, the mortal fall of weakened reality, the
swoon of the creative action falling back inert; while the depths of our
being still pulse with the liberty which, in its true function, employs
mechanism itself only as a means of action.

Now, does not this conception make a singular exception of us in
nature, an empire within an empire? That is the question we have yet to


We have just attempted to grasp what being is in ourselves; and we have
found that it is becoming, progress, and growth, that it is a creative
process which never ceases to labour incessantly; in a word, that it
is duration. Must we come to the same conclusion about external being,
about existence in general?

Let us consider that external reality which is nearest us, our body. It
is known to us both externally by our perceptions and internally by our
affections. It is then a privileged case for our inquiry. In addition,
and by analogy, we shall at the same time study the other living bodies
which everyday induction shows us to be more or less like our own. What
are the distinctive characteristics of these new realities? Each of them
possesses a genuine individuality to a far greater degree than inorganic
objects; whilst the latter are hardly limited at all except in
relation to the needs of the former, and so do not constitute beings in
themselves, the former evidence a powerful internal unity which is only
further emphasised by their prodigious complication, and form wholes
with are naturally complete. These wholes are not collections of
juxtaposed parts: they are organisms; that is to say, systems of
connected functions, in which each detail implies the whole, and where
the various elements interpenetrate. These organisms change and modify
continually; we say of them not only that they are, but that they live;
and their life is mutability itself, a flight, a perpetual flux. This
uninterrupted flight cannot in any way be compared to a geometrical
movement; it is a rhythmic succession of phases, each of which contains
the resonance of all those which come before; each state lives on in
the state following; the life of the body is memory; the living being
accumulates its past, makes a snowball of itself, serves as an open
register for time, ripens, and grows old. Despite all resemblances, the
living body always remains, in some measure, an absolutely original and
unique invention, for there are not two specimens exactly alike; and,
among inert objects, it appears as the reservoir of indetermination,
the centre of spontaneity, contingence, and genuine action, as if in the
course of phenomena nothing really new could be produced except by its

Such are the characteristic tendencies of life, such the aspects
which it presents to immediate observation. Whether spiritual activity
unconsciously presides over biological evolution, or whether it simply
prolongs it, we always find here and there the essential features of

But I spoke just now of "individuality." Is it really one of the
distinctive marks of life? We know how difficult it is to define it
accurately. Nowhere, not even in man, is it fully realised; and there
are beings in existence in which it seems a complete illusion, though
every part of them reproduces their complete unity.

True, but we are now dealing with biology, in which geometrical
precision is inadmissible, where reality is defined not so much by the
possession of certain characteristics as by its tendency to accentuate
them. It is as a tendency that individuality is more particularly
manifested; and if we look at it in this light, no one can deny that
it does constitute one of the fundamental tendencies of life. Only
the truth is that the tendency to individuality remains always and
everywhere counterbalanced, and therefore limited, by an opposing
tendency, the tendency to association, and above all to reproduction.
This necessitates a correction in our analysis. Nature, in many
respects, seems to take no interest in individuals. "Life appears to
be a current passing from one germ to another through the medium of a
developed organism." ("Creative Evolution", page 29.)

It seems as if the organism played the part of a thoroughfare. What is
important is rather the continuity of progress of which the individuals
are only transitory phases. Between these phases again there are no
sharp severances; each phase resolves and melts imperceptibly into that
which follows. Is not the real problem of heredity to know how, and up
to what point, a new individual breaks away from the individuals which
produced it? Is not the real mystery of heredity the difference, not the
resemblance, occurring between one term and another?

Whatever be its solution, all the individual phases mutually extend and
interpenetrate one another. There is a racial memory by which the past
is continually accumulated and preserved. Life's history is embodied
in its present. And that is really the ultimate reason of the perpetual
novelty which surprised us just now. The characteristics of biological
evolution are thus the same as those of human progress. Once again we
find the very stuff of reality in duration. "We must not then speak any
longer of life in general as an abstraction, or a mere heading under
which we write down all living beings." ("Creative Evolution", page 28.)
On the contrary, to it belongs the primordial function of reality. It
is a very real current transmitted from generation to generation,
organising and passing through bodies, without failing or becoming
exhausted in any one of them.

We may, already, then, draw one conclusion: Reality, at bottom, is
becoming. But such a thesis runs counter to all our familiar ideas.
It is imperative that we should submit it to the test of critical
examination and positive verification.

One system of metaphysics, I said some time ago, underlies common-sense,
animating and informing it. According to this system, which is the
inverse of that which we have just intimated, reality in its very depths
is fixity and permanence. This is the completely static conception which
sees in being exactly the opposite of becoming: we cannot become, it
seems to say, except in so far as we are not. It does not, however, mean
to deny movement. But it represents it as fluctuation round invariable
types, as a whirling but captive eddy. Every phenomenon appears to it as
a transformation which ends where it began, and the result is that the
world takes the form of an eternal equilibrium in which "nothing is
created, nothing destroyed." The idea does not need much forcing to end
in the old supposition of a cyclic return which restores everything to
its original conditions. Everything is thus conceived in astronomical
periods. All that is left of the universe henceforward is a whirl of
atoms in which nothing counts but certain fixed quantities translated by
our systems of equations; the rest has vanished "in algebraical smoke."
There is therefore nothing more or less in the effect than in the group
of causes; and the causal relation moves towards identity as towards its

Such a view of nature is open to many objections, even if it were only
a question of inorganised matter. Simple physics already betoken the
insufficiency of a purely mechanic conception. The stream of phenomena
flows in an irreversible direction and obeys a determined rhythm. "If I
wish to prepare myself a glass of sugar and water, I may do what I like,
but I must wait for my sugar to melt." ("Creative Evolution", page
10.) Here are facts which pure mechanism does not take into account,
regarding as it does only statically conceived relations, and making
time into a measure only, something like a common denominator of
concrete successions, a certain number of coincidences from which all
true duration remains absent, which would remain unchanged even if the
world's history, instead of opening out in consecutive phases, were to
be unfolded before our eyes all at once like a fan. Do we not indeed
speak today of aging and atomic separation. If the quantity of energy
is preserved, at least its quality is continually deteriorating. By
the side of something which remains constant, the world also contains
something which is being used up, dissipated, exhausted, decomposed.

Further still, a specimen of metal, in its molecular structure,
preserves an indelible trace of the treatment it has undergone; natural
philosophers tell us that there is a "memory of solids." These are all
very positive facts which pure mechanism passes over. In addition,
must we not first of all postulate what will afterwards be preserved or
deteriorated? Whence we get another aspect of things: that of genesis
and creation; and in reality we register the ascending effort of life as
a reality no less startling than mechanic inertia.

Finally, we have a double movement of ascent and descent: such is what
life and matter appear to immediate observation. These two currents
meet each other, and grapple. It is the drama of evolution, of which
Mr Bergson once gave a masterly explanation, in stating the high place
which man fills in nature:

"I cannot regard the general evolution and progress of life in the whole
of the organised world, the co-ordination and subordination of vital
functions to one another in the same living being, the relations which
psychology and physiology combined seem bound to establish between brain
activity and thought in man, without arriving at this conclusion, that
life is an immense effort attempted by thought to obtain of matter
something which matter does not wish to give it. Matter is inert; it is
the seat of necessity; it proceeds mechanically. It seems as if thought
seeks to profit by this mechanical inclination in matter to utilise it
for actions, and thus to convert all the creative energy it contains, at
least all that this energy possesses which admits of play and external
extraction, into contingent movements in space and events in time which
cannot be foreseen. With laborious research it piles up complications
to make liberty out of necessity, to compose for itself a matter so
subtile, and so mobile, that liberty, by a veritable physical paradox,
and thanks to an effort which cannot last long, succeeds in maintaining
its equilibrium on this very mobility.

"But it is caught in the snare. The eddy on which it was poised seizes
and drags it down. It becomes prisoner of the mechanism it has set up.
Automatism lays hold of it, and life, inevitably forgetting the end
which it had determined, which was only to be a means in view of a
superior end, is entirely used up in an effort to preserve itself by
itself. From the humblest of organised beings to the higher vertebrates
which come immediately before man, we witness an attempt which is always
foiled and always resumed with more and more art. Man has triumphed;
with difficulty, it is true, and so incompletely that a moment's lapse
and inattention on his part surrender him to automatism again. But
he has triumphed..." ("Report of the French Philosophical Society",
meeting, 2nd May 1901.)

And Mr Bergson adds in another place: ("Creative Evolution", pages
286-287.) "With man consciousness breaks the chain. In man and in man
only it obtains its freedom. The whole history of life, till man, had
been the history of an effort of consciousness to lift matter, and of
the more or less complete crushing of consciousness by matter falling
upon it again. The enterprise was paradoxical; if indeed we can speak
here, except paradoxically, of enterprise and effort. The task was to
take matter, which is necessity itself, and create an instrument of
liberty, construct a mechanical system to triumph over mechanism, to
employ the determinism of nature to pass through the meshes of the net
it had spread. But everywhere, except in man, consciousness let itself
be caught in the net of which it sought to traverse the meshes. It
remained taken in the mechanisms it had set up. The automatism which it
claimed to be drawing towards liberty enfolds it and drags it down. It
has not the strength to get away, because the energy with which it had
supplied itself for action is almost entirely employed in maintaining
the exceedingly subtile and essentially unstable equilibrium into which
it has brought matter. But man does not merely keep his machine going,
he succeeds in using it as it pleases him.

"He owes it without doubt to the superiority of his brain, which allows
him to construct an unlimited number of motor mechanisms, to oppose new
habits to old time after time, and to master automatism by dividing
it against itself. He owes it to his language, which furnishes
consciousness with an immaterial body in which to become incarnate, thus
dispensing it from depending exclusively upon material bodies, the flux
of which would drag it down and soon engulf it. He owes it to social
life, which stores and preserves efforts as language stores thought,
thereby fixing a mean level to which individuals will rise with
ease, and which, by means of this initial impulse, prevents average
individuals from going to sleep and urges better people to rise higher.
But our brain, our society, and our language are only the varied outer
signs of one and the same internal superiority. Each after its fashion,
they tell us the unique and exceptional success which life has won at a
given moment of its evolution. They translate the difference in nature,
and not in degree only, which separates man from the rest of the animal
world. They let us see that if, at the end of the broad springboard from
which life took off, all others came down, finding the cord stretched
too high, man alone has leapt the obstacle."

But man is not on that account isolated in nature: "As the smallest
grain of dust forms part of our entire solar system, and is involved
along with it in this undivided downward movement which is materiality
itself, so all organised beings from the humblest to the highest, from
the first origins of life to the times in which we live, and in all
places as at all times, do but demonstrate to our eyes a unique impulse
contrary to the movement of matter, and, in itself, indivisible. All
living beings are connected, and all yield to the same formidable
thrust. The animal is supported by the plant, man rides the animal, and
the whole of humanity in space and time is an immense army galloping by
the side of each of us, before and behind us, in a spirited charge which
can upset all resistance, and leap many obstacles, perhaps even death."
("Creative Evolution", pages 293-294.)

We see with what broad and far-reaching conclusions the new philosophy
closes. In the forcible poetry of the pages just quoted its original
accent rings deep and pure. Some of its leading theses, moreover, are
noted here. But now we must discover the solid foundation of underlying

Let us take first the fact of biological evolution. Why has it been
selected as the basis of the system? Is it really a fact, or is it only
a more or less conjectural and plausible theory?

Notice in the first instance that the argument from evolution appears at
least as a weapon of co-ordination and research admitted in our day by
all philosophers, rejected only on the inspiration of preconceived ideas
which are completely unscientific; and that it succeeds in the task
allotted to it is doubtless already the proof that it responds to
some part of reality. And besides, we can go further. "The idea of
transformism is already contained in germ in the natural classification
of organised beings. The naturalist brings resembling organisms
together, divides the group into sub-groups, within which the
resemblance is still greater, and so on; throughout the operation, the
characteristics of the group appear as general themes upon which each of
the sub-groups executes its particular variations.

"Now this is precisely the relation we find in the animal world and in
the vegetable world between that which produces and what is produced; on
the canvas bequeathed by the ancestor to his posterity, and possessed
in common by them, each broiders his original pattern." ("Creative
Evolution", pages 24-25.)

We may, it is true, ask ourselves whether the genealogical method
permits results so far divergent as those presented to us by variety
of species. But embryology answers by showing us the highest and most
complex forms of life attained every day from very elementary forms; and
palaeontology, as it develops, allows us to witness the same spectacle
in the universal history of life, as if the succession of phases through
which the embryo passes were only a recollection and an epitome of the
complete past whence it has come. In addition, the phenomena of sudden
changes, recently observed, help us to understand more easily the
conception which obtrudes itself under so many heads, by diminishing the
importance of the apparent lacunae in genealogical continuity. Thus the
trend of all our experience is the same.

Now there are some certainties which are only centres of concurrent
probabilities; there are some truths determined only by succession of
facts, but yet, by their intersection and convergence, sufficiently

"That is how we measure the distance from an inaccessible point, by
regarding it time after time from the points to which we have access."
("Report of the French Philosophical Society", meeting, 2nd May 1901.)

Is not that the case here? The affirmative seems all the more inevitable
inasmuch as the language of transformism is the only language known to
the biology of today. Evolution can, it is true, be transposed, but not
suppressed, since in any actual state there would always remain this
striking fact that the living forms met with as remains in geological
layers are ranged by the natural affinity of their characteristics in an
order of succession parallel to the succession of the ages. We are not
really then inventing a hypothesis in beginning with the affirmation of
evolution. But what we have to do is to appreciate its object.

Evolution! We meet the word everywhere today. But how rare is the true
idea! Let us ask the astronomers who originate cosmogonical hypotheses,
and invent a primitive nebula, the natural philosophers who dream that
by the deterioration of energy and the dissipation of movement the
material world will obtain final rest in the inertia of a homogeneous
equilibrium, let us ask the biologists and psychologists who are enemies
of fixed species and inquisitive about ancestral history. What they
are anxious to discern in evolution is the persistent influence of an
initial cause once given, the attraction of a fixed end, a collection
of laws before the eternity of which change becomes negligible like
an appearance. Now he who thinks of the universe as a construction of
unchangeable relations denies by his method the evolution of which he
speaks, since he transforms it into a calculable effect necessarily
produced by a regulated play of generating conditions, since he
implicitly admits the illusive character of a becoming which adds
nothing to what is given.

Finality itself, if he keeps the name, does not save him from his error,
for finality in his eyes is nothing but an efficient cause projected
into the future. So we see him fixing stages, marking periods, inserting
means, putting in milestones, continually destroying movement by halting
it before his gaze. And we all do the same by instinctive inclination.
Our concept of law, in its classical form, is not general: it represents
only the law of co-existence and of mechanism, the static relation
between two numerically disconnected terms; and in order to grasp
evolution we shall doubtless have to invent a new type of law: law in
duration, dynamic relation. For we can, and we must, conceive that there
is an evolution of natural laws; that these laws never define anything
but a momentary state of things; that they are in reality like streaks
determined in the flux of becoming by the meeting of contrary currents.
"Laws," says Monsieur Boutroux, "are the bed down which passes the
torrent of facts; they have dug it, though they follow it." Yet we
see the common theories of evolution appealing to the concepts of the
present to describe the past, forcing them back to prehistoric times,
and beyond the reasoning of today, placing at the beginning what is
only conceivable in the mind of the contemporary thinker; in a word,
imagining the same laws as always existing and always observed. This
is the method which Mr Bergson so justly criticises in Spencer: that of
reconstructing evolution with fragments of its product.

If we wish thoroughly to grasp the reality of things, we must think
otherwise. Neither of these ready-made concepts, mechanism and finality,
is in place, because both of them imply the same postulate, viz. that
"everything is given," either at the beginning or at the end, whilst
evolution is nothing if it is not, on the contrary, "that which gives."
Let us take care not to confound evolution and development. There is
the stumbling-block of the usual transformist theories, and Mr Bergson
devotes to it a closely argued and singularly penetrating criticism, by
an example which he analyses in detail. ("Creative Evolution", chapter
i.) These theories either do not explain the birth of variation, and
limit themselves to an attempt to make us understand how, once born,
it becomes fixed, or else through need of adaptation they look for a
conception of its birth. But in both cases they fail.

"The truth is that adaptation explains the windings of the movement of
evolution, but not the general directions of the movement, still less
the movement itself. The road which leads to the town is certainly
obliged to climb the hills and go down the slopes; it adapts itself to
the accidents of the ground; but the accidents of the ground are not
the cause of the road, any more than they have imparted its direction."
("Creative Evolution", pages 111-112.)

At the bottom of all these errors there are only prejudices of practical
action. That is of course why every work appears to be an outside
construction beginning with previous elements; a phase of anticipation
followed by a phase of execution, calculation, and art, an effective
projecting cause, and a concerted goal, a mechanism which hurls to
a finality which aims. But the genuine explanation must be sought
elsewhere. And Mr Bergson makes this plain by two admirable analyses in
which he takes to pieces the common ideas of disorder and nothingness in
order to explain their meaning relative to our proceedings in industry
or language.

Let us come back to facts, to immediate experience, and try to translate
its pure data simply. What are the characteristics of vital evolution?
First of all it is a dynamic continuity, a continuity of qualitative
progress; next, it is essentially a duration, an irreversible rhythm, a
work of inner maturation. By the memory inherent in it, the whole of its
past lives on and accumulates, the whole of its past remains for ever
present to it; which is tantamount to saying that it is experience.

It is also an effort of perpetual invention, a generation of continual
novelty, indeducible and capable of defying all anticipation, as it
defies all repetition. We see it at its task of research in the groping
attempts exhibited by the long-sought genesis of species; we see it
triumphant in the originality of the least state of consciousness, of
the least body, of the tiniest cell, of which the infinity of times and
spaces does not offer two identical specimens.

But the reef which lies in its way, and on which too often it founders,
is habit; habit would be a better and more powerful means of action if
it remained free, but in so far as it congeals and becomes materialised,
is a hindrance and an obstacle. First of all we have the average types
round which fluctuates an action which is decreasing and becoming
reduced in breadth. Then we have the residual organs, the proofs of dead
life, the encrustations from which the stream of consciousness gradually
ebbs; and finally we have the inert gear from which all real life has
disappeared, the masses of shipwrecked "things" rearing their spectral
outlines where once rolled the open sea of mind. The concept of
mechanism suits the phenomena which occur within the zone of wreckage,
on this shore of fixities and corpses. But life itself is rather
finality, if not in the anthropomorphic sense of premeditated design,
plan, or programme, at least in this sense, that it is a continually
renewed effort of growth and liberation. And it is from here we get Mr
Bergson's formulae: vital impetus and creative evolution.

In this conception of being consciousness is everywhere, as original and
fundamental reality, always present in a myriad degrees of tension or
sleep, and under infinitely various rhythms.

The vital impulse consists in a "demand for creation"; life in its
humblest stage already constitutes a spiritual activity; and its effort
sends out a current of ascending realisation which again determines the
counter-current of matter. Thus all reality is contained in a double
movement of ascent and descent. The first only, which translates an
inner work of creative maturation, is essentially durable; the second
might, in strictness, be almost instantaneous, like that of an escaping
spring; but the one imposes its rhythm on the other. From this point of
view mind and matter appear not as two things opposed to each other, as
static terms in fixed antithesis, but rather as two inverse directions
of movement; and, in certain respects, we must therefore speak not so
much of matter or mind as of spiritualisation and materialisation, the
latter resulting automatically from a simple interruption of the former.
"Consciousness or superconsciousness is the rocket, the extinguished
remains of which fall into matter." ("Creative Evolution", page 283.)

What image of universal evolution is then suggested? Not a cascade of
deduction, nor a system of stationary pulsations, but a fountain which
spreads like a sheaf of corn and is partially arrested, or at least
hindered and delayed, by the falling spray. The fountain itself, the
reality which is created, is vital activity, of which spiritual activity
represents the highest form; and the spray which falls is the creative
act which falls, it is reality which is undone, it is matter and
inertia. In a word, the supreme law of genesis and fall, the double play
of which constitutes the universe, comprises a psychological formula.

Everything begins in the manner of an invention, as the fruit of
duration and creative genius, by liberty, by pure mind; then comes
habit, a kind of body, as the body is already a group of habits; and
habit, taking root, being a work of consciousness which escapes it and
turns against it, is little by little degraded into mechanism in which
the soul is buried.


The main lines and general perspective of Mr Bergson's philosophy now
perhaps begin to appear. Certainly I am the first to feel how powerless
a slender resume really is to translate all its wealth and all its

At least I wish I could have contributed to making its movement, and
what I may call its rhythm, clearer to perception. It is from the books
of the master himself that a more complete revelation must be sought.
And the few words which I am still going to add as conclusion are only
intended to sketch the principal consequences of the doctrine, and allow
its distant reach to be seen.

The evolution of life would be a very simple and easy thing to
understand if it were fulfilled along one single trajectory and followed
a straight path. "But we are here dealing with a shell which has
immediately burst into fragments, which, being themselves species of
shells, have again burst into fragments destined to burst again, and so
on for a very long time." ("Creative Evolution", page 107.) It is, in
fact, the property of a tendency to develop itself in the expansion
which analyses it. As for the causes of this dispersion into kingdoms,
then into species, and finally into individuals, we can distinguish two
series: the resistance which matter opposes to the current of life sent
through it, and the explosive force--due to an unstable equilibrium of
tendencies--carried by the vital impulse within itself. Both unite
in making the thrust of life divide in more and more diverging but
complementary directions, each emphasising some distinct aspect of its
original wealth. Mr Bergson confines himself to the branches of the
first order--plant, animal, and man. And in the course of a minute and
searching discussion he shows us the characteristics of these lines in
the moods or qualities signified by the three words--torpor, instinct,
and intelligence: the vegetable kingdom constructing and storing
explosives which the animal expends, and man creating a nervous system
for himself which permits him to convert the expense into analysis. Let
us leave aside, as we must, the many suggestive views scattered lavishly
about, the many flashes of light which fall on all faces of the problem,
and let us confine ourselves to seeing how we get a theory of knowledge
from this doctrine. There we have yet another proof of the striking and
fertile originality of the new philosophy.

More than one objection has been brought against Mr Bergson on this
head. That is quite natural: how could such a novelty be exactly
understood at once? It is also very desirable; it is the demands for
enlightenment which lead a doctrine to full consciousness of itself,
to precision and perfection. But we must be afraid of false objections,
those which arise from an obstinate translation of the new philosophy
into an old language steeped in a different metaphysic. With what has
Mr Bergson been reproached? With misunderstanding reason, with ruining
positive science, with being caught in the illusion of getting knowledge
otherwise than by intelligence, or of thinking otherwise than
by thought; in short, of falling into a vicious circle by making
intellectualism turn round upon itself. Not one of these reproaches has
any foundation.

Let us begin by a few preliminary remarks to clear the ground. First of
all, there is one ridiculous objection which I quote only to record.
I mean that which suspects at the bottom of the theories which we are
going to discuss some dark background, some prepossession of irrational
mysticism. On the contrary, the truth is, we have here perhaps better
than anywhere, the spectacle of pure thought face to face with things.
But it is a complete thought, not thought reduced to some partial
functions, but sufficiently sure of its critical power to sacrifice none
of its resources. Here, we may say, really is the genuine positivism,
which reinstates all spiritual reality. It does not in any way lead to a
misunderstanding or depreciation of science. Even where contingency and
relativity are most visible in it, in the domain of inert matter, Mr
Bergson goes so far as to say that physical science touches an absolute.
It is true that it touches this absolute rather than sees it.
More particularly it perceives all its reactions on a system of
representative forms which it presents to it, and observes the effect
on the veil of theory with which it envelops it. At certain moments,
all the same, the veil becomes almost transparent. And in any case the
scholar's thought guesses and grazes reality in the curve drawn by the
succession of its increasing syntheses. But there are two orders of
science. Formerly it was from the mathematician that we borrowed the
ideal of evidence. Hence came the inclination always to seek the most
certain knowledge from the most abstract side. The temptation was to
make a kind of less severe and rigorous mathematics of biology itself.
Now if such a method suits the study of inert matter because in a manner
geometrical, so much so that our knowledge of it thus acquired is more
incomplete than inexact, this is not at all the case for the things of
life. Here, if we were to conduct scientific research always in the
same grooves and according to the same formulae, we should immediately
encounter symbolism and relativity. For life is progress, whilst the
geometrical method is commensurable only with things. Mr Bergson
is aware of this; and his rare merit has been to disengage specific
originality from biology, while elevating it to a typical and standard

But let us come to the heart of the problem. What was Kant's point of
departure in the theory of knowledge? In seeking to define the structure
of the mind according to the traces of itself which it must have left in
its works, and in proceeding by a reflective analysis ascending from
a fact to its conditions, he could only regard intelligence as a thing
made, a fixed system of categories and principles.

Mr Bergson adopts an inverse attitude. Intelligence is a product of
evolution: we see it slowly and uninterruptedly constructed along a line
which rises through the vertebrates to man. Such a point of view is the
only one which conforms to the real nature of things, and the actual
conditions of reality; the more we think of it, the more we perceive
that the theory of knowledge and the theory of life are bound up with
one another. Now what do we conclude from this point of view? Life,
considered in the direction of "knowledge," evolves on two diverging
lines which at first are confused, then gradually separate, and finally
end in two opposed forms of organisation, intelligence and instinct.
Several contrary potentialities interpenetrated at their common source,
but of this source each of these kinds of activity preserves or rather
accentuates only one tendency; and it will be easy to mark its dual

Instinct is sympathy; it has no clear consciousness of itself; it does
not know how to reflect; it is hardly capable of varying its steps; but
it operates with incomparable certainty because it remains lodged in
things, in communion with their rhythm and with inner feeling of them.
The history of animals in this respect supplies many remarkable examples
which Mr Bergson analyses and discusses in detail. As much might be
said of the work which produces a living body, and of the effort which
presides over its growth, maintenance, and functions. Take a natural
philosopher who has long breathed the atmosphere of the laboratory, who
has by long practice acquired what we call "experience"; he has a
kind of intimate feeling for his instruments, their resources, their
movements, their working tendencies; he perceives them as extensions
of himself; he possesses them as groups of habitual actions, thus
discoursing by manipulations as easily and spontaneously as others
discourse in calculation. Doubtless that is only an image; but transpose
it and generalise it, and it will help you to understand the kind of
action which divines instinct. But intelligence is something quite
different. We are talking, of course, of the analytic and synthetic
intelligence which we use in our acts of current thought, which works
throughout our daily action and forms the fundamental thread of our
scientific operations. I need not here go back to the criticism of its
ordinary proceedings. But I must now note the service which suits them,
the domain in which they apply and are valid, and what they teach us
thereby about the meaning, reach, and natural task of intelligence.

Whilst instinct vibrates in sympathetic harmony with life, it is about
inert matter that intelligence is granted; it is a rider to our faculty
of action; it triumphs in geometry; it feels at home among the objects
in which our industry finds its supports and its tools. In a word,
"our logic is primarily the logic of solids." (Preface to "Creative
Evolution".) But if we enter the vital order its incompetence is
manifestly apparent.

It is very important that deduction should be so impotent in biology.
Still more impotent is it perhaps in matters of art or religion; whilst,
on the contrary, it works marvels so long as it has only to foresee
movements or transformations in bodies. What does this mean, if not
that intelligence and materiality go together, that language with its
analytic steps is regulated by the movements of matter? Philosophy
once again then must leave it behind, for the duty of philosophy is to
consider everything in its relation to life.

Do not conclude, however, that the philosopher's duty is to renounce
intelligence, place it under tutelage, or abandon it to the blind
suggestions of feeling and will. It has not even the right to do so.
Instinct, with us who have evolved along the grooves of intelligence,
has remained too weak to be sufficient for us. Besides, intelligence
is the only path by which light could dawn in the bosom of primitive
darkness. But let us look at present reality in all its complexity, all
its wealth. Round intelligence itself exists a halo of instinct. This
halo represents the remains of the first nebulous vapour at the expense
of which intelligence was constituted like a brilliantly condensed
nucleus; and it is still today the atmosphere which gives it life, the
fringe of touch, and delicate probing, inspiring contact and divining
sympathy, which we see in play in the phenomena of discovery, as also in
the acts of that "attention to life," and that "sense of reality" which
is the soul of good sense, so widely distinct from common-sense. And
the peculiar task of the philosopher is to reabsorb intelligence in
instinct, or rather to reinstate instinct in intelligence; or better
still, to win back to the heart of intelligence all the initial
resources which it must have sacrificed. This is what is meant by return
to the primitive, and the immediate, to reality and life. This is the
meaning of intuition.

Certainly the task is difficult. We at once suspect a vicious circle.
How can we go beyond intelligence except by intelligence itself? We are
apparently inside our thought, as incapable of coming out of it as is a
balloon of rising above the atmosphere. True, but on this reasoning we
could just as well prove that it is impossible for us to acquire any
new habit whatsoever, impossible for life to grow and go beyond itself

We must avoid drawing false conclusions from the simile of the balloon.
The question here is to know what are the real limits of the atmosphere.
It is certain that the synthetic and critical intelligence, left to
its own strength, remains imprisoned in a circle from which there is no

But action removes the barrier. If intelligence accepts the risk of
taking the leap into the phosphorescent fluid which bathes it, and to
which it is not altogether foreign, since it has broken off from it and
in it dwell the complementary powers of the understanding, intelligence
will soon become adapted and so will only be lost for a moment to
reappear greater, stronger, and of fuller content. It is action again
under the name of experience which removes the danger of illusion or
giddiness, it is action which verifies; by a practical demonstration,
by an effort of enduring maturation which tests the idea in intimate
contact with reality and judges it by its fruits.

It always falls therefore to intelligence to pronounce the grand verdict
in the sense that only that can be called true which will finally
satisfy it; but we mean an intelligence duly enlarged and transformed
by the very effect of the action it has lived. Thus the objection of
"irrationalism" directed against the new philosophy falls to the ground.

The objection of "non-morality" fares no better. But is has been made,
and people have thought fit to accuse Mr Bergson's work of being the too
calm production of an intelligence too indifferent, too coldly lucid,
too exclusively curious to see and understand, untroubled and unthrilled
by the universal drama of life, by the tragic reality of evil. On the
other hand, not without contradiction, the new philosophy has been
called "romantic," and people have tried to find in it the essential
traits of romanticism: its predilection for feeling and imagination, its
unique anxiety for vital intensity, its recognised right to all which
is to be, whence its radical inability to establish a hierarchy of moral
qualifications. Strange reproach! The system in question is not yet
presented to us as a finished system. Its author manifests a plain
desire to classify his problems. And he is certainly right in proceeding
so: there is a time for everything, and on occasion we must learn to be
just an eye focussed upon being. But that does not at all exclude the
possibility of future works, treating in due order of the problem of
human destiny, and perhaps even in the work so far completed we may
descry some attempts to bring this future within ken.

But universal evolution, though creative, is not for all that quixotic
or anarchist. It forms a sequence. It is a becoming with direction,
undoubtedly due, not to the attraction of a clearly preconceived goal,
or the guidance of an outer law, but to the actual tendency of the
original thrust. In spite of the stationary eddies or momentary
backwashes we observe here and there, its stream moves in a definite
direction, ever swelling and broadening. For the spectator who regards
the general sweep of the current, evolution is growth. On the other
hand, he who thinks this growth now ended is under a simple delusion:
"The gates of the future stand wide open." ("Creative Evolution", page
114.) In the stage at present attained man is leading; he marks the
culminating point at which creation continues; in him, life has already
succeeded, at least up to a certain point; from him onwards it advances
with consciousness capable of reflection; is it not for that very reason
responsible for the result? Life, according to the new philosophy, is
a continual creation of what is new: new--be it well understood--in the
sense of growth and progress in relation to what has gone before.
Life, in a word, is mental travel, ascent in a path of growing
spiritualisation. Such at least is the intense desire, and such the
first tendency which launched and still inspires it. But it may faint,
halt, or travel down the hill. This is an undeniable fact; and once
recognised does it not awake in us the presentiment of a directing law
immanent in vital effort, a law doubtless not to be found in any code,
nor yet binding through the stern behest of mechanical necessity, but
a law which finds definition at every moment, and at every moment also
marks a direction of progress, being as it were the shifting tangent to
the curve of becoming?

Let us did that according to the new philosophy the whole of our past
survives for ever in us, and by means of us results in action. It is
then literally true that our acts do to a certain extent involve
the whole universe, and its whole history: the act which we make it
accomplish will exist henceforward for ever, and will for ever tinge
universal duration with its indelible shade. Does not that imply an
imperious, urgent, solemn, and tragic problem of action? Nay, more;
memory makes a persistent reality of evil, as of good. Where are we to
find the means to abolish and reabsorb the evil? What in the individual
is called memory becomes tradition and joint responsibility in the race.

On the other hand, a directing law is immanent in life, but in the
shape of an appeal to endless transcendence. In dealing with this future
transcendent to our daily life, with this further shore of present
experience, where are we to seek the inspiring strength? And is there
not ground for asking ourselves whether intuitions have not arisen here
and there in the course of history, lighting up the dark road of the
future for us with a prophetic ray of dawn? It is at this point that the
new philosophy would find place for the problem of religion.

But this word "religion," which has not come once so far from Mr
Bergson's pen, coming now from mine, warns me that it is time to end. No
man today would be justified in foreseeing the conclusions to which the
doctrine of creative evolution will one day undoubtedly lead on this
point. More than any other, I must forget here what I myself may have
elsewhere tried to do in this order of ideas. But it was impossible
not to feel the approach of the temptation. Mr Bergson's work is
extraordinarily suggestive. His books, so measured in tone, so tranquil
in harmony, awaken in us a mystery of presentiment and imagination; they
reach the hidden retreats where the springs of consciousness well up.
Long after we have closed them we are shaken within; strangely moved,
we listen to the deepening echo, passing on and on. However valuable
already their explicit contents may be, they reach still further than
they aimed. It is impossible to tell what latent germs they foster. It
is impossible to guess what lies behind the boundless distance of the
horizons they expose. But this at least is sure: these books have verily
begun a new work in the history of human thought.


I. Mr Bergson's Work and the General Directions of Contemporary Thought.

A broad survey of the new philosophy was bound to be somewhat rapid
and summary; and now that this is completed it will doubtless not be
superfluous to come back, on the same plan as before, to some more
important or more difficult individual points, and to examine by
themselves the most prominent centres on which we should focus the light
of our attention. Not that I intend to probe in minute detail the folds
and turns of a doctrine which admits of infinite development: how can I
claim to exhaust a work of such profound thought that the least passing
example employed takes its place as a particular study? Still less do
I wish to undertake a kind of analytic resume; no undertaking could be
less profitable than that of arranging paragraph headings to repeat too
briefly, and therefore obscurely, what a thinker has said without any
extravagance of language, yet with every requisite explanation.

The critic's true task, as I understand it, in no way consists in
drawing up a table of contents strewn with qualifying notes. His task
is to read and enable others to read between the lines, between the
chapters, and between the successive works, what constitutes the dynamic
tie between them, all that the linear form of writing and language has
not allowed the author himself to elucidate.

His task is, as far as possible, to master the accompaniment of
underlying thought which produced the resonant atmosphere of the
inquirer's intuition, the rhythm and toning of the image, resulting in
the shade of light which falls upon his vision. His task, in a word,
is to help understanding, and therefore to point out and anticipate the
misunderstandings to be feared. Now it seems to me that there are a few
points round which the errors of interpretation more naturally gather,
producing some astounding misconceptions of Mr Bergson's philosophy. It
is these points only that I propose to clear up. But at the same time I
shall use the opportunity to supply information about authorities, which
I have hitherto deliberately omitted, to avoid riddling with references
pages which were primarily intended to impart a general impression.

Let us begin by glancing at the milieu of thought in which Mr Bergson's
philosophy must have had birth. For the last thirty years new currents
are traceable. In what direction do they go? And what distance have they
already gone? What, in short, are the intellectual characteristics of
our time? We must endeavour to distinguish the deeper tendencies, those
which herald and prepare and near future.

One of the essential and frequently cited features of the generation
in which Taine and Renan were the most prominent leaders was the
passionate, enthusiastic, somewhat exclusive and intolerant cult of
positive science. This science, in its days of pride, was considered
unique, displayed on a plane by itself, always uniformly competent,
capable of gripping any object whatever with the same strength, and of
inserting it in the thread of one and the same unbroken connection.
The dream of that time, despite all verbal palliations, was a universal
science of mathematics: mathematics, of course, with their bare and
brutal rigour softened and shaded off, where feasible; if possible,
supple and sensitive; in ideal, delicate, buoyant, and judicious; but
mathematics governed from end to end by an equal necessity. Conceived as
the sole mistress of truth, this science was expected in days to come
to fulfil all the needs of man, and unreservedly to take the place of
ancient spiritual discipline. Genuine philosophy had had its day:
all metaphysics seemed deception and fantasy, a simple play of empty
formulae or puerile dreams, a mythical procession of abstraction and
phantom; religion itself paled before science, as poetry of the grey
morning before the splendour of the rising sun.

However, after all this pride came the turn of humility, and humility of
the very lowest. This deified science, borne down in its hour of triumph
by too heavy a weight, had necessarily been recognised as powerless to
go beyond the order of relations, and radically incapable of telling
us the origin, end, and basis of things. It analysed the conditions of
phenomena, but was ill-suited ever to grasp any real cause, or any deep
essence. Further, it became the Unknowable, before which the human mind
could only halt in despair. And in this way destitution arose out of
ambition itself, since thought, after trusting too exclusively to its
geometrical strength, was compelled at the end of its effort to confess
itself beaten when confronted with the only questions to which no man
may ever be indifferent.

This double attitude is no longer that of the contemporary generation.
The prestige of illusion has vanished. In the religion of science we see
now nothing but idolatry. The haughty affirmation of yesterday appears
today, not as expressing a positive fact or a result duly established,
but as bringing forward a thesis of perilous and unconscious
metaphysics. Let us go even further. If true intelligence is mental
expansion and aptitude for understanding widely different things, each
in its originality, to the same degree, we must say that the claim to
reduce reality to one only of its modes, to know it in one only of its
forms, is an unintelligent claim. That is, in brief formula, the
verdict of the present generation. Not, of course, that it in any
way misconceives or disdains the true value of science, whether as an
instrument of action for the conquest of nature, or as intelligible
language, allowing us to know our whereabouts in things and "talk" them.

It is aware that in all circumstances positive methods have their
evidence to produce, and that, where they pronounce within the limits of
their power, nothing can stand against their verdict. But it considers
first of all that science was conceived of late under much too stiff and
narrow a form, under the obsession of too abstract a mathematical
ideal which corresponds to one aspect of reality only, and that
the shallowest. And it considers afterwards that science, even when
broadened and made flexible, being concerned only with what is, with
fact and datum, remains radically powerless to solve the problem of
human life. Nowhere does science penetrate to the very depth of things,
and there is nothing in the world but "things."

Experience has shown where the dream of universal mathematics leads us.
Number is driven to the heart of phenomena and nature dissected with
this delicate scalpel. Speaking in more general terms, we adopt spatial
relation as the perfect example of intelligible relation. I do not wish
to deny the use of such a method now and again, the services it may
render, or the beauty of construction peculiar to the systems it
inspires. But we must see what price we pay for these advantages. Do
we choose geometry for an informing and regulating science? The more
we advance towards the concrete and the living, the more we feel the
necessity of altering the pure mathematical type. The sciences, as they
get further from inert matter, unless they agree to reform, pale and
weaken; they become vague, impotent, anaemic; they touch little but
the trite surface of their object, the body, not the soul; in them
symbolism, artifice, and relativity become increasingly evident; at
length, arbitrary and conventional elements crop up and devour them. In
a word, the claim to treat the living as inert matter conduces to the
misconception in life of life itself, and the retention of nothing but
the material waste.

This experience furnishes us with a lesson. There is not so much one
science as several sciences, each distinguished by an autonomous method,
and divided into two great kingdoms.

Let us therefore from the outset follow Mr Bergson in tracing a very
sharp line of demarcation between the inert and the living. Two orders
of knowledge will thereby become separate, one in which the frames of
geometrical understanding are in place, the other where new means and a
new attitude are required. The essential task of the present hour will
now appear to us in a precise light; it will henceforward consist,
without any disregard of a glorious past, in an effort to found as
specifically distinct methods of instruction those sciences which take
for objects the successive moments of life in its different degrees,
biology, psychology, sociology;--then in an effort to reconstruct,
setting out from these new sciences and according to their spirit, the
like of what ancient philosophy had attempted, setting out from geometry
and mechanics. By so doing we shall succeed in throwing knowledge open
to receive all the wealth of reality, while at the same time we shall
reinstate the sense of mystery and the thrill of higher anxieties.
A further result will be that the phantom of the Unknowable will be
exorcised, since it no longer represents anything but the relative and
momentary limit of each method, the portion of being which escapes its
partial grip.

This is one of the first controlling ideas of the contemporary
generation. Others result from it. More particularly, it is for the same
body of motives, in the same sense, and with the same restrictions, that
we distrust intellectualism; I mean the tendency to live uniquely by
intelligence, to think as if the whole of thought consisted in analytic,
clear and reasoning understanding.

Once again, it is not a question of some blind abandonment to sentiment,
imagination, or will, nor do we claim to restrict the legitimate rights
of intellectuality in judgment. But around critical reason there is a
quickening atmosphere in which dwell the powers of intuition, there is a
half-light of gradual tones in which insertion into reality is effected.
If by rationalism we mean the attitude which consists in cabining
ourselves within the zone of geometrical light in which language
evolves, we must admit that rationalism supposes something other than
itself, that it hangs suspended by a generating act which escapes it.

The method therefore which we seek to employ everywhere today is
experience; but complete experience, anxious to neglect no aspect of
being nor any resource of mind; shaded experience, not extending on the
surface only, in a homogeneous and uniform manner; on the contrary,
an experience distributed in depth over multiple planes, adopting a
thousand different forms to adapt itself to the different kinds of
problems; in short, a creative and informing experience, a veritable
genesis, a genuine action of thought, a work and movement of life by
which the guiding principles, forms of intelligibility, and criteria of
verification obtain birth and stability in habits. And here again it
is by borrowing Mr Bergson's own formula from him that we shall most
accurately describe the new spirit.

That the attitude and fundamental procedure of this new spirit are in
no way a return to scepticism or a reaction against thought cannot
be better demonstrated than by this resurrection of metaphysics, this
renaissance of idealism, which is certainly one of the most distinctive
features of our epoch. Undoubtedly philosophy in France has never known
so prosperous and so pregnant a moment. Notwithstanding, it is not
a return to the old dreams of dialectic construction. Everything is
regarded from the point of view of life, and there is a tendency more
and more to recognise the primacy of spiritual activity. But we wish to
understand and employ this activity and this life in all its wealth,
in all its degrees, and by all its functions: we wish to think with the
whole of thought, and go to the truth with the whole of our soul; and
the reason of which we recognise the sovereign weight is reason laden
with its complete past history.

And what is that, really, but realism? By realism I mean the gift of
ourselves to reality, the work of concrete realisation, the effort to
convert every idea into action, to regulate the idea by the action as
much as the action by the idea, to live what we think and think what we
live. But that is positivism, you will say; certainly it is positivism.
But how changed! Far from considering as positive only that which can
be an object of sensation or calculation, we begin by greeting the great
spiritual realities with this title. The deep and living aspiration of
our day is in everything to seek the soul, the soul which specifies and
quickens, seek it by an effort towards the revealing sympathy which
is genuine intelligence, seek it in the concrete, without dissolving
thought in dreams or language, without losing contact with the body or
critical control, seek it, in fine, as the most real and genuine part of

Hence its return to questions which were lately declared out of date
and closed; hence its taste for problems of aesthetics and morality,
its close siege of social and religious problems, its homesickness for a
faith harmonising the powers of action and the powers of thought; hence
its restless desire to hark back to tradition and discipline.

A new philosophy was required to answer this new way of looking at
things. Already, in 1867, Ravaisson in his celebrated "Report" wrote
these prophetic lines: "Many signs permit us to foresee in the near
future a philosophical epoch of which the general character will be the
predominance of what may be called spiritualist realism or positivism,
having as generating principle the consciousness which the mind has in
itself of an existence recognised as being the source and support of
every other existence, being none other than its action."

This prophetic view was further commented on in a work where Mr Bergson
speaks with just praise of this shrewd and penetrating sense of what was
coming: "What could be bolder or more novel than to come and predict
to the physicists that the inert will be explained by the living, to
biologists that life will only be understood by thought, to philosophers
that generalities are not philosophic?" ("Notice on the Life and Works
of M. Felix Ravaisson-Molien", in the Reports of the Academy of Moral
and Political Sciences, 1904.)

But let us give each his due. What Ravaisson had only anticipated Mr
Bergson himself accomplishes, with a precision which gives body to the
impalpable and floating breath of first inspiration, with a depth which
renews both proof and theses alike, with a creative originality which
prevents the critic who is anxious for justice and precision from
insisting on any researches establishing connection of thought.

One reason for the popularity today enjoyed by this new philosophy is
doubtless to be found in the very tendencies of the milieu in which
it is produced and in the aspirations which work it. But, after once
remarking these desires, we must further not forget that Mr Bergson has
contributed more than anyone else to awaken them, determine them,
and make them become conscious of themselves. Let us therefore try to
understand in itself and by itself the work of genius of which just now
we were seeking the dawning gleams. What synthetic formula will be best
able to tell us the essential direction of its movement? I will borrow
it from the author himself: "It seems to me," he writes, ("Philosophic
Intuition" in the "Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale", November 1911.)
"that metaphysics are trying at this moment to simplify themselves, to
come nearer to life." Every philosophy tends to become incarnate in a
system which constitutes for it a kind of body of analysis.

Regarded literally, it appears to be an infinite complication, a complex
construction with a thousand alcoves of high architecture, "in which
measures have been taken to provide ample lodging for all problems."
(Ibid.) Do not let us be deceived by this appearance: it signifies only
that language is incommensurable with thought, that speech admits of
endless multiplication in approximations incapable of exhausting their
object. But before constructing such a body for itself, all philosophy
is a soul, a mind, and begins with the simple unity of a generating
intuition. Here is the fitting point at which to see its essence; this
is what determines it much better than its conceptual expression, which
is always contingent and incomplete. "A philosophy worthy of the name
has never said but one thing; and that thing it has rather attempted to
say than actually said. And it has only said one thing, because it has
only seen one point: and that was not so much vision as contact; this
contact supplied an impulse, this impulse a movement, and if this
movement, which is a kind of vortex of a certain particular form, is
only visible to our eyes by what it has picked up on its path, it is no
less true that other dust might equally well have been raised, and that
it would still have been the same vortex." ("Philosophic Intuition" in
the "Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale", November 1911.)

Hence comes the fact that a philosophy is at bottom much more
independent of its natal environment than one might at first suppose;
hence also the fact that ancient philosophies, though apparently
relative to a science which is out of date, remain always living and
worthy of study.

What, then, is the original intuition of Mr Bergson's philosophy, the
creative intuition whence it comes forth? We cannot hesitate long: it
is the intuition of duration. That is the perspective centre to which we
must indefatigably return; that is the principle which we must labour
to expose in its full light; and that is, finally, the source of light
which will illumine us. Now a philosophy is not only an expressed
intuition; it is further and above all an acting intuition, gradually
determined and realised, and tested by its explanatory works; and it is
by its fruits that we can understand and judge it. Hence the review upon
which we are entering.

II. Immediacy.

The philosopher's first duty is in clear language to declare his
starting-point, with what a mathematician would call the "tangent to
the origin" of the path along which he is travelling, as afterwards
the critic's first duty is to describe this initial attitude. I have
therefore first of all to indicate the directing idea of the new
philosophy. But it is not a question of extracting a quintessence, or of
fencing the soul of doctrine within a few summary formulae. A system
is not to be resumed in a phrase, for every proposition isolated is
a proposition falsified. I wish merely to elucidate the methodical
principle which inspires the beginning of Mr Bergson's philosophy.

To philosophy itself falls the task and belongs the right to define
itself gradually as it becomes constituted. On this point, an
anticipation of experience seems hardly possible; here, as elsewhere,
the finding of a synthetic formula is a final rather than preliminary
question. However, we are obliged from the outset of the work to
determine the programme of the inquiry, if only to direct our research.
It is the same on the threshold of every science. There, it is true, the
analogy ceases. For in any science properly speaking the determination
of beginning consists in the indication of an object, and a matter, and
beyond that, to each new object a new science reciprocally corresponds,
the existence of the one involving the legitimacy of the other. But if
the various sciences--I mean the positive sciences--divide different
objects thus between them, philosophy cannot, in its turn, come forward
as a particular science, having a distinct object, the designation of
which would be sufficient to characterise and circumscribe it. Such was
always the traditional conception: such will ours continue to be. For,
as a matter of fact, every object has a philosophy and all matter can
be regarded philosophically. In short, philosophy is chiefly a way of
perceiving and thinking, an attitude and a proceeding: the peculiar and
specific in it is more an intuition than a content, a spirit rather than
a domain.

What, then, is the characteristic function of philosophy, at least its
initial function, that which marks its opening?

To criticise the works of knowledge spontaneously effected; that is to
say, to scrutinise their direction, reach, and conditions: that is today
the unanimous answer of philosophers when questioned about the goal of
their labours. In other terms, what they study is not so much such
and such a particular "thing" as the relation of mind to each of the
realities to be studied. Their object, if we must employ the word, is
knowledge itself, it is the act of knowing regarded from the point of
view of its meaning and value. Philosophy thus appears as a new "order"
of knowledge, co-extensive with what is knowable, as a kind of knowledge
of the second degree, in which it is less a question of learning than
of understanding, in which we aim at progressing in depth rather than in
extent; not effort to extend the quantity of knowledge, but reflection
on the quality of this knowledge. Spontaneous thought--vulgar or
scientific--is a direct, simple, and practical thought turned towards
things and partial to useful results; seeking what is formulable rather
than what is true, or at least so fond of formulae which can be handled,
manipulated, or transmitted, that it is always tempted to see the truth
in them; a thought which, moreover, sets out from more or less unguarded
postulates, abandons itself to the motive impulses of habits contracted,
and goes straight on indefinitely without self-examination. Philosophy,
on the contrary, desires to be thought about thought, thought retracing
its life and work, knowledge labouring to know itself, fact which
aspires to fact about itself, mental effort to become free, to become
entirely transparent and luminous in its own eyes, and, if need be, to
effect self-reform by dissipating its natural illusions. What we have
before our eyes then are the initial postulates themselves, the
first spontaneous thoughts, the obscure origins of reason; and we are
proceeding towards a point of departure rather than arrival.

The new philosophy does not refuse to carry out this first critical
task; but it carries it out in its own way after determining more
precisely the real conditions of the problem. At the hour when
methodical research begins, the philosopher's mind is not clean-swept;
and it would be chimerical to wish to place oneself from the beginning,
by some act of transcendence, outside common thought. This thought
cannot be inspected and judged from outside. It constitutes, whether we
wish it or no, the sole concrete and positive point of departure. Let us
add that common-sense constitutes also our sole point of insertion into
reality. It can only then be a question of purifying it, not in any way
of replacing it. But we must distinguish in it what is pure fact, and
what is ulterior arrangement, in order to see what are the problems
which really are presented, and what are, on the contrary, the false
problems, the illusory problems, those which relate only to our
artifices of language.

The search for facts is then the first necessary moment of all

But common thought comes before us at the outset as a piece of very
composite alluvial ground. It is a beginning of positive science, and
also a residue of all philosophical opinions which have had some
vogue. That, however, is not its primary basis. Primum vivere, deinde
philosophari, says the proverb. In certain respects, "speculation is a
luxury, whilst action is a necessity." ("Creative Evolution", page 47.)
But "life requires us to apprehend things in the relation they have
to our needs." ("Laughter", page 154.) Hence comes the fundamental
utilitarianism of common-sense. Therefore if we wish to define it in
itself and for itself, and no longer as a first approximation of
such and such a system of metaphysics, it appears to us no longer as
rudimentary science and philosophy, but as an organisation of thought in
view of practical life. Thus it is that outside all speculative opinion
it is effectively lived by all. Its proper language, we may say, is the
language of customary perception and mechanical fabrication, therefore
a language relative to action, made to express action, modelled upon
action, translating things by the relations they maintain to our action;
I mean our corporal and synthetic action, which very evidently implies
thought, since it is a question of the action of a reasonable being, but
which thus contains a thought which is itself eminently practical.

However, we are here regarding common-sense considered as a source of
fact. Its utilitarianism then becomes a kind of spontaneous metaphysics
from which we must detach ourselves. But is it not the very task of
positive science to execute this work of purification? Nothing of the
kind, despite appearances and despite intentions. Let us examine more
closely. The general categories of common thought, according to Mr
Bergson, ("Philosophic Intuition" in the "Metaphysical and Moral
Review", November 1911, page 825.) remain those of science; the main
roads traced by our senses through the continuity of reality are still
those along which science will pass; perception is an infant science
and science an adult perception; so much so that customary knowledge and
scientific knowledge, both of them destined to prepare our action upon
things, are of necessity two visions of the same kind, though of unequal
precision and reach. It does not follow that science does not practise
a certain disinterestedness as far as immediate mechanical utility is
concerned; it does not follow that it has no value as knowledge. But it
does not set itself genuinely free from the habits contracted in common
experience, and to inform its research it preserves the postulates of
common-sense; so that it always grasps things by their "actable" side,
by their point of contact with our faculty for action, under the forms
by which we handle them conceptually or practically, and all it attains
of reality is that by which nature is a possible object of language or

Let us turn now towards another aspect of natural thought, to
discover in it the germ of the necessary criticism. By the side of
"common-sense," which is the first rough-draft of positive science,
there is "good sense," which differs from it profoundly, and marks the
beginning of what we shall later on call philosophic intuition. (Cf. an
address on "Good Sense and Classical Studies", delivered by Mr Bergson
at the Concours general prize distribution, 30th July 1895.) It is a
sense of what is real, concrete, original, living, an art of equilibrium
and precision, a fine touch for complexities, continually feeling like
the antennae of some insects. It contains a certain distrust of the
logical faculty in respect of itself; it wages incessant war upon
intellectual automatism, upon ready-made ideas and linear deduction;
above all, it is anxious to locate and to weigh, without any oversights;
it arrests the development of every principle and every method at the
precise point where too brutal an application would offend the delicacy
of reality; at every moment it collects the whole of our experience and
organises it in view of the present. It is, in a word, thought which
keeps its freedom, activity which remains awake, suppleness of
attitude, attention to life, an ever-renewed adjustment to suit ever-new

Its revealing virtue is derived from this moving contact with fact, and
this living effort of sympathy. This is what we must tend to transpose
from the practical to the speculative order.

What, then, will be for us the beginning of philosophy? After taking
cognisance of common utilitarianism, and to emerge from the relativity
in which it buries us, we seek a departure-point, a criterion, something
which decides the raising of inquiry. Where are we to find such a
principle, except in the very action of thought; I mean, this time, its
action of profound life independent of all practical aim? We shall thus
only be imitating the example of Descartes when solving the problem
of temporary doubt. What we shall term return to the immediate,
the primitive, the pure fact, will be the taking of each perception
considered as an act lived, a coloured moment of the Cogito, and this
will be for us a criterion and departure-point.

Let us specify this point. Immediate data or primitive data or pure data
are apprehended by us under forms of disinterested action; I mean that
they are first of all lived rather than conceived, that before becoming
material for science, they appear as moments of life; in brief, that
perception of them precedes their use.

It is at this stage previous to language that we are by these pure data
in intimate communion with reality itself, and the whole of our critical
task is to return to them through a regressive analysis, the goal
of which is gradually to make our clear intelligence equal to our
primordial intuition. The latter already constitutes a thought, a
preconceptual thought which is the intrinsic light of action, which is
action itself so far as it is luminous. Thus there is no question here
of restricting in any degree the part played by thought, but only of
distinguishing between the perceptive and theoretic functions of mind.

What is "the image" of which Mr Bergson speaks at the beginning of
"Matter and Mind" except, when grasped in its first movement, the flash
of conscious existence "in which the act of knowledge coincides with
the generating act of reality"? ("Report of the French Philosophical
Society", philosophical vocabulary, article "Immediate".)

Let us forget all philosophical controversies about realism and
idealism; let us try to reconstruct for ourselves a simplicity, a
virginal and candid glance, freeing us from the habits contracted in
the course of practical life. These then are our "images": not things
presented externally, nor states felt internally, not portraits of
exterior beings nor projections of internal moods, but appearances, in
the etymological sense of the word, appearances lived simply, without
our being distinguished from them, as yet neither subjective nor
objective, marking a moment of consciousness previous to the work of
reflection, from which proceeds the duality of subject and object. And
such also, in every order, appear the "immediate feelings"; as action in
birth, previous to language. (Cf. "Matter and Memory", Foreword to the
7th edition.)

Why depart from the immediate thus conceived as action and life? Because
it is quite impossible to do otherwise, for every initial fact can
be only such a pulsation of consciousness in its lived act, and the
fundamental and primitive direction of the least word, were it in an
enunciation of a problem or a doubt, can only be such a direction of
life and action. And we must certainly accord to this immediacy a value
of absolute knowledge, since it realises the coincidence of being and

But let us not think that the perception of immediacy is simple passive
perception, that it is sufficient to open our eyes to obtain it, today
when our utilitarian education is completed and has passed into the
state of habit. There is a difference between common experience and
the initial action of life; the first is a practical limitation of
the second. Hence it follows that a previous criticism is necessary to
return from one to the other, a criticism always in activity, always
open as a way of progressive investigation, always ready for the
reiteration and the renewal of effort.

In this task of purification there is doubtless always to be feared an
illusion of remaining in the primitive stage. By what criteria, by what
signs can we recognise that we have touched the goal? Pure fact is
shown to be such on the one hand because it remains independent of all
theoretical symbolism, because the critique of language allows it to
exist thus as an indissoluble residue, because we are unable not to
"live" it, even when we free ourselves from the anxiety of utility; on
the other hand, because it dominates all systems, and imposes itself
equally upon them all as the common source from which they derive by
diverging analyses, and in which they become reconciled. Assuredly,
to attain it, to extricate it, we must appeal to the revelations of
science, to the exercise of deliberate thought. But this employment of
analysis against analysis does not in any way constitute a circle, for
it tends only to destroy prejudices which have become unconscious: it is
a simple artifice destined to break off habits and to scatter illusions
by changing the points of view. Once set free, once again become capable
of direct and simple view, what we accept as fact is what bears no trace
of synthetic elaboration. It is true that here a last objection presents
itself: how shall we think this limit, purely given, to any degree at
all in fact, if it must precede all language?

The answer is easy. Why speak thus of limit? This word has two senses:
at one time it designates a last term in a series of approximations,
and at another a certain internal character of convergence, a certain
quality of progression.

Now, it is the second sense only which suits the case before us.
Immediacy contains no matter statically defined, and no thing. The
notion of fact is quite relative. What is fact in one case may become
construction in another. For example, the percepts of common experience
are facts for the physicist, and constructions for the philosopher; the
same applies to a table of numerical results, for the scholar who is
trying to establish a theory, or for the observer and the psychologist.
We may then conceive a series in which each term is fact in relation
to those which follow it, and constructed in relation to those which
precede it. The expression "primitive fact" then determines not so
much a final object as a direction of thought, a movement of critical
retrogression, a journey from the most to the least elaborate, and
the "contact with pure immediacy" is only the effort, more and more
prolonged, to convert the elements of experience into real and profound

III. Theory of Perception.

Of what the work of return to immediacy consists, and how the intuition
which it calls up reveals absolute fact, we shall see by an example, if
we study more closely a capital point of Mr Bergson's philosophy, the
theory of external perception.

If the act of perceiving realises the lived communion of the subject
and object in the image, we must admit that here we have the perfect
knowledge which we wish to obtain always: we resign ourselves to
conception only for want of perception, and our ideal is to convert all
conception into perception. Doubtless we might define philosophy by this
same ideal, as an effort to expand our perceptive power until we render
it capable of grasping all the wealth and all the depth of reality at a
single glance. Too true it is that such an ideal remains inaccessible to
us. Something, however, is given us already in aesthetic intuition. Mr
Bergson has pointed it out in some admirable pages, ("Laughter",
pages 153-161.) and has explained to us also how philosophy pursues an
analogous end. (First lecture on "The Perception of Change", delivered
at Oxford, 26th May 1911.)

But philosophy must be conceived as an art implying science and
criticism, all experience and all reason. It is when we look at
metaphysics in this way that they become a positive order of veritable
knowledge. Kant has conclusively established that what lies beyond
language can only be attained by direct vision, not by dialectic
progress. His mistake was that he afterwards believed such a vision for
ever impossible; and whence did this mistake arise, if not from the fact
that, for his new vision, he exacted intuitive faculties quite different
from those at man's disposal. Here again the artist will be our
example and model. He appeals to no transcendent sense, but detaches
common-sense from its utilitarian prejudices. Let us do the same: we
shall obtain a similar result without lying ourselves open to Kant's
objections. This work is everywhere possible, and it is, par excellence,
the work of philosophy: let us try then to sketch it in relation to the
perception of matter.

We must distinguish two senses of the word "perception." This word means
first of all simple apprehension of immediacy, grasp of primitive fact.
When we use it in this sense, we will agree to say pure perception.
It is perhaps in place to see in it nothing but a limit which concrete
experience never presents unmixed, a direction of research rather than
the possession of a thing.

However that may be, the first sense is the fundamental sense, and what
it designates must be at the root of all ordinary perception; I mean, of
every mental operation which results in the construction of a percept:
a term formed by analogy with concept, representing the result of a
complex work of analysis and synthesis, with judgment from externals.
We live the images in an act of pure perception, whilst the objects of
ordinary perception are, for example, the bodies of which we speak in
common language.

With regard to the relation of the two senses which we have just
distinguished, common opinion seems very precise. It might be thus
resumed: at the point of departure we have simple sensations, similar to
qualitative atoms (this is the part of pure perception), and afterwards
their arrangement into connected systems, which are percepts.

But criticism does not authorise this manner of looking at it. Nowhere
does knowledge begin by separate elements. Such elements are always a
product of analysis. So there is a problem to solve to regain the
basis of pure perception which is hidden and obscured by our familiar

Do not suppose that the solution of this problem is easy. One method
only is of any use: to plunge into reality, to become immersed in it, in
a long-pursued effort to assimilate all the records of common-sense and
positive science. "For we do not obtain an intuition of reality, that is
to say, an intellectual sympathy with its inmost content, unless we
have gained its confidence by long companionship with its superficial
manifestations. And it is not a question merely of assimilating the
leading facts; we must accumulate and melt them down into such an
enormous mass that we are sure, in this fusion, of neutralising in one
another all the preconceived and premature ideas which observers may
have unconsciously allowed to form the sediment of their observations.
Thus, and only thus, is crude materiality to be disengaged from known
facts." ("Introduction to Metaphysics" in the "Metaphysical and Moral
Review", January 1903. For the correct interpretation of this passage
("intellectual sympathy") it must not be forgotten that before "Creative
Evolution", Mr Bergson employed the word "intelligence" in a wider
acceptation, more akin to that commonly received.)

A directing principle controls this work and reintroduces order and
convergence, after dispensing with them at the outset; viz. that,
contrary to common opinion, perception as practised in the course of
daily life, "natural" perception does not aim at a goal of disinterested
knowledge, but one of practical utility, or rather, if it is knowledge,
it is only knowledge elaborated in view of action and speech.

Need we repeat here the proofs by which we have already established in
the most positive manner that such is really the meaning of ordinary
perception, the underlying reason which causes it to take the place of
pure perception? We perceive by habit only what is useful to us, what
interests us practically; very often, too, we think we are perceiving
when we are merely inferring, as for example when we seem to see a
distance in depth, a succession of planes, of which in reality we judge
by differences of colouring or relief.

Our senses supplement one another. A slow education has gradually taught
us to co-ordinate their impressions, especially those of touch to those
of vision. (H. Bergson, "Note on the Psychological Origins of Our Belief
in the Law of Causality". Vol. i. of the "Library of the International
Philosophical Congress", 1900.)

Theoretical forms come between nature and us: a veil of symbols envelops
reality; thus, finally, we no longer see things themselves, we are
content to read the labels on them.

Moreover, our perception appears to analysis completely saturated with
memories, and that in view of our practical insertion in the present. I
will not come back to this point which has been so lucidly explained
by Mr Bergson in a lecture on "Dream" ("Report of the International
Psychological Institute", May 1901.) and an article on "Intellectual
Effort", ("Philosophical Review", January 1902.) the reading of which
cannot be too strongly recommended as an introduction to the first
chapter of "Matter and Memory", in which further arguments are to be
found. I will only add one remark, following Mr Bergson, as always:
perception is not simply contemplation, but consciousness of an original
visual emotion combined with a complete group of actions in embryo,
gestures in outline, and the graze of movement within, by which we
prepare to grasp the object, describe its lines, test its functions,
sound it, move it, and handle it in a thousand ways. (This is attested
by the facts of apraxia or psychic blindness. Cf. "Matter and Memory",
chapter ii.)

From the preceding observations springs the utilitarian and practical
nature of common perception. Let us attempt now to see of what the
elaboration which it makes reality undergo consists. This time I am
summing up the fourth chapter of "Matter and Memory". First of all, we
choose between the images, emphasising the strong, extinguishing
the weak, although both have, a priori, the same interest for pure
knowledge; we make this choice above all by according preference to
impressions of touch, which are the most useful from the practical point
of view. This selection determines the parcelling up of matter into
independent bodies, and the artificial character of our proceeding is
thus made plain. Does not science, indeed, conclude in the same way,
showing us--as soon as she frees herself even to a small extent from
common-sense--full continuity re-established by "moving strata," and all
bodies resolved into stationary waves and knots of intersecting fluxes?
Already, then, we shall be nearer pure perception if we cease to
consider anything but the perceptible stuff in which numerically
distinct percepts are cut. Even there, however, a utilitarian division
continues. Our senses are instruments of abstraction, each of them
discerning a possible path of action. We may say that corporal life
functions in the manner of an absorbing milieu, which determines the
disconnected scale of simple qualities by extinguishing most of the
perceptible radiations. In short, the scale of sensations, with its
numerical aspect, is nothing but the spectrum of our practical activity.
Commonly we perceive only averages and wholes, which we contract into
distinct "qualities". Let us disengage from this rhythm what is peculiar
to ourselves.

Above all, let us strive to disengage ourselves from homogeneous space,
this substratum of fixity, this arbitrary scheme of measurement and
division, which, to our greater advantage, subtends the natural,
qualitative, and undivided extension of images. (We usually represent
homogeneous space as previous to the heterogeneous extension of images:
as a kind of empty room which we furnish with percepts. We must reverse
this order, and conceive, on the contrary, that extension precedes
space.) And we shall finally have pure perception in so far as it is
accessible to us.

There is no disputing the absolute value of this pure perception. The
impotence of speculative reason, as demonstrated by Kant, is perhaps,
at bottom, only the impotence of an intelligence in bondage to certain
necessities of the corporal life, and exercised upon a matter which it
has had to disorganise for the satisfaction of our needs. Our knowledge
of things is then no longer relative to the fundamental structure of our
mind, but only to its superficial and acquired habits, to the contingent
form which it takes on from our corporal functions and our lower needs.

The relativity of knowledge is therefore not final. In unmaking what our
needs have made we re-establish intuition in its original purity, and
resume contact with reality. ("Matter and Memory", page 203.)

That is how things are really presented. Here we are confronted by the
moving continuity of images. Pure perception is complete perception.
From it we pass to ordinary perception by diminution, throwing shadows
here and there: the reality perceived by common-sense is nothing
else actually than universal interaction rendered visible by its very
interruption at certain points.

Whence we have this double conclusion already formulated higher up: the
relation of perception to matter is that of the part to the whole, and
our consciousness is rather limited than relative. It must be stated
that primarily we perceive things in themselves, not in us; the
subjectivity of our current perception comes from our work of outlining
it in the bosom of reality, but the root of pure perception plunges into
full objectivity. If, at each point of matter, we were to succeed in
possessing the stream of total interaction of which it marks a wave, and
if we were to succeed in seeing the multiplicity of these points as a
qualitative heterogeneous flux without number or severance, we should
coincide with reality itself. It is true that such an ideal, while
inaccessible on the one hand, would not succeed on the other without
risk to knowledge; in fact, says Mr Bergson, ("Matter and Memory", page
38.) "to perceive all the influences of all the points of all bodies
would be to descend to the state of material object."

But a solution of this double difficulty remains possible, a dynamic
and approximate solution, which consists in looking for the absolute
intuition of matter in such a mobilisation of our perspective faculties
that we become capable of following, according to the circumstances,
all the paths of virtual perception of which the common anxiety for the
practical has made us choose one only, and capable of realising all the
infinitely different modes of qualification and discernment.

But we have still to see how this "complete experience" can be
practically thought.

IV. Critique of Language.

The perception of reality does not obtain the full value of knowledge,
except when once socialised, once made the common property of men, and
thereby also tested and verified.

There is one means only of doing that; viz. to analyse it into
manageable and portable concepts. By language I mean the product of this
conceptualisation. Thus language is necessary; for we must always speak,
were it only to utter the impotence of words. Not less necessary is a
critique of spontaneous language, of the laws which govern it, of the
postulates which it embraces, of the methods which convey its implicit
doctrines. Synthetic forms are actually theories already; they effect
an adaptation of reality to the demands of practical use. If it is
impossible to escape them, it is at least fitting not to employ them
except with due knowledge, and when properly warned against the illusion
of the false problems which they might arouse.

Let us first of all consider thought in itself, in its concrete life.
What are the principal characteristics, the essential steps? We readily
say, analysis and synthesis.

Nothing can be known except in contrast, correlation, or negation
of another thing; and the act of knowledge, considered in itself,
is unification. Thus number appears as a fundamental category, as an
absolute condition of intelligibility; some go so far as to regard
atomism as a necessary method. But that is inexact. No doubt the use
of number and the resulting atomism are imposed by definition, we might
say, on the thought which proceeds by conceptual analysis, and then by
unifying construction; that is to say, on synthetic thought. But, in
greater depth, thought is dynamic continuity and duration. Its essential
work does not consist in discerning and afterwards in assembling
ready-made elements. Let us see in it rather a kind of creative
maturation, and let us attempt to grasp the nature of this causal
activity. (H. Bergson, "Intellectual Effort" in the "Philosophical
Review", January 1902.)

The act of thought is always a complex play of moving representations,
an evolution of life in which incessant inner reactions occur. That is
to say, it is movement. But there are several planes of thought, from
intuition to language, and we must distinguish between the thought which
moves on the surface among terms displayed on a single plane, and the
thought with goes deeper and deeper from one plane to another.

We do not think solely by concepts or images; we think, first of all,
according to Mr Bergson's expression, by dynamic schemes. What is a
dynamic scheme? It is motive rather than representative, inexpressible
in itself, but a source of language containing not so much the images
or concepts in which it will develop as the indication of the path to be
followed in order to obtain them. It is not so much system as movement,
progress, genesis; it does not mark the gaze directed upon the various
points of one plane of deliberate contemplation so much as an effort to
pass through successive planes of thought in a direction leading from
intuition to analysis. We might define it by its function of calling up
images and concepts, representations which, for one and the same
scheme, are neither strictly determined nor anything in particular in
themselves, concurrent representations which have in common one and the
same logical power.

The representations called up form a body to the scheme, and the
relation of the scheme to the concepts and images which it calls up
resembles, mutatis mutandis, the relation pointed out by Mr Bergson
between an idea and its basis in the brain. In short, it is the very act
of creative thought which the dynamic scheme interprets, the act not yet
fixed in "results."

Nothing is easier than to illustrate the existence of this scheme.
Let us merely remark a few facts of current observation. Recall, for
example, the suggestive anxiety we experience when we seek to remember
a name; the precise syllables of the name still escape us, but we feel
them approaching, and already we possess something of them, since we
immediately reject those which do not answer to a certain direction of
expectancy; and by endeavouring to secure a more intimate feeling of
this direction we suddenly arouse the desired recollection.

In the same way, what does it mean to have the sense of a complex
situation in active life, if not that we perceive it, not as a static
group of explicit details, but as a meeting of powers allied or hostile,
convergent or divergent, directed towards this or that, of which the
aggregate whole tends of itself to awaken in us the initial reactions
which analyse it?

In the same way again, how do we learn, how can we assimilate a
vast system of conceits or images? Our task is not to concentrate an
enumerative attention on each individual factor; we should never get
away from them, the weight would be too heavy.

What we entrust to memory is really a dynamic scheme permitting us to
"regain" what we should not have succeeded in "retaining." In reality
our only "knowledge" is through such a scheme, which contains in the
state of potential implication an inexhaustible multiplicity ready to be
developed in actual representations.

How, finally, is any discovery made? Finding is solving a problem; and
to solve a problem we must always begin by supposing it solved. But of
what does such a hypothesis consist?

It is not an anticipated view of the solution, for then all would be
at an end; nor is it a simple formula putting in the present indicative
what the enunciation expressed in the future or the imperative, for then
nothing would be begun. It is exactly a dynamic scheme; that is to say,
a method in the state of directed tension; and often, the discovery
once realised as theory or system, capable of unending developments
and resurrections, remains by the best of itself a method and a dynamic

But one last example will perhaps reveal the truth still more. "Anyone
who has attempted literary composition knows well that when the subject
has been long studied, all the documents collected, all the notes taken,
we need, to embark on the actual work of composition, something more, an
effort, often very painful, to place oneself suddenly in the very heart
of the subject, and to seek as deep down as possible an impulse to which
afterwards we shall only have to let ourselves go. This impulse,
once received, projects the mind on a road where it finds both the
information which it had collected and a thousand other details as well;
it develops and analyses itself in terms, the enumeration of which would
have no end; the further we advance, the more we discover; we shall
never succeed in saying everything; and yet, if we turn sharply round
towards the impulse we feel behind ourselves, to grasp it, it escapes;
for it was not a thing but a direction of movement, and though
indefinitely extensible, it is simplicity itself." (H. Bergson,
"Metaphysical and Moral Review", January 1903. The whole critique of
language is implicitly contained in this "Introduction to Metaphysics".)

The thought, then, which proceeds from one representation to another in
one and the same plane is one kind; that which follows one and the same
conceptual direction through descending planes is another. Creative and
fertile thought is the thought which adopts the second kind of work. The
ideal is a continual oscillation from one plane to the other, a restless
alternative of intuitive concentration and conceptual expansion. But
our idleness takes exception to this, for the feeling of effort appears
precisely in the traject from the dynamic scheme to the images and
concepts, in the passing from one plane of thought to another.

Thus the natural tendency is to remain in the last of these planes, that
of language. We know what dangers threaten us there.

Suppose we have some idea or other and the word representing it. Do not
suppose that to this word there is one corresponding sense only, nor
even a finished group of various distinct and rigorously separable
senses. On the contrary, there is a whole scale corresponding, a
complete continuous spectrum of unstable meanings which tend unceasingly
to resolve into one another. Dictionaries attempt to illuminate them.
The task is impossible. They co-ordinate a few guiding marks; but who
shall say what infinite transitions underlie them?

A word designates rather a current of thought than one or several halts
on a logical path. Here again a dynamic continuity exists previous
to the parcelling out of the acceptations. What, then, should be the
attitude of the mind?

A supple moving attitude more attentive to the curve of change than to
the possible halting-points along the road. But this is not the case at
all; the effort would be too great, and what happens, on the contrary,
is this. For the spectrum a chromatic scale of uniform tints is very
quickly substituted. This is in itself an undesirable simplification,
for it is impossible to reconstitute the infinity of real shades by
combinations of fundamental colours each representing the homogeneous
shore, which each region of the spectrum finally becomes.

However cleverly we proportion these averages, we get, at most, some
vulgar counterfeit: orange, for example, is not a mixture of yellow
and red, although this mixture may recall to those who have known it
elsewhere the simple and original sensation of orange. Again, a second
simplification, still more undesirable, succeeds the first.

There are no longer any colours at all; black lines serve as
guide-marks. We are therefore with pure concepts decidedly in full
symbolism. And it is with symbols that we shall henceforward be trying
to reconstruct reality.

I need not go back to the general characteristics or the inconveniences
of this method. Concepts resemble photographic views; concrete thickness
escapes them. However exact, varied, or numerous we suppose them, they
can certainly recall their object, but not reveal it to any one who had
not had any direct intuition of it. Nothing is easier than to trace the
plan of a body in four dimensions; all the same, this drawing does not
admit "visualisation in space" as is the case with ordinary bodies,
for want of a previous intuition which it would awaken: thus it is with
concepts in relation to reality. Like photographs and like plans, they
are extracted from reality, but we are not able to say that they were
contained in it; and many of them besides are not so much as extracts;
they are simple systematised notes, in fact, notes made upon notes. In
other terms, concepts do not represent pieces, parts, or elements of
reality. Literally they are nothing but simple symbolic notations. To
wish to make integral factors of them would be as strange an illusion as
that of seeing in the co-ordinates of a geometric point the constitutive
essence of that point.

We do not make things with symbols, any more than we should reconstruct
a picture with the qualifications which classify it.

Whence, then, comes the natural inclination of thought towards the
concept? From the fact that thought delights in artifices which
facilitate analysis and language.

The first of these artifices is that from which results the possibility
of decomposition or recomposition according to arbitrary laws. For
that we need a previous substitution of symbols for things. Nothing
demonstrates this better than the celebrated arguments which we owe to
Zeno of Elea. Mr Bergson returns to the discussion of them over and over
again. ("Essay on the Immediate Data", pages 85-86; "Matter and Memory",
pages 211-213, "Creative Evolution", pages 333-337.)

The nerve of the reasoning there consists in the evident absurdity
there would be in conceiving an inexhaustible exhausted, an unachievable
achieved; in short, a total actually completed, and yet obtained by the
successive addition of an infinite number of terms.

But the question is to know whether a movement can be considered as a
numerical multiplicity. Virtual divisibility there is, no doubt, but not
actual division; divisibility is indefinite, whereas an actual division,
if it respects the inner articulations of reality, is bound to halt at a
limited number of phases.

What we divide and measure is the track of the movement once
accomplished, not the movement itself: it is the trajectory, not the
traject. In the trajectory we can count endless positions; that is to
say, possible halts. Let us not suppose that the moving body meets these
elements all ready-marked. Hence what the Eleatic dialectic illustrates
is a case of incommensurability; the radical inability of analysis
to end a certain task; our powerlessness to explain the fact of
the transit, if we apply to it such and such modes of numerical
decomposition or recomposition, which are valid only for space; the
impossibility of conceiving becoming as susceptible of being cut up into
arbitrary segments, and afterwards reconstructed by summing of terms
according to some law or other; in short, it is the nature of movement,
which is without division, number, or concept.

But thought delights in analyses regulated by the sole consideration
of easy language; hence its tendency to an arithmetic and geometry of
concepts, in spite of the disastrous consequences; and thus the Eleatic
paradox is no less instructive in its specious character than in the
solution which it embodies.

At bottom, natural thought, I mean thought which abandons itself to
its double inclination of synthetic idleness and useful industry, is
a thought haunted by anxieties of the operating manual, anxieties of

What does it care about the fluxes of reality and dynamic depths? It is
only interested in the outcrops scattered here and there over the firm
soil of the practical, and it solidifies "terms" like stakes plunged in
a moving ground. Hence comes the configuration of its spontaneous logic
to a geometry of solids, and hence come concepts, the instantaneous
moments taken in transitions.

Scientific thought, again, preserves the same habits and the same
preferences. It seeks only what repeats, what can be counted.
Everywhere, when it theorises, it tends to establish static relations
between composing unities which form a homogeneous and disconnected

Its very instruments bias it in that direction. The apparatus of the
laboratory really grasps nothing but arrangement and coincidence; in a
word, states not transitions. Even in cases of contrary appearance, for
example, when we determine a weight by observing the oscillation of a
balance and not its rest, we are interested in regular recurrence, in
a symmetry, in something therefore which is of the nature of an
equilibrium and a fixity all the same. The reason of it is that science,
like common-sense, although in a manner a little different, aims only in
actual fact at obtaining finished and workable results.

Let us imagine reality under the figure of a curve, a rhythmic
succession of phases of which our concepts mark so many tangents. There
is contact at one point, but at one point only. Thus our logic is valid
as infinitesimal analysis, just as the geometry of the straight line
allows us to define each state of curve. It is thus, for example,
that vitality maintains a relation of momentary tangency to the
physico-chemical structure. If we study this relation and analogous
relations, this fact remains indisputably legitimate. Let us not think,
however, that such a study, even when repeated in as many points as we
wish, can ever suffice.

We must afterwards by genuine integration attain moving continuity. That
is exactly the task represented by the return to intuition, with its
proper instrument, the dynamic scheme. From this tangential point of
view we try to grasp the genesis of the curve as envelope, or rather,
and better still, the birth of successive tangents as instantaneous
directions. Speaking non-metaphorically, we cling to genetic methods
of conceptualisation and proceed from the generating principle to its
conceptual derivatives.

But our thought finds it very difficult to sustain such an effort long.
It is partial to rectilineal deduction, actual becoming horrifies it. It
desires immediately to find "things" sharply determined and very
clear. That is why immediately a tangent is constructed, it follows
its movement in a straight line to infinity. Thus are produced
limit-concepts, the ultimate terms, the atoms of language. As a rule
they go in pairs, in antithetic couples, every analysis being dichotomy,
since the discernment of one path of abstraction determines in contrast,
as a complementary remainder, the opposite path of direction. Hence,
according to the selection effected among concepts, and the relative
weight which is attributed to them, we get the antinomies between which
a philosophy of analysis must for ever remain oscillating and torn in
sunder. Hence comes the parcelling up of metaphysics into systems, and
its appearance of regulated play "between antagonistic schools which get
up on the stage together, each to win applause in turn." (H. Bergson,
"Report of the French Philosophical Society", meeting, 2nd May 1901.)

The method followed to find a genuine solution must be inverse; not
dialectic combination of pre-existing concepts, but, setting out from a
direct and really lived intuition, a descent to ever new concepts along
dynamic schemes which remain open. From the same intuition spring many
concepts: "As the wind which rushes into the crossroads divides into
diverging currents of air, which are all only one and the same gust."
("Creative Evolution", page 55.)

The antinomies are resolved genetically, whilst in the plane of language
they remain irreducible. With a heterogeneity of shades, when we mix the
tints and neutralise them by one another, we easily create homogeneity;
but take the result of this work, that is to say, the average final
colour, and it will be impossible to reconstitute the wealth of the

Do you desire a precise example of the work we must accomplish? Take
that of change; (Cf. two lectures delivered by Mr Bergson at Oxford on
"The Perception of Change", 26th and 27th May 1911.) no other is more
significant or clearer. It shows us two necessary movements in the
reform of our habits of imagination or conception.

Let us try first of all to familiarise ourselves with the images which
show us the fixity deriving from becoming.

Two colliding waves, two rollers meeting, typify rest by extinction and
interference. With the movement of a stone, and the fluidity of running
water, we form the instantaneous position of a ricochet. The very
movement of the stone, seen in the successive positions of the tangent
to the trajectory, is stationary to our view.

What is dynamic stability, except non-variation arising from variation
itself? Equilibrium is produced from speed. A man running solidifies
the moving ground. In short, two moving bodies regulated by each other
become fixed in relation to each other.

After this, let us try to perceive change in itself, and then represent
it to ourselves according to its specific and original nature.

The common conception needs reform on two principal points:

(1) All change is revealed in the light of immediate intuition, not as
a numerical series of states, but a rhythm of phases, each of which
constitutes an indivisible act, in such a way that each change has its
natural inner articulations, forbidding us to break it up according to
arbitrary laws, like a homogeneous length.

(2) Change is self-sufficient; it has no need of a support, a moving
body, a "thing" in motion. There is no vehicle, no substance, no spatial
receptacle, resembling a theatre-scene, no material dummy successively
draped in coloured stuffs; on the contrary, it is the body or the atom
which should be subordinately defined as symbols of completed becoming.

Of movement thus conceived, indivisible and substantial, what better
image can we have than a musical evolution, a phrase in melody? That
is how we must work to conceive reality. If such a conception at first
appears obscure, let us credit experience, for ideas are gradually
illuminated by the very use we make of them, "the clarity of a concept
being hardly anything, at bottom, but the assurance once obtained
that we can handle it profitably." (H. Bergson, "Introduction to

If we require to reach a conception of this kind with regard to change,
the Eleatic dialectic is there to establish it beyond dispute, and
positive science comes to the same conclusion, since it shows us
everywhere nothing but movements placed upon movements, never fixed
"things," except as temporary symbols of what we leave at a given moment
outside the field of study.

In any case, the difficulty of such a conception need not stop us; it is
little more than a difficulty of the imaginative order. And as for the
conception itself, or rather the corresponding intuition, it will share
the fate of all its predecessors: to our contemporaries it will be a
scandal, a century later a stroke of genius, after some centuries common
evidence, and finally an instinctive axiom.

V. The Problem of Consciousness. Duration and Liberty.

Armed with the method we have just described, Mr Bergson turned first of
all toward the problem of the ego: taking up his position in the centre
of mind, he has attempted to establish its independent reality by
examining its profound nature.

The first chapter of the "Essay on the Immediate Data" contains a
decisive criticism of the conceptions which claim to introduce number
and measure into the domain of the facts of consciousness.

Not that it is our business to reject as false the notion of
psychological intensity; but this notion demands interpretation, and the
least that we can say against the attempt to turn it into a notion of
size is that in doing so we are misunderstanding the specific character
of the object studied. The same reproach must be levelled against
association of ideas, the system of mechanical psychology of which the
type is presented us by Taine and Stuart Mill. Already in chapters ii.
and iii. of the "Essay", and again all through "Matter and Memory", the
system is riddled with objections, each of which would be sufficient to
show its radical flaw. All the aspects, all the phenomena of mental life
come up for successive review. In respect of each of them we have
an illustration of the insufficiency of the atomism which seeks to
recompose the soul with fixed elements, by a massing of units exterior
to one another, everywhere and always the same: this is a grammatical
philosophy which believes reality to be composed of parts which admit
of number just as language is made of words placed side by side; it is a
materialist philosophy which improperly transfers the proceedings of the
physical sciences to the sciences of the inner life.

On the contrary, we must represent the state of consciousness to
ourselves as variable according to the whole of which it forms a part.
Here and there, although it always bears the same name, it is no longer
the same thing. "The more the ego becomes itself again, the more also
do its states of consciousness, instead of being in juxtaposition,
penetrate one another, blend with one another, and tinge one another
with the colouring of all the rest. Thus each of us has his manner of
loving or hating, and this love or hate reflect our entire personality."
("Essay on the Immediate Data", pages 125-126.)

At bottom Mr Bergson is bringing forward the necessity, in the case
before us, of substituting a new notion of continuous qualitative
heterogeneity for the old notion of numerical and spatial continuity.
Above all, he is emphasising the still more imperious necessity of
regarding each state as a phase in duration; and we are here touching on
his principal and leading intuition, the intuition of real duration.

Historically this was Mr Bergson's starting-point and the origin of
his thought: a criticism of time under the form in which common-sense
imagines it, in which science employs it. He was the first to notice
the fact that scientific time has no "duration." Our equations really
express only static relations between simultaneous phenomena; even the
differential quotients they may contain in reality mark nothing but
present tendencies; no change would take place in our calculations if
the time were given in advance, instantaneously fulfilled, like a linear
whole of points in numerical order, with no more genuine duration than
that contained in the numerical succession. Even in astronomy there
is less anticipation than judgment of constancy and stability, the
phenomena being almost strictly periodic, while the hazard of prediction
bears only upon the minute divergence between the actual phenomenon and
the exact period attributed to it. Notice under what figure common-sense
imagines time: as an inert receptacle, a homogeneous milieu, neutral and
indifferent; in fact, a kind of space.

The scholar makes use of a like image; for he defines time by its
measurement, and all measurement implies interpretation in space.
For the scholar the hour is not an interval, but a coincidence, an
instantaneous arrangement, and time is resolved into a dust of fixities,
as in those pneumatic clocks in which the hand moves forward in jerks,
marking nothing but a sequence of pauses.

Such symbols are sufficient, at least for a first approximation, when
it is only a question of matter, the mechanism of which, strictly
considered, contains nothing "durable." But in biology and psychology
quite different characteristics become essential; age and memory,
heterogeneity of musical phases, irreversible rhythm "which cannot be
lengthened or shortened at will." ("Creative Evolution", page 10.)

Then it is that the return of time becomes necessary to duration.
How are we to describe this duration? It is a melodious evolution of
moments, each of which contains the resonance of those preceding and
announces the one which is going to follow; it is a process of enriching
which never ceases, and a perpetual appearance of novelty; it is an
indivisible, qualitative, and organic becoming, foreign to space,
refractory to number.

Summon the image of a stream of consciousness passing through the
continuity of the spectrum, and becoming tinged successively with each
of its shades. Or rather imagine a symphony having feeling of itself,
and creating itself; that is how we should conceive duration.

That duration thus conceived is really the basis of ourselves Mr Bergson
proves by a thousand examples, and by a marvellous employment of the
introspective method which he has helped to make so popular. We cannot
quote these admirable analyses here. A single one will serve as model,
specially selected as referring to one of the most ordinary moments of
our life, to show plainly that the perception of real duration always
accompanies us in secret.

"At the moment when I write these lines a clock near me is striking the
hour; but my distracted ear is only aware of it after several strokes
have already sounded; that is, I have not counted them. And yet an
effort of introspective attention enables me to total the four strokes
already struck and add them to those which I hear. If I then withdraw
into myself and carefully question myself about what has just happened,
I become aware that the first four sounds had struck my ear and even
moved my consciousness, but that the sensations produced by each of
them, instead of following in juxtaposition, had blended into one
another in such a way as to endow the whole with a peculiar aspect and
make of it a kind of musical phrase. In order to estimate in retrospect
the number of strokes which have sounded, I attempted to reconstitute
this phrase in thought: my imagination struck one, then two, then three,
and so long as it had not reached the exact number four, my sensibility,
on being questioned, replied that the total effect differed in quality.
It had therefore noted the succession of the four strokes in a way of
its own, but quite otherwise than by addition, and without bringing in
the image of a juxtaposition of distinct terms. In fact, the number of
strokes struck was perceived as quality, not as quantity: duration is
thus presented to immediate consciousness, and preserves this form so
long as it does not give place to a symbolical representation drawn from
space." ("Essay on the Immediate Data", pages 95-96.)

And now are we to believe that return to the feeling of real duration
consists in letting ourselves go, and allowing ourselves an idle
relaxation in dream or dissolution in sensation, "as a shepherd
dozing watches the water flow"? Or are we even to believe, as has been
maintained, that the intuition of duration reduces "to the spasm of
delight of the mollusc basking in the sun"? This is a complete mistake!
We should fall back into the misconceptions which I was pointing out in
connection with immediacy in general; we should be forgetting that
there are several rhythms of duration, as there are several kinds of
consciousness; and finally, we should be misunderstanding the character
of a creative invention perpetually renewed, which is that of our inner

For it is in duration that we are free, not in spatialised time, as all
determinist conceptions suppose in contradiction.

I shall not go back to the proofs of this thesis; they were condensed
some way back after the third chapter of the "Essay on the Immediate
Data". But I will borrow from Mr Bergson himself a few complementary
explanations, in order, as far as possible, to forestall any
misunderstanding. "The word liberty," he says, "has for me a sense
intermediate between those which we assign as a rule to the two terms
liberty and free-will. On one hand, I believe that liberty consists
in being entirely oneself, in acting in conformity with oneself; it
is then, to a certain degree, the 'moral liberty' of philosophers, the
independence of the person with regard to everything other than
itself. But that is not quite this liberty, since the independence I
am describing has not always a moral character. Further, it does not
consist in depending on oneself as an effect depends on the cause which
of necessity determines it. In this, I should come back to the sense of
'free-will.' And yet I do not accept this sense completely either,
since free-will, in the usual meaning of the term, implies the equal
possibility of two contraries, and on my theory we cannot formulate, or
even conceive in this case the thesis of the equal possibility of the
two contraries, without falling into grave error about the nature of
time. I might say then, that the object of my thesis, on this particular
point, has been precisely to find a position intermediate between 'moral
liberty' and 'free-will.' Liberty, such as I understand it, is situated
between these two terms, but not at equal distances from both. If I were
obliged to blend it with one of the two, I should select 'free-will.'"
("Report of the French Philosophical Society", philosophical vocabulary,
article "Liberty".)

After all, when we place ourselves in the perspective of homogeneous
time; that is to say, when we substitute for the real and profound ego
its image refracted through space, the act necessarily appears either
as the resultant of a mechanical composition of elements, or as an
incomprehensible creation ex nihilo.

"We have supposed that there is a third course to pursue; that is, to
place ourselves back in pure duration...Then we seemed to see action
arise from its antecedents by an evolution sui generis, in such a way
that we discover in this action the antecedents which explain it, while
at the same time it adds something absolutely new to them, being an
advance upon them as the fruit upon the flower. Liberty is in no way
reduced thereby, as has been said, to obvious spontaneity. At most this
would be the case in the animal world, where the psychological life is
principally that of the affections. But in the case of man, a thinking
being, the free act can be called a synthesis of feelings and ideas, and
the evolution which leads to it a reasonable evolution." ("Matter and
Memory", page 205.)

Finally, in a most important letter, ("Report of the French
Philosophical Society", meeting, 26th February 1903.) Mr Bergson
becomes a little more precise still. We must certainly not confuse the
affirmation of liberty with the negation of physical determinism; "for
there is more in this affirmation than in this negation." All the same,
liberty supposes a certain contingence. It is "psychological causality
itself," which must not be represented after the model of physical

In opposition to the latter, it implies that between two moments of a
conscious being there is not an equivalence admitting of deduction, that
in the transition from one to the other there is a genuine creation.
Without doubt the free act is not without explanatory reasons.

"But these reasons have determined us only at the moment when they have
become determining; that is, at the moment when the act was virtually
accomplished, and the creation of which I speak is entirely contained in
the progress by which these reasons have become determining." It is true
that all this implies a certain independence of mental life in relation
to the mechanism of matter; and that is why Mr Bergson was obliged to
set himself the problem of the relations between body and mind.

We know that the solution of this problem is the principal object of
"Matter and Memory". The thesis of psycho-physiological parallelism is
there peremptorily refuted.

The method which Mr Bergson has followed to do so will be found set out
by himself in a communication to the French Philosophical Society, which
it is important to study as introduction. ("Report" of meeting, 2nd
May 1901.) The paralogism included in the very enunciation of the
parallelist thesis is explained in a memoire presented to the Geneva
International Philosophical Congress in 1904. ("Revue de Metaphysique et
de Morale", November 1904.) But the actual proof is made by the analysis
of the memoire which fills chapters ii. and iii. of the work cited
above. (An extremely suggestive resume of these theses will be found
in the second lecture on "The Perception of Change".) It is there
established, by the most positive arguments, (Instead of brutally
connecting the two extremes of matter and mind, one regarded in its
highest action, the other in its most rudimentary mechanism, thus
dooming to certain failure any attempt to explain their actual union, Mr
Bergson studies their living contact at the point of intersection marked
by the phenomena of perception and memory: he compares the higher
point of matter--the brain--and the lower point of mind--certain
recollections--and it is between these two neighbouring points that he
notes a difference, by a method no longer dialectic but experimental.)
that all our past is self-preserved in us, that this preservation only
makes one with the musical character of duration, with the indivisible
nature of change, but that one part only is conscious of it, the part
concerned with action, to which present conceptions supply a body of

What we call our present must be conceived neither as a mathematical
point nor as a segment with precise limits: it is the moment of our
history brought out by our attention to life, and nothing, in strict
justice, would prevent it from extending to the whole of this
history. It is not recollection then, but forgetfulness which demands

According to a dictum of Ravaisson, of which Mr Bergson makes use, the
explanation must be sought in the body: "it is materiality which causes
forgetfulness in us."

There are, in fact, several planes of memory, from "pure recollection"
not yet interpreted in distinct images down to the same recollection
actualised in embryo sensations and movements begun; and we descend from
the one to the other, from the life of simple "dream" to the life of
practical "drama," along "dynamic schemes." The last of these planes is
the body; a simple instrument of action, a bundle of motive habits, a
group of mechanisms which mind has set up to act. How does it operate in
the work of memory? The task of the brain is every moment to thrust back
into unconsciousness all that part of our past which is not at the
time useful. Minute study of facts shows that the brain is employed in
choosing from the past, in diminishing, simplifying, and extracting
from it all that can contribute to present experience; but it is not
concerned to preserve it. In short, the brain can only explain absences,
not presences. That is why the analysis of memory illustrates the
reality of mind, and its independence relative to matter. Thus is
determined the relation of soul to body, the penetrating point which it
inserts and drives into the plane of action. "Mind borrows from matter
perceptions from which it derives its nourishment, and gives them back
to it in the form of movement, on which it has impressed its liberty."
("Matter and Memory", page 279.)

This, then, is how the cycle of research closes, by returning to the
initial problem, the problem of perception. In the two opposing systems
by which attempts have been made to solve it, Mr Bergson discovers a
common postulate, resulting in a common impotence. From the idealistic
point of view we do not succeed in explaining how a world is expressed
externally, nor from the realistic point of view how an ego is expressed
internally. And this double failure comes again from the underlying
hypothesis, according to which the duality of the subject and object is
conceived as primitive, radical, and static. Our duty is diametrically
opposed. We have to consider this duality as gradually elaborated, and
the problem concerning it must be first stated, and then solved as a
function of time rather than of space. Our representation begins by
being impersonal, and it is only later that it adopts our body as
centre. We emerge gradually from universal reality, and our realising
roots are always sunk in it. But this reality in itself is already
consciousness, and the first moment of perception always puts us back
into the initial state previous to the separation of the subject and
object. It is by the work of life, and by action, that this separation
is effected, created, accentuated, and fixed. And the common mistake of
realism and idealism is to believe it effected in advance, whereas it is
relatively second to perception.

Hence comes the absolute value of immediate intuition. For from what
source could an irreducible relativity be produced in it? It would be
absurd to make it depend on the constitution of our brain, since our
brain itself, so far as it is a group of images, is only a part of the
universe, presenting the same characteristics as the whole; and in so
far as it is a group of mechanisms become habits, is only a result of
the initial action of life, of original perceptive discernment. And, on
the other hand, no less absurd would be the fear that the subject
can ever be excluded or eliminated from its own knowledge, since, in
reality, the subject, like the object, is in perception, not perception
in the subject--at least not primitively. So that it is by a trick of
speech that the theses of fundamental relativity take root: they vanish
when we return to immediacy; that is to say, when we present problems as
they ought to be presented, in terms which do not suppose any conceptual
analysis yet accomplished.

VI. The Problem of Evolution: Life and Matter.

After the problem of consciousness Mr Bergson was bound to approach that
of evolution, for psychological liberty is only truly conceivable if
it begins in some measure with the first pulsation of corporal life.
"Either sensation has no raison d'etre or it is a beginning of liberty";
that is what the "Essay on the Immediate Data" (Page 25.) already told

It was easy then to foresee the necessity of a general theoretical frame
in which our duration might take a position which would render it more
intelligible by removing its appearance of singular exception.

Thus in 1901, I wrote ("Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale", May
1901) with regard to the new philosophy considered as a philosophy of
becoming: "It has been prepared by contemporary evolution, which is
investigates and perfects, sifting it from its ore of materialism, and
turning it into genuine metaphysics. Is not this the philosophy suited
to the century of history? Perhaps it indicates that a period has
arrived in which mathematics, losing its role as the regulating science,
is about to give place to biology." This is the programme carried
out, in what an original manner we are well aware, by the doctrine of
Creative Evolution.

When we examine ancient knowledge, one characteristic of it is at once
visible. It studies little but certain privileged moments of changing
reality, certain stable forms, certain states of equilibrium.
Ancient geometry, for example, is almost always limited to the static
consideration of figures already traced. Modern science is quite
different. Has not the greatest progress which it has realised in the
mathematical order really been the invention of infinitesimal analysis;
that is to say, an effort to substitute the process for the resultant,
to follow the moving generation of phenomena and magnitudes in its
continuity, to place oneself along becoming at any moment whatsoever, or
rather, by degrees at all successive moments? This fundamental tendency,
coupled with the development of biological research, was bound to
incline it towards a doctrine of evolution; and hence the success of

But time, which is everywhere in modern science the chief variable, is
only a time-length, indefinitely and arbitrarily divisible. There is
no genuine duration, nothing really tending to evolution in Spencer's
evolution: no more than there is in the periodic working of a turbine or
in the stationary tremble of a diapason. Is not this what is emphasised
by the perpetual employment of mechanical images and vulgar engineering
metaphors, the least fault of which is to suppose a homogeneous time,
and a motionless theatre of change which is at bottom only space? "In
such a doctrine we still talk of time, we pronounce the word, but we
hardly think of the thing; for time is here robbed of all effect."
("Creative Evolution", page 42.)

Whence comes a latent materialism, ready to grasp the chance of
self-expression. Whence the automatic return to the dream of universal
arithmetic, which Laplace, Du Bois-Reymond, and Huxley have expressed
with such precision. (Ibid., page 41.)

In order to escape such consequences we must, with Mr Bergson,
reintroduce real duration, that is to say, creative duration into
evolution, we must conceive life according to the mode exhibited with
regard to change in general. And it is science itself which calls us
to this task. What does science actually tell us when we let it speak
instead of prescribing to it answers which conform to our
preferences? Vitality, at every point of its becoming, is a tangent to
physico-chemical mechanism. But physico-chemistry does not reveal its
secret any more than the straight line produces the curve.

Consider the development of an embryo. It summarises the history of
species; ontogenesis, we are told, reproduces phylogenesis. And what do
we observe then?

Now that a long sequence of centuries is contracted for us into a short
period, and that our view is thus capable of a synthesis which before
was too difficult, we see appearing the rhythmic organisation, the
musical character, which the slowness of the transitions at first
prevented us from seeing. In each state of the embryo there is something
besides an instantaneous structure, something besides a conservative
play of actions and reactions; there is a tendency, a direction, an
effort, a creative activity. The stage traversed is less interesting
than the traversing itself; this again is an act of generating impulse,
rather than an effect of mechanical inertia. So must the case be, by
analogy, with general evolution. We have there, as it were, a vision
of biological duration in miniature; expansion and relaxation of its
tension bring its homogeneity to notice, but at the same time, properly
speaking, evolution disappears.

And further, Mr Bergson establishes by direct and positive arguments
that life is genuine creation. A similar conclusion is presented as the
envelope of his whole doctrine.

It is imposed first of all by immediate evidence, for we cannot deny
that the history of life is revealed to us under the aspect of a
progress and an ascent. And this impulse implies initiative and choice,
constituting an effort which we are not authorised by the facts to
pronounce fatalistic: "A simple glance at the fossil species shows us
that life could have done without evolution, or could have evolved only
within very restricted limits, had it chosen the far easier path open to
it of becoming cramped in its primitive forms; certain Foraminifera have
not varied since the silurian period; the Lingulae, looking unmoved upon
the innumerable revolutions which have upheaved our planet, are today
what they were in the most distant times of the palaeozoic era."
("Creative Evolution", page 111.) Moreover, if, in us, life is
indisputably creation and liberty, how would it not, to some extent, be
so in universal nature? "Whatever be the inmost essence of what is and
what is being made, we are of it: ("Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale",
November 1911.) a conclusion by analogy is therefore legitimate. But
above all, this conclusion is verified by its aptitude for solving
problems of detail, and for taking account of observed facts, and in
this respect I regret that I can only refer the reader to the whole body
of admirable discussions and analyses drawn up by Mr Bergson with regard
to "the plant and the animal," or "the development of animal life.""
("Creative Evolution", chapter ii.)

As regards matter, two main laws stand out from the whole of our
science, relative to its nature and its phenomena: a law of conservation
and a law of degradation. On the one hand, we have mechanism,
repetition, inertia, constants, and invariants: the play of the material
world, from the point of view of quantity, offers us the aspect of
an immense transformation without gain or loss, a homogeneous
transformation tending to maintain in itself an exact equivalence
between the departure and arrival point. On the other hand, from the
point of view of quality, we have something which is being used up,
lowered, degraded, exhausted: energy expended, movement dissipated,
constructions breaking up, weights falling, levels becoming equalised,
and differences effaced. The travel of the material world appears then
as a loss, a movement of fall and descent.

In addition, there is only a tendency to conservation, a tendency which
is never realised except imperfectly; while, on the contrary, we notice
that the failure of the vital impulse is most infallibly interpreted by
the appearance of mechanism. Reality falling asleep or breaking up
is the figure under which we finally observe matter: matter then is

Finally, according to Mr Bergson, matter is defined as a kind of
descent; this descent as the interruption of an ascent; this ascent
itself as growth; and thus a principle of creation is at the base of

Such a view seems obscure and disturbing to the mathematical
understanding. It cannot accustom itself to the idea of a becoming which
is more than a simple change of distribution, and more than a simple
expression of latent wealth. When confronted with such an idea, it
always harks back to its eternal question: How has something come out
of nothing? The question is false; for the idea of nothing is only
a pseudo-idea. Nothing is unthinkable, since to think nothing is
necessarily to think or not to think something; and according to Mr
Bergson's formula, (Cf. the discussion on existence and non-existence in
chapter iv. of "Creative Evolution", pages 298-322.) "the representation
of void is always a full representation." When I say: "There is
nothing," it is not that I perceive a "nothing." I never perceive
except what is. But I have not perceived what I was seeking, what I was
expecting, and I express my deception in the language of my desire. Or
else I am speaking a language of construction, implying that I do not
yet possess what I intend to make.

Let us abruptly forget these idols of practical action and language.
The becoming of evolution will then appear to us in its true light, as
phases of gradual maturation, rounded at intervals by crises of creative
discovery. Continuity and discontinuity will thus admit possibility of
reconciliation, the one as an aspect of ascent towards the future, the
other as an aspect of retrospection after the event. And we shall
see that the same key will in addition disclose to us the theory of

VII. The Problem of Knowledge: Analysis and Intuition.

We know what importance has been attached since Kant to the problem of
reason: it would seem sometimes that all future philosophy is a return
to it; that it is no longer called to speak of anything else. Besides,
what we understand by reason, in the broad sense, is, in the human mind,
the power of light, the essential operation of which is defined as an
act of directing synthesis, unifying the experience and rendering it by
that very fact intelligible. Every movement of thought shows this power
in exercise. To bring it everywhere to the front would be the proper
task of philosophy; at least it is in this manner that we understand it
today. But from what point of view and by what method do we ordinarily
construct this theory of knowledge?

The spontaneous works of mind, perception, science, art, and morality
are the departure-point of the inquiry and its initial matter. We do not
ask ourselves whether but how they are possible, what they imply, and
what they suppose; a regressive analysis attempts by critical reflection
to discern in them their principles and requisites. The task, in short,
is to reascend from production to producing activity, which we regard as
sufficiently revealed by its natural products.

Philosophy, in consequence, is no longer anything but the science of
problems already solved, the science which is confined to saying why
knowledge is knowledge and action action, of such and such a kind, and
such and such a quality. And in consequence also reason can no longer
appear anything but an original datum postulated as a simple fact, as
a complete system come down ready-made from heaven, at bottom a kind of
non-temporal essence, definable without respect to duration, evolution,
or history, of which all genesis and all progress are absurd. In vain do
we persist in maintaining that it is originally an act; we always come
round to the fact that the method followed compels us to consider this
act only when once accomplished, and when once expressed in results. The
inevitable consequence is that we imprison ourselves hopelessly in the
affirmation of Kantian relativism.

Such a system can only be true as a partial and temporary truth: at the
most, it is a moment of truth. "If we read the "Critique of Pure Reason"
closely, we become aware that Kant has made the critique, not of reason
in general, but of a reason fashioned to the habits and demands of
Cartesian mechanism or Newtonian physics." (H. Bergson, "Report of
French Philosophical Society", meeting, 2nd May 1901.) Moreover,
he plainly studies only adult reason, its present state, a plane of
thought, a sectional view of becoming. For Kant, men progress perhaps
in reason, but reason itself has no duration: it is the fixed spot, the
atmosphere of dead eternity in which every mental action is displayed.
But this could not be the final and complete truth. Is it not a fact
that human intelligence has been slowly constituted in the course of
biological evolution? To know it, we have not so much to separate it
statically from its works, as to replace it in its history.

Let us begin with life, since, in any case, whether we will or no, it is
always in life and by life that we are.

Life is not a brute force, a blind mechanism, from which one could never
conceive that thought would spring. From its first pulsation, life
is consciousness, spiritual activity, creative effort tending towards
liberty; that is, discernment already luminous, although the quality is
at first faint and diffused. In other terms, life is at bottom of the
psychological nature of a tendency. But "the essence of a tendency is
to develop in sheaf-form, creating, by the mere fact of its growth,
diverging directions between which its impulse will be divided."
("Creative Evolution", page 108.)

Along these different paths the complementary potentialities are
produced and intensified, separating in the very process, their original
interpretation being possible only in the state of birth. One of them
ends in what we call intelligence. This latter therefore has become
gradually detached from a less intense but fuller luminous condition, of
which it has retained only certain characteristics to accentuate them.

We see that we must conceive the word mind--or, if we prefer the word,
thought--as extending beyond intelligence. Pure intelligence, or the
faculty of critical reflection and conceptual analysis, represents only
one form of thought in its entirety, a function, a determination or
particular adaptation, the part organised in view of practical action,
the part consolidated as language. What are its characteristics? It
understands only what is discontinuous, inert, and fixed, that which has
neither change nor duration; it bathes in an atmosphere of spatiality;
it uses mathematics continually; it feels at home only among "things,"
and everything is reduced by it to solid atoms; it is naturally
"materialist," owing to the very fact that it naturally grasps "forms"
only. What do we mean by that except that its object of election is the
mechanism of matter? But it supposes life; it only remains living itself
by continual loans from a vaster and fuller activity from which it
is sprung. And this return to complementary powers is what we call

From this point of view it becomes easy to escape Kantian relativity. We
are confronted by an intelligence which is doubtless no longer a faculty
universally competent, but which, on the contrary, possesses in its own
domain a greater power of penetration. It is arranged for action. Now
action would not be able to move in irreality. Intelligence, then, makes
us acquainted, if not with all reality, at least with some of it,
namely that part by which reality is a possible object of mechanical or
synthetic action.

More profoundly, intuition falls into analysis as life into matter: they
are two aspects of the same movement. That is why, "provided we only
consider the general form of physics, we can say that it touches the
absolute." ("Creative Evolution", page 216.)

In other terms, language and mechanism are regulated by each other. This
explains at once the success of mathematical science in the order of
matter, and its non-success in the order of life.

For, when confronted with life, intelligence fails. "Being a deposit
of the evolutive movement along its path, how could it be applied
throughout the evolutive movement itself? We might as well claim that
the part equals the whole, that the effect can absorb its cause into
itself, or that the pebble left on the shore outlines the form of the
wave which brought it." (Preface to "Creative Evolution".)

Is not that as good as saying that life is unknowable? Must we conclude
that it is impossible to understand it?

"We should be forced to do so, if life had employed all the psychic
potentialities it contains in making pure understandings; that is to
say, in preparing mathematicians. But the line of evolution which ends
in man is not the only one. By other divergent ways other forms
of consciousness have developed, which have not been able to free
themselves from external constraint, nor regain the victory over
themselves as intelligence has done, but which, none the less for
that, also express something immanent and essential in the movement of

"By bringing them into connection with one another, and making them
afterwards amalgamate with intelligence, should we not thus obtain a
consciousness co-extensive with life, and capable, by turning sharply
round upon the vital thrust which it feels behind it, of obtaining a
complete, though doubtless vanishing vision?" ("Creative Evolution",
Preface.) It is precisely in this that the act of philosophic intuition
consists. "We shall be told that, even so, we do not get beyond our
intelligence, since it is with our intelligence, and through our
intelligence, that we observe all the other forms of consciousness. And
we should be right in saying so, if we were pure intelligences, if
there had not remained round our conceptual and logical thought a vague
nebula, made of the very substance at the expense of which the luminous
nucleus, which we call intelligence, has been formed. In it reside
certain complementary powers of the understanding, of which we have only
a confused feeling when we remain shut up in ourselves, but which will
become illumined and distinct when they perceive themselves at work, so
to speak, in the evolution of nature. They will thus learn what effort
they have to make to become more intense, and to expand in the actual
direction of life." ("Creative Evolution", Preface.) Does that mean
abandonment to instinct, and descent with it into infra-consciousness
again? By no means. On the contrary, our task is to bring instinct to
enrich intelligence, to become free and illumined in it; and this ascent
towards super-consciousness is possible in the flash of an intuitive
act, as it is sometimes possible for the eye to perceive, as a pale and
fugitive gleam, beyond what we properly term light, the ultra-violet
rays of the spectrum.

Can we say of such a doctrine that it seeks to go, or that it goes
"against intelligence"? Nothing authorises such an accusation, for
limitation of a sphere is not misappreciation of every legitimate
exercise. But intelligence is not the whole of thought, and its natural
products do not completely exhaust or manifest our power of light.

Besides, that intelligence and reason are not things completed, for ever
arrested in their inner structure, that they evolve and expand, is a
fact: the place of discovery is precisely the residual fringe of which
we were speaking above. In this respect, the history of thought would
furnish examples in plenty. Intuitions at first obscure, and only
anticipated, facts originally admitting no comparison, and as it were
irrational, become instructive and luminous by the fruitful use made of
them, and by the fertility which they manifest. In order to grasp the
complex content of reality, the mind must do itself violence, must
awaken its sleeping powers of revealing sympathy, must expand till it
becomes adapted to what formerly shocked its habits so much as almost
to seem contradictory to it. Such a task, moreover, is possible: we work
out its differential every moment, and its complete whole appears in the
sequence of centuries.

At bottom, the new theory of knowledge has nothing new in it except
the demand that all the facts shall be taken into account: it renews
duration in the thinking mind, and places itself at the point of view of
creative invention, not only at that of subsequent demonstration. Hence
its conception of experience, which, for it, is not simple information,
fitted into pre-existing frames, but elaboration of the frames

Hence the problem of reason changes its aspect. A great mistake has been
made in thinking that Mr Bergson's doctrine misunderstands it: to deny
it and to place it are two different things. In its inmost essence,
reason is the demand for unity; that is why it is displayed as a faculty
of synthesis, and why its essential act is presented as apperception
of relation. It is unifying activity, not so much by a dialectic of
harmonious construction as by a view of reciprocal implication. But
all that, however shaded we suppose it, entails a previous analysis.
Therefore if we place ourselves in a perspective of intuition, I mean,
of complete perception, the demand for reason appears second only,
without being deprived, however, of its true task: it is an echo and
a recollection, an appeal and a promise of profound continuity, our
original anticipation and our final hope, in the bosom of the elementary
atomism which characterises the transitory region of language; and
reason thus marks the zone of contact between intelligence and instinct.

Is thought only possible under the law of number? Does reality only
become an object of knowledge as a system of distinct but regulated
factors and moments? Do ideas exist only by their mutual relations,
which first of all oppose them and afterwards force intelligence to move
endlessly from one term to another? If such were the case, reason would
certainly be first, as alone making an intelligible continuity out of
discontinuous perception and restoring total unity to each temporary
part by a synthetic dialectic. But all this really has meaning
only after analysis has taken place. The demand for rational unity
constitutes in the bosom of atomism something like a murmur of deep
underlying continuity: it expresses in the very language of atomism,
atomism's basic irreality. There is no question of misunderstanding
reason, but only of putting it in its proper place. In a perspective
of complete intuition nothing would require to be unified. Reason would
then be reabsorbed in perception. That is to say, its present task is
to measure and correct in us the limits, gaps, and weaknesses of the
perceptive faculty. In this respect not a man of us thinks of denying
it its task. But we try with Mr Bergson to reduce this task to its true
worth and genuine importance. For we are decidedly tired of hearing
"Reason" invoked in solemn and moving tones, as if to write the
venerable name with the largest of capital R's were a magic solution of
all problems.

Mind, in fact, sets out from unity rather than arrives at it; and the
order which it appears to discover subsequently in an experience which
at first is manifold and incoherent is only a refraction of the original
unity through the prism of a spontaneous analysis. Mr Bergson admirably
points out ("Creative Evolution", pages 240-244 and 252-257.) that there
are two types of order, geometric and vital, the one a static hierarchy
of relations, the other a musical continuity of moments. These two types
are opposed, as space to duration and matter to mind; but the negation
of one coincides with the position of the other. It is therefore
impossible to abolish both at once. The idea of disorder does not
correspond to any genuine reality. It is essentially relative, and
arises only when we do not meet the type of order which we were
expecting; and then it expresses our deception in the language of our
expectation, the absence of the expected order being equivalent, from
the practical point of view, to the absence of all order. Regarded in
itself, this notion is only a verbal entity, unduly taking form as the
common basis of two antithetic types. How therefore do we come to speak
of a "perceptible diversity" which mind has to regulate and unify?
This is only true at most of the disjointed experience employed
by common-sense. Reason, accepting this preliminary analysis,
and proceeding to language, seeks to organise it according to the
mathematical type. But it is the vital type which corresponds to
absolute reality, at least when it is a question of the Whole; and only
intuition has re-access to it, by soaring above synthetic dissociations.

VIII. Conclusion.

As my last word and closing formula I come back to the leitmotiv of my
whole study: Mr Bergson's philosophy is a philosophy of duration.

Let us regard it from this point of view, as contact with creative
effort, if we wish to conceive aright the original notions which it
proposes to us about liberty, life, and intuition.

Let us say once more that it appears as the enthronement of positive
metaphysics: positive, that is to say, capable of continuous, regular,
and collective progress, no longer forcibly divided into irreducible
schools, "each of which retains its place, chooses its dice, and begins
a never-ending match with the rest." ("Introduction to Metaphysics"
in the "Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale", January 1903. Psychology,
according to Mr Bergson, studies the human mind in so far as it operates
in a useful manner to a practical end; metaphysics represent the effort
of this same mind to free itself from the conditions of useful action,
and regain possession of itself as pure creative energy. Now experience,
the experience of the laboratory, allows us to measure with more and
more accuracy the divergence between these two planes of life; hence the
positive character of the new metaphysics.)

Let us next say that until the present moment it constitutes the only
doctrine which is truly a metaphysic of experience, since no other, at
bottom, explains why thought, in its work of discovery and verification,
remains in subjection to a law of probation by durable action. We
have now only to show how it evades certain criticisms which have been
levelled against its tendencies.

Some have wanted to see in it a kind of atheist monism. Mr Bergson has
answered this point himself. What he rejects, and what he is right in
rejecting, are the doctrines which confine themselves to personifying
the unity of nature or the unity of knowledge in God as motionless first
cause. God would really be nothing, since he would do nothing. But he
adds: "The considerations put forward in my "Essay on the Immediate
Data" result in an illustration of the fact of liberty; those of "Matter
and Memory" lead us, I hope, to put our finger on mental reality; those
of "Creative Evolution" present creation as a fact: from all this we
derive a clear idea of a free and creating God, producing matter and
life at once, whose creative effort is continued, in a vital
direction, by the evolution of species and the construction of human
personalities." (Letter to P. de Tonquedec, published in the "Studies"
of 20th February 1912, and quoted here as found in the "Annals of
Christian Philosophy", March 1912.) How can we help finding in these
words, according to the actual expression of the author, the most
categorical refutation "of monism and pantheism in general"?

Now to go further and become more precise, Mr Bergson points out that we
must "approach problems of quite a different kind, those of morality."
About these new problems the author of "Creative Evolution" has as yet
said nothing; and he will say nothing, so long as his method does not
lead him, on this point, to results as positive, after their manner,
as those of his other works, because he does not consider that mere
subjective opinions are in place in philosophy. He therefore denies
nothing; he is waiting and searching, always in the same spirit: what
more could we ask of him?

One thing only is possible today: to discern in the doctrine already
existing the points of a moral and religious philosophy which present
themselves in advance for ultimate insertion.

This is what we are permitted to attempt. But let us fully understand
what is at issue. The question is only to know whether, as has been
claimed, there is incompatibility between Mr Bergson's point of view and
the religious or moral point of view; whether the premisses laid down
block the road to all future development in the direction before us; or
whether, on the contrary, such a development is invited by some parts at
least of the previous work. The question is not to find in this work
the necessary and sufficient bases, the already formed and visible
lineaments of what will one day complete it. To imagine that the
religious and moral problem is bound to be regarded by Mr Bergson as
arising when it is too late for revision, as admitting proposition and
solution only as functions of a previous theoretical philosophy beyond
which we should not go; that in his eyes the solution of this problem
will be deduced from principles already laid down without any call for
the introduction of new facts or new points of view, without any need to
begin from a new intuition; that his view precludes all considerations
of strictly spiritual life, of inner and profound action, regarding
things in relation to God and in an eternal perspective: such a view
would be illegitimate and unreasonable, first of all, because Mr Bergson
has said nothing of the kind, and secondly, because it is contrary to
all his tendencies.

After the "Essay on the Immediate Data" critics proceeded to confine
him in an irreducible static dualism; after "Matter and Memory" they
condemned him as failing for ever to explain the juxtaposition of the
two points of view, utility and truth: why should we require that after
"Creative Evolution" he should be forbidden to think anything new, or
distinguish, for example, different orders of life?

The problems must be approached one after the other, and, in the
solution of each of them, it is proper to introduce only the necessary
elements. But each result is only "temporarily final." Let us lose the
strange habit of asking an author continually to do something other
than he has done, or, in what he has done, to give us the whole of his

Till now, Mr Bergson has always considered each new problem according
to its specific and original nature, and, to solve it, he has always
supplied a new effort of autonomous adaptation: why should it be
otherwise for the future? I seek vainly for the decree forbidding him
the right to study the problem of biological evolution in itself,
and for the necessity which compels him to abide now by the premisses
contained in his past work. (For Mr Bergson, the religious sentiment,
as the sentiment of obligation, contains a basis of "immediate datum"
rendering it indissoluble and irreducible.)

The only point which we have to examine is this: will the moral and
religious question compel Mr Bergson to break with the conclusions of
his previous studies, and can we not, on the contrary, foresee points of
general agreement?

In the depths of ourselves we find liberty; in the depths of universal
being we find a demand for creation. Since evolution is creative,
each of its moments works for the production of an indeducible and
transcendent future. This future must not be regarded as a simple
development of the present, a simple expression of germs already given.
Consequently we have no authority for saying that there is for ever
only one order of life, only one plane of action, only one rhythm of
duration, only one perspective of existence. And if disconnections and
abrupt leaps are visible in the economy of the past--from matter to
life, from the animal to man--we have no authority again for claiming
that we cannot observe today something analogous in the very essence of
human life, that the point of view of the flesh, and the point of view
of the spirit, the point of view of reason, and the point of view of
charity are a homogeneous extension of it. And apart from that, taking
life in its first tendency, and in the general direction of its current,
it is ascent, growth, upward effort, and a work of spiritualising and
emancipating creation: by that we might define Good, for Good is a path
rather than a thing.

But life may fail, halt, or travel downwards. "Life in general is
mobility itself; the particular manifestations of life accept this
mobility only with regret, and constantly fall behind. While it is
always going forward, they would be glad to mark time. Evolution in
general would take place as far as possible in a straight line; special
evolution is a circular advance. Like dust-eddies raised by the passing
wind, living bodies are self-pivoted and hung in the full breeze of
life." ("Creative Evolution", page 139.) Each species, each individual,
each function tends to take itself as its end; mechanism, habit, body,
and letter, which are, strictly speaking, pure instruments, actually
become principles of death. Thus it comes about that life is exhausted
in efforts towards self-preservation, allows itself to be converted
by matter into captive eddies, sometimes even abandons itself to the
inertia of the weight which it ought to raise, and surrenders to the
downward current which constitutes the essence of materiality: it is
thus that Evil would be defined, as the direction of travel opposed
to Good. Now, with man, thought, reflection, and clear consciousness
appear. At the same time also properly moral qualifications appear: good
becomes duty, evil becomes sin. At this precise moment, a new problem
begins, demanding the soundings of a new intuition, yet connected at
clear and visible points with previous problems.

This is the philosophy which some are pleased to say is closed by nature
to all problems of a certain order, problems of reason or problems of
morality. There is no doctrine, on the contrary, which is more open, and
none which, in actual fact, lends itself better to further extension.

It is not my duty to state here what I believe can be extracted from it.
Still less is it my duty to try to foresee what Mr Bergson's conclusions
will be. Let us confine ourselves to taking it in what it has expressly
given us of itself. From this point of view, which is that of pure
knowledge, I must again, as I conclude, emphasise its exceptional
importance and its infinite reach. It is possible not to understand it.
Such is frequently the case: thus it always has been in the past, each
time that a truly new intuition has arisen among men; thus it will be
until the inevitable day when disciples more respectful of the letter
than the spirit will turn it, alas, into a new scholastic. What does
it matter! The future is there; despite misconceptions, despite
incomprehensions, there is henceforth the departure-point of all
speculative philosophy; each day increases the number of minds which
recognise it; and it is better not to dwell upon the proofs of several
of those who are unable or unwilling to see it.


Absolute, the.

Adaptation, value of.

Analysis, conceptual, contrasted with intuition.


Art, and philosophy.



Automaton, of daily life.

Being, as becoming.

Brain, work of.

Causality, psychological.



Concepts, analysis by and functions of, as symbols, creation of, as
general frames, practical reach of, inferior to intuition, further


Conservation, law of.

Constants, search for, represented.

Continuity, qualitative.

Criticism, of language.

Deduction, impotence of.

Degradation, law of.

Determinism, physical.

Discontinuity, apparent.


Du Bois-Reymond.

Duration, real, perpetually new, and thought, and time, pure.

Dynamic connection, schemes.

Ego, encrustations of the.

Eleatic dialectic.

Embryology, evidence of.

Evil, a reality.

Evolution, drama of, biological, value and meaning of, not
indispensable, distinguished from development, as dynamic continuity, as
activity, further discussed.

Existence, as change.





Genesis, law of.

Good, a reality, a path.

Habit, as obstacle.



Homogeneity, absence of.




Immediate, the.

Inert, the.

Instinct, is sympathy, contrasted with intelligence.

Intellectualism, distrusted.

Intelligence, product of evolution, and instinct, broad meaning of.

Intuition, as starting-point, intransmissible without language,
aesthetic, triumph of, and duration, and analysis.

Intuitional effort, content.

Kant, his point of departure, conclusions of, escape from.

Knowledge, absolute, utilitarian nature of, new theory of.

Language, dangers of.


Law, concept of.

Liberty, personal importance of.

Life, tendencies of, is finality, is progress, further discussed.



Mechanism, psychological, failure of.

Memory, problem of, perception complicated by, importance of, racial,
planes of, memory of solids.

Metaphor, justification of.

Method, philosophical.

Mill, Stuart.

Motor-schemes, mechanisms.






Palaeontology, evidence of.



Perception, an art, affected by memory, further explained, fulfilment
of guesswork, utilitarian signification, subjectivity of, pure
and ordinary, further discussed, relation to matter, perception of

Philosophy, duty of, function of.


Planes, of consciousness.

Progress, and reality.

Quality, and inner world.

Quantity, and quality.




Reality, contact with, a flux, recognition of, absolute, elusive nature
of, personal, essentially qualitative, pure, inner, contrasting views
about, further discussed.


Relation, between mind and matter.

Religion, its place in philosophy.



Schemes, dynamic.

Science, prisoner of symbolism, cult of, impotence of.

Sense, good, and common-sense.


Spencer, criticism of, success and weakness of.





Thought, methods of common.

Time, required by Mr Bergson's philosophy, in space, and common-sense,
and duration.


Transformism, errors of.

Utility, as goal of perception.


Zeno of Elea.

Zone, of feeling.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files. We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's search system for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.