[Inconsistencies in Bergson’s Idealism]
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[ 67 [Inconsistencies in Bergson’s Idealism] [Inconsistencies in Bergson’s Idealism] is evidently the reading text of an address to the Harvard Philosophical Club presented during the academic year (1913-14) in which Eliot served as its president. It was probably given on 19 Dec 1913, the day reserved during autumn term for papers by members.1 ThetextofthispaperistheDonnéesimmédiates,thefirst,third,[and]fourth chapters of Matière et Mémoire, and the passage on Ideal genesis of matter in the Creative Evolution.2 The attempt is to show certain inconsistencies in Bergson’s position, and is based on the conviction that the idealistic is here the more fundamental. The points on which I here raise objections are in Données immédiates:3 The antithesis of extrinsic and intrinsic multiplicity. If this antithesis breaks down we get a doctrine essentially absolutistic as well as idealistic. in Matière et Mémoire: The attempt to occupy a middle ground between idealism and realism. The nature of matter and in Creative Evolution, its relation to consciousness. [In] Données immédiates, Bergson suggests that “the difficulties of the problem there involved may result from our calling by the same name intensities of very different nature, the intensity of a sentiment and that of a sensation.”4 Let me trace out the distinction which he thus establishes. “Pure intensity,” he now says, “is reduced to a certain quality or nuance which colors a greater or smaller mass of psychic states, or, a greater or less number of simple states which colors the fundamental emotion.”5 He goes on to show that a strong passion is one which modifies “la nuance de mille perceptions ou souvenirs”; and in the same phrase ridicules the supposition that “un certain désir a passé par des grandeurs successives: comme si l’on pouvait [encore] parler de grandeur là où il n’y a ni multiplicité ni espace” (DI 7).6 He continues, “the progressive modifications which come to pass in the confused mass of coexistent psychic facts ( faits). But this is a change of quality, rather than of magnitude.”7 I note in passing, that there may be a change of quality here concerned, but that all that has yet been shown is a change of number. Bergson proceeds with instances of qualitative increase. The pleasure of hope is constituted by the multitudes of possibilities, the most of which 1913-14: Harvard University 68 ] possession will be compelled to reject, in order that any shall be realised. “Let us try,” he says, “to analyze the elements of a growing intensity of joy or sorrow, in the exceptional cases in which no physical symptom is present .”8 He does not attempt to show, in the first place, that there are such cases. “There are,” he says, “several characteristic forms of joy, purely interior , successive stages which correspond to qualitative modifications of the mass of our psychological states.”9 His means of distinguishing, however, between one and another, is still numerical: “although we do not count them explicitly,” he says, “nous savons bien si notre joie pénètre toutes nos impressions de la journée, par exemple, ou si quelques-unes y échappent” (DI 8).10 Follows an interesting and important examination of the aesthetics of the spectacle of a dance.11 The explanation here is a substitution not essentially different from hypnosis. In the process of this substitution–i.e. the musician’s and dancer’s personality being substituted for the observer’s– “there are phases, which correspond less to variations of degree than to differences of state or nature.”12 But cannot also these differences of state or nature be expressed musically? Yes. We distinguish, Bergson says, besides degrees of intensity, “degrees of profundity or of elevation.” In analyzing this last concept, we see that the sentiments and thoughts which the artist suggests to us express and resume a more or less considerable part of his history. Most emotions are “grosses de mille sensations, sentiments ou idées qui les pénètrent” (DI 13).13 And “the artist would introduce us into an emotion rich, personal, new . . . The barrier raised by time and space between his consciousness and ours,”14 is overcome by his choosing “for the exterior manifestations of his sentiment, those which our body will imitate mechanically.”15 This whole passage is a very remarkable one, but it seems to me to come very close [to] psycho-physical explanation. And when Bergson...