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New York: Longmans, Green, 1916. Pp. xii + 212. 1

The Westminster Gazette, 48 (29 Sept 1916) 3-4

It is evidence of the fecundity of Bergson’s thought that, while almost all other professional philosophers are in very marked disagreement with him, very few agree among themselves as to what is fundamentally wrong. And most of Bergson’s opponents have found occasion, at some point or other, to admit that they are under obligation to him. An estimate of Bergson must be an estimate of his effect upon his adversaries. With all respect to such excellent books as Dr. Wildon Carr’s, 2 therefore, we may say that Professor Cunningham’s Study in the Philosophy of Bergsonis interesting just because it is not a commentary, but an examination of Bergson’s leading ideas from the point of view of a modified Hegelianism.

The book, however, is not a polemic. Mr. Cunningham succeeds with admirable tact in steering a course between adulation and disparagement. The author belongs to a very different school of thought, and urges his own views, but with entire absence of contentiousness. His criticism of Bergson’s equivocations and contradictions is wholly fair-minded. And he has confined himself, with admirable concision, to what are Bergson’s fundamental problems: the relation of intellect and intuition, and the problems of finalism and duration. The defect of the book is that inevitable to any systematic examination of Bergson’s philosophy: it extracts what may be fitted into the outline of another system, and neglects the many pregnant aperçuswhich make the reading of Bergson a delight. But it is instructive to notice to what extent two very different philosophies can be reduced to a common language, when a sympathetic Hegelian approaches the thought of Bergson. When one holds, as does Mr. Cunningham, that “Thought is a process of interpretation whereby experience is unified and organized. It is the life of mind which finds expression in conscious experience as a totality” [91]– one needs great patience and sympathy to discover anything of value in Bergsonism. Complete understanding is, perhaps, impossible, but the result is all the more interesting.

Mr. Cunningham, in his introduction, has some excellent observations on the study of the history of philosophy, which are peculiarly pertinent to Bergson. “I fancy,” he says, that

it would be rather difficult to point out any current philosophical problem which was not in some genuine sense a problem for Plato and Aristotle. Certainly it is true that, when we pass Descartes, we find ourselves in direct contact with thinkers whose problems are identical with ours; in fact, it was largely they who created our problems for us. [6]

No philosopher seems to suffer more from neglect of previous philosophers than does Bergson. If, as Bergson says, consciousness is directed towards the past, then Bergson is the most unconscious of philosophers. He shows no sign (as Mr. Cunningham observes) of having studied Hegel. He has at least failed to appreciate Plato and Aristotle. This, besides having to endure the accusation of scientists that he knows nothing of modern mathematics! He insists, in his brief comment of Greek philosophy (in Creative Evolution), that “a solid framework remains, and this framework marks out the main lines of a metaphysic which is, we believe, the natural metaphysic of the human intellect” [ CE326]. 3 Again, with Spinoza and Leibniz, “if we leave out of the two doctrines what breathes life into them, . . . we have before us the very picture of Platonism and Aristotelianism seen through Cartesian mechanism” [ CE347]. Hence Bergson presents his philosophy as something foreshadowed only by occasional intuitions of his predecessors.

Mr. Cunningham devotes considerable attention to the confusion, or rather the two different views, to be found in Bergson’s use of the terms “intellect” and “intelligence”:

According to one view of intelligence which...

Published By:   Johns Hopkins University Press