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- Bergson and His Philosophy - 20/33 -


personality side by side with that of men, achievements of supreme value for humanity as a whole may be expected from them. In certain spheres they may be found much better adapted than are men to achieve a vision which will raise human life to a higher plane and give it greater worth. More especially in the realms of ethical development, of social science, problems of sex, of war and peace, of child welfare, health, and education, of religion and philosophy we may hope to have valuable contributions from the more intuitive mind of woman. "It is not in the fighting male of the race: it is in Woman that we have the future centre of Power in civilization." [Footnote: Benjamin Kidd in The Science of Power, p. 195. This is more fully shown in his chapters, Woman the Psychic Centre of Power in the Social Integration, and The Mind of Woman, pp. 192-257.] The wandering Dante required for his guidance not only the intellectual faculties of a Vergil but in addition the intuitive woman-soul of a Beatrice to lead him upward and on.

In La Conscience et la Vie [Footnote: L'Energie spirituelle, p. 27 (Mind-Energy).] Bergson indicates slightly his views on SOCIAL evolution--c'est a la vie sociale que l'evolution aboutit, comme si le besoin s'en etait fait sentir des le debut, ou plutot comme si quelque aspiration originelle et essentielle de la vie ne pouvait trouver que dans la societe sa pleine satisfaction. He seems inclined to turn his attention to the unity of life, not simply as due to an identity of original impulse but to a common aspiration. There is involved a process of subordination and initiative on the part of the individual. The existence of society necessitates a certain subordination, while its progress depends on the free initiative of the individual. It is extremely dangerous for any society, whether it be an International League, a State, either Communistic or Capitalistic, a Trade Union, or a Church, to suppress individual liberty in the interests of greater social efficiency or of increased production or rigid uniformity of doctrine. With the sacrifice of individual initiative will go the loss of all "soul," and the result will be degeneration to a mechanical type of existence, a merely stagnant institution expressing nothing of man's spirit. This personal power of initiative Bergson appeals to each one to maintain. In an important passage of his little work on Laughter he makes a personal moral appeal.

"What life and society require of each of us is a constantly alert attention, that discerns the outlines of the present situation, together with a certain elasticity of mind and body to enable us to adapt ourselves in consequence."[Footnote: Laughter, p. 18 (Fr. p. 18).] The lack of tension and elasticity gives rise to mental deficiency and to grave inadaptability which produces misery and crime. Society demands not only that we live but that we live well. This means that we must be truly alive; for Bergson, the moral ideal is to keep spiritually alert. We must be our real, living selves, and not hide behind the social self of hypocrisy and habit. We must avoid being the victims of mechanism or automatism. We must avoid at all costs "getting into a rut" morally or spiritually. Change and vision are both necessary to our welfare. Where there is no vision, no undying fire of idealism, the people perish.

Resistance to change is the sin against the Holy Spirit. Bergson is opposed to the conventional view of morality as equivalent to rigidity, and grasps the important truth that if morality is to be of worth at all it must lie not in a fixed set of rules, habits, or conventions, but in a spirit of living. This is of very great ethical importance indeed, as it means that we must revise many of our standards of character. For example, how often do we hear of one who, holding an obviously false view long and obstinately, is praised as consistent, whereas a mind which moves and develops with the times, attempting always to adjust itself to changing conditions in its intellectual or material environment, is contemptuously dubbed as "changeable" by the moralists of rigidity. We must, however, learn that consistency of character does not mean lack of change. Stanchness of character is too often mere obstinate resistance to change. We must therefore be on our guard against those who would run ethics into rigid moulds, and so raise up static concepts and infallible dogmas for beliefs or action. Change must be accepted as a principle which it is both futile and immoral to ignore, even in the moral life. This does not mean setting up caprice or impulsiveness, for in so far as our change of character expresses the development of the single movement of our own inner life it will be quite other than capricious, but it will be change, and a change which is quite consistent, a creative evolution of our personality.

No merely materialistic ethic can breathe in the atmosphere of Bergson's thought, which sets human consciousness in a high place and insists upon the fact of Freedom. He maintains a point of view far removed from the old naturalistic ethic; he does take some account of "values," freedom, creativeness, and joy (as distinct from pleasure). He points out that Matter, although to a degree the tool of Spirit, is nevertheless the enemy who threatens us with a lapse into mere automatism which is only the parody of true life. The eternal conflict of Matter and Spirit in Evolution demands that we place ourselves on the side of spiritual rather than merely material values. We must not be like "the man with the muck rake." Our conceptions of goodness must be not merely static but dynamic, for the moral life is essentially an evolution--"a growth in grace." It means a constant "putting on of the new man," never "counting oneself to have attained," for spirituality is a progress to ever new creations, the spiritual life is an unending adventure, and is, moreover, one which is hampered and crushed by all refusals to recognize that Change is the fundamental feature of the universe. Nothing can be more mischievous, more detrimental to moral progress--which is ultimately the only progress of value and significance to humanity--than the deification of the status quo either in the individual or in society as a whole.

CHAPTER XI

RELATION TO RELIGION AND THEOLOGY

Avoidance of theological terms--Intuition and faith--God and Change-- Deity not omnipotent but creative and immanent--God as "Creator of creators"--Problem of teleology--Stimulus to theology--The need for restatements of the nature of God--Men as products and instruments of divine activity--Immortality.

We have seen that Bergson holds no special brief for science, for, as has been shown, he opposes many of the hypotheses to which science clings. Consequently, some persons possessing only a superficial acquaintance with Bergson, and having minds which still think in the exclusive and opposing terms of the conflict of science and religion of a generation past, have enthusiastically hailed him as an ally of their religion. We must examine carefully how far this is justifiable. It is perfectly natural and just that many people, unable to devote time or energy to the study of his works, want to know, in regard to Bergson, as about every other great thinker, what is the bearing of his thought on their practical theory of life, upon their ideals of existence, upon the courage, faith, and hope which enable them to work and live, feeling that life is worth while. We must, however, guard against misuse of Bergson, particularly such misuse of him as that made in another sphere, by the Syndicalists. We find that in France he has been welcomed by the Modernists of the Roman Catholic Church as an ally, and by not a few liberal and progressive Christian theologians in this country.

At the outset, we must note that Bergson avoids theological forms of expression, because he is well aware that these--especially in a philosophical treatise--may give rise to misconceptions. He does not, like Kant, attack any specific or traditional argument for Theism; he does not enter into theological controversy. He has not formulated, with any strictness, his conception of God; for he has recognized that an examination of Theism would be of little or no value, which was not prefaced by a refutation of mechanism and materialism, and by the assertion of some spiritual value in the universe. It is to such a labour that Bergson has applied himself; it is only incidentally that we find him making remarks on religious or theological conceptions. His whole philosophy, however, involves some very important religious conceptions and theological standpoints. In France, Bergson has had a considerable amount of discussion on the theological implications of his philosophy with the Jesuit Fathers, notably Father de Tonquedec. These arise particularly from his views concerning Change, Time, Freedom, Evolution and Intuition.

Bergson has been cited as a "Mystic" because he preaches a doctrine of Intuition. But his metaphysical Intuition bears no relation to the mysticism of the saint or of the fervid religious mind. He expressly says, "The doctrine I hold is a protest against mysticism since it professes to reconstruct the bridge (broken since Kant) between metaphysics and science." Yet, if by mysticism one means a certain appeal to the inner and profound life, then his philosophy is mystical-- but so is all philosophy. We must beware of any attempts to run Bergson's thought into moulds for which it was never intended, and guard against its being strained and falsely interpreted in the interests of some special form of religious belief. Intuition is not what the religious mind means by Faith, in the accepted sense of belief in a doctrine or a deity, which is to be neither criticized nor reasoned about. Religion demands "what passeth knowledge." Furthermore, it seeks a reality that abides above the world of Change, "The same yesterday, to-day, and for ever," to which it appeals. The religious consciousness finds itself most reluctant to admit the reality of Change, and this, we must remember, is the fundamental principle of Bergson's thought. Faber, one of the noblest hymn writers, well expresses this attitude:

"O, Lord, my heart is sick, Sick of this everlasting change, And Life runs tediously quick Through its unresting race and varied range. Change finds no likeness of itself in Thee, And makes no echo in Thy mute eternity."

For Bergson, God reveals Himself in the world of Time, in the very principle of Change. He is not "a Father of lights in Whom is no variableness nor shadow of turning."

It has been said that the Idea of God is one of the objects of philosophy, and this is true, if, by God, we agree to mean the principle of the universe, or the Absolute. Unity is essential to the Idea of God. For the religious consciousness, of course, God's existence is a necessary one, not merely contingent. It views Him as eternal and unchangeable. But if we accept the Bergsonian philosophy, God cannot be regarded as "timeless," or as "perfect" in the sense of being "eternal" and "complete." He is, so to speak, realizing Himself in the universe, and is not merely a unity which sums up the multiplicity of time existence. Further, He must be a God who acts freely and creatively and who is in time. Trouble has arisen in the past over the relation of "temporal" and "eternal"--the former being regarded as appearance. For Bergson, this difficulty does not arise; there is, for him, no such dualism. His God is not exempt from Change, He is not to be conceived as existing apart from and independent of the world. Indeed, for him, God would seem to be merely a focus imaginarius of Life and Spirit, a "hypostatization" of la duree. He cannot be regarded as the loving Father of the human race whom He has begotten or created in order that intelligent beings "may glorify Him and enjoy Him for ever." Bergson does not offer us a God, personal, loving, and redemptive, as the Christian religious consciousness demands or imagines. He does not, and


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