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- Bergson and His Philosophy - 4/33 -


who was instrumental in calling the attention of the Anglo-American public to the work of the French professor. This was an interesting meeting and we find James' impression of Bergson given in his Letters under date of October 4, 1908. "So modest and unpretending a man but such a genius intellectually! I have the strongest suspicions that the tendency which he has brought to a focus, will end by prevailing, and that the present epoch will be a sort of turning point in the history of philosophy."

As in some quarters erroneous ideas prevail regarding both the historical and intellectual relation between James and Bergson, it may be useful to call attention to some of the facts here. As early as 1880 James contributed an article in French to the periodical La Critique philosophique, of Renouvier and Pillon, entitled Le Sentiment de l'Effort.[Footnote: Cf. his Principles of Psychology, Vol. II., chap xxvi.] Four years later a couple of articles by him appeared in Mind: What is an Emotion?[Footnote: Mind, 1884, pp. 188-205.] and On some Omissions of Introspective Psychology.[Footnote: Mind, 1884, pp. 1-26.] Of these articles the first two were quoted by Bergson in his work of 1889, Les donnees immediates de la conscience. In the following years 1890-91 appeared the two volumes of James' monumental work, The Principles of Psychology, in which he refers to a pathological phenomenon observed by Bergson. Some writers taking merely these dates into consideration, and overlooking the fact that James' investigations had been proceeding since 1870, registered from time to time by various articles which culminated in The Principles, have mistakenly assigned to Bergson's ideas priority in time.[Footnote: For example A. Chaumeix: William James (Revue des Deux Mondes, Oct, 1910), and J. Bourdeau: Nouvelles modes en philosophie, Journal de Debats, Feb., 1907. Cf. Flournoy: La philosophie de William James. (Eng. Trans. Holt and James, pp. 198-206).] On the other hand insinuations have been made to the effect that Bergson owes the germ-ideas of his first book to the 1884 article by James On Some Omissions of Introspective Psychology, which he neither refers to nor quotes. This particular article deals with the conception of thought as a stream of consciousness, which intellect distorts by framing into concepts. We must not be misled by parallels. Bergson has replied to this insinuation by denying that he had any knowledge of the article by James when he wrote Les donnees immediates de la conscience.[Footnote: Relation a William James et a James Ward. Art. in Revue philosophique, Aug., 1905, lx., p. 229.] The two thinkers appear to have developed independently until almost the close of the century. In truth they are much further apart in their intellectual position than is frequently supposed.[Footnote: The reader who desires to follow the various views of the relation of Bergson and James will find the following works useful. Kallen (a pupil of James): William James and Henri Bergson: a study in contrasting theories of life. Stebbing: Pragmatism and French Voluntarism. Caldwell: Pragmatism and Idealism (last chap). Perry: Present Philosophical Tendencies. Boutroux: William James (Eng. Tr.). Flournoy: La philosophie de James (Eng. Tr.). And J. E. Turner: An Examination of William James' Philosophy.] Both have succeeded in appealing to audiences far beyond the purely academic sphere, but only in their mutual rejection of "intellectualism" as final is there real harmony or unanimity between them. It will not do to press too closely analogies between the Radical Empiricism of the American and the Doctrine of Intuition of the Frenchman. Although James obtains a certain priority in point of time in the development and enunciation of his ideas, we must remember that he confessed that he was baffled by many of Bergson's notions. James certainly neglected many of the deeper metaphysical aspects of Bergson's thought, which did not harmonize with his own, and are even in direct contradiction. In addition to this Bergson is no pragmatist, for him "utility," so far from being a test of truth, is rather the reverse, a synonym for error.

Nevertheless, William James hailed Bergson as an ally very enthusiastically. Early in the century (1903) we find him remarking in his correspondence: "I have been re-reading Bergson's books, and nothing that I have read since years has so excited and stimulated my thoughts. I am sure that that philosophy has a great future, it breaks through old cadres and brings things into a solution from which new crystals can be got." The most noteworthy tributes paid by him to Bergson were those made in the Hibbert Lectures (A Pluralistic Universe), which James gave at Manchester College, Oxford, shortly after he and Bergson met in London. He there remarked upon the encouragement he had received from Bergson's thought, and referred to the confidence he had in being "able to lean on Bergson's authority." [Footnote: A Pluralistic Universe, pp. 214-15. Cf. the whole of Lecture V. The Compounding of Consciousness, pp. 181-221, and Lecture VI. Bergson and His Critique of Intellectualism, pp. 225-273.] "Open Bergson, and new horizons loom on every page you read. It is like the breath of the morning and the song of birds. It tells of reality itself, instead of merely reiterating what dusty-minded professors have written about what other previous professors have thought. Nothing in Bergson is shop-worn or at second- hand." [Footnote: Lecture VI., p. 265.] The influence of Bergson had led him "to renounce the intellectualist method and the current notion that logic is an adequate measure of what can or cannot be." [Footnote: A Pluralistic Universe, p. 212.] It had induced him, he continued, "TO GIVE UP THE LOGIC, squarely and irrevocably" as a method, for he found that "reality, life, experience, concreteness, immediacy, use what word you will, exceeds our logic, overflows, and surrounds it." [Footnote: A Pluralistic Universe, p. 212.]

Naturally, these remarks, which appeared in book form in 1909, directed many English and American readers to an investigation of Bergson's philosophy for themselves. A certain handicap existed in that his greatest work had not then been translated into English. James, however, encouraged and assisted Dr. Arthur Mitchell in his preparation of the English translation of L'Evolution creatrice. In August of 1910 James died. It was his intention, had he lived to see the completion of the translation, to introduce it to the English reading public by a prefatory note of appreciation. In the following year the translation was completed and still greater interest in Bergson and his work was the result. By a coincidence, in that same year (1911), Bergson penned for the French translation of James' book, Pragmatism,[Footnote: Le Pragmatisme: Translated by Le Brun. Paris, Flammarion.] a preface of sixteen pages, entitled Verite et Realite. In it he expressed sympathetic appreciation of James' work, coupled with certain important reservations.

In April (5th to 11th) Bergson attended the Fourth International Congress of Philosophy held at Bologna, in Italy, where he gave a brilliant address on L'Intuition philosophique. In response to invitations received he came again to England in May of that year, and has paid us several subsequent visits. These visits have always been noteworthy events and have been marked by important deliverances. Many of these contain important contributions to thought and shed new light on many passages in his three large works, Time and Free Will, Matter and Memory, and Creative Evolution. Although necessarily brief statements, they are of more recent date than his books, and thus show how this acute thinker can develop and enrich his thought and take advantage of such an opportunity to make clear to an English audience the fundamental principles of his philosophy.

He visited Oxford and delivered at the University, on the 26th and 27th of May, two lectures entitled La Perception du Changement, which were published in French in the same year by the Clarendon Press. As Bergson has a delightful gift of lucid and brief exposition, when the occasion demands such treatment, these lectures on Change form a most valuable synopsis or brief survey of the fundamental principles of his thought, and serve the student or general reader alike as an excellent introduction to the study of the larger volumes. Oxford honoured its distinguished visitor by conferring upon him the degree of Doctor of Science. Two days later he delivered the Huxley Lecture at Birmingham University, taking for his subject Life and Consciousness. This subsequently appeared in The Hibbert Journal (Oct., 1911), and since revised, forms the first essay in the collected volume L'Energie spirituelle or Mind-Energy. In October he was again in England, where he had an enthusiastic reception, and delivered at London University (University College) four lectures on La Nature de l'Ame. In 1913 he visited the United States of America, at the invitation of Columbia University, New York, and lectured in several American cities, where he was welcomed by very large audiences. In February, at Columbia University, he lectured both in French and English, taking as his subjects: Spiritualite et Liberte and The Method of Philosophy. Being again in England in May of the same year, he accepted the Presidency of the British Society for Psychical Research, and delivered to the Society an impressive address: Fantomes des Vivants et Recherche psychique.

Meanwhile, his popularity increased, and translations of his works began to appear in a number of languages, English, German, Italian, Danish, Swedish, Magyar, Polish and Russian. In 1914 he was honoured by his fellow-countrymen in being elected as a member of the Academie francaise. He was also made President of the Academie des Sciences morales et politiques, and in addition he became Officier de la Legion d'Honneur, and Officier de l'Instruction publique. He found disciples of many varied types, and in France movements such as Neo-Catholicism or Modernism on the one hand and Syndicalism on the other, endeavoured to absorb and to appropriate for their own immediate use and propaganda some of the central ideas of his teaching. That important continental organ of socialist and syndicalist theory, Le Mouvement socialiste, suggested that the realism of Karl Marx and Prudhon is hostile to all forms of intellectualism, and that, therefore, supporters of Marxian socialism should welcome a philosophy such as that of Bergson. Other writers, in their eagerness, asserted the collaboration of the Chair of Philosophy at the College de France with the aims of the Confederation Generale du Travail and the Industrial Workers of the World. It was claimed that there is harmony between the flute of personal philosophical meditation and the trumpet of social revolution. These statements are considered in the chapter dealing with the political implications of Bergson's thought.

While social revolutionaries were endeavouring to make the most out of Bergson, many leaders of religious thought, particularly the more liberal-minded theologians of all creeds, e.g., the Modernists and Neo- Catholic Party in his own country, showed a keen interest in his writings, and many of them endeavoured to find encouragement and stimulus in his work. The Roman Catholic Church, however, which still believes that finality was reached in philosophy with the work of Thomas Aquinas, in the thirteenth century, and consequently makes that mediaeval philosophy her official, orthodox, and dogmatic view, took the step of banning Bergson's three books by placing them upon the Index (Decree of June 1, 1914).

It was arranged by the Scottish Universities that Bergson should deliver in 1914 the famous Gifford Lectures, and one course was planned for the spring and another for the autumn. The first course, consisting of eleven lectures, under the title of The Problem of Personality, was delivered at Edinburgh University in the Spring of that year.

Then came the War. The course of lectures planned for the autumn months had to be abandoned. Bergson has not, however, been silent during the conflict, and he has given some inspiring addresses. As early as November 4th, 1914, he wrote an article entitled La force qui s'use et celle qui ne s'use pas, which appeared in that unique and interesting periodical of the poilus, Le Bulletin des Armees de la Republique Francaise. A presidential address delivered in December, 1914, to the Academie des sciences morales et politiques, had for its title La Significance de la Guerre. This, together with the preceding article, has been translated and published in England as The Meaning of the War. Bergson contributed also to the publication arranged by The Daily Telegraph in honour of the King of the Belgians, King Albert's Book


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