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- Bergson and His Philosophy - 5/33 -


(Christmas, 1914). In 1915 he was succeeded in the office of President of the Academie des Sciences morales et politiques by M. Alexandre Ribot, and then delivered a discourse on The Evolution of German Imperialism. Meanwhile he found time to issue at the request of the Minister of Public Instruction a delightful little summary of French Philosophy. Bergson did a large amount of travelling and lecturing in America during the war. He was there when the French Mission under M. Viviani paid a visit in April and May of 1917, following upon America's entry into the conflict. M. Viviani's book La Mission francaise en Amerique, 1917, contains a preface by Bergson.

Early in 1918 he was officially received by the Academie francaise, taking his seat among "The Select Forty" as successor to M. Emile Ollivier, the author of the large and notable historical work L'Empire liberal. A session was held in January in his honour at which he delivered an address on Ollivier.

In the War, Bergson saw the conflict of Mind and Matter, or rather of Life and Mechanism; and thus he shows us in action the central idea of his own philosophy. To no other philosopher has it fallen, during his lifetime, to have his philosophical principles so vividly and so terribly tested. We are too close to the smoking crucible of war to be aware of all that has been involved in it. Even those who have helped in the making of history are too near to it to regard it historically, much less philosophically. Yet one cannot help feeling that the defeat of German militarism has been the proof in action of the validity of much of Bergson's thought.

As many of Bergson's contributions to French periodicals are not readily accessible, he agreed to the request of his friends that these should be collected and published in two volumes. The first of these was being planned when war broke out. The conclusion of strife has been marked by the appearance of this delayed volume in 1919. It bears the title L'Energie spirituelle: Essais et Conferences. The noted expounder of Bergson's philosophy in England, Dr. Wildon Carr, has prepared an English Translation under the title Mind-Energy. The volume opens with the Huxley Memorial Lecture of 1911, Life and Consciousness, in a revised and developed form under the title Consciousness and Life. Signs of Bergson's growing interest in social ethics and in the idea of a future life of personal survival are manifested. The lecture before the Society for Psychical Research is included, as is also the one given in France, L'Ame et le Corps, which contains the substance of the four London lectures on the Soul. The seventh and last article is a reprint of Bergson's famous lecture to the Congress of Philosophy at Geneva in 1904, Le paralogisme psycho-physiologique, which now appears as Le Cerveau et la Pensee: une illusion philosophique. Other articles are on the False Recognition, on Dreams, and Intellectual Effort. The volume is a most welcome production and serves to bring together what Bergson has written on the concept of mental force, and on his view of "tension" and "detension" as applied to the relation of matter and mind.

It is Bergson's intention to follow up this collection shortly by another on the Method of Philosophy, dealing with the problems of Intuition. For this he is preparing an important introduction, dealing with recent developments in philosophy. This second volume will include the Lectures on The Perception of Change given at Oxford, The Introduction to Metaphysics, and the brilliant paper Philosophical Intuition. In June, 1920, Cambridge honoured him with the degree of Doctor of Letters. In order that he may be able to devote his full time to the great new work he is preparing on ethics, religion, and sociology, Bergson has been relieved of the duties attached to the Chair of Modern Philosophy at the College de France. He still holds this chair, but no longer delivers lectures, his place being taken by his brilliant pupil Edouard Le Roy. Living with his wife and daughter in a modest house in a quiet street near the Porte d'Auteuil in Paris, Bergson is now working as keenly and vigorously as ever.

CHAPTER II

THE REALITY OF CHANGE

Fundamental in Bergson's philosophy. We are surrounded by changes--we ourselves change--Belief in change--Simplicity of change--Immobility is composite and relative--All movement is indivisible. The fallacy of "states"--Intellect loves the static--Life is dynamic--Change, the very stuff of life, constitutes reality.

Throughout the history of thought we find that the prevailing philosophies have always reflected some of the characteristics of their time. For instance, in those periods when, as historians tell us, the tendency towards unity, conformity, system, order, and authority was strong, we find philosophy reflecting these conditions by emphasizing the unity of the universe; while in those periods in which established order, system, and authority were disturbed, the philosophy of the time emphasizes the idea of multiplicity as opposed to the unity of the universe, laying stress on freedom, creative action, spontaneity of effort, and the reality of change. There can be little doubt that this is the chief reason why Bergson's philosophy has found such an amount of acceptance in a comparatively short period. The response to his thought may be explained very largely by this, that already his fundamental ideas existed, although implicit, unexpressed, in the minds of a great multitude of thoughtful people, to whom the static conceptions of the universe were inadequate and false.

We must not, on the other hand, overlook the fact that Bergson's statements have in their turn given an emphasis to all aspects of thought which take account of the reality of change and which realize its importance in all spheres. A writer on world politics very aptly reminds us that "life is change, and a League of Peace that aimed at preserving peace by forbidding change would be a tyranny as oppressive as any Napoleonic dictatorship. These problems called for periodic change. The peril of our future is that, while the need for change is instinctively grasped by some peoples as the fundamental fact of world- politics, to perceive it costs others a difficult effort of thought."[Footnote: H. N. Brailsford on Peace and Change, Chap. 3 of his Book A League of Nations.] However difficult it may be for some individuals and for some nations to grasp it, the great fact is there-- the reality of change is undeniable.

Bergson himself would give to his philosophy the title, The Philosophy of Change, and this for a very good reason, for the principle of Change and an insistence on its reality lies at the root of his thought.[Footnote: He suggested this as a sub-title to Dr. H. Wildon Carr for his little work Henri Bergson (People's Books). Dr. Wildon Carr's later and larger work bears this as its full title.] "We know that everything changes," we find him saying in his London lectures, "but it is mere words. From the earliest times recorded in the history of philosophy, philosophers have never stopped saying that everything changes; but, when the moment came for the practical application of this proposition, they acted as if they believed that at the bottom of things there is immobility and invariability. The greatest difficulties of philosophy are due to not taking account of the fact that Change and Movement are universal. It is not enough to say that everything changes and moves--we must believe it."[Footnote: Second of the four lectures on La Nature de l'Ame delivered at London University, Oct. 21, 1911. From report in The Times for Oct. 23, 1911, p. 4.] In order to think Change and to see it, a whole mass of prejudices must be swept aside--some artificial, the products of speculative philosophy, and others the natural product of common-sense. We tend to regard immobility as a more simple affair than movement. But what we call immobility is really composite and is merely relative, being a relation between movements. If, for example, there are two trains running in the same direction on parallel lines at exactly the same speed, opposite one another, then the passengers in each train, when observing the other train, will regard the trains as motionless. So, generally, immobility is only apparent, Change is real. We tend to be misled by language; we speak, for instance, of 'the state of things'; but what we call a state is the appearance which a change assumes in the eyes of a being who, himself, changes according to an identical or analogous rhythm. "Take, for example," says Bergson, "a summer day. We are stretched on the grass, we look around us--everything is at rest--there is absolute immobility--no change. But the grass is growing, the leaves of the trees are developing or decaying--we ourselves are growing older all the time. That which seems rest, simplicity itself, is but a composite of our ageing with the changes which takes place in the grass, in the leaves, in all that is around us. Change, then, is simple, while 'the state of things' as we call it, is composite. Every stable state is the result of the co- existence between that change and the change of the person who perceives it."[Footnote: La Nature de l'Ame, lecture 2.]

It is an axiom in the philosophy of Bergson that all change or movement is indivisible. He asserts this expressly in Matter and Memory,[Footnote: Matter and Memory, p. 246 ff. (Fr. p. 207 ff).] and again in the second lecture on The Perception of Change he deals with the indivisibility of movement somewhat fully, submitting it to a careful analysis, from which the following quotation is an extract--"My hand is at the point A. I move it to the point B, traversing the interval AB. I say that this movement from A to B is a simple thing-- each of us has the sensation of this, direct and immediate. Doubtless, while we carry our hand over from A to B, we say to ourselves that we could stop it at an intermediate point, but then that would no longer be the same movement. There would then be two movements, with an interval of rest. Neither from within, by the muscular sense, nor from without, by sight, should we have the same perception. If we leave our movement from A to B such as it is, we feel it undivided, and we must declare it indivisible. It is true that when I look at my hand, going from A to B, traversing the interval AB, I say to myself 'the interval AB can be divided into as many parts as I wish, therefore the movement from A to B can be divided into as many parts as I like, since this movement covers this interval,' or, again, 'At each moment of its passing, the moving object passes over a certain point, therefore we can distinguish in the movement as many stopping-places as we wish--therefore the movement is infinitely divisible.' But let us reflect on this for a minute. How can the movement possibly coincide with the space which it traverses? How can the moving coincide with the motionless? How can the object which moves be said to 'be' at any point in its path? It passes over, or, in other words, it could 'be' there. It would 'be' there if it stopped there, but, if it stopped there, it is no longer the same movement with which we are dealing. It is always at one bound that a trajectory is traversed when, on its course, there is no stoppage. The bound may last a few seconds, or it may last for weeks, months, or years, but it is unique and cannot be decomposed. Only, when once the passage has been made, as the path is in space, and space is infinitely divisible, we picture to ourselves the movement itself as infinitely divisible. We like to imagine it thus, because, in a movement it is not the change of position which interests us, it is the positions themselves which the moving object has left, which it will take up, which it might assume if it were to stop in its course. We have need of immobility, and the more we succeed in presenting to ourselves the movement as coinciding with the space which it traverses, the better we think we understand it. Really, there is no true immobility, if we imply by that, an absence of movement."[Footnote: Translated from La Perception du Changement, pp. 19-20.] This immobility of which we have need for the purposes of action and of practical life, we erect into an absolute reality. It is of course convenient to our sense of sight to lay hold of objects in this


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