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- The Misuse of Mind - 1/12 -
Being an extract from a letter by Professor Henri Bergson
AYANT lu de près le travail de Mrs. Stephen je le trouve intéressant au plus haut point. C'est une interprétation personelle et originale de l'ensemble de mes vues--interprétation qui vaut par elle-même, indépendamment de ce qui j' ai écrit. L'auteur s'est assimilé l'esprit delà doctrine, puis, se dégageant de la matérialité du texte elle a développé à sa manière, dans la direction qu'elle avait choisi, des idées qui lui paraissaient fondamentales. Grâce à la distinction qu'elle "établit entre " fact " et " matter, " elle a pu ramener à l'unité, et présenter avec une grande rigueur logique, des vues que j'avais été obligé, en raison de ma méthode de recherche, d'isoler les unes des autres. Bref, son travail a une grande valeur; il témoigne d'une rare force de pensée.
THE immense popularity which Bergson's philosophy enjoys is sometimes cast up against him, by those who do not agree with him, as a reproach. It has been suggested that Berg-son's writings are welcomed simply because they offer a theoretical justification for a tendency which is natural in all of us but against which philosophy has always fought, the tendency to throw reason overboard and just let ourselves go. Bergson is regarded by rationalists almost as a traitor to philosophy, or as a Bolshevik inciting the public to overthrow what it has taken years of painful effort to build up.
It is possible that some people who do not understand this philosophy may use Bergson's name as a cloak for giving up all self-direction and letting themselves go intellectually to pieces, just as hooligans may use a time of revolution to plunder in the name of the Red Guard. But Bergson's philosophy is in reality as far from teaching mere laziness as Communism is from being mere destruction of the old social order.
Bergson attacks the use to which we usually put our minds, but he most certainly does not suggest that a philosopher should not use his mind at all; he is to use it for all it is worth, only differently, more efficiently for the purpose he has in view, the purpose of knowing for its own sake.
There is, of course, a sense in which doing anything in the right way is simply letting one's self go, for after all it is easier to do a thing well than badlyit certainly takes much less effort to produce the same amount of result. So to know in the way which Bergson recommends does in a sense come more easily than attempting to get the knowledge we want by inappropriate methods. If this saving of waste effort is a fault, then Bergson must plead guilty. But as the field of knowledge open to us is far too wide for any one mind to explore, the new method of knowing, though it requires less effort than the old to produce the same result, does not thereby let us off more easily, for with a better instrument it becomes possible to work for a greater result.
It is not because it affords an excuse for laziness that Bergson's philosophy is popular but because it gives expression to a feeling which is very widespread at the present time, a distrust of systems, theories, logical constructions, the assumption of premisses and then the acceptance of everything that follows logically from them. There is a sense of impatience with thought and a thirst for the actual, the concrete. It is because the whole drift of Bergson's writing is an incitement to throw over abstractions and get back to facts that so many people read him, hoping that he will put into words and find an answer to the unformulated doubt that haunts them.
It was in this spirit that the writer undertook the study of Bergson. On the first reading he appeared at once too persuasive and too vague, specious and unsatisfying: a closer investigation revealed more and more a coherent theory of reality and a new and promising method of investigating it. The apparent unsatisfactoriness of the first reading arose from a failure to realize how entirely new and unfamiliar the point of view is from which Bergson approaches metaphysical speculation. In order to understand Bergson it is necessary to adopt his attitude and that is just the difficulty, for his attitude is the exact reverse of that which has been inculcated in us by the traditions of our language and education and now comes to us naturally. This common sense attitude is based on certain assumptions which are so familiar that we simply take them for granted without expressly formulating them, and indeed, for the most part, without even realizing that we have been making any assumptions at all.
Bergson's principal aim is to direct our attention to the reality which he believes we all actually know already, but misinterpret and disregard because we are biassed by preconceived ideas. To do this Bergson has to offer some description of what this reality is, and this description will be intelligible only if we are willing and able to make a profound change in our attitude, to lay aside the old assumptions which underlie our every day common sense point of view and adopt, at least for the time being, the assumptions from which Bergson sets out. This book begins with an attempt to give as precise an account as possible of the old assumptions which we must discard and the new ones which we must adopt in order to understand Bergson's description of reality. To make the complete reversal of our ordinary mental habits needed, for understanding what Bergson has to say requires a very considerable effort from anyone, but the feat is perhaps most difficult of all for those who have carefully trained themselves in habits of rigorous logical criticism. In attempting to describe what we actually know in the abstract logical terms which are the only means of intercommunication that human beings possess, Bergson is driven into perpetual self-contradiction, indeed, paradoxical though it may sound, unless he contradicted himself his description could not be a true one. It is easier for the ordinary reader to pass over the self contradictions, hardly even being aware of them, and grasp the underlying meaning: the trained logician is at once pulled up by the nonsensical form of the description and the meaning is lost in a welter of conflicting words. This, I think, is the real reason why some of the most brilliant intellectual thinkers have been able to make nothing of Bergson s philosophy: baffled by the self-contradictions into which he is necessarily driven in the attempt to convey his meaning they have hastily assumed that Bergson had no meaning to convey.
The object of this book is to set out the relation between explanations and the actual facts which we want to explain and thereby to show exactly why Bergson must use self-contradictory terms if the explanation of reality which he offers is to be a true one.
Having first shown what attitude Bergson requires us to adopt I have gone on to describe what he thinks this new way of looking at reality will reveal. This at once involves me in the difficulty with which Bergson wrestles in all his attempts to describe reality, the difficulty which arises from the fundamental discrepancy between what he sees the actual fact to be and the abstract notions which are all he has with which to describe it. I have attempted to show how it comes about that we are in fact able to perform this apparently impossible feat of describing the indescribable, using Bergson's descriptions of sensible perception and the relations of matter and memory to illustrate my point. If we succeed in ridding ourselves of our common-sense preconceptions, Bergson tells us that we may expect to know the old facts in a new way, face to face, as it were, instead of seeing them through a web of our own intellectual interpretations. I have not attempted to offer any proof whether or not Bergson's description of reality is in fact true: having understood the meaning of the description it remains for each of us to decide for himself whether or not it fits the facts.
Cambridge, January, 1922.
International Library of Psychology Philosophy and Scientific Method
GENERAL EDITOR - - - - C. K. OGDEN, M. A.
(Magdalene College, Cambridge).
VOLUMES ALREADY ARRANGED:
PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES by Q. E. MOORE, Litt. D. CONFLICT AND DREAM by W. H. R. RIVERS, F. R. S. THE MEASUREMENT OF EMOTION by W. WHATELY SMITH Introduction by William Brown. THE ANALYSIS OF MATTER by BERTRAND RUSSELL, F. R. S. MATHEMATICS FOR PHILOSOPHERS by G. H. HARDY, F. R. S. PSYCHOLOGICAL TYPES by C. G. JONG, M. D., LL. D. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF REASONING by EUGENIO RIGNANO THE ELEMENTS OF PSYCHOTHERAPY by WILLIAM BROWN, M. D., D. Sc. THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE UNCONSCIOUS by E. VON HARTMANN THE FOUNDATIONS OF MUSICAL AESTHETICS by W. POLE, F. R. S. Edited by Edward J. Dent. THE PSYCHOLOGY OF MUSIC by EDWARD J. DENT SOME CONCEPTS OF SCIENTIFIC THOUGHT by C. D. BROAD, Litt. D. PHILOSOPHICAL LOGIC by L. WITTGENSTEIN Introduction by Bertrand Russell. THE PHILOSOPHY OF ' AS IF by H. VAIHINGER THE LAWS OF FEELING by F. PAULHAN THE HISTORY OF MATERIALISM by F. A. LANGE COLOUR-HARMONY by JAMES WOOD and C. K. OGDEN THE STATISTICAL METHOD IN ECONOMICS AND POLITICS by P. SARGANT FLORENCE THE PRINCIPLES OF CRITICISM
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