A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson

Author: Edouard Louis Emmanuel Julien Le Roy

VIII. Conclusion.

As my last word and closing formula I come back to the leitmotiv of my whole study: Mr Bergson’s philosophy is a philosophy of duration.

Let us regard it from this point of view, as contact with creative effort, if we wish to conceive aright the original notions which it proposes to us about liberty, life, and intuition.

Let us say once more that it appears as the enthronement of positive metaphysics: positive, that is to say, capable of continuous, regular, and collective progress, no longer forcibly divided into irreducible schools, "each of which retains its place, chooses its dice, and begins a neverending match with the rest." ("Introduction to Metaphysics" in the "Revue de Metaphysique et de Morale", January 1903. Psychology, according to Mr Bergson, studies the human mind in so far as it operates in a useful manner to a practical end; metaphysics represent the effort of this same mind to free itself from the conditions of useful action, and regain possession of itself as pure creative energy. Now experience, the experience of the laboratory, allows us to measure with more and more accuracy the divergence between these two planes of life; hence the positive character of the new metaphysics.)

Let us next say that until the present moment it constitutes the only doctrine which is truly a metaphysic of experience, since no other, at bottom, explains why thought, in its work of discovery and verification, remains in subjection to a law of probation by durable action. We have now only to show how it evades certain criticisms which have been levelled against its tendencies.

Some have wanted to see in it a kind of atheist monism. Mr Bergson has answered this point himself. What he rejects, and what he is right in rejecting, are the doctrines which confine themselves to personifying the unity of nature or the unity of knowledge in God as motionless first cause. God would really be nothing, since he would do nothing. But he adds: "The considerations put forward in my "Essay on the Immediate Data" result in an illustration of the fact of liberty; those of "Matter and Memory" lead us, I hope, to put our finger on mental reality; those of "Creative Evolution" present creation as a fact: from all this we derive a clear idea of a free and creating God, producing matter and life at once, whose creative effort is continued, in a vital direction, by the evolution of species and the construction of human personalities." (Letter to P. de Tonquedec, published in the "Studies" of 20th February 1912, and quoted here as found in the "Annals of Christian Philosophy", March 1912.) How can we help finding in these words, according to the actual expression of the author, the most categorical refutation "of monism and pantheism in general"?

Now to go further and become more precise, Mr Bergson points out that we must "approach problems of quite a different kind, those of morality." About these new problems the author of "Creative Evolution" has as yet said nothing; and he will say nothing, so long as his method does not lead him, on this point, to results as positive, after their manner, as those of his other works, because he does not consider that mere subjective opinions are in place in philosophy. He therefore denies nothing; he is waiting and searching, always in the same spirit: what more could we ask of him?

One thing only is possible today: to discern in the doctrine already existing the points of a moral and religious philosophy which present themselves in advance for ultimate insertion.

This is what we are permitted to attempt. But let us fully understand what is at issue. The question is only to know whether, as has been claimed, there is incompatibility between Mr Bergson’s point of view and the religious or moral point of view; whether the premisses laid down block the road to all future development in the direction before us; or whether, on the contrary, such a development is invited by some parts at least of the previous work. The question is not to find in this work the necessary and sufficient bases, the already formed and visible lineaments of what will one day complete it. To imagine that the religious and moral problem is bound to be regarded by Mr Bergson as arising when it is too late for revision, as admitting proposition and solution only as functions of a previous theoretical philosophy beyond which we should not go; that in his eyes the solution of this problem will be deduced from principles already laid down without any call for the introduction of new facts or new points of view, without any need to begin from a new intuition; that his view precludes all considerations of strictly spiritual life, of inner and profound action, regarding things in relation to God and in an eternal perspective: such a view would be illegitimate and unreasonable, first of all, because Mr Bergson has said nothing of the kind, and secondly, because it is contrary to all his tendencies.

After the "Essay on the Immediate Data" critics proceeded to confine him in an irreducible static dualism; after "Matter and Memory" they condemned him as failing for ever to explain the juxtaposition of the two points of view, utility and truth: why should we require that after "Creative Evolution" he should be forbidden to think anything new, or distinguish, for example, different orders of life?

The problems must be approached one after the other, and, in the solution of each of them, it is proper to introduce only the necessary elements. But each result is only "temporarily final." Let us lose the strange habit of asking an author continually to do something other than he has done, or, in what he has done, to give us the whole of his thought.

Till now, Mr Bergson has always considered each new problem according to its specific and original nature, and, to solve it, he has always supplied a new effort of autonomous adaptation: why should it be otherwise for the future? I seek vainly for the decree forbidding him the right to study the problem of biological evolution in itself, and for the necessity which compels him to abide now by the premisses contained in his past work. (For Mr Bergson, the religious sentiment, as the sentiment of obligation, contains a basis of "immediate datum" rendering it indissoluble and irreducible.)

The only point which we have to examine is this: will the moral and religious question compel Mr Bergson to break with the conclusions of his previous studies, and can we not, on the contrary, foresee points of general agreement?

In the depths of ourselves we find liberty; in the depths of universal being we find a demand for creation. Since evolution is creative, each of its moments works for the production of an indeducible and transcendent future. This future must not be regarded as a simple development of the present, a simple expression of germs already given. Consequently we have no authority for saying that there is for ever only one order of life, only one plane of action, only one rhythm of duration, only one perspective of existence. And if disconnections and abrupt leaps are visible in the economy of the past—from matter to life, from the animal to man—we have no authority again for claiming that we cannot observe today something analogous in the very essence of human life, that the point of view of the flesh, and the point of view of the spirit, the point of view of reason, and the point of view of charity are a homogeneous extension of it. And apart from that, taking life in its first tendency, and in the general direction of its current, it is ascent, growth, upward effort, and a work of spiritualising and emancipating creation: by that we might define Good, for Good is a path rather than a thing.

But life may fail, halt, or travel downwards. "Life in general is mobility itself; the particular manifestations of life accept this mobility only with regret, and constantly fall behind. While it is always going forward, they would be glad to mark time. Evolution in general would take place as far as possible in a straight line; special evolution is a circular advance. Like dust-eddies raised by the passing wind, living bodies are self-pivoted and hung in the full breeze of life." ("Creative Evolution", page 139.) Each species, each individual, each function tends to take itself as its end; mechanism, habit, body, and letter, which are, strictly speaking, pure instruments, actually become principles of death. Thus it comes about that life is exhausted in efforts towards self-preservation, allows itself to be converted by matter into captive eddies, sometimes even abandons itself to the inertia of the weight which it ought to raise, and surrenders to the downward current which constitutes the essence of materiality: it is thus that Evil would be defined, as the direction of travel opposed to Good. Now, with man, thought, reflection, and clear consciousness appear. At the same time also properly moral qualifications appear: good becomes duty, evil becomes sin. At this precise moment, a new problem begins, demanding the soundings of a new intuition, yet connected at clear and visible points with previous problems.

This is the philosophy which some are pleased to say is closed by nature to all problems of a certain order, problems of reason or problems of morality. There is no doctrine, on the contrary, which is more open, and none which, in actual fact, lends itself better to further extension.

It is not my duty to state here what I believe can be extracted from it. Still less is it my duty to try to foresee what Mr Bergson’s conclusions will be. Let us confine ourselves to taking it in what it has expressly given us of itself. From this point of view, which is that of pure knowledge, I must again, as I conclude, emphasise its exceptional importance and its infinite reach. It is possible not to understand it. Such is frequently the case: thus it always has been in the past, each time that a truly new intuition has arisen among men; thus it will be until the inevitable day when disciples more respectful of the letter than the spirit will turn it, alas, into a new scholastic. What does it matter! The future is there; despite misconceptions, despite incomprehensions, there is henceforth the departure-point of all speculative philosophy; each day increases the number of minds which recognise it; and it is better not to dwell upon the proofs of several of those who are unable or unwilling to see it.


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Chicago: Edouard Louis Emmanuel Julien Le Roy, "VIII. Conclusion.," A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson, trans. Benson, Vincent in A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson Original Sources, accessed February 4, 2023, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=95ES62SH3SR757Q.

MLA: Le Roy, Edouard Louis Emmanuel Julien. "VIII. Conclusion." A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson, translted by Benson, Vincent, in A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson, Original Sources. 4 Feb. 2023. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=95ES62SH3SR757Q.

Harvard: Le Roy, EL, 'VIII. Conclusion.' in A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson, trans. . cited in , A New Philosophy: Henri Bergson. Original Sources, retrieved 4 February 2023, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=95ES62SH3SR757Q.