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Time and Free Will Bergson

Time and Free Will Bergson

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An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness

HENRI BERGSON

Authorised Translation by
F. L. POGSON
M.A.

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AUTHOR'S PREFACE
WE necessarily express ourselves by means of
words and we usually think in terms of space.
That is to say, language requires us to establish
between our ideas the same sharp and precise
distinctions, the same discontinuity, as between
material objects. This assimilation of thought to
things is useful in practical life and necessary in
most of the sciences. But it may be asked whether
the insurmountable difficulties presented by certain
philosophical problems do not arise from our
placing side by side in space phenomena which
do not occupy space, and whether, by merely
getting rid of the clumsy symbols round which
we are fighting, we might not bring the fight to
an end. When an illegitimate translation of the
unextended into the extended, of quality into
quantity, has introduced contradiction into the
very heart of the question, contradiction must,
of course, recur in the answer.
The problem which I have chosen is one which
is common to metaphysics and psychology, the
problem of free will. What I attempt to prove
is that all discussion between the determinists
and their opponents implies a previous confusion
of duration with extensity, of succession with
simultaneity, of quality with quantity : this
confusion once dispelled, we may perhaps witness
the disappearance of the objections raised against
free will, of the definitions given of it, and, in a
certain sense, of the problem of free will itself.
To prove this is the object of the third part of
the present volume : the first two chapters,
which treat of the conceptions of intensity and
duration, have been written as an introduction to the third.
H. BERGSON.
February, 1888.


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TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE
HENRI Louis BERGSON was born in Paris, October
18, 1859. He entered the Ecole normale in
1878, and was admitted agrege de philosophie
in 1881 and docteur es lettres in 1889. After
holding professorships in various provincial and
Parisian lycees, he became maitre de conferences
at the Ecole normale superieure in 1897, and
since 1900 has been professor at the College de
France. In 1901 he became a member of the
Institute on his election to the Academic des
Sciences morales et politiques.
A full list of Professor Bergson s works is given
in the appended bibliography. In making the
following translation of his Essai sur les donnees
immediate^ de la conscience I have had the great
advantage of his co-operation at every stage,
and the aid which he has given has been most
generous and untiring. The book itself was
worked out and written during the years 1883
to 1887 and was originally published in 1889.
The foot-notes in the French edition contain a
certain number of references to French trans
lations of English works. In the present trans
lation I am responsible for citing these references
from the original English. This will account
for the fact that editions are sometimes referred
to which have appeared subsequently to 1889.
I have also added fairly extensive marginal
summaries and a full index.
In France the Essai is already in its seventh
edition. Indeed, one of the most striking facts
about Professor Bergson s works is the extent
to which they have appealed not only to the
professional philosophers, but also to the ordinary
cultivated public. The method which he pursues
is not the conceptual and abstract method which
has been the dominant tradition in philosophy.
For him reality is not to be reached by any
elaborate construction of thought : it is given
in immediate experience as a flux, a continuous
process of becoming, to be grasped by intuition,
by sympathetic insight. Concepts break up the
continuous flow of reality into parts external to
one another, they further the interests of language
and social life and are useful primarily for prac
tical purposes. But they give us nothing of the
life and movement of reality ; rather, by sub
stituting for this an artificial reconstruction, a
patchwork of dead fragments, they lead to the
difficulties which have always beset the intellectualist
philosophy, and which on its premises
are insoluble. Instead of attempting a solution
in the intellectualist sense, Professor Bergson
calls upon his readers to put these broken frag
ments of reality behind them, to immerse them
selves in the living stream of things and to
find their difficulties swept away in its resistless
flow.
In the present volume Professor Bergson first
deals with the intensity of conscious states. He
shows that quantitative differences are applicable
only to magnitudes, that is, in the last resort,
to space, and that intensity in itself is purely
qualitative. Passing then from the consideration
of separate conscious states to their multiplicity,
he finds that there are two forms of multiplicity :
quantitative or discrete multiplicity involves the
intuition of space, but the multiplicity of conscious
states is wholly qualitative. This unfolding
multiplicity constitutes duration, which is a
succession without distinction, an interpenetration
of elements so heterogeneous that former states
can never recur. The idea of a homogeneous
and measurable time is shown to be an artificial
concept, formed by the intrusion of the idea of
space into the realm of pure duration. Indeed,
the whole of Professor Bergson s philosophy
centres round his conception of real concrete
duration and the specific feeling of duration which
our consciousness has when it does away with
convention and habit and gets back to its natural
attitude. At the root of most errors in philosophy
he finds a confusion between this concrete duration
and the abstract time which mathematics, physics,
and even language and common sense, substitute
for it. Applying these results to the problem
of free will, he shows that the difficulties arise
from taking up one s stand after the act has been
performed, and applying the conceptual method
to it. From the point of view of the living,
developing self these difficulties are shown to be
illusory, and freedom, though not definable in
abstract or conceptual terms, is declared to be
one of the clearest facts established by observa
tion.
It is no doubt misleading to attempt to sum
up a system of philosophy in a sentence, but
perhaps some part of the spirit of Professor Bergson
s philosophy may be gathered from the motto
which, with his permission, I have prefixed to
this translation :
" If a man were to inquire
of Nature the reason of her creative activity,
and if she were willing to give ear and answer,
she would say Ask me not, but understand
in silence, even as I am silent and am not wont to speak.
F. L. POGSON.
OXFORD,
June, 1910.


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FIRST PUBLISHED IN 1910
SECOND IMPRESSION I9I2
THIRD IMPRESSION I9I3
FOURTH IMPRESSION I92I
FIFTH IMPRESSION I928
SIXTH IMPRESSION 1950

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