Discussion Group: Bergson’s Introduction to Metaphysics (April 3rd)

Please join us on campus for our next discussion group meeting Friday, April 3rd at 2:30pm in room E&T A420. We’ll be discussing an excerpted version of Henri Bergson’s An Introduction to Metaphysics. I’m confident that the piece will strike a chord with many of you (regulars), and look forward to another lively discussion. For those of you who are particularly ambitious, you can find the text in its entirety (it’s relatively short) here: books.google.com.

The excerpted version I have chosen as a reading includes five portions of the original text. In the pdf, I have marked them with letters A-E. Here are some “questions to ponder” from each of these sections:

A) In his introductory remarks, Bergson speaks of “two profoundly different ways of knowing a thing.” He says that one way leads us to knowledge of the relative while the other allows us to attain the absolute. He calls these two ways of knowing a thing, respectively, analysis and intuition. …What’s the difference? What’s this have to do with metaphysics?

B) Bergson wants to claim that knowledge based in analysis creates false problems for the metaphysician. This is the “danger” in abstract ideas. …Why are they dangerous, and should we be afraid of them?

C) A large chunk of Bergon’s argument rests on his assertion that we tend to think in terms of what is useful to us, and that metaphysicians, in order to practice their “science” correctly, need to cast off this habit. Analysis is useful to our daily lives; intuition is not (at least not directly so). …How do these patterns of habitual thought affect the problems we, as philosophers, tackle?

D) “The use of the word intuition causes me some degree of hesitation” (from Bergson, The Creative Mind). Bergson uses the term a bit differently than it is commonly used. His term depends upon the presupposition of what he calls duration. For him, “intuition” is a precise philosophical method – the necessary method which metaphysics must employ to become a productive science. …This idea of “duration” is key and deserves your most profound ponderings. What does Bergson mean by duration? What does it have to do with movement? What is the difference between movement in space and movement in duration (time)? Why does Bergson say to the metaphysician, “It is movement that we must accustom ourselves to look upon as simplest and clearest…” (373)? Is mobility really more “real” than immobility? Why or why not?

E) Bergson claims that “To philosophize is to invert the habitual direction of the work of thought” (375). In so saying, he’s arguing against analysis as philosophical method in favor of his specialized brand of intuition. …Does he have a point? Were we to invert our way of thinking (as metaphysicians), what would that “look like?”

As touched upon above, Bergson likens intuition to a philosophical method. This methodology is rather lucidly discussed by Gilles Deleuze in the first chapter of his book Bergsonism. If we have time to get to it, I’d like to discuss this methodology at the meeting. I’ll look forward to seeing you all there!



2 thoughts on “Discussion Group: Bergson’s Introduction to Metaphysics (April 3rd)”

  1. Intuition as Method*For Bergson, intuition as a methodology of philosophical inquiry presupposes duration. Duration is the “mobile reality” which gives things an inner life. It is variability itself – a qualitative becoming that endures, constituting essence.Intuition is required as method to make duration knowable with a precision analogous to that of science. It is the method of intellectual sympathy whereby intelligence can “place itself within the mobile reality”** and thereby attain knowledge of an absolute – an essence.There are 3 general rules to Bergson's Intuition as Method:1. “Apply the test of true and false to problems themselves. Condemn false problems and reconcile truth and creation at the level of problems.For Bergson, philosophy is less about solving problems and more about stating problems correctly. He argues that when a speculative problem is properly stated, it contains its own solution. Stating proper problems is a creative act which occurs when they are solved.As for false problems, these are of two sorts, 'nonexistent problems,' defined as problems whose very terms contain a confusion of the 'more' and the 'less'; and 'badly stated' questions, so defined because their terms represent badly analyzed composites.“Nonexistent problems” include, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” “Why is there order rather than disorder?” “Why is there this (the real) rather than that (the possible)?” Bergson argues that in the first case, e.g., “nothing” is more than “something,” as in the idea of nonbeing is the idea of being plus its negation, plus the psychological motive behind the operation. He has a similar argument for the problems of order vs. disorder and reality vs. possibility. He says that ideas of disorder and possibility are more than those of order and the real. He argues that being, order, and the real are truth itself.”Badly stated” questions are false problems in that they arbitrarily group things that differ in kind. An example is the problem of free will, which depends upon a spatial image of a fork in the road. When we are faced with a choice, we have more than one option, hence the image of the fork. Bergson would say that this image creates a false problem, however, as the spatial image of choice denies the reality of choosing. One is quantitative; the other qualitative. These are two concepts of choice which differ in kind. One applied to the other creates false problems.2. “Struggle against illusion, rediscover the true differences in kind or articulations of the real.For Bergson, reality as it is experienced is a mixture of pure conditions. Reality is made of composites, and it is the job of the philosopher to divide these composites according to natural articulations – that is, according to differences in kind (as opposed to differences in degree). The method of intuition is thus a method of division. Dualisms tend to result. Some of Bergson's famous dualisms include: duration /space, quality/quantity, heterogeneous/homogeneous, continuous/discontinuous, etc.Bergson's main critique of philosophy is that we tend to see differences in degree where there are differences in kind. His main critique of metaphysics is that we tend to recognize a difference in degree between a spatialized time and an eternity which is nonspatial and nontemporal and is assumed to be primary (more perfect). Bergson would say, rather, that the proper cut is made between space and time (duration), discounting eternity as a false notion (arising from a non-existent problem as explained above).Again, intuition as method cuts composites of experience according to their natural articulations, or differences in kind. Composites inevitably combine duration and extension (time and space) in some form. When the particular forms of duration and extension are defined as movements – that is, as directions of movements, or tendencies – the cut is made where these movements tend in opposing directions. For example, Bergson will make a cut between duration-contraction and matter-expansion. Perception involves sympathetic movement with the object perceived. The brain complicates this received movement such that real perception continues in sympathetic movement with the object only to the degree that it is of interest to us. This reduction of the received movement through real perception creates two branches of sympathetic movement with the object perceived: one continues as a pure virtual branch which is unfiltered sympathy, the other the branch of the real perception. At this point, however, there are no differences in tendencies. The matter of the brain moves in sympathy with the object perceived to a greater or lesser degree.In that there are two branched tendencies “traveling in a like direction,” but one pure and virtual and the other filtered and real, there is between these tendencies an interval. Memory interpolates itself upon this interval and gives us subjectivity. The movement of recollection is an opposing movement – that is, one that differs in kind from perception. So, the movement of perception is aligned with pure matter and the movement of memory is aligned with pure mind. We can only experience a mixture of these. Exercising intuition as method involves our going beyond this experience to the pure conditions of the experience – that is, the virtual movement of pure mind and matter. When we practice intuition, then, we are reconnecting the mixed reality that we experience with the pure reality that conditions our experience, and at the point of their reconnection we are able to make the precise cut between the divergent tendencies of perception/matter and recollection/memory. Hence a complimentary rule:The real is not only that which is cut out according to natural articulations or differences in kind; it is also that which intersects again along paths converging toward the same ideal or virtual point.Metaphysical problems exist in that there is a difference between the pure conditions of experience and the experience itself. When the problems are stated properly, we direct ourselves to reconnect these divergent paths. The method of intuition does not make the initial cut separating the conditions of experience with experience itself. It rather identifies this cut at the point at which these paths converge again. It solves the problem as the path of the virtual conditions for experience is reconciled with the path of real experience.3. “State problems and solve them in terms of time rather than of space.With this rule, Bergson is basically saying that in order to solve the problems of metaphysics, we need to learn to think in a different way. We need to think in terms of duration rather than space. We need to think in terms of quality rather than quantity. Essence is qualitative; descriptive properties are quantitative. If we want to know essences, we need to think in terms of duration, which is what gives us qualitative experience. Qualitative differences are those that differ in kind, not those which differ by degree. Essences differ only in kind. Duration is variability in kind, and so to know these variable essences, we must think in terms of duration. It is only movement (in duration) with which the intellect may sympathize and come to know what is essentially real.*[notes and quotes from Chapter 1 of] Gilles Deleuze, Bergsonism (New York: Zone Books, 1991) 13-35.**from our reading, pg. 374.

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