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Appendix II: Bergson on Morality and Religion


THE importance of Bergson's philosophy in the history of modern thought has never been fully appreciated in this country. For one thing, Bergson approached the problems of metaphysics from a strictly empirical standpoint, that of biology; and English biologists have been slow, slower indeed than English physicists, to submit their enquiries to philosophical examination. This is especially the case with the concept of evolution; they use the term freely to describe the facts, without troubling to ask what it is that evolves, how the more developed arises from the less developed in a manner evidently alien to the action of mechanical forces, or how the life-process of a vegetable organism differs from that of a conscious mind.1 These are just the questions that Bergson asked and answered in L'Evolulion créatrice. English philosophers, on the other hand, took umbrage at his sharp distinction between intellect and intuition, and regarded his depreciation of the former as a retrograde step, taken in ignorance of the vindication of the primacy of reason over understanding by post-Kantian idealists in Germany. They thought, in their academic aloofness, that the influence of Hegel had penetrated farther than in fact it had. The truth is rather that, if we look to what Professor Whitehead has called the “climate of thought” in the civilized world, intellect still means what it meant to the pioneers of modern thought in the seventeenth century, i.e., the faculty of discursive, logical thinking, as exemplified most clearly in mathematics and mathematical physics. Even in this country, it is still so understood by nearly all scientists, by many philosophers, e.g., the Cambridge School of Logical Positivists, and by the non-professional thinking public. It is only when the word is taken in this restricted sense that Bergson can be justly charged with anti-intellectualism. It was unfortunate that, in his refusal to confine thought, knowledge, and truth within these narrow hounds, he should have rejected a similar enlargement of the scope of reason, and have appealed to intuition as a supra-rational faculty of the mind. But the significance of his revolt against the traditional view of knowledge cannot be overestimated. As M. Brunschvicg has put it, “the capital service owed by philosophy in general and by every individual philosopher to M. Bergson is that he made us quit once and for all the rationalism of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries”.2 In France, at all events, he revolutionized the climate of thought, by showing that the method of scientific analysis was powerless to reveal the truth of life, whether in ourselves or in the ever-moving world around us. To grasp this, we must look within—Augustine's nolis foras ire—becoming one in our consciousness with the élan vital by a supra-intellectual—Spinoza and Kant would have called it an “intellectual”—intuition. The effect of his first book, Les données immédiates de la conscience (1889), was electrical, above all in France, where ideas are not caviare to the general, but potent forces to stir the public mind. It was as if a burden had slipped from men's shoulders. Scientific determinism, and the sense of moral asphyxiation that it had engendered, were shorn at one stroke of all their terrors. Men once more breathed freely, in the knowledge that the rigid network of concepts and laws in which their spirits had been imprisoned for two centuries was but a conventional scaffolding, framed by the intellect for the better practical control of the material environment. Artists and poets, moral and political reformers, the prophets of syndicalism and of living religion embraced the new doctrine with fervour. Its influence was profound, pervasive and instantaneous.

Bergson himself, in the three books that established his fame, touched but rarely, and then only by way of indication, on questions of metals and religion. “We wanted then,” he writes in Les deux sources, “to keep as close as possible to facts. We stated nothing that could not in time be confirmed by the tests of biology.”3 He showed forth the élan vital as a life-force insinuating itself, through the course of the evolutionary process, into matter, experimenting creatively on various lines; now petrified into torpor, as in species that played for safety and preferred the way of self-protection to that of bold offence, now moving forward towards the goal, as in the arthropodes with their development of instinct and the vertebrates with their development of intelligence. But as to the primary source of the life-nisus or its ultimate goal he said little or nothing. He left his readers to draw their own conclusions. As he wrote in 1911 to Père de Tonquédec, “If my works have proved capable to inspire with some confidence minds whom hitherto philosophy had left indifferent, it is because I never expressed views that were merely my personal opinions, or convictions that could not be objectified by this (i.e., empirical) method. So the considerations set forth in my essay Sur les données immédiates culminated in making plain the fact of freedom; in Matière et mémoire I put my finger, as I trust, on the reality of spirit, in L'Evolution créatrice creation is presented as a fact. From all this there issues clearly the idea of a God who is free Creator, the source alike of matter and of life, and whose effort of creation is continued, on the side of life, by the evolution of species and the constitution of human personalities. Hence, too, them issues the refutation of monism and pantheism as general principles. But to develop these conclusions with fullness and precision, it would be necessary to approach problems of a totally different order, those of morality.”4 This is what Bergson has done in his latest work, published in 1932, twenty-five years after L'Evolution créatrice, and entitled Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion.


The volume opens with the distinction between two types of, static and dynamic, “open” and “closed”. Here in his earlier works, Bergson's approach is empirical and in biological foundations. Readers of L'Evolution créatrice will be familiar with the doctrine that the evolution of living species has advanced successfully along two lines of development, culminating respectively in the instinctive life of insects, especially hymenoptera, and in human intelligence. At a more rudimentary level, the two forms of consciousness interpenetrated; and their gradual dissociation does not preclude the presence of a fringe of instinct in the intelligent nature of man, and, possibly, of a fringe of intellect in the instinctive nature of ants and bees. Both types of life culminate in sociality, but with this essential difference: that while the insect works with implements which, as part of its natural structure, are immutable, intelligence enables man to devise tools with an almost indefinite liberty for variation. In both cases, “the implement is designed for a certain type of work, and this work is all the more efficient the more it is specialized, the more it is divided up between diversely qualified workers who mutually supplement one another”.5 Hence, “social life is immanent, like a vague ideal, in instinct as well as intelligence.… But in a hive or ant-hill the individual is riveted to his task by his structure, and the organization is relatively invariable, whereas the human community is variable in form, open to every kind of progress. The result is that in the former each rule is laid down by nature, and is necessary: whereas in the latter only one thing is necessary, the necessity of a rule.”6 Here we find the naturalistic basis of static morality, the type displayed in the discharge of “my station and its duties”, with its imperative of obligation. Man is at liberty, thanks to his intellect, to determine his particular obligations; but behind them all is “the necessity of a rule” the imperious pressure of social obligation in general. “The more, in human society, we delve down to the root of the various obligations to reach obligation in general, the more obligation will tend to become necessity, the nearer it will draw, in its peremptory aspect, to instinct.”7 Habit in man is the analogue of the insect's instinct; and “obligation—taken in this general sense—” is to necessity what habit is to nature”.8 We strike here on a serious defect in Bergson's doctrine of moral obligation, a defect that is hardly remedied by his subsequent enlargement of the field of obligation to include dynamic, open, morality.9 Is what he calls le tout d'obligation, “obligation pure and simple”, “ strict obligation”, or “the categorical imperative you must because you must”, really moral obligation at all?10 Is it not rather the premoral precursor of a vet unborn moral consciousness? For all the limitations imposed by the concepts of the understanding, reason has its place even in the morality of “my station and its duties”. That formula, as interpreted naturalistically by Bergson, never exhausts the idea of social duty. Kant was right: the imperative of moral obligation, even where social pressure is most in evidence, carries us beyond the bounds of the “closed society”.

“Closed” morality, then, is, on Bergson's view, infra-intellectual; “open” morality, on the other hand, is “supra-intellectual”, and also “supra-social”. We may recall how Bradley in Ethical Studies, after championing, in the Hegelian manner, the claims of “my station and its duties”, seems suddenly to become aware of the inadequacy of that principle, and illustrates, from the cases of the artist, the scholar, the saint, and of lesser mortals in a corrupt society, the inevitable transcendence of social institutions and even of the ethos of a people. More of this presently; we must first examine the distinction of the two ethical types. It is a real distinction; no one can look around the world, or even within his own self, without recognizing how the good life is displayed both in action motived by a sense of obligation and in action directed spontaneously towards ideal good. With the morality of obligation, of social pressure, Bergson contrasts the morality of aspiration, where pressure and conflict alike are absent. The accepted moral formula, he writes, “includes two things, a system of orders dictated by impersonal social requirements, and a series of appeals made to the conscience of each of us by persons who represent the best there is in humanity”, i.e., by individuals of genius, whose creative emotion enables them to plunge into the very stream of the élan vital and draw thence dynamic energy to press forward beyond the static confines of “closed morality”.11 Such rare and gifted personalities, the prophets of the spirit, Heine's “Knights of the Holy Ghost”, each of which, we are told,12 is a species in himself, like St. Thomas's angels, attract around them others of lesser genius, who assimilate and diffuse teaching by a response, not to rule or law, but to the comfort of individual example. “Why is it,” asks Bergson, “that saints have their imitators, and why do the great moral leaders draw the masses after them? They ask nothing, and yet they receive. They have no need to exhort; their mere existence suffices. For such is precisely the nature of this other morality. Whereas natural obligation is a pressure or a propulsive force, complete and perfect morality has the effect of an appeal.”13

Three points should be noted in elucidation of this distinction. In the first place, both types of morality have their roots in the élan vital, and are therefore biologically explicable. The life principle requires for its development the stability of limited human societies and also mobility in onward progress. To realize this, to understand “not only how society constrains individuals” (i.e., the static morality of social obligation) “but again how the individual can set up as a judge and wrest from it a moral transformation”, we must “push on• beyond the record of the most elementary societies “as far as the very principle of life”.14 Were acquired characteristics normally transmissible, this method would be impracticable. Seeing, however, that the fundamental structure of mentality has remained the same throughout the history of the race, and that the differences between primitive and civilized man are “due almost solely to what the child has amassed since the first awakening of its consciousness”,15 it is possible by careful enquiry to pierce “the thick humus which covers to-day the bedrock of original nature”;16 especially when the fringe of instinct that surrounds man's distinctive faculty of intelligence can be brought into exercise as a supra-intellectual power of intuition. As to how all this comes about, Bergson is often far from clear; and we must content ourselves with stating the views he puts forward in the opening chapter of this volume. There can be no doubt, however, as to the nature of his claim; that the individual of moral genius can in sympathetic intuition achieve union with the life-impulse that initiates and impels the whole evolutionary process.

Secondly, the two types are in fact intermingled in the concrete life of civilized mankind. In describing them apart, Bergson allows that the severance is but a necessary abstraction. “Open” morality passes, as we have noted, into the structure of rules and institutions characteristic of “closed” communities; so that the obligations in force in any age or nation are in no small measure the deposit of what was once the vision of the individual moral reformer. “That which is aspiration tends to materialize by assuming the form of strict obligation.”17 It might indeed be questioned whether the entire body of static morality did not originate in this fashion. Professor Alexander has recently criticized Bergson on the ground that he “is comparing a fixed morality with a morality in the making, whereas … morality is always in the making… What is now pressure was at one time aspiration.”18 If this be so, Bergson's distinction of the two sources of the two forms of morality must be renounced. Far more convincing is his masterly picture of l'âme qui s'ouvre, in whom “strict obligation tends to expand and broaden out by absorbing aspiration”.19 Such was the life of the Greek philosophers, Platonist and Aristotelian, Epicurean and Stoic, who, in the effort to rise from the infra-intellectual plane to the supra-intellectual, halted in the realm of the intellect, the “zone of pure contemplation”, and fell short of the full achievement of intuitive vision vouchesafed to the great prophets and mystics of Judaism and Christianity.

Our third point is the most significant. “Open” morality, we have seen, is personal, whereas “closed” morality is essentially in the interest of a society. Whether or no we call the former “supra-social” depends on whether or not we have in mind actual finite human communities. At all events, it breaks the bounds of what Bergson calls the “closed” society, i.e., a limited group, be it family or city or nation-state, produced by nature to secure the preservation of the species alike by inner cohesion and by hostility to rival groups. “Open morality”, on the other hand, is inspired by love of humanity. The difference is one not of degree, but of kind. “Between the nation, however big, and humanity there lies the whole distance from the finite to the infinite, from the closed to the open. We are fond of saying that the apprenticeship to civic virtue is served in the family, and that, in the same way, from holding our country dear we learn to love mankind. Our sympathies are supposed to broaden out in unbroken progression, to expand while remaining identical, and to end by embracing all humanity.”20 This, on Bergson's view, is sheer illusion. Whether the illusion be due, as he maintains, “to a purely intellectualist conception of the soul” is another story. But in holding that humanity is a barren concept, impotent to move the hearts of men, save when grounded on religion, he is wholly right. “It is only through God, in God, that religion bids us love mankind.” 21 The truth here presented by Bergson, with rich and pregnant illustrations—see, especially, the detailed discussion of relative and absolute justice22—was affirmed half a century ago by Bradley when, after showing—against the Positivists of that day—that “humanity is not a visible community”. he added that, “if Christianity be brought in, the answer must be different”, and that the concept of mankind as an organic unity only wins significance in the light of religious faith in the kingdom of God.23 Bergson here makes luminously clear how the humanitarian ideals that inspired the French Revolution, and, indeed, the general current of social reform during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, had their origin in and drew their potency from the Judæo-Christian religious legacy.24 When they disavowed their parentage and swung free from their historic moorings in religion, they lost positive significance and functioned merely as destructive agencies. “Every sentence of the Declaration of the Rights of Man is a challenge to some abuse.… If the French Revolution formulated things as they should be, the object was to do away with things as they were.”25 The history of modern Europe may be regarded as the practical reductio ad absurdum of a this-worldly humanism. In Les deux sources Bergson presents, with incomparable brilliancy and power, its speculative refutation.


When we turn to the chapters on religion, we rind the same distinction as in morality; static (closed) religion being considered in chapter II, dynamic (open) religion in chapter III. As with morality, again, Bergson bases his enquiry on biological foundations. We have neither space nor competence to criticize in detail his exposition, covering a third of the whole volume, of the theory that religion in its primitive forms is “a defensive reaction of nature against the dissolvent power of intelligence:, operating through the myth-making activity. The immediate impulse of intellect, when it first dawns in man, is to divert him from the path of sociality towards egoistic satisfaction; were this impulse unchecked, social disintegration would ensue.” But nature is on the watch… some protective deity of the city will be there to forbid, threaten, punish.… Since instinct no longer exists except as a mere vestige or virtuality, since it is not strong enough to incite to action or prevent it, intelligence must arouse an illusory perception, or at least a counterfeit of recollection so clear and striking that intelligence will come to a decision accordingly.”26 Side by side with this function of religion, directly conducive to social preservation, is another, which serves the same interest indirectly, by stimulating and guiding the activity of the individual. Thanks to his intelligence man alone of the animals foresees the inevitability of death. This knowledge would paralyze his power of action, did not nature, again, provide the remedy by fashioning the image of a continuation of life beyond the grave. This example of the biological utility of the fabulatory function is brought under the more general rubric that “all religious representations”—Bergson is speaking, of course, of static religion only—“are defensive reactions of nature against the representation, by intelligence, of a depressing margin of the unexpected between the initiative taken and the effect desired”.27 Thus, “Religion is less a fear than a reaction against fear, and it is not, in its beginnings, a belief in deities”.28 We shall not attempt to examine this doctrine in detail, or to follow out Bergson's most interesting applications of it, e.g., to the primitive beliefs in chance and in events as individual, but impersonal, agencies (prior to the thought of personal spirits or deities); to the place of magic in the early development of religion and of science; to the cult of animals and spirits, the worship of gods, and the rise of superstitious religious practices. The exposition rests throughout on the assumption that primitive mentality is still recoverable, unmodified by any acquired characteristics, beneath the relatively superficial integuments that conceal its presence in civilized existence. This is Bergson's weapon in combating the rival explanations of MM. Lévy-Bruhl and Durkheim.29 We content ourselves with one comment. In reading this chapter we are impelled to ask whether, when all tribute has been paid to the subtlety and penetration of Bergson's argument, he is not indulging in too wide a generalization when he gathers the whole wealth of early religious beliefs and institutions under the rubric of mythology. Has not “open” religion, the religion that is a revelation of truth, however dark be the glass in which the truth is mirrored, also a place in the development of static religion? Is not God, the true God, ever ignorantly worshipped in these primitive cults? In other words, is not the severance of the static from the dynamic an abstraction that needs constant qualification, in the case of religion as in that of morality? Probably Bergson would allow this; but the concession, just as in morals, would impair seriously much of his argument in this second chapter.

Dynamic religion also has its biological basis. Let me quote two passages from Bergson's book: “To get at the very essence of religion,” he says, “one must needs pass at once from the static and outer religion … to dynamic, inner religion.… The first was designed to ward off the dangers to which intelligence might expose men; it was infra-intellectual.… Later, and by an effort which might easily never have been made, man wrenched himself free from this motion of his on his own axis. He plunged anew into the current of evolution, at the same time carrying it forward. Here was dynamic religion, coupled doubtless with higher intellectuality, but distinct from it.”30 How is it that man is enabled thus to return, by individual effort, to the primal stream of life? “Not,” Bergson answers, “through intelligence, at least not through intelligence alone …: intelligence would be more likely to proceed in the opposite direction.… But we know that all around intelligence there lingers still a fringe of intuition, vague and evanescent. Can we not fasten upon it, intensify it, and, above all, consummate it in action? for it has become pure contemplation only through a weakening in its principle, and, if we may put it so, by an abstraction practised on its own substance.”31 Such is the way of the mystic, the rare soul privileged to revert in love to the well-spring of love and life, to the absolute energy of creation, that pours forth of its abundance in the élan vital, in other words, to God. Drawing thus on God's life and love through mystic union, he reflects in his own activity the diffusive quality of his inspiration; “through God, in the strength of God, he loves all mankind with a divine love”. He shares to the full in the divine intention, “fulfilling”—in the words with which Bergson closes his book—“even on this refractory, planet, the essential function of the universe, which is a machine for the making of gods (une machine à faire des dieux)”.32


What, we ask, does it all mean? That Bergon's philosophy is theistic is beyond question; that it is also in principle Christian is probable, though the distinctive tenets of Christianity are scarcely noticed in this volume. It is much, indeed, that the doyen of European thinkers should, at the close of his long life, as the issue of free enquiry and without a trace of wish-fulfilment, declare his adhesion to the faith once delivered to the saints. Many years ago, M.. Chevalier, in his study of Bergson, foretold that his master's mind was moving decisively in this direction.33 It seems churlish, in view of this consummation, to offer criticisms on Bergson's exposition of dynamic religion. The phrase à faire des dieux need not give offence; it is the echo of a thought found frequently in the writings of the most orthodox Fathers of the Church, that God became human in the Incarnation in order that the human might be made divine. Nor need we cavil at the somewhat precarious language in which Bergson speaks of mystic “union”, rather than of “communion”, between man and God. His vindication, again, of the authenticity of mystical experience, as confirmed by various lines of evidence, is a most valuable contribution to religious philosophy. He grapples in masterly fashion with the problem of discriminating these experiences from abnormal mental aberrations, and, in fuller detail, with the experimental approach thus provided to a knowledge of the existence and nature of God.34 There are, however, certain points on which Bergson's exposition of dynamic religion appears open to objection. We refer to them in order of increasing generality. The first is concerned with his interpretation of mysticism. in tracing its various forms, in Greek—specially Neo-Platonic—Indian, and Christian experience, he finds that while the two former represent arrests in the path to the mystic goal, the Christian mystics alone were enabled to carry out their endeavour to its full consummation. For “the ultimate end of mysticism is the establishment of a contact, consequently of partial coincidence, with the creative effort of which life is the manifestation. This effort is of God, if not God himself. The great mystic is to be conceived as an individual being, capable of transcending the limitations imposed on the species by its material nature, thus continuing and extending the divine action”.35 We may waive the implications of “partial coincidence”, though, as has already been noted, the phrase is precarious. It is when Bergson interprets the “creative effort” of the mystic to mean progress beyond theoria to praxis that we feel obliged to raise a protest. To Plotinus, for example, it was granted to “look upon the promised land, but not to set foot upon its soil”.36 Why? Because, holding that “action is a weakening of contemplation”, in accord with the tradition of Greek intellectualism, he failed to “reach the point where, as contemplation is engulfed in action, the human will becomes one with the divine will”.37 Did not Aristotle, then, hold that the life of contemplation was the highest expression of ενεργεια? Bergson, in his antipathy to intellect, confuses ενεργεια with πραζις. Refusing to regard the vision of God as the goal of mysticism, since he regards it as mere theoria, divorced from activity, he requires of complete mysticism a progress beyond the contemplative vision to a higher state of union of man's will with the divine. “It”—i.e., the mystic soul—“had even been united with God in its ecstasy; but none of this rapture was lasting, because it was mere contemplation; action threw the soul back upon itself and thus divorced it front God. Now it is God who is acting through the soul, in the soul; the union is total, therefore final.”38 Our criticism here is twofold: no such total or final union has ever been granted to the mystic, nor is the experience of contemplation, for all its transiency, “mere” contemplation, apart from action. It is theoria and praxis in one, with the moment of theoria in the ascendant, a foretaste, such as man's nature can rise to when informed by grace, of the ενεργεια αχινηιας which is the prerogative of God alone.

Nor is Bergson justified in his esoteric identification of dynamic religion with mystical experience. This is our second point of criticism. Mysticism, as he allows, is rare; religion—a true and living religion—is by no means uncommon in all ages. Bergson explains this as the fusion of the spell wielded by the great mystics with the static religions current among men, which assimilate the new revelation into the structure of their traditional beliefs and institutions. “Thus may arise a mixed religion implying a new direction given to the old, the more or less marked aspiration of the ancient god, emanating from the myth-making function, to be merged into the God who effectively reveals himself, who illuminates and warms privileged souls with his presence.”39 Is not this unduly to disparage the religion of ordinary people? Moreover, it is not only to the chief saints that we must look if we are to understand the nature of religious experience; we must see it exemplified in the lives of common men, who worship God in pureness of spirit, yet have no mystical vocation. To limit true religion to mysticism is indeed a fashionable error; those who are most antipathetic to the claims of Christianity are often found ready to allow what they call emotional value to these exceptional experiences. Bergson falls into the same mistake when he presents us with the alternatives—either myth-making or mysticism or a hybrid form of religion that comprises both.

Lastly—and here we are brought to an objection of yet wider generality—Bergson seems to us to have blurred, beyond all hope of clear interpretation, the distinction between religion and morality. The static types in each case are indeed lucidly differentiated; they answer to different biological requirements. But how are we to distinguish dynamic religion from dynamic, open, morality? It is true that the French word morale has a wider meaning than its English equivalent. But this is because it covers both “morality” and “ethics”. Our objection is that in discussing “open” morality in the first chapter, Bergson employs the same language and illustrations as in the exposition of “open” religion in chapter III. The higher justice and the love of mankind transcending the limits of “closed” societies are the expression of the love of God, which is the essential principle of mystical religion. “The emotion introduced by Christianity under the name of charity” is given as an example of the “new morality”.40 So we are told that “the morality of the Gospels is essentially that of the open soul”.41 Is not this to confuse two things that should be carefully distinguished, viz., pure morality and the praxis which is the fruit of virtus infusa and is of distinctively religious inspiration? Or is all morality, save the latter, to be regarded as static? This would surely be to run counter to the facts. Bergson's ambiguity on this point is due, of course, to his prejudice in favour of praxis as against theoria. The basis of the distinction between morality and religion lies, as we have shown above, in the fact that while morality is purely practical, in religion theoria is always dominant over praxis. It is small wonder that Bergson, holding that religion also is a mode of practical experience, should find it hard to preserve any distinction between the two. But his failure constitutes a serious blemish in the development of the central theme of this work.


In the closing chapter, entitled Mechanies and Mysticism, Bergson applies the foregoing teachings to the problems that beset the world to-day. Starting from the characteristics of “closed “societies as they emerge” fresh from the hands of nature”, he traces the development of the natural distinction, testing on a “dimorphism” in individual men, between rulers and ruled, and shows how, on a strictly naturalistic basis, societies are inevitably involved in war. This brings him to the urgent issue of the presentage: “Are things bound to follow their natural course?”42 I More precisely, is the growth of industrialism, with the menace of over-population, compatible with the establishment and maintenance of international peace? In the brief outline that follows, Bergson's philosophy of history leads him to formulate two principles of historical development: the “law of dichotomy”, by which opposing tendencies, e.g., towards stabilization and revolutionary change, or, again, towards luxury and asceticism, separate themselves out from what was originally a single current of advance; and the “law of twofold frenzy”, which determines each tendency, when the severance has materialized, to pursue its course “to the very end—as if there were an end”!43 Thus, and thus only, by the alternating ebb and flow of opposites, is the maximum of creative activity secured, alike in quantity and in quality. So in the Middle Ages, human life reached the climax of austerity, to be followed, from the Renaissance onwards, by an equally violent reaction towards material comfort. It is not that scientific invention has called forth the demand for artificial satisfactions; rather it is the artificial need that has guided the spirit of invention. The moral, for the present generation, is to bridle the desire for luxury. Failing the advent of a mystic personality—Bergson's analogue of the Platonic philosopher-king—the cure for our distress is to be sought in a reversion to simplicity of life. The modern world has taken overmuch thought for the body. Science has progressively studied our physical organism and its physical environment; but, until now, it has left the life of the soul in relative obscurity. Let it turn its thought to the world of mind. If the promises of Psychical Research be fully implemented, who can gauge the immensity of the terra incognita that has hitherto remained unexplored? “What a transformation for humanity, generally accustomed, whatever it may say, to accept as existing only what it can see and touch! The information which would then reach us would perhaps concern only the inferior portion of the souls, the lowest degree of spirituality. But this would be sufficient to turn into a live, acting, reality a belief in the life beyond, which is apparently met with in most men, but which for the most part remains verbal, abstract, intellectual.… In truth, if we were sure, absolutely sure, of survival, we could not think of anything else. Our pleasures would still remain, but drab and jejune, because their intensity was merely the attention that we centred upon them. They would pate like our electric lamps before the morning sun. Pleasure would be eclipsed by joy.”44

So Bergson concludes his latest book, with the affirmation, not as mere supposals, but as realities, of Kant's three Ideas of Reason—Freedom, Immortality, and God. We may indeed wonder whether, if, as Bergson suggests in the last quotation, we had absolute surety of survival after death, it would not entail paralysis of the very activity of living in which he finds the promise of man's salvation. Bergson, however, is the last thinker to desire an unreflective acceptance of his doctrines. When all has been said in criticism—and we have found much to criticize, both in this Appendix and throughout the preceding chapters—his book is worthy both of the genius of its author and of his nation, whose gifts to civilization, in the field of speculative wisdom, he has so nobly enriched.

  • 1.

    See Mr. H. W. B. Joseph's Searching criticism in his Herbert Spencer Lecture on The Concept of Evolution, reprinted in Essays on Ancient and Modern Philosophy (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1935).

  • 2.

    Le progrès de la conscience, vol. ii, § 324.

  • 3.

    Les deux sources P. 219. References throughout are to the English translation.

  • 4.

    Quoted by Chevalier: Bergson (Maîtres de la Pensée Française), p. 247.

  • 5.

    p. 17. All references in this Appendix are to the pages in the English translation by Mr. Ashley Audra and Mr. Cloudesley Brereton.

  • 6.


  • 7.

    p. 18.

  • 8.

    p. 6.

  • 9.

    E.g., pp. 23, 51.

  • 10.

    p. 16.

  • 11.

    p. 68.

  • 12.

    p. 78.

  • 13.

    pp. 253, 24.

  • 14.

    p. 82.

  • 15.

    p. 66.

  • 16.

    p. 67.

  • 17.

    p. 51.

  • 18.

    Beauty and Other Forms of Value, p. 258.

  • 19.

    pp. 49 ff.

  • 20.

    p. 21.

  • 21.

    p. 22.

  • 22.

    pp. 54 ff.

  • 23.

    Ethical Studies, 205, 231–232, 343–344.

  • 24.

    pp. 61 ff.

  • 25.

    p. 244.

  • 26.

    p. 101.

  • 27.

    p. 117.

  • 28.

    p. 128.

  • 29.

    pp. 84 ff., 119–127.

  • 30.

    p. 158.

  • 31.

    p. 180.

  • 32.

    p. 275.

  • 33.

    Chevalier: Bergson, esp. ch. vii.

  • 34.

    pp. 125 ff., 206–218.

  • 35.

    p. 188.

  • 36.


  • 37.

    p. 188.

  • 38.

    p. 198.

  • 39.

    p. 183.

  • 40.

    p. 36.

  • 41.

    pp. 45 ff.

  • 42.

    p. 248.

  • 43.

    p. 256.

  • 44.

    p. 274.