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Chapter III: The Need for Transcendence

The Need for Transcendence1

This sort of circular panorama of our subject has not yet made very clear to us the real significance and nature of this investigation. We have found out what it is not; also, what conditions are likely to freeze its growth. We must now seek to grasp more directly what such an investigation is: and first of all we must ask ourselves what is the nature of that urgent inner need, of which I have spoken so often as being, in a way, the mainspring of such investigations.

I should like to call it a need for transcendence. Unfortunately, that word has been lately much abused both by contemporary German philosophers and some of their French pupils. I should like to lay it down in principle that ‘transcendence’ cannot merely mean ‘going beyond’. There are various ways of ‘going beyond’, for instance, for which ‘transcendence’ is an inappropriate word. There is going beyond in space: encroaching, as the explorer does, on some surface that lies beyond a commonly accepted limit. But there is also going beyond in time: I am thinking particularly of the notion of the ‘project’, the sort of moral claim upon the future, which plays such an important part in Sartre's thinking. If we call these ‘transcendence’, we are extending the meaning of the word in a way which may be grammatically permissible, but which is philosophically confusing. I would rather cling to the traditional antithesis between the immanent and the transcendent as it is presented to us in textbooks of metaphysics and theology. And, though I know there will be objections to this, I should even like to make a distinction between a horizontal and a vertical ‘going beyond’, the latter of which is more truly transcendence. We have already met with the main objections; they have to do with the use in an abstract metaphysical argument of categories that seem to belong exclusively to our individual perception of space. But really our way of evaluating certain experiences as ‘high’ and others as ‘low’ appears in a sense to be a fundamental thing, linked, as it were, to our very mode of existence as incarnate beings. I should like to mention in passing the important researches on such spatial metaphors that have been carried out separately by Dr. Minkowski and M. Robert Desoille. Their level of approach is rather different; both are psychiatrists, but Dr. Minkowski has the advantage of being specially trained in philosophy and the phenomenologic method, as M. Desoille is not.2

I think, however, that these objections should not simply be thrust aside, but rather taken up, and transformed into an argument on our own behalf. The argument might also be illustrated by an analysis bearing on the inevitable ambiguity which attaches, today, to the notion of ‘the heavens above’. In France, we have known rationalists who have expended a great deal of exuberant irony in lucid demonstrations of the pre-copernican character of the theological idea of heaven: they have insisted at length, and in a rather laborious way, on the absurdity of clinging to the traditional notions of an absolute ‘height’ and an absolute ‘depths’, a real ‘up’ and a real ‘down’, in a world that has been enlightened by mathematical physics. But strangely enough, it is the rationalists who in the end seem simple-minded; they fail, it seems, to grasp that there are categories of lived experience that cannot be transformed by any scientific discoveries, even those of an Einstein. We feel the earth below us, we see the sky above; the ways of expressing ourselves that derive from that situation could be changed only if the actual mode of our insertion into the universe could be changed; and there is no chance at present of that. When we are dealing, indeed, with such a simple matter as the correspondence of certain postures of the human body to certain contrasting emotions, we have to clench our minds to grasp what the problem is. I am using the rather vague word ‘correspondence’ on purpose in order not to bring in the questionable idea of a strictly causal relationship. When we think, for instance, of the quite precise and concrete emotional realities that translate themselves in French into a noun like ‘abattement’ and in English into a phrase like ‘feeling cast down’, is it not by an unnatural and, indeed, by a barren effort that we try to separate the facts themselves from the metaphor, rooted in language and hardly any longer felt as a metaphor, that fits them like a glove? I may add that the whole drift of such remarks will become clear only when we have got further on our way.

Therefore, we have now to ask ourselves what this urgent inner need for transcendence exactly consists of. I think we must first of all try to map it out in relation to life as it is concretely lived, and not to outline its shape in the high void of ‘pure thought’; for my method of advance does invariably consist, as the reader will have noticed already, in working my way up from life to thought and then down from thought to life again, so that I may try to throw more light upon life. But it would be a hopeless undertaking, I think, to attempt to ensconce oneself, once and for all, in the realm of pure thought. Or rather such an attempt is not legitimate except in one or two quite specialized disciplines, above all, of course, in the mathematical sciences; even so, it is a moot and rather troublesome question whether the mathematician can develop his speculations in a world quite totally cut off from experience, that is to say, fundamentally, from life. We shall have, later on, to go in more detail into the exact relations between these two important notions of ‘experience’ and of ‘life’ and to dissipate a confusion about these relations which prevails in certain realms of philosophic thought.

Let us notice in the first place that the need for transcendence presents itself above all, is deeply experienced above all, as a kind of dissatisfaction. But the converse does not seem to be true, it does not seem that one would be in the right in saying that every kind of dissatisfaction implies an aspiration towards transcendence. It is important, I think, at this point to be as concrete as possible, that is to say to dramatize, that is, to imagine, as precisely as possible, the situation, the sort of situation in which I may find myself involved. The personal pronoun ‘I’ should, in addition, be taken here in its widest sense. For it is not a matter only of that finite individuality that I myself am, but of every individuality with which I can sympathize in a lively enough way to represent its inner attitudes to myself. I have no difficulty for instance in putting myself in the place of somebody who suffers from having to lead a narrow life, a life whose development is embarrassed because all its expenses have to be kept at the lowest level, and who dreams of an easier and larger existence; let us imagine the case for instance of a young girl who, so that she may obtain the satisfactions of which she feels herself deprived, marries for money. Let us notice clearly that she perhaps frees herself from certain religious and moral prejudices, and in this sense one might, it seems, properly speak of a ‘going beyond’. On the other hand, we have a very clear sense indeed that the need to which the girl has yielded cannot properly be called a need for transcendence. That is enough to justify the distinction which I made at the beginning of the lecture.

We can now imagine a quite different case: the dissatisfaction of somebody who is on the contrary leading an easy life, full of material satisfactions, but who wants to break with this existence in order to commit himself to some spiritual adventure. We should have to go on to an analysis of these two types of dissatisfaction. The first, the girl's, is linked to the idea or, more exactly, to the image of a certain number of goods to which it seems to me that I have the right, or of which I feel myself deprived. Yet it is not, as it seems to me, the idea of possession as such which one should here chiefly stress. I would say, roughly and generally, that the person who suffers from poverty aspires above all to a liberty of movement which is denied to him. Whatever he wants to do, he is brought up short by the question of what it costs, and always he sees himself forced to renounce his purpose. It would be quite unjust to suppose that the girl who marries for money is necessarily inspired by cupidity, that she loves money for its own sake. Perhaps she is even a generous being who suffers particularly from not being able to help those she loves. In this connection, it is thus possible to conceive an hierarchy of satisfactions, some low and vulgar, others on the contrary highly spiritual. Let us note in passing that at this point the antithesis between the ‘high’ and the ‘low’ has cropped up again. These satisfactions, though hierarchically arranged, have, however, a common characteristic. They are all organically linked with the fact of possessing a certain power which does not fundamentally belong to me, a power which is not, strictly speaking, myself. The dissatisfaction has to do with the absence of something which is properly speaking external to me, though I can assimilate it to myself and in consequence make it mine. Let us not, at this point, bring in any moral judgments; we have not to ask ourselves whether marrying for money is in fact equivalent to selling oneself, or if it ought to be considered as blameworthy. We are moving at the level of description, and at that level only.

It seems to me then that the first type of dissatisfaction ceases at the moment when I have obtained the external help that assures for me that freedom of movement that I need. But the strange thing is, or so it seems, that the other type of dissatisfaction is directed precisely against satisfactions of this first type. It is just as if—and we shall have to remember this point later on—this liberty of movement which has been granted to us were to reveal itself as meaningless or quite worthless. Perhaps meaningless or worthless, just because its principle lies not in the self, but outside the self. From that moment, it is as if another sort of yearning arose in me, directed not outwards, but inwards. Naturally, the first example of this sort of yearning that presents itself to our minds is the yearning for sanctity; but it is not the only example, and we can also think, at this point, of the case of the creative artist. We can reflect upon the weariness that grips the man who has read too many books, heard too many concerts, visited too many galleries. If there is still enough life left in him, that weariness will tend to transform itself into a desire to create. Certainly, there is no guarantee that this new yearning will be satisfied. It does not lie within my own choice to be a creator, even if I genuinely aspire to creation. In other words, one would be guilty of an indefensible simplification if one asserted that the first kind of dissatisfaction is linked to the absence of something that does not depend on me—such as wealth—but that in the case of the second kind of dissatisfaction, it is up to myself to put an end to it. The truth is infinitely more subtle and complicated, and we cannot fall back here on the famous Stoic distinction—between things that lie within our power, and things that fall outside it—at least in its simple original form.

We shall have to come back to this point later on when we shall be trying to discern in what sense man is in the right in considering himself as a free agent, but even now we can see that the fact of a man's managing to fulfil his vocation, however high (and this is even truer, the higher his vocation is) could not be explained away as being the result of a simple decree of his will. There is, on the contrary, every reason to suppose that this fulfilment of a high vocation involves a kind of co-operation from a whole swarm of conditions over which the person with the vocation has no direct control. This is a point of the greatest importance and it shows that the problem of the vocation is essentially a metaphysical one, and that its solution transcends the scope of any psychological system whatsoever. It is not by mere chance that the verb ‘to transcend’ has here intruded itself, quite unexpectedly, into our discussion. We are already caught up, as it were, within the poles of that transcendence which we attempted to define in the first part of this lecture. Might it not be said that to create is always to create at a level above oneself? And is it not exactly, also, in this sort of connection that the word ‘above’ assumes its specific value?

It is true that the great Swiss novelist, Ramuz, in whom we must salute a thinker of profound power, seems, in his memories of Stravinsky, to say precisely the contrary. ‘I do not know why,’ he says, ‘but I was reminded of that sentence of Nietzsche: “I love the man who wants to create something higher than himself and so perishes.” But what I loved at that time in you was the man who, on the contrary, creates something lower than himself and does not perish.’ But there is, it seems to me, a confusion here, a confusion of which Jean Wahl is also perhaps guilty in attempting to distinguish, in one of his essays, between transcendence and transdescendence. What Ramuz is trying to say here, and what he has asserted many times, for instance in his book Salutation Paysanne3 is that one can only make poetry with the antipoetic, that art must be grafted on a wild stock, or rather that the artist must start off from the rawest and most familiar reality, contemplated in all its thickness, its primitive density. It is extremely probable that Ramuz is right in saying this. But there is no reason at all for denying a certain character of transcendence to this raw, familiar reality, always allowing that we insist on one point, which is as follows, and which is very important. There would be no meaning in treating transcendence as a sort of predicate which could belong to one determinate reality and not to another. On the contrary, the reference of the idea to the general human condition is fundamental; but it must be added that it is not a reference arrived at by way of abstract thought, but rather one that is grasped through intimate lived experience—experience, in the sort of case I am talking about, intimately lived in the inner awareness of the poet or the artist. We should notice, however, that we have now raised a difficulty which we must not evade. From the moment when the idea of transcendence is evoked in relation to the human condition in general, is it not negated as transcendence and in some sense absorbed back into experience, that is to say, in a word, brought back to the status of immanence? But in that case what becomes of the urgent inner need for transcendence, properly so called?

Let us proceed in this case as we always ought to in cases of this sort; that is to say, reflectively, asking ourselves whether the objection does not presuppose a postulate or rather an implicit image which ought to be erased? What is in question here is the very idea that we form of experience; have we not an unjustifiable tendency to think of experience as a sort of given, more or less shapeless substance, something like a sea whose shores are hidden by a thick fog, and we have just been speaking as if the transcendent was a sort of misty cloud which would by and by melt away; but we have only to reflect upon what experience really is, to realize that this metaphor is grossly inadequate. But we must, I think, go further still, and this remark will apply, in a certain sense, to all our future investigations. One cannot protest too energetically not only against this particular way of representing the idea of experience, but against the claim that experience can possibly be represented, in any way at all. Experience is not an object, and I am here taking the word ‘object’, as I shall always be taking it, in its strictly etymological sense, which is also the sense of the German word gegenstand, of something flung in my way, something placed before me, facing me, in my path. We must ask ourselves if some confused representation of experience as an object is not really involved when, in the manner of the Kantian philosophy if that is taken quite literally, one speaks of what lies outside, what lies beyond the limits of, experience. That, in the last analysis, can mean nothing, since the judging of something to be outside experience is itself empirical, that is to say it is a judgment made from within experience.

These very simple remarks lead us to an important conclusion, one of which we must never lose sight, especially during the second series of these lectures, when we shall be touching on more strictly metaphysical questions. Not only does the word ‘transcendent’ not mean ‘transcending experience’, but on the contrary there must exist a possibility of having an experience of the transcendent as such, and unless that possibility exists the word can have no meaning. One must not shirk the admission that, at a first glance, such an assertion runs the risk of appearing to contradict itself. But may not this be due to the fact that we tend, without realizing it, to form far too restrictive an idea of experience? A typical example of experience, taking the idea of experience in a narrow sense, would be a sensation of taste; in that case, experience appears to be linked to the presence of something for me, and in me, and we interpret it as part of the act of ingesting something. But it is obvious that this act of ingestion is not part of the essence of experience as such, and that in other cases, experience is not so much an absorbing into oneself of something as a straining oneself towards something, as when, for instance, during the night, we attempt to get a distinct perception of some far-off noise. I am still confining myself to examples belonging to the field of sensation. But we know very well that experience goes far beyond the domain of the external senses; and it is also very obvious that in what we call the ‘inner life’ experience can express itself through attitudes that may be diametrically opposed to each other.

Moreover, I am not allowing myself to forget that in the language of contemporary phenomenology the word ‘transcendence’ is understood in a much wider sense than that in which, up to the present, I have been understanding it; every object, as such, being considered, in that system, as a transcendent object. However, as I have already said, I prefer to stick to the traditional sense of the word, probing into it, however, more deeply than it has been usual to do. Let us admit, for that matter, that for a topic of this kind it is always very difficult to find an adequate vocabulary. To say that the transcendent is still immanent in experience, is to persist in objectifying experience and in imagining it as a sort of space of which the transcendent would be, so to say, one dimension. One can avoid such confusions only by keeping continually present to one's thought the spiritual meaning which one is stressing. Naturally, there is no possibility of doing without symbols; nevertheless, symbols should always be recognized as such and should never encroach on the ideas that one is straining to elucidate through their use.

Thus, I repeat, the urgent inner need for transcendence should never be interpreted as a need to pass beyond all experience whatsoever; for beyond all experience, there is nothing; I do not say merely nothing that can be thought, but nothing that can be felt. It would be much more true to say that what is our problem here is how to substitute a certain mode of experience for other modes. Here again we have to battle against a distorting symbolization which would represent these modes of experiences as physical spaces separated by some kind of partition. But it is sufficient, if we want to get rid of this misleading picture, to turn to a concrete and precise example: let us think, if you are willing, of the kind of inner transformation that can take place within a personal relationship. Here, for instance, is a husband who has begun by considering his wife in relation to himself, in relation to the sensual enjoyments she can give him, or even simply in relation to her services as an unpaid cook and charwoman. Let us suppose that he is gradually led into discovering that this woman has a reality, a value of her own, and that, without realizing it, he gradually comes to treat her as a creature existing in her own right; it may be that he will finally become capable of sacrificing for her sake a taste or a purpose which he would formerly have regarded as having an unconditional importance. In this case, we are witnesses of a change in the mode of experience which provides a direct illustration of my argument. This change revolves upon the centre of an experiencing self; or, to speak more exactly, let us say that the progress of the husband's thought gradually substitutes one centre for another; and of course the word ‘thought’ is not quite exactly the right word here, for we are dealing with a change in the attitude of a human being considered as a whole, and with that change, also, in so far as it embodies itself in that human being's acts. I hope this example gives us a glimpse, at least, of the direction in which we must set ourselves to move if we want to give a meaning to these words that are certainly obscure in themselves: urgent inner need for transcendence.

It will be objected, nevertheless, that the term ‘transcendence’ taken in its full metaphysical sense seems essentially to denote an otherness, and even an absolute otherness, and people will ask how an experience of otherness as such can even be conceived. Does not the other, qua other, fall by definition outside my experience? Again, in this case, we must ask ourselves whether the objection does not mask a preconceived idea which we must bring to the surface before we can expose it to criticism. Here again it is our conception, or again I would rather say our image, of experience that is in question. The point is so important at this juncture that we must be allowed to insist on it.

It may be said that the philosophy of the last century was in a very large measure dominated by a prejudice which tried to assume the dignity of a principle. The prejudice consisted in admitting that all experience in the end comes down to a self's experience of its own internal states. Let us notice, in passing, that what we have here is a paradoxical conjunction, or osmosis, of two contrasting elements—on the one hand a philosophy which had originally been based purely on the reality of sensation, and on the other hand an idealism whose nature was essentially different. The first of these philosophies, so long as it remained faithful to its first roots, was forced, for that matter, to deny to the self all autonomous reality; one can even say, it seems to me, that from this point of view (the point of view of Hume, for instance) the self is built up out of its own states, or out of something which is only an abstract and uncertain outcome of these states. It was quite another matter for idealism (and Descartes is the obvious name to mention in this connection), for which, on the contrary, the thinking self possesses an indubitable existence, and even a real priority. I mean that for idealism the thinking self stands as the necessary postulate without which any kind of experience at all is inconceivable. One might be tempted to say that for idealism it was rather the self's states of consciousness that had a wavering and doubtful metaphysical status. Moreover, in this connection, one recalls, of course, the difficulties that arise in Kant's doctrine about the relation between transcendental awareness and ordinary, everyday psychological awareness. How can the Ich denke become an Ich fühle or an Ich erlebe? It could not be a matter, in this case, of course, of postulating a separateness, like the separateness of physical objects, between the thinking self and the feeling self, that is, of claiming that the one was not the same thing as the other. Such an affirmation would result in the end in idealism's once more thingifying the self. To avoid that impasse, idealism will be forced to speak of functional differences between the self that thinks and the self that feels. But by this sort of schematism does one not risk distorting the nature of experience as a single lived reality? This is a serious problem, to which we shall have to come back. Can feeling be properly considered as a function of the self? Or is it not rather the case that every function presupposes feeling as anterior to it and other than it?

This mass of difficulties is bound to make us reflect, and to force us to call in question the whole notion of ‘a state of consciousness’. But we must get a clear grasp of the meaning of this problem.

The notion of a state, taken in its most general sense, is one that we cannot do without when we are thinking of bodies submitted to all sorts of modifications that appertain to their physical nature. I am not at this moment seeking to raise the difficult metaphysical problem of just what the relations between a body, considered in itself, and its modifications are, or more exactly whether the phrase ‘considered in itself can in such an instance have a precise meaning. That question, for the moment, is not relevant. What is beyond doubt is that we cannot afford to dispense with the idea of a state, if we want to describe the modifications suffered by any body whatsoever under the influence of external agencies. But then, when we speak of states of consciousness, is it not the case that, without being aware of it, we are treating consciousness as a sort of bodiless body which is capable of suffering an analogous series of modifications? Let us understand each other; in so far as I am myself a body—later, we shall have to consider at length the implications of this equivocal assertion—it is all too clear that I pass through an infinity of successive states. In so far as I am a body: but not at all in so far as I am a consciousness. For, in a word, whatever the ultimate nature of consciousness may be, it obviously cannot be considered as a body, even a bodiless one. On this point, Descartes was right and with him all the forms of idealism that are derived from his thinking. Consciousness is essentially something that is the contrary of a body, of a thing, of whatever thing one likes to imagine, and given that fact it is permissible to think that the expression ‘state of consciousness’ involves a contradiction in terms.

One might be tempted to resolve the contradiction, as Spinoza resolved it, by formulating the following observations: might not one say that what we call a state of consciousness is the state of a body at a given moment in so far as it is represented? Represented, in this technical sense, means something like seen in a mirror. Consciousness, on this theory, would be nothing else than the fashion in which a body looks at itself. But this solution raises innumerable difficulties and insoluble difficulties, too. The most serious of these have to do with the word ‘consciousness’ itself. The word implies something permanent which can only exist ideally, and it does not seem that one can attribute this permanence to body as such. What seems to be proper to a body, by reason of its very mutability, is to have no self. It is selfless by definition. But that is not all: we must be wary of the tendency that leads us to place ourselves as it were outside consciousness in order to represent it to ourselves (here, as a mirror), for all this can only be an illusory advance, since it is an intrinsic quality of consciousness that it cannot be detached, contemplated, and considered in this way. What we believe we are looking at from the outside is no longer consciousness, and perhaps it is not even anything at all. It is necessary then to reject at this point the conception according to which the so-called states of consciousness would be simply bodily states looking at themselves or becoming objects for themselves. But this refusal entails important consequences; it is not difficult to see, for instance, that it must lead us to reject the theory of psycho-physical parallelism. I do not think, for that matter, that Bergson's criticism of that theory has ever been refuted.

We are led, then, to this negative but very important conclusion that it is not possible to treat all experience as coming down in the end to a self's experience of its own states. The path that we should follow here is rather that first explored and mapped out by phenomenologists of the school of Husserl. I shall therefore lay it down as a principle, to be accepted in the whole of my subsequent argument, that, before it is anything else, consciousness is above all consciousness of something which is other than itself, what we call self-consciousness being on the contrary a derivative act whose essential nature is, indeed, rather uncertain; for we shall see in the sequel how difficult it is to succeed in getting a direct glimpse of whatever it is that we mean by self. Even at this point, let us notice that I cannot know myself or even make an effort to know myself without passing beyond this given self which I claim to know, and this ‘passing beyond’ appears to be characteristic of consciousness, which is enough in itself to dispose of the idea of consciousness as a mere mirror. Perhaps there are reasons for supposing that epiphenomenalism, that is, the idea of consciousness as a mere surface encrustation on matter, has penetrated today far beyond the bounds of materialism properly so called, and that all modern minds need to make a painful effort if they are to free themselves of this theory. Science and technique in general have, after all, stressed very strongly in our time the idea of a purely objective reality, a reality to which we all tend to attribute, though falsely, an internal coherence.

But from the moment when one has understood that consciousness is consciousness of something other than itself, we can easily overcome the temptation of epiphenomenalism, and at the same time the objection against which the idea of transcendence was hammering loses all its massive strength. It is necessary also, at this point, to notice how much we must be on our guard against all these metaphors which have been incorporated into the very flesh of language and which consist in assimilating the fact of being conscious to modes of physically gathering or taking. Such verbs as ‘seize’ and ‘grasp’ are very revealing from this point of view. Of course, it is not merely an unlucky chance if, even in an investigation of this sort, we find ourselves making a spontaneous use of them; we can hardly prevent ourselves from practising this sort of transposition of elusive notions into familiar, palpable terms, but it is important that we should not be deceived by the habit, and that we should be able to recognize within what limits this kind of transposition can be properly and legitimately exercised—limits outside of which it becomes illegitimate and degenerates into something meaningless.

I should be inclined to say in a very general fashion that the closer we get to the topic of intellection properly so called, the more these metaphors centred on the acts of plucking, taking, or grasping become really useless. One might admit that they are suitable enough for all those acts of the mind which still partake of habit. To form a habit is really to take, or seize, or grasp something, for it is an acquisition; but to discover an intelligible relation, for example some mathematical relation whose eternal validity one suddenly recognizes, that is not in any sense to grasp something; it is to be illuminated, or rather, to have a sudden access to some reality's revelation of itself to us. What we should notice here, however, is the impossibility of making a radical distinction between acquisition and illumination; for if illumination is to be communicated it must inevitably become language, and from the moment it has passed into a sentence it runs, in some degree, the risk of blinding itself and of sharing in the sad destiny of the sentence itself, which in the end will be repeated mechanically, without the person who repeats it any longer recognizing its meaning. Let us observe, moreover, that this danger is not only one which attends a communication from myself to another person, but that it also attends, if I may be allowed to put it in this way, a communication from me to myself. There is always the risk of the hardened, transmissible expression of the illumination growing over the illumination like a sort of shell and gradually taking its place. This is true at all levels, true wherever anything has been revealed, for instance about a work of art, a landscape, and so on… It is just as if the initial, living experience could survive only on condition of degrading itself to a certain extent, or rather of shutting itself up in its own simulacrum; but this simulacrum, which should only be there on sufferance, as a kind of locum tenens, is always threatening to free itself from its proper subordinate position and to claim a kind of independence to which it has no right; and the serious danger to which thought itself is exposed is that of starting off from the simulacrum, as an existing basis, instead of referring itself perpetually to that invisible and gradually less and less palpable presence, to indicate which (and to recall it to our memories) is the sole justification of the simulacrum's existence. This is a very general observation and it opens out in all sorts of diverse directions. For the moment, I will illustrate it by a single example which anticipates a good deal that we shall see more clearly later on.

Here is a person of whom we have a detailed knowledge, with whom we have lived, whom we have seen in many different situations. But it may happen that we are asked to say something about him, to answer questions about him, to offer a necessarily simplified opinion of his character; we offer a few adjectives, ready-made, rather than made to measure. This summary, inexact judgment of our friend then, within ourselves, begins to form what I have called a simulacrum. For it may paradoxically happen that this simulacrum obstructs or dims the fundamentally far more concrete idea we have formed of this person, an idea fundamentally incommunicable, an idea which we cannot even communicate in its pure essence to ourselves. And it is quite possible for the simulacrum we have formed of our friend to change our attitude to him, and even our behaviour towards him, for the worse. Though it may be, of course, that some circumstance will arise which will enable us to thrust aside this obstacle we have placed in the path of a true human relationship, without realizing we have done so.

There is, unfortunately, all too much reason to think that many a philosophy of the past—before Bergson's time, who in this field was a liberator whose beneficent activities can never be too highly celebrated—has been built up not on experience but on a waste product of experience that had taken experience's name. For a philosopher worthy of the name there is no more important undertaking than that of reinstating experience in the place of such bad substitutes for it.

But, it will be asked, what is the relationship—or is there even a relationship?—between the urgent inner need for transcendence and such a preoccupation? On a first impulse, one would be tempted to answer in the negative: but why? Because one would like to imagine, in accordance with a vicious fashion of philosophizing, that transcendence is fundamentally the direction in which we move away from experience. But the views that have been put forward in the first part of this lecture have prepared us to understand that this is false and that it presupposes an idea of experience which robs experience of its true nature.

Here, it seems to me, is the anatomy of this error. One cannot insist too strongly that what traditional empiricism failed to see was that experience is not, in any sense, something which resembles an impermeable mass. I would rather say that experience is receptive to very different degrees of saturation; I employ this expression from chemistry (where one talks, for instance, of a saturated solution, meaning one into which no new substance can be dissolved) with regret, and I shall seek for other expressions, so that our thought may not become fixed on a necessarily inadequate simile. One might, say, for example, that experience has varying degrees of purity, that in certain cases, for example, it is distilled, and it is now of water that I am thinking. What I ask myself, at this point, is whether the urgent inner need for transcendence might not, in its most fundamental nature, coincide with an aspiration towards a purer and purer mode of experience. I can quite see, of course, that the two metaphors of which I have made use appear to be contradictory—the metaphors of saturation and purity. But it is just this kind of opposition, linked to the material world, that tends to disappear at the spiritual level. We have only, if I may put it so, to dematerialize the initial comparison to see how it can fit in with the second. Let us think, for instance, not of a heavy body like salt, saturating a solution, but of radiations; one can imagine some liquid at once very pure and very radioactive; and, of course, even the notion of radioactivity is still borrowed from the physical world. Let us now imagine in an even vaguer fashion whatever sort of thing an intelligible essence might be, and we can easily conceive that the experience most fully charged with these imponderable elements, intelligible essences, might at the same time be the purest. We shall have to bear in mind the connection between plenitude and purity when we attempt to throw light, later on, upon how we ought, and above all upon how we ought not, to conceive an essence.

But even if we cling to the notion of saturation, we should have no difficulty in understanding that two completely opposite kinds of saturation of experience can be imagined. An experience can be saturated with prejudices: but this means that the prejudice which obstructs it at the same time prevents it from being fully an experience. Often, for instance, when we are travelling in a strange country, it is precisely so; we are unable to free ourselves from a certain number of preconceived ideas which we have brought with us without being distinctly aware of having done so; they are like distorting spectacles through which we look at everything that is presented to us. The other type of saturation is the opposite; one might say, to recall an old notion of the Greeks, that the eye must become light in order to comport itself properly in the face of light, and that this is not true only of the eye; the intelligence must become at once pure ardour and pure receptivity. It is necessary to put these two words together, the process I am imagining is a simultaneous one. If we put the stress exclusively on ardour, we cease to see how the intelligence is able to understand things; it seems that it is no longer properly intelligence, but merely enthusiasm; but if we insist only on receptivity, we are already the dupes of that material image which I have already taken note of; we persuade ourselves falsely that to understand, for the mind, is like, for a vessel, being filled with a certain content. But the intelligence can never be properly compared to a content, and it is of this that we shall convince ourselves in our next lecture when we attempt to sound the depths of what is to be understood by the notion of truth.

  • 1.

    The word ‘need’ does not convey the meaning of the French word exigence; the German equivalent would be Forderung.

  • 2.

    In his extremely interesting book, Vers une Cosmologie, (Paris, Fernand Aubier, 1936), Dr. Minkowski speaks of a primitive space of experience in which our thoughts and ideas, as well as our bodies, can be said to move. The nature of this primitive space varies according to exactly what is moving through it; thus Dr. Minkowski suggests that we can contrast our inner with our outer, our mental with our physical space. He gives an example that perhaps may make his drift clearer. I am saying goodbye on a station platform to someone I care for deeply; the train moves off, my friend is still leaning out of the window, and instinctively I run after the train, stretching out my hands towards him. At the end of the platform, as the train disappears from sight, I do actually stop running, but nevertheless, in my inner space, I am still pursuing it; my thought follows the train and participates, so to speak, in the movement which is carrying away part of my being. Dr. Minkowski observes that, according to our usual way of thinking, the only real motion is bodily motion; but this, he says, is a false way of thinking, for thought moves, too. And possibly, on my way out of the station, lost in the thought that is still following my friend as he is carried away from me, I may bump into somebody. ‘I am sorry,’ I shall say, ‘I didn't notice where I was going, my thoughts were somewhere else… This is a striking illustration of what inner space, lived space, the space of experience, means; and later in this series of lectures we shall have, I fancy, to remember this notion and to make use of it.

  • 3.

    Paris, 1929.