Bergson and Bergsonism: A Reply to Riggio, Melanie White

SERRC —  June 19, 2015 — 8 Comments

Author Information: Melanie White, University of New South Wales, melanie.white@unsw.edu.au

White, Melanie. “Bergson and Bergsonism: A Reply to Riggio.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 6 (2015): 40-44.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-28C

Please refer to:

bergson

Image credit: Jef Safi, via flickr

Adam Riggio gives us an interesting insight into a science war avant la lettre between two iconic twentieth century figures in philosophy and physics, Henri Bergson (1859-1940) and Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Bergson was once a household name, but now almost forgotten, and Einstein’s name has become almost unforgettable. Bergson was arguably one of the most important philosophers of the early twentieth century, and even then, one of philosophy’s most controversial figures. 

On Bergson and Einstein

Riggio focuses on the challenge posed by Einstein’s theory of relativity against Bergson’s idea that the essence of time is durée, that is change internal to itself. Riggio focuses principally on Bergson’s Creative Evolution which was originally published in 1907, and then translated into English in 1912. It was this text that occasioned the public debate between Bergson and Einstein at the Société française de philosophie in Paris in 1922. This debate preceded the release of Bergson’s book Duration and Simultaneity that, according to Einstein and other scientists and philosophers, contained an error that revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of the theory of relativity. In his defence, Bergson claimed that he had been misunderstood.

Riggio ostensibly takes up this dispute as the basis for his claim that Bergson and Einstein were participants in one of the earliest examples of a Science War. This is not a new argument. The physicists Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont were among the first to claim that the contemporary origins of the ‘Science Wars’ could be found in the debate between Bergson and Einstein (1997). More recently, the intellectual historian Jimena Canales has published The Physicist and the Philosopher (2015), which treats the debate as a decisive moment in the formation of two cultures, and indeed, two world views.

Riggio’s purpose seems genuine. He seeks to trouble the received view that it was Einstein who bested Bergson in order to determine the conditions necessary to reconcile philosophy and science in mutually rewarding quest for truth. This is instructive. Riggio follows the reception of Bergson’s ideas to argue that this debate shaped his legacy. But here, it is an overstatement to suggest that Bergson’s participation in the science wars can be isolated to his critique of evolutionary biology in Creative Evolution (1907). It is important to note a consistency in his method and logic with respect to science. Indeed, each of his major publications focused on a science of his time to argue that scientific explanation tends to obscure the motility and mobility of time. To this end he takes up, psychophysics in Time and Free Will (1889), psychology in Matter and Memory (1896), and perhaps less well known, sociology in The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (1932).

Philosophical Networks

To my mind, Riggio places too much emphasis on the debate with Einstein to make the claim that Bergson’s ‘stumbles in professional and political conversation with Albert Einstein destroyed his career’ (2015, 2). Riggio uses the debate and its aftermath to attribute Bergson’s ostensible demise to insufficient professional and intellectual networks. This allows him to use Bergson’s case to claim that ‘[p]hilosophy’s practitioners must be aware that their arguments and intuitions must be integrated with wider professional networks and the ideas they can supply for the sake of further evidence and ongoing critique of arguments and ideas within their own discipline’ (2015,13).

This is important and useful advice. And yet, to me, it serves less as an argument for why Bergson’s metaphysics has not taken up by scientists than as an explanation for why Bergson has not been taken up within the ranks of analytic philosophy. Indeed, it is from being situated from within such a network that Riggio himself can claim that Bergson was ‘driven into total obscurity’ after the debate (2015, 8). Now, this observation only makes sense from the perspective of an analytic philosophy where Bergson’s contributions have largely been ignored, if not ridiculed. Indeed, one only need recall Bertrand Russell’s unflattering appraisal that Bergson ‘never thinks about fundamentals, but just invents pretty fairy-tales’ (387) to appreciate the hostility of analytic philosophy toward Bergson’s philosophy of intuition. And thus, it is only from the perspective of one sensitive to the rhythms of analytic philosophy—as Riggio himself is—that it is possible to claim that Bergson’s reputation was ruined, and that, no one—and here, especially analytic philosophers—could take Bergson seriously. The debate with Einstein was not revelatory from this perspective, but confirmatory.

For those, like me, who are not invested in the divisions between analytic philosophy and the continental tradition, this assessment of Bergson’s legacy is somewhat bewildering. For this is the same Bergson who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1927, became Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 1928, and was then awarded the Grand-Croix de la Legion d’honneur in 1930. By any other reckoning, these accolades would suggest the culmination of a vibrant and robust intellectual career. And yet, they receive little mention from Riggio. It makes sense when we understand that such awards are irrelevant from the perspective of an analytic philosophy that has already discounted the professional contributions of this erstwhile philosopher.

This is perhaps one reason why the Einstein-Bergson debate holds such fascination for Riggio. It is a signal moment of Bergson’s promise for redemption and his failure to persuade. It represents the moment that ‘rationality’ emerged victorious over ‘intuition’, and interestingly, a rare moment of alignment between science and analytic philosophy against ‘irrationality’. For Bergson, duration is that which science eliminates, and which analytical philosophy can neither conceive nor express. If duration ‘is what one feels and lives’, then by this account, there could be no space for Bergson’s metaphysics within either science or analytic philosophy because, in the end, its inclusion would only serve to prove Bergson’s point. This observation also helps us to account for the reason that Bergson’s repeated attempts to clarify his position never took hold in philosophical circles after the debate (see for example, the appendices to Duration and Simultaneity, 1999).

Philosophy and Physics

As Riggio notes, the stakes in the debate between Einstein and Bergson were about the relationship between philosophy and physics. But he presumes that Einstein emerged unscathed from the encounter. But this is perhaps not altogether certain. As Canales observes, when Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize shortly after his debate with Bergson, it was not for his theory of relativity, but rather for ‘his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect’ (2015, 3-4). Arguably, Bergson’s critique was a success insofar as the president of the Nobel Committee intimated that Einstein’s theory of relativity ‘pertains to epistemology’ rather than to physics, an observation directly related to Bergson’s effectiveness in debate (Canales 2015, 3-4). Even so, what Riggio demonstrates, albeit obliquely, is that the aftermath of the debate served to close philosophical ranks against Bergson.

For anyone predisposed against the idea of duration as immediate experience, it would not be difficult to retrospectively connect Bergson’s supposed ‘failure’ with the ‘Bergsonism’ that preceded him. Bergsonism combined a spiritualism with a common sense that transcended academe in its popular appeal to a broad public audience. Paul Douglass gives a nice anecdote in Bergson, Eliot, and American Literature regarding Bergson’s popularity following the publication of Creative Evolution: ‘Bergson was forced to reserve seats at lectures for his students; journalists, tourists, clergy, foreign students, and even ladies of fashion crowded the hall’ (1986, 12).

Similarly when Bergson arrived in New York at the invitation of William James in 1913, he caused the city’s first traffic jam as society figures flocked to hear him speak. From this perspective, Bergsonism was a force in its own right and created the conditions of legitimacy for Bergson’s eschewal from the kind of ‘reason’ espoused by scientists and analytic philosophers. But Bergson’s Bergsonism brings to mind the standing of another towering intellectual figure who similarly inspired admiration and vitriol: Karl Marx. As his collaborator and friend, Friedrich Engels observed in a letter to Conrad Schmidt: ‘The materialist conception of history has a lot of dangerous friends nowadays, who use it as an excuse for not studying history. Just as Marx, in commenting on the ‘Marxists’ of the late seventies used to say: “All I know is that I am not a Marxist”’ (Engels to C. Schmidt, August 5, 1890).

By Riggio’s account, Bergson many not have had many friends, even dangerous ones. He notes that the ‘the textbook account sees the vitriol as entirely philosophical in origin, because professional networks are not usually taken to be significant causal factors for philosophical developments’ (Riggio 2015, 12). But here, perhaps, it was precisely Bergson’s populist support that at once helped to animate philosophical vitriol and replaced a professional network. Indeed, as Walter Lippmann observed at the time, Bergson was considered to be ‘the most dangerous man in the world’ insofar as his philosophy threatened to put society’s institutions on the defensive (Lippmann 1912, 100-1). If this observation is taken at face value, we might even go so far as to say that his philosophy threatened to put science and philosophy on the defensive.

Bergson v. Bergsonism

Just as Marx sought to distinguish himself from the Marxists, so too must we distinguish Bergson from his Bergsonism. This means that we must insist on distinguishing the problem of the general reception of Bergson’s claims with the question of how Bergson’s philosophy might inform a philosophy of science. To do so, we must insist on the kind of careful measured style of argumentation that a close reading of Bergson rewards. This requires something that Riggio explicitly acknowledges goes beyond the scope of his article because his ‘essay is not a scholarly exegesis of his works’ (2015, 2). Bergson requires a generous reading, one that sees a lyrical turn of phrase as an expression of his theory of time rather than its undoing. From this, we might see the stake that science and philosophy have in checking Bergson’s advance.

We can see how from Riggio’s perspective that: ‘Bergson’s arguments were widely interpreted as an attack on Einstein’s physics, because the Frenchman was never clear until it was too late to salvage his reputation about his own theory being a supplement to mathematical physics instead of competition’ (2015, 11). But here, as Canales reminds us, Bergson was clear. Indeed, his clarity and precision are signature elements of his philosophical argumentation. The wreckage of the debate between Bergson and Einstein has arguably more to do with an alliance between analytic philosophy and science than it has to do solely with an absence of professional network. At the end of the day, these may amount to the same insight, viz., that Bergson was not entirely responsible for the shaping of his own reputation.

References

Bergson, Henri ‘Introduction: Retrograde Movement of the True Growth of Truth.’ In The Creative Mind: An Introduction to Metaphysics, edited by Henri Bergson, 11-29. New York: Citadel Press, 1974.

Bergson, Henri. Duration and Simultaneity: Bergson and the Einsteinian Universe. Manchester: Clinamen Press, 1999.

Canales, Jimena. The Physicist & the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate that Changed Our Understanding of Time. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2015.

Douglass, Paul. Bergson, Eliot, & American Literature. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1986.

Engels, Friedrich. ‘Letter to C. Schmidt, 5 August 1890.’ In Marx and Engels: Selected Correspondence, 393. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1975.

Lippmann, Walter. ‘The Most Dangerous Man in the World.’ Everybody’s Magazine 27 (1912): 100-101.

Riggio, Adam. ‘Lessons for the Relationship of Philosophy and Science from the Legacy of Henri Bergson.’ Social Epistemology (2015): 1-14. DOI: 10.1080/02691728.2014.971916

Russell, Bertrand. ‘Letter to Lucy Donnelly, 28 October 1911.’ In The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell, Volume 1: The Private Years 1884-1914, edited by Nicholas Griffin, 386-9. London: Routledge, 2002.

Sokal, Alan and Jean Bricmont. ‘Un Regard sur L’histoire des Rapports Entre Science et Philosophie: Bergson et ses Successeurs.’ In Impostures Intellectuelles, edited by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, 165-84. Paris: Odil Jacob, 1997.

8 responses to Bergson and Bergsonism: A Reply to Riggio, Melanie White

  1. 

    Thanks for such a thoughtful critique, Melanie. And for letting me know that Canales’ book has been published. When I was writing the article, all I had of hers was an article of a few thousand words that she published during her research process.

    Jim Collier’s asked me to write a formal reply to your reply, which I’ll do over the next couple of weeks. For now, I’d like to state briefly a main point of that eventual detailed reply.

    It isn’t that there aren’t places where Bergson has had considerable influence; it’s just that all those places are European. And although Bergson still won the Nobel Prize and achieved further honours after his debate with Einstein, he ultimately fell from prominence even there. He was something of a forgotten figure until Deleuze resurrected him as someone with important and fascinating ideas. France’s own mainstream philosophy doesn’t even follow the Bergsonian tradition, being dominated by conservative liberals like Luc Ferry and Bernard Henri-Levy.

    Mainly, where I take issue with your idea here is the implication that Bergson being ignored by analytic philosophy and mainstream science is no big deal. Bergson had an immense popular impact, and remained highly influential in much of European philosophy, and it’s merely analytic philosophy that considers him a foolish mystic or worse. I agree with you that this is true.

    But analytic philosophy is the dominant school throughout the UK, USA, and Canada. The culture and presumptions of that tradition set the educational and research focus of almost all the major universities of North America. It even determines how non-analytic philosophy is done in North America: Continental philosophy in North America is an intellectual corpse, reams of commentary on a set of canonical figures. North American Continental philosophy is done on analytic terms, as secondary material on a dead end.

    The unfortunate dogmatisms of analytic philosophy aren’t something we can just dismiss, because those standards set the bar for research and teaching: who gets hired in positions and gets recognition as university-sanctioned philosophers, and who doesn’t get hired and so has their writing marginalized.

    I can’t understand why you don’t see analytic philosophy as a big deal. Though I am impressed that I seem to have successfully disguised myself as a doctrinaire analytic philosopher in my article.

  2. 

    Riggio and White have inspired me to reply at some length. In my comments, I have used their words as points of departure for reflections that sometimes go beyond direct replies to what I understand them to have meant. I begin with some reflections on Adam’s framing of his argument.

    Adam (first part of sentence, pp. 1-2): “Yet, after the rise of post-modernism in many humanities fields, dialogue between philosophy and science on many important issues has become impossible, ….”

    Dick: “I prefer to frame the issue differently. I say that dialogue between philosophy and science has always been impossible, and always will be. That is because dialogue can only occur between persons, and I deny that either “philosophy” or “science” signifies a person. This might seem pedentic, but it’s very important to me. I believe that the terms used to frame an issue reflect tacit beliefs that affect the ways the issue is discussed and resolved.”

    Adam (second part of the same sentence): “…scientifically-minded intellectuals having no expectation that humanities can contribute usefully to the disciplines of science.”

    Dick: This is a different, and more satisfactory, way of framing the issue. Some persons, “scientifically-minded intellectuals,” don’t expect to learn anything scientifically useful from the humanities. I frame the issue as follows: many “hard” scientists don’t respect what members of “soft” disciplines say about science.

    Adam (“What We Can Learn From the Wreckage,” p. 11): “(1) Maintaining professional networks is more important to the reception of an idea than the strength of the idea itself; (2) Political conflict can be more important in contributing to a reputation than a person’s work, but are often made invisible in professional histories; and (3) The relationship of the sciences and humanities disciplines can only be productive when guided by a humble spirit.”

    Dick: I concur with both the substance and expression of the first two points. I agree with what I understand to be the substance of the third point, but I am not comfortable with the way Adam expressed it. It reflects the initial framing to which I objected; it is put in terms of relations between communities (or even categories) rather than relations between persons. I prefer to say that the relationship between a “hard” scientist and a member of a “soft” discipline can only be productive when both persons are guided, not only by a humble spirit but also by respect for onr another. Good relations between different disciplines depend upon good relations between individual members of those disciplines. Good relations between influential members are especially important.

    The next few comments were inspired by White’s reply. I bring in Whitehead because of his agreement with Bergson.

    Melanie: “Riggio focuses on the challenge posed by Einstein’s theory of relativity against Bergson’s idea that the essence of time is durée, that is change internal to itself” (p. 40).

    Dick: In Science and the Modern World (1925: 71-73), Whitehead says that beginning in the seventeenth century, many scientists assumed that the most “concrete” things in nature were simply located bits of matter. The image was that “the world is a succession of instantaneous configurations of matter.” This became the “orthodox creed of physical science,” justified by the fact that “it worked.” But, says Whitehead, “the history of thought in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is governed by the fact that the world had got hold of a general idea which it could neither live with nor live without.” Whitehead says that Bergson protested against this, calling it an “intellectual spatialisation’ of things.” Whitehead adds (1925: 74-75):

    “I agree with Bergson in his protest: but I do not agree that such distortion is a vice necessary to the intellectual apprehension of nature. I shall in subsequent lectures endeavor to show that this spatialisation is the expression of more concrete facts under the guise of very abstract logical constructions. There is an error; but it is merely the accidental error of mistaking the abstract for the concrete. It is an example of what I will call the ‘Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.’ This fallacay is the occasion of great confusion in philosophy. It is not necessary for the intellect to fall into the trap, though in this example there has been a very general tendency to do so.”

    Whitehead argues that events are the most concrete things in nature. Events are not abstract points “contained” in space as conceived in terms of Cartesian coordinates, and “contained” in and time conceived as a fourth “spatialized” dimension. Rather than being points in abstract time and space, events are concrete by reason of their duration and volume.

    Melanie: “Riggio ostensibly takes up this dispute as the basis for his claim that Bergson and Einstein were participants in one of the earliest examples of a Science War” (p. 40).

    Dick: Whitehead (1925: 12) argues that the Protestant Reformation and the scientific revolt against philosophy were two aspects of the historical revolt which was the dominant intellectual movement of the later Renaissance. The appeal to the origins of Christianity, and Francis Bacon’s appeal to efficient causes as against final causes, were two sides of this revolt. Whitehead contends that this movement of thought was (a) essentially anti-intellectual, (b) a repudiation of philosophy, and (c) historically necessary as a corrective to the excesses of Medieval rationalism.

    Melanie: “Indeed, one only need recall Bertrand Russell’s unflattering appraisal that Bergson ‘never thinks about fundamentals, but just invents pretty fairy-tales’ (387) to appreciate the hostility of analytic philosophy toward Bergson’s philosophy of intuition” (p. 41).

    Dick: Russell also criticized Whitehead, but used less harsh language than he did in his dismissal of Bergson. Richard Lubbock says: “Principia Mathematica took ten years to complete. Thereafter the friendship between Russell and Whitehead cooled, but Whitehead never quarreled with anyone. He did, however, remark, ‘Bertie says that I am muddle headed, but I say that he is simple minded’. Russell recalled that Whitehead said to him once, ‘You think the world is what it looks like in fine weather at noon day; I think it is what it seems like in the early morning when one first wakes from deep sleep’. Russell thought Whitehead’s notion ‘horrid, but I could not see how to prove my bias was any better than his’. Russell perceived the world in hard edges and points: ‘It is more like a heap of shot than a pot of treacle,’ he believed.”

    Melanie: “For those, like me, who are not invested in the divisions between analytic philosophy and the continental tradition, this assessment of Bergson’s legacy is somewhat bewildering” (p. 41).

    Dick: Like Melanie, I am not invested in the conflicts between analytic philosophy and the philosophical positions analytic philosphers treat with contempt. This is the result of being primarily a sociologist.

    Melanie: “If this observation is taken at face value, we might even go so far as to say that his [Bergson’s] philosophy threatened to put science and philosophy on the defensive” (p. 42).

    Dick: It is analytic philosophy, rather than science, that’s put on the defensive. Practicing scientists do not pay much more attention to analytic philosophers than they do to philosophers from other traditions. Sociologist Jonathan Turner attributes “physics envy” to dogmatically positivist sociologists. I believe that many analytic philosophers also suffer from physics envy. They want to make their philosophy as much like the “hardest” of the “hard sciences” as possible. So the philosophies of Bergson and Whitehead put them on the defensive. They defend against being called “soft.”

    Melanie: “The wreckage of the debate between Bergson and Einstein has arguably more to do with an alliance between analytic philosophy and science than it has to do solely with an absence of professional network” (p. 43).

    Dick: Rather than being an alliance between analytic philosophy and science, I believe it is more of an attempt on the part of analytic philosophers to gain some of the prestige of “hard” science. In his preface to Personal Knowledge (1958, vii), Michael Polanyi says: “I start by rejecting the ideal of scientific detachment. In the exact sciences, this false ideal is perhaps harmless, for it is in fact disregarded there by scientists. But we shall see that it exercises a destructive influence in biology, psychology, and sociology, and falsifies our whole outlook far beyond the domain of science.” This must be read in the light of Polanyi’s having had a distinguished career as a chemist prior to turning to philosophy and social theory.

    This reply is already long, but I want to conclude by pointing out that Kant treated time and space as a priori forms of intuition rather than as a priori categories of understanding, and that Bernard Lonergan, in his effort to develop a more realistic philosophy that integrated Kant and Aquinas, treated space and time as aspects of the “empirical residue” rather than as “forms” that can be grasped by insight. Followers of Whitehead, Polanyi, and Lonergan all complain about the neglect of their intellectual heroes by mainstream analytic philosophers. Like Bergson, they put analytic philosophers on the defensive.

  3. 

    This is an interesting discussion, but I tend to side with Melanie over Adam, who seems to adopt rather uncritically – and perhaps even unwittingly – today’s analytic philosophers’ Whiggish view of the history of 20th century philosophy. The case for the marginalization of Bergson only makes sense if the course of professional philosophy in the English-speaking world in the 20th century is taken as your polestar for understanding what happened to all of philosophy. Yet, even in my own analytic training in philosophy of science, Bergson’s views of time, matter, etc. were always lurking on the margins – gesturing towards something that analytic philosophers could not get at, which may or may not have significant metaphysical import. So, while it’s true that Bergson was sidelined, he was not outright dismissed. Even Karl Popper, a big Einstein fan, borrowed his open/closed society distinction from one of Bergson’s late books, on the two sources of religion and morality. Adam’s image of Bergson as world-historic loser would have to be softened even more, if one took seriously the abiding interest in Bergson among Catholic philosophers of a phenomenological bent throughout this period.

    In the end, Bergson was very much a figure like John Dewey, who never ‘self-professionalized’ in his writings and, as a result, both benefitted and suffered the consequences of living in an increasingly professionalized age. An interesting contrast is their contemporary Husserl (Bergson, Dewey and Husserl were born in the same year, 1859), who very clearly defined his philosophy as an ongoing personal project, which required detaching oneself from the public, if only to rediscover some more authentic mode of being-in-the-world (ergo Heidegger). Was Husserl’s strategy a better one? Yes, if you believe that the only legitimate way that philosophy can influence/change the world is by having one’s views meet with the approval of professional peers. But the success of Bergson, Dewey and many others deny that myth – and so it makes no sense to phrase the issue of Bergson’s reception in terms of something different that Bergson could have done. Bergson did as well as he could, given his own priorities as a philosopher, which did not put professional peer approval in pole position.

    More specifically, the verdict of the Bergson-Einstein debate only seems clear from today’s standpoint – and then only if one confines opinion to mainstream experts. Einstein himself has undergone serious questioning by physicists – and in this context Bergson is a relevant antecedent. Two years ago I reviewed Lee Smolin’s latest attempt to re-orient physics, which seemed to be barking up familiar Bergsonian trees: https://social-epistemology.com/2013/06/06/world-enough-and-time-steve-fuller/. So Bergson is by no means a dead letter, even in physics.

    However, my main point here is to reject the three lessons that Adam draws from the Bergson-Einstein episode in the final section of his original SE article, which look too much like a formula for intellectual pandering. Bergson may have made some rhetorical misfirings – which we all do in the heat of battle – but that does not undermine intellectual challenge he was posing to Einstein’s view of the universe, which continues to this day.

  4. 

    A very, very minor point, not relevant to the larger discussion, but there must be something wrong with this anecdote: “Similarly when Bergson arrived in New York at the invitation of William James in 1913, he caused the city’s first traffic jam as society figures flocked to hear him speak.” Namely, James died in 1910! More likely it was someone in the Columbia philosophy department at the time. Dewey?

    • 

      Thanks Matthew, you’re absolutely right, and it is my mistake. It certainly couldn’t have been James; and my notes simply say ‘Columbia University’. My apologies.

  5. 

    An interview with Jimena Canales in the Australian media, about her book on the Einstein-Bergson relationship / collision / no-holds-barred grudge match. Sheds a little extra light on both mine and Melanie’s ideas.

    http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/philosopherszone/science-vs-philosophy-and-the-meaning-of-time/6539568

    My formal reply to your reply is still in the works, Melanie. Thanks again.

  6. 

    “But Bergson’s Bergsonism brings to mind the standing of another towering intellectual figure who similarly inspired admiration and vitriol: Karl Marx. As his collaborator and friend, Friedrich Engels observed in a letter to Conrad Schmidt: ‘The materialist conception of history has a lot of dangerous friends nowadays, who use it as an excuse for not studying history. Just as Marx, in commenting on the ‘Marxists’ of the late seventies used to say: “All I know is that I am not a Marxist”’ (Engels to C. Schmidt, August 5, 1890).”

    The key difference between Bergson and Marx was that for Bergson, the subject was ‘individual’, whereas for Marx the subject was ‘social’. So, Bergson’s ‘individual intuition’ is contrasted with Marx’s ‘social theory’, the central difference being that ‘social theory’ can be voted on, whereas ‘individual intuition’ is psychological insight. Thus, Marx’s epistemology is democratic, whereas Bergson’s is elitist. This is the reason that Marx’s views have more purchase in a world that claims to be ‘democratic’, whereas Bergson’s are suited to pre-1914 elitist thought, the world of ‘special individuals’ and ‘geniuses’, who abhorred ‘democracy’.
    On the other hand, I think that Bergson’s views of ‘nature’ are similar to Marx’s: that ‘out there’ is something that can only be known by us ‘working upon’ it and changing it, by creating our own reality.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Editing Memory: A Reply to Melanie White and Other Critics , Adam Riggio « Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective - July 6, 2015

    […] Melanie. “Bergson and Bergsonism: A Reply to Riggio.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 6 (2015): […]

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