Bergson and Heraclitus

CRITICISM, appreciative or otherwise, of a great meta-physical speculator, while he is living, cannot be very authentic. However much a FICHTE, a HEGEL, a SPINOZA, a DES CARTES may mean to his own contemporaries, it is well nigh impossible that they should view him with true perspective or see correctly his place in the development of philosophical thought.

HENRI BERGSON seems to many minds in this generation to answer the questions which this generation has inherited, or which this generation peculiarly propounds. In what proportion his answers are valid or fallacious, it is needless to inquire, since the inquiry would be futile.

BERGSON is styled the modern HERACLITUS, because like the Greek, he is impressed with the significance of Time. Space to thinkers like DES CARTES, SPINOZA, and LEIBNITZ, as to all the mathematical school of metaphysicians, seemed the cardinal consideration. But biology has usurped the place of mathematics in influencing metaphysical speculation, and biology like it kindred sciences emphasizes the idea of development, change.

Change is the potent fact to BERGSON as to HERACLITUS. Changes or appearances in succession, comprised to HERACLITUS all our knowledge. To BERGSON also there is no knowledge except as conditioned by Time. And his Time compared to that of HERACLITUS is a complex, by reason of the fact that he lives in an age of scientific knowledge and research, whereas the Greek lived in an age in which science, so far as there was any, was limited to unassisted and uncorrected observation.

But there is an essential as well as historical difference between HERACLITUS and BERGSON. The world of change, the Stream of Time, partook of the nature of illusion to the Greek. It is not illusion to the Frenchman, since the changeability itself is the law, is the truth. A continuous and continual development, is the texture of our perceptive experience to BERGSON, whereas to HERACLITUS it was a mere flow.

Moreover BERGSON supplies a new doctrine. He finds that the intellect has an intuitive faculty. The mind, according to him, is not confined to its perceptions and to its analysis of what has been perceived. The mind includes intuition, by which it arrives at conviction of subtle forces at work, of spiritual powers.

And we of today who are being prepared by Science itself to be mystics or semi-mystics, do not reject BERGSON’S postulate with contempt, as SPENCER would have done. We, who have hard about radium, who have heard about electrons, who have a notion of how infinitely delicate as well as how ponderous this Universe is, who are aware of how many vibrations escape our senses, and how some may not totally escape them — well, to our Twentieth Century minds BERGSON’S intuition does not seem so improbable. But at that it is not vital.