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In the Introduction to Metaphysics, metaphysics is defined as "that science which claims to dispense with symbols." Bergson contends that the human mind operates discursively, or by taking snapshots of reality as frozen instances of time. The continuing flow and rhythm of duration can only be grasped intuitively, not intellectually—real becoming stifles our minds. While performing analysis through this “spatializing of time” as science does, it appears we have to rely upon diagrams or symbols as a “fixing of images.” Bergson contrasts this notion of science with “immediate knowledge” as an attempt to overcome the “contradictions and problems [that] are mainly the result of the symbolic diagrams which cover it up, diagrams which have for us become reality itself, and beyond which only an intense and unusual effort can succeed in penetrating” (Matter and Memory, 245). A similar sentiment is expressed about symbols in regards to the usual treatment of space as a medium between matter and perception, labeled the “prejudices of action.” If “homogeneous space” is taken in the traditional sense of standing “between the two terms like an insurmountable barrier, [it] is then seen to have no other reality than that of a diagram or a symbol” (MM, 293). So I am interested in this question and the related horizon of what is the task of philosophy given the symbolism that we create for ourselves?

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for context much of Bergson's work in Introduction to Metaphysics is in response to the metaphysics of Kant, and his view of the impossibility of knowing things in themselves. True knowledge for Bergson is attainable, but it is distinct from everyday significations, and is closer to a 'merging with the thing in itself' through what he described using his notion of 'intuition' –  Dr Sister Aug 20 '12 at 6:44
    
We're incredibly good at tasks like motion estimation in smooth pursuit, where "frozen instances in time" seem exactly the wrong thing to do. Either he doesn't mean what I think he means, or his premises are confused. –  Rex Kerr Aug 20 '12 at 10:54
    
i agree, it could be reformulated, maybe something along the lines of (if i understand correctly?) if a systematic abstract formulation of reality is really an obfuscation of the nature of truth, what then is the task of philosophy? –  Dr Sister Aug 20 '12 at 17:34

1 Answer 1

This isn't an answer to the question, but some commentary to it, adduced from a reading from the SEP entry on Bergson, with a tentative conclusion dressed up rhetorically and optimistically.

metaphysics is defined as "that science which claims to dispense with symbols."

Bergson defines a symbol as a definite thing, for example the spatial organisation of twenty five cups as the symbol '25', this is symbolic in a definite and concrete way - it has no nimbus of additional meanings, for example, in the way that William Blake, the English Poet symbolises England as a Rose, in 'O Rose, though art Sick!'. Bergson is attempting to go beyond Kant, and Kant in his critical philosophy relativises metaphysics from a dogmatic (absolute) philosophy.

Bergson differentiates between qualitative and quantitative multiplicity. It is the quantitative multiplicity that is represented by a symbol, because it is spatial & homogenous. Qualitative multiplicities, in contrast, are heterogenous and temporal. Despite the heterogeneity there is no juxtoposition, in the way two cups can be juxtoposed next together spatially, this is due to their qualititiveness. For example a feeling of sympathy.

If Bergson defines metaphysics by removing symbols from its vocabulary then one supposes that he is intent on a metaphysics that is heterogenous, qualitative, continuous or interpenetrating, and progressive or temporal. One could say he explicates Kants notion of inner sense without using his transcendental method - that is the conditions it must follow.

Bergson contends that the human mind operates discursively, or by taking snapshots of reality as frozen instances of time

Now, Kant showed that there was a multiplicity of phenomena but which is presented to a unified consciousness and is unified there. Bergson focuses on the immediate data of consciousness which is also a multiplicity, which is considered as such in Husserls Phenomenology, but forges a different interpretation to open out a new notion of freedom distinct from Kants which is atemporal & aspatial - he considers such data as temporal, this is la duree, and within this duration there can be no juxtoposition, and hence no causality (for there is no sequence of times after each other), and without mechanical causality we are free in that duration.

The continuing flow and rhythm of duration can only be grasped intuitively, not intellectually—real becoming stifles our minds

Bergsons la duree is by definition intuitive, by intellectual grasping we spatialise it, and viewing it as sequence. If it is in la duree that we are free, then it is outside of la duree, that is when we grasp intellectually that we are not.

Bergson contrasts this notion of science with “immediate knowledge”

Science relies, as the experimental method shows, on the homogenous and the sequence, that is the repeatable experiment, it relies on causality and not freedom; and thus as the above shows it is in directly opposed to the immediate and intuitive knowledge of la duree which is the domain of the qualitative, the heterogenous and freedom and which lacks spatiality and juxtoposition.

an attempt to overcome the “contradictions and problems [that] are mainly the result of the symbolic diagrams which cover it up, diagrams which have for us become reality itself, and beyond which only an intense and unusual effort can succeed in penetrating”

Kant, in his critique of pure reason, displays the limitations of reasons through his antinomies; Bergson, here, who wants to go beyond Kant, beyond his relative epistemology and return to an objective one attacks the antinomies through their use of the symbol.

Finally:

Does Bergson view symbols negatively or only as a secondary source of knowledge?

Thus Bergson, does view symbols as knowledge, the knowledge of the homogenous and spatial but not temporally and heterogenously; in the first direction lies objective science and in contrast and far from viewing them negatively, he manoevers around their use to the second direction to get at the temporality of reality and its irreducible heterogeneity - la duree.

what is the task of philosophy given the symbolism that we create for ourselves?

One can thus declare that the task of science is the creation of symbols, Deleuze in contrast declares that the task of philosophy is the creation of concepts; and the SEP declares, that Deleuze discovered that Bergsons conspicuous creative concept is his concept of multiplicity which synthesises two oppositions - heterogeneity and continuity. It declares that it is revolutionary in that it allows a new way to reconceptualises the community.

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