Vivian Trow Thayer (1886 – 1979) vergeleek Bergson en Spinoza

Er zijn niet veel studies te vinden waarin de filosofie van Bergson met die van Spinoza wordt vergeleken. Meestal zie je volstaan worden met een bescheiden aantal opmerkingen. Iemand die wel de moeite nam om die vergelijking te maken is V.T. Thayer.

Tijdens zijn filosofiestudie aan de universiteit van Wisconsin (waar nu Steven Nadler doceert), waar V. T. Thayer in 1922 zijn doctorsgraad behaalde, was hij tegelijk werkzaam als filosofie-instructeur en gaf hij les op diverse scholen in zijn omgeving. Van 1924 tot 1928 was hij 'professor of education' aan de Ohio State University en van 1923–1927 hoofdredacteur van de American Review. Hij schreef veel over het Amerikaanse onderwijs en werd op dat gebied een autoriteit. [Zie verder hier en bij wiki].

Tijden zijn studie nog verscheen in 1919 in The Monist een artikel van hem, "A Comparison of Bergson and Spinoza" [cf.], dat ik hierna overneem.

Hij schreef nog eenmaal zo'n artikel, "A Comparison of the Ethical Philosophies of Spinoza and Hobbes," in: The Monist, Volume 32, Issue 4, October 1922, pp. 553-568 [cf.]

Daarna schreef hij overwegend nog over onderwijs. Hieronder breng ik die tekst over Bergson en Spinoza, die te vinden is op, daar mij die nog wel waardevol lijkt [van de voetnoten maakte ik eindnoten]



THE French philosophic tradition is predominantly Cartesian. It is to be expected, therefore, that Berson, educated in this tradition and writing for the French people, should emphasize the authority of Descartes, that he should be at pains to insist, as he does, that philosophers have refused to move in the direction indicated by Descartes, and that the followers of Descartes have abandoned the most essential elements in the system of their master. When Kant affirmed that knowledge cannot be entirely resolved into terms of intelligence, he also, says Bergson, "prepared the way for a new philosophy, which might have established itself in the extra-intellectual matter of knowledge by a higher effort of intuition." 1 However, both Kant and subsequent philosophers neglected to do this. It remains for Bergson to give to philosophy a "revivified Cartesianism." Consequently it should not be surprising if there appear elements of essential agreement between Bergson and the Cartesians. This agreement will be most conspicuous between such as perceive that the Cartesian dualism rests upon a myth, and that, consequently, it must be grounded upon a more fundamental unity. Of those [97] Cartesians who attempted to reconcile this dualism Spinoza alone makes it explicit and converts it into a new and original philosophy. It is to be expected, therefore, that we shall find similarities in Bergson and Spinoza. In this paper I wish to consider but two. I wish to compare the answers of Bergson and Spinoza to the two questions, "What is the nature of Reality?" and "How do we know Reality?"

Shortly before his death, Spinoza wrote a letter 2 in which he says that he has become dissatisfied with Descartes's conception of extension and motion. He declares that he intends, if he lives, to restate these conceptions for himself. According to Descartes extension is originally a plenum of rest in which motion arose, unaccountably, as by a mysterious act of God. The conception which Spinoza offers in his Ethics is not far from this: he describes extension as an attribute of Substance, and motion as an infinite and eternal mode of this prior fundamental attribute. It is to be noted, however, that our author is very careful to make explicit the idea that extension like all other aspects of God must reveal him as operation, as action. This thought has inevitable implications which, had he lived longer, must have led him to define extension as such to be clearly and distinctly infinite activity and efficacy. However this may be, Spinoza indicates that by God, Substance, or Reality, 3 he means an infinite power, whose parts are "infinitely modified and compelled to undergo infinite variations." 4

Thus, for Spinoza, Substance, correctly conceived, is undivided, all-inclusive, and manifested to man only as a twofold activity of thought and physical agency. This conception man attains by means of the complete and ade-[98] quate demonstrative knowledge which is science, or by means of an intuition which is based upon science. It declares Substance to be eternal, immanent in and enveloping all space and all time, containing within itself simultaneously all that was, that is, or that becomes. Substance thus conceived, Spinoza designates as natura naturans. Natura naturans is the metaphysical inwardness of Substance which does not appear in the daily life. 5

There, thought and experience are of the Imagination, and by Imagination we view nature as natura naturata. It is only in natura naturata that we conceive individual things. The necessities of life require man to abstract, to cut out from totality the particular individual things by applying to them measure, time, and number. 6 A thing so detach m its context is the concrete individual of the daily life. But its detachment does not in any essential way alter its inner character. Its nature is still that which it has with its context: to be power, to be the endeavor to persist in its own being. It is a center of activity, continuous with an endless series of like active centers, acting upon and undergoing reaction from its peers in the aggregate of being, which is Substance.

For Bergson as well as for Spinoza motion is concrete and real. Bergson objects to the relative motion of geometry. He considers this artificial. It defines movement as change of distance and by implication permits the same object to be in motion or to be motionless according to the [99] spatial positions to which it is referred. 7 Bergson reminds us that while Descartes thus defined motion when he spoke as geometer, his formulation of the laws of motion in physics assumes motion to be an absolute. 8 This latter conception of motion is the one which Bergson affirms. He would have us abandon the false conception of it which has prevailed since Newton and replace it with Descartes's conception, viz., that motion is a distinct entity, a cause of manifestations, and not an aspect of things. What is real in motion is an ultimate activity or movement that underlies the motion Newton describes and which his laws can only negate, not designate. 9 Direct evidence for the absoluteness and reality of movement occurs constantly, Bergson holds, in immediate experience. The essence of movement is mobility. Now when I see an object change its place, my sensation testifies to the reality of something effectually going on. I am further assured of this reality when I produce a movement by willing it. My muscular sensations assure me that movement takes place. Such a movement appears as a change of state or quality. "But then how should it be otherwise," says Bergson, "when I perceive changes of quality in things? Sound differs absolutely from silence, as also one sound from another sound. Between light and darkness, between shades, the difference is absolute. The passage from one to the other is also an absolutely real phenomenon. I hold then the ends of the chain, muscular sensations within me, the sensible qualities without me, and neither in the one case nor in the other do I see movement, if there be movement as mere relation: it is an absolute." 10 If we hypostasize this inner sensation of movement, we have the very stuff of reality, - the élan vital.

[100] For Bergson then, as well as for Spinoza, reality is activity. For both it is movement, unlimited power, and efficacy. Spinoza designates it as natura naturans. Bergson calls it vital impulse, élan vital, a center "from which worlds shoot out like rockets in a fireworks' display. . . .a continuity of shooting out." 11 There is this difference in Bergson and Spinoza, however: Spinoza insists that anthropomorphic characteristics are not to be ascribed to Substance. This ascription is, however, precisely Bergson's metaphysical ultimate. The élan vital, he tells us, is primarily psychological; it is the essence we know in the innermost consciousness of each of us. 12 Spinoza declares that substance is manifested equally through the attributes of extension and thought; but for Bergson thought is the fundamental revealer. Barring this difference, however, the spirituality and materiality of Bergson, his vital and material orders, are the same as Spinoza's attributes of extension and thought. For Spinoza these attributes are two aspects of one and the same thing; for Bergson the difference between mind and body, matter and intellect, is but a degree in tension, a rate of vibration: "Physics is psychics inverted." 13 In our experiences of tension and relaxation, of effort and passivity, we pass by way of inversion from the one process to the other, from spirituality to materiality. Thus neither sensation nor divisible extension is real, but reality is intermediate between each. Reality is neither pure quantity nor pure quality; it partakes of the nature of each; it is "concrete movement, capable like consciousness of prolonging its past into the present, capable, by repeating itself, of engendering sensible qualities." 14

[101] Not only do we find a similarity between natura naturans and the élan vital, but if we pass to natura naturata and compare the description which the two philosophers give to an individual thing, we shall again find an agreement. We have seen that Spinoza insists that Substance is indivisible; that only in Imaginative knowledge is the continuum of matter apparently divided into discrete objects. Bergson likewise makes emphatic the observation that objects as we deal with them in our practical life are artificial divisions of reality. Both science and intuition, says Bergson, endeavor to "rediscover the natural articulations of a universe we have carved artificially." 15 The living body is a material zone, a center of activity in the totality of movement, and from this totality it cuts out objects, which are outlines of its eventual action. Our needs are so many search-lights "which, directed upon the continuity of sensible qualities, single out in it distinct bodies." 16 Thus, again, for both Bergson and Spinoza the individual thing is an abstraction from a context, a partial representation of reality. And just as Spinoza insists that the individual so conceived retains its inner character unaltered, so Bergson describes the vital impetus as active in each of its cognitively created parts. The élan vital is "an original impetus of life passing from one generation of germs through the developed organisms which bridge the interval between the generations." 17 This explains the resemblance we find along distinct lines of evolution, such as that between- the structure of the eye of the pecten and that of the vertebrate, although each separated from its parent stock before the appearance of the complex eye. In each there has become explicit what was implicit in the original impulses. Species and individual, each is a manifestation of the unwinding of an internal activity.
[102] When we pass to Bergson's and Spinoza's criticism of knowledge and to an examination of their methods for the attainment of knowledge we again find an essential agreement. The differences, bar sentiment and background, are verbal. Bergson speaks out of a rich hinterland of data from biology and physics and his terms are those of modern psychology. Spinoza, unhappily, beclouds his philosophy for the present-day student with his scholastic terminology and his geometrical method of proof. Both, however, offer identical criticisms of certain modes of knowing. I wish first to contrast their criticisms of practical knowledge.

Each philosopher, we have seen, agrees that in our practical activity we do not properly grasp reality or truth. Spinoza designates practical knowing, knowledge of the Imagination. In the Imagination the mind "has not an adequate but only a confused and fragmentary knowledge of itself, of its own body, and of external bodies." 18 It is in Imaginative knowledge, however, that men form general or universal ideas. The individual acquires these as a result of what he learns from others or from his personal experience with individual objects. These various images run together, and as both diverse and essential elements of specific individualities experienced drop out, a general idea forms itself. But, manifestly, the general idea of horse does not express what a living horse really is. It retains only that which is common in one's numerous experiences with living horses, and that which is relative to one's own needs and purposes. 19 Spinoza, therefore, follows the nominalists, and condemns the general idea as inadequate and relative.

Similarly Bergson, in his criticism of conceptual knowledge, in the Introduction to Metaphysics. What Spinoza terms Imaginative knowledge Bergson there designates [103] conceptual or symbolic knowledge. There are, he holds, two ways of knowing: the relative and the absolute. Conceptual knowledge is relative. The concept contains only that part of the object which is common to it and to others, and any combination of concepts must needs give only an artificial reconstruction of an object. The concept, further, involves a danger in that it generalizes at the same time it abstracts. The extension given it deforms the property essential to it. 20 "Thus the different concepts that we form of the properties of a thing inscribe around it so many circles, each much too large and none of them fitting it exactly." 21 This method serves the purposes of practical life since the function of the intellect is to promote utilities. When a concept is fitted upon a thing it labels the thing and suggests to us in precise terms the kind of action to be directed toward the object. But this knowledge is not scientific, nor is it sufficient for metaphysics. Metaphysics must possess absolute knowledge.

It is in this essay we find Bergson' s most complete discussion of the method of absolute knowledge, intuition, which resembles what Spinoza speaks of interchangeably as intuition or the intellectual love of God. To know an object, says Bergson, we must identify ourselves with it. Absolute knowledge is given by intuition. "By intuition is meant the kind of intellectual sympathy by which one places oneself within an object in order to coincide with what is unique in it and consequently inexpressible." 22 Conceptual knowledge is not to be discarded, but is to be kept subsidiary and introductory to intuition. Just as Spinoza bases his intellectual love of God upon scientific knowledge, so Bergson emphasizes science must precede intuition. "On the one hand it will utilize the mechanism of intelligence [104] itself to show how intellectual moulds cease to be strictly applicable; and on the other hand, by its own work, it will suggest to us the vague feeling, if nothing more, of 3what must take the place of intellectual moulds." 23 This intuition establishes a sympathetic relationship between us and the rest of reality; "by the expansion of our consciousness which it brings about it introduces us into life's own domain, which is reciprocal interpenetration, endlessly continued creation." 24

Spinoza evidently has something similar in mind when he speaks of intuition, or the intellectual love of God. For Spinoza too, science must precede and make possible intuition. Thus it is that inadequate ideas become adequate. For Spinoza also the mind through intuition becomes one with God, without losing its identity in God. To participate in the intellectual love of God is not to be isolated, but rather is to become attached to the totality of being from within. God then thinks in us and through us. Intuitive knowledge envelops time and space. Through intuition the individual mind erases all distinctions of time between the becoming, the after and the now; in it the different become the same, the successive simultaneous, the many one. 25 Grasped in this eternal aspect particular things are seen to be the interpenetration of forces, the explication of what is eternally implicit in God. In this intellectual love of God Spinoza attains to a sympathetic union with reality similar to that which Bergson acquires by means of his intuition. And in so far as one possesses this conscious intuition of all the spatial and temporal relationships [105] of existence, he is, to quote Spinoza, "scarcely at all disturbed in spirit, but being conscious of himself, and of God, and of things by a certain eternal necessity, never ceases to be but always possesses true acquiescence of his spirit." 26

It is evident then that in their outlines of a method for attaining a knowledge of reality as well as in their conceptions of the nature of reality there is a fundamental agreement between Bergson and Spinoza. We have found that for Spinoza the attributes of reality, as man conceives it, are thought and extension, and reality is infinite cogitation and infinite physical agency. For Bergson reality is creative action, it is a movement, and it is "the same inversion of the same movement which creates at once the intellectuality of mind and the materiality of things." 27 We have found that each condemns "practical knowledge" for purposes of philosophy, and that each appeals to a mystical experience which while based upon scientific knowledge transcends analysis and identifies the individual with the undivided flux, with the flow of an eternal becoming reality, élan vital or natura naturans, which both call God.

V. T. Thayer.
University of Wisconsin.

1 Creative Evolution (trans, by Mitchell), p. 358.
2 Spinoza's Works (Bohn Edition), Letter lxxii. Also see Letter lxx.
3 Ethics, Part II, Prop. 3, note.
4 Spinoza's Works (Bohn Edition), Letter xv.
5 The influence of the scientific concepts of Galileo, Descartes, and others upon Spinoza is frequently overlooked in an interpretation of what Spinoza means by Substance. His indebtedness to the physical theories of Descartes, his identification of Nature, God, and Substance, his definition of virtue as power, his insistence that the essence of an individual is the endeavor to persist in being, and his union of the will and the intellect, would seem to indicate that Substance is an infinite power and an infinite efficacy in which is implicit all of its concrete explications. The following references will bear upon this interpretation: Ethics, Part I, Propp. 24, 29 and note, 34, 35, 36; Part II, note to Prop. 3, and Lemma vii; Part III, Propp. 1 to S; Letter xv of the Bonn Edition, and Chapter II of God, Nature, and Man.
6 Works (Bohn Edition), Letter xxix.
7 Matter and Memory (Paul and Palmer), p. 254.
8 Ibid, p.255.
9 Ibid., pp. 256-257.
10  Ibid, p. 258.
11 Creative Evolution, p. 248.
12 Ibid., p. 299.
13 Ibid., p. 202.
14 Matter and Memory, p. 329.
15  Creative Evolution, p. 260.
16  Matter and Memory, p. 262.
17  Creative Evolution, p. 87.
18 Ethics, Part II, Prop. 29.
19  Ibid., Part II, Prop. 40, note 1.
20 Introduction to Metaphysics (trans, by T. E. Hulme), p. 19.
21 lbid.
22 Ibid., p. 7.
23 Creative Evolution, pp. 177-178.
24 Ibid., p. 178.
25 Cf. H. M. Kallen, William James and Henri Bergson, p. 110. In this book Mr. Kallen suggests the relation between Bergson and Spinoza which I have attempted to work out in greater detail. In addition to the similarity I have indicated in this paper it is possible to show an essential agreement between Bergson's freedom and Spinoza's necessity; and also between their theories of the mind-body relation.
26 Ethics, Part V, Prop. 42, note.
27 Creative Evolution, p. 206.

In: The Monist Vol. 29, No. 1, JANUARY, 1919   - in