23 Jan 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 1, §20 "The Intensity of Violent Emotions"

by Corry Shores
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[The following is summary; my commentary is in brackets.]

Bergson, Time and Free Will

(Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience)

Chapter I, "The Intensity of Psychic States"

Part VII: "Violent Emotions"

§20 "The Intensity of Violent Emotions"

Previously we saw that when we pay attention to something, we contract bodily muscles while thinking some idea. Bergson argues now that our violent emotions likewise involve "muscular contractions co-ordinated by an idea." (28d) However, the mental component of attention is a "reflective idea of knowing," whereas in emotion it is the "unreflective idea of acting." (28d)

So the intensity that we think we feel when having a violent emotion is really the extensity of the muscular tensions accompanying it. (28-29)

Bergson cites Darwin's description of the physiological symptoms of rage. We find that almost the entirety of our body is affected. However, Bergson will not side with James who argues that there is only physiological components to emotion. For, Darwin notes that when in rage, we might have the idea of striking or fighting. (29b.c)

We might think that we are more enraged at one time than another. In other words, one instance of rage might seem more intense than another. However, what we perceive to be greater intensities of an emotion are really just "deeper and deeper disturbances of the organism." More of our body is affected. (29d)

Some people say that there is a restrained rage that is more intense than an expressed one. Bergson says this is not possible. When we let our emotions take over, we are not dwelling on the details of all the many ways that the emotion is manifesting through our bodies. However, when we try to conceal our rage, we become all the more aware of ways that the rage is trying to express itself. Hence it is really our heightened awareness of our bodies while restraining rage that makes this sort seem more intense. Really, it is only qualitatively different. (29-30)

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Images from the pages summarized above, in the English Translation [click on the image for an enlargement]:

Images from the pages summarized above, in the original French [click on the image for an enlargement]:

Bergson, Henri. Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, Transl. F. L. Pogson, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2001).

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French text from:

Bergson, Henri. Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience. Originally published Paris: Les Presses universitaires de France, 1888.


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