23 Jan 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 1, §21 "Intensity and Reflex Movements"

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"

§21 "Intensity and Reflex Movements. No Essential Difference between Intensity of Deep-Seated Feelings and that of Violent Emotions"

An emotion like fear has physical symptoms. Herbert Spencer notes that we express our fear through cries, escape-attempts, palpitations, and tremblings. Bergson adds that if we suppress all these physical symptoms, then we will retain an idea of our terror. (30b.c)

Likewise, we might begin with an idea and then undergo a "reflex movement" that evokes the physiological symptoms of the emotion that the idea evokes. Bergson cites Charles Darwin's description of the way that lovers' bodies alter dramatically just at the thought of one another. When we dislike something, we might feel revolted just at the thought of it. (30-31) Or, if we reflect on something that we are ashamed-of, our faces blush involuntarily, and we clench our fingers. (31a)

Bergson argues that the emotion seems more intense according to how many peripheral sensations are involved. The constituent states of each emotion are either of an inner psychic sort, or an outer bodily type. However, each may change to the other kind. As outer peripheral bodily sensations change to inner psychic states, we experience a decrease of the emotion's violence and an increase in the feelings "depth." (31b)

So a deep-seated feeling like hate can become a violent emotion like rage, when inner psychic states convert to outer bodily sensations. Thus we cannot say that rage is more intense than hate. The only difference is the proportion of inner states to outer states. (31c)

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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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