25 Jan 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 1, §25 "Intensity of Affective Sensations would then be our Consciousness of the ..."

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 VIII: "Affective Sensations"

§25 "Intensity of Affective Sensations would then be our Consciousness of the Involuntary Movements Tending to Follow the Stimulus"

Previously Bergson suggested that pleasure and pain serve to resist automatic reflexes. This allows us to enact voluntary movements. But we are trying to understand what allows us to compare two magnitudes with each other:

1) our internal inextensive sensations, with

2) their external and extensive physical causes.

Before we considered the possibility of measuring the immediate mechanical reaction of the nervous system, which would be proportional to the external stimulus. But we found that our sensations do not sense our nerves, but are rather sensations that are unconscious of our nervous activity. Then we considered the possibility that pleasure and pain foresee future automatic reactions.

In the case of nervous disturbances, we are dealing with a "psychic translation of the past stimulus." But for pleasure and pain, we are "making the present state of consciousness a sign of the future reaction." We seem only to have turned our perspective from past to future, without any benefit to our present inquiry.

However, there is a marked difference between these two hypotheses.

1) When we have a sensation, we are not conscious of our nerves' molecular disturbances themselves. We merely feel the sensation corresponding to them.

2) But when we have an automatic reaction to a stimulus, we are conscious of our reflexive movements. If we were not conscious of these automatic reactions, then there would be no way for us to voluntarily choose some alternative.

Thus one possibility is that the intensity of affective sensations is no more than our consciousness of our involuntary reflexes.

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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).

Available online at:


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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