17 Jan 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 1, §3 "Alleged Distinction between Two Kinds of Quantity: Extensive and Intensive Magnitude"

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

Bergson, Time and Free Will

Chapter I, "The Intensity of Psychic States"

Part I, "Intensity and Extensity"

§3 "Alleged Distinction between Two Kinds of Quantity: Extensive and Intensive Magnitude"

We mistakenly regard intensities as magnitudes merely to avoid the difficulty of distinguishing intensive from extensive quantities (3a).

If a quantity can increase and diminish, then the lesser value is contained in the greater value. And if the less can be contained in the more, then we can divide up the larger value into parts, one of which being the lesser value. So in other words, if a value can be greater-or-lesser, it should also be divisible. For, an "inextensive quantity" is an oxymoron. (3b-c) [See the Leibniz entry on conatus for his account of the necessity for unextended magnitudes.]

Nonetheless, both in philosophy and everyday life, we think that intensive and extensive values alike can be greater-or-lesser (3d).

We picture to ourselves, for example, a greater intensity of effort as a greater length of thread rolled up, or as a spring which, in unwinding, will occupy a greater space. In the idea of intensity, and even in the word which expresses it, we shall find the image of a present contraction and consequently a future expansion, the image of something virtually extended, and, if we may say so, of a compressed space.


Nous nous représentons une plus grande intensité d'effort, par exemple, comme une plus grande longueur de fil enroulé, comme un ressort qui, en se détendant, occupera un plus grand espace. Dans l'idée d'intensité, et même dans le mot qui la traduit, on trouvera l'image d'une contraction présente et par conséquent d'une dilatation future, l'image d'une étendue virtuelle et, si l'on pouvait parler ainsi, d'un espace comprimé.


Because we imagine intensities as virtual extensities, we translate intensive values as extensive ones, and compare intensities as greater-or-less. Such a comparison is a "confused intuition of a relation between two extensities." (4b)

However, it is not clear what operation allows us to translate intensitive values into extensive ones. (4bc)

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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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