17 Jan 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 1, §4 "Attempt to Distinguish Intensities by Objective Causes. But We Judge of Intensity without Knowing Magnitud

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"

§4 "Attempt to Distinguish Intensities by Objective Causes. But We Judge of Intensity without Knowing Magnitude or Nature of the Cause"

When trying to find the means to quantify intensities, our first consideration is to measure sensational intensity by measuring its causes. For example, it seems we have a more intense sensation of light when there are a greater quantity of luminous sources. (4d)

However, such quantitative determinations are irrelevant to how intense we find something to be. For, we normally first experience the intensity, and then hypothesize about the nature and number of the sources. (4-5)

Also, we might think that we can

1) perceive a certain number of lights, and take note of the intensity of the sensation, then

2) have another perception without knowing the number of the lights causing the sensation, but instead deduce it by comparing the second sensation with the first one whose sources were quantified.

Bergson says that although we often use this means, it will not help us determine the intensity of "deep-seated psychic phenomena," whose causes are internal and not external.

However, we are more apt to judge the intensity of a psychic state when we do not perceive its cause. For in these cases it is left up to us to decide. Thus we easily judge the pulling of a tooth as more intensely painful than the pulling of a hair, even though we might have no knowledge of the forces involved in removing them. We compare intensities without any notice of

1) the number of their causes,

2) the way they were caused, or

3) the extent of these causes.


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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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