17 Jan 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 1, §6 "Different Kinds of Intensities"

by Corry Shores
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Bergson, Time and Free Will

Chapter I, "The Intensity of Psychic States"

Part II: "Deep-Seated Feelings"

§6 "Different Kinds of Intensities (I) Deep-Seated Psychic States (2) Muscular Effort. Intensity is More Easily Definable in the Former Case"

We might confuse a sensation with the amount of work our brains undergo when having the sensation. For, we often call by the same name both

1) the intensity of a feeling and

2) the intensity of a sensation or effort

When for example we must strain ourselves to look at a bright light, we must put forth an effort to have the sensation. The muscles of our eyes tighten, and perhaps we must fight our involuntary reflexes that try to turn us away from the glare. And the brighter the light, the more we must strain ourselves in this way.

Hence such an effort in sensation is accompanied as well by a muscular sensation. Moreover, these muscular sensations are associated with some external cause whose properties we may estimate. So the brighter the light, the more muscle strain. And the greater the muscle strain, the stronger the intensity of the sensation and the more substantial the cause of the sensation. (c)

These cases always involve a perception of some external cause that we consciously perceive. However, a deep joy or sorrow is an internal state the seems not to depend on the perception of an external object. These moments without extensities are pure intensities. They are simple cases whose intensity should be easier to determine. Later Bergson will show that such emotions instead involve changes in the shades or qualities of many constituent simple states.

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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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