19 Jan 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 1, §7 "Take, for Example, the Progress of a Desire"

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 II: "Deep-Seated Feelings"

§7 "Take, for Example, the Progress of a Desire"

Previously Bergson claimed that changes in emotions are not matters of increases or decreases of some psychic state, but are rather changes of the qualitative shading among numerous constituent simple states. He offers now the example of an obscure desire gradually becoming a deep passion.

At first, the obscure desire seemed to be a distant part of us. For, the majority of our other "psychic elements" are not then consumed by this desire. However, the obscure desire gradually spreads into the other psychic elements 'tingeing them' with its particular 'colour.' Before we know it, we become consumed by the desire, and our whole perspective changes dramatically. Things which before impressed us one way, now impress us another.

All your sensations and all your ideas seem to brighten up: it is like childhood back again.


Toutes vos sensations,toutes vos idées vous enparaissent rafraîchies ; c'estcomme une nouvelleenfance.


One psychic phenomena is not a single thing set beside some other phenomena as another single thing. When we are occupied with an object, we do not have a single phenomenal experience of it. Rather, its image alters the "shades" of thousands of perceptions or memories.

Our minds prefer to deal with simplifications. Hence we do not normally consider psychic states as being alternate colorings to countless constituent states. We prefer to think of psychic states as single entities with clear determinations.

So we instead consider these highly complex conglomerations of constituent states altogether as one sensation or mental state. This allows us to compare one whole state with another. By such means we might say that our desire has increased along a scale of magnitudes, "as though it were permissible still to speak of magnitudes where there is neither multiplicity nor space!" (9bc)

All our thousands of constituent psychic states co-exist in a "confused heap." What we take to be an increasing desire is really just asweep of qualitative alteration over many of them.

But that is a change of quality rather than of magnitude.


Mais c'est là unchangement de qualité,plutôt que de grandeur.


The reason that hope, for example, gives us such an intense pleasure is not because there is some greater quantity of sensation involved. The idea of the future is made up of many constituent possibilities. If any of these possibilities were to be realized, then all the others are eliminated, which makes the actualization of possibility less enjoyable than just the idea of the future.

This is why we find more charm in hope than in possession, in dreams than in reality.


c'est pourquoi l'on trouve plus de charme à l'espérance qu'à la possession, au rêve qu'à la réalité.


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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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