19 Jan 2009

Herbert Spencer's and Henri Bergson's Grace

by Corry Shores
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Both Henri Bergson and Herbert Spencer would classify the same cases as graceful, and both consider sympathy to play a role in the feeling of grace. They differ according to their explanations of its cause. [see §9 Bergson's Time and Free Will for a complete account of his theory of grace.]

Like Bergson, Spencer regards fluid effortless movements as graceful, and jerky discontinuous ones as ungraceful. The effortlessness is partly evident in the graceful person's ability to lead into their next movements at all times, that is, to be continuously tending toward where they end-up going.

For Spencer, what constitutes grace is an "economy of force." Graceful movements consume less effort, so they tend to be more pleasant to enact. Continuous motions are more efficient, because in ungraceful motions, the forces of movement are not co-ordinated, but rather counter-act each other. For movement to make an abrupt stop, we must use a strong contrary force to counteract it. But in graceful motion, the tendencies of motions move fluidly into each other, such that there is always a minimum of contrary motional forces.

Because it saves us effort, graceful motion is pleasant to enact. Spencer then theorizes that the feeling of pleasure that we have when seeing someone else's grace is our sympathetically feeling the pleasure that the graceful person is experiencing.

Bergson disagrees. He argues that grace's sympathy is a "moral sympathy." It makes us feel better, because it causes us to think that the graceful person is concernfully reaching out to us. So our pleasure has nothing to do with economy effort, but rather with feeling ourselves to be important to the graceful person who affects us.

Images of the Spencer text:

Images from the relevant Bergson English Translation [click on the image for an enlargement]:

Images from the relevant Bergson text in the original French [click on the image for an enlargement]:

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Bergson, Henri. Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, Transl. F. L. Pogson, (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2001).

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Bergson, Henri. Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience. Originally published Paris: Les Presses universitaires de France, 1888.


Spencer, Herbert. "Gracefulness." in Essays: Scientific, Political, & Speculative, Vol. 2. London: Williams and Norgate, 1891.
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1 comment:

  1. ...what about the "flash" that occurs in communication? wouldn't this be viewed as an interruption of some sort? can grace even be gracefully communicated?