3 Feb 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 2, §52 "But They Must Also be Distinct"

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

Bergson, Time and Free Will

Chapter II, "The Multiplicity of Conscious States," "The Idea of Duration"

Part XV: Numerical Multiplicity and Space

§52 "But They Must Also be Distinct"

Previously we noted that when we count things, we treat them as if they were all alike, so that they would be taken together rather than each singularly. But, if they were no different whatsoever, then they would "merge into a single unit." Hence they must be different in some respect. (77a)

The sheep form a flock, thus each has a position relative to the others. So we could distinguish them according to their different spatial positions.

However, perhaps we are not looking at them, but rather just thinking about them, and counting them in our head. Now they no longer occupy different spatial locations. So we have two options for how we distinguish them:

1) we may imagine them all at once, giving each a different place in "ideal space," or

2) we could imagine them one-by-one. As each new one enters our consciousness, it takes the place of the previous one. This way their series seems to extend in duration rather than in space.

However, even if one image replaces the other, in order that they may all be quantified together, we must still retain the previous images somehow. Hence we must give them some spatial place and not just a temporal place.

Yet, Bergson wonders if space has anything whatsoever to do with number. (77d)

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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.

Available online at:


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