6 Feb 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 2, §60 "Does Space Exist Independently of Its Contents as Kant Held?"

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 XVII: Space and Homogeneity

§60 "Does Space Exist Independently of Its Contents as Kant Held?"

We could investigate the absolute reality of space. But this exercise would be no more fruitful than wondering if space itself has a space it is placed-in. (91d)

[We see an apple. It is red. It is so big.] When our senses perceive a thing's qualities, they also perceive the thing's spatial extension as well. The real question is not so much, 'Is there an absolute reality to space?' Rather, what we really need to ask is which of two possibilities are true:

Possibility 1: There is only space when there are things extending.

We see the red apple. We know how big it is, because its redness extends so far in certain directions. Here, space is a quality of the redness. Space is not already there without the red. So the apple's red is not a quality of some pregiven space. Rather, some extent of space is a quality of the apple's red. In other words, there is no space unless there are first objects that extend in space.

Possibility 2: Space is something preexisting objects, because we must presuppose space to perceive them as outer objects.

In this case, our subjectivity conditions the way we perceive objects. One such condition is that in order for us to see any outer object, we must always intuit it as being an extensive object with spatial features and spatial relations to other objects. In this sense, the only reason we are able to perceive objects is because our senses "presuppose" that they are always spatial. So space is a "pure intuition" necessary to sense outer objects. But space is not a property of the objects in themselves. This is how Kant describes space in his Transcendental Aesthetic. Kant claims that space exists independent of its sensuous contents. But our more common view of space is that it exists on its own, and then things fill it. So in a way, Kant is also saying that space pre-exists the spatial objects. The only difference is that his sense of space is pure intuition rather than some property of things-in-themselves. So in fact Kant has found a very compelling way to support our common sense understanding of space. (92)

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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).

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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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