6 Feb 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 2, §63 "Time, in so far as It is a Homogeneous Medium, and not Concrete Duration, is Reducible to Space"

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 XVIII: Homogeneous Time and Space

§63 "Time, in so far as It is a Homogeneous Medium, and not Concrete Duration, is Reducible to Space"

Previously we saw how humans conceive a homogeneous spatial medium in order to enable us to think abstractly. For, we need to give our concepts and symbols different ideal spaces in order to make them distinct from each other.

Now if two things are homogeneous, we would have no way to distinguish them. Bergson considers homogeneity to mean in general the absence of every quality. So for Bergson, all things which are homogeneities are the same homogeneity. Moreover, we defined space as the homogeneous. Hence every homogeneous and unbound medium is space. (98ab)

Now, time is an unbounded homogeneous medium. But, we commonly consider it to be different from space: "the homogeneous is thus supposed to take two forms, according as its contents co-exist or follow one another." (98bc)

When we consider the way our conscious states unfold over time, we think of them all at once. In this way we abstract time from duration. So we should notice that really we are returning to a concept of space. But although space allows for objects to have clearly different places, our conscious states permeate each other both simultaneously and successively. (98c) Hence time is wrongly conceived in terms of spatiality. (98d)

But because we conceive both time and space as homogeneous, we might also wonder if one may be reduced to the other (98-99). We know that states of consciousness are not essentially external to each another. However, things in space are external to one another. In order to conceive conscious states individually, we have to spread them out in a spatialized homogeneous medium. This takes mental states that only existed in duration, and renders them spatial, thereby placing them in time. But, we also can conceive of things being spatially next to each other without also taking into consideration their temporal relations. The concept of time depends on the concept of space, but the concept of space does not depend on the concept of time. Hence we may suppose that "the idea of space is the fundamental datum." (99b) We will look at how philosophers have mistakenly attributed extensity to duration when trying to reduce time to space or space to time. Our examination of their errors will show that "time, conceived under the form of an unbounded and homogeneous medium, is nothing but the ghost of space haunting the reflective consciousness." (99bc)

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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.

Available online at:


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