22 Oct 2009

Bergson, Time and Free Will, Chapter 3, §114 Is prediction of an act possible? Probable and infallible conclusions.

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

Henri Bergson

Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience

Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness

Chapter III. "The Organization of Conscious States. Free Will."
Chapitre III. "De l'organisation des états de conscience : la liberté."

Part LII: Real Duration and Prediction
"La durée réelle et la contingence"

§114 Is prediction of an act possible? Probable and infallible conclusions.

[The previous section has not yet been summarized.]

Determinism holds that we might with absolute certainty predict a future decision.

We draw conclusions from knowledge of antecedent propositions or facts. Let's distinguish probable conclusions from infallible foresight.

Probable conclusions.
We know our friend well. [We know for example that he jumps at the slightest abrupt noise]. So we can say that he will act a certain way under certain circumstances. But we are not really predicting his future. Really, we are just passing judgment on his current character. And because his present character resulted from his past, we are also thereby passing judgment on his past as well. Of course our feelings, ideas, characters, and so forth are continually changing. Yet, they do not normally alter suddenly and drastically. So we are merely stating what decisions that person will probably do.

Infallible insight.
However, the determinist makes an even stronger claim. She holds that our predictions are merely provisional only because we do not know enough about the person. If we knew more facts about him, then we can predict with more certainty. And if we had perfect knowledge about our friend, then our forecasts would be infallibly true. Bergson will now evaluate this determinist claim.

Images from the English translation [click for an enlargement]

Images from the original French [click 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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