2 Nov 2009

Finalism's End. Creative Evolution. Bergson. Ch.1 Part 7. Radical Finalism and Real Duration

by Corry Shores
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Finalism's End

Henri Bergson

Creative Evolution

Évolution Créatrice

Chapter 1

The Evolution of Life – Mechanism and Teleology

Chapitre Premier

De l’évolution de la vie. – Mécanisme et finalité.

7. Radical Finalism and Real Duration: The Relation of Biology to Philosophy
7. Le finalisme radical : biologie et philosophie

Previously we discussed Bergson's critical rejection of mechanism. Evolution creates new things that mechanistic principles cannot predict. Also, the sciences isolate systems in order to determine their mechanisms. But that is artificial, and it does not coincide with the indivisible nature of the cosmos.

§39 In the End There Is No Time

A teleological view would say that things are predetermined to unfold in a certain way. Leibniz is a teleologist, for example. Because everything would be pre-arranged, there would be nothing to predict. But such a perspective would see time as useless. Both teleology and mechanism think that all is given. Mechanism thinks it can predict the future on the basis of the past. Teleology explains the present on the basis of the future; hence it is "inverted mechanism" (41a). It also reduces the successions and movements that we experience to mere appearances.

§40 Finally We Know Bergson Is a Finalist

Mechanism is a fairly fixed philosophical standpoint. Finalism, however, admits of many variations. In fact, if we reject mechanism, we will thereby admit of some form of finalism [even if that means saying things are moving on their own; at least we are not saying that something propels them]. Hence Bergson's theory will show some signs of finalism. So he will now clarify what aspects of finalism he admits-of and which he denies.

§41 Ends in Pieces

We cannot prove empirically that the world is harmoniously organized, which we might want to do if we were finalists. For, there is plenty of evidence that anarchy rules the cosmos.

Nature sets living beings at discord with one another. She everywhere presents disorder alongside of order, retrogression alongside of progress. [43b]

La nature met les êtres vivants aux prises les uns avec les autres. Elle nous présente partout le désordre à côté de l'ordre, la régression à côté du progrès. [44a]

Nonetheless, the finalist might still see one organism by itself, and notice that its parts all work together seemingly for a common purpose. But by looking at each creature individually, the finalist breaks-up "the original notion of finality into bits" (44b).

Let's first distinguish external finality from internal finality.

Consider how the grass seems as though it were made for the cow. They have an extrinsic purposive relation. This would be external finality. And the fragmentary sort of finalists reject it.

But we might also think of all the cow's parts, and how they work together for their common survival: "each being is made for itself, all its parts conspire for the greater good of the whole and are intelligently organized in view of that end" (43c). This sort of finalism makes a weaker claim, but hopes for that reason to stand stronger against criticism.

§42 Inside the End

But really finality is external, and not in any way internal.

§43 Liberating Internal Ends

To understand why, Bergson has us consider the most complex and harmonious organism. It seems that all its parts work together for the good of the whole. But then, each one of these parts, an organ for example, is itself made-up of parts. And it devotes its efforts to other organs lying outside it. So we still presuppose an external finality even under an internal finalist view. We know for example that cells have their own autonomy of sorts. So when we say that there is no external finalism, then we in a sense are destroying the individuality of the smaller-and-smaller parts.

§44 Our Lives Live One Life

So the smaller composite parts of an individual each themselves try to live on their own as individuals, and reproduce themselves as well. But if the whole organism were united by a vitalistic principle, then where is that unity when we take into account the smaller-and-smaller independently vitalistic components? So, vitalism faces this problem: in nature, there is neither
a) purely internal finality, nor
b) absolutely distinct individuality.
Every individual is composed of more individuals, which are composed of more individuals. At no point is there grounds for a unified vitality for a composed organism. Also note how an individual vertebrate comes into life. Independent parts of the mother (egg) and of the father (sperm) come together. So where, Bergson asks, does the vital principle of the new individual begin? We might trace back those parents to their own parents. And continue-on until we arrive at their remotest simple-organism ancestors. But the evolutionary development of these simple cells diverged into many directions, with only one of them being the one for the invertebrate in question. Hence any one living individual is in a way vitally linked to all other living beings. If there is any finality to life, we cannot restrict it to any one individual being. There is a life common to all living individuals, but it is "not so mathematically one that it cannot allow each being to become individualized to a certain degree" (46b). Nonetheless, there is still one single whole. We may either see it as being a matter where there is no finality whatsoever (because there is no internal finality), or we may see the matter in terms of the vital collectivity of all living beings.

§45 The End of the Mind's Machinery

Mechanism goes too far by taking simple principles that we notice on the local level and overextending them so that we may reduce the whole cosmos to them. Radical finalism also overextends certain basic concepts that are natural to our intellect. Consider the relation between our thoughts and actions. It seems the purpose of our thinking is to guide our acts. Now, in order to act, we first propose some end or purpose for the action. Then we determine which mechanisms we will enact in order to obtain that end. But in order for us to know what these mechanisms are, we first needed to have found similarities and regularities in the world around us. By these means we are better able to anticipate the future. So whether we are aware of it or not, we employ the law of causality. And, the more sharply we grasp efficient causality, the more it seems mechanistic. And the more necessary the causality, the more mathematical it is for us. This all comes natural to us, so if we follow the natural tendency of our minds, we could very well become mathematicians. This mentality underlies our habit of finding and reproducing patterns.

But, on the other hand, this natural mathematics is only the rigid unconscious skeleton beneath our conscious supple habit of linking the same causes to the same effects; and the usual object of this habit is to guide actions inspired by intentions, or, what comes to the same, to direct movements combined with a view to reproducing a pattern. We are born artisans as we are born geometricians, and indeed we are geometricians only because we are artisans. [47b]

Mais, d'autre part, cette mathématique naturelle n'est que le soutien inconscient de notre habitude consciente d'enchaîner les mêmes causes aux mêmes effets ; et cette habitude elle-même a pour objet ordinaire de guider des actions inspirées par des intentions ou, ce qui revient au même, de diriger des mouvements combinés en vue de l'exécution d'un modèle : nous naissons artisans comme nous naissons géomètres, et même nous ne sommes géomètres que parce que nous sommes artisans. [48b]

One function of the human mind is guiding action. For this purpose, it proceeds by intention and calculation. And it does so "at the same time by intention and by calculation, by adapting means to ends and by thinking out mechanisms of more and more geometrical form" (47c).

So, some view the whole of nature as one immense machine that is regulated by mathematical laws. And there are others who believe that nature works in service of a great plan. We saw that the human mind makes decisions according to two tendencies: a) the tendency to posit ends to help determine proper action, and b) the tendency to use mathematical causal relations to further this purpose. So we see that whether one sees the world as a machine or as something with a final end, either way, such people are merely extending inherent tendencies of our mind.

§46 Finality and Mechanism Share Likeness

Hence we see that radical finalism and radical mechanism share certain features.

1) Both deny the unforeseeability of living development.

Note also how mechanism looks for similarities and regularities: like produces like. And the more that mechanism uses geometry, the less room there is for creativity in nature. There might be an artist side in us that embraces the unforeseeable. But more fundamental to us are our artisan sides, whose craft of fabrication thrives on likeness and repetition. And when we fabricate, we have a model in mind that we want to reproduce. It serves as the "end" of our efforts. Hence

2) both finality and mechanism believe that "all is given."

§47 Fade of Duration

And because both believe that "all is given," they also both do away with time. Real duration would threaten their beliefs; for, real time would change things inwardly, and prevent the same concrete reality from recurring: "Real duration is that duration which gnaws on things, and leaves on them the mark of its tooth" (48d). Hence under the view of duration, repetition is only possible as an abstraction: "what is repeated is some aspect that our senses, and especially our intellect, have singled out from reality, just because our action, upon which all the effort of our intellect is directed, can move only among repetitions" (48d). When our minds are concerned only with repetitions of the same things, they thus are diverted from the influences of time: "it dislikes what is fluid, and solidifies everything it touches" (48-49). We are not capable of thinking real duration. Rather, we live it, "because life transcends intellect" (49a).

We have a concept for the way things evolve in pure duration. But the boundaries of this concept fade indistinctly into a surrounding conceptual darkness, as it were. Mechanism and finalism see only the bright conceptual core of the idea, and they ignore the vague boundaries where it is not so analytically clear.

§48 Fringe and Underground Philosophy

Philosophy values the delicate and indistinct conceptual fringe. It confirms for us that "the nucleus is a nucleus, that pure intellect is a contraction, by condensation, of a more extensive power" (49c). The vagueness in this concept will not help us as we determine specific actions to take. But for this reason, we may presume that its influence lies below the surface.

§49 Free Your Mind

We might reject radical mechanism and radical finalism. From outside these perspectives, "reality appears as a ceaseless upspringing of something new, which has no sooner arisen to make the present than it has already fallen back into the past" (49d). During this fleeting passage of reality, our minds view the creation, ever looking backward at the passing changes. In fact, we might notice that a past act was a mechanism performed for the sake of our present state. In this way we find finalism and mechanism all throughout our mental life. However, if our actions are truly our own, then they cannot be explained by these theories. It is radically new.

But if our action be one that involves the whole of our person and is truly ours, it could not have been foreseen, even though its antecedents explain it when once it has been accomplished. And though it be the realizing of an intention, it differs, as a present and new reality, from the intention, which can never aim at anything but recommencing or rearranging the past. [50a]

Mais, pour peu que l'action intéresse l'ensemble de notre personne et soit véritablement nôtre, elle n'aurait pu être prévue, encore que ses antécédents l'expliquent une fois accomplie. Et, tout en réalisant une intention, elle diffère, elle réalité présente et neuve, de l'intention, qui ne pouvait être qu'un projet de recommencement ou de réarrangeaient du passé. [51b]

Hence finalism and mechanism are only external views of our behavior. They intellectualize our conduct, all while it "slips between them and extends much further" (50b). But just because our actions are free does not mean that they are capricious and unreasonable. For even capricious activities involve a mechanistic wavering between "two or more ready-made alternatives and at length to settle on one of them" (50c). Our intellect normally contemplates abstractly our purposes as well as the mechanisms for obtaining them. Capricious choice in a sense is a phony sort of way to imitate our intellect. But when we choose freely, we are doing nothing like what the intellect does. It is free and creative.

A conduct that is truly our own, on the contrary, is that of a will which does not try to counterfeit intellect, and which, remaining itself – that is to say, evolving – ripens gradually into acts which the intellect will be able to resolve in definitely into intelligible elements without ever reaching its goal. The free act is incommensurable with the idea, and its “rationality” must be defined by this very incommensurability, which admits the discovery of as much intelligibility within it as we will. Such is the character of our own evolution; and such also, without doubt, that of the evolution of life. [50c.d]

Au contraire, une conduite vraiment nôtre est celle d'une volonté qui ne cherche pas à contrefaire l'intelligence et qui, restant elle-même c'est-à-dire évoluant, aboutit par voie de maturation graduelle' à des actes que l'intelligence pourra résoudre indéfiniment en éléments intelligibles sans y arriver jamais complètement : l'acte libre est incommensurable avec l'idée, et sa « rationalité » doit se définir par cette in commensurabilité même, qui permet d'y trouver autant d'intelligibilité qu'on voudra. Tel est le caractère de notre évolution intérieure. Et tel est aussi, sans doute, celui de l'évolution de la vie. [51-52]

§50 We Are All Born Plato

Our reason believes it possesses the tools necessary to know truth. Even if we do not know what a thing is when we see it, our reason presumes this is because it merely does not yet recognize its proper category. And, "The idea that for a new object we might have to create a new concept, perhaps a new method of thinking, is deeply repugnant to us" (51b). However, we easily see from the history of philosophy how often reality does not fit within our ready-made categories and assimilative systems. But having such a capacity implies that our minds understood things in absolute terms. So our reason thinks that it is incapable of knowing everything on account of it only understanding things relatively. It cannot see the whole picture at once. However, this claim presupposes that there are such absolute ready-made categories. So our reason goes about as though they were there. Plato's Ideas are an early example of how this natural assumption is expressed philosophically: "this belief is natural to the human intellect, always engaged as it is in determining under what former heading it shall catalogue any new object; and it may be said that, in a certain sense, we are all born Platonists" (52d).

§51 We Cannot Know Evolution,
We Can Only Ourselves Evolve

So we naturally categorize things. But this method is highly inadequate for theories of life. As we evolved, we developed this conceptual ability to categorize, all while our other modes of organization fell to the wayside and developed along other directions. So we must regain these other methods if we want "to grasp the true nature of vital activity" (52a). And we will be better equipped if we use that "fringe of vague intuition that surrounds our distinct that is, intellectual representation" (52b). This fringe is the "evolving principle" that has stood above our conceptual methods of organization; and "It is there, accordingly, that we must look for hints to expand the intellectual form of our thought; from there shall we derive the impetus necessary to lift us above ourselves" (52bc). We cannot conceive of the whole of life by piecing together "simple ideas that have been left behind in us by life itself in the course of its evolution" (52c). We make this mistake when we define evolution as the 'passage from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous,' for example. When we do this, we look only at one small part of the whole picture of evolution, and then we presume that the whole of evolution may be understood in these terms. There are so many other "terminal points" in evolution that we never witness. It is only when we take these "diverse and divergent elements" into account that we may obtain "an inkling of the real nature of the evolution movement" (53bc). Yet even then we would only have knowledge of evolved things, and not of the actual act of evolution itself that produces these results.

§52 Bergson Finally Explains His Finalism

Bergson, then, is trying to give a philosophy of life that transcends both mechanism and finalism. Yet, it is closer to finalism than it is to mechanism. Bergson will now explain the ways that his theory follows and breaks from finalism.

§53 Vital Ends

Finalism represents the organized world as a harmonious whole. Bergson's theory does as well.

However, the harmony for Bergson is not a perfect one. He explains that there is a universal vital impulsion. But each species uses only a certain impetus from this greater universal impulsion. And, the species uses the energy from that particular variation not with any interest in the good of the greater whole, but for its own adaptation. This leads to conflicts with other species. Hence harmony is not a fact. Rather, it exists only in principle. For, the original all-encompassing impetus is common to all beings. And the more encompassing our view of the organized world, the more the diverse and divergent tendencies seem to be complementary, like how "the wind at a street corner divides into diverging currents which are all one and the same gust" (54a). Harmony then is something more like "complementarity." And it is revealed only in the greater mass, that is, "in tendencies rather than in states" (54a).

Finalism holds that there is a harmony ahead of us that organizes our current states. In Bergson's view, living beings do not all strive toward a common goal. However, we all share a common impulsion. Hence unlike in finalism, Bergson's harmony lies behind us, in a sense. There is not an end or a pre-existing model that is to become realized. All is not given, and the future cannot be read in the present. Life is not like our intellects: it does not try to stand outside of time. Instead, life "progresses and endures in time" (54bc). After we make our progress, we may look back retrospectively to see that we were headed in a certain direction. Yet the road we traveled was not paved before our actions. We blazed the trail creatively as we pushed through the wild brush. Hence we reject any finalistic supposition that the future is something already there waiting for us to anticipate it.

Finalism thinks there is some rational purpose for life. So, we use our intellects to understand life, and we find in it a sort of intelligence. But our own intellect evolved for the sake of our adaptation. The existence of our intellect does not imply that the cosmos operates according to some intelligible principle.

Reality does not repeat the same things or processes over-and-over: "reality is undoubtedly creative, i.e. productive of effects in which it expands and transcends its own being" (55bc). As radically new, the creations cannot have been given in advance.

There is more to reality than intelligible principles. So finalism does not go far enough when it bases reality on some sort of intelligence. And, because reality is constantly creative, it does not have final ends. So finalism goes too far when it posits such ends. There is a more comprehensive reality than intellect, which is merely the contraction of this broader field. Hence the future expands the present. It is in no way found in the present, represented as an end. Evolution produced our intellects. They are abstractive faculties. They then abstract from evolution merely intelligible principles. This is rightfully its habit, for it aids us in taking actions. But that does not mean our intellects have the right to reduce the whole world to intelligible principles.

§54 Beyond End

Mechanism posits a cause behind the present, while finalism posits one in front. If we reject these two theories, we seen unable to account for causality.

Mechanism cannot explain the creation of radically new things. So it cannot account for evolution. We will not demonstrate this insufficiency by saying that mechanism fails to take final ends into account. Recall also the weakened form of finalism that saw the internal organization of a living being as evidence that there are internal purposes (even if there are not external relations of purpose between creatures). Bergson also will not say that mechanism fails to take this into account. Rather, he will take his theoretical perspective even beyond finalism in order to show mechanism's shortcomings (56b).

Images from the English translation [click to enlarge]:

Images from the original French [click to enlarge]:

Bergson, Henri. L'Évolution Créatrice. Ed. Felix Alcan. Paris: Librairies Félix Alcan et Guillaumin Réunies, 1908. Available online athttp://www.archive.org/details/levolutioncreatr00berguoft

Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution. Transl. Arthur Mitchell. London: MacMillan and Co., 1922. Available online at:http://www.archive.org/details/creativeevolutio00berguoft

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