4 Feb 2013

Ch4.Sb1.Ssb1 Bergson’s Creative Evolution, ‘Sketch of a criticism of philosophical systems, based on the analysis of the idea of Immutability and of the idea of “Nothing”

by Corry Shores

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Henri Bergson

Creative Evolution
L’évolution creatrice

The cinématographical mechanism of thought and the mechanistic illusion – A glance at the history of systems – Real becoming and false evolutionism
Le mécanisme cinématographique de la pensée et l'illusion mécanistique. — Coup d'oeil sur l'histoire des systèmes. — Le devenir réel et le faux évolutionisme.

Subsection 1

The idea of ‘nothing’

L'existence et le néant

Sub-Subsection 1
Sketch of a criticism of philosophical systems, based on the analysis of the idea of Immutability and of the idea of “Nothing”

Very Brief Summary:
Practical concerns mistakenly lead us to see reality as being made of discrete parts and as filling a nothingness.

Brief Summary:
Bergson mentions two illusions: [1] Practical concerns compel our awareness to take out snapshots of reality, when in fact it is an unbroken flux of change. We are then mistaken to reconstitute reality on the basis of the stable parts we select. [2] In practical living, we want to satisfy needs, so we move from a lack, a nothingness, to a presence, to the thing we strive for. We are mistaken to also think that reality begins with a nothingness and is secondarily filled with stuff. Such a view might lead us to posit logical identity as the explanation for what makes something exist rather than not exist. The circle’s definition makes it eternal in a sense. But perhaps we may show this all to be based on a pseudo-problem, and instead we should take-up a philosophy of intuition and duration.


We will examine two types of theoretical illusions, for our greater task of explicating a philosophy that regards duration as “the very stuff of reality.” (p.295 of the French / p.272 of the 1998 English / p.287 of the 1922 English)

Reality appears to us as perpetual becoming. Thus it is never in a completed state. “It makes itself or it unmakes itself, but it is never something made.” But because our intellects are preoccupied with the actions we need to take, they, like our senses, can only take, at intervals, instantaneous and immobile views of matter’s constant becoming. So “we pluck out of duration those moments that interest us, and that we have gathered along its course”. (296/273/288) Hence although reality is true evolution or radical becoming, “Of becoming we perceive only states, of duration only instants”. (296/273/288) So the first illusion is thinking “the unstable by means of the stable, the moving by means of the immobile.” (296/273/288)

The second illusion is also based on practical activities. All our actions aim at obtaining something we lack or at producing something that does not yet exist. Thus it goes from empty to full, absence to presence, unreal to real. In a given situation, there is the presence of the reality at hand, and the absence of the sought-for reality. So “we express what we have as a function of what we want.” (297/273/289) This produces the second illusion. (297/274/289)

Disorder is not so much a lack of order as it is another kind of order. We call something disordered when it lacks the order we are seeking. Thus it lacks the other sort of order, but is itself nonetheless still an order. [Henry Somers-Hall explains that towards the end of this entry.] Thus “The idea of disorder is then entirely practical.” (297/274/289) So we incorrectly think that order fills a void when in fact it is a matter of one order being there rather than another. [Bergson discussed this previously]. We need to examine this error and its false conception of negation, void, and nought.

Philosophers have not attended enough to the nought, even though it conjures the most perplexing philosophical problems. We ask, why is there something (a principle of creation in our case) rather than nothing? (298-299/275/290)

Existence seems like a conquest over nothingness. Nought seems to be what precedes or underlies existing things, like a receptacle. (299/276/291)

There is a disdain for the sort of metaphysics that explains how things persist in their continual becoming. Those who do not like this sort of metaphysics believe that enduring existence is not strong enough to conquer non-existence and be able to posit itself. They instead posit logical identity, A = A, as having the power of self-creation and the ability to triumph over nothingness throughout eternity. For example, we might draw a circle on the board. That circle does not contain within itself the power of existing. But the idea of the circle, its definition, being an explanation for how to draw it, does seem to posit itself in eternity. But this makes things like circles seem to not come about through efficient causality but rather by logical necessity. Spinoza and Leibniz took this route.

But perhaps if we show that the nought is a pseudo-concept leading only to pseudo-problems. That would open up the way for a intuition-based philosophy. (301/277/293)

the English translation:

Bergson. Creative Evolution. 1911 creativeevolutio00berguof.test.t_Page_301Bergson. Creative Evolution. 1911 creativeevolutio00berguof.test.t_Page_302Bergson. Creative Evolution. 1911 creativeevolutio00berguof.test.t_Page_303Bergson. Creative Evolution. 1911 creativeevolutio00berguof.test.t_Page_304Bergson. Creative Evolution. 1911 creativeevolutio00berguof.test.t_Page_305Bergson. Creative Evolution. 1911 creativeevolutio00berguof.test.t_Page_306Bergson. Creative Evolution. 1911 creativeevolutio00berguof.test.t_Page_307

From the French:


Bergson, Henri. L'Évolution Créatrice. Ed. Felix Alcan. Paris: Librairies Félix Alcan et Guillaumin Réunies, 1908. Available online at:

Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution. Transl. Arthur Mitchell. London: MacMillan and Co., 1922. Available online at:

Bergson, Henri. Creative Evolution. Transl. Arthur Mitchell. Mineola, New York: Dover, 1998.

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