[A]ppearances or angelic intuitions floating about on the loose would not be expressions of animal life in me or you: it is the same difficulty that besets the Humian ”ideas”. They must be moored to the organism, not merely by a temporal concomitance, but by inner relevance: they are taken from it as a centre, in its interests, through its organs, and are woven into that personal life in which the perception of the organism, its environment, in perspectives centered upon it, its memories, and its passion are all woven constantly together.
This complete text of “Laughter: An Essay on the Meaning of Comic” by Henri Bergsonis in the public domain.
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If spirit were not incarnate, if it had no bodily organ, if in consequence it were not domiciled in the material and temporal world so that certain things did not press upon it and trouble it more than others, if in a word it had not object but the realm of essence, then truth would not need to enter into its thoughts.
An animal vision of the universe is, in one sense, never false: it is rooted in the nature of that animal, aroused to consciousness by the circumstances of the moment . . . . It is true enough to be false, and to require correction. For the whole view of mind characteristic of modern philosophy, that mind is a train of self-existent feelings or ideas, is itself false. Mind is spirit; a wakefulness or attention or moral tension aroused in animals by the stress of life: and the prerequisite to the appearance of any feeling or idea is that the animal should be alive and awake, attentive, that is, to what is happening, has happened, or is about to happen: so that it belongs to the essence of discoverable existence, as a contemporary philosophy has it, 'to-be-in-the-world'.
Nevertheless, it is the business of philosophers, in using the categories of common senseas they must if they are to be consistent and intelligibleincidentally to criticize and to reform them. The category of truth in particular has been lately subjected to rough usage: and those who live in the thick of contemporary controversies, particularly in America, may well ask me, with a certain irritation, what on earth I can mean by truth.
The notion that a single universal vocation summons all mankind and even all the universe to tread a single path towards the same end seems to me utterly anti-natural. It has come into modern opinion as a heritage from religion; and I respect it in religion when it expresses the genuine aspiration of some particular race or, in the best instance, of spirit in anybody; but I cannot respect it as a view of history; and I positively deplore it when it undertakes to coerce spirit in everybody into the worship of some insolent local, temporary, material ambition.
I regard [matter] as the only power [not the only existent], as composing the groundwork or scaffolding on which everything is stretched and supported; but the great characteristic of matter as known to us is its potentiality; an existing potentiality, definite in its possibilities and distribution, so that all its ulterior manifestations give knowledge of it. It determines the character, order, and tempo of all events: but in itself this potentiality, like the pregnancy of any seed, is unpictured and blind. The appearances and the perceptions that it is destined to breed do not pre-exist in it explicitly; yet it would not be the potentiality that it is were those developments not forthcoming on the appropriate occasions. And how should this ultimate phase of explicitness, in which potentiality becomes actuality, be less existent than the primary phase? In animals the ultimate phase is moral. Nature, which was dynamic in matter then becomes actual in spirit; it becomes the sense and the knowledge of its own existence. And how should this moral actualisation of existence be less existent than the physical potentiality of it?
[If I had avoided the word matter, there would have been a sort of treason] to spirit, to truth, to essence, to those trembling immaterial lights and that infinite immutable background which, unless sharply contrasted with the matter which they surround, may be transposed in confused apprehension to the plane of matter, and saddled with material functions. Have not both truth and spirit, not to speak of essence, been represented in our day as things physical, temporal, instrumental, and practical? Ontologically, this attitude is absurd, and a mere failure in discernment . . . .
But nature, events, space-time, and even evolution . . . are indicative terms, containing no ontological analysis: my problem is precisely to distinguish in this vast flood of existence the planes and qualities of reality which it contains or presupposes. I wish to note the differences and the relations between the animate and the inanimate, the physical and the moral, the psychological and the logical, the temporal and the eternal. It is very true that one and the same flux of events exemplifies now one and now another of these realms of being . . . .
The notion of belittling any [civilization of which I was learning about as a youth] never crossed my mind; and as one style of architecture does not prevent the others from being equally beautiful and proper in their time and place, so the whole mental and moral civilisation that flourished with that style must be accepted as right and honourable in its day. This principle is applicable to the religions and philosophies, in so far as they too are local and temporary; but in so far as the universe and human nature are constant, it is evident that a single system of science will serve to describe them, although the images and language will constantly differ in which that system is expressed. . . .
Life itself exists only by a modicum of organization, achieved and transmitted through a world of change: the momentum of such organization first creates a difference between good and evil, or gives them meaning at all. Thus the core of life is always hereditary, steadfast, and classical; the margin of barbarism and blind adventure round it may be as wide as you will, and in some wild hearts the love of this fluid margin may be keen, as might be any other loose passion. But to preach barbarism as the only good, in ignorance or hatred of the possible perfection of every natural thing, was a scandal: a belated Calvinism that remained fanatical after ceasing to be Christian. And there was a further circumstance which made this attitude particularly odious to me. This romantic love of evil was not thoroughgoing: wilfulness and disorder were to reign only in spiritual matters; in government and industry, even in natural science, all was to be order and mechanical progress. Thus the absence of a positive religion and of a legislation, like that of the ancients, intended to be rational and final, was very far from liberating the spirit for higher flights: on the contrary, it opened the door to the pervasive tyranny of the world over the soul. And no wonder: a soul rebellious to its moral heritage is too weak to reach any firm definition of its inner life. It will feel lost and empty unless it summons the random labours of the contemporary world to fill and to enslave it. It must let mechanical and civic achievements reconcile it to its own moral confusion and triviality.