Henri Bergson, aka Henri-Louis Bergson

Bergson, aka Henri-Louis Bergson

French Philosopher

Author Quotes

We look at change but we do not see it. We speak of change, but we do not think about it. We say that change exists, that everything changes, that change is the very law of things: yes, we say it and we repeat it; but those are only words, and we reason and philosophize as though change did not exist.

You define the present in an arbitrary manner as that which is, whereas the present is simply what is being made. Nothing is less than the present moment, if you understand by that the indivisible limit which divides the past from the future. When we think this present as going to be, it exists not yet; and when we think it as existing, it is already past.

God is love, and the object of love: herein lies the whole contribution of mysticism.

If civilization has profoundly modified man, it is by accumulating in his social surroundings, as in a reservoir, the habits and knowledge which society pours into the individual at each new generation. Scratch the surface, abolish everything we owe to an education which is perpetual and unceasing, and you find in the depth of our nature primitive humanity, or something very near it.

In that continuity of becoming which is reality itself, the present moment is constituted by the quasi-instantaneous section effected by our perception in the flowing mass; and this section is precisely that which we call the material world. Our bodies occupies its centre; it is, in this material world, that part of which we directly feel the flux; in its actual state the actuality of our present lies.

Some other faculty than the intellect is necessary for the apprehension of reality.

The tools of the mind become burdens when the environment which made them necessary no longer exists.

All life, animal and vegetable, seems in its essence like an effort to accumulate energy and then to let it flow into flexible channels, changeable in shape, at the end of which it will accomplish infinitely varied kinds of work. That is what the vital impetus, passing through matter, would fain do all at once. It would succeed, no doubt, if its power were unlimited, or if some reinforcement could come to it from without. But the impetus is finite, and it has been given once for all. It cannot overcome all obstacles. The movement it starts is sometimes turned aside, sometimes divided, always opposed; and the evolution of the organized world is the unrolling of this conflict.

Anyone who is thoroughly familiar with the language and literature of a people cannot be wholly its enemy.

From our point of view, life appears in its entirety as an immense wave... which rises, and which is opposed by the descending movement of matter.. this rising wave is consciousness... running through human generations, subdividing itself into individuals. This subdivision was vaguely indicated in it, but could not have been made clear without matter. Thus souls are continually being created, which, nevertheless, in a certain sense pre-existed. They are nothing else than the little rills into which the great river of life divides itself, flowing through the body of humanity. The movement of the stream is distinct from the river bed, although it must adopt its winding course. Consciousness is distinct from the organism it animates, although it must undergo its vicissitudes... the brain underlines at ever instant the motor indications of the state of consciousness; but the interdependence of consciousness and brain is limited to this... consciousness is essentially free.

Instinct gave place temporarily to a system of habits, each one of which became contingent, their convergence of which became contingent, their convergence towards the preservation of society being alone necessary, and this necessity bringing back instinct with it. The necessity of the whole, felt behind the contingency of the parts, is what we call moral obligation in general - it being understood that the parts are contingent in the eyes of society only; to the individual, into whom society inculcates its habits, the part is as necessary as the whole.

It is the whole soul, in fact, that gives rise to the free decision, and the act will be so much the freer the more the dynamic series with which it is connected tends to be the fundamental self... but the moments at which we thus grasp ourselves are rare, and that is why we are rarely free.

It is when we detect our own weaknesses that we come to pity or despise mankind. The human nature from which we then turn away is the human nature we have discovered in the depths of our own being. The evil is so well screened, the secret so universally kept, that in this case each individual is the dupe of all: however severely we may profess to judge other men, at bottom we think them better than ourselves. On this happy illusion much of our social life is grounded.

Knowledge and action... are only two aspects of one and the same faculty... There are things that intelligence alone is able to seek, but which, by itself, it will never find. These things instinct alone could find; but it will never seek them.

Obedience to duty means resistance to self.

There is no state of mind, however simple, which does not change every moment.

We are free when our acts spring from our whole personality... Our character is still ourselves.

You would hardly appreciate the comic if you felt yourself isolated from others. Laughter appears to stand in need of an echo. Listen to it carefully: it is not an articulate, clear, well-defined sound; it is something which would fain be prolonged by reverberating from one to another, something beginning with a crash, to continue in successive rumblings, like thunder in a mountain. still, this reverberation cannot go on for ever. It can travel within as wide a circle as you please: the circle remains, none the less, a closed one.

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Bergson, aka Henri-Louis Bergson
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French Philosopher