Intuisjon hos Henri Bergson 1859-1941


A few words of reflection may be legitimate here, as they bear directly on a core argument of the thesis. Plato draws a distinction between the intelligible world, and the world of appearances. His notion of discursive thinking, dianoia, is attached to the former. For Kant, the situation is similar. He draws a distinction between the a priori and the a posteriori. His notion of discursive thinking, verstand, is also related to the intelligible world, or the a priori. The new and confusing element introduced by the later Bergson, is thus that his notion of discursive thinking, made equivalent to intellect, is fallen from the a priori, intelligible world, down to an occupation in the cave, where its primary interest is the world of physical appearances.

With Bergson, we therefore have the contradictory situation, that the intellect no longer occupies a place in the intelligible world. Its character and memory is from now on, gradually, becoming devoid of soul. Rational intuition is thus left alone with the intelligible, metaphysical, spiritual agenda, and the intellect is solely in charge of the more solid affairs. The trend continues today, when the discursive intellect is regarded by many as rational and intuition as irrational, automatic and biased. This then, is one reason why I do not focus in on the heuristics and biases tradition. Let us thus look more closely at Bergson’s main distinction, the one between intuition and analysis which only later turns into the one between intuition and intellect.


Intellectual Analysis

Analysis is for Bergson, as it is for Kant, the operation, which reduces the object to elements already known, that is, to elements common both to it and other objects. It separates, divides and dissolves the unity. To analyze, therefore, is to express a thing as a function of something other than itself. “All analysis is thus a translation, a development into symbols, a representation taken from successive points of view. From there we note as many resemblance’s as possible, between the new object, which we are studying, and others, which we believe we know already. In its eternally unsatisfied desire to embrace the object, around which it is compelled to turn, analysis multiplies without end, the number of its points of view, in order to complete, its always incomplete, representation. Ceaselessly it varies its symbols, striving to make perfect, its always imperfect, translation. It goes on, therefore, to infinity.”[1]

Bergson argues that it is easy to see that the ordinary function of positive science is analysis. “Positive science works, above all, with symbols. Even the most concrete of the natural sciences, those concerned with life, confines themselves to the visible form of living beings, their organs and anatomical elements. They make comparisons between these forms, they reduce the more complex to the more simple; in short, they study the workings of life in what is, so to speak, only its visual symbol.”[2] In this line of reason, we recognize Plato’s description of dianoia, or discursive reasoning, which uses as images those actual things which themselves have images, in the realm of physical appearances. Dianoia proceeds, as we know, from premises to conclusion, without questioning the assumptions upon which the premises ultimately rests, thus it falls short of perfect knowledge, or episteme.

Turning then to the discursive intellect, we find Bergson arguing that it has, in a similar way, certain inherent limitations in its way of functioning. Normally it apprehends the world externally as a collection of things in space. The very language we use to describe the world is saturated with spatial terms and metaphors. Secondly, the intellect deals with the world by means of discrete units capable of being counted or measured, like dollars, kilometers, kilos, pages, etc. Thirdly, the intellect treats the world as though it were fundamentally static and immobile. The fixed concepts of the discursive intellect may be extracted by our thought from mobile reality, but there are no means of reconstructing the mobility of the real with fixed concepts.

This is for Bergson the most serious limitation of all. For it means that, the intellect is bound to misunderstand the fact of motion and change. Like a camera lens, it can only form a picture of a process by transforming the latter into a static image or series of images. “Duration can be presented to us directly in an intuition, it can be suggested to us indirectly by images, but it can never be enclosed in a conceptual representation.”[3] These limitations, he argues, are clearly seen in the most typical product of the intellect, namely the natural sciences. For the sciences, seek always to state their results in mathematical terms. One result of this has been that phenomena like motion and time are analyzed into a succession of points.[4] As time is of great significance to Bergson’s understanding of intuition, we will delve deeper into it, below.

Before we contrast intellectual analysis with intuitive synthesis, we should take further note of Bergson’s view on conception, so that we provide the reader with continuity from Plato and Kant. Concepts, especially if they are simple, have the disadvantage of being symbols, substituted for the object they symbolize. When examined closely, we find that they retain only that part of the object, which is common to it and to other objects. Thus, they can never reveal what is essential and unique in the object. Concepts offer a comparison between similar objects. Also, we easily persuade ourselves that by setting concept beside concept we are reconstructing the whole of the object, with its parts, obtaining so to speak its intellectual equivalent. There precisely is the illusion, Bergson argues. “These concepts, laid side by side, never actually give us more than an artificial reconstruction of the object, of which they can only symbolize certain general and, in a way, impersonal aspects. It is therefore useless to believe that with them we can seize a reality of which they present to us the shadow alone.” Plato’s allegory of the cave is here looming in the background.

And he continues; “Besides the illusion there is also a very serious danger. For the concept generalizes at the same time as it abstracts. The concept can only symbolize a particular property by making it common to infinity of things. It therefore always more or less deforms the property by the extension it gives to it.”[5] So if we are bent on reconstructing the object with concepts, everything will depend on the weight we attribute to this or that concept. Though, this weight will always be arbitrary, due to the fact that the concept extracted from the object has no weight, being only the shadow of a body. From this line of reason, he concludes that simple concepts not only divide the concrete unity of the object into numerous symbolical expressions, they also divide philosophy and science into distinct schools that carries on with the others a game that will never end. The challenge posed to metaphysics, is to transcend concepts in order to reach intuition.[6] No wonder the concept intuition is elusive.




Intuitive Synthesis

Intuition then, as opposed to intellectual analysis, is for Bergson, an immediate and higher synthesis.[7] His use of the word immediacy does not differ significantly from Kant’s, and the reader may refer to that discussion. Larsson, in his reading of Bergson, argues that the use of the word intuition almost always indicates a synthesis, and that it is the direct antonym to discursive thinking and nothing else. In discursive thinking one thing is perceived after another, without holding on to the preceding. Intuition on the other hand, manages to hold on to the manifold of the preceding, and to see it in one enduring picture.[8] In this view, intuition is a sort of long-term memory. Kolstad adds that it is a synthesis working on several levels, that is, with degrees of density and rhythm.[9] It works horizontally as the opposite to analysis and discursive thinking, in the rather dense domain of ‘hard’ natural science, as well as in less dense psychological and spiritual realms. Both a horizontal and a vertical movement thus characterize intuition. It is an increasing awareness of this synthetic or integral relationship. The analytic activity participates in the unity of duration and intuition is in no way alien to it. Reality does not share with us an intuition of its inner nature, until we painstakingly have acquainted ourselves with its outer manifestations.[10] 

For the sake of clearness, we should here repeat that Bergson draws a general distinction between two directions of our thinking effort, as is the case with Buddhism as well.[11] One is the attention spirit gives to matter the other is the attention spirit gives to life, that is, to itself. The former is typically the discursive intellect, while the latter is normally assigned to intuition. Each of these, is again subdivided into an exteriorized action oriented focus, and an interiorised focus, which is reflected in Jung’s notions of the introverted and the extraverted intuition.[12] These divisions may be related to the different levels of intuition in the following way:

The higher levels of intuition emphasise the internalised focus. A peculiar and important aspect of this level is the counter analysis, or in other words, the analysis of the analysis. Intuition here utilizes analysis with the aim of dissolving the concepts, and the imperfect, relative knowledge construed by ordinary analysis. This approach is in important respects, identical to Plato’s dialogue and to Kant’s synthetic method. The counter analysis resonates very well with the transcendental analytic method, which is integral to the complete synthetic method. In working this way intuition is approaching a flowing state of mind best characterized as a consciousness, which is conscious of it-self.[13] It has liberated itself in and through the ever-rolling stream of time. How this goes about will be delineated in a separate section below. The main difference between the counter analysis and the interiorised discursive intellect is thus that the latter stops short at a lower level of conceptual reflection and abstraction.

The lower levels of intuition correspond mainly to the exteriorized focus and may be seen as instinct. Often instinct is discussed in relation to intuition. Here it suffices to say that for Bergson, all organic life is seen as a flowing stream that in its evolution towards self-consciousness, move in two directions; towards intuition and instinct or towards discursive thinking. The bee then, in its instinctive attack upon its victim has a knowledge that in regard to its object is perfect and absolute. It knows exactly where to hit. The key difference between instinct and intellect is thus that the instinct relates to the content, the intellect to the form. If the instinct could postpone its often, immediate action and reaction, and be disinterested in its object and reflect upon itself, it would reveal the secrets of life, Bergson maintains. The knowledge that is inherent in the instinct is thus by intuition made conscious, and thought.[14] How intuition is capable of transcending analysis and the discursive intellect completely, is indeed more difficult to explain. Bergson starts by giving these subtle examples:




Examples of Intuition

“Were all the photographs of a town, taken from all possible points of view, to go on indefinitely completing one another, they would never be equivalent to the solid town in which we walk about. Were all the translations
of a poem into all possible languages to add together their various shades of meaning and, correcting each other by a kind of mutual retouching, to give a more and more faithful image of the poem they translate, they would yet never succeed in rendering the inner meaning of the original. Or suppose that I wished to communicate to someone who did not know Greek the extraordinarily simple impression that a passage in Homer makes upon me; I should first give a translation of the lines, I should then comment on my translation, and then develop the commentary; in this way, by piling up explanation on explanation, I might approach nearer and nearer to what I wanted to express; but I should never quite reach it.”[15]

“When you raise your arm, you accomplish a movement of which you have, from within, a simple perception; but for me, watching it from the outside, your arm passes through one point, then through another, and between these two there will be still other points; so that, if I began to count, the operation would go on forever. Viewed from the inside, then, an absolute is a simple thing; but looked at from the outside, that is to say, relatively to other things, it becomes, in relation to these signs which express it, the gold coin for which we never seem able to finish giving small change.”[16] Bergson here alludes, to the ancient philosopher Zeno of Elea, and his famous example of a flying arrow. It is easy to show that it does not really move, Zeno says. For at each instant of its flight it occupies one and only one point of space. This means that at each instant the arrow must be at rest, since otherwise it would not occupy a given point at that instant. However, its whole course is composed of such points. Therefore, the arrow does not actually move at all. The moral to be drawn from Zeno’s paradoxes is for Bergson, not that motion is impossible, but rather that it is impossible for the intellect to comprehend motion. These examples are somewhat problematic, but will be easier to interpret when we have discussed Bergson’s notion of time and duration. Here it suffices to say that they reflect the main tenet of Plato’s epistemology, namely the dynamic between original and image.





Time & Duration

From the above examples, it is clear that we must not confuse intuition with mere feeling or emotion. Nor should we think of it as depending on some special faculty having a non-natural origin. Intuition is rather a series of acts, of direct participation in the immediacy of experience. It is integral experience. It can be accomplished by making an effort to detach oneself from the demands of action, by inverting the normal attitude of consciousness, and immersing oneself in the current of direct awareness. The result will be cognition of reality that must be expressed in metaphors or fluid concepts quite different from the static abstractions of logic. In so far as, this reality is communicable at all. “There is one reality, at least, which we all seize from within, by intuition and not by simple analysis. It is our own personality in its flowing through time - our self which endures. We may sympathize intellectually with nothing else, but we certainly sympathize with our own selves.”[17] The inner life is variety of qualities, continuity of progress, and unity of direction, and cannot be represented by concepts, that is, by abstract, general, or simple ideas. No concept can reproduce exactly the original feeling we have of the flow of our conscious life. If a man is incapable of getting for himself the intuition of the constitutive duration of his own being, no concept will ever give it to him, according to Bergson.

Metaphysics must therefore begin by applying its method to the inner experience of the individual he argues. The personality in its flowing through time, is a ceaselessly changing process. The term which best conveys the character of this process is duration, la durée or pure time. Here we arrive at Bergson’s most original conclusion. Absolute reality as revealed by intuition is the ever-rolling stream of time. Immediately, we recognize that this is in line with the reasoning of Plato and Kant, and we should remember that Plato provides us with a perspective of time that is deep, and rich in nuances. On a side-note, we should mention that Taylor argues that Bergson’s argument applies as much to space as to time.[18] In order to contrast duration with the mathematical and ‘spatialized’ time of the intellect, Bergson offers certain additional comments. Duration is a heterogeneous flux or becoming. It is irreversible, straining always towards the future. It is continually creating newness or novelty, and hence it is intrinsically unpredictable. It is the inexhaustible source of freedom. Its living reality can never be communicated by images or concepts, but must be directly intuited.

However, if intuition has the mobility of duration as its object, and if duration is of a psychical nature, the attentive reader may wonder if not the philosopher then is confined to the exclusive contemplation of him or herself. Bergson argues in accordance with Kant, that this would be to misconceive the singular nature of duration, and its essentially active character. It would be failing to see that intuition alone permits us to go beyond idealism, as well as realism, to affirm the existence of objects inferior and superior to us, to make them coexist without difficulty.[19] Plato phrased this only slightly differently, maintaining that rational intuition reveals the intrinsic interplay between the works of Reason and the world of physical appearances. It is an increasing awareness of this synthetic or integral relationship.





Analysis of Duration

Duration is of pivotal importance to Bergson’s notion of intuition, and even though it is close to a hopeless task, he embarks upon an analysis of it. If I seek to analyze duration, I am compelled, by the very nature of the concepts and of analysis, to take two opposing views of it, with which I then attempt to reconstruct it, he says. “I shall have to say, for example, that there is, on the one hand, a multiplicity of successive states of consciousness, and, on the other, a unity which binds them together.”[20] He starts by considering duration as a multiplicity. “It will then be necessary to add that the terms of this multiplicity, instead of being distinct, as they are in any other multiplicity, encroach on one another; and that while we can no doubt, by an effort of imagination, solidify duration once it has elapsed, divide it into juxtaposed portions and count all these portions, yet this operation is accomplished on the frozen memory of the duration, on the stationery trace which the mobility of duration leaves behind it, and not on the duration itself.”[21] Bergson thus argues that if there is a multiplicity, it bears no resemblance to any other multiplicity we know, as if echoing Plato and his one unique world argument, which we did discuss.

Then he goes on to consider duration as a unity. “Shall we say, then, that duration has unity? Doubtless, a continuity of elements which prolong themselves into one another participates in unity as much as in multiplicity; but this moving, changing, colored, living unity has hardly anything in common with the abstract, motionless, and empty unity which the concept of pure unity circumscribes.”[22] The question then, posed by Bergson, is this: Shall we conclude that duration must be defined as unity and multiplicity at the same time? His conclusion is that however much we manipulate the two concepts, we never obtain anything, which resembles the simple intuition we have of duration. “When I replace myself in duration by an effort of intuition, I immediately perceive how it is unity, multiplicity, and many other things besides. These different concepts, then, were only so many standpoints from which we could consider duration. Neither separated nor reunited have they made us penetrate into it.”[23] However, by intuition we do penetrate into it, facilitating inner, absolute knowledge of the duration of the self by the self.

Kant used different words but meant much the same, when proving that our transcendental unity of self-consciousness gives us synthetic a priori knowledge. Duration then, will be the synthesis of unity and multiplicity. According to Bergson there is, and can only be, one single duration, that in which our consciousness habitually works. To summarize then, we can list the main differences between intuition and analysis as perceived by Bergson. We recognize that essentially, they are similar to the ones provided by Plotinus on intuition and discursive thinking and to those mentioned by Kant on intuition and conception.



Rational Intuition


Metaphysical Science Physical Science
Spirit Matter
Qualitative Quantitative
Synthesis Analysis
Complete Incomplete
Absolute Relative
Simple Complex
Original & Unique Copy
Real Symbolic
Unification Fragmentation
Integrates Separates
Enduring & Dynamic Static




The Metaphysical Method

The main elements in Bergson’s metaphysical method then, is discussed above, and Bergson gives a summary of it, which we include here. For Plato, dialogue represents the method most suitable to rational intuition. For Kant, it is the synthetic method. Bergson calls his method metaphysical, and it is clear that they all share intrinsic similarities and intentions, namely to reveal the nature of the rational, intelligible world of perfect knowledge, which is to be found by looking primarily not out, but in to the psyche which means soul. In this domain the Ideas, Forms and Archetypes are found and rational intuition see them reflected and integrated in the world of physical appearances. Such an emphasis is indeed, also firmly embedded in the Tibetan tradition, of three years long dark room retreats, as final exam in the monasteries.[24]


1 “There is a reality that is external and yet given immediately to the mind. This reality is mobility. Not things made, but things in the making, not self-maintaining states, but only changing states exist. Rest is never more than apparent, or, rather, relative. The consciousness we have of our own self in its continual Heraclitean flux introduces us to the interior of a reality, on the model of which we must represent other realities. All reality, therefore, is tendency, if we agree to mean by tendency an incipient change of direction.”[25] This view is shared by Popper, who in his thorough comparison of quantum physics and philosophy, argues in agreement with Aristotle that: “To be is both to be the actualization of a prior propensity to become, and to be a propensity to become.”[26] Apparently, quantum physics approves of Bergson’s doctrine, and Gunther gives an account on this subject.[27]


2 Bergson stresses that our mind, which seeks for solid points of support, has for its main function in the ordinary course of life that of representing states and things. “It takes, at long intervals, almost instantaneous views of the undivided mobility of the real. It thus obtains sensations and ideas. In this way the discursive intellect substitutes for the continuous the discontinuous, for motion stability, for tendency in process of change, fixed points marking a direction of change and tendency.”[28] Bergson argues that this substitution is necessary to common sense, to language, to practical life, and to positive science. “When our discursive intellect follows its natural bent, it proceeds in this manner, by solid perceptions and stable conceptions.” A crucial point in his line of reasoning is thus that the discursive intellect starts from the immobile, and only conceives and expresses movement as a function of immobility. “It takes up its position in relative and ready-made concepts, and endeavors to catch in them, as in a net, something of the reality which passes. This is certainly not done in order to obtain an internal and metaphysical knowledge of the real, but simply in order to utilize the real.”[29] It is thus not difficult to agree in one of his main conclusions, namely that, in doing so, it lets that which is its very essence escape from the real.


3 The next point is consequently, that fixed concepts may be extracted by our thought from mobile reality, but there are no means of reconstructing the mobility of the real with fixed concepts. Here Bergson adds a pivotal argument that makes it easier to understand Kant’s definition of intuition as a singular and immediate representation, and concepts as something relative, that mediate. However, even though we fail to reconstruct the living reality with stiff and ready-made concepts, it does not follow that we cannot grasp it in some other way:


4 “Our intelligence can follow the opposite method. It can place itself within the mobile reality, and adopt its ceaselessly changing direction; in short, can grasp it by means of that intellectual sympathy which we call intuition.”[30] This is extremely difficult according to Bergson. The mind has to do violence to it-self. It has to reverse the direction of the operation by which it habitually thinks. It has perpetually to revise, or rather to recast, all its categories. In this way, it will attain to fluid concepts, capable of following reality in all its sinuosity’s and of adopting the very moment of the inward life of things. Bergson concludes in accordance with Plato and Kant, that this is the only way to build a progressive philosophy.


5 “This inversion has never been practiced in a methodological manner; but a profoundly considered history of human thought would show that we owe to it all that is greatest in the sciences, as well as all that is permanent in metaphysics.”[31] Metaphysics, which aims at no application, can and usually must abstain completely from converting intuition into symbols. Liberated from the obligation of working for practically useful results, it will indefinitely enlarge the domain of its investigation. What it may lose in comparison with natural science in utility and exactitude, it will regain in range and extension.[32] “Though mathematics is only the science of magnitudes, and though mathematical processes are applicable only to quantities, it must not be forgotten that quantity is always quality in a nascent state. It is natural then, that metaphysics should adopt the generative idea of our mathematics in order to extend it to all qualities, that is, to reality in general.”[33] The object of metaphysics is thus to perform qualitative differentiations and integrations, Bergson argues.


6 “The reason why this object has been lost sight of, and why science itself has been mistaken in the origin of the processes it employs, is that intuition, once attained, must find a mode of expression and of application which conforms to the habits of our thought, and one which furnishes us, in the shape of well-defined concepts, with the solid points of support which we so greatly need. In that lies the condition of what we call exactitude and precision, and also the condition of the unlimited extension of a general method to particular cases.”[34] Bergson thus argues that a truly intuitive philosophy would realize the much desired, union of science and metaphysics.


[1] Bergson, 1949, p. 24.

[2] Ibid. My italics.

[3] Ibid. p. 30.

[4] Ibid. p. 10-11. See also Cornford, 1931. On a side-note we could mention that the scholastic record he left behind was one of uniform brilliance, including a national prize in mathematics.

[5] Ibid. p. 28, 38. Thinking usually consists in passing from concepts to things, and not from things to concepts. When an object is brought under several concepts, we normally say that we have a broad and comprehensive knowledge of the object. Concepts also generally go together in couples and represent two contraries.

[6] Ibid. p. 30.

[7] Kolstad, 1998, p. 109.

[8] Larsson, 1925, in Kolstad, 1998, p. 109. See also Lazey, 1989.

[9] Bergson may have in mind the Pythagorean doctrine of harmony of the spheres. See Burkert, 1972.

[10] Kolstad, 1998, p. 109, 112.

[11] Yamaguchi, 1969, p. 77. The author compares the thinking-methods of Zen Buddhism and Bergson.

[12] Jung, 1971, 366-370, 398-403.

[13] Kolstad, 1998, p. 102. A similar point is made by Fichte in; I think that I think.

[14] Kolstad, 1998, p. 102-104. See also Bailey, 1960, p. 103, and 1974, p. 120.

[15] Bergson, 1949, p. 22-23.

[16] Ibid. p. 23

[17] Ibid. p. 24-25. My italics. See also Moore, 1996, and Michon, 1985.

[18] Taylor, 1928 p. 689-690. Of the many critical comments Bergson receives on the issue of time, F. Pillon and Taylor are main opponents. They agree in that the measurement of time would be absolutely impossible if it were, as Bergson assumes, wholly indirect. See also Kolstad, 1998, p. 154 and Sorabji, 1983.

[19] Bergson, 1949, p. 45-46.

[20] Ibid. p. 46.

[21] Ibid. p. 30.

[22] Ibid. p. 30-31.

[23] Ibid. p. 31.

[24] Riencourt, 1950, p. 247-248. The same ritual is to be found in many cultures, e.g. the Egyptian.

[25] Bergson, 1949, p. 49-54.

[26] Popper, 1989, p. 205. “Propensity may be described as a generalization of dynamism. This view is developed into a relational theory in which relational structures, instead of inhering in each material thing, may be characterized by potentialities. The world is full, as with Parmenides, in the sense that the void, the vacuum, has a structure, and is itself a field of propensities, which are real. Like the moving tealeaves, in a cup. The dualism of the full and the empty, matter and space or field, is, up to a point, preserved, as a distinction between the realization of a propensity, and the propensity to be realized. As with Plato, the emphasis upon antecedent causes and geometrical cosmology is preserved, and used to describe the distribution of matter in the world. The theory of vorticular movement and fluids of the Cartesians is preserved in the form of the law of conservation of energy. Their action at vanishing distances is preserved in the form of the field theory. Central forces, which correspond to the Aristotelian inherent potentialities, give place to fields of potentialities of a relational character.”

[27] Gunter, 1987, p. 271-303, 308-343. See also Gunter, 1969.

[28] Bergson, 1949, p. 50.

[29] Ibid.

[30] Ibid. p. 51.

[31] Ibid. p. 52

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid. p. 53.

[34] Ibid.

2.4 Henri Bergson 1859-1941

Henri Bergson, recognized as the advocate of intuition in European philosophy, argues that a comparison of the definitions of metaphysics and the various concepts of the absolute leads to the discovery that philosophers, in spite of their apparent divergence, agree in distinguishing two profoundly different ways of knowing a thing. “The first implies that we move round the object, the second that we enter into it. The first depends on the point of view at which we are placed and on the symbols by which we express ourselves. The second neither depends on a point of view nor relies on any symbol. The first kind of knowledge may be said to stop at the relative, and the second, in those cases where it is possible, to attain the absolute.”[1] The former is characteristic of the discursive intellect, the latter of intuition. These are the first lines, in his celebrated essay An Introduction to Metaphysics, first published in 1903.

Henri Bergson was born in the year, which saw the publication of the Origin of Species. His philosophy can be interpreted in the light of this theory of biological evolution. This theory was further developed by Darwin’s followers to include the understanding that the human intellect and the process of thinking are designed for wholly practical purposes. Their aim is to help the individual adjust himself to his world and to facilitate action. This conception also forms an essential part of Bergson’s doctrine. The intellect is regarded by him as a kind of instrument or tool employed in the service of life.[2] I will apply the same structure as in the preceding sections on Plato and Kant, and work at three issues. First, I will elaborate Bergson’s distinction between intuition and the analytical nature of the discursive intellect. Secondly, examples on the workings of intuition are given. As time is pivotal in this respect, a paragraph will be devoted to this issue. I will end with an outline of Bergson’s method of intuition, the metaphysical.

Intuition & Intellect

In early writings of Bergson, intuition is described as intellectual, in accordance with Plato and Kant. This is also the case in An Introduction to Metaphysics. When the original text appeared modified in 1934, this has changed. Here the intellect is seen as different from intuition. As this change may be pivotal, for intuition and its more recent connotations, especially within psychology, we need to know why Bergson did this. In a footnote, he mentions that the distinction between intellect and intuition is sharpened, due to an increasing need for precision.[3] What does he mean? A letter to Jacques Chevalier from 1920 reveals that: “As my use of the word intelligence is wider than that of Kant, I could call intuition intellectual. Though, I prefer to call it supra-intellectual. This is because I find it best to limit the use of the word intellect, to the discursive talents of our spirit.” Moreover he defines the intellect as the attention spirit gives to matter, and intuition as the attention spirit gives to life, that is, to itself.[4]

Intuition and intellect are thus not different organs, but two sides of one and the same thinking activity. An activity powered by the spirit. The thinking activity goes in one direction when it applies a discursive, conceptual, analytic quantitative perspective, and in the opposite direction when it sympathizes with the qualitative and psychological reality. Here Bergson copies Plato, who defines rational intuition as the eye of the soul.[5] “This organ of perfect knowledge must be turned around from the world of physical appearances, together with the entire soul, until the soul is able to endure the contemplation in the brightest region of being and the intelligible world.”[6] For Bergson, intuition is thus primarily occupied with inductive metaphysics or spiritual science, while the discursive intellect is primarily employed in the study of matter and physical science.[7]











[1] Bergson, 1949, p. 21.

[2] Ibid. p. 10.

[3] Kolstad, 1998, p. 107. Kolstad refers to La pensée et le mouvant.

[4] Ibid. p. 108. My italics.

[5] Psyche means soul, and it is peculiar that psychological literature, hardly, refers to it.

[6] Cornford, 1955, p. 227.

[7] Kolstad, 1998, p. 110.