Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

By Pat Duffy Hutcheon | Go to book overview

Twelve
From Naturalism to Mysticism Henri Bergson

The major task of the twentieth century will be to explore the unconscious, to investigate the subsoil of the mind.

-- Henri Bergson, Le Rêve

H enri Bergson was born in the same year as John Dewey. LiKe Dewey he had assimilated the premises of romantic idealism (and of Nietzsche's philosophy) from the university environment along with the very air he breathed. Both men were deeply influenced as well by the moral sentiments and educational ideas of Rousseau. Both became critical of the prevailing idealism and realism of their day and sought a more inclusive and believable third option. They developed somewhat similar philosophies of science based on the new biology and on pragmatism. But Bergson's version contained more of William James than of Peirce, and more of Spencer than of Darwin. And, unlike Dewey, Bergson chose to combine with James' pragmatism and Spencer's evolutionary social science a selection of ideas from Kant, Schopenhauer and Hegel.

Bergson was unwilling to accept the dethronement and demystification of humanity implicit in Darwinism. He preferred to accept Kant's version of a dualism within the human being: a dualism which would restrict science to the exploration of inorganic reality. And, whereas Dewey saw human consciousness as co-existent and consistent with nature, Bergson, like Hegel, argued for a consciousness that enveloped and exceeded the physical universe: one that made a divine humanity the focal point of cosmic creation. Finally, where Dewey accepted Darwin's hypotheses concerning evolution, Bergson insisted that something like Schopenhauer's cosmic "will to life" must be the engine driving the process.

Spirit, while thus retained in Bergson's system and imbued with a life of its own, was defined, nonetheless, as an aspect solely of a transcendental human consciousness. It is because of his exclusive focus on, and creative insights into, the human origin and limits of this spiritual dimension -- as well as his emphasis on our classical heritage and the evolutionary origins of human institu

References for this chapter are on p. 216.

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