Galvano Della Volpe on Henri Bergson


Typical among the intuitionists is Henri Bergson, with his Plotinism, adapted for terrestrial use. Consistent with himself, he deprecates both scientific thought and the materiality and objectivity of things. It is sufficient to recall his cardinal concept of ‘continuity’, i.e. the pure unity of duration, which is designed to account for the qualitative heterogeneity of the ‘facts’ of consciousness. This is why Bergson maintains the supra-rational (‘super-essential’) of Proclus and the mystics, but nonetheless exchanges it for an actual ir-rational. Hence Georg Simmel and all contemporary metaphysical ‘irrationalism’, which amounts to a renovated neo-Platonism (up to and including Jaspers), despite its quite illusory anti-Platonic function. It should also be added—in the interests of further clarifying the theological, since metaphysical, character of this ‘irrationalism’—that at its root lies none other than the transformation (of theological origin) of the concept of life into the concept of spirit, which transformation was handed down from the Gospel of Saint John to mystics like Nicholas of Cusa, to Hegel the romantic, and finally to contemporary ‘intuitionists’. ‘If vitalism is sterile today’ Bergson tells us, ‘this is due to our science of the spirit, which is still in its infancy.’ (This concept is expounded and exalted in the volume La philosophie réligieuse de Bergson, by Lydie Adolphe, preface by Emile Bréhier, Paris, 1946, p. 100. See also Le Roy, et al., Jankélowitch, Bergson, Paris, 1931, which Bergson himself called ‘correct and exact’, especially pp. 168 ff., 214 ff., for the approbation of Bergson’s mysticism and his return to Plotinist ‘ecstasy’.) All contemporary ‘intuitionism’ and ‘irrationalism’, with its belated mysticism and romanticism, thus marks a typically decadent phase of modern thought: its consistently anti-scientific (anti-Galilean) position signifies precisely an attempt at a sophisticated neo-obscurantism in logic and epistemology, with the corresponding (bourgeois) individualist morals typical of Bergson’s ‘privileged souls’—or ‘beautiful souls’, as the German romantics said. This is the true—negative and worse—meaning of the spiritualist and idealist ‘reaction’ against science in which the glory of contemporary intuitionism is said to consist. In conclusion, the following remarks of Dewey about the typically concrete, determinate thought that is scientific knowledge merit some attention: ‘Dogmatic restriction of science to generalization compels denial of scientific traits and value to every form of practice .... it involves logical suicide of the sciences with respect even to generalizations .... ignores the outstanding fact of scientific inductive reference: namely, controlled reconstitution of the singulars which are the ground of generalization.’ (Logic—The Theory of Inquiry, pp. 439‑440.) ‘... if the generic character of the propositions of physical and biological sciences were ultimate, such propositions would be entirely useless from a practical point of view; they would be quite incapable of practical application because they would be isolated from intellectual continuity with the particular cases to which application is sought’. (Dewey, Problems of Men, New York, 1946, p. 218.) Here Dewey is criticizing only the rationalists, ‘traditional (formally rationalistic) theory’, and not the intuitionists, who—with their mystical search for the singular and their consequent deprecation of the intellectual concept (reduced to convenient ‘convention’, to ‘label’), a deprecation they share with ‘dialectical’ rationalists (cf. Hegel’s and Croce’s ‘pseudo-concepts’)—are certainly no less metaphysical and dogmatic.


SOURCE: Della Volpe, Galvano. Logic as a Positive Science, translated by Jon Rothschild (London: NLB, 1980), chapter IV: Tauto-Heterological Identity and the Scientific Dialectic, footnote 14, pp. 173-174. (Original: Logica come scienza positiva, 1969.)


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