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  • Writer's pictureDon Landes

Philosophy's Duty

Updated: Nov 28, 2022

In his book Creative Evolution, Bergson argues that philosophy should not simply attempt to avoid any conflict with the positive sciences. For Bergson, it is a dangerous attitude to believe that philosophy ought to simply respect unquestioningly the facts and laws established in the positive sciences, that philosophy ought to limit itself to adding later nothing but a bit of knowledge about the faculties of the understanding or the arrangement of the ideas. Such an attitude fails to recognize the deep metaphysical position informing the structure of the positive sciences itself, no less a philosophy of nature and reality.

In fact, philosophy reveals that the positive sciences rest upon a simple presupposition: human intelligence is the owner of the rights to rigorous thought and knowledge itself. Yet what if human intelligence is placed back within its own evolution?, asks Bergson. Do we not see that human intelligence evolved for the purpose of action, and not for the purposes of knowing reality. The intellect always looks upon reality from the outside, but philosophical intuition, suggests Bergson, attempts to think from within the moving structures of reality itself. And this is not just a neutral change of perspective, it is "the duty of philosophy to intervene" in the spatializing and externalizing perspective of science, to shake human consciousness free of the "forms and habits that are strictly intellectual."

In the attempt to leave the facts to science, philosophy risks accepting the metaphysical position that nonetheless underlies the scientific worldview, namely the mechanistic conception of nature. Philosophy's shirking of its "duty," suggests Bergson, is at once to sacrifice philosophy to a sort of endless oscillation between positions and to leave it unable to make an appreciable contribution to science.

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