November 01, 2005

The two sources of morality and religion

According to Bergson, obligations, that is, customs, arise because of the natural need an individual has for the stability that a society can give. As a result of this natural need, society inculcates habits of obedience in the individual. Habituation means that obedience to the whole of obligation is, in fact, for the individual, effortless. The psychological error then consists in externalizing an exceptional experience – which Bergson calls “resistance to the resistances” – into a moral theory. Duty becomes severe and inflexible. But there is more to this error. Kant believes that he can resolve obligation into rational elements. In the experience of resistance to the resistances, the individual has an illicit desire. And, since the individual is intelligent, the individual uses intelligence, a rational method, to act on itself.
According to Bergson, what is happening here is that the rational method is merely restoring the force of the original tendency to obey the whole of obligation that society has inculcated in the individual. But as Bergson notes, the tendency is one thing; the rational method is another. The success of the rational method, however, gives us the illusion that the force with which an individual obeys any particular obligation comes from reason, that is, from the idea or representation, or better still, from the formula of the obligation.
But, there is another force. The second force is what Bergson calls “the impetus of love” (The Two Sources, p. 96). The impetus of love, like joy but also like sympathy, is a creative emotion. The emotion must be explicated into actions and representations. But, this process of explication can be extended. The representations that the mystic explicates can be further explicated into formulas, for example, the formula of each person being deserving of respect and dignity. These formulas, which are the expression of creation and love, are now able to be mixed with the formulas that aim solely to insure the stability of any given society.
Since we are now speaking only of formulas, creation and cohesion, the two forces, are mixed together in reason. As before, whereas the rational method used in the experience of resistance to the resistances comes to explain the force of obedience, here in the mystical experience of the impetus of love the formulas come to explain the force of creation. A reversal has taken place. The very forces that have generated the formulas are instead now being explained by those very formulas. Indeed, this is the problem. How could some representation of intelligence have the power to train the will? How could an idea categorically demand its own realization? As Bergson says, “Re-establish the duality [of forces], the difficulties vanish” (The Two Sources, p. 96). The two forces are, however, but two complementary manifestations of life. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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