January 27, 2006

Bergson and Hegel

The Two Sources of Morality and Religion by Henri Louis Bergson February 14, 2004 Reviewer: Gary L. Herstein (SIU Carbondale, IL USA) - See all my reviews Home
In Bergson's "Two Sources," the famous french thinker applies his relational methodology and metaphysic to an analysis of religion and morality...For one thing, this volume gives one of the clearest examples of Bergson's methodology that I have encountered (in my admittedly limited studies). This method has come to be known as Bergson's "qualitative calculus" (QC). The QC has certain obvious similarities with Hegel's dialectic: a phenomenon gets analyzed as a product of two tensional poles which define a spectum of relations between them. But the differences are also manifest. The poles, for Bergson, have none of the ontological status of Hegel's objective idealism. Nor are they so much Ideal Opposites, as they are the two ends of a relational spectrum. Bergson's relational approach is not built around a sharp, black/white oppositional structure the way Hegel's is (or at least appears to be in some readings).
The two poles for Bergson are, in this instance, what might be called "habit" and "inspiration," which lead to, respectively, static and dynamic structures. These structures are rarely if ever encountered in their pure forms, and as such the two poles are the abstracted ideal elements of a phenomenological analysis. Chapter one of _Two Sources_ focuses on morality, and gives the initial development of QC structures that Bergson will then apply throughout the rest of the book. Chapter two takes religion in its static, habit based form, and further delves into this structure along the lines of Bergson's QC. (Here, again, we see the debt to Hegel, where each stage of the dialectic leads to a deeper analysis.) Chapter three takes religion in its dynamic phase, and the final chapter summarizes and offers conclusions.
Once again, this is not a book looking to convert the faithless, nor is it preaching to the choir. It is a careful analysis along the lines of James' _Varieties of Religious Experience_. (By the by, for those who don't already know, Bergson and James were frequent correspondents, and admirers of one anothers work.)

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