In his nice post on the origins of analytic philosophy, a theme that has been addressed many times at this blog, Eric points out that Bergson was among Russell's principle targets. It is perhaps understandable that this part of the story has been forgotten. The Frege-Russell narrative concerning the origins and legitimacy of analytic philosophy has largely maintained its hegemonic status. Within this narrative, Bergson emerges not only as a marginal “continental” figure safely ignored by analytic philosophers but moreover he is a philosopher whose influence on the continent was itself surpassed by the phenomenologists (who, such as Merleau-Ponty, rejected Bergson’s vitalism). However, following up on a comment I made on the thread to John Protevi’s post about Adrian Moore’s book, I would push back the genealogy of an important aspect of the continental/analytic divide to the choice between Spinoza or Leibniz. Understood in this way, Bergson, à la the song "Let's call the whole thing off," says Spinoza and Russell says Leibniz. In targeting Bergson, therefore, Russell is ultimately one in a line of many who are seeking to exorcise the specter of Spinoza.
It is this Spinozist commitment to the “intelligibility of everything,” to an absolute knowledge, that should be borne in mind when one assesses the claim Bergson makes early in his Introduction to Metaphysics that intuition, to the extent that if one possesses movement “from within, as it is in itself…[then one] shall possess an absolute” (p. 3); and this absolute, Bergson adds, “could only be given in an intuition, whilst everything else falls within the province of analysis.” (p. 7).
There is a further contrast at work here that follows from this. As Lee Braver aptly noted in the comments to John’s post mentioned above, a contemporary manifestation of the choice between Spinoza and Leibniz is illustrated by the fact that Dummett wrote The Logical Basis of Metaphysics and Heidegger wrote The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic. In the latter, Heidegger sums up the contrasting approaches as follows:
Here in Leibniz, the ontic subject, the substance, is understood from the viewpoint of the logical subject, from the subject of a statement. But the converse is also quite possible, that is, to understand the logical subject from the ontic subject: Which has priority, the ontic or the logical? Or neither? p. 33
Heidegger does not list Spinoza as being exemplary of the converse possibility – in fact, in these lectures he groups Spinoza together with Descartes and Leibniz - But a case could be made that Spinoza does begin with the singularity of substance, or more precisely the causal power of substance, from which our attempts to think the nature of substance by way of an analysis in terms of mathematics and logic are derivative. This position becomes explicitly stated in Spinoza's famous letter on the infinite (letter 12). As Spinoza argues in this letter, by limiting duration and quantity and conceiving them “abstractedly as apart from substance…there arise[s] time and measure; time for the purpose of limiting duration, measure for the purpose of limiting quantity, so that we may, as far as is possible, the more readily imagine them.” And similarly, “inasmuch as we separate the modifications of substance from substance itself, and reduce them to classes, so that we may, as far as is possible, the more readily imagine them, there arises number, whereby we limit them.” Hence, Spinoza concludes, “measure, time, and number, are merely modes of thinking, or, rather, of imagining.” And to use such aids of the imagination to understand nature, or to use imagination at all rather than intuition (or the third kind of knowledge), will lead us inevitably into to getting entangled “so wondrously” into numerous absurdities.
This point is reinforced in the preface to Part V of the Ethics where Spinoza, now turning to discuss the nature of “mental freedom or blessedness,” points out that it “is no part of my design to point out the method whereby the understanding may be perfected, nor to show the skill whereby the body may be so tended…The latter question lies in the province of Medicine, the former in the province of Logic.” The method of logical analysis, therefore, as useful as it might be as a form of mental hygiene, is not useful when it comes to acquiring the absolute knowledge that brings mental freedom and blessedness with it, which is precisely what we need the intuition of the third kind of knowledge for.
Leibniz, by contrast, does not follow the path of intuition and argues instead that due to the finite capacities of human understanding we are left only with the endless path of logical analysis (or imagination for Spinoza). In a passage cited by Heidegger from the Metaphysical Foundations of Logic, Leibniz argues that
The nature of truth consists in the connection of the predicate with the subject, or the predicate is in the subject either in a way that is manifest, as in identities, or hidden…In identities this connection and the inclusion of the predicate in the subject are explicit; in all other propositions they are implied and must be revealed through the analysis of the notions, which constitutes a demonstration a priori (emphasis added, p. 39).
Rather than follow a Spinozist (and later Bergsonian) method of intuition, whereby we are placed within the absolute itself, for Leibniz (and later Russell) we are left following the path of infinite analysis and description in an effort to approximate the absolute knowledge only God has (for Leibniz at least).
Before erecting an either/or between Spinoza and Leibniz, however, and to reconnect with Deleuze and the continental tradition, we must not forget that Deleuze wrote an important book on Leibniz, in which he claimed that “we all remain Leibnizian because what always matters is folding, unfolding, refolding.” (The Fold, p. 158). A key figure to understanding Deleuze here, and a big chunk of French philosophy in the second half of the twentieth century, is the work of Jean Cavaillès, especially his Sur la Logique et la Théorie de la Science (hereafter SL, and a book he wrote while in prison for his activities in the resistance movement; a translation is in Phenomenology and the Natural Schiences).
Two quick points to give a general sense of why Cavaillès is important:
- A guiding theme of SL is what Cavaillès sees as the largely failed effort of Kant and the neo-Kantians to incorporate experience, or what Cavaillès calls the “singularity of an instant,” into their conceptual formalizations. The problem then for Cavaillès is to reconcile these singularities with the conceptual syntheses and unities that become the crucial basis for a scientific understanding of the world. The Leibnizian emphasis upon logical analysis, however, defers our grasp of the singularity of the world as it is in itself, and yet this singularity returns, Cavaillès claims, as the singularity of God’s decision to create the best of all possible worlds. Cavaillès rejects this approach for many reasons, but most simply because this is not how science works as he sees it. As Cavaillès understands it, there is no predetermining “object” or pre-established harmony that assures the growing success and progress of science; rather, science moves dialectically by encountering “singularities” that elude axiomatization but them become incorporated within a conceptually reworked system. And the emphasis is indeed upon “conceptually,” for, as Cavaillès concludes SL, it is only “a philosophy of the concept which can provide a theory of science."
- With this last point, the connections with Deleuze should become clear, for Deleuze also stresses the importance of creating concepts, and for similar reasons because like Cavaillès Deleuze does not believe that science proceeds by way of a predetermining object but rather moves by way of the conceptual incorporation of the singularities of experience (or non-axiomatizable intuitions), and it is this logic of singularity or logic of sense (as discussed here) that becomes a central component of Deleuze’s project. Secondly, while admitting that we “all remain Leibnizian,” Deleuze, again following Cavaillès, rejects the pre-established harmony and the convergence toward completion of the logical analyses of the series. Rather, for Deleuze we forever have diverging series, or a nomadology instead of a monadology. And finally, Husserl is a key figure for both Cavaillès and Deleuze, and in particular it is Husserl’s recognition of the problem of “constitution” (which I discuss here) that is pivotal for both of them.
Eric was thus quite right to bring up the fact that Russell had Bergson in his sights. As I see it, he had much more than Bergson in his sights as well.