Jeff responded to my renewed investigations into the origins of the analytic-continental divide; Jeff rightly insisted that Bergson is a kind of proxy for Spinoza, who is ultimately one of Russell's prime targets. Here's Russell on Spinoza:
"The ethical work of Spinoza, for example, appears to me of the very highest significance, but what is valuable in such work is not any metaphysical theory as to the nature of the world to which it may give rise, nor indeed anything which can be proved or disproved by argument. What is valuable is the indication of some new way of feeling towards life and the world, some way of feeling by which our own existence can acquire more of the characteristics which we must deeply desire. The value of such work, however immeasurable it is, belongs with practice and not with theory. Such theoretic importance as it may possess is only in relation to human nature, not in relation to the world at large. The scientific philosophy, therefore, which aims only at understanding the world and not directly at any other improvement of human life, cannot take account of ethical notions without being turned aside from that submission to fact which is the essence of the scientific temper." (On Scientific Method In Philosophy)
- Russell sharply distinguishes between Spinoza's ethics and metaphysics (he also does this in his History).
- Russell systematically defends the beauty and nobility of Spinoza's ethics, but denies it is philosophical for three reasons: (a) Spinoza's metaphysics of substance has been disproved by science. I call such appeal to the authority of science to settle philosophic argument within philosophy, "Newton's Challenge to Philosophy." Russell here echoes eighteenth century Newtonian criticism of Spinoza. Once Spinoza's metaphysics is discredited, (b) Spinoza's ethics is not really founded on or supported by argument, but by feeling (and this is indeed also Russell's view of Bergson) and "maxims." I actually think this reading of Spinoza has a lot going for it (and the significance of maxims is a way in which Spinoza and Smith are connected), but about that some other time. (c) The feeling that Spinoza's ethics promotes is oriented toward practice, and (c*) Russell denies that philosophy is fundamentally concerned with practice, but rather with understanding. On 2c, Spinoza's philosophy is oriented toward understanding, but not scientific understanding, which (as Jeff also highlighted by way of reference to the Letter on the Infinite) is always partial and approximate according to Spinoza. (I have a long handbook article forthcoming on this.) On 2c*,interestingly enough, Bergson also insists that philosophy is about understanding and not practice (which is the realm of science). So, Bergson and Russell are closer than they appear. But Jeff is correct that Bergsonian metaphysics is an attempt to find a way of grasping the absolute that is a consequence of scientific disciplining, but fundamentally non-conceptual/non-symbolic/non-measurement based (and this is Spinozistic in some respects). I doubt, however, Bergsonian "intuition" is Spinozistic "intuition;" Spinozistic intuition is not an instance of intellectual sympathy. And, even though for both grasping essences is a crucial part of intuition (as Dan Kervick also noted yesterday), I also think that the content of their intuitions is different--Spinoza's knower does not grasp a multiplicity, but a firm (inner) relational structure of reality (formal essence of particular attribute to essence of things). (About the varieties of intuition more some other time.)
- Russell's philosophy is fundamentally a denial of philosophic freedom--it is about submission to fact. There is no sense in him that the philosophic legislator has any freedom to develop or determine conceptual structures from indeterminate reality. It is, in fact, a determined submission because as I pointed out yesterday, it means that Russell self-consciously prevents himself from entering into certain feelings--he is a "cool critic" and deliberately "unsympathetic." This is a decision by Russell; it's his self-command. But oddly in order to reject Spinoza (and Bergson), Russell invokes scientific facts even though he had insisted that when it comes to philosophy one should not rely on the fallible and potentially outdated content of science. That is to say, Russell's targets outstrip the resources he has left available to himself, and those of us who had followed in his footsteps.