The Man of Reason: Part Six

Lloyd asserted that ‘Robert Pirsig’s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance represents an attempt to get at the unity underlying “Classical” and Romantic” thought styles. This is a very different kind of critique of reason from that attempted by the Romantics, who were concerned rather with affirming one side of the dichotomy.’42 It is generally thought that Romanticism followed Neoclassicism – in fact they existed roughly concurrently, Neoclassicism beginning about forty years earlier and waning by 1820 whilst as a movement, Romanticism is generally considered to have passed by 1830.

The Romantics, though they did consider themselves to be in passionate opposition to those who maintained the ‘reason’ side of a dichotomy, in fact represented the other side of a coin – they affirmed the ‘Plotinian’ strand of Platonism, as Neoclassicism affirmed the ‘Platonic’. Whereas Romanticism involved the subordination of form to content and the evocation of the Ideal through dynamism, positioning Nature at the centre of all things, Neoclassicism involved the subordination of content to form and the evocation of the Ideal through stasis, positioning Man at the centre of all things. The Ideal in both cases is ultimately the same – a return through contemplation to unity with the self as God. The contemplation of ‘pedestalised’ (idealised) female form (as opposed to thought about the lived content/reality) was a means to this for the male.

I strongly disagree with Lloyd’s reading of Bergson. His philosophy was a rejection of reasoning in favour of a non-rational mode of access to reality. His notion of ‘mind’ was plainly dualist. He thought that consciousness does not spring from the brain.43 He also thought that ‘there is more in the motionless than in the moving’44 and that Ideas are contained in matter, that we are all born Platonists 45 and that there exists nothing positive outside Ideas.46 Bergson acknowledged his profound obligation to Plotinus 47 and gave a course of lectures on him at the College de France in 1897-98. He suggested the possibility of applying the term ‘God’ to the source from which all things flow.

He claimed that intuition (for him, the immediate non-intellectual knowledge not of discontinuous moments but of the indivisible flow of ‘real’ time), brought the flow of reality (‘duration’) to consciousness as opposed to a succession of changing states. Yet (consistent with the function of Plotinus’ primary hypostasis) he referred to this duration as lifting the soul above the Idea.48 His notion of duration amounts to the intuitive apprehension of the passage of spiritual reality. Bergson’s intuition is the same non-discursive contemplation of perfection in ‘mind’ as that advocated by Plotinus.

If the philosophy of Bergson had any energy to its élan vital, or any flow to its durée, it did so because it was a pale image and a shadow of a vast structure created by a man of far greater integrity to his purpose and of far greater historical and cultural significance.49

In Plotinus’ system, a system containing an Intellect ‘teeming’, ‘boiling’ and ‘seething’ with creative energy and life are all of the concepts central to the philosophy of Bergson – particularly the relationship between contemplation, movement or flow (Bergson’s durée) and the ultimate goal of oneness achieved through that process of ‘mental’ activity in stillness. In that system, exists the source of Bergson’s multiplicity-in-unity, the same distinction between discursive reasoning and intuition, the same aspiration of soul to the Absolute, the same stance on time and space, on extension or absence of extension, the same desire to reject the material world and to orient his audience to their true, perhaps unconsciously remembered, spiritual purpose.

Part six of nine/to be continued…

42 G. Lloyd, ‘The Man of Reason’, in Women, Knowledge, and Reality: Explorations in Feminist Philosophy, Eds. A. Garry and M. Pearsall. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989, 127

43 H. Bergson, Creative Evolution, 1907, Trans. A. Mitchell. New York, 1911,  reprint. 1983, 262

44 Ibid. 316

45 H. Larrabee, Ed.  Selections from Bergson,  New York, 1949, 64

46 H. Bergson, Creative Evolution, op. cit. 316

47 H. Larrabee, Ed. Selections from Bergson, op.cit. xiii

48 H. Bergson, The Creative Mind, Trans. M. Andison. New York, 1946, 229

49 Bergson used the achievements of science to refute the ‘positive sciences’ and justify his theories. For example, discoveries concerning the atom. He also tried to argue that his philosophy was consistent with Einstein’s theories. See H. Bergson, Duration and Simultaneity, with Reference to Einstein’s Theory, Trans. L. Jacobson. 1922, reprint. New York, 1965. That Plotinus and Neoplatonism are not taught (distinct from mysticism being advocated) at every institution where philosophy is taught is, because of the implications, the most gross failure of social and intellectual responsibility by time-serving academics.

*   *   *

I will soon begin a series on the philosophy of the Neoplatonist Henri Bergson.

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