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Bergson, Peirce, and Reflective Intuition

by Carl R. Hausman

Carl R. Hausman is Professor and Head of the Department of Philosophy at the Pennsylvania State University, 246 Sparks Building, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802. The following article appeared in Process Studies, pp.289-300, Vol. 28 , Number 3-4, Fall-Winter, 1999. Process Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online by Ted and Winnie Brock.


Henri Bergson’s view of creative change exhibits tensions between conceptual and supra-conceptual assumptions about the nature of cognition and reality. It seems to me that such tensions are inescapable in any attempt to give an account of creative activity. Given such tensions, however, some fundamental questions arise. Not only is it proper to ask whether one pole in these tensions has priority over the other, but, obviously; the question remains concerning how these poles function in influencing what happens in creative activity.

Professor Pete Gunter has addressed both issues with respect to Bergson’s philosophy as a whole. Indeed, Gunter points us to these tensions and to the possibility that these are less dissonant than they might seem, when Bergson is read carefully and properly. My paper will not challenge Gunter’s argument. I believe he has offered a welcome statement about the extent to which Bergson took account of modern science in developing a metaphysics full of insights. In doing so, Gunter shows how the tensions in Bergson’s thought are at bottom mutually supportive. It seems to me that the two kinds of mathematical calculus that he says are interactive in the dynamic processes of the universe may well be a proper way to help interpret Bergson. Thus, rather than raise objections, I shall consider briefly the tensions with respect to Bergson’s metaphysics and epistemology I shall try to extend consideration of the senses in which intuitions are rational and may be inclusive of conceptual experience. I shall also consider the conditions for understanding creativity. These issues will be reviewed in terms of what I believe is a proper extrapolation of Charles Peirce’s notion of cognition and his view of the conditions of cosmic evolution.

Before continuing, I should emphasize that I believe that there is much common ground between Peirce and Bergson. Both writers reject atomistic conceptions of reality and epistemological foundations. And the idea that reality is a kind of tendency fits both. Peirce’s synechism or insistence that continuity is of prime importance in philosophy and his effort to show that continuity fundamentally has no gaps (although continuity is nevertheless open to spontaneous, emergent developments) exhibit a fundamental affinity with Bergson. Peirce’s account of continuity in terms of a theory of infinitesimals seems to me to reinforce this affinity. Nevertheless, the relation of form or conceptually understandable creative advances and their origins within continuities seem less obviously common to both writers. I shall try to develop these remarks briefly in what follows.

As an entry into the discussion, it may be helpful to mention some questions that arise in connection with several points in Gunter’s account of Bergson. I shall occasionally insert brief comments about how Peirce’s views are relevant. Gunter’s discussion of the interdependence of the poles in the apparent conflicts in Bergson’s thought serves two purposes: as indicated above, he tries to show that the charge of irrationalism is improperly made against Bergson, and he argues that there is a fundamental unity in Bergson’s philosophy. This unity supports the idea that Bergson affirms an irrationality is misguided.

Not every trace of tension, however, can be assuaged without sacrificing some of the power of Bergson’s account of creativity As proposed at the outset, such tensions are unavoidable in a view that affirms the idea that creativity advances knowledge, a tradition, and all intelligible process by generating new intelligible outcomes, new forms or kinds that were unpredictable. With this, Bergson and Gunter would probably agree.

Gunter identifies the divergent tendencies in Bergson’s thought with reference to a "struggle between two contrary tendencies: one creative, expansive, dynamic, the other conservative, repetitive, static." Telescoped, these may be called the dynamic and the static. Tendencies like these appear in Peirce as quality and actuality in contrast to possibility and regularity. It should be noted that for Peirce, regularity, whether intuitive or conceptual, is evolutionary and is inclusive of quality and actuality. For Bergson, regularity for conceptual thought is static. Bergson’s tensions also underlie an opposition between life and matter, creative and conservative impulses, and an open society and a closed society For Peirce the first is mind, which is lively, and matter, which is sheer (although evolutionary) regularity, and is called "effete mind." Matter as sheet, frozen regularity still is subject to modification, for matter is capable of being warmed to life in some degree in the course of evolution. For Bergson, each tension yields a problem that is also the mark of apparently irreconcilable views of what is vital to the place of human beings in the world: (1) Time is measurable according to length and brevity, but immeasurable in reality, because it is qualitative, felt, and immediate; (2) Psychological life is divided into a self awareness of deeper, dynamic layers of human beings and what is superficial and fixed; (3) There is an inner consciousness and an independent world apart from inner consciousness. Bergson’s approach calls attention to an unavoidable disunity in its stress on the three loci of tension and thus it is less unified initially than Peirce’s, at least with respect to the continuity between the poles of the tension. The disunity is of course in the opposition and distortion that discursive, conceptual speech offers in treating the fluid reality that concepts are supposed to be designed to capture. Although Peirce insists that there is an ongoing qualitative presence that itself is prior to rational thought, he leans toward accounting for the relation of qualitative presence to thought by proposing that one is continuous with the other.

What is the Bergsonian way of assuaging the tensions? Apparently, it lies in what Gunter refers to as rhythms of duration. Not only are rhythms of duration uniting conditions, but they also serve as a way to distinguish the two poles, mind and matter, from one another. Both matter and mind are constituted by rhythmic durations. For matter, these occur as recurrent present moments. For mind, rhythmic durations are not recurrent, but successive and progressive. For both matter and mind, rhythmic durations occur as segments. In matter, in which they are recurrent in the present, the segments can be regarded as discrete. In mind, the segments are continuous. The contrast between matter and mind seems to lie, on the one hand, in a renewable occurrence of the present (and thus in what is momentarily unchanging), and, on the other hand, temporality that is in change. The rhythms of consciousness are said to be of the same kind as matter. The only difference is in the breadth of time -- the present vs. endurance (temporal) in the past and the future. Gunter sees the account of rhythmic durations as a kind of "rapprochement" between quality and quantity and between mind and matter.

It is not clear to me how this account gives us a fully adequate way to provide a rapprochement between mind and matter, at least in a way that seems to fit the Bergsonian program. Even if the rhythms of consciousness are not different in kind from those of matter, they are in passage, while in matter, they are, or are necessarily treated as, segments that seem to be discrete, in the sense of their recurrences, and are thus conceptually identifiable. Thus, we still have two aspects that are distinguished and that relate to one another as two poles with respect to distinguishing consciousness from the material world. And as Croce said in discussing art and artist, contrasts within one kind may be great enough to appear as differences in kind. Similarly, if the distinction between mind and matter is a function of breadth and brevity; the differences between lengths of rhythmic durations are so great that a qualitative difference of kind is exhibited. At some level or limit, rhythms become brief enough to appear as recurrent present moments, in which case, they are "distanced" from long rhythms of (fluid) consciousness and require intuitive access.

What is external to mind, then, must be accessed through intuitions. Because through intuitions we can participate in the rhythms, we can have an intuition of what is material. Again, even if what is thus apprehended is of the same kind, the distinction is great enough -- has enough breadth -- to require consciousness to function by modes that themselves appear as different in kind. This leads to one of the two major issues I would like to address: the character and function of intuition.

The rejection of Bergson’s view of the role intuition plays in understanding reality seems to be what Gunter regards as one of the grounds for the charge of irrationalism. Thus, the meaning of "rationality," especially as it relates to intuition needs consideration. It is significant that writers as divergent in philosophical perspectives as Croce and Russell seem to agree that Bergson’s intuitions prompt the charge of irrationalism. Croce’s reasons surely are not limited to the fact that Bergson’s intuitions play a role in metaphysics, whereas Croce’s play a role in artistic expression. And the role of intuitions in Russell’s view seems, on the face of it, similar to Bergson’s in being foundational -- they consist of knowledge by acquaintance, thus serving an indispensable role in epistemology. The way intuitions function, of course, is different in light of the atomistic place of intuitions for Russell. But why should these critics regard Bergson’s intuition as irrational while presumably they believe theirs are not? The answer must be found in what one understands by "intuition" and "irrational." These objectors may have assumed different notions of "rational" and have overlooked the point Gunter makes that Bergson’s intuitions are reflective.

It seems clear that if Bergson’s intuitions are reflective, they surely have their own special character. They have intellectual sympathy, and with respect to their sympathy, I suppose, they share with common sense intuitions an immediate, positive directedness toward that on which they focus. But as intellectual, they are more complex than common sense intuitions. They must be distinguished from popular notions that intuitions are emotionally charged, immediate (unreasoned) insights or premonitions. If reflective, they seem to be more than immediate. As more than immediate, they must include distinct moments of some kind of internal distancing, a marking of a distinction a "stepping back" and an implicit awareness of what is occurring during an act of intuiting. Without this implicit awareness, I see no way they could apprehend the movement to which they must penetrate. Consequently, they must include, in some form, an aspect of incipient discursive and conceptual thought. Let me add here that if my interpretation of intuitions as reflective is not off the mark, then there is a way to help account for the idea that intuitions and spatialized, conceptual understanding are relevant to one reality, as Gunter insists. For it must be in intuitions that two contrary modes of knowing are merged -- that is, an immediate focus that "enters into" what is apprehended and at the same time enacts a process that includes some aspect of spatializing thought, distinguishing and somehow distancing.

Bergson’s intuitions seem complex rather than purely monadic acts. In short, if intuition is reflection, it is not simply dyadic but triadic, too, including (if it does not depend on) an activity of mediation -- a third mediating condition. This, I think, distinguishes them from Cartesian intuitions, which were rejected by both Bergson and Peirce.

I must emphasize that I am not trying to take issue with the idea that there are intuitions that include reflection. But I do want to try to suggest a way of interpreting what it means to say that they are reflective. In what way, then, do intuitions differ from cognitions that are gained through concepts functioning outside as well as within metaphysics? Reflective intuitions must be different and special because they are expected to insert themselves into reality that is in flux in terms of rhythmic durations. They are expected to have an intimate access to reality, unlike conceptual cognition.

Lest it be objected that I am proposing an analysis of intuition through concepts or discursive thought, which is contrary to what Bergson seems to insist on, my answer in the first place starts with a characterizing of intuitions that not only invites but implies attention to the presence of extra-intuitive relations necessary for intuitions to contribute to rational understanding. In the second place, even if the only way to characterize intuitions is to say that they are not conceptual -- to say that they are fluid, unitary, etc -- in saying that they are non-conceptual, we have predicated conceptually available ideas, which is necessary in order to claim that conceptual thought is foreign to their referents (which transcend conceptual thought). We cannot help distorting when we use language of one order of reference to apply to another order -- a first order that resists being the object of the second order reference. This dilemma can only be mediated by openly insisting that only metaphorical uses of concepts to stretch beyond themselves can approach an adequate characterization of the otherwise ineffable domain. This, after all, is crucial to Bergson’s view, and, fundamentally to Peirce’s view as well. The term "reflective" applied to intuition, then, ought to be understood as a metaphorical suggestion that can be expanded -- although not paraphrased fully without reducing what is paraphrased to the very conceptually available ideas that intuitions surpass.

It is worth noting here that Peirce rejects the idea that intuitions can themselves be cognitive. They are immediate and thus pre-interpretive. Cognitive acts must be triadic, that is, they must involve the mediation introduced in interpretation. As I shall mention below, this point indicates an interesting comparison with Peirce’s idea of intelligibility as triadic and intuition as pre-intelligible. I think, at least on Gunter’s account, that Bergson wants to pack incipient mediation into intuitions, which are ordinarily taken to be immediate and dyadic. But Bergson’s intuitions must be rich with aspects that raise them to a relation that is more than dyadic and, as I tried to indicate already, is inclusive of interpretation.

What kind of cognitive significance is at issue here? If intuitions are not cognitively significant in a way that can be public and interpretive, mediating, relations, which can be discursively continued by connecting with further relations, what sort of cognitive significance can they have?

Again, my point is not to reject this way of understanding intuition. I want to suggest that a Peircean way of treating intuition and cognition lays out distinctly and, it seems to me, more clearly, the way intuitions can be or become cognitive and thus contribute to discursive, conceptual, cognitive experience. In order to expand this point in another way, let me turn to the question of what counts as intelligibility and rationality -- a question concerning the assumptions that underlie both Bergson’s and Peirce’s views of intuition.

As already suggested, for Peirce, cognition involves interpretation. In order for interpretation to occur, something must be identified as the object or subject of interpretation. This is so even if the interpretation is not fulfilled but reaches no further than the dyadic relation of reference-pointing, for instance, or some other act of referring. The referent initially may be simply a this. But two terms alone are not sufficient to do more than initiate interpretation. Pointing needs supplementing with a third relatum, some comparison or noting of resemblance, which itself introduces a third principle or quality linking more than one item. Mediation is necessary) Peirce’s characterization of the three conditions that are necessary for a genuine sign to offer meaning may help to make this clearer. For a thing to function as a sign it must have an interpreter for whom (or for which) an object is referred to in some respect. There are, then, sign, object, and interpretant, all three relata related in some respect. I shall not try to interpret the idea of the respect involved in sign action except to say that it seems to fuse with both the relation of the sign to the interpretant and the relation of the sign to the object. In his early writing, Peirce calls the respect the ground of the sign’s function, and I think that as a ground it has the function of leading the interpretation to another interpretation with another sign as its subject, all in an on-going semeiotic process. In any case, it seems to me that Bergson’s intuition on Gunter’s account, which refers to intuitions as reflective, must be a special case of a triadic relation. If so, intuitions are not, at least not necessarily, irrational. The interpreting act obviously does not need to be analyzed nor made explicit during interpretation itself. Reflection may occur without the agent reflecting on that reflection. But what goes on in the richer notion of intuition seems to me to include the kind of conceptualization implied by the triadic structure of interpretation. A bit later, I shall try to explain why my point is borne out by an account of the structure of metaphors, which are, after all, the proper modes of linguistic expression and access to reality for Bergson. At the moment, however, we are left with the key question: "What assures us that an internal interpretation within an intuition is intelligible or rational -- that it is to be trusted?"

Simply being an interpretation is only a necessary condition of rational significance. At this point, it will be helpful to cease assuming that rationality and intelligibility are equivalent. Intelligibility is a broader notion, for it includes thoughts that may be meaningful without regard, at the time of recognition, to both conditions of rationality (self-consistency and coherence), which will be discussed in a moment. Those ideas that are intelligible without consideration of their rationality or irrationality may not make sense to us at first, but instead may suggest something that will make sense in the future. This is crucial to what I shall characterize later as creative outcomes and as a mark of metaphorical expression.

I believe that it is generally accepted that at least two conditions are necessary for a thought to be rational. The thought ought not to be self-contradictory, and it ought to be coherent. The second condition, coherence, is that the thought should be consistent with an established system of theories and generally accepted beliefs.2 Coherence, as I take it, is consistency or fittingness with more relations and a set of consequences. Further, as already indicated, I would add that this second condition does not need to be met at the moment the thought is articulated; otherwise, all creative advances in thinking, which break beyond established beliefs and theory, would be discarded as incoherent and even irrational. If the thought does not give a hint or anticipatory suggestiveness that it could fit a future context, it would ordinarily be rejected as at least questionable, if not unintelligible. It does take time for radical innovations to become effective in future systems of belief as has been the case in the history of both art and science. This follows from the idea that innovations to some extent modify the system that they are to fit in the future. They contribute to its development. For instance, post-impressionistic painting arose in the wake of impressionist painting and contributed to the evolving tradition of painting, even helping to show impressionism and its antecedents in a new light.

Assuming that this brief characterization of rationality and intelligibility is accepted, it is possible to consider further the place of interpretation in intuitions. If an intuition is to be cognitive, which must mean that it is intelligible, then it must exhibit a sense of having an expectation, not of something determinately envisaged, but of something regarded as anticipatory of self-consistency and coherence in the future. What is apprehended is an Incipient telos. I should think that this fits Bergson’s view in spite of his ingenious argument that we cannot foresee the future of an art tradition -- an argument that applies to predicting even in some sketchy detail what artworks will be like in the future. In referring to an anticipatory quality, I do not mean that some specific or general character must be foreseen. What is anticipated is a vague end, that some development in the future will bring about something with character that will not be incoherent. In any case, an intelligible intuition would presumably exhibit the appearance of something that has the potential of being related to another cognition, intuitive or conceptual. Perhaps Bergson’s reference to intuitions as having intellectual sympathy is a mark of anticipatory character with respect to the forward moving pulsation of reality. In having sympathy, the intuition, I take it, is empathetic and with attunement to its focus of attention, reality. This expectation is comparable to Peirce’s idea that intuitions -- which, as suggested earlier, are thinner than Bergson’s -- would be subjected to critical interpretation. But I take it that Bergson’s intuitions are supposed already to be subjected to a kind of internal criticism and thus inclusive of some degree or aspect of interpretation.

The significance of these suggestions about what is rational and intelligible as applied to intuition is not that intuitions fall below the level of intelligibility or that they belong to a domain inherently inaccessible. Rather, the main point I want to make, which is to my mind following a Peircean line, is that intuitions are not explicitly cognitive in the sense of exemplifying prima facie rationality; yet they may and should contribute to explicitly cognitive levels of experience. Peirce’s intuitions are not themselves cognitive but are subject to and contributory to triadic experience, which is interpretive, critical, and fully cognitive.

Another way to make this point is to turn to Peirce’s categories and to his semeiotic. Firsts (which include pre-cognitive intuitions) can be prescinded (abstracted) from thirdness and secondness as necessary conditions of the higher level relational experiences. We can prescind quality from struggle and effort, and we can prescind both quality and struggle from mediated lawful experience. Sheer resemblance can be prescinded from comparison and both from symbolic meaning. Similarly, icons are conditions of indices and symbols. On this view, the richness that Bergson seems to build into his intuitions (their reflective character) may simply be laid out and made explicit. In other words, I think what Bergson sees as intuitions belong properly to Peirce’s level of thirds. They are thirds in which firstness is so prominent that they are taken to be firsts in the pre-cognitive state, not yet subjected to further interpretation within a semeiotic context. They are thirds awaiting the future.

Before concluding this paper, I should like to relate what I have said so far to the other major question about the Bergsonian view of evolution or creative process. Both Bergson and Peirce declare that reality is in process and that the process must be understood in terms of continua. It seems that for Bergson, however, reality as a whole is one continuum. For Peirce, continua pervade the universe. If this is correct, then there are consequences that differentiate their approaches to evolution and thus to understanding creativity. However, I think that Bergson’s continuum, his duration, is subject to discontinuities, just as is Peirce’s, and these discontinuities are just as real as continuities. This is to say that even though it comes about through the distortion of spatialization that conceptualization forces on reality, this conceptualization and the very tension it generates are integral to reality as a whole.

Gunter points Out that Bergson’s view of creativity proposes that creating occurs with a "rupture" with the forms and structures that have preceded it. Thus, it seems that when there is a moment of creativity, there must be discontinuity, and a discontinuity transcends the quantitative discontinuities that occur when reality is carved into measurable, discrete segments of the same kind. Further, if the rupture occurs m relation to forms and structures, it must yield a qualitative change, for the forms are not simply sheer numerical or spatial differentiations. The forms are distinguishable moments in the on-going process that constitutes reality, Creating a new style in painting, such as Picasso’s innovations in cubism, is surely a qualitative change in kind within antecedent traditions of painting.

As Gunter points out, however, Bergson’s qualitative universe has quantitative aspects. Rhythmic durations have quantitative and qualitative aspects. Quantitative aspects presumably emerge from qualitative continuity when conceptual thought marks the ruptures and thus recognizes that there are differences. In any case, if there are ruptures, it seems reasonable to claim that Bergson’s reality must be much like Peirce’s with respect to there being a plurality of continua that pervade the universe.

It also seems to me that the rejection of the idea of ex nihilo creation overlooks the point that if there is a rupture, that out of which a new form or new continuity originates is nil insofar as there is a rupture, an interruption, and thus a momentary gap or absence which inserts itself within a continuum and precedes the transformation of one kind (form) into another. Unless one assumes a determinism or a theory of creativity that claims creative outcomes are predictable in principle, there is nothing that fully (reductively) accounts for what appears as the new intelligibility of the new form or the newly transformed intelligible outcome -- the new continuity. It is, of course, obvious that creativity occurs against a background and in that sense does "come from" something -- where "come from" has reference to being understood in contrast to, and showing traces of past influences, that is, of past continuities and durations of a variety of sorts. However, again, unless "come from" refers to explaining or predicting the future from knowledge of the past, there is necessarily in some respect an absence of conditions or continuities that breaks connections among continua. In that sense, there is ex nihilo creation. I think this is a crucial point to note for any attempt to understand creativity, for to ignore it is to fall back into a quasi-deterministic way of thinking, according to which the denial of ex nihilo creativity means "there is nothing new under the sun." I mention this not only as a point in relation to Gunter’s statement that creation ex nihilo never occurs for Bergson but also with Peirce in mind. I do not know, however, that Peirce ever used the term "ex nihilo" in discussing creativity and evolution.

What is crucial in the immediate context, however, is the question: "How are the aspects, quality and quantity, related to one another where rhythmic durations exhibit ruptures?" In trying to answer, I shall turn exclusively to Peirce on the assumption that rhythmic durations have the function that infinitesimals have in part of Peirce’s account of continuity3 I can only hope that a Bergsonian scholar will judge the extent to which my account of Peirce shows common ground with Bergson. I should add that if I am off the mark in suggesting such common ground, then I recommend that Peirce’s account brings into focus more sharply what the central tension must be in any metaphysics of creative evolution.

While Peirce views the cosmos as swimming in continua, he leaves room for the origination of new intelligible purposes. There is in the universe what he calls "developmental teleology." New purposes emerge in process. New forms arise out of acts of spontaneity. Instances of spontaneity are not limited to dramatic creative advances that catch attention and cause surprise. They can, indeed must, occur, even in eruptions at infinitesimal moments in continua. There are conditions for actualizable and potential points in continua, at infinitesimal nodes in continua that, when actualized, introduce new continuities and thus new forms, new purposes. Perhaps Bergson’s vertical durations mark the outcomes of these infinitesimal nodes within continua.

With these brief suggestions about infinitesimal occasions, let me turn to another question. What more can he said about the conditions for ruptures in continua? Are instances of spontaneity no more than chance events? An affirmative answer to the latter, I suppose, would exemplify a purely Darwinian restricted view of evolution -- Peirce’s tychism. But the restricted Darwinian view can be supplemented, as Peirce supplemented it, with the developmental teleology and the general agapastic theory of evolution.4 Peirce hypothesized that there must be some agency in nature by virtue of which spontaneities lead to diversity and complexity in nature. And I think he developed this notion when he hypothesized again that there is an agapastic source functioning in evolution. This source loves without demands on its creatures, creatures that themselves could be creative and thus could exhibit agape. This agency or sources looks much like what Bergson hinted at as God. Peirce knew that in discussing evolution in this way, he was speculating and resorting to figurative ways of forming his thesis. I shall not undertake here to argue in defense of his having proceeded in this way. But I do want to insist that Peirce’s conviction that evolution includes teleological direction is crucial to a view of evolution that does not stop with a restricted Darwinian view and recognizes that evolution does occur not simply as process as such, but as progress.

We can now return to the issue of intelligibility and intuition. In the present context, this issue arose in connection with the idea that Bergson’s view turned irrational. My concern now, however, is with two considerations. The first is raised briefly by Gunter when he points out that for Bergson intuition is integral to creativity. The second has to do with the relation of intuition in creativity to its past -- memory, tradition, style, etc. -- and in turn with the expression of intuitions in communicable terms. My suggestions here will be centered in a claim about metaphor.5

What role does intuition play in creative acts? If we emphasize that creative advance issues in a change in continuity; a rupture, there must be some break with continua that are conceptually available. But the origin of the break could not have as its basis only concepts available up to the time of creativity. Nor could the origin of the break have as its basis concepts available after the break. Thus, the origin of the break must be pre-conceptual yet intelligible insofar as its outcome promises to he also available to human conceptual cognition. This pre-conceptual and intelligible activity is the office of a pre-conceptual but "reflective" cognition. This pre-conceptual cognition, I think, is both Peircean and Bergsonian intuition understood, as I suggested earlier, involving three relata: (I) an immediate, monadic intuition, (2) an incipient, mediating interpretation, and (3) a triadic outcome available to discursive thought.

The role of intuitions for Peirce also is suggested in his theory of the logic of abduction -- the technical term for hypothesis formation which is a third form of logic different from induction and deduction. Abductions arise in pre-interpreted cognitively significant acts in the discovery and creation of new cognitions about natural laws. The significance of intuitions is also indicated by Bergson’s view that it is by intuition that humans have access to reality It is also significant that these intuitions are expressed in metaphorical language (in "fluid" thoughts). Peirce too credits metaphors as necessary to thought.

Gunter has provided some of the support helpful to what I have said about intuition and metaphor in Bergson. But I shall not take the time here to try to extend further these comparisons and the evidence of them in Peirce’s writings. It is more important to consider what I think are crucial insights in both Bergson and Peirce about the interdependence that should be recognized between conceptual thought and intuitions. This interdependence can be seen in Bergson’s fluid concepts, if these are understood in accordance with an interactionist account of metaphor. In brief, on the interactionist view, metaphors are made possible when two (or more) concepts are joined in a sentence and the joining exhibits a dissonance. One term violates its own established meanings and/or the other term. "That man is so straight that he is wooden." Both "wooden" and "straight" as predicates of "man" are now pretty well understood so readily that the incongruent connection that must have been exhibited in the first instances of predication is easily overlooked. But taken literally, humans are not wooden and they are not straight in the sense created, that is, of being determinate, inflexible, in honesty. Another example will do better for showing how concepts play a role in metaphors. The word "understand," is, of course, now readily understood as having to do with being intelligible. But the word is, after all, a compound of two concepts, taken literally, "under" and "stand." The compound now is what I would call a frozen metaphor. Its significance, however, is radically new in relation to the two concepts, which, although nor dissonant if taken apart and joined in the expression "stand under," are at least syntactically dissonant with respect to their order in the expression, "understand" -- and more importantly their forming a compound now means something radically new in relation to the terms taken literally and in the reverse order.

The most general structure of metaphors, then, includes two conceptually accessible terms rendered initially not accessible when taken literally in combination. But in a metaphor, a new meaning emerges. The new meaning may’ then become established as conceptually accessible -- that is, once the whole expression is seen as having meaning. If the new meaning is conceptually accessible, then its vehicle, has become a frozen metaphor and can be treated as an analogy that can at least partially be paraphrased, as, for instance, "understand" means, among other things, "comprehend." I say partially paraphrased because a metaphor (a good one or one that has performed a creative function) is alive and significant beyond any wholly literal paraphrase. Thus, the term "to understand" carries a distinct, not clearly conceptualizable meaning so that it is not strictly equivalent to comprehend -- unless for practical purposes speakers freeze the relationship, forcing an identity on the relationship. If language could not and did not exhibit the kind of flexibility and creativity that metaphors can bring to it, language could not evolve. And this would be tantamount to affirming the cliché that there is nothing new under the sun. It seems to me that both Bergson and Peirce had the insight that the cosmos, including human languages, does involve evolution from past to future that expands reality. In one sense, this is to say that everything is new under the sun, from moment to moment, but that the conceptual, quantitative aspect of it freezes the evolutionary process -- temporarily.

 

Notes

1. What I shall say about Peirce on interpretation and mediation and their relation to his categories is based on various discussions in Peirce’s writings, found in Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1931-1960), for instance, in Vol. 1, paragraphs 540-564, Vol. 2, paragraphs 228 -- 229; in Writings of Charles S. Peirce. Chronological Edition, ed., Edward C. Moore, Christian J.W. Kloesel, Nathan Houser, et. al, Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1988- 1993); and in letters to Lady Welby, Semiotic and Significs: The Correspondence between Charles A. Peirce and Victoria Lady Welby ed., Charles S. Hardwick and James Cook (Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1977).

2. The argument I have in mind is in Bergson’s The Creative Mind, tr. Mabelle L. Andison (New York: Philosophical Library, 1946) the section entitled "The Possible and the Real," 91-106.

3. Hilary Putnam has offered an interesting analysis of Peirce’s treatment of infinitesimals, and his analysis is suggestive as a way to understand how a continuum can break at loci that are points of division as infinitesimal intervals. See his "Peirce’s Continuum," in Kenneth Laine Ketner, ed., Peirce and Contemporary Thought: Philosophical Inquiries (New York: Fordham University Press, 1995). 1-22. I have tried to draw our some of the ideas in Putnam’s account in "Infinitesimals as Origins of Evolution: Comments Prompted by Timothy Herron and Hilary Putnam on Peirce’s Synechism and Infinitesimals," Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society 34/3 (1998).

4. I refer here to Peirce’s essay on "Evolutionary Love," and the preceding essays in the series, "The Doctrine of Necessity Examined," in Collected Papers of Charles Sanders Peirce, Vol. 6, chapters 2 and 11.

5. I shall assume here various arguments presented in my Metaphor and Art. Interactionism en the Verbal and Non-verbal Arts (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989).


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