Time and Free Will:
An essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness

Henri Bergson

Table of Contents

Translator's Preface

Author's Preface


Quantitative differences applicable to magnitudes but not to intensities, 1-4; Attempt to estimate intensities by objective causes or atomic movements, 4-7; Different kinds of intensities, 7; Deep-seated psychic states: desire, 8, hope, 9, joy and sorrow, 10;  Aesthetic feelings, 11-18: grace, 12, beauty, 14-18, music, poetry, art, 15-18; Moral feelings, pity, 19;; Conscious states involving physical symptoms, 20: muscular effort, 21-26, attention and muscular tension, 27-28; Violent emotions, 29-31: rage, 29, fear, 30; Affective sensations, 32-39: pleasure and pain, 33-39, disgust, 36; Representative sensations, 39-60: and external causes, 42, sensation of sound, 43, intensity, pitch and muscular effort, 45-6, sensations of heat and cold, 46-7, sensations of pressure and weight, 47-50, sensation of light, 50-60, photometric experiments, 52-60, Delboeuf's experiments, 56-60; Psychophysics, 60-72: Weber and Fechner, 61-65, Delboeuf, 67-70, the mistake of regarding sensations as magnitudes, 70-72; Intensity in (1) representative, (2) affective states, intensity and multiplicity, 72-74.


Number and its units, 75-77, number and accompanying intuition of space, 78-85; Two kinds of multiplicity, of material objects and conscious states, 85-87, impenetrability of matter, 88-89, homogeneous time and pure' duration, 90-91; Space and its contents, 92, empirical theories of space, 93-94, intuition of empty homogeneous medium peculiar to man, 95-97, time as homogeneous medium reducible to space, 98-99; Duration, succession and space, 100-104, pure duration, 105-106;; Is duration measurable? 107-110; Is motion measurable? 111-112; Paradox of the Eleatics, 113-115; Duration and simultaneity, 115-116; Velocity and simultaneity, 117-119; Space alone homogeneous, duration and succession belong to conscious mind, 120-121; Two kinds of multiplicity, qualitative and quantitative, 121-123, superficial psychic states invested with discontinuity of their external causes, 124-126, these eliminated, real duration is felt as a quality, 127-128; The two aspects of the self, on the surface well-defined conscious states, deeper down states which interpenetrate and form organic whole, 129-139, solidifying influence of language on sensation, 129-132, analysis distorts the feelings, 132-134, deeper conscious states forming a part of ourselves, 134-136; Problems soluble only by recourse to the concrete and living self, 137-139.


Dynamism and mechanism, 140-142; Two kinds of determinism, 142; Physical determinism, 143-155: and molecular theory of matter, 143, and conservation of energy, 144, if conservation universal, physiological and nervous phenomena necessitated, but perhaps not conscious states, 145-148, but is principle of con conversation universal? 149, it may not apply to living beings and conscious states, 150-154, idea of its universality depends on confusion between concrete duration and abstract time, 154-155;Psychological determinism, 155-163; implies associationist conception of mind, 155-158, this involves defective conception of self, 159-163; The free act: freedom as expressing the fundamental self, 165-170; Real duration and contingency, 172-182: could our act have been different? 172-175, geometrical representation of process of coming to a decision, 175-178, the fallacies to which it leads determinists and libertarians, 179-183; Real duration and prediction, 183-198: conditions of Paul's prediction of Peter's action (I) being Peter (2) knowing already his final act, 184-18g, the three fallacies involved, 190-192, astronomical prediction depends on hypothetical acceleration of movements, 193-195, duration cannot be thus accelerated, 196-198; Real duration and causality, 199-221: the law " same antecedents, same consequents," 199-201, causality as regular succession, 202-203, causality as prefiguring: two kinds (1) prefiguring as mathematical pre-existence; implies non-duration, but we endure and therefore may be free, 204-210, (2) prefiguring as having idea of future act to be realized by effort; does not involve determinism, 211-214, determinism results from confusing these two senses, 215-218; Freedom real but indefinable, 219-221.


States of self perceived through forms borrowed from external world, 223; Intensity as quality, 225; Duration as qualitative multiplicity, 226; No duration in the external world, 227; Extensity and duration must be separated, 229; Only the fundamental self free, 231; ]Kant's mistaken idea of time as homogeneous, 232, hence he put the self which is free outside both space and time, 233; Duration is heterogeneous, relation of psychic state to act is unique, and act is free, 235-240. 


HENRI LOUIS Bergson was born in Paris, October 18, 1859. He entered the Ecole normale in 1878, and was admitted agrégé de philosophie in 1881 and docteur ès lettres in 1889. After holding professorships in various provincial and Parisian lycées, he became maitre de conférences at the Ecole normale supérieure in 1897, and since 1900 has been professor at the Collège de France. In 1901 he became a member of the Institute on his election to the Académie des Sciences morales et politiques.

A full list of Professor Bergson's works is given in the appended bibliography. In making the following translation of his Essai sur les données immédiates de la conscience I have had the great advantage of his co-operation at every stage, and the aid which he has given has been most generous and untiring. The book itself was worked out and written during the years 1883 to 1887 and was originally published in 1889. The foot-notes in the French edition contain a certain number of references to French translations of English works- In the present translation I am responsible for citing these references from the original English. This will account

( x) for the fact that editions are sometimes referred to which have appeared subsequently to 1889. I have also added fairly extensive marginal summaries and a full index.

In France the Essai is already in its seventh edition. Indeed, one of the most striking facts about Professor Bergson's works is the extent to which they have appealed not only to the professional philosophers, but also to the ordinary cultivated public. The method which he pursues is not the conceptual and abstract method which has been the dominant tradition in philosophy. For him reality is not to be reached by any elaborate construction of thought: it is given in immediate experience as a flux, a continuous process of becoming, to be grasped by intuition, by sympathetic insight. Concepts break up the continuous flow of reality into parts external to one another, they further the interests of language and social life and are useful primarily for practical purposes. But they give us nothing of the life and movement of reality; rather, by substituting for this an artificial reconstruction, a patchwork of dead fragments, they lead to the difficulties which have always beset the intellectualist philosophy, and which on its premises are insoluble. Instead of attempting a solution in the intellectualist sense, Professor Bergson calls upon his readers to put these broken fragments of reality behind them, to immerse themselves in the living stream of things and to

( xi) find their difficulties swept away in its resistless flow.

In the present volume Professor Bergson first deals with the intensity of conscious states. He shows that quantitative differences are applicable only to magnitudes, that is, in the last resort, to space, and that intensity in itself is purely qualitative. Passing then from the consideration of separate conscious states to their multiplicity, he finds that there are two forms of multiplicity quantitative or discrete multiplicity involves the intuition of space, but the multiplicity of conscious states is wholly qualitative. This unfolding multiplicity constitutes duration, which is a succession without distinction, an interpenetration of elements so heterogeneous that former states can never recur. The idea of a homogeneous and measurable time is shown to be an artificial concept, formed by the intrusion of the idea of space into the realm of pure duration. Indeed, the whole of Professor Bergson's philosophy centres round his conception of real concrete duration and the specific feeling of duration which our consciousness has when it does away with convention and habit and gets back to its natural attitude. At the root of most errors in philosophy he finds a confusion between this concrete duration and the abstract time which mathematics, physics, and even language and common sense, substitute for it. Applying these results to the problem of free will, he shows that the difficulties arise

( xii) from taking up one's stand after the act has been performed, and applying the conceptual method to it. From the point of view of the living, developing self these difficulties are shown to be illusory, and freedom, though not definable in abstract or conceptual terms, is declared to be one of the clearest facts established by observation.

It is no doubt misleading to attempt to sum up a system of philosophy in a sentence, but perhaps some part of the spirit of Professor Bergson's philosophy may be gathered from the motto which, with his permission, I have prefixed to this translation:-" If a man were to inquire of Nature the reason of her creative activity, and if she were willing to give ear and answer, she would say-`Ask me not, but understand in silence, even as I am silent and am not wont to speak.' "

June, 1910.


WE necessarily express ourselves by means of words and we usually think in terms of space. That is to say, language requires us to establish between our ideas the same sharp and precise distinctions, the same discontinuity, as between material objects. This assimilation of thought to things is useful in practical life and necessary in most of the sciences. But it may be asked whether the insurmountable difficulties presented by certain philosophical problems do not arise from our placing side by side in space phenomena which do not occupy space, and whether, by merely getting rid of the clumsy symbols round which we are fighting, we might not bring the fight to an end. When an illegitimate translation of the unextended into the extended, of quality into quantity, has introduced contradiction into the very heart of, the question, contradiction must, of course, recur in the answer.

The problem which I have chosen is one which is common to metaphysics and psychology, the problem of free will. What I attempt to prove  is that all discussion between the determinists and their opponents implies a previous confusion

(xxiv) of duration with extensity, of succession with simultaneity, of quality with quantity: this confusion once dispelled, we may perhaps witness the disappearance of the objections raised against free will, of the definitions given of it, and, in a certain sense, of the problem of free will itself. To prove this is the object of the third part of the present volume: the first two chapters, which treat of the conceptions of intensity and duration, have been written as an introduction to the third.

H. Bergson.
February, 1888

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