Philosophers have paid little attention to the idea of the nought. And yet it is often the hidden spring, the invisible mover of philosophical thinking. From the first awakening of reflection, it is this that pushes to the fore, right under the eyes of consciousness, the torturing problems, the questions that we cannot gaze at without feeling giddy and bewildered. I have no sooner commenced to philosophize than I ask myself why I exist; and when I take account of the intimate connection in which I stand to the rest of the universe, the difficulty is only pushed back, for I want to know why the universe exists; and if I refer the universe to a Principle immanent or transcendent that supports it or creates it, my thought rests on this principle only a few moments, for the same problem recurs, this time in its full breadth and generality: Whence comes it, and how can it be understood, that anything exists? Even here, in the present work, when matter has been defined as a kind of descent, this descent as the interruption of a rise, this rise itself as a growth, when finally a Principle of creation has been put at the base of things, the same question springs up: How—why does this principle exist rather than nothing?
Now, if I push these questions aside and go straight to what hides behind them, this is what I find:—Existence appears to me like a conquest over nought. I say to myself that there might be, that indeed there ought to be, nothing, and I then wonder that there is something. Or I represent all reality extended on nothing as on a carpet: at first was nothing, and being has come by superaddition to it. Or, yet again, if something has always existed, nothing must always have served as its substratum or receptacle, and is therefore eternally prior. A glass may have always been full, but the liquid it contains nevertheless fills a void. In the same way, being may have always been there, but the nought which is filled, and, as it were, stopped up by it, pre-exists for it none the less, if not in fact at least in right. In short, I cannot get rid of the idea that the full is an embroidery on the canvas of the void, that being is superimposed on nothing, and that in the idea of "nothing" there is less than in that of "something." Hence all the mystery.
It is necessary that this mystery should be cleared up. It is more especially necessary, if we put duration and free choice at the base of things. For the disdain of metaphysics for all reality that endures comes precisely from this, that it reaches being only by passing through "not-being," and that an existence which endures seems to it not strong enough to conquer non-existence and itself posit itself. It is for this reason especially that it is inclined to endow true being with a logical, and not a psychological nor a physical existence. For the nature of a purely logical existence is such that it seems to be self-sufficient and to posit itself by the effect alone of the force immanent in truth. If I ask myself why bodies or minds exist rather than nothing, I find no answer; but that a logical principle, such as AA, should have the power of creating itself, triumphing over the nought throughout eternity, seems to me natural. A circle drawn with chalk on a blackboard is a thing which needs explanation: this entirely physical existence has not by itself wherewith to vanquish non-existence. But the "logical essence" of the circle, that is to say, the possibility of drawing it according to a certain law—in short, its definition—is a thing which appears to me eternal: it has neither place nor date; for nowhere, at no moment, has the drawing of a circle begun to be possible. Suppose, then, that the principle on which all things rest, and which all things manifest possesses an existence of the same nature as that of the definition of the circle, or as that of the axiom AA: the mystery of existence vanishes, for the being that is at the base of everything posits itself then in eternity, as logic itself does. True, it will cost us rather a heavy sacrifice: if the principle of all things exists after the manner of a logical axiom or of a mathematical definition, the things themselves must go forth from this principle like the applications of an axiom or the consequences of a definition, and there will no longer be place, either in the things nor in their principle, for efficient causality understood in the sense of a free choice. Such are precisely the conclusions of a doctrine like that of Spinoza, or even that of Leibniz, and such indeed has been their genesis.
Now, if we could prove that the idea of the nought, in the sense in which we take it when we oppose it to that of existence, is a pseudo-idea, the problems that are raised around it would become pseudo-problems. The hypothesis of an absolute that acts freely, that in an eminent sense endures, would no longer raise up intellectual prejudices. The road would be cleared for a philosophy more nearly approaching intuition, and which would no longer ask the same sacrifices of common sense.
Let us then see what we are thinking about when we speak of "Nothing." To represent "Nothing," we must either imagine it or conceive it. Let us examine what this image or this idea may be. First, the image.
I am going to close my eyes, stop my ears, extinguish one by one the sensations that come to me from the outer world. Now it is done; all my perceptions vanish, the material universe sinks into silence and the night.—I subsist, however, and cannot help myself subsisting. I am still there, with the organic sensations which come to me from the surface and from the interior of my body, with the recollections which my past perceptions have left behind them—nay, with the impression, most positive and full, of the void I have just made about me. How can I suppress all this? How eliminate myself? I can even, it may be, blot out and forget my recollections up to my immediate past; but at least I keep the consciousness of my present reduced to its extremest poverty, that is to say, of the actual state of my body. I will try, however, to do away even with this consciousness itself. I will reduce more and more the sensations my body sends in to me: now they are almost gone; now they are gone, they have disappeared in the night where all things else have already died away. But no! At the very instant that my consciousness is extinguished, another consciousness lights up—or rather, it was already alight: it had arisen the instant before, in order to witness the extinction of the first; for the first could disappear only for another and in the presence of another. I see myself annihilated only if I have already resuscitated myself by an act which is positive, however involuntary and unconscious. So, do what I will, I am always perceiving something, either from without or from within. When I no longer know anything of external objects, it is because I have taken refuge in the consciousness that I have of myself. If I abolish this inner self, its very abolition becomes an object for an imaginary self which now perceives as an external object the self that is dying away. Be it external or internal, some object there always is that my imagination is representing. My imagination, it is true, can go from one to the other, I can by turns imagine a nought of external perception or a nought of internal perception, but not both at once, for the absence of one consists, at bottom, in the exclusive presence of the other. But, from the fact that two relative noughts are imaginable in turn, we wrongly conclude that they are imaginable together: a conclusion the absurdity of which must be obvious, for we cannot imagine a nought without perceiving, at least confusedly, that we are imagining it, consequently that we are acting, that we are thinking, and therefore that something still subsists.
The image, then, properly so called, of a suppression of everything is never formed by thought. The effort by which we strive to create this image simply ends in making us swing to and fro between the vision of an outer and that of an inner reality. In this coming and going of our mind between the without and the within, there is a point, at equal distance from both, in which it seems to us that we no longer perceive the one, and that we do not yet perceive the other: it is there that the image of "Nothing" is formed. In reality, we then perceive both, having reached the point where the two terms come together, and the image of Nothing, so defined, is an image full of things, an image that includes at once that of the subject and that of the object and, besides, a perpetual leaping from one to the other and the refusal ever to come to rest finally on either. Evidently this is not the nothing that we can oppose to being, and put before or beneath being, for it already includes existence in general.
But we shall be told that, if the representation of Nothing, visible or latent, enters into the reasonings of philosophers, it is not as an image, but as an idea. It may be agreed that we do not imagine the annihilation of everything, but it will be claimed that we can conceive it. We conceive a polygon with a thousand sides, said Descartes, although we do not see it in imagination: it is enough that we can clearly represent the possibility of constructing it. So with the idea of the annihilation of everything. Nothing simpler, it will be said, than the procedure by which we construct the idea of it. There is, in fact, not a single object of our experience that we cannot suppose annihilated. Extend this annihilation of a first object to a second, then to a third, and so on as long as you please: the nought is the limit toward which the operation tends. And the nought so defined is the annihilation of everything. That is the theory. We need only consider it in this form to see the absurdity it involves.
An idea constructed by the mind is an idea only if its pieces are capable of coexisting; it is reduced to a mere word if the elements that we bring together to compose it are driven away as fast as we assemble them. When I have defined the circle, I easily represent a black or a white circle, a circle in cardboard, iron, or brass, a transparent or an opaque circle—but not a square circle, because the law of the generation of the circle excludes the possibility of defining this figure with straight lines. So my mind can represent any existing thing whatever as annihilated;—but if the annihilation of anything by the mind is an operation whose mechanism implies that it works on a part of the whole, and not on the whole itself, then the extension of such an operation to the totality of things becomes self-contradictory and absurd, and the idea of an annihilation of everything presents the same character as that of a square circle: it is not an idea, it is only a word. So let us examine more closely the mechanism of the operation.
In fact, the object suppressed is either external or internal: it is a thing or it is a state of consciousness. Let us consider the first case. I annihilate in thought an external object: in the place where it was, there is no longer anything.—No longer anything of that object, of course, but another object has taken its place: there is no absolute void in nature. But admit that an absolute void is possible: it is not of that void that I am thinking when I say that the object, once annihilated, leaves its place unoccupied; for by the hypothesis it is a place, that is a void limited by precise outlines, or, in other words, a kind of thing. The void of which I speak, therefore, is, at bottom, only the absence of some definite object, which was here at first, is now elsewhere and, in so far as it is no longer in its former place, leaves behind it, so to speak, the void of itself. A being unendowed with memory or prevision would not use the words "void" or "nought;" he would express only what is and what is perceived; now, what is, and what is perceived, is the presence of one thing or of another, never the absence of anything. There is absence only for a being capable of remembering and expecting. He remembered an object, and perhaps expected to encounter it again; he finds another, and he expresses the disappointment of his expectation (an expectation sprung from recollection) by saying that he no longer finds anything, that he encounters "nothing." Even if he did not expect to encounter the object, it is a possible expectation of it, it is still the falsification of his eventual expectation that he expresses by saying that the object is no longer where it was. What he perceives in reality, what he will succeed in effectively thinking of, is the presence of the old object in a new place or that of a new object in the old place; the rest, all that is expressed negatively by such words as "nought" or the "void," is not so much thought as feeling, or, to speak more exactly, it is the tinge that feeling gives to thought. The idea of annihilation or of partial nothingness is therefore formed here in the course of the substitution of one thing for another, whenever this substitution is thought by a mind that would prefer to keep the old thing in the place of the new, or at least conceives this preference as possible. The idea implies on the subjective side a preference, on the objective side a substitution, and is nothing else but a combination of, or rather an interference between, this feeling of preference and this idea of substitution.
Such is the mechanism of the operation by which our mind annihilates an object and succeeds in representing in the external world a partial nought. Let us now see how it represents it within itself. We find in ourselves phenomena that are produced, and not phenomena that are not produced. I experience a sensation or an emotion, I conceive an idea, I form a resolution: my consciousness perceives these facts, which are so many presences, and there is no moment in which facts of this kind are not present to me. I can, no doubt, interrupt by thought the course of my inner life; I may suppose that I sleep without dreaming or that I have ceased to exist; but at the very instant when I make this supposition, I conceive myself, I imagine myself watching over my slumber or surviving my annihilation, and I give up perceiving myself from within only by taking refuge in the perception of myself from without. That is to say that here again the full always succeeds the full, and that an intelligence that was only intelligence, that had neither regret nor desire, whose movement was governed by the movement of its object, could not even conceive an absence or a void. The conception of a void arises here when consciousness, lagging behind itself, remains attached to the recollection of an old state when another state is already present. It is only a comparison between what is and what could or ought to be, between the full and the full. In a word, whether it be a void of matter or a void of consciousness, the representation of the void is always a representation which is full and which resolves itself on analysis into two positive elements: the idea, distinct or confused, of a substitution, and the feeling, experienced or imagined, of a desire or a regret.
It follows from this double analysis that the idea of the absolute nought, in the sense of the annihilation of everything, is a self-destructive idea, a pseudo-idea, a mere word. If suppressing a thing consists in replacing it by another, if thinking the absence of one thing is only possible by the more or less explicit representation of the presence of some other thing, if, in short, annihilation signifies before anything else substitution, the idea of an "annihilation of everything" is as absurd as that of a square circle. The absurdity is not obvious, because there exists no particular object that cannot be supposed annihilated; then, from the fact that there is nothing to prevent each thing in turn being suppressed in thought, we conclude that it is possible to suppose them suppressed altogether. We do not see that suppressing each thing in turn consists precisely in replacing it in proportion and degree by another, and therefore that the suppression of absolutely everything implies a downright contradiction in terms, since the operation consists in destroying the very condition that makes the operation possible.
But the illusion is tenacious. Though suppressing one thing consists in fact in substituting another for it, we do not conclude, we are unwilling to conclude, that the annihilation of a thing in thought implies the substitution in thought of a new thing for the old. We agree that a thing is always replaced by another thing, and even that our mind cannot think the disappearance of an object, external or internal, without thinking—under an indeterminate and confused form, it is true—that another object is substituted for it. But we add that the representation of a disappearance is that of a phenomenon that is produced in space or at least in time, that consequently it still implies the calling up of an image, and that it is precisely here that we have to free ourselves from the imagination in order to appeal to the pure understanding. "Let us therefore no longer speak," it will be said, "of disappearance or annihilation; these are physical operations. Let us no longer represent the object A as annihilated or absent. Let us say simply that we think it "non-existent." To annihilate it is to act on it in time and perhaps also in space; it is to accept, consequently, the condition of spatial and temporal existence, to accept the universal connection that binds an object to all others, and prevents it from disappearing without being at the same time replaced. But we can free ourselves from these conditions; all that is necessary is that by an effort of abstraction we should call up the idea of the object A by itself, that we should agree first to consider it as existing, and then, by a stroke of the intellectual pen, blot out the clause. The object will then be, by our decree, non-existent."
Very well, let us strike out the clause. We must not suppose that our pen-stroke is self-sufficient—that it can be isolated from the rest of things. We shall see that it carries with it, whether we will or no, all that we tried to abstract from. Let us compare together the two ideas—the object A supposed to exist, and the same object supposed "non-existent."
The idea of the object A, supposed existent, is the representation pure and simple of the object A, for we cannot represent an object without attributing to it, by the very fact of representing it, a certain reality. Between thinking an object and thinking it existent, there is absolutely no difference. Kant has put this point in clear light in his criticism of the ontological argument. Then, what is it to think the object A non-existent? To represent it non-existent cannot consist in withdrawing from the idea of the object A the idea of the attribute "existence," since, I repeat, the representation of the existence of the object is inseparable from the representation of the object, and indeed is one with it. To represent the object A non-existent can only consist, therefore, in adding something to the idea of this object: we add to it, in fact, the idea of an exclusion of this particular object by actual reality in general. To think the object A as non-existent is first to think the object and consequently to think it existent; it is then to think that another reality, with which it is incompatible, supplants it. Only, it is useless to represent this latter reality explicitly; we are not concerned with what it is; it is enough for us to know that it drives out the object A, which alone is of interest to us. That is why we think of the expulsion rather than of the cause which expels. But this cause is none the less present to the mind; it is there in the implicit state, that which expels being inseparable from the expulsion as the hand which drives the pen is inseparable from the pen-stroke. The act by which we declare an object unreal therefore posits the existence of the real in general. In other words, to represent an object as unreal cannot consist in depriving it of every kind of existence, since the representation of an object is necessarily that of the object existing. Such an act consists simply in declaring that the existence attached by our mind to the object, and inseparable from its representation, is an existence wholly ideal—that of a mere possible. But the "ideality" of an object, and the "simple possibility" of an object, have meaning only in relation to a reality that drives into the region of the ideal, or of the merely possible, the object which is incompatible with it. Suppose the stronger and more substantial existence annihilated: it is the attenuated and weaker existence of the merely possible that becomes the reality itself, and you will no longer be representing the object, then, as non-existent. In other words, and however strange our assertion may seem, there is more, and not less, in the idea of an object conceived as "not existing" than in the idea of this same object conceived as "existing"; for the idea of the object "not existing" is necessarily the idea of the object "existing" with, in addition, the representation of an exclusion of this object by the actual reality taken in block.
But it will be claimed that our idea of the non-existent is not yet sufficiently cut loose from every imaginative element, that it is not negative enough. "No matter," we shall be told, "though the unreality of a thing consist in its exclusion by other things; we want to know nothing about that. Are we not free to direct our attention where we please and how we please? Well then, after having called up the idea of an object, and thereby, if you will have it so, supposed it existent, we shall merely couple to our affirmation a 'not,' and that will be enough to make us think it non-existent. This is an operation entirely intellectual, independent of what happens outside the mind. So let us think of anything or let us think of the totality of things, and then write in the margin of our thought the 'not,' which prescribes the rejection of what it contains: we annihilate everything mentally by the mere fact of decreeing its annihilation."—Here we have it! The very root of all the difficulties and errors with which we are confronted is to be found in the power ascribed here to negation. We represent negation as exactly symmetrical with affirmation. We imagine that negation, like affirmation, is self-sufficient. So that negation, like affirmation, would have the power of creating ideas, with this sole difference that they would be negative ideas. By affirming one thing, and then another, and so on ad infinitum, I form the idea of "All;" so, by denying one thing and then other things, finally by denying All, I arrive at the idea of Nothing.—But it is just this assimilation which is arbitrary. We fail to see that while affirmation is a complete act of the mind, which can succeed in building up an idea, negation is but the half of an intellectual act, of which the other half is understood, or rather put off to an indefinite future. We fail to see that while affirmation is a purely intellectual act, there enters into negation an element which is not intellectual, and that it is precisely to the intrusion of this foreign element that negation owes its specific character.
To begin with the second point, let us note that to deny always consists in setting aside a possible affirmation. Negation is only an attitude taken by the mind toward an eventual affirmation. When I say, "This table is black," I am speaking of the table; I have seen it black, and my judgment expresses what I have seen. But if I say, "This table is not white," I surely do not express something I have perceived, for I have seen black, and not an absence of white. It is therefore, at bottom, not on the table itself that I bring this judgment to bear, but rather on the judgment that would declare the table white. I judge a judgment and not the table. The proposition, "This table is not white," implies that you might believe it white, that you did believe it such, or that I was going to believe it such. I warn you or myself that this judgment is to be replaced by another (which, it is true, I leave undetermined). Thus, while affirmation bears directly on the thing, negation aims at the thing only indirectly, through an interposed affirmation. An affirmative proposition expresses a judgment on an object; a negative proposition expresses a judgment on a judgment. Negation, therefore, differs from affirmation properly so called in that it is an affirmation of the second degree: it affirms something of an affirmation which itself affirms something of an object.
But it follows at once from this that negation is not the work of pure mind, I should say of a mind placed before objects and concerned with them alone. When we deny, we give a lesson to others, or it may be to ourselves. We take to task an interlocutor, real or possible, whom we find mistaken and whom we put on his guard. He was affirming something: we tell him he ought to affirm something else (though without specifying the affirmation which must be substituted). There is no longer then, simply, a person and an object; there is, in face of the object, a person speaking to a person, opposing him and aiding him at the same time; there is a beginning of society. Negation aims at some one, and not only, like a purely intellectual operation, at some thing. It is of a pedagogical and social nature. It sets straight or rather warns, the person warned and set straight being possibly, by a kind of doubling, the very person that speaks.
So much for the second point; now for the first. We said that negation is but the half of an intellectual act, of which the other half is left indeterminate. If I pronounce the negative proposition, "This table is not white," I mean that you ought to substitute for your judgment, "The table is white," another judgment. I give you an admonition, and the admonition refers to the necessity of a substitution. As to what you ought to substitute for your affirmation, I tell you nothing, it is true. This may be because I do not know the color of the table; but it is also, it is indeed even more, because the white color is that alone that interests us for the moment, so that I only need to tell you that some other color will have to be substituted for white, without having to say which. A negative judgment is therefore really one which indicates a need of substituting for an affirmative judgment another affirmative judgment, the nature of which, however, is not specified, sometimes because it is not known, more often because it fails to offer any actual interest, the attention bearing only on the substance of the first.
Thus, whenever I add a "not" to an affirmation, whenever I deny, I perform two very definite acts: (1) I interest myself in what one of my fellow-men affirms, or in what he was going to say, or in what might have been said by another Me, whom I anticipate; (2) I announce that some other affirmation, whose content I do not specify, will have to be substituted for the one I find before me. Now, in neither of these two acts is there anything but affirmation. The sui generis character of negation is due to superimposing the first of these acts upon the second. It is in vain, then, that we attribute to negation the power of creating ideas sui generis, symmetrical with those that affirmation creates, and directed in a contrary sense. No idea will come forth from negation, for it has no other content than that of the affirmative judgment which it judges.
To be more precise, let us consider an existential, instead of an attributive, judgment. If I say, "The object A does not exist," I mean by that, first, that we might believe that the object A exists: how, indeed, can we think of the object A without thinking it existing, and, once again, what difference can there be between the idea of the object A existing and the idea pure and simple of the object A? Therefore, merely by saying "The object A," I attribute to it some kind of existence, though it be that of a mere possible, that is to say, of a pure idea. And consequently, in the judgment "The object A is not," there is at first an affirmation such as "The object A has been," or "The object A will be," or, more generally, "The object A exists at least as a mere possible." Now, when I add the two words "is not," I can only mean that if we go further, if we erect the possible object into a real object, we shall be mistaken, and that the possible of which I am speaking is excluded from the actual reality as incompatible with it. Judgments that posit the non-existence of a thing are therefore judgments that formulate a contrast between the possible and the actual (that is, between two kinds of existence, one thought and the other found), where a person, real or imaginary, wrongly believes that a certain possible is realized. Instead of this possible, there is a reality that differs from it and rejects it: the negative judgment expresses this contrast, but it expresses the contrast in an intentionally incomplete form, because it is addressed to a person who is supposed to be interested exclusively in the possible that is indicated, and is not concerned to know by what kind of reality the possible is replaced. The expression of the substitution is therefore bound to be cut short. Instead of affirming that a second term is substituted for the first, the attention which was originally directed to the first term will be kept fixed upon it, and upon it alone. And, without going beyond the first, we shall implicitly affirm that a second term replaces it in saying that the first "is not." We shall thus judge a judgment instead of judging a thing. We shall warn others or warn ourselves of a possible error instead of supplying positive information. Suppress every intention of this kind, give knowledge back its exclusively scientific or philosophical character, suppose in other words that reality comes itself to inscribe itself on a mind that cares only for things and is not interested in persons: we shall affirm that such or such a thing is, we shall never affirm that a thing is not.
How comes it, then, that affirmation and negation are so persistently put on the same level and endowed with an equal objectivity? How comes it that we have so much difficulty in recognizing that negation is subjective, artificially cut short, relative to the human mind and still more to the social life? The reason is, no doubt, that both negation and affirmation are expressed in propositions, and that any proposition, being formed of words, which symbolize concepts, is something relative to social life and to the human intellect. Whether I say "The ground is damp" or "The ground is not damp," in both cases the terms "ground" and "damp" are concepts more or less artificially created by the mind of man—extracted, by his free initiative, from the continuity of experience. In both cases the concepts are represented by the same conventional words. In both cases we can say indeed that the proposition aims at a social and pedagogical end, since the first would propagate a truth as the second would prevent an error. From this point of view, which is that of formal logic, to affirm and to deny are indeed two mutually symmetrical acts, of which the first establishes a relation of agreement and the second a relation of disagreement between a subject and an attribute. But how do we fail to see that the symmetry is altogether external and the likeness superficial? Suppose language fallen into disuse, society dissolved, every intellectual initiative, every faculty of self-reflection and of self-judgment atrophied in man: the dampness of the ground will subsist none the less, capable of inscribing itself automatically in sensation and of sending a vague idea to the deadened intellect. The intellect will still affirm, in implicit terms. And consequently, neither distinct concepts, nor words, nor the desire of spreading the truth, nor that of bettering oneself, are of the very essence of the affirmation. But this passive intelligence, mechanically keeping step with experience, neither anticipating nor following the course of the real, would have no wish to deny. It could not receive an imprint of negation; for, once again, that which exists may come to be recorded, but the non-existence of the non-existing cannot. For such an intellect to reach the point of denying, it must awake from its torpor, formulate the disappointment of a real or possible expectation, correct an actual or possible error—in short, propose to teach others or to teach itself.
It is rather difficult to perceive this in the example we have chosen, but the example is indeed the more instructive and the argument the more cogent on that account. If dampness is able automatically to come and record itself, it is the same, it will be said, with non-dampness; for the dry as well as the damp can give impressions to sense, which will transmit them, as more or less distinct ideas, to the intelligence. In this sense the negation of dampness is as objective a thing, as purely intellectual, as remote from every pedagogical intention, as affirmation.—But let us look at it more closely: we shall see that the negative proposition, "The ground is not damp," and the affirmative proposition, "The ground is dry," have entirely different contents. The second implies that we know the dry, that we have experienced the specific sensations, tactile or visual for example, that are at the base of this idea. The first requires nothing of the sort; it could equally well have been formulated by an intelligent fish, who had never perceived anything but the wet. It would be necessary, it is true, that this fish should have risen to the distinction between the real and the possible, and that he should care to anticipate the error of his fellow-fishes, who doubtless consider as alone possible the condition of wetness in which they actually live. Keep strictly to the terms of the proposition, "The ground is not damp," and you will find that it means two things: (1) that one might believe that the ground is damp, (2) that the dampness is replaced in fact by a certain quality x. This quality is left indeterminate, either because we have no positive knowledge of it, or because it has no actual interest for the person to whom the negation is addressed. To deny, therefore, always consists in presenting in an abridged form a system of two affirmations: the one determinate, which applies to a certain possible; the other indeterminate, referring to the unknown or indifferent reality that supplants this possibility. The second affirmation is virtually contained in the judgment we apply to the first, a judgment which is negation itself. And what gives negation its subjective character is precisely this, that in the discovery of a replacement it takes account only of the replaced, and is not concerned with what replaces. The replaced exists only as a conception of the mind. It is necessary, in order to continue to see it, and consequently in order to speak of it, to turn our back on the reality, which flows from the past to the present, advancing from behind. It is this that we do when we deny. We discover the change, or more generally the substitution, as a traveller would see the course of his carriage if he looked out behind, and only knew at each moment the point at which he had ceased to be; he could never determine his actual position except by relation to that which he had just quitted, instead of grasping it in itself.
To sum up, for a mind which should follow purely and simply the thread of experience, there would be no void, no nought, even relative or partial, no possible negation. Such a mind would see facts succeed facts, states succeed states, things succeed things. What it would note at each moment would be things existing, states appearing, events happening. It would live in the actual, and, if it were capable of judging, it would never affirm anything except the existence of the present.
Endow this mind with memory, and especially with the desire to dwell on the past; give it the faculty of dissociating and of distinguishing: it will no longer only note the present state of the passing reality; it will represent the passing as a change, and therefore as a contrast between what has been and what is. And as there is no essential difference between a past that we remember and a past that we imagine, it will quickly rise to the idea of the "possible" in general.
It will thus be shunted on to the siding of negation. And especially it will be at the point of representing a disappearance. But it will not yet have reached it. To represent that a thing has disappeared, it is not enough to perceive a contrast between the past and the present; it is necessary besides to turn our back on the present, to dwell on the past, and to think the contrast of the past with the present in terms of the past only, without letting the present appear in it.
The idea of annihilation is therefore not a pure idea; it implies that we regret the past or that we conceive it as regrettable, that we have some reason to linger over it. The idea arises when the phenomenon of substitution is cut in two by a mind which considers only the first half, because that alone interests it. Suppress all interest, all feeling, and there is nothing left but the reality that flows, together with the knowledge ever renewed that it impresses on us of its present state.
From annihilation to negation, which is a more general operation, there is now only a step. All that is necessary is to represent the contrast of what is, not only with what has been, but also with all that might have been. And we must express this contrast as a function of what might have been, and not of what is; we must affirm the existence of the actual while looking only at the possible. The formula we thus obtain no longer expresses merely a disappointment of the individual; it is made to correct or guard against an error, which is rather supposed to be the error of another. In this sense, negation has a pedagogical and social character.
Now, once negation is formulated, it presents an aspect symmetrical with that of affirmation; if affirmation affirms an objective reality, it seems that negation must affirm a non-reality equally objective, and, so to say, equally real. In which we are both right and wrong: wrong, because negation cannot be objectified, in so far as it is negative; right, however, in that the negation of a thing implies the latent affirmation of its replacement by something else, which we systematically leave on one side. But the negative form of negation benefits by the affirmation at the bottom of it. Bestriding the positive solid reality to which it is attached, this phantom objectifies itself. Thus is formed the idea of the void or of a partial nought, a thing being supposed to be replaced, not by another thing, but by a void which it leaves, that is, by the negation of itself. Now, as this operation works on anything whatever, we suppose it performed on each thing in turn, and finally on all things in block. We thus obtain the idea of absolute Nothing. If now we analyze this idea of Nothing, we find that it is, at bottom, the idea of Everything, together with a movement of the mind that keeps jumping from one thing to another, refuses to stand still, and concentrates all its attention on this refusal by never determining its actual position except by relation to that which it has just left. It is therefore an idea eminently comprehensive and full, as full and comprehensive as the idea of All, to which it is very closely akin.
How then can the idea of Nought be opposed to that of All? Is it not plain that this is to oppose the full to the full, and that the question, "Why does something exist?" is consequently without meaning, a pseudo-problem raised about a pseudo-idea? Yet we must say once more why this phantom of a problem haunts the mind with such obstinacy. In vain do we show that in the idea of an "annihilation of the real" there is only the image of all realities expelling one another endlessly, in a circle; in vain do we add that the idea of non-existence is only that of the expulsion of an imponderable existence, or a "merely possible" existence, by a more substantial existence which would then be the true reality; in vain do we find in the sui generis form of negation an element which is not intellectual—negation being the judgment of a judgment, an admonition given to some one else or to oneself, so that it is absurd to attribute to negation the power of creating ideas of a new kind, viz. ideas without content;—in spite of all, the conviction persists that before things, or at least under things, there is "Nothing." If we seek the reason of this fact, we shall find it precisely in the feeling, in the social and, so to speak, practical element, that gives its specific form to negation. The greatest philosophic difficulties arise, as we have said, from the fact that the forms of human action venture outside of their proper sphere. We are made in order to act as much as, and more than, in order to think—or rather, when we follow the bent of our nature, it is in order to act that we think. It is therefore no wonder that the habits of action give their tone to those of thought, and that our mind always perceives things in the same order in which we are accustomed to picture them when we propose to act on them. Now, it is unquestionable, as we remarked above, that every human action has its starting-point in a dissatisfaction, and thereby in a feeling of absence. We should not act if we did not set before ourselves an end, and we seek a thing only because we feel the lack of it. Our action proceeds thus from "nothing" to "something," and its very essence is to embroider "something" on the canvas of "nothing." The truth is that the "nothing" concerned here is the absence not so much of a thing as of a utility. If I bring a visitor into a room that I have not yet furnished, I say to him that "there is nothing in it." Yet I know the room is full of air; but, as we do not sit on air, the room truly contains nothing that at this moment, for the visitor and for myself, counts for anything. In a general way, human work consists in creating utility; and, as long as the work is not done, there is "nothing"—nothing that we want. Our life is thus spent in filling voids, which our intellect conceives under the influence, by no means intellectual, of desire and of regret, under the pressure of vital necessities; and if we mean by void an absence of utility and not of things, we may say, in this quite relative sense, that we are constantly going from the void to the full: such is the direction which our action takes. Our speculation cannot help doing the same; and, naturally, it passes from the relative sense to the absolute sense, since it is exercised on things themselves and not on the utility they have for us. Thus is implanted in us the idea that reality fills a void, and that Nothing, conceived as an absence of everything, pre-exists before all things in right, if not in fact. It is this illusion that we have tried to remove by showing that the idea of Nothing, if we try to see in it that of an annihilation of all things, is self-destructive and reduced to a mere word; and that if, on the contrary, it is truly an idea, then we find in it as much matter as in the idea of All.
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This long analysis has been necessary to show that a self-sufficient reality is not necessarily a reality foreign to duration. If we pass (consciously or unconsciously) through the idea of the nought in order to reach that of being, the being to which we come is a logical or mathematical essence, therefore non-temporal. And, consequently, a static conception of the real is forced on us: everything appears given once for all, in eternity. But we must accustom ourselves to think being directly, without making a detour, without first appealing to the phantom of the nought which interposes itself between it and us. We must strive to see in order to see, and no longer to see in order to act. Then the Absolute is revealed very near us and, in a certain measure, in us. It is of psychological and not of mathematical nor logical essence. It lives with us. Like us, but in certain aspects infinitely more concentrated and more gathered up in itself, it endures.
But do we ever think true duration? Here again a direct taking possession is necessary. It is no use trying to approach duration: we must install ourselves within it straight away. This is what the intellect generally refuses to do, accustomed as it is to think the moving by means of the unmovable.
The function of the intellect is to preside over actions. Now, in action, it is the result that interests us; the means matter little provided the end is attained. Thence it comes that we are altogether bent on the end to be realized, generally trusting ourselves to it in order that the idea may become an act; and thence it comes also that only the goal where our activity will rest is pictured explicitly to our mind: the movements constituting the action itself either elude our consciousness or reach it only confusedly. Let us consider a very simple act, like that of lifting the arm. Where should we be if we had to imagine beforehand all the elementary contractions and tensions this act involves, or even to perceive them, one by one, as they are accomplished? But the mind is carried immediately to the end, that is to say, to the schematic and simplified vision of the act supposed accomplished. Then, if no antagonistic idea neutralizes the effect of the first idea, the appropriate movements come of themselves to fill out the plan, drawn in some way by the void of its gaps. The intellect, then, only represents to the activity ends to attain, that is to say, points of rest. And, from one end attained to another end attained, from one rest to another rest, our activity is carried by a series of leaps, during which our consciousness is turned away as much as possible from the movement going on, to regard only the anticipated image of the movement accomplished.
Now, in order that it may represent as unmovable the result of the act which is being accomplished, the intellect must perceive, as also unmovable, the surroundings in which this result is being framed. Our activity is fitted into the material world. If matter appeared to us as a perpetual flowing, we should assign no termination to any of our actions. We should feel each of them dissolve as fast as it was accomplished, and we should not anticipate an ever-fleeting future. In order that our activity may leap from an act to an act, it is necessary that matter should pass from a state to a state, for it is only into a state of the material world that action can fit a result, so as to be accomplished. But is it thus that matter presents itself?
A priori we may presume that our perception manages to apprehend matter with this bias. Sensory organs and motor organs are in fact coordinated with each other. Now, the first symbolize our faculty of perceiving, as the second our faculty of acting. The organism thus evidences, in a visible and tangible form, the perfect accord of perception and action. So if our activity always aims at a result into which it is momentarily fitted, our perception must retain of the material world, at every moment, only a state in which it is provisionally placed. This is the most natural hypothesis. And it is easy to see that experience confirms it.
From our first glance at the world, before we even make our bodies in it, we distinguish qualities. Color succeeds to color, sound to sound, resistance to resistance, etc. Each of these qualities, taken separately, is a state that seems to persist as such, immovable until another replaces it. Yet each of these qualities resolves itself, on analysis, into an enormous number of elementary movements. Whether we see in it vibrations or whether we represent it in any other way, one fact is certain, it is that every quality is change. In vain, moreover, shall we seek beneath the change the thing which changes: it is always provisionally, and in order to satisfy our imagination, that we attach the movement to a mobile. The mobile flies for ever before the pursuit of science, which is concerned with mobility alone. In the smallest discernible fraction of a second, in the almost instantaneous perception of a sensible quality, there may be trillions of oscillations which repeat themselves. The permanence of a sensible quality consists in this repetition of movements, as the persistence of life consists in a series of palpitations. The primal function of perception is precisely to grasp a series of elementary changes under the form of a quality or of a simple state, by a work of condensation. The greater the power of acting bestowed upon an animal species, the more numerous, probably, are the elementary changes that its faculty of perceiving concentrates into one of its instants. And the progress must be continuous, in nature, from the beings that vibrate almost in unison with the oscillations of the ether, up to those that embrace trillions of these oscillations in the shortest of their simple perceptions. The first feel hardly anything but movements; the others perceive quality. The first are almost caught up in the running-gear of things; the others react, and the tension of their faculty of acting is probably proportional to the concentration of their faculty of perceiving. The progress goes on even in humanity itself. A man is so much the more a "man of action" as he can embrace in a glance a greater number of events: he who perceives successive events one by one will allow himself to be led by them; he who grasps them as a whole will dominate them. In short, the qualities of matter are so many stable views that we take of its instability.
Now, in the continuity of sensible qualities we mark off the boundaries of bodies. Each of these bodies really changes at every moment. In the first place, it resolves itself into a group of qualities, and every quality, as we said, consists of a succession of elementary movements. But, even if we regard the quality as a stable state, the body is still unstable in that it changes qualities without ceasing. The body pre-eminently—that which we are most justified in isolating within the continuity of matter, because it constitutes a relatively closed system—is the living body; it is, moreover, for it that we cut out the others within the whole. Now, life is an evolution. We concentrate a period of this evolution in a stable view which we call a form, and, when the change has become considerable enough to overcome the fortunate inertia of our perception, we say that the body has changed its form. But in reality the body is changing form at every moment; or rather, there is no form, since form is immobile and the reality is movement. What is real is the continual change of form: form is only a snapshot view of a transition. Therefore, here again, our perception manages to solidify into discontinuous images the fluid continuity of the real. When the successive images do not differ from each other too much, we consider them all as the waxing and waning of a single mean image, or as the deformation of this image in different directions. And to this mean we really allude when we speak of the essence of a thing, or of the thing itself.
Finally things, once constituted, show on the surface, by their changes of situation, the profound changes that are being accomplished within the Whole. We say then that they act on one another. This action appears to us, no doubt, in the form of movement. But from the mobility of the movement we turn away as much as we can; what interests us is, as we said above, the unmovable plan of the movement rather than the movement itself. Is it a simple movement? We ask ourselves where it is going. It is by its direction, that is to say, by the position of its provisional end, that we represent it at every moment. Is it a complex movement? We would know above all what is going on, what the movement is doing—in other words, the result obtained or the presiding intention. Examine closely what is in your mind when you speak of an action in course of accomplishment. The idea of change is there, I am willing to grant, but it is hidden in the penumbra. In the full light is the motionless plan of the act supposed accomplished. It is by this, and by this only, that the complex act is distinguished and defined. We should be very much embarrassed if we had to imagine the movements inherent in the actions of eating, drinking, fighting, etc. It is enough for us to know, in a general and indefinite way, that all these acts are movements. Once that side of the matter has been settled, we simply seek to represent the general plan of each of these complex movements, that is to say the motionless design that underlies them. Here again knowledge bears on a state rather than on a change. It is therefore the same with this third case as with the others. Whether the movement be qualitative or evolutionary or extensive, the mind manages to take stable views of the instability. And thence the mind derives, as we have just shown, three kinds of representations: (1) qualities, (2) forms of essences, (3) acts.
To these three ways of seeing correspond three categories of words: adjectives, substantives, and verbs, which are the primordial elements of language. Adjectives and substantives therefore symbolize states. But the verb itself, if we keep to the clear part of the idea it calls up, hardly expresses anything else.
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Now, if we try to characterize more precisely our natural attitude towards Becoming, this is what we find. Becoming is infinitely varied. That which goes from yellow to green is not like that which goes from green to blue: they are different qualitative movements. That which goes from flower to fruit is not like that which goes from larva to nymph and from nymph to perfect insect: they are different evolutionary movements. The action of eating or of drinking is not like the action of fighting: they are different extensive movements. And these three kinds of movement themselves—qualitative, evolutionary, extensive—differ profoundly. The trick of our perception, like that of our intelligence, like that of our language, consists in extracting from these profoundly different becomings the single representation of becoming in general, undefined becoming, a mere abstraction which by itself says nothing and of which, indeed, it is very rarely that we think. To this idea, always the same, and always obscure or unconscious, we then join, in each particular case, one or several clear images that represent states and which serve to distinguish all becomings from each other. It is this composition of a specified and definite state with change general and undefined that we substitute for the specific change. An infinite multiplicity of becomings variously colored, so to speak, passes before our eyes: we manage so that we see only differences of color, that is to say, differences of state, beneath which there is supposed to flow, hidden from our view, a becoming always and everywhere the same, invariably colorless.
Suppose we wish to portray on a screen a living picture, such as the marching past of a regiment. There is one way in which it might first occur to us to do it. That would be to cut out jointed figures representing the soldiers, to give to each of them the movement of marching, a movement varying from individual to individual although common to the human species, and to throw the whole on the screen. We should need to spend on this little game an enormous amount of work, and even then we should obtain but a very poor result: how could it, at its best, reproduce the suppleness and variety of life? Now, there is another way of proceeding, more easy and at the same time more effective. It is to take a series of snapshots of the passing regiment and to throw these instantaneous views on the screen, so that they replace each other very rapidly. This is what the cinematograph does. With photographs, each of which represents the regiment in a fixed attitude, it reconstitutes the mobility of the regiment marching. It is true that if we had to do with photographs alone, however much we might look at them, we should never see them animated: with immobility set beside immobility, even endlessly, we could never make movement. In order that the pictures may be animated, there must be movement somewhere. The movement does indeed exist here; it is in the apparatus. It is because the film of the cinematograph unrolls, bringing in turn the different photographs of the scene to continue each other, that each actor of the scene recovers his mobility; he strings all his successive attitudes on the invisible movement of the film. The process then consists in extracting from all the movements peculiar to all the figures an impersonal movement abstract and simple, movement in general, so to speak: we put this into the apparatus, and we reconstitute the individuality of each particular movement by combining this nameless movement with the personal attitudes. Such is the contrivance of the cinematograph. And such is also that of our knowledge. Instead of attaching ourselves to the inner becoming of things, we place ourselves outside them in order to recompose their becoming artificially. We take snapshots, as it were, of the passing reality, and, as these are characteristic of the reality, we have only to string them on a becoming, abstract, uniform and invisible, situated at the back of the apparatus of knowledge, in order to imitate what there is that is characteristic in this becoming itself. Perception, intellection, language so proceed in general. Whether we would think becoming, or express it, or even perceive it, we hardly do anything else than set going a kind of cinematograph inside us. We may therefore sum up what we have been saying in the conclusion that the mechanism of our ordinary knowledge is of a cinematographical kind.
Of the altogether practical character of this operation there is no possible doubt. Each of our acts aims at a certain insertion of our will into the reality. There is, between our body and other bodies, an arrangement like that of the pieces of glass that compose a kaleidoscopic picture. Our activity goes from an arrangement to a rearrangement, each time no doubt giving the kaleidoscope a new shake, but not interesting itself in the shake, and seeing only the new picture. Our knowledge of the operation of nature must be exactly symmetrical, therefore, with the interest we take in our own operation. In this sense we may say, if we are not abusing this kind of illustration, that the cinematographical character of our knowledge of things is due to the kaleidoscopic character of our adaptation to them.
The cinematographical method is therefore the only practical method, since it consists in making the general character of knowledge form itself on that of action, while expecting that the detail of each act should depend in its turn on that of knowledge. In order that action may always be enlightened, intelligence must always be present in it; but intelligence, in order thus to accompany the progress of activity and ensure its direction, must begin by adopting its rhythm. Action is discontinuous, like every pulsation of life; discontinuous, therefore, is knowledge. The mechanism of the faculty of knowing has been constructed on this plan. Essentially practical, can it be of use, such as it is, for speculation? Let us try with it to follow reality in its windings, and see what will happen.
I take of the continuity of a particular becoming a series of views, which I connect together by "becoming in general." But of course I cannot stop there. What is not determinable is not representable: of "becoming in general" I have only a verbal knowledge. As the letter x designates a certain unknown quantity, whatever it may be, so my "becoming in general," always the same, symbolizes here a certain transition of which I have taken some snapshots; of the transition itself it teaches me nothing. Let me then concentrate myself wholly on the transition, and, between any two snapshots, endeavor to realize what is going on. As I apply the same method, I obtain the same result; a third view merely slips in between the two others. I may begin again as often as I will, I may set views alongside of views for ever, I shall obtain nothing else. The application of the cinematographical method therefore leads to a perpetual recommencement, during which the mind, never able to satisfy itself and never finding where to rest, persuades itself, no doubt, that it imitates by its instability the very movement of the real. But though, by straining itself to the point of giddiness, it may end by giving itself the illusion of mobility, its operation has not advanced it a step, since it remains as far as ever from its goal. In order to advance with the moving reality, you must replace yourself within it. Install yourself within change, and you will grasp at once both change itself and the successive states in which it might at any instant be immobilized. But with these successive states, perceived from without as real and no longer as potential immobilities, you will never reconstitute movement. Call them qualities, forms, positions, or intentions, as the case may be, multiply the number of them as you will, let the interval between two consecutive states be infinitely small: before the intervening movement you will always experience the disappointment of the child who tries by clapping his hands together to crush the smoke. The movement slips through the interval, because every attempt to reconstitute change out of states implies the absurd proposition, that movement is made of immobilities.
Philosophy perceived this as soon as it opened its eyes. The arguments of Zeno of Elea, although formulated with a very different intention, have no other meaning.
Take the flying arrow. At every moment, says Zeno, it is motionless, for it cannot have time to move, that is, to occupy at least two successive positions, unless at least two moments are allowed it. At a given moment, therefore, it is at rest at a given point. Motionless in each point of its course, it is motionless during all the time that it is moving.
Yes, if we suppose that the arrow can ever be in a point of its course. Yes again, if the arrow, which is moving, ever coincides with a position, which is motionless. But the arrow never is in any point of its course. The most we can say is that it might be there, in this sense, that it passes there and might stop there. It is true that if it did stop there, it would be at rest there, and at this point it is no longer movement that we should have to do with. The truth is that if the arrow leaves the point A to fall down at the point B, its movement AB is as simple, as indecomposable, in so far as it is movement, as the tension of the bow that shoots it. As the shrapnel, bursting before it falls to the ground, covers the explosive zone with an indivisible danger, so the arrow which goes from A to B displays with a single stroke, although over a certain extent of duration, its indivisible mobility. Suppose an elastic stretched from A to B, could you divide its extension? The course of the arrow is this very extension; it is equally simple and equally undivided. It is a single and unique bound. You fix a point C in the interval passed, and say that at a certain moment the arrow was in C. If it had been there, it would have been stopped there, and you would no longer have had a flight from A to B, but two flights, one from A to C and the other from C to B, with an interval of rest. A single movement is entirely, by the hypothesis, a movement between two stops; if there are intermediate stops, it is no longer a single movement. At bottom, the illusion arises from this, that the movement, once effected, has laid along its course a motionless trajectory on which we can count as many immobilities as we will. From this we conclude that the movement, whilst being effected, lays at each instant beneath it a position with which it coincides. We do not see that the trajectory is created in one stroke, although a certain time is required for it; and that though we can divide at will the trajectory once created, we cannot divide its creation, which is an act in progress and not a thing. To suppose that the moving body is at a point of its course is to cut the course in two by a snip of the scissors at this point, and to substitute two trajectories for the single trajectory which we were first considering. It is to distinguish two successive acts where, by the hypothesis, there is only one. In short, it is to attribute to the course itself of the arrow everything that can be said of the interval that the arrow has traversed, that is to say, to admit a priori the absurdity that movement coincides with immobility.
We shall not dwell here on the three other arguments of Zeno. We have examined them elsewhere. It is enough to point out that they all consist in applying the movement to the line traversed, and supposing that what is true of the line is true of the movement. The line, for example, may be divided into as many parts as we wish, of any length that we wish, and it is always the same line. From this we conclude that we have the right to suppose the movement articulated as we wish, and that it is always the same movement. We thus obtain a series of absurdities that all express the same fundamental absurdity. But the possibility of applying the movement to the line traversed exists only for an observer who keeping outside the movement and seeing at every instant the possibility of a stop, tries to reconstruct the real movement with these possible immobilities. The absurdity vanishes as soon as we adopt by thought the continuity of the real movement, a continuity of which every one of us is conscious whenever he lifts an arm or advances a step. We feel then indeed that the line passed over between two stops is described with a single indivisible stroke, and that we seek in vain to practice on the movement, which traces the line, divisions corresponding, each to each, with the divisions arbitrarily chosen of the line once it has been traced. The line traversed by the moving body lends itself to any kind of division, because it has no internal organization. But all movement is articulated inwardly. It is either an indivisible bound (which may occupy, nevertheless, a very long duration) or a series of indivisible bounds. Take the articulations of this movement into account, or give up speculating on its nature.
When Achilles pursues the tortoise, each of his steps must be treated as indivisible, and so must each step of the tortoise. After a certain number of steps, Achilles will have overtaken the tortoise. There is nothing more simple. If you insist on dividing the two motions further, distinguish both on the one side and on the other, in the course of Achilles and in that of the tortoise, the sub-multiples of the steps of each of them; but respect the natural articulations of the two courses. As long as you respect them, no difficulty will arise, because you will follow the indications of experience. But Zeno's device is to reconstruct the movement of Achilles according to a law arbitrarily chosen. Achilles with a first step is supposed to arrive at the point where the tortoise was, with a second step at the point which it has moved to while he was making the first, and so on. In this case, Achilles would always have a new step to take. But obviously, to overtake the tortoise, he goes about it in quite another way. The movement considered by Zeno would only be the equivalent of the movement of Achilles if we could treat the movement as we treat the interval passed through, decomposable and recomposable at will. Once you subscribe to this first absurdity, all the others follow.
Nothing would be easier, now, than to extend Zeno's argument to qualitative becoming and to evolutionary becoming. We should find the same contradictions in these. That the child can become a youth, ripen to maturity and decline to old age, we understand when we consider that vital evolution is here the reality itself. Infancy, adolescence, maturity, old age, are mere views of the mind, possible stops imagined by us, from without, along the continuity of a progress. On the contrary, let childhood, adolescence, maturity and old age be given as integral parts of the evolution, they become real stops, and we can no longer conceive how evolution is possible, for rests placed beside rests will never be equivalent to a movement. How, with what is made, can we reconstitute what is being made? How, for instance, from childhood once posited as a thing, shall we pass to adolescence, when, by the hypothesis, childhood only is given? If we look at it closely, we shall see that our habitual manner of speaking, which is fashioned after our habitual manner of thinking, leads us to actual logical dead-locks—dead-locks to which we allow ourselves to be led without anxiety, because we feel confusedly that we can always get out of them if we like: all that we have to do, in fact, is to give up the cinematographical habits of our intellect. When we say "The child becomes a man," let us take care not to fathom too deeply the literal meaning of the expression, or we shall find that, when we posit the subject "child," the attribute "man" does not yet apply to it, and that, when we express the attribute "man," it applies no more to the subject "child." The reality, which is the transition from childhood to manhood, has slipped between our fingers. We have only the imaginary stops "child" and "man," and we are very near to saying that one of these stops is the other, just as the arrow of Zeno is, according to that philosopher, at all the points of the course. The truth is that if language here were molded on reality, we should not say "The child becomes the man," but "There is becoming from the child to the man." In the first proposition, "becomes" is a verb of indeterminate meaning, intended to mask the absurdity into which we fall when we attribute the state "man" to the subject "child." It behaves in much the same way as the movement, always the same, of the cinematographical film, a movement hidden in the apparatus and whose function it is to superpose the successive pictures on one another in order to imitate the movement of the real object. In the second proposition, "becoming" is a subject. It comes to the front. It is the reality itself; childhood and manhood are then only possible stops, mere views of the mind; we now have to do with the objective movement itself, and no longer with its cinematographical imitation. But the first manner of expression is alone conformable to our habits of language. We must, in order to adopt the second, escape from the cinematographical mechanism of thought.
We must make complete abstraction of this mechanism, if we wish to get rid at one stroke of the theoretical absurdities that the question of movement raises. All is obscure, all is contradictory when we try, with states, to build up a transition. The obscurity is cleared up, the contradiction vanishes, as soon as we place ourselves along the transition, in order to distinguish states in it by making cross cuts therein in thought. The reason is that there is more in the transition than the series of states, that is to say, the possible cuts—more in the movement than the series of positions, that is to say, the possible stops. Only, the first way of looking at things is conformable to the processes of the human mind; the second requires, on the contrary, that we reverse the bent of our intellectual habits. No wonder, then, if philosophy at first recoiled before such an effort. The Greeks trusted to nature, trusted the natural propensity of the mind, trusted language above all, in so far as it naturally externalizes thought. Rather than lay blame on the attitude of thought and language toward the course of things, they preferred to pronounce the course of things itself to be wrong.
Such, indeed, was the sentence passed by the philosophers of the Eleatic school. And they passed it without any reservation whatever. As becoming shocks the habits of thought and fits ill into the molds of language, they declared it unreal. In spatial movement and in change in general they saw only pure illusion. This conclusion could be softened down without changing the premisses, by saying that the reality changes, but that it ought not to change. Experience confronts us with becoming: that is sensible reality. But the intelligible reality, that which ought to be, is more real still, and that reality does not change. Beneath the qualitative becoming, beneath the evolutionary becoming, beneath the extensive becoming, the mind must seek that which defies change, the definable quality, the form or essence, the end. Such was the fundamental principle of the philosophy which developed throughout the classic age, the philosophy of Forms, or, to use a term more akin to the Greek, the philosophy of Ideas.
The word [Greek: eidos], which we translate here by "Idea," has, in fact, this threefold meaning. It denotes (1) the quality, (2) the form or essence, (3) the end or design (in the sense of intention) of the act being performed, that is to say, at bottom, the design (in the sense of drawing) of the act supposed accomplished. These three aspects are those of the adjective, substantive and verb, and correspond to the three essential categories of language. After the explanations we have given above, we might, and perhaps we ought to, translate [Greek: eidos] by "view" or rather by "moment." For [Greek: eidos] is the stable view taken of the instability of things: the quality, which is a moment of becoming; the form, which is a moment of evolution; the essence, which is the mean form above and below which the other forms are arranged as alterations of the mean; finally, the intention or mental design which presides over the action being accomplished, and which is nothing else, we said, than the material design, traced out and contemplated beforehand, of the action accomplished. To reduce things to Ideas is therefore to resolve becoming into its principal moments, each of these being, moreover, by the hypothesis, screened from the laws of time and, as it were, plucked out of eternity. That is to say that we end in the philosophy of Ideas when we apply the cinematographical mechanism of the intellect to the analysis of the real.
But, when we put immutable Ideas at the base of the moving reality, a whole physics, a whole cosmology, a whole theology follows necessarily. We must insist on the point. Not that we mean to summarize in a few pages a philosophy so complex and so comprehensive as that of the Greeks. But, since we have described the cinematographical mechanism of the intellect, it is important that we should show to what idea of reality the play of this mechanism leads. It is the very idea, we believe, that we find in the ancient philosophy. The main lines of the doctrine that was developed from Plato to Plotinus, passing through Aristotle (and even, in a certain measure, through the Stoics), have nothing accidental, nothing contingent, nothing that must be regarded as a philosopher's fancy. They indicate the vision that a systematic intellect obtains of the universal becoming when regarding it by means of snapshots, taken at intervals, of its flowing. So that, even to-day, we shall philosophize in the manner of the Greeks, we shall rediscover, without needing to know them, such and such of their general conclusions, in the exact proportion that we trust in the cinematographical instinct of our thought.
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We said there is more in a movement than in the successive positions attributed to the moving object, more in a becoming than in the forms passed through in turn, more in the evolution of form than the forms assumed one after another. Philosophy can therefore derive terms of the second kind from those of the first, but not the first from the second: from the first terms speculation must take its start. But the intellect reverses the order of the two groups; and, on this point, ancient philosophy proceeds as the intellect does. It installs itself in the immutable, it posits only Ideas. Yet becoming exists: it is a fact. How, then, having posited immutability alone, shall we make change come forth from it? Not by the addition of anything, for, by the hypothesis, there exists nothing positive outside Ideas. It must therefore be by a diminution. So at the base of ancient philosophy lies necessarily this postulate: that there is more in the motionless than in the moving, and that we pass from immutability to becoming by way of diminution or attenuation.
It is therefore something negative, or zero at most, that must be added to Ideas to obtain change. In that consists the Platonic "non-being," the Aristotelian "matter"—a metaphysical zero which, joined to the Idea, like the arithmetical zero to unity, multiplies it in space and time. By it the motionless and simple Idea is refracted into a movement spread out indefinitely. In right, there ought to be nothing but immutable Ideas, immutably fitted to each other. In fact, matter comes to add to them its void, and thereby lets loose the universal becoming. It is an elusive nothing, that creeps between the Ideas and creates endless agitation, eternal disquiet, like a suspicion insinuated between two loving hearts. Degrade the immutable Ideas: you obtain, by that alone, the perpetual flux of things. The Ideas or Forms are the whole of intelligible reality, that is to say, of truth, in that they represent, all together, the theoretical equilibrium of Being. As to sensible reality, it is a perpetual oscillation from one side to the other of this point of equilibrium.
Hence, throughout the whole philosophy of Ideas there is a certain conception of duration, as also of the relation of time to eternity. He who installs himself in becoming sees in duration the very life of things, the fundamental reality. The Forms, which the mind isolates and stores up in concepts, are then only snapshots of the changing reality. They are moments gathered along the course of time; and, just because we have cut the thread that binds them to time, they no longer endure. They tend to withdraw into their own definition, that is to say, into the artificial reconstruction and symbolical expression which is their intellectual equivalent. They enter into eternity, if you will; but what is eternal in them is just what is unreal. On the contrary, if we treat becoming by the cinematographical method, the Forms are no longer snapshots taken of the change, they are its constitutive elements, they represent all that is positive in Becoming. Eternity no longer hovers over time, as an abstraction; it underlies time, as a reality. Such is exactly, on this point, the attitude of the philosophy of Forms or Ideas. It establishes between eternity and time the same relation as between a piece of gold and the small change—change so small that payment goes on for ever without the debt being paid off. The debt could be paid at once with the piece of gold. It is this that Plato expresses in his magnificent language when he says that God, unable to make the world eternal, gave it Time, "a moving image of eternity."
Hence also arises a certain conception of extension, which is at the base of the philosophy of Ideas, although it has not been so explicitly brought out. Let us imagine a mind placed alongside becoming, and adopting its movement. Each successive state, each quality, each form, in short, will be seen by it as a mere cut made by thought in the universal becoming. It will be found that form is essentially extended, inseparable as it is from the extensity of the becoming which has materialized it in the course of its flow. Every form thus occupies space, as it occupies time. But the philosophy of Ideas follows the inverse direction. It starts from the Form; it sees in the Form the very essence of reality. It does not take Form as a snapshot of becoming; it posits Forms in the eternal; of this motionless eternity, then, duration and becoming are supposed to be only the degradation. Form thus posited, independent of time, is then no longer what is found in a perception; it is a concept. And, as a reality of the conceptual order occupies no more of extension than it does of duration, the Forms must be stationed outside space as well as above time. Space and time have therefore necessarily, in ancient philosophy, the same origin and the same value. The same diminution of being is expressed both by extension in space and detention in time. Both of these are but the distance between what is and what ought to be. From the standpoint of ancient philosophy, space and time can be nothing but the field that an incomplete reality, or rather a reality that has gone astray from itself, needs in order to run in quest of itself. Only it must be admitted that the field is created as the hunting progresses, and that the hunting in some way deposits the field beneath it. Move an imaginary pendulum, a mere mathematical point, from its position of equilibrium: a perpetual oscillation is started, along which points are placed next to points, and moments succeed moments. The space and time which thus arise have no more "positivity" than the movement itself. They represent the remoteness of the position artificially given to the pendulum from its normal position, what it lacks in order to regain its natural stability. Bring it back to its normal position: space, time and motion shrink to a mathematical point. Just so, human reasonings are drawn out into an endless chain, but are at once swallowed up in the truth seized by intuition, for their extension in space and time is only the distance, so to speak, between thought and truth. So of extension and duration in relation to pure Forms or Ideas. The sensible forms are before us, ever about to recover their ideality, ever prevented by the matter they bear in them, that is to say, by their inner void, by the interval between what they are and what they ought to be. They are for ever on the point of recovering themselves, for ever occupied in losing themselves. An inflexible law condemns them, like the rock of Sisyphus, to fall back when they are almost touching the summit, and this law, which has projected them into space and time, is nothing other than the very constancy of their original insufficiency. The alternations of generation and decay, the evolutions ever beginning over and over again, the infinite repetition of the cycles of celestial spheres—this all represents merely a certain fundamental deficit, in which materiality consists. Fill up this deficit: at once you suppress space and time, that is to say, the endlessly renewed oscillations around a stable equilibrium always aimed at, never reached. Things re-enter into each other. What was extended in space is contracted into pure Form. And past, present, and future shrink into a single moment, which is eternity.
This amounts to saying that physics is but logic spoiled. In this proposition the whole philosophy of Ideas is summarized. And in it also is the hidden principle of the philosophy that is innate in our understanding. If immutability is more than becoming, form is more than change, and it is by a veritable fall that the logical system of Ideas, rationally subordinated and coordinated among themselves, is scattered into a physical series of objects and events accidentally placed one after another. The generative idea of a poem is developed in thousands of imaginations which are materialized in phrases that spread themselves out in words. And the more we descend from the motionless idea, wound on itself, to the words that unwind it, the more room is left for contingency and choice. Other metaphors, expressed by other words, might have arisen; an image is called up by an image, a word by a word. All these words run now one after another, seeking in vain, by themselves, to give back the simplicity of the generative idea. Our ear only hears the words: it therefore perceives only accidents. But our mind, by successive bounds, leaps from the words to the images, from the images to the original idea, and so gets back, from the perception of words—accidents called up by accidents—to the conception of the Idea that posits its own being. So the philosopher proceeds, confronted with the universe. Experience makes to pass before his eyes phenomena which run, they also, one behind another in an accidental order determined by circumstances of time and place. This physical order—a degeneration of the logical order—is nothing else but the fall of the logical into space and time. But the philosopher, ascending again from the percept to the concept, sees condensed into the logical all the positive reality that the physical possesses. His intellect, doing away with the materiality that lessens being, grasps being itself in the immutable system of Ideas. Thus Science is obtained, which appears to us, complete and ready-made, as soon as we put back our intellect into its true place, correcting the deviation that separated it from the intelligible. Science is not, then, a human construction. It is prior to our intellect, independent of it, veritably the generator of Things.
And indeed, if we hold the Forms to be simply snapshots taken by the mind of the continuity of becoming, they must be relative to the mind that thinks them, they can have no independent existence. At most we might say that each of these Ideas is an ideal. But it is in the opposite hypothesis that we are placing ourselves. Ideas must then exist by themselves. Ancient philosophy could not escape this conclusion. Plato formulated it, and in vain did Aristotle strive to avoid it. Since movement arises from the degradation of the immutable, there could be no movement, consequently no sensible world, if there were not, somewhere, immutability realized. So, having begun by refusing to Ideas an independent existence, and finding himself nevertheless unable to deprive them of it, Aristotle pressed them into each other, rolled them up into a ball, and set above the physical world a Form that was thus found to be the Form of Forms, the Idea of Ideas, or, to use his own words, the Thought of Thought. Such is the God of Aristotle—necessarily immutable and apart from what is happening in the world, since he is only the synthesis of all concepts in a single concept. It is true that no one of the manifold concepts could exist apart, such as it is in the divine unity: in vain should we look for the ideas of Plato within the God of Aristotle. But if only we imagine the God of Aristotle in a sort of refraction of himself, or simply inclining toward the world, at once the Platonic Ideas are seen to pour themselves out of him, as if they were involved in the unity of his essence: so rays stream out from the sun, which nevertheless did not contain them. It is probably this possibility of an outpouring of Platonic Ideas from the Aristotelian God that is meant, in the philosophy of Aristotle, by the active intellect, the [Greek: nous] that has been called [Greek: poietikos]—that is, by what is essential and yet unconscious in human intelligence. The [Greek: nous poietikos] is Science entire, posited all at once, which the conscious, discursive intellect is condemned to reconstruct with difficulty, bit by bit. There is then within us, or rather behind us, a possible vision of God, as the Alexandrians said, a vision always virtual, never actually realized by the conscious intellect. In this intuition we should see God expand in Ideas. This it is that "does everything," playing in relation to the discursive intellect, which moves in time, the same role as the motionless Mover himself plays in relation to the movement of the heavens and the course of things.