Duration, Temporality and Self: Prospects for the Future of Bergsonism

Fell, Elena Vladimirovna (2007) Duration, Temporality and Self: Prospects for the Future of Bergsonism. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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In philosophy time is one of the most difficult subjects because, notoriously, it eludes rationalization. However, Bergson succeeds in presenting time effectively as reality that exists in its own right. Time in Bergson is almost accessible, almost palpable in a discourse which overcomes certain difficulties of language and traditional thought. Bergson equates time with duration, a genuine temporal succession of phenomena defined by their position in that succession, and asserts that time is a quality belonging to the nature of all things rather than a relation between supposedly static elements. But Bergson's theory of duration is not organised, nor is it complete - fragments of it are embedded in discussions of various aspects of psychology, evolution, matter, and movement. My first task is therefore to extract the theory of duration from Bergson's major texts in Chapters 2-4. In Chapters 5 and 6 I consider duration and time on an abstract level, as general metaphysical concepts, developing arguments beyond Bergson's explicit discourse. In particular, Bergson proposes the idea of duration as heterogeneity wherein all elements entwine and influence each other, and where the past contributes to the present. I challenge this unidirectional view of temporal reality and suggest that if in heterogeneity everything influences everything else, then subsequent temporal phases produce retrospective changes in previous temporal phases. Also, I challenge the exclusion of temporal relations from the theory of time, and incorporate into the theory of duration both time as a quality and time as a network of relations.

Chapters 7 and 8 exemplify and concretise heterogeneous duration as self, examining various aspects of selfhood and its temporality. Chapter 9 deals with the problem of discontinuity within duration that emerges in chapters 7 and 8. Discontinuity comes through in various gaps and leaps involved in the existence of an individual consciousness and in the universal development of evolution, whereby the previous phase cannot account for the novelty of the following phase. I propose a way of saving the idea of the continuity of duration by changing one's observation point in regard to the observed process: the sense of discontinuity is due to our view of the past, contaminated by our knowledge in the present. Instead of examining temporal reality from the imagined present situated in the past to the actual present, we can look at it backwards, from the actual present into the past, descending from the new to the old, from the more complex to the less complex.

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