The Trails of the Unspoken: Bergson and Whitehead on Language and Time
Forthcoming in Process Studies
“Philosophy is mystical. For mysticism is direct insight into depths yet unspoken. But
the purpose of philosophy is to rationalize mysticism: not by explaining it away, but
by the introduction of novel verbal characterizations, rationally coordinated.”
(Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought, 174)
1. Introduction: The verbal difficulty
Although there is disagreement as to the extent of Bergson’s influence on Whitehead,
there is no doubt that their
systems invite comparison. Born only two years apart, they both began their careers as mathematicians and later
turned to developing metaphysical systems that are based on dynamic principles and are closely related to human
experience. My goal in this paper is not to address the historical question of whether Whitehead was indeed
influenced by Bergson, but rather to compare their treatment of language and in particular the extent to which
each believed that language is capable of expressing the temporal dimension of experience. Such a comparison
will cast additional light on the intersections between these two main versions of process thought.
Anyone who is familiar with their writings will not be surprised by the claim that Bergson and Whitehead
differ in their treatment of language. Indeed, according to Victor Lowe, “in his view of the general relation of
conceptual language to philosophy, Whitehead contradicts Bergson” (1962, 259).
The difference between the
two on this issue is reflected in the fact that while Bergson gives the impression of a fervent anti-intellectualist
who emphasizes that language is not an appropriate tool for the philosophical domain,
Whitehead declares that
he rejects the anti-intellectualist aspect of Bergson’s philosophy. In his preface to PR, Whitehead writes,
“I am also greatly indebted to Bergson, William James, and John Dewey. One of my preoccupations has been
to rescue their type of thought from the charge of anti-intellectualism, which rightly or wrongly has been
associated with it” (xii).
Despite the fact that Whitehead’s perspective on language is, as we shall see, more sympathetic than Bergson’s,
they both face a common challenge. Relying on the temporal dimension of experience as a pivotal element in the
construction of their metaphysical schemes, both thinkers nevertheless admit that it is precisely this element which
evades conceptualization, thus demonstrating the limitations of language in the clearest possible way. In order to
overcome this verbal difficulty, both thinkers strive to go beyond the boundaries of language that constrain them.
In this paper, I compare the approaches of Bergson and Whitehead to the constraints of language, as well as their
responses to it. I begin with Bergson’s attack on the intellect, which is intimately tied to his perspective on
temporality. This well-known aspect of Bergson’s philosophy usually masks other more moderate statements
concerning the potential role of language in philosophical inquiry. I relate to this neglected point, which may narrow
the gap between Bergson and Whitehead. Nonetheless, section III, which addresses the duality embedded in
Whitehead’s treatment of language, reveals some crucial differences between the two thinkers. The final section
illuminates the essential difference between these two attempts to cope with the same problem.
2. Bergson on the danger of conceptualization
Bergson’s attack on the intellectualist mindset in philosophy is a pivotal theme in his writings. “Anti-
intellectualism” is the rubric under which his philosophy is habitually classified and it captures his discomfort with
the authority of language in philosophical inquiry.
In his introduction to CM, Bergson writes that “my initiation
into the true philosophical method began the moment I threw overboard verbal solutions, having found in the inner
life an important field of experiment” (89-90). Here Bergson relies on the distinction between language, which is
the tool of our intellect—“thought and language, originally destined to organize the work of men in space, are
intellectual in essence” (CM, 80)—and the immediate consciousness of our inner lives, which is associated with
intuition. The tension between the intellect and intuition corresponds to that between the spatial and temporal
dimensions of our experience. Since language was “designed to organize human activity in space”, it is spatial in
And it is space which is “clearly conceived by the human intellect, enables us to use clean-cut
distinctions, to count, to abstract, and perhaps also to speak” (TFW, 97). Unfortunately, language, which is spatial,
is the tool by which we also express the temporal dimension of experience, which Bergson refers to as “duration”.
This “habitual, normal, commonplace act of our understanding” is also the source of all evil since “error begins
when the intellect claims to think one of the aspects as it thought the other, directing its powers on something for
which it was not intended” (CM, 31; 95). Bergson refers to this unfortunate procedure as “converting intuition into
symbols”, thereby emphasizing that the outcome of “intellectualized time is space”, and therefore, “the intelligence
works upon the phantom of duration, not on duration itself” (CM, 191; 31).
The gap between the intellectual and intuitive dimensions—which renders the expression of duration
impossible—is structural as well as qualitative. The structural aspect relates to the fact that while the intellect
ordinarily concerns itself with fixed and separate elements, the components within our stream of experience
“intermingle in such a way that we cannot tell whether they are one or several” (TFW, 137). In fact, since from the
Bergsonian perspective there is a complete fusion of the elements within our stream of experience—“we shall think
of all change, all movement, as being absolutely indivisible” (CM, 142) —it is almost impossible to even use the
term “element” in describing our temporal experience.
Bergson himself refers to this complexity as follows: “I said
that several conscious states are organized into a whole […] but the very use of the word ‘several’ shows that I had
already isolated these states, externalized them in relation to one another, and, in a word, set them side by side”
(TFW, 122). This position reminds us of William James’ account of what he refers to as “transitive parts” within
the stream of thought. These transitive parts, which lead us from one conclusion to another and are characterized
by their fleeting nature, are difficult to capture. The attempt to do so is comparable to “seizing a spinning top to
catch its motion, or trying to turn up the gas quickly enough to see how the darkness looks” (1890, 244). In the
same manner, language for Bergson cannot capture the unique type of unity that characterizes temporal experience
and the attempt to do so is undoubtedly doomed to failure. Language always distorts the real nature of experienced
temporality since, by creating concepts such as ‘earlier’, ‘later’, ‘before’ and ‘after’, it discriminates between phases
that are actually fused together. While the structural aspect informs us of the type of unity in question, the qualitative
aspect relates to its nature. “Intelligence starts ordinarily from the immobile […] intuition starts from movement”
(CM, 34). Since “our concepts have been formed on the model of solids” (CE, ix) while being used to describe
duration, concepts externalize and, so to speak, freeze elements that are inseparable and dynamic in their essence.
The division between intellect and intuition creates a problem within Bergson’s system, which as a result can
only circle around that which cannot be adequately expressed. As Mullarkey phrases it, “according to everything
Bergson seems to write about language, thought and philosophy itself, it is far from evident how he, or anyone for
that matter, could have ever been able to write genuinely about time at all” (1999, 150). The immediate intuition of
time is “over and above all expression, translation or symbolic representation” (CM, 162). Thus, metaphysics, which
is the direct vision of the mind by the mind (CM, 32), is defined as “the science which claims to dispense with
symbols” (CM, 162). The main difficulty with language and symbolic representation is that it moves away from the
concrete and particular reality (which is always changing) toward abstractions and generalities. Since concepts
always express what is common to a number of objects, they are abstract and general ideas that “never actually give
us more than an artificial reconstruction of the object, of which they can only symbolize certain general and, in a
way, impersonal aspects” (CM, 166; 167).
Our ability to produce and understand generalities was developed and
directed to cope with practical requirements; it relates to our tendency to classify our surroundings in a manner that
will ensure useful action (CM, 53-54).
It is through the repetition of a certain aspect of reality, which our intellect
has singled out, that generalizations are constituted (CE, 231). Generalizations are therefore dependent on repetition,
and repetition is possible only in the realm of the abstract, which distances us from the concrete fluency of time.
Having said that, it is worthwhile looking at a more nuanced reading of Bergson’s attack on language, according
to which he does not reject language altogether, but only a specific type of language, viz., language which is loaded
with spatial and static inferences.
To put it differently, Bergson’s protest is not so much against language itself, but
rather against its habitual usage in ready-made, static symbols. Indeed, support for such a reading is to be found in
Bergson’s reflections on his own utilization of language, in which he tries to characterize the use of language, rather
than simply resisting it. While reflecting on the complex unity of the self in CE, Bergson admits that “we must
adopt the language of the understanding, since only the understanding has a language” (258).
explains that there is simply no other way to mediate the nature of our intuition since “intuition will be
communicated only by the intelligence. It is more than idea; nevertheless, in order to be transmitted, it will have to
use ideas as a conveyance” (CM, 42). It is important to recognize that there is more here than the inevitable surrender
to the authority of language and that Bergson is genuinely seeking a verbal alternative. His protest against language
is, according to this more nuanced reading, consistent with his search for novel and imaginative vocabulary that is
vivid and dynamic. One important outcome of this quest for intuitive language is Bergson’s appeal to metaphors.
Although intuition uses language in order to mediate itself, its language is of a unique type: “[intuition] will prefer,
however, to have recourse to the most concrete ideas, but those which still retain an outer fringe of images.
Comparisons and metaphors will here suggest what cannot be expressed” (CM, 42; emphasis added). Thus, there
is a difference between the language of intuition and the language of the intellect. While concepts of intellectual
origin are immediately clear, “the idea which has sprung from an intuition ordinarily begins by being obscure,
whatever our power of thought may be” (CM, 35).
Intuitive language thus “frees itself of the inflexible and
readymade concepts and creates others very different from those we usually handle, I mean flexible, mobile, almost
fluid representations” (CM, 168). This type of language simulates the confused multiplicity of sensations and
feelings that are present in the depths of consciousness.
Even though this reading of Bergson’s philosophy narrows
the gap between him and Whitehead, it does not eliminate it completely, as will be shown in the next section.
3. Whitehead on the role of language in metaphysical inquiry
At first glance, what stands out in Whitehead’s perspective on language is the extent to which it is ambivalent,
making it more complex than the standard interpretation of Bergson’s view on the topic.
Whitehead explains that
language is a type of symbolism developed by mankind in order to express oneself; “indeed ‛expression’ is
‛symbolism’” (S, 62). As the main tool of expression, language is a mark of human development and a necessary
element for that development to continue. “Language is the triumph of human ingenuity”, Whitehead writes in MT,
“surpassing even the intricacies of modern technology. It tells of widespread intelligence, sustained throughout
scores of thousands of years” (31-32). Moreover, and this is an important point when comparing Whitehead and
Bergson, language and the generalities that it produces play a crucial role within metaphysical inquiry. It should be
remembered that Whitehead characterizes his own metaphysical system, which he refers to as “speculative
philosophy”, as “the endeavor to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which
every element of our experience can be interpreted” (PR, 3). A few pages later he adds, “metaphysics is nothing but
the description of the generalities which apply to all the details of practice” (13). And again, “the study of philosophy
is a voyage towards the larger generalities” (PR, 10). In AI, Whitehead writes that “philosophy is the ascent to the
generalities with the view of understanding their possibilities of combination. The discovery of new generalities
thus adds to the fruitfulness of those already known. It lifts into view new possibilities of combination” (235).
It therefore appears that Whitehead would have reservations regarding Bergson’s deeply rooted opposition to
generalizations. While Bergson leans heavily on direct experience which is always concrete and particular (and thus
evades generalization), Whitehead believes that this is precisely the goal of philosophical inquiry: to establish a
language that incorporates generalities in such a way that they successfully convey our experience. This is the core
of the difference between their approaches and the reason that Whitehead attempts to rescue Bergson from his anti-
intellectualism. For Bergson, the immediate intuitive grasp of life has priority over symbolic representation, while
for Whitehead symbolism remains at the foundation of human development.
Thus, Bergson’s assumption that the
intellect is intrinsically tied to erroneous functions is viewed by Whitehead as resulting from a mistaken view that
the intellect leads to dogmatism (AI, 223). Whitehead relates to Bergson’s way of thinking in PR as follows,
“On the whole, the history of philosophy supports Bergson’s charge that the human intellect ‘partializes the
universe’; that is to say, that it tends to ignore the fluency, and to analyse the world in terms of static
categories. Indeed, Bergson went further and conceived this tendency as an inherent necessity of the intellect.
I do not believe this accusation; but I do hold that ‘spatialization’ is the shortest route to a clear-cut philosophy
expressed in reasonably familiar language” (209; emphasis added).
Whitehead agrees with Bergson regarding the main danger of the intellect, viz., the analysis of reality on the
basis of static terms, but at the same time he rejects Bergson’s assumption that this danger is an inherent trait of the
intellect. Spatialization is perhaps the easiest mode of explanation, and it is indeed a method frequently adopted by
science and philosophy, but this does not imply that the intellect should be abandoned. Rather, we must make a
more controlled use of it. Three years previously, Whitehead makes the same point (notice the distinction he makes
between generalities—which he embraces as the most important product of speculative philosophy—and
“I agree with Bergson in his protest: but I do not agree that [spatialization] is a vice necessary to the
intellectual apprehension of nature […] There is an error; but it is merely the accidental error of mistaking
the abstract for the concrete. It is an example of what I will call the ‘Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.’
This fallacy is the occasion of great confusion in philosophy. It is not necessary for the intellect to fall into
the trap, though in this example there has been a very general tendency to do so” (SMW, 52; emphasis added).
One of the most striking examples of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness is what Whitehead refers to as
“pure succession” viz., the commonly held view of time as a succession of isolated moments. This idea is merely
an abstraction from our immediate experience of the present moment as interconnected with other moments. In our
immediate experience, there is an “irreversible relationship of settled past to derivative present” (S, 35).
explains this structure of experience, by which the present is always experienced as intimately tied to, and as
stemming from, the immediate past, using the principle of conformation, “whereby what is already made becomes
a determinant of what is in making” (S, 46). It is worth mentioning in this context Whitehead’s general perspective
on repetition, which is, according to his own testimony, a fundamental notion in organic philosophy. By
“repetition”, Whitehead means the transference of a specific pattern and of order, which expresses the immanence
of the past within the present. It accounts for the connectivity between successive entities and expresses “how what
is settled in actuality is repeated under limitations” (PR, 137; see also 210). Repetition is thus the mark of temporal
processes, causation and endurance. In AI, Whitehead explains our experience of this concrete relatedness of states
in terms of non-sensuous perception (180-181). This mode of perception, which he calls “causal efficacy”, extends
beyond the “here and now” of sense perception and gives its datum a vector character.
Although not sensory in
itself, it is a primitive mode of perception which involves an experience that belongs to the domain of what is
directly observed and constitutes the background for every type of sensory experience. Without this background,
our entire realm of experience would collapse (AI, 181). Interestingly, this is due to the fact that casual efficacy is
so intimately interwoven with our experience that it is vulnerable to the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.
the paradigm example of the failure of the intellect to hold onto the concrete.
It is also important to recognize that not only is the tendency of the intellect towards abstraction problematic,
but language itself is a limited tool. In AI, Whitehead claims that the history of ideas should be studied with a
“constant remembrance of the struggle of novel thought with the obtuseness of language” (120). A few pages later,
he adds that one of the two problems of philosophy is the “uncritical trust in the adequacy of language” (228). In
MT, he argues that “abstraction, inherent in the development of language, has its dangers. It leads away from the
realities of the immediate world” and therefore “the great difficulty of philosophy is the failure of language” (39;
49; emphasis added). Although language is indeed the tool required for philosophy (PR, 11), it is nevertheless a
limited tool that should never be a master (AI, 228). This deficiency of language stems from its chief function, which
is to express daily experiences.
Whitehead writes as follows,
“When we examine the contents of language, that is to say, the experiences which it symbolizes, it is remarkable
how largely it points away from the abstractions of high-grade sense. Its meaning presupposes the concrete
relations of real events happening and issuing from each other” (MT, 33).
If this is the case, then generalities, which are the main product of philosophical language, essentially move us
away from language’s natural use. Since it is used first and foremost for practical purposes and to describe
superficial affairs, language focuses on the prominent aspects of changing situations. It is concerned mainly with
the facts, which are “seized upon by consciousness for detailed examination, with the view of emotional response
leading to immediate purposeful action. These prominent facts are the variable facts—the appearance of a tiger, of
a clap of a thunder, or of a spasm of pain” (AI,163). “But these facts are also superficial facts” Whitehead comments.
And while the variable facts are easily conceptualized, this more complex and enduring structure of consciousness
evades verbal representation,
“In regards to these other facts, it is our consciousness that flickers, and not the facts themselves. They are
always securely there, barely discriminated, and yet inescapable. For example, consider our derivation from
our immediate past of a quarter of a second ago. We are continues with it, we are the same as it […] this is
the mystery of personal identity, the mystery of immanence of the past in the present” (AI, 163).
That each moment is a transition between the immediate past and the immediate future is simply the nature
of consciousness. This more profound occurrence (that is, the direct perception of causal efficacy) has no
practical value and was neglected by philosophers who usually thought of it as a way of thinking about
immediate sense-data, rather than as an element of our experience (S, 39-40). Again, the direct perception of
causal efficacy is neglected precisely because it is the “dim background from which we derive and to which we
return” (AM, 132). But the task of philosophy, according to Whitehead, is to penetrate beyond those superficial
facts to “those principles of existence which are presupposed in dim consciousness” (SP, 131). A few pages later
Whitehead writes that “one source of vagueness is deficiency of language […] we cannot weave into a train of
thought what we can apprehend in flashes […] Philosophy is largely the effort to lift such insights into verbal
expression” (SP, 136). Here we arrive at the root of Whitehead’s ambivalence since although philosophy strives
for the constitution of a verbal expression, language, which has been formed chiefly to express ideas that are of
pragmatic use, “penetrates but a short distance into the principles of metaphysics” (PR, 167). Indeed, language
breaks down the moment it must extend beyond its feasible boundaries and express an idea in depth,
“It is true that the general agreement of mankind as to experienced facts is best expressed in language. But the
language of literature breaks down precisely at the task of expressing in explicit form the larger generalities—
the very generalities which metaphysics seeks to express” (PR, 11; emphasis added).
For Whitehead, the collapse of ordinary language means that it must be constantly modified. Language, like
reality, is not a finished product but is rather in a process of formation and development, and progress in philosophy
is dependent on the extension of language to beyond its boundaries. “I am impressed by the inadequacy of language
to express our conscious thought” he argues and adds that “the curse of philosophy has been the supposition that
language is an exact medium. Philosophers verbalize and then suppose the idea is stated for all time. even if it were
stated, it would need to be restated for every century, perhaps every generation” (D, 368). In Whitehead’s
philosophical system, commonly used words and phrases must be stretched and contorted in order to express new
ideas and experiences. This modification of philosophical language endows it with a metaphoric and flexible
character and thus, “philosophy in its advance must involve obscurity of expression, and novel phrases” (AM, 131).
Words are vague and they are loaded with a wide range of meanings and associations. They therefore carry with
them “an enveloping suggestiveness and an emotional efficacy” (S, 67; see also 84). Elsewhere, Whitehead writes,
“Philosophers can never hope finally to formulate these metaphysical first principles. Weakness of insight
and deficiencies of language stand in the way inexorably. Words and phrases must be stretched towards a
generality foreign to their ordinary usage; and however such elements of language be stabilized as
technicalities, they remain metaphors mutely appealing for an imaginative leap” (PR, 4; emphasis added).
Generalities are therefore metaphors that attempt to express the nature of experience and uncover the hidden
side of reality. But this extension of language is limited and “our metaphysical notions are an approximation” (SP,
133). As metaphors, they invite us to take what Whitehead calls “an imaginative leap”. In AI, Whitehead argues
that language, despite it being one of the greatest of human achievements, is “incomplete and fragmentary”. He
then adds that “all men enjoy flashes of insight beyond meanings already stabilized in etymology and grammar”
(226-227). This then is the function of literature and of philosophy—to find verbal expression for meanings that
had not previously been expressed.
“Language halts behind intuition. The difficulty of philosophy is the expression of what is self-evident. Our
understanding outruns the ordinary usage of words. Philosophy is akin to poetry. Philosophy is the endeavour to
find a conventional phraseology for the vivid suggestiveness of the poet […] and thereby to produce a verbal
symbolism manageable for use in other connections of thought” (MT, 49-50).
“The difficulty of philosophy is the expression of what is self-evident”, Whitehead tells us in the paragraph just
quoted. Understanding is precisely this self-evidence that is trying to express itself. As a result, the immediate
perception of causal efficacy is a significant challenge, since what is more self-evident than the immanence of the
immediate past (and future) in our present field of experience?
4. Concluding remarks: conflict and convergence
For both Bergson and Whitehead, language is first and foremost pragmatic and functions as a tool for
communication. As a result, language is incapable of capturing the subtleties and depth of raw experience which is
a dim and hazy mixture. Temporality is the primeval form of this mixture which is permeated with vagueness. Thus,
temporal immediacy (which Bergson refers to as “duration” and Whitehead as “causal efficacy”) becomes the
clearest example of the failure of language and both thinkers grapple with the unfortunate fact that it evades a verbal
representation. Despite their different accounts of the source of this difficulty— Bergson understands it as stemming
from the unbridgeable gap between temporal consciousness and spatial language, while Whitehead holds that it
arises precisely because temporality is a structure of consciousness (and thus is always in the background)—both
strive to penetrate the superficial surface of sense-data and to reach consciousness itself. As to how to achieve this
goal, it is not so much that Bergson suggests getting rid of language and dwelling on raw experience instead while
Whitehead invites us to use language and to modify it to suit the domain of experience, but rather, in both cases the
utilization of language is inevitable, and both Bergson and Whitehead try to compensate for its deficiencies by
turning to metaphors and the elasticization of concepts. But that is where the similarity ends. For Bergson the
elasticization of concepts means that language should be intimately bound to what is always concrete and particular
and is grasped by intuition. Bergson’s utilization of language is designed to hold onto ambiguity and to somehow
express it. However, for Whitehead the elasticization of concepts implies the formulation of suitable generalizations.
Philosophical language is meant to overcome the initial situation of dimness that characterizes crude experience by
systematizing it and by transforming what is blurry into something clear and distinct (cf. SP, 131). According to
Whitehead, “our clarity of intuition is limited, and it flickers. Thus inference enters as means for the attainment of
such understanding as we can achieve” (MT, 50). For Whitehead, language can be stretched to the extent that it
exposes the hidden order of concrete reality; “there is reference to form beyond the direct meaning of words” (MT,
For Bergson’s works:
TFW Time and Free Will. 1889. New York: Dover, 2001.
CE Creative Evolution. 1907. Trans. Arthur Mitchell. New York: Dover Publications, 1998.
CM The Creative Mind. 1946. New-York: The Philosophical Library, 1946.
For Whitehead’s works:
SMW Science and the Modern World. 1926. New York: Free Press, 1967.
S Symbolism. 1927. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1958.
PR Process and Reality. 1929. New York: Free Press, 1978.
AI Adventures of Ideas. 1933. New York: Free Press, 1967.
MT Modes of Thought. 1938. New York: Free Press, 1968.
SP Science and Philosophy. 1947. New York: Philosophical Library, 1974.
D Dialogues of A. N. Whitehead. 1954. As Recorded by Lucian Price. Westport: Greenwood Press, 1977.
Auxier, R. E. “Influence as Confluence: Bergson and Whitehead.” Process Studies 28 (1999): 301-338. http://www.religion-
Bankov, Kristian. Intellectual Effort and Linguistic Work: Semiotic and Hermeneutic Aspects of the Philosophy of Bergson.
Helsinki: Yliopistopaino, 2000.
Canales, Jimena. The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate that Changed Our Understanding of
Time. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005.
Debaise, Didier. “The Emergence of a Speculative Empiricism: Whitehead Reading Bergson.” Deleuze, Whitehead, Bergson:
Rhizomatic Connections. Ed. Keith Robinson, New-York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009: (77-88).
Gunter, A. Y. Pete. “Introduction to the UPA Edition of Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution.” Trans. Arthur Mitchell, Lanham:
University Press of America, 1983: (xvii-xlviii).
James, William. The Principles of Psychology. 1890. New York: Dover Publications.
Johnson, A. H. “Whitehead on the Uses of Language.” The Relevance of Whitehead. Ed. Ivor Leclerc, New York: Macmillan,
Levanon, Tamar. “William James in Search of the ‘Minimum of Dynamism’ in Temporal Experience.” The Philosophical
Forum XLVIII (2017): 31-47.
Lowe, Victor. “The Influence of Bergson, James and Alexander on Whitehead.” Journal of the History of Ideas 10 (1949):
——. Understanding Whitehead. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1962.
McLean, Jeanne Priley. Immediate experience and the problem of expression: a study in the philosophy of Bergson. (1975).
Mullarkey, C, John. “Bergson and the Language of Process.” Process Studies 24 (1995): 44-58.
——. Bergson and Philosophy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999.
Singerman, Ora. “The Relation Between Philosophy and Science — A Comparison Between the Positions of Bergson and
Whitehead.” Iyyun: The Jerusalem Philosophical Quarterly 19 (1968): 65-91.
Teixeira, Maria Teresa. “Epochal Time and the Creativity of Thinking: Henri Bergson and Alfred North Whitehead.”
Concrescence: The Australian Journal of Process Thought 9 (2009): 77-85.
While Lowe strongly rejects such an influence (1949; 1962), Gunter writes in his introduction to CE that
“the process philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead was to owe profound debts to the intellectual inspiration provided by
Bergson” (1983, xviii). Auxier (1999) defends a sense of “influence”, according to which “Bergson’s ‘influence’ on
Whitehead was very significant”. For a comment on the historical links between the two thinkers, see Canales (2015, 181).
Lowe specifies some other differences between Whitehead’s philosophy and Bergson’s, arguing that “they are largely of
opposed types” (1962, 259-260).
Cf. Bankov who uses the term “anti-linguism” (2000, 71).
Although Bergson addresses this topic throughout his writings, some of his most interesting reflections are to be found in the
introduction to CM (1946) and in “Introduction to Metaphysics” (1903) which was reprinted in this book. As to secondary
sources, William James’ sixth lecture in Pluralistic Universe (1909) entitled “Bergson and his Critique of Intellectualism” is
still one of the most important accounts of this aspect of Bergson’s philosophy. See also McLean (1975); Mullarkey (1995;
1999); Bankov (2000).
Bergson also writes that “the intellect is destined first of all to prepare and bear upon our action on things,” and also, “if the
intellect has been made in order to utilize matter, its structure has no doubt been modelled upon that of matter” (CM, 15; 38).
Levanon (2017) refers to this type of unity as “strong Bergsonian intuition” and distinguishes it from “weak Bergsonian
intuition” which retains the idea of basic units of composition alongside the idea of intermingling. Of course, the fact that the
stream of experience is unified does not mean that it is homogeneous.
Bergson also writes that “a representation taken from a certain point of view, a translation made with certain symbols, will
always remain imperfect in comparison with the object of which a view has been taken, or which the symbols seek to express”
The original function of language according to Bergson is “to establish a communication with a view to coöperation. Language
transmits orders or warnings. It prescribes or describes. In the first case, it is the call to immediate action; in the second, it is
the description of the thing or some one of its properties, with a view to action. But in either case the function is industrial,
commercial, military, always social. The things that language describes have been cut out of reality by human perception in
view of human work to be done” (CM, 80). In CE he writes that “by language community of action is made possible” (157).
Cf. fn. 5.
Cf. Barkov (2000); Mullarkey (1995; 1999). This interpretation is not necessarily consistent with everything Bergson says
about language (for example, his claim concerning his initiation into the true philosophical method which was cited at the
opening of this section), but it certainty captures an important element that has its place in Bergson’s thinking.
Bergson also writes that “to be sure, concepts are indispensable to [metaphysics], for all the other sciences ordinarily work
with concepts, and metaphysics cannot get along without the other sciences” (CM, 168).
Mullarkey writes that “it is not that Bergson abandoned all hope for a language of time; he actually left the way open for a
language that might instantiate time […] a metaphor, for example, is a fluid concept with boundaries not yet fixed. As such,
it imitates the style of nature and its on-going dynamism” (1995, 46-47). And McLean explains that “intuition is neither
private nor incommunicable, but rather is able to adopt expressive forms which convey a meaning and which, especially in
the case of music and art, have almost universal intelligibility” (1975, 120-121).
Cf. TFW, 87.
For a general overview of Whitehead’s approach to language, see Johnson (1961).
For an account of the differences between the two thinkers, see Singerman (1968); Debaise (2009).
“Philosophy is the criticism of abstractions” according to Whitehead (MT, 48-49). For the distinction between abstractions
and generalities, see Teixeira (2009, 82).
Bergson uses the expression “pure succession” in an opposed sense. C.f. Bergson (TFW, 101).
Cf. AI (180-181); PR (120); S (40-41).
Cf. S (35).
Plato already “wrestles with the difficulty of making language express anything beyond the familiarities of everyday life”
It is not only common language that neglects the direct perception of causal efficacy but also the language of literature. It
relates to time via conceptual reasoning and abstract imagination and loses touch with first-hand intuition. “Here again the
habits of a literary training with its long-range forecast and back-cast of critical though [shouldn't this be thought?] exercise
an unfortunate effect upon philosophy. We think of the future in time spans of centuries, or of decades, or of years, or of
days” (AI, 191).
“An appeal to literature, to common language, to common practice, at once carries us away from the narrow basis of
epistemology provided by the sense data disclosed in direct introspection” (AI, 228).