Motion in Mulla Sadra and Bergson


Ali Shirawani


As far as the history of philosophy shows, philosophers' ideas have always fluctuated between stability and change. Some thinkers such as Heraclitus completely deny stability and believe that everything undergoes change. He also maintains that the only stable thing in the world is the following fact "All things are in a state of flux.[1] And some others, such as Parmenides, are totally against any kind of change. They believe that all changes and becomings are illusion.[2] Still there are some others, like Aristotle, who agree with both parties.[3] Our philosopher, Mulla Sadra, is one of those who believe that the whole nature and material world are in a state of permanent change and becoming. Besides, he is of the view that no stable ontological reality is realized in the world of nature.

After the prevalence of Aristotle's theory among philosophers, Mulla Sadra created a great revolution in metaphysics. He reviewed the issue of motion profoundly and disclosed the baselessness of the common viewpoints in this regard. Following this, he presented a new theory called 'trans-substantial motion', which resulted in considerable consequences and benefited in theological and philosophical discussions.

In the western world, too, Henry Bergson (1859-1941) introduced a new approach to the issues of motion and time. In spite of all the differences between these two philosophers concerning the language they employ, their philosophical systems, and the philosophical atmospheres of their time, there are a number of considerable similarities between them. A comparative study of these two philosophers' views demands an extensive discussion; however, the writer will try to present an almost comprehensive perspective of the issue to the esteemed readers. In doing to, he will, firstly, explain Mulla Sadra's trans-substantial motion in short and then proceeds to propound Bergson's idea of time and motion.


1. Mulla Sadra and trans-substantial motion


One of Mulla Sadra's most important and innovative ideas is the demonstration and explanation of trans-substantial motion. Following Aristotle,[4] Ibn Sina and other Peripatetic philosophers, accepted motion only in four categories of quantity, quality, position and place and denied it in the category of substance. Ibn Sina's main reason in this regard was that there is motion always in some subject, and if the substance of an object transforms in the course of motion, there will be no subject for motion.[5] He viewed the occurrence of changes in the forms of objects as being sudden rather than gradual and in the form of generation and corruption. According to philosophers such as Ibn Sina, beings are of three types: 1) Pure stable existents or immaterial beings, 2) Unchanging beings that sometimes undergo change, such as material substances, 3) Beings which undergo gradual change (motion), which consist of the very four-fold accidents. In this view, motion is observed only in the outward of the world of nature and does not penetrate into the essence of objects. Their essence is stable in the course of time and changes only at specific times. In sum, in their view, the principle of stability dominates change.[6]

Relying on several proofs,[7] Mulla Sadra demonstrated that material beings  are, basically, gradual ones that are renewed and obtain a new existence in every moment. In the Transcendent Philosophy, the issue of motion, which was previously posed in natural philosophy, found its way into philosophy and was subcategorized under general issues. In this approach, existence is classified into two types: unchanging and flowing existences.[8] The flowing existence encompasses the entire realm of the material world, including all its substances and accidents, and no existent is separated from it at any moment.

The discussion of trans-substantial motion led Mulla Sadra to the conclusion that motion is, basically, among the analytic accidents of the flowing existence rather than an attribute that is annexed to it from the outside. If an existence is a gradual one, the concept of motion can be abstracted from it. On the other hand, he viewed time among the analytic accidents of motion and the fourth dimension of the bodies.[9] However, earlier philosophers considered time as a receptacle that occurs to the bodies and material affairs go through. Mulla Sadra made it clear that, like the three-fold dimensions of length, width, and depth, time has risen from the essence of material substance. He also demonstrated that as there is no place without matter, there is no matter without time. And as any natural body has a didactic body of its own, it also enjoys a specific time. Again, exactly in the same way that a didactic body is among the analytic accidents of a natural body, time is among the analytic accidents of motion. And as mentioned before, the motion and the moving thing are the same in trans-substantial motion.

The theory of trans-substantial motion resulted in significant effects and outcomes in the Transcendent Philosophy some of which are as follows:

1. In the light of this theory, the argument of motion, which had been in existence since Aristotle's time, found a profound meaning. According to this argument, the need of the moving object to a mover refers back to the object's need to a life-giving cause. This is because, on the basis of trans-substantial motion, the mover is, in fact, the creator of the moving object, as well as its life-giver and not merely its moving agent.[10]

2. According to trans-substantial motion, the world of matter is a unit of motion that is moving in a general current towards the ultimate end, which is the very source of being.[11]

3. This theory also denotes that the world of matter is permanently created and receives the effusion of existence from the source of being at every moment. This is because every material phenomenon is changing in its essence and substance, and its existence at each moment is other than that in another moment. In fact, a new existence is effused to it at every moment.[12]

4. The relation between the changing and the unchanging and the one between the originated and eternal, which have always been among the complicated problems of philosophy, found a clear solution in the light of trans-substantial motion. The reason is that the changing and originated effect requires a changing and originated cause only when the change and origination are added to its essence and enter it from the outside. The cause must do two things concerning such an existent: creating the object itself and causing change and motion in it. However, those existents that are essentially flowing require a simple rather than compound cause. Such an existent is merely created by the cause, and its creation is the same as its continuous motion and origination.[13]

5. The issue of the origination and eternity of the world of matter was a matter of dispute among theologians and philosophers. Mulla Sadra proves on the basis of trans-substantial motion that all the existents of the world of matter are essentially changing and continually in a state of origination and annihilation. Therefore, the entire material world is temporally originated, however, not in the sense that, like theologians, we can consider a temporal beginning for it.[14]


2. Bergson and motion


Bergson's point of departure in the study of the issue of time is different from that of Mulla Sadra. He, firstly, tries to demonstrate and explain man's free will, and in order to meet such goal, he studied the issue of time. The basis of Bergson's philosophy is introduced in his first book, Time and Free Will. Thus the first step for gaining familiarity with his philosophy is the reading of this book. At the beginning, it might appear that here the relation between the two subjects, time and free will, is denied, and that the discussion of time and its reality is not related to the discussion of man's pre-destination and free will. However, Bergson's scientific art lies in the clarification of the firm relation between these two elements.


2.1. Time and free will


Bergson argues that we necessarily explain the issues by means of words and mostly think in space. In other words, it is necessary for man to establish the same clear and precise distinction, i.e. the same disjunction among material objects, among his concepts and ideas. Creating such an identity is useful in life and necessary in many sciences. However, one can ask himself, "Is it not true that the unsolvable problems risen from some philosophical issues are due to the fact that we insist on placing things that have absolutely no spatial nature on each other in nature?" And "Is it not true that if we put away the ideas and concepts that we have constructed without enough care and precision and then start arguing about them, some of these conflicts will come to an end?" He also says that sometimes a non-permissible interpretation of a non-dimensional thing as a multi-dimensional one or the interpretation of a qualitative thing as a quantitative one causes some contradiction in the heart of the topic of discussion. Now, one might ask, 'Should we wonder if we observe some contradiction in all the solutions that are presented to problems?[15]

According to Bergson, the conflicts between determinists and their opponents are based on a long lasting mistake concerning duration (time, extensity, real time) and dimension, succession and simultaneity, and quality and quantity. If this mistake is removed, then all the doubts raised against the free will, the definitions provided for it, and, in a sense, the issue of the 'free will', itself, will totally disappear.

The book of 'Time and Free Will' consists of three chapters, with the first and second chapters as an introduction to the third. The title of the first chapter is 'The Intensity of Psychic States'; the title of the second is 'The Multiplicity of Conscious; the Meaning of Duration, and that of the third is 'The Organization of Conscious State; Free Will'.

In Bergson's view, the origin of a lot of problems in disputes is that both parties confuse qualitative issues with quantitative ones. From among these issues we can refer to the soul and mental states. All emotions, fancies, perceptions, ideas, pleasures, pains, efforts and wills, which depend on the soul, are qualitative rather than quantitative issues. The states of the soul possess intensity and weakness but not quantity and number. This is because the latter requires smallness or bigness in size. When thinking about these two qualities, we assume that something could contain something or immersed in something else and be more or less than something. In other words, the conception of quantity always accompanies the conception of dimension (space) and place; this is because it is dimension that can be bigger or smaller than another dimension. It is in terms of dimension that one thing is compared with another thing regarding its quantity. Obviously, something lacking dimension lacks quantity as well.

Nevertheless, the states of the soul, of whatever kind, have no dimension or space. Pain, joy, pleasure, love, grudge, and other psychological perceptions are of intensity and weakness but have no quantity and amount. In other words, we can compare two things of the same genus in terms of their amount and quantity as a distinguishing criterion. However, it is obvious that the states of the soul cannot be matched and compared with each other. Thus the major mistake dominating ordinary people's thoughts is viewing the psychological states as quantitative ones. "People normally accept that the states of inner sense or conscience (wijdan), such as sense perceptions, feelings, love, deep interests, and efforts are prone to increase or decrease. Some people believe that we can even say a sense perception is two, three, or four times stronger than another sense perception of the same nature.[16] Bergson argues against this view and adduces some proofs to reject it.

"When we say that a number or a body is bigger than another one, we are well aware of what we are talking about. This is because in both cases we speak of unequal spaces and call a space bigger when it contains the other space".[17] Bergson then explains that inward states bear no such a relation to each other and none can include the other and establish a container and contained relation with it. As a result, the bigness and smallness relation and, generally, quantitative proportions are not established among various states of inner sense (wijdan).

Following this study, Bergson distinguishes between two terms:

1.       Extensive grandeur

2.       Intensive grandeur

'Extensive grandeur' refers to something in space, such as number, and 'intensive grandeur' does not, such as the sound of a tap on the table. 'Intensive grandeur' is of intensity and weakness; however, being more or less, bigness and smallness, and other quantitative relations have no way in it. In fact, employing the term 'quantity' in the second type is non-permissible and a sign of negligence. 'Quantity' is only something that is only related to space, whereas psychological states belong to the second type and are, therefore, non-quantifiable.

Bergson reminds that we should not mix the secondary causes, causes, effects, and consequences of psychological states with the psychological states themselves, and then apply their judgment to the states of the soul. The secondary causes and the states of the soul, as well as their effects, might be quantitative; however, psychological states, themselves, are qualitative and enjoy intensity and weakness at the same time. In other words, when attributing intensity or weakness to the states of the soul, we might never pay any attention to the secondary causes or consequences of those states; and qualify them by these attributes by considering these states themselves.

In our view, the pain of pulling a tooth is stronger than that of pulling the hair, and, undoubtedly, the artist knows that watching a painting gives its creator more pleasure than watching the sign of a shop…. In this way, the comparison of two intensities is usually done without the least evaluation of the number of their causes, the quality of their function, or their magnitude.[18]

Bergson continues his discussion by saying that even if the causes and reasons for the appearance of a psychological state are quantifiable, and even if its size and, generally, its quantity influence its intensity and weakness, we cannot consider such intensity and weakness the same as quantity. There is a difference between the judgments of the cause, the effect, and the consequence. We are talking about something that is truly an attribute of psychological states. We wish to know whether we can interpret it as quantity or not. Then he says, "We must try to recognize the reasons for the increasing intensity of happiness or sadness in exceptional cases where there is no corporeal sign. These are not separate spiritual affairs so that they occupy a part of the soul at the beginning and then expand in other places.[19]

In Bergson's view, psychological states are various but not numerous. This is because number requires individuals, and every individual can be conceived as being divisible into parts. Nevertheless, we cannot distinguish psychological states, individuals, and parts from each other. Since the idea of individuals requires the idea of dimension and place. For example, imagine a song coming out of a singer's throat and continuing for some time. It is the same breath and the same voice, but it is sometimes of a high and sometimes of a low pitch; it is various but not plural. It enjoys intensity and weakness but not quantity.

Number and place

In Bergson's view, there is an inseparable interrelation between number and place, and we always view numbers in space. He concludes that number and counting have no way into placeless things. Thus it is also a big mistake to count the inward states, which are non-spatial, by numbers. A more profound study of this issue is as follows:

"A number is a collection of units that are the same, or are, at least, considered the same at the time of counting".[20] We can count the number of sheep in a cattle and say that there are, for example, 50 of them only when we consider them as identical. If we view them differently or, in other words, pay attention to their specific characteristics, we cannot count them, and, rather, we will see only a group consisting of members (an enumerated group). Thus the idea of number, in Bergson's view, requires the simple conception of plurality of parts or units that are absolutely the same and, of course, different in some respects.

As mentioned before, according to Bergson, the idea of number is inseparable from place. His reason for this claim is that we always place the units beside each other and then count them. Such proximity is not conceivable except in space and place. One might say that when counting sheep, we do not need to imagine 50 sheep next to each other and then count them. We can, rather, imagine a sheep 50 times, successively i.e. repeat the idea of one of them and then count them. In this case, this trend is located in duration rather than in place. The answer to this problem is,

If I imagine each cattle-sheep in isolation, I will never deal with any except for one. In order to obtain a gradually increasing number, I have to remember some successive images and place them beside new units whose images I remember. However, such a placing is done in space and not in pure time (duration). Moreover, it is easy to accept that any act by which material objects are enumerated involves the simultaneous pictures of these objects and places them in space from the same place.[21]

In his A History of Western Philosophy, after explaining Bergson's idea of number and its interrelation with the concept of place, Russell harshly attacks it and claims, "Bergson does not know what number is and has no clear idea of it".[22] He continues,

When talking about number, we are dealing with three distinct concepts that must not be mixed with each other, as follows:

1- Number as a general concept that conforms to different particular numbers;

2- Different particular numbers;

3- Different series that particular numbers conform to.

He argues, "When defining number as a series of units", Bergson has, in fact, the last concept in mind. The twelve disciples, the twelve Children of Israel, and the twelve months are all series of units; however, none of them is number twelve, itself".[23]

Russell's objection to Bergson is that he has confused number with the numbered and, instead of number, defined the numbered. Number 12 is what all these series share in common but other series, such as a group of 11 sportsmen, lack. Thus number 12 is neither a series of 12 members nor something all series share. Generally speaking, number means the property of being 12 or 11 or any other number rather than the property of various series that have 11 or 12 members (the first concept).

Following this mistake, Bergson generalizes the 3rd concept to the 1st and 2nd ones. In other words, he assumes to have demonstrated that the concept of a series of units is always in space. Then he concludes that the concept of number is accompanied by place.

According to Russell,

Whenever, following Bergson's advice, we resort to a simple concept, for example to 12 points, like when we obtain two sixes by throwing dice, we have not obtained an image of number 12 yet. This number is, in fact, something that is more abstract than any image. Before being able to say what concept we have obtained from number 12, we must know about the common point among all series consisting of 12 units. And this is something that cannot be imagined, since it is abstract and immaterial. In order to justify his theory of numbers, Bergson confuses a specific series with the number of its members and, then, mixes the result with number in general.[24]

It seems that Russell has carried out his debate hurriedly, since, in the rest of his discussion, Bergson propounds the issue of abstract number, which is the very number without a numbered (the second concept in Russell's words) and asks, "Does this idea of space accompany the idea of every number, even the idea of abstract number?"[25] And then he says in response that abstract number is nothing but a sign. What we understand from 12 is those very 12 points, which are, in fact, the numbered and have no idea apart from it. In fact, concerning abstract numbers, which are used in calculations, and among which certain relations are established, Bergson believes in the same idea of the nominalists stating that universals are merely inconceivable names that we use as symbols and signs to refer to a specific group of objects. Of course, this is idea of universals, in general, and numbers, in particular are wrong and can be criticized. However, the point is that Bergson, himself, paid attention to the difference between number and the numbered and, unlike what Russell claims, has not confused them with each other.

Nevertheless, one of the basic principles of Bergson's philosophy is that number is concomitant with place. Thus non-spatial issues cannot be enumerated, and if we count them, we have, in fact, created a spatial image of them for ourselves and considered them as something other than what they really are. We might say that we can create numbers in time rather than in place. For example, to imagine number 50, we repeat all numbers from 1 to 50. Here, we have, in fact, enumerated the moments of time rather than points of place.

Bergson says in response, "We fixate each of the moments that we count in a point in space unconsciously, and it is only under this condition that abstract units can come together".[26] Even, when we hear the continuous ringing of the bell, we can count it only when the sound is created in a homogeneous environment, in which sounds leave similar effects. And this environment is spatial rather than temporal, since no temporal moment is subsistent so that it could be added to other moments.[27]


2.2. Duration


One of the most central elements of Bergson's philosophy is duration (duree), which has also been translated as 'time, extensity, and pure time'. In Bergson's view, the influence of place on the human mind has made him have a spatial concept of everything, even of time. The time that is used in sciences and astronomical and physical calculations is a spatial concept, which is, of course, a false but practically a useful and efficient image.

In Bergson's view, we can approach time in two ways: 1) in terms of its conformity to dimension; and 2) in terms of its perception by the soul. The former is quantity and the latter quality. Whenever we consider time, for example, during a night and day, we have, in fact, visualized the sun having risen from the east, appeared in the sky in different places, set in the west, and risen from the east once again. And if we deliberate over the issue properly, this is nothing but the idea of the sun's coinciding with the different points of place, i.e. a specific dimensional image. When we say, 'a night and day', our idea of this time is simultaneous with the idea of sun's simultaneity with the various points of a heavenly circle. Thus we have, in fact, imagined some dimensions and what is simultaneous with them. That is why we consider the time of a night and day as a quantity.

Nevertheless, the reality of time is something else. In order to attain this reality, one must view his inward being and observe the states of his conscious in flow and flux. What is obtained through this intuition is the very reality of time (duration).

Bergson uses the word 'duration' in several places in his books 'Time and Free Will' and 'Creative Evolution'. However, he rarely presents a complete explanation of this word. In one place, he says, "Duration means a kind of internal life",[28] and in another place he says, "Duration means the internal flux of the conscious".[29]

We can explain the difference between astronomical time and real time (duration) from Bergson's view as follows: Astronomical time means a series of points that we conceptualize in the extension of time along with some hypothetical sections that we draw in a continuous reality. Duration, too, consists of the distance between these points or the very extensity or continuity.

In order to perceive the important difference between astronomical time and duration, we should imagine a moment at which a devil commands all motions in the world to double their speed. As a result, there will be no change in astronomical phenomena, or, at least, in equations that allow us to predict them. The reason is that in these equations, the symbol 't'(astronomical time) determines the relation between two durations rather than duration itself. In other words, it specifies a number of time units or, in the final analysis, a number of simultaneities. Such simultaneities and conformities will occur again with the same frequency. In this case, they are only the distances that separate them from each other that become smaller. These distances play no role in calculations; however, they are exactly the units that comprise the duration or what our conscious perceives. Accordingly, our conscious informs us of the shortening of a day very fast, provided that we live a shorter life between the sunrise and sunset.[30]

The time that is referred to in astronomy and, generally, in sciences is simply a number. Our calculations do not reveal the nature of number units. Therefore, we can assume as small a number as we wish, provided that the same assumptions are used in all computations, and thus the successive relations between positions in space are maintained.

Some of Bergson's statements apparently indicate that duration specifically belongs to conscious or inner sense; however, some of his other statements explicitly denote that duration is a general issue. He says,

The world has duration. Duration means invention, creation of forms, continuous provision of the absolutely new … There is nothing wrong with attributing duration to mechanisms recognized by science. Following this, we can attribute a form of being that is similar to our own being to them, provided that we can place them in the entire being.[31]

We must admit that Bergson's interpretations of duration are sometimes very different from each other in different places. We can infer from some of his words that duration is the same trans-substantial and natural motion; a kind of dynamism that negates fixed substance; a kind of ontological continuity and gradation of being that leaves no place for fixed issues, eternal judgments, and individuated relations.

Nevertheless, since the intellect is a means of tool making, and since this act is impossible unless from fixed matter, the new science has changed duration into a spatial image of time and viewed the reality in another form. This is because, "The main purpose of science is prediction and measurement, and the condition for prediction of physical phenomena is to assume that, unlike us, they lack duration".[32]


2.3. Motion


For Bergson, duration and motion are not merely two very close realities; they are, rather, two faces of or two words for the same reality. In his view, the same fallacious interpretation and image of time that have penetrated into human thoughts have been repeated in motion. What is perceived in terms of motion in natural sciences, mathematics, and daily observations is the very simultaneity of the moved with different spatial points. This goes so far as whenever there is no point in comparison to which we can measure the simultaneity of the relations of the moved, we will be unaware of motion. In this case, we have not, in fact, taken the reality of motion into consideration. Rather, we have misconceived the successive rests against the points the moved leaves behind for motion. The same view of motion is also held by mathematician and physicists, and they measure it on the same basis. However, 'motion' is not a series of successive rests; rather, it is a permanent, continuous and conjunctive trend; otherwise, it would be disjunctive. Motion is continuity and quality rather than quantity.

Of course, this point has been clearly propounded in Mulla Sadra's Transcendent Philosophy, where both time and motion are among conjunctive and continuous issues rather than disconnected and disjunctive ones. The idea of indivisible part, which was supported by some Muslim theologians and posed concerning the reality of the body, has been severely rejected by philosophers with respect to both time and motion. To reject the idea of body's being composed of tiny separated dimension-less particles, philosophers say that no volume is created from non-volume, and that it is impossible for a dimensional and continuous object to come into being out of a dimensionless object. Also, to reject the view stating that time is a collection of 'moments', each lacking in length and continuity, and to oppose the idea that motion is composed of short rests, each lacking in gravity and conforming to one 'moment', philosophers say that 'motion' is a conjunctive unit conforming to a continuous unit of time.

The image of motion as a series of successive rests is what Bergson calls the 'cinematic picture of the world".[33] In a cinematic picture, motion and change consist of a series of successive positions. However, in Bergson's view, no such succession of positions can be a representative of continuous change. He also argues that in the process of change nothing is in any position. Real change can only be explained by means of real time (duration). This change requires the interference of past and presence with each other rather than the mathematical succession of static positions. And this is exactly the same thing that is called the 'static' rather than the 'dynamic' view of the world.[34]


2.4. Intellect


Here, one might ask a basic question: 'Why do we see motion in a cinematic picture, e.g., a series of rests?' why do we not perceive time as it is – a quality and a homogeneous extension? It is at this point that the basic principle of Bergson's philosophy comes of significance. Accordingly, the intellect is not simply given to us to know the realities; rather, it is given to help us in living our life, continuing it, and dominating the nature. Here, we might ask Bergson, 'Which perceiving force apart from the intellect can perceive the fact that the world is dynamic and restless?

According to Bergson, the function of the intellect in man is like that of instinct in animals. Why has nature placed instinct in animals? The answer is that if there were no instinct, the animal would die and could not stay alive. That is for the same reason that nature has given man the intellect. Thus this intellect is for managing livelihood, not for perceiving the realities and gaining the knowledge of the essence of objects. And since the intellect is essentially a means for controlling life and gaining the power of making tools, and since in doing so, it deals with matter and bodily objects, which possess dimensions, the most important thing that the intellect must know is quantity, i.e. how much or how many of something exists. Therefore, man's intellectual faculty is always dealing with the problem of quantity and its kinds and characteristics. In fact, it views qualities from the standpoint of quantities.

On the other hand, in order to control nature, the intellect must assume the objects as being fixed and permanent. Otherwise, it would be impossible for it to formulate any law or make any prediction about nature. If the world of nature is considered as pure becoming and a continuous trend lacking any kind of stability and subsistence, there will be no place for a single species or subsistent individual so that we could talk about it, discuss its states, judgments, effects and characteristics, and know it. In this case, that thing will turn into something else with different judgments.

This view can be compared with that of the Transcendent Philosophy concerning trans-substantial motion of the world of matter. According to this view and considering the principiality of existence, the world of matter is a continuous current and a restless, dynamic, and changing nature. We abstract 'quiddities' from some of the points of this world. 'Quiddity' is nothing but a mental abstraction obtained from sections of motion and hypothetical limits of motion. This view also suggests,

The substantial forms that are imprinted on matter one after the other are all, in fact, a changing single substantial form that flows in matter, which is the subject of form and assumes consistency and firmness by a substantial form. And this single and chaning substantial form is such that from each of its limits we abstract a specific concept other than what is abstracted from other limits. This quiddity is called 'specific quiddity' and is different from other quiddities in terms of its effects.[35]

Thus quiddity is constructed and imagined in the mind and is totally absent in the outside. However, one might ask, 'Why does the mind observe this restless existence in the form of subsistent quiddities and natures?'

Bergson responds that the mind would, otherwise, fail to discipline, regulate, and dominate it and employ it for tool-making.


2.5. Man's grave mistake


The greatest mistake in the history of human thought is rooted in considering the intellect, which is used for tool-making, as a tool for knowing the world and reality. "We define a process which is made for action as profound deliberation".[36] According to Bergson, we explain what we have in terms of what we wish to obtain, and this is quite permissible in the realm of action. Nevertheless, we follow the same style in speaking and thinking when we are deeply pondering over the nature of objects irrespective of their benefits for us.

An example of this mistake has led to the creation of the false concept of 'non-existence' in the human mind. Undoubtedly, 'non-existence' is one of the most basic concepts of human thought. However, in Bergson's view, it is a false and deceptive concept; it is a meaningless word. In fact, it is merely a word rather than a concept like a 'square circle', of which no real image is created in the mind. The concept of 'absolute non-existence' is of this type. He says, "In my view, existence is like gaining victory over non-existence. Sometimes, I say to myself that I am surprised by the fact that something exists".[37]

Through an extensive analysis of the concept of 'non-existence', Bergson shows that the void or non-existence we refer to is, in fact, nothing but the absence of a specific object which was first in some place and now in another one. And since it is not in its place, it seems as if it were replaced by its non-existence.

An existent lacking memory or the ability to predict, will never utter words such as 'void' or 'non-existence'. It will only talk about what exits and what it perceives. However, what exists for it and what it perceives consist of the presence of something because the absence of something never exist. Basically, absence merely exists for an existent that is capable of remembering and expecting something. He remembers something and might expect to see it again, but he finds something else. When he says, "That object is not there", he is, in fact, expressing his disappointment and expectations. What man really perceives and can affirmatively think about is the presence of the previous object in a new place or the presence of a new object in the previous place. The other things that he negatively talks about by employing words such as 'non-existence' or 'void', pertain mainly to man's emotions rather than thought. More precisely, this act is the emotional coloration of thought.[38]

Bergson further says, "An intelligence which is nothing but intelligence, does not have any regret or hope for anything, regulates its motions on the basis of the motions of something upon which it focuses, and does not suggest any void or absence even to the mind".[39] There is not enough space here for dealing with all the points that Bergson has extensively discussed in this regard. However, a short reference is made to his thoughts concerning how the extension of concepts employed and generated at the level of practice to the realm of profound deliberation over the reality of the world leads man to the path of mistakes.

In his view, there is no void or non-existence, even a relative, particular, or negative one for a thought that simply follows the line of experiment. Such a thought sees the succession of some states in comparison to some others and views some objects in comparison to others. We must equip the soul with memory and, particularly, with an interest in remembering the past and grant it the faculty of recognition and distinction. Then it does not merely pay attention to the present and the already transient reality. It sees this transition as a change and, as a result, conceives of it as a difference between what was and what is. And since there is no essential difference between the past that it remembers and the one that it imagines, the soul generally tries to get as close to the possible image as possible.

In this way, Bergson moves towards negation: In his view, 'non-existence' is not a pure concept; it requires people to have the sense of nostalgia or regret the past when they have a reason for subsisting.[40]

Now, it appears that all the problems posed concerning the concept of 'pure non-existence' are false ones. Why does existence exists instead of non-existence? Why is a flowing and dynamic existent incapable of being self-subsistent? In Bergson's view, a reality that is enough by itself is necessarily none other than duration. The truth is that if one ignores the concept of 'non-existence' for reaching the concept of 'existence', what he obtains is a logical or mathematical essence and, thus, an existence beyond time. As a result, a kind of static perception is imposed on him: it appears that everything exists in eternity at a specific stage. However, we must get used to thinking about existence directly and, without resorting to the image of non-existence, first try to see for the sake of seeing rather than for doing. Then the absolute will appear before us and, to some extent, even in us.


2.6. Intuition


As mentioned before, the intellect is a tool for action and not a means for knowing the reality. Now, we might ask, 'How could we know the reality as it really is?' Bergson's response is 'through intuition and seeing the inward'. In fact, true philosophy is one which is based on intuition. It is through intuition that man understands the reality of duration, which is the very pure reality. One must deliberate deeply over the soul and its states to perceive the reality as it is. When we ponder over our inner sense, "The absolute appears in a place very close to us and, to some extent, in us. The absolute is essentially beyond nature; it is neither logical nor mathematical. It lives with us and, like us, is self-subsistent, but, in some respects, infinitely stronger than us in this regard".[41]

It is here that Russell's grave and obvious mistake appears to us. In his classification of philosophical schools, he places Bergson's philosophy next to pragmatism and classifies it under pragmatic philosophies. He describes this philosophy as follows:

Pragmatic philosophy views act as the supreme good and happiness as the effect of success in acting. It also considers knowledge as a tool for successful acts … In the rise of this philosophy, like Bergson himself, we can witness the modern pragmatic man's rebellion against Greek and, particularly, Platonic authority.[42]

As mentioned before, Bergson emphasizes that seeing and knowing must be for the sake of seeing rather than acting, and that one must avoid the knowledge that is a tool for action in order to have a correct perception of reality. Now the question is whether we can put a philosophy that is based on this idea at the same level with pragmatism, which considers the truth the same as being useful at the level of action and call both 'pragmatic philosophy'. Perhaps, a point that has led to Russell's mistake is Bergson's emphasis upon perceiving the intellect as an instrument in confrontations with the outside world, and that the intellect, basically, perceives the realities in a way to benefit from them pragmatically. However, we must not forget that it is exactly for this very reason that Bergson considers trusting the intellect in knowing the reality as misleading and introduces the knowledge based on intuition in contrast to intellectual knowledge.

In Bergson's view, those who wish to perceive the realities through logical intellection and without resorting to intuition are repeating the same mistake made by early scientists. They wished to apprehend material realities and their qualities through rational proofs without appealing to experimentation and observation. As physical sciences reached the level of realization thorough experimentation and observation, philosophy will reach the same level through intuition, which is the same as experimentation and observation. So far, philosophers have mainly done what the people of science and technology have; i.e. instead of delving into inner being the reality, they have just turned around it.


2.7. The soul and plurality of the states of the conscience


According to Bergson, the true way of knowing the reality is intuition. Now, we must see what kind of knowledge of the soul and its states is obtained by intuition. Although Bergson has dealt with this issue in his first book, he presents a clearer picture of it in his Creative Evolution. Thus a study of this book might be useful to interested readers.

In sum, all affections, mental acts, or desires undergo change at every moment. The state of one's soul continually increases in volume due to the duration it takes in the course of time. It could be compared to a small snowball rolling in snow. Nevertheless, we can simply accept that this continuous change comes to our attention only when it grows big enough to give a new position to our body and present a new direction to our attention. It is exactly at this moment that we understand our state has changed. However, the truth is that we have continually been in a state of change, and that the very of state is identical with change itself.[43]

A superficial attention to the issue apparently reveals that we have a fixed, formless, and indifferent "I" upon which psychological states march. These states are like independent and separate particles. This is an attractive perspective. In fact, if this colorless "I" is continually colorful due to what covers it, it is as if it never existed for us in its indetermined form. Nevertheless, we only perceive what is colorful, i.e. psychological states. In fact, this 'text' is not a reality for our conscience; it is a simple sign to continually remind us of the artificial feature of this act. If our existence was composed of independent states that a painless 'I' must integrate, there would be no duration for us. This is because a soul lacking change lacks duration too. Such an interpretation of the soul is in conformity with the same spatial image of time, as well as with the idea that time is a series of points and motion is a succession of rests. "Nevertheless, our duration does not mean a moment that replaces another moment. Otherwise, there would never be any [time] other than the present; the extension of the past would not be in the present; there would be no change; and duration would not be objective. Duration is the continuous advancement of the past that eats the future and gets bigger and bigger as it goes on".[44]

The soul and the state of the conscience comprise a collective reality; it is neither multiple nor numerous. It is pure unity; the one which is increased at each 'moment'. "In this way, our character grows and develops continually".[45] We are a historical accumulation of our past.[46]

The same difference of ideas could also be seen in the realm of Islamic philosophy between the views of the Transcendent Philosophy and that of Ibn Sina concerning the soul and its unity with its knowledge and perception. According to Ibn Sina, the relation of the soul to knowledge and perceptions is tantamount to the relation of substance to accident. The soul is like a tablet upon which lines and images are imprinted without its reality to be changed. In this view, the soul is always fixed and homogenous; contraction and extension have no way in it, and what is there consists of evolution and change at the level of accidents which are out of the soul, although they are for the soul and depending on it. This view was criticized by Mulla Sadra. He maintained that the soul becomes one with its perceptive forms, and the object becomes the very perceived at the time of perception. It is the matter of the soul's becoming. He attacks Ibn Sina according to which there is necessarily no difference between one's soul in his childhood and his soul at a time he turns into a knowledgeable philosopher. It also implies that the souls of simple-minded and foolish people are not different from those of the prophets and the favorites of God, and that if there is any difference, it only exists at the level of accidents. According to Mulla Sadra, man is a genus under which several types are subcategorized. These types assume different individuations due to the acquisition of different types of knowledge, habits, and behaviors. Bergson's anthropological approach is also very close to that of existentialists in some respects; however, due to space limitations we will not discuss it here.


2.8. Free will


Following his discussion of the soul and its reality, Bergson proceeded to discuss about the problem of the "free will." What was discussed above was, in fact, an introduction to this discussion. The truth is that the problem of predestination in human acts is based on the principle of cause and effect and its extension to the soul and its states. It is assumed that psychological states follow the principle of causality and, necessarily, bear the same effects and acts in equal conditions. Obviously, in this case, the free will as an effect is caused by particular causes, and whenever those causes are repeated, the same will appears. Nevertheless, the point is that any thing that possesses duration does not follow the cause-effect principle. The necessity of this relation is felt where duration does not exist.

Bergson states, "The more we emphasize the necessary of the causal relation; the more we are emphasizing that, like us, objects are not introvert".[47] The pre-destined formation of future in the present in a mathematical form is easily perceivable due to a specific perception of duration which is in conformity with laymen's taste. In this kind of perception, the duration of the soul is the same as astronomical time, which is a pure receptacle and has no controlling power. In this time, the present is the necessary and automatic result of the past. However, if we have a correct understanding of the fact, we will find creativity as a feature of true duration.

In Bergson's view, "The moments of our life are created by us … and we continually create ourselves".[48] This creativity negates the final cause view exactly in the same way that it refutes the mechanical view of the justification of development. The soul is neither the result of the forces that are imposed on it nor subdued by an end that pulls it towards itself.

Of course, for Bergson, man is not free at all times and in all places; he is free only when his acts originate in all his character. When the act represents the totality of the individual's character, it has a relation with his character like the one between an artist and his art.[49] However, if the act arises from a superficial state in man, the motivation, desire, or affection that appears in his appearance and does not penetrate into his soul and true duration will be lacking in the free will.

In fact, we can say that each of us have two different 'Is': one is its external picture and the other is its spatial or, perhaps, social representation. We reach the former through profound thinking; a thinking process that brings our internal states to a certain perception. Here, such internal states are similar to organisms that are always in formation and to immeasurable states that influence each other. The succession of these states in duration has no commonality with proximity in a homogeneous space. Yet, the moments at which we know ourselves in this way are rare, and that is why we are hardly ever free. In most cases, we live out of ourselves and do not perceive anything from ourselves apart from a colorless image and shadow that pure duration has cast in a homogenous space. Thus our life mainly extends in space rather than in time. We are mainly alive for the outside world rather than for ourselves. We are most often forced to do something rather than be a doer. Acting according to free will means a recapturing of the self and re-establishment in pure duration.[50]




Following conclusions can be drawn from the above discussion:

A. Unlike Plato and his followers, who believed that the reality hidden beyond the world of appearances is timeless and stable, both Mulla Sadra and Bergson maintained that the ultimate and metaphysical reality must be found in something that is continually in a state of change. In Mulla Sadra's view, the reality hidden beyond all appearances and phenomena of the material world is a flowing existence that is continually in coming and going; an existence that is in motion and renewal at all times.

B. Unlike the common philosophical tradition, which sees the key to having access to the ultimate reality hidden behind sense perception in intellection and contemplation, Mulla Sadra and Bergson believe that this is possible through intuition (intuition of the reality of existence in Mulla Sadra and intuition of the states of the conscience in Bergson. The result of the latter is the knowledge of the soul, which Mulla Sadra has emphasized in several places).

C. According to both philosophers, there is an inextricable relation between the realities of time and motion. They are, in fact, the same thing from which two concepts are abstracted in mental analyses.







[1]. Copleston, F., A History of Philosophy, vol. 1, p. 39.

[2]. Ibid., p. 48.

[3]. Popkin, R. H., and A. Stroll, A., 1374 AS, Introductory Readings in Philosophy, trans. Jalal al-Din Mujtabawi, Tehran, Hikmat Publications, p. 144-151.

[4]. Aristotle defines motion only in three categories of quantity, quality, and place.

[5]. Ibn Sina, al-Shifa, pp. 123-124.

[6]. Mutahhari, M., 1369 AS, Philosophical Essays, 1st ed., Tehran, vol. 3, pp. 99-103.

[7]. A summary of these arguments, which has appeared in al-Asfar dispersedly, includes the following issues: 1) The existence of change in material substances is certain for Peripatetic philosophers; however, they view it in the form of generation and corruption, while this requires the matter to be void of form at some time. Nevertheless, the realization of the matter depends on form, and it can never be void of it (al-Asfar, vol. 3, p. 177-178); 2) The approximate and representative cause of the motions of an object's accidents is its substance. Since the approximate agent of motion, itself, must be in motion, it is concluded that the substance of the object is also in motion (Ibid., pp. 61-62); 3) In a more profound analysis of the issue, the existence of accidents is considered, in fact, one of the modes and aspects of the existence of the substance. That is, both of them exist through one existence. Therefore, the occurrence of motion in accidents indicates that the occurrence of change and evolution in that single existence embodies both the substance and accident (Ibid., p. 111); 4) Time can be abstracted from all corporeal existents, and the abstraction of this concept is possible only from an existent whose existence is gradual and in flux (Ibid., vol. 7, p. 290).

[8]. Mulla sadra, 1383 AS, al-Asfar, Beirut, Dar al-Ahya al-Tarath al-Arabi, vol. 3, p. 21.

[9]. Ibid., p. 180.

[10]. Ibid., p.39.

[11]. Ibid., pp. 273-274.

[12]. Ibid., pp. 281-283.

[13]. Ibid., pp. 68-69.

[14]. Ibid., pp. 289-298.

[15]. Bergson, H., 1368 AS, Time and Free Will, trans. Ali Quli Bayani, 1st ed., Tehran, Intishar co., p. 13.

[16]. Ibid., p. 15.

[17]. Ibid., p. 16.

[18]. Ibid., p. 19.

[19]. Ibid., p. 22.

[20]. Ibid., p. 76.

[21]. Ibid., p. 77.

[22]. Russell, B., 1365 AS, A History of Western Philosophy, trans. Najaf Darya Bandari, 2nd ed., Tehran, Parvaz Publications, vol. 2, p. 1093.

[23]. Ibid., 1094.

[24]. Ibid.

[25]. Ibid.

[26]. Bergson, op. cit., p. 77.

[27]. Ibid., p. 78.

[28]. Ibid., p. 84.

[29]. Ibid., p. 194.

[30]. Ibid.

[31]. Ibid., p. 177.

[32]. Bergson, H., 1371 AS, Creative Evolution, trans. Ali Quli Bayani, 1st ed., Tehran, Islamic Culture Publications Center, p. 37.

[33]. Bergson, H., 1368 AS, Time and Free Will, p. 211.

[34]. Bergson, H., 1371 AS, Creative Evolution, p. 349.

[35]. Russell, B., op. cit., p. 1097.

[36]. Tabatabai, S. M. H, 1379 AS, Nahayat al-hikmah, translation and glosses by Ali Shirawani, 5th ed., Islamic Propaganda Office, vol. 2, p. 263.  

[37]. Bergson, op. cit., pp. 350-351.

[38]. Ibid., p. 360.

[39]. Ibid., p. 361.

[40]. Ibid., p. 374.

[41]. Ibid., p. 378.

[42]. Ibid.

[43]. Russell, B., op. cit., vol. 2, p. 1081.

[44]. Bergson, op. cit., p. 26.

[45]. Ibid., p. 29.

[46]. Ibid., p. 31.

[47]. Ibid.

[48]. Bergson, H., 1368 AS, Time and Free Will, p. 193.

[49]. Bergson, H., 1371 AS, Creative Evolution, p. 32.

[50]. Bergson, H., 1368 AS, Time and Free Will, p. 160.



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