Saturday, May 18, 2019

Bergson on Two Sources of Morality and Religion

In his 1932-book Two Sources of Morality and Religion, Henri Bergson notes that the most societies are closed like a hive or an ant-hill. In closed societies, men are motivated by instinct and are indifferent to each other, and they are prepared to take defensive or offensive actions. In an open society, on the other hand, men are motivated by intelligence and are capable of embracing all humanity. From this definition, Bergson draws the analogy between a “closed morality,” which is a social morality that does not extend to all human beings but only to the group, and “open morality,” which embraces all humanity. On religion, Bergson says that there has never been a society without religion, and he differentiates between a "static" and "dynamic" religion. He draws a distinction between a “closed soul” and an “open soul” and gives the example of Socrates as an open soul who is concerned about entire humanity. He writes, “There was irony running through Socratic teaching, and outbursts of lyricism were probably rare; but in the measure in which these outbursts cleared the road for a new spirit, they have been decisive for the future of humanity.”

Here’s his description of the relationship between the closed soul and the open soul:

“Between the closed soul and the open soul there is the soul in process of opening. Between the immobility of a man seated and the motion of the same man running there is the act of getting up, the attitude he assumes when he rises. In a word, between the static and the dynamic there is to be observed, in morality too, a transition stage. This intermediate state would pass unnoticed if, when at rest, we could develop the necessary impetus to spring straight into action. But it attracts our attention when we stop short - the usual sign of insufficient impetus. Let us put the same thing in a different way. We have seen that the purely static morality might be called infra-intellectual, and the purely dynamic, supra-intellectual. Nature intended the one, and the other is a contribution of man's genius. The former is characteristic of a whole group of habits which are, in man, the counterpart of certain instincts in animals; it is something less than intelligence. The latter is inspiration, intuition, emotion, susceptible of analysis into ideas which furnish intellectual notations of it and branch out into infinite detail; thus, like a unity which encompasses and transcends a plurality incapable of ever equalling it, it contains any amount of intellectuality; it is more than intelligence. Between the two lies intelligence itself. It is at this point that the human soul would have settled down, had it sprung forward from the one without reaching the other. It would have dominated the morality of the closed soul; it would not have attained to, or rather it would have not have created, that of the open soul. Its attitude, the result of getting up, would have lifted it to the plane of intellectuality.”

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