The Two Sources of Morality and Religion

The Two Sources of Morality and Religion by Henri Bergson

The Two Sources of Morality and Religion

In the spirit of Darwinian evolution, Henri Bergson, with this volume, makes the philosophical argument that morality and religion are the “natural” and necessary products of man’s evolution. With a look which extends back some 2,400 years to the ancient Greek philosophers, Bergson traces the evolution of man’s instinct, intelligence and intuition and shows how necessary their interactions were in the development of human societies, morality and religion and he looks ahead to the shapes they must take if man is to survive himself.

Book Details

Author: Henri Bergson

Print Length: 268 pages

Publisher: Auro e-Books

Original source: The Internet Archive

Contributors: Blindshiva

Book format: PDF, ePub, Kindle

Language: English

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  • Translators’ Preface
  • Chapter I. Moral Obligation
  • Chapter II. Static Religion
  • Chapter III. Dynamic Religion
  • Chapter IV. Final Remarks Mechanics and Mysticism


The Two Sources of Morality and Religion

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 not have created, that of the open soul. Its attitude, the result of getting up, would have lifted it to the plane of intellectuality. Compared with the position it had just left— described negatively—such a soul would be manifesting indifference or insensibility, it would be in the “ataraxy” or the “apathy” of the Epicureans and the Stoics. Considered in what it positively is, if its detachment from the old sought to be an attachment to something new, its life would be contemplation; it would conform to the Platonic and the Aristotelian ideal. From whatever angle we look at it, its attitude would be upright, noble, truly worthy of admiration and reserved for the chosen few. Philosophies which start from very different principles may find in it a common goal. The reason is that there is only one road leading from action confined in a circle to action developing in the freedom of space, from repetition to creation, from the infra-intellectual to the supra-intellectual. Any one halting between the two is inevitably in the zone of pure contemplation, and in any case, no longer holding to the one but without having yet reached the other, naturally practises that half-virtue, detachment.We are speaking of pure intelligence, withdrawing into itself and judging that the object of life is what the ancients called “science” or contemplation. We are speaking, in a word, of what mainly characterizes the morality of the Greek Philosophers. But it would no longer be a matter of Greek or Oriental philosophy, we should be dealing with the morality of everybody if we considered intelligence as a mere elaboration or co-ordinating agent of the material, some of it infra-intellectual and some of it supra-intellectual, with which we have been dealing in this chapter. In order to define the very essence of duty, we have in fact distinguished the two forces that act upon us, impulsion on the one hand, and attraction on the other. This had to be done, and it is because philosophy had left it undone, confining itself to the intellectuality which to-day covers both, that it has scarcely succeeded, so it would seem, in explaining how a moral motive can have a hold upon the souls of men. But our description was thereby condemned, as we hinted, to remain a mere outline. That which is aspiration tends to materialize by assuming the form of strict obligation. That which is strict obligation tends to expand and to broaden out by absorbing aspiration. Pressure and aspiration agree to meet for this purpose in that region of the mind where concepts are formed. The result is mental pictures, many of them of a compound nature, being a blend of that which is a cause of pressure and that which is an object of aspiration. But the result is also that we lose sight of pure pressure and pure aspiration actually at work on our wills; we see only the concept into which the two distinct objects have amalgamated, to which pressure and aspiration were respectively attached. The force acting upon us is taken to be this concept: a fallacy which accounts for the failure of strictly intellectualist systems of morality, in other words, the majority of the philosophical theories of duty. Not, of course, that an idea pure and simple is without influence on our will. But this influence would only operate effectively if it could remain in isolation. It has difficulty in resisting hostile influences, or, if it does triumph over them, it is because of the reappearance, in their individuality and their independence, exerting their full strength, of the pressure and the aspiration which had each renounced its own right of action by being represented together in one idea.