Henri Bergson: instinct, intuition, intellect

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Henri Bergson distinguished between intellect as the method appropriate for scientific investigation and intuition as the method appropriate for philosophy. It is by means of intuition, for Bergson, that humanity is able to accurately perceive life as existing in a constant state of change and evolution, and this means of using intuition provides us with the possibility of absolute knowledge, which he sees as embedded in the evolution of life itself.

There is not universal agreement, however, on what Bergson meant by intuition. Some have seen it as a non-intellectual or even anti-intellectual and mystical way of knowing, whereas others see it as a form of intellectual knowledge. Anthropologically, Bergson sees intuition as paired with the fundamental self, which he saw as capable of authentic spontaneity, whereas he saw the “superficial” self as belonging to the intellect, and associated with bondage to social structures and norms. Intuition, for Bergson, conceives of reality in terms of immediate consciousness and flux rather than intellectual concepts and symbolic or discursive thought and dialogue.

The intellect proceeds by perspectival analysis and is therefore relative and analytic (constrained by analysis) whereas he sees intuition as independent and non-perspectival, and therefore, absolute. This absolute mode of perceiving, he thought, allows us to immediately witness and examine the movement an object through sympathy (penetrating into its inside rather than examining it perspectivally from the outside). The reason Bergson believes that intuition provides absolute knowledge is because of his doctrine, similar to that of Hegel and others, that phenomena can only be understood in terms of their relations to other phenomena rather than isolated and carved at its joints. The use of conceptual thought, for Bergson, divides phenomena into parts, which distorts its essential nature.

Intuition goes beyond mere instinct, however, in that intuition is self-reflective whereas instinct is not. Intuition is neither a feeling nor randomness, for Bergson, but a kind of sculpted and refined expression of instinct. These modes of perception and apprehension, for Bergson, although quite distinct and even opposed in their methods of grasping the world, are nevertheless complementary and mutually supportive. Instinct is itself only ever transformed and sculpted into intuition through intellect. The absence of intellect would not have allowed instinct to be funneled into its proper object of knowing absolute reality, but would instead have expressed itself as mere irresistible impulse, with its object determined by biological necessity.

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Experienced psychology writer and practitioner of psi abilities. Looking forward to contributing to a worldwide awakening to the reality of psi phenomena.

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