What is Relative Information? What is Absolute Knowledge?June 27, 2021
Henri Bergson’s 1910 book “Creative Evolution” explores his vitalism, or theory of life.
Bergson wants to explore whether it is possible to really know something—not just to know something about it, but to know the way it really is. Since the philosopher Immanuel Kant published “The Critique of Pure Reason” in 1781, many philosophers have argued that it is impossible to know things as they are. This is because Kant showed how things can be relative to us, to the type of mind we have, but that we cannot step outside ourselves to reach an absolute view of the actual “things-in-itself” of the world.
However, Bergson disagrees with Kant. He says there are two kinds of knowledge: relative knowledge, which involves knowing something from our particular, unique perspective, and absolute knowledge, which is knowing things as they really are. Bergson believes that these can be reached by different methods, the first through analysis or reason, and the second through intuition. Bergson sees Kant’s mistake as not fully realizing the importance of our intuitive ability, which allows us to grasp the originality of an object in direct connection.
Our intuitions are connected with the power that Bergson calls elan vital, the life force (vitalism), which interprets the flow of life in time rather than space. Bergson gives an example of this: Suppose you want to know a city. First you take pictures of every part of the city, from every possible angle, and then you put these pictures together to give you an idea of the city as a whole. But in one move, you can also gain information about the city itself—direct knowledge of the real city—by walking the streets and paying attention to the right path. For Bergson, this direct knowledge is knowledge of the essence of the city. But how do we experience intuition? It is essentially a matter of seeing the world in terms of time unfolding. As we walk through the city, we have a sense of our own inner time, and we also have an inner sense of the various unfolding times of the city in which we walk. Bergson believes that only when these times overlap each other can we have a direct relationship with life itself.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook