Darkened Counsel: The Problem of Evil in Bergson’s Metaphysics of Integral Experience

Anthony Paul Smith

Abstract


Henri Bergson's work is often presented as an optimistic philosophy. This essay presents a counter-narrative to that reading by looking to the place of the problem of evil within his integral metaphysics. For, if Bergson’s philosophy is simply optimistic, or simply derives meaning from the wholeness of experience, then it risks a theodical structure which undercuts its ability to speak to contemporary social and political problems of suffering. A theodical structure is one that, at bottom, justifies the experience of suffering by way of a concept of the whole or some concept that functions to subsume everything within it. Suffering is subsumed and given meaning by placing it within a relation, often with a telos that redeems or sublimates the experience of suffering. This takes such a singular experience such as suffering and renders it merely relative to the part it plays within the system of everything. On my reading, Bergson’s philosophy contains a supplement of what we might call pessimism or negativity inherent in his metaphysics as integral experience. This supplement undermines the theodical structure that may be assumed to undercut Bergson’s philosophy when confronted with evil or suffering and is seen most clearly in his critique of the notion of “everything.”

Keywords


: problem of evil; Adorno; Bergson; philosophy and race; theodicy

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5195/jffp.2016.774

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