From Perception to Subject: The Bergsonian Reversal


  • Messay Kebede University of Dayton



Bergson, realism, idealism, perception


In lieu of an abstract, here is the opening paragraph to the essay:

What singles out philosophical analyses of perception is the challenge to common sense, that is, to the spontaneous, instinctive belief that an external world exists and that it is similar to the perception we have of it. Even those theories that refrain from questioning the independent existence of the world concede that the resemblance of whatever is out there to the perceived reality is anything but assured. Henri Bergson proposes a theory of perception that not only restores the common belief in the existence of an external world, but also goes a long way in narrowing the alleged disparity between perception and the objective world. With few exceptions, Bergson’s theory of perception has been either ignored or misunderstood. Through a close reading of the first chapter of Matter and Memory, the paper argues, in addition to correcting misreadings, that the strength and originality of Bergson’s theory lie in the reversal of the method of explaining perception from the premise of a given subject, a premise shared by all idealist and realist theories as well as phenomenology. This de-subjectification proposes an approach deriving perception from the interactions of objects while countering the materialist theory of the brain as an organ of representation. The paper contends that the Bergsonian elucidation of the brain as an organ of simulation both anticipates the findings of the sensorimotor theory and overcomes its limitation by showing how simulation inserts indetermination into materiality, thereby actualizing consciousness.