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Bergson on Possibility and Novelty

Sinclair, M (2014) Bergson on Possibility and Novelty. Archiv fuer Geschichte der Philosophie, 96. ISSN 0003-9101

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Abstract

In “Le possible et le réel” Henri Bergson offers an influential critique of the modal category of possibility: traditional ideas that possibility precedes actuality invert the real relation of priority, and express an inability to apprehend the continual creation of unforeseeable novelty in experience. This article shows how Bergson’s ideas concerning possibility and novelty are involved in his inheritance of a modern concept of genius as a principle of fine art production. Only in grasping the nature of Bergson’s philosophy as a ‘metaphysics of genius’, I contend, is it possible to understand adequately not only his critique of prior possibility and conceptions of novelty but also the positive conception of modality that he advances in the essay according to an idea of the retroactivity of the possible. In conclusion, I argue that this reflection on retroactivity represents a new development in Bergson’s thought that he is unable to develop fully precisely because he is tied to an idea of genius interpreted as a function of the will.

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