Dr Christian McMillan – Beyond Mechanism and Finalism: Alternative conceptions of temporality in Bergson, Jung and Deleuze

In this paper I discuss Henri Bergson’s (1859-1941) contribution to convergent evolution in his account of vitalism (Creative Evolution; 1908). Bergson developed an alternative conception of external finalism beyond conceptions of internal (teleological) finalism (Immanuel Kant; 1724-1804) and external (teleological) finalism (notably advanced by Gottfried Leibniz; 1646-1716) which contributed to debates in the emerging milieu of holistic biological thought in the early twentieth century as a reaction to the prevalence of reductive mechanism and linear spatio-temporal causality. Bergson’s conception of the élan vital and his temporal notion of duration (durée) not only influenced philosophical thought but also the science of Ilya Prigogine (1917-2003) whose far from equilibrium thermodynamics emphasised the fundamentally irreversible nature of time and creativity within the emergence of organic and non-organic structures.

Bergson’s account of evolution and temporality had a profound effect on the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze (1925-1995) as well as the conception of libido (psychic energy) advanced by C.G. Jung (1875-1961), taking this notion in a very different direction from Sigmund Freud. Considering Bergson’s contribution to an alternative conception of causality which privileges the interconnectedness of all “Life”, Deleuze’s account of the “virtual” and Jung’s notion of “a-causality” in his work on synchronicity might serve to show how the immanent and creative unfolding of “Life” is not and should not be restricted to transcendent structures which undermine the unforeseeable in advance. As such a critique of Teilhard de Chardin’s (1881-1955) notion of the Omega Point will be offered as well as a re-coneptualisation of Jung’s notion of the Unus Mundus (one-world) from a Bergson-Deleuze perspective. From a philosophical perspective this critique deconstructs notions of unity which privilege a form of identity whose form is then given metaphysical depth as ‘final cause’ or ‘first principle’. As Bergson said: ‘Finalism thus understood is only an inverted mechanism […] It substitutes the attraction of the future for the compulsion of the past’ (Creative Evolution, 1998, 39).