The Belief in Intuition: A Politico-Philosophical Reading of Henri Bergson and Max Scheler
Alfaro Altamirano, Adriana
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CitationAlfaro Altamirano, Adriana. 2017. The Belief in Intuition: A Politico-Philosophical Reading of Henri Bergson and Max Scheler. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
AbstractThis dissertation examines the ethico-political implications of Henri Bergson and Max Scheler’s belief in intuition. Unlike many later philosophers, and against various predecessors and contemporaries—from idealists (ancient and early-modern), to neo-Kantians, Freudians, Marxists, pragmatists, and positivists—they believed that there is a human faculty, beyond reason and sensibility, that gives us access to a privileged kind of knowledge, namely “intuition.” The latter provides knowledge about something that is both deeper and more complex than matter, but still empirical; something given in experience, but not only through the senses. Their appeal to intuition in that sense—our capacity to turn to “the things themselves” as they are given in experience—accounts for their belonging to what in philosophy is normally known as phenomenology.
Through a close reading of their texts, this dissertation shows, in the first place, that the belief in intuition led, in each case, to a conception of individuality—or, more specifically, of personal uniqueness—as the acknowledgement of inner diversity, which nonetheless does not negate the reality of the person as an agent; hence, their so-called “personalism.” In Bergson, this means the articulation of a notion of the “inner life” as something that exists in time, always in flux, changing, and heterogeneous. It is further shown how this conception of individuality relates, in turn, to Bergson’s phenomenology of agency, which—against Kant’s rationalist conception of practical reason—constitutes what I have called a “phenomenology of hesitation.” According to it, the oscillations of action in time and space are duly accepted as a constitutive trait of moral character. Moreover, it is argued that his conception of agency—founded on a non-sovereign will, and aided by habit and improvisation—is better endowed to deal with chance, contingency, and with our lack of control over the future.
In Scheler, for his part, our faculty of intuition is exercised through a hierarchy of emotions, which gives us access to a corresponding hierarchy of values. The dissertation shows how, for him, individuality is realized through our ability to discriminate between different nuances of emotions and values, without reducing any one of them to each other. Further, it explains that such a conception of individuality leads to distinctive notions of both autonomy and sympathy. The former presents a challenge to Kant’s principle of publicity, since it maintains that being responsible does not mean begin able to publicly justify the maxim of our actions, but depends rather on our capacity to listen and respond to the singularity of the voice of conscience. The latter presents a challenge to the Enlightenment sentimentalists, since it maintains that “true sympathy” consists in the capacity to understand the feelings of others, without however feeling as they do. Thus, Schelerian sympathy offers, or so the dissertation argues, distinctive protections for individuality against the socio-political threats proper to mass society.
Finally, this work examines the model of authority that corresponds to their respective notions of exemplarity; that is, the kind of authority that lies in a person, whose example has some moral claim on other people. Bergsonian and Schelerian exemplarity is similar in important respects to Max Weber’s conception of charismatic authority. However, Weber’s relativism about values, and his Kantian-inspired skeptical approach in social science, yield a notion of personality that is “minimalistic,” or—as people would normally say today in political theory—“unencumbered.” In contrast, Bergson and Scheler’s ideas on personal authority hold the promise of accounting for an encumbered or complex self, without therefore renouncing the aspiration to individuality and freedom contained in Weber’s examination of charisma. More specifically, it is argued, their insights suggest a way in which authority can be consistent with freedom—or perhaps can even contribute to our freedom and to the development of our personality.
Citable link to this pagehttp://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:HUL.InstRepos:41140232
- FAS Theses and Dissertations 
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