It is often said that William James and Henri Bergson share a lot of ideas on philosophy: the importance of direct experience, the anti-intellectualism, the notion of reality as changing, etc. There is, however, a fundamental difference between them, which is strongly connected with the core of James’s philosophical thought as well as that of Bergson’s. The purpose of this study is to compare the pluralistic ontology in James and the ontology of pure duration in Bergson, thus to elucidate the similarity and difference between the two, and finally to find out where the difference comes from.
It is true that both the ontology of James’s “radical empiricism” and that of Bergson’s “pure duration” agree to admit the plurality of our experience, consciousness, and universe. Especially, “the discontinuity-theory” of the former and the concept of “unities of duration” of the latter form the base of the plurality in a surprisingly similar way. Nevertheless, they differ in how to consider the unity of multiple beings. On the one hand, Bergson observes that each element of duration is determined by the whole, and reflects it at the same time; the unity of duration is holistic and organic. On the other hand, James thinks that this unity is not real and insists the absolute multiplicity of elements. This opposition is derived from the difference in the notion of “relation”.