The next volume of Pantheon will center on the artifact known as Pandora’s Box (or Jar), but in order to render the mythology properly, we need to assess its significance first. ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
Archive for ‘Schopenhauer’
If philosophy cannot guide our conduct, much less change behavior, then why should we bother read philosophy at all? Curiosity, perhaps? If philosophy can help guide conduct, then let’s look at conduct. At the bare minimum, our actions are the result of character, which is what we fundamentally will as motivation. Then it follows that a change in motives will result in a change in action. Then it is reasonable that philosophy can at least produce a change in the information we have about the world that is relevant to how we act.
Hypocrisy is the respect vice pays virtue. – La Rochefoucauld
Hypocrisy is essentially an action where one pretends to hold clear and recognized set of values or attitudes but actually doesn’t. Despite choosing vice, the hypocrite understands that virtue is superior and assumes its facade. Therefore, the hypocrite is not being dishonest about good or evil, but rather himself. ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
After 7 years, I was burned out by philosophy, yet I continued to haunt the philosophy section in search for anything radical and profound. Amidst the expected titles commonly found at any bookstore, sat A Short History of Decay. I pulled it off the shelf in the faint hopes of killing time until the cigar shop opened in 20 minutes. After a couple of hours disappeared savoring the salacious prose, I begrudgingly closed the book and hurried to the checkout counter, cackling in glee in the wonderful fortune of uncovering a new thinker that spoke blasphemous music to my eyes.
How can pleasure “lack” positive existence? It is indeed the case that our simple common sense seem to attribute positive experience to pleasure and negative experience to pain, that they are the opposite ends of a sliding scale of experience.
However, in order for Schopenhauer to argue that we are doomed by nature to suffering is that pleasure is not positive, but only the relief from something painful.
The reason for this is that pain, suffering that includes all want, privation, need, in fact every wish or desire, is that which is positive and directly felt and experienced. On the other hand, the nature of satisfaction, enjoyment, and happiness consists solely in the removal of a privation, the stilling o a pain; and so these have a negative effect. Therefore, need and desire are the condition of every pleasure or enjoyment. Plato recognized this… Voltaire also says: “There are no true pleasures without true needs.” Thus pain is something positive that automatically makes itself known; satisfaction and pleasures are something negative, the mere elimination of the former. On the Basis of Morality, p. 146
If you reflect in certain terms what all gratifications are, all of them, from a sip of coffee to the deep contemplation of the Last Judgment in the Sistine chapel, you will admit they are either the reduction of the will or its suspension. Now, willing is unquenchable – we may achieve some brief satisfactions, or a momentary relief, but given the nature of existence, they are always temporary and then we go back on the rack. Our normal state of affairs is dissatisfaction. I’m more interested in when we do achieve a sustained satisfaction of our wants, and because of our nature as a restless striving, our chief mode of existence is dissolved and we run up against the inner emptiness that is brought about by the absence of the only mode in which we can exist: boredom. This is all the more true for people who live in an affluent society like the USA.
Regarding my previous entry, most people fail to address the force of the argument, which depends on the assessment of pain and pleasure. The insinuation, little more than a cheap handwave, that people who get bored are not creative is easily contradicted by the facts of life. The most creative people i know are also the ones most prone to boredom, (the sharper the intellect, the worse the boredom) more than likely because their intelligence is not so easily satisfied. Creativity provides no immunity to boredom whatever.
Historically speaking, boredom is a 19th century invention that updated the Latin “tedium” and the French “ennui.” Madame Bovary and Awakening both contain protagonists whose boredom killed their will to live.
If a person achieves sustained satisfactions of his/her desires, and because the essence of his/her nature is a restless driving, he/she will find her/himself confronted with an inner emptiness that is brought about by the absence of the only mode in which she/he can exist. This malady is known by many names: anomie, accidie, noia, ennui, existential boredom, is a 20th century characteristic. Schopenhauer says the formula for people to avoid the Scylla of the will and the Charybdis of boredom is “bread and circuses,” i.e., in our modern vernacular, McDonalds and television.
Optimists in general have neither lived long enough nor looked deeply into the sufferings everywhere. The so-called bright future or the great individuals are merely momentary respite from an overall pattern of one objectification of the insatiably hungry will devouring another. If the essence of the universe is to cannibalize itself by proxy through its objectifications in the world as representation, then there must be a continual give and take. Some are eating, some are eaten, and all things eventually suffer the same fate. The cycle ends only when the world as representation ends (the death or inability to represent for any representing subject). The optimist, totally lacking in a metaphysical foundation in understanding the world as representation, has a narrow attitude that is solely concerned with the fate of those who are (for a time) privileged to be eating rather than eaten, and mistake those limited one-sided happenstances as typical of life. Optimists fail to appreciate that for every objectification of the will that temporarily thrives, there are billions of others that must pay the price. If your life during this particular period of life is going gang-busters, the pleasure that takes place requires the desolation of many other objectifications of the will being sacrificed in the process. (depletion of the natural resources, pollution of the environment, disadvantages for future generations). Show me a successful individual, and I’ll show you thousands of others being used or consumed. The suffering and the exploited always outnumber those who benefit. Moreover, the satisfaction of desires in turn produces its own intense dissatisfaction. Malise is followed by death, and for those who temporarily succeed in gratifying their will, poverty, humiliation and debility await. A sober and realistic view of life is truly pessimistic – perhaps extreme, but to think that we are not meant to suffer, that we somehow deserve happiness, or that the world owes us the fulfilment of our purposes, is a mistake. Schopenhauer’s essay on vanity helps us escape these optimistic delusions to a harder view, but also at the same time a more humane one – more realistic, at least. Life has no purpose, suffering is always part of it and its end may be welcomed.
Some may be tempted to argue that Schopenhauer is not a true pessimist because he does not truly believe that there is absolutely no value possible in life. He grants aesthetic contemplation, artistic genius, life of philanthropy, justice, asceticism, renunciation of the will are the supreme value for some of us. Whosoever escapes the will achieves salvation, a state which value is unassailable. Indeed, this does not quite chime with pessimism, if it must mean that nothing is of any value. However, this does not conflict with Schopenhauerian pessimism where nonexistence would be better and this world is the worst possible one. The value of will-lessness is genuine, but only as some amelioration of the worst possible situation. Hypothetically, there could be an even worse world – one utterly lacking in salvation of will-less resignation. Yet, this existence would appear to be so intolerable that nobody who understood it could endure it at all. Not really a possible existence.
Moreover, I think even Schopenhauer’s salvation is deeply pessimistic, if the only possible true value depends on self-renunciation. Resignation or aesthetic quality is the attitude of detachment from the individual that strives for life. If this individual remains what I am in the world of representation and the will to life, what i am in myself, no immaterial soul, no rational essence, no part of divine plan, then what i am is not only worthless but the very obstacle that must be broken down before true value is even glimpsed. Schopenhauer’s solution to the problem of existence is basically a self-loathing that contains the blackest pessimism possible…
Schopenhauer’s great intuition: human existence is a constant vacillating between pain and boredom. The existence of boredom is more than just evidence of a disagreeable state; it is proof that man is fundamentally unhappy.
“If life possessed in itself a positive value and true content, there would be no such thing as boredom: mere existence would fulfill and satisfy us. As things are we take no pleasure in existence except when we are striving after something..”(Essays and Aphorisms 53 – 54)
The default reaction to bare conscious continuity, being awake but not doing anything, is boredom. This awareness disappears once we institute and pursue a goal, thereby distracting ourselves from the empty or illusory nature of our lives. During those fleeting moments of satisfaction, we return to raw existence itself.
The final irony of pessimism: even if our desires are satisfied, although imperfectly, the outcome is naught but boredom.
Pure consciousness, framed by space and time, consists of nothing, nothing at all. That nothingness allows us to become most intimately aware of the der Nichtigkeit des Daseins, the Schopenhauerian nothingness of existence, i.e., better known as vanity.
While boredom is not as wounding as sheer pain, it is a form of suffering unique to conscious beings. It is the byproduct of an intuitive understanding of the metaphysical situation of man – the existence in time.
Vanity is not to be confused with the Christian view, where all things are empty as opposed to the heavenly. The phenomenal, temporal and conscious world is illusory because it conceals the real yet transcendental world of the will, and Schopenhauer says “the way in which this Nichtigkeit (vanity) of all objects of the will makes itself known and comprehensible to the intellect that is rooted in the individual, is primarily time. It is the form by whose means that vanity of things appears as their transitoriness, since by virtue of this all our pleasures n enjoyments come to nought in our hands” (WWR II 574)
Because the fundamental element of all individual wishes, for Schopenhauer, is the will, then this Nichtigkeit is “the only objective element of time, i.e., that which corresponds to it in the inner nature of things” (ibid)
Consequently, boredom is the correlate of this essential emptiness of conscious experience, something we become aware of once we quit the striving for individual goals and return to the bare model of existence. While boredom is not a byproduct of reason, it is a cognizance of the evanescent quality of all physical goods.
There is an explanation for why the achievements of our individual goals fail to satisfy: our normal/default condition is active suffering, and since pleasure lacks positive existence, the temporary relief of pain results in boredom, which is but merely a lesser form of suffering. In order to escape boredom we institute fresh new goals. Hence, the constant vacillation between pain and boredom where each extreme sends us in a rush toward the other.
Although our constant yearning, striving, struggling is on the face of it futile, it actually achieves a completely different result other than what we hoped for. Even if we do arrive at our goals, they fail to bring us satisfaction, if at all. But during the process, there is a subtle, yet true achievement: the understanding of the futility of our actions. We can perceive and understand the vanity of existence, once the ongoing effort to keep and maintain physical objects turn out to be utterly pointless. Consequently our illusions about the purpose of life is replaced with the shattering truth.
The predominance of boredom only confirms that it is understood. Look at the countenance of virtually every elderly person, Schopenhauer says. It is an expression of disappointment. If the “fundamental characteristic of old age is disillusionment; the illusions which hitherto gave life its charm n spurred us to activity have vanished. We have recognized the vanity and emptiness of all the splendors of the world… We have learnt that there is very little behind most of the things desired and most of the pleasures hoped for; and we have gradually gained an insight into the great poverty n hollowness of our existence. Only when we are seventy do we thoroughly understand the [second] verse of Ecclesiastes.” (Parerga and Paralipomena, p. 494)
Conclusion: for Schopenhauer, boredom is the outcome of the illusions of conscious life.
This essay seeks to compare and contrast Schopenhauer and Nietzsche by putting their philosophies of pessimism and optimism in high relief. I suspect I may have caricatured Nietzsche in order to write a balanced essay, so feel free to disregard this as an adequate representation of Nietzsche’s mutifaceted philosophy. It was originally written for a friend who argued that I had no reason of siding with Schopenhauer over Nietzsche, and it became a lengthy analysis of optimism and pessimism.
1. The higher cultures are so structured that they force the inhabitants to live along longer and more difficult paths. The higher this culture develops, the more indirect man becomes. Older cultures have simple means of acquiring food, while modern man orders pizza through a system of interlocking functions and patterns.
The elongated strand of means and ends make it impossible to be totally aware of every inch of every strand. The entire sequence is unmappable, which leaves our modern consciousness limited to the means, the mechanisms, and the final goals that bring meaning to the steps are pushed off towards the horizon and eventually lie past it.
Us moderns are surrounded by an endless web of enterprises and institutions where the final and valuable goals are missing. In this culture, the need for a final goal and meaning for life emerges.
What did the cannibal say to the other cannibal when they were eating a clown? “Does this taste funny to you?”
What makes us laugh? Can humor be explained? Why is it so hard to explain a joke to someone who doesn’t get it? The explanation of why something is funny cannot itself be funny, which defeats the purpose of explaining humor. However, it does not mean we can talk about a general theory of humor. Inasmuch a theory of music is not itself musical, a theory of love is not itself loveable, a theory of humor should not be required to be funny itself, either.
In the essay Laughter the philosopher Henri Bergson claimed that laughter is a human, carefree and shared phenomenon. Laughter is human, because it does not take place elsewhere in nature, and carefree, because it does not require emotional involvement, and shared because it requires a community of shared opinion. This makes laughter a ‘light-hearted comedy.’ But Georges Bataille thinks otherwise: laughter interrupts commonality, shatters the rational indifference of the mind and negates the humanist ideal, for it is always “intermingled with a pleasant sensuality.” Laughter in this context is actually convulsive and overwhelming. This Bataillean laughter is not Nietzschean, which bespeaks a Mediterranean bright sun, a grateful disposition where serious truths are spoken while laughing. In Bataille’s writings you can hear him laughing like the madman of Nietzsche, like his insane father who screamed with pain as well.
But the most plausible theory theory of humor is Schopenhauer’s, one that reduces all funny situations to paradox: an object is suddenly included in a completely foreign category and we perceive this as the incongruity between the conceptual and the real. Incongruity is essentially the inconsistency with our expectations, when the abstraction fails to include a certain particular event, person, or an object of thought, and we are surprised by this failure. Schopenhauer says humor as “the cause of laughter” is “in every case … simply the sudden perception of the incongruity between concept and the real object.” When the particular object transcends the general, it appears incongruous with the abstraction. In other words, humor emerges from the unexpected relief from the intellect as the victory of sense perception over the powers of abstraction. In humor we flee from our intellects. Surprise, also a crucial element of humor, in which “the greater and more unexpected … this incongruity is, the more violent will be his laughter.”
Morality: the art of the phoney pious, the performance of the hypocritical demagogues, and the invention of the specious moralistby Awet on August 25, 2007 at 3:07 am
The title of this blog is but a poor attempt to capture Nietzsche’s contemptuous summation from his attempt at self-critique of Birth of Tragedy: a mere fabrication for purposes of gulfing: at best, an artistic fiction; at worst, an outrageous imposture.
But i feel obliged to clear up a few things. First of all, Nietzsche pointed out that whosoever tried to analyze morality is going to be charged as immoral because they dare to dissect morals, and people labor under the delusion that the moralist is the moral preacher. The ancient moralists themselves were guilty of not analyzing deeply enough, and preached far too much!
Second, the claim that the majority of the beliefs we hold are false is not a criticism. To consider these beliefs critically is not objecting the fact that they are false. I’m more concerned about the belief about these beliefs, a second-order belief that purports they ought to be true, and that they should mirror the facts as they are. It isn’t the language, but the metalanguage that goes on holiday once it makes outrageous demands on our language, which it cannot and should not sustain. The claim that our beliefs are false is rather irrelevant as to whether we should hold these beliefs. To say that our moral beliefs are false is not to recommend their abandonment. I propose the abandonment of a certain expectation about these beliefs, of which we held from the beginning. They are the conditions for life. It isn’t the ordinary beliefs of ordinary folks that is under suspicion, but the philosophical justification of those beliefs by the philosophers.
They have attempted to place moral beliefs upon guaranteed foundations in order to make a science of morals. Yet, each philosophy has been little more than special pleading on the behalf of a moral perspective that is taken as an inherent part of reality. It’s extremely difficult to extract moral claims from factual ones, or distill the moral elements in our perspective from the others. Our perception is soaked through and through with valuation, whether they are useful or harmful.
The terms we use in our analysis of perception are interpenetrated with normative attitudes. The philosophers have imposed their own moral preferences, yet they take themselves to be reporters, not lobbyists. Just like how philosophers took themselves as discoverers of facts about reality that are actually facts about their language, their moral discoveries refer to nothing in the world itself, but to they themselves. The description of moral facts only expresses pre-existing moral attitudes.
This in no way or shape requires the abandonment of the moral beliefs we hold, other than the meta-ethical beliefs that suggest the possibility of justifying the moral beliefs we hold. This is similar to how understanding our scientific theories as convention does not mean we must give up our scientific beliefs. We can socialize and raise our children according to the moral codes we hold, even at the cost of admitting that this code depends on us ourselves, and that it is neither true nor false.
I have no idea what the consequences are, after our meta-ethical beliefs are changed, with regard to our moral attitudes. It may open the possibility of a new justification that may allow us to determine between moralities.
In the sociological context, moral interpretations contain a certain utility, that they consists of obedience to customs. Customs are themselves traditional practices. Yet, they do not require an intrinsic use. There may be no rhyme or reason in their content, but there is at least some reason to the obedience of customs. In order for any society to exist at all, customs are necessary. The deviation from a set of customs is immoral only relative to that set.
But morality does not consist merely of customs, for it offers reasons why these rules are the rules to obey. The imposition of custom is merely the imposition of the power of a group upon the individual. Morality consists more than the exercise of a group’s influence, for it demands sacrifices. An individual’s impulses must be repressed if they conflict with the authority of the group. The consequence is that everyone be similar to everyone else, think like others, feel like others and talk like others.
It is in the interest of the group to keep its beliefs quarantined in order to uphold its practical demands. Thus, morality stupefies by “working against our acquiring new experiences and of correcting morality accordingly, which means that morality works against a newer or better morality.” Daybreak, 19
Despite the usefulness of a morality in its perseverance of a group, a morality that reinforces the beliefs and attitudes inevitably becomes a shell that inhibits further moral growth. Morality is a brake against the furtherance and fulfillment of life. Because the critic of morality exposes the irrationality of the beliefs that has defended it, he is the enemy of morality.
Societies enforce certain rules and demand the extirpation of impulses that may be destructive of the order those rules define. Therefore, the same sets of mind (feelings, impulses) is reinforced within the group, and become instinctual. This interiorization – the superego – leaves no room for independent thinking and evaluation, as well as the notion that being on your own is terrifying, not liberating.
Suppose a person began to think or do differently from the rest of the group. It would be only natural if she felt threatened by these impulses and seek explanations for their occurrence. Perhaps she had sinned, or she was guilty of some sordid deed, or her ancestor performed atrocious acts, and she had to pay off that debt. These fictional causes often stabilize into mythology, which in turn becomes systems of belief, and they reinforce people into the acceptable ways of behavior. Our moral codes are supplemented by our own rationality and predisposition for fictional causes. Hence, the causes of our moral beliefs, the beliefs that imprison us within the cast of custom, cannot be taken seroiusly as explanations, but they can be interpreted as “symptoms and sign language.”
“The moral judgment is never to be taken literally. As such, it contains but nonsense. But moral judgments remain invalaube as semiotic. They exhibit, at least to the knowledgeable, the most valuable realities of the culture… which did not know enough to know themselves. Morals are merely sign language, purely symptomatologies. One must first know what it is connected with in order to make the least use of it.” Twilight of the Idols, VI, 1
There is an unconscious appositeness in the use of the word person to designate the human individual, as is done in all European languages: for persona really means an actor’s mask, and it is true that no one reveals himself as he is; we all wear a mask and play a role. – Schopenhauer
Vanity, shame, and above all disposition, often make men brave and women chaste.
It is as easy unwittingly to deceive oneself as to deceive others.
Men would not live long in society were they not the dupes of each other. – La Rochefoucauld