Imagine something too hot to handle. A hot potato. Now, try imagining something too cold to touch. They freeze the handler by draining away all vitality. Perhaps some insights are far too cold to be adequately handled enough to be understood. Unlike most insights that enlighten, these cold insights carry a sense of danger – even potentially harmful for many who deceive themselves.
Contra the dogma of philosophers, Arthur Schopenhauer realized that reason is not the basic essence of man. The impact of such realization does not depend on what is substituted in the place of “reason,” for this actually clear the horizon of thought and allow for new ways of thinking. These sort of cold insights is enough to place the thinker among the very greatest ever.
Just what is this insight, specifically? That the very content of an idea and the logical connection of ideas presuppose a force,, which exists beyond the ideal or logical relation to contents. This force is the interpretation of being as an eternally frustrated and directionless energy, represented as an entity, a being.
Reason is but an aftereffect of the metaphysical principle of existence. The deduction of a conclusion from particular propositions implies a necessary conceptual relation, where an ideally inherent requirement is being fulfilled. However, the conclusion is not identical with the contents and the correlation of concepts. Even the most logical statement requires a person who participates in language games in order to become reality. The physical existence of this person has nothing to do with the ideal constructions of logic. It is true that the process where the person articulates logical and factually necessary contents is rational. But this has nothing to do with existence, which is above and beyond the dialectical opposition of reason and madness, of logic and contradiction. Existence is arational. Man is alogon. Therefore, Schopenhauer’s wille is outside rationality and beyond contradiction.
If rationality is derivative of the actual process of existence, then it is merely a tool of the intellect that is used or discarded. The 19th century thought nurtured a radical shift in epistemology where human existence, as the very essence of life, is accidentally and imperfectly, as well as insincerely, expressed in human ideas and human consciousness. This shift was instituted by Immanuel Kant who confined the empirical ego (the total sum of ideas in consciousness) to the phenomenon of the thing in itself, which is the transcendent and unknowable substratum of existence. Kant was careful to consider the world of empirical consciousness as real and solid, while the thing in itself behind phenomena is merely an idea. But Kant determined reason as the final and essential substrate in his search for the positive content of the thing in itself.
After the hubris of the 18th century rationalism and its infatuation with consciousness, the 19th century determined existence to be the sole true reality while consciousness was demoted as something accidental, an inconstant flame that cannot even indicate anything about existence.
First, Kant ejected rationalism from the realm of epistemology, and replaced it with experience as the sole arbiter of the possibility of cognizing reality. Reason, in Kantian terms, is the principle of intellect that abstracts from the abstraction, continually until it arrives at the ultimate abstraction, which is beyond the bounds of experience. Second Schopenhauer abolished rationalism’s total view of man. Reason, in Schopenhauerian terms, is but a function of the brain that compares concepts to one another.
Thanks to the Germans, the notion of man as a rational being has now become romantic. The moments of consciousness that highlight empirical life do not divulge the secret reality of existence, because there is no common essence between being and the consciousness. A formal difference delineates a metaphysical principle, a “dark concupiscence” of universal essence, which leaves behind an abyss between reality and the brief and inconsistent images of consciousness. If life cannot be characterized as rational then it is based on something older, more primal, a universal energy, or the force from physics.
Man is considered as a rational being only when he expresses values and pursues goals, which are determined to be ends in themselves. But Schopenhauer knew the purposes and the ends all human being intentionally aspire to, are actually, at bottom, based on the primordial force of the universe. You have goals, not according to the values and goals determined by reason, but because you are impelled continuously and ceaselessly from the depths of your essence. Oftentimes purpose is the expression of intentional events. As long we understand desire as the sole way of achieving values posited by reason, then we grant purpose as the ultimate standard of the rationality of existence.
Schopenhauer destroys that standard and renders the intellect as the impotent reflection of the intentional process, hardwired deeply in the brain. The intellect, at best, can illuminate the dark and deep desires only at the surface. That accounts for why we know what we desire, or which purposes we aspire to, or what goals we have in life.
Henceforth, rationalism lost its privileged status and metaphysics has been dehumanized. No longer can metaphysics be a safe vault for the human desires of understanding, and legalizing human action with the sanctity of rationalism. The entirety of life, more so than the sum of its singular parts, is the unity we realize as the universal substance of the particular instances, and behind this entirety lies the dark fate of life.