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…
Posts Tagged ‘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.
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.
The insights in this entry are based on my readings of two 18th century thinkers of cultural pessimism: Jean Jacques Rousseau and Giacomo Leopardi.
Why things fall apart
Beyond the structures of knowledge, past the artifices of ideas, and beneath our concepts is a chaotic mass of change, where all is flux, nothing remains constant, including our affections or attachments to these inconstant things - for they also vanish and change as well. Our desires or dreams or wishes are elsewhere; tomorrow, yesterday, but not today. Dour pessimists credit the source of suffering with existence in time, for man is a time-bound species. Although it is possible to experience brief, fleeting glimpses into transcendence – timelessness – only animals experience constant timelessness, and perhaps the preconscious ancestors of the human race as well. While animals do experience age and death, they are blissfully ignorant of this. They do not change – and with much simpler lives, they are also much happier. Their ignorance of time wards off thoughts about the future or the past. The ability to compare ourselves to our memories or visualized future allows us to reflect and invent plans to improve ourselves. Being conscious of time, however, turns us into slaves in our dissatisfaction with ourselves, constantly comparing us with others, competing consciously or unconsciously. ↓ Read the rest of this entry…
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.”
The Problem of Evil (PoE), as formulated within the philosophical & theological tradition, presupposes that one acknowledges a magisterial god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good. If such a being exists, then the existence of evil becomes a moral mystery. On the face of things, an all good God would eliminate evil; an all-knowing God would know how to eliminate evil, an all-powerful God would be able to eliminate evil, an all-good God would desire to eliminate evil. Evil shouldn’t exist, if God exists, because everything should already be perfect, precisely because the world is the creation of a perfect creator.
Nonetheless, it is apparent, quite painfully, that the world is thoroughly soaked with suffering everywhere. Therefore, either God doesn’t exist or God has reasons to allow evil to exist, although such reasons might be inscrutable to human beings. Given the existence of evil, one must therefore either give up the belief in God’s perfectly allied omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence, or, accepting such a God exists, discern the divine reasons for the existence of evil, or, failing the suprarational effort, engage in humanely reasonable speculations about God’s mysterious ways. At most, and ultimately, one is left to submit oneself faithfully to the complete mystery of God’s ways, content that there are good, albeit inscrutable, reasons why the world contains the misery it does.
Given the traditional framework, there are many solutions to the PoE:
- Each instance of evil prevents a greater evil from occurring, or serves as a necessary precondition for a greater good.
- Evil is the person’s fault, not God, because God gave humans free will, and this gift is routinely abused.
- Evil is God’s just punishment for our endless crimes.
- If there were no evil, then the concept of “good” would not make any sense.
- Without evil, there wouldn’t be any way to positively build character.
- Satan, not God, is responsible for evil.
All these answers presuppose that the world is intelligible and that there’s a reason for everything, even if only God knows it. Theoretically, I remain unmoved by such theistic formulations of the PoE. However, I’m not insensitive of the general philosophical desideratum to understand the nature of suffering, and neither am I content to accept evil as a naked and brute fact.
Schopenhauer’s understanding seems similar to one of the traditional solutions that man is the chief culprit, and not God. This solution claims that people are almost entirely responsible for evil, because God gave them free will, and they have chosen to abuse their gifts. This explanation, however, fails to account for natural evil, such as disease, earthquakes, floods, Katrina, etc., but it does shed light on the pain people experience. If they stopped hurting one another, the world would be far less threatening and more peaceful place in which to live.
Schopenhauer’s view is intellectual, for evil is the byproduct of human nature. This indicates something truly diseased about man. Catch some of George Carlin’s stand up acts, and you’ll appreciate the finer points of this implication. Instead of mere free will, Schopenhauer goes further and insists that it is the rationalizing and the will-infected human consciousness itself that is largely responsible for the world’s evil. In order to understand Schopenhauer’s view of the human mind, we must first look at Kant’s formulation. For both Kant and Schopenhauer, the human mind is not a quiet and passive mirror that immediately reflects towards which it is aimed. It is more of an active processor, the mind actively organizes and gives form to sensory data directly present to it, just like a computer organizing bits of binary code into the readable images appearing on the monitor screen.
Technically, the human mind organizes this sensory data – the material for touch, smell, hearing, vision, taste – in a way that reflects the mind’s own rational structure. According to Kant the structure of the mind organizes the sensory data in both a rational order and into a sequential order in terms of space & time. Both Kant & Schopenhauer maintain the world as it appears within experience – as causally ordered world of individual things in space & time – is partially and yet ineradicably due to the way we organize and inform what is given to us in sensation. For both, there is more artificality, artifactuality and artistry in our perception of the world than most naively thought. Thus, the world of daily experience is a synthetic byproduct.
Kant’s account seems now common-sensical, because cpu processing is familiar that can retrospectively inform his 18th century view, but if we look closer at the implications of Kant’s proposal, our natural perspective is turned inside-out.
Kant’s theory suggests our minds are cookie-cutters that impresses their form upon the “given” cookie dough, not a mirror that never touches what they reflect. This is the self-styled copernican revolution in philosophy, the proposal that the observed daily movements of the sun and stars across the sky are not explained by referring the movements of those bodies, but actually in reference to our own movement. Now, we know that the observed movements of the stars across the sky is due to the spinning of the earth. Much like how the landscape spins when you’re on the merry-go-round, Kant expanded this merry go round with the claim that the “out-there-ness” of things – space itself- is better understood by analogy with the movement of suns and stars, the world that appears out there, is the construction of our own mental activity. He did acknowledge a foundational being that can be said to “be” quite independent of us, but the “out-there-ness” of this being is an attribution projected from our minds. For all we know, the true being – the thing-in-itself – could be independent of space & time, just as God is assumed to be independent of space-time.
Much like how the experience of the salty taste of salt isn’t “in” the salt itself as it sits untasted in the shaker, the space & time, the individual things which are all causally and scientifically connected to each other with our experience – in other words, the entire physical universe as we experience it – do not represent in a pure and transcendent way the innermost reality of the way things are in themselves. We live in a world of appearances and phenomena. For Kant, the philosophical status of the world of daily experience, particularly in reference to its dependable geometric and mathematical structure, is more analogous to the taste of salt – a quality of human experience that arises internally when the salt crystals stimulate the tongue – than it is like the crystals as they are in themselves before they are tasted. Looking at an object in space is like tasting salt – both involve experience whose qualities are as due to our own constitution as they are due to the constitution to whatever we happen to be tasting or looking at. For Kant, this means humans aren’t in a position to know the exact nature of ultimate reality.
Each Kantian sees through a glass darkly, and they think everyone else’s perception is just as limited. Therefore, the mind stands in the way of knowing the ultimate truth, because the mind is finite and must inform whatever it knows in its own limited way. Our perception of reality echoes our own modes of perception. Kant philosophically extends this past the senses to the limits of our intellect, in conjunction to the limits of our spatial & temporal awareness.
Although Schopenhauer was more optimistic about humans being able to know or come close to knowing the ultimate reality, he agreed with Kant that the world of space & time is largely a human fabrication and that with respect of the way things are in themselves, independently of human existence, space & time doesn’t necessarily apply. Reality in itself – that which remains if there weren’t any humans – could be spaceless and timeless. Given this kantian view of the mind and the world of human experience, the realm of human suffering (spatial & temporal world) becomes an artifact of human artifice and a direct reflection of human nature’s activity.
Schopenhauer, pace Kant, maintains that people are themselves the creators of evil in the world, insofar as their minds express the general conditions through which evil is made possible. For Schopenhauer, the mind structures raw fields of disjointed sensory data into a single world, which contains individuals arranged across a spatial & temporal expanse. If there were no individuals, there wouldn’t be any suffering. If there were no humans, there wouldn’t be any individuals, pace the Kantian theory of existence. Schopenhauer describes our creation of our experienced world as Wille, or reality in itself, shining through our minds as if they were “magic lanterns” and as if reality was a single and undivided light. This poetic metaphor paints Schopenhauer’s explanation for the existence of evil itself and why he turns away from the miserable world.
…just as a magic lantern shows a multitude of different pictures, all of which are illuminated by one and the same flame, so it is within all the manifold appearances which together fill the world, or which follow each other as events, that only one will appears, whose visibility the objectivity of everything is, and which remains unmoved throughout each change. (World as Will and Representation I § 28)
The magic lantern is our mind that apprehends as it expresses the more encompassing universal will under the condition that this single will appears as fractured into innumerable objects that are distributed mosaically across space and time. The sands of time are the sands of our own mindscape, and the infinity of space is, as far as can be known, nothing more than the concept of infinity projected by our own consciousness. Schopenhauer observes that this renders the mind responsible for constructing an appearance, or a movie screen that involves animals fighting, killing and eating each other, people inflicting and suffering countless harm endlessly. We humans, given our ability to organize diverse sensory data into individual things – due to our capacity to know anything at all – reveals ourselves at bottom to be sadistic film directors that are the architect of a monstrous vision. This is the bitter fruit of knowledge.
You may moan and complain that Kant has ascribed godlike powers to the human being, because according to him they are the very architects of space and time. Schopenhauer, almost ironically, notes that if humans are architects, then they are the inventors of a warlike scene: the infinity projecting human nature gives birth to terror. Therefore, it isn’t the abuse of free will, but the very presence of the rational human consciousness in its quest for knowledge!
We have no choice but to generate evil and suffering, if, as Schopenhauer claims, the world itself is Wille. Once the Wille is divided against itself, conflict is inevitable. The human condition is doubly fabulous and frightening, terrific and terrible, condemned to surprising and sickening ourselves. In the early days of the 19th century, the less than reputable aspects of man was slowly becoming more explicitly thematized, and emerged as a serious subject for reflection. However, this initial apprehension of the irrational was still analyzed under the restricting framework of traditional morality that maintained a powerful psychological hold on speculation. These many monstrous apprehensions were initially expressed within a wider and more generous thematic. Fichte expressed an early formulation only to reject the idea of a purposeless universe as psychologically unbearable:
” I should eat and drink, only in order to hunger and thirst again, and eat and drink, merely until the open grave under my feet swallows me up as a meal for the earth? Should I create more beings like myself, so that they can eat and drink and die, and so they can leave behind beings of their own, so that they can do the same as I have already done? What is the point of this continual, self-contained and ever-returning circle, this repetitive game that always starts again in the same way, in which everything is, in order to fade away, and fades away, only in order to return again as it was – this monster, continually devouring itself in order to reproduce itself, and reproduce itself, in order to devour itself?” (Vocation of Man, Book III, faith part II)
Fichte rejected this ouroboric scenario for the sake of a more linear weltanschaaung within which everything acts naturally and inevitably and prorgressively towards a moral and harmonious end, even if this end is permanently beyond the horizon. Fichte did lift the veil from the thoroughly purposeless world for a second’s peek, but only for a second, and let the comforting prospect of a rational & meaningful world return to its properly fundamental place. Schopenhauer too held the veil up, a bit longer, but eventually he retreated to another sort of salvation that involved the dissolution of one’s individuality & a flight into the universal forms of consciousness. Nietzsche gazed at this abyss for much longer, and, being burnt by the medusa of paralyzing meaninglessness, he opted for an existentially centered view in light of such a threatening experience.