Friday, November 30, 2007

Mike on Schopenhauer: Part Two

Below is the second part of Mike Wiest's review of The World as Will and Representation, Volume One. The first part is here. The next post will have his concluding thoughts. - Steve

Book 3—The Representation independent of the principle of sufficient reason: the Platonic Idea: the object of art:

On page 169 Book 3 (of Volume 1) starts:

“In the first book the world was shown to be mere representation, object for a subject. In the second book, we considered it from its other side, and found that this is will, which proved to be simply what this world is besides being representation. In accordance with this knowledge, we called the world as representation, both as a whole and in its parts, the objectivity of the will, which accordingly means the world become object, i.e., representation. Now we recall further that such objectification of the will had many but definite grades, at which, with gradually increasing distinctness and completeness, the inner nature of the will appeared in the representation, in other words, presented itself as object. In these grades we recognized the Platonic Ideas once more… In all these forms we recognize only the different aspects of the principle of sufficient reason that is the ultimate principle of all finiteness, of all individuation, and the universal form of the representation as it comes to the knowledge of the individual as such. On the other hand, the Idea does not enter into that principle; hence neither plurality nor change belongs to it. While the individuals in which it expresses itself are innumerable and are incessantly coming into existence and passing away, it remains unchanged as one and the same, and the principle of sufficient reason has no meaning for it. But now, as this principle is the form under which all knowledge of the subject comes, in so far as the subject knows as an individual, the Ideas will also lie quite outside the sphere of its knowledge as such. Therefore, if the Ideas are to become object of knowledge, this can happen only by abolishing individuality in the knowing subject. The more definite and detailed explanation of this is what will now first concern us.”

The distinct grades of objectification of the will are Plato’s Ideas, the “timeless prototypes of natural things.” Because all things are phenomena of one will, they are in some degree of relationship and harmony with one another; however, because the will is blind, the Ideas are in tension with one another, vying to manifest in phenomena. The complex balance of harmony and conflict produce phenomena in spacetime, causally ordered.

[S mentions that Platonism gets ridiculed, and it seems to be fairly unfashionable nowadays too, so I thought it might be helpful to mention a modern version of Platonism I came across recently in a paper by John D. Barrow called “Godel and Physics.” Platonism is not the subject of the paper, and is really just a manner of speaking rather than a developed theory. Still, this example made S’s Platonism a lot more digestible to my modern mind. In it, the Platonic Ideas are the symmetry groups that define modern elementary particle physics, and the different particle fields are different “representations” of the Lorentz group. “Representations” here is the actual technical math or physics term for the different “realizations” or “instantiations” of a particular symmetry group structure, so the physics meaning seems somewhat consonant with S’s usage.]

Now, there is a will-less state that reveals the Ideas in direct perception (as opposed to conceptually): the perception of the Ideas is the source of true art. Ideas are “generative,” as opposed to concepts which are abstracted from perception and “exhausted by their definition.”

S gives an interesting theory of aesthetics, the beautiful, the sublime, and art; in which music holds a special place as the direct analogue of the harmony of the different levels of objectification of the will. He develops an analogy between the hierarchy of tones in music with their foundation in the low, slow bass; and the hierarchy of levels of reality. [Here the discussion reminds me of a number of other vibration models of reality and perception, from superstring theory to the Greek Logos to kotodama, the science of spirit-sounds in Japanese Shinto.]

Book 4—The World as Will, Second Aspect: With the attainment of self-knowledge, affirmation and denial of the will-to-live:

Here S treats the ethical aspect of human behavior, the nature and extent of human freedom, and his notion of salvation:

Volume 1, page 272: “The point of view given and the method of treatment announced suggest that in this ethical book no precepts, no doctrine of duty are to be expected; still less will there be set forth a universal moral principle… Generally we shall not speak of “ought” at all, for we speak in this way to children and to peoples still in their infancy, but not to those who have appropriated to themselves all the culture of a mature age. It is indeed a palpable contradiction to call the will free and yet to prescribe for it laws by which it is to will. “Ought to will!” wooden-iron! But in the light of our whole view, the will is not only free, but even almighty; from it comes not only its action, but also its world; and as the will is, so does its action appear, so does its world appear; both are its self-knowledge and nothing more. The will determines itself, and therewith its action and this world also;”

So, from an absolute point of view outside of time, the will is free, but the will of any individual in time is determined by causes in time. There is an exception though:

Volume 1, page 287: “Man, however, is the most complete phenomenon of the will, and as was shown in the second book, in order to exist, this phenomenon had to be illuminated by so high a degree of knowledge that even a perfectly adequate repetition of the inner nature of the world under the form of the representation became possible in it… At the end of our whole discussion it will also be seen that, through the same knowledge, an elimination and self-denial of the will in its most perfect phenomenon is possible, by the will’s relating such knowledge to itself… In just this way, it exhibits the phenomena of holiness and self-denial… In this sense not only the will itself, but even man can certainly be called free, and can thus be distinguished from all other beings.”

From the point of view of causality, a person’s character is his fixed individual nature that determines the moral quality of his actions. In that context all our actions are fully determined by the intersection of our character with various circumstances (including the changing circumstance of our own growing knowledge about our own individual character as revealed by our actions). The above-mentioned freedom seems to manifest itself as a suppression of a human’s character, rather than an actual change of character, so that a sort of universal self-less personality emerges (p.403).

Page 404: “Now since, as we have seen, that self-suppression of the will comes from knowledge, but all knowledge and insight as such are independent of free choice, that denial of willing, that…only direct expression of the freedom of the will…is not to be forcibly arrived at by intention or design, but comes from the innermost relation of knowing and willing in man; hence it comes suddenly, as if flying in from without.”

[He approvingly quotes Christian descriptions of this phenomenon as the “catholic, transcendental change,” a “new birth” resulting from “grace” rather than natural causality. On page 405 he summarizes the extent of his agreement with Christian theology: “The doctrine of original sin (affirmation of the will) and of salvation (denial of the will) is really the great truth which constitutes the kernel of Christianity, while the rest is in the main only clothing and covering, or something accessory.”]

I’m generally pretty skeptical of “compatibalist” views of the relation between determinism and free will, but in S’s theory it does seem conceivable that the will that is the impetus for everything that is, when it realizes—i.e. creates—what it has willed, might wish to suppress itself, or at least its individualistic ego-centered physical-biological aspects. (Especially since it realizes all existence is “suffering,” fear and never-satisfied cravings, the dukkha of the First Noble Truth of Buddhism.) The will as thing-in-itself wills whatever it wants, freely, so when it realizes what it is—in a human brain, it may “change its mind.” The physical body may behave differently than it otherwise would have, but we might say the physical laws (for S these include causes, stimuli, and motives—all deterministic) are not changed or violated….It’s just that certain factors or forces have been reduced in amplitude, are not as strenuously fought for, but this change has no motive. Ultimately I can’t call this a deterministic theory, but it provides a scheme in which human behavior can transcend physical laws without directly violating them.

Here I’ve emphasized S’s treatment of freedom and determinism, but he also develops an interesting ethical theory. I find it to be a pretty intuitive model for moral realism. Though S says his philosophy won’t tell us how to behave, he explains that our actions nevertheless carry a real moral significance. Here is how he introduces the concept of “wrong”:

P334 “Now since the will manifests that self-affirmation of one’s own body in innumerable individuals besides one another, in one individual, by virtue of the egoism peculiar to all, it very easily goes beyond this affirmation to the denial of the same will appearing in another individual. The will of the first breaks through the boundary of another’s affirmation of will, since the individual either destroys or injures this other body itself, or compels the powers of that other body to serve his will, instead of serving the will that appears in that other body… This breaking through the boundary of another’s affirmation of will has at all times been distinctly recognized, and its concept has been denoted by the word wrong (Unrecht). For both parties instantly recognize the fact, not indeed as we do here in distinct abstraction, but as feeling.”

The feelings S is referring to are a “mental pain” of injustice in the victim and the “feeling of wrong committed” in the perpetrator. He develops this principle in a variety of cases, and distinguishes this negative ethical principle from the positive virtues that flow from the will-less consciousness. He discusses various approaches to the will-less state, and explains the distinction between the denial of the will arrived at by a clear objective perception from the apparent denial of the “will-to-live” in suicide. I won’t dwell on his ethical theory because I don’t feel competent to compare it to other approaches and attempt an overall assessment. But again, it seems to offer an intuitive metaphysics for a kind of moral realism—but with a more qualified freedom than one might expect from a moral realist theory.

(S’s final chapter of Volume 1 is an appendix on Kant, sketching K’s principal merits—which S earnestly considers to be epoch-making, as well as detailing his errors. I think Volume 2 is essentially further elaboration of the theory presented in Volume 1, and responses to objections composed over 30 years between the publication of Vols. 1 and 2.)


Steve said...

The idea of "freedom" being achieved through suppression of the will is interesting. It made me think of Benjamin Libet's interpretation of his famous experiments (the ones where signs of unconscious activity preceded conscious awareness of the will to act). He thought high level awareness might have veto power even if it wasn't involved in initiating actions.

Another possible allusion would be to the quantum zeno effect. This is where an outcome is preserved by repeated measurement. But if you cease the measurement, the outcome will finally change.

Michael said...

Yeah, I remember Libet's veto account and Stapp's quantum zeno picture. In Schopenhauer's framework one wants to ask what is the cause of the veto events or the measurement events, because everything that happens in spacetime is supposed to be determined by causes in spacetime. But then Shopenhauer's own scheme seems vulnerable too, because he gets just a bit fuzzy about how our self-knowledge leads to a freedom to suppress our own personality. It's hard not to think of that as a deterministic process...

At this point the only way out of the freedom thicket that I see is a scheme where non-local influences from past and future constrain all events, so that from any local point of view things appear undetermined. Then in some sense freedom is real, but it's not just randomness, because real "motives" from the future might take part in conditioning choices in the present. I think this picture is like Rosenberg's causal nexus account, and might be consistent with a quantum description.