Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Guest Post: Mike's Review of Schopenhauer

I am happy to introduce a guest post below, authored by Mike Wiest. In a discussion in the comment thread of an earlier post (“Pan-Intentionality”), Mike mentioned his recent reading of Arthur Schopenhauer’s work, and talked about connections he saw between Schopenhauer and the topics that he, Justin and I were talking about. Below is the first of a series of three posts containing Mike’s summary review and reactions to Volume One of The World as Will and Representation. I’d also like to note that Justin, in a similar spirit, also brought up Nietzsche in the discussion, and he followed up with a post on the metaphysics of Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power at his blog, Panexperientialism. Here's Mike--

The World as Will and Representation, Volume 1

Schopenhauer claims at the outset that his entire book was aimed at and necessary to communicating a single thought. He states further that because of the organic inter-relationship among the aspects of that single thought, his book must be read twice to be fully comprehended (as, he says, with a great musical composition). I only read it once, but I think the thought is something like this: We can know Kant’s unknowable thing-in-itself, the true nature of the world, by direct conscious perception; and what this experience discloses is that all of our individual wills and consciousnesses are “phenomena” of a single, unconscious, universal will outside of time.

Book 1—Representation:

The beginning of philosophy for S is to realize that this world of objects is our representation, and furthermore that all objects are for a subject: all objects are subject-objects. He thinks that only Kant’s teaching can effectively produce the insight that removes the “child-like realism in which we are all born.” And thus “My philosophy starts from Kant’s, and therefore presupposes a thorough knowledge of it.” In particular, Kant taught us the distinction between our experience of an object, the phenomenon, and its true inner nature or reality, the thing-in-itself. (Despite this statement I think one could read and enjoy S without having read Kant: S’s Kant is easier to understand than Kant in his own words.)

But Kant missed that the a priori framework for all experience (including time, space, and matter understood as the principle of causality) are all manifestations of one principle of sufficient reason, which says every event has a cause and implies universal determinism (—but this is not S’s last word on freedom!). This causal law and determinism apply to all objective phenomena, meaning that every event in spacetime has a cause in spacetime, which is the reason the event happened then and there. But because causes and effects in spacetime constitute the form of our subjective understanding of objects (they are prerequisites for being an object), objective phenomena are all for-a-subject. It may not be so difficult for a panpsychist to accept that all matter has a subjective aspect; the hard part is accepting that we cannot think of the thing-in-itself as matter (event protoconscious matter) evolving in spacetime. Again, the matter model is perfectly effective empirically, for describing the network of objects and causes, but we have no inkling of the thing-in-itself behind our representations (this will change later in the book). Thus, our causal reasoning cannot be used to explain the origin or form of the fundamental forces, nor anything outside the causal network. Similarly, there can be no question of a causal relationship between subject and object, in either direction. Rather, subject and object are necessary poles of all objective existence in spacetime.

Now, S thinks that Kant and many other philosophers have been confused about perception and its relation to concepts and rational thought. For S perception is already intellectual (or cognitive). In particular, perception is immediate causal understanding (an intuition based on normal context, called illusion when wrong). For example, rather than merely sensing a two dimensional pattern of colors, I perceive “(this sensation in my visual field is caused by) an object nearby in 3D space in front of me.” This faculty we have in common with animals. Reason is a basically uniquely human faculty that uses concepts abstracted from perception to reach conclusions about past and future events (called error when wrong). This ability liberates us from the present. S has a nice pictorial way of representing reasoning (using Venn diagrams) as a procedure of passing between different concepts by means of what they have in common. He claims this simple framework can account for all our reasoning. Kant’s error in this context is roughly that he takes concepts to be primary and perceptions are to be understood in terms of concepts, whereas S teaches that all original evidence lies in perception, and concepts merely systematize, fix, and communicate evidence from perception.

[I’m not sure yet how I feel about the relational interpretation of quantum mechanics. But from this line in the Stanford Encyclopedia article about it, it seems to be a specific instantiation of S’s doctrine that objects and their various properties exist only relative to a particular observer: “Quantum mechanical relationalism is the observation that there are no absolute properties: properties of a system S are relative to another system O with which S is interacting.”]

Book 2—Will:

It’s what Kant missed when he said the thing-in-itself is absolutely unknowable. Considering things objectively, from the outside, we can never fathom their inner nature. But S points out that there is one thing whose inner nature we have special access to. S says that in reflecting on the contents of our own consciousness we find something absolutely distinct from all the objects in our representation (i.e. even subject-objects), namely feelings that reflect our will.

Volume 2 page 202: “…Not only willing and deciding in the narrowest sense, but also all striving, wishing, shunning, hoping, fearing, loving, hating, in short all that directly constitutes our own weal and woe, desire and disinclination, is obviously only affection of the will, is a stirring, a modification, of willing and not-willing, is just that which, when it operates outwards, exhibits itself as an act of will proper.”

Our will is often unconscious, but in experience it manifests pleasurable and painful states where our preferences are apparent, like anger and lust. Of course the various passions are usually experienced as entangled with our representations of our body and other bodies in spacetime, but for S the road to truth is to clarify the distinction between them. The point is to realize that our will is our deepest reality, our innermost essence (not our intellect, which serves the will, and is in fact “objectified” will). The next—big—step is to see that my inner nature, my true existence, is identical with the thing-in-itself of the whole world.

So we are to understand that the apple’s falling and the seedling’s sprouting are impelled by the same will (though unconscious) that ultimately drives us. This world is the objectification, or mirror, of will. We cannot consider it as multiple because space is the principle of individuation, which exists only in our representation. It is outside of all causation, but the world of causes in beginningless time arises out of it. Grades or levels of objectification of will correspond to inexplicable laws or entities that must be presupposed in our causal explanations. For example, physical causes, stimuli, and motives all necessarily bring about particular effects in particular circumstance, but represent different levels of objectification of will. Physical causes lead to an effect that is of the same physical magnitude as the cause, whereas stimuli are small causes that lead to large effects, and motives are causes that have passed through knowledge, i.e. through a conscious brain process. [To me this is account of the objective world as a shell whose inner being is mental in nature is reminiscent of Gregg Rosenberg’s contemporary account, in which causality is carried by experiences corresponding to a hierarchy of natural individuals, and the temporally ordered flow of events arises from some kind of meta-temporal nexus of events.]

The thing in itself, the universal will outside of time, is unconscious and purposeless, a blind “procreant urge of the world” (that’s Whitman, not S). But we can also say that it wills to live:

Volume 1, page 274: ‘The will, considered purely in itself, is devoid of knowledge, and is only a blind, irresistible urge, as we see it appear in inorganic and vegetable nature and in their laws, and also in the vegetative part of our own life. Through the addition of the world as representation, developed for its service, the will obtains knowledge of its own willing and what it wills, namely that this is nothing but this world, life, precisely as it exists. We have therefore called the phenomenal world the mirror, the objectivity, of the will; and as what the will wills is always life, just because this is nothing but the presentation of that willing for the representation, it is immaterial and a mere pleonasm if, instead of simply saying “the will,” we say “the will-to-live.” ‘

We are the highest level of reflection (i.e. objectification) of the will.

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