Monday, August 24, 2015

NOTES ON SCHOPENHAUER'S WILL AND IDEA


MARGINAL NOTES ON SCHOPENHAUER’S WORLD AS WILL AND IDEA

D. R. Khashaba

Although I have several times referred to Schopenhauer in my writings, I had in fact only read selections of his works. It is only now that I am reading The World as Will and Idea (in English translation). I am using the “Project Gutenberg EBook of The World As Will And Idea (Vol. 1 of 3)”, translated from by R. B. Haldane, M.A. and J. Kemp, M.A. Section numbers cited below refer to the numbers inserted by Schopenhauer in the second edition and page numbers refer to the pages of the German edition as given in the margins of the Gutenberg EBook. The following is neither a study of Schopenhauer’s system nor a commentary on the book but stray marginal notes.

I. Primarily, I regret Schopenhauer’s use of the term will. For me, the highest endowment of humans is not reason but creativity. Schopenhauer says, “The brute feels and perceives; man, in addition to this, thinks and knows: both will” (§8, p.47). We may perhaps say that both brutes and humans desire but only humans will. Schopenhauer’s conception of ‘will’ differs widely from mine (and from Kant’s). Of course Schopenhauer has the right to his own terminology, but behind the common use of the term ‘will’ lies the error that bedevils discussions of the question of Free Will, the error of confounding will and choice. As I see it, will is creative spontaneity, it involves no choice and no deliberation even at its lowest level. When I stretch out my hand to take up my cup of coffee, this is will at its lowest: if I hesitate a moment, considering, shall I take a sip or not, it is no longer an act of will, and the outcome will be strictly determined by relevant antecedents. (Yes, taking up my cup of coffee is a creative act; no amount of physical, physiological, or psychological analysis, however astute, however detailed, can really explain it. This is what scientism cannot comprehend.)

II. Schopenhauer defines matter as causation and nothing more (§9, p.52). But what is causation? It is one state of affairs following from another — not simply one state of affairs succeeding another as Hume said, but one thing following from, emerging from, another: that is becoming and becoming is only intelligible as creativity. Otherwise understood causation is, as Wittgenstein affirmed, superstition. But Schopenhauer’s position us not Humean.

III. Logic, says Schopenhauer, “is never of practical use, but has only a theoretical interest for philosophy” (§9, p.57). Thus concluded Wittgenstein in the Tractatus but Russell, and following him all analytical philosophers, chose to be blind to an insight that demolishes the dream of an ideal logical symbolism.

IV. Closing the opening section of the Second Book Schopenhauer says,

“Thus we see already that we can never arrive at the real nature of things from without. However much we investigate, we can never reach anything but images and names. We are like a man who goes round a castle seeking in vain for an entrance, and sometimes sketching the façades. And yet this is the method that has been followed by all philosophers before me.” (§17, p.128)

This may seem to agree with Kant’s limitation of our knowledge of the world to phenomena, but the final sentence betrays the rift between Kant’s position and Schopenhauer’s.

V. I agree entirely with what Schopenhauer says in §18: “The act of will and the movement of the body are not two different things objectively known, which the bond of causality unites; they do not stand in the relation of cause and effect; they are one and the same … this is true of every movement of the body, not merely those which follow upon motives, but also involuntary movements which follow upon mere stimuli …” (p.130). But when he goes on to say. “All this will be proved and made quite clear in the course of this work”, I expect to find nothing but empty babbling. The will is a reality known immediately to us. We neither can nor need prove it any more than we can or need prove our being or our knowing (intelligence, consciousness). We falsely think otherwise only because we are in the grip of the fallacies of empiricism and objectivism. — But Schopenhauer is well aware of this and explains that he uses ‘to prove’ in a special sense.

VI. Schopenhauer says, “I know my will, not as a whole, not as a unity, not completely, according to its nature, but I know it only in its particular acts, and therefore in time, which is the form of the phenomenal aspect of my body, as of every object. Therefore the body is a condition of the knowledge of my will” (p,132). To my mind this is confused thinking and the confusion comes from breaking up the integral person into will and body (soul and body, mind and body). These are conceptual abstractions that wreak havoc when they are allowed to assume objectivity or finality. The will, the person, cannot be known “as a whole … as a unity” because it is not an existent entity: the will, the person, is only real in the act, in activity, in creativity. I exist for others but in myself, for myself, I am a perpetual act.

The conception of philosophy implicit in §18 could have saved philosophers all the quandaries they have been sunk in to this day. I think that what Schopenhauer calls ‘kat’ ochên philosophical triuth’ is presented more clearly in my philosophy: but who will listen?

VII. Schopenhauer’s philosophy falls under what I designated Aristotelian or objective metaphysics, in other words, he claims to give us the ‘truth’ about the actual world. He is too much concerned with the investigation en tois ergois which Socrates renounced. On both these counts I think he is in error.

VIII. Schopenhauer harms his philosophy by ‘extending’ his notion of will thereby depleting it (§22). The association of will with motive and deliberation is accidental and only relevant to human nature. True will, fully intelligent and free, is creative spontaneity, is our inner reality and the only reality worthy to be designated metaphysical reality.

IX. For all his originality, Schopenhauer failed to free himself from the prevailing fallacy of causal determinism. Thus while affirming “the uncaused nature of the will itself” he yet asserts “the necessity to which its manifestation is everywhere subjected” (p.146). This repeats Kant’s lame separation of noumenal freedom and phenomenal necessity. Had Schopenhauer found his prime model of will not in the activity of the body but in love and poetic creativity, he would have been spared this subterfuge. Schopenhauer is also hampered by the common confusion of will and choice.

X. Schopenhauer says that “the will may be active entirely without knowlwdge” (p.148). To me this epitomizes all that is wrong with Schopenhauer’s position. He speaks of the will in instinct. Instinct can be studied scientifically. We can gather any amount of peripheral information about it, but that can never give insight into the reality underneath it (or any other metaphor you prefer). Philosophically we can only confess ignorance. We suppose there is mind behind it, but that remains (a) scientifically an unverifiable hypothesis, and (b) philosophically a declaration that that is the only way we can find the phenomena intelligible. Schopenhauer thus renders himself open to the censure of science for asserting what cannot be verified and to the displeasure of philosophy for degrading a reality that we know immediately, a reality that constitutes the dignity and integrity of a human being. Marginally I remark that ‘knowledge’ is not the best word to use in this context, for knowledge is a function of human thinking, creative intelligence is more sublime. Let me repeat, the “will guided by knowleege” is only a weaker manifestation of will; it is contingent, subject to causality.

XI. The core and substance of Schopenhauer’s metaphysics is contained in the long §24, pp.154-169 (or is it 24 and 25? §25 seems to be missing) which is needlessly marred by verbosity. For Schopenhauer the reality behind the phenomenal manifestations of time, space, and causality is will. A mote in a sunbeam is a manifestation of will (p.161). But Schopenhauer finds a gradation of will, rising from inorganic things through plant life and animal life to knowledge-motivated will in a human being. To my mind, by speaking of weaker manifestations of will Schopenhauer empties the notion of will of meaning. (That is indeed his intention.) I cannot find the will of a stone conceivable; it has no more meaning for me than the force or the inertia of physicists. Schopenhauer refers to Spinoza saying that “if a stone which has been projected through the air had consciousness, it would believe that it was moving of its own will.” Spinoza meant that this would be absurd but Schopenhauer says that the stone would be right (p.164). For Spinoza there is only one will as there is one mind, the mind of the one Substance. I find that intelligible; my only objection to Spinoza’s position is that it has no room for spontaneity and creativity. But I cannot conceive how the stone is related to the ultimate will or mind. With regard to the actual world, actual things, we know nothing and can know nothing. In philosophizing we build intelligible worlds to satisfy our unquenchable thirst for understanding, but we fool ourselves if we claim for our intelligible worlds any objectivity, any truth, or any finality. We build our dream worlds because only in building those insubstantial worlds do we live as intelligent beings and enjoy the life of intelligent creativity. Schopenhauer gave us one such intelligible world, but he was in error in presenting it as a true, as finally the one true, philosophical system. In this he was no less at fault than Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel whom he lambasts.

XII. From §26 it appears that for Schopenhauer the multiplicity of natural phenomena is mere appearance of the one will. This would support causal determinism, the will always having the same ‘effect’.

XIII. In §27 Schopenhauer rightly and adequately defines the limits and shows the limitations of natural science. But what he says falls on deaf ears. Scientists remain content with their special understanding of ‘explanation’ and of ‘understanding’. And they would be within their rights in rejecting his (and other philosophers’) encroachment into their domain. Would that Schopenhauer had understood Socrates’ separation of investigation en tois logois from investigation en tois ergois. Kant did science as a scientist and did philosophy as a philosopher; he did not mix them. (What I have said in these lines applies to the first few pages of the section. The rest is neither genuine science nor genuine philosophy.)

XIV. All the various and graded manifestations of will, form, according to Schopenhauer, “a pyramid, of which man is the apex”. I suppose the gods, one and all, died of laughter when they heard this! Human beings are right in maintaining that their intelligence, their will, their creativity are what is most valuable in them; nothing else in them has any value or any reality. But to think that that makes a human being intrinsically more valuable than a butterfly or a kitten is arrogance, ignorance and stupidity.

XV. Let us grant Schopenhauer that “this world in which we live and have our being” can be intelligibly represented as “in its whole nature through and through will, and at the same time through and through idea” (§29, p.211): what matters to me as a human being is what I make of this will and this idea that are my inner being. Schopenhauer recognizes this in his treatment of art. My objection to Schopenhauer is that he presents his intelligible representation dogmatically: he does not say as I have said in these lines that the world can be represented as will and idea but asserts dogmatically that the world is will and idea, as he conceives will and idea.

XVI. “Every one”, Schopenhauer says, “finds that he himself is this will, in which the real nature of the world consists, and he also finds that he is the knowing subject, whose idea the whole world is, the world which exists only in relation to his consciousness, as its necessary supporter” (pp.211-212). This is the dogmatism that laid the whole of philosophy to ridicule. The world I live in is my world; but my world that I live in is part of the continuum I exist in. All I can justifiably say of the actual world is that I can only find it conceivable when represented as such.

XVII. Schopenhauer puts his finger on a sore spot in Kant when he says that Kant “should … have strictly denied objective existence to his thing-in-itself” (§32). Kant did not admit subjective reality and it is this fault that made it impossible for him to probe the transcendental unity of apperception. But Schopenhauer is wrong when he says: “The Platonic Idea, on the other hand, is necessarily object, something known, an idea, and in that respect is different from the thing-in-itself, but in that respect only.” The Platonic idea (the one opposed to the many) is definitely not an object and is not known as objective things are known. The Platonic ideas are neither the known nor the knower but are the knowing, the living activity of the mind, the mind in its creativity. The knowing of the manifestations of the ideas in perceptible things (the many) is a lower grade of knowledge, from the lowest eikosia, through doxa, to dianoia. but when we reach phronêsis it is the mind in itself and by itself out of its own reality giving birth to alêtheia.

XVIII. Schopenhauer in §34, pp.231-2, gives a wonderful exposition of art and artistic perception which is equally true of genuine philosophical insight. See further pp,238-9, but I have no intention of discussing Schopenhauer’s philosophy of art here..

XIX. Schopenhauer’s long tirade against mathematics and mathematicians is certainly unbalanced.

XX. “All willing arises from want, therefore from deficiency, and therefore from suffering” (§38, p.253). This justifies my saying that Schopenhauer should have found himself a word other than ‘will’. This applies neither to the ‘good will’ of Kant nor to the Demiurge of Plato that made the world because he wanted all things to be good nor to the will that is the wellspring of all creativity. Artistic creativity may begin in Angst, but this is not suffering in the common sense of the term: the birth pangs of creativity are pain but not suffering.

XXI. In §39 Schopenhauer limits the sublime to the awe-inspiring. A scene or a condition of complete serenity and peace such as the ceaselessly changing colours reflected by the rays of the setting sun on a quietly flowing river inspires a sense of sublimity as much as the scene of a violent storm over a raging thundering sea.

XXII. Schopenhauer repeatedly refers to perception as the most perfect kind of knowledge. The advantage of perception, most markedly in aesthetic perception, resides in its emphatic immediacy. But in poetic vision and philosophical insight too there is complete immediacy. An oracular pronouncement of Plato’s carries more wisdom and brings more delight than any discursive reasoning can aspire to.

XXIII. At one point in §45 Schopenhauer raises a most significant question: “But how is the artist to recognise the perfect work which is to be imitated, and distinguish it from the failures, if he does not anticipate the beautiful before experience?” All aesthetic theory ends here. We can have any number of explanations and analyses, but in the end there is no explanation for aesthetic experience, no explanation of the sense of beauty but to acknowledge that we have a sense of beauty without which we cannot see anything beautiful. Further on Schopenhauer says: “No knowledge of the beautiful is possible purely a posteriori, and from mere experience; it is always, at least in part, a priori, although quite different in kind, from the forms of the principle of sufficient reason, of which we are conscious a priori.” Socrates is finally vindicated: It is by Beauty that all that is beautiful is beautiful. We may extend this and say it is by the intelligibility in us that all that is rational, reasonable, intelligible is rational, reasonable, intelligible. In the same way, it is by the sense of what is right that we judge actions to be right or wrong. This power in us, in its various manifestations, can be corrupted; then, as Aristotle says, we need medication.

XXIV. “Ideas are essentially perceptible”, Schopenhauer insists. I am not sure what to make of this and not sure how he can reconcile this with Plato’s Ideas. According to my understanding of Plato, even a sensuous perception is only a perception by dint of an intelligible form and when the mind by itself and in itself works with pure ideas, when it has philosophical understanding, the ideas lose all direct connection with the perceptible.

XXV. “The true sense of tragedy is the deeper insight, that it is not his own individual sins that the hero atones for, but original sin, i.e., the crime of existence itself” (§51, p.328). I am sure I have somewhere said in so many words that existence is the original sin, but I don’t think I meant exactly what Schopenhauer means..

XXVI. Schopenhauer’s obdurate persistence in trying to subject everything to his theory best shows the inanity of theorization. All theory invents fictions which it then weaves into coherent patterns. This is so in all fields of thought from mathematics to natural science to theology. Sometimes the fictions are useful (mathematics, science) and only lead to error when their fictionality is overlooked. Theory is least suited for philosophy. Schopenhauer speaks of architecture as elucidating “the objectification of will at the lowest grades of its visibility, in which it shows itself as the dumb unconscious tendency of the mass in accordance with laws, and yet already reveals a breach of the unity of will with itself in a conflict between gravity and rigidity” (§52. p.330). A brilliant theory, but with no more claim to validity than that of Empedocles or Leibniz or Hegel or of any theology you choose.

XXVII. Schopenhauer says that “philosophy is nothing but a complete and accurate repetition or expression of the nature of the world in very general concepts, for only in such is it possible to get a view of that whole nature which will everywhere be adequate and applicable” (§52, p.342). This statement calls for qualifications and reservations. Philosophy, a given philosophy, may seek to represent or express the world, but the world represented or expressed is not the actual world, which we are not given to know, but is the given philosopher’s world, and the representation can never be complete or accurate or adequate or final.

XXVIII. The following paragraph, which I quote in full from §54, sums up Schopenhauer’s metaphysics completely and also highlights its weaknesses:

“The will, which, considered purely in itself, is without knowledge, and is merely a blind incessant impulse, as we see it appear in unorganised and vegetable nature and their laws, and also in the vegetative part of our own life, receives through the addition of the world as idea, which is developed in subjection to it, the knowledge of its own willing and of what it is that it wills. And this is nothing else than the world as idea, life, precisely as it exists. Therefore we called the phenomenal world the mirror of the will, its objectivity. And since what the will wills is always life, just because life is nothing but the representation of that willing for the idea, it is all one and a mere pleonasm (sic) if, instead of simply saying ‘the will,’ we say ‘the will to live’”( §54, p.354).

I say that I can only conceive ultimate Reality as Creativity and in the first formulation of my philosophy in my teens I called that Will. But Will for me is not connected with conceptual knowledge or thinking (Plato’s dianoia) but is pure Intelligence. I cannot make sense of Schopenhauer’s graded objectifications of will. I feel that a butterfly or a flower has intelligence and but for the limitation of our imagination I would say the same of a housefly or a pebble; but I do not try to theorize that: I simply say I do not see how a pebble can be apart from life and intelligence. That anything is, will always remain a mystery. The difference between the philosophical and the unphilosophical view is not that the philosopher has an answer to the mystery but that the philosopher is aware of the mystery.

XXIX. “That the will as such is free, follows from the fact that, according to our view, it is the thing-in-itself, the content of all phenomena. The phenomena, on the other hand, we recognize as absolutely subordinate to the principle of sufficient reason in its four forms”(§55). Schopenhauers separation of the will from its objectification in phenomena repeats the error of Kant in relegating the noumenal will and its phenomenal activity to two different realms. This separation enabled Kant speciously to preserve causal determinism at the price of making a sham of the freedom of the will. In Schopenhauer’s case the separation leaves the will completely vacuous; its objectifications do not coherently stem from it, do not in any intelligible sense express it, and are entirely arbitrary and as indifferent to the will as the will is indifferent to them. In my philosophy the will is creative, reality is creative, becoming is creative, and causality is a fictional approximation serviceable to science; no two moments in nature are exact replicas; no moment in nature is strictly predictable. When Wordsworth wrote, “There was a time when meadow, grove and stream,” no god could have predicted that “The earth, and every common sight,” would follow.

XXX. Schopenhauer’s concept of freedom is empty and could not but be so. He says: “The concept of freedom is thus properly a negative concept, for its content is merely the denial of necessity” (p.370). His will does not even like Aristotle’s god think itself or think its own thoughts, its thoughts are thought for it by Necessity, a Necessity apotheosized, even though in another aspect these thoughts, the phenomena as knowledge, are merely a peculiarity of human thought. When Schopenhauer goes on to say: “Now here lies before us in its most distinct form the solution of that great contradiction, the union of freedom with necessity”, I see him merely trying to eat his cake and have it. His solution is even poorer than Kant’s. Kant at least attributed, though incoherently, real freedom to the will. I must audaciously affirm that my “Free Will as Creativity” (included in The Sphinx and the Phoenix, 2009) gives the only satisfactory solution. I am amazed that no one, even among the few who have read my works sympathetically, has acknowledged that. I suppose that is because the fallacy of causal determinism is too deeply ensconced in the modern mind. It has practically become a sacrosanct creed.

XXXI. “The phenomenon, the object, is necessarily and unalterably determined in that chain of causes and effects which admits of no interruption” (p.370). This is a succinct statement of what I refer to as the fallacy of causal determinism. But what is that “chain of causes and effects which admits of no interruption”? We know that immediately as the stream of becoming, the Heraclitian flux. How are the links of the chain (an inapt metaphor) connected? Hume tells us we observe no links, we are only conscious of successive moments. Kant tells us the human mind (the “understanding”) produces the links and lays them on the flowing stream to form intelligible patterns. We call the earlier moments of the flow causes and the latter moments effects. (Wittgenstein in Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 6.341, represents the pattern as the product of an arbitrary mesh.) Where does the necessity come from? It comes in pragmatically from the consideration that the patterns we form prove serviceable as approximations to regularities in natural processes. Our representations of the regularities are arrived at inductively and can never be proved strictly true. All of our scientific laws are abstractions and approximations and only fit actual situations with a relative accuracy good enough for our immediate purposes. Einstein said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.” Causal determinism is and will remain a useful fiction. On the other hand we know creativity not only in our spontaneous activity and artistic creativity but also in the ever changing face of nature.

XXXII. Character, motivation, desire. choice, and will are all confused together by Schopenhauer, but I will not here go into this as I have repeatedly dealt with thus confusion elsewhere. Suffice it to say that motivation, desire, and choice are all qualified by character and are all directed but not totally determined by antecedents, which include deliberative reflection, All of that is other than freedom of the will which is, in deed and in thought, creatively spontaneous and is always originative. This is Plato’s tokos en kalôi, this is begetting noun kai alêtheian when the soul is in communion with reality as we are told in that prophetic passage of the Republic (490a-b).

XXXIII. With Schopenhauer I hold that the will is the thing-in-itself, the noumenon, but while Schopenhauer makes it a ‘thing’ all by itself and apart from the world, I make it, as the principle of creativity, the ground and first principle of reality and make the world its incessantly becoming creation, incessantly coming into being and incessantly vanishing, with the reservation that I do not say the world is such but such is the way I can find the world intelligible. And I do not say that my imaginary ‘such’ is truer than Schopenhauer’s or Leibniz’s or Bradley’s or Berkeley’s; indeed I do not say my ‘such’ is true at all; I only wish the others would confess their representations imaginary visions as I do. Poets have the advantage over philosophers: Shelley does not claim any factual truth for his Prometheus Unbound.

XXXIV. Allow me a whimsical thought in passing: An eclipse of the sun is fairly accurately calculable but it is definitely not certain. It would not happen if an errant meteorite smashes the moon or hits it and makes it change its course. So much for the certainty of our scientific predictions which are always subject to the implicit proviso “all things remaining as they are”.

XXXV. Closing §55, Schopenhauer says his long discussion of freedom and character was “to bring out clearly how in all its phenomena the will is subject to necessity, while yet in itself it may be called free and even omnipotent” (p.397). To my mind, he failed to do that. The chasm between the will and its phenomenal objectification remains as impassable in Schopenhauer’s system as in Kant’s.

XXXVI. I cannot accept Schopenhauer’s view that in man, as its “most perfect manifestation”, the will as freedom “has attained to the completely adequate knowledge of its own nature” (§56, p.397). This is empty human hubris. Conceptual thinking and conceptual knowledge is the characteristic that distinguishes us humans from our animal kin: it gives us our distinctive character but does not make us better, and it is not what is best in us. Our conceptual thinking and conceptual knowledge have given us some comfort and much misery. The suffering and the evil that Schopenhauer makes consequential upon the will to live are in fact consequential upon conceptual thinking. We are at our best when we momentarily attain to creative intelligence which, far from being identical with conceptual thinking, is truly opposed to deliberative thinking. A poet, an artist, a lover only deliberates when the flow of creativity ebbs. A butterfly does not deliberate; who knows but that its fleeting life is a pulse of pure intelligence?

XXXVII. What Schopenhauer sees as endless striving in nature, both organic and inorganic, on all levels and in all spheres, can be seen as ceaseless joyful creativity, for in the objective world there are no facts but only mute impressions susceptible to various interpretations. This is not to deny that to all life suffering is essential, as Schopenhauer emphasizes at the end of §56. p.401, but I do not wish here to digress into this.

XXXVIII. I do not want to go into an examination of Schopenhauer’s moral philosophy here for that lies outside the scope I intended for this paper, but I cannot refrain from making a remark in passing. Just as Kant was led to some odd affirmations by his stringent definition of moral duty, so Schopenhauer is led to odd statements through his arid definition of moral wrong. He writes: “He who refuses to show the strayed traveller the right road does him no wrong” (p.435), and again we are told that “the refusal of help to another in great need, the quiet contemplation of the death of another from starvation while we ourselves have more than enough … is not wrong” (p.437). This follows from the fact that his philosophy has no room for positive good. He speaks eloquently of holiness and saintliness, but his holiness and saintliness are, at least theoretically, as empty of substance as his will.

XXXIX. Schopenhauer again and again affirms: “The will is free, the will is almighty” (§63, p.453), but I can’t understand what that means in his system. Absolute freedom is a negative, empty concept. He says the will has no end (purpose, goal), but then it is no will; it cannot even be coherently conceived as a blind force. I can’t see how Schopenhauer’s “eternal justice” adds any coherence or any significance to his negative concept of the will. Even when Schopenhauer qualifies the will as “the will to live” it does not will any definable quality of life, but just to be what it is and as it is.

XL. Just a marginal remark: The Platonic idea is not the objectification of the thing-in-itself as Schopenhauer assumes (§65, p.473), but is the intelligibility conferred by the mind (the thing-in-itself) on the objective.

XLI. Schopenhauer’s whole philosophy is a curious mix of elements from Kant’s system and elements from Hindu philosophy. His moral philosophy and philosophy of life deserve a special study. But I don’t think I will do that since I have other priorities for the definitely little time that I have left.

XLII. Schopenhauer rightly says that saints and ascetics all had “the same inward knowledge, though they used very different language with regard to it, according to the dogmas which their reason had accepted” (§68, p.495), but he does not see that this is equally true of himself. The one reality that saints, ascetics, mystics, poets, philosophers all behold is truly unfathomable as Heraclitus said and truly ineffable as Plato affirmed and can only be represented in myth. Schopenhauer’s metaphysical vision of the world as Will (the Idea is only a vanishing adjunct) is far from being “free from all mythical elements” as Schopenhauer claimed. Schopenhauer comes closest to sensing this when more than once he speaks of a knowledge that is not abstract knowledge but is “a direct intuitive knowledge, which can neither be reasoned away, nor arrived at by reasoning, a knowledge which, just because it is not abstract, cannot be communicated, but must arise in each for himself, which therefore finds its real and adequate expression not in words, but only in deeds, in conduct, in the course of the life of man” (§55, pp.477-6). This is the knowledge that is not any knowledge that Socrates kept leading his interlocutors to look for in themselves, that Plato found in the Form of the Good of which he could not give an account but could only represent in an ekgonos that is like the parent, as the Son of Christianity is like the Father.

XLIII. Schopenhauer says that philosophy is nothing other than to “repeat the whole nature of the world abstractly, universally, and distinctly in concepts, and thus to store up, as it were, a reflected image of it in permanent concepts always at the command of the reason”(§68, p.495). I cannot accept this without reservation. I object to the phrase to “repeat the whole nature of the world”. It is not given us to know the true nature of the world. The world as it is given to us in experience is totally inchoate, totally nebulous. The earliest humans created myths to appease their puzzlement, to quiet their fear, to shape the nebulosity into meaningful forms — meaningful to themselves. Philosophers do no more than that; only, instead of gods, they people their myths with concepts. Unless we accept this view, we will have to say that all philosophers from the earliest times to this day are fools or charlatans, except the latest philosopher of all in his own estimation of himself! In my view, all philosophers give us imaginative visions of the world that no one knows.

XLIV. In §70 Schopenhauer tries in vain to reconcile necessity and his doctrine of denial of will. In §71 Schopenhauer acknowledges that the ideal of holiness, “the denial and surrender of all volition”, “appears to us as a passing away into empty nothingness”. This was to be expected from the emptiness of his concept of the will. The logical argument that follows (p.529) avails nothing (and adds nothing to Plato’s examination of nothingness in the Sophist, to which Schopenhauer refers in this context). Schopenhauer maintains that “with the free denial, the surrender of the will, all those phenomena are also abolished” (p.530). This confuses the metaphysical and the empirical. The phenomenal (the ‘world’) is abolished for the saint in the saint’s subjectivity but not in the actual world. For Plato, the philosopher practises dying, rejects the world, but does not negate the world. The mind does not bring the world into being but illumines the world, gives it meaning, infuses it with value. This is where the German Idealists err; Schopenhauer shares their error in equal measure; they all betrayed Kant. The only difference between Schopenhauer and the Idealists whom he mocks and detests is that he exchanges their optimism for pessimism and replaces their rationalistic deductions with empiricist assertions. In form, Schopenhauer’s method agrees with what I call oracular proclamation, the method proper to philosophy proper.

XLV. “No will: no idea, no world” (p.531). This is only meaningful as the ideal of Nirvana, but Nirvana is only meaningful for a living soul. Absolute nothingness, as Plato said in the Sophist, cannot be thought and cannot be spoken of. Nothingness is nothing to us!

XLVI. The final paragraph in this Fourth Book of the first volume of The World as Will and Idea is a desperate, futile struggle with the contradictions intrinsic to Schopenhauer’s theory.

XLVII. To Schopenhauer’s credit we must note that his pessimism was essentially compassionate and his philosophy of art was insightful and inspirational. In my notes above I did not pay much attention to his ethics and aesthetics, concentrating on the metaphysical aspects of his system. His views on holiness and saintliness are certainly of lasting value.

Sixth-October City, Egypt,

August 23, 2915.

Monday, August 03, 2015

UNIVERSE OF DISCOURSE


UNIVERSE OF DISCOURSE

I have discovered that Gregory Vlastos (1907-1992) had written a book with the same title as my latest book, Plato’s Universe of Discourse. I did not know about that book amd I am not sure wnether Vlastos meant the same thing by ‘universe of discourse’ as I do. I have been using the phrase in all my writings, beginning with my first book, Let Us Philosophize, in a special sense consistent with the Socratic view that we live as human beings in a world created wholly by the human mind.

In January 2014 I posted a note to my blog which I later included in Metaphysical Philosophy (2014) and which I reproduce below:

UNIVERSE OF DISCOURSE:

a concept and a term we badly need

Lewis Mumford in The Condition of Man (1944) uses the term ‘idolum’. In the short Glossary appended to the book he defines it thus:

“IDOLUM. This term was first used in The Story of Utopias (1922) at about the same time Mr. Walter Lippmann coined the expression ‘pseudo-environment’ for a similar fact. By idolum I do not mean either an idea or an idol: neither a concept nor a fetich nor an ideology. By idolum I indicate the existence of an ideological ‘field,’ which unites and polarizes, as it were, a number of related images, symbol, ideas, and even artifacts. Idolum is close to the German term Weltbild when taken in its literal sense: a picture of the world, that is, the world experienced in and through culture, that people carry in their minds. I prefer it to the term pseudo-environment because as such an idolum is neithr fictitious nor false: it is simply the dominant mental environment of a particular culture, containing both permanently verifiable experiences and temporarily acceptable illusions.” (Lewis Mumford, The Condition of Man, 1944, Glossary.)

This is similar to a key concept that I have – in complete unawareness of either Mumford’s or Lippman’s term – been emphasizing in my writings under the term “universe of discourse”. Let me try to explain what I mean by this vital notion, and I hope the verbosity of this explanation may be excused because I feel it is necessary to make the idea as clear as possible.

From the start I insisted that for Socrates what characterizes human beings as such is that they live in a world of ideas and ideals that arise in the mind and that have no being except in the mind: desires, expectations, fears, anticipated pleasures and pains, socially or communally sanctioned values. A brute is moved by present pleasure, present pain, present desire, present dread, but only a human being is moved by ambition or vengeance or anticipated danger. A human being kills and dies for honour or for loyalty, things which have no being outside the human mind. A dog will fight another dog for a bone, but having its own bone it will not envy a neighboring dog its bigger bone. Human beings have these ‘ideal’ motives because they alone live in that intelligible realm that Socrates clearly and radically distinguished from the perceptible realm. Living in an intelligible realm that has no being outside the human mind is what characterizes human beings as such. That is the keystone of Socrates’ and Plato’s philosophy and of my version of Platonism. A person’s or a community’s particular intelligible realm is what I call that particular person’s or community’s universe of discourse.

Permit me to reproduce here a few excerpts from some of my writings illustrating my usage of this expression:

“Our language is our fate. Language shapes reality, the only reality we are capable of apprehending. In language we form our universe of discourse, and that universe defines the limits of intelligibility for us. We can discard our language and adopt another – mathematical, physical, mythical, what you will –, our understanding would still be drawing breath and getting its lifeblood from an ideal universe of discourse.” (Let Us Philosophize, second ed., 2008, Ch. VII, “Knowledge of the World”.)

“… a philosophy creates a universe of discourse which brings into being a domain of intelligibility in which the mind can have its proper life as active, creative intelligence.” (Plato: An Interpretation. 2005, Introduction.)

“A word has meaning for each mind only in the particular universe of discourse which is the life of that mind.” (Plato: An Interpretation ,2005, Ch. VII, “The Argument of the Republic”.)

“Our ideas constitute the intelligible world we live in. Any system of ideas constitutes a particular universe of discourse. When Socrates says, ‘I would rather suffer wrong than do wrong’, this statement is neither analytic nor verifiable. It is creative; it gives us a meaningful world in which we live on a new plane of being. (“Philosophy as Prophecy”, The Sphinx and the Phoenix, 2009.)

Mumford’s phrase “the world experienced in and through culture, that people carry in their minds” sums the notion succinctly. Mumford prefers ‘idolum’ to Lippmann’s ‘psudo-emvironment’. I do not find ‘idolum’ satisfactory. Lippmann’s ‘pseudo-enironment’ would be closer to what is needed if altered to ‘virtual environment’. But I still prefer my ‘universe of discourse’.

The culture “that people carry in their minds” is a person’s or a people’s private reality; it determines what reality the outer things have for that person or that people. And that, in Plato’s philosophy and in my philosophy, is all the reality there is. All else is either dumb sensation – Kant’s blind intuitions without concepts – or it is a mental construct that Whitehead castigated in his treatment of the Fallacy of Misplaced Concreteness.

A universe of discourse is the world in which we live our characteristically hunan life. It is the only world with which philosophy proper is concerned. Science and the methods of objective science are designed for dealing with the outer world, the phenomenal world; they have no applicability in the intelligible world, which is the proper domain of philosophy. The confounding of science and philosophy, harmful to both, is an error that I have been combating in all my writings.

Cairo, Egypt, January 14, 2014.

I will try to get Vlastos’s book and will be doubly glas if I find he was saying what I was trying to say.

Friday, July 31, 2015

MY LATEST BOOK


PLATO’S UNIVERSE OF DISCOURSE

My latest book, Plato’s Universe of Discourse, has just been published (e-book only).

Traditional philosophy has been pronounced dead. Humankind, under the governance of a hubristic science bereft of wisdom, is rapidly hurtling towards self-destruction. To save humanity philosophy as understood by Socrates and Plato must be revived.

Hume undermined both science and philosophy. Kant came to the rescue of science but had no comfort for philosophy; his Copernican revolution only went halfway. It’s high time to radically revolutionize current conceptions of the nature of philosophy and philosophical thinking.

We have to make philosophy once again relevant to human aspirations and once again capable of having a role in fighting the false conceptions and false values that are undermining human civilization. This book goes out as “a voice of one crying in the wilderness: Make straight the way” of Queen Philosophia to her rightful throne, to guide human life and guard the ideals and values that endow humanity with its worth, to avert the annihilation that the hubris of knowledge devoid of wisdom is fast driving us to.

Cairo, 31 July, 2015.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A CONVERSATION IN HADES


A CONVERSATION IN HADES

D. R. Khashaba

When David Hume arrived in Hades a venerable old man came forward eagerly to meet him. The old man said, “My name is Plato. I have been looking forward to seeing you.” Hume was a little baffled but answered politely, “I am honoured to meet you, sir; but what can I do for you?”

Plato said: “Let us first fin ourselves comfortable seating in this beautiful nearby grove. I apologize for my importunity in accosting you before you have even had a look at the place.”

Comfortably seated on the lush grass underneath a high plane-tree, dear to Plato’s heart, with a rippling stream sweetly murmuring close by, Plato contimued: “I have been following your philosophical writings with great enjoyment but one statement of yours gave me pause.”

Hume prickled. “What statement was that?”

“Where you say: ‘If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: For it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.’”

“Was I mistaken in that?”

“My worthy friend, in philosophy to be mistaken is nothing serious. We are all necessarily making mistakes all the time; it is in correcting our mistakes that we philosophize. No. It grieves me to have to say it: your fault is graver than a mistake; you have wronged philosophy.”

“How is that, sir?’

“You are quite right, my friend, in expecting not to find any ‘abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number’ or any ‘experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence’ in a book of metaphysical philosophy. It is not for philosophers to wade in those waters, although many foolishly think they may.”

“What good is such philosophy then?”

“Let me have recourse to another sagacious finding of yours. You have rightly perceived that in the natural world as delivered to us by the senses there is no necessary connection, no order, and no sense.”

“I still maintain that.”

“With right. My beloved master Socrates taught me that. He also taught me it is the ideas bred by the mind that confer on the experienced world connection and sequence and meanuing. A prophetic voice tells me that a wise man who is yet to be born into the world you have just left will also say it is the human mind that puts connection and order and sense in the deliverances of dumb sensation. And by the way, the prophetic voice tells me this yet-to-come wise man is a kinsman of yours, though he will be born in a different land and speak a different tongue.”

“Be that as it may. I still don’t see how I have wronged a philosophy that gives us no factual knowledge and no mathematical certainty.”

“Have patience my blessed friend. In this here world we are not hurried by time or harried by time. We enjoy the bliss of leisure. The human mind does not only put sense in the natural world on the level of ‘matter of fact and existence’ but, what is of far greater significance for humanity, the mind infuses life and the world with purpose, with ends and ideals. It was the poets who first made human existence meaningful and enriched life with the ideas of Beauty and Love and Loyalty and Freedom. The philosophers created the idea of the Whole and thereby made human beings whole.”

“Then it is all a sham.”

“You, my friend, gifted with an agile mind, are always quick to pluck a thought in the bud but do not wait for it to bloom. Rather than a sham I call it a dream. Human beings have no choice but to live in dream-worlds of their own creation. That is the one thing that distinguishes humans from the other animals. If, following your injunction, my friend, people on planet Earth commit the works of philosophers to the flames, to be consistent they should follow them with the works of all poets and artists and then perchance they may quietly live the tranquil life of their animal kin.”

“Shall humans live in the shadow a lie?”

“It is only the lie in the soul that is pernicious: a lie openly confessed a lie is not a lie. It is the salt of life.”

Cairo, 12 July 2015

Friday, June 12, 2015

SUFFICIENT REASON AND CAUSALIYU


SUFFICIENT REASON AND CAUSALITY

D. R. Khashaba

These two notions are liable to be confused or implicitly identified. The confusion and the implicit identification are a source of serious error.

I have repeatedly and emphatically been designating causality as a useful fiction of science which cannot be imbued with either certainty or absolute universality. I have also repeatedly asserted that causal determinism is a superstition. Now if causality is confused with or identified with the principle of sufficient reason, then what I have been saying would be seen as sheer nonsense. It is therefore necessary to distinguish the two notions clearly.

The principle of sufficient reason is an imperative demand of the mind. It issues from the very nature of the mind as a rational power. It is none other than the ultimate principle of intelligibility which underlies all idealistic thinking, clearly affirmed in Parmenides’s pronouncement: To be and to be thought is the same thing. From this follows the corollary that any happening must in principle be explicable, in other words, there must have been sufficient reason for it to happen.

The principle of causality assumes that for any happening there is a fixed, determinate cause. This could be harmless if taken to mean the same as what I have given above as a corollary of the principle of sufficient reason. But there are two pitfalls: (1) When scientists, and empiricists generally, speak of causation they commonly have in mind specific causes extracted by abstraction from empirical observation and experimentation. They gloss over the fact that such causes are necessarily hypothetical and approximate. That the sun will ‘rise’ tomorrow leaves unmentioned the condition that no cosmic catastrophe has shattered our Earth or wobbled the whole of the Milky Way. (2) More seriously, determinism implies that ant given state of affairs absolutely determines the following state of affairs. I maintain that this is an assumption that (a) can never be empirically verified, and (b) is contradicted by our incontrovertible experience of spontaneity and creativity.

I find it incredible that philosophers and scientists have been cracking their heads trying to reconcile our freedom and creativity with the assumption of determinism rather than adjusting the concept of determinism to agree with the reality of our creativity.

The principle of sufficient reason is hospitable to freedom and creativity. Socrates’ willingly drinking the hemlock rather than escaping prison is intelligible in the light of his principles. His action vindicates the principle of sufficient reason and demolishes the superstition of causal determinism.

Cairo, 12 June 2015.

Thursday, June 11, 2015


A NOTE ON ETHICS A NOTE ON ETHICS D. R. Khashaba Some works of reference define ethics as the science of morals. In my opinion this is doubly erroneous. In the first place, there is no science of morals and there can never be a science of morals. Morality defines a way of life and offers a quality of life. Hence there can be many different moralities, opposed but not necessarily contradictory. Hence too, all morality is relative, but this does not negate the absolute character of morals as an affirmation of the value of life. In the second place, ethics and morals are two completely distinct things. Ethics is the theory of morality and can – at any rate one kind of ethics can – be properly described as a science. There are two kinds of ethical theory. One kind is objective: it observes, traces, describes. records the way moral judgments and moral values arise in particular societies, cultures, or times. This follows scientific methods and can properly be described as a science. The other kind is purely theoretical. It constructs a conceptual superstructure around a particular morality, elucidating, rationalizing, justifying that particular morality. Such is the Ethics of Spinoza; such are the ethical works of Kant. The theory does not initiate or establish or even necessarily propagate the moral values it theorizes about. The theory is an extraneous adjunct to the morality. (The moral insights in a work such as Spinoza’s or Kant’s can be genuine, original, precious, but they are essentially prior to and independent of the theory.) Cairo, 10 June 2015

A NOTE ON ETHICS D. R. Khashaba Some works of reference define ethics as the science of morals. In my opinion this is doubly erroneous. In the first place, there is no science of morals and there can never be a science of morals. Morality defines a way of life and offers a quality of life. Hence there can be many different moralities, opposed but not necessarily contradictory. Hence too, all morality is relative, but this does not negate the absolute character of morals as an affirmation of the value of life. In the second place, ethics and morals are two completely distinct things. Ethics is the theory of morality and can – at any rate one kind of ethics can – be properly described as a science. There are two kinds of ethical theory. One kind is objective: it observes, traces, describes. records the way moral judgments and moral values arise in particular societies, cultures, or times. This follows scientific methods and can properly be described as a science. The other kind is purely theoretical. It constructs a conceptual superstructure around a particular morality, elucidating, rationalizing, justifying that particular morality. Such is the Ethics of Spinoza; such are the ethical works of Kant. The theory does not initiate or establish or even necessarily propagate the moral values it theorizes about. The theory is an extraneous adjunct to the morality. (The moral insights in a work such as Spinoza’s or Kant’s can be genuine, original, precious, but they are essentially prior to and independent of the theory.) Cairo, 10 June 2015

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

WORKING ON A NEW BOOK


FRANKLY, THIS NOTE IS JUST A TRIAL POST. BUT I AM ACTUALLY WORKING ON MY NINTH BOOK, A COLLRCYION OF PAPERS UNDER THE TITLE PLATO'S UNIVERSE OF DISCOUTSE, WHICH I hope to publish early this summer. 10 JUNE 2015