Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Antimoral Incentives

From the very title of this section (Antimoral Incentives) in Schopenhauer's text, one could assume that it is going to start off on a negative note. And, the first sentence of the sections proves such a claim to be true. Schopenhauer begins, "The chief and fundamental incentive in man as in the animal is egoism, that is, the craving for existence and well-being." (BM131) Along the same lines, Schopenhauer describes "self interest" as "egoism insofar as this is under the guidance of the faculty of reason; by means of reflection, this faculty enables egoism to pursue its purposes systematically". That is to say, animals are "egoistic" but not "self-interested", because they have not evolved the faculty of reason. For the sake of this essay, Schopenhauer will strictly use the term egoistic to refer to animals and humans.

In the Schopenhauerian sense of the term, egoism is not merely a character flaw. Egoism is inherently built into our "inner nature", and the source from which all motives flow. The term "inner nature" should draw some confusion from the readers. In all cases with Schopenhauer, this is NOT just an arbitrary choice of words. Schopenhauer sets out from the position Kant held that the world is divided between phenomenon and noumena, however Schopenhauer calls the former representation (outer sense) and the latter, Will (inner sense).

Allow me to introduce several passages from Schopenhauer's magnum opus, The World as Will and Representation.

He begins with the bold statement:

The world is my representation: this is a truth valid with reference to every living and knowing being, although man alone can bring it into reflective, abstract consciousness. If he really does so, philosophical discernment has dawned on him. It then becomes clear and certain to him that he does not know a sun and an earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels an earth; that the world around him is there only as representation, in other words, only in reference to another thing, namely that which represents, and this is himself. (WWR3)

In other words, the world in all its complexities and various forms only exists as object in reference to a subject. The subject is "that which knows all, and is known by none", and objects are everything else, in short - the material world. In short, all representation is knowledge and all knowledge is divided into subject and object. This is only one side of our existence, mainly the material part: Kant's noumena and Schopenhauer's representation. In other words, the outer sense of experience.

With this in mind how do we understand the term "inner nature" in the context of Schopenhauer's morality? The other side to existence is termed "Will", and its explanation is not as cut and dry as representation, and takes a flexible mind to see how both work in unison.

If we were to examine the world from the side of representation or things, one would never be able to venture into what Schopenhauer calls the inner nature. Without this other side, existence would remain as mere image and as a slideshow continually running through our "mind", or as Schopenhauer claims, "it would inevitably pass by us like an empty dream, or a ghostly vision not worth our consideration. Or we ask whether it is something else, something in addition, and if so what that something is." (WWR99)

If we are going to pursue finding this something else, then how do we go about searching and where do we look? One thing is for certain, "we can never get at the inner nature of things from without. However much we may investigate, we obtain nothing but images and names. We are like a man who goes round a castle, looking in vain for an entrance, and sometimes sketching the facades. Yet this is path that all philosophers before me have followed." (WWR99)

Now in a brilliant move and one of the greatest contributions to philosophy, Schopenhauer approaches this "something else" from an entirely different perspective.

If we were to approach this other side as merely "representation of the knowing subject" then we could find nothing more than "the purely knowing subject". This would be a dead end. Schopenhauer states, and I take this as one of the most important passages in philosophic history, that:

"All this, however, is not the case; on the contrary, the answer to the riddle is given to the subject of knowledge appearing as individual, and this answer is given in the word Will. This and this alone gives him the key to his own phenomenon, reveals to him the significance and shows him the inner mechanism of his being, his actions, his movements. To the subject of knowing, who appears as an individual only through his identity with the body, this body is given in two entirely different ways. It is given in intelligent perception as representation, as an object among objects, liable to the laws of these objects. But it is also given in quite a different way, namely as what is know immediately to everyone, and is denoted by the word Will."

An act of will is given through the medium of the body. The body moves and the source of locomotion or movement is simply the will. "The action of the body is nothing but the act of the will objectified". This is true of all Matter. In other words, matter is merely the will objectified.

Schopenhauer's philosophy of will is one of the more complex ideas in all of philosophy. The will is most accurately described as the will-to-live, and all actions are merely the affirmation of the will-to-live. Moreover, the will-to-live could further be unfolded into and is manifested in the basic instincts of self-preservation and sexual reproduction. Schopenhauer describes this as a blind impulse. We don't have to work at it, it just happens, it consumes our being, rather it is the essence of our being: survival and procreation. (WWR 285) Now if all matter is governed by the will-to-live than the opposite of this and greatest threat to man would consequently be death.

Schopenhauer elaborates, "real existence is only in the present, whose unimpeded flight into the past is a constant transition into death, a constant dying...Thus his a continual rushing of the present into the dead past, a constant dying....Every breath we draw wards off death that constantly impinges on us. In this way we struggle with it every second, and again at longer internals through every meal we eat, every sleep we take, every time we warm ourselves, and so on. Ultimately death must triumph, for by birth it has already become our lot, and it plays on its prey only for a while before swallowing it up. However, we continue our life with great interest and much solicitude as long as possible, just as we blow out a soap bubble as long and as large as possible, although with perfect certainty it will burst." 311

To be continued....

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