Saturday, 30 June 2018

Schopenhauer On Kant and Scholasticism

Schopenhauer’s Bust in Frankfurt
Arthur Schopenhauer makes seven references to scholasticism in his essay, “Criticisms of The Kantian Philosophy” (Chapter: Appendix; The World as Will and Representation, Volume 1). He suggests that scholasticism lasted for 1400 years before Immanuel Kant. But this means that scholasticism predates Thomas Aquinas, and that the scholastic system got manifested towards the end of the Roman Empire when there was a significant rise in the power and influence of Christianity.

Here’s an excerpt from Schopenhauer’s essay, “Criticisms of The Kantian Philosophy”:
That Kant's great achievements were bound to be accompanied by great errors is easy to understand on merely historical grounds. For although he effected the greatest revolution in philosophy, and did away with scholasticism, which in the above-mentioned wider sense had lasted for fourteen hundred years, in order really to begin an entirely new third world-epoch in philosophy, the immediate result of his appearance was, however, in practice only negative, not positive.
Schopenhauer points out that Kant was unable to break away from scholasticism in every region of his philosophy. As an example of the bad segments in Kantian philosophy which are reminiscent of a scholastic mindset, Schopenhauer mentions the chapter on the Transcendental Ideal in Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason.  “There now follows the chapter on the Transcendental Ideal, which at once takes us back to the rigid scholasticism of the Middle Ages.” The use of the word "rigid" is significant in this sentence because it signifies that Schopenhauer believed that scholasticism which existed since the end of the Roman Empire became more rigid during the Middle Ages. 

Friday, 29 June 2018

Locke’s Philosophy of Revelations and Miracles

Portrait of John Locke 
John Locke, in his An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (Book 4), says that tedious labor is required to test the genuineness of a revelation. He attacks the enthusiasts who claim to have experienced divine revelations, referring to them as “men in whom melancholy has mixed with devotion, or whose conceit of themselves has raised them into an opinion of a greater familiarity with God, and a nearer admittance to his favour than is afforded to others, have often flattered themselves with a persuasion of an immediate intercourse with the Deity, and frequent communications from the Divine Spirit.” (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 5)

The enthusiasts are clearly violating Locke’s principles of religious beliefs which he has described in the earlier sections of his book. He notes that “all their confidence is mere presumption: and this light they are so dazzled with is nothing but an ignis fatuus, that leads them constantly round in this circle; It is a revelation, because they firmly believe it; and they believe it, because it is a revelation.” (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 10)

He says when we give a hearing to an enthusiast who is claiming that God has spoken to him, we must not forgo of our reason—we must only believe what is in accord with reason:
Revelation must be judged of by reason. He, therefore, that will not give himself up to all the extravagances of delusion and error must bring this guide of his light within to the trial. God when he makes the Prophet does not unmake the Man. He leaves all his Faculties in their natural State, to enable him to judge of his Inspirations, whether they be of divine Original or no. When he illuminates the Mind with supernatural Light, he does not extinguish that which is natural. If he would have us assent to the Truth of any Proposition, he either evidences that Truth by the usual Methods of natural Reason, or else makes it known to be a Truth, which he would have us assent to, by his Authority, and convinces us that it is from him, by some Marks which Reason cannot be mistaken in. Reason must be our last Judge and Guide in every Thing. I do not mean, that we must consult Reason, and examine whether a Proposition revealed from God can be made out by natural Principles, and if it cannot, that then we may reject it: But consult it we must, and by it examine, whether it be a Revelation from God or no: And if Reason finds it to be revealed from GOD, Reason then declares for it, as much as for any other Truth, and makes it one of her Dictates. Every Conceit that throughly warms our Fancies must pass for an Inspiration, if there be nothing but the Strength of our Perswasions, whereby to judge of our Perswasions: If Reason must not examine their Truth by something extrinsical to the Perswasions them selves; Inspirations and Delusions, Truth and Falshood will have the same Measure, and will not be possible to be distinguished. (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 14)
However, Locke is willing to accept the occurrence of a revelation if there is an evidence that a miracle has taken place:
We see the holy Men of old, who had Revelations from GOD, had something else besides that internal Light of assurance in their own Minds, to testify to them, that it was from GOD. They were not left to their own Perswasions alone, that those perswasions were from GOD; But had outward Signs to convince them of the Author of those Revelations. And when they were to convince others, they had a Power given them to justify the Truth of their Commission from Heaven; and by visible Signs to assert the divine Authority of the Message they were sent with. (Essay; Book 4; Chapter 19: “Of Enthusiasm”; 15) 
Locke proceeds to offer examples of Biblical miracles that he believes have happened and must be accepted by all as truth. The idea that miracles can be taken as proof of divine revelation is problematic, but Locke has not addressed this problem.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Schopenhauer’s Criticisms of The Kantian Philosophy

Arthur Schopenhauer, in his essay, “Criticisms of The Kantian Philosophy” (Chapter: Appendix; The World as Will and Representation, Volume 1), makes it clear that he is indebted to Kantian philosophy. He holds Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason as the work of a great genius, and says that Kant is so far ahead that it will take time for rest of mankind to understand the importance of his work. “Thus the whole strength and importance of Kant's teaching will become evident only in the course of time, when the spirit of the age, itself gradually reformed and altered in the most important and essential respect by the influence of that teaching, furnishes living evidence of the power of that giant mind.”

However, Schopenhauer’s essay is highly polemical and is devoted to identifying the mistakes that Kant has made in his philosophy. He believes that he will make Kantian philosophy shine brightly and endure more positively by identifying and neutralizing the myriad errors that Kant himself brought into it. Schopenhauer accepts that despite the great innovation in ideas that Kant has brought to philosophy, his impact has been mostly negative. “For although he effected the greatest revolution in philosophy, and did away with scholasticism, which in the above-mentioned wider sense had lasted for fourteen hundred years, in order really to begin an entirely new third world-epoch in philosophy, the immediate result of his appearance was, however, in practice only negative, not positive.”

I will talk about Schopenhauer's detailed criticism of the important aspects of Kantian philosophy in my next blogs—in this one I will focus on his criticism of Kant’s writing style. Here's an excerpt:
Kant's exposition is often indistinct, indefinite, inadequate, and occasionally obscure. This obscurity is certainly to be excused in part by the difficulty of the subject and the depth of the ideas. Yet whoever is himself clear to the bottom, and knows quite distinctly what he thinks and wants, will never write indistinctly, never set up wavering and indefinite concepts, or pick up from foreign languages extremely difficult and complicated expressions to denote such concepts, in order to continue using such expressions afterwards, as Kant took words and formulas from earlier, even scholastic, philosophy. These he combined with one another for his own purpose, as for example, "transcendental synthetic unity of apperception," and in general "unity of synthesis," which he always uses where "union" or "combination" would be quite sufficient by itself. Moreover, such a man will not always be explaining anew what has already been explained once, as Kant does, for example, with the understanding, the categories, experience, and other main concepts. Generally, such a man will not incessantly repeat himself, and yet, in every new presentation of an idea that has already occurred a hundred times, leave it again in precisely the same obscure passages. On the contrary, he will express his meaning once distinctly, thoroughly, and exhaustively, and leave it at that. 
Schopenhauer laments that by his complicated style of writing, Kant legitimized the use of obscure language in philosophy and thereby enabled the madness of Hegel:
The public had been forced to see that what is obscure is not always without meaning; what was senseless and without meaning at once took refuge in obscure exposition and language. Fichte was the first to grasp and make vigorous use of this privilege; Schelling at least equalled him in this, and a host of hungry scribblers without intellect or honesty soon surpassed them both. But the greatest effrontery in serving up sheer nonsense, in scrabbling together senseless and maddening webs of words, such as had previously been heard only in madhouses, finally appeared in Hegel. It became the instrument of the most ponderous and general mystification that has ever existed, with a result that will seem incredible to posterity, and be a lasting monument of German stupidity.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Kant, Jacobi, and Wizenmann in Battle

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi; Immanuel Kant
It was difficult for Immanuel Kant to stay out of the Pantheism controversy as both sides of the dispute wanted to have him as an ally. Those on the side of the “party of faith,” Johann Georg Hamann, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, and Thomas Wizenmann were eager to gain Kant’s support. On the other side were Moses Mendelssohn and his supporters, trying their best to cajole Kant to fight for their cause.

With the intention of compelling Kant to join him, Jacobi declared in early 1785 that Kant was a “philosopher of faith.” Hamann tried to encourage Kant to launch an attack on Mendelssohn’s Spinozism. But after Mendelssohn’s death in January 1786, Kant came under pressure from Mendelssohn’s allies to speak out against Jacobi and avenge Mendelssohn’s death.

In May 1786, Wizenmann published a tract in which he posited that all philosophy ends in Spinozism, and therefore atheism and fatalism cannot be avoided.

In his essay “Kant, Jacobi, and Wizenmann in Battle,” (Chapter 4; The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte), Frederick C. Beiser has this to say about Wizenmann’s use of Kantian premises to make a case for religion:
Where Jacobi is vague and merely suggestive, Wizenmann is clear and bluntly argumentative. His argument is especially interesting since it begins with Kantian premises and then draws fideistic conclusions from them. In the hands of the pietists an essentially Kantian-style epistemology becomes a powerful weapon in humbling the claims of reason and uplifting those of faith. 
The main premise of Wizenmann's argument is his definition of reason, which he explicitly states at the very beginning. According to this definition, which is truly Kantian in spirit, the task of reason is to relate facts, that is, to compare and contrast them, or to infer them from one another. But it cannot create or reveal facts, which must be given to it. Appealing to Kant's criticism of the ontological argument, Wizenmann advances the general thesis that it is not possible for reason to demonstrate the existence of anything. If we are to know that something exists, then it has to be given to us in experience. Of course, it is possible to infer the existence of something, but only when the existence of something else is already known. All inferences are only hypothetical in form, Wizenmann explains, such that we can infer the existence of one thing only if another is already given. Hence Wizenmann concludes in the manner of Kant that there is a twofold source of knowledge: experience, which gives us knowledge of matters of fact; and reason, which relates these facts through inference. 
On the basis of this Kantian definition and distinction, Wizenmann builds his case for positive religion. 
Wizenmann’s tract served the purpose of making Kant aware that Jacobi and Mendelssohn were heading in the direction of irrationalism and he had to intervene. But there were several other pressures that finally goaded Kant into action—with Jacobi and Mendelssohn trying to appropriate him for their own cause, Kant ran the risk of being seen as either a philosopher of faith or a philosopher dogmatic fanatical atheism. He disagreed with both the stances.

Finally in October 1786, Kant published his first contribution to the Pantheism controversy, an essay called “What Does it Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?”  Here’s Beiser’s perspective on the stand that Kant took on the Pantheism controversy in his essay:
In this essay Kant takes a middle position between Jacobi and Mendelssohn. He accepts some of their principles but refuses to draw such drastic conclusions from them. On the one hand, he agrees with Jacobi that knowledge cannot justify faith; but he disagrees with his conclusion that reason cannot justify it. On the other hand, he concurs with Mendelssohn that it is necessary to justify faith through reason; but he does not accept the conclusion that to justify faith through reason demands knowledge.  
What allows Kant to steer a middle path between Jacobi and Mendelssohn is his denial of one of their common premises: that reason is a faculty of knowledge, a theoretical faculty whose purpose is to know things-in- themselves or the unconditioned. Resting his case upon the central thesis of the second Kritik, which would appear only fourteen months later in January 1788, Kant assumes that reason is a practical faculty: it does not describe the unconditioned, but prescribes it as an end of conduct. Reason prescribes the unconditioned in either of two senses: when it commands us to seek the final condition for a series of conditions in nature; or when it commands us categorically to perform certain actions, regardless of our interests and circumstances. In both these cases the unconditioned is not an entity that we know, but an ideal for our conduct, whether that be scientific inquiry or moral action. By thus separating reason from knowledge, Kant creates the opportunity for a rational justification of faith independent of metaphysics. 
At the very heart of Kant's essay is his concept of 'rational faith' (Vernunftglaube). This he defines as faith based solely on reason. 
The concept of “rational faith,” allows Kant to walk the middle path between Mendelssohn’s dogmatism and Jacobi’s mysticism. He also makes the point that both Mendelssohn and Jacobi are guilty of undermining reason, which he says must always remain the final criterion of truth in philosophy. He accuses Jacobi and Wizenmann of irrationalism, and concludes that only critical philosophy can uphold reason.

In February 1787, only four months after the publication of Kant’s essay, Wizenmann wrote an an open letter to Kant—in it he rebutted Kant’s charges and pointed out the deficiencies in the Kantian concept of practical faith. Jacobi too realized that Kant would never join his cause, and he wrote a very influential criticism of Kantian philosophy.

On Jacobi’s attack on Kant, Beiser says:
Jacobi sees Kant's philosophy, especially as it is consistently and systematically developed by Fichte, as the paradigm of all philosophy—and hence as the very epitome of nihilism. Jacobi's attack on philosophy has now become first and foremost an attack on Kant, and in particular on Fichte, whom Jacobi sees as nothing more than a radical Kantian.

Sunday, 24 June 2018

Virtue and Moral Philosophy

In Varieties of Goodness, Georg Henrik von Wright has devoted a chapter to the discussion of the philosophy of virtues—he criticizes and departs from the traditional doctrine of virtues proposed by Aristotle and Aquinas. But in her essay, “Von Wright on Virtue,” (Chapter 7; Moral Dilemmas: and other topics in moral philosophy), Philippa Foot suggests that while von Wright is correct in thinking that the topic needs to be reopened and developed there is more to the point of view of Aristotle and Aquinas than he allows.

Explaining von Wright’s objective behind his article on virtue, Philippa Foot writes:
Kant’s dictum about logic—that it had made no real progress since Aristotle—could, he says, be applied with at least equally good justification to the ethics of virtue, and he seems to see the future development of the philosophy of the virtues in terms of radical change. So he sets out to shape a new concept of virtue and one sees how far von Wright is prepared to go in throwing over old doctrines when one realizes that he is happy with a definition which explodes two of the four cardinal virtues of ancient and medieval morality. 
She notes that von Wright seems to be preoccupied with the need to distinguish a virtue, in the sense in which the term is used today, from an art or skill. He is of the view that Aristotle got misled by the peculiarities of the Greek language and failed to see the major gulf that exists between a virtue and an art or skill.
Von Wright’s own answer to the question ‘How does a virtue differ from an art or a skill?’ is as follows. If one possesses a skill, or is master of an art, one has what he calls ‘technical goodness’ and technical goodness is a matter of being good at performing some specific activity, such as running, skiing, or singing. A virtue must be different because there is no specific activity connected with any virtue, and therefore nothing for a man of virtue to be good at
But Philippa Foot says that that von Wright’s thinking that the distinction between arts or skills and virtues depends on the denial that the latter are connected with specific activities is mistaken.
…however close the connection between certain virtues and certain activities a man does not possess the virtue by being good at the activity. The reason for this was indicated quite correctly by Aristotle when he said that in art he who errs voluntarily is preferable, whereas in the matter of wisdom, justice, etc., it is the reverse. Thus, to use Aristotle’s example, a grammarian who commits a solecism on purpose does not give any evidence of deficiency in the art of grammar, whereas no one could rebut a charge of injustice or folly by saying that he chose to act unjustly or foolishly. 
Von Wright has made the argument about considerateness—he says that virtue is a form of self-mastery, or of being considerate. A considerate man knows how to control his selfish impulses so far as these might inference with his judgments about the harm that will come to others through possible action of his. He refers to courage as a virtue most often in his discussion. But Philippa Foot shows that there exists a closer connection between the concept of courage and that of good action than von Wright allows. 

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Locke’s Quest for a Demonstrative Science of Morality

Portrait of John Locke 
John Locke believed that a demonstrative science of morality can be proved—and he hoped to use the idea of existence of God and his knowledge of human nature to develop a set of universally valid and demonstrable laws of morality.

In his letter to Locke (Dated: 27 August 1692), William Molyneux requests Locke to produce a treatise of morals. Here’s an excerpt from Molyneux’s letter:
One Thing I must needs insist on to you, which is, that you would think of Obleidging the World, with a Treatise of Morals, drawn up according to the Hints you frequently give in Your Essay, Of their Being Demonstrable according to the Mathematical Method. This is Most Certainly True. But then the task must be undertaken only by so Clear and Distinct a Thinker as you are. This were an Attempt worthy you Consideration. And there is Nothing I should More ardently wish for, than to see it. And therefore, Good Sir, Let me Beg of you to turn your thoughts this way. and if so Young a Freinship as mine have any force; Let me prevail on you.
In his reply to Molyneux (Dated: 20 September 1692), Locke says:
Though by the view I had of moral ideas, whilst I was considering that subject, I thought I saw that morality might be demonstratively made out, yet whether I am able so to make it out is another question. Every one could not have demonstrated what Mr. Newton’s book hath shewn to be demonstrable: but to shew my readiness to obey your commands, I shall not decline the first leisure I can get to employ some thoughts that way; unless I find what I have said in my Essay shall have stir’d up some abler man to prevent me, and effectually to that service to the world.
But Locke was unable to produce scientific laws of morality. His failure to achieve what he said could be achieved, and his appeal to theology for explaining the duty and the motivation to act morally, is a fundamental flaw in his moral theory.

Friday, 22 June 2018

Philippa Foot on Nietzsche’s Immoralism

In her essay, “Nietzsche’s Immoralism,” (Chapter 9; Moral Dilemmas: and other topics in moral philosophy), Philippa Foot is taking Nietzsche to task for his belief that he could discredit morality. She rejects the idea that Nietzsche was preaching in favor of a new morality, insisting that he was against morality as such. Here’s an excerpt:

“Nor was Nietzsche simply a run-of-the-mill moral relativist. He branded as ‘childish’ the idea that no morality can be binding because moral valuations are necessarily different among different nations. So even his arguments for the subjectivity of moral judgement were idiosyncratic. He saw different moralities as determined by the desires and needs of peoples and generations: at one time the need to control aggressive individuals when they were no longer useful in meeting external enemies; in the long reign of Christianity the desire of the weak and ‘misbegotten’ to brand themselves as ‘good’ and those stronger characters, whom they fear, as ‘evil’: in modern Europe the longing of the mediocre ‘to look nobler, more important, more respectable, “divine”’. Throughout all these changes morality was, Nietzsche insisted, fundamentally a subterfuge by which the weak—the members of the herd—tried to dress up their weakness and their fears as ‘goodness’, a device by which they produced self-doubt and a bad conscience in those who, as nobles, had once unquestioningly called themselves good.”

She offers several examples of Nietzsche’s attack on morality and the philosophical license that he willingly grants to injustice. She points out that because of Nietzsche’s insistence that here are no kinds of actions that are good or bad in themselves, it has become possible for the most flagrant acts of injustice to escape being called evil in themselves. She does not use her own words to accuse Nietzsche of making the Nazis possible, but she produces a quote from Thomas Mann to make that suggestion. Mann said in 1947: “How bound in time, how theoretical too, how inexperienced does Nietzsche’s romanticizing about wickedness appear… today! We have learned to know it in all its miserableness.”

She goes on to question Nietzsche’s capabilities as a psychologist and a philosopher. “Nietzsche saw himself as a wonderful psychologist, but the truth is that he was partly a wonderful psychologist and partly a mere speculating philosopher far exceeding any plausible basis for his speculations.” To those who rise up to defend Nietzsche, she says: "Nietzsche's defenders are like those who say of Wagner that he is better than he sounds." However, she holds that the analytic philosophers must read Nietzsche because he has a capacity to stretch philosophical imagination. It is also important, she insists, to criticize Nietzsche’s ideas from the point of view of philosophical argument and truth. She points out that it is from the objective of criticizing Nietzsche that she has written this essay. 

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Beauty Restored

In her book Beauty Restored, Mary Mothersill examines the recent trends in aesthetic philosophy. She has an entire chapter on Hume's essay on taste, which she finds muddled. On Immanuel Kant's The Critique of Judgement, she has a chapter and a number of other passages. She supports Kant’s ideas, but disagrees with him on a few points—for instance, she holds that Kant was mistaken in making sublime a separate category from the beautiful.

Her framework of beauty consists of three theses: There are no principles of taste; as the aesthetic judgment is communicable, it must be subject to examination of validity; aesthetic judgment is singular.

Paul Guyer has written an interesting essay (Values of Beauty; Chapter 13: “Mary Mothersill’s Beauty Restored”) on Mothersill’s book. Here's an excerpt from Guyer's essay:
Mothersill undermines three philosophical objections to the otherwise natural assumption that beauty is a property in an object which causes feelings of pleasure in those who observe it. First, it has been held that the causal relationship requires an effect which is an event of change from an antecedent state of affairs, but our pleasure in a beautiful object is not any sort of event; pleasure is not an inner episode like pain but some sort of attitude or even a way of conducting an activity. Second, it is held that causality is a contingent connection between two discrete states of affairs, and so requires that the otherwise appropriate characterizations of the cause and the effect reflect their logical independence; yet beauty and pleasure are no more logically independent, than, say, pleasure and fulfillment of desire. If the fulfillment of desire logically entails pleasure, it cannot cause it, and likewise beauty is actually too closely connected with pleasure to cause it. Finally, it is insisted that cause and effect must each be instances of repeatable kinds, states of affairs between which there can be law-like regularities; but then any assumption of a connection between the beauty of an object and its uniqueness will be precluded.  
Philosophers as profound as Kant have felt the force of these objections, and Mothersill’s refutation of them is masterly. She rejects the arguments, especially the Rylean arguments, against the supposition that pleasure really is any sort of inner episode at all on a number of grounds: pleasure is in fact sufficiently distinct from the rest of our experience of an object to be abstracted from it and sometimes even to interfere with it; pleasure need not be synchronous with the activity that produces it-it may linger on after our encounter with the object is over, or even come to our notice only then; and our several pleasures are not merely ways of talking or otherwise behaving, but inner states which may at least sometimes be hidden and have to be inferred (pp. 282-83). Second, although the “answer to the question, ‘What is the cause of your current pleasure?' is often obvious and unmistakeable"(p. 301), this does not mean that the connection between cause and effect is other than contingent; there is no logical necessity that a beautiful object invariably and obviously please, any more than there is in fact a logical necessity that the fulfillment of desire actually produce the pleasure expected from it. Beauty and the fulfillment of desire almost always please, and it is almost always evident that they are the causes of the pleasures they produce, so the inference from cause to effect is almost always routine. But the exceptional is not the logically impossible, and the connection between beauty and pleasure, like that between fulfillment of desire and pleasure, is in fact a contingent causal connection even if it hardly ever fails or even fails to be obvious.
Guyer also shows that Kant’s explanation of our pleasures in the beautiful and sublime can lead to more meaningful conception of the pleasure in beautiful than Mothersill allows. 

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Baumgarten’s Aesthetica

Alexander Gottlieb Baumgarten, in his work Aesthetica (2 Volumes: 1750—58), appropriated the word “aesthetics” and gave it the meaning by which it is understood today. But Baumgarten cannot be regarded as the founder of aesthetics—that distinction belongs to Immanuel Kant. The modern philosophy of aesthetics is based largely on Kant’s The Critique of Judgement. Even our acquaintance with Aesthetica is modeled by two comments that Kant has made, the first in his The Critique of Pure Reason, and the second in his The Critique of Judgement.

Mary J. Gregor’s, in her interesting essay, “Baumgarten’s Aesthetica,” explains the nature of the project that Baumgarten had undertaken in Aesthetica. Baumgarten wanted to establish a theory of liberal arts which is based on theory of knowledge.

Here’s an excerpt from Gregor’s essay:
That aesthetics is, in Baumgarten’s view, an art as well as a science may be unfortunate from the modern reader’s point of view: it accounts for the concern with “rules” which makes a part of the Aesthetica philosophically uninteresting. Yet the only “rules” to which Baumgarten commits himself without reservation are innocuous applications of his philosophical tenets. At this most general level, his position is simply that theoretical knowledge of how the components of sense cognition function will yield very general percepts for directing this sort of cognition to its proper perfection. There is in man a “natural logic,” innate intellectual powers which will develop regardless of any theoretical knowledge about their nature. So too there is in man a “natural aesthetic,” which the child exercises in the normal process of looking, listening, and particularly playing games. Man’s intellectual and aesthetic powers will, under favorable conditions, develop of themselves as he exercises them. Whether these powers will reach the perfection of which they are capable is, however, dependent on circumstances, and their development need not and should not be left to chance. Natural logic can and should be controlled by the rules of acquired or “artificial” logic. So too, natural aesthetic can and should be controlled by the rules of acquired or “artificial” aesthetic, derived from knowledge of the lower cognitive power. There is in man an innate capacity to find the connection of things by “the law of the third term,” but the rules of logic can prevent mistakes in reasoning. So too man has an innate disposition to find connection of things by associating ideas, but the rules of aesthetics prevent mistakes in connecting ideas by virtue of their association. We make a logical blunder when we assert a connection of distinct ideas that is not sanctioned by a distributed middle term. We make an aesthetic blunder when we associate indistinct ideas on the basis of some purely subjective ground which yields a chimera, incommunicable to others through sensible signs. 
On Baumgarten’s contributions to aesthetic philosophy, this is what Gregor has to say:
Baumgarten’s claim for art is a modest one: given the nature of man his perfection requires the development of his potentialities for both perception and discursive reasoning. Because the two modes of perfection, perceptual and discursive, are different, there can be no displacement of art by science. The work of art is not a symbolic form, but rather the use of signs (and, in the case of literature, symbols) to articulate perceptual form. Since the work of art is not a symbol, its role cannot be usurped by the symbolic product of man’s higher cognitive power. Reason, according to Baumgarten, is “superior” in finite spirits, i.e., minds incapable of intellectual intuition, but only in “weightier matters,” such as science and morality. But “to posit the one [kind of knowledge] is not to exclude the other.” Hence art—perfection perfected—is assured a permanent place in human experience. Modesty may have its own rewards.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Nietzsche and Nihilism

Nietzsche believed that nihilism is a widespread phenomenon in European culture—he offers his diagnosis of European nihilism in his book The Will to Power.

But was Nietzsche a nihilist? He held that the world is what we make it to be, and that there is no fundamental basis to the traditional social, political, moral, and religious values held by mankind. He announced that God is dead, arguing that God is no longer a source of moral and spiritual values, and is irrelevant to modern culture.

In The Will to Power, (Notes from Spring-Fall1887), Nietzsche writes:
What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; "why?" finds no answer. 
In Notes from November 1887-March 1888, titled “Decline of Cosmological Values,” he says:
Nihilism as a psychological state will have to be reached, first, when we have sought a "meaning" in all events that is not there: so the seeker eventually becomes discouraged. Nihilism, then, is the recognition of the long waste of strength, the agony of the "in vain," insecurity, the lack of any opportunity to recover and to regain composure—being ashamed in front of oneself, as if one had deceived oneself all too long…
Nietzsche realized that people around him were nihilists, but he was not a nihilist (or an advocate of nihilism). He likened the “death of God” to a slave revolt against the master morality of antiquity. He believed that the nihilism that followed the death of God will lead to a drastic fall in moral standards which in turn will undermine civilization. But he welcomed the nihilist force because he believed that it would sweep away the traditional culture and make room for the emergence of a super-race of human beings. Nietzsche’s Overman is not the cause of nihilism; he is its solution.

Michael Allen Gillespie, in his book Nihilism Before Nietzsche disagrees with Nietzsche’s pessimism about modern culture. In the Introduction to his book, he says:
Nietzsche’s account of the origin and nature of nihilism has led us wrongly to devalue the modern world, especially in implicating liberalism in nihilism. In his view, liberalism is the final triumph of slave morality and destroys the last remnants of the old hierarchical order. It thus produces the banal last man, and it is the last man whose weakness finally destroys God. Liberalism, for Nietzsche, thus plays an important role in the nihilistic destruction of traditional values… 
Nihilism is not the result of liberalism but of a strain of modern thought that is largely at odds with liberalism, which sees man not as a limited and imperfect being who “muddles through,” but as a superhuman being who can create the world anew through the application of his infinite will. While liberalism may end in relativism, it rejects such Promethean visions; and while it may in some instances produce banality and boredom, it does not produce a politics of terror and destruction. Indeed, despite the fact that liberalism has in many respects embraced relativism, it has shown great resilience in the face of terroristic regimes.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Jupiter’s Eagle with Lightening-bolts in its Claws

In the Critique of Judgement, Immanuel Kant characterizes the aesthetic idea as a presentation of the imagination which inspires an unrestricted reflection on the significance of some idea or concept.

The Kantian conception of aesthetic idea consists of three notions. First, there is a rational idea, which is an abstract notion, typically of moral significance that is not a part of our experience, such as eternity or creation, and whose full significance is not part of our experience, such as death or love. This rational idea can be regarded as the content of the work of art at the most abstract level. Second, there is overarching image of the imagination through which the abstract idea is presented—Kant offers the example of Jupiter as a symbol of divine power and justice. Third, there is what Kant calls the wealth of “aesthetic attributes” suggested by unrestricted reflection on the image of the imagination—he talks about “Jupiter’s eagle with the lightning-bolts in its claws…” Kant distinguishes the “aesthetic attributes” from the “logical attributes” contained in the already given content of the idea.

Here’s an excerpt from Kant’s the Critique of Judgement where he is talking about the aesthetic attributes in Jupiter’s eagle:
Those forms which do not constitute the presentation of a given concept itself but only, as approximate representations of the Imagination, express the consequences bound up with it and its relationship to other concepts, are called aesthetic attributes of an object, whose concept as a rational Idea cannot be adequately presented. Thus Jupiter’s eagle with the lightning-bolts in its claws is an attribute of the mighty king of heaven, as the peacock is of its magnificent queen. They do not, like logical attributes, represent what lies in our concepts of the sublimity and majesty of creation, but something different, which gives occasion to the Imagination to spread itself over a number of kindred representations, that arouse more thought than can be expressed in a concept determined by words. They furnish an aesthetic Idea, which for that rational Idea takes the place of logical presentation; and thus as their proper office they enliven the mind by opening out to it the prospect into an illimitable field of kindred representations. But beautiful art does this not only in the case of painting or sculpture (in which the term “attribute” is commonly employed): poetry and rhetoric also get the spirit that animates their works simply from the aesthetic attributes of the object, which accompany the logical and stimulate the Imagination, so that it thinks more by their aid, although in an undeveloped way, than could be comprehended in a concept and therefore in a definite form of words. 
Kant goes on to make it clear that the notion of the aesthetic idea is complex, because of the three elements being involved in the artwork that is exhibiting an aesthetic idea. “In a word the aesthetic Idea is a representation of the Imagination associated with a given concept, which is bound up with such a multiplicity of partial representations in its free employment, that for it no expression marking a definite concept can be found; and such a representation, therefore, adds to a concept much ineffable thought, the feeling of which quickens the cognitive faculties, and with language, which is the mere letter, binds up spirit also.”

Saturday, 16 June 2018

The Decline of Moses Mendelssohn’s Philosophy of the Enlightenment

Moses Mendelssohn
There was a time when Moses Mendelssohn was hailed as the leading light of the Enlightenment in Berlin; he was called “the Socrates of his age”; even Immanuel Kant used to acknowledge his greatness. But now Mendelssohn is remembered mostly as the philosopher whose central ideas were refuted by Kant in his first Critique, and were finally decimated by Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi during the Pantheism controversy—his own contributions to philosophy have been forgotten.

When Jacobi, in 1783, launched his attack on the Enlightenment’s central theme—the idea that reason justifies all the essential truths of commonsense, morality and religion— Mendelssohn was unable to furnish strong arguments to support the sovereignty of reason. Mendelssohn created the impression of an increasingly hapless thinker who is torn between common sense and speculation. In answer to Jacobi’s charge that reason always leads to nihilism, Mendelssohn admitted that it sometimes leads to nihilism. Because of his weak arguments, Mendelssohn lost support among the scholars of his period. Kant declared that by sometimes siding with speculation, Mendelssohn had betrayed his own ideal of sovereignty of reason.

It is also noteworthy that when the Pantheism controversy broke out Mendelssohn was too old and frail to get into a contest with Jacobi, let alone a formidable challenger as Kant. In December 1785, Mendelssohn completed his An die Freunde Lessings which was his final answer to Jacobi. He wanted to get this work published quickly in order to bring an end to his bitter arguments with Jacobi. On December 31, 1785, a freezing day in Berlin, Mendelssohn left his house to deliver the manuscript to the publisher. As he was in a hurry he did not put on his overcoat and that turned out to be a fatal mistake. He caught cold and died a few days later, on January 4, 1786.

In his essay, “Mendelssohn and the Pantheism Controversy,”  (The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte), Frederick C. Beiser offers the following summary of Mendelssohn’s contribution to the pantheism controversy:
If we look back over his contribution to the pantheism controversy, it is difficult to resist the conclusion that, despite his noble intentions, Mendelssohn had weakened the case for reason more than he had strengthened it. He made the case for reason dependent on the claims of rationalist metaphysics; but these claims were, to say the least, very disputable. He assumed that reason could be a sufficient criterion of truth in metaphysics only if the rationalist theory of judgment were correct; but that theory had serious weaknesses, namely, it could not explain real connection or guarantee conclusions of existential significance. Mendelssohn had also based some central moral and religious beliefs-the beliefs in God, providence, and immortality-upon a priori demonstrations. But these demonstrations were severely criticized by Kant in the first Kritik; and Mendelssohn's failure to reply to Kant in any thorough and rigorous fashion left his entire position exposed. So, in the end, it seemed as if Mendelssohn had imperiled, rather than defended, two fundamental claims of reason: its claim to be a sufficient criterion of truth in metaphysics; and its claim to justify our essential moral and religious beliefs. 
Another serious weakness of Mendelssohn's defense of reason was that, at bottom, it failed to address the deeper problem that Jacobi had raised. In summoning the ghost of Spinoza, Jacobi was alluding to the apparent fatalistic and atheistic consequences of modern science. It was indeed these consequences of modern science that so deeply disturbed late eighteenth-century thinkers. Mendelssohn did little to allay these fears, however, with his antique Wolffian-style refutation of Spinoza. For what was at stake was not the geometric demonstrations of Spinoza's system, but the naturalistic spirit behind it.  
There was also the nagging suspicion that Mendelssohn had betrayed the very credo he set out to defend. His moral and religious beliefs meant more to him than his reason, which he was willing to abandon should it continue to contradict them. That, at any rate, was the sad lesson to be learned from his method of orientation. It seemed that, when the going got rough, Mendelssohn was really on Jacobi's side. Who, then, was going to defend the cause of reason?  
Given Mendelssohn's poor showing, it was crucial that someone else enter into the fray to defend the crumbling authority of reason. A new defense was needed that did not repeat Mendelssohn's mistakes. It would have to separate the case for reason from the claims of metaphysics; it would have to respond to the deeper challenge behind Jacobi's Spinozism; and it would have to take an unambiguous stand in favor of reason. It was the destiny of Kant to undertake just such a defense.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Jacobi and the Pantheism Controversy

Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi
In 1783, Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi launched an attack on the Enlightenment’s central theme—the idea that reason justifies all the essential truths of commonsense, morality and religion. The Enlightenment scholars of that period believed that the authority of reason is above the authority of tradition and revelation. But Jacobi argued that the faith in reason must be held responsible for undermining the essential truths of morality, religion and commonsense. He proclaimed that the Enlightenment was flawed because reason and faith are in conflict—reason refutes faith and is against religion and God.

Jacobi initiated his attack by pointing out that the Enlightenment icon Gotthold Ephraim Lessing was a Spinozist (follower of Spinoza)—which in that period meant a pantheist or an atheist. Jacobi made Moses Mendelssohn, who was a friend of Lessing, a special target of his attack—he alleged that Mendelssohn had misunderstood the nature of his friend’s worldview. Mendelssohn tried to argue that Lessing’s Spinozism was not against the Enlightenment ideals. But Jacobi was not satisfied with Mendelssohn’s answer and the argument between them escalated. The other leading thinkers of the day, including Immanuel Kant, got involved as the status of the role of reason in the Enlightenment was at stake.

Mendelssohn died on January 4, 1786, while the dispute between him and Jacobi was at its peak. Jacobi was blamed for Mendelssohn’s death by some scholars of that period. That is not true; but Jacobi can be held accountable for the demise of Mendelssohn’s Enlightenment philosophy.

Frederick C. Beiser, in his 1987 book The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte, offers an account of the Pantheist controversy in Chapter 2, “Jacobi and the Pantheism Controversy.” Beiser points out that Jacobi used Lessing (an important symbolic figure) to formulate his criticism of Moses Mendelssohn’s standpoint on the Enlightenment. He rightly saw Mendelssohn as the leader of the pro-Enlightenment scholars in Berlin who wanted to remain loyal to both, reason and faith in God. They preached the ideal of radical criticism and free inquiry, but they abandoned their own ideals if these ideals seemed to lead to unorthodox or irreligious consequences.

Here’s an excerpt in which Beiser is explaining the philosophical significance of the Pantheist controversy:
But can philosophy serve two masters? Reason and the public? Can it be both critical and practical, both rational and responsible, both honest and useful? What, indeed, is the purpose of philosophy? Truth or the general happiness? Inquiry for its own sake or the enlightenment of the public? That was Jacobi's question, just as it was Plato's in the Apology. And, like Socrates, Jacobi was convinced that this question contained all the material for a tragic conflict. Philosophy, in his view, was intrinsically irresponsible, the pastime for a public nuisance like a Socrates or a Hamann. It is an illusion to think that philosophy supports morality, religion, and the state. Rather, it does the very opposite: it undermines them. If we pursue free inquiry to its limits without imposing any guidelines, then we end up, of necessity, in skepticism. But skepticism erodes the very foundation of morality, religion, and the state. It presents us with a dreadful specter: atheism, fatalism, anarchism.  
Thus, as Jacobi saw it, the Berliners were caught in a dilemma. If they remained true to their ideals of free inquiry and criticism, they would have to abandon their program of Aufklärung but if they stuck to their program of Aufklärung, they would have to limit free inquiry and criticism. Philosophy could not serve both truth and the public. It was the tragedy of Socrates that he had tried to make it do both. The Berliners were going to have to learn his lesson all over again, Jacobi felt, and he was preparing for them the eighteenth-century equivalent of hemlock: namely, the bitter pill of Lessing's Spinozism.  
Lessing became a deeply symbolic figure for Jacobi because he represented the very antithesis of the Berliner Geist. Jacobi considered Lessing the only courageous and honest thinker of the Aufklärung. He alone had the courage to pursue inquiry for its own sake, despite the consequences; and he alone had the honesty to take criticism to its tragic conclusion without moral or religious scruples. Contrary to popular opinion, it was Lessing, and not Mendelssohn, who was the true Socrates of his time. 
Jacobi saw in the Enlightenment the danger of dogmatic adherence to reason, and he offered the Enlightenment scholars a difficult choice—either they could follow reason and become atheists or they could retain their faith in God and tradition. But the Enlightenment scholars saw in him the danger of romanticism and idealism. Jacobi uses the term “nihilism” to describe the thinking of the Enlightenment scholars. He is responsible for bringing “nihilism” to general use.

On Jacobi’s use of the term “nihilism,” Beiser has this to say:
Jacobi has a striking word to designate the skeptical consequences of all philosophical investigation: 'nihilism' (Nihilismus). He is indeed responsible for bringing this word into general use in modern philosophy. What is indeed remarkable about Jacobi's use of this term, which has all the weight of precedence in its favor, is that it makes nihilism into the fundamental problem of all philosophy. If 'nihilism' is an appropriate word to denote the skeptical consequences of all philosophical inquiry, and if philosophy is trying to stave off the consequences of skepticism, then philosophy is indeed a desperate struggle against nihilism. If the philosopher cannot escape skepticism, then, by Jacobi's criterion, he ipso facto cannot avoid nihilism. Hence nihilism is Jacobi's final indictment and chief criticism of all philosophy.
It is also noteworthy that while arguing in favor of faith, Jacobi frequently appeals to the philosophy of David Hume. He admits that he owes a great philosophical debt to Hume.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Friedrich Schiller’s Advise to Artists

German stamp depicting Schiller
In his “Ninth Letter,” (Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education of Man), Friedrich Schiller asserts that the artist is the child and the pupil of his age, but he does not have to be its minion. He says that the true artist must derive the form of his art not from the dominant cultural trend, but from a nobler time (ancient Greece). Here’s an excerpt:
No doubt the artist is the child of his time, but unhappy for him if he is its disciple or even its favorite. Let a beneficent deity carry off in good time the suckling from the breast of its mother, let it nourish him on the milk of a better age, and suffer him to grow up and arrive at virility under the distant sky of Greece. When he has attained manhood, let him come back, presenting a face strange to his own age; let him come, not to delight it with his apparition, but rather to purify it, terrible as the son of Agamemnon. He will, indeed, receive his matter from the present time, but he will borrow the form from a nobler time and even beyond all time, from the essential, absolute, immutable unity. There, issuing from the pure ether of its heavenly nature, flows the source of all beauty, which was never tainted by the corruption of generations or of ages, which roll along far beneath it in dark eddies. Its matter may be dishonored as well as ennobled by fancy, but the ever chaste form escapes from the caprices of imagination. The Roman had already bent his knee for long years to the divinity of the emperors, and yet the statues of the gods stood erect; the temples retained their sanctity for the eye long after the gods had become a theme for mockery, and the noble architecture of the palaces that shielded the infamies of Nero and of Commodus were a protest against them. Humanity has lost its dignity, but art has saved it, and preserves it in marbles full of meaning; truth continues to live in illusion, and the copy will serve to reestablish the model. If the nobility of art has survived the nobility of nature, it also goes before it like an inspiring genius, forming and awakening minds. Before truth causes her triumphant light to penetrate into the depth of the heart, poetry intercepts her rays, and the summits of humanity shine in a bright light, while a dark and humid night still hangs over the valleys. 
Schiller also talks about how the artist can shield himself from the corruptions of his age and pursue his noble art:
If, then, a young friend of the true and of the beautiful were to ask me how, notwithstanding the resistance of the times, he can satisfy the noble longing of his heart, I should reply: Direct the world on which you act towards that which is good, and the measured and peaceful course of time will bring about the results. You have given it this direction if by your teaching you raise its thoughts towards the necessary and the eternal; if, by your acts or your creations, you make the necessary and the eternal the object of your leanings. The structure of error and of all that is arbitrary must fall, and it has already fallen, as soon as you are sure that it is tottering. But it is important that it should not only totter in the external but also in the internal man. Cherish triumphant truth in the modest sanctuary of your heart; give it an incarnate form through beauty, that it may not only be the understanding that does homage to it, but that feeling may lovingly grasp its appearance. And that you may not by any chance take from external reality the model which you yourself ought to furnish, do not venture into its dangerous society before you are assured in your own heart that you have a good escort furnished by ideal nature. Live with your age, but be not its creation; labour for your contemporaries, but do for them what they need, and not what they praise. Without having shared their faults, share their punishment with a noble resignation, and bend under the yoke which they find is as painful to dispense with as to bear. By the constancy with which you will despise their good fortune, you will prove to them that it is not through cowardice that you submit to their sufferings. See them in thought such as they ought to be when you must act upon them; but see them as they are when you are tempted to act for them. Seek to owe their suffrage to their dignity; but to make them happy keep an account of their unworthiness; thus, on the one hand, the nobleness of your heart will kindle theirs, and, on the other, your end will not be reduced to nothingness by their unworthiness. The gravity of your principles will keep them off from you, but in play they will still endure them. Their taste is purer than their heart, and it is by their taste you must lay hold of this suspicious fugitive. In vain will you combat their maxims, in vain will you condemn their actions; but you can try your moulding hand on their leisure. Drive away caprice, frivolity, and coarseness, from their pleasures, and you will banish them imperceptibly from their acts, and length from their feelings. Everywhere that you meet them, surround them with great, noble, and ingenious forms; multiply around them the symbols of perfection, till appearance triumphs over reality, and art over nature.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

John Fowles’s The Magus

Today I started reading The Magus (1965) by John Fowles, and I have finished the novel’s part one. Fowles’s prose is impressive. It is easy to empathize with the novel’s protagonist Nicholas Urfe, a callous and cynical Oxford graduate, who is convinced that he is going out in the world “handsomely equipped to fail.” He is depressed by the self-realization that he is not a talented poet. "I acquired expensive habits and affected manners. I got a third-class degree and a first-class illusion that I was a poet."

Here’s an excerpt from the final section of the novel’s part one:
Years later I saw the gabbia at Piacenza; a harsh black canary cage strung high up the side of the towering campanile, in which prisoners were left to starve to death and rot in full view of the town below. And looking up at it I remembered that winter in Greece, that gabbia I had constructed for myself out of light, solitude and self-delusions. To write poetry and to commit suicide, apparently so contradictory, had really been the same, attempts at escape. And my feelings, at the end of that wretched term, were those of a man who knows he is in a cage, exposed to the jeers of all his old ambitions until he dies.  
But I went to Athens, to the address the village doctor gave me. I was given a Kahn test and Dr. Patarescu's diagnosis was confirmed. The ten days' treatment was very expensive; most of the drugs had been smuggled into Greece, or stolen, and I was at the receiving end of a Third Man network. The smooth young American-trained doctor told me not to worry; the prognosis was excellent. At the end of the Easter holidays, when I returned to the island, I found a card from Alison. It was a garishly colored thing with a kangaroo on it balloon-saying "Thought I'd forgot?" My twenty-sixth birthday had taken place while I was in Athens. The postmark was Amsterdam. There was no message. It was simply signed Alison. I threw it into the wastepaper basket. But that evening, I took it out again.  
To get through the anxious wait for the secondary stage not to develop, I began quietly to rape the island. I swam and swam, I walked and walked, I went out every day. The weather rapidly became hot, and during the heat of the afternoon the school slept. Then I used to take off into the pine forest. I always went over the central crest to the south side of the island if I could, away from the village and the school. There, was absolute solitude: three hidden cottages at one small bay, a few tiny chapels lost among the green downward sea of pines and deserted except on their saint's days, and one almost invisible villa, which was in any case empty. The rest was sublimely peaceful, as potential as a clean canvas, a site for myths. It was as if the island was split into dark and light; so that the teaching timetable, which made it difficult to go far except at weekends or by getting up very early (school began at half-past seven) became as irksome as a short tether.  
I did not think about the future. In spite of what the doctor at the clinic had said I felt certain that the cure would fail. The pattern of destiny seemed pretty clear: down and down, and down.  
But then the mysteries began.

Monday, 11 June 2018

Schiller On the Creation of a Moral State

Portrait of Schiller by Ludovike Simanowiz
Friedrich Schiller, in Letters Upon The Aesthetic Education of Man (“Fourth Letter”), offers insights on how a political state can be transformed into a moral state in a durable and non-injurious manner. He says that in a moral state, free will is drawn into the realm of causes, and the moral conduct of man flows from within and is part of his nature because his instincts are in harmony with his reason.

Here’s an excerpt:
In proposing or setting up a moral state, the moral law is relied upon as a real power, and free will is drawn into the realm of causes, where all hangs together mutually with stringent necessity and rigidity. But we know that the condition of the human will always remains contingent, and that only in the Absolute Being physical coexists with moral necessity. Accordingly if it is wished to depend on the moral conduct of man as on natural results, this conduct must become nature, and he must be led by natural impulse to such a course of action as can only and invariably have moral results. But the will of man is perfectly free between inclination and duty, and no physical necessity ought to enter as a sharer in this magisterial personality. If therefore he is to retain this power of solution, and yet become a reliable link in the causal concatenation of forces, this can only be effected when the operations of both these impulses are presented quite equally in the world of appearances. It is only possible when, with every difference of form, the matter of man's volition remains the same, when all his impulses agreeing with his reason are sufficient to have the value of a universal legislation. 
Schiller believes that every individual carries within himself, by disposition and vocation, a purely ideal man:
It may be urged that every individual man carries, within himself, at least in his adaptation and destination, a purely ideal man. The great problem of his existence is to bring all the incessant changes of his outer life into conformity with the unchanging unity of this ideal. This pure ideal man, which makes itself known more or less clearly in every subject, is represented by the state, which is the objective and, so to speak, canonical form in which the manifold differences of the subjects strive to unite. 
The state, according to Schiller, can only be realized insofar as its parts have been attuned to the whole. When the inner man is one with himself, the state will encourage his beautiful instincts, but if that is not the case then the state will become a tool for crushing individuality:
But the state is an organization which fashions itself through itself and for itself, and for this reason it can only be realized when the parts have been accorded to the idea of the whole. The state serves the purpose of a representative, both to pure ideal and to objective humanity, in the breast of its citizens, accordingly it will have to observe the same relation to its citizens in which they are placed to it, and it will only respect their subjective humanity in the same degree that it is ennobled to an objective existence. If the internal man is one with himself, he will be able to rescue his peculiarity, even in the greatest generalization of his conduct, and the state will only become the exponent of his fine instinct, the clearer formula of his internal legislation. But if the subjective man is in conflict with the objective and contradicts him in the character of the people, so that only the oppression of the former can give the victory to the latter, then the state will take up the severe aspect of the law against the citizen, and in order not to fall a sacrifice, it will have to crush under foot such a hostile individuality, without any compromise. 
Here’s Schiller’s views on the two ways by which man can oppose himself—by being a savage or a barbarian:
Now man can be opposed to himself in a twofold manner: either as a savage, when his feelings rule over his principles; or as a barbarian, when his principles destroy his feelings. The savage despises art, and acknowledges nature as his despotic ruler; the barbarian laughs at nature, and dishonors it, but he often proceeds in a more contemptible way than the savage, to be the slave of his senses. The cultivated man makes of nature his friend, and honors its friendship, while only bridling its caprice.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Schopenhauer On Genius

Arthur Schopenhauer describes genius as the ability of certain rare individuals to consciously extricate the will from  the routine day-to-day concerns in order to allow contemplation. In section 36 of The World as Will and Representation (Volume I), Schopenhauer deals with the subject of genius. Here’s an excerpt:
Only through the pure contemplation described above, which becomes absorbed entirely in the object, are the Ideas comprehended; and the nature of genius consists precisely in the preeminent ability for such contemplation. Now as this demands a complete forgetting of our own person and of its relations and connexions, the gift of genius is nothing but the most complete objectivity, i.e., the objective tendency of the mind, as opposed to the subjective directed to our own person, i.e., to the will. Accordingly, genius is the capacity to remain in a state of pure perception, to lose oneself in perception, to remove from the service of the will the knowledge which originally existed only for this service. In other words, genius is the ability to leave entirely out of sight our own interest, our willing, and our aims, and consequently to discard entirely our own personality for a time, in order to remain pure knowing subject, the clear eye of the world; and this not merely for moments, but with the necessary continuity and conscious thought to enable us to repeat by deliberate art what has been apprehended… 
On the state of mind of a genius, Schopenhauer says:
For genius to appear in an individual, it is as if a measure of the power of knowledge must have fallen to his lot far exceeding that required for the service of an individual will; and this superfluity of knowledge having become free, now becomes the subject purified of will, the clear mirror of the inner nature of the world. This explains the animation, amounting to disquietude, in men of genius, since the present can seldom satisfy them, because it does not fill their consciousness. This gives them that restless zealous nature, that constant search for new objects worthy of contemplation, and also that longing, hardly ever satisfied, for men of like nature and stature to whom they may open their hearts.
On the role of imagination in the life of a genius:
Imagination has been rightly recognized as an essential element of genius; indeed, it has sometimes been regarded as identical with genius, but this is not correct. The objects of genius as such are the eternal Ideas, the persistent, essential forms of the world and of all its phenomena; but knowledge of the Idea is necessarily knowledge through perception, and is not abstract. Thus the knowledge of the genius would be restricted to the Ideas of objects actually present to his own person, and would be dependent on the concatenation of circumstances that brought them to him, did not imagination extend his horizon far beyond the reality of his personal experience, and enable him to construct all the rest out of the little that has come into his own actual apperception, and thus to let almost all the possible scenes of life pass by within himself. Moreover, the actual objects are almost always only very imperfect copies of the Idea that manifests itself in them. Therefore the man of genius requires imagination, in order to see in things not what nature has actually formed, but what she endeavored to form, yet did not bring about, because of the conflict of her forms with one another… 
According to Schopenhauer, a work of art depends not only the knowledge of the Idea, but on communication of it. Therefore a genius must possess the will and the ability to communicate the idea that his contemplation has revealed to him. In Section 37, he says that the genius can “retain that thoughtful contemplation necessary for him to repeat what is thus known in a voluntary and intentional work, such repetition being the work of art. Through this he communicates to others the Idea he has grasped.” 

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Schopenhauer on Music as a Copy of the Will

Arthur Schopenhauer views music as the highest form of art and of all beauty—he holds that music is the embodiment of the will, or “a copy of the will itself.” Here’s an excerpt from The World as Will and Representation (Volume 1, Section 52):
“As our world is nothing but the phenomenon or appearance of the Ideas in plurality through entrance into the principium individuationis (the form of knowledge possible to the individual as such), music, since it passes over the Ideas, is also quite independent of the phenomenal world, positively ignores it, and, to a certain extent, could still exist even if there were no world at all, which cannot be said of the other arts. Thus music is as immediate an objectification and copy of the whole will as the world itself is, indeed as the Ideas are, the multiplied phenomenon of which constitutes the world of individual things. Therefore music is by no means like the other arts, namely a copy of the Ideas, but a copy of the will itself, the objectivity of which are the Ideas. For this reason the effect of music is so very much more powerful and penetrating than is that of the other arts, for these others speak only of the shadow, but music of the essence.” 
Schopenhauer emphasizes that music represents the states of the will as universals and not as singular occurrences in particular human beings. “Therefore music does not express this or that particular and definite pleasure, this or that affliction, pain, sorrow, horror, gaiety, merriment, or peace of mind, but joy, pain, sorrow, horror, gaiety, merriment, peace of mind themselves, to a certain extent in the abstract, their essential nature, without any accessories, and so also without the motives for them.” This means that an individual listener does not have to invoke his own will to respond to a piece of music—and that a piece of music can serve the purpose of distracting a listener from the pains that are inflicting his own will. Thus Schopenhauer notes in The World as Will and Representation (Volume 1, Section 52):
“The inexpressible depth of all music, by virtue of which it floats past us as a paradise quite familiar and yet eternally remote, and is so easy to understand and yet so inexplicable, is due to the fact that it reproduces all the emotions of our innermost being, but entirely without reality and remote from its pain. In the same way, the seriousness essential to it and wholly excluding the ludicrous from its direct and peculiar province is to be explained from the fact that its object is not the representation, in regard to which deception and ridiculousness alone are possible, but that this object is directly the will; and this is essentially the most serious of all things, as being that on which all depends.”  
Nietzsche, who is often seen as a successor to Schopenhauer, also recognizes the power of music. In Twilight of the Idols, or, How to Philosophize with a Hammer, Nietzsche says: “What trifles constitute happiness! The sound of a bagpipe. Without music life would be a mistake. The German imagines even God as a songster.”

Friday, 8 June 2018

"Exemplary Originality": Kant on Successful Art

Immanuel Kant was the first philosopher to recognize that genius, as exemplary originality, will stimulate and provoke a continuing revolution in the history of art. In his Critique of the Power of Judgement, he defines genius as the talent or the natural gift (an inborn productive faculty) that gives rule to art (or through which nature gives rule to art).

In his essay, “Exemplary Originality,” (Chapter 10; Values of Beauty: Historical Essays in Aesthetics), Paul Guyer offers an interesting explanation of Kant’s theory that a successful art must always possess exemplary originality. Here’s an excerpt:
A successful work of art is thus one which pleases us precisely because both its content and its form induce a free play of our imagination and understanding in a way that cannot appear to be dictated by any determinate concept or rule, but which is nevertheless itself a rule or norm for everyone in the sense that, under ideal circumstances, it should please everyone by inducing the same pleasure in the free play of these cognitive faculties. In natural beauty, such as that of a flower or a sunset, it is the form of an object produced by nature without human intervention that induces this free play of imagination and understanding; artistic beauty must be both produced by rational human activity and not produced in accordance with visible rule, so Kant construes it as the product of nature working through the medium of a human being to produce something that is not visibly rule-governed but yet is itself a rule for the pleasure of all.  
This analysis of artistic beauty entails that truly successful art must always possess what Kant calls “exemplary originality”:* originality, because the successful work of art can never appear to have been produced in accordance with a rule but must always strike us with an element of contingency or novelty; yet exemplary, because it must at the same time strike us as pleasing  in a way that should be valid for all. Originality by itself, to be sure, is easy to achieve: just make something that departs from all known rules and models. Of course, in this way a lot of nonsense will be produced, so what Kant calls “original nonsense” is easy to come by. The trick is to produce exemplary originality, objects which, “while not themselves the result of imitation… must yet serve others in that way, i.e., as a standard of judging,”* or objects that strike us as original in appearance to depart from known rules and models but which can themselves be pleasing to all or a rule for all. Thus, in Kant’s view, all truly successful art must be the work of genius. 
* Kant, Critique of the Power of Judgement

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Schopenhauer On Fame

Schopenhauer’s Bust in Frankfurt
I think Arthur Schopenhauer might be the greatest stylist among philosophers. It is surprising to see a “philosopher” using such elegant and lucid prose to express his ideas. Here’s an excerpt from his essay, “Fame” (The Wisdom of Life; Part IV, Section V):
Whether authors ever live to see the dawn of their fame depends upon the chance of circumstance; and the higher and more important their works are, the less likelihood there is of their doing so. That was an incomparably fine saying of Seneca's, that fame follows merit as surely as the body casts a shadow; sometimes falling in front, and sometimes behind. And he goes on to remark that "though the envy of contemporaries be shown by universal silence, there will come those who will judge without enmity or favor." From this remark it is manifest that even in Seneca's age there were rascals who understood the art of suppressing merit by maliciously ignoring its existence, and of concealing good work from the public in order to favor the bad: it is an art well understood in our day, too, manifesting itself, both then and now, in "an envious conspiracy of silence."
As a general rule, the longer a man’s fame is likely to last, the later it will be in coming; for all excellent products require time for their development. The fame which lasts to posterity is like an oak, of very slow growth: and that which endures but a little while, like plants which spring up in a year and then die; while false fame is like a fungus, shooting up in a night and perishing as soon.
And why? For this reason; the more a man belongs to posterity, in other words, to humanity in general, the more of an alien he is to his contemporaries; since his work is not meant for them as such, but only for them in so far as they form part of mankind at large; there is none of that familiar local color about his productions which would appeal to them: and so what he does, fails of recognition because it is strange. People are more likely to appreciate the man who serves the circumstances of his own brief hour, or the temper of the moment—belonging to it, and living and dying with it.
The general history of art and literature shows that the highest achievements of the human mind are, as a rule, not favorably received at first; but remain in obscurity until they win notice from intelligence of a higher order, by whose influence they are brought into a position which they then maintain, in virtue of the authority thus given them.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Wisdom of Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer is generally viewed as a philosopher of suffering and pessimism, but it is a delight to read him because he writes in such a polished and clear style, and because there is a great deal of wisdom in his writings.

In his book The Wisdom of Life, Schopenhauer talks about the ways in which man can achieve some kind of success and happiness.

Here’s his perspective on how men view the world:
The world in which a man lives shapes itself chiefly by the way in which he looks at it, and so it proves different to different men; to one it is barren, dull, and superficial; to another rich, interesting, and full of meaning. On hearing of the interesting events which have happened in the course of a man's experience, many people will wish that similar things had happened in their lives too, completely forgetting that they should be envious rather of the mental aptitude which lent those events the significance they possess when he describes them; to a man of genius they were interesting adventures; but to the dull perceptions of an ordinary individual they would have been stale, everyday occurrences.
On wise men preferring solitude:
The wise man will, above all, strive after freedom from pain and annoyance, quiet and leisure, consequently a tranquil, modest life, with as few encounters as may be; and so, after a little experience of his so-called fellow-men, he will elect to live in retirement, or even, if he is a man of great intellect, in solitude. For the more a man has in himself, the less he will want from other people, the less, indeed, other people can be to him. This is why a high degree of intellect tends to make a man unsocial. True, if quality of intellect could be made up for by quantity, it might be worth while to live even in the great world; but, unfortunately, a hundred fools together will not make one wise man. 
On the ways in which men try to find happiness:
The ordinary man places his life's happiness in things external to him, in property, rank, wife and children, friends, society, and the like, so that when he loses them or finds them disappointing, the foundation of his happiness is destroyed. In other words, his center of gravity is not in himself ; it is constantly changing its place, with every wish and whim. If he is a man of means, one day it will be his house in the country, another buying horses, or entertaining friends, or traveling—a life, in short, of general luxury, the reason being that he seeks his pleasure in things outside him. Like one whose health and strength are gone, he tries to regain by the use of jellies and drugs, instead of by developing his own vital power, the true source of what he has lost. Before proceeding to the opposite, let us compare with this common type the man who comes midway between the two, endowed, it may be, not exactly with distinguished powers of mind, but with somewhat more than the ordinary amount of intellect. He will take a dilettante interest in art, or devote his attention to some branch of science—botany, for example, or physics, astronomy, history, and find a great deal of pleasure in such studies, and amuse himself with them when external sources of happiness are exhausted or fail to satisfy him any more. Of a man like this it may be said that his center of gravity is partly in himself. But a dilettante interest in art is a very different thing from creative activity and an amateur pursuit of science is apt to be superficial and not to penetrate to the heart of the matter. A man cannot entirely identify himself with such pursuits, or have his whole existence so completely rilled and permeated with them that he loses all interest in everything else. It is only the highest intellectual power, what we call genius, that attains to this degree of intensity, making all time and existence its theme, and striving to express its peculiar conception of the world, whether it contemplates life as the subject of poetry or of philosophy. Hence, undisturbed occupation with himself, his own thoughts and works, is a matter of urgent necessity to such a man; solitude is welcome, leisure is the highest good, and everything else is unnecessary, nay, even burdensome. 
On the unhappiness caused by man’s desires:
A man never feels the loss of things which it never occurs to him to ask for; he is just as happy without them; while another, who may have a hundred times as much, feels miserable because he has not got the one thing which he wants. In fact, here too, every man has an horizon of his own, and he will expect just as much as he thinks it possible for him to get. If an object within his horizon looks as though he could confidently reckon on getting it, he is happy; but if difficulties come in the way, he is miserable. What lies beyond his horizon has no effect at all upon him. 
There is no doubt that Schopenhauer is often bitter and melancholy, but I think anyone with his kind of keen insight on human life is bound to feel bitter and melancholy. He was a great observer of human life and what he saw made him a pessimist.