Marxism and Existentialism

And Since I am to speak of existentialism, let it be understood that I take it to be an “ideology.” It is a parasitical system living on the margin of Knowledge, which at first it opposed but into which today it seeks to be integrated. If we are to understand its present ambitions and its function we must go back to the time of Kierkegaard…

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Compared with Hegel, Kierkegaard scarcely seems to count. He is certainly not a philosopher; moreover, he himself refused this title. In fact he is a Christian who is not willing to let himself be enclosed in the system and who, against Hegel’s “intellectualism,” asserts unrelentingly the irreducibility and the specificity of what is lived. There is no doubt, as Jean Wahl has remarked, that a Hegelian would have assimilated this romantic and obstinate consciousness to the “unhappy consciousness,” a moment which had already been surpassed and known in its essential characteristics. But it is precisely this objective knowledge which Kierkegaard challenges. For him the surpassing of the unhappy consciousness remains purely verbal. The existing man cannot be assimilated by a system of ideas…

We see that Kierkegaard is inseparable from Hegel, and that this vehement negation of every system can arise only within a cultural field entirely dominated by Hegelianism. The Dane feels himself hemmed in by concepts, by History, he fights for his life; it is the reaction of Christian romanticism against the rationalist humanization of faith. It would be too easy to reject this work as simply subjectivism; what we ought rather to point out, in place it back within the framework of its period, is that Kierkegaard has as much right on his side as Hegel has on his. Hegel is right: unlike the Danish ideologist, who obstinately fixed his stand on poor, frozen paradoxes ultimately referring to an empty subjectivity, the philosopher of Jena aims through his concepts at the veritable concrete; for him, mediation is always presented as an enrichment. Kierkegaard is right: grief, need, passion, the pain of men, are brute realities which can be neither surpassed nor changed by knowledge. To be sure, Kierkegaard’s religious subjectivism can with good reason be taken as the very peak of idealism; but in relation to Hegel, he marks a progress toward realism, since he insists above all on the primacy of the specifically real over thought, that the real cannot be reduced to thought. There are today some psychologists and psychiatrists who consider certain evolutions of our inward life to be the result of a work which it performs upon itself. In this sense Kierkegaardian existence is the work of our inner life – resistances overcome and perpetually reborn, efforts perpetually renewed, despairs surmounted, provisional failures and precarious victories – and this work is directly opposed to intellectual knowing. Kierkegaard was perhaps the first to point out, against Hegel and thanks to him, the incommensurability of the real and knowledge…

Now, in the present phase of our history, productive forces have entered into conflict with relations of production. Creative work is alienated; man does not recognize himself in his own product, and his exhausting labor appears to him as a hostile force. Since alienation comes about as the result of this conflict, it is a historical reality and completely irreducible to an idea. If men are to free themselves from it, and if their work is to become the pure objectification of themselves, it is not enough that “consciousness think itself”; there must be material work and revolutionary praxis. When Marx writes: “Just as we do not judge an individual by his own idea of himself, so we cannot judge a … period of revolutionary upheaval by its own self-consciousness,” he is indicating the priority of action (work and social praxis) over knowledge as well as their heterogeneity. He too asserts that the human fact is irreducible to knowing, that it must be lived and produced; but he is not going to confuse it with the empty subjectivity of a puritanical and mystified petite bourgeoisie. He makes of it the immediate theme of the philosophical totalization, and it is the concrete man whom he puts at the center of his research, that man who is defined simultaneously by his needs, by the material conditions of his existence, and by the nature of his work – that is, by his struggle against things and against men.

Thus Marx, rather than Kierkegaard or Hegel, is right, since he asserts with Kierkegaard the specificity of human existence and, along with Hegel, takes the concrete man in his objective reality. Under these circumstances, it would seem natural if existentialism, this idealist protest against idealism, had lost all usefulness and had not survived the decline of Hegelianism…

Between the two World Wars the appearance of a German existentialism certainly corresponds – at least in the work of Jaspers – to a surreptitious wish to resuscitate the transcendent. Already – as Jean Wahl has pointed out – one could wonder if Kierkegaard did not lure his readers into the depths of subjectivity for the sole purpose of making them discover there the unhappiness of man without God. This trap would be quite in keeping with the “great solitary” who denied communication between human beings and who saw no way to influence his fellow man except by “indirect action.”

Jaspers himself put his cards on the table. He has done nothing except to comment upon his master; his originality consists especially in putting certain themes into relief and in hiding others. The transcendent, for example, appears at first to be absent from his thought, which in fact is haunted by it. We are taught to catch a presentiment of the transcendent in our failures; it is their profound meaning…

Kierkegaard was unwilling to play the role of a concept in the Hegelian system; Jaspers refuses to cooperate as an individual with the history which Marxists are making…

It is one more existentialism which has developed at the margin of Marxism and not against it. It is Marx with whom we claim kinship, and Marx of whom I wish to speak now… It was at about this time [1925] that I read Capital and German Ideology. I found everything perfectly clear, and I really understood absolutely nothing. To understand is to change, to go beyond oneself. This reading did not change me. By contrast, what did begin to change me was the reality of Marxism, the heavy presence on my horizon of the masses of workers, an enormous, somber body which lived Marxism, which practiced it, and which at a distance exercised an irresistible attraction on petit bourgeois intellectuals…

Why then has “existentialism” preserved its autonomy? Why has it not simply dissolved in Marxism?

Lukacs believed that he had answered this question in a small book called Existentialism and Marxism… Lukacs fails absolutely to account for the principal fact: we were convinced at one and the same time that historical materialism furnished the only valid interpretation of history and that existentialism remained the only concrete approach to reality. I do not pretend to deny the contradictions in this attitude. I simply assert that Lukacs does not even suspect it. Many intellectuals, many students, have lived and still live with the tension of this double demand. How does this come about? It is due to a circumstance which Lukacs knew perfectly well but which he could not at that time even mention: Marxism, after drawing us to it as the moon draws the tides, after transforming all our ideas, after liquidating the categories of our bourgeois thought, abruptly left us stranded. It did not satisfy our need to understand. In the particular situation in which we were placed, it no longer had anything new to teach us, because it had come to a stop…

Marxism stopped…

Existentialism has been able to return and to maintain itself because it reaffirmed the reality of men as Kierkegaard asserted his own reality against Hegel. However, the Dane rejected the Hegelian conception of man and of the real. Existentialism and Marxism, on the contrary, aim at the same object…

Far from being exhausted, Marxism is still very young, almost in its infancy; it has scarcely begun to develop. It remains, therefore, the philosophy of our time. We cannot go beyond it because we have not gone beyond the circumstances which engendered it…

Let us go further. We agree with Garaudy when he writes (Humanité, May 17, 1955): “Marxism forms today the system of coordinates which alone permits it to situate and to define a thought in any domain whatsoever – from political economy to physics, from history to ethics.” …

As soon as there will exist for everyone a margin of real freedom beyond the production of life, Marxism will have lived out its span; a philosophy of freedom will take its place. But we have no means, no intellectual instrument, no concrete experience which allows us to conceive of this freedom or of this philosophy…

Why, then, are we not simply Marxists? It is because we take the statements of Engels and Garaudy as guiding principles, as indications of jobs to be done, as problems – not as concrete truths.

– Jean-Paul Sartre (1960)


See Also

Existentialism is Humanism by Jean-Paul Sartre (1946, PDF)

The Self-Overcoming of Nihilism by Keiji Nishitani (1990, PDF)

Schopenhauer

“In India our religions will never take root. The ancient wisdom of the human race will not be displaced by what happened in Galilee. On the contrary, Indian philosophy streams back to Europe, and will produce a fundamental change in our knowledge and thought.”

– Arthur Schopenhauer

the-world-as-will-and-representation

Full Book (PDF): The World as Will and Representation – Volume IVolume II

Full Book (PDF): On the Basis of Morality

Schopenhauer’s Thought

A key focus of Schopenhauer was his investigation of individual motivation. Before Schopenhauer, Hegel had popularized the concept of Zeitgeist, the idea that society consisted of a collective consciousness that moved in a distinct direction, dictating the actions of its members. Schopenhauer, a reader of both Kant and Hegel, criticized their logical optimism and the belief that individual morality could be determined by society and reason. Schopenhauer believed that humans were motivated by only their own basic desires, or Wille zum Leben (“Will to Live”), which directed all of mankind.

For Schopenhauer, human desire was futile, illogical, directionless, and, by extension, so was all human action in the world. Einstein paraphrased his views as follows: “Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants.” In this sense, he adhered to the Fichtean principle of idealism: “The world is for a subject.” This idealism so presented, immediately commits it to an ethical attitude, unlike the purely epistemological concerns of Descartes and Berkeley. To Schopenhauer, the Will is a blind force that controls not only the actions of individual, intelligent agents, but ultimately all observable phenomena—an evil to be terminated via mankind’s duties: asceticism and chastity. He is credited with one of the most famous opening lines of philosophy: “The world is my representation.” Will, for Schopenhauer, is what Kant called the “thing-in-itself”. Friedrich Nietzsche was greatly influenced by this idea of Will, although he eventually rejected it.

For Schopenhauer, human desiring, “willing”, and craving cause suffering or pain. A temporary way to escape this pain is through aesthetic contemplation (a method comparable to Zapffe’s “Sublimation“). Aesthetic contemplation allows one to escape this pain—albeit temporarily—because it stops one perceiving the world as mere presentation. Instead, one no longer perceives the world as an object of perception (therefore as subject to the Principle of Sufficient Grounds; time, space and causality) from which one is separated; rather one becomes one with that perception: “one can thus no longer separate the perceiver from the perception” (The World as Will and Representation, section 34). From this immersion with the world one no longer views oneself as an individual who suffers in the world due to one’s individual will but, rather, becomes a “subject of cognition” to a perception that is “Pure, will-less, timeless” (section 34) where the essence, “ideas”, of the world are shown. Art is the practical consequence of this brief aesthetic contemplation as it attempts to depict one’s immersion with the world, thus tries to depict the essence/pure ideas of the world. Music, for Schopenhauer, was the purest form of art because it was the one that depicted the will itself without it appearing as subject to the Principle of Sufficient Grounds, therefore as an individual object. According to Daniel Albright, “Schopenhauer thought that music was the only art that did not merely copy ideas, but actually embodied the will itself”.

He deemed music a timeless, universal language comprehended everywhere, that can imbue global enthusiasm, if in possession of a significant melody.

Will as Noumenon

Schopenhauer accepted Kant’s double-aspect of the universe—the phenomenal (world of experience) and the noumenal (the true world, independent of experience). Some commentators suggest that Schopenhauer claimed that the noumenon, or thing-in-itself, was the basis for Schopenhauer’s concept of the will. Other commentators suggest that Schopenhauer considered will to be only a subset of the “thing-in-itself” class, namely that which we can most directly experience.

Schopenhauer’s identification of the Kantian noumenon (i.e., the actually existing entity) with what he termed “will” deserves some explanation. The noumenon was what Kant called the Ding an sich (the Thing in Itself), the reality that is the foundation of our sensory and mental representations of an external world. In Kantian terms, those sensory and mental representations are mere phenomena. Schopenhauer departed from Kant in his description of the relationship between the phenomenon and the noumenon. According to Kant, things-in-themselves ground the phenomenal representations in our minds; Schopenhauer, on the other hand, believed that phenomena and noumena are two different sides of the same coin. Noumena do not cause phenomena, but rather phenomena are simply the way by which our minds perceive the noumena, according to the principle of sufficient reason.

Schopenhauer’s second major departure from Kant’s epistemology concerns the body. Kant’s philosophy was formulated as a response to the radical philosophical skepticism of David Hume, who claimed that causality could not be observed empirically. Schopenhauer begins by arguing that Kant’s demarcation between external objects, knowable only as phenomena, and the Thing in Itself of noumenon, contains a significant omission. There is, in fact, one physical object we know more intimately than we know any object of sense perception: our own body.

We know our human bodies have boundaries and occupy space, the same way other objects known only through our named senses do. Though we seldom think of our body as a physical object, we know even before reflection that it shares some of an object’s properties. We understand that a watermelon cannot successfully occupy the same space as an oncoming truck; we know that if we tried to repeat the experiment with our own body, we would obtain similar results—we know this even if we do not understand the physics involved.

We know that our consciousness inhabits a physical body, similar to other physical objects only known as phenomena. Yet our consciousness is not commensurate with our body. Most of us possess the power of voluntary motion. We usually are not aware of the breathing of our lungs or the beating of our heart unless somehow our attention is called to them. Our ability to control either is limited. Our kidneys command our attention on their schedule rather than one we choose. Few of us have any idea what our liver is doing right now, though this organ is as needful as lungs, heart, or kidneys. The conscious mind is the servant, not the master, of these and other organs. These organs have an agenda the conscious mind did not choose, and over which it has limited power.

When Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with the desires, needs, and impulses in us that we name “will”, what he is saying is that we participate in the reality of an otherwise unachievable world outside the mind through will. We cannot prove that our mental picture of an outside world corresponds with a reality by reasoning; through will, we know—without thinking—that the world can stimulate us. We suffer fear, or desire: these states arise involuntarily; they arise prior to reflection; they arise even when the conscious mind would prefer to hold them at bay. The rational mind is, for Schopenhauer, a leaf borne along in a stream of pre-reflective and largely unconscious emotion. That stream is will, and through will, if not through logic, we can participate in the underlying reality beyond mere phenomena. It is for this reason that Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with what we call our will.

In his criticism of Kant, Schopenhauer claimed that sensation and understanding are separate and distinct abilities. Yet, for Kant, an object is known through each of them. Kant wrote: “[T]here are two stems of human knowledge … namely, sensibility and understanding, objects being given by the former [sensibility] and thought by the latter [understanding].” Schopenhauer disagreed. He asserted that mere sense impressions, not objects, are given by sensibility. According to Schopenhauer, objects are intuitively perceived by understanding and are discursively thought by reason (Kant had claimed that (1) the understanding thinks objects through concepts and that (2) reason seeks the unconditioned or ultimate answer to “why?”). Schopenhauer said that Kant’s mistake regarding perception resulted in all of the obscurity and difficult confusion that is exhibited in the Transcendental Analytic section of his critique.

Lastly, Schopenhauer departed from Kant in how he interpreted the Platonic ideas. In The World as Will and Representation Schopenhauer explicitly stated:

…Kant used the word [Idea] wrongly as well as illegitimately, although Plato had already taken possession of it, and used it most appropriately.

Instead Schopenhauer relied upon the Neoplatonist interpretation of the biographer Diogenes Laërtius from Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. In reference to Plato’s Ideas, Schopenhauer quotes Laërtius verbatim in an explanatory footnote.

Diogenes Laërtius (III, 12): Plato teaches that the Ideas exist in nature, so to speak, as patterns or prototypes, and that the remainder of things only resemble them, and exist as their copies.

schopenhauer_statue

Moral Theory

Schopenhauer’s moral theory proposed that only compassion can drive moral acts. According to Schopenhauer, compassion alone is the good of the object of the acts, that is, they cannot be inspired by either the prospect of personal utility or the feeling of duty. Mankind can also be guided by egoism and malice. Egotistic acts are those guided by self-interest, desire for pleasure or happiness. Schopenhauer believed most of our deeds belong to this class. Acts of malice are different from egotistic acts. As in the case of acts of compassion, these do not target personal utility. Their aim is to cause damage to others, independently of personal gains. He believed, like Swami Vivekananda in the unity of all with one-self and also believed that ego is the origin of pain and conflicts, that reduction of ego frames the moral principles.

Even though Schopenhauer ended his treatise on the freedom of human will with the postulate of everyone’s responsibility for their character and, consequently, acts—the responsibility following from one’s being the Will as noumenon (from which also all the characters and creations come)—he considered his views incompatible with theism, on grounds of fatalism and, more generally, responsibility for evil. In Schopenhauer’s philosophy the dogmas of Christianity lose their significance, and the “Last Judgment” is no longer preceded by anything—”The world is itself the Last Judgment on it.” Whereas God, if he existed, would be evil.

He named a force within man that he felt took invariable precedence over reason: the Will to Live or Will to Life (Wille zum Leben), defined as an inherent drive within human beings, and indeed all creatures, to stay alive; a force that inveigles us into reproducing.

Schopenhauer refused to conceive of love as either trifling or accidental, but rather understood it as an immensely powerful force that lay unseen within man’s psyche and dramatically shaped the world:

The ultimate aim of all love affairs … is more important than all other aims in man’s life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it. What is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation.

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Influence of Eastern Thought

Schopenhauer read the Latin translation of the ancient Hindu texts, The Upanishads, which French writer Anquetil du Perron had translated from the Persian translation of Prince Dara Shikoh entitled Sirre-Akbar (“The Great Secret”). He was so impressed by their philosophy that he called them “the production of the highest human wisdom”, and believed they contained superhuman concepts. The Upanishads was a great source of inspiration to Schopenhauer. Writing about them, he said:

It is the most satisfying and elevating reading (with the exception of the original text) which is possible in the world; it has been the solace of my life and will be the solace of my death.

It is well known that the book Oupnekhat (Upanishad) always lay open on his table, and he invariably studied it before sleeping at night. He called the opening up of Sanskrit literature “the greatest gift of our century”, and predicted that the philosophy and knowledge of the Upanishads would become the cherished faith of the West.

Schopenhauer was first introduced to the 1802 Latin Upanishad translation through Friedrich Majer. They met during the winter of 1813–1814 in Weimar at the home of Schopenhauer’s mother according to the biographer Safranski. Majer was a follower of Herder, and an early Indologist. Schopenhauer did not begin a serious study of the Indic texts, however, until the summer of 1814. Sansfranski maintains that between 1815 and 1817, Schopenhauer had another important cross-pollination with Indian thought in Dresden. This was through his neighbor of two years, Karl Christian Friedrich Krause. Krause was then a minor and rather unorthodox philosopher who attempted to mix his own ideas with that of ancient Indian wisdom. Krause had also mastered Sanskrit, unlike Schopenhauer, and the two developed a professional relationship. It was from Krause that Schopenhauer learned meditation and received the closest thing to expert advice concerning Indian thought.

Most noticeable, in the case of Schopenhauer’s work, was the significance of the Chandogya Upanishad, whose Mahavakya, Tat Tvam Asi is mentioned throughout The World as Will and Representation.

Schopenhauer noted a correspondence between his doctrines and the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. Similarities centered on the principles that life involves suffering, that suffering is caused by desire (taṇhā), and that the extinction of desire leads to liberation. Thus three of the four “truths of the Buddha” correspond to Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will. In Buddhism, however, while greed and lust are always unskillful, desire is ethically variable – it can be skillful, unskillful, or neutral.

For Schopenhauer, Will had ontological primacy over the intellect; in other words, desire is understood to be prior to thought. Schopenhauer felt this was similar to notions of puruṣārtha or goals of life in Vedānta Hinduism.

In Schopenhauer’s philosophy, denial of the will is attained by either:

  • personal experience of an extremely great suffering that leads to loss of the will to live; or
  • knowledge of the essential nature of life in the world through observation of the suffering of other people.

However, Buddhist nirvāṇa is not equivalent to the condition that Schopenhauer described as denial of the will. Nirvāṇa is not the extinguishing of the person as some Western scholars have thought, but only the “extinguishing” (the literal meaning of nirvana) of the flames of greed, hatred, and delusion that assail a person’s character. Occult historian Joscelyn Godwin (1945– ) stated, “It was Buddhism that inspired the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, and, through him, attracted Richard Wagner. This Orientalism reflected the struggle of the German Romantics, in the words of Leon Poliakov, to “free themselves from Judeo-Christian fetters”. In contradistinction to Godwin’s claim that Buddhism inspired Schopenhauer, the philosopher himself made the following statement in his discussion of religions:

If I wished to take the results of my philosophy as the standard of truth, I should have to concede to Buddhism pre-eminence over the others. In any case, it must be a pleasure to me to see my doctrine in such close agreement with a religion that the majority of men on earth hold as their own, for this numbers far more followers than any other. And this agreement must be yet the more pleasing to me, inasmuch as in my philosophizing I have certainly not been under its influence. For up till 1818, when my work appeared, there was to be found in Europe only a very few accounts of Buddhism.

Buddhist philosopher Nishitani Keiji, however, sought to distance Buddhism from Schopenhauer. While Schopenhauer’s philosophy may sound rather mystical in such a summary, his methodology was resolutely empirical, rather than speculative or transcendental:

Philosophy … is a science, and as such has no articles of faith; accordingly, in it nothing can be assumed as existing except what is either positively given empirically, or demonstrated through indubitable conclusions.

Also note:

This actual world of what is knowable, in which we are and which is in us, remains both the material and the limit of our consideration.

The argument that Buddhism affected Schopenhauer’s philosophy more than any other Dharmic faith loses more credence when viewed in light of the fact that Schopenhauer did not begin a serious study of Buddhism until after the publication of The World as Will and Representation in 1818. Scholars have started to revise earlier views about Schopenhauer’s discovery of Buddhism. Proof of early interest and influence, however, appears in Schopenhauer’s 1815/16 notes (transcribed and translated by Urs App) about Buddhism. They are included in a recent case study that traces Schopenhauer’s interest in Buddhism and documents its influence. Other scholarly work questions how similar Schopenhauer’s philosophy actually is to Buddhism.

Schopenhauer said he was influenced by the Upanishads, Immanuel Kant and Plato. References to Eastern philosophy and religion appear frequently in his writing. As noted above, he appreciated the teachings of the Buddha and even called himself a Buddhist. He said that his philosophy could not have been conceived before these teachings were available.

Concerning the Upanishads and Vedas, he writes in The World as Will and Representation:

If the reader has also received the benefit of the Vedas, the access to which by means of the Upanishads is in my eyes the greatest privilege which this still young century (1818) may claim before all previous centuries, if then the reader, I say, has received his initiation in primeval Indian wisdom, and received it with an open heart, he will be prepared in the very best way for hearing what I have to tell him. It will not sound to him strange, as to many others, much less disagreeable; for I might, if it did not sound conceited, contend that every one of the detached statements which constitute the Upanishads, may be deduced as a necessary result from the fundamental thoughts which I have to enunciate, though those deductions themselves are by no means to be found there.

Among Schopenhauer’s other influences were: Shakespeare, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Thomas Reid, Baruch Spinoza, Matthias Claudius, George Berkeley, David Hume, and René Descartes.

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Schopenhauer’s Influence

Schopenhauer has had a massive influence upon later thinkers, though more so in the arts (especially literature and music) and psychology than in philosophy. His popularity peaked in the early twentieth century, especially during the Modernist era, and waned somewhat thereafter. Nevertheless, a number of recent publications have reinterpreted and modernised the study of Schopenhauer. His theory is also being explored by some modern philosophers as a precursor to evolutionary theory and modern evolutionary psychology.

Russian writer and philosopher Leo Tolstoy was greatly influenced by Schopenhauer. After reading Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, Tolstoy gradually became converted to the ascetic morality upheld in that work as the proper spiritual path for the upper classes: “Do you know what this summer has meant for me? Constant raptures over Schopenhauer and a whole series of spiritual delights which I’ve never experienced before. … no student has ever studied so much on his course, and learned so much, as I have this summer”

Richard Wagner, writing in his autobiography, remembered his first impression that Schopenhauer left on him (when he read The World as Will and Representation):

Schopenhauer’s book was never completely out of my mind, and by the following summer I had studied it from cover to cover four times. It had a radical influence on my whole life.

Wagner also commented on that “serious mood, which was trying to find ecstatic expression” created by Schopenhauer inspired the conception of Tristan und Isolde.

Friedrich Nietzsche owed the awakening of his philosophical interest to reading The World as Will and Representation and admitted that he was one of the few philosophers that he respected, dedicating to him his essay Schopenhauer als Erzieher one of his Untimely Meditations.

Jorge Luis Borges remarked that the reason he had never attempted to write a systematic account of his world view, despite his penchant for philosophy and metaphysics in particular, was because Schopenhauer had already written it for him.

As a teenager, Ludwig Wittgenstein adopted Schopenhauer’s epistemological idealism. However, after his study of the philosophy of mathematics, he rejected epistemological idealism for Gottlob Frege’s conceptual realism. In later years, Wittgenstein was highly dismissive of Schopenhauer, describing him as an ultimately shallow thinker: “Schopenhauer has quite a crude mind… where real depth starts, his comes to an end.”

The philosopher Gilbert Ryle read Schopenhauer’s works as a student, but later largely forgot them, only to unwittingly recycle ideas from Schopenhauer in his The Concept of Mind (1949).


Further Study

Arthur Schopenhauer (SEP)

Arthur Schopenhauer (IEP)

Schopenhauer’s Works (Project Gutenberg)

Schopenhauer’s Works (Wikisource)

Video Games as Spiritual Activity

If we are in a general way permitted to regard human activity in the realm of the beautiful as a liberation of the soul, as a release from constraint and restriction, in short to consider that art does actually alleviate the most overpowering and tragic catastrophes by means of the creations it offers to our contemplation and enjoyment, it is the art of music which conducts us to the final summit of that ascent to freedom.

– Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

I’ve seen it in the passionate music and epic stories of Final Fantasy. I’ve seen it in the comradery of split-screen deathmatches in Goldeneye. I’ve seen it in the power struggles and great friendships of the silent Tibia. Hell, I’ve seen it in Guitar Hero. Playing (and creating) video games, in a similar sense to listening to (and creating) music, can be a unique way of letting the physical dissolve and allowing the spirit to flourish. It can show us who we are and what we are about on the most fundamental level.

In the world-historical sense, playing video games and skateboarding are utterly absurd activities. In a more subjective and, dare I say, eternal sense they can show us a glimpse of what it means to be human and how the human spirit transcends the purely physical.

How Video Games Satisfy Basic Human Needs

We must become so alone, so utterly alone, that we withdraw into our innermost self. It is a way of bitter suffering. But then our solitude is overcome, we are no longer alone, for we find that our innermost self is the spirit, that it is God, the indivisible. And suddenly we find ourselves in the midst of the world, yet undisturbed by its multiplicity, for our innermost soul we know ourselves to be one with all being.

– Hermann Hesse

This is love. I have my self-consciousness not in myself but in the other. I am satisfied and have peace with myself only in this other and I AM only because I have peace with myself; if I did not have it then I would be a contradiction that falls to pieces. This other, because it likewise exists outside itself, has its self-consciousness only in me; and both the other and I are only this consciousness of being-outside-ourselves and of our identity; we are only this intuition, feeling, and knowledge of our unity. This is love, and without knowing that love is both a distinguishing and the sublation of this distinction, one speaks emptily of it.

– Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

This is the eternal origin of art that a human being confronts a form that wants to become a work through him. Not a figment of his soul but something that appears to the soul and demands the soul’s creative power. What is required is a deed that a man does with his whole being.

– Martin Buber

The Kyoto School’s Takeover of Hegel

Japanese Journal of Religious Studies 38/1 (2011)

Reviews, pp. 223-226

kyoto hegel

Peter Suares, The Kyoto School’s Takeover of Hegel: Nishida,

Nishitani, and Tanabe Remake the Philosophy of Spirit

Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2010. 238 pp. Cloth, $65.00.

ISBN 0-7391-4688-2/978-0-7391-4688-0.

 

Suares’s first book-length publication on philosophy fills a conspicuous lacuna of

scholarship on the complex relationship between Hegel and the philosophers of the

Kyoto School. The uptake of Hegel’s thought in Japan has been addressed by scholars

in articles, book chapters, or in passing within the context of other subjects;

but given the pervasive influence of Hegelian philosophy on Nishida and Tanabe in

particular, Suares’s in-depth treatment of the Kyoto School’s “takeover” of Hegel is a

needed addition to the existing comparative studies on this topic.

 

Suares makes a compelling and well-documented argument demonstrating that

Nishida, Nishitani, and Tanabe all rely heavily on Hegel’s ideas and methodology in

fashioning their own positions, despite their harsh criticisms of certain views they

attribute to him. Suares does a convincing job of showing that though the Kyoto

scholars unanimously reject what they take to be the central tenets of Hegel’s philosophy,

namely his “dogmatic Christian theism, the promotion of being to the central

category of reality, and rigid rationalism,” these “ostensibly Hegelian features

are in fact nowhere to be found in his philosophy”(190). Not only do the Kyoto

scholars misinterpret Hegel in their critiques of him, Suares argues, they actually

incorporate Hegel’s thought in significant ways such that their own philosophies

must be considered Hegelian in many respects. This idea itself is not new, however,

and Suares acknowledges that others have made similar observations. The contribution

made by this book is its thorough demonstration of this fact, with trenchant

reasoning and clear explanations of the many confounding formulations employed

by these thinkers.

 

The book consists of a short introduction and five chapters. Besides a brief chapter

on “The Danish Parallel” which addresses Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel and his

stance on faith in relation to reason, the author primarily examines and critiques the

thought of Nishida, Nishitani, and Tanabe. While dimensions of Hegel’s philosophy

are discussed at length throughout the volume, the book focuses on the work of

the Kyoto School philosophers and the presence of Hegel’s ideas therein. This being

the case, the reading of Hegel adopted by Suares is not worked out in conversation

with current developments in Hegel scholarship. This may be a disappointment to

those who come to the subject well versed in those debates since the reader must

simply accept the author’s interpretation of Hegel in order to follow him through

his comparative enterprise. This disappointment is far outweighed, however, by

the original insights offered. Suares’s analysis of the uptake of Hegel in Japan illuminates

issues germane to Hegel studies and the history of philosophy broadly. In

fact, this volume’s account of how the Kyoto scholars “remake” Hegel’s philosophy

of spirit addresses important issues in Hegel scholarship that have not been probed

this deeply until now. For example, the in-depth analysis of Hegelian contradiction

given within this context provides a lucid explanation of perhaps the most notorious

dimensions of his philosophy—the inner workings of his dialectical method.

With the Kyoto scholars as Hegel’s conversation partners, the nature of dialectic

and the movement of spirit in self-consciousness becomes clearer than it could have

been had it been treated exclusively within the European and American context.

 

The first chapter, which comprises roughly half of the book, is devoted to

Nishida and surveys the development of his thought throughout his life. The chapter

is divided into two main sections. The first describes the “anatomy of subjectivity”

and the “world within,” situating Nishida’s conception of self-consciousness

within the context of Western philosophy. Here Nishida’s notion of pure experience

and his logic of place are examined alongside Hegel’s developmental model of

selfconsciousness, in addition to the models put forth by other notable figures such as

Kant, Fichte, Schelling, Hölderlin, and Josiah Royce. The second section confronts

“the objective dimension” which delves into the finer workings of “the dialectical

formula” operative in both Hegel and Nishida and addresses Nishida’s attempts at

sociopolitical thought in relation to history. Nishida’s notion of jikaku 自覚,

or selfawareness, establishes the continuity of the chapter in that it encompasses both the

subjective and objective components of reality in one two-fold activity. The most

notable strength of this discussion lies in its analysis and explication of the form of

Nishida’s logic in relation to Hegel’s. The analysis Suares gives is highly technical,

providing an account of paradox, contradiction, and negation in the work of both

authors. Suares tackles their perplexing dialectical maneuvers with uncommon

precision and clarity, relating them at times to their possible counterparts within

certain Buddhist strands such as Mādhyamika and Pure Land.

 

In addition to the analysis of the logical forms employed by Hegel and Nishida,

one of the most provocative elements of Suares’s discussion—and one which warrants

further debate—is his investigation into the limits of rationality for these

thinkers, a theme that continues throughout the remaining chapters of the book.

Despite the close analysis of the logical structures shaping the thought of each, the

question remains as to whether a fully rational account of reality and experience is

possible. Suares writes of Nishida, “The reconciliation of the rationality of everyday

life with the transrational level of consciousness at the base of reality is the central

problem with which he will struggle until the end of his career” (12). This struggle

is evident in Nishida’s simultaneous commitment to rational, philosophical discourse

and his use of utterly paradoxical language to formulate his position. This

tension points to a deeper issue not specifically taken up in the book, which is the

possibility that contradiction and paradox are themselves forms of rationality, both

operating within and pointing beyond the laws that define them. For both Nishida

and Hegel, self-consciousness and the reality it grounds exist through dialectical

conflict. For Hegel, as Suares points out, “Contradiction is the motor of life” (57).

And for Nishida, remaining true to the convolutions of the self in its ordinary and

ultimate character requires articulations that conjoin antithetical terms. Nishida’s

notions of the eternal now (eien no ima 永遠の今), the continuity of discontinuity

(hirenzoku no renzoku 非連続の連続), and the self-identity of absolute contradictories

(zettai mujunteki jikodōitsu 絶対矛盾的自己同一) are examples. Prompted by

the author’s comparison of the ways these thinkers conceive of contradiction, the

reader is led to question the nature of logic itself and to confront how dialectical

reason challenges common notions of rationality.

 

The limits of reason discussed within the context of Nishida’s philosophy are

taken up in different ways, both directly and indirectly, in the following chapters

on Nishitani, Tanabe, and Kierkegaard. In the chapter on Nishitani, his “postulate

of emptiness as enhancement of being” as a means to counter the problem of nihilism

is examined through his accounts of “original nature” and emptiness as “double

exposure.” Nishitani’s notion of double exposure in particular proves to be a useful

tool for explaining how seemingly incompatible views can be held at the same time.

This also provides a useful point of comparison with Hegel’s logic, elucidating similar

conundrums therein, shedding light on the issues related to rationality just noted.

 

Suares’s general approach in each chapter is to lay out his chosen thinkers’ critiques

of Hegel and proceed to show whether or not they successfully avoid the

pitfalls into which they perceive Hegel to have fallen. In each case he concludes that

they are either unsuccessful in clearing themselves of the same charges that they

level against him, or that their criticisms reject claims that Hegel cannot be proven

to have actually made. In Tanabe’s case, these failures are particularly pointed,

Suares argues, since his adoption of numerous Hegelian features in his own work

clashes harshly with his stringent critique of those same features in Hegel’s philosophy.

In addition, Tanabe rejects certain ideas that he incorrectly attributes to Hegel.

For Tanabe, Hegel is both a well of inspiration and a foil he continually pits himself

against, and, as Suares aptly shows, that ambivalence has problematic consequences

that come to bear in the anti-philosophical position Tanabe eventually adopts.

 

Overall, Suares’s study is well-documented with an extensive bibliography

divided into sections according to subjects for convenient reference. Textual references

to Hegel and the Kyoto scholars make use of both translations and the sources

in their original languages, providing guidance for readers at various levels of expertise.

There is one reference, however, that must be flagged. On page 69, Suares cites

a passage from David Dilworth’s translation of Nishida’s final essay, “The Logic of

Nothingness [Place] and the Religious Worldview,” in which the philosopher says of

his logic that it “is illustrated by Nāgārjuna’s logic of the eightfold negation” and “is

decidedly not a dialectic of substance in the Hegelian sense.” Michiko Yusa (1988),

in her review of this translation, makes the important observation that in the original

text Nishida makes no direct mention of either Nāgārjuna or Hegel here, and

charges Dilworth with having been excessively interpretive at this point in his translation.

This pivotal passage bears upon a number of themes dealt with in Suares’s

book, so readers should consult the original text, mindful of its disputed translation.

 

The book’s thesis, succinctly put forth in the conclusion, emphasizes the closeness

of the principal views held by Hegel and the philosophers of the Kyoto School.

Suares, in fact, finds no significant difference between the notion of absolute spirit

delineated by Hegel and the Japanese philosophers’ notion of absolute nothingness.

Though he voices good reasons to support this view, not enough analysis of

Hegel’s notion of spirit is given to prove this particular point. But whether or not

this point is proved, the final assessment of the relationship between Hegel and the

Kyoto scholars given in the conclusion presents a new reading of Hegel informed

by the ways his thought has been adapted by Nishida, Nishitani, and Tanabe. The

convergence of their various dialectics opens new ways of understanding Hegel, in

addition to bringing together and clarifying the ideas that have shaped philosophical

thought in Japan. In this respect The Kyoto School’s Takeover of Hegel is a model

work of comparative scholarship and makes a highly valuable contribution to the

field. All in all, this work boldly charts exciting frontiers in world philosophy, demonstrating

the potential fruit that may come from thorough and intelligent crosscultural

comparative studies.

 

References

Yusa, Michiko

1988 Review of “Last writings: The logic of nothingness and the religious worldview.”

Journal of the American Academy of Religion 56: 802–804.

 

Lucy Schultz

University of Oregon


Source: Nanzan Institute for Religion and Culture