What do you really believe?

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Portrait of a Man with a Quilted Sleeve, Titian, c1509. Courtesy Wikipedia/National Gallery, London.

Keith Frankish | Aeon Ideas

Edited by Nigel Warburton

Most of us have views on politics, current events, religion, society, morality and sport, and we spend a lot of time expressing these views, whether in conversation or on social media. We argue for our positions, and get annoyed if they are challenged. Why do we do this? The obvious answer is that we believe the views we express (ie, we think they are true), and we want to get others to believe them too, because they are true. We want the truth to prevail. That’s how it seems. But do we really believe everything we say? Are you always trying to establish the truth when you argue, or might there be other motives at work?

These questions might seem strange, offensive even. Am I suggesting that you are insincere or hypocritical in your views? No – at least I’m not suggesting that you are consciously so. But you might be unconsciously influenced by concerns other than truth. Nowadays, most psychologists agree that rapid, unconscious mental processes (sometimes called ‘System 1’ processes) play a huge role in guiding our behaviour. These processes are not thought of as Freudian ones, involving repressed memories and desires, but as ordinary, everyday judgments, motives and feelings that operate without conscious awareness, like a mental autopilot.

It seems plausible that such processes guide much of our speech. After all, we rarely give conscious thought to our reasons for saying what we do; the words just come to our lips. But if the motives behind our words are unconscious, then we must infer them from our behaviour, and might be mistaken about what they are. Again, this isn’t a revolutionary idea; for centuries, dramatists and novelists have depicted people deceived about their own motives. (For more on the nature and limits of self-knowledge, see my earlier Aeon article.)

It’s easy to think of motives that might prompt us to express a view we don’t really believe. We might want it to be true, and feel reassurance when we argue for it (think of the parents who insist that their missing child is still alive, despite the lack of evidence). We might associate it with people we admire, and assert it so as to be like them (think of how people are influenced by the views of celebrities). We might think that it will get us attention, and make us seem interesting (think of teenagers who adopt provocative views). We might profess it to fit in and gain social acceptance (think of a university student from a conservative background). Or we might feel that we have a duty to defend it because of our commitment to some creed or ideology (we sometimes call this attitude faith – belief in the religious sense).

Such motives might also be reinforced by other factors. As a society, we tend to admire people who know their own minds and stick to their principles. So, once we have expressed a view, for whatever reason, we might feel (again, unconsciously) that we are now committed to it, and should stick with it as a matter of integrity. At the same time, we might develop an emotional attachment to the view, a bit like an attachment to a sports team. It is now our view, the one we have publicly endorsed, and we want it to win out over its rivals just because it is ours. In this way, we might come to have a strong personal commitment to a claim, even if we don’t really believe it.

I am not suggesting that we are never guided by concerns for truth and knowledge (what philosophers call epistemic concerns), but I suspect that these sorts of emotional and social factors play a much larger role than we like to think. How else can we explain the vehemence with which people defend their views, and the hurt they feel when their views are challenged?

Is it bad if we sometimes say things we don’t believe? It might seem not. The aims I’ve mentioned – seeking social acceptance, for example, or cultivating a self-image – are not necessarily bad ones, and since they are unconscious it is arguable that we shouldn’t be held responsible for them anyway. There are dangers, however. For in order to achieve these aims we must convince our audience that we genuinely believe what we say. If they thought we were saying something merely in order to create an impression on them, then we wouldn’t succeed in creating that impression. And when our aim is to make some impression on ourselves – like the parents who insist that their child is still alive – we must convince ourselves that we believe it too. As a consequence, we might need to back up our words with deeds, acting as if we believe what we say. If there were a glaring disparity between what we said and did, our insincerity would be obvious. In this way, unconscious desires for acceptance, approval and reassurance can lead us to make choices on the basis of claims for which we have no good evidence, with obvious risks of frustration and failure.

Is there, then, any way of telling whether you really believe a claim? It might seem that conscious reflection would settle it. If you consciously entertain the claim, do you think it is true? Even this process might be unreliable, however. Many theorists hold that conscious thinking is simply talking to oneself in inner speech, in which case it can be guided by unconscious motives, just like outer speech. And, as I mentioned, unconscious desires can prompt us to deceive ourselves, telling ourselves that a claim is true even though we don’t really believe it.

Despite this, a thought experiment might help us detect what we genuinely believe to be true. In real life, there might be few contexts where truth really is our dominant concern: maintaining a comforting view or upholding a cherished ideology or self-image might almost always be more important to us than truth. But suppose you were being questioned by the Truth Demon – a super-powerful being who knows the truth on every topic, and will punish you horribly if you give a wrong answer or fail to answer at all. If you continue to assert a claim when the Truth Demon asks you if it is true, then you do really believe it, really think it is true. But if you give a different answer when under threat of torture by the all-knowing demon, then you don’t really believe the claim. This gives us a practical test for belief: imagine the situation just described as vividly as you can, and see what you would say about any of your views. But do be careful not to give too much conscious thought to the matter in case you start telling yourself what you want to hear.Aeon counter – do not remove


Keith Frankish is an English philosopher and writer. He is a visiting research fellow with the Open University in the UK and an adjunct professor with the Brain and Mind Programme at the University of Crete. He lives in Greece.

This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.


Commentary

I like the gist of this article (along with the author’s previous article), but the Truth Demon (a.k.a. God) thought experiment could use some work. It’s too easy to deceive and delude oneself, even under imagined duress. It’s also unclear if many people would be “punished horribly” while expressing their false beliefs in good conscience. As mentioned by the author, a good judge of honest belief is one’s actions, but there is a difference between honest belief and truth itself (or is there?). Although the author’s final word is on point, I prefer Nietzsche’s thought experiment: “What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more’ … Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.”


We don’t know ourselves, we knowledgeable people—we are personally ignorant
about ourselves. And there’s good reason for that. We’ve never tried to find out who
we are. How could it ever happen that one day we’d discover our own selves? With
justice it’s been said that “Where your treasure is, there shall your heart be also.” Our treasure lies where the beehives of our knowledge stand. We are always busy with our knowledge, as if we were born winged creatures—collectors of intellectual honey. In our hearts we are basically concerned with only one thing, to “bring something home.” As far as the rest of life is concerned, what people call “experience”—which of us is serious enough for that? Who has enough time? In these matters, I fear, we’ve been “missing the point.”

Our hearts have not even been engaged—nor, for that matter, have our ears! We’ve
been much more like someone divinely distracted and self-absorbed into whose ear
the clock has just pealed the twelve strokes of noon with all its force and who all at
once wakes up and asks himself “What exactly did that clock strike?”—so we rub
ourselves behind the ears afterwards and ask, totally surprised and embarrassed “What have we really just experienced? And more: “Who are we really?” Then, as I’ve mentioned, we count—after the fact—all the twelve trembling strokes of the clock of our experience, our lives, our being—alas! in the process we keep losing the count. So we remain necessarily strangers to ourselves, we do not understand ourselves, we have to keep ourselves confused. For us this law holds for all eternity: “Each man is furthest from himself.” Where we ourselves are concerned, we are not “knowledgeable people.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morals/Ecce Homo

When subjectivity, inwardness, is the truth, the truth becomes objectively determined as a paradox, and that it is paradoxical is made clear by the fact that subjectivity is truth, for it repels objectivity, and the expression for the objective repulsion is the intensity and measure of inwardness. The paradox is the objective uncertainty, which is the expression for the passion of inwardness, which is precisely the truth. This is the Socratic principle. The eternal, essential truth, that is, that which relates itself essentially to the individual because it concerns his existence (all other knowledge is, Socratically speaking, accidental, its degree and scope being indifferent), is a paradox. Nevertheless, the eternal truth is not essentially in itself paradoxical, but it becomes so by relating itself to an existing individual. Socratic ignorance is the expression of this objective uncertainty, the inwardness of the existential subject is the truth. To anticipate what I will develop later, Socratic ignorance is an analogy to the category of the absurd, only that there is still less objective certainty in the absurd, and therefore infinitely greater tension in its inwardness. The Socratic inwardness that involves existence is an analogy to faith, except that this inwardness is repulsed not by ignorance but by the absurd, which is infinitely deeper. Socratically the eternal, essential truth is by no means paradoxical in itself, but only by virtue of its relation to an existing individual.

― Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript

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

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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.

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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)

The Gay Science

I welcome all the signs indicating that a more manly and warlike age is commencing, which will, above all, bring heroism again into honor! For it has to prepare the way for a yet higher age, and gather the force which the latter will one day require, the age which will carry heroism into knowledge, and wage war for the sake of ideas and their consequences. For that end many brave pioneers are now needed, who, however, cannot originate out of nothing, and just as little out of the sand and slime of present day civilization and the culture of great cities: men silent, solitary and resolute, who know how to be content and persistent in invisible activity: men who with innate disposition seek in all things that which is to be overcome in them: men to whom cheerfulness, patience, simplicity, and contempt of the great vanities belong just as much as do magnanimity in victory and indulgence to the trivial vanities of all the vanquished: men with an acute and independent judgment regarding all victors, and concerning the part which chance has played in the winning of victory and fame: men with their own holidays, their own work days, and their own periods of mourning; accustomed to command with perfect assurance, and equally ready, if need be, to obey, proud in the one case as in the other, equally serving their own interests: men more imperiled, more productive, more happy! For believe me, the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slope of Vesuvius! Send your ships into unexplored seas! Live in war with your equals and with yourselves! Be robbers and spoilers, you knowing ones, as long as you cannot be rulers and possessors!  The time will soon pass when you can be satisfied to live like timorous deer concealed in the forests. Knowledge will finally stretch out her hand for that which belongs to her: she means to rule and possess, and you with her!

– Friedrich Nietzsche, 1882

Herd Mentality

In his heart every man knows quite well that, being unique, he will be in the world only once and that no imaginable chance will for a second time gather together into a unity so strangely variegated an assortment as he is: he knows it but he hides it like a bad conscience—why? From fear of his neighbor, who demands conventionality and cloaks himself with it. But what is it that constrains the individual to fear his neighbor, to think and act like a member of a herd, and to have no joy in himself? Modesty, perhaps, in a few rare cases. With the great majority it is indolence, inertia. … Men are even lazier than they are timid, and fear most of all the inconveniences with which unconditional honesty and nakedness would burden them. Artists alone hate this sluggish promenading in borrowed fashions and appropriated opinions and they reveal everyone’s secret bad conscience, the law that every man is a unique miracle.

Parliamentarianism—that is, public permission to choose between five basic political opinions—flatters and wins the favor of all those who would like to seem independent and individual, as if they fought for their opinions. Ultimately, however, it is indifferent whether the herd is commanded to have one opinion or to have five. Whoever deviates from the five public opinions and stands apart will always have the whole herd against him.

No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse. The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.

There are horrible people who, instead of solving a problem, tangle it up and make it harder to solve for anyone who wants to deal with it. Whoever does not know how to hit the nail on the head should be asked not to hit it at all. The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently.

If you have a virtue and she is your virtue, then you have her in common with nobody. But you want to call her by her name and pet her … and behold, now you have her in common with the people and have become one of the herd with your virtue. You would do better to say “Inexpressible and nameless is that which gives my soul agony and sweetness.”… May your virtue be too exalted for the familiarity of names, and if you must speak of her, do not be ashamed to stammer.

– Friedrich Nietzsche


Obama Accepts Nomination On Final Day Of Democratic National Convention

What is Enlightenment?

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!”–that is the motto of enlightenment.

Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a proportion of men, long after nature has released them from alien guidance (natura-liter maiorennes), nonetheless gladly remain in lifelong immaturity, and why it is so easy for others to establish themselves as their guardians. It is so easy to be immature. If I have a book to serve as my understanding, a pastor to serve as my conscience, a physician to determine my diet for me, and so on, I need not exert myself at all. I need not think, if only I can pay: others will readily undertake the irksome work for me. The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult. Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone. Now this danger is not actually so great, for after falling a few times they would in the end certainly learn to walk; but an example of this kind makes men timid and usually frightens them out of all further attempts.

Thus, it is difficult for any individual man to work himself out of the immaturity that has all but become his nature. He has even become fond of this state and for the time being is actually incapable of using his own understanding, for no one has ever allowed him to attempt it. Rules and formulas, those mechanical aids to the rational use, or rather misuse, of his natural gifts, are the shackles of a permanent immaturity. Whoever threw them off would still make only an uncertain leap over the smallest ditch, since he is unaccustomed to this kind of free movement. Consequently, only a few have succeeded, by cultivating their own minds, in freeing themselves from immaturity and pursuing a secure course.

But that the public should enlighten itself is more likely; indeed, if it is only allowed freedom, enlightenment is almost inevitable. For even among the entrenched guardians of the great masses a few will always think for themselves, a few who, after having themselves thrown off the yoke of immaturity, will spread the spirit of a rational appreciation for both their own worth and for each person’s calling to think for himself. But it should be particularly noted that if a public that was first placed in this yoke by the guardians is suitably aroused by some of those who are altogether incapable of enlightenment, it may force the guardians themselves to remain under the yoke–so pernicious is it to instill prejudices, for they finally take revenge upon their originators, or on their descendants. Thus a public can only attain enlightenment slowly. Perhaps a revolution can overthrow autocratic despotism and profiteering or power-grabbing oppression, but it can never truly reform a manner of thinking; instead, new prejudices, just like the old ones they replace, will serve as a leash for the great unthinking mass.

Nothing is required for this enlightenment, however, except freedom; and the freedom in question is the least harmful of all, namely, the freedom to use reason publicly in all matters. But on all sides I hear: “Do not argue!” The officer says, “Do not argue, drill!” The tax man says, “Do not argue, pay!” The pastor says, “Do not argue, believe!” (Only one ruler in the World says, “Argue as much as you want and about what you want, but obey!”) In this we have examples of pervasive restrictions on freedom. But which restriction hinders enlightenment and which does not, but instead actually advances it? I reply: The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among mankind; the private use of reason may, however, often be very narrowly restricted, without otherwise hindering the progress of enlightenment. By the public use of one’s own reason I understand the use that anyone as a scholar makes of reason before the entire literate world. I call the private use of reason that which a person may make in a civic post or office that has been entrusted to him. Now in many affairs conducted in the interests of a community, a certain mechanism is required by means of which some of its members must conduct themselves in an entirely passive manner so that through an artificial unanimity the government may guide them toward public ends, or at least prevent them from destroying such ends. Here one certainly must not argue, instead one must obey. However, insofar as this part of the machine also regards himself as a member of the community as a whole, or even of the world community, and as a consequence addresses the public in the role of a scholar, in the proper sense of that term, he can most certainly argue, without thereby harming the affairs for which as a passive member he is partly responsible. Thus it would be disastrous if an officer on duty who was given a command by his superior were to question the appropriateness or utility of the order. He must obey.

But as a scholar he cannot be justly constrained from making comments about errors in military service, or from placing them before the public for its judgment. The citizen cannot refuse to pay the taxes imposed on him; indeed, impertinent criticism of such levies, when they should be paid by him, can be punished as a scandal (since it can lead to widespread insubordination). But the same person does not act contrary to civic duty when, as a scholar, he publicly expresses his thoughts regarding the impropriety or even injustice of such taxes. Likewise a pastor is bound to instruct his catecumens and congregation in accordance with the symbol of the church he serves, for he was appointed on that condition. But as a scholar he has complete freedom, indeed even the calling, to impart to the public all of his carefully considered and well-intentioned thoughts concerning mistaken aspects of that symbol, as well as his suggestions for the better arrangement of religious and church matters. Nothing in this can weigh on his conscience. What he teaches in consequence of his office as a servant of the church he sets out as something with regard to which he has no discretion to teach in accord with his own lights; rather, he offers it under the direction and in the name of another. He will say, “Our church teaches this or that and these are the demonstrations it uses.” He thereby extracts for his congregation all practical uses from precepts to which he would not himself subscribe with complete conviction, but whose presentation he can nonetheless undertake, since it is not entirely impossible that truth lies hidden in them, and, in any case, nothing contrary to the very nature of religion is to be found in them. If he believed he could find anything of the latter sort in them, he could not in good conscience serve in his position; he would have to resign. Thus an appointed teacher’s use of his reason for the sake of his congregation is merely private, because, however large the congregation is, this use is always only domestic; in this regard, as a priest, he is not free and cannot be such because he is acting under instructions from someone else. By contrast, the cleric–as a scholar who speaks through his writings to the public as such, i.e., the world–enjoys in this public use of reason an unrestricted freedom to use his own rational capacities and to speak his own mind. For that the (spiritual) guardians of a people should themselves be immature is an absurdity that would insure the perpetuation of absurdities.

But would a society of pastors, perhaps a church assembly or venerable presbytery (as those among the Dutch call themselves), not be justified in binding itself by oath to a certain unalterable symbol in order to secure a constant guardianship over each of its members and through them over the people, and this for all time: I say that this is wholly impossible. Such a contract, whose intention is to preclude forever all further enlightenment of the human race, is absolutely null and void, even if it should be ratified by the supreme power, by parliaments, and by the most solemn peace treaties. One age cannot bind itself, and thus conspire, to place a succeeding one in a condition whereby it would be impossible for the later age to expand its knowledge (particularly where it is so very important), to rid itself of errors,and generally to increase its enlightenment. That would be a crime against human nature, whose essential destiny lies precisely in such progress; subsequent generations are thus completely justified in dismissing such agreements as unauthorized and criminal. The criterion of everything that can be agreed upon as a law by a people lies in this question: Can a people impose such a law on itself? Now it might be possible, in anticipation of a better state of affairs, to introduce a provisional order for a specific, short time, all the while giving all citizens, especially clergy, in their role as scholars, the freedom to comment publicly, i.e., in writing, on the present institution’s shortcomings. The provisional order might last until insight into the nature of these matters had become so widespread and obvious that the combined (if not unanimous) voices of the populace could propose to the crown that it take under its protection those congregations that, in accord with their newly gained insight, had organized themselves under altered religious institutions, but without interfering with those wishing to allow matters to remain as before. However, it is absolutely forbidden that they unite into a religious organization that nobody may for the duration of a man’s lifetime publicly question, for so do-ing would deny, render fruitless, and make detrimental to succeeding generations an era in man’s progress toward improvement. A man may put off enlightenment with regard to what he ought to know, though only for a short time and for his own person; but to renounce it for himself, or, even more, for subsequent generations, is to violate and trample man’s divine rights underfoot. And what a people may not decree for itself may still less be imposed on it by a monarch, for his lawgiving authority rests on his unification of the people’s collective will in his own. If he only sees to it that all genuine or purported improvement is consonant with civil order, he can allow his subjects to do what they find necessary to their spiritual well-being, which is not his affair. However, he must prevent anyone from forcibly interfering with another’s working as best he can to determine and promote his well-being. It detracts from his own majesty when he interferes in these matters, since the writings in which his subjects attempt to clarify their insights lend value to his conception of governance. This holds whether he acts from his own highest insight–whereby he calls upon himself the reproach, “Caesar non eat supra grammaticos.”‘–as well as, indeed even more, when he despoils his highest authority by supporting the spiritual despotism of some tyrants in his state over his other subjects.

If it is now asked, “Do we presently live in an enlightened age?” the answer is, “No, but we do live in an age of enlightenment.” As matters now stand, a great deal is still lacking in order for men as a whole to be, or even to put themselves into a position to be able without external guidance to apply understanding confidently to religious issues. But we do have clear indications that the way is now being opened for men to proceed freely in this direction and that the obstacles to general enlightenment–to their release from their self-imposed immaturity–are gradually diminishing. In this regard, this age is the age of enlightenment, the century of Frederick.

A prince who does not find it beneath him to say that he takes it to be his duty to prescribe nothing, but rather to allow men complete freedom in religious matters–who thereby renounces the arrogant title of tolerance–is himself enlightened and deserves to be praised by a grateful present and by posterity as the first, at least where the government is concerned, to release the human race from immaturity and to leave everyone free to use his own reason in all matters of conscience. Under his rule, venerable pastors, in their role as scholars and without prejudice to their official duties, may freely and openly set out for the world’s scrutiny their judgments and views, even where these occasionally differ from the accepted symbol. Still greater freedom is afforded to those who are not restricted by an official post. This spirit of freedom is expanding even where it must struggle against the external obstacles of governments that misunderstand their own function. Such governments are illuminated by the example that the existence of freedom need not give cause for the least concern regarding public order and harmony in the commonwealth. If only they refrain from inventing artifices to keep themselves in it, men will gradually raise themselves from barbarism.

I have focused on religious matters in setting out my main point concerning enlightenment, i.e., man’s emergence from self-imposed immaturity, first because our rulers have no interest in assuming the role of their subjects’ guardians with respect to the arts and sciences, and secondly because that form of immaturity is both the most pernicious and disgraceful of all. But the manner of thinking of a head of state who favors religious enlightenment goes even further, for he realizes that there is no danger to his legislation in allowing his subjects to use reason publicly and to set before the world their thoughts concerning better formulations of his laws, even if this involves frank criticism of legislation currently in effect. We have before us a shining example, with respect to which no monarch surpasses the one whom we honor.

But only a ruler who is himself enlightened and has no dread of shadows, yet who likewise has a well-disciplined, numerous army to guarantee public peace, can say what no republic may dare, namely: “Argue as much as you want and about what you want, but obey!” Here as elsewhere, when things are considered in broad perspective, a strange, unexpected pattern in human affairs reveals itself, one in which almost everything is paradoxical. A greater degree of civil freedom seems advantageous to a people’s spiritual freedom; yet the former established impassable boundaries for the latter; conversely, a lesser degree of civil freedom provides enough room for all fully to expand their abilities. Thus, once nature has removed the hard shell from this kernel for which she has most fondly cared, namely, the inclination to and vocation for free thinking, the kernel gradually reacts on a people’s mentality (whereby they become increasingly able to act freely), and it finally even influences the principles of government, which finds that it can profit by treating men, who are now more than machines, in accord with their dignity.

– Immanuel Kant


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The Crowd is Untruth

There is a view of life which holds that where the crowd is, the truth is also, that it is a need in truth itself, that it must have the crowd on its side. There is another view of life; which holds that wherever the crowd is, there is untruth, so that, for a moment to carry the matter out to its farthest conclusion, even if every individual possessed the truth in private, yet if they came together into a crowd (so that “the crowd” received any decisive, voting, noisy, audible importance), untruth would at once be let in.

For “the crowd” is untruth. Eternally, godly, christianly what Paul says is valid: “only one receives the prize,” [I Cor. 9:24] not by way of comparison, for in the comparison “the others” are still present. That is to say, everyone can be that one, with God’s help – but only one receives the prize; again, that is to say, everyone should cautiously have dealings with “the others,” and essentially only talk with God and with himself – for only one receives the prize; again, that is to say, the human being is in kinship with, or to be a human is to be in kinship with the divinity. The worldly, temporal, busy, socially-friendly person says this: “How unreasonable, that only one should receive the prize, it is far more probable that several combined receive the prize; and if we become many, then it becomes more certain and also easier for each individually.” Certainly, it is far more probable; and it is also true in relation to all earthly and sensuous prizes; and it becomes the only truth, if it is allowed to rule, for this point of view abolishes both God and the eternal and “the human being’s” kinship with the divinity; it abolishes it or changes it into a fable, and sets the modern (as a matter of fact, the old heathen) in its place, so that to be a human being is like being a specimen which belongs to a race gifted with reason, so that the race, the species, is higher than the individual, or so that there are only specimens, not individuals. But the eternal, which vaults high over the temporal, quiet as the night sky, and God in heaven, who from this exalted state of bliss, without becoming the least bit dizzy, looks out over these innumerable millions and knows each single individual; he, the great examiner, he says: only one receives the prize; that is to say, everyone can receive it, and everyone ought to become this by oneself, but only one receives the prize. Where the crowd is, therefore, or where a decisive importance is attached to the fact that there is a crowd, there no one is working, living, and striving for the highest end, but only for this or that earthly end; since the eternal, the decisive, can only be worked for where there is one; and to become this by oneself, which all can do, is to will to allow God to help you – “the crowd” is untruth.

A crowd – not this or that, one now living or long dead, a crowd of the lowly or of nobles, of rich or poor, etc., but in its very concept – is untruth, since a crowd either renders the single individual wholly unrepentant and irresponsible, or weakens his responsibility by making it a fraction of his decision. Observe, there was not a single soldier who dared lay a hand on Caius Marius; this was the truth. But given three or four women with the consciousness or idea of being a crowd, with a certain hope in the possibility that no one could definitely say who it was or who started it: then they had the courage for it; what untruth! The untruth is first that it is “the crowd,” which does either what only the single individual in the crowd does, or in every case what each single individual does. For a crowd is an abstraction, which does not have hands; each single individual, on the other hand, normally has two hands, and when he, as a single individual, lays his two hands on Caius Marius, then it is the two hands of this single individual, not after all his neighbor’s, even less – the crowd’s, which has no hands. In the next place, the untruth is that the crowd had “the courage” for it, since never at any time was even the most cowardly of all single individuals so cowardly, as the crowd always is. For every single individual who escapes into the crowd, and thus flees in cowardice from being a single individual (who either had the courage to lay his hand on Caius Marius, or the courage to admit that he did not have it), contributes his share of cowardice to “the cowardice,” which is: the crowd. Take the highest, think of Christ – and the whole human race, all human beings, which were ever born and ever will be born; the situation is the single individual, as an individual, in solitary surroundings alone with him; as a single individual he walks up to him and spits on him: the human being has never been born and never will be, who would have the courage or the impudence for it; this is the truth. But since they remain in a crowd, they have the courage for it – what frightening untruth.

The crowd is untruth. There is therefore no one who has more contempt for what it is to be a human being than those who make it their profession to lead the crowd. Let someone, some individual human being, certainly, approach such a person, what does he care about him; that is much too small a thing; he proudly sends him away; there must be at least a hundred. And if there are thousands, then he bends before the crowd, he bows and scrapes; what untruth! No, when there is an individual human being, then one should express the truth by respecting what it is to be a human being; and if perhaps, as one cruelly says, it was a poor, needy human being, then especially should one invite him into the best room, and if one has several voices, he should use the kindest and friendliest; that is the truth. When on the other hand it was an assembly of thousands or more, and “the truth” became the object of balloting, then especially one should godfearingly – if one prefers not to repeat in silence the Our Father: deliver us from evil – one should godfearingly express, that a crowd, as the court of last resort, ethically and religiously, is the untruth, whereas it is eternally true, that everyone can be the one. This is the truth.

The crowd is untruth. Therefore was Christ crucified, because he, even though he addressed himself to all, would not have to do with the crowd, because he would not in any way let a crowd help him, because he in this respect absolutely pushed away, would not found a party, or allow balloting, but would be what he was, the truth, which relates itself to the single individual. And therefore everyone who in truth will serve the truth, is eo ipso in some way or other a martyr; if it were possible that a human being in his mother’s womb could make a decision to will to serve “the truth” in truth, so he also is eo ipso a martyr, however his martyrdom comes about, even while in his mother’s womb. For to win a crowd is not so great a trick; one only needs some talent, a certain dose of untruth and a little acquaintance with the human passions. But no witness for the truth – alas, and every human being, you and I, should be one – dares have dealings with a crowd. The witness for the truth – who naturally will have nothing to do with politics, and to the utmost of his ability is careful not to be confused with a politician – the godfearing work of the witness to the truth is to have dealings with all, if possible, but always individually, to talk with each privately, on the streets and lanes – to split up the crowd, or to talk to it, not to form a crowd, but so that one or another individual might go home from the assembly and become a single individual. “A crowd,” on the other hand, when it is treated as the court of last resort in relation to “the truth,” its judgment as the judgment, is detested by the witness to the truth, more than a virtuous young woman detests the dance hall. And they who address the “crowd” as the court of last resort, he considers to be instruments of untruth. For to repeat: that which in politics and similar domains has its validity, sometimes wholly, sometimes in part, becomes untruth, when it is transferred to the intellectual, spiritual, and religious domains. And at the risk of a possibly exaggerated caution, I add just this: by “truth” I always understand “eternal truth.” But politics and the like has nothing to do with “eternal truth.” A politics, which in the real sense of “eternal truth” made a serious effort to bring “eternal truth” into real life, would in the same second show itself to be in the highest degree the most “impolitic” thing imaginable.

The crowd is untruth. And I could weep, in every case I can learn to long for the eternal, whenever I think about our age’s misery, even compared with the ancient world’s greatest misery, in that the daily press and anonymity make our age even more insane with help from “the public,” which is really an abstraction, which makes a claim to be the court of last resort in relation to “the truth”; for assemblies which make this claim surely do not take place. That an anonymous person, with help from the press, day in and day out can speak however he pleases (even with respect to the intellectual, the ethical, the religious), things which he perhaps did not in the least have the courage to say personally in a particular situation; every time he opens up his gullet – one cannot call it a mouth – he can all at once address himself to thousands upon thousands; he can get ten thousand times ten thousand to repeat after him – and no one has to answer for it; in ancient times the relatively unrepentant crowd was the almighty, but now there is the absolutely unrepentant thing: No One, an anonymous person: the Author, an anonymous person: the Public, sometimes even anonymous subscribers, therefore: No One. No One! God in heaven, such states even call themselves Christian states. One cannot say that, again with the help of the press, “the truth” can overcome the lie and the error. O, you who say this, ask yourself: Do you dare to claim that human beings, in a crowd, are just as quick to reach for truth, which is not always palatable, as for untruth, which is always deliciously prepared, when in addition this must be combined with an admission that one has let oneself be deceived! Or do you dare to claim that “the truth” is just as quick to let itself be understood as is untruth, which requires no previous knowledge, no schooling, no discipline, no abstinence, no self-denial, no honest self-concern, no patient labor! No, “the truth,” which detests this untruth, the only goal of which is to desire its increase, is not so quick on its feet. Firstly, it cannot work through the fantastical, which is the untruth; its communicator is only a single individual. And its communication relates itself once again to the single individual; for in this view of life the single individual is precisely the truth. The truth can neither be communicated nor be received without being as it were before the eyes of God, nor without God’s help, nor without God being involved as the middle term, since he is the truth. It can therefore only be communicated by and received by “the single individual,” which, for that matter, every single human being who lives could be: this is the determination of the truth in contrast to the abstract, the fantastical, impersonal, “the crowd” – “the public,” which excludes God as the middle term (for the personal God cannot be the middle term in an impersonal relation), and also thereby the truth, for God is the truth and its middle term.

And to honor every individual human being, unconditionally every human being, that is the truth and fear of God and love of “the neighbor”; but ethico-religiously viewed, to recognize “the crowd” as the court of last resort in relation to “the truth,” that is to deny God and cannot possibly be to love “the neighbor.” And “the neighbor” is the absolutely true expression for human equality; if everyone in truth loved the neighbor as himself, then would perfect human equality be unconditionally attained; every one who in truth loves the neighbor, expresses unconditional human equality; every one who is really aware (even if he admits, like I, that his effort is weak and imperfect) that the task is to love the neighbor, he is also aware of what human equality is. But never have I read in the Holy Scriptures this command: You shall love the crowd; even less: You shall, ethico-religiously, recognize in the crowd the court of last resort in relation to “the truth.” It is clear that to love the neighbor is self-denial, that to love the crowd or to act as if one loved it, to make it the court of last resort for “the truth,” that is the way to truly gain power, the way to all sorts of temporal and worldly advantage – yet it is untruth; for the crowd is untruth.

But he who acknowledges this view, which is seldom presented (for it often happens, that a man believes that the crowd is in untruth, but when it, the crowd, merely accepts his opinion en masse, then everything is all right), he admits to himself that he is the weak and powerless one; how would a single individual be able to stand against the many, who have the power! And he could not then want to get the crowd on his side to carry through the view that the crowd, ethico-religiously, as the court of last resort, is untruth; that would be to mock himself. But although this view was from the first an admission of weakness and powerlessness, and since it seems therefore so uninviting, and is therefore heard so seldom: yet it has the good feature, that it is fair, that it offends no one, not a single one, that it does not distinguish between persons, not a single one. A crowd is indeed made up of single individuals; it must therefore be in everyone’s power to become what he is, a single individual; no one is prevented from being a single individual, no one, unless he prevents himself by becoming many. To become a crowd, to gather a crowd around oneself, is on the contrary to distinguish life from life; even the most well-meaning one who talks about that, can easily offend a single individual. But it is the crowd which has power, influence, reputation, and domination – this is the distinction of life from life, which tyrannically overlooks the single individual as the weak and powerless one, in a temporal-worldly way overlooks the eternal truth: the single individual.

– Søren Kierkegaard


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For the amoral herd that fears boredom above all else, everything becomes entertainment. Sex and sport, politics and the arts are transformed into entertainment. … Nothing is immune from the demand that boredom be relieved (but without personal involvement, for mass society is a spectator society).

– Merold Westphal

On Science

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That of which tragedy died, the Socratism of morality, the dialectics, frugality, and cheerfulness of the theoretical man – might not this very Socratism be a sign of decline, of weariness, of infection, of an anarchical dissolution of the instincts? And the “Greek cheerfulness” of the later Greeks – merely the afterglow of the sunset? The Epicureans’ resolve against pessimism – a mere precaution of the afflicted? And science itself, our science – what is the significance of all science, viewed as a symptom of life? For what – worse yet, toward what – all science? Is the resolve to be so scientific about everything perhaps a fear of, an escape from, pessimism? A subtle last resort against – truth? Morally speaking, a sort of cowardice and falseness? Amorally speaking, a ruse?

It is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests – even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire from the flame that was lit by a faith thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine. – But what if this should become more and more incredible, if nothing should prove to be divine anymore unless it were error, blindness, the lie – if God himself were to prove to be our most enduring lie?

No! Don’t come to me with science when I ask for the natural antagonist of the ascetic ideal, when I demand: “where is the opposing will expressing the opposing ideal?” Science is not nearly self-reliant enough to be that; it first requires in every respect an ideal of value, a value-creating power, in the service of which it could believe in itself – it never creates values. Its relation to the ascetic ideal is by no means essentially antagonistic; it might even be said to represent the driving force in the latter’s inner development. It opposes and fights, on closer inspection, not the ideal itself but only its exteriors, its guise and masquerade, its temporary dogmatic hardening and stiffening, and by denying what is exoteric in this ideal, it liberates what life is in it. This pair, science and the ascetic ideal, both rest on the same foundation – I have already indicated it: on the same overestimation of truth (more exactly: on the same belief that truth is inestimable and cannot be criticized). Therefore they are necessarily allies, so that if they are to be fought they can only be fought and called in question together. A depreciation of the ascetic ideal unavoidably involves a depreciation of science: one must keep one’s eyes and ears open to this fact.

Art, in which precisely the lie is sanctified and the will to deception has a good conscience, is much more fundamentally opposed to the ascetic ideal than is science: this was instinctively sensed by Plato, the greatest enemy of art Europe has yet produced. Plato versus Homer: that is the complete, the genuine antagonism – there the sincerest advocate of the “beyond”, the great slanderer of life; here the instinctive deifier, the golden nature. To place himself in the service of the ascetic ideal is therefore the most distinctive corruption of an artist that is at all possible.

With all these conceptions the steady and laborious process of science, which will one day celebrate its greatest triumph with a history of the genesis of thought, will in the end decisively have done; for the outcome of this history may well be the conclusion: That which we now call the world is the outcome of a host of errors and fantasies which have gradually arisen and grown entwined with one another in the course of the overall evolution of the organic being, and are now inherited by us as the accumulated treasure of the entire past – as treasure, for the value of our humanity depends upon it. Rigorous science is capable of detaching us from this ideational world only to a limited extent – and more is certainly not to be desired – as it is incapable of making any essential inroad into the power of habits of feeling acquired in primeval times: but it can, gradually and step by step, illuminate the history of the genesis of this world as idea – and, for brief periods at any rate, lift us up out of the entire proceeding. Perhaps we shall then realize that the ding an sich [thing in itself] is worthy of Homeric laughter: that it appeared to be so much, indeed everything, and is actually empty, that is to say empty of significance.

A ‘scientific’ interpretation of the world … might … be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world, meaning that it would be one of the poorest in meaning. This thought is intended for the ears and consciences of our mechanists who nowadays like to pass as philosophers and insist that mechanics is the doctrine of the first and last laws on which all existence must be based as on a ground floor. But an essentially mechanical world would be an essentially meaningless world. Assuming that one estimated the value of a piece of music according to how much of it can be counted, calculated, and expressed in formulas: how absurd would such a ‘scientific’ estimation of music be! Nothing, really nothing of what is ‘music’ in it!

– Friedrich Nietzsche


Today scientists describe the universe in terms of two basic partial theories – the general theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. They are the great intellectual achievements of the first half of this century. The general theory of relativity describes the force of gravity and the large-scale structure of the universe, that is, the structure on scales from only a few miles to as large as a million million million million (1 with twenty-four zeros after it) miles, the size of the observable universe. Quantum mechanics, on the other hand, deals with phenomena on extremely small scales, such as a millionth of a millionth of an inch. Unfortunately, however, these two theories are known to be inconsistent with each other – they cannot both be correct. One of the major endeavors in physics today, and the major theme of this book, is the search for a new theory that will incorporate them both – a quantum theory of gravity. We do not yet have such a theory, and we may still be a long way from having one, but we do already know many of the properties that it must have. And we shall see, in later chapters, that we already know a fair amount about the predictions a quantum theory of gravity must make.

Now, if you believe that the universe is not arbitrary, but is governed by definite laws, you ultimately have to combine the partial theories into a complete unified theory that will describe everything in the universe. But there is a fundamental paradox in the search for such a complete unified theory. The ideas about scientific theories outlined above assume we are rational beings who are free to observe the universe as we want and to draw logical deductions from what we see. In such a scheme it is reasonable to suppose that we might progress ever closer toward the laws that govern our universe. Yet if there really is a complete unified theory, it would also presumably determine our actions. And so the theory itself would determine the outcome of our search for it! And why should it determine that we come to the right conclusions from the evidence? Might it not equally well determine that we draw the wrong conclusion? Or no conclusion at all?

The only answer that I can give to this problem is based on Darwin’s principle of natural selection. The idea is that in any population of self-reproducing organisms, there will be variations in the genetic material and upbringing that different individuals have. These differences will mean that some individuals are better able than others to draw the right conclusions about the world around them and to act accordingly. These individuals will be more likely to survive and reproduce and so their pattern of behavior and thought will come to dominate. It has certainly been true in the past that what we call intelligence and scientific discovery has conveyed a survival advantage. It is not so clear that this is still the case: our scientific discoveries may well destroy us all, and even if they don’t, a complete unified theory may not make much difference to our chances of survival. However, provided the universe has evolved in a regular way, we might expect that the reasoning abilities that natural selection has given us would be valid also in our search for a complete unified theory, and so would not lead us to the wrong conclusions.

Because the partial theories that we already have are sufficient to make accurate predictions in all but the most extreme situations, the search for the ultimate theory of the universe seems difficult to justify on practical grounds. (It is worth noting, though, that similar arguments could have been used against both relativity and quantum mechanics, and these theories have given us both nuclear energy and the microelectronics revolution!) The discovery of a complete unified theory, therefore, may not aid the survival of our species. It may not even affect our life-style. But ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.

– Stephen Hawking


Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.

It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. … He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.

It is not enough that you should understand about applied science in order that your work may increase man’s blessings. Concern for the man himself and his fate must always form the chief interest of all technical endeavors; concern for the great unsolved problems of the organization of labor and the distribution of goods in order that the creations of our mind shall be a blessing and not a curse to mankind. Never forget this in the midst of your diagrams and equations.

All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.

The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day.

– Albert Einstein


Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not seek or conjecture either of them as if they were veiled obscurities or extravagances beyond the horizon of my vision; I see them before me and connect them immediately with the consciousness of my existence.

– Immanuel Kant


We feel that even if all possible scientific questions be answered, the problems of life have still not been touched at all.

– Ludwig Wittgenstein

Zen & The Art of Postmodern Philosophy

zen and postmodern philosophy

Selected Passages


Nietzsche views Buddhism as a passive kind of nihilism, a sign of weakness. Contrary to Nietzsche’s opinion of Buddhism, the historical Buddha wanted to “steer clear of notions of permanent existence and nihilistic nonexistence.” Within the context of the historically later Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, classical Madhyamika thinkers, for instance, emphatically rejected a nihilistic interpretation of the doctrine of emptiness. In his Mulamadhyamakakarika, Nagarjuna writes, for instance, the following:

In truth, the cessation of a real existing entity is not possible. For, indeed, it is not possible to have the nature of both existence and non-existence at the same time.

This type of statement motivated some critical interpreters to label such assertions nihilistic…

In response to western critics like Nietzsche and others, Nishitani rejects such erroneous claims, and asserts that nihilism is “the single greatest issue facing philosophy and religion in our times.” Within our historical time and place, philosophy has failed to provide an adequate response to nihilism, a historical actuality. The failure of philosophy is connected with the death of the traditional notion of a transcendent deity that gave history its meaningful basis in eternity. Devoid of any transcendent foundation, history becomes an errant striving for a viable future and an unbearable burden upon the individual.

Nietzsche’s response to the loss of a transcendent God and ground of historical meaning was to attempt to transcend history in and through time rather than striving to go beyond time…

Nishitani does not think that Nietzsche’s vision is a useful solution because the “will to power” was conceived as a “thing” referred to as “will.” To remain an entity suggests for Nishitani that it did not lose its connotation as other for us and something of which could help us become aware of ourselves at a primary level.

Science is also part of the problem because “Modern science has completely transformed the old view of nature, resulting in the birth of various forms of atheism and the fomenting of an indifference to religion in general.” Moreover, science rejects the possibility of a personal God or a teleological view of the world, and conceives of nature as something indifferent and impersonal.

According to Nishitani, reality is not something that can be reduced: “It is both life and death, and at the same time is neither life nor death. It is what we have to call the nonduality of life and death.”

From Nishitani’s perspective, contemporary atheism goes further by adding a sense of the meaninglessness associated with a purely materialistic and mechanistic world and “an accompanying awareness of the nihility that lies concealed just beneath the surface of the world.” Within contemporary atheism, there is an awareness of nihility in which the existence of God is denied and replaced by nihility. How is it possible to break out of this fundamental crisis of human existence? It is possible to deepen our subjectivity and freedom by practicing zazen (seated meditation) which will help us to become aware of the reality of sunyata (emptiness)? … From Nishitani’s perspective, Zen Buddhism does not represent an eastern form of nihilism.

Nishitani refers to the elemental mode of being as possessing an illusory appearance: “That being is only being in unison with emptiness means that eing possesses at its ground the character of an ‘illusion,’ that everything that is, is in essence fleeting, illusory appearance.”

In his work entitled Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits, Nietzsche refers to the overcoming of metaphysics and links it with liberation. In his four-volume study of Nietzsche, Heidegger interprets Nietzsche’s call for an end of metaphysics in the following manner: “The end of metaphysics discloses itself as the collapse of the reign of the transcendent and the ‘ideal’ that sprang from it. But the end of metaphysics does not mean the cessation of history.” Heidegger’s study of Nietzsche depicts him as the last metaphysician. Rosen disputes this claim because Nietzsche view metaphysics as illusion, and “Metaphysics is rendered impossible by the irrational necessity of the Chaos that lies in the heart of all things.” Nonetheless, Nietzsche’s call for an end of the western metaphysical tradition creates room for the eventual development and retrieval of an analysis of Being from the perspective of Heidegger. In a lecture from his later period, Heidegger claims that “To think Being without beings means: to think Being without regard to metaphysics.” Within the space provided by Nietzsche’s termination of metaphysics, Heidegger anoints and appoints himself to be the initial philosopher after the end of metaphysics, which for some postmodern thinkers also means the end of philosophy or the conclusion of philosophy as it has been practiced in the West.

As part of his argument, Derrida states that not all languages are logocentric because Chinese or Japanese nonphonetic scripts are evidence of cultures developing alternatively to logocentrism.

D.T. Suzuki captures the spirit of play in Zen Buddhism when he writes, “For playfulness comes out of empty nothingness, and where there is something, this cannot take place. Zen comes out of absolute nothingness and knows how to be playful.” To be able to play is to be free, whereas to work is to be limited and confined. The free and voluntary nature of play is a source of joy and amusement. The spirit of play for Dogen represents his transcendence of earthly dichotomies and absolute freedom. In a spirit applicable to the Zen of Dogen, Huizinga writes, “Play lies outside te antithesis of wisdom and folly, equally outside those of truth and falsehood, good and evil.”

It is a time for thinkers to wander aimlessly, err, emphasize altarity, stress the importance of difference, communicate indirectly, and embrace irony.

Zen, from one perspective, represents the end of philosophy as the love of wisdom and the use of rational means to find the truth, and many postmodern thinkers share the Zen suspicion of metaphysics and representational thinking, even though some postmodernists might view Zen as an example of eastern logocentrism.

“[Writing] plays within the simulacrum.” In fact, other postmodernists agree with Derrida that we are located in the simulacrum, a copy of a copy according to Plato… The functioning of the simulacrum, a Dionysian machine, is simulation, a phantasm itself, that subverts the same or representative model and renders it false… “It harbors a positive power that deniesthe original and the copy, the model and the reproduction.” Such a philosophical position manifests an anti-Kantian perspective that is aconceptual and nonrepresentational.

Writing on behalf of all human beings, Deleuze concludes that “We have become simulacra.”

Although there are certainly many similarities between Buddhist philosophy and forms of postmodern philosophy as evident by our previous discussions, the differences are ultimately more significant. Many postmodern thinkers manifest evidence of moving in the direction of Zen, but there is always a point at which they become captives of their own radical skepticism and/or language games.

Proceeding in a direction where the postmodernists would never tread, Dogen claims that the body is both subject and object, and that the body and mind represent the entire world, which implies that we are never separated from the world.

Due the the absence of an end, a definite conclusion is impossible. The most that we can affirm is that a conclusion is inconclusive, and yet we must come to some sort of end. I tend to agree with Taylor who thinks that one must end where one finds oneself. It has not been the intention of this dialogue between representatives of the Zen philosophical tradition and postmodern thought to arrive at a final solution to any philosophical problems. The inconclusive end of this intercultural dialogue terminates with an interlude that anticipates a continuation of the dialogue at a future date. Unable to come to final conclusions or a definitive end, it seems advisable to simply sign out.

– Carl Olson

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“The Buddhist Dharma cannot be understood through rational and intellectual study.”

– Dogen

“The relationship of being and nothingness is thus one of mutual implication and intertwining; it is not predicated on antithesis or reciprocal exclusion.”

– Dallmayr

The New Idol

Somewhere there are still peoples and herds, but not with us, my brethren: here there are states.

A state? What is that? Well! open now your ears unto me, for now will I say unto you my word concerning the death of peoples.

A state, is called the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly lieth it also; and this lie creepeth from its mouth: “I, the state, am the people.”

It is a lie! Creators were they who created peoples, and hung a faith and a love over them: thus they served life.

Destroyers, are they who lay snares for many, and call it the state: they hang a sword and a hundred cravings over them.

Where there is still a people, there the state is not understood, but hated as the evil eye, and as sin against laws and customs.

This sign I give unto you: every people speaketh its language of good and evil: this its neighbour understandeth not. Its language hath it devised for itself in laws and customs.

But the state lieth in all languages of good and evil; and whatever it saith it lieth; and whatever it hath it hath stolen.

False is everything in it; with stolen teeth it biteth, the biting one. False are even its bowels.

Confusion of language of good and evil; this sign I give unto you as the sign of the state. Verily, the will to death, indicateth this sign! Verily, it beckoneth unto the preachers of death!

Many too many are born: for the superfluous ones was the state devised!

See just how it enticeth them to it, the many-too-many! How it swalloweth and cheweth and recheweth them!

“On earth there is nothing greater than I: it is I who am the regulating finger of God.”—thus roareth the monster. And not only the long-eared and short-sighted fall upon their knees!

Ah! even in your ears, ye great souls, it whispereth its gloomy lies! Ah! it findeth out the rich hearts which willingly lavish themselves!

Yea, it findeth you out too, ye conquerors of the old God! Weary ye became of the conflict, and now your weariness serveth the new idol!

Heroes and honourable ones, it would fain set up around it, the new idol! Gladly it basketh in the sunshine of good consciences,- the cold monster!

Everything will it give you, if ye worship it, the new idol: thus it purchaseth the lustre of your virtue, and the glance of your proud eyes.

It seeketh to allure by means of you, the many-too-many! Yea, a hellish artifice hath here been devised, a death-horse jingling with the trappings of divine honours!

Yea, a dying for many hath here been devised, which glorifieth itself as life: verily, a hearty service unto all preachers of death!

The state, I call it, where all are poison-drinkers, the good and the bad: the state, where all lose themselves, the good and the bad: the state, where the slow suicide of all—is called “life.”

Just see these superfluous ones! They steal the works of the inventors and the treasures of the wise. Culture, they call their theft—and everything becometh sickness and trouble unto them!

Just see these superfluous ones! Sick are they always; they vomit their bile and call it a newspaper. They devour one another, and cannot even digest themselves.

Just see these superfluous ones! Wealth they acquire and become poorer thereby. Power they seek for, and above all, the lever of power, much money—these impotent ones!

See them clamber, these nimble apes! They clamber over one another, and thus scuffle into the mud and the abyss.

Towards the throne they all strive: it is their madness—as if happiness sat on the throne! Ofttimes sitteth filth on the throne.- and ofttimes also the throne on filth.

Madmen they all seem to me, and clambering apes, and too eager. Badly smelleth their idol to me, the cold monster: badly they all smell to me, these idolaters.

My brethren, will ye suffocate in the fumes of their maws and appetites! Better break the windows and jump into the open air!

Do go out of the way of the bad odour! Withdraw from the idolatry of the superfluous!

Do go out of the way of the bad odour! Withdraw from the steam of these human sacrifices!

Open still remaineth the earth for great souls. Empty are still many sites for lone ones and twain ones, around which floateth the odour of tranquil seas.

Open still remaineth a free life for great souls. Verily, he who possesseth little is so much the less possessed: blessed be moderate poverty!

There, where the state ceaseth—there only commenceth the man who is not superfluous: there commenceth the song of the necessary ones, the single and irreplaceable melody.

There, where the state ceaseth—pray look thither, my brethren! Do ye not see it, the rainbow and the bridges of the Superman?—

Thus spake Zarathustra.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

The Myth of Homo Sapiens

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.

– Albert Camus

Happiness is just a feeling of euphoria. It’s your brain chemistry going in overdrive. That’s why so many relationships fail when the honeymoon ends and reality sets in.

– Lex Luthor

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. Why has the advent of nihilism become necessary? Because the values we have had hitherto thus draw their final consequence; because nihilism represents the ultimate logical conclusion of our great values and ideals – because we must experience nihilism before we can find out what value these “values” really had. – We require, at some time, new values.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

While some of you might not consider Josh Duhamel’s admission that he misses Megan Fox the smoking penis that proves he’s not always about the tuck-back, I think we can all agree he makes a lot of douchey faces. Douchey faces that I may have added captions for because tomorrow starts the holiday weekend, and I’m about to mentally check out like Baby Doll as demonstrated by that Sucker Punch reference that there’s no excuse for. You’re right.

– Mike Redmond

The Madman (in me)

Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly, “I seek God! I seek God!”

As many of those who do not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Why, did he get lost? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they yelled and laughed.

The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his glances.

“Whither is God?” he cried.

“I shall tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how have we done this? How were we able to drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving now? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there any up or down left? Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night and more night coming on all the while? Must not lanterns be lit in the morning?

Do we not hear anything yet of the noise of the grave-diggers who are burying God?

Do we not smell anything yet of God’s decomposition?

Gods too decompose.

God is dead.

God remains dead.

And we have killed him.

How shall we, the murderers of all murderers, comfort ourselves? What was holiest and most powerful of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives. Who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must not we ourselves become gods simply to seem worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever will be born after us – for the sake of this deed he will be part of a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they too were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke and went out. “I come too early,” He said then; “my time has not come yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering – it has not yet reached the ears of man. Lightning and thunder require time, the light of the stars requires time, deeds require time even after they are done, before they can be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than the most distant stars – and yet they have don it themselves.”

It has been related further that on that same day the madman entered a bunch of churches and there sand his requiem aeternam deo. Led out and called to account, he is said to have replied each time, “What are these churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”

– Nietzsche


It is quite true what philosophy says: that life must be understood backwards. But then one forgets the other principle: that it must be lived forwards. Which principle, the more one thinks it through, ends exactly with the thought that temporal life can never properly be understood precisely because I can at no instant find complete rest in which to adopt a position: backwards, lol.

– Kierkegaard


Is it possible that, in spite of inventions and progress, in spite of culture, religion, and wisdom, one has remained at the surface of life? Is it possible that even this surface, which would at least have been something, has been covered with an incredibly dull material till it looks like salon furniture during the summer vacation?

Is it possible that there are people who say “God” and suppose that this is something one can have in common? – Just look at two school children: one of them buys a knife, and his neighbor buys one just like it, on the very same day. And a week later they compare their two knives, and by now they are barely similar: so differently have they developed in different hands. (Sure, says the mother of one boy, if you always get everything to look used right away!)

I see: Is it possible to believe that one can have a god without using him?

– Rilke

The History of an Error

Preface

I once was crazy, completely insane. Some would say that I still am.

Should I ever have been so bold as to analyze the arguments throughout history for and against the existence of God? The will to Truth had possessed me.

I had, in essence, sold my soul for Truth.

Panic? Crisis? Call it what you will.

Should I have spent my time doing something other than reading philosophy for hours on end for years? The abyss stares back.

Perhaps I should have trembled before God with fear and just continued my computer science studies. I would at least have become financially sound, right?

But I had to look into the abyss. Call it destiny.

Does it haunt me to this day? I was compelled to stare.

Not by my will, but by the will of God!

Truth be told, there is nobody to blame but my self.

Let me now put on an old tune that was first played back in 2008 by a tiny white hermit named Joshua Synon who was still a serious metaphysician – in an ironic sense at least.

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

– Walt Whitman


The History of an Error

By Joshua Synon

Man is the measure of all things – of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not.

– Protagoras

And Plato said, “Let there be Truth,” and there was Truth. Man saw that the Truth was good, and he separated the Truth from the truth. Man called the Truth “Form,” and the truth he called “illusion.” Such is the spectacular deceit that marked the beginning of thousands of years of philosophical confusion. To the self-proclaimed Sophos that advocate the attribution of absolute value to that which is – to Truth – to apodictic certainty of noumena, I write with fear and trembling, but with utmost necessity. In the tradition of Pontius Pilate, may we ask, “What is Truth?”

In the above, I have used a capitalized ‘T’ in truth to signify absolute, unchangeable, objective truth arrived at through reason alone. The lower case ‘truth’ represents truths arrived at through subjective experience alone. What Western philosophy has embarked upon is a millennia surpassing dichotomy of essentially contradictory philosophical understandings of the world. One team argues that truth is objective in nature, that there are facts-in-themselves that exist independent of any observer (e.g. traditional theists), and these I will term objectivists (not to be confused with the doctrine of Ayn Rand). The other argues that truth is qualified by subjective experience, that there are indeed no facts-in-themselves – only perspectives, and these I will call subjectivists. On the metaphysical side there is a subtle, but significant, difference between the two: objectivists believe that we experience (or at least possibly can experience) the world as it is in-itself, while the subjectivist believes that there are only many different interpretations or perspectives possible. There have been many proponents for each side throughout the ages. What I would like to do is provide an explanation for this epic rift in Western philosophy and present an account as to why objectivism won out in the West until recent times.

In our present age most people share an objectivist point of view. Metaphysical objectivism is presumed to be common sense. Nobody doubts that there is an external world existing independently of oneself. People believe that when they die the world will continue along just as it had before. Certainly the scientific method would not work if this were not the case. Science today is on a search for the same objective Truth that Plato was so befriended to. The difference, however, lies in the fact that science evokes practical principles as opposed to abstract theoretical fantasies. It is my endeavor to convince the reader that what I have labeled subjectivism is much more common-sensical than its rival. I need not delve into the niceties of objectivism precisely because it is so familiar to us. It is enough to say that the ancient Greeks, specifically Plato, marked the beginning of objectivist thought in the Western world.

The so-called sophists of ancient Greece can be seen as prototypes of subjectivist thought in Western philosophy. They recognized and embellished upon a certain relativity in matters of truth. It was a sophist named Protagoras who pronounced, “Man is the measure of all things – of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not” (Reeve 30). I think this is one of the most important quotes in ancient Western philosophy. This man, Protagoras, somehow acquired insight into a fundamental psychological truth about the nature of man and his ideas. That is, man is the sole creator and destroyer of his own ideas. It would seem to me that this hitherto profound insight was as common-sensical to Protagoras as objectivism is to the masses today. This same philosopher recognized that, “There are two opposing arguments concerning everything” (Ibid). Whether he believed that both sides of an argument are equally valid is a matter of interpretation and subject to argument. However, in matters of abstract metaphysical thought, I think Protagoras would agree that both sides are equally valid.

Thrasymachus, another among the ranks of the sophists, proclaimed in Book I of Plato’s Republic that “justice is the advantage of the stronger;” that, “each [ruler] declares that what is just for its subjects is what is advantageous for itself” (Ibid., at 149). This view of Thrasymachus’ is clearly relativistic in that justice in one state would theoretically be different from justice in another state. What is not recognized, however, by Plato in his dialogue is that the argument is over the definition of a word, and not, as he would have us believe, over an abstract concept of justice-in-itself. Such a concept, as will be argued later, is non-cognitive to man, for it is an oxymoron for man, a ‘subject,’ to perceive things-in-themselves as if he were an objective observer – an ‘unknowing knower.’

The subjectivism of the sophists, and perhaps other circumstances irrelevant to this discourse, provoked the Sophos – the self-proclaimed true seekers of Truth, with Plato being the most prominent among their ranks. Plato dishonored the sophists in his dialogues and the term sophist itself remains derogatory to this day. The divine Plato introduced, in his own sophistic manner, a cunning theory that would sweep through the ages of philosophy and even seep into the core of the world’s most prominent religion. His theory of the Forms – of Ideals – that began the artificial distinction between being and becoming, between reality and appearance, was his magnum opus: Man is in a cave of ignorance, blinded by his own senses, only to be redeemed by subjection to the Forms – to Truth, to the Good, even apotheosized and anthropomorphized into God – all essentially the same thing. “The true world – attainable for the sage, the pious, the virtuous man; he lives in it, he is it” (Portable 485). Plato himself wrote it in Book VII of the Republic, “I, Plato, have had the divination to leave the confines of that gloomy cave, to escape the shadowy appearances, and have come into the light of true knowledge. If I appear completely ridiculous to you it is only because your eyes are not well adjusted to Truth.” Perhaps he was operating on the principle of omne ignotum pro magnifico est. It is interesting to review Nietzsche’s view of Plato’s theory of the Forms:

Every concept originates through our equating what is unequal. No leaf ever wholly equals another, and the concept “leaf” is formed through an arbitrary abstraction from these individual differences, through forgetting the distinctions; and now it gives rise to the idea that in nature there might be something besides the leaves which would be “leaf” – some kind of original form after which all leaves have been woven, marked, copied, colored, curled, and painted, but by unskilled hands, so that no copy turned out to be a correct, reliable, and faithful image of the original form. We call a person “honest.” Why did he act so honestly today? we ask. Our answer usually sounds like this: because of his honesty. Honesty! That is to say again: the leaf is the cause of the leaves. After all, we know nothing of an essence-like quality named “honesty”; we know only numerous individualized, and thus unequal actions, which we equate by omitting the unequal and by then calling them honest actions. In the end, we distill from them a qualitas occulta with the name of “honesty”… (Portable 46)

I think that the most important developments in this great debate consist of the expansions of subjectivist thinking in more recent times. William James, a well known American philosopher, was a prominent proponent of the pragmatic theory of truth.

William James insisted that truth happens to an idea. “So there is no such thing as disinterested truth. Pragmatic truth is human truth. ‘Purely objective truth,’ James asserts, ‘plays no role whatsoever, is nowhere to be found.’ He adds that the most absolute-seeming truths ‘also once were plastic. They were called true for human reasons. They also mediate between still earlier truths and what in those days were novel observations.’ Useful, human truth is alive; rationalistic, abstract, dogmatic truth is ‘the dead heart of the living tree.’ Truth grows.” (Soccio 411)

It is becoming obvious that objectivism is losing its hold on the hearts and minds of philosophers. James’ theory helped to reduce fruitless metaphysical debates by only accepting practical truths. James was by no means a radical subjectivist, but his ideas reveal that the magnificent tower that is the reign of objective truth is beginning to falter.

Kierkegaard held a more extreme view on the value of subjective truth. Indeed, he wrote that subjectivity is truth:

When the question about truth is asked objectively, truth is reflected upon objectively as an object to which the knower relates himself. What is reflected upon is not the relation but that what he relates himself to is the truth, the true. If only that to which he relates himself is the truth, the true, then the subject is in the truth. When the question about truth is asked subjectively, the individual’s relation is reflected upon subjectively. If only the how of this relation is in truth, the individual is in truth, even if he in this way were to relate himself to untruth. (Hong 206)

For Kierkegaard, it is only subjective truth that has value. He does not, however, argue against the possibility of facts-in-themselves. He only intended to devalue them and the attempt at proving or even searching for them. One of the most common objections to subjectivism is that it creates a contradiction upon itself, but Kierkegaard was quick to guard against this objection:

When subjectivity, inwardness, is truth, then truth, objectively defined, is a paradox; and that truth is objectively a paradox shows precisely that subjectivity is truth, since the objectivity does indeed thrust away, and the objectivity’s repulsion, or the expression for the objectivity’s repulsion, is the resilience and dynamometer of inwardness. The paradox is the objective uncertainty that is the expression for the passion of inwardness that is truth. So much for the Socratic. The eternal, essential truth, that is, the truth that is related essentially to the existing person by pertaining essentially to what it means to exist (viewed Socratically, all other knowledge is accidental, its degree and scope indifferent), is a paradox. Nevertheless the eternal, essential truth is itself not at all a paradox, but it is a paradox by being related to an existing person. Socratic ignorance is an expression of the objective uncertainty; the inwardness of the existing person is truth. (Ibid., at 207)

This passage clearly shows that there have developed multiple meanings for the same philosophical words, viz. truth, which has caused much confusion in philosophy. But Kierkegaard was an avid ironist and his point is not to be taken lightly: If subjectivity is truth, then, objectively defined, truth is a paradox. However, the offensiveness to us objective truth-seekers of this so-called paradox is precisely an expression of subjectivity. What marvelous word games we have come up with throughout the ages! If anything, Kierkegaard has proven that it is certainly unfounded to regard subjectivity as untruth.

If Plato marked the beginning of objectivist thought in Western philosophy, then it is the Enlightenment that lead the course to its destruction. I am not going to tell the story of modern philosophy here. I will simply assume that the reader is familiar with the drama that started with Rene Descartes’ rationalism,

There is thinking; consequently there is that which thinks’ – that is what Descartes’ argument comes to. Yet this means positing our faith in the concept of substance as ‘a priori true.’ When there is thinking, something must be there which thinks – that is merely a formulation of our grammatical habit, which posits a doer for what is done… Rational thought is interpretation according to a scheme which we cannot escape. (Portable 455)

…proceeded through Berkeley’s idealism and Hume’s empirical skepticism, to finally be “solved” by Kant’s Copernican revolution. Enter the new pandemic – the Cartesian disease! “The true world – unattainable, indemonstrable, unpromisable; but the very thought of it – a consolation, an obligation, an imperative” (Ibid., at 485). There is a common factor underlying the thought of all of these men and their contemporary supporters. That common factor I will call logocentrism, a will to abstract metaphysical Truth at all costs. “’Will to truth’ does not mean ‘I will not let myself be deceived’ but – there is no choice – ‘I will not deceive, not even myself’: and with this we are on the ground of morality” (Ibid., at 449).

Kierkegaard once remarked upon an absent-minded man so abstracted from his own life that he hardly knew he existed, until, one fine morning, he woke up to find himself dead. Let us call this man philosophy. Almost twenty-three hundred years after Plato the question of the value of this objective Truth-seeking was finally posed:

The will to truth which will still tempt us to may a venture, that famous truthfulness of which all philosophers so far have spoken with respect – what questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! That is a long story even now – and yet it seems as if it had scarcely begun. Is it any wonder that we should finally become suspicious, lose patience, and turn away impatiently? That we should finally learn from this Sphinx to ask questions, too? Who is it really that puts questions to us here? What in us really wants “truth”? Indeed we came to a long halt at the question about the cause of this will – until we finally came to a complete stop before a still more basic question. We asked about the value of this will. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? And uncertainty? Even ignorance? The problem of the value of truth came before us – or was it we who came before the problem? Who of us is Oedipus here? Who the Sphinx? It is a rendezvous, it seems, of questions and question marks. And though it scarcely seems credible, it finally almost seems to us as if the problem had never even been put so far – as if we were the first to see it, fix it with our eyes, and risk it. For it does involve a risk, and perhaps there is none that is greater. (Basic Writings 199)

Shall we play the blind man who speaks of colors and lives by his word? When one asks what the value is of a fact-in-itself, a plethora, indeed an onslaught, of conscientious objections arise. Have we been indoctrinated to idolize Truth? I think that, if the question is asked metaphysically, the answer is easily found in the philosophical writings of the past twenty-four hundred years. Even so, given this great quest for objective Truth succeeds – as if objective is a meaningful word! Where have we gone and where are we to go from there? Ah, so we have proven that an external world exists, and we have ascertained every principle of physics! Alas, we can all now rest in peace and cease living, for by the power of Truth we have conquered the Universe! Abstract theory, nay, the Truth – The Truth – has set us free! However, when the will to Truth is abolished the voice of King Solomon again reigns supreme, which is perhaps irrelevant to this discourse, but certainly relevant to every living individual, “O Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!” But – nil desperandum– it would appear that nihilism itself was also invented by the Sophos!

Philosophy, for the past 2,400 years, has been on a search for the Truth. It is my contention that certain qualities of language itself have impeded and distorted this search, even possibly necessitated it. Language is the foundation of philosophical discourse, but language itself has limits, boundaries, ambiguities, obscurities, and preordained meanings.

When someone hides something behind a bush and looks for it again in the same place and finds it there as well, there is not much to praise in such seeking and finding. Yet this is how matters stand regarding seeking and finding “truth” within the realm of reason. If I make up the definition of a mammal, and then, after inspecting a camel, declare “look, a mammal” I have indeed brought a truth to light in this way, but it is a truth of limited value. That is to say, it is a thoroughly anthropomorphic truth which contains not a single point which would be “true in itself” or really and universally valid apart from man. At bottom, what the investigator of such truths is seeking is only the metamorphosis of the world into man. He strives to understand the world as something analogous to man, and at best he achieves by his struggles the feeling of assimilation. (“On Truth”)

Language, created by man, has been used by man to create an ordered universe. Language is confined to the system from which it originated and cannot gaze in as an objective thinker.

We have fixed up a world for ourselves in which we can live – assuming bodies, lines, planes, causes and effects, motion and rest, form and content: without these articles of faith, nobody now would endure life. But that does not mean that they have been proved. Life is no argument; the conditions of life could include error. (Basic Writings 171)

Every religion that has developed even a modicum of semantic sophistication recognizes to some extent the way words and reason fall short of reality when they do not actually distort it. However much the rationalist may begrudge the fact, paradox and the transrational are religion’s life blood, and that of art as well. Mystics in every faith report contacts with a world that startles and transforms them with its dazzling darkness. Zen stands squarely in this camp, its only uniqueness being that it makes breaking the language barrier its central concern. (Smith 130)

Shall we now give credence to that ancient question of Pontius Pilate? It has been said that there have developed multiple meanings for the same philosophical words. The word under the microscope at the moment is ‘truth.’ From what we have ascertained we may infer that truth is simply another creation of language; an attempt to bring order from chaos, meaning from meaninglessness.

What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms – in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are. (Portable 47)

If this much is clear, then it is also clear that we cannot communicate without these metaphors, perhaps not even live without what we have created. It is not as clear, however, that is it high time for philosophy to abandon its search for Truth. Metaphysics, epistemology, ethics: all artificial creations for the sole purposes of mankind. Even logic cannot escape the grasp of owing its life to man:

That all contradiction in concepts should be forbidden, is the result of a belief, that we are able to form concepts, that a concept not only characterises but also holds the essence of a thing. … As a matter of fact, logic (like geometry and arithmetic) only holds good ofassumed existences which we have created. Logic is the attempt on our part to understand the actual world according to a scheme of Being devised by ourselves; or, more exactly, it is our attempt at making the actual world more calculable and more susceptible to formulation, for our own purposes. (Langiulli 90)

According to Wittgenstein, words themselves are relative in their meaning with respect to the specific ‘language-game’ that is taking place at any given time. He argued that language is not an adequate expression of objective reality. In a similar line of thought, Nietzsche doubts the truth-extracting powers of language,

[W]hat about these conventions of language? Are they really the products of knowledge, of the sense of truth? Do the designations and the things coincide? Is language the adequate expression of all realities? Only through forgetfulness can man ever achieve the illusion of possessing a ‘truth’… If he does not wish to be satisfied with truth in the form of a tautology… then he will forever buy illusions for truths. What is a word? The expression of a nerve-stimulus in sounds. But to infer from the nerve stimulus, a cause outside us, that is already the result of a false and unjustified application of the principle of reason… The ‘thing in itself’ (for that is what pure truth, without consequences, would be) is quite incomprehensible to the creators of language and not at all worth aiming for. One designates only the relations of things to man, and to express them one calls on the boldest metaphors. A nerve stimulus, first transposed into an image – first metaphor. The image, in turn, imitated by a sound – second metaphor… (Portable 45)

Noscitur a sociis – ad absurdum. In similar fashion, and perhaps beyond what Wittgenstein attempted, Jacques Derrida developed the tradition of deconstruction, which attempts to discover and incorporate, to deconstruct, underlying metaphysical assumptions in the interpretation of a reading. Each of these approaches lend a hand in the recovery of philosophy from thousands of years of that deceptively naive game of language.

Let us think about this subject in a common-sensical fashion. Our modern day common sense tells us, as was noted previously, that an external world-in-itself does exist, but this can be easily explained on account of indoctrination. A question for the reader: Have you ever existed outside of yourself? In other words, have you experienced anything other than what you have experienced? A clear contradiction. When one admits that subjective experience is the beginning and end of all knowledge, then one also admits ipso facto that there is absolutely no rational ground for assuming an objective reality outside of ones own experiences.

The practice of philosophy is, and always has been, man projecting his ideals into the world, a type of creative autobiography if you will. The existence of a word does not prove the ontological existence of an object. Perhaps an analogy will suffice: Computer scientists frequently use the term ‘null pointer.’ In computer science, a pointer is essentially a data element whose value is an address. A pointer basically points to the value of a given variable and can be dereferenced in certain operations requiring said variable. A null pointer is a pointer with no address. It is a pointer that is pointing to nothing. If a program attempts to dereference a null pointer, there will result a run-time error and the program will shut down. Words used in abstract philosophy can be said to be equivalent to null pointers. They dereference nothing and are only useful on an aesthetic level.

The separate elements of philosophy have gradually become assimilated into modern science. Metaphysics and epistemology have merged into science proper: physics, biology, astronomy, etc. Morality is now under the guise of psychology. Ethics has been made the foundation of law and an instrument of control. Political theory will be the last to be taught in history classrooms alone. Aesthetics has become vanity instead of vitality. With fear and trembling, not for me, but for the world, I pronounce the death of Truth – and with it, the death of 2,400 years of Western philosophy.

History of an Error

  1. The real world attainable for the wise man, the pious man, the virtuous man—he lives in it, he is it.

(Most ancient form of the idea, relatively clever, simple, convincing. Paraphrase of the proposition: ‘I, Plato, am the truth.’)

  1. The real world unattainable for now, but promised to the wise man, the pious man, the virtuous man (‘to the sinner who repents’).

(Progress of the idea: it becomes more cunning, more insidious, more incomprehensible—it becomes a woman, it becomes Christian…)

  1. The real world unattainable, unprovable, unpromisable, but the mere thought of it a consolation, an obligation, an imperative.

(The old sun in the background, but seen through mist and scepticism; the idea becomes sublime, pale, Nordic, Königsbergian.)

  1. The real world—unattainable? At any rate unattained. And since unattained also unknown. Hence no consolation, redemption, obligation either: what could something unknown oblige us to do? …

(Break of day. First yawn of reason. Cock-crow of positivism.)

  1. The ‘real world’—an idea with no further use, no longer even an obligation—an idea become useless, superfluous, therefore a refuted idea: let us do away with it!

(Broad daylight; breakfast; return of bon sens and cheerfulness; Plato’s shameful blush; din from all free spirits.)

  1. The real world—we have done away with it: what world was left? the apparent one, perhaps? … But no! with the real world we have also done away with the apparent one!

(Noon; moment of the shortest shadow; end of the longest error; pinnacle of humanity; INCIPIT ZARATHUSTRA.)

– Friedrich Nietzsch

[Bibliography unavailable]

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What is left Nietzsche? – Phenomenology? Subjectivism? Perspectivism? Simulacrum? – No. – Be-ing-No-thing-ness. A.K.A. Pure Experience liberated from sincerely concerned metaphysical speculation. A.K.A. Life. But you knew that already.

Later, Nishitani Keiji continues alongside myself spouting nonsense in underground notes! And stay tuned for The Magnum Opiate of Malaclypse the Younger! Be ye not lost among precepts of order!