Monday, June 30, 2008

Romantic Will At The End of Its Tether (3)

The World As Will And Idea, Bk. 4, continues. (If you are just tuning in, I should explain that Schopenhauer's term 'will' encompasses all the forces of nature; or more accurately, perhaps, it is Nature itself, the whatever-it-is that accounts for the fact that anything at all exists--that there is Something instead of Nothing. Though Schopenhauer uses Kant's terminology and claims to be the only one who truly understands him, he is actually much closer to Spinoza for whom, also, Nature is all there is. Spinoza identifies God and Nature; Schopenhauer eliminates God altogether--which makes him the first modern philosopher. But Schopenhauer adds something new. He was much influenced by Hindu philosophy and by Buddhism, as we shall see.)

Existence itself...comes from the will alone. The will is free; it is almighty. In everything the will appears just as it determines itself, in itself, and outside time. The world is only the mirror of this willing; and all the finitude, all the suffering, all the misery it contains, belong to the expression of what the will wills....and in all that happens to every creature, or indeed can happen to it, justice is always done. For the will belongs to it; and as the will is, so is the world. Only this world itself can bear responsibility for its own existence and nature--no one else bears that responsibility; for how could anyone else have assumed it? If we want to know what people are worth morally...we have only to consider their fate as a whole and in general. This is want, wretchedness, affliction, misery, and death. Eternal justice reigns; if they were not, as a whole, worthless, their fate, as a whole, would not be so sad. In this sense we may say that the world itself passes judgment on the world. If we could lay all the world's misery in one pan of the weighing-scales, and all the world's guilt in the other, the pointer would certainly indicate that they are equally heavy....

It is true however that world does not present itself to it finally reveals itself to the inquirer... The eye of the uncultured individual is clouded, as the Hindus say, by the veil of Maya...To him pleasure appears as one thing, and pain quite another...He sees one man live a life of joy, abundance and pleasure, while at his door another man dies miserably of want and cold...he asks 'Is there no justice? Is there no punishment, no reward? And he himself, under that compulsion of the will which is his origin and nature, seizes upon the pleasures and enjoyments of life...not knowing by this very act of his will he is grasping and holding close to him all those pains and sorrows which he shudders to see...for he is entangled in...and deluded by the veil of Maya....

We now wish to trace the meaning of the concept good, which can be done with very little trouble. This concept is essentially relative, and signifies the suitability of an object to some one of the will's endeavors
.... 'Absolute good' is therefore a contradiction in terms; 'highest good' means the same thing: a final gratification of the will, after which no new desire would arise...[which] is unthinkable.

You can see where all this is leading: The Will is the source of existence and therefore the root of all evil. The remedy? Denial of the will to live. Nirvana. From nothing we come and to nothing we should conscientiously return. Such is the deep wisdom of all the ascetic religions including monastic Christianity, but not Protestantism or Judaism which Schopenhauer considered comfortable adaptations of the will to live and the requirements of life in the world--with the notable exception of such unworldly sects as the Shakers, who willed their own eventual non-existence. Busy, cheerful, charitable, friends to all, enemies of none, they laughed and sang and danced as long as they were able. Life doesn't get any better than that. Would that world might end like that! The odds against it are, as one might say, astronomical.

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