Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Romantic Will At The End of Its Tether: Schopenhauer (1)

I think it is fair to say that Schopenhauer uses Kant for his own purposes, which are very different if not entirely opposed to Kant's. Schopenhauer said that he alone properly understood Kant, but in The World As Will And Idea(1819) he has nothing to say about freedom or the Categorical Imperative. Instead he uses Kant's metaphysics to support a doctrine of rigid determinism. The romantic will (see my posts on "The Apotheosis of The Romantic Will) becomes, in Schopenhauers's hands, an amoral life force akin to gravitation or magnetism.

The will, considered purely in itself, is without knowledge and is merely a blind, irresistable impulse, as we see it in vegetable nature and their laws, and also in the vegetative part of our own life.... For it is not the individual, but only the species that nature cares about, and for the preservation of which she so earnestly strives, providing for it so extravagantly through the vast surplus of the seed and the great strength of the breeding impulse. The individual, on the contrary neither has, nor can have, any value for Nature, for her kingdom is infinite time and infinite space, and in these an infinite number of possible individuals. So she is always ready to let the individual fall, and hence it is not only exposed to destruction in a thousand ways by the most trivial chance, but destined for it from the start, and led to it by Nature herself from the moment it has served its end of maintaining the species....

....the inner being of a constant striving without purpose and without respite. And this becomes even clearer when we consider animal and man. Willing and striving is his whole being, which may be be compared to an unquenchable thirst. But the basis of all willing is need, deficiency--in short pain. Consequently, the nature of animals and of man is subject to pain from its origin and in its essence. If, on the other hand, it lacks objects of desire, because their gratification is immediate and too easy, a terrible emptiness and ennui comes over it, i.e., its nature and existence itself becomes an unbearable burden to it. Thus its life swings like a pendulum backwards and forwards between pain and ennui, which are the elements of which it is made. This is piquantly expressed in the observation that after man had consigned all pain and torment to hell, there was nothing left for heaven but ennui.

(To be continued)

1 comment:

  1. " ... there was nothing left for heaven but ennui." Dante's "Paradiso" is an artistic failure, unlike his "Inferno" and "Purgatorio." Heaven has to be ennui, since there is no discovery, no debate, no excitement. In life, on the other hand, there is ever-expanding knowledge. Learning is the opposite of ennui.