tiistai 17. huhtikuuta 2018

Arthur Schopenhauer: World as Will and Representation 1 - Resignation of will

The final book of Schopenhauer’s major work could be called a treatise of practical philosophy. Yet, Schopenhauer notes that in a sense philosophy is never practical in the sense that it always just describes the world, but never prescribes any rules to it. Indeed, going against Kant, Schopenhauer notes that there can be no categorical imperatives based on mere pure reason, but all maxims of practice must assume some end, which a human being is aiming for.

Schopenhauer begins by noting that what he has thus far called simply will could as well be called will for life. His idea appears to be that life is what corresponds to will in the phenomenal level of the world, and of course, especially in the case of organic entities. Since will is outside the chains of time, Schopenhauer says, life will continue eternally - or as long as there is will. Of course, individual living beings might die, but this is just a natural part of the ever-going cycle of life, consisting of fluctuation of birth and death.

Now, a person who has understood that individuals are mere phenomenal embodiments of one and same primordial will might just embrace this will and happily live her own individual life to its inevitable end, in the full knowledge that this same will will live on in some other form. Yet, it is not inevitable that such is the result of this moment of enlightenment. Will is not in any manner determined, so some person might do completely opposite - will in this embodiment might actually cancel itself and the person would not anymore have urges to do anything. The only explanation for this choice would be the character of the person - and this character itself would be just an inexplicable fact, a free choice of the primordial will.

Although Schopenhauer thus accepts the freedom of will, this has nothing to do with freedom of individuals. Indeed, he is quite convinced that individual human beings, just like all phenomenal entities, must follow the principle of sufficient reason. In case of human actions, this principle says that all actions are based on motives and the inexplicable character - this type of person must do so and so in these and these circumstances. At the same time, while the actions of a human being are predetermined, they still have a feeling of freedom, due to being embodiments of a completely undetermined will.

Although Schopenhauer starts by saying that the choice of embracing or resigning will is completely free, his own character appears to fall on the resigning side of the equation. Indeed, he emphasises that will has no real end and merely drives forward without any hope of finding any final goal. In case of physical world, this just means that gravitational pull etc. will go on for the end of eternity, but with animal and human life results are more drastic. Because the animal urges are driven by pain and suffering, pain and suffering will continue forever.

One might say that Schopenhauer exaggerates the suffering intrinsic to living - most animals can endure feelings of hunger, thirst, tiredness etc., if they do not rise to overwhelming levels. Especially in case of humans Schopenhauer raises then another line of offence. The supposed happiness is just a momentary feeling of a pain passing by and cannot last for very long. Thus, Schopenhauer suggests, if all our needs are satisfied and no urge drives us forward, we are bound to feel bored, which is no better than being in constant pain. We might say that Schopenhauer is here complaining about a first-world problem: a pessimist will grumble, even if everything would be fine.

Schopenhauer does have something more in his side. Will, in Schopenhauerian philosophy, is what really drives human beings forward, while our cognitive side is merely a tool of will. Human cognition is tied to the individual outlook of the space-time world, while will is not. Will tries to renew itself and doesn’t really care about what happens to this individual. According to Schopenhauer, this is especially clear when we think of sexual urges, which do not follow any conscious control. Cognition then merely provides the rationalisation for the urges of will and tries to find means for realising these urges.

Now, due to the restriction to individual outlook, human beings care only for their own urges or only of this particular embodiment of will. Thus, all humans, Schopenhauer says, are natural egoists, caring only for their own agenda. Hence, they are quite willing to nullify the will of others, which leads naturally to Hobbesian war of everyone against one another. Interestingly, Schopenhauer admits that a Hobbesian warfare is a state of unrightness, and indeed, that a violation of anyone’s will, whether through violence or deceit, is a wrong. Indeed, Schopenhauer thinks the concept of wrong is the basis of ethics, in that rightness is just a derivative concept - without possibility of violation of rights, there would be no rights to speak about.

After describing the wrongness inherent in the natural egoism of humans, Schopenhauer takes a long detour to discuss the origin of states. In effect, he is just following the Hobbesian account, where state power comes about, because of attempt to restrict the field of wrong committed, thus actualising natural rules of justice. While state offers a sort of solution for all the wrongs caused by egoism, Schopenhauer also suggests that the primordial will has also an inherent sort of justice. In effect, this is just a butcher’s justice - everyone will die at the end, thus, an egoist who is completely deluded by her own self will fear her impending doom.

Schopenhauer notes that sometimes humans can win their egoistic outlook and tragically suffer or even die for the lives of others - it is in character of these humans to break their individual viewpoint. Yet, he is quick to point out that some characters do much worse than regular egoists. They are not just trying to fulfill their personal will, no matter at what cost, but they also actively want to kill and torture other individuals. Schopenhauer ties the existence of such characters to his own pessimistic outlook of life - these undeniably evil persons try to silence the suffering in their own life by making other embodiments of will suffer instead.

One might get the impression that Schopenhauer is trying to make his reader commit a suicide, just to escape all the suffering in the world. Yet, he notes, killing oneself wouldn’t solve anything. The result would be just the destruction of this one individual, who is just an embodiment of primordial will in the phenomenal world. But just like sun will rise again, after seemingly swallowed by night, so another embodiment of the same will will just take place of the deceased person. Indeed, Schopenhauer suggests that suicide is just one kind of appearance of will - person killing herself still wants to live, just without the confines of her bodily situation.

We now have four possible human characters. There are the evil monsters, driven by their own pain to cause suffering in others. There are unjust people, who are willing to hurt others, because of their own egoistic desires, although they have no specific desire to hurt others. There are just people, who are willing to ignore their egoistic desires, if they would hurt others. And there are good and virtuous people, who want to do good for others, out of love and compassion for them, that is, an instinctive feeling that these others are just embodiments of the same primordial will.

In addition to these four characters, Schopenhauer finally delineates a fifth one, which like the virtuous character might get its start from universal compassion. But unlike virtuous person, who is spurred to action by the suffering of others, this final character is just disgusted by all the suffering around her and feels the futility of the whole primordial will behind this horridness. And what happens now is a sort of miracle. Will, as embodied by this particular individual, sees and understands its own contradictoriness and nullifies itself - this person does not want anything anymore. This does not mean that her body wouldn’t have any urges - quite the contrary, sexual and other drives continue even after this enlightenment. Instead, this person falls into ascetic behaviour and consciously tries to cancel all these drives.

What then is the final fate of the ascetic in Schopenhauerian philosophy? Surprisingly, life of ascesis does something suicide couldn’t - it doesn’t destroy just the phenomenal individual, but also will itself. One might well wonder wouldn’t the world as a whole would have then disappeared altogether, once Christ or Buddha or some other saint had gone through this road. Indeed, Schopenhauerian emphasis on ascesis is in a sense way to incorporate religion - especially Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism - in his philosophy. Yet, Schopenhauer concentrates merely on the idea that the material world is full of suffering, and he seemingly ignores all ideas of a heaven beyond. But most confusingly, he still leaves open the possibility that after the resignation of will something might remain - something that must be better than this life.

sunnuntai 15. huhtikuuta 2018

Arthur Schopenhauer: World as Will and Representation 1 - Ideas

Between the concrete individual objects and primordial will in itself Schopenhauer places ideas. These ideas are already objects or embodiments of will, but they should not yet be individuals and thus are free of ordinary causality. Instead, Schopenhauer conceives them as paradigmatic or prototypical objects for each level in the hierarchy of embodiments of will. Adding this Platonistic layer to a pseudo-Kantian worldview is, again, no novelty and similar attempts can be found e.g. in the philosophy of Schelling.

Similarly unoriginal is Schopenhauer’s notion as to what kind of cognition is required for conceiving these ideas. When a person conceives an idea, Schopenhauer suggests, she must herself be free of her own individuality and become a pure, timeless subject, who looks upon the idea without any urges of ordinary life and without the shackles of causality. In other words, she must be an artistic genius, capable of grasping what is essential in different genera of objects. Genius, Schopenhauer says, forgets her own individuality and is completely enamoured by her vision of the idea. Thus, Schopenhauer endorses the rather romantic notion of a genius, who has a special connection to the essence of the world. Another side of Schopenhauerian genius is her complete detachment from and even ignorance of practical concerns. Schopenhauer goes even so far as to suggest that no true genius could ever understand mathematics, which is essential for explaining the level of individuals.

Note that what make genius special in eyes of Schopenhauer is her ability to envision the idea. Meaning of works of art, then, is just to convey this vision of idea to other persons, who do not happen to have the abilities of genius. A work of art should, therefore, purge its viewer from all volitions. This might happen, for instance, by the work of art describing something that is completely without any interest, say, an ordinary landscape - or, it might try to forget our individual concerns and highlight on e.g. general tragedies of human life. When volition is cancelled, what is left is distinct type of peaceful pleasure in just watching the work. This state of aesthetic observing, Schopenhauer continues, can be achieved in two different manners - through beauty or through sublimity. Beautiful object lulls will peacefully, while sublime object - such as the conflict of powerful natural forces involved in storm - forcefully submits the individual will under their spell. On the contrary, any sort of titillation is bound to be quite unaesthetic, because it will just awaken the urges of volition.

Now, all of this concerns the subjective side of aesthetic experience - that is, what the object must do to us to convey such an experience. Otherwise, the object could be of any sort, and indeed, Schopenhauer says, everything is beautiful. Of course, some objects can be better in evoking the idea they embody - for instance, humans, according to Schopenhauer, are the most beautiful among all things.

Just like many other post-Kantians, Schopenhauer wants to give a sort of hierarchy of arts, which he bases mainly on the hierarchy of objects depicted. Thus, the lowest step in the hierarchy of arts is taken by architecture, which corresponds to lowest rungs in the hierarchy of phenomena, that is, gravity, hardness and other properties characteristic of mere matter. The level of plant life corresponds to art of gardening and to landscape painting, level of animality to animal sculptures and paintings.

As I have already mentioned, the highest rank of beauty in Schopenhauer’s theory is reserved for humans. Human beauty is also most multifarious in its forms. While sculpture shows best the bodily beauty and grace of human form, painting reveals the beautiful character of humans.

The arts mentioned thus far work directly through senses - they let us directly see the idea embodied in the works of art. Thus, these fine arts should be completely apart from conceptualisation and reasoning, Schopenhauer urges, because concepts and reason have developed for pragmatic use in the world of causality, but not for conceiving ideas. Hence, sculptures and paintings should not be used for symbolising general concepts, because such symbolisms and allegories would just distract from the proper purpose of art - a conclusion Schopenhauer shares with Hegelian aesthetics.

Poetry, on the other hand, has to use a completely different method for evoking the idea, because it is based on the very concepts so foreign to idea. Poetry must use allegories, but in a reverse direction - it must use words to convey images through our imagination. Poetry has then most to do with human actions, and its apex, in Schopenhauer’s view, is tragedy, which shows the utter contradictoriness of human life and its almost inevitable ending in tears, but also its solution, namely, the resignation of one’s individual will.

Completely removed from other arts in Schopenhauerian hierarchy is music, which does not convey any idea. Indeed, music is not meant to give us any aesthetic visions, but it directly produces an emotion in us. In other words, it lets us feel the primordial will, of which idea is merely the first embodiment. Schopenhauer goes even so far as to try to find analogies between different aspects of a composition and the hierarchy of phenomenal objects - a foolhardy attempt reminiscent of German idealism.

keskiviikko 28. maaliskuuta 2018

Arthur Schopenhauer: World as Will and Representation 1 - Will behind the phenomena

While the first section of Schopenhauer’s book was nominally Kantian, but in reality something else, the second section is a clear move beyond limits set by Kant. One of the most central thesis in Kant’s philosophy is that we do not have any access to things as they are in themselves. Schopenhauer flatly denies this and states that we indeed have such an access. If we were mere disembodied subjects, such an access wouldn’t exist, but we are not. In fact, we are very much embodied persons. Now, we can regard our bodies from an external viewpoint, as a mere object. Still, we also have access to what our bodies are, not as objects, but as things in themselves - through our will. For instance, we feel an urge to do something, and at once we can see this urge fulfilled in the movement of out body.

Superficially taken, Schopenhauer’s attempt to go beyond Kant’s limits for cognition resembles Fichte’s philosophy in the sense that both philosophers base their attempts on a practically understood self-consciousness. Yet, there are clear differences. While Schopenhauer’s justification is quite crude and seemingly based on nothing more than mere self-feeling, Fichte’s assumption is based on an interesting transcendental deduction: whole experience would not be possible without being set up by a practically understood self-consciousness.

Now, Schopenhauer distinguishes his primal will in itself from all motives seemingly guiding our actions. Such motives are mere phenomenal circumstances, which at most explain why we act at this moment and in this situation as we do. Primal will, on the other hand, is equal to action itself and is, according to Schopenhauer, ultimately explicable, because all explanations occur on the level of representations. In fact, no phenomenal restrictions apply to the primal will. Thus, on the level of will, Schopenhauer concludes, there are no separate individuals, but each and everyone of us is as well a representation of the primal will.

In fact, Schopenhauer goes even further and insists that animals, plants and even bare material objects are all just embodiment of will. At first sight, saying that e.g. gravity is a form of will is just replacing one difficult word (force) with another (will). Yet, it contains at least one description of such a force - it is somehow similar to the urge that we feel in our actions. While forces as such are just closed from us, will we know intimately well, and it is just a matter of extending this familiarity to, first, motiveless urges of animals and plants, and finally, to strivings of all material objects.

Although Schopenhauer then in a sense upholds an ontological monism - all is will - he does not endorse any monistic explanations in the level of science. On the contrary, science works at the level of appearance or representation, so there is no guarantee, he says, that e.g. organic phenomena could be reduced to chemical terms. In fact, Schopenhauer appears to suggest that no reduction of any kind can happen between different sciences. And indeed, if any type of reduction is to be effected, this should happen to a direction completely opposite from the usual attempts of reduction. In other words, inorganic phenomena, like gravity and magnetism, should be understood through an analogy to our own volitional efforts. In fact, Schopenhauer suggests that phenomena could be arranged in a hierarchy according to the level of resemblance they have with human volition. Such levels would then show different levels in the process of becoming apparent of the primordial will - mere material phenomena would show their origin in will least clearly, while human volition would show it most clearly.

We have already remarked about the resemblance of Schopenhauer’s notion of will with Fichte’s practical self-consciousness. Even clearer affinities Schopenhauer’s theory has with the romantic notion of phenomenal world as an appearance of forces of life. Like romantics, Schopenhauer notes that individuality is mere delusion, that everything originates from a unified source and that this source is embodied in a hierarchy of levels, where humanity holds the highest place. Even Schopenhauer’s insistence that at the level of phenomena different embodiments of primordial will strive against one another is not unlike e.g. Hegelian insistence that basic forces contradict one another and even cancel themselves in some circumstances. Furthermore, Schopenhauer’s statement that will can never completely fulfill its strivings, but is always driven to do more and more, is quite on line at least with the ideas of some romantics - although others imagined that at some level (perhaps with humans) such a primal need could be balanced by harmonious reason.

torstai 22. maaliskuuta 2018

Arthur Schopenhauer: World as Will and Representation 1 (1819)

Although in the preface of the first edition of his main work, Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Schopenhauer is quite insistent that no one should read his work, before reading first Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and his own work on the principle of sufficient reason, when I first read the work, I understood it quite well without these aids and even by beginning from the second, supplementary book published later. This is mostly a testament to Schopenhauer’s skills as a writer. Compared to some of his contemporaries, Schopenhauer’s prose is even dull in its simplicity.

The first edition of the work divides into five sections, two dealing with world as representation and two with world as will, while the fifth is a detailed criticism of Kant’s philosophy. I shall follow Schopenhauer’s division in this regard and divide my account of the book into five consecutive posts.

Although I shall thus consider Schopenhauer’s relation to Kant in more detail in a later post, we can already note that in the first section of his book, Schopenhauer offers a quite simplified and even caricaturised version of Kantianism. Schopenhauer’s basis for his form of Kantianism is the conceptual pair of subject and object. Subject is that which is conscious of an object and neither can exist without the other, Schopenhauer says - there could be no consciousness without nothing to be conscious of, but also nothing to be conscious of without any consciousness. While object is spatio-temporal, subject is not. Still, space and time can also be seen as forms of being conscious of, in the sense that subject sees everything spatially and temporally. Same goes for causality - object follows causal laws and subject regards everything as following causal laws. Thus, without any subject, there would be no object, no space, no time and no causality. This quite straightforward idealism Schopenhauer takes as the essence of Kant’s philosophy - and essentially also as the kernel of Berkeley’s philosophy. All of this would quite confuse most Kantians, who would be quick to distinguish between Kant and Berkeley.

We have already seen Schopenhauer develop the basic structure of this first part in his book on the principle of sufficient reason, and what he adds in this work is mostly just the subjective correlates for the objective elements. We have already seen that Schopenhauer follows Kant in regarding space and time as forms of cognition - following Kant, he calls them objects of pure sensibility. Space and time alone would allow no change - space as such is not processual, while time as such has nothing abiding that could change. It is only their combination that makes it possible to experience something as changing, Schopenhauer says. This combination of the two happens through what Schopenhauer, again following Kant, calls understanding. But unlike with Kant, Schopenhauerian understanding does nothing else, but implicitly regards everything in space and time as causal. Causality binds space and time together through the notion of matter, which is just an abiding substrate for all causal changes. Schopenhauer takes this notion of understanding in a quite robust manner: there literally is a module in our brain that combines our individual perceptions into neat causal chains.

Even more adamantly than Kant does Schopenhauer insist that causality cannot be applied outside experience. In fact, Schopenhauer insists that objects do not causally affect subject. Neither does subject create objects, but both appear on the playing field at the same time.

Beyond sensibility and understanding Schopenhauer places reason, which for him, more clearly than for Kant, is a common name for our conceptual abilities. Indeed, it is our conceptual ability reason is all about, since it is the only essentially human cognitive faculty. Schopenhauer thinks that reason by itself cannot really do anything, but is always dependent on the content given by sensibility and understanding, because concepts are just abstract generalisations from perceptions. Still, for practical purposes moving to this level of abstractions is of necessity - for instance, we couldn’t communicate things to others, if we couldn’t use concepts for them. Even so, Schopenhauer emphasises the use of perceptual and intuitive examples even in case of scientific study, which is the place where conceptual side of cognition is at most in play - the certainty of even mathematical principles is essentially based on perceptions and intuitions. The most remarkable thing about this account is how unremarkable it is - even Wolffians could have accepted everything Schopenhauer had to say about reason.

Indeed, in a sense Schopenhauerian notion of reason is closer to Wolffian than Kantian philosophy. When it comes to the practical use of reason, Schopenhauer denies that reason could have any absolute moral principles, which would be based on nothing external. Thus, the only way reason could be used in action would be as a faculty for guiding us to as happy life as possible. Hence, the most perfect system of practical reason for Schopenhauer is Stoicism, which aims at human happiness and notes that it can be achieved only through perfect self-control.

sunnuntai 25. helmikuuta 2018

Louis-Gabriel-Ambroise vicomte de Bonald - Philosophical researches on the premier objects of moral cognitions (1818)

I’ve already discussed de Bonald’s ideas about the proper form of state - to summarise, he was a conservative thinker, who preferred hereditary monarchy over democracy, because the former provided a unifying element required for stabilising society and keeping it running according to necessary laws. I am now about to discuss his opinions on the more theoretical side of philosophy and particularly his work Recherches philosophiques sur les premiers objets des connaissances morales.

De Bonald begins his discussion with a summarised account of the history of philosophy, starting with Thales and ending with Kant and his school. While his account is at first quite diverse, he is finally quite willing to divide all philosophy into two rough classes, according to the question of the source of our ideas - those de Bonald calls Platonists, who believed in the possibility of innate ideas, and those he calls Aristotelians, who upheld that all ideas are ultimately derived from sensations. This is strikingly similar to the ideas of Saint-Simon, which makes one suspect that both thinkers relied on some common tradition in French historygraphy of philosophy.

It is no wonder that de Bonald, with his conservative take on philosophy, prefers the platonistic side of the dispute. This can be seen especially in his attitude toward the question of the origin of language. On the one side of the question, de Bonald sees linguistic atheists, who deny any peculiar origin of language and regard human speech as a mere haphazard accident that has arisen through happy circumstances. At the other side, then, are linguistic theists, who insist that skill language has been created together with the creation of human beings, just like the biblical story of Adam naming animals reveals. Finally, there is also the deistic middle stance, which supposes that human language has arisen gradually over time, from a state of complete silence, but also that humans have had a natural tendency for speech, not to be found with other animals.

De Bonald insists that the proper answer to the question is the theistic one, simply because language is something that could not have been invented - invention would have already required thinking, but human beings simply cannot think without the aid of words. A particular target of his criticism is Condorcet’s notion of the development of human culture, which undoubtedly was highly speculative account. Of course, nowadays we would quickly discount de Bonald’s explanation by saying that it is equally speculative, based on mere unverified myths, while the seemingly separate realms of silent animality and linguistic rationality seem in our eyes to be more like two points on an unbroken continuum.

De Bonald goes even further and suggests that even writing is something humans cannot have invented by themselves, pretty much for the same reason as language couldn’t have been invented - to distinguish sounds within words, one must already have letters to indicate them. What might have been invented was hieroglyphical writing, in which all words were indicated by one picture, but like other thinkers of the time had said, such a manner of writing expressed a stagnation of human development. The truly innovative alphabetical writing, de Bonald insists, must have been of divine making. Indeed, its very purpose was to counteract the all too human habit of forgetting such important things as divine law.

On basis of these considerations, it is no wonder that de Bonald is against any materialistic theories of human constitution. He notes as a physiological fact that human brain plays a crucial role in the formation of human consciousness, because all the nerves clearly transmit sensations to it. Yet, he notes, this does not necessarily mean that brain is the source of thoughts, because it might as well be just the means by which the proper source of thinking - intelligence - receives sensations and transmits commands to various parts of the body. Indeed, de Bonald says, the latter theory bears striking resemblance to the proper form of state, in which a monarchic ruler uses noble ministers to guide the body of state.

De Bonald finds three different aspects in the intelligence: imagination, or the faculty of making mental representations corresponding to sense objects, understanding, or the faculty of conceiving ideas of non-sensuous, intellectual objects, and finally, sensibility, or the faculty of sensing pleasure and pain. Now, all of these aspects have their own form of language, de Bonald continues: imagination makes gestures and pictures, understanding creates articulated speech, while sensibility is shown in involuntary movements and cries.

What de Bonald tries to achieve by distinguishing these three faculties is, firstly, to argue against the Condillacian theory that all thoughts are just modifications of sensations. Especially he wants to say that ideas - say, like of justice or goodness - are not mere sensuous images. Of course, we have learned through senses the linguistic expressions, which refer to these ideas, but the ideas themselves must be innate in us, at leas as innate capacities to think such things, de Bonald concludes.

The second reason for this trivision of mental faculties, lies in de Bonald’s wish to undermine the materialistic philosophy of mind presented by Cabanis. While Cabanis had suggested as significant evidence for materialism that such things like age, gender or climate affect one’s mental constitution, de Bonald suggests that such matters affect only things like taste in foods, which belongs more to sensibility, but not ideas, which should be universal. Indeed, de Bonald states, seeming counterexamples of cultures having different moral norms are not dependent on material influences, like climate, but simply on the moral state of the culture in question.

From the rather clear that fact that a person can wish for one’s own death, de Bonald draws the rather strong conclusion that human soul must be immortal. De Bonald’s reasoning is based on the assumption that soul or human personality can never really hope for its own destruction. Indeed, when one desires death, one desires merely separation of soul from the shackles of body, de Bonald says. Of course, one can quite well suspect such a statement, because we might well assume some suicidal people would really want to destroy their very consciousness.

De Bonald also notes the universal recognition of the existence of God. Indeed, he notes this on each of the three aspects of human cognition: different cultures have had images of divinity, they have talked about gods and they have surely had sentiments of the creator. De Bonald suggests this universal recognition as a premiss in a Cartesian proof of God’s existence - if humans have had cognitive stances about God, God must be possible, which means that he must also exist. Yet, as he himself appears to understand, the most convincing argument he could use is more emotional - the universality of belief in God seems hard to explain, unless God really existed. Indeed, de Bonald notes, even hardline materialists cannot but fail to speak of such matters as the order of the world, thus implicitly already assuming the existence of someone to order matter.

It is no wonder that as a conservative thinker de Bonald doesn’t try to introduce any novelties in his philosophy, but defends a tried worldview. Thus, it is to be accepted that after bringing God into the equation, de Bonald notes that he has organised the world teleologically for the sake of human beings. In another analogy with state, de Bonald calls humans ministers of the divine monarch, leading all the other living beings. This does not mean that humans could despotically rule over animals, because they should be more like guardians to animals. Still, de Bonald sees humans as clearly above animals, because animals are, de Bonald says, perfect and cannot become any better, while humans are perfectible.

torstai 1. helmikuuta 2018

Hugues Felicité Robert de Lamennais: Essay on indifference in matters of religion, volume IV; Defence of the essay on indifference in matters of religion

The rest of Lamennais argument for the divine nature of Christianity concerns mostly what could be called its emotional impact. For instance, Lamennais notes that miracles reveal to us the power of divinity, which surpasses the comprehension of human mind, and thus bolster the dogmatic side of divine revelation. I am not really interested of the question whether miracles actually have occurred, but a more interesting consideration is whether miracles are even possible. A deistic argument against their possibility, which Lamennais recounts, notes that miracles are contradictions, because they should break supposedly unbreakable laws of nature - that is, nothing could be a miracle, because if something broke what we thought was a law of nature, then the supposed law wouldn’t have been a true law in the first place.

Now, making miracles into a logical absurdity seems a sophism of the worst sort and makes one just wonder, if there is something wrong in the suggested definition of miracle, because one can surely imagine what it would be like if some divinely powered entity would break the regular course of nature. Of course, it also depends on what do we mean by a law of nature. If one means by it just a regularity, miracles could be defined as highly improbable events, on the condition that these regularities usually hold. Then again, if a law of nature means something more necessary, we could either think of all these laws as having an implicit caveat, like “unless God decrees otherwise” - and a miracle would then be just an instantiation of such a caveat - or we might think that miracles mean temporary replacement of our world and its laws with another world having different laws of nature. For Lamennais, this sophistical argument is just a proof that deists, who deny all powers from divinity, are a step away from becoming atheists, who, by the way, cannot even show that natural world has any unbreakable laws.

The very crux of the emotional argument for the sanctity of Christianity lies undoubtedly with the person of Jesus and his supposed role in the divine plan. Word of God - whatever that means, but it surely sounds like a mighty person - takes on a rather powerless position and dies just for the sake of giving humans a chance to redeem themselves. As the popularity of Christianity shows, this is a rather powerful story - who wouldn’t like it, if some person of authority sacrificed himself for others? Indeed, one might suggest that this emotional component was an essential aspect at the stage when Christianity spread over the Roman empire. Lamennais, on the other hand, takes this spread as a further proof for the divine origin of Christianity, which seems a bit too quick conclusion, since Christianity surely hasn’t been the only ideology that has gathered followers despite its meager beginnings.

Lamennais still tries to back the sanctity of Christianity by showing that Christianity has been beneficial to the development of society. I have already discussed a similar argument and noted that it is rather doubtful. What is more interesting is Lamennais’ later written defense of his work, attached at least in the edition I've been reading to the final volume. Here Lamennais returns especially to the themes of the second volume and to his account of various philosophical schools, like empiricism and idealism. In the defense, Lamennais is especially interested of what he called dogmatic school of philosophy, the major proponents of which were supposedly Descartes, Pascal, Malebranche, Leibniz, and rather interestingly, Francis Bacon, whom otherwise one might have included with the empiricists. The defining characteristic of this “school” Lamennais finds in reliance on individual human reason. It doesn’t take Lamennais long to find some clear difficulties e.g. in Cartesian reliance on human reason - as Descartes himself attests, the very criterion he suggests, or clarity and distinction of ideas, works as a criterion only if he already supposes the existence of a benevolent divinity, who can guarantee the connection between clarity/distinction and truth. Lamennais thinks that even the famous I think therefore I am falls because of this mistake, since it can at most now show that we must believe in our own existence, not that we have any basis for this belief.

While Cartesian fundamentalism does break at obvious places, Lamennais regards as its worst offence the culture of individual reason it has propagated - after Descartes, everyone believes she can find the truth by following her own opinions. Lamennais explicates his own chosen criterion by saying that instead of individual reason he advocates for common sense or reason, that is, the authority of generations and generations of Church doctrine. He does note some of the more obvious criticisms against his position, especially on the question whether we can truly say that Catholic Christianity is the best authority to rely upon. Unfortunately, he really does not have any better basis for this assumption, except to point to his four criteria of unity, universality, perseverance and sanctity, all of which we have found wanting.

maanantai 22. tammikuuta 2018

Hugues Felicité Robert de Lamennais: Essay on indifference in matters of religion, volume III

Lamennais’ argument for taking Christianity as the true religion was based on four characteristics the true religion should have: unity, universality, perpetuity and sanctity. I talked about Lamennais’ case for the unity of (Catholic) Christianity, which meant essentially just that Christianity did not tolerate any other religions. Even if we accepted such intolerance as a characteristic of the supposed one true religion, the problem is that many other religions share the same characteristic.

Lamennais’ case for the universality of Christianity is based on an almost opposite justification, namely, on the supposed similarity of aspects of other religions with some dogmas of Christianity. Lamennais goes to great lengths in quoting authorities on other religions to show that e.g. belief in one divine creator and an idea about an upcoming savior are accepted throughout the world. Lamennais wants to say that other religions are mere modifications of Christianity and its dogmas. The obvious problem with this line of attack is that one might think Christianity itself is just a modification of the true religion, which might be one of the other religions having these supposedly universal characteristics. This problem is augmented by the fact that some distinctly Christian dogmas, such as trinity or incarnation, are not as universally accepted.

If by universality Lamennais tried to emphasise that Christian dogmas could be found all around the globe, by persistence he meant to say that Christianity, in one of its forms, could be found at all times. This characteristic tied in with Lamennais’ insistence on a chain of authority running through the Catholic tradition, all the way to the supposed creation of humankind. In fact, Lamennais even stated that such a chain could be found in other traditions and noted that many religious thinkers and philosophers emphasised the ancient religious customs as the purest and most suitable for worship of divine. In case of these other traditions, this chain just had at some point broken, by idolatry and materialistic philosophy.

Lamennais’ case for the perseverance of Christianity is, of course, based strongly on the assumption that Bible is a reliable history. We obviously cannot expect that Lamennais would have had any idea of the future findings of archaeology, which make it rather clear that many Bible stories cannot be literally true - e.g. there probably was no great migration of Hebrew nation from Egypt. Even so, many of his arguments for the reliability of Bible are quite full of holes. For instance, Lamennais finds it unconvincing that Jewish nation would have suddenly forgotten its history, when it had been handed from parents to children in an unbroken succession. The obvious problem here is that even if this line would be unbroken, the message might well change, like in a game of Chinese whispers. Indeed, Lamennais notes this possibility in case of e.g. Indian traditions, which shows a clear double standard on his part.

Just as unconvincing as Lamennais’ defence of the reliability of Bible is his defense of Biblical prophecies, especially of those that have concerned events which are now past - because these prophecies came to be true, Lamennais thinks that we can trust that the other prophecies will also. The clear problem is that Lamennais takes it as granted that these prophecies derive from the era of the supposed author of the texts, for instance, that the prophecies of Daniel concerning the rise and fall of ancient kingdoms were reported at a period before these risings and falling had occurred. Yet, one might well make the assumption that such prophecies were actually written after the events mentioned, and in fact, in case of Daniel’s prophecies, it seems clear that their author knows much more about this future history than about the time when Daniel was supposed to live.

The unreliability of Bible in general and prophecies in particular affects also Lamennais’ case for the fourth characteristic of the true religion or sanctity - that is, if Bible and prophecies are full of falsities, it makes it questionable that they and Christianity as a whole would be divinely inspired. We shall return in more detail to the case of the sanctity of Christianity in the next and final post on Lamennais’ work.