keskiviikko 26. heinäkuuta 2017

Arthur Schopenhauer: Of the fourfold root of the law of sufficient reason

1788 - 1860

With Arthur Schopenhauer I faced an important decision on my blogs. Without a shadow of a doubt, Schopenhauer's philosophy belongs to post-Kantian period known as German idealism. Despite his vitriolic rhetorics against them, Schopenhauer has much more in common with German idealists than he cared to admit. World of experience as a mere phenomenon, will or activity as the true reality behind it, art as a pathway to understanding world of experience and partially even the ultimate reality – all of these primary foundations of Schopenhauer's philosophy are themes discussed by some German idealists. Even Schopenhauer's interest in Indian philosophy was nothing unusual for the age.

Despite all the similarities, I simply had to include Schopenhauer as the part of this blog, detailing the development of modern philosophy, because of one crucial element in his philosophy, namely, his pessimism. It is debatable how original even that sentiment was – although the public image of the classic German systems was one of progress, they still showed an inkling of the angst and suffering involved in the human condition. Still, pessimism as expressed by the figure of Schopenhauer was an important instigator for much German philosophy of the late 19th century and beyond, because it forcefully raised the question of the meaning of life to public discussion.

Schopenhauer's first serious philosophical work, Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde, contains already in nuce many of the important elements of his later work on world as both representation and will. Yet, it seemingly considers a very specific question: the famous proposition, supposedly invented by Leibniz, that all things must have a reason. Even in this work Schopenhauer shows his talent of ridiculing the ideas of his predecessors, often even for no reason. Schopenhauer's main task is to note that while the principle of sufficient reason is correct, it should also be divided into several subprinciples, because the principle as such is quite too abstract to help anyone. This supposed innovation is not that original, because even many pre-Kantian philosophers had criticised Leibniz and his supposed lackey, Christian Wolff, for not noticing that the principle of sufficient reason was actually just an abstraction out of many different principles. Remarkably, even Wolff himself had said that reasons came in many different forms – Schopenhauer himself knows this, but insinuates that Wolff had just managed to make a muddle in his attempt to classify different kinds of reasons.

Even if Schopenhauer was quite willing to make fun of Wolff and companions, he was also happy to just steal their terminology, whenever needed. Thus, Schopenhauer borrows from Wolff the notion of ratio essendi – reason for the existence of something – but changes the meaning of the term, because he is not satisfied with what Wolff meant by it. For Wolff, the actual existence of things is eventually based on God's free decision, while the possible existence of a thing – what something is or would be, if it existed – depends on its essence, which is supposedly a kind of kernel of thing's properties.

As we shall see, Schopenhauer doesn't believe that anything truly new would ever be generated, but he does appear to accept that things in the world around us do have a sort of abstract essence. Yet, unlike with Wolff, this essence is not a conglomeration of basic forces, but instead, the sum of all spatiotemporal properties of a thing. Here Schopenhauer shows his enthusiasm for Kant's idea of space and time as forms of sensation. Primary one of these two appears to be time, where a series of temporal points determines the next one in a very simple manner: if we have four temporal points, they will be followed by a fifth. Schopenhauer is here following the supposedly Kantian idea that arithmetic is somehow determined by time. Just like with time, spatial elements determine one another. The difference is, firstly, that the three-dimensionality of space allows more complex relations, and secondly, that these determining relations are often reciprocal – any two angles of a triangle determine the third angle.

One might ask why Schopenhauer didn't distinguish the temporal and spatial grounding relations, which are clearly dissimilar. His classification seems even more arbitrary, when we look at the next species of grounding relation. When we do not regard merely space or time, but their filled combination – world of experience – we find, Schopenhauer insists, that all spatio-temporal events require a cause that temporally precedes them. This sort of ground or reason Schopenhauer calls, again following Wolff, ratio fiendi, that is, a reason for a change. Note that it is only a reason for change Schopenhauer is here talking about, and since every change presupposes something that remains same, he is confident to draw the conclusion that we can assume the existence of something (matter) that remains same throughout all changes. Since all changes require a previous cause, the series of causes goes on to infinite past, Schopenhauer insists. One might wonder how Schopenhauer argues for these statements, but in a sense, he does not – these truths are just self-evidently true, because they characterise the world we experience, which is just a world as we experience it and not as it is in itself.

Although Schopenhauer then seems to take all kinds of causes as belonging to one class, he does distinguish causes in the living world as different from all the rest of the causes. While a mere cause determines necessarily what its effect will be, a cause acting on, say, a plant, will be a mere stimulus for the plant's own life processes. Even more distinct are such causes in the animal world, which do not merely start a reflex, but make the animal motivated to act in some manner. Peculiarly, while Schopenhauer does not want to make stimuli into a distinct group of grounds or reasons, he does make motives into an independent class. His justification is that we humans experience motives in a different manner from other causes – when we want or desire something, we are conscious of ourselves as an active agent wanting or desiring something. One might ask Schopenhauer if we do not also have a peculiar experience of stimuli causing reflexes. For instance, when the doctor hits our knee, we feel our leg moving and this feeling clearly differs from us seeing a rock fall – yet, we also feel the movement as not being instigated by ourselves or as involuntary.

Whatever the potential faults in Schopenhauer's classification are, we have dealt now with three of his four types of sufficient reason. While these three types concern three different kinds of objects – abstract spatio-temporal figures, concrete physical objects and ourselves as acting agents – the fourth type is more about representations of objects. This is in Schopenhauer's eyes the peculiarly human type of reason, and indeed, concerns our ability of reasoning. To put it shortly, this type is about the question what we can hold as true. The short answer is, of course, that we should have a reason for this. These reasons could be other truths, but here an infinite regress is not possible, Schopenhauer says. Instead, there must be a link to objects of our experiences or at least to the general formal properties characteristing the whole experience.

tiistai 11. heinäkuuta 2017

Maine de Biran: Essay on the fundaments of psychology (1812?)

When I last time considered the philosophy of Maine de Biran, we saw him follow in the footsteps of a tradition of Condillac and Cabanis, when he tried to describe different capacities of human mind considering also the viewpoint of physiology.

In Essai sure le fondements de la psychologie, not published in his life time, Maine de Biran adds to this sensualist tradition of philosophy also considerations of the traditional Cartesian and Leibnizian metaphysics, and what is even more striking, of Kant, Fichte and Schelling. Maine de Biran groups all of these philosophers together as dealing with mere abstractions, instead of the concrete embodied mind, like in the Condillacian tradition – worst example in his eyes is Schelling's philosophy of identity, which tries to start from the notion of existence common to both physical nature and human mind. Yet, he is also quick to point out that the philosophers of abstraction have some interesting contributions to the discussion of the capacities of human mind.

One particular discovery of Kantians Maine de Biran mentions is the remark that Lockean ideas or sensations are not as simple as they appear to be, but consist of two components. One is the affection as such, the mere feeling or mood that we just passively receive in sensations (say, that something greenish in front of us). The other component is the appropriation of this feeling as belonging to me. It is just this act which turns mere feeling into a proper sensation, Maine de Biran says. Human sensation is for him, then, born of two different things. Even Descartes had an inkling of this duality in human experience, when he separated physical nature from human soul – still, Descartes made a mistake in substantialising these two different fields of experience.

But the true innovation in Maine be Biran's eyes is to be found in the Fichtean notion of I and its contrast to not-I. He is not satisfied with mere naming of these concepts, but also notes that the source of this separation lies in human striving and resistance of the environment against this striving. Because of these two elements, we regard some affections a belonging to our body – those we can change easily – while others we view as belonging to space outside us – those that we cannot change so easily. Again, this is a very Fichtean notion, although Maine de Biran tries to give this idea a more physiological twist by situating the striving in human brain.

The hierarchy of different capacities of human mind follows more or less closely Maine de Biran's work on habit, although here it is perhaps a bit clearer that the capacities are arranged according to the level of control the active side of human mind has over the passive side. Thus, perceptions differ from mere sensations, says Maine de Biran, because in perceiving we actively put our attention to some facets of what we sense. This capacity of attending is then basis for various other capacities like making comparisons and making generalisations based on similarities.

The highest state of human capacities for Maine de Biran is then the capacity of reflection. This involves, firstly, capacity of making deductions, which is for Maine de Biran essentially a capacity based on memory – the individual steps of deductions should be immediately convincing and memory just assures us that we have considered all the steps in the process (notice how psychological Maine de Biran's notion of deduction is – there's no consideration of cases where a machine would have made the necessary deductive moves, but we humans couldn't verify the truth of these moves, because the proof would be too long for humans to comprehend).

It is quite clear that such deductions alone cannot furnish any truths, unless some truth would have been given before deductions. Here Maine de Biran faces the very Kantian question of synthetic a priori judgements, and his answers are also quite similar as with the followers of Kant. Maine de Biran suggests that we have some basic experiences, which can be taken as such basis for deductions. For instance, we have a fundamental experience of some resistance, and even more, of resistance situated in space. Geometrical axioms are then mere abstractions from this original intuition.

In addition to mathematics, Maine de Biran accepts the existence of such fundamental experience in metaphysics or psychology. If mathematics is based on our primal experience of what is not me, metaphysics, on the other hand, is based on our primal experience of ourselves – we have the ability to recognise ourselves as existing, which Fichte expressed with the formula I = I. Maine de Biran is quick to point out that we cannot use this primal experience in Cartesian manner to deduce that we would be some sort of ”thinking substances” - following Kant's criticism of paralogisms, Maine de Biran suggests that this would involve confusing our experience of ourselves (thinking) with us as we are in ourselves. Indeed, we are not just thinkers, Maine de Biran says, but essentially also active doers, and we wouldn't know ourselves as ourselves without our active striving.

The main thing one can base on this primal experience of ourselves as active agents, according to Maine de Biran is what Kant would have called categories. We are unified agents and in a sense stable elements of our experience – through abstraction, we can then get such categories like unity or substance. What is especially important is Maine de Biran's idea that we draw the notion of causality from our own acting – we think other things as causes, because we first experience ourselves as active agents and then draw analogies from our own case. Similarly, the account of modalities is generated from our original experience that some things we can freely decide, while others are necessarily decided by other things.

Maine de Biran's work presents then an interesting take on Kantian philosophy. It would undoubtedly not satisfy purist, formalist Kantians, who want to keep Kant completely removed from psychological and anatomical considerations. From a more extensive perspective, Maine de Biran offers a refreshing take on a too familiar philosopher.