|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.