Posts Tagged ‘schopenhauer’

Schopenhauer was right: Part 5 – A Departure From Kant

Friday, October 10th, 2008 by William Reynolds

Having been away from my Schopenhauer series for nearly 2 months, I’ve felt the longing pangs of unfinished business in my gulliver.  So it is with renewed vim and vigor that I return to the dais for yet another installment.

When I think back on my earliest encounter with philosophy, it is not dissimilar from my first brush with theology.  During the spring of my freshman year at the University of Minnesota, I became enamored of theology largely on account of dating an inordinately religious woman named S____.  My enamored fancy fell up Saint Thomas Aquinas via a medieval history course, and I soon found myself reading Summa Theologica at Coffman Union between classes.

Q:  Is there a more wearisome, and austere scholarly contribution than Summa Theologica?
A:  Not likely.

I find a it little amusing that my first forays into philosophy and theology resulted in overmatched efforts involving the aforementioned.  One might deem Socrates and CS Lewis a bit more age appropriate if not efficacious.

Immanuel Kant’s contribution to modern philosophy is well known for synthesizing empiricism and continental rationalism.  Where empiricists contended that knowledge arises from experience, and rationalists asserted that reason alone provides the basis of knowledge, Kant – in his own estimation – created a compromise between the two by presenting knowledge as function of comprehension involving 2 actors:  Concepts of the mind and phenomena.  Concepts (categories) of the mind are 4 fold with 3 aspects each – quantity (unity, plurality, totality), quality (reality, negation, limitation), relation (substance, cause, community) and modality (possibility, existence, necessity).  These concepts are universals; we cannot process phenomena (experience) without them.  For example, we cannot look at 2 apples on a table without immediately apprehending plurality.  Kant went on to refer to these categories as filters through which knowledge is made possible.

There remains in Kant the problem of things – in – themselves.  If knowledge is obtained by applying filters to phenomena arriving via our senses, then how can we ever say with certainty “That which I perceive exists as I perceive it”? On this point, Schopenhauer departs from Kant and is correct in doing so.  For Schopenhauer, the problem of knowing things – in – themselves is even deeper than Kant implied for it is not enough to merely enumerate the filters through which knowledge is made manifest without acknowledging the obvious conclusion:  That so long as filters lie between our senses and our reason, the extension of our knowledge cannot lie beyond our senses i.e. we do not know a sun “but only an eye that sees the sun…”

But we do know our bodies….

To be continued…

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Large Hadron Collider – Curious Logic

Thursday, September 11th, 2008 by William Reynolds

I couldn’t help but pay attention to all the hullaballoo surrounding the inaugural firing up of the Overlord of Disaster, the Proton Punisher, the Gaping Black Maw of the Apocolypse….the one…the only… LAAAAAAAARRRRRRGGGGEEEEEEE HADRON COLLIDER!  The time signature of this humble entry may be adduced as proof the world most certainly has not been swallowed up Jonah-style by black holes unleashed by LHC.  Having sufficiently quelled my nerves with mint herbal tea and a hearty helpin’ of “One Day At A Time” episodes from season 1, I feel confident in my ability to maintain my composure long enough to ignore my Schopehauer series for one more week.  That is unless Julie runs away again with that van-driving, Meatloaf-looking lout of a boyfriend.  She’s got to start living smarter not harder!

Scientists typically don’t like philosophers.  Anyone who thinks otherwise need only visit a few science forums to get a sense of the disdain to which philosophy is subjected.  Personally, I think the bad blood first spilled when Hume suggested that what we know to be causes and effects are merely perceptive habits and rituals. Regardless, I’ll speak my peace.  As I continue to follow the events unfolding in Switzerland, a couple of practical and timely concerns have come to the fore:

1)  The Big Bang has fundamental problems stemming from a litany of ad hoc hypotheses and departures from observational data.  Should an experimental environment as important and costly as the LHC be hinged on the assumption the Big Bang correctly describes our universe?  Is referring to the Big Bang as “the best model we have so far” sufficient reason to devise an experiment to explore the validity and limitations of the Standard Model?  If the Big Bang is the best model we have at the moment, then we probably should change statements like “WHEN the Big Bang occurred” to “IF the Big Bang occurred”.

2)  In light of concern 1, is moving forward and assuming the validity of the Big Bang despite its evidentiary flaws indicative of a greater problem plaguing science, namely too great a reliance on inductive methods of research.  The LHC seems to be more a product of “If a theory is broke, we can build an experiment to fix it.” which the philosopher in me recognizes as an inductive process and a product of curious logic.

When the Bush administration started handing out non-compete contracts to the likes of Halliburton and KBR, my first thought was “Really?  Aren’t we going to get ripped off?”  Now I see an impressive, multi-billion dollar experiment moving forward on an assumption that doesn’t possess the criteria necessary for generating a consensus.  Aren’t we going to get ripped off, cosmologically speaking?

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Schopenhauer was right: Part 4 – The road to self discovery

Thursday, August 21st, 2008 by William Reynolds

Modern philosophers are chiefly good for one thing: They force us to reflect on each our own being. Whether it be as in the extreme case of Descartes who stripped away every knowable thing from his perceptible world less his own self-consciousness i.e. cogito ergo sum, or a more fashionable ‘search for meaning’ as empowered existentialists such as Jaspers, Sarte, and Camus, modern philosophy, beyond any remedial advice for living in the modern age, reminds us how far removed we are from the world to which we hold. If we can’t know the things-in-themselves, then we best know ourselves. Kind of a “…love the one you’re with” sort of directive. And who do we know better than our mirror’s twin?

Being of the tender age 18 and newly initiated to college life, my intellectual depth was so deficient it would need high tide to warrant the term shallow. Nevertheless, if I had anything I had curiosity and a deep desire for acquiring knowledge. You couldn’t have convinced my parents of this at the time, but I turn and ask you, who hits the library looking for a book upon the recommendation of a piece of graffiti? Jumping online is one thing, but back in 1984 a person had to brave the elements, walk to the library, walk up an abundance of stairs, consult a card catalog (50 point bonus for ironic verbal accessory), and then go diggin’. Make no mistake, this activity required an investment of time.

After the encounter with Mr. D___, the pentecostal buffalo (self titled, which I failed to mention in my prior post), I returned my attention to Schopenhauer and The World As Will and Representation. The first two lines of book 1 read:

The world is my representation: this is a truth with reference to every living and knowing being, although man alone can bring it into reflective, abstract consciousness. If he really does so, philosophical discernment has dawned on him. It then becomes clear and certain to him that he does not know a sun and an earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels an earth; that the world around him is there only as representation, in other words, only in reference to another thing, namely that which represents, and this is himself.

I read this particular passage over and over for nearly an hour. I didn’t understand a word of it. The book I held in my hands was of the old, cloth-cover, case bound variety; the linen was worn and frayed and the pages smelled musty as anything I could find in an abandoned root cellar. The small but heavy strokes of the letters on the pages brought to mind a bespectacled shopkeeper mottled with ink smudges, furiously pedaling away on his Gutenberg. In that moment, I felt part of a long tradition reflected in the character and condition of the book I held. Mental fortitude was a strength of my youth where resources were lacking, so I continued reading this passage over and over and over until I understood it.

And finally, I understood.

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Schopenhauer was right: Part 3 – The Pentecostal Buffalo

Thursday, August 14th, 2008 by William Reynolds

“Schopenhauer was right.” Right about what? The statement seemed simple and declarative, but to what end? As I pored over the newly acquired books from the Wilson library, the first thing to occur to me was the futility of my attempt to see for myself the rightness or wrongness of Schopenhauer. Having never explored philosophy prior to this occasion, I found myself hopelessly mired in its heavy, slushy esotericism. Noumenon? A priori? Thing – In – Itself? Even the term “phenomenon” didn’t seem to correspond with the Webster definition of which I was familiar. I couldn’t imagine what this Schopenhauer could possibly be right about, and worse yet, now I was acutely aware of the inadequacy of my secondary education as a preparatory step toward higher learning. My vocabulary was poor; my thoughts rudimentary; my spirits low. No sooner had I checked out the World As Will And Representation than it joined the clumping of books on the floor of my bedroom; books I had similarly fancied briefly and now disregarded and all certainly well overdue.

A month after my cursory dalliance with Schopenhauer, I was invited to a “lecture” given by a pentecostal speaker named Charles D___. Being a college freshman and exceedingly impressionable – and out there seeking many, many impressions – I attended without hesitation. This was a trippy experience! Mr. D___ was a man of Indian descent, short and wide as his stature. He had bulbous, brown eyes and large, bovine nostrils that flared wildly as he fomented a holy furor in the room that evening. People all around me convulsed spasmodically with each and every rhetorical cue delivered by Mr. D___. Occasionally, he’d reach back for that little extra and come out rushing the crowd hurling scriptural heat and spuming spittle. It was riotous (no, I didn’t misspell righteous)! What I remember most from that evening was a moment he looked in my direction. He marked me because I didn’t shake violently nor twaddle as some exorcised cantonese seraph. And as he stared me down, he buffaloed his body toward me, and exclaimed “Philosophy was wrong!” Initially, I was startled, and then bewildered. I knew nothing about philosophy, yet somehow he saw in me that damnable curiosity which had prompted the visit to the library in the prior month. Well roared, lion!

So Schopenhauer was right, but philosophy was wrong? Yes, you guessed it. It was time for me to grab that book off my bedroom floor and dig into it earnestly….with a dictionary, and a copy of the spring semester class schedule. Hmmm….Modern Philosophy 101 sounded intriguing.

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