Iconoclasm in German Philosophy
[Cet article du journal anglais The Westminster Review publié en 1853 a rendu célèbre Schopenhauer. Son auteur, John Oxenford, était un critique littéraire qui avait déjà traduit Goethe en anglais. Ce texte qui constitue l’un des premiers écrits sur la philosophie de Schopenhauer a également été traduit en allemand au moment de sa sortie, ce qui a déclenché beaucoup de réactions outre-rhin. ]
John Oxenford (essay date 1853)
Few, indeed, we venture to assert, will be those of our English readers who are familiar with the name of Arthur Schopenhauer. Fewer still will there be who are aware that the mysterious being owning that name has been working for something like forty years to subvert that whole system of German philosophy which has been raised by the university professors since the decease of Immanuel Kant, and that, after his long labour, he has just succeeded in making himself heard—wonderfully illustrating that doctrine in acoustics which shows how long an interval may elapse between the discharge of the cannon and the hearing of the report. And even still fewer will there be who are aware that Arthur Schopenhauer is one of the most ingenious and readable authors in the world, skilful in the art of theory building, universal in attainments, inexhaustible in the power of illustration, terribly logical and unflinching in the pursuit of consequences, and—a most amusing qualification to everyone but the persons "hit"—a formidable hitter of adversaries.
The list of works at the head of this article will show how long this most eccentric of philosophers has laboured, and how continuous his labours have been. In 1813 he propounded a new theory of cause and effect; and the philosophical world of Germany said—nothing. Six years afterwards came out the grand work, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, in which a whole metaphysical theory was developed with a force and clearness which Germany had not seen since the days of Kant, but still the same world (with a solitary exception) said—nothing. We marvel not that the Schopenhauer temper, which, we opine, from certain polemical treatises, is not of the mildest, was a little ruffled. All over Germany were professorlings dotted about, receiving their snug salaries, and, without a spark of genius in their composition, retailing the words of some great master of philosophic art, and complimenting each other, as each brought out his trifling modification of a system which had been slightly modified from some previous modification, and yet could not Schopenhauer get a word of notice—not so much as a little abuse. There were histories of philosophy, and compendia of philosophy, and philosophical journals, but none could be found diffusing the knowledge of Schopenhauer's emanations. At last a chance presents itself—who shall say from what quarter the good wind will blow?—the Royal Norwegian Scientific Society offers a prize for the best treatise on the Freedom of the Will, and in the year 1829 this is gained by Schopenhauer. Surely Germany, with its known predilection for rank, will recognise the adjudication of a crown of honour by a royal society—a scientific society, too, even though Drontheim be not universally regarded as the modern Athens. But no, even this would not do. The prophet was only great out of his own country. In vain did he demonstrate that, in the ordinary sense of the word, freedom of will was a mere chimera, exploded years ago, and in vain did Scandinavia applaud, professional Germany ignored the existence of Schopenhauer, his pamphlet, the Royal Scientific Society, and Norway itself, and went on teaching "absolute freedom," and preaching "categorical imperatives," just as if the energetic Schopenhauer had never brought pen and paper into visible contact. Still did Schopenhauer work on, not through good and evil report, but through what was much more disheartening — no report at all. His last publication, Parerga und Paralipomena, a collection of philosophical papers illustrative of his own system, but perfectly readable without previous knowledge of it, is even more vigorous, and gives more signs of independent thought than the work of his youth, which saw the light forty years ago. And at last we find that the neglected philosopher is known, and, to some extent, appreciated. The history of German philosophy published by Professor Fortlage in 1852—a book highly respectable of its kind—devotes a not over short chapter to the examination of Schopenhauer, as one of the remarkable phenomena of the present day, and though the professor differs from the non-professor, the difference is courteous. Two articles in the last number of J. H. Fichte's philosophical Zeitschrift still more clearly show that Schopenhauer, if he is not liked, is, at any rate, deemed formidable.
But if there is really something remarkable about Schopenhauer, why this forty years' obscurity? That is the question, above all others, which Schopenhauer himself is prepared to answer. Because, he will tell you, he is not a professor of philosophy, is not a philosopher by trade, has no academical chair, and there has been an understanding among all the university philosophers to put down any man who is not one of their craft. The Hegelians may differ from the Herbartians, and the Herbartians from the Hegelians, and both from the Schellingites, and all from the Schleiermacherians, and the small branches that spring from the huge trees may jostle against each; but all this is done civilly, and the adversaries compliment each other on learning, or profundity, or acuteness, or comprehensiveness, however they may dissent from theories propounded. On the other hand, woe to the luckless student of philosophy who, having devoted himself to the wisdom of the Oriental world, to the dialectic of the Greeks, to the acuteness of the French, to the hard, common sense of the English, and, above all, to his own reflections, shall dare to come forward with the result of his labours, unless he shall have secured a license to speculate. As far as the promulgation of his views is concerned, he shall be doomed to solitary confinement, and every operation by which his opinion could find its way to the public shall be effectually stopped up.
Of course the cry of Schopenhauer, that German philosophy as taught by the successors of Kant, is not founded on any honest investigation of the truth, but is a mere trade, by which the professor hopes to secure a living for his wife and family, may be interpreted as no more than another form of the ancient fox's declaration, that the "grapes are sour." Schopenhauer, not receiving any encouragement from the acknowledged magnates of philosophy, bespatters the whole system to which they owe their authority. That vexation and disappointment had some share in producing the virulence with which he attacks the philosophers in high places is likely enough, but, at the same time, it is by no means certain that a word spoken in anger is altogether inappropriate; and, unfortunately, too many philosophical works of modern Germany encourage the suspicion that the animadversions of Schopenhauer are not altogether unfounded.
Let any impartial Englishman, who has gone through an ordinary course of logic, who has studied mathematics to a degree sufficient to make him understand the methods of demonstration—who has read the metaphysicians of his own country, and we will even add, the leading works of Immanuel Kant—let this Englishman, we say, take any one of Hegel's so-called scientific works, and honestly ask himself, whether this is the style in which a work intended to convey instruction ought to be written. The general drift of the system, with its optimism, its liberalism, its apparently comprehensive grasp, may please him; the universal attainments of the author may command his admiration; but, apart from these considerations, let him still ask himself, whether the system is really a system at all—whether the reasonings are reasonings at all—whether the links that seem to connect proposition with proposition really do anything of the kind. If he be not of presumptuous temper, he will for awhile be modest, and fancy that the measure of the author's profundity exceeds that of his own power of penetration; but if he reflects that he has been tolerably able to follow the chain of reasoning in every existing science, but just this one science of German metaphysics, as propounded by the schools of Schelling and Hegel, and that the process employed in the highest mathematics does not, after all, differ so very much from that which is used in ordinary conversation, modesty will at last grow a little weary; and the student will begin to suspect that he has looked up to his preceptor with something beyond a due measure of veneration. Let him next proceed to take up one of those compendia of Hegelian philosophy, by means of which some disciple of the great master offers to render the fountain-head of wisdom more approachable to the uninitiated; he will now find matters grown worse. Hegel himself, independently of his system, had a certain quantity of illustrative information and remark, which was much more valuable than the thing illustrated—just as in picture-books, the pictures are generally far superior to the letter-press—and these were appended as a sort of perpetual comment to the dry skeleton of the system. But when the Hegelian usher becomes the preceptor, he can only give the master's doctrine in a shorter, and consequently drier form, while he proves the unfructifying nature of the philosophy itself by showing that he can scarcely utter a word in a different order from that in which it is set down in the original book. The theories of Plato, of Locke, of Kant, need not be described according to a certain fixed outline, utterly destructive of all individual peculiarity, but the interpreter may infinitely vary his mode of exposition, and give full play to any descriptive power with which he may be blessed. It is not so with the philosophy of Hegel; his system, if it is really to be taught, like any other science, requires a thorough re-writing: but his disciples, far from doing anything of the kind, merely repeat his words, without a syllable of elucidation. Anything more profitless than the second-rate works belonging to the various schools of German philosophy cannot be found in the whole compass of literature. Having taken a sufficient dose of this filtered wisdom, let our supposed impartial Englishman, who has now gone through the most dreamy series of unconvincing arguments that imagination can reach, now seek to know the obstacle which renders impossible all union between his own reasoning and the reasoning in the books before him. He is bluntly told by the school that he is not endowed with a "speculative spirit;" or if he has preferred the region of Schelling to that of Hegel, that he is without a certain preternatural form of intuition, which must be assumed as indispensable to philosophical study.
At this point, unless his own self-depreciation be of the most abnormal kind, he will indeed be a little staggered. The faculties that have carried him hitherto through the most various branches of learning and science, fail him now; and he finds a sort of ratiocination proposed to him which he could not use for any one purpose of his life—nay, which he could not even describe without talking, parrot-like, out of one of his books. At this juncture, when faith is wavering, let him take up some strong page of Arthur Schopenhauer, and lo! an uneasy suspicion, which has been for some time floating in his mind, will begin to assume a tangible shape. It will not be as though Schopenhauer, in his invectives against Hegel and Schelling, taught him anything new, but as though a sudden conviction was awakened in his own bosom. We are not prepared to go the length of Schopenhauer in saying that all the teaching of the modern professors is a mere matter of salary; but of this we are certain, that the parties he attacks have laboured to the utmost of their power to support him in his notion.
Polemic philosophers are often more skilful in destruction than inconstruction, displaying a world of acuteness in picking out the weak places of an adversary's edifice, but a singular want of care and precision in raising their own. Schopenhauer is the very reverse of all this. Far from dissecting the theories of Schelling and Hegel, he gives them a volley of abuse, as though he did not consider them worth the pains of an argument at all; and then he patiently builds up his own system, supporting it as he goes on by perfectly intelligible arguments; his real refutation of all other systems consisting in the confidence with which he points to his own. Appealing to the common sense of his readers, to induce them to leave off listening to a number of strange words of most vague signification, he reduces several terms to the meaning which they bore before the time of Kant; and he propounds a theory with which they may agree or not, but which they can hardly fail to understand. The general fault of German metaphysicians is, that they do not even afford you a fair ground of attack. The systems are so strangely reasoned out, and the words are so uncertain in their import, that you do not know when you are fighting with shadows and when with substance. Struck with admiration at a strange sort of ingenuity, or disgusted by an increasing obscurity, in either mood you venture on no contest at all, but simply remain unconvinced. Now Schopenhauer gives you a comprehensible system, clearly worded; and you may know, beyond the possibility of a doubt, what you are accepting, and what you are rejecting. Never did author less attempt to impose upon his reader.
Let us, however, hasten to remove a false impression we have probably made. It may be imagined that we are wholly condemning the so-called successors of Kant, and wholly extolling Schopenhauer, and therefore we would have it speedily understood, that all we have said applies not to the doctrine taught, but to the manner of teaching. The tendencies of the modern German philosophers, however they may differ among themselves, are liberal and ennobling in the highest degree; and whether they be—as their enthusiastic disciples believe them—exalted genuises, inspired with the love of truth, or mere members of a profitable craft, they are still important organs for the diffusion of lofty ideas, which sometimes take the form of an elevated system of morality, sometimes have for their aim the foundation of an all-comprehensive scheme of science. Their rallying cry, however strange the language in which it may be couched, is still "progress!" and therefore they are still the pedantic sympathizers with the spirit of modern civilization. It is not in their doctrines, in their ultimate tendency, that the impartial English thinker finds so much to object to, as in the constant mistake (in his eyes) of abstractions for actual existences, of no-reasonings for reasonings, of words for things. That many of the newest German philosophers, although brought up in the schools of twenty years back, have themselves come to a conviction that all is not right in this particular, is sufficiently shown by the productions of those authors, who now group themselves around the younger Fichte, and display a befitting reverence for what we may call a sane mode of thinking. Let any one compare the last numbers of theZeitschrift für Philosophie, edited by J. H. Fichte, with the old Jahrbücher der wissenschaftlichen Kritik,—that organ of the Hegelian school, in which an ordinary novel could not be reviewed without the employment of a whole arsenal of technical weapons,—and he will be struck with the improvement which has taken place.
On the other hand, while Schopenhauer's teaching is the most genial, the most ingenious, and—we would add, the most amusing that can be imagined, the doctrine taught is the most disheartening, the most repulsive, the most opposed to the aspirations of the present world, that the most ardent of Job's comforters could concoct. All that the liberal mind looks forward to with hope, if not with confidence—the extension of political rights, the spread of education, the brotherhood of nations, the discovery of new means of subduing stubborn nature—must be given up as a vain dream, if ever Schopenhauer's doctrine be accepted. In a word, he is a professed "Pessimist"; it is his grand result, that this is the worst of all possible worlds; nay, so utterly unsusceptible of improvement, that the best thing we can do is to get rid of it altogether, by a process which he very clearly sets forth.
At the commencement of his theory, Schopenhauer appears as a compounder of Kant with Berkeley; and here we may observe, that though he ultimately proves to be a mystic, in the St. Antony sense of the word, he first comes forward as a special admirer of the common sense of the English. Hobbes, Berkeley, and Priestley, whose existence has been almost ignored by the modern German teachers, are at his fingers' ends, and he cites them not only as kindred souls, but as authorities. All that he says while first setting forth the delusions of the visible world, and denying the freedom of the will (in which latter process he is much indebted to Priestley) seems so fair and above-board, that the unsuspecting reader has no suspicion of the dire result which is at hand. Berkeley has gone further than Kant (who lamely endeavoured to refute him) in denying the reality of the world around him, while Kant constituted an à priori system, situated in the mind itself, of which Berkeley had no notion. Nothing could be easier than to reconcile the two systems, and Fichte had already set the example of denying the reality of that mysterious Ding-an-sich, (thing in itself,) which Kant stationed behind his phenomena. Indeed, there are many points of affinity between Schopenhauer and Fichte, not-withstanding the former's strong abuse of the latter; and in an early critique of Herbart upon Schopenhauer (the solitary exception already referred to) which stands out as a single star amid the general darkness, the notion seemed to be that a clearer Fichte was in the philosophical field.
As this article is chiefly intended for those who are in some degree acquainted with German philosophy, we may assume that our readers are so far familiar with Kant's theory, as to be aware that he considered time and space as mere forms of the mind, through which it received the impressions of outward things, but which had no existence in the things themselves; and that he moreover supposed certain general laws, as for instance, that of cause and effect, likewise to have their seat in the mind alone, so that it was under these laws that all judgments must be formed. Space, time, and the "categories"—the media through which sensible objects are revealed, and the laws under which they objects of thought as well as sense, are therefore, à priori, in the same way—to use a common simile—as if we said that a green tint spread over the face of nature, would come, à priori, to a man destined to wear green spectacles for life. Here arises the fundamental difficulty, which prevents the thinkers of the English school from accepting the teaching of the German. The Englishman, when declaring that experience is the sole source of knowledge, will not make any exception in favour of laws, however general, or axioms, however evident; while the Germans, however they may differ on other points, are agreed on this; that the mind itself independently of experience, is a source of knowledge. With Kant, however, the difference from the English is less important than with his successors. They indeed endeavour to establish theories which would carry men far beyond the limits of nature, but his theory of à priori forms has a confining, not an extending tendency. The "categories" seated in the mind are merely of value, on the supposition that objects are presented upon which they can be employed, and we have no right to employ them when the world of sense leaves off. To return to the simile, the man with the green spectacles must not imagine that because lighted nature wears a green tint, darkness will appear green likewise. According to consistent Kantism, physical theology, with its high priests Durham and Paley, and its paraphernalia of Bridgewater Treatises, is but an amiable absurdity, based on an illegitimate extension of the law of cause and effect to an object which lies beyond its jurisdiction. Theoretically speaking, man, according to Kant, has no right either to affirm or deny the existence of a God, of an immaterial soul, or, indeed, of any entity, that lies beyond the observation of the senses. Theoretically, Kantism is negative atheism, though by his "practical reason" Kant re-admits at the back door the ideas which have been ignominiously thrust forth from the portico.
The theoretical part of Kant's system is, with certain modifications, adopted by Schopenhauer; that is to say, he accepts the ideality of time and space, but he reduces the twelve categories, which Kant deduced from the forms of propositions set down in the common logic of the schools, to the simple law of cause and effect, which, however, appears in various shapes. Now, it is that endless chain by which all the phenomena of the visible world are connected, (the law of cause and effect, properly so called,) now it is the connexion which exists between the premises and the conclusion of an argument. But, whatever shape it takes, it is the law by which the mind is compelled to think, when it contemplates the objects of the external world.
The faculty which acts under this law of cause and effect, is called by Schopenhauer the understanding, and he ascribes to its operation much that has been hitherto referred (by Kant among others) to the senses alone. And we may here observe of Schopenhauer generally, that, differing from a great many of his countrymen, who delight to flounder in abstraction, and shrink, as it were, by instinct, from familiar illustration, he always displays a most laudable industry in collecting facts, which may serve to set forth his views in a new light. Zoological records, transactions of learned societies, classical poets of various languages, even newspaper anecdotes, are all ransacked with zeal, and the treasures they afford are used with discrimination. It is to the acuteness with which he pounces on a happy illustration, that Schopenhauer is justly indebted for the peculiar charm of his writings.
The understanding (Verstand), according to Schopenhauer, who is the reverse of a Cartesian in this respect, is possessed by man, in common with other animals, though it varies in degrees of acuteness. It has no power of generalization; but its functions are confined to single immediate objects, and the man who knows that a mutton-chop will cause a cessation of hunger, is just in the same predicament as a horse, who practically affirms the same thing of a bunch of hay. Practical cleverness, ingenuity, in short, most of the facilities for "getting on in the world" depend, in a great measure, on the acuteness of the understanding, in assigning each single effect to its proper cause, and an habitual tendency to make mistakes in this particular, constitutes ordinary stupidity.
In the definition of the reason (Vernunft), Schopenhauer greatly differs from all his contemporaries. With them, reason is a comprehensive faculty, which, scorning the finite, displays itself by grasping, or contemplating, or suspecting the infinite, or the absolute, or the unconditioned, (according to the particular vocabulary which the philosopher adopts,) but which is subjected to the special inconvenience, that many an unprejudiced thinker will be inclined to suspect that it does not exist at all. What is meant by the understanding is always intelligible enough, but when an ordinary German philosopher begins to talk about the reason, his discourse generally rises into the misty sublime. The warning of Kant, who saw the ambitious flights of the reason in the regions of science, that it was not to be received as a theoretical instructor, has been but little heeded, and reason has been made to hatch forth any monstrosity that the philosophical head may fancy. With Schopenhauer the reason takes even an humbler position than with Kant, who, placing it at the head of his moral system, and thus giving it a high practical exaltation, led the way to that strange apotheosis of abstract forms, which we find in his late successors, though he himself would have protested against it. What Schopenhauer says on this subject [in Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung] may serve as a specimen of his dispassionate style:—
Besides that class of perceptions, which we have already considered, that is to say, those which might be reduced to space, time, and matter, if we regard the object, or to pure sensuousness and understanding, if we regard the subject, there is in man alone, among all the inhabitants of the earth, another faculty of knowledge, another mode of consciousness, which, with anticipatory correctness, has been called reflection. For it is, indeed, a reflex, something deduced from that intuitive knowledge, but it nevertheless has a nature totally different from that of the rest, and knows nothing of their forms, while, with respect to it, the law of cause and effect, that prevails over all objects, here wears a perfectly different aspect. This new consciousness—this consciousness raised to a higher power—this distinct reflection of everything intuitive in the non-intuitive conceptions of reason, it is this alone which endows man with that circumspection, which so completely distinguishes his own consciousness from that of animals, and which causes his whole earthly career to be so different from that of his irrational brethren.
He is equally their superior in pain and in suffering. They live in the present alone; he, at the same time, in the future and the past. They satisfy their immediate wants; he makes artificial preparations for the future, nay, for times which he will not live to see. They are exposed to the impressions of the moment, to the operation of immediate motives; he is determined, by abstract conceptions, independent of the present day. He, therefore, executes well-digested plans, or acts according to fixed maxims, without regard to secondary circumstances and the casual impressions of the moment. He can thus, for instance, calmly devise artificial means for his own death, can make himself impenetrable by dissimulation, can carry a secret with him to the grave, and, lastly, has a real choice between several motives. . . . The brute animal, on the other hand, is determined by present impressions; fear of immediate punishment can alone curb its desires, till at last fear becomes a custom, and in that shape determines the animal, under the name of 'training,' or 'breaking in.' The animal has feeling and intuition; man, besides this, thinks and knows; the will is common to both. The animal communicates its feelings by sounds and gestures, while man communicates (or conceals) his thought by speech. Speech is the first product and the necessary implement of his reason. Hence, in the Greek and Italian languages, speech and reason are designated by the same word. . . . The German word for reason, 'Vernunft, ' comes from the verb 'vernehmen,' which is not synonymous with 'hören,' to hear, but signifies a perception of the thought conveyed by words. It is by the help of speech alone that reason attains its most important results, such as the harmonious action of a number of individuals,—the organized co-operation of thousands—civilization—states; then again science—the preservation of early experiences—the combination of objects into one general conception—the communication of truth—the diffusion of error—thought and poetical creation—religious dogmas and superstitions. The animal knows nothing of death till it actually comes to him; man consciously approaches his death every hour, and this gives life itself a doubtful aspect in the eyes of one who has not perceived that constant annihilation is the character of life throughout. It is chiefly on this account that man has systems of philosophy and religion, though whether that which we commend above all in his actions, namely, rectitude of conduct and nobleness of disposition is the result of either of them is uncertain. On the other hand, among the productions which most certainly belong to them, and therefore to reason alone, may be mentioned the whimsical absurdities of the philosophers of different schools, and the strange and sometimes cruel customs of the priests of different religions.
Reason, though creating the broad distinction between man and beast, and though originating so much that is ennobling and debasing to human nature, is nothing more, according to Schopenhauer, than the power of forming, what Locke calls, "abstract ideas;" and so far the old English and the modern German philosopher agree as much as possible. With all its marvels, reason can still do nothing but arrange the impressions already given by intuition, and far from being a source of new knowledge, it merely takes up at second-hand the knowledge already acquired in another shape. As a means of power, reason certainly raises man above the rest of the animal creation; but as a means of knowledge intuition is the safer of the two. At this point of Schopenhauer's doctrine, a theory of mathematics, which will remind some readers of Gassendi, is introduced. The geometricians, who have followed in the wake of Euclid, are all, he thinks, so far mistaken, that they have neglected the more certain method of intuition, which lay open to them, in the construction of their figures, and have based the demonstrations of their propositions on logical reasoning, which is, at best, but a surrogate. Kant having established the truth, that space is an à priori form of intuition, and Schopenhauer having adopted it, the latter proceeds to give hints how a system of geometry may be contrived, in which not only the truth but the cause .. . of the propositions may be proved. We have not room enough to expatiate on this mere episode of the theory, but would just remark that the demonstration he most relies on for a specimen is taken from theMeno of Plato.
The whole visible world then is nothing but a mass of consistent unreality. Space, time, and the law of casuality, are all of them mere forms of the mind, which have nothing to do with the real nature of things, but merely concern them so far as they become objects of a perceiving subject. The law of causality being that under which the mind is compelled to think it is a contradiction in terms to talk about a First cause. Every cause is in its turn the effect of another cause, and as for a real bonâfide beginning, why seck for anything of the kind when the whole world is a delusion—the "veil of Maya," as the Indian sages call it, and as Schopenhauer, whose religious faith wavers between Brahminism and Buddhism, loves to call it after them. As for the way in which those who think otherwise are treated by our choleric sage, that may serve as a specimen of his passionate manner:—
Now what has been done by our good, honest, German professors of philosophy, who prize mind and truth above everything,—what has been done by them, I say, for that dearly-beloved cosmological proof, after Kant, in his Critique of Reason, had dealt it a mortal blow? Then good counsel was a costly commodity, for (and this the worthies know, though they wont say so) causa prima, like causa sui, is a mere contradiction in terms, although the former expression is much ottener used than the latter, and is generally uttered with a very serious and even solemn air. Nay, many persons, English reverends in particular, turn about their eyes, in a most edifying manner, when with emphasis and emotion they talk of that contradiction in terms—a First cause. They know well enough that a First cause is just as inconceivable as a spot, where space comes to an end, or the moment when time had a beginning. For every cause is a change, with respect to which we must of necessity ask after the preceding change, which brought it about, and so on—in infinitum,—in infinitum! Nay, not even a first state of matter, from which all the others would proceed, is conceivable. For if this state had in itself been the cause, they must have existed from all eternity, so that the present state would not only have begun just now. If, on the other hand, it began to be causal at a certain time, something must have changed it at that time, so as to terminate its repose. In this case some foreign agent must have approached, a change must have taken place, after the cause of which (that is to say, after a preceding change) we must immediately inquire, and thus we are again on the ladder of causes, and are whipped on higher and higher by the inexorable laws of casuality—in infinitum, in infinitum. The law of causality is not so accommodating as to allow itself to be treated like a backney-coach, which we may send home as soon as we have completed our journey. It is rather like the living broom in Göthe's Zauberlehrling, which when once set in activity will never stop moving about and drawing more water, so that only the old conjuror himself can make it quiet again. But alas! our gentlemen are no conjurors. What have they done then, these noble upright friends of truth, who are only waiting for real merit to proclaim it to the world, as soon as it shows itself, and who, when an individual appears, who really is, what they only pretend to be, far from wishing to stifle his works by a crafty silence or timid concealment, become, on the contrary, the heralds of his fame, as certainly—ay, as certainly as folly loves understanding. What now have these gentlemen done with their old friend the cosmological demonstration, now so hardly pressed, and laid upon its back. Oh, they imagined a right cunning device. 'Friend,' they said to the cosmological demonstration, 'you are in a sad plight, a sad plight indeed, since your unlucky encounter with that old hard-headed fellow of Königsberg —aye, in as sad a plight as your two brothers, the ontological and physico-theological demonstrations. Never mind, we will not desert you—in fact, you know we are paid to assist you,—but—it cannot be helped—you must change your name and dress, for if we call you by your own name, everybody will run away. In your incognito, we will take you under the arm, and introduce you into society, only mind—incognito it must be. Your object shall henceforth bear the name of the 'Absolute,'—that sounds foreign, imposing and genteel. We are good judges, as to how far gentility goes with the Germans. Every one knows what is meant, and thinks himself wise into the bargain.
The above extract is characteristic in more respects than one. It shows that odd mixture of sarcasm, invective, and commonsense argument, which constitutes the polemic style of Schopenhauer, and, at the same time, allows that private pique, which is never wholly forgotten, to appear in the form of bitter irony.
The whole world being thus disposed of in a theory not materially different from that of Kant, Schopenhauer arrives at his own proper soil. Hitherto he has ostensibly worked on the teaching of others, his own additions being rather episodical than otherwise; but now comes the flash of true originality.
It will be remembered that after Kant has explained away the phenomenal world, by making space and time mere forms of the perception, and the categories mere forms of the understanding, he leaves an indefinable something, to which he gives the name of the "thing in itself," (Ding an sich), that is to say, the thing considered by itself apart, irrespective of its contemplation by the perceiving mind. This is susceptible of a negative definition only; it lies beyond the boundaries of our knowledge, and all that we can say of it is, that we neither know, nor can know, anything about it. Thus, in the case of a rose, its extension belongs to the form of intuition (space); its arrangement, under any conceivable category, even that of unity—in fact, its existence as a distinct object at all, belongs to the understanding; but there is still something separate from these, which is represented by the mere sensations, the peculiar smell and colour of the rose, and this is the manifestation of the "great unknown." The admission that there is still a residue after the world of sense has been explained away, constitutes a marked difference between Kant and Berkeley: but this difference was removed by Fichte, who having little respect for the unapproachable mystery left by his predecessor, declared the "thing in itself to be no more than a mere creation of the mind.
This doctrine of Fichte is especially impugned by Schopenhauer. Having already established the position, that causality is a mere law for connecting phenomena with each other, he at once shows the fallacy of using emanation or any other form of this law as a means of explaining independent existences. The mind cannot be the cause of the "thing in itself," because neither of these being phenomena, they both lie beyond the reach of the jurisdiction of causality.
What, then, is the "thing in itself?" "The Will," answers Schopenhauer, with an air of evident triumph; "and this answer is the great discovery of my life." The world, as a collection of invisible objects, is but a series of phenomena, of dreams—nay, of such mere dreams, that it is hard to define the difference between sleeping and waking; but the world in itself is one enormous will, constantly rushing into life. When we are conscious of external objects, only one side of them is revealed to us—namely, the outward side; whereas, when we become our own object, we are conscious of ourselves not only as phenomena, but as will, which is no phenomenon; and here we have the key to the whole mystery, for arguing by analogy, we may extend this will, which in us is accompanied by consciousness, to the whole world, including even its unconscious parts and inhabitants.
We shall now make use of the knowledge that we have of the essence and operation of our own bodies, as a key to the essence of every phenemenon in nature, and with respect to those objects which are not our own body—and therefore are not revealed to us in a double manner, but as outward representations only—form a judgment according to the analogy of that body and essence, that as, on the one hand, they are phenomena, like itself, so, on the other hand, when we set aside their existence as phenomena of the subject, that which remains must, in its own essence, be the same as that which in ourselves we call the will. For what other sort of existence in reality should we ascribe to the rest of the corporeal world? Whence procure the elements out of which such a world could be composed? Besides the will and the phenomena nothing is known to us, or even conceivable. When we would ascribe to the corporeal world, which only exists in our own perceptive faculty, the greatest reality of which we are aware, we ascribe to it that reality which everyone finds in his body, for that to us is more real than anything else. But when we analyze the reality of this body and its actions, we find, beyond its existence as one of our phenomena, nothing but the will; herein is the whole of its reality, and we can never find any other sort of reality, which we can ascribe to the corporeal world. If, therefore, the corporeal world is to be something more than a mere phenomenon of our minds, we must say, that besides this visible existence, it is in itself, and in its own essence, that which we immediately find in ourselves as the Will . . . We must, however, distinguish from the veritable essence of the Will that which does not belong to it, but only to its appearance in the world of phenomena, of which there are many degrees; as, for instance, its accompaniment by knowledge, and its consequent determination by motives. This belongs not to its essence, but merely to its clearest manifestations, in the form of animal and man. When I say, therefore, that the power which impels the stone towards the earth is, in its own essence, apart from all manifestation, the Will, I do not mean to express the absurdity, that the stone is conscious of a motive of action, because the will appears accompanied by consciousness in man.
Nevertheless, gravitation, electricity, and, in fact, every form of action, from the fall of an apple to the foundation of a republic, is an expression of the will and nothing more. The world is essentially will and nothing more, developing itself in a series of manifestations, which rise in a graduated scale, from the so-called laws of matter, to that consciousness, which in the inferior animals reaches the state of sensibility and understanding (in Schopenhauer's sense), and in man reaches that higher state called reason. In the earlier stages its manifestations have a more general aspect; one stone is but numerically distinct from another of the same species, but distinctiveness increases as they ascend in the scale, and when they attain the form of man, each individual is perfectly distinct from all the rest, and that phenomenon, which we call "character," is produced.
However, Schopenhauer does not stop in laying down a huge abstraction, to which he gives the name of the will,—and which in this undefined condition would be little else than a pompous cipher, but he proceeds to mark out the line of its operations, and this perhaps is the most ingenious part of his theory. The old Platonic Ideas occur to his mind, and these not only answer his purpose, but the way in which he uses them gives him a greater affinity to the ancient philosopher of Greece, than is exhibited by any of his contemporaries, though the name of Plato is often enough in their mouths. The Ideas of Plato, which some of our metaphysicians of the last century termed "Universals,"—those supernatural forms of which sensible objects participate, though they themselves are never revealed to mortal eyes in all their purity—those eternal essences, which never pass away, though the individuals through which they are imperfectly revealed, rise and perish in rapid succession,—those "ideas," which have puzzled so many philosophers, and caused so much paper to be covered with fruitless controversy, are interpreted by Schopenhauer to be the various stages at which the manifestation of the will occurs. In every science there is something assumed, which is used to explain or classify various phenomena, but which is not explained in its turn, being deemed, as far as that particular science is concerned, inexplicable. Thus in mechanics gravitation is assumed, but not deduced, and in history, a human will capable of being acted upon by motives is a necessary postulate. The various phenomena of the world are expressive of certain essential laws and attributes, which being forced to appear under the form of space, assume an individuality, which does not intrinsically belong to their own nature. The individual stone may pass away, or may be absorbed into another state of existence, but impenetrability and gravity, which constituted its essential nature,—its "real realities," as Coleridge would say, remain immovable, untouched by the wreck of countless individualities. The "Ideas" thus hold a middle place between the will, as "Thing in itself," and the phenomena, being the points at which the will enters into the phenomenal region. Many of our readers, who have considered all we have hitherto described as tolerable common sense, will probably be inclined to smile at this part of the doctrine, as the vision of a German dreamer. But they will smile much less, if they are familiar with the sort of philosophical atmosphere in which Schopenhauer has been forced to move, during the dynasties of Schelling and Hegel. At any rate, we perfectly know, what Schopenhauer means by his ideas,—but who can say as much for the Absolute Idea of Hegel?
There is no causal connexion between the will and its manifestations, for as Schopenhauer has already explained, causality has no jurisdiction beyond the world of phenomena; but the body is the will itself in its manifested form, and to explain this view in a detail, which we have not space to follow, all sorts of aid are borrowed from physiological science, the different organs of the body being explained according to this hypothesis, and the human brain being the visible representative of human reason. A very ingenious theory of art is likewise connected with this interpretation of "Ideas."
At this stage of the theory, Schopenhauer's moral doctrine may be conveniently introduced. Virtue, which, in his view, is better taught by the sages of Hindostan than by the Jewish or Christian theologians, is based on a practical acknowledgment, that the whole world is but a manifestation of the same will as ourselves—that the various men and animals around us, are so closely connected with us, on account of their common substance, that to say they are "akin" is but a feeble expression. "Thou thyself art this," is the moral maxim of the Hindoo teacher, who points to the surrounding world, as he declares this identity—and the one virtue is sympathy. This is likewise the moral doctrine of Christianity, when it commands its professor to love his neighbour as himself, but Christianity is so far less perfect than Hindooism, that it does not, in its command of universal love, include the brute creation. Hence cruelty to animals—a vice which Schopenhauer holds in the greatest abhorrence, frequently praising the exertions of the English "Prevention" society—is far more common in Christian countries than in the East.
In a moral disquisition, which he wrote some years ago, in answer to a prize question, proposed by the Royal Society of Copenhagen, and which did not gain the premium—(our philosopher was not so fortunate in Denmark as in Norway), Schopenhauer displays a great deal of humour, while he ridicules the moral ideal and the "categorical imperative" set up by Kant. There is no doubt that the stern moralist of the Kantian school,—if he was ever anything more than an ens rationis, like the wise man of the Stoics,—who would never trust a single generous impulse, but would be diving into abstract principles of action, while the supplicant for charity died of starvation before his eyes,—must have been a singularly disagreeable personage, and that Kant in endeavouring to elevate the dominion of reason, underrated a very essential element in human nature.
The bad man, according to Schopenhauer, is he in whom the "will to live," gains such predominance in its individual form, that he ignores the rights of his fellow-manifestations altogether, and robs and murders them, as seems meet for his own advantage. The just man, who is just, and nothing more, stands higher in the moral scale than the bad man, but he has not reached Schopenhauer's idea of virtue. He so far shows a sympathy with his fellow-creatures that he does not encroach upon their rights, but he is equally unwilling to go out of his way to do them any substantial good. He is a sort of man who pays his taxes and his church-rates, keeps clear of the Court of Requests, and is only charitable when he has an equivalent in the shape of an honourable place in a subscription list.
The good man, as we have already seen, is he whose heart beats with sympathy for all creatures around him, practically if not theoretically acknowledging them as manifestations of the same great Will as himself. He loves every living being, from his neighbour down to a turtle-dove; and as the laws of inanimate nature are still manifestations of the one Will, he may consistently imitiate the example of the man in the old story, who looked upon the overloading of a wheelbarrow with one leg as an instance of cruelty to animals. But do not imagine that the Schopenhauer ideal is reached yet. Above the bad man, the just man, the good man, and the whole rabble of vice and virtue, there comes a more august personage yet, who however needs a few preliminary remarks to introduce him.
Just as ignorant persons, who have a smattering knowledge of Berkeley, think that the good bishop regarded the whole world as a creation of the fancy, and that they can refute his disciples by giving them an actual (not a metaphorical) rap on the knuckles, so doubtless there may be wiseacres, who will fancy that as Schopenhauer has declared the will to be the real essence of the world, and every human being a manifestation of that will, every human being is in a state of the most perfect freedom. Quite the reverse! With respect to the individual will, Schopenhauer is an absolute necessitarian, holding that the action of a certain motive on a certain character is as sure of producing a certain result, as an operation of agent upon patient in the sphere of mechanics. What may be a motive to one person may not be a motive to another, for the characters may be different; but given the character and the motive, the result is infallible. The absolute will, which lay beyond the jurisdiction of causality, has forced itself into the world of phenomena in an individual shape, and it must take the consequences, that is to say, a subjugation to that law of cause and effect by which the whole world of phenomena is governed, and which is equally potent in the discharge of a pistol and the performance of a virtuous action. The "character," which is the Idea of the human individual, just as gravitation is one of the Ideas of matter, is born with him, and cannot be altered. The knowledge of the individual may be enlarged, and consequently he may be put in a better track, by learning that his natural desires will be more gratified if he obeys the laws of society, than if he rises against them; but the character remains the same, although the cupidity which would have made a gamester or a highwayman, may become a constituent element in an honest tradesman. Thus every man brings his own depravity into the world with him, and this is the great doctrine of original sin, as set forth by Augustine, expounded by Luther and Calvin, and applauded by Schopenhauer, who, though a freethinker in the most complete sense of the word, is absolutely delighted with the fathers and the reformers, when they bear witness to human degradation. The world of phenomena is a delusion—a mockery; and the fact of being born into such a world is in itself an evil. So though the immediate apostles of Christianity—so thought the anchorites of the desert—so thought Calderon when he wrote his play of Life is a Dream, which Schopenhauer quotes with especial unction,—and, above all, so say the teachers of Hindostan. If a contrary doctrine is held in Europe, it is the mere result of Judaism, which with its doctrine of a First Cause and its system of temporal rewards—that is to say, its optimism—Schopenhauer regards with the contempt of a consistent Kantist, and the hatred of a profound misanthrope. Christianity, he thinks, is a result of Hindooism, which became corrupted in its passage through Palestine, and he is excessively wroth with those missionary societies who send back to India the adulterated form of a doctrine which the natives already possess in greater purity.
And now we may introduce Schopenhauer's ideal. The artist comes in for a large share of his respect, for he, without regard to selfish motives, contemplates the ideas which form the substrata of the world of phenomena, and reproduces them as the beautiful and the sublime. The good man, with his huge sympathy, is another estimable being; but higher still is he, who, convinced of the illusion of the world, is resolved to destroy it, as far as he is concerned, by extinguishing the will to live. Suicide will not answer this purpose. Suicide is a dislike of a particular chain of circumstances, which it endeavours to break through, but it is no alienation of the individual desires from life in general. Asceticism, that gradual extinction of all feelings that connect us with the visible world—the life of the anchorite in the Egyptian desert—of the Quietist of the time of Louis XIV.—of the Indian Fakeer, who goes through years of self-torture,—this is the perfection of Schopenhauer. The particular theological creed under which these saints performed their austerities is a matter of trivial importance,—they are all alike in the one grand qualification of holiness; they receded from the visible world and gradually extinguished the "will to live," till death, commonly so called, came as the completion of their wishes.
In this asceticism consists the only possible freedom of the will. While acting in the world of phenomena the will becomes entangled in the law of causality, but now it recedes back to a region when that law can operate no more, and where it is consequently free. The freedom of the will is, in a word, annihilation, and this is the greatest boon that can be desired.
When Lord Byron had brought his hero, Childe Harold, to the borders of the sea, he closed his poem; and now that we, auspice Schopenhauer, have brought our readers to the shores of absolute nothing, we close our article. Except so far as a commendation of the author's style is concerned, we intend it as an article of description—nothing more; and those who construe any of our remarks into an acceptance of such a system of ultra-pessimism, have totally misapprehended our meaning. At the same time we shall be greatly surprised if our brief outline of this genial, eccentric, audacious, and, let us add, terrible writer, does not tempt some of our readers to procure for themselves a set of works, every page of which abounds with novel and startling suggestions. We only wish we could see among the philosophers of modern Germany a writer of equal power, comprehensiveness, ingenuity and erudition, ranged on a side more in harmony with our own feelings and convictions, than that adopted by this misanthropic sage of Frankfort.
Source: "Iconoclasm in German Philosophy," in The Westminster Review, Vol. III, No. 2, January 1, 1853, pp. 388-407.