Arthur Schopenhauer on Ethics, Aesthetics and Moral Awareness


Ajit Kumar AJIT KUMARWISDOM IAS, New Delhi.

Ethics and Aesthetics
Schopenhauer’s ethics are implied in the leading principle of his system. Everything hinges upon the affirmation or negation of 'the Will to live.' When this is affirmed, i.e. when the individual's actions are directly or indirectly controlled by the wish to possess, enjoy, perpetuate, or embellish existence, 'the imaginations of the heart are corrupt and evil continually.' In proportion as individuality loses its value for the individual, as he recognises that it is in fact an illusion and that he exists in others as much as in himself, he advances along the path of virtue. For, as Schopenhauer justly remarks, the greatest criminals are the greatest egotists. All wrong doing is in the last analysis resolvable into contempt for the rights of others, into pursuit of one's own advantage, in affirmation of 'the Will to live' at their expense. In its coarsest form this implies the commission of crimes of violence punishable by the legislator, but between these and the most refined forms of egotism the difference is merely one of degree. Right moral action can spring only from the recognition of the essential evil of the phenomenal world, and the deliberate resolve to reduce it to a minimum. The secret of this lies in one word, abnegation. 'The Will to live' comprehends self-assertion in every form and shape, and as every charitable action involves the denial of self in some respect, it follows that Schopenhauer's morality is in the main equivalent to the inculcation of universal philanthropy. He thus may appear at one with those optimistic moralists of whom Franklin may be regarded as the type ; but starting from such opposite premises he cannot but arrive at dissimilar conclusions. He begins where Franklin ends. According to the latter no type of human excellence can be higher than that of the exemplary citizen. Schopenhauer also commends the patriot, but from a transcendental motive which Franklin would have been wholly unable to comprehend.
'The man who dies for his country has freed himself from the delusion that existence is limited to his individual person ; he expands his own being over that of his fellow countrymen, through whom he continues to live. He even extends it over coming generations, for whom also he labours. He regards death as the blinking of an eyelid, which does not interrupt sight.'
In Schopenhauer's eyes he is the patriot who has, for the time, emancipated himself from the conception of the substantial existence of his individual being ; for whom it is entirely obliterated in the more liberal idea of country ; for whom, accordingly, it is for the moment a mere delusion. Let this conception be applied to all human relations, and action, conformable to the laws of morality, will inevitably result. The individual will lose the conception of his individuality ; he will no longer regard himself as a real existence, comprised within the rigid line of personality, and thus insulated and differentiated from the rest of the universe. He will regard his separate being as a mere transitory phenomenon, a temporary objectivation of the sole real existence, and this recognition of his true position must necessarily destroy selfishness, which proceeds on the assumption of such an actual distinction between individuals as to allow of the genuine, not the merely illusive, transfer of advantage from one side to the other. The wisdom of the sage, therefore, should easily pass from theory into practice.
'Wisdom is not merely theoretical, but also practical perfection ; it is the ultimate true cognition of all things in mass and in detail, which has so penetrated man's being that it appears as the guide of all his actions. The wisdom that imbues a man with mere theory not developed into practice, resembles the double rose, which pleases by its colour and fragrance, but drops, leaving no fruit.'
The artist attains the same result by a somewhat different path.
'At such times as we are exalted by the power of intellect, and relinquish the usual manner of regarding things, that mere investigation of their relations to each other, whose final end is always their relation to our own will, then we no longer regard the Where, When, Whence and Wherefore of things, but only the What. At such times we are not occupied by abstract thought, the conceptions of reason and consciousness, but instead of these the whole power of our intellect is devoted to contemplation, is entirely absorbed in it, and the consciousness is filled by the quiet contemplation of the natural object before us, whether a landscape, a tree, a rock, a building, or whatever it may be. To use a significant expression, it (the consciousness) is lost in the object, that is, forgets its individuality, its Will, and remains a mere subject, a clear mirror to the object. It is then as though the object alone existed without any one to contemplate it, and it is no longer possible to distinguish the contemplator from the thing contemplated. Both are merged into one, for the whole consciousness is occupied by a single perceptible picture. When the object has thus lost all relation to everything outside itself, and the subject has retired from all its relations to the Will, then what is recognised is no longer the single thing as such, but the Idea, the Eternal Form, and therefore he who is absorbed in this contemplation is no longer an individual, for the individual has lost himself in this contemplation; he is merely the subject of cognition, knowing neither will, pain, nor time. In such contemplation the single thing becomes at one stroke the Idea of its species, and the perceiving individual the pure subject of cognition.'
Far before the artist, however, is the ascetic ; he who has fairly recognised the Will to live as the source of all evil, and has resolved to destroy it by persistent mortification.
'When a man ceases to draw an egotistic distinction between himself and others, and takes as much part in their sorrows as in his own, it naturally follows that such an one, recognising his own self in all beings, must regard the endless griefs of all living as his own, and thus appropriate to himself the sorrows of the whole world. He apprehends the whole, seizes its being, acknowledges the nullity of all struggle, and his cognition becomes the quietus of Will. Will now turns away from life, man attains to the state of voluntary renunciation, to resignation, to negation of the will to live. The phenomenon by which this is shown, the aversion to the world, to the Will to live, is the transition from virtue to asceticism.'
This is the great saving truth, the quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus.
'In reading the lives of Christian and Indian peni- tents, we are greatly struck by their similarity. With an utter dissimilarity of dogmas, customs, and external circumstances, their aspirations and inner life are identical. . . . . . Quietism, i.e., renunciation of all Will ; asceticism, i.e., voluntary stifling of self-will ; and mysticism, i.e., the recognition of the identity of the individual with the All, or the core of the universe : these all stand in close connection, so that he who acknowledges one of them is gradually led to take up the others, even against his intention. Nothing is more astonishing than the unanimity of all who profess these principles, notwithstanding the greatest diversity of age, country and religion. They do not form a sect, indeed they are mostly ignorant of each other's existence. The Indian, Christian, and Mahommedan mystics, quietists, and ascetics are disparate in all things, only not in the inner spirit and meaning of their teachings. . . . So much concord among such divergent peoples and times is a practical proof that theirs is not a distorted and perverted state of mind, but the expression of an essential constituent of human nature, whose rarity is due solely to its excellence.'
It will be at once apparent that in its practical ethical aspect Schopenhauer's teaching differs in nothing from Buddhism. The reference of all existence to egotistic desire, the conclusion that as such it must be essentially evil, the further corollary that the road to the extinction of sorrow can only lie through the extinction of desire, and that this can only be attained by the mortification of every passion ; these are the very commonplaces of Buddhistic teaching. The spirit in which they are urged is indeed very different. No two things can be much more dissimilar than Schopenhauer's angry invective and Buddha's mild persuasiveness; nor perhaps is the whole body of his ethical doctrine so expressive as Buddha's matchless definition of virtue : 'The agreement of the Will with the Conscience.' Substantially, however, the accordance is perfect ; and there can be no doubt that Schopenhauer's philosophy is but one symptom among many of the modification which European thought is at present undergoing from the influx of Oriental ideas. Schopenhauer is fully conscious of his coincidence with Buddhism, which he prefers to Brahminism on account of its more complete freedom from mythology and its finding the way to blessedness rather by inward mortification, charity and humility than by painful or disgusting penance. At the same time, as will be inferred from the last quotation, he maintains that the spirit of true religion is everywhere the same; he speaks with the greatest respect of Christianity, apart from what he deems its mythology, asserting that the spirit of the New Testament is wholly on his side.
The assumption of the sorrows of humanity ascribed by Christianity to the condescension of a supernatural person, is, according to Schopenhauer, imposed upon every man by the mere fact of his having been born into the world—happy he who recognises and fulfils his duty! The religions which assume the reality of this phenomenal universe, or promise their followers earthly bliss as the reward of obedience to their precepts, are Schopenhauer's especial abomination. Like the early Gnostics he insists on the absolute irreconcilability of Christianity with the Judaism on which it has been grafted, he maintains this latter to be merely the Persian religion in a slightly modified form.
‘Christianity is composed of two heterogeneous ingredients ; an ethical view of life akin to Hindooism and a Jewish dogma. Its ethics are crippled by this latter foreign element, and cannot attain definite expression. The purely ethical element must be considered as pre-eminently, nay, exclusively Christian, distinct from the Jewish dogmatism to which it was unnaturally united. . .’
'The theory of the redemption of mankind and of the world is evidently of Indian origin, and presupposes the Indian religion, which teaches that creation itself (that Sansara of the Buddhists), is the work of evil. This had to be engrafted by Christianity on Jewish theism, according to which not only did God make the world, but afterwards deemed it very good. Thence the difficulties and contradictions in the Christian doctrine, and that strange guise of the Christian mysteries which is so distasteful to common sense. . . . '
'In truth the spirit and ethical tendency of Christianity are closely connected with Brahminism and Buddhism and not with the Judaic πάντα καλὰ λίαν ('behold it was very good,' Gen. i. 31). The essence of a religion consists in its spirit and ethical tendency, and not in the myths in which they are clothed. In its ethical teachings Christianity points to these ancient religions as the source whence it sprang. By virtue of this origin (or at least of this concord) Christianity belongs to the old true sublime belief of humanity, as opposed to the false, ignoble, noxious optimism embodied in Greek heathenism, in Judaism, and in Islam.'
'Christian morality, but for the defect of ignoring the animal world, would manifest the utmost similarity to that of Brahminism and Buddhism, and is only less emphatically expressed and deficient in logical consistency. We can therefore hardly doubt that this, as well as the idea of a god becoming man (Avatar), originated in India, and came to Judea by way of Egypt, so that Christianity is a reflection of old Indian light from the ruins of Egypt, which unfortunately fell upon Jewish ground.'
Schopenhauer's censure comprehends not only the narrow and restrictive spirit of Mosaism, but also the cheerful creed of Greece. There can be no question that his doctrine is virtually identical with that of Christian, no less than of Buddhist saints, and contains as many elements of truth. Whether Greece could ever have become what she was under such a system of thought; whether, logically carried out, it is not destructive of all culture, and inimical to every advance in national prosperity; whether it would not reduce the people embracing it to Indian apathy and quietism; are questions which it behoves those fascinated by its many beauties carefully to consider.
In one respect Schopenhauer's ethical system appears at a disadvantage when compared with Buddha's : the slight stress laid upon right action as a means of obtaining deliverance from suffering. According to the Buddhist sages, charitable deeds possess almost equal value with the perception of truth, and moral demerit is among the most potent causes of the detention of mortals in the world of phenomena. With Schopenhauer the intellectual conditions of salvation are more powerfully accentuated than the moral ; it may be questioned whether his instructions would ever have produced 'the enthusiasm of humanity ' which found such powerful expression in the edicts of King Ashoka. To select a minor point for illustration's sake : the distinction is strikingly apparent in one of the precepts in which his coincidence with Buddha is most marked, the inculcation of kindness to animals. With Buddha this seems to repose simply upon the instinct of compassion. Schopenhauer gives it a philosophical basis ; with him animals are imperfect men, incarnations of the universal Will in a more primitive form ; their kinship to mankind is no mere figure of speech, but the simplest and most literal matter of fact. It is needless to point out how thoroughly Schopenhauer's views on this head are borne out by the Darwinian theory. It may be added that should the human race be shown to have sprung from more than one progenitor, they will constitute the only ground on which, apart from natural human feeling, it will be possible to maintain the rights of the inferior races of mankind. This precept is, not withstanding, dependent to a great degree upon philosophical theory. The animal world is also especially interesting to him, as exhibiting the irrationality of the will to live, i.e. of the phenomenal universe in its naked deformity.
'To regard the overruling desire of all animals and human beings to preserve and continue life as long as possible, as original and absolute, it is necessary that we should clearly understand that it is in no manner the result of an objective acknowledgment of the value of life, but is independent of all cognition, or in other words, that these beings are not drawn, but driven.'
'For this purpose, let us contemplate the countless series of animals, their endless variety of form modified according to element and mode of life, and at the same time consider the inimitable ingenuity of their construction and function equally developed in each species, and finally the incredible expenditure of power, skill, prudence, and activity, which every animal has to make in the course of its life. Examining the matter more closely, observe the restless industry of little wretched ants, the wonderful and skilful perseverance of the bees, or watch a single burying beetle (Necrophorus Vespillo) bury a mole forty times its own size in two days, in which to deposit its eggs, and insure nourishment for its future brood. This shows us how in reality the life of most insects is nothing but an endless labour to prepare food and dwelling for the brood which is to spring from their eggs, and which when they have devoured the nutriment, and become chrysalises, only enter into life to repeat the same operations. Similarly, the life of birds is almost spent in their far and weary wanderings, in the building of their nests, and in fetching food for the brood, who, next year, will enact the same part. Everything thus works for the future, which proves as bankrupt as the present. When we consider all this, we cannot help looking around for the reward of all this skill and trouble, for the end which makes these creatures strive so restlessly, and ask ourselves : What is the aim of all this ? what is attained by this animal existence, which requires such immeasurable exertions ? The only answer is : The satisfaction of hunger and the propagation of the species, and at best a little momentary pleasure such as now and then falls to the lot of every animal individual between his eternal needs and exertions. If we compare the indescribable skill of preparation, the inexhaustible riches of the means, and the insignificance of the end in view,, the conviction is forced upon us that life is a business whose profits do not nearly cover its expenses.'
In the blind yet efficacious instinct of animals, more especially of insects, Schopenhauer discerns the clearest proof and illustration of the unconscious action of that impulse to which he ascribes the origination of the universe. It is only at an advanced stage of the world-constructing process that intelligence supervenes, involving the possibility of moral responsibility. The question of the freedom of the Will, and con- sequent merit or demerit, is as great a perplexity to him as to all other philosophers. Not that he has the smallest hesitation in rejecting the ordinary view on this subject as an absurd figment ; his arguments on this head, like those of other necessarian philosophers, are logically impregnable, but he has made no progress towards finding a place for moral approbation and dis- approbation. The sum of his doctrines is that free action consists not in operari but in esse ; that man is free in so far as his existence is a reality, as he exists beyond the limits of time, space, and other mere forms of perception, but that he is subject to the most stringent necessity as a phenomenal being. Unfortunately it is in this light alone that moralists and magistrates have anything to do with him, and we must feel that Schopenhauer has in no way aided us to bridge over the gulf between theory and practice. His great originality consists in his powerful assertion, contrary to the ordinary opinion, of the vast predominance of the instinctive element of human nature (the Will, in his vocabulary) over the reflective (the Intellect).
'Intellect flags, Will is indefatigable. After continuous headwork, the brain is fatigued, like the arm after continuous bodily labour. All cognition is connected with exertion, but to will is our individual being, whose manifestations continue without any trouble and entirely of themselves. Therefore, when the Will is greatly excited, as in all passions—in anger, fear, desire, sorrow, &c.—and we are summoned to understand the motives of these passions in order to rectify them, the compulsion we have to exert over ourselves attests the transition from the original, natural, and individual activity, to that which is derived, indirect and constrained. Will alone is uninvited, therefore often too ready and too strong in its activity, knowing no fatigue. Infants, who scarcely manifest the first faint traces of intelligence, are already full of self-will. By purposeless kicking and crying they show the power of will with which they are overflowing, although their will has as yet no object, i.e., they will, without knowing what they will. Precipitation, a fault which is more or less common to all men, and is only conquered by education, is another proof of the indefatigable energy of the will. It consists in the will hurrying before its time to the work. Being a purely active and executive function, it should not assert itself until the explorative and deliberative, and therefore the apprehending power, has entirely completed its task. But this moment is rarely awaited. Scarcely have we seized and hastily connected by cognition a few data on the circumstances in question—a particular event, or an opinion expressed by another— than out of the depth of our being there arises, uninvited, the ever-ready, never-tiring Will, and manifests itself as terror, fear, hope, pleasure, desire, envy, sorrow, zeal, anger, courage ; and impels to rash words and deeds. These are generally followed by remorse, when time has taught us that the hegemon, the intellect, was not half able to finish its work of understanding the circumstances, considering their relation, and determining what should be done, because the will would wait no longer, and sprang up long before its time with : Now it is my turn. . . . Of ten things that vex us, nine would not have the power to do so if we understood them and their causes thoroughly, and therefore recognised their necessity and true condition. We should do this much oftener if we made them sooner an object of consideration, and not of rashness, and vexation. For the intellect is to the will in man what the bridle and bit are to an untamed horse : it must be led by this bridle, by means of instruction, warning, education, &c., or alone it is as wild and fierce an impulse as the power shown in the dashing waterfall, and is, as we know, in its root identical with it. In the most violent anger, in despair, in intoxication, it has taken the bit between its teeth, has run away and followed its original nature. In the mania sine delirio it has lost bit and bridle, and plainly shows its original nature, and that the intellect is as foreign to it as the bridle to the horse. In this state it may be compared to a watch which runs down unchecked when deprived of a certain screw.'
It will be easily apprehended that the passion of love, and everything relating to the perpetuation of the species, must necessarily attract the special attention of Schopenhauer. The phenomenal world being the realisation of the eternal Will to live, the sexual instinct is, as respects the intelligent portion of it, the. machinery employed by the will to accomplish this end. The aim of Nature merely regards the perpetuation of the species ; the individual is as nothing to her. While seeming to act for himself, in reality he is impelled by the force of which he is the manifestation in time, and which aims at perpetuating itself through his action. The poetry of love is mainly illusion and glittering drapery, designed to mantle the stern solemnity of the thing as it really is. If man perceived this, if he had acuteness to unmask the delusion of instinct, and strength to withstand the torrent of desire, he might, by simply refusing to become an accomplice in the design of Nature, bring the whole tragedy of existence to an end.
'All love, however ethereally it comports itself, is rooted solely in desire ; indeed, is really but a certain, specified, individual sexual inclination. Let us in this sense regard the important part played by this passion in all its modifications and shades, not only in dramas and novels, but in real life, where, next to love of life, it is the most powerful spring of action. It ceaselessly occupies the strength and thought of the younger portion of mankind, is the final goal of all human endeavours, exerts a noxious influence over the most important concerns, interrupts at any hour the most serious occupations, confuses for a time even the most vigorous intellects, does not hesitate to interpose its frivolity amid the conferences of statesmen and the researches of scholars, places its love-letters and locks of hair between ministerial portfolios and philosophic manuscripts, daily knits the worst and most entangled liaisons, loosens the most sacred relationships, the firmest ties ; causes the sacrifice of rank, happiness, and even wealth ; makes the honourable man unscrupulous, the faithful man a traitor : in short, appears everywhere as an antagonistic demon that turns all things upside down. When we regard all this, we are forced to exclaim : Why all this fuss? why all this striving and rushing, this trouble and anxiety? The upshot is merely that every Jack finds his Jill ; why should such a trifle play so important a part, and bring incessant interruption and confusion into the life of men? To the serious inquirer the spirit of truth slowly reveals the answer. It is no trifle that is here agitated ; the importance of the subject is worthy the serious zeal of these practices. The aim of all these love affairs, whether played in sock or buskin, is really more important than all the other aims in man's life, and therefore worthy the deep earnestness with which each pursues it ; for that which is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation. The existence and quality of the dramatis personae who shall appear on the boards, when we have stepped off them, is decided by these so frivolous love affairs.'
The perpetuation of species being thus the sole real end of the passion of love, no surprise need be felt at the constant disappointment of expectations of ideal bliss, which are in fact but portions of a machinery instituted for the working out of quite another purpose. Nature has already attained the sole end which she proposed to herself.
'Love marriages are contracted in the interest of the species, not of the individuals. It is true that those most concerned fancy they are promoting their own happiness; still their true aim is one foreign to themselves, and must be sought in the creation of an individual possible only to them. United for this purpose, they should endeavour to get on together as well as possible ; but very often a pair united by this instinctive delusion is otherwise most heterogeneous. This appears when delusion vanishes, as it necessarily must ; therefore love marriages generally prove unhappy. Thanks to them, the coming generation is provided for at the cost of the present. Quien se casa por amores, ha de vivir con dolores, says the Spanish proverb (Who marries for love, lives with sorrow). The reverse holds good with marriages contracted for convenience, mostly by choice of the parents. The considerations that determine these marriages are real, and do not vanish of themselves. By them present happiness is postponed to the future, which after all is problematical. A man who considers money instead of the satisfaction of affection, lives more for the individual than for the species. This is opposed to truth, and is consequently unnatural, and calls forth contempt. A girl who, contrary to her parents' advice, refuses a rich man not too advanced in years, and who, disregarding considerations of prudence, chooses according to her instinctive liking, sacrifices her individual well-being to the species. On this account one cannot withhold from her a certain admiration ; she has chosen the more important, and acted according to the sense of nature (more accurately, the species), while her parents counsel her in the sense of individual egotism. From all this it will appear that marriage can seldom be contracted but at the expense of either the species or the individual. This is generally the case ; for convenience and passionate love to go hand in hand is the rarest piece of good fortune. The miserable physical, moral, or intellectual constitution of most men may be partly the cause why marriages are not usually contracted from free choice and affection, but from convenience and accidental circumstances. If, however, affection is somewhat regarded together with convenience, this is a sort of compromise with the species. Happy marriages are proverbially rare, just because it is the essence of marriage that its object should be not the present but the coming generation. Meanwhile, for the comfort of tender loving hearts, it may be added, that passionate sexual love is occasionally united to real friendship, based upon uniformity of sentiment, though this generally appears only when passion is extinguished by gratification.'
Prosaic as may appear this reference of the most ideal of human passions to a simply utilitarian end, Love, in Schopenhauer's conception, nevertheless amply merits the radiance with which Poetry has invested it. First, on account of the vast importance of the matter, compared with which all other forms of human activity sink into insignificance, inasmuch as it is the essential condition and indispensable foundation of them all ; secondly, for a reason peculiarly characteristic of Schopenhauer.
'The yearning of love (ίμερος), which has been sung in endless variety by the poets of all ages without exhausting the subject, nay, without ever doing it justice ; the yearning which connects with the possession of a particular woman the ideal of eternal bliss, and inexpressible pain at the thought that it is not to be attained ; this yearning, and this pain of love, cannot take their substance from the needs of an ephemeral individual, but they are the sighs of the spirit of species, which here sees a never-to-be-recovered means of gaining or losing its ends, and therefore emits this groan. The species alone has endless life, and is therefore capable of endless wishes, endless satisfaction, and endless pain. But these are pent within the narrow breast of a mortal ; no wonder, then, if it seems to burst, and can find no expression for the all-pervading presentiment of endless joy or sorrow. This therefore furnishes material for all the finest erotic poetry, which rises accordingly into transcendental metaphors surpassing everything earthly. This is the theme of Petrarch, the material for a St. Preux, a Werther, and a Jacopo Ortis, which could otherwise be neither explained nor understood.'
Schopenhauer's speculations on Love form one of the most original and brilliant chapters of his writings. If at first they appear harshly prosaic and almost repulsive, this will be found on examination to arise rather from the idiosyncrasy of the author than the intrinsic nature of the theory. Nearly the same view of the purpose subserved by passion in the general economy of things will be found in the concluding passages of Emerson’s beautiful essay 'On Love.' The comparison of the two strikingly illustrates the contrast which the same opinions may be made to represent accordingly as they have passed through the medium and imbibed the hues of a morose and disdainful or of a cheerful and affectionate spirit. It further results, that while Schopenhauer and Emerson are agreed in regarding love (which to the lover is both end and means), as merely a means towards an end, the scaffolding as it were of the human edifice, they differ completely in their estimate of the position of woman. Schopenhauer, recognising the strength of instinct and keenness of intuition in the female sex, sees in it a closer manifestation of the original cause of being. Woman is but one remove from 'the will to live.' Man has advanced a step into intelligence, and is so far nearer to emancipation. ['When Nature divided humanity into male and female, her section was not precisely a bisection. The distinction of the positive and negative poles is not merely qualitative but quantitative also.'] Woman is entitled to indulgence, but to claim deference for her is ridiculous. The Greek and Oriental treatment of the sex was much more rational than that which obtains in Modern Europe, where, if the ladies are pampered, the women are worse off than elsewhere. Mingled with this misogyny are acute and profound remarks on the undeniably weak points in the female character, such as women's habitual disregard of abstract justice, and lack of consideration for inferiors. It will be remembered that Schopenhauer, so far as we know, was an utter stranger to intimacy with intellectual or distinguished women, that he seems never to have met one capable of reflecting his ideas. Had this been the case, he might not have so roundly denied the very possibility of genius to women, even though the reason assigned, 'because they are wholly subjective,' is fully in harmony with the tenor of his philosophy.
Schopenhauer attributes to the artist, the man of genius, a perfection second only to that of the ascetic who has attained entire negation of the will. The reason is that he accomplishes, though only in moments of ecstasy, the same end of self-annihilation which the other habitually achieves. All art depends upon the apprehension of eternal ideas, intermediate between the phenomenal world and the world of essential reality. In aesthetic contemplation, the single object contemplated becomes the idea of its species, and the contemplating individual a pure organ of intelligence. The contemplator's personality is thus for the time abolished ; he is swallowed up in the object, and so identified with it as to regard it as an accident of his own being. The veil of Maya is rent ; the spectator is no longer under the illusion that hinders him from recognising himself in all other existence. Without this there may be talent but not genius ; for genius, from one point of view, is the capacity for apprehending things as they actually are.
'Genius is objectivity. The more clearly and objectively things reveal themselves by contemplation (this fundamental and richest form of comprehension), the more they are really momentarily opposed in inverse ratio to the interest that the will takes in these same objects. Cognisance, freed from will, is the necessary condition, ay, the essence of all aesthetic comprehension. Why does an ordinary painter render a landscape so badly, notwithstanding all his pains ? Because he does not see more beauty in it. And why does he not see more beauty in it? Because his intellect is not sufficiently separated from his will. The degrees of this separation mark great intellectual differences between men. Cognisance is the purer, and consequently the more objective and correct, the more it has freed itself from the will, as the fruit is best that has no taste of the soil on which it has grown.'
On the other hand :
'In reality, all bunglers are such because their intellect is too firmly bound up with their will, acts by its spur, and thus remains entirely in its service. Bunglers are therefore only capable of attaining personal ends ; in accordance with these, they produce bad pictures, mindless poems, shallow, absurd, ay, even dishonest philosophies, if their object be to commend themselves to their dishonest superiors. All their doings and actions are personal. Therefore they merely endeavour to assume the fashion of true work—its exterior, accidental and attractive form—seizing the shell instead of the kernel, but fancying meanwhile that they have rivalled, ay, even surpassed, their models.'
It follows that works of talent exist for the sake of some end external to art, but works of genius for themselves.
'Just because genius consists in the free service of the intellect, emancipated from the service of the Will, its productions can serve no useful purposes, whether music, philosophy, painting or poetry : a work of genius is not a thing of utility. To be useless, belongs to the character of works of genius; it is their patent of nobility. All other human works exist for the maintenance or convenience of existence, only not those in question. They alone exist for themselves, and are in this sense to be regarded as the blossom, the real produce of existence. Therefore, in enjoying them, our hearts expand, for we rise above the heavy earthy atmosphere of needs. Thus we seldom see the beautiful and the useful combined : fine lofty trees bear no fruit ; fruit-trees are ugly little cripples ; the double garden rose is barren—only the little wild, scentless one is fruitful. The finest buildings are not the most useful ; a temple is no dwelling-house. A man endowed with rare intellectual gifts, who is forced to follow a merely useful profession which the most ordinary person might pursue, is like a costly painted vase used as a cooking utensil. To compare useful people to geniuses is like comparing bricks to diamonds.'
With all this the man of genius is not happy, for he is, in a certain sense, unnatural. Genius is an intelligence, which has revolted against its natural mission, the service of the will ; hence a long train of miseries and an habitual melancholy, resting mainly on this principle, that the clearer and brighter the intelligence that illuminates the Will, the more distinctly does the latter appreciate the misery of its condition. Yet the ecstasy of the man of genius affords while it lasts the perfect counterpart of the bliss which springs from absolute self-renunciation, and the entire dissipation of the illusion which persuades man of his individuality.
'We know that our happiest moments are those when (by aesthetic contemplation) we are freed from the fierce impulse of Will, and rise as it were above the heavy atmosphere of earth. From this we may infer how blessed must be the life of a man whose will is subdued for ever ; not at rare intervals, as in the enjoyment of the beautiful, but extinguished, except that last glimmering spark which sustains the body and will perish with it. Such a man, who has after many bitter combats conquered his own nature, remains only as a purely intellectual being—an untarnished mirror of the universe. Nothing has power to disturb or agitate him, for he has severed all the thousand threads of the Will, which bind us to the world and draw us hither and thither in constant pain, under the form of desire, fear, envy, anger. He can now look back calm and smiling on the juggleries of this world, which were once able to move and even disturb his mind. Now they stand as indifferently before him as the chessmen after the game is played out, or like discarded masks, that mocked and disquieted us during the Carnival. Life and its figures only pass before him like a fleeting apparition, a morning dream before one who is half awake ; reality shimmers through—it can no longer deceive, and like such a dream without abrupt transition they disappear at last.'
The general scope of Schopenhauer's system on the ethical side is contained in the following quotation from his great ethical essay :
'Every individual is a being naturally different from every other. In my own person I have my true being; everything else, on the other hand, is not I, and foreign to me.' This is the confession to which flesh and blood bear witness, which is at the root of all egotism, and whose practical expression is found in every loveless, unjust, or unkind action.
'My true inner being exists in every living creature as immediately as in my own consciousness it is made known to me. It is this confession, for which the Sanskrit formula is tat-twam-asi, i.e., this is yourself, that breaks forth as pity, on which every true, that is unselfish, virtue rests, and whose practical expression is every good deed. It is, finally, this conviction to which every appeal to gentleness, human love, and mercy is directed ; for these remind us of the respect in which we are all one and the same being. But egotism, envy, hatred, persecution, austerity, revenge, malice, cruelty, appeal to the former conviction, and are satisfied by it. The emotion and pleasure which we feel on hearing of, still more on seeing, but most of all on performing a noble action, spring from the certainty it gives us that beyond the multiplicity and variety of individuals there lies a unity which really exists and is accessible, since it has just actually shown itself.'
'The preponderance of one or the other of these modes of perception is discerned not only in single actions but in the whole mode of consciousness and disposition, which is therefore entirely different in a good character and in a bad one. The latter everywhere feels a rigid barrier between itself and everything outside it ; the world is an absolute 'Not I,' and its relation to it an originally hostile one. The keynote of its disposition is hatred, suspicion, envy, malice. On the other hand, a good character lives in an outer world homogeneous to his own being—all others are to him, instead of "Not I," "Myself once again;" therefore his relation to everyone is amicable : he feels himself inwardly akin to all, takes a direct interest in everyone's weal and woe, and confidently reckons upon the same sympathy from them. Hence the deep peace of his inner being, and that calm, confident, contented disposition which makes everyone happy in his presence.'
The above quotations have been principally derived from Schopenhauer's capital work on the Universe considered as a Manifestation of Will. This is a great book in more senses than one. Goethe seems to have been unable to get to the end of it. General readers may study Schopenhauer with more advantage in the two volumes of minor essays entitled 'Parerga and Paralipomena.' Their style is in the highest degree attractive, and their freedom from all formalism and pedantry justifies the encomium bestowed on the writer as 'a philosopher who had seen the world.' They are neither so technical as to be abstruse, nor so long as to be wearisome ; the subjects, moreover, are frequently of general interest. The first volume contains his most lively sallies and some of his most virulent invectives against his sworn foes, the salaried professors of philosophy at the Universities ; it also includes his speculations on apparitions and somnambulism, phenomena in which he beheld the practical confirmation of some of his most original views ; and his maxims, always piquant, often just, on the general conduct of life.
The second volume contains a large number of brief and animated disquisitions on a variety of subjects, including his favourite themes the indestructibility of man's real being by death, on suicide, study, authorship, criticism, and fame.


 Moral Awareness as a Mode of Transcendence


As many medieval Christians once assumed, Schopenhauer believed that we should minimise our fleshly desires, since moral awareness arises through an attitude that transcends our bodily individuality. Indeed, he states explicitly that his views on morality are entirely in the spirit of Christianity, as well as being consistent with the doctrines and ethical precepts of the sacred books of India (WWR, Section 68). Among the precepts he respects are those prescribing that one treat others as kindly as one treats oneself, that one refrain from violence and take measures to reduce suffering in the world, that one avoid egoism and thoughts directed towards revenge, and that one cultivate a strong sense of compassion. Such precepts are not unique to Christianity; Schopenhauer believes that they constitute most religiously-grounded moral views. Far from being immoralistic, his moral theory is written in the same vein as those of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), which advocate principles that are in general accord with Christian precepts.
Schopenhauer's conception of moral awareness coheres with his project of seeking more tranquil, transcendent states of mind. Within the moral realm specifically, this quest for transcendence leads him to maintain that once we recognize each human as being merely an instance and aspect of the single act of Will that is humanity itself, we will appreciate that the difference between the tormentor and the tormented is illusory, and that in fact, the very same eye of humanity looks out from each and every person. According to the true nature of things, each person has all the sufferings of the world as his or her own, for the same inner human nature ultimately bears all of the pain and all of the guilt. Thus, with the consciousness of humanity in mind, a moral consciousness would realize that it has upon and within itself, the sins of the whole world (WWR, Sections 63 and 64). It should be noted that such a consciousness would also bear all of humanity's joys, triumphs and pleasures, but Schopenhauer does not develop this thought.
Not only, then, does the specific application of the principle of sufficient reason fragment the world into a set of individuals dispersed through space and time for the purposes of attaining scientific knowledge, this rationalistic principle generates the illusion that when one person does wrong to another, that these two people are essentially separate and private individuals. Just as the fragmentation of the world into individuals is necessary to apply the relationship of causality, where A causes B and where A and B are conceived to be two independent objects, this same cognitive fragmentation leads us to conceive of the relationships between people on a model where some person P acts upon person Q, where P and Q are conceived as two independent individuals. The conditions for scientific knowledge have a negative moral impact, because they lead us to regard each other as individuals separate and alien to one another.
By compassionately recognizing at a more universal level that the inner nature of another person is of the same substance as oneself, one arrives at a moral outlook. This compassionate way of apprehending another person is not merely understanding abstractly the proposition that “each person is a human being,” or understanding abstractly (as would Kant) that, in principle, the same regulations of rationality operate equally in each of us and oblige us accordingly as equals. It is to feel directly the concrete life of another person in an almost magical way; it is to enter into the life of humanity imaginatively, such as to coincide with all others as much as one possibly can. It is to imagine equally, and in full force, what it is like to be both a cruel tormentor and a tormented victim, and to locate both opposing experiences and characters within a single, universal consciousness that is the consciousness of humanity itself. With the development of moral consciousness, one expands one's awareness towards the mixed-up, tension-ridden, bittersweet, tragicomic, multi-aspected and distinctively sublime consciousness of humanity itself.
Edmund Burke (1729–1797) characterized the sublime as a feeling of tranquillity tinged with terror, and Schopenhauer's moral consciousness fits this description. Just as music embodies the emotional tensions within the world in an abstracted and distanced manner, and thus affords a measure of tranquillity by presenting a softened, sonic image of the daily world of universal conflict, a measure of tranquillity also attends moral consciousness. When attaining the universal consciousness of humanity that transcends spatial and temporal determinations, the desires that derive their significance from one's personal condition as a spatio-temporal individual are seen for what they are, as being grounded upon the illusion of fragmentation, and they thereby lose much their compelling force. In this respect, moral consciousness becomes the “quieter” of the will, despite its first-person recognition of human torment. Works of art that portray this kind of sublime consciousness would include the Laocoön (c. 25 B.C.E.) and Hieronymous Bosch's painting, Christ Carrying the Cross (c. 1515).
Negatively considered, moral consciousness delivers us from the unquenchable thirst that is individuated human life, along with the incessant oscillation between pain and boredom. Positively considered, moral consciousness generates a measure of wisdom, as one's outlook becomes akin to a universal novel that contains the templates for all of the human stories which have been repeating themselves generation after generation — stories comic and tragic, pathetic and triumphant, and trivial and monumental. One becomes like the steadfast tree, whose generations of leaves fall away with each passing season, as does generation after generation of people (Homer, Iliad, Book VI).
In a similar connection, Schopenhauer maintains in his “Essay on the Freedom of the Will” (1839) that everything that happens, happens necessarily. Having accepted Kant's view that cause and effect relationships extend throughout the world of experience, he believes that every individual act is determined by prior causes or motives. This fatalistic realization is a source of comfort and tranquillity for Schopenhauer, for upon becoming aware that nothing can be done to alter the course of events, he finds that the struggle to change the world quickly loses its force (see also WWR, Section 56).
Schopenhauer denies the common conception that being free entails that, for any situation in which we acted, we could always have acted differently. He augments this denial, however, with the claim that each of us is free in a more basic sense. Noting that we have “an unshakeable certainty that we are the doers of our deeds” (“Essay on the Freedom of the Will”, Conclusion), he maintains that our sense of responsibility reveals an innate character that is self-determining and independent of experience. Just as individual trees and individual flowers are the multifarious expressions of the Platonic Ideas of tree and flower, each and every one of our individual actions is the spatio-temporal manifestation of our respective innate or intelligible character.
A person's intelligible character is a timeless act of Will that the person essentially is, and it can be conceived of as the subjective aspect of the Platonic Idea that would objectively define the person's inner essence (WWR, Section 28), as a portrait artist might perceive it. This concept of the intelligible character is Kantian (Critique of Pure Reason, A539/B567), and in conjunction with Kant's correlated concept of an empirical character (i.e., the intelligible character as it is experientially expressed) Schopenhauer regards it as a means to resolve the problem of freedom and determinism, and to be one of the most profound ideas in Kant's philosophy.
From the standpoint of later philosophical influence, Schopenhauer's discussion of the intelligible character resonates with Friedrich Nietzsche's famous injunction to “become what one is” (Ecce Homo, “Why I am so Clever”, Section 9). Schopenhauer believes that as we learn more about ourselves, we can manifest our intelligible character more effectively, and can thereby play our designated role “artistically and methodically, with firmness and grace.” With self-knowledge, we can transform our lives into works of art, as Nietzsche prescribed.
Character development thus involves expanding the knowledge of our innate individuality, and a primary effect of this knowledge and self-realization is greater peace of mind (WWR, Section 55). Moreover, since our intelligible character is both subjective and universal, its status coordinates with that of music, the highest art. This association with music — as Nietzsche probably observed — reveals a systematic link between Schopenhauer's aesthetics and his moral theory, and it can account for Schopenhauer's reference to the emergence of pleasing aesthetic and artistic, if not musical, qualities in connection with the expression of our acquired character.

Saturday, 25th Jan 2014, 09:33:27 AM

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