Monday, December 03, 2007

6.421 It is clear that ethics cannot be articulated.

Ethics is transcendental.

(Ethics and aesthetics are one.)

Is “It is clear” always a mark of irony in the Tractatus? Ethical and aesthetic value are beyond words, since no words we have will do, since what will satisfy is nothing in the world, i.e. nothing at all. But is this really true? Or is it only that no theory will satisfy us, just as physics is OK but the meta-theoretical “There are laws of nature” cannot work?

Some notes and quotes on Schopenhauer’s ethics: According to Schopenhauer, every living being is essentially egoistic, and yet in truth there is only one will, since the principle of individuation applies only to the phenomenal. Wrong is what we call one will’s encroaching on another, seen at its extreme in cannibalism. Right is a negative term, meaning only the opposite of this. What is on the side of our will we call ‘good’, and what is opposed to it we call ‘bad’ or, rarely, ‘evil’. “[T]hus every good is essentially relative, for it has its essential nature only in its relation to a desiring will. Absolute good is, therefore, a contradiction in terms …”[1] The highest or ultimate good would be something that so satisfies the will that it never wanted again, but it is the nature of the will always to desire more, never to be satisfied. So there can be no such thing: the concept is self-contradictory.

“A theory of morals which is not properly argued – in other words, mere moralizing – can effect nothing, because it does not motivate. A theory of morals which does motivate can do so only by working on self-love. But what springs from this latter has no moral worth. It follows that no genuine virtue can be produced through moral theory or abstract knowledge of any kind, but that such virtue must spring from that intuitive knowledge which recognises in the individuality of others the same essence as in our own.”[2] (This seems to have been Wittgenstein's view of moral philosophy. At least his remarks to O. K. Bouwsma later in his life about what possible value teaching moral philosophy could have strike me as compatible with what Schopenhauer says here.)

“Truly, it would be very bad if the chief business in human life, its ethical value, that value which counts for eternity, were dependent upon anything of which the attainment is so much a matter of chance as is the case with dogmas, religious doctrines, and philosophical theories.”[3]

“[I]n themselves all deeds (opera operata) are merely empty figures, and only the disposition which leads to them gives them moral significance.”[4]

Goodness does come from knowledge, but not a knowledge that can be communicated. Only the concept of this knowledge can be conveyed.

The negation of wickedness is justice. “When we examine the kernel of this justice, we find in it the intention not to go so far in the affirmation of one’s own will as to deny the manifestations of will in others by compelling them to serve one’s own. One will therefore wish to do as much for the benefit of others as one enjoys at their hands. The highest degree of this disposition to justice (which, however, is always allied with real goodness whose character is now not merely negative) leads a man to doubt his right to inherited property; to want to maintain his body solely by his own energy, mental and physical; to feel every service rendered by others, every luxury, as a reproach; and ultimately, of his own free will, to embrace poverty.”[5] (Again very reminiscent of Wittgenstein's chosen way of life after World War I.)

“I by no means wish to conceal a criticism that relates to this last part of my exposition, but rather to point out that it inheres in the nature of the material, and that it cannot be helped. [cf. Frege--DR] It is this, that after our study has finally reached the point at which in perfect holiness we see the denial and surrender of all volition – and thereby the redemption from a world whose whole existence presented itself to us as suffering – this appears to us as a transition into empty nothingness.”[6]

“Every nothing is such only when thought of in relation to something else, and presupposes this relation [i.e. negation], and thus also this something else. Even a logical contradiction is only a relative nothing. It is not a thought of reason, but it is not on that account an absolute nothing; for it is a combination of words; it is an example of the unthinkable, which is necessary in logic in order to prove the laws of thought. So, if for this purpose we seek such an example, we will hold fast to the nonsense as being the positive which we are in search of, and pass over the sense as the negative.”[7]

“What is generally accepted as positive, which we call being, and the negation of which is expressed by the concept nothing in its most general sense, is precisely the world as idea, which I have shown to be the objectivity and mirror of the will. … Denial, suspension, conversion of the will are also the suspension and the disappearance of the world, its mirror. If we no longer glimpse the will in this mirror, we ask in vain where it has gone, and then, because it has no longer any where and when, we lament that it has strayed into nothingness, and is lost.”[8]

Cf. Heidegger and Wittgenstein’s comments about him and the Nothing, etc. Also, perhaps, Russell (in The Principles of Mathematics) on nothing: “Great difficulties are associated with the null-class, and generally with the idea of nothing. It is plain that there is such a concept as nothing, and that in some sense nothing is something.” (p. 73)

“It is necessary to realize, in the first place, that a concept may denote although it does not denote anything.” (p. 73)

“The proposition which looks so paradoxical means no more than this: Nothing, the denoting concept, is not nothing, i.e. is not what itself denotes.” (p. 75)

(So, according to Schopenhauer, the unthinkable is exemplified in logical contradiction, which is necessary to prove the laws of thought. Why? And the concept of nothing is always relative to some positive concept of being, yet which is positive and which is negative depends on how you see it, on what your purpose is, on the will. You might, after all, be looking for an example of something negative in order to make a point about negation, about logic. Perfect holiness = denial of the will = suspension of the world = having a sense of a nothingness in which being can be lost. Philosophy can express this only negatively. We might talk about ecstasy, union with God, etc., but such states cannot be counted as knowledge really, and cannot be communicated – they must be experienced first-hand.)

Schopenhauer’s ethics do not present a view from nowhere, as he seems to think. Instead they reflect his own pessimistic outlook. So argues Konstantin Kolenda in “Schopenhauer’s Ethics: A View from Nowhere,” in von der Luft pp. 247-256. If everyone’s direct experiences were consulted, neither pessimism nor optimism would win the day. (But does Schopenhauer really claim to be able to identify values objectively?)

Cf. Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil §§55-56 on the nothing as a replacement for God in Schopenhauer.

Glock notes three problems with Schop’s ethics (see pp. 442-43): 1) they seem to require both denial of the will and altruistic willing in the form of compassion (see WWR vol. 2, chapters 47-49), 2) the denial of the will is itself an act of will, “will turning against itself” (WWR vol. I, p. 412), 3) the cosmic will, the blind force, the thing in itself, “is so quintessentially undesirable, it is difficult to see how the mystical experience of feeling at one with this will should provide a kind of moral salvation.”[9]

LW avoids all these problems by distinguishing, Glock says, between good and bad willing (see Notebooks 21, 24, and 29/7/16, and TLP 6.43).]

[1] Everyman edition of Schopenhauer’s WWR, §65, p. 224.

[2] Ibid., §66, p. 230.

[3] Ibid., pp. 230-31.

[4] Ibid., p. 232.

[5] Ibid., p. 233.

[6] Ibid., §71, p. 259.

[7] Ibid., pp. 259-60.

[8] Ibid., p. 260.

[9] Hans-Johann Glock “Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein: Language as Representation and Will,” in Christopher Janaway (ed.) The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 422-458, pp. 442-43.

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