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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

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Hi, Bill.

I see how (2) is problemmatic if change means only the alteration of an individual's properties and not its existence. But Schopenhauer does make a distinction between property-altering events and existential events with the latter manifested in an "ultimate substrate of change". In doing so, doesn't (7) then allow for God as the uncaused cause -- i.e., THE ultimate substrate of change? If the buck does stop there for Schopenhauer, I don't see how he refutes creation ex nihilo. I am not sure how his scheme of cause-and-effect shines a new light on an old question.

Regards,
Bill T.

P.S., Bill: Kudos from this philosophy tyro on your lucid exposition.

Thanks for your comments, Bill.

Schopenhauer's claim is that only changes in substances can be causes and effects, but not substances themselves. And so the ultimate substrates of change cannot have a cause of their existence.

Dear Bill,

This is the kind of piece that makes your blog one of my absolute favorites. Your reading of Schopenhauer is deep and insightful, and you manage to make him relevant to modern conversations by explicating his ideas in the language of modern philosophy and logic.

So I think that Schopenhauer would be most likely say that the only conceivable ultimate substrate of alteration would be matter. You may recall his discussion in WWR1 that the word "substance" ought to be replaced everywhere by "matter" once one realizes that only matter, and nothing else, stands under 'substance' (as an illustrative aside, Payne writes "see Matter" when one looks up "Substance" in his index).

But matter really is at the far edge of the subject/object binary, and can never itself be representation to the perceiving subject, although it is always presupposed by representation in general. It can never, therefore, be conceived to possess any existence that is independent of the subject. We, as representing beings, are as much a function of alterations in matter (presumably through the course of evolution) as matter itself is a function of representing beings.

But Schopenhauer, as he often does (as much as I love him), lives in tension with himself; for example, he often talks about things in the world being "grades of the Will's manifestation." These "grades", in themselves, do not have their existence in space/time, yet they stand in relation to things in space/time. One would have to think that, if an animal species goes completely extinct, that the relation in which that grade stands in relation to concrete beings changes, yet it is difficult to understand the nature of this change in accordance with Schopenhauer's account, since this change involves something that stands outside of the space/time world.

Of course this, insofar as this may be an internal tension in Schopenhauer's account, may conceivably be avoided with the right tweaks to his metaphysics or with pointing out a misunderstanding on my part of his philosophy. This brings up a question that interests me personally: If one is committed to a transcendental idealist picture of reality, can one make any sense of a Supreme Cause?

Kant's God exists in the noumenal world, and so would not seem to be a Supreme Cause, since causation only applies to the phenomenal world. Is there some sense of "cause" that could meaningfully be attributed to a noumenal God? Schopenhauer would not hear of such a thing, but I wonder.

If one is committed to transcendental idealism (which has long seduced, if not convinced, me), then at least (3) would seem a highly plausible, if not a necessary, presupposition of such a picture. If, however, one is instead committed to transcendental realism, according to which there is a space/time world of material objects that in no way depends on perceivers for its existence, then I don't see any particular reason for being committed to (3). Many materialists talk about quantum fluctuations in "nothingness." Many people conceive of an uncaused Big Bang, "prior" to which there is no sense to attach to "substratum" or "matter." One can speak of an alteration in nothingness after which there is somethingness. Of course, the fact that one can talk about such things is independent from whether such things are meaningful talk.

I am now officially confused by my own ramblings. I hope you enjoyed them.

Hi Mike,

Thanks for the comments. Glad you liked the post. You write, >>If one is committed to a transcendental idealist picture of reality, can one make any sense of a Supreme Cause?

Kant's God exists in the noumenal world, and so would not seem to be a Supreme Cause, since causation only applies to the phenomenal world. Is there some sense of "cause" that could meaningfully be attributed to a noumenal God? Schopenhauer would not hear of such a thing, but I wonder.<<

Kant is clearly a theist, though he maintains that the existence of God cannot be proven by theoretical reason, but neither can God's nonexistence be proven. The existence of God for Kant is a practical postulate. God as you say is a noumenal being for Kant. If the categories are restricted to phenomena, then, since causality is one of the categories, cause-effect relations hold only within the phenomenal world. It would seem to follow that God cannot be the cause of the phenomenal world. So the answer to your question would seem to be that on transcendental idealism God cannot be thought of as a supreme cause.

But it is more complicated than this because in Kant there is an unclarity about the exact nature of the restriction of the categories to phenomena. In some passages he takes the moderate view that the categories apply to both noumenal and phenomenal objects, but generate knowledge only when applied to phenomena. In other passages he takes the radical line that the categories are meaningless in a trans-phenomenal employment. But then the idea of God as practical postulate is drained of meaning.

Schopenhauer jettisons God and takes the radical line that restricts categories to phenomena for their very sense. But die Welt an sich is not featureless: he thinks of it in terms of will, which is a determination of human subjects. What justifies that? How can he import such a determination into the Ding an sich?

I would say that there are insurmountable problems in both Kant and Schopenhauer. Sorry if these remarks are not crystal clear. But what do you want for a blog?

Dear Bill,

Thank you for this response. I find what you wrote here to be quite thought provoking: "In some passages he takes the moderate view that the categories apply to both noumenal and phenomenal objects, but generate knowledge only when applied to phenomena." This is an intellectually difficult yet intriguing idea.

In any case, you wrote: "Schopenhauer jettisons God and takes the radical line that restricts categories to phenomena for their very sense. But die Welt an sich is not featureless: he thinks of it in terms of will, which is a determination of human subjects. What justifies that? How can he import such a determination into the Ding an sich?"

I have been reading Julian Young's recent book on Schopenhauer and he makes the extremely interesting, and I think quite reasonable, claim that Schopenhauer attenuated his position here quite significantly in WWR2. He backs it up with a number of significant quotations not only from Book Two of WWR2, but also from his notebooks and correspondences with, for example, Frauenstaedt. Young claims that, for the older Schopenhauer, the phrase "Der Wille ist das Ding an sich" actually shifts its meaning. In WWR1, it means that we can really say something significant, even if radically incomplete, about the thing-in-itself. In WWR2, it means that Der Wille is the most fundamental reality of the phenomenon and is entirely and completely restricted to it and therefore actually says nothing whatsoever about the thing-in-itself.

The fun just never stops with Schopenhauer. He also happens to have the coolest name in philosophical history.

"2. Schopenhauer is one philosopher who maintains that only changes can serve as causal relata. His idea is that the causal relation holds between changes (states, conditions, properties...) of individuals, but cannot be extended to individuals themselves. Thus if a rock changes in respect of temperature, say going from cold to hot, one can legitimately ask for the cause of this change. But one cannot legitimately ask for a cause of the rock itself, or a cause of the existence of the rock. (See #5 below for a refinement of this thesis.) Nor can one speak of a rock as a cause. It is not a rock that breaks a window, but a collision of a rock with a window that causes the window to break."

And I question whether the rock, and perhaps the window, even exists in the first place. Certainly, there is some conglomeration is matter which you and I might call a 'rock;' but does this 'rock' really possess existence? Does it possess identity? Is it really an "individual" of which one really can say "that the causal relation holds between changes (states, conditions, properties...) of individuals, but cannot be extended to individuals themselves?"

After a couple of days of chewing on this , I think I've got it, Bill. Taking things as plainly as possible, I see how premise (2) of Schopenhauer's argument begs the question.

Regards,
Bill T.

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