Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, New York Review Books, 1990, p. 101:
Certain rash people have asserted that, just as there are no mice where there are no cats, so no one is possessed where there are no exorcists.
That puts me in mind of anarchists who say that where there are no laws there are no criminals. That is not much better than saying that where there are no chemists there are no chemicals.
Just as there are chemicals whether or not there are any chemists, there are moral wrongs whether or not there are any positive laws prohibiting them. What makes murder wrong is not that there are positive laws prohibiting it; murder is wrong antecedently of the positive law. It is morally wrong before (logically speaking) it is legally wrong. And it is precisely the moral wrongness of murder that justifies having laws against it.
And yet there is a sense in which criminals are legislated into existence: one cannot be a criminal in the eyes of the law unless there is the law. And it is certainly true that to be a criminal in the eyes of the law does not entail being guilty of any moral wrong-doing. But the anarchist goes off the deep end if he thinks that there is no moral justification for any legal prohibitions, or that the wrongness of every act is but an artifact of the law's prohibiting it.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, New York Review Books, 1990, p. 112, Notebook G, Aph. #24:
To make man as religion wants him to be resembles the undertaking of the Stoics: it is only another grade of the impossible.
I agree completely with Herr Lichtenberg that the Stoic ideal is an impossible one.
The Stoic sage would be as impassible as God is impassible. But here's something to think about: Jesus on the cross died in agony like a man, even though, if he was God, he could have realized the Stoic ideal.
What is the lesson? Perhaps that to be impassible is for us impossible, and so no ideal at all.
What Lichtenberg overlooks is that while Stoicism is a self-help therapeutic, religion, or at least Christianity, is not: no Christian who understands his doctrine fancies that he is able by his own power to effect genuine, deep-going, and lasting self-improvement.
What Lichtenberg fails to appreciate is that what is impossible for us, both individually and collectively, is not impossible with divine assistance.
If you deny the possibility of divine assistance, then you ought to abandon the project of ameliorating in any truly fundamental way the human condition: just accept it as it is, else you may end up like the Communists who murdered 100 million in the 20th century alone in quest of their u-topia.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, New York Review Books, 1990, p. 204, Notebook K, Aph. #84:
To call a proposition into question all that is needed is very often merely to fail to understand it. Certain gentlemen have been all too ready to reverse this maxim, and to assert that we fail to understand their propositions if we call them into question.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, New York Review Books, 1990, p. 223, Notebook L, Aph. #67:
If we did not remember our youth, we should [would] not be aware of old age: the malady of age consists solely in our no longer being able to do what we could do formerly. For the old man is certainly as perfect a creature in his own way as is the young.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollingdale, New York Review Books, 1990, p. 162, Notebook J, Aph. #168, hyperlink added!
As soon as he receives a little applause many a writer believes that the world is interested in everything about him. The play-scribbler Kotzebue even thinks himself justified in telling the public that he administered a clister [an enema] to his dying wife.
Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, The Waste Books, tr. R. J. Hollindale, New York Review Books, 1990, pp. 161-162:
We know with much greater clarity that our will is free than that everything that happens must have a cause. Could we therefore not reverse the argument for once, and say: our conception of cause and effect must be very erroneous because our will could not be free if our idea of cause and effect were correct?
This is essentially right and invites commentary. Which of the following propositions is better known, more evident, more credible, or more likely to be true?
1. With respect to some actions and omissions, the human will is libertarianly free, free in the 'could have done otherwise' sense.
2. Every event, including every action and failure to act of a human person, is the terminus of a causal chain extending into the past to times prior to the person's birth, and every event is as such necessary given what has gone before.
Given that the propositions cannot both be true, if (1), then ~(2). One can now argue either my modus ponens to (~2) or by modus tollens to (~1). Lichtenberg is suggesting in effect that the modus ponens argument is to be preferred.
I agree. For I know directly, in my own case, that I am morally responsible for some of my actions and failures to act, and that therefore I am free with respect to these actions and omissions. This is surely better known than that every event is necessitated by earlier events, and that nothing I do or leave undone is ever something for which I am morally responsible. The direct, first-person evidence trumps third-person considerations. If you balk at my use of 'know,' then I will say that it is more evident, clearer, more likely to be true, more credible, that I am free.
Think about it. How do you know that every event has a cause that necessitates it? It is not a conceptual or analytic truth like Every effect has a cause. That's true ex vi terminorum. But there is nothing in the concept event or the meaning of 'event' that warrants the inference that every event has a cause. Uncaused events are thinkable without contradiction.* Nor do you know the relevant principle by experience. Have you examined every event? No. But even if you had examined every cause-effect sequence in the universe, you could not find the necessity by experience. As Lichtenberg's man Kant famously said, "Experience teaches what is the case, but not what must be the case." For Kant, the causal principle is synthetic a priori. But now: how clear is the very concept of the synthetic a priori, first, and second, how clear is it that the causal principle is an instance of it? And third, how clear are the pillars of the Kantian edifice that undergird the synthetic a priori?
One might reach for inference to the best explanation. What is the best explanation of the success of the natural sciences in the explanation, prediction, and control of natural phenomena? That (macro)nature is deterministic. But the inference is shaky and less to be relied upon than the direct evidence that here and now I did something I (morally) should not have done, something I know I could have refrained from doing.
It is not absolutely self-evident that I am morally responsible and libertarianly free, but it is evident, and indeed more evident than the premises of any deterministic argument. That's enough.
One should never philosophize in such a way that one denies or discounts the very phenomenological evidence that got us philosophizing in the first place.
And if I have good reason to believe that something is the case, then I have good reason whether or not I can solve every puzzle to which the thing gives rise.
You say free will is an illusion? I say that that is nonsense and that you are playing fast and loose with 'illusion.'
*Of course I am not saying that my free actions are uncaused: an uncaused event is not eo ipso a free event. My free actions are caused by me, the agent. I am their creative source, their agent-cause. The idea is not entirely clear, granted. But it is even less clear that I am a deterministic system.