Arthur Schopenhauer was a foe of noise in all its forms, as one can see from his delightful essay, On Noise. The “infernal cracking of whips” especially got on his nerves. (One wonders what he would say about the Beelzebubic booming of boom boxes.)
One day, a cleaning lady made what he considered to be an excessive racket outside his rooms. He asked her to quiet down, which led to an argument. Push came to shove, and the lady ended up at the foot of the stairs. The local court ruled in favor of the Putzfrau, and Schopenhauer was ordered to pay her a monthly sum of money for the rest of her long life. When at last she died, the philosopher opened his journal and penned what is arguably the greatest Latin pun of all time: Anus obit, onus abit.
What wit, what pith, what anagrammatical punsterism! All hail to Schopenhauer and his scowl of Minerva! Note first that the line is an anagram: there are two constructions, in this case two independent clauses, each of which represents a transposition of the letters of the other. A second example of an anagram: Democritus docet risum = Democritus teaches laughingly. The second thing to note is that ‘anus’ has two Latin meanings depending on whether the ‘a’ is short or long. Short, it means alte Frau, Greisin, old woman. (My Latin dictionary is Lateinisch-Deutsch.) Long, it means 1) Fussring, 2) (euphem.) After (= anus in the English sense).
Schopenhauer’s aphorism in English: The old woman/anus is dead; the burden is lifted. So Schopenhauer was not necessarily being crude, though of course he was punning.
Schopenhauer, Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde (1813), sec. 20:
. . . causa prima ist, eben so gut wie causa sui, eine contradictio in adjecto, obschon der erstere Ausdruck viel häufiger gebraucht wird, als der letztere, und auch mit ganz ernsthafter, sogar feierlicher Miene ausgesprochen zu werden pflegt, ja Manche, insonderheit Englische Reverends, recht erbaulich die Augen verdrehn, wenn sie, mit Emphase und Rührung, the first cause, — diese contradictio in adjecto, — aussprechen. Sie wissen es: eine erste Ursache ist gerade und genau so undenkbar, wie die Stelle, wo der Raum ein Ende hat, oder der Augenblick, da die Zeit einen Anfang nahm. Denn jede Ursache ist eine Veränderung, bei der man nach der ihr vorhergegangenen Veränderung, durch die sie herbeigeführt worden, notwendig fragen muß, und so in infinitum, in infinitum!
I quote this passage in German because I do not have the English at hand, but also because the pessimist's German is very beautiful and very clear, and closer to English than any other philosophical German I have ever read.
Schopenhauer's claim is that a first cause (causa prima) is unthinkable (undenkbar) because every cause is an alteration (Veränderung) which follows upon a preceding alteration. For if every cause is an alteration that follows upon a preceding alteration, then the series of causes is infinite in the past direction, and there is no temporally first cause.
And so 'first cause' is a contradictio in adiecto: the adjective 'first' contradicts the noun 'cause.' Charitably interpreted, however, Schopenhauer is not making a semantic point about word meanings. What he really wants to say is that the essence of causation is such as to disallow both a temporally first cause and a logically/metaphysically first cause. There cannot be a temporally first cause because every cause is an alteration that follows upon a preceding alteration. And there cannot be a logically/metaphysically first cause for the same reason: if every cause and effect is an alteration in a substance then no substance can be a cause or an effect. Causation is always and everywhere the causation of alterations in existing things by alterations in other existing things; it is never the causation of the existing of things. For Schopenhauer, as I read him, the ultimate substrates of alterational change lie one and all outside the causal nexus. If so, there cannot be a causal explanation of the sheer existence of the world.
Here I impute to Schopenhauer the following argument:
1. The relata of the causal relation are changes. 2. Every change is an alteration. 3. Every alteration presupposes a substrate of alteration that does not change in respect of its existence and identity. 4. Some, but not all, substrates of alteration are non-ultimate, where a non-ultimate substrate is one whose coming into existence or passing out of existence is reducible to the alteration of an already existing substrate or substrates; hence there must be ultimate substrates of alteration. 5. If there are ultimate substrates of alteration, then they do not come into existence or pass away. 6. Because changes occur, there are ultimate substrates of alteration. 7. There are ultimate substrates of change that do not come into existence or pass away, and are thus sempiternal. (5, 6) 8. The existence of these sempiternal substrata are at the basis of all causation. Therefore 9. The existence of the ultimate substrata of change cannot have a cause, divine or otherwise. Therefore 10. Cosmological arguments, presupposing as they do that causation of existence makes sense, are one and all unsound.
What can we say in critique of this argument? (2) may be questioned. If every change is an alteration, then nothing can come into existence except by the alteration of some thing or things already in existence. That implies that there cannot be creation ex nihilo. But then Schopenhauer's argument may be said to beg the question against the theist at line (2) -- unless there is some independent way of supporting (2).
But is creation ex nihilo a change? In what? It cannot be a change in some stuff out of which God creates. For then the creation would not be ex nihilo. God is not a demiurge. Nor can it be a real change in God if God is unchanging. One might just say that the creation out of nothing of contingent beings is a change in the way things are. But this is tricky because this change would appear to have to be an atemporal change. There could be time without change, but how could there be change without time?
Consider the possible worlds in which no contingent beings exist and compare them with C, a world in which contingent beings exist. Suppose God causes C to be actual. Suppose further that C -- like all worlds -- is a maximal Fregean proposition or a maximal Chisholmian state of affairs. Now we have a substrate of exnihilation, namely, the the maximal proposition or state of affairs C. It is not that C is created, but that C is made actual. But it is not as if C 'goes' from being unactual to being actual. 'Going' is a transition, and transition takes time, and indeed time as involving temporal becoming. Given that time is contingent, there is no time at which there are no contingent beings and a later time at which there are. Divine creation is presumably not in time, but of time and of everything else that is contingent.
Well, perhaps we could introduce a notion of modal change which would be analogous to temporal change as the latter is construed by B-theorists:
Reality changes just in case it has different properties in different possible worlds.
Reality changes from not containing contingent beings to containing them iff there are possible worlds in which there are, and possible worlds in which there are not, contingent beings.
If every change requires a cause, then presumably the change just mentioned requires a divine cause.
To review the dialectic: if creatures are effects of a cause, and effects are changes, and every change requires a substrate, then what is the subject or substrate of exhihilation? What is creatio ex nihilo a change in? My very tentative suggestion is that it is a change in reality in accordance with the definitions just given.
Since the cause of this change cannot itself be a change, (1) must be rejected as well.
During a delightful rural ramble outside Prague, I mentioned to Daniel Novotný that Arthur Schopenhauer had a high opinion of Francisco Suárez (1548-1617). Daniel said he had heard as much but wondered where Schopenhauer had indicated his high regard for the scholastic philosopher. Here are some passages, though I have the sense that I am overlooking a more striking quotation than any of the ones I have just now managed to locate.
1. There is a place in the early On the Four-Fold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason where Schopenhauer is speaking of the four causes mentioned by Aristotle at Analyt. Post., II, 11. Schopenhauer describes the Metaphysical Disputations of Suárez as diesem wahren Kompendio der Scholastik, "this true compendium of scholasticism." (Ueber die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde, Zweites Kapitel, sec. 6, Felix Meiner Verlag, Hamburg, p. 15.)
If the index to Schopenhauer's magnum opus, The World as Will and Representation (two vols., tr. Payne, Dover) is to be trusted, there are exactly six references to Suárez all of them in the first volume.
2."It was known even to the scholastics [note 24: Suarez, Disputationes metaphysicae, disp. III, sect. 3, tit. 3.] that, because the syllogism requires two premisses, no science can start from a single main principle that cannot be deduced further; on the contrary, it must have several, at least two, of these." (p. 63)
3. "Consequently, time and space are the principium individuationis, the subject of so many subtleties and disputes among the scholastics which are found collected in Suárez (Disp. 5, sect. 3)." (p. 113)
4. "That which for man is his unfathomable character, presupposed in every explanation of his actions from motives, is for every inorganic body precisely its essential quality, its manner of acting, whose manifestations are brought about by impressions from outside, while it itself, on the other hand, is determined by nothing outside it, and is thus inexplicable. Its particular manifestations, by which alone it becomes visible, are subject to the principle of sufficient reason; it itself is groundless. In essence this was correctly understood by the scholastics, who described it as forma substantialis. (Cf. Suárez, Disputationes Metaphysicae, disp. XV, sect. 1.) (p. 124)
5. P. 152, fn. 21: "The scholastics therefore said quite rightly: Causa finalis movet non secundum suum esse reale, sed secundum esse cognitum. See Suárez, Disp. Metaph., disp. XXIII, sect. 7 et 8. ('The final cause operates not according to its real being, but only according to its being as that is known.' [Tr.]"
6. The following excerpt is from "Criticism of the Kantian Philosophy," an appendix to the first volume of WWR, pp. 422-423, emphasis added):
We may regard as the third point the complete overthrow of the Scholastic philosophy, a name by which I wish here to denote generally the whole period beginning with Augustine, the Church Father, and ending just before Kant. For the chief characteristic of Scholasticism is, indeed, that which is very correctly stated by Tennemann, the guardianship of the prevailing national religion over philosophy, which had really nothing left for it to do but to prove and embellish the cardinal dogmas prescribed [pg 013] to it by religion. The Schoolmen proper, down to Suárez, confess this openly; the succeeding philosophers do it more unconsciously, or at least unavowedly. It is held that Scholastic philosophy only extends to about a hundred years before Descartes, and that then with him there begins an entirely new epoch of free investigation independent of all positive theological doctrine. Such investigation, however, is in fact not to be attributed to Descartes and his successors, but only an appearance of it, and in any case an effort after it. Descartes was a man of supreme ability, and if we take account of the age he lived in, he accomplished a great deal. But if we set aside this consideration and measure him with reference to the freeing of thought from all fetters and the commencement of a new period of untrammelled original investigation with which he is credited, we are obliged to find that with his scepticism still lacking in true earnestness, and thus abating and passing away so quickly and so completely, he has the appearance of wishing to discard all at once all the fetters of the early implanted opinions belonging to his age and nation; but does so only apparently and for a moment, in order to assume them again and hold them all the more firmly; and it is just the same with all his successors down to Kant.
7. "The word 'Idea,' first introduced by Plato, has retained ever since, through twenty-two centuries, the meaning in which he used it; for not only all the philosophers of antiquity, but also all of the scholastics, and even the Church Fathers, and the theologians of the Middle Ages, used it only with that Platonic meaning, in the sense of the Latin word exemplar, as Suárez expressly mentions in his twenty-fifth Disputation, Sect. 1." (p. 488)
A minor quibble. Your recent post ("Forever Reading . . .") is in error, I'm afraid. After noticing the mistake on more than one occasion throughout several years following your wonderful blog, surely the time has come that I assist a fellow stickler. Schopenahuer did not author the line, "For ever reading, never to be read;" he merely quoted Alexander Pope, who once said,
I only know the verse myself from reading R.J. Hollingdale's translation of the Great Pessimist's essays and aphorisms, so I can see how one might attribute it thus. But alas, I know how much you honor precision, so I'm compelled to help where I can. That's it -- the first error I've been able to catch since 2005 or so. Excellent work, I'd say.
Ad majorem Dei gloriam!
Mr. Fitzgerald turns out to be correct. In "On Thinking for Oneself," an essay I had read circa 1980, Schopenhauer does indeed quote Alexander Pope, though only the words "For ever reading, never to be read." And the reference he gives is a little different: Dunciad iii, 194.
I in turn have a quibble with Mr. Fitzgerald's "minor quibble." A quibble is minor by definition, so 'minor quibble' is a pleonasm. Pleonasm, however, is but a peccadillo.
Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, tr. E. F. J. Payne, vol. II (Dover, 1966), p. 162. This is from Chapter XVII, "On Man's Need for Metaphysics" (emphases added and a paragraph break):
Temples and churches, pagodas and mosques, in all countries and ages, in their splendour and spaciousness, testify to man's need for metaphysics, a need strong and ineradicable, which follows close on the physical. The man of a satirical frame of mind could of course add that this need for metaphysics is a modest fellow content with meagre fare. Sometimes it lets itself be satisfied with clumsy fables and absurd fairy-tales. If only they are imprinted early enough, they are for man adequate explanations of his existence and supports for his morality.
Consider the Koran, for example; this wretched book was sufficient to start a world-religion, to satisfy the metaphysical need for countless millions for twelve hundred years, to become the basis of their morality and of a remarkable contempt for death, and also to inspire them to bloody wars and the most extensive conquests. In this book we find the saddest and poorest form of theism. Much may be lost in translation, but I have not been able to discover in it one single idea of value. Such things show that the capacity for metaphysics does not go hand in hand with the need for it . . . .
Modernist to medievalist: Medieval philosophy is substance abuse!
Medievalist to modernist: Modern philosophy is self abuse!
(And that reminds me of a marginalium Schopenhauer inscribed into his copy of Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre: Onanie! (onanism) Wissenschaftslehre translates as Theory of Science. Schopenhauer, however, referred in print to Fichte's book as Wissenschaftsleere, which sounds the same but translates as Empty of Science.
If Schopenhauer had a blog, what might he call it? The Scowl of Minerva.)
Cosmological arguments for the existence of God rest on several ontological assumptions none of them quite obvious, and all of them reasonable candidates for philosophical examination. Among them, (i) existence is a ‘property’ of contingent individuals; (ii) the existence of individuals is not a brute fact but is susceptible of explanation; (iii) it is coherent to suppose that this explanation is causal: that contingent individuals could have a cause of their existence. It is the third item on this list that I propose to examine here.
Man is a metaphysical animal. He does not live by bread alone, nor by bed alone, and he does not scratch only where it physically itches. He also scratches where he feels the metaphysical itch, the tormenting lust to know the ultimate why and wherefore. And where is that punctum pruriens located? What is it that arouses his intellectual eros?
. . . das Böse, das Uebel und der Tod sind es, welche das philosophische Erstaunen qualificiren und erhöhen: nicht bloß, daß die Welt vorhanden, sondern noch mehr, daß sie eine so trübsälige sei, ist das punctum pruriens der Metaphysik, das Problem, welches die Menschheit in eine Unruhe versetzt, die sich weder durch Skepticismus noch durch Kriticismus beschwichtigen läßt.
. . . it is wickedness, evil, and death that qualify and intensify philosophical astonishment. Not merely that the world exists, but still more that it is such a miserable and melancholy world, is the punctum pruriens of metaphysics, the problem awakening in mankind an unrest that cannot be quieted either by scepticism or criticism. (Schopenhauer, WWR II, 172, tr. Payne)
Arthur Schopenhauer was born on this date in 1788. I don't imagine he was given to the celebration of birthdays for reasons that may be gleaned from this YouTube reading by D. E. Wittkower.
It is an accurate and pleasant reading of the whole of "The Vanity of Existence" (from Parerga) with only one insignificant divergence from the English text as presented in The Will to Live: Selected Writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, ed. Richard Taylor, pp. 229-233.
Listening to another read is inferior to careful and meditative reading and re-reading by oneself in solitude with pen and notebook at the ready.
It does little good to listen to philosophy being read or even to read it oneself. One needs to work through a text slowly, pondering, comparing, re-reading, reconstructing and evaluating the arguments, raising objections, imagining possible replies and all of this while animated by a burning need to get to the bottom of some pressing existential question. You must bring to your reading questions if you expect study to be profitable.
If one fails to enter into the dialectic of the problems and issues one will come away with little more than a vague literary impression. But real study is hard work demanding aptitude, time, peace, and quiet, a commodity in short supply in these hyperkinetic and cacaphonous times. Back in the day, old Arthur was much exercised by "the infernal cracking of whips" as he he complained in his classic "On Noise." What would he say today? Could he survive in the contemporary crapstorm of hiphop horseshit kaka-phony?
So turn off that cell phone before I smash it to pieces!
If Schopenhauer were a blogger, would he allow comments on his weblog, The Scowl of Minerva?
I say no, and adduce as evidence the following passage that concludes his Art of Controversy, a delightful essay found in his Nachlass, but left untitled by the master:
As a sharpening of wits, controversy is often, indeed, of mutual advantage, in order to correct one's thoughts and awaken new views. But in learning and in mental power both disputants must be tolerably equal: If one of them lacks learning, he will fail to understand the other, as he is not on the same level with his antagonist. If he lacks mental power, he will be embittered, and led into dishonest tricks, and end by being rude.
The only safe rule, therefore, is that which Aristotle mentions in the last chapter of his Topica: not to dispute with the first person you meet, but only with those of your acquaintance of whom you know that they possess sufficient intelligence and self-respect not to advance absurdities; to appeal to reason and not to authority, and to listen to reason and yield to it; and, finally, to cherish truth, to be willing to accept reason even from an opponent, and to be just enough to bear being proved to be in the wrong, should truth lie with him. From this it follows that scarcely one man in a hundred is worth your disputing with him. You may let the remainder say what they please, for every one is at liberty to be a fool - desipere est jus gentium. Remember what Voltaire says: La paix vaut encore mieux que la verite. Remember also an Arabian proverb which tells us that on the tree of silence there hangs its fruit, which is peace.
Here is the same passage in the German original:
Das Disputieren ist als Reibung der Köpfe allerdings oft von gegenseitigem Nutzen, zur Berichtigung der eignen Gedanken und auch zur Erzeugung neuer Ansichten. Allein beide Disputanten müssen an Gelehrsamkeit und an Geist ziemlich gleichstehn. Fehlt es Einem an der ersten, so versteht er nicht Alles, ist nicht au niveau. Fehlt es ihm am zweiten, so wird die dadurch herbeigeführte Erbitterung ihn zu Unredlichkeiten und Kniffen [oder] zu Grobheit verleiten. Die einzig sichere Gegenregel ist daher die, welche schon Aristoteles im letzten Kapitel der Topica gibt: Nicht mit dem Ersten dem Besten zu disputieren; sondern allein mit solchen, die man kennt, und von denen man weiß, daß sie Verstand genug haben, nicht gar zu Absurdes vorzubringen und dadurch beschämt werden zu müssen; und um mit Gründen zu disputieren und nicht mit Machtsprüchen, und um auf Gründe zu hören und darauf einzugehn; und endlich, daß sie die Wahrheit schätzen, gute Gründe gern hören, auch aus dem Munde des Gegners, und Billigkeit genug haben, um es ertragen zu können, Unrecht zu behalten, wenn die Wahrheit auf der andern Seite liegt. Daraus folgt, daß unter Hundert kaum Einer ist, der wert ist, daß man mit ihm disputiert. Die Übrigen lasse man reden, was sie wollen, denn desipere est juris gentium, und man bedenke, was Voltaire sagt: La paix vaut encore mieux que la vérité; und ein arabischer Spruch ist: »Am Baume des Schweigens hängt seine Frucht der Friede.«