Will to Power

will to power

Nietzsche is the natural successor of Schopenhauer where the former turned the latter’s conclusions upside down; in World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer observes that it is the “will-to-live” that is responsible for our drives, moods, and individuation. However, the will-to-live is aimless beyond basic desires, absent of good & evil/without morality, and wholly irrational; his ethical conclusion however is the abnegation of life (will as evil) as such striving by the will can only result in the suffering by the ego. Schopenhauer quotes, “Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants”; much of later Psychoanalysis that began in the latter half of the 19th century will redress this problem as the denial of life itself would result in the very extinction of the human species! No doubt, psychoanalytic concepts such as the Freudian libido and the unconscious were influenced by these ideas. Prior to this, the first to radically address Schopenhauer’s solution (asceticism as “will-to-nothingness”) was Nietzsche; the problem of nihilism is posed where the Western man is at a loss of values/meaning (another definition derives from the non-distinction of dualistic extremes).

Nietzsche’s answer to nihilism originates with Greek tragedy where art, emerged from the tension between the Apollonian-Dionysian (order-chaos) dichotomy, transforms human suffering into a passionate affirmation of life. Subjectivity collapses back into the will-to-life (“Primordial unity”, Dionysian) and exaggerates it (frenzy); order re-emerges (Apollonian) to give the energy form (art). Such an act of destruction-creation (creative-destruction) puts man into the continual state of flux/becoming, of joy-sorrow, and of gain-loss. To affirm life is to recognize such a duality best summarized by amor fati or to love fate.


The procreative tendencies of affirming life produces conflicting power centers that are in conflict. The Apollonian impulse to organize these centers produces a higher-order of complexity that in man, emerges as consciousness (Ego) for ordering the power-struggle; observation of this phenomenon by the ego is dubbed Will-to-power. Nietzsche uses this concept to explain his moral theory, or rather the rejection of normative ethics on the grounds that individuals of different will-to-power are sufficiently different (degrees of power constitutes standards for value). Master-morality is the morality of the strong-willed where man experiences himself as determining his values (he is creator of values); his view is consequentialist in sense that what is harmful/helpful for me is bad/good in itself. This is in contrast to slave-morality which reevaluates the values created by the masters. His view accords right/wrong by intention rather than consequences; value is accorded according to the greatest utility for the whole community. It is no surprise that Nietzsche criticizes Christianity as it preaches universal brotherhood or egalitarianism.

At the far extremes, the master who acquires the power to overcome nihilism whilst avoiding the trappings of both other-worldliness and asceticism is the Ubermensch. Moreover, the Ubermensch is able to will the “eternal recurrence”, the nihilist extreme that all that has happened before will happen again ad infinitum (non-uniqueness of events itself!). Such a figure is the posited as a goal for humanity to strive towards (human as a bridge between animal and the Ubermensch) and represents Nietzsche’s answer to nihilism. Unfortunately, history’s reaction to this answer was disastrous (two world-wars to boot); this remains the ongoing problem for modern man that all later philosophers will have to address.

Will to Power

Will & Representation

will and representation

Modern subjectivism acquires new-found significance in the works of Schopenhauer and later that of Nietzsche. Schopenhauer integrates a number of Eastern concepts (Buddhist striving/suffering, subject-object core) with the Western post-Kantian framework (noumena/phenomenon, thing-in-itself). His first major thought uncovers an important assumption behind Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason (knowledge/truth must have sufficient explanations); particulars that require explanations presuppose a subject that seek the explanation (subject-object divide is the root of sufficient reasons).  Moreover, sufficient explanations can be differentiated by the categories of the objects referenced; material things have casual relations, abstractions by logic, Mathematical/geometrical constructions by number/space, psychology/motivation by moral reasoning. Explanations, by such categories of objects, shall also be mutually exclusive or unmixed. This argument is used against Kant’s thing-in-itself (a mind-independent object that is inaccessible to human experience) as having caused mind-dependent sensory experience (causality between these objects is a categorical error); sensory experiences are denied their external causes and instead must be related in another way.

Schopenhauer’s answer is a Pantheist one where sensory information are not caused but instead are representations of the Will (two-sides of the same coin) e.g. the appearance of lightning is the representation of the Will of electric potential, the movement of our physical bodies as manifestation of our own wills. The unity between Will and representation in our bodies (subject with object) assigns it greater importance as it is treated as the point of reference to all other objects; acts of the will are instantly objectified by the body and thus one and the same . Will is objectified through a two-tiered approached (Platonic Ideas which are outside space-time, and then by their particulars which are constituted in space-time). The world of appearances is thus a reflection of Will (Panpsychism).


Schopenhauer’s Will is unlike that of the rational/logical self-consciousness of the German idealists of his time; Will is a wholly mindless, aimless, and non-rational urge responsible for our instinctual drives. It is blind-impulse with neither aim nor determination; such a world strives for nothing in particular but only to further fragment (differentiate, individuate) itself (through principles of sufficient reason, law of free-energy will agree). The experience of such fragmentation is human suffering and  frustration. Three solutions are posited:

  1. The aesthetic perception or merging with less-differentiated minds (discernment through objects, losing oneself in an object) and access its Platonic Idea; high-art gives spatial-temporal forms to these Ideas which allow others to more closely access them. Music has special importance as they contain the structures of the world itself along a feeling axis.
  2. Having compassion for the suffering of others as they are cut from the same cloth (from the act of Humanity itself). Recognizing the universal consciousness in everyone curbs the energy of blind impulse. Determining our own innate propensities/characteristics (self-knowledge) leads to tranquility.
  3. Asceticism or minimizing one’s desires reduces suffering and frustration; it is a form of regression into a less differentiated state and the curtailing of will to knowledge.
Will & Representation

German Idealism

German Idealism

German idealism begins with Kant’s epistemology as a synthesis between the rationalist and empiricist schools of thought. Knowledge was previously dichotomized divided between a priori and a posteriori propositions; a statement was true/false through verification with/without experience by necessity. However, such a distinction had been wrongfully conflated with grammatic structures in language systems derived from Aristolean logic; continuing the dualstic tradition, Kant makes the finer distinction that predicates can either be wholly contained within the subject (analytic) or outside it (synthetic). The structural deconstruction of propositions could then be classified under analytic-a prior (definitional), analytic-a posteriori (impossible by definition), synthetic-a priori (questionable), and synthetic-a posteriori (common-sense). The rationalists restricted truth-claims to only the analytic-a priori i while the empiricists to that of synthetic-a posteriori with both camps mutually rejecting claims of the other. Kant argues that the propositions in metaphysics, geometry, and mathematics are synthethic-a priori where truth-claims outside the subject can be made without an appeal to experience; Proving such claims require a “transcendental argument” or an appeal to necessary assumptions that structure all apprehensions and mental acts.

Kant argues that all our intuitions (perceptions) must be organized along some manifold of space and time which is outside the subject. To experience an object requires a representation along spatial-temporal axes; objects must occupy (be delineated in) a region and we mentally arrange our intuitions in sequences (succession) to create separation through memory (time). The representation must be further differentiated into conceptual structures (categories for organizing things in space-time, schema) for our sensible inputs to become things; our things have quantity (unity as one percept, plurality as many percepts, totality as union of all percepts over moments in time), quality (negation as the normal-state, reality as the abnormal state or something is present in tlme, limitation as occupying the present amongst many), relation (inherence/subsistence as a persistence of subject or the temporality of predicates over time, causality as necessity of percepts from their antecedants in time, reciprocity as the dynamics between predicates of different subjects), and modality (I liken this to a probability space of different realizations and their covariances). Such a schema both enables and limits the sort of metaphysical truth-claims that one can make. Many of those posited by the rationalists are shown to be  provable from both the original assertion and their negations using transcendental arguments; “antinomies” such as space-time has a beginning/end and space-time is infinite are shown to be beyond the scope of reason. In restricting the space of knowledge as derived from the systemizing function of reason and the limitations of phenomena  (the thing in itself or noumena can never be known), Kant leaves its complement open to faith.


Kant’s ethical work concerns the universality of duty (deontology) on the premise that morality presupposes freedom of which reason can not demonstrate but must assume to have; relegating actions to causal laws undermines reason’s ability to affect will.  Things in the world are thereby classified as having or not having reason (actors and things that can only be acted upon or can only follow causal laws). As actors, the principles from which actions are made must treat other actors as ends in themselves rather than means to ends; failure to-do so would undermine the freedom that reason presupposes, turning man back into animals (freedom is a good). The consequence is the universalization of maxims into laws that do not undermine the freedom of all actors on principle (categorical imperative); the morality of an act is judged not upon realities but on its motive and reason. I find such laws similar to Rousseau’s general will and analogous to convergence laws that lead to globally optimal solutions. This universalizing perspective will be radicalized by later German philosophers such as Fiche, Schelling, and Hegel (whom I’ll be concerned with next) through its broadening from moral judgments to all of reason.

Hegel sought a universal law that would explain development of self-consciousness, experience, reason, and reality in terms of dialectic from the ground-up (evolution of spirit/mind).  Its starting point is anthropocentric as it posits human awareness as fundamentally concerned with the relationship between self and other. The lord and bondsman (master/slave) analogy is a primary example where two consciousnesses seek self-determination through mutual recognition but fail to do; the lord identifies with his power over the bondsman through penalty of death while the slave identifies with mastery over/objectification of the environment in compensation of the threat by his master. Neither parties become fully self-determined or free as the recognition is asymmetric. The lord cannot kill his slave for otherwise he loses his identity; the bondsman remains powerless in other affairs. This struggle towards the self-determination of individuals cannot be resolved outside of ethical life (e.g. personal morality) whose concrete form would ultimately be actualized in the State. Such a process is grounded in Hegel’s logic which has a triadic structure.


The triadic-dialectics of Hegel (abstract, negative, concrete) and Fichte (thesis, antithesis, synthesis) posit that propositions/claims have flaws within themselves which cannot be resolved unless mediated by thing outside the context; a pure being (awareness in itself) is indistinguishable from nothing and thus require something determined or concrete as a mediation (a more recent example may be the hand-held spear negated into a thrown spear and then synthesized into bow with a quiver of arrows). From the resulting concrete/synthesis, the two lesser moments are sublated into higher categories and the process repeats until a future equilibrium (progress).

Hegel’s principle posits a cognitive tension or paralysis between abstractions (ideas) and their indetermincies which can only be realized through something more concrete (ideas and our awareness undergo differentiation which are eventually realized in sensible things). Every resolution of previous flaws/contradictions expands both possibility/realized spaces while new antagonisms emerge from their mediations. Man (humanity) thus becomes self-determined when he achieves a unity between the abstract universality (uncoerced choice, will in-itself) and the subjective-will (can give concrete expression to will) through the State and the multi-faceted social, economic, and political institutions that arise. Further analysis is beyond the scope of this blog entry.

German Idealism

Romantic Movement

Romantic Movement

The romantic movement establishes the counter-position against both modern rationalism & empiricism in the philosophical spheres and political theories in the material sphere. At face value, romanticism is a rebellion against prudence, a rejection of the scientific rationalism that inscribed knowledge to what was measurable, the expression of passions, sensibilities, and the aesthetics, the openness towards mystery. Nature, to the romantics, is the most mysterious in the sense that it contains all that which hasn’t been symbolized, framed, and represented. Sensibility, or the sensitivity to one’s emotions and feeling-tones evoked by nature, is its epistemology. Thus, the Romantic reverses the difficulties of subjectivity in the empiricism of Locke, Berkeley and Hume by turning it into its central doctrine. Such is an sign of the growing individualism of man that underpins later traditions such as German idealism, existentialism, and post-modern thoughts.romanticism

Rousseau is most known for his works in moral philosophy regarding the natural goodness of man, noble savage, inequality, and the general will. Unlike Christianity’s original sin, Rousseau’s man is born good but is corrupted by the institutions of man. Arts and sciences fabricated passions in the psyche of man that erodes his morality and virtue. The savage or primitive, who lives a life closer to the self-contained/isolated/free state of nature, is less corrupted by the influences of socialization, of the social-contracts under a sovereignty. inequality arose out of man convincing each other of one another’s property; specialization in talents produces competition and alienated one person from another

Rousseau’s solution calls upon political changes to both education and governance. The goal of education is to cultivate the natural in-born talents of man that will engage him social life without relations of domination and subordination. His participation in governance will follow that of the “general will” (common good), which is a common denominator amongst all participating interests in the collective. Such a sovereignty will protect individuals from gross inequality.


Romantic Movement

Modern Philosophy III

Modern Philosophy III

Berkeley begins the modern idealist tradition with his complete rejection of material as metaphysical substance. Working from Locke, Berkeley’s immaterialism does not deny the existence of objects per-se, but that existence has become contingent on perceptions (of ideas or state-of-mind) by a subject. The subject, referred to as spirit, is analogous to the mind and “active” in the sense of possessing will/judgment and the aperception of ideas.  This is to say that there are no mind-independent things which leads to a fully subjective and restricted world-view; the existence of other spirits can only be known through the ideas that they incite in our minds. His moral philosophy is also contrarian to that of Locke; passive-obedience is a negative moral duty to the government without exceptions.


Hume both extended and finalized many of the issues that were contained in Locke and Hume’s empiricism. He’s most known for formulating the problem of induction or the inference of the unknown from known events. Underlying all of the induction is the assumption of uniformity or the regularity in nature; the observations that one makes thus far persists in both time and space outside that window. Such an assumption cannot be demonstrated as one can easily conceive of a world that is non-uniform. Neither can a probable argument towards its validity be meaningful as this is the very question that induction seeks to answer; logic/reason cannot be used to justify this hypothesis.

Hume’s notion of causality relates his conception of induction to man’s psychology. Here, causality is always preceded by the impressions of two conjoined events serialized in time. With repeated apprehensions, ideas or mental states of these impressions are formed such that the latter idea becomes associated with the former impression. The mind, by its necessity to determine relations, cannot help by make the leap to causation from its conditioning (Pavlov later demonstrates this in the 19th century). Related is his conception of the self as a mere bundle of perceptions; we have difficulty experiencing impressions of our self but instead have chains of perceptions that follow by necessity.

Hume’s ethics make an important distinction between reason/passion, is-ought, and moral responsibility in a compatibility view of free-will. Reason is always a slave (to serve) to passion in the sense that knowledge does not compel the will as does feelings/sentiments do. This follows from the formulation of the “is-ought” problem where no amount of descriptive statements can ever deduce a prescriptive statement. His compatablist’s free-will holds that while necessity binds actions to motives, it is the will that must have choice for otherwise the actions would be judged as only given to chance which non-regular.

hume1 hume2

Modern Philosophy III