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

Modern Philosophy II

Modern Philosophy II

Descartes’ hyperbolic doubt begins the age of modern philosophy by forgoing most of the previous metaphysical assumptions established in the scholastic schools of thought. In doubting all sensory perceptions and the body, he arrives at the fundamental assumption that only his thoughts “as is” exist and thus he exists through thoughts; one’s skepticism of his/her existence via thought is sufficient to prove the existence of the mind. Knowledge of external things is not known in the senses/body as the binding of senses to objecthood occurs in the thoughts/mind; senses are unreliable as they require constantancy to form a description of the world at this low-level. The ability of the mind to make deductions (rationalism) and to ignore the body suggests an immaterial quality that is exception to natural laws. The apparent dualism between mind & body and how the two can interact is a problem that later philosophers will have to address.


Spinoza opposes the mind-body dualism by arguing that everything that exists in nature has a common substance (objecthood) and is synonymous with God (Pantheism). Both thoughts and extensions are attributes of this substance (among an infinitely many that we are not aware of) with different modes (modifications). His ethics are Epicurean and negates absolute good/evil as either can be positive/negative w.r.t. pain/pleasure. His writings on psychology expounds upon active & passive (passions) emotions where the former rises from understanding and latter by external causes; passions, which are purported to be responsible for the ills of the world, can be transformed into understanding so that we become the cause of our effects. These concepts will be the seeds for the later development of psychoanalysis in the 19-20th century.


Leibniz’s solution to the mind-body problem was a new metaphysics based on elementary particles called Monads that reflects the universe (blurred perception of other Monads), are uninteracting (immaterial), and are in pre-harmony with each other. Monads are independent as they have been pre-programmed since inception; they are centers of force from which space, matter, force are appearances. For man, Monads are hierarchical and serve (pre-programmed) the purposes of single Monad that represents his soul. Thus, the non-interaction between Monads resolve the mind-body issue at a cost of free-will. The determinism in his metaphysics creates theological problems; one inquires as to why God allowed for the ills of the world to exist in contradiction to his absolute goodness. The explanation holds that the world is the best of all possible worlds with the largest surplus of good. This follows from the tenant that everything that which does not exist “struggles” to exist (be realized) in the world; the law of compossibility (fewest contradictions) asserts that the world consists of heterogeneous truths. One can view this as a utilitarian solution for maximizing good in an over-determined system.


Locke’s theory of knowledge flipped that of Descartes on its head by placing experience above reason. Knowledge is empirical as it first comes by the senses and then the perception of the mind’s operation (reflection); the mind is initially a blank-slate (tabular rasa) without a priori ideas to which simple to complex ideas are built from experience in a bottom-up manner. Knowledge is thus the agreement of ideas between minds to which the problem of knowing ultimate causes outside experience is circumvented; the cause is often conflated with the sense of the cause. The investigation of ideas is thus probabilistic as they can only be confirmed by experience or by the testimony of experiences of others.


A consequence of Locke’s empiricism enables him to take stances on ethics and state-crafting that are more closely aligned with political actualities. Working from Hobbes, Locke defines the “state of nature” as a lack of a common judge or authority amongst equals with natural rights (life, liberty, and property) grounded by natural laws (Christian ethics). Similar to Hobbes, man engages in a social contract to form a civil society as to protect his natural rights. Unlike Hobbes, authority is not unconditionally (with the exception of self-preservation) handed over to a monarch but instead is given consent which is contingent upon its ability to protect said rights; the denizens are responsible for revolution if the government is ineffectual at its task. The tension between private interests and the rights that were given up to form the public are palpable in the short term but through the assumption that man is rational, will coincide in the long term; prudence is thusly valued. Property, as a natural right, derives from the Christian conception of natural resources given to humanity in common by God. Man, who owns himself, owns his labor to which it enters natural resources and transforms it into property.


Modern Philosophy II