- Harry Jensen
March 29, 2020
There were several points yesterday during which I thought I had shit my pants, so I read philosophy to raise my self-esteem.
I took a run at Schopenhauer again, but I struggled. All old German philosophy is written by extraordinary curmudgeons, and reading through a treatise is a grueling slog akin to eating a bathtub full of porridge with a teaspoon. I started with his magnum opus The World as Will and Representation, and then backtracked to his PhD dissertation The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, and then retreated to the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the Wikipedia for philosophy nerds which can itself only be supplemented by Wikipedia runoff.
In his dissertation, Schopenhauer defines the principle of sufficient reason as that which requires us to acknowledge that there are no states of affairs which lack a sufficient reason why they should be so, and not otherwise. Schopenhauer then claims that this principle emerges out of the subject-object distinction, the fundamental differentiation of object and observer that serves also as the grounds for knowledge. Furthermore, for any explanans to be genuine the explanandum must have come to be the case by necessity. These necessary connections are, in Aristotelian fashion, confined to the explanation of the following objects: 1) material things, 2) abstract concepts, 3) mathematical and geometrical constructions, 4) and psychologically-motivating forces. To each of these belongs a certain kind of reasoning, and Schopenhauer stipulates that genuine explanations of these objects must be in the form of the corresponding mode of reasoning. Arguments of cause and effect dealing with material cannot properly reach a conclusion about abstract concepts or mathematical constructions or intentional objects.
It’s at that stage of things where I am struggling through the structure, and not at all clear if it will lead to anything interesting. I’m drawn because Schopenhauer influenced Nietzsche and thus existentialism, and I’m interested in his interest in the Upanishads, so afterwards I started reading the Bhagavad Gita. So far, there’s a big battle between a complicated family, and there’s lots of blowing of transcendent conch shells and explaining of the situation to an anxious, blind king.
I wish I studied religion instead of philosophy sometimes — it seems more bent on spiritual enlightenment than just being right. The so-called religionists say you’re not supposed to engage with the text like that, but I’m in it for me as much as anyone else. Philosophical or “impersonal” speculation, as the Bhagavad Gita has it, often attempts to escape the limits of subjectivity by approximating mathematics, but the religious verve I find in scripture and in the writings of the faithful, like my father or Samuel Pepys, make me wish for something more.
In the introduction to the Bhagavad Gita, the author, a man 30th in the disciplic succession of these teachings, says that the scripture is meant for those who want to truly figure out their situation. I was forced to grapple with my situation when my father died, grasping straws in hopes of finding a silver hair of proof that something matters to someone, particularly my life to me. Philosophy was supposed to tell me what the situation is, but in the end it failed because no one is in the position to say what’s what, and what it could tell me about my own stance in the universe was often isolating and limiting, showing me only that my reality is rickety, and my language limited.
I saw Sadie last night, and she talked to me about her own philosophy thesis. I asked her how she was doing as we walked the streets with Maude, six feet apart and concealed in hoodies and scarves. She said that the times sucked but at least the whole world stopped, too. Which is another reason why this time is so familiar yet so strange. It is a time of grieving, for the world and for the future, but the world’s mind is turned towards it all at once, watching and waiting. There is comfort in knowing that, if your house burns down, your roommates will be totally fucked, too. This usually doesn’t happen to this scale, almost never. It’s a terrible and special time, a precious agony, a passing era for navel-gazing and tentative ass-swabbing and dunking on people about your off-the-charts aptitude for navigating grief.