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Schopenhauer: Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy)

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ISBN-13: 978-0521571418
ISBN-10: 0521571413
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"Recommended for large university and public libraries; accessible to general readers, upper-division undergraduates, and above." Choice

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German

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Product Details

  • Series: Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy
  • Hardcover: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (May 13, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521571413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521571418
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,682,063 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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49 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Greg Nyquist VINE VOICE on May 29, 2001
Format: Paperback
There are few subjects in philosophy which breed so much confusion as this entire issue of "free will" verses determinism. Schopenhauer, who understood human will perhaps better than any philosopher (since will was central to his entire system of thought) contributes what may be the single best work on the subject. Starting where Locke, Hume, and Kant left off, Schopenhauer demonstrates that all versions of the free will doctrine are incoherent and fundamentally opposed to the basic presuppositions of human knowing. His argument is based on the simple idea that human willing contains certain uniformities that allow us to judge other people's character, and that in the absence of these uniformities, it would make no sense to hold people responsible for what they have done. If human beings really had free will in the traditional sense of the concept, their behavior would be inextricably unfathomable. Schopenhauer, as one of the few philosophers to really understand what is at issue in the whole debate, shows that, under the assumption of freedom of the will, a man's "character must be from the very beginning a tabula rasa...and cannot have any inborn inclination to one side or the other." This point of view, however, would utterly destroy the conception of human nature illustrated by the classics of World Literature and the researches of social scientists. Under the free will premise, individuals would have no set character at all, and men in general would have no common nature. It would be useless to study the humanities or the social sciences in order to learn about human beings, because there would be no common human nature.Read more ›
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By meadowreader on September 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We are free when we are able do what we want, that is, when we are not somehow impeded from doing what we will to do. But we decide what to do as a matter of causal necessity; otherwise, our actions would be random and senseless. The notion that we have the power to originate the causal chain by an act of will makes no sense; as Schopenhauer says, causation is not like a cab that you can start and stop wherever it helps your argument. As he notes, that point also defeats cosmological arguments about "prime movers" and "first causes." This is a great read, a chance to experience a first-class mind grappling with a difficult and interesting problem. Schopenhauer generally even avoids his usual bitter broadsides and against Schelling and Hegel and the sort of philosophizing they represent, although those are fun to read and generally on target. (He lost another, later prize because his essay in that case, although the only candidate for the prize, was so full of personal invective that the judges refused to make the award.)

Another reviewer correctly notes that Schopenhauer undermines his own argument at the last minute, or tries to, in a strange concluding chapter. There he argues that our feelings of personal responsibility for our actions points to freedom of some kind, a species of argument that he had earlier dismantled. Anyway, this freedom would have to exist beyond the empirical level, as his arguments have decisively eliminated any possibility of freedom there. The position Schopenhauer presents in that chapter involves the idea that we, somehow, choose our own characters at some mysterious point of emergence from the Kantian noumena. No commentator I have read has been able to make sense of it. In any case, it's completely skippable, a brief, tacked-on chapter that makes no difference for the rest of the book, which is very well worth reading.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 16, 2003
Format: Paperback
For those who are convinced that determinism has been refuted (ie. Popper, Sartre, Kierkegarrd) it is quite obvious that they haven't read this essay because if they had they might put their own presuppositions about the validity of free will into question.
Schopenhauer does a fantastic job at dissecting the concept of the 'freedom of the will' by first showing that it cannot be proven from self-consciounsess. He follows this by meticulously distinguishing between the changes that occur in inorganic objects (cause), plants (stimulus), and animals(intuitive and particularly for humans, abstract motives). He points out that in regards to the automatic organic function of animals bodies, changes occur in the form of a "stimulus" but in willed action motivation is the cause (but not in the mechanical sense that the narrow definition of casaulity implies). Schopenhauer writes, in regards to motivation, "causality that passes through cognition... enters in the gradual scale of natural beings at that point where a being which is more complex, and thus has more manifold needs, was no longer able to satisfy them merely on the occasion of a stimulus that must be awaited, but had to be in a position to choose, seize, and even seek out the means of satisfaction."
Schopenhauer thinks that humans have "relative freedom" but that relative freedom is to act in accordance with the motives that are necessitated by the Will-- which in turn is the determining factor of human behavior. In humans the linkage of cause and effect is of a far greater distance than that of intuitive animals-- causing us to mistakingly exclude our behavior from the law of casaulity-- but in the end 'the Will' still determines actions by what he calls "sufficient necessitiy".
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