- Paperback: 128 pages
- Publisher: Dover Publications (May 6, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0486440117
- ISBN-13: 978-0486440118
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 16 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #820,339 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Essay on the Freedom of the Will (Philosophical Classics) (Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences Winner)
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"Recommended for large university and public libraries; accessible to general readers, upper-division undergraduates, and above." Choice --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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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.
This essay was submitted to a Norwegian academy in 1839 and won a prize, for its response to the question, "Is it possible to prove the freedom of the human will from the evidence of self-consciousness?"
He admits, "If we ask a man a question like the following: ... `But your willing itself, on what does IT depend?', the man may fall back on the self-consciousness: `On nothing else but myself. I can will what I will...' And he says this without intending it to be a tautology... But rather, being very hard put to is, he talks about a willing of his willing, which is the same as if he talked about the self of his self. One has pushed him back to the very heart of his self-consciousness, where he encounters his self and his will as indistinguishable, but when nothing remains to pass judgment on both of them." (Pg. 20)
He continues, "the uncertainty and vacillation of his explanations show clearly enough that his immediate self-consciousness provides no information on the correctly understood question... In the final analysis this is due to the fact that man's will is his authentic self, the true core of his being; hence it constitutes the ground of his consciousness as something which is simply given and present and beyond which he cannot go. For he himself is as he wills, and wills as he is." (Pg. 21)
Later, he summarizes, "All of this taken together, then, is the source of the natural delusion which leads to the erroneous view that our self-consciousness contains the certainty of a freedom of our will, in the sense that... it determines itself without sufficient grounds, and that it resolves, under given circumstances and in one and the same man, could turn out in this way or in the opposite way." (Pg. 42-43)
He points out, "I can do what I will: I can, if I will, give everything I have to the poor and thus become poor myself---if I will! But I cannot will this, because the opposing motives have much too much power over me for me to be able to do this. On the other hand, if I had a different character, even to the extent that I were a saint, then I would be able to will it. But then I could not keep from willing it, and hence I would have to do so." (Pg. 45)
He observes, "a man, even in the clearest knowledge and indeed disgust at his moral failures and defects, and in the most sincere intention to reform, still does not really reform but, in spite of serious intentions and honest promises, and to his own surprise, finds himself when the opportunity recurs, again treading the same paths as before. What can be corrected is only his knowledge, from which he can come to see that this or that means which he used before does not lead to his goal, or brings more loss than gain; then he changes the means, not the ends." (Pg. 53)
He argues, "that all those external circumstances whose effect the character was supposed to lie completely outside of our power and would it be brought about in one way or the other way by chance (or, if one prefers, by Providence). Now, if it is from these that the character and from this in turn the difference of behavior arises, then all moral responsibility for the latter would completely disappear, since obviously this difference would ultimately be the work of chance or of Providence." (Pg. 57)
He concludes, "it will never enter the head of even the one who is fully convinced of the necessity... with which our actions take place to make this necessity excuse a transgression and shift the blame from himself to the motives, arguing... that the act was inevitable. For he sees very clearly that this necessity has a subjective condition, and that objectively... under the existing circumstances... an action exactly opposite the one he performed, was quite possible and could have happened, IF ONLY HE HAD BEEN ANOTHER---this alone kept him from doing something else. To him, because he is this man and no other... no different action was of course possible... So the responsibility of which he is conscious falls upon the act only provisionally and ostensibly, but basically it falls upon HIS CHARACTER---for this he feels responsible. And it is for his character that the others also make him responsible." (Pg. 94)
This is one of Schopenhauer's most interesting works, and will be of great interest to anyone studying his philosophy.