Sunday, 22 February 2015

Freedom and the State - Hobbes, Locke and Schopenhauer

This is the latest version of the beginning of a comparative study of the role of the State in economic theory that deals with the theoretical foundations of "the social synthesis" - that is, the "stuff" that may hold human societies together. Kant, of course, in reference to bourgeois society called "die ungesellige Geselligkeit" (the unsociable sociability) - a phrase that beautifully encapsulates the nature and the timeliness of this study. I will update it from time to time. Happy reading!

The Classical concept of Freedom aims to bring together the antinomic notions of the Will and of Reason. In turn, both the Will and Reason can have antithetical meanings when considered in their autonomous decisional or heteronomous instrumental aspects: the Will can have a decisional aspect as conscious Volition (voluntas, velle, arbitrium) and an operational one as blind insatiable Appetite (appetitus, conatus, want, Lust); similarly, reason can have a substantive meaning as a faculty (Reason, Vernunft) allowing for the human comprehension of Being (esse) which then makes possible the scientific determination of human goals (inter esse, human interests) by the autonomous Will; and an instrumental one as a tool for consistent measurable action or calculation (intellect, understanding, Verstand).


The inconsistency between Will and Reason arises from the fact that in Western philosophy the Will has always been regarded as “absolutely and autonomously free” – even free to perpetrate evil (as liberum arbitrium). As Cacciari notes (DeCdP, c.p.60), in Western thought, unlike the Eastern (from which Schopenhauer in particular was first to draw keenly) freedom at least in the decisional sense has always been predicated of the Will, and has also always been construed in the volitional sense as auto-nomous or ab-solute, that is, not subject to any restrictions or heteronomy. And this is the difficulty that the negatives Denken from Hobbes to Heidegger has sought to overcome, as we shall see presently.


Yet, as Kant insisted (following Plato), to be “free”, the Will must be able to restrain its appetite by being “reasonable” in its substantive sense as volition – because, quite obviously, the will can be neither free nor reasonable in its aspect as appetite. And yet, if it is to be free even as volition, the will cannot be subordinate to Reason on pain of making their compatibility tautologous, or even to reason in the limited instrumental sense as the intellect, because this would turn the Will from an autonomous substantive entity into a heteronomous instrumental one, similar to mere appetite, of which “freedom” cannot be predicated except in the purely quantitative, self-seeking sense of “free-dom” – that is, the seeking of satisfaction to the detriment of all other wills. Similarly and conversely, Reason cannot be free if it is to be consistent with appetite, whilst freedom cannot be predicated of reason as intellect. The word “arbitrium” itself gives the sense of the antithetical ambi-valence of the notion of Will: the human faculty of arbitrium makes the decision-maker an “arbiter” in the sense that the Will is “free” to decide; and yet this “arbitrage” cannot be “arbitrary” but “reasonable”, that is, subject to the rules of Reason or at least of reason – whence the phrase “liberum arbitrium” to emphasize the fact that the Will can be both free or unfettered and reasonable.


Freedom is therefore inconsistent with Reason because the notions of Volition as well as that of Appetite are incompatible with the restrictions that Reason must impose on Freedom by virtue of its supposed internal consistency both logico-mathematical and also practico-moral. Thus, to the extent that the concept of Will must include that of Reason, Freedom must be inconsistent with Reason, unless the two are defined tautologously – that is, only reasonable decisions by the Will can be said to be free.


In pursuit of his genial definition of freedom as rationality rather than Reason, Max Weber mistakenly argues that only “rational” decisions are free, without noticing that “rationality” here must also mean “reasonableness” – otherwise there could be irrational decisions in the sense of substantive Reason [Wert-rationalitat] that could still be said to be free if they were carried out in an instrumentally rational manner [Zweck-rationalitat]! Evidently, Weber did not intend freedom in its substantive sense as Freedom, that is, as the union of Volition and Reason, but only in its instrumental sense as free-dom, the union of appetite and calculation, as in the scientific link between Want and Provision in neoclassical economic theory. In effect, this free-dom becomes a form of co-ercion – necessity in a political sense, not “necessity” in a scientific sense given that Weber agreed that there are indefinite scientific ways or means to attain stated goals or ends.



There are two concepts of freedom in Classical philosophical and political theory (cf. I. Berlin, The Two Concepts of Liberty, and N. Bobbio, “Kant e le due liberta’” in Da Hobbes a Marx). The first concept combines the instrumental aspects of freedom – appetite and intellect - and sets its boundaries heteronomously, that is to say, through an external limit to the Will as appetite: – appetite and means to its satisfaction are rationally, though not necessarily reasonably, regulated through limited provision of whatever individuals seek to obtain imposed by external forces such as scarcity or other appetites or the State. This is the “negative” meaning of freedom also known as “liberty”, according to which freedom is whatever the appetite is allowed to do by scarce means and resources or by other appetites either through sheer force (Hobbes, Schopenhauer) or by convention based on labour or utility (cf. Locke’s notion of labour, Mill’s utilitarianism, Schopenhauer’s sym-pathy, Constant’s market-based liberalism). The limit of this conception is that if appetites are to be externally, heteronomously, kept in check so as not to lead to self-destruction or mutual annihilation, then they must be governed by Reason in its substantive sense, which is incompatible with appetite.


This conclusion impacts directly on the second definition of freedom as a range of conduct autonomously adopted by the Will in conjunction with other wills. In other words, even the substantive sense of the Will as volition (voluntas, velle, Wollen) cannot be consistent with Reason because its autonomy must be guided and enlightened by Reason and also be limited and measured by (be commensurate with) the intellect or instrumental reason – because otherwise it degenerates into either insatiable appetite or self-annihilating abnegation, which means that it can reduce itself to naught (cf. I. Berlin, op.cit.). To the extent that human beings may decide autonomously to restrict their freedom in the sense of their appetites or self-interests to a minimum, this restriction must be reasonable if it is not to void freedom of its meaning!




The inconsistency between freedom and reason cannot be overcome by positing a natural or scientific necessity because what may be impossible for the Will to achieve with one set of means may be possible with another, what is impossible today may become possible tomorrow (flying to another galaxy, for instance) depending on the means available, and in any case, any restriction on an individual’s aim, however unreasonable, is a restriction on its free-dom - which leads us back to Weber’s definition. Freedom therefore may only be opposed to coercion if we adopt a definition of necessity that allows of all means, however impractical or impossible. In other words, contra Weber, even absolutely impossible or irrational volitions can be free, and then the only obstacle to the Will is co-ercion and not physical-scientific “necessity”. Even where human beings attempt the impossible – are constrained by “necessity” -, any attempt to restrain them from the attempt, however foolish it may be, must amount to co-ercion. (This is what led Nietzsche to re-define the notion of physical-scientific necessity.)



This inconsistency of the notions of freedom (the volitional aspect of the will and its insatiable appetite) and reason (as the regulator of the will both in terms of ends and means) poses an insurmountable problem that affects Hobbes’s genial political theory of the establishment of civil society from the state of nature. The Hobbesian commonwealth (contractum unionis) is formed when human beings decide freely and rationally to curtail their insatiable appetites that lead to the war of all against all in the state of nature. To overcome this difficulty, Hobbes makes this political convention depend on a scientific hypothesis, namely, that it is the fear of death at the hands of one another that provides the dira necessitas for the establishment of civil society in which human beings relinquish their external freedom to the State. Yet Hobbes cannot explain how human beings can choose rationally to alienate their freedom in foro externo to the State when evidently they are perfectly able to make such a decision….freely! Indeed, Hobbes concedes that in his commonwealth subjects retain their freedom in foro interno - yet the two fora are not separable or severable.  However dire the “necessity” that induces human beings to exit the precarious state of nature, it is still their Reason applied freely that leads them into the contractum subjectionis to the State. [Cacciari quote from DCP]


Hobbes was always keen to reduce human beings to their blind “passions” whilst at the same time reducing their volition to the instrumental exercise of reason: his political theory is aimed at deriving the foundations of a rational State by reducing human action as much as possible to the predictability of mathematics and mechanics. Obviously, Hobbes believed that rationality could be imposed “scientifically” on the Will.


FROM the principal parts of Nature, Reason and Passion, have proceeded two kinds of learning, mathematical and dogmatical : the former is free from controversy and dispute, because it consisteth in comparing figure and motion only; in which things, truth, and the interest of men, oppose not each other : but in the other there is nothing indisputable, because it compareth men, and meddleth with their right and profit ; in which, as oft as reason is against a man, so oft will a man be against reason. And from hence it cometh, that they who have written of justice and policy in general, do all invade each other and themselves with contradictions. To reduce this doctrine to the rules and infallibility of reason, there is no way, but, first, put such principles down for a foundation, as passion, not mistrusting, may not seek to displace; and afterwards to build thereon the truth of cases in the law of nature (which hitherto have been built in the air) by degrees, till the whole have been inexpugnable. (Dedication to De Homine)


Here it is clear that “the rules and infallibility of reason” – Hobbes’s mathematical learning whereby “truth and the interest of men oppose not each other” - are in complete opposition to irrational “Passion” or self-interest – Hobbes’s dogmatic learning whereby “right and profit meddleth with men” by warping their allegiance to reasonnot merely in terms of instrumentalinfallibility”, but above all in terms of “truth”, by which Hobbes intends a universal value and not just logico-mathematical consistency. For Hobbes, it is possible “to reduce this doctrine [dogmatical learning - that is, political and ethical science]” to a foundation of Reason based on “the truth of cases in the law of nature…by degrees, till the whole is inexpugnable…. that passion may not displace it”. In other words, despite their appetite orpassion”, human beings are still able to follow the dictates of reason so as to preserve their individual lives by choosing freely to erect a State that will guarantee social peace. But Hobbes’s freedom, reason, life and peace are not purely instrumental categories, for if they were there is no way that human beings could place them “above” their egoism or “passions”. Clearly, these values must be universal and not purely instrumental – they form part of the make-up of the world, of the constitution of the universe in a way that clearly invokes the transcendental if not divine nature of human being.



In contrast, Locke conjectured a political theory in which human beings can give themselves a rational political order – a State - based on natural law or natural rights (jusnaturalism) without first alienating their freedom. Such a freely-entered political order preserves the natural rights possessed by humans in the state of nature, which amounts therefore to a pre-political civil state (Bobbio, Da Hobbes a Marx). Like Hobbes, Locke conceives a legal system erected by the State based on rights that derive almost entirely from Labor and its pro-ducts – Property -, with the difference that for Locke property rights based on Labor exist in the pre-political or civil state or state of nature – they are natural rights -, whereas for Hobbes there can be no rights in the state of nature but only in the State – all rights must be positive.


As a concession to Hobbes, Locke admits that whilst Hobbes’s authoritarian state is not necessary, it would become so were humans not to erect a neutral state to arbitrate their competing claims to natural rights because, if their pre-statal society or pre-political state were to descend into civil war – into the clutches of Hobbesian “passions” – then, according to Locke, “the ensuing civil war of the state of nature would continue indefinitely”. In other words, the conflictual Hobbesian state of nature is not congenital to humanity, and therefore the mechanical authoritarian State devised by Hobbes is not inevitable. But if it is not pre-empted by the erection of a political state, the Hobbesian state of nature may well eventuate and then - for Locke, contra Hobbes - be impossible to escape. Locke’s theory deals neatly with one of the principal objections to Hobbes’s political theory, which is that if humans were originally in a bellicose state of nature, it is impossible to imagine how they ever escaped it! – Which is why the Hobbesian State totters uncertainly between a state by political institution and one by historical acquisition.


The obvious problem with Locke’s theory is of course that it is impossible to identify the natural rights that he takes for granted in setting out his theory of the liberal state. Indeed, the same applies to Hobbes, because although his State is a state by conventional institution and not by historical acquisition, it is impossible to see what role it can play in its civil state (status civilis) in the evolution of its social life in all its aspects (economic and ethical) apart from its role in the reception of the status quo, that is, the conditions that prevailed in the state of nature, at the time of the establishment of the State. In other words, both for Locke and Hobbes, either the State is an autonomous institution that, by that very fact, will inevitably intervene in and interfere with its civil state, or else it is an entirely neutral and mechanical entity that relies on the “organicity” or innate harmony of that civil state – in which case, again, it is hard to see why a State should be erected at all, except in the Lockean sense of insuring against the degeneration of the civil

into a Hobbesian state of nature – but then, why should it do so, and according to what “law” or “right” can it function other than Locke’s questionable “natural law”?


It is this faith in the ability of reason as intellect to act as and surge to the status of Reason as an autonomous guide to action (Practical Reason) that Schopenhauer, after Schelling, will demolish in his radical critique of Kantian ethics and, as a corollary, also in his critique of Hobbes’s authoritarian positivism and of Locke’s liberal jusnaturalism. For Hobbes and Locke, human reason is more than a calculative instrument that facilitates the reaching (con-tracting of many interests to a common goal) of the social contract: for them, freedom and reason and truth are universal values that can overwhelm passions and egoism to safeguard life and attain social peace. Reason is a positive quality of the natural order.


This “con-nection”, this nexus between the Freedom of the Will and causality, between Freedom and Reason, and therefore between intellect and thing, between Sub-ject and Ob-ject, is precisely what Schopenhauer rejects in his critique of Kant’s idealism, and in his critique of the Hobbesian account of the origin of the State, even as he accepts the infallibility of logico-mathematics and scientific causality – their “necessity” – but only as “instrumentality” at the service of the Will, indeed as an instrument or tool of coercion, not as either a source of universal human values such as the primacy of preserving one’s life or ab-solute necessity (an obvious pleonasm) as in Hobbes’s decision by humans to alienate their innate freedom ob metum mortis (upon fear of mutually-threatened death) – a “decision” that is at once “free” and based on life as a supreme value, and yet dictated by the dira necessitas which the state of nature imposes on individuals or else in Locke’s natural rights arising from Labor as the foundation of society.


Not so for Schopenhauer. As we shall see, although Schopenhauer agrees with Hobbes that human self-interest is in conflict with instrumental reason if it clashes too violently with the self-interest of others, he denies that the decision to erect a State or any other human decision can be a product of Reason in any universal sense, but only in an instrumental one – because it is part of the instrumental use of reason that it calculate also the long-term implications of self-interest. The interaction of self-interest and reason Schopenhauer calls “Egoism” (WWR, pars.61-2). Thus, Schopenhauer’s own appeal to reason as intellect to derive the origins of morality and of the State falls into the same difficulty as Hobbes’s in the sense that instrumental or calculative reason plays a function that belongs properly to substantive or Practical Reason in a Kantian sense.


In Schopenhauer the Hobbesian necessitas is no longer “dire” because all human actions are necessary, they are operari because he sees the Will as the qualitas occulta, as the real thing in itself, and therefore as “not free”. The Reason of Hobbes is still the onto-theo-teleo-logical reason of the late Renaissance, of Leonardo and Galileo, if not of Cusanus (cf. E. Cassirer, Individual and Cosmos): it is not just an instrument, but also a guide to universal truth, a human inter esse, a human Reason albeit one understood as ultima or extrema ratio. His State is a deus mortalis – “mortal” indeed because it is the by-product of human appetite, dire necessity (fear of death) and political convention, yet still a “god” because of its derivation from the principles of innate reason. Hobbes keeps faith with the notion that truth must prevail over passion, reason over egoism. This is why human beings only surrender their freedom only in foro externo, in the political sphere when erecting the State, and then only ob metum mortis, fear of death, in “dire” necessity. This decision requires in Hobbes an ultima ratio that is founded on a human interest or inter esse (it is not, as in Schmitt, “auf Nichts gestellt”). Indeed, both in Hobbes and Locke the social contract is founded on the common human interests of preserving life and protecting and advancing the acquisition of wealth through Labor.


There is no such universal ordo et connexio rerum et idearum or social synthesis in Schopenhauer. The validity of the Kantian attempt to subtract Reason from the instrumental/heteronomous necessity of “mathematics” so as to preserve human Freedom of the Will (autonomy) is what Schopenhauer refutes – and so will Nietzsche more consistently later. The recognition of the profoundly antithetical nature of the Classical notions of freedom and reason is what sets Schopenhauer apart from Hobbes and opens the way to a reconsideration of these notions, especially freedom, from a metaphysical viewpoint. Whereas Hobbes cannot explain how Reason can be consistent with and prevail over egoism to found the State, Schopenhauer cannot explain how reason can be consistent with the State without turning into Reason. In fact, Schopenhauer dispenses with Reason altogether, but then fails to account for the existence of human society and the State in spite of universal egoism and conflict. By denying the reality of Freedom and Reason, Schopenhauer is already far advanced on Hobbes in a materialist sense; yet by clinging to the reality of the Ego and its irreducible self-interest – however deterministically understood as the Will or the obverse of the Kantian thing in itself -, he simply condemns liberalism to failure as a political theory. (Nietzsche will later dispense with the Ego altogether.)


In this regard, Schopenhauer is mistaken when criticizing Hobbes for failing to see that “rights” in the sense of prevention of “wrongs” must exist in the state of nature – because Hobbes only intended by “rights” legally enforceable rights, not merely the perception of “wrong”, which in any case boils down first to dis-possession (possession is the only reality in the state of nature), and then to the immediate threat to life (in the struggle for possession). Unlike Schopenhauer, Hobbes does not fall into the error of moralizing possession by appealing to an instrumental, cognitive sense of con-science or com-passion or sym-pathy that requires the intervention of substantive reason, which Schopenhauer has excluded in principle!


It is essential to understand that Schopenhauer does not base himself on natural rights and most strenuously not as derived from any “positive” concept of value-creation such as Labor as the foundation of society and the State, which is what happens in Locke. For Schopenhauer all positive “rights” are based on negative “wrongs” and the ability of individual Egoism to utilize reason as cognition of the pain that certain actions can inflict on oneself. The State is not therefore a positive institution designed or contracted to establish and promote, let alone defend, “positive natural rights” arising from a positive human shared quality – a Value like Labor or a summum bonum. Not at all! The aim of the State can only be “negative” – that of preventing harm or wrong; it arises purely out of the mechanical, defensive, self-preserving nature of human Egoisms. Again, there is no universal human interest here, as the preservation of one’s Life may be in Hobbes; there is only Egoism. But in that case the difficulty arises that, given that Egoisms can relinquish their self-interest or appetite or “free-dom” only to a limited degree and not absolutely as in Hobbes, then the determination of the precise limits of the State becomes impossible except if instrumental reason turns into the ethics of the Mit-Leid – if it turns, that is, into something more than calculative reason or intellect into a faculty with a moral-ethical sense (which is what Nietzsche derided in Schopenhauer and why he took Hegel’s dialectic of Vergeistigung far more seriously). (Cacciari in PNeR.)


Operari sequitur esse. By reprising this Scholastic formula in his searing critique of Kant’s ethical formalism and transcendental idealism (v. The Basis of Morality), Schopenhauer seems only apparently to uphold the fundamental tenet of Western metaphysics – that life and the world are divided into permanent reality or sub-stance (what “stands under” appearances or supports re-ality, “thing-iness”) and transient ap-pearance (what is a partial re-presentation [Vorstellung] or “view” [Anschauung] of reality), between the supra-sensible and the sensible worlds. For Western metaphysics since at least the pre-Socratics and Plato, it is Being that determines the actu-ality of the world, its “workings” (Wirk-lichkeit) or operation (operari). Being is the causa causans or the first cause of all that ec-sists: all else are mere appearances (Kant’s blosse Erscheinungen). Yet in reality Schopenhauer’s re-assertion of the principle that “actuality follows being” constitutes a radical inversion (Ver-kehrung) of the Platonic chorismos, properly theorised by Descartes and then by Kant, whereby Being is a fundamentum that brings together the Subject – Idea (Plato), the res cogitans (Descartes) or Reason (Kant’s Vernunft) - and the Object – the res extensa, the thing-in-itself. It is this “bringing together”, this “fusing” of mind and body - or better, this com-prehension of body by mind, of Object by Subject - that is the ultimate aim of Western metaphysics since its origins in ancient Greek natural theology. That is the ultimate philosophical quest articulated in the Scholastic adaequatio intellectus et rei (congruence of mind and thing). As we know, this adaequatio has never been achieved in Western metaphysics and has degenerated either in the adaequatio intellectus ad rem (materialism), or else in the adaequatio rei ad intellectus (idealism).


Schopenhauer’s re-affirmation of the Scholastic formula only apparently evokes the Platonic chorismos of Subject (the Ideas) and Object (the apparent world) because in reality he is stating that the ultimate impenetrability of the Object, of the thing-in-itself, means that no Kantian Reason or Platonic Idea or summum bonum will ever be able to reconcile appearance and reality, operari and esse. All that we know are appearances (Vorstellungen), because Reality is a qualitas occulta that can neither com-prehend nor be com-prehended by the totality of appearances. Hegel’s pretense to be able to reconcile the real with the rational, actu-ality with poss-ibility, is thereby renounced and denounced by Schopenhauer as a perversion of the true Kantian recognition of just such impossibility. Where Kant went wrong for Schopenhauer, however, was in positing the existence of a Thing-in-itself, an Ob-ject separate from and opposed to (Gegen-stand, standing against) the Sub-ject that perceives or re-presents it, and then in insisting that despite this antinomic opposition, it is possible to identify a Pure Reason (reine Vernunft) – a Subject or Ego-ity (Ich-heit) - that can provide the indispensable adaequatio in the guise of an ordo et connexio rerum et idearum.


For Schopenhauer, once again, – and later above all for Nietzsche - no such adaequatio is possible, and the Kantian Reason is only an “astute theology” (Nietzsche in Twilight) - sterile in its very formal “purity” and therefore incapable of providing the order and connection between things and ideas. Yet this failure is not what matters to Schopenhauer! (Cf. Cacciari, DCP) For him, no “separation” between mind and body is possible, not indeed because the two can be reconciled “rationally” as both Kant and Hegel pretended to do – this is the real meaning of the Freedom (Freiheit) of German Idealism -, but rather because esse est percipi – because to be is to be perceived – and therefore all that we know about life and the world is that they are the unity of Will and Representation, the individual subject-object. It is the Will, not the Kantian noumenon, that is the qualitas occulta of the World, and it is the Will’s Representations of the World that constitute the totality of our knowledge. Not, once again, the “totality” of the Ratio-Ordo so desperately sought by Western metaphysics, not the totality of the Freedom of the Will with its theo-logical origins in the “Soul” of pre-Socratic Greece – but quite to the contrary an instrumental totality whereby it is not the Will that is free to act, to decide, but rather it is the impenetrability of the Will, its “unknowability”, that constitutes the “free-dom”, the contingency, the sheer poss-ibility that envelops it, that con-ditions its operari, the actu-ality of the World. All that we know and that we can know are the “effects” of human action that we can then ascribe and attribute to “causes” that we can link only instrumentally to the effects. The belief that beneath or behind or beyond these instrumental connections there is an underlying “reality” is quite simply fanciful; as Nietzsche put it, “the real world has become a fable” (Twilight of the Idols). (Hannah Arendt’s nearly total misreading of Nietzsche in this regard – “if both the real and the apparent world have disappeared,” she quips, “then nihilism is all that is left” – is due to her inability to understand that neither Schopenhauer nor Nietzsche are seeking to condemn “morally” the world for its lack of Freedom, but rather they deny the existence of this Freedom itselfthey certify the ‘death of God’!)


It is hard to overestimate the importance of this “inversion” both of the distinction between appearance and reality and of the concept of Freedom operated by Schopenhauer: here for the first time is the full re-elaboration of the concepts of metaphysical reality and of freedom – and therefore of metaphysics and ethics - not as functions of the Will intended as the free volition of the human Subject ab-solved from all “necessity”, of human spontaneity and liberum arbitrium as the quasi-divine faculty of the human spirit or soul. Instead, the human will and the reality or World that it confronts are now seen as functions of the sheer contingency of the World, of the sheer instrumentality of Life. (Cf. on this elaboration so fundamental to the entire negatives Denken, Heidegger’s seminal work on Schelling’s Treatise on the Essence of Human Freedom.) For these reasons – the obliteration of the “freedom” of the Subject and its subordination to instrumental reason or intellect (Kant’s Verstand or understanding) -, Schopenhauer’s thought represents the essential crossroads of and underlying link between the mechanicism of Machiavelli and Hobbes, political liberalism from Locke to Mill and Constant, empiricism from Berkeley to Mach, the utilitarianism of bourgeois socio-economic theory, and relativism from Nietzsche to Heidegger: it represents, as it were, the interpretative key to the most important developments in Western philosophical, scientific and political thought concomitant with the rise of the capitalist bourgeoisie. (In our series on “Capitalist Metaphysics”, we have shown how Schopenhauer’s thought is fundamental to understanding the most essential categories of bourgeois economic theory from Neoclassical marginalism to the Austrian School.)


Before Schopenhauer, all of Western thought had presumed the meta-physical (beyond physics) “freedom” of the Subject or Spirit as against the “necessity” of the physical world – because, as Kant postulated, only an independent, autonomous entity – an Ego and its Reason – could be able to com-prehend and so ex-plicate the natural world with its “physical laws”. By contrast, the most central concept in Schopenhauer’s philosophy, which represents the consecration of the negatives Denken from its origins in Hobbes to its positive elaboration in liberal political philosophy and finally in Nietzsche’s nihilist ontology, is the Principle of Sufficient Reason which states, quite simply, that whatever is has greater reason to be than what is not. Human action, the operari, therefore, is not and cannot be the pro-duct of an autonomous or “free” Subject, of an Ego-ity, because no “autonomous” cause can ever initiate a heteronomous chain of cause and effect and still less explain its existence so as to guarantee its scientific validity, its status as Truth! If every cause must have an effect, the instrumental reason or intellect or understanding (Verstand) that can trace the causal connections between events can never also explain and under-stand (Lt., sub-stantia, stand under) them ab-solutely (unconditionally) – “freely”. Its under-standing of reality can be only instrumental, only a “tool” conjectured by humans – never ab-solute in a quasi-divine, theo-logical sense. Kant’s hesitations in this regard in the Third Critique and in the Opus Postumum are quite sobering; his recourse to an intuitus originarius (discussed by Heidegger in his Kantbuch and in his commentary on Leibniz and Schopenhauer in Part Two of The Metaphysical Foundations of Logic) and his assertion that he had to limit the scope of human knowledge so as to preserve “faith” is quite (sit venia verbo!) revealing! (Cf. on this Heidegger’s treatment of “inverted Platonism” in his Nietzsche.)



  1. What if, when we talk about freedom or liberty, we're trying to define things that we can't really define? We can know things conceptually and intuitively even if they aren't rigorously defined. Hell, we can only conceptualize so much and there aren't just limits to knowledge, but there's very little in the world that can be defined by the words we write.

  2. Hi Suvy, and thanks for the pertinent comment. Indeed, the proper way to approach these questions is to address the "practical" implications of the relevant concepts - most importantly in their political implications. In other words, how does a given conceptualisation of "freedom" or of "necessity", for instance, affect our political choices and actions with respect to "the State" or "the economy" or even "the market", or other existing or alternative institutions? This way, the history of philosophy and of science becomes just as important as their actual practice - as thinkers like Hegel and Marx, Nietzsche and Heidegger, certainly perceived. Max Weber, for instance, saw clearly that "science", far from being an objective notion, is actually a "calling" (Beruf) - a vocation; and therefore it is a praxis (cf. Vico, Marx, Gramsci) rather than a "Truth" (see also Nietzsche, esp. Gaya Scienza). Not just the words and concepts, but also the practices we engage in, determine the content of "science": they are eminently "political" (Weber's "The Methodology of the Social Sciences", particularly the essay on "Objectivity", offers a stimulating if difficult introduction to these matters.) I hope to post an explicit discussion of these themes in the next few days - especially the epistemological proof of what I have called "NIetzsche's Invariance" which encapsulates this novel insightful approach to the question of scientific and technological rationality (for a cognate albeit erroneous Neo-Kantian view, cf. Habermas's essay "Science and Technology as 'Ideology'".) Once again, thank you for the comment.

    1. Yea, I haven't read any of those guys except Marx, but I am (and always have been) a math and science guy. Science is just a procedure and certainly not praxis. Most people think science is about "evidence", but that's nonsense. Science is a procedure that's robust in the face of the absence of evidence.

      Any time I hear "practical" in the sense you're talking about, those same approaches have no practical value. If you're looking at philosophy (or, even more so, the history of philosophy) as a tool of "practicality", I think you're kidding yourself. Don't take this to think that I'm saying philosophy has no value (I'm not) or that it's useless to talk about (I'm not), but it doesn't help use deal with any real issues in the practice. The only thing that's sound and works in dealing with practical issues is sound calculation and sound ways of thinking about and sound ways of engineering systems to deal with risk. How do we do this? Pretty simple: start with what you don't understand, develop models to understand possible scenarios, enforce/think about constraints, and prepare for the worst.

      I don't know about the history of philosophy or anything like that, but Marx isn't rigorous and his conclusions aren't only fundamentally unsound, but they're garbage. Marx consistently makes all sorts of assumptions (mostly implicit) and clearly had the emotional stability of a 13 year old girl combined with the rigor of a 14 year old boy. If we're talking about the "practical" implications of this stuff (none of this stuff really is practical), Marx is about as anti-practical as it gets. Most people (including Marx) don't even rigorously define the stuff they're talking about, can't work between different definitions, don't understand the implicit assumptions they make, don't understand the limits of the assumptions they make in the model or conceptual framework they use, and then claims (indirectly) that his view is the only way the world can operate. He looks at the world like something there's this perfect formula or operation for and there's just not. Marx's solution to every social problem is to cover the sky with red from the blood of the revolution, which solves nothing.

      With regards to rationality, one of the biggest problems is the way rationality is defined by people. Rationality is one of the easiest and simplest things to define (upside vs downside across different scenarios), but everyone that defines or uses "rational" (except for the stoics use of reason) is total crap. For example, atheists claim it's not rational to be religious, which stems from sucker thinking (ways of thought not robust at dealing with risk).

      I'd like to add that social sciences aren't really sciences, at all. You can't do anything scientific with them, but what you can do is to develop sound ways of thinking about and engineering these systems, as I detailed above. It's the same way with economies or markets. Decentralized, self-organizing markets (this is what people usually call "free markets") work because they're very effective at dealing with risk and work well because they benefit from uncertainty and error. Do they deal with all kinds of risk? Of course not, this is why the state develops. This is how the primary role of the state becomes the protection of basic rights, the enforcement of contracts, national defense, and all of the other stuff. If you don't have these institutions and your neighboring country does, you're gonna get run over and there's a good chance the rulers could be killed, enslaved, exiled, or whatever.

      From my perspective, survival constraints force the development of these institutions. It seems blatantly obvious too.