Specialists in Perplexity

In 1877, James Sully wrote that the first fundamental objection to Arthur Schopenhauer’s world-principle is that it is inconceivable. “Will, in the abstract, is wholly unthinkable.”

The inexpressible is not the unthinkable. Is it necessary to be able to articulate our deepest thoughts?

We cannot explain the whence, the whither, or the wherefore. We can only try to explain what is, not why or how it is. Sully accused Schopenhauer’s position of being quite untenable.

“In the Idea which is at once both will and representation, the Ding en sich is said to know itself as object.”

Inconceivability. Schopenhauer was attempting to, not so much explain fundamental riddles and inpenetrable mysteries, but to contemplate them, to inspect and investigate the very problem of existence itself. The mere attempt to even just contemplate such phenomena does not have to be a frustrating endeavor. The striving to get to THE HEART OF THE MATTER… to be stirred by a longing that compels this strange ape to WONDER … this brings the deep thinker closer to all the ancestors who ever gazed up into the stars or suffered from hunger pangs, a tooth ache, love-sickness, or just a sense of the absurdity of there being a world rather than there not being anything at all…

Ligotti points to Peter Wessel Zapffe as the honest thinker to investigate, but Zapffe’s work is nearly impossible to track down. It is not translated into English. Zapffe’s thought, says Ligotti, is the most elementary in the history of philosophical pessimism. His thought shuns the profound and difficult to understand BRAIN TWISTERS (that are complicated and intricately involved) as something to be avoided.

Even though Ligotti has many praises for Schopenhauer, acknowledging that his two-volumed (1819 and 1844) The World as Will and Representation lays out “one of the most absorbingly intricate metaphysical systems ever contrived,” he does seem to warn us that ” … a quasi-mystical elaboration of a ‘Will-to-live’ as the hypostasis of reality, a mindless and uniting master of all being, a directionless force that makes everything do what it does …” proves to be nothing more than another intellectual labyrinth for specialists in perplexity.

Zapffe’s principles, by contrast, are non-technical, shunning theories and focusing more on the brute facts of our LIVED EXPERIENCE. Emile Cioran also rejects the compulsion to systematize thought, choosing instead, to break thought down to what can be whispered into the ear of a dying man, or spoken loudly to a drunkard.

In the end, Schopenhauer’s thought is an elaborate construct for THE END OF HUMAN EXISTENCE. Point blank. Bottom line: Stop reproducing and this absurd comedy will be no more.

Life itself is a cosmic accident, a great blunder. This makes sense of the conundrum that life itself makes no sense whatsoever. We can feel this in our bones. In a novel titled At the Mountains of Madness (1936), HP Lovecraft has one of his characters mention a PRIMAL MYTH about Great Old Ones who filtered down from the stars and CONCOCTED LIFE ON EARTH AS A JOKE OR A MISTAKE.

Once Schopenhauer had drafted his mythology that “everything in the universe is energized by a Will-to-live,” he shifted away from brain-twisting perplexity to the far more easily understood variety of pessimism we encounter today, i.e., “Life sucks.”
What is the ultimate aim of all this striving? I’m hungry so I eat, yes, that is why I eat, because I am hungry, but what is the ultimate aim? Existence is a state of demonic mania, with the WILL-TO-LIVE as the POSSESSING SPIRIT of tormented individual creatures. (Ligotti 2011)

Trying “not to know” these things may be the common-sense tendency since life depends upon us not knowing it very well. Is it a mere coincidence that, in the creation myth of the ancient Hebrews, knowledge is the forbidden fruit? If the individuated creature figures out the riddle of existence … then what? Nothingness? Non-being?

Isn’t it uncanny that some people say, “I’m not trying to know that shit!”?
They don’t want to know that life is an accident of cosmic proportions. They want to believe otherwise, that there is some kind of Grand Plan and Purpose.

What do you think? Better yet, what do you feel in your bones?

By Chapter IX, titled The Scientific Basis of Pessimism (B) The Pessimist’s Interpretation of Mind, beginning on p.206 of the 477 paged work, Pessimism: A History and A Criticism (circa 1877), James Sully admits that his main goal and purpose is to show that “there is no scientific evidence for the existence of will as a moving principle in physical nature.” Sully is determined to comfort humanity by undermining and destroying the principle of the Will-to-live, the “unhappy principle” – as Sully calls it. It’s as though he were protecting children (the students of life) from the bogeyman, that mean old grouchy all-too-melancholy sour kraut, Arthur Schopenhauer, sent from the nether regions to upset mankind’s belief that life is alright, that being alive is inherently good, an absolute miracle, in fact.

First our protective Sully claims there is NO EVIDENCE for the existence of WILL as a “moving principle in physical nature.” Then he concedes, “At most it has a limited existence.”

Is Sully suggesting that the Will-to-live is some kind of OCCULT ESSENCE? He is using the term, “science,” to invalidate the intuitive understanding of what Schopenhauer calls the Will-to-live. Actually , he uses three magic words: the modern science of psychology.
Franz Brentano and his pupil, Edmund Husserl, maintained that the natural sciences could only yield hypotheses and never absolute truths. Brentano attempted to develop an exact science of psychic phenomena. Husserl, his student, attempted to develop a “Science of the Mind” in Phenomenology. The basis for these sciences? INNER PERCEPTION.

This was exactly the point that Sully bases his so-called fatal attack: “The manner in which Schopenhauer assumes, without the least investigation into the matter, that by simple introspection we may reach a sub-phenomenal reality in the shape of the will.”
And yet we experience our animal bodies as manifestations of this very Will! We are the manifestation of orgasm. Our teeth and stomachs are the objectification of hunger, appetite. When instinctive impulses are not immediately satisfied, this is a state of unrest and craving … dis-ease. We are anthropomorphicized Will.

One of the many obscure texts I had abandoned when I went out West was Dermot Moran’s Introduction to Phenomenology, circa 2000. This is where I first learned about Franz Brentano. At the time of this typing, there is a pdf version of the text available online:

Phenomenology as initially understood by Husserl meant DESCRIPTIVE PSYCHOLOGY and had its origins in Brentano.

Philosophy consists in description and not causal explanation. Philosophy is the description of what is given in direct self-evidence (Evidenz).

Franz Brentano attempted to rethink psychology as a science. He proposed concentrating on illuminating the nature of inner “self-awares” acts of cognition without appealing to genetic explanation. Brentano was proposing a kind of philosophical psychology, or a philosophy of mind. In his lectures on Descriptive Psychology (1889, hence a contemporary of James Sully), Brentano employed the phrase “descriptive psychology or descriptive phenomenology.”

This is an a priori science of the laws of THE MENTAL, identifying universal laws on the basis of insight into individual instances. Brentano denies the possibility of purely UNCONSCIOUS MENTAL ACTS.

Right from the outset, Husserl laid great stress on phenomenology’s Principle of Presuppositionlessness; that is, the claim to have discarded philosophical theorizing in favor of careful description of phenomena themselves, to be ATTENTIVE only to what is given in INTUITION. (Moran 2000)

Every act of knowledge is legitimized by “originary presentive intuition” – originar gebende Anschauung. This concept of ORIGINARY PRESENTIVE INTUITION is at the core of Husserl’s philosophy.

Now, the word intuition comes form the Latin intuir, which means “knowledge from within.” Isn’t this at the very root of James Sully’s so-called undermining of Schopenhauer’s quasi-mystical elaboration of the WILL-TO-LIVE as the hypostasis of reality? Today, in 2014, Cognitive Scientists think of intuition as a set of NONCONSCIOUS COGNITIVE PROCESSES.

What is the difference between “unconscious mental acts” and “nonconscious cognitive processes”?

Isn’t this just contemporary technical jargon for the deus de machina, the Unconscious? (UNCONSCIOUS WILL)

Every living creature behaves exactly in conformity with Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Whatever we call it, the Will, anima mundi, the World Soul, physiological or psychological processes (nonconscious cognitive processes), Nature, etc., organisms are compelled by an occult master force to survive and reproduce, no different than science-fictional phenomena such as The Thing or The Body Snatchers.

The real source of life’s misery would be this essentially unconscious longing (and consequently dissatisfaction) inherent in self-preservation. Life is nasty. We don’t need labs, priests, or universities to validate life’s nastiness. We feel it in our intestines.

The idea of death consoles me.  Thinking about the inevitability of eventually or even quite unexpectedly dying can be a great comfort.  In moments of such intimate and private reflections, one becomes the antihero of their own personal anti-novel where there is no need for plots, meaningful insights, or even consistent traits in characters. 

I imagine my ancestors encouraging me not to reproduce, to spare future generations from coming to the same conclusions I have.  Even my father, who is still among the living, advises me against replicating.  Nor did my father ever pressure me to build pyramids for pharaohs. Even though he has devoted most of the days of his life to erecting walk-in freezers for businessmen, he never made me feel obligated to do the same. We know the score.  Evolution is not something to be glorified. It is possible to resign from the species.

Now, if someone has mentally resigned from the species, wouldn’t the social pressures such as duty and honor no longer have any influence whatsoever?

Why are there not more antinatalists?  The answer:  antinatalists tend to reproduce less, if at all … hence, the tendency to be horrified by existence doesn’t get passed along … The Schopenhauers ended with Arthur.  The Ciorans ended with Emile.  A high degree of intellectual honesty may lead to a kind of insanity.  In other words, a certain amount of self-deception and delusion may be necessary for the continuation of our species.  It is possible to know too much, to see too clearly, to possess such a high degree of psychic integrity that the ridiculous nature of our predicament becomes overwhelming … and fills us with despair and even panic.  When we finally behold certain truths, we may let out the kind of laughter associated with madness.


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