the indestructibility of being
So I have gotten to the point where Schopenhauer believes in the indestructibility of being. This can be divided into two points. Inward and outward. Inwardly, he argues that death returns us to the thing in itself, in antithesis to the world of appearance. He's seeing cognition as phenomenal (it relies on the senses and the brain, from where intellect comes forth). Intellect to him is secondary to the will; so upon death, we lose our intellect, and with it, our cognition. Because we lose it, it's superfluous anyway, and any wish to retain it is like "the converts from Greenland who refused to go to Heaven when they learned there would be no seals there." He says that consciousness is primal, it's animalistic, it simply gets us where we need to be. By contrast, the will is primary, and so our "essential being", our being a thing in itself, is neither conscious nor not unconscious. Therefore, when we die, our cognitionless state is elevated above the unconscious form. To be clear here, he is insisting that there is life originating within us. Though we may die objectively in the world, we do not cease to exist. He is making the point that "the present, which is in the strictest sense the sole form of reality, has its source in us, and thus arises from within and not from without, cannot doubt the indestructibility of his own being. He will understand, rather, that although when he dies the objective world, with the medium through which it presents itself, the intellect, will be lost to him, his existence will not be affected by it; for there has been as much reality within him as without."
This is really incredible because he is formulating the argument that out of nothing, nothing can come. He's trying to "escape" this by supplanting God with a philosophical rationale and, accept it or not, there is a rebellious beauty to his obstinance. "We all feel that we are something other than a being which someone once created out of nothing: from this arises the confidence that, while death may be able to end our life, it cannot end our existence."
Later, he moves to the "outward" saying that if we take "an objective view of the world which presents itself to us, then death will certainly appear to us as a transition into nothingness; on the other hand, however, birth will appear as a coming forth out of nothing. But neither the one nor the other can be unconditionally true, for they possess the reality only of the phenomenal world..." and as we already know, the phenomenal world is superfluous to him; it is irrelevant to our being in itself. Our minds die, but not our existence. Our will stays in tact. In other words, may this be Schopenhauer's "soul" masquerading as an attempt to explain existence away from the Christian conception which he earlier calls "unacceptable" because of existence's deep misery (he shoos away God, not because he does not believe in Him, but because he cannot himself conceive of a perfect being who would applaud himself for the abounding misery of life, which is a poignant admittance that God is good, or rather must be if he were to exist). What is also curious here is that Schopenhauer is claiming existence does not cease, because that would be inversely suggesting that life comes from nothingness, which is untenable to his conception of will. But.. i can't help but hark back to Aquinas who would say "God must be existence itself." This would be reading too deeply into Schopenhauer, but this juxtaposition puts his ambition to explain existence into perspective, because we clearly see the absence of God and the subsequent attempt to replace him.
And you can begin to see, as he mentions earlier, this Buddhist introduction with a Christian flourish of redemption. While he finds Jehovah “unacceptable”, he claims that the spirit of Graeco-Roman paganism and the spirit of Christianity “is that of affirmation and denial of the will to live—in which regard Christianity is in the last resort fundamentally right.” By this he means that denial of the will to live is natural, as it stems from the phenomena of volition, our intellect, our consciousness, and is a transition to nothingness. So he is simultaneously affirming that we cease to exist intellectually while continuing to exist after death through elevation above cognition. This is where Buddhism comes in. One can almost see the glaring reincarnation:
To quote at length:
“What dies goes to where all life originates, its own included. From this point of view our life is to be regarded as a loan received from death, with sleep as the daily interest on this loan. Death announces itself frankly as the end of the individual, but in this individual there lies the germ of a new being. Thus nothing that dies dies for ever; but nothing that is born receives a fundamentally new existence. That which dies is destroyed; but a germ remains over out of which there proceeds a new being, which then enters into existence without knowing whence it has come nor why it is as it is. This is the mystery of the palingenesis; it reveals to us that all those beings living at the present moment contain within them the actual germ of all which will live in the future, and that these therefore in a certain sense exist already. So that every animal in the full prime of life seems to call to us: ‘why do you lament the transitoriness of living things? How could I exist if all those of my species which came before me had not died?’ However much the plays and the masks on the world’s stage may change it is always the same actors who appear. We sit together and talk and grow excited, and our eyes glitter and our voices grow shriller: just so did others sit and talk a thousand years ago: it was the same thing, and it was the same peoples: and it will be just so a thousand years hence. The contrivance which prevents us from perceiving this is time.” [emphasis added]
Here we can ask what is Schopenhauer’s goal? In his essay on the Will to Live, he writes, “my ethics…possesses foundation, aim and goal: first and foremost it demonstrates theoretically the metaphysical foundation of justice and charity, and then indicates the goal to which these, if practiced in perfection, must ultimately lead. At the same time it candidly confesses the reprehensible nature of the world and points to the denial of the will as the road to redemption from it. My ethics is thus actually in the spirit of the New Testament, while all the others are in that of the Old and consequently amount, even theoretically, to nothing more than Judaism, which is to say naked, despotic theism. In this sense, my doctrine could be called the true Christian philosophy, however paradoxical this may seem to those who refuse to penetrate to the heart of the matter but prefer its superficialities.”
And this is where we get to the bedrock of this portion in his philosophy. He agrees with Christianity, insofar as they are “fundamentally in the right” to drape a coffin in black “as a sign of mourning.” Why? Because that individual is dead. Contrary to Christianity however, as we’ve mentioned, to Schopenhauer the intellect does not survive. That would not only be absurd but too hopeful. Life is pain and misery, to wish to continue thinking would be to relish in a disability: “even if in this primal state we were offered the retention of this animal consciousness we should reject it, as the cured cripple rejects his crutch.” We are “cured” only after we die and become individuals no longer, and this is good. He continues: “whoever therefore regrets the impending loss of this cerebral consciousness, which is adapted to and capable of producing only phenomena [that superfluidity that constitutes the world of appearance], is to be compared with the converts from Greenland who refused to go to Heaven when they learned there would be no seals there.” Heaven, for Schopenhauer, is the destruction of the intellect, of consciousness, of the individual, the end of pain and misery; but, it is not the end of being in itself.
At the end of our lives, our “so called souls” do not transcend into the celestial world. We are condemned to “decomposition and reconstruction of the individual in which will alone persists and, assuming the shape of a new being, [we] receive a new intellect.” In other words, we are trapped in the cycle of existence through no fault of our own. “One can this regard every human being from two opposed viewpoints. From the one he is the fleeting individual, burdened with error and sorrow and with a beginning and an end in time; from the other he is the indestructible primal being which is objectified in everything that exists.”
To which Thrasymachus asks: “To sum up, what shall I be after my death? Be clear and precise!”
Philalethes: “Everything and nothing.”
There is no Heaven for Schopenhauer. This is the “reprehensible nature of the world” where “denial of the will to live” is the road to redemption. This is his “true Christian philosophy,” where God does not exist, for “that a god like Jehovah should create this world of want and misery animi causa and de gaieté de cœur and then go so far as to applaud himself for it, saying it is all very good, that is quite unacceptable.”
This is truly a miserable man. It is almost as if he curated his philosophy so cautiously as to neglect to give life any truly redeemable quality, ensuring that within its labyrinth is contained at every possible corner a road that takes him to the same conclusion of beginning and end where every breath, sense, thought and germ of being recycles itself through continual, never ending unhappiness.
My heart aches for him. And yet perhaps if it were mostly all wrong and emotionally misguided, he may stand correct on the single point that i believe that this feeling is accentually present within us all. Who has not felt even this vague semblance within our tormented soul longing for misery at every turn, but only so because we believed it to be there waiting for us to round the corner so that it could pierce our hearts with unfathomable anxiety, hardened into resentment with maturation, leaving us to grasp the wind and look to the sky for answers that never come.
But it’s best not to think of it.