Although many of us believe we can do and act how we want, whenever we want to, philosophers have augured that this is not the case. There are various views on the notion of human freedom. Free will is the notion that people make choices and have the capacity to do otherwise than they choose. Determinism is the idea that all actions and events are determined or happen necessarily and that human actions are no different. Humanity is as free as a weather vane—a weather vane moves with the direction of the wind, and humans do too. Or to put it more pre- cisely, humans move and act in accordance with desires, impulses, and causes that are beyond our control. For the determinist, there is no freedom of the will. Indeterminism, on the other hand, claims that not all actions are determined and that humans have some amount of freedom. In other words, people have some amount of free will.
Our perception of reality seems to indicate to each of us that we are free and have free will; upon closer examination, it is not so obvious. Many philosophers argue that there is no way that humans can have such a thing as free will at all. They call this the dilemma of determinism, as the British philosopher, Colin McGinn (b. 1950), states in his Problems in Philosophy: The Limits of Inquiry (1993), that “Either determinism is true or it is not. If it is true, then all our chosen actions are uniquely necessitated by prior states of the world, just like every other event. But then it can- not be the case that we could have acted otherwise, since this would require a possi- bility determinism rules out. Once the initial conditions are set and the laws fixed, causality excludes genuine freedom.”
“On the other hand, if indeterminism is true,” McGinn continues, “then, though things could have happened otherwise, it is not the case that we could have chosen otherwise, since a merely random event is no kind of free choice. That some events occur causelessly, or are not subject to law, or only to probabilistic law, is not sufficient for those events to be free choices.”
“Man’s life is a line that nature commands him to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it, even for an instant. He is born without his own consent; his organization does in no way depend upon himself; his ideas come to him involuntarily; his habits are in the power of those who cause him to contract them; he is
unceasingly modified by causes, whether visible or concealed, over which he has no control, which necessarily regulate his mode of existence, give the hue to his way of thinking, and determine his manner of acting. He is good or bad, happy or miserable, wise or foolish, reasonable or irrational, without his will being for anything in these various states”
—Paul-Henri Thiry, Baron d’Holbach
POWERUL IDEAS: VIEWS ON HUMAN META- PHYSICAL FREEDOM
Free Will—The notion that people make choices and have the capacity to do otherwise than they choose. In other words, not all actions are predetermined.
Determinism—All actions and events are determined or happen neces- sarily. There is no free will. Freedom of the will is an illusion.
Indeterminism—Not all actions are determined. People have freedom of the will.
Soft Determinism or Compatibilism—All actions are determined, and yet humanity has free will. David Hume (1711–1776) argues for this view. Hume seems to redefine what it means to be “free.” “Free” for Hume is doing whatever you are determined to do. This does not sound very “free.”
Fatalism—The view that if something is fated to happen, it will happen no matter what; it doesn’t even need to be a logical sequence of events that makes it happen.
Baruch Spinoza Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) argues that all actions unfold according to the neces- sary laws that govern the universe. If there was no antecedent cause, there could be no effect. He thinks that there is only one substance and that all things are part of it. He holds that this single substance is God, and that all of creation (including people) are part of God as a single unified whole. In regards to determinism, it is his view that all actions and events are unfolding in a necessary and determined way. There is no choice and there is no freedom. He argues that once we realize we are not free, we should “free” ourselves from regret and remorse for past actions or events as all of those actions and events were determined to happen.
POWERUL IDEAS: SPINOZA THE HINDU? Similarities between Spinoza’s philosophy and Eastern philosophy are very interesting. The nineteenth-century German philosopher Theodore Goldstücker was one of the first academics to notice the similarities between Spinoza’s religious conceptions and Hindu traditions of India. Goldstücker said “. . . a western system of philosophy which occupies a foremost rank amongst the philosophies of all nations and ages, and which is so exact a representation of the ideas of the Vedanta, that we might have suspected its founder to have borrowed the fundamental principles of his system from the Hindus. . . . We mean the philosophy of Spinoza, a man whose very life is a picture of that moral purity and intel- lectual indifference to the transitory charms of this world, which is the constant longing of the true Vedanta philosopher . . . comparing the fun- damental ideas of both we should have no difficulty in proving that, had Spinoza been a Hindu, his system would in all probability mark a last phase of the Vedanta philosophy.”—W. H. Allen, 1879, Literary Remains of the Late Professor Theodore Goldstucker
Jean Buridan and His Donkey Jean Buridan (1300–1358) used a hypothetical example of a donkey to argue that humanity is not free. The example commonly known as “Buridan’s ass (donkey)” is a paradox. According to Buridan (with whom Spinoza agrees), an entirely rational donkey, placed between two stacks of hay of equal size and quality, would starve to death since it cannot make any rational decision to start eating one bale of hay rather than the other. Spinoza says we are just like the donkey; without some internal or external influence upon us, we would be unable to act. We, like a donkey, would starve to death since our free will is not sufficient for us to produce an action. According to Spinoza without an antecedent cause, there could be no effect. There is no free will. Our desire is not sufficient to produce action. This example is obviously hypothetical and in principle un-testable. It is not testable because (1) there are no rational donkeys and (2) you cannot remove a person, animal, or object from the causal chain of events in order to place them in perfect “equilibrium” as the example requires.
As we have noted, Spinoza says that once we understand the nature of the world, we can free ourselves from regret or remorse. Everything that happens in life, all of our choices, and the events that unfold as a result of them, happen necessarily. Events could not unfold differently—things could not have been otherwise. As such, feel happy, feel free and be at peace, free from regret and remorse. This, of course, is easy to say and hard to do. Compatibilism Soft determinism, which is also known as Compatibilism, is a theory that states all actions are determined, and yet humanity has free will. David Hume (1711–1776) argues for this view. Hume seems to redefine what it means to be “free.” “Free” for Hume is doing whatever you are determined to do. Whereas when most people dis- cuss freedom, they have the idea that they are free to have done otherwise. In other words, you could keep reading this fascinating discussion on free will, or put down the book and have a snack. After the fact, in hindsight, whatever choice you made, you feel was not determined but rather you were open to have make a different deci- sion. Hume’s notion of being free as so long as we do what we are determined to do does not sound very “free.”
Indeterminism maintains that not all actions are determined. The view holds that people have some measure of freedom of the will. How much freedom we have is highly contested. Some argue we may have just enough to lift our pinky finger, while others think that we are free to perform any action within our abilities or capacities. In other words, we are not free to fly, as we cannot physically do so, but we are free to run, jump, or skip as those are things humans can do. William James (1842–1910) argues that consciousness makes humanity different from material objects, which are governed or determined by the laws of nature and physics. He feels that humans are free, and given his notion of truth, we are free to believe in determinism or indeterminism as it suits us.
From Dostoyevsky to Sartre
Deep in the heart of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881) is a story that always rings true. It is about faith and doubt, but it is most of all about freedom. Alexei Fyodorovich Karamazov—Alyosha to his family and friends—is 19 years old at the start of the novel and the youngest of the brothers. He is a deeply religious young man studying to be a priest at a Russian Orthodox Christian monas- tery. As unassuming and quiet as he is sensitive and loving, Alyosha is different from his brothers and radically different from his brother Ivan, an atheist intellectual and budding writer. Alyosha reads Ivan’s essay “The Grand Inquisitor,” a literary conceit on Dostoyevsky’s part that succeeds is sounding very much like some else’s writing, where Ivan Karamazov famously tells of a silent Christ who is followed by all because it is easier to follow than to choose to take action on your own. There is, Ivan notes, much to be said for knowing clearly what is right and what is wrong, what is allowed and what is not. There is comfort in living under a dictatorship, whether that of religion or that of a czar. “Nothing has ever been more frightening
for a human being and for a human society,” Ivan Karamazov writes in this book- within-a-book, “than freedom.” This insight goers a long way to explain the regime’s from those of the Christian Church to those of Czar Nicholas, Lenin, Stalin, and Putin—just to stay within Russia for the moment. Like the Christ in Ivan’s story, Alyosha remains silent; but his brother’s argu- ments reverberate in his consciousness. Alyosha continues his religious studies with father Zosima, who sends him out into the world to practice the love and kindness he preaches. Then something happens, not unexpected but nevertheless shocking: the aged Father Zosima dies, as old people tend to do. The whole monastery expects a sign from God, some sort of indication that this was no ordinary mortal but in fact a saint. They expected at least for there to be the sweet smell of roses around Zosima’s body at the funeral—not an unusual belief about Christian saints. But this was sum- mer, and the old man’s body not only did not give off a floral scent—it rotted fast and it stank, and the burial had to be rushed. How could God let this happen? This question has been asked and still is asked by anyone with religious faith. Why is there cancer? Why are there wars? Or why do you have a bad hair day when you also have a hot date tonight? Looking for reasons can throw you into an anguished fit of doubt, and Alyosha’s asking how God could let this happen to the saintly Zosima tested the limits of his faith. Within that suffering and doubt, he realized that he was free, free to believe or not to believe, that the decision was entirely his. In Richard Brooks’ Hollywood epic of The Brothers Karamazov (1958), this first of several movie adaptations to date of Dostoyevskky’s novel, a young William Shatner—before his Captain Kirk Star Trek days—plays Alyosha. Yul Brynnier plays the nasty brother Dmitri, with Richard Basehart as Ivan. Spoiler alert: Lee J. Cobb in fine form plays the nasty father who gets murdered. That murder, too, was a personal choice. “What is strange, what would really be marvel- ous, is not that God should really exist,” Dostoyevsky writes, “the marvel is that such an idea, the idea of the necessity of God could enter the head of such a savage, vicious beast as man.” Dostoyevsky calls Alyosha a lover of man- kind, and the decision to believe in fact does lead the young man to a life of kindness and even of hope. But what is crucial here is that the choice Alyosha made was and could not be a unique event. Choosing to face freedom, rather than blindly accepting rules, is a lifelong project. To be human is to choose, and in this, Dostoyevsky anticipates twentieth-century exis- tentialism and particularly Jean-Paul Sartre’s definition of the human being as freedom itself. The physical is determined by physical laws in nature, but human beings are not just physical things, so they are outside determinism. Alyosha Karamazov, like Sartre’s For-Itself in Being and Nothingness, is not determined by his past, nor is he bound to a single course of action according to his situation. He is free.
We are in fact condemned to be free, as Sartre points out. Within brutal physi- cal limits—we are all going to die, for instance; and we do not choose where or when we are born—and within the limits of brute facticity or what Karl Marx called material conditions, we are in fact totally free. That is of course a difficult paradox to face. But it is refreshing to remember that the fact that a question is difficult does not mean that is does not have an answer. It just means that the question is difficult.
A Brief History of the Universe
(and Why Determinism Is, Statistically True)
As contrary to our supposed perception of freedom and choice as determinism is, it is not as outrageous a claim as one might at first think. Most objects in this universe are governed by laws of nature, and the behavior of those objects is “determined.”
. J. C. Smart (1920–2012) states two definitions regarding this issue, one for determinism and other for randomness. He thinks that between the two that they are exhaustive of all possibilities for how events unfold in this reality. He argues that given the available options, we cannot be free. Smart defines the two possibilities as follows: Dl: I shall state the view that there is “unbroken causal continuity” in the uni- verse as follows. It is in principle possible to make a sufficiently precise determination of the state of a sufficiently wide region of the universe at time to, and sufficient laws of nature are in principle ascertainable to enable a superhuman calculator to be able to predict any event occurring within that region at an already given time t’. D2: I shall define the view that “pure chance” reigns to some extent within the universe as follows. There are some events that even a superhuman calculator could not predict, however precise his knowledge of however wide a region of the universe at some previous time ( J. J. C. Smart, July 1961, “Free-Will, Praise and Blame,” Mind) Smart goes on to say that, “For the believer in free will holds that no theory of a deterministic sort or of a pure chance sort will apply to everything in the universe: he must therefore envisage a theory of a type which is neither deterministic nor indeterministic in the senses of these words which I have specified by the two definitions DI and D2; and I shall argue that no such theory is possible.”
Let us consider an example and see how humanity is somehow different from the objects considered. When a pen rolls of your desk and falls to the floor, did it “choose” to fall? When I am teaching this topic in class, I have a habit of dropping markers on purpose to demonstrate that markers always “choose” to fall down. I also drop books, keys, or anything I have around that is handy for the demonstration— frustratingly, each and every time (and it has been about 10,000 times at this point) the objects I drop fall down. I secretly hope they will fall up, or maybe even levitate but they never do. Now we all know objects do not “choose” to fall down. Objects are, in fact, determined to fall down as a result of the laws of nature and physics—specifically grav- ity, which govern their behavior. They have no free will, nor are the events that follow (once I drop an object) free to unfold any differently than the laws of nature dictate. From the moment the universe popped into existence some 14 billion years ago with an event known as the big bang, events were determined by the laws of nature. For millions of years after that big bang astrophysicists maintain that it was so hot that no physical matter could form, but when the universe cooled, hydrogen atoms began to form (they did not choose to form, they had to form based on the laws of physics). Eventually, gravity made (or determined) the hydrogen coalesce into stars. As those stars ignited (which, again, was determined, by the laws of physics), nuclear fusion began (again determined by the laws of physics and nuclear chemistry) to create helium, and eventually heavier elements. When those stars burned out, most went supernova and created even more heavy elements (any and all of the naturally found elements in our periodic table—of which there are 92). Eventually, about five billion years ago or so, our solar system formed. The Earth was formed, collided with some other proto-planet, and created the moon, and over billions of years slowly but surely life evolved within its biosphere. The point of this very brief history of the universe is this: each and every event described above had to happen—it was determined to happen, by the initial state of the universe after the big bang and the laws of physics that govern material objects in this realm. So approximately 100,000 to 200,000 years ago, Homo sapiens show up on planet Earth, and we have the audacity to believe that although determinism reigned for approximately 14 billion years, now we are somehow free or beyond the laws of nature that govern reality. This is statistically very improbable (given 14 billion years of determinism) and also very arrogant on the part of mankind. Clearly, the laws of nature that govern our behavior are more complicated than the laws of gravity. The laws that govern human behavior are some sort of psy- chological/biological laws, many of which remain unknown to us today, but that does not mean we are free of them. It is hard to accept, and perhaps just as hard to understand; but the preponderance of evidence is on the side of determinism, although many of us, like a good pragmatics, choose to believe otherwise.
WILLIAM JAMES: The Dilemma of Determinism
In this essay and public address, William James argues for human freedom in the face of the material and detemermistic science of his day. He argues that indeterminism—chance—is a feature of the universe that permits “alternative futures” and the possibility of freedom. Free actions are chance happenings that humans have the ability to partake in. A common opinion prevails that the juice has ages ago been pressed out of the free-will controversy, and that no new champion can do more than warm up stale arguments which everyone has heard. This is a radical mis- take. I know of no subject less worn out, or in which inventive genius has a better chance of breaking open new ground—not, perhaps, of forcing a conclusion or of coercing assent, but of deepening our sense of what the issue between the two parties really is, of what the ideas of fate and of free will imply. At our very side almost, in the past few years, we have seen fall- ing in rapid succession from the press works that present the alternative in entirely novel lights. Not to speak of the English disciples of Hegel, such as Green and Bradley; not to speak of Hinton and Hodgson, nor of Hazard here—we see in the writings of Renouvier, Fouillée, and Delbœuf how completely changed and refreshed is the form of all the old disputes. I can- not pretend to vie in originality with any of the masters I have named, and my ambition limits itself to just one little point. If I can make two of the nec- essarily implied corollaries of determinism clearer to you than they have been made before, I shall have made it possible for you to decide for or against that doctrine with a better understanding of what you are about. And if you prefer not to decide at all, but to remain doubters, you will at least see more plainly what the subject of your hesitation is. I thus disclaim openly on the threshold all pretension to prove to you that the freedom of the will is true. The most I hope is to induce some of you to follow my own example in assuming it true, and acting as if it were true. If it be true, it seems to me that this is involved in the strict logic of the case. Its truth ought not to be forced willy-nilly down our indifferent throats. It ought to be freely espoused by men who can equally well turn their backs upon it. In other words, our first act of freedom, if we are free, ought in all inward pro- priety to be to affirm that we are free. This should exclude, it seems to me, from the freewill side of the question all hope of a coercive demonstrations,—a demonstration which I, for one, am perfectly con- tented to go without. With thus much understood at the outset, we can advance. But not with- out one more point understood as well. The arguments I am about to urge all proceed on two suppositions: first, when we make theories about the world and discuss them with one another, we do so in order to attain a con- ception of things which shall give us subjective satisfaction; and, second, if there be two conceptions, and the one seems to us, on the whole, more rational than the other, we are entitled to suppose that the more rational one is the truer of the two. I hope that you are all willing to make these sup- positions with me; for I am afraid that if there be any of you here who are not, they will find little edification in the rest of what I have to say. I cannot stop to argue the point; but I myself believe that all the magnificent achieve- ments of mathematical and physical science—our doctrines of evolution, of uniformity of law, and the rest—proceed from our indomitable desire to cast the world into a more rational shape in our minds than the shape into which it is thrown there by the crude order of our experience. The world has shown itself, to a great extent, plastic to this demand of ours for rationality. How much farther it will show itself plastic no one can say. Our only means of finding out is to try; and I, for one, feel as free to try conceptions of moral as of mechanical or of logical rationality. If a certain formula for expressing the nature of the world violates my moral demand, I shall feel as free to throw it overboard, or at least to doubt it, as if it disappointed my demand for uniformity of sequence, for example; the one demand being, so far as I can see, quite as subjective and emotional as the other is. The principle of causality, for example—what is it but a postulate, an empty name covering simply a demand that the sequence of events shall someday manifest a deeper kind of belonging of one thing with another than the mere arbitrary juxtaposition which now phenomenally appears? It is as much an altar to an unknown god as the one that Saint Paul found at Athens. All our scientific and philosophic ideals are altars to unknown gods. Uniformity is as much so as is free will. If this be admitted, we can debate on even terms. But if anyone pretends that while freedom and variety are, in the first instance, subjective demands, necessity and uniformity are something altogether different, I do not see how we can debate at all. To begin, then, I must suppose you acquainted with all the usual argu- ments on the subject. I cannot stop to take up the old proofs from causation, from statistics, from the certainty with which we can foretell one another’s conduct, from the fixity of character, and all the rest. But there are two words which usually encumber these classical arguments, and which we must immediately dispose of if we are to make any progress. One is the eulogistic word freedom, and the other is the opprobrious word chance. The word “chance” I wish to keep, but I wish to get rid of the word “freedom.” Its eulo- gistic associations have so far overshadowed all the rest of its meaning that both parties claim the sole right to use it, and determinists today insist that they alone are freedom’s champions. Old-fashioned determinism was what we may call hard determinism. It did not shrink from such words as fatality, bondage of the will, necessitation, and the like. Nowadays, we have a soft determinism which abhors harsh words, and, repudiating fatality, necessity, and even predetermination, says that its real name is freedom; for freedom is only necessity understood, and bondage to the highest is identical with true freedom. Even a writer as little used to making capital out of soft words as Mr. Hodgson hesitates not to call himself a“free-will determinist.” Now, all this is a quagmire of evasion under which the real issue of fact has been entirely smothered. Freedom in all these senses presents simply no problem at all. No matter what the soft determinist means by it,—whether he means the acting without external constraint; whether he means the act- ing rightly, or whether he means the acquiescing in the law of the whole,— who cannot answer him that sometimes we are free and sometimes we are not? But there is a problem, an issue of fact and not of words, an issue of the most momentous importance, which is often decided without discussion in one sentence,–nay, in one clause of a sentence,—by those very writers who spin out whole chapters in their efforts to show what “true” freedom is; and that is the question of determinism, about which we are to talk tonight. Fortunately, no ambiguities hang about this word or about its opposite, indeterminism. Both designate an outward way in which things may hap- pen, and their cold and mathematical sound has no sentimental associa- tions that can bribe our partiality either way in advance. Now, evidence of an external kind to decide between determinism and indeterminism is, as I intimated a while back, strictly impossible to find. Let us look at the differ- ence between them and see for ourselves. What does determinism profess? It professes that those parts of the universe already laid down absolutely appoint and decree what the other parts shall be. The future has no ambigu- ous possibilities bidden in its womb; the part we call the present is compat- ible with only one totality. Any other future complement than the one fixed from eternity is impossible. The whole is in each and every part, and welds it with the rest into an absolute unity, an iron block, in which there can be no equivocation or shadow of turning. “With earth’s first clay they did the last man knead, And there of the last harvest sowed the seed. And the first morning of creation wrote What the last dawn of reckoning shall read. Inde- terminism, on the contrary, says that the parts have a certain amount of loose play on one another, so that the laying down of one of them does not necessarily determine what the others shall be. It admits that possibilities may be in excess of actualities, and that things not yet revealed to our knowledge may really in themselves be ambiguous. Of two alternative futures which we conceive, both may now be really possible; and the one becomes impossible only at the very moment when the other excludes it by becoming real itself. Indeterminism thus denies the world to be one unbending unit of fact. It says there is a certain ultimate pluralism in it; and, so saying, it corroborates our ordinary unsophisticated view of things. To that view, actualities seem to float in a wider sea of possibilities from out of which they are chosen; and, somewhere, indeterminism says, such possi- bilities exist, and form a part of truth. Determinism, on the contrary, says they exist nowhere, and that neces- sity on the one hand and impossibility on the other are the sole categories of the real. Possibilities that fail to get realized are, for determinism, pure illu- sions: they never were possibilities at all. There is nothing inchoate, it says, about this universe of ours, all that was or is or shall be actual in it having been from eternity virtually there. The cloud of alternatives our minds escort this mass of actuality withal is a cloud of sheer deceptions, to which “impos- sibilities” is the only name that rightfully belongs. The issue, it will be seen, is a perfectly sharp one, which no eulogistic ter- minology can smear over or wipe out. The truth must lie with one side or the other, and its lying with one side makes the other false. The question relates solely to the existence of possibilities, in the strict sense of the term, as things that may, but need not, be. Both sides admit that a voli- tion, for instance, has occurred. The indeterminists say another volition might have occurred in its place: the determinists swear that nothing could possibly have occurred in its place. Now, can science be called in to tell us which of these two point-blank contradicters of each other is right? Science professes to draw no conclusions but such as are based on matters of fact, things that have actu- ally happened; but how can any amount of assurance that something actually happened give us the least grain of information as to whether another thing might or might not have happened in its place? Only facts can be proved by other facts. With things that are possibilities and not facts, facts have no con- cern. If we have no other evidence than the evidence of existing facts, the pos- sibility-question must remain a mystery never to be cleared up. And the truth is that facts practically have hardly anything to do with making us either determinists or indeterminists. Sure enough, we make a flourish of quoting facts this way or that; and if we are determinists, we talk about the infallibility with which we can predict one another’s conduct; while if we are indeterminists, we lay great stress on the fact that it is just because we cannot foretell one another’s conduct, either in war or state- craft or in any of the great and small intrigues and businesses of men, that life is so intensely anxious and hazardous a game. But who does not see the wretched insufficiency of this so-called objective testimony on both sides? What fills up the gaps in our minds is something not objective, not external. What divides us into possibility men and anti-possibility men is different faiths or postulates,—postulates of rationality. To this man the world seems more rational with possibilities in it,—to that man more rational with possibilities excluded; and talk as we will about having to yield to evidence, what makes us monists or pluralists, determinists or indeterminists, is at bottom always some sentiment like this. The stronghold of the deterministic sentiment is the antipathy to the idea of chance. As soon as we begin to talk indeterminism to our friends, we find a number of them shaking their heads. This notion of alternative possi- bilities, they say, this admission that any one of several things may come to pass, is, after all, only a roundabout name for chance; and chance is some- thing the notion of which no sane mind can for an instant tolerate in the world. What is it, they ask, but barefaced crazy unreason, the negation of intelligibility and law? And if the slightest particle of it exists anywhere, what is to prevent the whole fabric from falling together, the stars from going out, and chaos from recommencing her topsy-turvy reign? Remarks of this sort about chance will put an end to discussion as quickly as anything one can find. I have already told you that “chance” was a word I wished to keep and use. Let us then examine exactly what it means, and see whether it ought to be such a terrible bugbear to us. I fancy that squeezing the thistle boldly will rob it of its sting. The sting of the word “chance” seems to lie in the assumption that it means something positive, and that if anything happens by chance, it must needs be something of an intrinsically irrational and preposterous sort. Now, chance means nothing of the kind. It is a purely negative and relative term, giving us no information about that of which it is predicated, except that it happens to be disconnected with something else-not controlled, secured, or necessitated by other things in advance of its own actual pres- ence. As this point is the most subtle one of the whole lecture, and at the same time the point on which all the rest hinges, I beg you to pay particular attention to it. What I say is that it tells us nothing about what a thing may be in itself to call it“chance.”It may be a bad thing, it may be a good thing. It may be lucidity, transparency, fitness incarnate, matching the whole system of other things, when it has once befallen, in an unimaginably perfect way. All you mean by calling it “chance” is that this is not guaranteed, that it may also fall out otherwise. For the system of other things has no positive hold on the chance-thing. Its origin is in a certain fashion negative: it escapes, and says, Hands off! coming, when it comes, as a free gift, or not at all. This negativeness, however, and this opacity of the chance-thing when thus considered ab extra, or from the point of view of previous things or dis- tant things, do not preclude its having any amount of positiveness and luminosity from within, and at its own place and moment. All that its chance-character asserts about it is that there is something in it really of its own, something that is not the unconditional property of the whole. If the whole wants this property, the whole must wait till it can get it, if it be a matter of chance. That the universe may actually be a sort of joint-stock soci- ety of this sort, in which the sharers have both limited liabilities and limited powers, is of course a simple and conceivable notion. Nevertheless, many persons talk as if the minutest dose of disconnected- ness of one part with another, the smallest modicum of independence, the faintest tremor of ambiguity about the future, for example, would ruin everything, and turn this goodly universe into a sort of insane sand-heap or nulliverse, no universe at all. Since future human volitions are as a matter of fact the only ambiguous things we are tempted to believe in, let us stop for a moment to make ourselves sure whether their independent and acciden- tal character need be fraught with such direful consequences to the uni- verse as these. What is meant by saying that my choice of which way to walk home after the lecture is ambiguous and matter of chance as far as the present moment is concerned? It means that both Divinity Avenue and Oxford Street are called; but that only one, and that one either one, shall be chosen. Now, I ask you seriously to suppose that this ambiguity of my choice is real; and then to make the impossible hypothesis that the choice is made twice over, and each time falls on a different street. In other words, imagine that I first walk through Divinity Avenue, and then imagine that the powers governing the universe annihilate ten minutes of time with all that it contained, and set me back at the door of this hall just as I was before the choice was made. Imag- ine then that, everything else being the same, I now make a different choice and traverse Oxford Street. You, as passive spectators, look on and see the two alternative universes,—one of them with me walking through Divinity Avenue in it, the other with the same me walking through Oxford Street. Now, if you are determinists you believe one of these universes to have been from eternity impossible: you believe it to have been impossible because of the intrinsic irrationality or accidentality somewhere involved in it. But look- ing outwardly at these universes, can you say which is the impossible and accidental one, and which the rational and necessary one? I doubt if the most ironclad determinist among you could have the slightest glimmer of light on this point. In other words, either universe after the fact and once there would, to our means of observation and understanding, appear just as rational as the other. There would be absolutely no criterion by which we might judge one necessary and the other matter of chance. Suppose now we relieve the gods of their hypothetical task and assume my choice, once made, to be made forever. I go through Divinity Avenue for good and all. If, as good determinists, you now begin to affirm, what all good determinists punctually do affirm, that in the nature of things I couldn’t have gone through Oxford Street,—had I done so it would have been chance, irratio- nality, insanity, a horrid gap in nature,—I simply call your attention to this, that your affirmation is what the Germans call a Machtspruch, a mere con- ception fulminated as a dogma and based on no insight into details. Before my choice, either street seemed as natural to you as to me. Had I happened to take Oxford Street, Divinity Avenue would have figured in your philoso- phy as the gap in nature; and you would have so proclaimed it with the best deterministic conscience in the world. But what a hollow outcry, then, is this against a chance which, if it were presented to us, we could by no character whatever distinguish from a ratio- nal necessity! I have taken the most trivial of examples, but no possible example could lead to any different result. For what are the alternatives which, in point of fact, offer themselves to human volition? What are those futures that no seem matters of chance? Are they not one and all like the Divinity Avenue and Oxford Street of our example? Are they not all of them kinds of things already here and based in the existing frame of nature? Is anyone ever tempted to produce an absolute accident, something utterly irrelevant to the rest of the world? Do not an the motives that assail us, all the futures that offer themselves to our choice, spring equally from the soil of the past; and would not either one of them, whether realized through chance or through necessity, the moment it was realized, seem to us to fit that past, and in the completest and most continuous manner to interdigi- tate with the phenomena already there? The more one thinks of the matter, the more one wonders that so empty and gratuitous a hubbub as this outcry against chance should have found so great an echo in the hearts of men. It is a word which tells us absolutely noth- ing about what chances, or about the modus operandi of the chancing; and the use of it as a war cry shows only a temper of intellectual absolutism, a demand that the world shall be a solid block, subject to one control,—which temper, which demand, the world may not be found to gratify at all. In every outwardly verifiable and practical respect, a world in which the alternatives that now actually distract your choice were decided by pure chance would be by me absolutely undistinguished from the world in which I now live. I am, therefore, entirely willing to call it, so far as your choices go, a world of chance for me. To yourselves, it is true, those very acts of choice, which to me are so blind, opaque, and external, are the opposites of this, for you are within them and effect them. To you they appear as decisions; and decisions, for him who makes them, are altogether peculiar psychic facts. Self-lumi- nous and self-justifying at the living moment at which they occur, they appeal to no outside moment to put its stamp upon them or make them continuous with the rest of nature. Themselves it is rather who seem to make nature continuous; and in their strange and intense function of granting consent to one possibility and withholding it from another, to transform an equivocal and double future into an unalterable and simple past.
But with the psychology of the matter we have no concern this evening. The quarrel which determinism has with chance fortunately has nothing to do with this or that psychological detail. It is a quarrel altogether metaphysi- cal. Determinism denies the ambiguity of future volitions, because it affirms that nothing future can be ambiguous. But we have said enough to meet the issue. Indeterminate future volitions do mean chance. Let us not fear to shout it from the house-tops if need be; for we now know that the idea of chance is, at bottom, exactly the same thing as the idea of gift,—the one simply being a disparaging, and the other a eulogistic, name for anything on which we have no effective claim. And whether the world be the better or the worse for having either chances or gifts in it will depend altogether on what these uncertain and unclaimable things turn out to be. And this at last brings us within sight of our subject. We have seen what determinism means: we have seen that indeterminism is rightly described as meaning chance; and we have seen that chance, the very name of which we are urged to shrink from as from a metaphysical pestilence, means only the negative fact that no part of the world, however big, can claim to control absolutely the destinies of the whole. But although, in discussing the word “chance,” I may at moments have seemed to be arguing for its real existence, I have not meant to do so yet. We have not yet ascertained whether this be a world of chance or no; at most, we have agreed that it seems so. And I now repeat what I said at the outset, that, from any strict theoretical point of view, the question is insoluble. To deepen our theoretic sense of the differ- ence between a world with chances in it and a deterministic world is the most I can hope to do; and this I may now at last begin upon, after all our tedious clearing of the way. I wish first of all to show you just what the notion that this is a deterministic world implies. The implications I call your attention to are all bound up with the fact that it is a world in which we constantly have to make what I shall, with your permission, call judgments of regret. Hardly an hour passes in which we do not wish that something might be otherwise; and happy indeed are those of us whose hearts have never echoed the wish of Omar Khayam- That we might clasp, ere closed, the book of fate, And make the writer on a fairer leaf Inscribe our names, or quite obliterate. Ah! Love, could you and I with fate conspire To mend this sorry scheme of things entire, Would we not shatter it to bits, and then Remold it nearer to the heart’s desire? Now, it is undeniable that most of these regrets are foolish, and quite on a par in point of philosophic value with the criticisms on the universe of that friend of our infancy, the hero of the fable “The Atheist and the Acorn,”— Fool! had that bough a pumpkin bore, Thy whimsies would have worked no more, etc. Even from the point of view of our own ends, we should probably make a botch of remodeling the universe. How much more then from the point of view of ends we cannot see! Wise men therefore regret as little as they can. But still some regrets are pretty obstinate and hard to stifle,— regrets for acts of wanton cruelty or treachery, for example, whether per- formed by others or by ourselves. The refuge from the quandary lies, as I said, not far off. The necessary acts we erroneously regret may be good, and yet our error in so regretting them may be also good, on one simple condition; and that condition is this: The world must not be regarded as a machine whose final purpose is the mak- ing real of any outward good, but rather as a contrivance for deepening the theoretic consciousness of what goodness and evil in their intrinsic natures are. Not the doing either of good or evil is what nature cares for, but the knowing of them. Life is one long eating of the fruit of the tree of knowl- edge. I am in the habit, in thinking to myself, of calling this point of view the gnostical point of view. According to it, the world is neither an optimism nor a pessimism, but a Gnosticism.
EPICTETUS: On Freedom Epictetus (55–135) was a Greek Stoic philosopher. He practiced Stoicism, about 400 years after the stoic system was introduced in Athens. There were originally eight books in his work, the Discourses— the current version we have (after approximately 2000 years) is incomplete. The book addresses a variety of topics, and the selection here deals with human freedom. THAT man is free, who lives as he wishes, who is proof against compulsion and hindrance and violence, whose impulses are untrammelled, who gets what he wills to get and avoids what he wills to avoid. Who then would live in error? No one. Who would live deceived, reckless, unjust, intemperate, querulous, abject? No one. No bad man then lives as he would, and so no bad man is free. Who would live in a state of distress, fear, envy, pity, failing in the will to get and in the will to avoid? No one. Do we then find any bad man without distress or fear, above circum- stance, free from failure? None. Then we find none free. If a man who has been twice consul hear this, he will forgive you if you add,‘But you are wise, this does not concern you.’But if you tell him the truth, saying, ‘You are just as much a slave yourself as those who have been thrice sold’,whatcanyouexpectbutaflogging? ‘How can I be a slave?’ he says; ‘my father is free, my mother is free, no one has bought me; nay, I am a senator, and a friend of Caesar, I have been consul and have many slaves.’ In the first place, most excellent senator, perhaps your father too was a slave of the same kind as you, yes and your mother and your grandfather and the whole line of your ancestors. And if really they were ever so free, how does that affect you? What does it matter if they had a fine spirit, when you have none, if they were fearless and you are a coward, if they were self- controlled and you are intemperate? ‘Nay, what has this to do with being a slave?’ he replies. Does it seem to you slavery to act against your will, under compulsion and with groaning? ‘I grant you that,’ he says, ‘but who can compel me except Caesar, who is lord of all?’
Why, then, your own lips confess that you have one master: you must not comfort yourself with the thought that he is, as you say, the common master of all, but realize that you are a slave in a large household. However, let us leave Caesar for the moment if you please, but tell me this: Did you never fall in love with any one, with a girl, or a boy, or a slave, or a free man? ‘What has that to do with slavery or freedom?’ Were you never commanded by her you loved to do anything you did not wish? Did you never flatter your precious slave-boy? Did you never kiss his feet? Yet if any one compel you to kiss Caesar’s, you count it an outrage, the very extravagance of tyranny. What is this if not slavery? Did you never go out at night where you did not wish, and spend more than you wished and utter words of lamentation and groaning? Did you put up with being reviled and shut out? If you are ashamed to confess your own story, see what Thra- sonides says and does: he had served in as many campaigns or more per- haps than you and yet, first of all, he has gone out at night, at an hour when Getas does not dare to go, nay, if he were forced by his master to go, he would have made a loud outcry and have gone with lamentations over his cruel slavery, and then, what does he say?
Poor wretch, to be slave to a paltry girl and a worthless one too! Why do you call yourself free then any more? Why do you boast of your campaigns? Then he asks for a sword, and is angry with the friend who refuses it out of goodwill, and sends gifts to the girl who hates him, and falls to praying and weeping, and then again when he has a little luck he is exultant. How can we call him free when he has not learnt to give up desire and fear? The slave is anxious to be set free at once. Why? Do you think it is because he is anxious to pay the tax on his manumission? No! the reason is he imag- ines that up till now he is hampered and ill at ease because he has not got his freedom.‘If I am enfranchised,’he says,‘at once all will be well, I heed nobody, I talk to all men as an equal and one of their quality, I go where I will, I come whence I will and where I will.’Then he is emancipated, and having nothing to eat he straightway looks for someone to flatter and to dine with; then he either has to sell his body to lust and endure the worst, and if he gets a man- ger to eat at, he has plunged into a slavery much severer than the first; or if perchance he grows rich, being a low-bred fellow he dotes on some paltry girl and gets miserable and bewails himself and longs to be a slave again.
‘What ailed me in those days? Another gave me clothes and shoes, another fed me and tended me in sickness, and the service I did him was a small matter. Now, how wretched and miserable I am, with many masters instead of one! Still, if I can get rings on my fingers I shall live happily and prosperously enough.’ And so first, to get them, he puts up with what he deserves, and having got them repeats the process. Next he says,‘If I go on a campaign I am quit of all my troubles.’ He turns soldier and endures the lot of a criminal, but all the same he begs for a second campaign and a third. Lastly, when he gets the crown to his career and is made a senator, once more he becomes a slave again as he goes to the senate; then he enjoys the noblest and the sleekest slavery of all. Let him not be foolish, let him learn, as Socrates said, what is the true nature of everything, and not apply primary conceptions at random to particular facts. For this is the cause of all the miseries of men, that they are not able to apply their common primary conceptions to particular cases. One of us fancies this, another that. One fancies he is ill. Not at all; it is only that he does not apply his primary conceptions. Another fancies that he is poor, that his father or mother is cruel, another that Caesar is not gracious. But really it is one thing, and one thing only; they do not know how to adjust their primary conceptions. For who has not a primary notion of evil—that it is harmful, to be shunned, by every means to be got rid of? One primary notion does not conflict with another, the conflict is in the application. To have a quiet mind, to be happy, to do everything as he will, to be free from hindrance and compulsion. Very well: when he becomes Caesar’s friend is he relieved from hindrance and compulsion, is he in peace and hap- piness? Of whom are we to inquire? Whom can we better trust than the very man who has become Caesar’s friend? Come forward and tell us! when was your sleep more tranquil, now or before you became Caesar’s friend? Tell me, when did you dine more agreeably, now or before? Hear again what he says about this: if he is not invited, he is distressed, and if he is invited he dines as a slave with his lord, anxious all the while for fear he should say or do something foolish. And what do you think he fears? To be flogged like a slave? How should he come off so well? No, so great a man as he, and Caesar’s friend, must fear to lose his neck. When did you bathe with more peace of mind, or exercise yourself more at your ease? In a word, which life would you rather live, today’s or the old life? No one, I can swear, is so wanting in sense or feeling, that he does not lament his lot the louder the more he is Caesar’s friend.
Inasmuch then as neither those who bear the name of kings nor kings’ friends live as they will, what free men are left? Seek, and you shall find, for nature supplies you with means to find the truth. If, with these means and no more to guide you, you cannot find the answer for yourself, then listen to those who have made the search. What do they say? Does freedom seem to you a good thing? ‘Certainly.’ Can then one who possesses so great and precious and noble a thing be of a humble spirit? ‘He cannot.’ Therefore when you see a man cringing to another or flattering him against his true opinion, you may say with confidence that he too is not free, and not only if he does it for a paltry dinner, but even if he does it for a prov- ince or a consulship. But those who do it for small objects you may call slaves on a small scale, and the others, as they deserve, slaves on a large scale. ‘I grant you this too.’ Again, does freedom seem to you’to be something independent, owning no authority but itself? ‘Certainly.’ Then whenever a man can be hindered or compelled by another at will, assert with confidence that he is not free. What is it then which makes man his own master and free from hin- drance? Wealth does not make him so, nor a consulship, nor a province, nor a kingdom; we must find something else. Now what is it which makes him unhindered and unfettered in writing? ‘Knowledge of how to write.’ What makes him so in flute-playing? ‘Knowledge of flute-playing.’ So too in living, it is knowledge of how to live. You have heard this as a general principle; consider it in detail. Is it possible for one who aims at an object which lies in the power of others to be unhindered? Is it possible for him to be untrammelled? ‘No.’ It follows that he cannot be free. Consider then: have we nothing which is in our power alone, or have we everything? Or only some things in our power, and some in that of others? ‘How do you mean?’ When you wish your body to be whole, is it in your power or not? ‘It is not.’ And when you wish it to be healthy? ‘That is not in my power.’
And when you wish it to be beautiful? ‘That is not in my power.’ And to live or die? ‘That is not mine either.’ The body then is something not our own and must give an account to an one who is stronger than ourselves. ‘Granted.’ Is it in your power to have land when you will, and as long as you will, and of the quality you will? ‘No.’ And clothes? ‘No.’ And your bit of a house? ‘None of these things.’ And if you wish your children or your wife or your brother or your friends to live, whatever happens, is that in your power? ‘No, that is not either.’ Have you nothing then which owns no other authority, nothing which you alone control, or have you something of that sort? ‘I do not know.’ Look at the matter thus and consider it. Can anyone make you assent to what is false? ‘Noone.’ Well, then, in the region of assent you are unhindered and unfettered. ‘Granted.’ Again, can anyone force your impulse towards what you do not wish? ‘He can; for when he threatens me with death or bonds, he forces my impulse.’ Well now, if you despise death and bonds, do you heed him any longer? ‘No.’ Is it your doing then to despise death, or is it not yours? ‘Mine.’ It rests with you then to be impelled to action, does it not? ‘I grant it rests with me.’ And impulse not to act, with whom does that rest? It is yours too. ‘Supposing that my impulse is to walk, and he hinders me, what then?’ What part of you will he hinder? Your assent? ‘No, but my poor body.’ Yes, as a stone is hindered. ‘Granted; but I do not walk anymore.’
Who told you that it is your business to walk unhindered? The only thing I told you was unhindered was your impulse; as to the service of the body, and its cooperation, you have heard long ago that it is no affair of yours. ‘I grant you this too.’ Can any one compel you to will to get what you do not wish? ‘Noone.’ Or to purpose or to plan, or in a word to deal with the impressions that you meet with? ‘No one can do this either; but if I will to get something a man will hinder me from obtaining it.’ How will he hinder you, if you set your will upon things which are your own and beyond hindrance? ‘Not at all.’ But no one tells you that he who wills to get what is not his own is unhindered. ‘Am I then not to will to get health?’ Certainly not, nor anything else that is not your own. For nothing is your own, that it does not rest with you to procure or to keep when you will. Keep your hands far away from it; above all, keep your will away, or else you sur- render yourself into slavery, you put your neck under the yoke, if you admire what is not your own, and set your heart on anything mortal, whatever it be, or anything that depends upon another. ‘Is not my hand my own?’ It is a part of you, but by nature a thing of clay, subject to hindrance and compulsion, slave to everything that is stronger than itself. Nay, why do I name you the hand? You must treat your whole body like a poor ass, with its burden on its back, going with you just so far as it may, and so far as it is given you; but if the king’s service calls, and a soldier lays hands on it, let it go, do not resist or murmur; if you do, you will only get a flogging and lose your poor ass all the same. But when this is your proper attitude to your body, consider what is left for you to do with other things that are procured for the body’s sake. As the body is the poor ass, other things become the ass’s bridle and pack-saddle, shoes and barley and fodder. Give them up too, let them go quicker and with a lighter heart than the ass itself. And when you have prepared and trained yourself thus to distinguish what is your own from what is not your own, things subject to hindrance from things unhindered, to regard these latter as your concern, and the for- mer as not, to direct your will to gain the latter and to avoid the former, then have you any one to fear anymore? ‘No one.’
Of course. What should you fear for? Shall you fear for what is your own, that is, for what makes good and evil for you? Nay, who has authority over what is yours? Why, what have you been studying all along but to distinguish what it yours from what is not yours, what is in your power from what is not in your power, things subject to hindrance from things unhindered? Why did you go to the philosophers? Was it that you might be just as unfortunate and miser- able as ever? I say that so trained you will be free from fear and perturbation. What has pain to do with you now, for it is only things that cause fear in expectation which cause pain when they come? What shall you have desire for any longer, for your will is tranquil and harmonious, set on objects within its compass to obtain, objects that are noble and within your reach, and you have no wish to get what is beyond your will, and you give no scope to that jostling element of unreason which breaks all bounds in its impatience? When once you adopt this attitude towards things, no man can inspire fear in you any longer. For how can man cause fear in man by his aspect or his talk or by his society generally, any more than fear can be roused by horse or dog or bee in another horse or dog or bee? No, it is things which inspire fear in every man; it is the power of winning things for another or of taking them away from him that makes a man feared. I act as the more cautious travellers do. A man has heard that the road is infested by robbers; he does not dare to venture on it alone, but waits for company—a legate, or a quaestor, or a proconsul—and joining him he passes safely on the road. The prudent man does the same in the world; in the world are many haunts of robbers, tyrants, storms, distresses, chances of losing what is dearest. This is what you ought to practice from sunrise to sunset, beginning with the meanest things and those most subject to injury—a jug or a cup. From this go on to a tunic, a dog, a horse, a field; and from that to yourself, your body and its members, your children, your wife, your brothers. Look care- fully on all sides and fling them away from you. Purify your judgements, and see that nothing that is not your own is attached to you or clings to you, that nothing shall give you pain if it is torn from you. And as you train yourself day by day, as in the lecture-room, say not that you are a philosopher (I grant you that would be arrogant), but that you are providing for your enfranchisement; for this is freedom indeed. He is free, whom none can hinder, the man who can deal with things as he wishes. But the man who can be hindered or compelled or fettered or driven into anything against his will, is a slave. And who is he whom none can hinder? The man who fixes his aim on nothing that is not his own. And what does ‘not his own’ mean? All that it does not lie in our power to have or not to have, or to have of a particular quality or under particular conditions.
The body then does not belong to us, its parts do not belong to us, our prop- erty does not belong to us. If then you set your heart on one of these as though it were your own, you will pay the penalty deserved by him who desires what does not belong to him. The road that leads to freedom, the only release from slavery is this, to be able to say with your whole soul:
But, what say you, my philosopher, suppose the tyrant call on you to say something unworthy of you? Do you assent or refuse? Tell me. ‘Let me think it over.’ You will think it over now, will you? And what, pray, did you think over when you were at lecture? Did you not study what things are good and what are evil, and what are neither? ‘Yes, I did.’ What conclusion did you approve then? ‘That things right and noble were good, things wrong and shameful bad.’ Is death evil? ‘No.’ Is prison? ‘No.’ If you really imagined shameful acts to be bad, and noble acts good, and all else to be indifferent, you would not have proceeded to raise this ques- tion: not at all: you would at once have been able to decide the question by intuition, as an act of sight. For when do you question whether black things are white, or heavy things light, instead of following the obvious conclu- sions of your senses? Why then do you talk now of considering whether things indifferent are more to be shunned than things evil? These are not your judgements: prison and death do not seem to you indifferent, but the greatest evils, nor do base words and acts seem evil, they seem not to mat- ter for us. This is the habit to which you have trained yourself from the first. ‘Where am I? In the lecture-room. And who are listening to me? I am talking to phi- losophers. But now I have left the lecture-room. Away with those sayings of pedants and fools!’That is how a philosopher gives witness against a friend, that is how a philosopher turns parasite: that is how he hires himself out at a price, and speaks against his real opinion in the Senate, while in his heart his judgement cries aloud, not a flat and miserable apology for an opinion, hanging to idle discussions as by a hair-thread, but a judgement strong and
serviceable, trained by actions, which is the true initiation. Watch yourself and see how you take the news, I do not say that your child is dead (how should that befall you? ), but that your oil is spilt, or your wine drunk up: well may one who stands by, as your temper rises high, say just this to you, ‘Phi- losopher, you use different language in the lecture-room: why do you deceive us? Why, worm that you are, do you call yourself a man?’ I would fain stand by one of these men when he is indulging his lust, that I might see how eager he is, and what words he utters, and whether he remembers his own name, or the discourses which he hears or delivers or reads. ‘Yes, but what has this to do with freedom?’ Make this your study, study these judgements, and these sayings: fix your eyes on these examples, if you wish to be free, if you set your desires on free- dom as it deserves. It is no wonder that you pay this great, this heavy price for so vast an object. Men hang themselves, or cast themselves down head- long, nay sometimes whole cities perish for the sake of what the world calls ‘freedom’, and will you not repay to God what He has given, when He asks it, for the sake of true freedom, the freedom which stands secure against all attack? Shall you not practise, as Plato says, not death only, but torture and exile and flogging, in a word practise giving back all that is not yours? If not, you will be a slave among slaves, even if you are consul ten thousand times, and no less, if you go up into Caesar’s Palace; and you will discover that‘what philosophers say may be contrary to opinion’, as Cleanthes said, ‘but not contrary to reason’. For you will really get to know that what they say is true, and that none of these objects that men admire and set their hearts on is of any use to those who get them, though those who have never chanced to have them get the impression, that if only these things were theirs their cup of blessings would be full, and then, when they get them, the sun scorches them and the sea tosses them no less, and they feel the same boredom and the same desire for what they have not got. For freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of men’s desires, but by the removal of desire. To learn the truth of what I say, you must spend your pains on these new studies instead of your studies in the past: sit up late that you may acquire a judgement that makes you free: pay your attentions not to a rich old man, but to a philosopher, and be seen about his doors: to be so seen will not do you discredit: you will not depart empty or without profit, if you approach in the right spirit. If you doubt my word, do but try: there is no disgrace in trying.
Analytic philosophy was created as a distinct school of philosophical thought by many of the great minds in the first half of the twentieth century. There were vari- ous founders: Bertrand Russell is one of the founders of analytic philosophy along with his predecessor Gottlob Frege, as well as his colleague G. E. Moore, and their student Ludwig Wittgenstein. It is worth noting that many of the first analytic phi- losophers, including Frege and Russell, first made their mark in formal logic and sci- ence. Philosophy, like science then, would henceforth value conceptual clarity and concise language, with a resulting aversion for the convoluted and often dense lan- guage of European philosophers from Hegel to Husserl. That clarity need not be the enemy of complexity did not occur to many of these analytic philosophers, and the very subject matter of Continental philosophy became suspect.
What differentiates analytic philosophy from other school of philosophical thought is unclear. In his book, The Dialogue of Reason (1986), L. Jonathan Cohen (1923–2006) argues that there are three ways by which analytic philosophy may be separated from other philosophical schools of thought. The first possibility is that analytic philosophy holds different foundational doctrines or tenets than other areas of philosophy. This was the view adopted by the logical positivist (or empirical positivist) at the beginning of the last century. In the view of the logi- cal positivist, only statements verifiable either logically or empirically are cogni- tively meaningful—anything else (primarily metaphysics) is meaningless or nonsense.
The second possibility as to what differentiates analytic philosophy as a dis- tinct school of philosophy is that it employs doctrines distinct from other branches of philosophy. This notion was employed by the natural language theorists in the middle of the last century. Finally, the third possibility is that analytic philosophy is concerned with different problems than other branches of philosophy. Jonathan Cohen argues for the third possibility in his book and claims that what separate ana- lytic philosophy from other schools of philosophy is that it is primarily focused on “normative problems about reasons and reasoning.” Post-war politics also helped bring about the hegemony of analytic philosophy in the United States. The McCarthyism of the 1950s meant that being suspected of Left-leaning sympathies could spell the end of a professional career. Many professors were fired. By historical coincidence, Continental philosophers were highly political and nearly uniformly on the Left: particularly Jean-Paul Sartre, but also Simone de Beauvoir, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Albert Camus, Raymond Aron and many others were decidedly Marxist in their philosophy. Just about the only prominent Continen- tal philosopher who was not a Marxist was Martin Heidegger—and he was a card- carrying Nazi. Interest in Continental philosophy waned. The result was, as John McCumber noted in his 2016 book The Philosophy Scare, by the beginning of the 1960s philosophy in the United States had become “what Joe McCarthy’s henchmen would have wanted it to be.” To sympathize with Continental philosophy was not healthy for an academic career. Analytic philosophy, on the other hand, was politi- cally neutral, safe within the realm of its linguistic interests. Intellectually, it was a safe road to take. For more than half a century to this day, analytic philosophy became the rule in most American university philosophy departments.
Logical positivism is a twentieth-century school of philosophy, which argues that all meaningful propositions (or statements/utterances) are either: analytic, verifiable, or confirmable by means of observation and experiment. The proponents of this view argue that metaphysical theories are therefore strictly meaningless (as such the mind or soul do not exist, or at least cannot be confirmed, since they cannot be observed). This view is also sometimes known as logical empiricism. One of its chief proponents and founders was Rudolph Carnap. The notion of analytic can be stated as “true by virtue of the meaning of the words or concepts used to express it,” so that its denial would be a self-contradiction. An alternative definition, one that is proposed by natural language theorist, is that “analytic state- ments tend to not alter the form of its words and to use word order rather than inflection or agglutination to express grammatical structure.”
Natural Language Philosophy (also known as Linguistic Philosophy or Ordinary Language Philosophy) approaches traditional philosophical problems as being rooted in misunderstandings in a language. The proponents of the view claim that many of the philosophical problems undertaken as a result of a misuse or misunderstanding of language. Some philosophers argue that it is a separate school of philosophy and is a reac- tion against the analytic philosophy, while others argue it as just an extension of the analytic tradition Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein (1889–1951), Gilbert Ryle (1900– 1976), J. L. Austin (1911–1960), Peter Strawson (1919–2006), and John Wisdom (1904–1993) were all proponents of this school of thought. Of the group, Wittgen- stein was ultimately the most accomplished (as well as misunderstood of the group). Wittgenstein’s early and late works (if they do not contradict one another) certainly provide very different philosophical views regarding the nature of language and of philosophy itself. His philosophy is often divided into an early period, exemplified by the Tractatus, and a later period, articulated in the Philosophical Investi- gations. The early Wittgenstein was concerned with the logical relationship between propositions and the world and believed that by providing an account of the logic underlying this relationship, he had solved all philosophical problems. The later Wittgenstein rejected many of the assumptions of the Tractatus, arguing that the meaning of words is best understood as their use within a given language game. Some members of this school of thought were willing to accept metaphysical statements (or at least entertain them) such as Wittgenstein. As he said, “What we do is bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday usage.”
READINGS ALAN MONTEFIORE and BERNARD WILLIAMS: The Analytic Tradition Alan Montefiore (b. 1926) and Bernard Williams (1929–2003) collaborated on a collection of essays on analytic philosophy published in 1966. Both were leaders in the field. They both had a great influence on philosophical thought in the latter half of the twentieth century. WHAT constitutes a philosophical movement? The movements or schools of the past had their unity—or were given it by the historian of philosophy— most often in one of two ways. Either there was some great philosopher to whom the movement owed its leading ideas and its name, as when a group of philosophers were styled in antiquity ‘Epicureans’, or, more recently, ‘Kan- tians’ or ‘Hegelians’; or, alternatively, it was more directly the terms of some broad agreement of philosophical doctrine and conclusion that provided the unity, as with the ‘Stoicism’ of antiquity or the ‘Logical Positivism’ of the twen- ties and thirties of this century. In this sort of sense, it is not easy to identify ‘schools’ of philosophy in contemporary Western thought. Leaving on one side the extremely special case of Marxism, even those movements in Europe that have a self-conscious title, notably the ‘existentialist’ and ‘phenomeno- logical’ movements, do not display straightforwardly the unity either of alle- giance or of doctrine that is to be found at earlier times in the history of philosophy. While the figure of Husserl stands behind phenomenology, it is certainly not as‘Husserlians’that phenomenologists go forth; again, to recog- nize some philosophical writings as‘existentialist’is to recognize rather a style and a type of concern rather than a readily isolable body of doctrine. If this is true of movements such as these, it is still more evidently true of the kind of philosophy represented by the essays in this book. In some part, no doubt, this difference between the philosophy of the present day and some philosophy of the past is due merely to its being the present day: the comforting unities in past schools appear only as the falsifying effect of dis- tance and the inevitable over-simplifications of history. But even when allowance has been made for this, a contrast remains, a contrast that has its roots in the historical development of philosophy in the last hundred years and, more particularly, in this century. This is most conspicuously true of the sort of philosophy presented here, but it also has some application to the Continental movements. The kind of unity that rested on a group of philoso- phers sharing the same doctrines and conclusions presupposes, of course, that there are characteristic philosophical conclusions to be shared; while the allegiance to a great philosophical figure—at least that sort of allegiance that gives his name to a school, unlike, for instance, the allegiance to Socrates—characteristically demands that the followers suppose their mas- ter to have discovered, at least in outline, the final truth. The notion of ‘final truths’in philosophy is one that the modern temper tends to treat with scep- ticism; and indeed, more radically than this, even the idea of there being doctrines or conclusions at all in philosophy (whether final or not) is open to question. Such doctrines have usually offered themselves in the past as con- tributions to theoretical knowledge, while yet being characteristically differ- ent from the theoretical knowledge embodied in the natural and mathematical sciences; and the overwhelming practical and intellectual achievements of those sciences in the present time have inevitably rein- forced in a powerful way a certain doubt that has been lurking in philosophy at least from the time of Kant, and indeed earlier: the doubt that all genuine theoretical knowledge is scientific, and that it cannot be as a contribution to such knowledge that philosophy has its peculiar, non-scientific, role to play. Whatever the justice of such a doubt, it certainly appears as no accident that the characteristic agreements and disagreements between philoso- phers of the same and different schools at this time should not express themselves so much in doctrine, as in method. It is in certain styles and methods of thought, certain types of questions and certain sets of terms and ideas for discussing them, that the unity of existentialist thought, for example, most obviously appears; and similarly with the essays collected in this book. They are all examples of methods of philosophical discussion that have been most influential and important in Great Britain and elsewhere in the English-speaking world since the war, and which (it is fair to say) remain so. The range of styles and subject matter to be found even in this collection, limited as it necessarily is, illustrate the fact that a certain definite unity in this philosophical style is compatible with considerable variety in both phil- osophical interests, and in general belief. It is perhaps worth remarking in particular, as something more readily taken for granted in this style of phi- losophy than in many European styles, that the authors (who represent, incidentally, the younger age-group among English-speaking philoso- phers, being mostly in their thirties or early forties) include both Christians and non-Christians. This variety is further witnessed in the movement’s not having any agreed name: ‘linguistic philosophy’, ‘linguistic analysis’, even ‘Oxford philosophy’ (with reference to the university where these methods have been, not so much originated, as most influentially practised), are all titles which have been applied to these ways of philosophical discussion. It is notable that these titles have been more enthusiastically employed by critics or expositors of these ideas than by the philosophers in question themselves, who prefer in general to describe their activity merely as ‘doing philosophy’. To some people, this description might seem to embody the claim that these were the only ways of doing philosophy. To some extent, the rejection of labels is more connected with a dislike of ‘taking sides in philosophy’ (to use a phrase of Professor Gilbert Ryle’s), a wholesale rejec- tion of programmatic aspirations and zealotry, than it is with an exclusive claim to have the programme of philosophy; however, it is also true that many of these philosophers would claim that their way of approaching phil- osophical problems was better—more illuminating, more realistic, and more rational—than others. Such a claim is a proper consequence of their believing in what they are doing. Though the ‘English-speaking’ style of phi- losophy is an academic style—a point that we shall come back to—it does not suffer from that particularly barren form of academicism which blankly accords equal respect to any activity that calls itself‘philosophy’. . . . There is a well-known textbook contrast between the traditions of Brit- ish and of Continental philosophy; that British philosophy is empirical, down-to-earth, and sober in expression, while that of the Continent tends to be speculative, metaphysical, and either obscure in utterance or, if not, to have the special sort of clarity that goes with an ambitious rationalism. This contrast is, of course, an absurd caricature. It does, like many caricatures, make a gesture towards something true; in particular, so far as the present situation is concerned, there is a genuine divergence between a rather mat- ter-of-fact tone in the British style, and the darker and more intense note that is struck by much writing on the Continent. The cause is neither banal super- ficiality on the part of the British philosopher, nor pretentious obscurity on the part of the Continental one—though the divergence is itself marked by the fact that when they succumb to their characteristic vices, these are the vices that each succumbs to. The divergence is rather connected with a gen- uine disagreement about what constitutes seriousness in philosophy; this, again, is a point that we shall come back to later in this Introduction. In other respects, the caricature that we have just referred to is extremely misleading. It particularly misleads in suggesting that British philosophy is empirical, if what this means is that it is the philosophy of empiricism, directly in the tradition of Locke, Berkeley and Hume. Such a philosophy certainly has had in recent times distinguished exponents: notably Bertrand Russell, and—in a rather different manner—A. J. Ayer, though Ayer has modified his position considerably from the extreme empiricism of Language, Truth and Logic (1936) and The Foundations of Empirical Knowledge (1940). It is also true that British philosophy retains certain empiricist interests (see, for instance, Mr Quinton’s contribution to this book), and even certain empiri- cist (though not necessarily exclusively empiricist) principles and attitudes, notably a scepticism about large-scale metaphysical conclusions suppos- edly founded on the deliverances of reason or intuition. But more generally
it is certainly not in any allegiance to traditional empiricism that this philos- ophy is distinguished from the philosophies of the Continent. Indeed, in so far as British philosophy is sceptical of large-scale metaphysical conclusions, it will be as suspicious of the metaphysics of empiricism—the attempt to establish the basic constituents of the universe as experiences—as of any other. There is a further point. Traditionally, empiricism has been expressed in psychological terms; it was as a theory of the human mind that it typically appeared, and its vocabulary was that of ideas, impressions and the powers of association. The appearance of being a kind of a priori psychology is not, however, essential to empiricism; it has been characteristic of many sorts of philosophy in the twentieth century to try to shake off the idiom of psy- chologism; this it has done under such diverse influences as those of Frege, Husserl and G. E. Moore, in some part because of the new birth in the last hundred years of logic as a non-psychological science, and also in some part because of the growth of psychology itself as a natural science independent of philosophy. Empiricism was able to respond to this change, and what was essentially the empiricism of Hume, though with many refinements, was presented, particularly by the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle, not in a psychological, but in a logical and linguistic form: as a doctrine not about the powers and nature of the mind, but as a theory of language and the lim- its of meaning. But while this was a possible expression of empiricism, its linguistic emphasis has proved more powerfully influential than its empiri- cist content. The concern with meaning, with what can be sensibly and pointfully said in what circumstances, and more generally with the condi- tions of meaningful discourse, has in a sense turned against empiricism itself, particularly against its characteristic doctrine of the primacy of the ‘data’ of immediate sense-experience. This has led—by what some philosophers (but perhaps not these philos- ophers) might regard as a typically dialectic movement—to the develop- ment of a certain underlying tension in contemporary British philosophy. On the one hand, the mood and intent are still predominantly empiricist; on the other hand, the implications of many of the methods used and of the insights attained are not. This tension, too, is to be felt in the collection of essays of this book; in some cases, perhaps, within the individual essays themselves, but certainly within the collection taken as a whole. How this tension is to be resolved may be seen as one of the most general of the questions facing British philosophy at the present time. All this may suggest that the present gap between British and Continen- tal philosophy may lie in a rather different place than the emphasis on empiricism would indicate. It does, however, at the same time suggest a new and real kind of difficulty in bridging the gap. For it may be wondered whether there are not certain objections in principle to this linguistic philos- ophy ever moving outside the English-speaking world by the medium of translation. The concern with language in this philosophy is not merely abstract and general as it is in the general science of linguistics and in com- munication theory and such studies. It is rather that particular features of the use of language, particularly in the most ordinary concerns of everyday life, are thought both to give rise to some philosophical problems, and to provide at least clues to their solution. The language whose uses are studied by these philosophers is, not surprisingly, their own—English. It may well be suggested that this sort of concern with the everyday workings of a natural language must inevitably defy satisfactory translation: if English-speaking philosophy is linguistic, then it must inevitably remain the philosophy of English speakers. If we did not think that this objection could be answered, we should clearly not have asked our contributors to write essays to be translated—we should not have embarked on assembling this book at all. In fact, we believe that there is a number of answers to this objection relating to different aspects of so-called ‘linguistic’ philosophy. First, for a good deal of the work which recognizably belongs to this type of philosophy, it is not true that its arguments make any direct appeal to features of the English, or any other, language. It is ‘linguistic’ only in being constantly aware of the presence of language, not merely in the negative sense of being sensitive to the dan- gers of being misled by words and trapped into empty verbal argument if we do not ask ‘what is the point of using language in this way?’, but also in the more positive sense of an awareness that in discussing, as philosophy always has, the relations between concepts and the nature of various ideas, one always comes back to the expression of such things in the human activ- ity of thinking and talking about the world. There has been some discussion and disagreement in the past years about the question of to what extent formalized languages can fruitfully be applied to philosophical problems. All would agree that there were certain subjects, most obviously the philosophy of mathematics, to which the application of formalized languages was valuable, perhaps essential; their wider application, however, is more favoured by some philosophers (nota- bly in the United States, such as Quine) than by others (notably certain Oxford philosophers, such as Strawson). One essay in this book offers to some extent such a formal treatment of its problems, Mr Harré’s on the phi- losophy of science. Thus a good deal of so-called ‘linguistic’ philosophy is not so linguistic as all that, in the sense at least of its arguments referring to particular features of some natural language such as English. Some of it, however, does undouhtedly proceed by making explicit references to distinctions embodied in the English language. Nevertheless, even in these cases, trans- lation is not necessarily a hopeless task. For in very many cases, the distinc- tions that are being made are of a general and important kind which it is highly probable will also be reflected in very similar distinctions made in other natural languages. In these respects, the problem of translating Eng- lish‘linguistic’philosophy will be no more radical than that of translating, for instance, Aristotle or other philosophers who have claimed to discover important distinctions which they have explained by reference to structures in their own languages. The linguistic interest in such cases is not peculiar to the philosopher’s own language, although it is in that language, and by ref- erence to it, that his points are made. A striking example of this type of phi- losophy in the recent tradition is the work of Professor Gilbert Ryle. His Concept of Mind (1950) is a work that uses very many examples drawn from English forms of speech; his points, however, are of a sufficiently general kind for the book to have been successfully translated into Italian by F. Rossi- Landi (under the title Lo Spirito come Comportamento). In so far as essays in the present book do use explicitly linguistic arguments, we can only ask the reader to judge for himself whether they have been successfully translated by seeing whether they make their point. It must be admitted, however, that there is one sort of work in recent Brit- ish philosophy which presents a problem to a translator of a kind more radi- cal than, for instance, Ryle’s work presents, or the essays in this book. This is work of a type practised and advocated by the late Professor J. L. Austin (whose work is described by Mr Pears in this book, and in one respect criti- cized by Mr Seatle). Austin’s concern was with extremely fine distinctions in the meaning and use of certain English expressions, and it differed from Ryle’s interests, for example, in not being concerned only with distinctions of a rather broad and general kind such as we have argued are very proba- bly to be found also in other languages. Ryle’s concentration on some fairly broad distinctions at the expense of others is connected with his willing- ness to accept from the philosophical tradition some large-scale distinc- tions of category, such as that between an event, a process, a disposition, etc., in terms of which he handles his philosophical problems. Austin’s approach was in a sense more radical; he, like others before him, sought ‘new beginnings’ in philosophy, and was unwilling to accept traditional cat- egorial structures, or even traditional philosophical problems. Accordingly, he felt that no distinction embodied in everyday speech could safely be overlooked, and was prepared to consider nuances of meaning which other philosophers would probably dismiss as trivial or of no philosophical signifi- cance. Some of his writings in this manner and those of his followers might well prove, as they stand, untranslatable, since the shades of meaning for which Austin had a peculiarly fine ear, often lie at a level at which one is cer- tainly concerned with idiosyncracies of the English language.
While this is so, it does not follow that Austin’s philosophy could not be practised by non-English speakers. This would be to assume that only Eng- lish had fruitfully distinguishable nuances. It is rather that some of his work, instead of being translated from English, would need to be carried on as a fresh enterprise in terms of another language. . . . On the one hand, he sometimes spoke as though the aim of his activ- ity was to get away from philosophy as traditionally understood, and rather lay the foundations for a systematic and empirical study of language; and some of the concepts that he developed for the description of language, such as that of a ‘speech-act’, may well come to play an important part in the developing science of linguistics. On the other hand, Austin clearly thought that many of the distinctions to which he drew attention were highly relevant to the issues which (in his view) philosophers had in the past wildly over-simplified in their discussions; and his discussions of the language of perception, or again of the ways in which we describe human actions, were certainly intended to undercut much of what has in the past gone on in the philosophical treatment of those issues. In this connection, Austin’s concern with nice distinctions of English usage appears at once as more philosophical and, in a sense, less essential. For the use of the distinc- tions there was essentially to recall one to the facts; the immensely complex facts of perception and action which the philosophers have traditionally treated in such a cavalier fashion. The aim was essentially to make one real- ize in a concrete way the complex variety of situations to which the lan- guage of perception and action applies, and in this respect there are analogies between Austin and the later work of Wittgenstein (some of which Mr Pears explores in the paper already referred to). Both wished to recall philosophy to the world, and in this attempt the concern with our ordinary speech, the ways in which we unreflectively describe the world in our ordinary concerns, has a double role. First, it was the means of recall: reflection on ordinary language could realize for one the distinctions in the world; this was so for Austin more than for Wittgenstein, and it is a signifi- cant fact that Wittgenstein’s works were written not in English, but in Ger- man, being published in each case together with an English translation. Secondly, the language was itself part of the world, of the human world which philosophy had to understand instead of embarking on the vast and over-simplified theories which have always been its bane—not merely, it should be said, in the form of the ambitious speculative metaphysics which has often been mistrusted, but even in the form of less ambitious empiri- cist theories which were not to be trusted any the more because they were not obviously high-flown. This concern with the return to the facts was something that in their dif- ferent ways Austin and Wittgenstein seem to have had in common. By this phrase one is, of course, immediately reminded of Husserl: and indeed Austin was prepared to call his studies by the name of ‘linguistic phenome- nology’. But the resemblance does not go all that deep. For the facts to which both Austin and Wittgenstein wished to recall philosophy were very commonplace and everyday facts of ordinary life, not construed as data of consciousness; nor themselves products of any particular supposed insight into phenomena: just facts of the common world, shared with the least phil- osophical human observer. In this respect Austin and Wittgenstein resem- bled each other. But their ways were very different; their temperament and approach almost diametrically opposed. For Wittgenstein, a man of strongly metaphysical temper, philosophy was an agonizing activity, which aimed at depth of insight. Austin’s outlook was more that of a scholarly man who had also a great respect for the world of affairs; he felt that what philosophy needed was principally a lot more unvarnished truth, to be secured by hard work, patience and accuracy. Those were characteristics and aims which to a considerable extent were shared by a powerfully influential figure in the British philosophy of this century, G. E. Moore. These differences of temperament between these philosophers are of more than biographical interest. For they are connected with certain fea- tures of British philosophy which certainly contribute strongly to the exist- ing lack of rapport between it and most contemporary philosophy on the continent of Europe; features which range from a fairly superficial difference of tone to a more fundamental difference in their basic concern. These are the sorts of difference which can make a less familiar way of philosophizing seem unsympathetic at the outset, and discourage one from ever coming to grips with what it has to offer; accordingly, we should like to end this Intro- duction with some general remarks on these kinds of difference. If Wittgenstein had been as powerful an influence on the spirit of British philosophy as he has been on its content, European philosophers would have been readier perhaps than they have been to grant the seriousness of that philosophy. Wittgenstein’s deep personal commitment to philosophy, the powerfully individual and pungent quality of his writing, which some have compared to Nietzsche, and the peculiar affinity which, despite all the obvious oppositions, some aspects of his thought bear to some nineteenth- century German philosophy, notably that of Schopenhauer: all these fea- tures carry a kind of conviction which, one would have thought, would be instantly recognizable in the European tradition. If, as has perhaps been the case, even the writings of Wittgenstein himself have not received the atten- tion elsewhere that they have in the English-speaking world, this can only be for a reason that we shall return to below—the fact that in most of his later work his concern is with philosophy itself, in particular, with the phi- losophy of logic and language, and does not express itself in any explicit way on moral or political topics.
But, in any case, the truth is that in spirit and tone, it is not so much the Wittgensteinian mode that prevails in contemporary British writing, as that which earlier we identified with Austin and Moore: it is a certain academic dryness, a deliberate rejection of the literary and dramatic, that is for the most part the style of this philosophy. Critics who are oppressed by these characteristics tend to ascribe them to some sort of intellectual cowardice, a failure of nerve in face of the more challenging aspects of experience. But this is certainly a superficial criticism, and there is more than one reason why the prevailing British style should be as it is. First, there are undoubtedly fac- tors of straightforward historical tradition, which can almost, if not totally— be summed up in the fact that British philosophy responded to Kant in ways quite different from those in which Continental philosophy did: in particular it has never fundamentally been influenced by Hegel, and therefore not by the manifold post-Hegelian developments and reactions which constitute the mainstream of the German, and indeed other Continental, subsequent tradition. To state this fact, is not, of course, to explain anything; the fact itself invites explanation. Nevertheless, it is to the point that it is not a unique feature of contemporary British philosophy that a divergence should exist from the Continental style—it dates back to the end of the eighteenth century. To come to more particular points: it is an important feature of British phi- losophy that it is self-consciously academic, in the sense that its exponents are aware of being engaged jointly with others in a subject which is taught to undergraduates and is a subject of research in universities. It is not, of course, alone in this—all this is equally true of philosophy on the continent of Europe. What is perhaps peculiar, however, is certain consequences that are felt to follow from the philosopher’s academic standing, about both the responsibilities and the limitations of his position; connected, perhaps, with certain differences in the structure of academic life. The adoption of a rela- tively sober and undramatic style and an objective form of argument responds to the demands, not just (as some critics urge) of academic respectability, but of a professional conscience. This point raises, in fact, the whole question of how philosophy can honestly be taught at all—philoso- phy, that is to say, as opposed to the mere history of philosophy on the one hand, or a sterile dogmatic system on the other; and this is a puzzling enough question. The nature of the ‘British style’ in philosophy is certainly connected with one view on this question: a view that emphasizes the avail- ability of the subject in objective instruction and rational discussion. It is a view whose emphasis is on the colleague rather than on the master. However, these are perhaps not points of the first importance. The rejec- tion of the dramatic style goes deeper than this; and we would suggest that there is a genuine difference between much British and much Continental
philosophy in this respect, which causes genuine misunderstanding. It comes out in the different role or treatment of examples in the two cases. It is a characteristic of much Continental writing that if a concept or idea is under discussion, the examples that are given to make it come to life, to illustrate its application, are either themselves of a striking or intense kind, or, if not, are described in a striking and intense manner. A literary percep- tion is brought to bear on the example which seeks to elicit the force of the example in terms which have an emotional impact. A very striking example of this is, of course, Sartre: a typical case would be the well-known passage in L’Etre et le Néant in which, seeking the fundamental basis of negation, he gives a powerfully realized description of a man’s consciousness of a café not containing someone whom he expected to see there. This is not the only sort of negative judgement he admits, of course; but the significant point is that it is such examples that he regards as centrally important, as not being ‘merely abstract’, and as having ‘a real foundation’. Sartre is, perhaps, an untypical example, being as distinguished a creative writer as philoso- pher; the point, however, applies more generally—Merleau-Ponty’s Phéno- ménologie de la Perception, for instance, contains many phenomenological descriptions whose aim is clearly to heighten the intensity of our awareness of what we see and feel in certain situations by description of what is in fact an intense awareness of such things. Common to both, and to many other writers, one might say, is this: that reflection on our ordinary consciousness takes the path of the description of a reflective consciousness, where a reflective consciousness is precisely marked by a certain emotional inten- sity and single-mindedness. A British philosopher will tend to say, on the other hand: if you want to understand the notion of negation, you must see it in its most humdrum applications; not those in which the recognition that someone is not there is intensified by a personal sense of disappointment, but just the case where, for instance, one finds that one’s shoes are not under the bed, and so forth. And of those occasions, one must give descriptions that match precisely the unexciting everyday character of such incidents. The aim is indeed to reflect on everyday consciousness, but it will be a falsification of that to represent it, in reflective description, as intense: for everyday consciousness is not intense. The essence of ordinary experience emerges in its ordinariness, and ordinary experience—it is a simple tautology to say—is where most of our concepts most typically do their work. This deliberate rejection of the idea that situations of heightened con- sciousness are those that reveal the most important features of our thought is very fundamental to British philosophy, and is one of the particular influ- ences of Wittgenstein—the dramatic intensity of whose approach to the subject revealed this idea with an impact lacking in Moore, who in a quiet transfixed sort of way took it for granted. We suggested earlier that there was a genuine disagreement between the British school and many Conti- nental ones about what constituted seriousness in philosophy; and this dis- agreement comes to a focus at this point. Seriousness and intensity are for the British outlook certainly different: for while a serious study may itself have to be an intense study, a serious representation of the world is not the representation of a world of intensity. On the contrary, it is a representation of the world which takes seriously the way that the world presents itself to ordinary, practical concerns of common life. For many of the concepts and features of human thought studied by phi- losophy, this general attitude of the British philosopher must surely be cor- rect. Yet it obviously has its dangers. For there are other aspects of human experience in which intensity of consciousness is itself, one might say, part of the issue, and where it will be a contrary falsification to suppose that the most everyday styles of thought were the most revealing. Such may well be the case with moral and aesthetic experience, and to some extent with poli- tics. Politics is necessarily a special case, since the intensity of political expe- rience in a society is so evidently a function of history; and the lack of political philosophy in the recent British tradition (commented on by Pro- fessor Wollheim in his essay in this book), and most obviously, of course, the lack of a Marxist tradition (discussed by Mr Taylor) are clearly connected with the freedom from disruptive change in British history, the sort of change that demands fundamental political reflection on questions that have to be answered. It is interesting that in recent years there has been a strong indication of dissatisfaction with these aspects of British philosophy among younger students in particular, which comes very probably from a sense of fundamental political issues which now face the British in common with everyone else. There are some signs of a growing recognition of such issues, and a corresponding revival in significant political philosophy. Moral issues present a more complex problem, since the role of intensity of consciousness can itself be, in a sense, a moral issue. To illustrate this very crudely: it is possible for a moral philosopher to see a rather settled struc- ture of rights, duties and human aims (something which is often—and, he may even think, rightly—taken for granted), as constituting the basic fabric of moral thought, and to concentrate on trying to systematize and explain this; while another sees this only as a background to creative acts of moral imagination, born of intense moral reflection, which he regards as the most important element to be considered in reflecting on moral thought and action. The difference between these two is scarcely just a theoretical differ- ence. It is a familiar enough picture that regards the first as dead and the second alive; or the first unfree, and the second free; or the first in bad faith, and the second an honest man; but these, in their turn, are scarcely theoretical descriptions. Thus, there is no simple or uncommitted position from which to evaluate, in these sorts of respects, the contributions of a style of moral philosophy. The contributions of recent British philosophy to moral issues have primarily been to the study of morality as, one might say, an anthropological concept: how moral principles are to be distinguished from other rules or institutions in society, and similar questions. In part, this emphasis has been conditioned by a certain theoretical belief about philo- sophical morality, the so-called distinction between fact and value; but—as Mr Montefiore’s discussion of this in his essay tries to show—this is not a pure theoretical belief itself, and the peculiar role it has played in structuring a style of moral philosophy which, while often illuminating, has undoubt- edly been rather formal, demure and unadventurous, itself requires expla- nation, perhaps of a sociological kind, which we shall not attempt here. This, again, is an aspect of British philosophical thought that shows signs of awakening to a more vital kind of life than it has often achieved recently.
ERTRAND RUSSELL: The Value of Philosophy Bertrand Russell (1872–1970) was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer, social commentator, and activist. He was also considered by some at various points in his career as a liberal, a socialist, and a pacifist—although he denied any serious allegiance to any of these views. He did his best to apply philosophy to life and that is what you find in this short selection from his book. . . . it will be well to consider, in conclusion, what is the value of philosophy and why it ought to be studied. It is the more necessary to consider this question, in view of the fact that many men, under the influence of science or of practical affairs, are inclined to doubt whether philosophy is anything better than innocent but useless trifling, hair-splitting distinctions, and controversies on matters concerning which knowledge is impossible. This view of philosophy appears to result, partly from a wrong concep- tion of the ends of life, partly from a wrong conception of the kind of goods which philosophy strives to achieve. Physical science, through the medium of inventions, is useful to innumerable people who are wholly ignorant of it; thus the study of physical science is to be recommended, not only, or pri- marily, because of the effect on the student, but rather because of the effect on mankind in general. This utility does not belong to philosophy. If the study of philosophy has any value at all for others than students of philoso- phy, it must be only indirectly, through its effects upon the lives of those who study it. It is in these effects, therefore, if anywhere, that the value of philosophy must be primarily sought. But further, if we are not to fail in our endeavour to determine the value of philosophy, we must first free our minds from the prejudices of what are wrongly called ‘practical’ men. The ‘practical’ man, as this word is often used, is one who recognizes only material needs, who realizes that men must have food for the body, but is oblivious of the necessity of providing food for the mind. If all men were well off, if poverty and disease had been reduced to their lowest possible point, there would still remain much to be done to produce a valuable society; and even in the existing world the goods of the mind are at least as important as the goods of the body. It is exclusively among the goods of the mind that the value of philosophy is to be found; and only those who are not indifferent to these goods can be persuaded that the study of philosophy is not a waste of time. Philosophy, like all other studies, aims primarily at knowledge. The knowl- edge it aims at is the kind of knowledge which gives unity and system to the body of the sciences, and the kind which results from a critical examination of the grounds of our convictions, prejudices, and beliefs. But it cannot be maintained that philosophy has had any very great measure of success in its
attempts to provide definite answers to its questions. If you ask a mathema- tician, a mineralogist, a historian, or any other man of learning, what definite body of truths has been ascertained by his science, his answer will last as long as you are willing to listen. But if you put the same question to a phi- losopher, he will, if he is candid, have to confess that his study has not achieved positive results such as have been achieved by other sciences. It is true that this is partly accounted for by the fact that, as soon as definite knowledge concerning any subject becomes possible, this subject ceases to be called philosophy, and becomes a separate science. The whole study of the heavens, which now belongs to astronomy, was once included in phi- losophy; Newton’s great work was called ‘the mathematical principles of natural philosophy’. Similarly, the study of the human mind, which was a part of philosophy, has now been separated from philosophy and has become the science of psychology. Thus, to a great extent, the uncertainty of philosophy is more apparent than real: those questions which are already capable of definite answers are placed in the sciences, while those only to which, at present, no definite answer can be given, remain to form the resi- due which is called philosophy. This is, however, only a part of the truth concerning the uncertainty of philosophy. There are many questions—and among them those that are of the profoundest interest to our spiritual life—which, so far as we can see, must remain insoluble to the human intellect unless its powers become of quite a different order from what they are now. Has the universe any unity of plan or purpose, or is it a fortuitous concourse of atoms? Is consciousness a permanent part of the universe, giving hope of indefinite growth in wis- dom, or is it a transitory accident on a small planet on which life must ulti- mately become impossible? Are good and evil of importance to the universe or only to man? Such questions are asked by philosophy, and variously answered by various philosophers. But it would seem that, whether answers be otherwise discoverable or not, the answers suggested by philosophy are none of them demonstrably true. Yet, however slight may be the hope of discovering an answer, it is part of the business of philosophy to continue the consideration of such questions, to make us aware of their importance, to examine all the approaches to them, and to keep alive that speculative interest in the universe which is apt to be killed by confining ourselves to definitely ascertainable knowledge. Many philosophers, it is true, have held that philosophy could establish the truth of certain answers to such fundamental questions. They have sup- posed that what is of most importance in religious beliefs could be proved by strict demonstration to be true. In order to judge of such attempts, it is necessary to take a survey of human knowledge, and to form an opinion as to its methods and its limitations. On such a subject it would be unwise to pronounce dogmatically; but if the investigations of our previous chapters
have not led us astray, we shall be compelled to renounce the hope of find- ing philosophical proofs of religious beliefs. We cannot, therefore, include as part of the value of philosophy any definite set of answers to such ques- tions. Hence, once more, the value of philosophy must not depend upon any supposed body of definitely ascertainable knowledge to be acquired by those who study it. The value of philosophy is, in fact, to be sought largely in its very uncer- tainty. The man who has no tincture of philosophy goes through life impris- oned in the prejudices derived from common sense, from the habitual beliefs of his age or his nation, and from convictions which have grown up in his mind without the co-operation or consent of his deliberate reason. To such a man the world tends to become definite, finite, obvious; common objects rouse no questions, and unfamiliar possibilities are contemptuously rejected. As soon as we begin to philosophize, on the contrary, we find, as we saw in our opening chapters, that even the most everyday things lead to problems to which only very incomplete answers can be given. Philosophy, though unable to tell us with certainty what is the true answer to the doubts which it raises, is able to suggest many possibilities which enlarge our thoughts and free them from the tyranny of custom. Thus, while diminish- ing our feeling of certainty as to what things are, it greatly increases our knowledge as to what they may be; it removes the somewhat arrogant dog- matism of those who have never travelled into the region of liberating doubt, and it keeps alive our sense of wonder by showing familiar things in an unfamiliar aspect. Apart from its utility in showing unsuspected possibilities, philosophy has a value—perhaps its chief value—through the greatness of the objects which it contemplates, and the freedom from narrow and personal aims resulting from this contemplation. The life of the instinctive man is shut up within the circle of his private interests: family and friends may be included, but the outer world is not regarded except as it may help or hinder what comes within the circle of instinctive wishes. In such a life there is something feverish and confined, in comparison with which the philosophic life is calm and free. The private world of instinctive interests is a small one, set in the midst of a great and powerful world which must, sooner or later, lay our pri- vate world in ruins. Unless we can so enlarge our interests as to include the whole outer world, we remain like a garrison in a beleagured fortress, know- ing that the enemy prevents escape and that ultimate surrender is inevita- ble. In such a life there is no peace, but a constant strife between the insistence of desire and the powerlessness of will. In one way or another, if our life is to be great and free, we must escape this prison and this strife. One way of escape is by philosophic contemplation. Philosophic con- templation does not, in its widest survey, divide the universe into two hos- tile camps—friends and foes, helpful and hostile, good and bad—it views the whole impartially. Philosophic contemplation, when it is unalloyed, does not aim at proving that the rest of the universe is akin to man. All acqui- sition of knowledge is an enlargement of the Self, but this enlargement is best attained when it is not directly sought. It is obtained when the desire for knowledge is alone operative, by a study which does not wish in advance that its objects should have this or that character, but adapts the Self to the characters which it finds in its objects. This enlargement of Self is not obtained when, taking the Self as it is, we try to show that the world is so similar to this Self that knowledge of it is possible without any admission of what seems alien. The desire to prove this is a form of self-assertion and, like all self-assertion, it is an obstacle to the growth of Self which it desires, and of which the Self knows that it is capable. Self-assertion, in philosophic speculation as elsewhere, views the world as a means to its own ends; thus it makes the world of less account than Self, and the Self sets bounds to the greatness of its goods. In contemplation, on the contrary, we start from the not-Self, and through its greatness the boundaries of Self are enlarged; through the infinity of the universe the mind which contemplates it achieves some share in infinity. For this reason greatness of soul is not fostered by those philosophies which assimilate the universe to Man. Knowledge is a form of union of Self and not-Self; like all union, it is impaired by dominion, and therefore by any attempt to force the universe into conformity with what we find in our- selves. There is a widespread philosophical tendency towards the view which tells us that Man is the measure of all things, that truth is man-made, that space and time and the world of universals are properties of the mind, and that, if there be anything not created by the mind, it is unknowable and of no account for us. This view, if our previous discussions were correct, is untrue; but in addition to being untrue, it has the effect of robbing philo- sophic contemplation of all that gives it value, since it fetters contemplation to Self. What it calls knowledge is not a union with the not-Self, but a set of prejudices, habits, and desires, making an impenetrable veil between us and the world beyond. The man who finds pleasure in such a theory of knowledge is like the man who never leaves the domestic circle for fear his word might not be law. The true philosophic contemplation, on the contrary, finds its satisfaction in every enlargement of the not-Self, in everything that magnifies the objects contemplated, and thereby the subject contemplating. Everything, in contemplation, that is personal or private, everything that depends upon habit, self-interest, or desire, distorts the object, and hence impairs the union which the intellect seeks. By thus making a barrier between subject and object, such personal and private things become a prison to the intel- lect. The free intellect will see as God might see, without a here and now, without hopes and fears, without the trammels of customary beliefs and traditional prejudices, calmly, dispassionately, in the sole and exclusive desire of knowledge—knowledge as impersonal, as purely contemplative, as it is possible for man to attain. Hence also the free intellect will value more the abstract and universal knowledge into which the accidents of private history do not enter, than the knowledge brought by the senses, and depen- dent, as such knowledge must be, upon an exclusive and personal point of view and a body whose sense-organs distort as much as they reveal. The mind which has become accustomed to the freedom and impartial- ity of philosophic contemplation will preserve something of the same free- dom and impartiality in the world of action and emotion. It will view its purposes and desires as parts of the whole, with the absence of insistence that results from seeing them as infinitesimal fragments in a world of which all the rest is unaffected by any one man’s deeds. The impartiality which, in contemplation, is the unalloyed desire for truth, is the very same quality of mind which, in action, is justice, and in emotion is that universal love which can be given to all, and not only to those who are judged useful or admira- ble. Thus contemplation enlarges not only the objects of our thoughts, but also the objects of our actions and our affections: it makes us citizens of the universe, not only of one walled city at war with all the rest. In this citizen- ship of the universe consists man’s true freedom, and his liberation from the thraldom of narrow hopes and fears. Thus, to sum up our discussion of the value of philosophy; Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its questions since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but rather for the sake of the questions themselves; because these questions enlarge our con- ception of what is possible, enrich our intellectual imagination and diminish the dogmatic assurance which closes the mind against speculation; but above all because, through the greatness of the universe which philosophy contemplates, the mind also is rendered great, and becomes capable of that union with the universe which constitutes its highest good.
Reason Is Not Enough—Existentialism before Existentialism The word existentialism came into use in the twenty-first century, but its themes go back a bit farther. Philosophers, theologians, and artists of the past such as Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) and Fyodor Dostoyevsky(1821–1881) already shared exis- tentialist concerns such as the fact that we are bound to be here and now, that in more than one sense, existence precedes essence—or at least whatever meaning we find it is a meaning we bring. We all find ourselves first existing in the world—with- out or rhyme or reason, without essence before us—then it is up to us to decide what to make of our existence. There also has been the existentialist concern with the human search for identity and meaning, a deep form of humanism independent on whether or not one believed in God. Above all, existentialists then and now share a sense of interconnectedness with others, a way of taking stock of human freedom that links it to responsibility for ourselves and for others. It leads to an ethics of per- sonal responsibility, if only in the realization that whatever we do and whatever we are, we are the ones choosing that. And reason is not nearly enough to justify that choice. It is personal. It is an always personal revolt against reason.
Dostoyevsky masterfully portrayed the anguish that comes with doubt and the necessity of choosing to confront that doubt personally in his novels such as The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment. His own choice to believe in God was personal, a way to escape the anguish of facing everyday existence in this world. Kierkegaard emphasized personal choice over reason, and he saw that the realization of just how lonely that choice can be leads to, in his words, a sick- ness-unto-death. As a Protestant Christian, Kierkegaard thought that all the previ- ous proofs of the existence of God were meaningless. In his particular case, the philosopher found that the way to avoid the otherwise inescapable dread of living in doubt was to choose to believe. To take a leap of faith. One reason Kierkegaard is often considered an existentialist is not that he found a way to believe in God without needing a proof through reason—most exis- tentialists are atheists, in fact. But arguably what makes Kierkegaard an existentialist is that what matters to him is the realization that believing or not was his choice Moral codes, including those of the church but also those of philosophers up to this time, were simply a crutch. We have to take responsibility for our choices, and it is the act of choosing that matters. It is what makes us human.
From Hegel to Existentialism The rules of the game changed with Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831), an idealist of a different stripe from Plato or Berkeley. Hegel opened the door to doubt. The strikingly original and difficult philosophy he developed in The Phenomenology of Mind (1807), and later in his Logic (1816) and Philosophy of Right (1821), showed that everything depends on our apprehending the truth not only as substance but also as subject. Hegel believed the world, our world, was an unfolding of an idea, and that this idea—also called mind or spirit—was con- stantly unfolding in a dialectic of a thesis that contained within itself its own destruction, of the antithesis that contained that destruction, and of a synthesis that absorbed both. That synthesis then became a thesis, and the Hegelian dialec- tic would go on. The thesis needs the antithesis, just as subjectivity (that which thinks) and objectivity (that which is thought of) are dialectical opposites that form a synthesis that is constantly unfolding. Idea and nature, too, are dialectical oppo- sites, perennially unfolding forward in a vision of human consciousness as the unfolding of reason.
This unfolding move forward provided the means to understand human con- sciousness and thought. It has its own unique reason. There is reason in history, for example, but it is nearly impossible, if possible at all, for us to understand that because we ourselves are the actors in that history.
This is a radical departure from traditional logic, and to this day some philoso- phers have difficulty reading Hegel much less understanding his phenomenological- dialectical logic. Since each era has its own internal logic, it is through critically examining human experience in all its facets that may approach understanding its meaning. That meaning, as Hegel points out in The Phenomenology of Mind, is the pro- cess consciousness understanding itself, free of any a priori concepts or categories of the mind. In a radical departure from Kant’s metaphysics, Hegel’s phenomenology starts with humanity’s efforts to comprehend its fundamental situation, assuming no such thing as a noumenal level of reality Kant’s noumena—as opposed to phenom- ena—are unknowable, therefore unthinkable. If it is unthinkable, then it does not exist. Only the phenomenon exists, or at the very least, it is only to the phenomena that we have access. It is humanity’s responsibility to re- appropriate itself by understanding the phe- nomenon of its own existence as well as that of history. In this sense, Hegel is the ancestor of Edmund Husserl and modern phenomenology, of the existential philosophy, and of the twenti- eth and twenty-first centuries humanist inter- pretations of Marxism.
Husserl: Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy The father of phenomenology, Edmund Husserl was born on April 8, 1859 in Moravia, what is now the Czech Republic. He was active in Germany and died in Freiburg on April 27, 1938. Husserl’s revolutionary philosophy is aimed at a scientific analysis of experience as it is lived. Consciousness, he thought, has inten- tionality—it is always consciousness of some- thing. In this sense, intentional thoughts and intentional acts are defined through conscious- ness. In a process of phenomenological reduc- tion, the existence of the world beyond our experience of it can be neither confirmed nor denied. Through transcendental reduction, phenomenology allows us to return to the self, that is, to the self that is required to know a complete empirical self-consciousness. That consciousness itself cannot be separated from the object of conscious- ness is the crux of Husserl’s phenomenology, solving the problem of the gap between the knower and the known. The intentionality of the mind—a concept that influenced the existentialism of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, and Albert Camus considerably—means that in an ontological sense, the two must exist together as two aspects of a single phenomenon. The self is not the act but rather it observes the act, it is present to it. Since his 1913 highly original work Ideas, through his 1931 Cartesian Meditations, and the valedictory 1936 The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology: An Introduction to Phenomenological Philosophy, Husserl reworked his transcendental reduction, reaching what he called a sphere of own-ness. The transcendental ego is dialectically connected to the lived body of another ego. Husserl called this interconnectedness of two con- sciousnesses as transcendental inter-subjectivity.
After Husserl: Existentialism The phenomenological approach that suggested examining life experiences as a way to understand the subject of that experience in the world led to new and revolution- ary ways of doing philosophy. Although Husserl’s initial project was to return to the things in themselves as experienced in everyday life as it is lived, the philosophers that followed first in Germany and immediately afterwards in France concentrated on the self and its encounter with others and with the world.
Jean-Paul Sartre Also following Husserl, but transforming the ontology resulting from his method, Sartre believed that consciousness in fact can negate what the empiricists called real- ity. The role of the imagination, of intentionality at its most basic, emerges outside the order of causality. That was the beginning of French existentialism. The leading figure of French existentialism, and one of the most influential writers of our time, Jean-Paul Charles Aymard Sartre (1904–1980) studied philoso- phy at the École Normale Supèrieur in his native Paris. He was profoundly influ- enced by the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl (1858–1938), with whom Sartre’s friend Maurice Merleau-Ponty had just finished studying in Germany before World War II broke out. It was Husserl’s revolutionary insight that human consciousness cannot be separated from its presence to the world, that is, from the object of con- sciousness. Consciousness is always consciousness of something, and the two together make up a phenomenon. Philosophy then must concert itself with that rela- tionship: our intentionality, that is, our presence as witnesses to the world creates the meaning of that world that we are not. Philosophy became the study of life as it is actually lived.
To say that Sartre was inspired by Husserl’s phenomenology when he first heard about it from Merleau-Ponty over drinks in at Les Deux Magots café in Paris’ Left Bank would be a spectacular understatement—he took Husserl’s idea and created a new philosophy from it himself. It was then that history intervened. In quick succession, Husserl died, the Germans invaded France, and Sartre joined the army and fought against the Nazis. Shortly thereafter he became a German prisoner of war, escaped, and worked in the Resistance movement against the German occupation. During the German occupation, Sartre wrote both Being and Nothingness (1943), the seminal text of existentialism, and No Exit (1944), the first play staged in Paris after the liberation and arguably the clearest dramatization of existentialist philoso- phy. He also found time for ghost-writing anti-Nazi articles for the resistance underground paper Combat with his friend Albert Camus (1913–1969), and with his lifelong partner Simone de Beauvoir (1913–1960).
In Being and Nothingness, Sartre introduces a new concept: We are Nothingness, that is, we are not things. The world is a thing, it is solid, knowable—it’s just there. Human beings, on the other hand, are defined by not-being, that is, by Nothingness. You can know this book you’re reading, you can know your shoe, you can know your house. You can know everything there is to know about these things precisely because they are things. Your presence to them defines them. But you can never say that about the student sitting next to you: Whatever you think you know about another person, there’s more there. There is always more. Sartre refers to these two categories of reality as Being-in-itself (the world, Être-en-soi) and being-for-itself (us, Êtrepour-soi). We are defined by freedom. We are condemned to be free. Our existence precedes essence precisely because it is our existence, our presence to Being that gives Being its meaning. We are witnesses to our lives, in other words, and we are constantly creating its meaning. We are always projecting ourselves into a future. “I am the Self that I will be,” Sartre remarked. This can be and often is difficult, even intolerable. So an easy way out of this is to pretend to be a thing, or to pretend that others are things. That is what Sartre calls bad faith, and he points out that we know better.
A novelist, screenwriter, and playwright as well as a philosopher and political activist, Sartre was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, with the Nobel Academy praising “his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age.” True to form, and not wanting to become an institution, Sartre respectfully refused the award. Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus all practiced what they preached, not only in their heroic work for the French resistance against the Nazis, but also in commit- ting themselves to the fights against colonialism, against racism, for women’s equality, for a woman’s reproductive rights, for gay rights, against tyranny any- where. He was the conscience of a generation, a witness to his century. Jean-Paul Sartre died in Paris on April 15, 1980. A crowd of 60,000 Parisians marched in his funeral. He is buried alongside Simone de Beauvoir in the Montparnasse Cemetery, not far from where they lived their whole lives. Fittingly, the city of Paris in 2000 renamed its Place de St. Germain, in the heart of the Left Bank, the Place Sartre-Beauvoir.
Existentialism and The Arts Especially following the spectacular critical and popular success of Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus, existentialism became a sensibility that permeated the arts. The stereo- type of the goateed intellectual in a black turtle neck sweater spouting deep thoughts and sipping coffee in the Left Bank made its way to Stanley Donen’s 1957 musical Funny Face, starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, with the beautiful Hepburn as a “sympaticalist.” French existentialism made it to the cover of Time and Life mag- azines. It was news. The themes were there before, of course: the individual confronts the world alone, asking the world for reasons is simply absurd since the world does not offer any, anxiety and doubt are inescapable or escapable only by lying to oneself, every- thing that matters does so in an intensely personal way, confronting the need to choose can be as painful as it is necessary—all these ideas emerged previously not just in philosophy but also in literature and the arts. Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novels The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment, Miguel de Unamuno’s novel La Tía Tula and his essay The Tragic Sense of Life—just as later the novels of Franz Kafka, the plays of the Nobel Prize laureates Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, and the early short stories of Guillermo Cabrera Infante all were drenched in existentialist themes that nevertheless were and are best illus- trated in the novels and plays of Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus. But it is on film, which Sartre called “the art of the twentieth century,” that existentialism best found a home outside the academy. The Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930) portrayed alienation and the sheer absurdity of life as it is actually lived beginning with his revolutionary À bout de souffle (Breathless) (1960) and especially the intensely personal Vivre sa vie (My Life To Live) (1962). Alain Resnais (1922–2014), fol- lowed his controversial 1959 Hiroshima Mon Amour with the 1961 cinematic master- piece Last Year at Marienbad, bursting asunder the doors of existentialism in film with an exquisite explosion of disorientation, elegantly and heartbreakingly portraying the utter loneliness of life and questioning the meaning of memory. Michelangelo Antonioni (1912–2007), the Italian master of existentialist film, created a body of work that remains one of the best and most accessible ways to understand the existentialist worldview and the absurdity of the human situation, particularly in his pioneering black-and-white trilogy of in L’avventura (1960), La notte (1961), and L’Eclisse (1962). There, as well as in his first color films Il deserto rosso (The Red Desert, 1964) and Blowup (1966), Antonioni created existential puzzles without solutions, much as in life itself. The alienation inherent in human relations, and the impossible attempts to find meaning in them, have seldom if ever been portrayed with such cruel clarity as in L’Eclisse, starring Alain Delon and Antonioni’s muse Monica Vitti. Alienation is inevitable, drenched in immensities of sadness, and any hope to be found is a hope to be created by us. Life is on us. Antonioni’s pictures illuminate existentialism in visual terms, dazzlingly, starkly. Near the end of the twentieth century, Krzysztof Kies ́lowski (1941–1996) added bitter irony to the existentialist themes of alienation and absurdity with his Trois Couleurs (Three Colors: Red, White, and Blue) trilogy in 1993–1994.
Albert Camus: Existentialism, Absurdity, and Life The outlier of existential philosophy, Albert Camus (1913–1960) was born in Algeria, worked in France, and remained ambiguous about his identity in every sense. Like Sartre and Beauvoir, he worked in the French resistance during World War II; like them, too, he enjoyed immense success in literature, theater, and phi- losophy. In social issues, he was on-and-off friend or enemy of his Left Bank colleagues—he was very much of the Left but never a communist, existentialist in his metaphysics but humanistic in his politics. He celebrated resistance and rebel- lion, but he denounced terrorism from the Left or the Right, decrying the use of violence in the name of an idea—any idea. Progressive to the core, Camus never- theless refused to become a fellow traveler in any way. “All the dead,” he wrote in a newspaper article about both sides of the Algerian conflict, “belong to the same tragic family.”
Existentialists believe that an intellectual must be engaged in the actual life of his or her world that philosophy in particular must focus on the confrontation of the individual with a world that reason simply cannot explain. Camus’ philosophical position, everywhere from his novels and plays to his essays, was in this sense the def- inition of French existentialism. Camus made the concept of absurdity a key con- cern of his oeuvre, from the novels The Stranger (1942) and The Plague (1947) right through The Fall (1956) and the posthumously published A Happy Death (1971) and The First Man (1995); absurdity is also a central theme in his plays Caligula (1945), and State of Siege (1948) as well as in philosophical essays including The Myth of Sisyphus (1942), The Rebel, (1951), and Resistance, Rebellion, and Death (1961). In The Myth of Sisyphus, the eponymous hero was punished by the gods likely because he had stolen some of their secrets. The punishment was cruel and simple: Sisyphus was condemned to roll a heavy rock uphill, and when at last he got to the mountaintop, the rock rolled back downhill. Sisyphus had to roll it back up, up he kept on pushing, and down the rock went again, and again . . . Forever. This hopeless labor was his punishment, this hopeless situation his condition. What interested Camus here was Sisyphus as he headed back down, smiling: he is an absurd hero in this tale, a witness to his own absurdity. The situation is as absurd as it is real. At the end of the story, Camus exhorts us to imagine Sisyphus happy.
The world is not absurd for Camus, but life is. The world is a thing, neither absurd nor rational. Life is absurd because we keep asking the world for reasons, and the world remains and always will remain silent. We are alone. Yet we have a choice: suicide or just be happy. He chose to be happy, by all accounts having a rich and joy- ful life, by any standards enjoying great literary success. He was given the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1957, at the age of 44, with the Nobel Academy citing him “for his important literary production, which with clear-sighted earnestness illumi- nates the problems of the human conscience in our times.” Three years later, he was found dead in a car accident in the South of France, leaving behind, bloodied in the wrecked remains of his new sports car, the manuscript of an unfinished masterpiece, The First Man. The absurdity of the situation was as tragic as it was obvious. “It is better to bet on this life than on the next,” wrote Camus in A Happy Death. Finding joy—choosing joy—while you can is a difficult but necessary project for all of us. The choice is ours and ours alone.
READINGS EDMUND HUSSERL: Phenomenology The founder of phenomenology Edmund Husserl describes his new philosophy of analyzing the phenomenon of life as it is lived, in this article originally written for the 1927 edition of The Encyclopedia Britannica. THE TERM ‘PHENOMENOLOGY’ designates two things: a new kind of descriptive method which made a breakthrough in philosophy at the turn of the cen- tury, and an a priori science derived from it; a science which is intended to supply the basic instrument for a rigorously scientific philosophy and, in its consequent application, to make possible a methodical reform of all the sciences. . . . The first thing that is necessary is a clarification of what is peculiar to experience, and especially to the pure experience of the psychical—and specifically the purely psychical that experience reveals, which is to become the theme of a pure psychology. It is natural and appropriate that prece- dence will be accorded to the most immediate types of experience, which in each case reveal to us our own psychic being. Focusing our experiencing gaze on our own psychic life necessarily takes place as reflection, as a turning about of a glance which had previously been directed elsewhere. Every experience can be subject to such reflection, as can indeed every manner in which we occupy ourselves with any real or ideal objects—for instance, thinking, or in the modes of feeling and will, valuing and striving. So when we are fully engaged in conscious activity, we focus exclusively on the specific thing, thoughts, values, goals, or means involved, but not on the psychical experience as such, in which these things are known as such. Only reflection reveals this to us. Through reflection, instead of grasping simply the matter straightout—the values, goals, and instrumentalities—we grasp the corresponding subjective experiences in which we become ‘conscious’ of them, in which (in the broadest sense) they ‘appear’. For this reason, they are called‘phenomena’, and their most general essential character is to exist as the‘consciousness-of’or‘appearance-of’the specific things, thoughts (judged states of affairs, grounds, conclusions), plans, decisions, hopes, and so forth. This relatedness [of the appearing to the object of appearance] resides in the meaning of all expressions in the vernacular languages which relate to psychic experience—for instance, perception of something, recalling of something, thinking of something, hoping for something, fearing something, striving for something, deciding on something, and so on. If this realm of what we call ‘phenomena’ proves to be the possible field for a pure psychological discipline related exclusively to phenomena, we can understand the designation of it as phenomenologi- cal psychology. The terminological expression, deriving from Scholasticism, for designating the basic character of being as consciousness, as conscious- ness of something, is intentionality. The phenomenological reversal of our gaze shows that this ‘being directed’ [Gerichtetsein] is really an immanent essential feature of the respective experiences involved; they are ‘inten- tional’ experiences. An extremely large and variegated number of kinds of special cases fall within the general scope of this concept. Consciousness of something is not an empty holding of something; every phenomenon has its own total form of intention, but at the same time it has a structure, which in intentional analysis leads always again to components which are themselves also inten- tional. So for example in starting from a perception of something (for exam- ple, a die), phenomenological reflection leads to a multiple and yet synthetically unified intentionality. There are continually varying differ- ences in the modes of appearing of objects, which are caused by the chang- ing of ‘orientation’—of right and left, nearness and farness, with the consequent differences in perspective involved. There are further differ- ences in appearance between the ‘actually seen front’ and the ‘unseeable’ [‘unanschaulichen’] and relatively ‘undetermined’ reverse side, which is nev- ertheless ‘meant along with it’. Observing the flux of modes of appearing and the manner of their ‘synthesis’, one finds that every phase and portion [of the flux] is already in itself‘consciousness-of’—but in such a manner that there is formed within the constant emerging of new phases the syntheti- cally unified awareness that this is one and the same object. The intentional structure of any process of perception has its fixed essential type [seine feste Wesenstypik], which must necessarily be realized in all its extraordinary complexity just in order for a physical body simply to be perceived as such. If this same thing is intuited in other modes—for example, in the modes of recollection, fantasy or pictorial representation—to some extent the whole intentional content of the perception comes back, but all aspects peculiarly transformed to correspond to that mode. This applies similarly for every other category of psychic process: the judging, valuing, striving conscious- ness is not an empty having knowledge of the specific judgments, values, goals, and means. Rather, these constitute themselves, with fixed essential forms corresponding to each process, in a flowing intentionality. For psy- chology, the universal task presents itself: to investigate systematically the elementary intentionalities, and from out of these [unfold] the typical forms of intentional processes, their possible variants, their syntheses to new forms, their structural composition, and from this advance towards a descriptive knowledge of the totality of mental process, towards a compre- hensive type of a life of the psyche [Gesamttypus eines Lebens der Seele]. Clearly, the consistent carrying out of this task will produce knowledge which will have validity far beyond the psychologist’s own particular psy- chic existence. Psychic life is accessible to us not only through self-experience but also through experience of others. This novel source of experience offers us not only what matches our self-experience but also what is new, inasmuch as, in terms of consciousness and indeed as experience, it establishes the differ- ences between own and other, as well as the properties peculiar to the life of a community. At just this point there arises the task of also making phe- nomenologically understandable the mental life of the community, with all the intentionalities that pertain to it. The idea of a phenomenological psychology encompasses the whole range of tasks arising out of the experience of self and the experience of the other founded on it. But it is not yet clear whether phenomenological expe- rience, followed through in exclusiveness and consistency, really provides us with a kind of closed-off field of being, out of which a science can grow which is exclusively focused on it and completely free of everything psy- chophysical. Here [in fact] difficulties do exist, which have hidden from psy- chologists the possibility of such a purely phenomenological psychology even after Brentano’s discovery of intentionality. They are relevant already to the construction of a really pure self-experience, and therewith of a really pure psychic datum. A particular method of access is required for the pure phenomenological field: the method of ‘phenomenological reduction’. This method of ‘phenomenological reduction’ is thus the foundational method of pure psychology and the presupposition of all its specifically theoretical methods. Exactly this same thing is true of every kind of awareness directed at something out there in the world. A consistent epoche of the phenome- nologist is required, if he wishes to break through to his own consciousness as pure phenomenon or as the totality of his purely mental processes. That is to say, in the accomplishment of phenomenological reflection he must inhibit every co-accomplishment of objective positing produced in unre- flective consciousness, and therewith [inhibit] every judgmental drawing- in of the world as it ‘exists’ for him straightforwardly. The specific experience of this house, this body, of a world as such, is and remains, however, accord- ing to its own essential content and thus inseparably, experience ‘of this house’, this body, this world; this is so for every mode of consciousness which is directed towards an object. It is, after all, quite impossible to describe an intentional experience—even if illusionary, an invalid judg- ment, or the like—without at the same time describing the object of that consciousness as such. The universal epoche of the world as it becomes known in consciousness (the ‘putting it in brackets’) shuts out from the phenomenological field the world as it exists for the subject in simple abso- luteness; its place, however, is taken by the world as given in consciousness (perceived, remembered, judged, thought, valued, etc.) —the world as such, the ‘world in brackets’, or in other words, the world, or rather individual things in the world as absolute, are replaced by the respective meaning of each in consciousness [Bewusstseinssinn] in its various modes (perceptual meaning, recollected meaning, and so on). With this, we have clarified and supplemented our initial determination of the phenomenological experience and its sphere of being. In going back from the unities posited in the natural attitude to the manifold of modes of consciousness in which they appear, the unities, as inseparable from these multiplicities—but as ‘bracketed’—are also to be reckoned among what is purely psychical, and always specifically in the appearance-character in which they present themselves. The method of phenomenological reduc- tion (to the pure ‘phenomenon’, the purely psychical) accordingly consists (1) in the methodical and rigorously consistent epoche of every objective posit- ing in the psychic sphere, both of the individual phenomenon and of the whole psychic field in general; and (2) in the methodically practiced seizing and describing of the multiple ‘appearances’ as appearances of their objec- tive units and these units as units of component meanings accruing to them each time in their appearances. With this is shown a twofold direction—the noetic and noematic of phenomenological description. Phenomenological experience in the methodical form of the phenomenological reduction is the only genuine‘inner experience’in the sense meant by any well-grounded science of psychology. In its own nature lies manifest the possibility of being carried out continuously in infinitum with methodical preservation of purity. The reductive method is transferred from self-experience to the experience of others insofar as there can be applied to the envisaged mental life of the Other the corresponding bracketing and description according to the sub- jective ‘How’ of its appearance and what is appearing (‘noesis’ and ‘noema’). As a further consequence, the community that is experienced in community experience is reduced not only to the mentally particularized intentional fields but also to the unity of the community life that connects them all together, the community mental life in its phenomenological purity (inter- subjective reduction). Thus results the perfect expansion of the genuine psychological concept of ‘inner experience’. To every mind there belongs not only the unity of its multiple intentional life-process with all its inseparable unities of sense directed towards the ‘object’. There is also, inseparable from this life-process, the experiencing I-subject as the identical I-pole giving a centre for all specific intentionalities, and as the carrier of all habitualities growing out of this life-process. . . . If we consider the how of this inclusion, we find that what is meant is that every a priori is ultimately prescribed in its validity of being precisely as a transcendental achievement; i.e., it is together with the essential structures of its constitution, with the kinds and levels of its givenness and confirma- tion of itself, and with the appertaining habitualities. This implies that in and through the establishment of the a priori the subjective method of this establishing is itself made transparent, and that for the a priori disciplines which are founded within phenomenology (for example, as mathematical sciences) there can be no ‘paradoxes’ and no ‘crises of the foundations’. The consequence that arises [from all this] with reference to the a priori sciences that have come into being historically and in transcendental naïveté is that only a radical, phenomenological grounding can transform them into true, methodical, fully self-justifying sciences. In phenomenology all rational problems have their place, and thus also those that traditionally are in some special sense or other philosophically significant. For out of the absolute sources of transcendental experience, or eidetic intuiting, they first [are able to] obtain their genuine formulation and feasible means for their solution. In its universal relatedness-back-to-itself, phenomenology recognizes its particular function within a possible life of mankind at the transcendental level. It recognizes the absolute norms which are to be picked out intuitively from it [life of mankind], and also its primordial teleo-logical-tendential structure in a directedness towards dis- closure of these norms and their conscious practical operation. It recognizes itself as a function of the all-embracing reflective meditation of (transcen- dental) humanity, [a self-examination] in the service of an all-inclusive praxis of reason; that is, in the service of striving towards the universal ideal of absolute perfection which lies in infinity, [a striving] which becomes free through [the process of] disclosure. Or, in different words it is a striving in the direction of the idea (lying in infinity) of a humanness which in action and thought would live and move [be, exist] in truth and genuineness. It recognizes its self-reflective function [of self-examination] for the relative realization of the correlative practical idea of a genuine human life in the second sense (whose structural forms of being and whose practical norms it is to investigate), namely as one [that is] consciously and purposively directed towards this absolute idea. In short, the metaphysically teleologi- cal, the ethical, and the problems of philosophy of history, no less than, obviously, the problems of judging reason, lie within its boundary, no differ- ently from all significant problems whatever, and all [of them] in their inmost synthetic unity and order as [being] of transcendental spirituality. In the systematic work of phenomenology, which progresses from intui- tively given [concrete] data to heights of abstraction, the old traditional ambiguous antitheses of the philosophical standpoint are resolved—by themselves and without the arts of an argumentative dialectic, and without weak efforts and compromises: oppositions such as between rationalism (Platonism) and empiricism, relativism and absolutism, subjectivism and objectivism, ontologism and transcendentalism, psychologism and anti- psychologism, positivism and metaphysics, or the teleological versus the causal interpretation of the world. Throughout all of these, [one finds] justi- fied motives, but throughout also half-truths or impermissible absolutizing of only relatively and abstractively legitimate one-sidednesses. Subjectivism can only be overcome by the most all-embracing and con- sistent subjectivism (the transcendental). In this [latter] form it is at the same time objectivism [of a deeper sort], in that it represents the claims of what- ever objectivity is to be demonstrated through concordant experience, but admittedly [this is an objectivism which] also brings out its full and genuine sense, against which [sense] the supposedly realistic objectivism sins by its failure to understand transcendental constitution. Relativism can only be overcome through the most all-embracing relativism, that of transcenden- tal phenomenology, which makes intelligible the relativity of all ‘objective’ being [or existence] as transcendentally constituted; but at one with this [it makes intelligible] the most radical relativity, the relatedness of the tran- scendental subjectivity to itself. But just this [relatedness, subjectivity] proves its identity to be the only possible sense of [the term] ‘absolute’ being—over against all‘objective.’being that is relative to it—namely, as the ‘for-itself’—being of transcendental subjectivity. Likewise: Empiricism can only be overcome by the most universal and consistent empiricism, which puts in place of the restricted [term] ‘experience’ of the empiricists the nec- essarily broadened concept of experience [inclusive] of intuition which offers original data, an intuition which in all its forms (intuition of eidos, apo- dictic self-evidence, phenomenological intuition of essence, etc.) shows the manner and form of its legitimation through phenomenological clarifica- tion. Phenomenology as eidetic is, on the other hand, rationalistic: it over- comes restrictive and dogmatic rationalism, however, through the most universal rationalism of inquiry into essences, which is related uniformly to transcendental subjectivity, to the I, consciousness, and conscious objectiv- ity. And it is the same in reference to the other antitheses bound up with them. The tracing back of all being to the transcendental subjectivity and its constitutive intentional functions leaves open, to mention one more thing, no other way of contemplating the world than the teleological. And yet phe- nomenology also acknowledges a kernel of truth in naturalism (or rather sensationism). That is, by revealing associations as intentional phenomena, indeed as a whole basic typology of forms of passive intentional synthesis with transcendental and purely passive genesis based on essential laws, phenomenology shows Humean fictionalism to contain anticipatory dis- coveries; particularly in his doctrine of the origin of such fictions as thing, persisting existence, causality—anticipatory discoveries all shrouded in absurd theories.
Phenomenological philosophy regards itself in its whole method as a pure outcome of methodical intentions which already animated Greek phi- losophy from its beginnings; above all, however, [it continues] the still vital intentions which reach, in the two lines of rationalism and empiricism, from Descartes through Kant and German idealism into our confused present day. A pure outcome of methodical intentions means real method which allows the problems to be taken in hand and completed. In the way of true science this path ‘is endless. Accordingly, phenomenology demands that the phenomenologist foreswear the ideal of a philosophic system and yet as a humble worker in community with others, live for a perennial philosophy.
WILFRID DESAN: From Husserl to Sartre In this short excerpt from his magisterial introduction to Sartre’s philosophy, The Tragic Finale, Wilfrid Desan (1908–2001) lays out the concept of freedom as the very definition of human consciousness unbound by determinism. Husserl began his career as a mathematician, and like other mathemati- cians before and after him he soon found himself concerned with the foun- dations of mathematics. Obviously, some such inquiry was necessary if he was to convince himself, as he was more than ready to do, that the mathema- tician could give all the answers to the riddle of the universe. What he discov- ered, however, was that the mathematician had to come to the philosopher for the understanding of knowledge itself and of several of the most elemen- tary notions, such as space, time, and number. In short, his investigation into the foundations of mathematical knowledge led him into a new and, as it may have seemed, alien field. And here he was to make the same mistake, and to experience the same disillusion, that he had known before; for he assumed that philosophy would have the answers ready-made for him, and that his problems would be settled once and forever. Instead, he found a field bristling with thorns, scarred with rock formations, soggy with the quag- mires of two thousand years of philosophical perplexities. Philosophy offered him no clear-cut answer. With the optimism of comparative youth, Husserl set himself the task of bringing order into this philosophical wilderness. We see him now, in retrospect, as another Descartes, with the same faith in rea- son, the same trust in the mathematical approach. His purpose was to build up philosophy so that eventually it would exhibit the rigorous thinking that characterized science, and the same meticulous precision. He wanted a return “zu den Sachen selbst,” from which, in his belief, philosophy had unknowingly divorced itself. In order to acquire this strict objectivity, the phi- losopher, he said, must turn his whole attention to the exact and careful description of that which appears to our consciousness; i.e., the so-called phe- nomenon. To know is not to act, or to produce, but only to see.1 The “phenomenon” being that which manifests itself in whatever way it manifests itself, will not be restricted to the sensible appearance alone.2 Feel- ings, desires, aversions, political institutions, philosophical doctrines “appear” and “manifest themselves” as “really” as a color does, but in a different way.
My inner feelings, for instance, “manifest” themselves to me. In fact, they are—even more than public phenomena—something which appears. When we add to the term “phenomenon” the term “legein” (to examine, to describe), we shall be able to understand that “phenomenology” is a method which wants to describe all that manifests itself as it manifests itself.3 This precise description of what appears is a phenomenological descrip- tion. It must be entirely free of all apriority and prejudice.4 Consequently, no postulate of practical or theoretical reason, no criterion of revelation or tra- dition, may be admitted. Phenomenology rejects all deductive method, whether Hegelian or Scholastic. In phenomenology it is the Self which ana- lyzes “phenomena”; i.e., human consciousness which analyzes that which appears in its sphere. . . . To be “outside” being, to be isolated from being, to escape being, to stay out of the causal order of the world, means to be free. Human reality, then, is free. Human reality is Freedom. Freedom is so essential to the notion of human reality that it makes the formulation of all human essence in a static definition impossible. Freedom, claims Sartre, breaks up all definition: human reality makes itself and invents itself continually. So it appears that “existence precedes essence.” Essence (what we are) is a result of what we make ourselves to be. Sartre’s freedom is absolute, as I shall explain in detail later. No one motive can influence or determine human consciousness for the simple reason that consciousness carries within itself “nothing,” is determined in no way, and lies completely outside world determinism. “It is a generating of the past by means of nothing,” concludes Sartre in one of his paradoxical formulas, which often sound more complicated than they are. An example will make this clear: I decide to go to the movies. Why? There is no determi- native motive for me to go. Nothing can determine me, because there is “nothing” in me which can be determined. The relation between my past and my present is such, according to Sartre, that what I was is not the founda- tion of what I am, any more than what I am is the foundation of what I shall be. Once more he concludes with a paradox: I am the one whom I shall be in a way of not being it. This simply means: I am the one whom I shall be, with- out in any way being the foundation of what I shall be. How does freedom manifest itself? How are we conscious of it? We are conscious of our freedom through anguish. Anguish is nothing but the fear of ourselves or the painful hesitation before the possibles, my possibles, which only I can determine. One could perhaps object that although anguish is an essential characteristic of freedom, its manifestations are not frequent. The answer is that most people do not reflect, they simply “act.” “The consciousness of an acting man is non-reflective.”5 Real anguish, what could be called ethical anguish, appears only when we have put ourselves in front of our responsi- bility. In ordinary life, however, in the life of immediate consciousness (i.e., the life where we do not reflect), the values appear under the form of a thou- sand little taboos which are ready-made and to which we are obedient: we must be at the office at nine o’clock, we must keep to the right side of the road, we must not kiss the file clerk. We reflect, we face our freedom and are overwhelmed by anguish. Our usual attitude before anguish, however, is flight. Even philosophical determinism is an escape from anguish, for if it can be proven that we are no longer responsible for our actions, there is no more reason to be anguished.6 . . . In considering ourselves in this way as a “thing,” we try to escape anguish.7 For a “thing” is no longer free, and has no reason to be “anguished.” In summary, then, we may say that negation and non-being under their different forms (interrogation, negative judgment, and destruction) sup- pose a form of nothingness in the heart of consciousness itself. It is in the absolute and pure subjectivity of human consciousness that we discover the origin of the non-being which we ascribe to things. The act by which the For-itself (or human consciousness) continually generates non-being into the world is called nihilation, or negation: all judgment is in one way or another a negation or nihilation. And since one can only give what one has, human consciousness is its own non-being, its own “nihilation.” Further- more, to be “outside” being means also to be free. The For-itself is Freedom.
1. If a computer app beats you every time you play chess, is the computer smarter than you? Does your computer think? Explain why or why not in detail.
2. Is free will possible if there is such a thing as God’s plan? Explain how humans can be free if a higher power knows what you are going to do before you do it.
3. Explain and evaluate the paradox of Buridan’s donkey and what Spinoza’s view and use of this paradox.
4. Explain in detail in what sense does Alyosha Karamazov realize that he is free in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.
5. Explain in detail why many existentialists such as Dostoyevsky and Sartre feel that human beings are outside determinism?
6. Explain the idea of analytic philosophy and contrast with other schools of philosophy.
7. Compare and contrast the logical positivist to the natural language theorist.
8. Explain the role of the “Vienna Circle” in the history of analytic philosophy.
9. Explain and evaluate the main themes found in existentialism. Does our being truly precede our essence?
10. Explain why Kierkegaard and Dostoyevsky are considered predecessors of existentialism.
11. Critically analyze Husserl’s phenomenology and how it informed existentialism?
12. Explain the meaning of being and nothingness according to Sartre.