Thursday, April 2, 2015

Schopenhauer versus Hegel

On March 27, Red Baron attended a talk by Kristof Rouvel about Schopenhauer versus Hegel. Rouvel is a professor of philosophy and theater arts at Freiburg's Pedagogical University.

Immanuel Kant's modern philosophy is a synthesis of Plato's theory of forms and Aristotle's scientific approach or rather is a further development or synthesis of French Rationalism and British Empiricism. Kant wrote in his fundamental work The Critique of Pure Reason that both rationalists and empiricists transgress their limits. Philosophy needs a recognizing subject but what can we recognize? Rationalists confidently claim to know the existence of God, free will, and the immortality of the human soul although they are far from knowing the "thing-in-itself" beyond all possible experience. With experience being fundamental to human knowledge empiricists frequently forget that only reason can process experience into coherent thought.

Following Kant's synthesis two German epigonic philosophers Friedrich Hegel and Arthur Schopenhauer bitterly fought over Kant's legacy. The key issue was Hegel's progressive world spirit (Weltgeist) versus Schopenhauer's blind world will (Weltwille).

In the 19th century technical progress was so clearly visible that Hegel's philosophy was attractive. Hegel, the thinker of progress, sees a teleologically evolving world where a changeable Weltgeist develops in steps until it becomes the world spirit itself.

The New Yorker's Weltgeist of the 21st Century (©The New Yorker)

Schopenhauer and his poodle by Wilhelm Busch
(©Wikipedia). The philosopher's pessimistic view:
Seitdem ich die Menschen kenne, liebe ich die Tiere
(Since I have gotten to know people I love animals).
For Schopenhauer Hegel's ideas were garbage. Red Baron also thinks that replacing God with a Weltgeist that is alienated from humankind is pure speculation.

Schopenhauer personally suffered from Hegel for Hegel's lectures following the Zeitgeist (spirit of the times) drew crowds of students while only few people were interested in Schopenhauer's ideas. The fact that he had masochistically scheduled his courses at the same time as Hegel's sheds light on Schopenhauer's pessimistic approach to philosophy. He is claiming that the world will not become better. He sees a world governed by the struggle for survival, by the "will to live". Schopenhauer personally suffers from this blind Weltwille where reason is just an adjunct of will. From there it is only a small step to nihilism. Do we all end up in nirvana?

It was Karl Marx who took up Hegel's ideas not so much by writing about God or Weltgeist (any religion is just opium for the people) but in emphasizing a materialist interpretation of Hegel's historical development. This in particular in view of an alienation of humankind resulting in class struggles. In Wikipedia we read: Marxist methodology uses economic and sociopolitical inquiry and applies that to the critique and analysis of the development of capitalism and the role of class struggle in systemic economic change.

For Friedrich Nietzsche taking up Schopenhauer's ideas the world is not guided by reason but by will. He interprets the blind will as a personal will for power or as time goes by to sing it with Frank Sinatra: It's still the same old story the fight for love and glory. According to Nietzsche humankind must eventually overcome itself to create the Übermensch.

Where do we go from here? Red Baron does not see his world progressing in accordance with Hegel's Weltgeist. The defeat of Communism based on Marxism entailed an unchallenged accelerated development of capitalism based on growth with all its negative excesses of slave labor, exploitation of natural resources, and climate change. Nowadays big corporations acting globally govern the world. They are undisturbed by governments that are susceptible to blackmail: If you do not fulfil our demands we shall move our factories and in particular the jobs elsewhere.

So the seamstress in Bangladesh exploited for a starvation wage should be happy as long as the rising tides of the 21st century do not flood her factory. Refugees from Africa are knocking on Europe's door for survival but they are sent back if their demand for asylum is motivated economically, i.e., if they are looking for work.

The present economy is still based on unlimited growth and takes this for granted. However, Red Baron doubts that turbo-capitalism will survive when the fight for Mother Earth's resources, in particular for fresh water, shifts into high gear.

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