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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars snotty, heinous, bankrupt, dumb, 28 Feb. 2013
This review is from: Schopenhauer: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (Paperback)
This is a dreadful account of Schopenhauer's philosophy. If you are coming to Schopenhauer WITHOUT having carefully read Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (which I don't recommend) you would do well to read Bryan Magee's `The Philosophy of Schopenhauer' as an appetiser, as this will set you on firm ground before reading The World as Will and Representation. I'm not going to subject people to a long and tedious essay on this introduction (Janaway's) so I will simply list various points that rankle or are flat out wrong.

(x) The tone of the book, on the whole, is RANK; it being a horrible mix of both pomposity and incredulity. It is the kind of attitude that is an anathema to honest philosophical enquiry and is out of place in an introductory text designed for a lay reader: "How are we to take this? If meant literally, it is merely embarrassing."

Such an attitude becomes even more inexplicable in light of 20th century science which presented us with a plethora of counter intuitive notions about the nature of the world; notions which, in their emphasis on the subjectivity of experience and the limits of human knowledge, took on a distinctly Kantian-Schopenhauerian flavour. The distorting of the perceptual form in Einstein's relativity, Heisenberg's uncertainty principle, the wave-particle duality, Bell's theorem and the non-locality of space. Does sneering condescension befit such ideas? (whether you except these as explanations is a whole other matter) Janaway's attitude which seems to treat Schopenhauer as a relic of the past who is silly and inconsequential is utterly bizarre when physics has been moving in a generally Kantian-Schopenhauerian direction. (It's also an interesting side note that Schrödinger was a Schopenhauerian)

I mention the irritating and pompous tone as it seems Janaway has previous form in this regard, as can be witnessed in one of the most idiotic and vacuous reviews of a philosophical work that I have ever read, the book in question being the aforementioned `Philosophy of Schopenhauer' by Bryan Magee, the review being published in MIND 84 . I will perhaps post the review at some point, suffice to say such writing as "Magee's book simply lacks sufficient first-hand involvement with philosophical issues" is not only deeply wrong but ACTIVELY DISHONEST. The roots of such dishonesty I can only guess at. The opening snottiness of "Bryan Magee has written a readable book, in a fairly popular and non-academic style, appropriate to what I take to be its introductory function. It is fairly light-weight, for all its size," is equally unbearable and dishonest. If Magee's book is "lightweight" where on earth does that put Janaway's thunderous introduction? Flyweight? Bantamweight? Amoebaweight?

On to the content of the book:

(1) on page 21-22 Janaway writes in reference to Schopenhauer's account of perception: " The account has a certain ingenuity, but is troubling. For one thing, where do bodily sensations come from? They must surely be originally caused in the body by something prior to the operation of the intellect, but Schopenhauer does not discuss what that prior cause might be. Secondly, how do we apprehend the initial sensation? It cannot be that the mind perceives the sensation as a change in a material thing (the body), and yet if it does not do so, why is the principle of causality, which governs changes of material things, called into operation at all?

? I'm not sure if these questions are being asked in bad faith or whether Janaway has not understood what is being said, so let's be clear: The EFFECT as it is apprehended by the brain - our starting point being sense datum, some action of matter - has its root in a metaphysical substratum which is unknowable, this being the thing-in-itself, the will, what matter is in-itself. This distinction is the difference between what is causality and what is not causality. Causality, as Schopenhauer makes clear, being all that is left once matter has been stripped of every discernible property (this leaves us with an abstraction, matter as ACTING IN GENERAL without any defined mode of acting i.e. in time and space with such and such a quality). If causality is then removed we are left with an X, the will, what is unknowable. (and it is important to make clear that, as should be obvious, there is no causal relationship between phenomena and the thing-in-itself, this phenomenal world IS the thing-in-itself in its conditioned aspect.)
The extent to which we KNOW sensation is as something already IN a causally connected, phenomenal world as furnished by our understanding; there then appears that great disparity between sensation a some kind of localised feeling under the skin of a body and the sensually variegated phenomenal world of our perception.
As regards space as an a priori form, it doesn't matter - speaking now outside this condition - whether we say NO space or space wholly unlike that of human experience (as the string theorists claim with their 10 and 11 dimensions) because neither can become known, that is, both are unknowable and if some creature claimed such apprehension his attempt to explain it to us would be unintelligible, and even then we would claim he does not KNOW the thing-in-itself because such existence constitutes a being-in-itself WITHOUT knowledge.
To ask Schopenhauer to go beyond the limits of the phenomenal world and talk directly about the thing-in-itself is utterly absurd, as Janaway is doing here. This is as I said down to either disingenuousness in which case he is misleading the reader or lack of understanding in which case he should not be writing about Schopenhauer at all.

(2) on page 7 Janaway writes: "Most importantly, the human psyche can be seen as split: comprising not only capacities for understanding and rational thought, but at a deeper level also an essentially `blind' process of striving"

This is poorly explained: it should be made very clear that WILL is not OF the mind, that mind is simply phenomena of the brain, but that this brain is an object IN MINDS and is thus phenomenal. WILL is the IN-ITSELF of matter; our notion of pure matter above (acting in general, the basis of experience) being an abstraction from what we actually perceive in experience i.e. conditioned matter i.e. the FORMS and QUALITIES OF matter.

(3) on page 8 Janaway writes: "Many have found Schopenhauer's philosophy impossible to accept as a single, consistent metaphysical scheme."

Who?? Name names. Give examples. Explain why.

(4) on page 8 Janaway writes: "What is set down at the beginning should be treated not so much as a foundation for everything that is to come, but as a first idea which will be revealed as inadequate by a second that seems to undermine it, only to reassert itself in transformed guise later on.

What is this awful blather?? What is Janaway even referring to?? Schopenhauer begins the World as Will and Representation with his corrected and clarified Kantianism as it pertains to transcendental idealism. It is THE foundation stone of the rest of the book. There is no inadequacy and undermining of this section of his work in later sections. The only inadequacy is Janaway's ability to apprehend what has been said.

(5) on page 17 Janaway writes: " He believed that empirical consciousness, limited as it was to the phenomena of space, time, and causality, was something inferior which we should aspire to escape from, if possible."

Another terrible explanation. It is the WILL, that underlying thing-in-itself of which this phenomenal world is a conditioned manifestation which Schopenhauer finds appalling, and it is this unceasing and unquenchable WILL that Schopenhauer wants to escape from by becoming a "pure subject of knowing"

(6) On a side note: I do not believe for a single second that Janaway has read The Critique of Pure Reason from cover to cover. Maybe he browsed the spark notes?

(7) Janaway uses the term "transcendental idealism" once in the entire book but uses idealism or idealist a dozen or more times in explaining Schopenhauer's position. The sense in which Schopenhauer uses the term idealism is in the sense that transcendental idealism IS idealism PROPER. Any other kind of idealism is simply an incoherent position.

(8) on page 30 Janaway writes: "One alleges that we cannot imagine anything which exists outside our own minds, because `what we are imagining at that moment is . . . nothing but just the process in the intellect of a knowing being' (W2, 5). This is reminiscent of a controversial argument attempted by Berkeley, who thought that an unperceived tree could not be imagined. Schopenhauer's use of the argument is not very convincing, however, because even though my imagining a world independent of my mind does presuppose my own mind, the existence of what I imagine - a world independent of my mind - does not.

This is stupid and does nothing to nullify what Schopenhauer is saying. YOU CANNOT ESCAPE THE SUBJECTIVE CONSCIOUSNESS IN FORMULATING AN INDEPENDENT WORLD. The rest of Janaway's bluster that follows simply boils down to a matter of preference for a realist interpretation of the world and is not a counter argument.

(9) on page 36 Janaway writes: "To subsume willing under force (or energy, which has also been suggested) is not Schopenhauer's intention."

In Janabuffoon's awful review of `The philosophy of Schopenhauer' he levels this accusation at Magee, completely misunderstanding what has been said. Magee explains that such words as force and energy would of been far preferable - though not perfect - as they are more NEUTRAL than the loaded term WILL. The most applicable term being something like X. Schopenhauer explains that forces are the most immediate OBJECTIFICATION of the will in the phenomenal world; calling them qualitates occultae i.e. occult qualities because, though they aid us in explaining phenomena, they go unexplained themselves; they just are.

(10) on page 40 "This is still troubling, however. If knowledge of our acts of will is the nearest we get to the thing in itself, and if even here we do not know it directly, what grounds do we really have for claiming to know what it is?"

Schopenahuer never claims to know directly what it is but what it's ABOUT. The two other senses in which he uses the term WILL i.e. ACT OF and PERSONAL* (that most DIRECTLY known in consciousness, emotions, pleasure, displeasure) have the same root: MATTER i.e. percieved causality, whether body or brain. Take away the causality and you are left the thing-in-itself, WILL, in its unknowable sense. In other words, ALL ROADS LEAD TO ROME. Unfortunately, Janaway does a terrible job of clearly distinguishing between Schopenhauer's uses of the term.

*Personal is my own wording. Schopenhauer uses ACT OF to cover both distinctions. The difference is direction: from mind to matter in one sense (ACT OF), from matter to mind in the other (PERSONAL).

(11) on page 40 Janaway writes: "As an exercise in metaphysics, Schopenhauer's doctrine of the will as thing in itself is so obviously flawed that some people have doubted whether he really means it - perhaps will is just a concept which explains a wide range of phenomena, and is not supposed to extend to the unknowable thing in itself? "

Here Janaway ramps up his pomposity, stupidity and bluster to stratospheric heights. WILL IS THE UNKNOWABLE THING-IN-ITSELF: THIS PHENOMENAL WORLD IS A CONDITIONED MANIFESTATION OF THAT WILL. We cannot talk directly OF that will but can talk ABOUT it as we have knowledge of this phenomenal world which is its objectification.

(12) on page 42 Janaway writes on the body and my will being one: "This would suggest, somewhat perversely, that there can be no such thing as a willing which goes unfulfilled because one's muscles or nerves do not function in the right way. (Would Schopenhauer say that stroke victims have not `genuinely' willed, if their bodies fail to move as they want them to?)"

Another utterly idiotic remark. There is no sense in which this willing is going fulfilled or unfulfilled because WILLING is not OF the mind and all that exists in the above case is motivation or idea in the mind of a subject. By Janaway's perverse reckoning he would say that my attempt to move a glass I saw on the table using just my mind, which then failed to move, was a failure of my WILLING. What was in my head was merely an idea or motivation. THE CONNECTION OF THIS THINKING AND WILLING IS COMPLETELY INEXPLICABLE.

--This is an open review and i'll add to it when I have sufficient time or desire to rescan the book--
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 19 Apr 2013 19:10:55 BDT
bkbar says:
Thank you for the very thorough critical view; it has persuaded me to obtain Bryan Magee's Philosophy of Schopenhauer, which you mentioned, rather than this Very Short Introduction. As a somewhat pedantic aside, re your ninth point, surely the "occult qualities" you mention would, in Latin, be "qualitaTES occultae", no?

In reply to an earlier post on 26 Apr 2013 23:46:49 BDT
Mr says:
Yeah, you're absolutely right. I've been meaning to change it. I was wondering if anyone would bother pointing it out! Also, I've always read occulta and occultae straightforwardly as occult though running it through various translators I also get hidden or secret. My Latin is non-existent.

Magee's "The Philosophy of Schopenhauer" is excellent. All of Magee's works on philosophy are worth your time. (confessions of a philosopher, popper, sight unseen, men of ideas) I highly recommend them.

As I said at the bottom, this review isn't really complete. I need to go back through the second half of the book again. I don't really have the desire to do that at the moment but i'll get around to it at some point.


Posted on 6 May 2014 12:29:06 BDT
Mohican says:
Thank you for a high-class and thoughtful rant. I do want to pick a fight with Schopenhauer, but that's because I am excited by metaphysics, and need someone to disagree with in order to clarify my own (possibly leibnizian) insights. It is a delight to find that serious, amusing and possibly amateur (in the correct sense) minds such as yours are active in the field, for the sheer heaven of it.
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