Thursday, June 28, 2018

Schopenhauer’s Criticisms of The Kantian Philosophy

Arthur Schopenhauer, in his essay, “Criticisms of The Kantian Philosophy” (Chapter: Appendix; The World as Will and Representation, Volume 1), makes it clear that he is indebted to Kantian philosophy. He holds Kant’s The Critique of Pure Reason as the work of a great genius, and says that Kant is so far ahead that it will take time for rest of mankind to understand the importance of his work. “Thus the whole strength and importance of Kant's teaching will become evident only in the course of time, when the spirit of the age, itself gradually reformed and altered in the most important and essential respect by the influence of that teaching, furnishes living evidence of the power of that giant mind.”

However, Schopenhauer’s essay is highly polemical and is devoted to identifying the mistakes that Kant has made in his philosophy. He believes that he will make Kantian philosophy shine brightly and endure more positively by identifying and neutralizing the myriad errors that Kant himself brought into it. Schopenhauer accepts that despite the great innovation in ideas that Kant has brought to philosophy, his impact has been mostly negative. “For although he effected the greatest revolution in philosophy, and did away with scholasticism, which in the above-mentioned wider sense had lasted for fourteen hundred years, in order really to begin an entirely new third world-epoch in philosophy, the immediate result of his appearance was, however, in practice only negative, not positive.”

I will talk about Schopenhauer's detailed criticism of the important aspects of Kantian philosophy in my next blogs—in this one I will focus on his criticism of Kant’s writing style. Here's an excerpt:
Kant's exposition is often indistinct, indefinite, inadequate, and occasionally obscure. This obscurity is certainly to be excused in part by the difficulty of the subject and the depth of the ideas. Yet whoever is himself clear to the bottom, and knows quite distinctly what he thinks and wants, will never write indistinctly, never set up wavering and indefinite concepts, or pick up from foreign languages extremely difficult and complicated expressions to denote such concepts, in order to continue using such expressions afterwards, as Kant took words and formulas from earlier, even scholastic, philosophy. These he combined with one another for his own purpose, as for example, "transcendental synthetic unity of apperception," and in general "unity of synthesis," which he always uses where "union" or "combination" would be quite sufficient by itself. Moreover, such a man will not always be explaining anew what has already been explained once, as Kant does, for example, with the understanding, the categories, experience, and other main concepts. Generally, such a man will not incessantly repeat himself, and yet, in every new presentation of an idea that has already occurred a hundred times, leave it again in precisely the same obscure passages. On the contrary, he will express his meaning once distinctly, thoroughly, and exhaustively, and leave it at that. 
Schopenhauer laments that by his complicated style of writing, Kant legitimized the use of obscure language in philosophy and thereby enabled the madness of Hegel:
The public had been forced to see that what is obscure is not always without meaning; what was senseless and without meaning at once took refuge in obscure exposition and language. Fichte was the first to grasp and make vigorous use of this privilege; Schelling at least equalled him in this, and a host of hungry scribblers without intellect or honesty soon surpassed them both. But the greatest effrontery in serving up sheer nonsense, in scrabbling together senseless and maddening webs of words, such as had previously been heard only in madhouses, finally appeared in Hegel. It became the instrument of the most ponderous and general mystification that has ever existed, with a result that will seem incredible to posterity, and be a lasting monument of German stupidity.

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