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Schopenhauer, Kant, Magee

I'm reading Bryan Magee's Confessions of a Philosopher. He's been talking up Schopenhauer throughout the book. I finally got to the part where he explains Schopenhauer. On Magee's first attempt to read Schopenhauer, he found some quotes in a book about Schopenhauer. He gives half a dozen examples to show Schopenhauer's appeal and talent. I found every single example unimpressive. Meanwhile Magee tried to read the primary source and he found it impenetrable and dense and wasn't getting anything out of it and gave up.

Six years later, Magee tried again, and that time he loved Schopenhauer. One of the first things he actually says about Schopenhauer's ideas, on page 356, is:
Schopenhauer believed, along with a great many other people then and since, that Kant's most important insight was that what we human beings can think, perceive, know, experience, or be aware of in any way at all depends not only on what the reality is with which we have to deal but also on the apparatus we have for doing those things -- our human bodies with their senses, nervous systems and brains.
From this I have concluded that Schopenhauer is worthless (which I already suspected). It also confirms that Kant is worthless. Why?

First, this idea does not have the ring of great philosophy. It's not a penetrating insight. It's a lot closer to common sense. There's just nothing special about it. It seems to me that this idea must have been invented by countless people, most of whom didn't consider it worth making a fuss over. If this is the best Kant has to offer, then he is simply not a great philosopher. Even if it were true it would not be very impressive.

There is a major school of thought which existed before Kant, and which believes we gain knowledge of the world through our senses. Is it really the case that none of them ever considered the limitations of our sense organs before Kant pointed it out? That is not plausible. They must have considered the issue and had a reply already worked out.

Now for the critical flaw: Kant's "most important insight" is false.

As Popper taught us, starting points are not very important, what's important is to look for and correct errors. If you begin with limited and flawed ideas, so what? All our ideas are flawed anyway, and all our ideas are limited in their scope and understanding. That doesn't stop us making progress. Learning takes as input flawed and limited ideas, then proceeds to flawed and limited criticisms of them, and flawed and limited guesses at new ideas, and flawed and limited suggestions for minor changes to existing ideas, and outputs an unlimited stream of progress.

If your eyes are faulty that is not a fundamental handicap. You can get glasses or a microscope. You can ask questions of people with better eyesight. You can touch things to get a more accurate idea of their size. You can get a seeing eye dog. Or you can guess in what way your eyes are faulty, then reinterpret everything you see to account for the fault. And then you can see what goes right and what goes wrong, and adjust your way of reinterpreting. Even Hellen Keller was able to learn things.

No one's senses are perfectly reliable, and that isn't important.

One final issue is universality. There is some set of sense organs, which is fairly minimal, which allows one to do any measurement possible (with appropriate tools and aids, which you can construct). For example, only having the sense of touch would be sufficient to learn anything. You can construct artificial eyes which output braille. And a sound recorder that outputs braille. And a smeller and taster, and more. And therefore Kant's implication that we are limited in what we can measure/observe by the details of our sense organs is false. Even Hellen Keller had a universal set of sense organs.

Similar lines of argument apply to our nervous systems and brains which have universality, taking into account possible augmentations which we are capable of performing (after learning how to perform them, which we are also capable of).

All in all, it's not really a bad idea. If my neighbor told it to me, I'd give him some pointers and encourage him to think about it more. It's not obvious why it's false. But it's not great philosophy either.

Elliot Temple on August 22, 2008

Comments (29)

Schopenhauer

When I read the book I was aroused by Magee's excitement about Schopenhauer but apparently I missed something that you picked up! I promptly purchased a copy of Scopenhauer's book and found that it made no sense at all. Like the time Jeremy Shearmur mentioned (possibly as an aside) that Habermas was the most exciting social scientist writing at present. So I picked up the Habermas Reader and had the same experience. Did Jeremy really say that?

Anyway, Magee's book has some good points, especially if you skim over the highly personal bits that are not everyone's cup of tea. This is my commentary on the book.

http://www.the-rathouse.com/2007/MageeConfessions.html


Anonymous at 9:58 PM on September 9, 2008 | #1488 | reply | quote

If you could ask Kant 2 simple questions, what would they be?


Ask Kant at 10:36 AM on October 21, 2019 | #13869 | reply | quote

Why ask Kant anything? What for?


Anonymous at 11:12 AM on October 21, 2019 | #13870 | reply | quote

Why not?


Anonymous at 3:49 PM on October 21, 2019 | #13876 | reply | quote

#13876

Cuz there are better things to do


Anonymous at 3:51 PM on October 21, 2019 | #13877 | reply | quote

I am the author of #13870

I did not write #13877

I think #13877 is misleading.

As to #13876, it's a bad reply which doesn't address my questions.


Anonymous at 3:56 PM on October 21, 2019 | #13878 | reply | quote

why are you dodging the question though? Either answer him (What would you ask Kant) or fuck off. Don't be a useless pedant.


Anonymous at 8:28 PM on October 21, 2019 | #13879 | reply | quote

#13879

> why are you dodging the question though?

AFAIK, he wasn't dodging the question. he asked a question designed to help him understand what problem you're trying to solve (it's not clear), which would help him know what sort of answer you're looking for.

why ask Kant vs asking the same question without addressing it to a particular person?

> Either answer him (What would you ask Kant) or fuck off. Don't be a useless pedant.

you're being hostile and aggressive. that's not welcome here.

btw I don't think you know what a pedant is.


Anon2224 at 4:17 AM on October 22, 2019 | #13882 | reply | quote

#13882 I am not the one who asked the question but you seem allergic at actually answering questions. I don't think you know what a pedant is either.


Anonymous at 6:29 AM on October 22, 2019 | #13883 | reply | quote

#13883

> #13882 I am not the one who asked the question but you seem allergic at actually answering questions. I don't think you know what a pedant is either.

so the question is: "If you could ask Kant 2 simple questions, what would they be?"

and so far someone replied: "Why ask Kant anything? What for?"

and then you replied: "... you seem allergic at actually answering questions..."

this discussion is analogous to this one:

person A: why?

person B: why what?

person C: person B seems allergic to answering questions.

person B: I can't effectively answer a question that I don't understand the point of. I can't solve a problem that I don't understand. what I did is ask a question designed to help you communicate your problem effectively.

btw, using the word "allergic" as you did is hostile. you're not saying anything that is designed to help me understand an error I made. this is a matter of ideas. it's not a medical issue.


Anon2224 at 10:19 AM on October 22, 2019 | #13892 | reply | quote

#13892 Stop strawmannirg.


Anonymous at 11:15 AM on October 22, 2019 | #13895 | reply | quote

Why can't anyone get a straight philosophy answer in this "philosophical" blog?

Why won't you answer the question on Kant? Is it because you know nothing about Kant?


Anonymous at 8:05 PM on October 23, 2019 | #13928 | reply | quote

> Why can't anyone get a straight philosophy answer in this "philosophical" blog?

Ppl can. You’re lying.

> Why won't you answer the question on Kant? Is it because you know nothing about Kant?

This has been addressed above. Two people tried to get clarification on the point of the Kant question (we need to know the point in order to answer). The author of the Kant question ignored the clarifying questions. No path forward. Discussion dead.


Anon2224 at 1:15 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13930 | reply | quote

#13930 FFS CURI... Obviously this is you. "you're lying", typical unfruitful wording that you so like to use. You're blind to see how this (this kind of attitude) is fucking up you're entire philosophy enterprise. Reason has no reach if it's delivered in a uncompassionate, unkind and dull way. If you don't change for the better about this matters — if you don't listen to what so many people are saying to you, you will fail like you have failed until now.


Anon007 at 3:54 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13932 | reply | quote

> #13930 FFS CURI... Obviously this is you. "you're lying", typical unfruitful wording that you so like to use. You're blind to see how this (this kind of attitude) is fucking up you're entire philosophy enterprise. Reason has no reach if it's delivered in a uncompassionate, unkind and dull way. If you don't change for the better about this matters — if you don't listen to what so many people are saying to you, you will fail like you have failed until now.

Not curi. I'm proud to be confused for curi though :)

Why do you believe that my wording was not fruitful? I'll explain how it was fruitful. I made it known that I believe the author of #13928 was lying. That's a good thing. It's better to make things like that known rather than hiding them. Why? Because now that author or somebody else could ask me why I think he was lying. It's a way to expose the truth, purposed for truth-seeking.

Lying is bad. Calling out lies is good.


Anon2224 at 6:42 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13933 | reply | quote

#13932

You're complaining about me saying "you're lying" and that it was "...uncompassionate, unkind and dull..." but you did not make the same complaint about this comment (emphasis added):

> why are you dodging the question though? Either answer him (What would you ask Kant) or **fuck off**. **Don't be a useless pedant.**

wtf?!


Anon2224 at 6:55 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13934 | reply | quote

You're confusing Anons. I am the one who told you to answer the question or fuck off.

Why are you pretending to be an anon btw Temple?


Anonymous at 7:12 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13935 | reply | quote

it is even sadder if you're not curi because you are aping his bad habits.


Anonymous at 7:19 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13936 | reply | quote

#13932

> If you don't change for the better about this matters — if you don't listen to what so many people are saying to you, you will fail like you have failed until now.

I'm happy to find out I'm wrong. Please explain. (I don't think you'll explain though. I think you'll just ignore this and troll this blog instead. I would be glad to be wrong about this.)

I don't need "so many people" to teach me something. just one person is enough. if one person explains to my satisfaction that something I did was wrong and that I should have done something else (specific) instead, then I'll change my mind.

this is a matter of doing what I believe is right. just because a billion people think I'm wrong (while none of them does anything to convince me, like they don't make arguments against my arguments, they basically ignore me and my ideas), that doesn't mean I should change. I'll change when I'm convinced I'm wrong. and I'll leave openings for people to convince me I'm wrong (paths forward). if people expect me to change without me being convinced that their way is better than my way, that's horrible. it's irrational. it's evil. I don't want that. I'm trying to live a *good* life.


Anon2224 at 7:23 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13937 | reply | quote

#13935

> You're confusing Anons. I am the one who told you to answer the question or fuck off.

I didn't confuse Anons. my comments apply whether there is 1 author or 2 or more. you're confused. read my comment again. I did not make a claim nor imply who the author of the "fuck off" comment was.


Anon2224 at 7:29 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13938 | reply | quote

#13936

> it is even sadder if you're not curi because you are aping his bad habits.

you find it sadder because of your bad worldview.

you think calling out lies is bad. yeah we know about that. most of society works that way. it's fucking horrible.

those same people (you included) are the ones who are totally ok with actually doing the lying.

so like in your worldview: lying is ok, and calling out lies is bad.

in my worldview: lying is bad, and calling out lies is good.


Anon2224 at 7:38 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13939 | reply | quote

you're confused. Nothing to do with calling out lies. You have no idea what a lie.

You think you're calling out lies, you're doing nothing of the sort.


Anonymous at 7:45 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13940 | reply | quote

#13938 Yes you did. Stop lying.


Anonymous at 7:46 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13941 | reply | quote

I have to agree with the others here. People here are unkind, and unnecessarily pedantic. Nobody seems to want to discuss philosophy but instead like to engage in mind reading and accusations. No way to do philosophy.

Things like "you're lying" and "you don't know what Z means" get thrown out. Extreme paranoia or defense mechanism.

There is 0 chance for creativity in this environment.


Anon55555 at 7:59 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13943 | reply | quote

#13940

> you're confused. Nothing to do with calling out lies. You have no idea what a lie.

> You think you're calling out lies, you're doing nothing of the sort.

The comment in question (from #13928) (which I called out as a lie) is this:

> Why can't anyone get a straight philosophy answer in this "philosophical" blog?

This is a lie because *it is false and the author should know it's false (like by making a good faith effort to find out if it's true or not)*.

People do get straight answers here. The author could have known that (or, the author does know that and said otherwise anyway).

See: https://rationalessays.com/lying


Anonymous at 8:00 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13944 | reply | quote

I agree with #13943


Anonymous at 8:01 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13945 | reply | quote

#13943 (also #13945)

> I have to agree with the others here. People here are unkind, and unnecessarily pedantic. Nobody seems to want to discuss philosophy but instead like to engage in mind reading and accusations. No way to do philosophy.

> Things like "you're lying" and "you don't know what Z means" get thrown out. Extreme paranoia or defense mechanism.

> There is 0 chance for creativity in this environment.

If you don't like this place, kindly leave.

This applies to anyone reading this.


Anonymous at 8:07 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13946 | reply | quote

#13946 This is an irrational response.

Instead of using reason to defend yourself you're shutting doors in people's faces instead.


A at 8:09 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13947 | reply | quote

#13939 Anon2224, If you're trying to practice debating people (is that your goal?), I think you'd get better practice with non-trolls who actually talk about the issues some. And if you stopped feeding the trolls, I think they'd post less crap here.


curi at 11:30 AM on October 24, 2019 | #13948 | reply | quote

(This is an unmoderated discussion forum. Discussion info.)