Friday, January 22, 2010

Schopenhauer's Prize Essay on the Fredom of the Will


I put off reading Schopenhauer's Prize Essay on the Freedom of the Will for a long time, just because I thought it a peripheral work in Schopenhauer's canon, and not likely to be off exceptional interest. But, as usual, library recalls motivate me where nothing else can, with beneficial results. As anticipated, most of the book adds little to the free will debate, but it is an absolute delight to read, and not entirely without striking novelty.

Schopenhauer is as competent as any of his predecessors in defending determinism and analyzing the sources of the misleading feeling that we have free will. Admirably, he does not hesitate to credit his predecessors; in fact, one of the most valuable and enjoyable sections of the essay (IV) is devoted in its entirety to cataloging them—philosophers, theologians, and poets, all.

And then, there is the characteristic Schopenhauer twist at the end, where he seems to turn around and contradict everything he has just said. He does not, in actuality, contradict himself, at least not quite so obviously as some might think (if there is a contradiction, it is deep in his metaphysics), but for readers with no prior exposure to Schopenhauer—readers who might have been seduced into reading the Prize Essay in a materialistic cast—the last chapter must come as a rude awakening. I do worry about the coherence of Schopenhauer's metaphysics, but I probably will continue to worry about it for a long time without resolution. The Prize Essay deepens my worries, and my interest.

1 comment:

Fists in the Wind said...

Indeed, one of the finest and most accessible defenses of determinism that must exist anywhere in the observable universe!!