Durant 1926: The Will to Live (Schopenhauer)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter VII Section 4.1 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The  contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.

.

IV. The World as Will

1. The Will to Live

Almost without exception, philosophers have placed the essence of mind in thought and consciousness; man was the knowing animal, the animal rationale. “This ancient and universal radical error, this enormous proton pseudos, [first lie, Initial mistake] … must before everything be set aside.”* “Consciousness is the mere surface of our minds, of which, as of the earth, we do not know the inside but only the crust.” Under the conscious intellect is the conscious or unconscious will, a striving, persistent vital force, a spontaneous activity, a will of imperious desire. The intellect may seem at times to lead the will, but only as a guide leads his master; the will “is the strong blind man who carries on his shoulders the lame man who can see.” We do not want a thing because we have found reasons for it, we find reasons for it because we want it; we even elaborate philosophies and theologies to cloak our desires. Hence Schopenhauer calls man the “metaphysical animal”: other animals desire without metaphysics. “Nothing is more provoking, when we are arguing against a man with reasons and explanations, and taking all pains to convince him, than to discover at last that he will not understand, that ‘We have to do with his will.” Hence the uselessness of logic: no one ever convinced anybody by logic; and even logicians use logic only as a source of income. To convince a man, you must appeal to his self-interest, his desires, his will. Observe how long we remember our victories, and how soon we forget our defeats; memory is the menial of will.” “In doing accounts we make mistakes much oftener in our own favor than to our disadvantage; and this without the slightest dishonest intention.” “On the other hand, the understanding of the stupidest man becomes keen when objects are in question that closely concern his wishes”; in general, the intellect is developed by danger, as in the fox, or by want, as in the criminal. But always it seems subordinate and instrumental to desire; when it attempts to displace the will, confusion follows. No one is more liable to mistakes than he who acts only on reflection. 

*Schopenhauer forgets (or does he take his lead from?) Spinoza’s emphatic statement: “Desire is the very essence of man.” Fichte had also emphasized the will. 

We do not want a thing because we have found reasons for it, we find reasons for it because we want it. Hence the uselessness of logic: no one ever convinced anybody by logic. To convince a man, you must appeal to his self-interest, his desires, his will. Schopenhauer’s will appears to be the same thing as the reactive mind of Hubbard. 

Consider the agitated strife of men for food, mates, or children; can this be the work of reflection? Certainly not; the cause is the half conscious will to live, and to live fully. “Men are only apparently drawn from in front; in reality they are pushed from behind”; they think they are led on by what they see, when in truth they are driven on by what they feel,—by instincts of whose operation they are half the time unconscious. Intellect is merely the minister of foreign affairs; “nature has ‘Produced it for the service of the individual will. Therefore it is only designed to know things so far as they afford motives for the will, but not to fathom them or to comprehend their true being.” “The will is the only permanent and unchangeable element in the mind; … it is the will which,” through continuity of purpose, “gives unity to consciousness and holds together all its ideas and thoughts, ac- companying them like a continuous harmony.” It is the organ-point of thought. 

The cause of the agitated strife of men for food, mates, or children is the half conscious will to live. They are driven on by instincts of whose operation they are half the time unconscious. “The will is the only permanent and unchangeable element in the mind.”

Character lies in the will, and not in the intellect; character too is continuity of purpose and attitude: and these are will. Popular language is correct when it prefers the ”heart” to the “head”; it knows (because it has not reasoned about it) that a “good will” is profounder and more reliable than a clear mind; and when it calls a man “shrewd,” “knowing,” or “cunning” it implies its suspicion and dislike. “Brilliant qualities of mind win admiration, but never affection”; and “all religions promise a reward … for excellences of the Will or heart, but none for excellences of the head or understanding.” 

Popular language correctly prefers the ”heart” (will) to the “head” (intellect). A “good will” is profounder and more reliable than a clear mind.

Even the body is the product of the will. The blood, pushed on by that will which we vaguely call life, builds its own vessels by wearing grooves in the body of the embryo; the grooves deepen and close up, and become arteries and veins. The will to know builds the brain just as the will to grasp forms the hand, or as the will to eat develops the digestive. tract.* Indeed, these pairs—these forms of will and these forms of flesh—are but two sides of one process and reality. The relation is best seen in emotion, where the feeling and the internal bodily changes form one complex unit.** 

*This is the Lamarckian view of growth and evolution as due to desires and functions compelling structures and begetting organs. 
**A source for the James-Lange theory of emotion?

The act of will and the movement of the body are not two different things objectively known, which the bond of causality unites; they do not stand in the relation of cause and effect; they are one and the same, but they are given in entirely different ways,—immediately, and again in perception. … The action of the body is nothing but the act of the will objectified. This is true of every movement of the body; … the whole body is nothing but objectified will. … The parts of the body must therefore completely correspond to the principal desires through which the will manifests itself; they must be the visible expression of these desires. Teeth, throat and bowels are objectified hunger; the organs of generation are objectified sexual desire. … The whole nervous system constitutes the antennae of the will, which it stretches within and without. … As the human body generally corresponds to the human will generally, so the individual bodily structure corresponds to the individually modified will, the character of the individual.

Even the body is the product of the will. 

The intellect tires, the will never; the intellect needs sleep, but the will works even in sleep. Fatigue, like pain, has its seat in the brain; muscles not connected with the cerebrum (like the heart) never tire.* In sleep the brain feeds; but the will requires no food. Hence the need for sleep is greatest in brain-workers. (This fact, however, “must not mislead us into extending sleep unduly; for then it loses in intensity … and becomes mere loss of time.”) In sleep the life of man sinks to the vegetative level, and then “the will works according to its original and essential nature, undisturbed from without, with no diminution of its power through the activity of the brain and the exertion of knowing, which is the heaviest organic function; … therefore in sleep the whole power of the will is directed to the maintenance and improvement of the organism. Hence all healing, all favorable crises, take place in sleep.” Burdach was right when he declared sleep to be the original state. The embryo sleeps almost continuously, and the infant most of the time. Life is “a struggle against sleep: at first we win ground from it, which in the end it recovers. Sleep is a morsel of death borrowed to keep up and renew that part of life which has been exhausted by the day.” It is our eternal foe; even when we are awake it possesses us partly. After all, what is to be expected of heads even the wisest of which is every night the scene of the strangest and the most senseless dreams, and which has to take up its meditations again on awakening from them?”

*But is there no such thing as the satiation or exhaustion of desire? In profound fatigue or sickness even the wlll to live fades. 

The intellect tires, the will never; the intellect needs sleep, but the will works even in sleep.

Will, then, is the essence of man. Now what if it is also the essence of life in all its forms, and even of “inanimate” matter? What if will is the long-sought-for, the long-despaired-of, “thing-in-itself,”—the ultimate inner reality and secret essence of all things? 

Let us try, then, to interpret the external world in terms of will. And let us go at once to the bottom; where others have said that will is a form of force let us say that force is a form of will. To Hume’s question—What is causality?—we shall answer, Will. As will is the universal cause in ourselves, so is it in things; and unless we so understand cause as will, causality will remain only a magic and mystic formula, really meaningless. Without this secret we are driven to mere occult qualities like “force,” or “gravity,” or “affinity”; we do not know what these forces are, but we know—at least a little more clearly—what will is; let us say, then, that repulsion and attraction, combination and decomposition, magnetism and electricity, gravity and crystallization, are Will. Goethe expressed this idea in the title of one of his novels, when he called the irresistible attraction of lovers die Wahlverwandschaften—“elective affinities.” The force which draws the lover, and the force which draws the planet, are one. 

As will is the universal cause in ourselves, so is it in things. Repulsion and attraction, combination and decomposition, magnetism and electricity, gravity and crystallization, are Will. The force which draws the lover, and the force which draws the planet, are one. 

So in plant life. The lower we go among the forms of life the smaller we find the role of intellect; but not so with will. 

That which in us pursues its ends by the light of knowledge, but here … only strives blindly and dumbly in a one-sided and unchangeable manner, must yet in both cases come under the name of Will. … Unconsciousness is the original and natural condition of all things, and therefore also the basis from which, in particular species of beings, consciousness results as their highest efflorescence; wherefore even then unconsciousness always continues to predominate. Accordingly, most existences are without consciousness; but yet they act according to the laws of their nature,—i. e., of their will. Plants have at most a very weak analogue of consciousness; the lowest species of animals only the dawn of it. But even after it has ascended through the whole series of animals to man and his reason; the unconsciousness of plants, from which it started, still remains the foundation, and may be traced in the necessity, for sleep.

The lower we go among the forms of life the smaller we find the role of intellect; but not so with will. Consciousness appears only in the highest forms of life.

Aristotle was right: there is a power within that moulds every form, in plants and planets, in animals and men. “The instinct of animals in general gives us the best illustration of what remains of teleology in nature. For as instinct is an action similar to that which is guided by the conception of an end, and yet is entirely without this; so all construction in nature resembles that which is guided by the conception of an end, and yet is entirely without it.” The marvelous mechanical skill of animals shows how prior the will is to the intellect. An elephant which had been led through Europe, and had crossed hundreds of bridges, refused to advance upon a weak bridge, though it had seen many horses and men crossing it. A young dog fears to jump down from the table; it foresees the effect of the fall not by reasoning (for it has no experience of such a fall) but by instinct. Orangoutangs warm themselves by a fire which they find, but they do not feed the fire; obviously, then, such actions are instinctive, and not the result of reasoning; they are the expression not of intellect but of will.

Instincts are the expression not of intellect but of will. The marvelous mechanical skill of animals shows how prior the will is to the intellect. 

The will, of course, is a will to live, and a will to maximum life. How dear life is to all living things!—and with what silent patience it will bide its time! “For thousands of years galvanism slumbered in copper and zinc, and they lay quietly beside silver, which must be consumed in flame as soon as all three are brought together under the required conditions. Even in the organic kingdom we see a dry seed preserve the slumbering force of life through three thousand years, and, when at last the favorable circumstances occur, grow up as a plant.” Living toads found in limestone lead to the conclusion that even animal life is capable of suspension for thousands of years. The will is a will to live; and its eternal enemy is death. 

To Schopenhauer any force exists because of will. The will is a will to live; and its eternal enemy is death. 

But perhaps it can defeat even death?

.

Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: