Durant 1926: The Will to Reproduce (Schopenhauer)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter VII Section 4.2 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.

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IV. The World as Will

2. The Will to Reproduce

It can, by the strategy and martyrdom of reproduction. 

It is interesting to note that the division of the Will has to do with living and reproducing. It doesn’t get into social or higher goals.

Every normal organism hastens, at maturity, to sacrifice itself to the task of reproduction: from the spider who is eaten up by the female he has just fertilized, or the wasp that devotes itself to gathering food for offspring it will never see, to the man who wears himself to ruin in the effort to feed and clothe and educate his children. Reproduction is the ultimate purpose of every organism, and its strongest instinct; for only so can the will conquer death. And to ensure this conquest of death, the will to reproduce is placed almost entirely beyond control of knowledge or reflection: even a philosopher, occasionally, has children. 

The will shows itself here as independent of knowledge, and works blindly, as in unconscious nature. … Accordingly, the reproductive organs are properly the focus of will, and form the opposite pole to the brain, which is the representative of knowledge. … The former are the life-sustaining principle,—they ensure endless life; “for this reason they were worshipped by the Greeks in the phallus and by the Hindus in the lingam. … Hesiod and Parmenides said very significantly that Eros is the first, the creator, the principle from which all things proceed. The relation of the sexes … is really the invisible central point of all action and conduct, and peeps out everywhere in spite of all veils thrown over it. It is the cause of war and the end of peace; the basis of what is serious, and the aim of the jest; the inexhaustible source of wit, the key of all allusions, and the meaning of all mysterious hints.* … We see it at every moment seat itself, as the true and hereditary lord of the world, out of the fullness of its own strength, upon the ancestral throne; and looking down thence with scornful glance, laugh at the preparations made to bind it, or imprison it, or at least limit it and, wherever possible, keep it concealed, and even so to master it that it shall only appear as a subordinate, secondary concern of life.** 

*A source of Freud’s theory of ”wit and the unconscious.” 
**Schopenhauer, like all who have suffered from sex, exaggerates its role; the parental relation probably outweighs the sexual in the minds of normal adults. 

Every normal organism hastens, at maturity, to sacrifice itself to the task of reproduction. And to ensure this conquest of death, the will to reproduce is placed almost entirely beyond control of knowledge or reflection.

The “metaphysics of love” revolves about this subordination of the father to the mother, of the parent to the child, of the individual to the species. And first, the law of sexual attraction is that the choice of mate is to a large extent determined, however unconsciously, by mutual fitness to procreate. 

Each seeks a mate that will neutralize his defects, lest they be inherited; … a physically weak man will seek a strong woman. …Each one will especially regard as beautiful in another individual those perfections which he himself lacks, nay, even those imperfections which are the opposite of his own.* … The physical qualities of two individuals can be such that for the purpose of restoring as far as possible the type of the species, the one is quite specially and perfectly the completion and supplement of the other. which therefore desires it exclusively. … The profound consciousness with which we consider and ponder every part of the body, … the critical scrupulosity with which we look at a woman who begins to please us … the individual here acts, without knowing it, by order of something higher than himself. … Every individual loses attraction for the opposite sex in pro- portion as he or she is removed from the fittest period for begetting or conceiving: … youth without beauty has still always attraction; beauty without youth has none. … That in every case of falling in love, … what alone is looked to is the production of an individual of a definite nature, is primarily confirmed by the fact that the essential matter is not the reciprocation of love, but possession.

*A source of Weininger. 

And first, the law of sexual attraction is that the choice of mate is to a large extent determined, however unconsciously, by mutual fitness to procreate.

Nevertheless, no unions are so unhappy as these love marriages—and precisely for the reason that their aim is the perpetuation of the species, and not the pleasure of the Individual. “He who marries from love must live in sorrow,” runs a Spanish proverb. Half the literature of the marriage problem is stultified because it thinks of marriage as mating, instead of thinking of it as an arrangement for the preservation of the race. Nature does not seem to care whether the parents are “happy forever afterwards,” or only for a day, so long as reproduction is achieved. Marriages of convenience, ar­ranged by the parents of the mates, are often happier than marriages of love. Yet the woman who marries for love, against the advice of her parents, is in a sense to be admired; for “she has preferred what is of most importance, and has acted in the spirit of nature (more exactly, of the species), while the parents advised in the spirit of individual egoism.” Love is the best eugenics.

Since love is a deception practiced by nature, marriage is the attrition of love, and must be disillusioning. Only a philosopher can be happy in marriage, and philosophers do nat marry. 

Because the passion depended upon an illusion which represented that which has value only for the species as valuable for the individual, the deception must vanish after the attainment of the end of the species. The individual discovers that he has been the dupe of the species. If Petrarch’s passion had been gratified, his song would have been silenced.

Nature does not seem to care whether the parents are “happy forever afterwards,” or only for a day, so long as reproduction is achieved. Love is a deception practiced by nature, and marriage is the attrition of love.

The subordination of the individual to the species as instrument of its continuance, appears again in the apparent dependence of individual vitality on the condition of the reproductive cells. 

The sexual impulse is to be regarded as the inner life of the tree (the species) upon which the life of the individual grows, like a leaf that is nourished by the tree and assists in nourishing the tree; this is why that impulse is so strong, and springs from the depths of our nature. To castrate an individual means to cut him off from the tree of the species upon which he grows, and thus severed, leaves him to wither; hence the degradation of his mental and physical powers. That the service of the species, i.e., fecundation, is followed in the case of every animal individual by momentary exhaustion and debility of all the powers, and in the case of most insects, indeed, by speedy death,—on account of which Celsus said, Seminis emissio est partis animae jactura [The release of semen is part of the loss of the soul]; that in the case of man the extinction of the generative power shows that the individual approaches death; that excessive use of this power at every age shortens life, while on the other hand, temperance in this respect increases all the powers, and especially the muscular powers, on which account it was part of the training of the Greek athletes; that the same restraint lengthens the life of the insect even to the following spring; all this points to the fact that the life of the individual is at bottom only borrowed from that of the species. … Procreation is the highest point; and after attaining to it, the life of the first individual quickly, or slowly sinks, while a new life ensures to nature the endurance of the species, and repeats the same phenomena. … Thus the alternation of death and reproduction is as the pulse-beat of the species. … Death is for the species what sleep is for the individual; … this is nature’s great doctrine of immortality. … For the whole world, with all its phenomena, is the objectivity of the one indivisible will, the Idea, which is related to all other Ideas as harmony is related to the single voice. … In Eckermann’s Conversations with Goethe (vol. i, p. 161), Goethe says: “Our spirit is a being of a nature quite indestructible, and its activity continues from eternity to eternity. It is like the sun, which seems to set only to our earthly eyes, but which, in reality, never sets, but shines on unceasingly.” Goethe has taken the simile from me, not I from him.

Procreation is the highest point; and after attaining to it, the life of the first individual quickly, or slowly sinks, while a new life ensures to nature the endurance of the species, and repeats the same phenomena.

Only in space and time do we seem to be separate beings; they constitute the “principle of individuation” which divides life into distinct organisms as appearing in different places or periods; space and time are the Veil of Maya,—Illusion hiding the unity of things. In reality there is only the species, only life, only will. “To understand clearly that the individual is only the phenomenon, not the thing-in-itself,” to see in “the constant change of matter the fixed permanence of form,”—this is the essence of philosophy. “The motto of history should run: Eadem, sed aliter.” The more things change, the more they remain the same. 

He to whom men and all things have not at all times appeared as mere phantoms or illusions, has no capacity for philosophy. … The true philosophy of history lies in perceiving that, in all the endless changes and motley complexity of events, it is only the self-same unchangeable being that is before us, which today pursues the same ends. as it did yesterday and ever will. The historical philosopher has accordingly to recognize the identical character in all events, … and in, spite of all the variety of special circumstances, of costumes and manners and customs, has to see everywhere the same humanity. … To have read Herodotus is, from a philosophical point of view, to have studied enough history. … Throughout and everywhere the true symbol of nature is the circle, because it is the schema or type of recurrence.

“To understand clearly that the individual is only the phenomenon, not the thing-in-itself,” to see in “the constant change of matter the fixed permanence of form,”—this is the essence of philosophy.

We like to believe that all history is a halting and imperfect preparation for the magnificent era of which we are the salt and summit; but this notion of progress is mere conceit and folly. “In general, the wise in all ages have always said the same things, and the fools, who at all times form the immense majority, have in their way too acted alike, and done the opposite; and so it will continue. For, as Voltaire says, we shall leave the world as foolish and wicked as we found it.”

In the light of all this we get a new and grimmer sense of the inescapable reality of determinism. “Spinoza says (Epistle 62) that if a stone which has been projected through the air had consciousness, it would believe that it was moving of its own free will. I add to this only that the stone would be right. The impulse given it is for the stone what the motive is for me; and what in the stone appears as cohesion, gravitation, rigidity, is in its inner nature the same as that which I recognize in myself as wilt, and what the stone also, if knowledge were given to it, would recognize as will.” But in neither the stone nor the philosopher is the will “free.” Will as a whole is free, for there is no other will beside it that could limit it; but each part of the universal Will—each species, each organism, each organ—is irrevocably determined by the whole. 

Everyone believes himself à priori to be perfectly free, even in his individual actions, and thinks that at every moment he can commence another manner of life, which just means that he can become another person. But à posteriori, through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but subjected to necessity; that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning of his life to the end of it, he must carry out the very character which he himself condemns, and as it were, play the part which he has undertaken, to the very end.

Will as a whole is free, for there is no other will beside it that could limit it; but each part of the universal Will—each species, each organism, each organ—is irrevocably determined by the whole. 

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