In Praise of Solitude: Stachelschweine in der Kälte

Perhaps you ‘ve heard of Schopenhauer’s cold porcupine/hedgehog dilemma.  Therein the poor creatures, analogous to we shivering masses — in need of what society has to offer, huddle together for warmth.  Of course, the pricks of proximity drive them again away from one another and so an equilibrium is reached where both cold and pricking are minimised.  My reading of Schopenhauer finds the negative qualities given central roles — we do not find a good in society as good is merely the absence of bad, happiness the absence of suffering.  And so, as the title Studies in Pessimism should warn the reader, goodness’ solidity is no match for the harshness of its more effective counterpart.

Having heard the parable before, I was surprised to find his intended point: not that it is best to find this equilibrium, but it is best to have an internal source of heat.  What interests is the non-hopeful idealism this elicits, in myself at least.  The goings-on of these pigs-with-spikes is of little immediate interest — it is to the pig of a different sort Schopenhauer beckons.

Ordinary people are sociable and complaisant just from the very opposite feeling;—to bear others’ company is easier for them than to bear their own…

…people are rendered sociable by their ability to endure solitude, that is to say, their own society.  

Our Relation to Ourselves

Here too he goes on to discuss people crowding together for warmth and to aver that this sociability which develops is not worth the condescension imposed on this singular person.  “It may be said that a man’s sociability stands very nearly in inverse ratio to his intellectual value.”



Not so long ago, I would have agreed.  I still wish to uphold the value of a cultivated solitude (for in a noisy, inter-networked world maintaining the state necessary for concentration is no small feat), but it must also be helpful to some portion of the others.  It is not acceptable only to be a man apart, capable of self-produced warmth but not of diffusing such heat.  In such a state the good which might be attained is lost — bottled up inside the (perhaps) happy but incommunicable soul.  It is not enough that Socrates pursued the true path if the markers left behind cannot be followed.  Surely not all (likely most) society is worthy of our time, but the good must be communicated else no lasting progress be effected.

In sum, solitude is not merely a worthy pastime and a potential joy but its benefits are insufferable if they are to never be offered (in some adjusted socialisation) to others who shiver as well.


I ‘ve tried enough times to disturb some difference worth mentioning in describing my upbringing or culture to recognise I do n’t easily produce a helpful product.  ‘My home is different from here in that…’  Worse yet, I found myself endlessly searching for what distinguished ‘me’.  Some of us should cede the field upon dis-covering we are not experts.

I ‘m not sure exactly why, but over the past year I ‘ve been collecting reasons not to write a book.  One is being added tonight: the best biography (=least mis-leading?) is rarely the auto-biography.  In short, I should perhaps choose not to retain sole privilege of recounting what boundaries of events and experiences distinguish me from you.  A third party may do a fairer job.

Part of the reason is because I rarely become aware of the mis-understandings which constitute my daily existence.  I react not to the world as it is, but to the world as such — as I expect it to be.  As such I am hoping the approximations produce acceptable results — but who would I be to tell you what was most important about my story?  My job is at best to invite you in to the home in which I myself am a stranger, and let you misunderstand it for yourself.

So I ‘m giving up my rights as an authorised witness in order to extend the horizons.  I do n’t doubt I could add a few ‘we don’t do that’s which might dissuade the easier misunderstandings, but I do not pretend to know who is in the best position to know how specifically I may best be misunderstood.

Not Till We Are Lost

Not till we are lost, in other words, till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.

~~H.D. Thoreau, Walden ‘the Village’, p. 115 (Norton ed.)

All ways it surprises me how one reading leads to another.  I am reduced, though it is my gain, to admit that in being lost one becomes more intimately aware of relations, if not relatedness itself (how such should ascend the stage would be quite the imponderable — how to raise the curtain which by nature connects all to itself?).

The best Wiki could offer

Is n’t being lost amidst a sea of pages similar to being lost amidst the calm of wintering trees?

But I am reduced in conveying the value of ‘lostness’.  How can an example be helpful if the experience itself is paramount?  Let it be understood I mean less to point at than to indicate; it is merely ironic that I should at last find an acquaintance with S. Cavell only after being dis-covered 9for all reading is being read — an idea I believe I am borrowing from Cavell here9 to Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.

In reading one can hardly help multiplying ‘relations’ as I believe Thoreau would have them.


For Thoreau ‘reading’ in such manner is seeing everything in the light of being darkened to the world which sets its watch by the locomotive and is employed not in living but in holding onto what scraps of life are allowed — turning away from that enslaving which is ownership so that the ‘read’er may find life in its sport rather than be made sport of as life runs past:

[L]et not to get a living be thy trade, but thy sport.  Enjoy the land, but own it not.

~~ibidem “Baker Farm” p. 139

The path to such reading can only be seen if one has ‘been turned round once in this world’ (p. 115).  To find oneself can only come by means of being lost.  Till then, till one is lost and finds that she is everywhere at home — till then sight must be sought.  And that is reading in its truest form.

My reading of Wittgenstein has led through Cavell and into Walden all too naturally, but it is only because I am growing used to the lost element in reading that I find them such near relations.


I do n’t much like introductions.  They far too often appear to be conclusions (and writing another conclusion which resummarized the introduction was…I can’t even conclude that thought).  I was, and remain, resistant to the practice in my writing (that too sounds conclusive).

In introducing another to a process, or to a game, one does not point to what is ‘important’ or speak of ‘conclusions’.

And now we ‘ve segued to Wittgenstein.  Whew.

If Philosophical Investigations were set in the typical format, some flavor would be lost.  The struggle would n’t hang in the air.  I would be wrestling with Wittgenstein’s conclusions, not along with Wittgenstein.  He despaired of channeling such thoughts in book-form, and as such he is far more helpful.  He does n’t have to tell me what is important, just show how he is struggling (would n’t we be better teachers if we did the same).

I should not like my writing to spare other people the trouble of thinking.   But, if possible, to stimulate someone to thoughts of his own.  (preface to Philosophical Investigations)

\\         ||           //]   &

Thus I am able to treat his work as a series of notes, useful or unuseful, but cannot quite answer the question ‘Have you read Wittgenstein?’  Instead I am, in some measure, struggling alongside him toward aims not wholly his own.

Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.  (#109 from Bk. 1, ibid, p. 47)

For his thought, it seems that an appeal to the metaphysical is reprehensible insofar as it denies the fact that it is saying ‘I don’t understand’ but pretends still to be an explanation.

What ‘we’ do is to bring words back from their metaphysical to their everyday use.  (#116, p. 48)

And now to the thought which I ‘ve been struck by: what is this ‘everyday’?  ‘Do all ordinary things strike us so?’ (#600, p. 156)  When we try to leave the metaphysical and obstinately confusing which comprises our language game, the first inclining is to turn towards its opposite.  If the philosophers are confused, let us turn to the un-philosophical or at least the non-philosophical.  Where is that?  We want to say in the ordinary.  But we can’t apply Wittgenstein’s test, ‘can you point to it?’, or can’t we?

Can’t we?  What day can we point to and say ‘this is ordinary’.  It can only be accomplished from a distance.  The ordinary retreats from view.

(**      *(        **         *)     )* *

And now that we have been introduced to the enigmatic, which leads who knows where:

My aim is to teach you to pass from a piece of disguised nonsense to something that is patent nonsense.  (#464, p. 133)

Intros to European Philosophy: Nietzsche


Previously read: Birth of Tragedy, the, ‘Seventy-Five Aphorisms from Five Volumes’, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, Case of Wagner, the, Ecce Homo.  But, I have n’t read him in awhile: the last time was the gap-year between undergrad and masters.  Also, when the title is European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (ed. M. Beardsley), you ‘re a bit happy to finally have arrived at the end. Of the philosophers to be found therein, I feel most familiar with Nietzsche.  You could accuse me of starting this blog as a place to exercise (probably not exorcise) Nietzsche and Kierkegaard’s stirrings.

Key texts: Beyond Good and Evil (abr.)

Overall impression: Nietzsche was n’t an unfamiliar subject, but I was for once able to locate him against (often) Kant, Schopenhauer, and Hegel.


**’^`’ *


Abstrusest im-pulses


“Indeed, to understand how the abstrusest metaphysical assertions of a philosopher have been arrived at, it is always well (and wise) to first ask oneself: ‘What morality do they (or does he) aim at?’  Accordingly, I do not believe that an ‘impulse to knowledge’ is the father of philosophy; but that another impulse here as elsewhere, has only made use of knowledge (and mistaken knowledge!) as an instrument. (European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche ed. M. Beardsley, p. 808)”

I ‘m quite partial to these sentiments regarding the ‘true vital germ’ of philosophers; they are not chosen for knowledge’s sake but in view to accomplishing some other aim, an aim which is all too often contrary to the means of communicating it.  Beware the one who is elusive in this matter.


Begging the Faculty and Opiates


“But let us reflect for a moment – it is high time to do so.  ‘How are synthetic a priori judgments possible?’  Kant asks himself – and what is really his answer? ‘By means of a means (faculty)’ – but unfortunately not in five words, but so circumstantially, imposingly, and wish such a display of German profundity and verbal flourishes, that one altogether loses sight of the comical niaiserie allemande involved in such an answer… One can do no greater wrong to the whole of this exuberant and eccentric movement…than to take it seriously, or even treat it with moral indignation… But is that – an answer?  An explanation? Or is it not merely begging the question?  How does opium induce sleep?  ‘By means of a means (faculty),’ namely the virtus dormitiva, replies the doctor in Moliere,

Quia est in eo virtus dormitiva,

Cujus est natura sensus assoupire.

[Because it contains a soporific power,

Whose nature is to dull the senses. ~ trans. Monroe Beardsley] (p. 811)”

We should expect scalding remarks from Nietzsche; it is our weakness then to be surprised and reflect little on the content therein.  Opium induces sleep because it has a ‘soporific effect’, just as any other physical explanation fails to explain the phenomena in absence of the physical relation – the same could be said for our explanations of gravity: things fall because the smaller mass experiences the pull exerted by the greater.  We still have no idea why.  Why then we should agree with Kant, if he has ‘explained’ nothing – it does not matter, for Nietzsche, as they are in our mouths only false judgments (p. 812).


Who exactly is doing the thinking here?

“With regard to the superstitions of the logicians, I shall never tire of emphasizing a small, terse fact, which these credulous minds are unwilling to recognize – namely, that a thought comes when ‘it’ wishes and, not when ‘I’ wish; so that it is aperversion of the facts of the case to say that the subject ‘I’ is the condition of the predicate ‘think.’  Something thinks; but that this ‘something’ is precisely the famous old ‘ego,’ is, to put it mildly, only a supposition, an assertion, and assuredly not an ‘immediate certainty.’ (European Philosophers, p. 815)”

Even the something which thinks is imposed by the observer.  So much for Descartes, but then, this is what happens when Nietzsche is allowed the last word: he relishes it.


In a name, prejudice lurks


“But it seems to me again that in this case Schopenhauer also only did what philosophers are in the habit of doing – he seems to have adopted a popular prejudice and exaggerated it.  Willing seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only in name – and it is precisely in a name that popular prejudice lurks, which has got the mastery over the inadequate precautions of philosophers in all ages. (p. 816)”

The will is certainly an important matter for both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, a matter too much neglected in many prominent philosophical systems (Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, and to some extent Hegel), but it is certainly a complex matter.  It is not simply enough to know that the will to power or the will to action are the reason for which we think and discuss matters, we must not make the mistake of Descartes in allowing it to be simple.


The escape into normalcy


“That the various philosophical ideas do not evolve randomly or autonomously, but in connection and relationship with each other; that, however suddenly and arbitrarily they seem to appear in the history of thought, they nevertheless belong just as much to a system as the members of the fauna of a continent – is betrayed in the end by the circumstance: how unfailingly the most diverse philosophers always fill in again a definite fundamental scheme of possible philosophies.  Under an invisible spell, they always revolve once more in the same orbit; however independent of each other they may feel themselves with their critical or systematic wills, something within them leads them, something impels them in definite order, the one after the other – to wit, the innate methodology and relationship of their ideas. (pp. 817-818)”

Leave it to Nietzsche or Foucault to say a lot in two sentences, with a lot of Nietzschian/Foucauldian asides to mark their respective streams of consciousness, but still to wander on their way.  It makes for interesting reading and it is n’t ‘clean’ in the manner of some philosophers.  That ideas operate within a discourse and are essentially all reactions to each other (and necessarily they are always in response to some finite series of former reactions) is a point which needs making (even as a reaction, it still needs to be said again as the counterreaction is sure to come back).


“[O]ne should use ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ only as pure concepts, that is to say, as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation and mutual understanding –not for explanation. (pp. 818-819)”

I love considering causality, and alternatives to causal explanations, but prefer to note that ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ are useful in day to day discourse as language conventions; but ought to not be thought of formally as useful descriptors.  For Nietzsche, the only helpful causality is the causality of will (because any who wills certainly expects to make a specific change – to will this thing) (p. 823) and for Ghazali it is most important that causality not limit God’s freedom.

  • This is only an aside, but in speaking of experience Nietzsche leaves this: “[E]xperience, as it seems to me, always implies unfortunate experience? (p. 833)”


Fear of the known

“Every deep thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood.  The latter perhaps wounds his vanity; but the former wounds his heart, his sympathy, which always say: ‘Ah why would you also have as hard a time of it as I have?’ (p. 849)”

I have elsewhere remarked on this passage, so I only here would say that understanding, as truth or knowledge, is power-language and can so be deemed abusive by one who feels experience has given her a right to speak thusly.

Intros to European Philosophy: Comte


Previously read: non

Key texts: General View of Positivism, the. Ch. I and VI (abr.)

Overall impression: He’s way too fond of the word ‘Positivism’ and was keen to consistently aver that it solved many problems, only he could never seem to successfully explain how.  Needless to say, I was rolling downhill in the European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche and Comte warranted less mental energy than Mach (a pleasant surprise) or Nietzsche.


occasion for theology

“It is to the fact that theology arose spontaneously from feeling that its influence is for the most part due. (European Philosophers, ed. M. Beardsley: p. 735)”

In the previous sentence he states that the life of the individual and of the race is always based in feeling, so this is not a particularly mean or weak conception.  But he’s convinced that the new philosophy will eventually supersede theology’s place in society.  Perhaps there has been a blending such that most theology is this ‘new philosophy’, but he never satisfactorily explains for me what means he by this new philosophy – this positivism(  So I’m disinclined to be so generous with my analysis.

  • trivia note, as per Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (entry by Michael Bourdeau): Brasil’s motto, Ordo e Progresso is at least in part a signal of Comte’s influence


atheism is too theistic

“Atheism, even from the intellectual point of view, is a very imperfect form of emancipation; for its tendency is to prolong the metaphysical stage indefinitely, by continuing to seek for new solutions of Theological problems, instead of setting aside all inaccessible researches on the ground of their utter inutility. (ibidem, p 745)”

This seems most logical; if I were atheistic I would be so in the truest sense and therefore anti-theism on theological grounds would occupy as little of my precious time as possible.  That is, true emancipation would n’t look like the antithesis of theism, but theistic concerns would be minimal at best.  In taking up the opposing point, one legitimates the opponent even as the right for the opponent to occupy that discursive space is argued.

Intros to European Philosophy: Hegel


Previously read: Nothing, but I ‘ve wanted to.  After reading Spinoza for the first time I was interested to see how Hegel and Spinoza might compare as interpreters/appropriators of Aristotle.

Key texts: Introduction to the Philosophy of History and Logic (Part I of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences), Ch. 7, A

Overall impression: Similar to when I first encountered Nietzsche (in European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche, ed. M. Beardsley), I expected a bit more naivete from Hegel.  I had heard little past thesis-antithesis-synthesis; his perspective seems more careful than I had heard from the textbooks.

Unconscious participation in the unfolding Idea – it’s an interesting conception (European Philosophers, p. 563).  For Fichte to be conscious of it and wend not where it may go…unforgivable.


“Every writer of history proposes to himself an original method… Instead of writing history, we are always beating our brains to discover how history ought to be written. (ibidem, p. 540)”

And, perhaps more brilliantly:

“But what experience and history teach is this: that peoples and governments never have learned anything from history or acted on principles deduced from it. (ibidem, p. 541)”

Concerning the historian:

“One Reflective History therefore, supersedes another.  The materials are patent to every writer: each is likely enough to believe himself capable of arranging and manipulating them; and we may expect that each will insist upon his own spirit as that of the age in question. (p. 542)”

`It is too easy to read history and say “why didn’t he or she see X”.  One often smacks the forehead in amazement; but fails to see the very shortsightedness with which the reader of history is himself plagued.  In reading, one sees oneself reflected and too few are appropriately disgusted.  If they were, they would be slower to read their perspective in the age in question.


“The only Thought that Philosophy brings with it to the contemplation of History, is the simple conception of Reason; that Reason is the Sovereign of the World; that the history of the world, therefore, presents us with a rational process.  This conviction and intuition is a hypothesis in the domain of history as such. (ibidem, p. 544)”

`Precisely what Foucault is seeking to avoid in Archaeology of Knowledge; that intuition is moreso the product of experience-histories than the means by which to construct a history.  The result is closer to the previous quote about Reflective History.


“Even the ordinary, the “impartial” historian, who believes and professes that he maintains a simply receptive attitude, surrendering himself only to the data supplied him, is by no means passive as regards the exercise of his thinking powers.  He brings his categories with him, and sees the phenomena presented to his mental vision exclusively through these media. (European Philosophers, p. 546)”

`So much for aspirations to doing history objectively.


“Reason is Thought conditioning itself with perfect freedom. (p. 548)”  `That seems a mite naïve.  It is continued on p. 553 of European Philosophers as such:

“The History of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom…”


“But even regarding History as the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples, the wisdom of States, and the virtue of individuals have been made victims, the question involuntarily arises: to what principle, to what final aim these enormous sacrifices have been offered. (ibidem, p. 554)”

`I love the imagery here – its poetry.  See also:

“The History of the World is not the theatre of happiness.  Periods of happiness are blank pages in it, for they are periods of harmony, periods when the antithesis is in abeyance. (p. 560)”


“If we go on to cast a look at the fate of these World-Historical persons whose vocation it was to be the agents of the World-Spirit, we shall find it to have been no happy one.  They attained no calm enjoyment; their whole life was labor and trouble; their whole nature was nothing but their master-passion.  When their object is attained they fall off like empty hulls from the kernel.  They die early, like Alexander; they are murdered, like Caesar; transported to St. Helena, like Napoleon. (p. 564)”

`Perhaps we ought to be a little more careful of that urge to raise our children to greatness; happiness will be far off (and it won’t be a joy to the family either, but a sorrow).  It is not that nothing is worth the sacrifice, but too many want greatness without knowing to what end.

“No man is a hero to his valet de chamber…but not because the former is no hero, but because the latter is a valet. (p. 565)”

Concerning language & grammar:

“For Grammar, in its extended and consistent form, is the work of thought, which makes its categories distinctly visible therein… Exercises of memory and imagination without language are direct [non-speculative] manifestations. (p. 593)”

Grammar is the medium which orders thought and the pre-lingual is communicated only by means of such language ordered by grammar.


“Time is the negative element in the sensuous world.  Thought is the same negativity, but it is the deepest, the infinite form of it, in which therefore all existence generally is dissolved… (p. 606)”

`I ‘m not sure what exactly constitutes a ‘negative element’ in this sense.  We recognize the motion of objects and call this the progression of time.  How existence is dissolved in thought…I ‘m less clear on; but for both cases I believe I ‘ve failed to understand Hegel on these points.  As a reader the imagery appears pregnant, but to what end?


“It will now be understood that Logic is the all-animating spirit of all the sciences, and its categories the spiritual hierarchy… But things thus familiar are usually the greatest strangers.  Being, for example, is a category of pure thought; but to make “Is” an object of investigation never occurs to us. (p. 609 from Logic (Part I of the Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences))”

`At least till Heidegger…


“In common life truth means the agreement of an object with our conception of it.  We thus presuppose an object to which our conception must conform.  In the philosophical sense of the word, on the other hand, truth may be described, in general abstract terms, as the agreement of a thought-content with itself. (p. 610)”

`Perhaps I might gloss the difference as facticity (at this moment, I would define this as relation to the world of experience) versus internal consistency (in this sense, we might speak of truth as grammatical).  I do n’t know if I ‘ve done this justice, but philosophers often mean something other than common people (and often ought to; but they should meet at some point).

“The foundation of all determinateness is negation (as Spinoza says, Omnis determinatio est negation). (p. 622)”  Actually, that is n’t quite the case.  Strange that something which is Spinoza out of context becomes so key to Hegel’s logic.