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.

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.