Like is Known Only by Like

•2009-08-20 • Leave a Comment

The Pythagorean {See Porphyry, de Vita Pythagorae} principle that like is known only by like is in many respects a true one. It explains how it is that every man understands his fellow only in so far as he resembles him, or, at least, is of a similar character. What one man is quite sure of perceiving in another is that which is common to all, namely, the vulgar, petty or mean elements of our nature; here every man has a perfect understanding of his fellows; but the advantage which one man has over another does not exist for the other, who, be the talents in question as extraordinary as they may, will never see anything beyond what he possesses himself, for the very good reason that this is all he wants to see. If there is anything on which he is in doubt, it will give him a vague sense of fear, mixed with pique; because it passes his comprehension, and therefore is uncongenial to him.

Arthur Schopenhauer

The Art of Controversy and Other Posthumous Papers, 1896, (pp. 71-72) Translated by T. Bailey Saunders, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

The Rarest of Exceptions

•2009-08-17 • Leave a Comment

How very paltry and limited the normal human intellect is, and how
little lucidity there is in the human consciousness, may be judged from the
fact that, despite the ephemeral brevity of human life the uncertainty of
our existence and the countless enigmas which press upon us from all sides,
everyone does not continually and ceaselessly philosophize, but that only
the rarest of exceptions do.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Parerga and Paralipomena (1851) Vol.1, ch.5, sct.9

Josef Albers on Experience

•2009-08-13 • Leave a Comment

The best education is one’s own experience. Experimenting surpasses studying. To start out by ‘playing’ develops courage, leads in a natural manner to an inventive way of building and furthers the pedagogically equally important facility of discovery. Inventiveness is the objective. Invention, and re-invention too, is the essence of all creative work (proficiency is a tool and hence is secondary). Instruction in professional techniques hampers inventiveness.

Josef Albers, founding member of Bauhaus philosophy and school of architecture, Berlin.

Zen meditation leads to Enlightenment

•2009-08-01 • Leave a Comment

Zen Master Hakuin (1686-1769), describes the importance of single-minded absorption and, subsequently, how any sudden or unexpected attention-fixating stimulus can precipitate Enlightenment. He says he went out of his mind and absorbed everything in the universe all at once. The state lasted several days and he did not feel any sense of loss in life, all his doubts in life vanished, and he realized that there is no cycle of life and death; that all is one all at once in time, and the 1700 koans passed down all suddenly had no value whatsoever. The book describing this experience was published in 1971, by author Yampolski. In Zen, koans are used as focal points, to suddenly enter into the whole universe at once. This state of heightened awareness is called satori, and within satori there is no concept of ‘I’ as a personal construct; all dualism disappears. In this state, the mind is ready and open for a spontaneous realization experience. At this point, any external or internal stimuli can catalyze an abrupt realization experience. It could be the sound of a temple bell, or the sight of a tree in the distance, or an experience of physical pain.

Schopenhauer on Natural Discontentment

•2009-07-27 • Leave a Comment

How should a man be content so long as he fails to obtain complete unity in his inmost being? For as long as two voices alternately speak in him, what is right for one must be wrong for the other. Thus he is always complaining. But has any man ever been completely at one with himself? Nay, is not the very thought a contradiction?

That a man shall attain this inner unity is the impossible and inconsistent pretension put forward by almost all philosophers. {Audacter licet profitearis, summum bonum esse animi concordiam. — Seneca} For as a man it is natural to him to be at war with himself as long as he lives. While he can be only one thing thoroughly, he has the disposition to be everything else, and the inalienable possibility of being it. If he has made his choice of one thing, all the other possibilities are always open to him, and are constantly claiming to be realised; and he has therefore to be continuously keeping them back, and to be overpowering and killing them as long as he wants to be that one thing. For example, if he wants to think only, and not to act and do business, the disposition to the latter is not thereby destroyed all at once; but as long as the thinker lives, he has every hour to keep on killing the acting and pushing man that is within him; always battling with himself, as though he were a monster whose head is no sooner struck off than it grows again. In the same way, if he is resolved to be a saint, he must kill himself so far as he is a being that enjoys and is given over to pleasure; for such he remains as long as he lives. It is not once for all that he must kill himself: he must keep on doing it all his life. If he has resolved upon pleasure, whatever be the way in which it is to be obtained, his lifelong struggle is with a being that desires to be pure and free and holy; for the disposition remains, and he has to kill it every hour. And so on in everything, with infinite modifications; it is now one side of him, and now the other, that conquers; he himself is the battlefield. If one side of him is continually conquering, the other is continually struggling; for its life is bound up with his own, and, as a man, he is the possibility of many contradictions.

How is inner unity even possible under such circumstances? It exists neither in the saint nor in the sinner; or rather, the truth is that no man is wholly one or the other. For it is men they have to be; that is, luckless beings, fighters and gladiators in the arena of life.

To be sure, the best thing he can do is to recognise which part of him smarts the most under defeat, and let it always gain the victory. This he will always be able to do by the use of his reason, which is an ever-present fund of ideas. Let him resolve of his own free will to undergo the pain which the defeat of the other part involves. This is character. For the battle of life cannot be waged free from all pain; it cannot come to an end without bloodshed; and in any case a man must suffer pain, for he is the conquered as well as the conqueror. Haec est vivendi conditio.

{p.83, Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Controversy and Other Posthumous Papers. Selected and Translated by T. Bailey Saunders.
London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., First Published 1896, Reprinted 1921 The Aberdeen University Press Ltd.}

Schopenhauer on Fortitude

•2009-07-05 • 5 Comments

Every happiness that a man enjoys, and almost every friendship that he cherishes, rest upon illusion; for, as a rule, with increase of knowledge they are bound to vanish. Nevertheless, here as elsewhere, a man should courageously pursue truth, and never weary of striving to settle accounts with himself and the world. No matter what happens to the right or to the left of him, — be it a chimaera or fancy that makes him happy, let him take heart and go on, with no fear of the desert which widens to his view. Of one thing only must he be quite certain: that under no circumstances will he discover a lack of worth in himself when the veil is raised; the sight of it would be the Gorgon that would kill him. Therefore, if he wants to remain undeceived, let him in his inmost being feel his own worth. For to feel the lack of it is not merely the greatest, but also the only true affliction; all other sufferings of the mind many not only be healed, but may be immediately relieved, by the secure consciousness of worth. The man who is assured of it can sit down quietly under sufferings that would otherwise bring him to despair; and though he has no pleasures, no joys and no friends, he can rest in an on himself; so powerful is the comfort to be derived from a vivid consciousness of this advantage; a comfort preferred to every other earthly blessing. Contrarily, nothing in the world can relieve a man who knows his own worthlessness; all that he can do is to conceal it by deceiving people or deafening them with his noise; but neither expedient will serve him very long.

Arthur Schopenhauer

{p.91, The Art of Controversy and Other Posthumous Papers, Arthur Schopenhauer. Selected and Translated by T. Bailey Saunders. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd. 1896}

Goethe on How to Treat Men

•2009-07-04 • Leave a Comment

“Treat a man as he is, and he will remain as he is, but treat a man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be.”

— Goethe

Hmmm… well, I’d have to qualify Goethe’s quotation by adding that it is true if and only if the man not only has the potential, but is willing to act on his potential to become something beyond what he already is… and that is very rare; so actually, Goethe is describing the ideal situation, not the common one (…leave it to the Romantics to constantly idealize! ;).

Schopenhauer on Metaphysics

•2009-06-19 • Leave a Comment

“Metaphysics will never put forth its full powers so long as it is expected to accommodate itself to dogmas. The various religions have taken possession of the metaphysical tendency of mankind, partly by paralysing it through imprinting their dogmas upon it in the earliest years, partly by forbidding and proscribing all free and uninhibited expression of it; so that free investigation of man’s most important and interesting concern, of his existence itself, has been in part indirectly hampered, in part made subjectively impossible by the paralysis referred to; and in this way his most sublime tendency has been put in chains.”


(pg. 120, Essays and Aphorisms, Arthur Schopenhauer, transl. R. J. Hollingdale, 1970,  Penguin Classics, Ltd.)

Dorstadt, Norddeutschland

•2009-06-18 • Leave a Comment

Heraclitus on War

•2009-06-11 • Leave a Comment

Aristotle, Eth. Eud. vii. 1, p. 1235 a 26. And Heraclitus blamed the poet who said, “Would that strife were destroyed from among gods and men.” …For there could be no harmony without sharps and flats, nor living beings without male and female which are contraries.

SOURCES–Plutarch, de Iside 48, p. 370. Context:–For Heraclitus in plain terms calls war the father and king and lord of all (= frag. 44), and he says that Homer, when he prayed–“Discord be damned from gods and human race,” forgot that he called down curses on the origin of all things, since they have their source in antipathy and war.

(Chalcidius in Tim. 295. — Eustathius ad Il. xviii. 107, p. 1113, 56. — Schol. Ven. (A) ad Il. xviii, 107. — Simplicius in Aristot. Categ. p. 104 Delta, ed. Basil.)

The above was taken from: The Fragments of Heraclitus, translated by G.T.W. Patrick, 1889

Richard E. Johnson – Primary Encounters

•2009-04-16 • Leave a Comment

The metaphor is a useful ancillary mode, but primary encounters demand much more than such partial participation. They demand direct and complete involvement by both participants. They demand a risk and a commitment more critical than metaphor experience can provide. A primary encounter must be a personal communication which comes to life in the moment and endures beyond it. An encounter which would not make a relationship vital in the lived world beyond the moment is not an authentic encounter. Only such genuine commitment by both participants can make a relationship real. All else is doomed to the failure inherent in any dishonest venture.

Richard Eaton Johnson {p. 49, Existential Man: The Challenge of Psychotherapy, 1971, Vieweg & Sohn, GmbH, Burgplatz 1, Braunschweig.}

Jacques Monod on Life

•2009-03-30 • 3 Comments

The ancient covenant is in pieces; man knows at last that he is alone in the universe’s indifferent immensity, out of which he emerged only by chance. His destiny is nowhere spelled out, nor his duty. The kingdom above or the darkness below; it is for him to choose.

Man must at last wake out of his millenary dream; and in doing so wake to his total solitude, his fundamental isolation. Now does he at last realize that, like a gypsy, he lives at the boundary of an alien world. A world that is deaf to his music, just as indifferent to his hopes as to his suffering or his crimes.

Jacques Monod

Russell on the foundation of philosophy

•2009-03-19 • Leave a Comment

“Even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and the whole temper of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Bertrand Russell

Nietzsche on Art

•2009-03-13 • Leave a Comment

“In the consciousness of the truth once perceived, man now sees everywhere only the terror or the absurdity of existence …. But at this juncture, when the will is most imperiled, art approaches, as a redeeming and healing enchantress; she alone may transform these horrible reflections on the terror and absurdity of existence into representations with which man may live. These are the representation of the sublime as the artistic conquest of the awful, and the comic as the artistic release from the nausea of the absurd.”


Wm. James on Taking Action

•2009-03-11 • Leave a Comment

“No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one’s sentiments may be, if one has not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one’s character may remain entirely unaffected for the better.”

— William James

Society’s Aversion to Intellectual Labour

•2009-03-06 • Leave a Comment

“Mankind have a great aversion to intellectual labour; but even supposing knowledge to be easily attainable, more people would be content to be ignorant than would take even a little trouble to acquire it.”

Samuel Johnson

{p.98, The Life of Samuel Johnson, by James Boswell, 1791}

The Negative Character of Happiness

•2009-03-04 • Leave a Comment

“It is just because all happiness is of a negative character that, when we succeed in being perfectly at our ease, we are not properly conscious of it. Everything seems to pass us softly and gently, and hardly to touch us until the moment is over; and then it is the positive feeling of something lacking that tells us of the happiness which has vanished; it is then that we observe that we have failed to hold it fast, and we suffer the pangs of self-reproach as well as of privation.”

Schopenhauer {p.90, Posthumous Papers, Selected and Translated by T. Bailey Saunders, 1896}

Faith is for Lunatics

•2009-03-03 • 1 Comment

“A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything.”


No Grand Inquisitor

•2009-03-02 • Leave a Comment

“And no Grand Inquisitor has in readiness such terrible tortures as has dread, and no spy knows how to attack more artfully the man he suspects, choosing the instant when he is weakest, nor knows how to lay traps where he will be caught and ensnared, as dread knows how, and no sharp­ witted judge knows how to interrogate, to examine the accused, as dread does, which never lets him escape, neither by diversion nor by noise, neither at work nor at play, neither by day nor by night. He who is educated by dread is educated by possibility.”


Man’s Vein of Veneration

•2009-03-01 • Leave a Comment

“Goethe says somewhere that man is not without a vein of veneration. To satisfy this impulse to venerate, even in those who have no sense for what is really worthy, substitutes are provided in the shape of princes and princely families, nobles, titles, orders, and money-bags.”

Schopenhauer {p.73, Posthumous Papers, Selected and Translated by T. Bailey Saunders, 1896}

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