Schopenhauer and the Question about the Immortality of the Self in Idealism
This dissertation is about the immortality of the self and whether from a transcendental idealist perspective, one could sustain this notion based on theoretical grounds. It is well known that Kant closed this door in the Critique, and this is the position that Kantian scholars defend. But has Kant set up a series of dogmatic premises that presuppose that we accept conclusions for which Kant offers no argument? Thus, this dissertation aims at a minimal ontology of the human self within an idealist framework. To do this, I turn to Schopenhauer’s ‘perfected system of criticism.’ Without abandoning idealism, Schopenhauer introduces an objective perspective that suggests a more ontological robust understanding of the self. Although Schopenhauer’s position can be interpreted in a way favorable to theoretical arguments for the immortality of the self, his commitment to an identity of brain/mind, and the consequences that he draws from this, obscures some of his most important contributions. To tackle this issue and others, I analyze the Plotinian perspective, a philosophical position that blends epistemology and ontology which I think solidifies my interpretation of Schopenhauer and breaks the supposed identity between brain/mind. Thus, theoretical arguments for the immortality of the self are possible when idealism is an account in which epistemology and ontology intermingle. Specifically, an argument is supported by a premise that is accepted by both Plotinus and Schopenhauer, namely, that of the existence of Ideas, real objects external to the human mind which are responsible for the existence of sensible individuals. These ideas are in themselves unified by a higher principle which Plotinus names the One and Schopenhauer the Thing in Itself. In absolute terms, this ultimate reality is the root of our true self, but we are not identical to it because in human beings there is multiplicity which manifests itself in us by how we cognize things as external to ourselves (understanding) and how we desire things that we do not find within us (will). Chapter 1 opens with a discussion about the ‘true self’ according to Kant. Although this true self could be identified with the pure apperception of the Transcendental Deduction given that Kant argues that it is the source of unity of experience, after examining the different degrees of unity in representations, I conclude that the unifying principle of all sensible experience and the subject itself exist in a non-sensible world. The intelligible character of the Third Antinomy could be that principle, but I reject this in favor of the thing in itself. Nevertheless, the intelligible character’s residence as an individual in the non-sensible world hints at the construction of theoretical arguments for the immortality of the true self. Chapter 2 argues that Schopenhauer also rejects the role assigned to the pure apperception: only the thing in itself is the original source of unity. Schopenhauer accepts the Kantian intelligible character with clear indications that it is an ontologically real entity. The ontological import of the intelligible character reinforces its role in seeking a theoretical argument for the immortality of our true self. I propose that a pathway to a theoretical argument in favor of the immortality of the true self is also suggested in Schopenhauer’s doctrine of Ideas. The subject of cognition, through the alteration of its cognitive faculties in aesthetic contemplation, discovers itself as the correlate of a Pure Subject of Cognition whose objects are Pure Objects or, as Schopenhauer calls them, Ideas. In this alteration, the empirical subject of cognition is ‘elevated’ to the intuitive grasping of Ideas as a Pure Subject. Among Ideas, I argue that Schopenhauer points to something that can be interpreted as an idea of individual. Given the immortal nature of Ideas, we must also be immortal. Chapter 3 focuses on the question about immortality in both Kant and Schopenhauer. On the one hand, I show that Kant has not abandoned the notion of the human soul or its immortality. Instead, he claims to have clarified the origin of all disputes regarding the human soul while laying out the rules for guarding ourselves against future errors. On the other hand, Schopenhauer has no problem accepting that immortality is a fact of common sense, but he rejects that the individual survives. He bases this conclusion on his conviction that individuality emerges with the intellect, while the intellect only emerges with the brain. The subjection of the intellect to the brain is one of the most salient features of Schopenhauerian psychology. However, I propose that Schopenhauer’s objective perspective, a perspective whose implications are hardly at the center of attention in Schopenhauer’s studies, cannot be used to its full potential – as for example to defend that the individual human being is immortal too – unless this identification of intellect and brain is abandoned. To find arguments that can be used to differentiate the mind from the brain, I propose the study of Plotinus. Chapter 4 aims to provide a framework to illuminate the possibilities built into Schopenhauer’s objective perspective. The survey of Plotinus’ philosophy of self and immortality in this chapter suggests interesting starting points for a new interpretation of some of Schopenhauer’s insights. An important consequence of this study is the formulation of arguments to show that the mind or intellect cannot be characterized as identical to the brain. After studying Plotinus, a fact becomes clear, namely, that Schopenhauer, although critical of the concept ‘soul’, does not discard its content; instead, he finds ample use of it for his own unique purposes. Chapter 5 concludes that the discussion of Kant’s and Schopenhauer’s psychology reveals the flaw in their respective projects, namely, their demand that cognition of the human soul should mirror cognition of sensible objects. This is a conclusion that is also revealed by the study of Plotinus. However, I reaffirm my position that Schopenhauer’s idealism is a step forward in the right direction. I discuss four ‘great themes’ – born from the encounter between Schopenhauer and Plotinus – which provide the general context that helps me propose how the theoretical argument for the immortality of the true self works in transcendental idealism. I argue that these four great themes, areas where ontology and epistemology intersect, refocus not just Schopenhauer’s philosophy by helping us to become aware of the nonverbalized implications of his metaphysics, it even suggests that Plotinus’ metaphysics could benefit from the Schopenhauerian reflection.