Sunday, 16 December 2007

Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence in Schopenhauer

From section 54 of Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation:
What we fear in death is by no means the pain, for that obviously lies on this side of death; moreover, we often take refuge in death from pain, just as, conversely, we sometimes endure the most fearful pain merely in order to escape death for a while, although it would be quick and easy. Therefore we distinguish pain and death as two entirely different evils. What we fear in death is in fact the extinction and end of the individual, which it openly proclaims itself to be, and as the individual is the will-to-live itself in a particular objectification, its whole nature struggles against death. Now when feeling leaves us helpless to such an extent, our faculty of reason can nevertheless appear and for the most part overcome influences adverse to it, since it places us at a higher standpoint from which we now view the whole instead of the particular. Therefore, a philosophical knowledge of the nature of the world which had reached the point we are now considering, but went no farther, could, even at this point of view, overcome the terrors of death according as reflection had power over direct feeling in the given individual. A man who had assimilated firmly into his way of thinking the truths so far advanced, but at the same time had not come to know, through his own experience or through a deeper insight, that constant suffering is essential to all life; who found satisfaction in life and took perfect delight in it; who desired, in spite of calm deliberation, that the course of his life as he had hitherto experienced it should be of endless duration or of constant recurrence; and whose courage to face life was so great that, in return for life's pleasures, he would willingly and gladly put up with all the hardships and miseries to which it is subject; such a man would stand "with firm, strong bones on the well-grounded, enduring earth,"10 and would have nothing to fear. Armed with the knowledge we confer on him, he would look with indifference at death hastening towards him on the wings of time. He would consider it as a false illusion, an impotent spectre, frightening to the weak but having no power over him who knows that he himself is that will of which the whole world is the objectification or copy, to which therefore life and also the present always remain certain and sure. The present is the only real form of the phenomenon of the will. Therefore no endless past or future in which he will not exist can frighten him, for he regards these as an empty mirage and the web of Maya. Thus he would no more have to fear death than the sun would the night. In the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna puts his young pupil Arjuna in this position, when, seized with grief at the sight of the armies ready for battle (somewhat after the manner of Xerxes), Arjuna loses heart and wishes to give up the fight, to avert the destruction of so many thousands. Krishna brings him to this point of view, and the death of those thousands can no longer hold him back; he gives the sign for battle.

10 From Goethe's Granzen der Menschheit.

No comments: