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Immortality: A Dialogue.

edited 2013-01-09 22:26:51 in Philosophy

Rereading Arthur Schopenhauer's dialogue on Immortality, I came across a contradiction which annoyed me. It's a good little dialogue, and a nice beginners introduction to Schopenhauer's Post-Kantian philosophy of the Will as a whole, but that doesn't stop this from being annoying to me.

Thrasymachos, a character Schopenhauer invents to represent the German masses he despised asks Philalethes, a philosopher who represents Schopenhauer's own position, about the question of immortality. Philalethes responds by drawing a distinction between transcendental and immanent knowledge, and between Thryasymachos's phenomenal being as individual and his noumenal being as will and answers that the latter will survive but the former will perish. If you're confused, don't worry, this doesn't really affect my main objection.

Thrasymachos is mostly just concerned by his death as an individual, so Philalethes tries to calm him with the following argument.

"Philalethes. Well, perhaps I may be able to satisfy you on this point. Suppose I guarantee that after death you shall remain an individual, but only on condition that you first spend three months of complete unconsciousness.

Thrasymachos. I shall have no objection to that.

Philalethes. But remember, if people are completely unconscious, they take no account of time. So, when you are dead, it’s all the same to you whether three months pass in the world of consciousness, or ten thousand years. In the one case as in the other, it is simply a matter of believing what is told you when you awake. So far, then, you can afford to be indifferent whether it is three months or ten thousand years that pass before you recover your individuality.

Thrasymachos. Yes, if it comes to that, I suppose you’re right.

Philalethes. And if by chance, after those ten thousand years have gone by, no one ever thinks of awakening you, I fancy it would be no great misfortune. You would have become quite accustomed to non-existence after so long a spell of it — following upon such a very few years of life. At any rate you may be sure you would be perfectly ignorant of the whole thing. Further, if you knew that the mysterious power which keeps you in your present state of life had never once ceased in those ten thousand years to bring forth other phenomena like yourself, and to endow them with life, it would fully console you."

The underlined portion is my problem. Philalethes not only contradicts what he said in the previous paragraph, he contradicts what he says in the next sentence. The relative objective duration of Thrasymachos's non-existence compared to his existence shouldn't matter either positively or negatively, because his non-existence has no subjective duration and his existence is the only source of subjective duration he has.  In this dialogue Schopenhauer first illustrates exactly what it is for an individual to be nothing and then backtracks and provides a non-existent thing (the dead individual) some form of reality.

It's jarringly clumsy and obvious, and I'd really think Schopenhauer would have noticed.


  • edited 2013-03-28 16:33:35
    Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human

    So tell me if I have this right: you're saying that it's silly because he says first "you wouldn't know the passage of time because you're out cold", and then he says "while you're out cold, you develop the following feels", which makes no sense because you can't develop feels while you're out cold?  Because that's what I'm getting.

  • Yes, that's pretty on the mark.

  • Except you missed the point of the contradiction and are calling it silly for no reason.
  • Then explain it to me.

  • edited 2013-03-28 16:40:56
    Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human

    > calling it silly for no reason

    I was just going for an informal paraphrasing of it.

    Unless you're saying that the contradiction is more meaningful than exposing an inconsistency in Schopenhauer's reasoning.

  • edited 2013-03-28 16:47:37
    The contradiction is supposed to highlight/"solve" the problem by way of juxtaposition/contradiction.

    This is explicitly stated in 'The Indestructability of Our True Beings by Death' in the first few lines.

    E: I mean Myrmidon, not you, glenn.
  • tbh, I don't really remember my original reasoning, because I made this way back.

  • You explained yourself pretty clearly in the OP. :v
  • I don't even call it violence when it's in self defence; I call it intelligence.

    The contradiction is supposed to highlight/"solve" the problem by way of juxtaposition/contradiction.

    I must admit, I'm not quite seeing how this is supposed to work.

  • edited 2013-03-28 21:05:42
    It's explained in a later passage.

    "To answer transcendental questions in language that is made for immanent knowledge must assuredly lead to a contradiction."

    It's better explained in full context, I must say.
  • I don't even call it violence when it's in self defence; I call it intelligence.

    So, basically, Schopenhauer admits the whole thing is bullshit because of lingual restrictions? Well, I don't see any 'solution' in that... might as well not have written the whole thing at all then.

  • Well, don't go off of what I say. You should read the full essay.

  • Why do philosophical dialogues always pick long and complicated names for their characters?  I mean, even Greek has more concise names than that.

  • Creature - Florida Dragon Turtle Human

    I was going to remark on that too; those names look Greek but they look incredibly off-putting because they seem long and convoluted.

  • Because Schopenhauer is a dick.

  • I don't even call it violence when it's in self defence; I call it intelligence.

    Because if they were short, you couldn't actually have them be meaningful, like 'Friend of Oblivion".

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