Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Schopenhauer 2: an old conundrum

Shortly after the previously discussed passage, Schopenhauer goes on to consider the human condition in comparison to that of the animal, concluding amongst other things, that the ability to reflect and awareness of the self is what distinguishes human from purely animal and gives us our unique capacity for suffering. This capacity stems partly from our awareness of death, but paradoxically, also confers intensities of pleasure and happiness denied to "brute" animals.

Of course, peace of mind is the price that these intensities exact upon us, and is this a price worth paying? Schopenhauer thinks so (taking us back to the old paradox of the happy pig/unhappy Socrates conundrum and its varients) but as he ruefully concludes: 'The animal lacks both anxiety and hope because its consciousness is restricted to what is clearly evident and thus to the present moment: the animal is the present incarnate. But precisely because this is so it appears in one respect truely sagacious compared with us, namely in its peaceful, untroubled enjoyment of the present: its obvious composure often puts to shame our own frequently restless and disorientated condition'.
Does our capacity for reflection deny to us the ability to enjoy the present moment (another age-old, yet curiously perennial philosophical question?) And is it a misdirection to believe that contentment should even be sought there, as the Stoics so vehemently asserted?

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