Jack and His Discontents (2 of 2)

We now move onto the late stages of Jack’s neuroticism. Jack, as we have learned, has been repressing his primitive instincts, meaning he has kept them out of the conscious, leaving the ideational presentations stuck in the unconscious, forgotten, neglected, left to multiply like fungus. As Freud said, the longer we keep our instincts repressed, the more time they have to regroup, come together, and create more resistance in our minds, creating tension, Guilt_Finger.gifresulting in the censuring of the ego by the superego, ultimately creating a sense of guilt, the result of a fight or flight response. Freud spoke of an economy in the mind, a national reserve of sorts; when this reserve is depleted, the defense mechanisms of our mind break down. Repression requires energy, and the longer an idea is repressed, the more energy is consumed. By killing the pig, Jack has given his aggression a catalyst, so the impulses grow stronger, eating more energy, his repression slowly breaking down, his aggression shining through the cracks in little bits. We see that, after killing the pig, Jack becomes increasingly aggressive. Slowly but surely, the walls of his mind are crumbling down, and his aggression is able to come through. Ralph lectures Jack for not looking after the fire. Jack notices that he is in hostile territory, and his super-ego begins to hammer on his ego. The guilt that arises thereafter cannot be tolerated by Jack, who is guilty of not completing his duties, who, feeling threatened, turns the anger onto Piggy, presently punching him and knocking him down (Golding 66). Here, there is a struggle between the id, which wants to take out its aggression, and the superego, which instills a sense of guilt in Jack. The result is displacement: unable to cope with the greed of the id and the morality of the superego, the ego decides to appease them both by taking out his feelings on something weak, vulnerable, and defenseless—Piggy. In so doing, Jack has temporarily satisfied his id. Like a hungry child, the id, once fed, will return to normal, until it begins to grow hungry once more. What has just occurred has been Jack acting out. Roger and Jack are both sadists. Golding describes a scene in which Roger throws rocks at the Littlun Henry:

Here, invisible yet strong, was the taboo of old life. Round the squatting child was the protection of parents and school and policemen and the law. Roger’s arm was conditioned by a civilization that knew nothing of him and was in ruins (57).

Roger and Jack have both been raised in a society that values temperance, control, and politeness. They were scolded by their parents not to hurt their siblings; taught in school not to do mean things to other students; warned by the police not to break the law; conditioned by society to be behaved, to be like everyone else, to resist all urges. Think, then, what this has done to their inner aggression, to have been repressed to such an extent! But here, on the island, things are different; no longer is there a higher authority Unknown.jpegto keep the boys in check. Roger, free to do as he pleases, unable to be punished, can be aggressive and not get in trouble. However, it is strange that he refuses to hit Henry directly, throwing instead into a small circle instead. Law and morality still remain with him. Despite his freedom, the idea of restraint has been ingrained into his mind. That there is no evil in him is false; his throwing rocks at Henry is proof of the opposite—Roger’s dark side is stronger than his good, for all this time it has been growing uncontrollably powerful. All it took to release it was the absence of punishment, be it from an external force, like a parent, or an internal force, namely the superego. Without the restraints of civilization, Roger, like Jack, regresses to his primal self, his aggressive, savage self. Fromm wrote,

[I]f the situation changes, repressed desires become conscious and are acted out…. Another case in point is the change that occurs in the character when the total social situation changes. The sadistic character who may have posed as a meek or even friendly individual may become a fiend in a terroristic society…. Another may suppress sadistic behavior in all visible actions, while showing it in a subtle expression of the face or in seemingly harmless and marginal remarks.[1]

Put another way, Fromm is saying that the sadist will feign a pleasant character in a certain environment, say a school, but will reveal himself in a different context, such as an island. This echoes Freud who also noted that society forces us to create reaction-formations. Because we cannot satisfy our aggressive tendencies, we must be exceedingly gentle. Fromm also notes that the sadist, even in a safe environment, will not completely hide his nature, as there will be minor signs, like expressions in the face, of which he spoke.


Unknown.pngFollowing this event, the next major stage in Jack’s neuroticism happens shortly before he kills the pig. Jack is by the riverside, collecting clay, then smearing it on his face, covering it up. He looks at himself at the river and is satisfied. “[T]he mask was a thing on its own, behind which Jack hid, liberated from shame and self-consciousness,” writes Golding (59). Hereafter, Jack relinquishes all remnants of his past life, devoured by his aggression, which takes control for the rest of the story. A small detail, the mask allows for disinhibition, allowing Jack to take on a whole new persona. This mask hides who Jack was, endows him with new strength, and lets him get away with anything. It is no longer Jack who is acting but the mask. If Jack kills Ralph, it is not Jack who does it, but the mask. One can think of the story of Gyges’ Ring as told in the Republic, in which a shepherd finds a ring that can make him invisible. Granted this awesome power, Gyges abuses it, making himself invisible and killing the king and marrying his wife. Anonymity Unknown-1.jpegbestows upon its subject great powers, including immorality. The mask on Jack’s face lets him be sadistic, for he can no longer be ashamed. A sense of invincibility is coupled with invisibility, seeing as Jack, hiding himself behind the mask, feels untouchable, as though he can do whatever he wants, since it is not he who is doing it. No more responsibilities are expected of Jack hence. When Jack steals fire from Ralph, the two come face-to-face. Committing an unforgivable act, Jack, normally, would not be able to look the other boy in the face, an overwhelming feeling of guilt preventing him; but with his mask, Jack can easily steal from Ralph without thinking twice. Ralph, Piggy, and Samneric try to go after Jack and his hunters at the end, except that “[t]hey understood only too well the liberation into savagery that the concealing paint brought” (Golding 170). Golding adds further that, “Freed by the paint,… they were more comfortable than he [Ralph] was” (173). Anyone who puts on the mask of paint is relieved of all expectancies, of all moral obligations, of all sensibleness. Freud observed that the barbarian was happier than the civilized man, inasmuch as the former could satisfy his impulses, whereas the latter could not; similarly, the hunters are more comfortable than Ralph because they can do what he cannot: gratify their aggression.


Thanatos, the major force through which Jack now operates, is committed to but one task: self-destruction, the return to the womb, to nothingness. Jack is never seen backing away from a daunting task, always one for a challenge, even if it may end up killing him. Eager to kill, Jack volunteers to go on pig hunts constantly, going as far as to hunt the dreaded beast that threatens their existence. Upon climbing the mountain, Ralph considers going back, but Jack calls him a coward, insisting that they go up. Ralph calls their mission a foolish one, and Jack agrees, continuing up the mountain, determined to kill the beast. If this is so, if Jack wants to destroy himself, why is it, then, that he kills the pig earlier in the book? Freud would answer, “It really seems as though it is necessary for us to destroy some other thing or person in order not to destroy ourselves.”[2] The real goal of Thanatos is destruction of the self, but Jack obviously does not want to die, consciously that is, so he must satisfy his death-instinct some other way, viz., killing something else. Simple trade-off: kill something else to avoid not killing myself. Like Prometheus, Jack tries to defy his god (his superego, rather) by stealing fire from their sacred home. It is a forbidden task, one that will surely result in suffering. Only, unlike Prometheus, Jack gets away with it, despite almost being compromised, successfully. This small act of defiance further tips the scale of his death-instinct.

Another trait of the sadist is that he is stimulated only be the helpless, never by those who are strong…. For the sadistic character there is only one admirable quality, and that is power. He admires,… those who have power, and he despises and wants to control those who are powerless and cannot fight back.[3]

Jack emulates Fromm’s description of the sadistic character when he orders his hunters to take the innocent Wilfred into custody to be tortured for no reason. Ralph asks Samneric why Jack ordered Wilfred to be tortured, but the twins have no answer. It seems Jack did so purely for pleasure, for fun, to fulfill his aggressive death-instinct. There is no rational reason for what he did, obviously, except for the fact that it was in his own self-interest, and that he was able to exert control over a powerless being. The relationship between Ralph and Jack is odd, the latter’s respect for the former strained by his desire to remove him from power. In some ways this is true, for Jack does not truly want to kill Ralph, as he harbors a sort of respect for him, for his demotic popularity. What Jack really wants to do is have all the power for himself. Just a few hours before Jack captured and had Wilfred beat, Roger horrendously killed Piggy, to which Jack reacted apathetically, coldly, disturbingly, responding by threatening Ralph that the same could happen to him. If Jack wanted Ralph dead, he could have done it long ago, and easily—but he did not.


1024px-VingtAnnees_258-980x682.jpg“Few people ever have the chance to attain so much power that they can seduce themselves into the delusion that it might be absolute,”[4] commented Erich Fromm. Fortunately, this is true; unfortunately, it is still possible. Completely neurotic now, Jack has become like Mr. Kurtz, gaunt and savage, his loyal hunters willing to do anything for him, as he sits in his throne as though he were an idol, or a god. Power has indeed gotten to him now, to the point that he is worshiped, thought invincible, the true leader of the boys on the island.

In many cases the sadism is camouflaged in kindness and what looks like benevolence toward certain people in certain circumstances. But it would be erroneous to think that the kindness is simply intended to deceive, or even that it is only a gesture, not based on any genuine feeling. To understand this phenomenon better, it is necessary to consider that most sane people wish to preserve a self-image that makes them out to be human in at least some respects. [5] 

Jack may not be totally sane, but he does seek to maintain his human appearance. When he is not off hunting pigs, stealing fire, or torturing kids, Jack is seen giving plentiful rations to his and his enemies’ people, not as an illusion, not to bait them, but to appear in some way humane, to be what remains of his character. In fact, Jack invites Ralph and his friends to join his tribe rather pleasantly, offering them food and protection, all in a friendly tone, no force necessary. It is only later, when he has been confronted, that he forces Samneric to join the tribe by means of  force. While this may be the last of his humanity, it does not change the fact that he is still savage. Having regressed completely to the beginning, Jack is now like his hunting ancestors, hosting ritualistic dances centered on sacrifices, complete with disturbing chants and entrancing rhythms. Jack has become so ill, so neurotic, so sadistic, that he has nearly fallen out of touch with reality, becoming more of a black hole than a human, sucking up all good, drawing in all light, all that is good. Even pure-hearted Ralph and Piggy succumb to his darkness, joining one of the rituals, eventually killing their friend Simon in cold blood. Conclusively, Jack has become a deranged, sadistic neurotic.


In conclusion, to use the wise words of Piggy, “[P]eople [are] never quite what you thought they were” (Golding 49).

 

Glossary:
(Retrieved from Stephen Glazier’s Word Menu)


Acting out- Unconscious expression of previously repressed feelings through specific behavior
Aggression- Hostile, destructive behavior towards others
Death-instinct/Thanatos- Destructive, aggressive compulsion to achieve nonexistence
Defense mechanism- Any of various mental processes, including… displacement,… projection,… reaction-formation, regression, repression,…, used by the ego for protection against instinctual demands and to reduce anxiety
Disinhibition- Removal of inhibition (process of stopping an impulse)
Ego-
 Reality-oriented, structured component of personality that enables individual to function autonomously in the world
Ego-ideal/Superego- Aspect of personality involving conscience, guilt, imposition of moral standards, and introjected authoritative and ethical images
Guilt- Recurrent feeling of self-reproach or self-blame for something wrong, often something beyond one’s control
Id- 
Unconscious, unsocialized component of personality, containing unexpressed desires and motivations and driven by pleasure principle
Neuroticism- Emotional disorder involving basic repression of primary instinctual urge and reliance on defense mechanisms that results in symptoms or personality disturbance
Reaction-formation- Defense mechanism involving denial of unacceptable unconscious urges by behavior contrary to one’s own feelings
Regression- Defense mechanism involving return to behavior expressive of earlier developmental stage, usu. due to trauma, fixation, anxiety, or frustration
Repression- Defense mechanism in which threatening or unacceptable ideas or urges are forgotten
Sadism- Condition in which pleasure, esp. sexual, is derived from inflicting pain on others

 


[1] Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, pp. 107-8
[2] Qtd. in Fromm, id., p. 492
[3] Id., p. 325
[4] Id., p. 323
[5] 329-30

 

For further reading: 
A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud (1975)
The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness
 by Erich Fromm (1992)

Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud (1929)
Instincts and Their Vicissitudes 
by Sigmund Freud (1915)
The Ego and the Id 
by Sigmund Freud (1923)
Lord of the Flies
 by William Golding (2011)
Repression
 by Sigmund Freud (1915)

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Jack and His Discontents (1 of 2)

So far I have examined Lord of the Flies under the microscopic lenses of Plato, Hobbes, and Nietzsche. One form of literary theory, which is a favorite among many, which has been used on many pieces of writing, and which I will be using in this blog, is that of psychoanalysis, a branch of psychology developed by Sigmund Freud. A simple search containing both Lord of the Flies and psychoanalysis will easily generate several results, all of which are exactly the same, all of which are shallow in their depth, each of them focusing on the tripartite theory of the id, ego, and superego. What I seek to do in this blog, therefore, to distinguish my analysis from the others out there, is perform a case study on Lord of the Flies, a case study focused on one character in particular, a character central to the story, a character whose inner struggle is perfect for psychoanalyzing: Jack Merridew. By the end of this blog, I hope to prove that Jack suffers from neurotic sadism. A glossary can be found at the end to clarify any psychoanalytical terminology that I will be using.

images.jpegPsychoanalysis is the study of the unconscious and how it affects the conscious mind, initially conceived by Freud under the impression that all mental illnesses were caused by sexual tensions derived from a young age. This first stage of his thought, in which sexual energy, or libido, after being kept out of the conscious, caused mental illness, was later replaced by a later, finalized stage, characterized by a complete break away from the libidinal theory, where Freud turning instead to the life and death-instincts, the latter earning heavy criticism from his followers. These two instincts are the main forces behind human behavior, and each has a different motivation, the life-instinct, called Eros, seeking self-preservation and reproduction, and the death-instinct, usually referred to as Thanatos, seeking self-destruction, sometimes “[expressing] itself as an instinct of destruction directed against the external world and other living organisms.”[1] Freud thus created a dualism of impulses in man, a Manichaean tension caused by an internal war of life against death, of creation against destruction. Freud wrote that

Civilization has been built up, under the pressure of the struggle of existence, by sacrifices in gratification of the primitive impulses, and that to a great extent for ever being re-created, as each individual, successively joining the community, repents the sacrifice of his instinctive pleasures for the common good.[2]

According to Freud, the only reason society exists is because individuals give up their individual instincts. If each individual were to indulge their death-instinct, the very instinct of aggression, the very instinct present in everyone, then there would be constant warfare, reckless murder, and rife torture; but, by renouncing and rejecting our impulses, by stifling them, by keeping them out of our conscious, we are able to coexist, to live peacefully and without fear of our aggressive tendencies kicking in and dominating us. There will be no more destruction, either of ourselves or of others. Freud said that civilization represses its desires, by which he means that we force these unacceptable ideas and fantasies out of our minds and into the unconscious, where they are left to fester, unable to torment the conscious mind.

[T]he more a man checks his aggressive tendencies towards others the more tyrannical, that is aggressive, he becomes in his ego-ideal…. [T]he more a man controls his aggressiveness, the more intense become the aggressive tendencies of his ego-ideal against his ego.[3]

Unknown.jpegHere Freud is saying that, over time, the repressing of our instincts will only make the tension worse, as the longer they stay in the unconscious, the more persistent they become. The ego-ideal, synonymous with our conscience, will become stressed as a result, censuring us with a harsher tone, criticizing our lack of control, nagging on us, the voice of authority becoming stronger. As this happens, our reasoning diminishes, and we lose control of our conscious, letting us slowly but surely let our instincts out. However, civilization has not reached this point wholly, the reason being that we have redirected our instincts; Freud says that civilization thrives on sublimation, for it is the only productive way of combatting our desires. Because we all have within us aggression, a seething beast waiting to be released, we usually end up creating reaction-formations to fight back. Instead of letting all of our aggression out, we pretend as though we are happy and grateful, despite the terrifying reality happening below the surface. Little do we know that this pressure, this aggression, is bubbling in our depths.


Jack Merridew is an adolescent boy who was raised in England. In the beginning of the book, we immediately recognize him as a natural leader, a boy whose inherent nature is that of commanding, of gaining respect, of having his voice heard, of getting things done. For the most part, having grown up an English boy, under a Catholic household, as the head of his choir, he has good and proper morals. Jack’s whole life seems to be headed in a good direction, as he has excellent training in being a leader and in displaying Catholic morals. And like everyone else in society, he has been taught to sublimate his instincts, to hide them, to turn them into something productive. In a choir, Jack is able to reach deep into himself and take his inner aggression—with which he has not yet come to terms—and turn it into art, using his voice to express himself creatively, thereby redirecting his impulses into something acceptable. Further, as a devout Catholic, Jack has been Unknown-2.jpegdisciplined to act faithfully and morally. Indulging in his dark instincts would not be very Catholic of him, so he has been taught to repress his desires and act out of kindness and compassion; as we know, though, this is the opposite of what he truly is inside: proof of reaction-formation. When Simon talks to the Lord of the Flies, the pig takes on the guise of a schoolteacher who says, “This has gone on far enough. My poor, misguided child, do you think you know better than I do?” (Golding 141). Golding himself was influenced to write the book after he taught at a young boys’ Catholic school, so it is no surprise that he should put a reference here. One can easily imagine The Lord of the Flies like a concerned, patronizing schoolteacher shaking his head disapprovingly, mocking Simon, for he knows that there is a darkness in all the boys, yet Simon has not yet embraced it. Jack has already given up his Catholic values and given into his darkness, to the disappointment of the imaginary schoolteacher. The death-instinct still lurks unconsciously in Jack, however, and strongly, throughout the first half of the novel. When Jack tries to kill the first pig, he hesitates to drive the knife into the pig (Golding 25-6). There is a voice in Jack telling him that it is immoral, that the blood will be overwhelming, and that ultimately, it will haunt him forever. Later, when the boys create a fire, Jack and Ralph both hesitate to light the fire, because the warnings of their parents still echo in their heads: Do not play with fire! Despite being boys held back by the words of adults, there is still aggression inside of them, waiting to be acted upon.


The next stage of Jack’s neuroticism occurs with the whole pig incident, at which we just glanced. This stage is, perhaps, the most formidable, as it is the first sign we see of Jack’s aggressiveness being released. I like to think of Jack in this stage as regressing, not in the traditional sense, but in an evolutionary sense, insofar as he is almost reverting back to his ancestral roots in the hunter-gathering civilizations. There is a scene when Jack goes hunting, in which we see him get down on all fours, as though stalking; in which we see him sniffing the ground, going so far as to sniff droppings; in which he traverses the jungle, spear in hand, ready to slaughter the pig without mercy (Golding 43-4). Eric Fromm captures this mentality in the following quote:

He [the hunter] returns to his natural state, becomes one with the animal, and is freed from the burden of the existential split: to be part of nature and transcend it by virtue of his consciousness. In stalking the animal, he and the animal become equals, even though man shows his superiority by the use of his weapons.[4]

Jack is seen reverting to his natural state of being, as a predator, as a hunter, getting down on all fours, so as to become one with nature, with the animal, so he can kill it, get food, and feed himself. There is a return, then, to the primitive instincts. Freud declared that “it is easy,… for a barbarian to be healthy; for the civilized man the task is a hard one.”[5] The barbarian, or in this case the hunter, is able to freely act on his aggression, for in doing so he gets to kill and ends up with food and is therefore happy; modern man, contrarily, must keep his aggression in check, must restrain himself from hurting, and hence he is tormented. Jack, channeling his inner hunter, is able to engage his aggression naturally, for it is natural, allowing him to kill without fear of reproach. As a hunter, killing is not for pleasure; killing is now about survival. The question arises: Why the pig? We see that Jack becomes utterly obsessed with the pig, fixated even. Psychoanalytically, he does have a fixation. Thanatos, because it is pure energy, is expressed in a directed charge, similar to an electric current. Now that Jack can channel his death-instinct, he cathects it to the pig—that is, he directs his energy to an object: the pig. Consequently, Jack develops an object-cathexis, his instincts now fixated on the pig, the vulnerable animal now his prey. Evident of this fixation is the fact that Jack claims that he will kill the pig “Next time—!” Unknown-1.jpeg(Golding 26), not once, but thrice (Golding 28, 46). On three separate occasions Jack seems to take offense whenever someone asks him about the pig. It is safe to say that this is a sort of inferiority complex in Jack, a sort of rejection, of himself. When he tried to kill the pig, he hesitated, and now he feels rejected, as though everyone thinks him weak as a result. Jack develops the strange idea that he is being judged, that he is an incompetent hunter, since he is unable to complete such a simple task, causing frustration. This pressure creates a stronger cathexis in Jack’s mind, for his failure to kill the pig makes him want to kill it even more, as he feels doing so will prove himself as both worthy and competent. At this point, Jack is concerned with meat and meat alone, not rescue, not building huts, but getting meat. Food was of paramount importance in the hunter-gathering society, especially meat, for it was more difficult to acquire than berries or nuts. It is logical, then, that Jack should become so obsessed with this task. During the time that Jack is fixated on the pig, there still remains resistance in him, resistance to the idea of killing—indeed, a man’s first kill haunts him forever, so it is a frightening ordeal for Jack. Talking to Ralph, Jack tries “to convey the compulsion to track down and kill that was swallowing him up” (Golding 46). Reflecting on his two failed missions to hunt the pig, Jack is in disbelief, repeating dreadfully, “I thought I might kill” (Ibid.). In Jack’s voice, one can imagine a sense of surrealism, considering Jack nearly killed for the first time. After killing the pig, Jack describes the experience as follows:

His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink. (Golding 65)

Notwithstanding his initial fear of killing, Jack is bestowed with great ecstasy. This disturbing imagery, that of killing being similar to “a long satisfying drink,” is not one of kindness and compassion, but sadism, pure and simple. In addition to these early signs of sadism latent in Jack, there also arises evidence of paranoia, suggestive further of neuroticism. “‘If you’re hunting sometimes you catch yourself feeling as if…. [y]ou’re not hunting, but—being hunted, as if something’s behind you all the time in the jungle,” confides Jack in Ralph (Golding 48). This comment reveals another insight into Jack, psychoanalytically, in that it reflects his projecting of his aggression. Because he has not come to terms with the aggression that lingers inside him, because he feels threatened by this new-found aggression, Jack feels it necessary to project his aggression onto the world instead of taking responsibility for it himself because it makes him feel safe, because it takes away the responsibility of having to deal with it.

 

Glossary:
(Retrieved from Stephen Glazier’s Word Menu)


Aggression- Hostile, destructive behavior towards others
Death-instinct/Thanatos- 
Destructive, aggressive compulsion to achieve nonexistence
Cathexis-
Concentration or buildup of mental energy and emotional significance in connection with an idea, activity, or object
Ego-
Reality-oriented, structured component of personality that enables individual to function autonomously in the world
Ego-ideal- Aspect of personality involving conscience, guilt, imposition of moral standards, and introjected authoritative and ethical images
Fixation- Extreme attachment to object or ideas associated with earlier stage of psychic development; halting of stage of personality development
Frustration- Disturbed state occurring when individual cannot attain goal or relieve tension
Neuroticism- Emotional disorder involving basic repression of primary instinctual urge and reliance on defense mechanisms that results in symptoms or personality disturbance
Object- “[T]hat in or through which it [an instinct] can achieve its aim (Freud, Instincts and their Vicissitudes, p. 414b)
Obsession Persistent, pervasive, disturbing fixation on an emotion, idea, object, or person
Paranoia- Persistent delusions of persecution or suspicion of others
Projection- Defense mechanism involving attribution of one’s own unacceptable or unwanted qualities and motives to others
Reaction-formation- Defense mechanism involving denial of unacceptable unconscious urges by behavior contrary to one’s own feelings
Regression- Defense mechanism involving return to behavior expressive of earlier developmental stage, usu. due to trauma, fixation, anxiety, or frustration
Repression- Defense mechanism in which threatening or unacceptable ideas or urges are forgotten
Sadism- Condition in which pleasure, esp. sexual, is derived from inflicting pain on others
Sublimation- Defense mechanism involving substitution of socialized behavior for unacceptable acting out of primary urge

 


[1] Freud, The Ego and the Id, p. 709b*
[2] Freud, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis, p. 27
[3] Freud, The Ego and the Id, p. 715a-b
[4] Fromm, The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness, p. 156
[5] Qtd. in Seldes, The Great Thoughts, p. 149

 

For further reading: 
A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis by Sigmund Freud (1975)
The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness
by Erich Fromm (1992)

Civilization and Its Discontents by Sigmund Freud (1929)
Instincts and Their Vicissitudes 
by Sigmund Freud (1915)
The Ego and the Id 
by Sigmund Freud (1923)
Lord of the Flies
by William Golding (2011)
Repression
by Sigmund Freud (1915)

*All notes are references to Great Books of the Western World Vol. 54 by Mortimer J. Adler (1990)

 

Power and Lord of the Flies (2 of 2)

Previously we looked at the role of democracy in Lord of the Flies and how it never works in actuality. Minorities, beasties, tyrants, rules, and assemblies do not work, as there are too many moving parts, and there is no way to rule rationally while also staying authoritative. Just as government will inevitably crumble, so the human spirit does too, with its dark forces, which Golding emphasizes in the novel. This blog will discuss the philosophy of Hobbes, specifically how humans interact and govern themselves, and the philosophy of Nietzsche, specifically the will that drives all living organisms.

Hobbes’ classic work The Leviathan details within man a great malady, a natural tendency toward savagery, amorality, and anarchy. While goodness can exist in the form of virtue, there can never be peace, happiness, or safety, but eternal warfare, misery, and insecurity, resulting in a state of incommensurable upheaval and complete destruction of other lives. Battle_of_Waterloo_1815.PNGHobbes writes that “during the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man.”[1] This is the time Hobbes calls man’s state of nature; basically, man in his most primitive form, without conventions, without moral standards, without government, is wholly aggressive and cannot coexist with his others because “[i]n such condition there is no… society; and… [there is] continual fear and danger of violent death.”[2] What he means by society is civilization of any form, meaning a community, a group of people with a common goal, a common set of beliefs, rules, laws, a common identity—man can not have any of that. Fear of death is what motivates man. Man himself works in two ways: instinct and reason, the former egoistic and self-preservatory in nature, the latter logical and political. It is in the state of nature that man seeks what will make him live longest, be it land or resources, but when he is interrupted by someone with a similar goal, he will do whatever is necessary to protect himself, to claim what ought to be his. Ralph, reflecting on his time on the island, observing for the first time the conditions in which he and the boys lived, such as their disheveled hair and lack of hygiene and clothing, “discovered with a fall of the heart that these were the conditions he took as normal now and that he did not mind” (Golding 106). Living in England his whole life, Ralph was used to proper wear, delicious food, and impeccable bodies. Normally, when one is in sordid conditions, as on the island, characterized by slovenly neglect of oneself, one is repulsed. How are such conditions suitable for living, one would ask in this very scenario. However, according to Hobbes, these conditions are not repulsive at all; rather, they are natural, how things usually are. Ralph is in touch with the state of nature, the natural state of uncleanliness and absolute amorality. The time on the island has brought back the sense of constant dread, reminiscent of pre-civilization, when death was the only concern of man. Hobbes also attributed to man the right of nature, which he describes as “the liberty each man hath to use his own power as he will himself for the preservation of his own life.”[3] The right of nature is what Hobbes uses to justify the lawlessness of man. It should be said that the state of nature, in addition to not having society, knows no good or bad; thus there is no morality, no right and wrong, no unfairness. Everything is and everything goes. Simplified, the right of nature states that man can use whatever means he must in order to do that which will keep him alive. If Ralph stakes claim to a piece of land and Jack steps foot on it, Ralph has the right of nature to kill Jack if it means protecting himself from a potential danger. The laws of nature, as opposed to the right of nature, are inherent laws that every man knows that govern their actions. The fifth law, for instance, declares “[t]hat every man ought to endeavor peace, as far as he has hope of attaining it; and when he cannot obtain it, that he may seek and use all helps and advantages of war.”[4] Therefore, all men should try to establish peace, in avoidance of death of course. But should the acquirement of peace be hindered, it lies Hobbes-Leviathan.jpgwithin man’s duty to use, among other things, war to obtain peace and keep it. The question arises, then, of how modern societies come to exist. Monarchy was the answer, thought Hobbes. All people have to give up their individual pursuits and surrender it to a single, governing entity by signing a covenant, thereby investing their faith in a Leviathan, symbolic of the mass power of the people in one person. This one person, the monarch, in return for obeisance, keeps order. Unlike the democracy of the boys in Lord of the Flies, which had neither punishments nor strict rules, the monarch requires absolute respect and obedience. Misdemeanor results in death. Connecting Hobbes to Lord of the Flies, we find a justification for the boys’ actions, especially Jack and his cohort. When Ralph falls to his knees, “[weeping] for the end of innocence, the darkness of man’s heart,” he is not mistaken, and Hobbes would agree (Golding 200). Man will naturally degenerate into savagery—murderous, immoral savagery. Jack comes most clearly in touch with his primal instincts, descending into the state of nature, killing, stealing, and exploiting, all for his own self-preservation.


Nietzsche, toward the end of his life, began conceiving a basic impulse that drove all things living, from amoeba to humans: the Will to Power. “All events that result from intention are reducible to the intention to increase power,”[5] he claimed. The idea of the Unknown-1.jpegWill as driving force was primarily derived from Schopenhauer’s writings, but Nietzsche took it further, using it to account for all motives, and not just in humans. To Nietzsche, power is not just the exertion of dominance over another but also mastery of self, perfection of virtue, and the pursuit of excellence. Taken to extremes, though, this Will to Power can come to domineering others, so as to gain more power. One of the Littluns in Lord of the Flies, Henry, starts playing with some crabs early in the novel. Golding writes on page 56 that Henry “became absorbed beyond mere happiness as he felt himself exercising control over living things. He talked to them, urging them, ordering them.” Here we see that Henry, despite being about six years old, already feels the overwhelming Will within him, that pleasure derived from having control over something and subjecting it to his Will, from giving orders and commanding, from making living things go against their own motives, hence placing them under Henry’s control. There is a feeling of mastery, both of oneself and of something else, empowering Henry, his lust for power increasing. The Will to Power is present in plants, trees, and humans alike, each of them quenching their Will to Power in their own ways. Because life cannot be controlled, the idea of power over something else becomes appealing. There is, therefore, a sense of control that is temporarily granted to the individual. Pleasure, Nietzsche says, is the fulfillment of the Will, while pain is the feeling one gets when faced with an obstacle. Pain is necessary, he says, because without pain, without obstacles, there is nothing to overcome, nothing to subject to one’s Will, nothing to make oneself stronger. Later in Lord of the Flies, the twins are captured, and “the painted group felt the otherness of Samneric, felt the power in their own hands” (Golding 177). Loyal to Jack, loyal to their Will to Power, the savages’ Will is awoken, the pure joy of subjugating an enemy flowing through them. The fact that Samneric are considered enemies makes the process even more enjoyable, for the “otherness” creates a more distinct sense of domination, since they are of a different kind. Being able to control something else and make it a part of something it is not gives off a sensation of control. The savages, therefore, are imposing themselves on the other organisms, converting them, making them one of the savages, endowing the tribe with pleasure. Their Will’s have been satiated.

To refrain from mutual injury, mutual violence, mutual exploitation, to equate one’s own will with that of another:… [is] the denial of life…. Life is essentially appropriation, injury, overpowering of the strange and weaker, suppression, severity, imposition of one’s own forms, incorporation and,… exploitation…. Life is will to power.[6]

This audacious claim from Nietzsche identifies life itself with the Will to Power. He paints a grim portrait of reality, full of misery, injustice, and unfairness. The difference between the weak who reject the Will to Power and the strong who commit themselves to it lies in the latter’s sublimation of ressentiment. All people experience a sort of inferiority complex, always finding themselves weaker than one person, dumber than other, inspiring within them strong, undeniable feelings of aggression, jealousy, and hatred. Unknown-2.jpegThose who choose to repress these feelings are weak and slavish; those who choose to act upon these feelings and sublimate them, turning them into power, are strong and resemblant of the master. Jack is an excellent representation of this: “Power lay in the brown swell of his forearms: authority sat on his shoulder and chattered in his ear like an ape” (Golding 56). Sitting atop a throne, his followers at his feet, Jack has put himself above the others, literally, subjecting them to his will. The slave-master morality put forth by Nietzsche is clear here, with Jack representing the master who acts on the Will to Power, while Ralph and Piggy represent the slaves who refuse to give into his savagery, who refuse to lower themselves to such impropriety. In the end, though, it is the master who prevails. Nietzsche would praise Jack for satisfying his Will to Power, yet would censure Ralph for not. Savagery devours the boys until they are rescued. Had the ship not arrived, Ralph would surely have been killed, and the savages would be triumphant—such would be a happy ending for Nietzsche.

 


[1] Hobbes, The Leviathan, p. 85b*
[2] Id., p. 85c
[3] Id., p. 86c
[4] 86d
[5] Nietzsche, The Will to Power, DCLXIII
[6] Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, CCLIX

*Page references are derived from Adler, Great Books of the Western World, Vol. 21 

 

For further reading: The Philosophers: Introducing Great Thinkers by Ted Honderick (2001)
A History of Philosophy Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
Beyond Good and Evil 
by Friedrich Nietzsche (1990)
The Will to Power 
by Friedrich Nietzsche (1968)
Lord of the Flies 
by William Golding (2011)
The Leviathan 
by Thomas Hobbes (1990)

Democracy and Lord of the Flies (1 of 2)

Unknown.jpegRich in metaphors, thrills, and controversies, William Golding’s classic Lord of the Flies remains a well-read book, and its enthusiasts are met with equal passion from opposing critics who denounce it for its disturbing themes, among other things. The common theme every reader picks up on—man’s natural savagery and inherent darkness—permeates the book; anyone who recalls Lord of the Flies will inevitably think of savagery, and vice versa, for the two are inseparable, synonymous even. How a group of young English boys ends up on an island, descending into deranged rituals and questionable behavior, has piqued readers for years. In this post I will be looking at the philosophy of the book. No one can write about Lord of the Flies and philosophy without mentioning Hobbes, as his ethical and political theories are perfectly pertinent; but in this series of posts I will also be discussing Plato and the failure of democracy, Hobbes of course, and Nietzsche and his Will to Power.

Right away Golding makes his view of government clear, contrasting the two classic types of ruling: democracy and tyranny. While Golding himself idealized democracy, thinking it the best form of government, I have interpreted it conversely, using the book to explain, alongside Plato, why democracy—direct democracy, that is—never works. Direct democracy is unlike representative democracy in that the people themselves vote for their leader, not for representatives who then vote for the leader; nowhere in direct democracy is there a middleman, just the masses and he who is elected. The first thing the boys do in the book is hold an informal election (perhaps Golding suggesting that democracy is the most natural government), with no ballot, no parties, clean, efficient. We learn, though, that Ralph, who is elected chief, was selected not for his merit nor his character, but for his position, namely as the holder of the conch, a shell that is granted the power of calling impromptu assemblies. Obviously this is not a meritocracy, based on skill, nor is it an aristocracy, based on those with the best character, but a plain democracy—therein we find the first danger, which is the fact that elections done entirely by the people are international_day_of_democracy.jpgunreliable. What if Jack had the conch, or Simon? Certainly they would be chief. In fact, anyone, including the Littluns, if they had the conch, could have been the chief. From that point on there is an evident power struggle between Ralph and the antagonist Jack, who is conceived as a natural leader, who is displeased with the whole concept of voting, questioning the legitimacy of it: “‘Who are you, anyway? Sitting there telling people what to do. You can’t hunt, you can’t sing—… Why should choosing make any difference? Just giving orders that don’t make sense—’” (Golding  86). Jack has a point here, for Ralph, despite being one of the most sensible characters, is not the brightest, admitting himself that he is not as smart as Piggy, whom he judges a better, more rational leader than he (Golding 73). Because Ralph cannot manage the crowd by himself, he relies on the conch to get his point across and get the others’ attention. But since he has invested all of his power and the entire foundation of order in the shell, it becomes an easy target. Get rid of the shell, get rid of Ralph. Simple as that. Jack starts to undermine the conch’s authority, repeatedly declaring it useless on certain parts of the island and completely dismissing it altogether: “‘We don’t need the conch anymore. We know who ought to say things’” (Golding 97). As the assemblies go on, Ralph notices the vanity of the democratic process: the constant shouting out, the neglect of taking turns, and the incessant tomfoolery that Piggy calls “‘[J]us’ talk without deciding’” (Golding 168) that punctuates the meetings.

We need an assembly. Not for fun. Not for laughing and falling off the log… not for these things. But to put things straight…. We have lots of assemblies. Everybody enjoys speaking and being together. We decide things. But they never get done (Golding 74).

Despite the many assemblies the boys have, despite all the viable plans they make, the boys get absolutely nothing done. The Littluns play around, too weak to do anything, and the Bigguns are lazy and will do no work. There is no productivity, no follow-up, no progress. When Ralph says they must all build huts so they can be warm, comfortable, and safe, nobody helps him, except Samneric and Simon. And the hunters, whom he put in charge of the signal fire, the fire that could potentially get them off the island, neglect their job, instead leaving their post to track and hunt a pig. Democracy thus may be an ideal, but it is neither an achievable nor a workable one that can be made a reality. Soon after, talk of a beast circulates, and the entire assembly descends into chaos:

In a moment the platform was full of arguing, gesticulating shadows. To Ralph, seated, this seemed the breaking up of sanity. Fear, beasts, no general agreement that the fire was all-important: and when one tried to get the thing straight the argument sheered off, bringing up fresh, unpleasant matter (Golding 83-4).

The Littluns are fearful and vulnerable, the active majority; Jack is manipulative, exploiting the minorities; and Ralph, trying desperately to keep order, cannot appease both parties at the same time without angering either. One can almost think of a congressional or bureaucratic meeting where there is nothing but bickering, insanity, and utter unproductivity; Ralph even thinks it the “breaking up of sanity” because it gets so intense, like a black hole of irrationality that sucks up all things sensible, leaving behind madness and torpor. Plato wrote close to home:

When a democracy… has drunk too deeply of the strong wine of freedom,… they [the people] chafe impatiently at the least touch of authority and at length, as you know, they cease to care even for the laws, written or unwritten; they will have no one over them.[1]

Once the notion of freedom and control is taken up by democracy, it empowers the people almost intoxicatingly. Plato writes of the inebriation of freedom, the desire for absolute liberty to do whatsoever one desires without fear of punishment, of reprimand, of punity. In Lord of the Flies, too, the boys are overcome with overwhelming freedom, and they realize this, take advantage of it, and use it to wreck havoc on the island. Sure the boys “‘have ‘Hands up’ like at school’” (Golding 28), allowing for one person to speak at a time, but there is no punishment, nothing to discourage them from not speaking in turn, nothing to instil fear in them. There is no way to keep the boys in check, therefore, without having strict rules, lest the boys get out of control, as they naturally do. Even the simple rules are not followed. Jack says in the beginning, “‘We’ve got to have rules and obey them. After all, we’re not savages’” (Golding 38). However, he later goes back on this, abolishing the rules later on. Another danger Plato wrote of was the degeneration from democracy to tyranny, of which he says:

[H]aving a mob entirely at his disposal, he [the tyrant] is not restrained from shedding the blood of kinsmen; by favorite method of false accusation he brings them into court and murders them, making the life of man to disappear, and with unholy tongue and lips tasting the blood of his fellow citizens.[2]

Jack fortunately does not go so far as to invite Ralph to his court and then proceed to slaughter him, although he does come close. Several times. During one of the assemblies Jack seizes his opportunity, taking advantage of his time with the conch to turn the rest of images.jpegthe boys against Ralph, putting words into his mouth, making false accusations, and calling him a coward, even attempting to depose him in hopes of getting elected himself (Golding 122-4). His coup does not succeed, so he runs off, having been publicly humiliated, only for some of the boys to later leave Ralph and join Jack, leading to a polarization between the two groups, creating a dangerous “us vs. them” complex, with Jack’s tribe carrying out secret operations to sabotage, raid, and ambush Ralph and his people. Finally, Plato, in Machiavellian fashion, writes, “[T]he tyrant, if he means to rule, must get rid of [his enemies]…. Therefore he must look about him and see who is valiant, who is high-minded, who is wise.”[3] In other words, if a tyrant wants to gain power and keep his power, he must get rid of all opposition, especially those who are brave, have morals, and are wise, for they are most capable of dispelling him. We saw already that Jack sought to remove Ralph from the chieftain, but he also takes out his wrath upon Piggy, the smartest on the island. Piggy is knowledgeable, he knows science, he knows what he is doing. The others do not. Hence having a critical thinker on the island poses a threat to Jack, so he must eliminate Piggy. When Piggy asks for extras during dinner (he is a little on the heavy side), Jack sees this as vulnerability and “had meant to leave him in doubt, as an assertion of power; but Piggy by advertising his omission made more cruelty necessary” (Golding 69). Jack constantly derides Piggy, calls him “Fatty,” knocks him down, and steals his glasses, all in an effort to bring him down, to keep his power as long as possible, to remove all threats to his throne. Jack will stop at nothing to bring down the democracy for which Ralph fought so hard in an attempt to usher in a new rule… sorta like Trump.

 


[1] Plato, The Republic, VIII, 562a-563d
[2] Id., 565a
[3] Id., 567d

 

For further reading: The Republic by Plato (1990)
Lord of the Flies by William Golding (2011)

The Wisdom of Thomas Jefferson

Unknown-9.jpegThomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was not just a Founding Father and President, but he was also an inventor, prolific letter-writer, diplomat, Secretary of State, scientist, bibliophile, and philosopher—and that is just a cursory look at his interests. A learned man, Jefferson was a fervent proponent of the Enlightenment, with many of his political ideas deriving from the political thinkers of the time, greatly influencing Jefferson’s writing of the Declaration of Independence. Eric S. Peterson, in Light and Liberty: Reflections on the Pursuit of Happiness, took the time to compile Jefferson’s copious letters into different categories, such as Happiness and Humility. Here are a few selections:

Happiness
“Be assiduous in learning, take much exercise for your health, and practice much virtue. Health, learning, and virtue, will insure your happiness; they will give you a quiet conscience, private esteem, and public honor. Besides these, we want nothing but physical necessaries, and they are easily attained.”[1]

Living in the Present
“Of the public transactions in which I have borne a part, I have kept no narrative with a view of history. A life of constant action leaves no time for recording. Our duty is to act upon things as they are, and make a reasonable provision for whatever they may be. Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”[2]

Life Acceptance
“Man, like the fruit he eats, has his period of ripeness. Like that, too, if he continues longer hanging to the stem, it is but a useless and unsightly appendage. There is a fulness of time when men should go, and not occupy too long the ground to which others have a right to advance. I am now retired: I resign myself, as a passenger, with confidence to those at present at the helm, and ask but for rest, peace, and goodwill.”[3]

Patience
“Take things always by their smooth handle. Never be angry with anybody, nor speak harm of them. Anger only serves to torment ourselves, to divert others, and alienate their esteem. When angry, count ten before you speak; if very angry, an hundred.”[4]

 


[1] Thomas Jefferson to Peter Carr, May 28, 1788
[2] Thomas Jefferson to Horatio G. Spafford, May 11, 1819
       Sixth Annual Message to Congress, December 2, 1806
       Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825
[3] Thomas Jefferson to General Henry Dearborn, August 17, 1821
      Thomas Jefferson to Dr. Benjamin Rush, August 17, 1811
      Thomas Jefferson to Samuel Kercheval, July 12, 1816
[4] Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825
      Thomas Jefferson to Mary Jefferson, April 11, 1790
      Thomas Jefferson to Martha Jefferson, April 7, 1787
      Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Jefferson Smith, February 21, 1825

 

For further reading:
Light and Liberty: Reflections on the Pursuit of Happiness by Eric S. Peterson (2005)

The German Romantic Philosophers (5 of 5)

And so at last we arrive at the finale of the overview of German Idealism, and, more generally, Romanticism. In the previous part, I looked at Humboldt, whose work in linguistics and education has carried over to today, and Schleiermacher, whose notion of Absolute dependence advocated a unique sense of individualism, a common theme throughout Romanticism, along with the already-discussed opposites, such as faith and reason, intuition and logic. Finally, we look at philosophy itself and the defining nature of it with Schlegel and Schelling.

Unknown-4.jpegIt is safe to say that Karl Friedrich Wilhelm von Schlegel (1772-1829), brother to August Wilhelm von Schlegel, another eminent Romantic figure, is more literary critic than philosopher; yet I have included him, for his contribution to philosophy, albeit small in extent, has indelibly directed the trajectory in which philosophy itself was heading. Because there is a lack of information regarding his philosophical background, I feel it appropriate to focus more on his career, which played out as follows: Schlegel was born to a literary family, evidenced by his and his brother’s place in Romanticism, with Friedrich studying European history, Ancient and Modern literature, and the philosophy of history, all of which plays a part in his role as a philosopher. Schiller classified two types of poets: the Naïve and the Sentimental, the former practical, the latter idealistic; Schlegel studied Schiller, and he took this distinction further, applying it to the Romantic and the Classicist, perhaps the turning point in the self-consciousness of Romanticism, insofar as Schlegel was one of the first Romantics to lead the movement by defining it against something else, in this case Classicism, which was identified with the rational Enlightenment period. Of all philosophical branches, there exists one which is incredibly introspective: metaphilosophy. Metaphilosophy, associated with Schlegel, who is sometimes called the first “metaphilosopher,” is quite literally the philosophy of philosophy. Schlegel began by dismissing first principles–the fundamental proposition on which all other propositions are founded. For example, Fichte’s pure ego and Descartes’
cogito ergo sum are all first principles, in that it is impossible to assert anything without first asserting the pure ego or cogito, as they are the foundations of philosophy, at least in the systems of Fichte and Descartes, respectively. It was pointed out by Schlegel that first principles are misleading, since they are not truly first principles: they too are propositions that require another, prior proposition, therefore creating an infinite regress, an infinite sUnknown-7.jpegeries of statements with no clear, reducible beginning. “Philosophizing was primarily a matter of intuitive insights, not of deductive reasoning or of proof.”[1] Once more there is the valuing of intuition contra “deductive reasoning,” inasmuch as proofs will always require proof, whereas intuition is direct and without need of explanation. Reasoning is to intuition as conception is to perception. Another notion Schlegel was enthralled by was irony, the intentional contradiction of that which is reasonable, of that which is real, of that which is ordered. If one statement must be built upon another before it, then it goes without saying that there exist other statements contrary to it, tens of them. In this sense, the ironist transcends his limits; the ironist rises above order, above the world. Just as every person can have a separate opinion, so every statement can have a contradiction; therefore, we arrive at the conclusion that there is no absolute answer, no starting point of philosophy, for philosophy “must start in the middle…. It is no straight line but a circle.”[2] Schlegel is saying that philosophy has no starting line; philosophy is not linear; it does not go from one point to the other; and for that matter, there is no end point, rather a loop that connects it all, running round and round, with no real goal in mind. Metaphilosophy, then, serves as the first holistic analysis of philosophy, the first check of many on the limits of philosophy and its intentions.


Unknown-3.jpegWhat is more fitting than to end this series with a look at its most shaping character, one whose philosophy encompasses all others I have previously explained, whose philosophy captures the true definition of Romanticism, whose philosophy has influenced countless poets and philosophers after him? I speak here of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling (1775-1854), the last German Idealist we will be looking at. The other major metaphysician beside Fichte, Schelling created the more accepted of the two theories and has thus been welcomed with open arms. The philosophy of Schelling is appropriately called Naturphilosophie, as it revolves around the core concept of, you guessed it: Nature. Should you seek to read more about Schelling, you will find that historians tend to describe his system of thought in stages, four of them in most cases, each describing a different change in his thought since he did change his thought quite a bit; however, in organizing this section, about which I thought heavily as to how I should best explain it, I decided to go chronologically in terms of the creation of the world to the goal of the world; as such, I will be explaining one aspect, then jumping to a new one which builds upon it. Accordingly, Schelling begins with the creation of the world, a Cosmic Fall, as it is referred. Mirroring the Fall of Man outlined in the Bible, Schelling identifies this period as Man’s break with God. This God, which is sometimes used interchangeably with Nature in Schelling, is essentially the physical manifestation of chaos, ungrund, initially. At this stage God is indistinguishable, for He is literally an amorphous energy, with a great evil lurking within Him. Essence, or spirit, and ground, or matter, dual elements, compose God. In the beginning, there is more ground in God than essence, and hence there is a lack of balance, resulting in evil. When spirit is subordinate to ground, there can be no good, just pure anarchy and amorality. Evil has a reason for existing, though: evil exists solely to 'Adam's_Creation_Sistine_Chapel_ceiling'_by_Michelangelo_JBU33cut.jpgbe separated, inasmuch as there can be no good unless there is evil from which it can spring forth. Man then separates from God in a period of Genesis, where Man is expelled, cast out, broken off, an act called Abbrechen, or Sprung, from God. Since God is evil, since Man springs from God, Man is inherently evil, and so there exists deep within him a great darkness. From this point on, I will be referring to God as the Absolute spirit, or the Absolute, which at this stage is synonymous with Nature. The Absolute comprises a symbiosis between life and spirit, matter and nature, all of which are equivalent. If this is the case, then the Absolute pervades all, is all, thereby making Schelling’s philosophy one of pantheism. The goal of the Absolute is ultimate self-recognition. The Absolute does not know itself, yet it seeks to; within it is a yearning, a desire for self-consciousness, for recognition, for actualization. Were the Absolute to reach its end, were it to become aware of itself eventually, there would be no distinction between that which is the Absolute and that which is not, meaning everything would be made void; hence self-recognition is impossible for the Absolute, so its striving for awareness is infinite, with no end; while it can get closer and closer to recognizing itself with each adaption, it will never completely grasp itself. Such is a metaphor for Romanticism itself and the atmosphere it created–a yearning for something, something that is missing yet unknowable, a never-ending ambition for that which can never be attained, an unquenchable feeling known as Sehnsucht. As a result, the Absolute is never static but dynamic, in constant flux, more like the flowing river than the immobile rock. The process whereby the Absolute seeks itself is what Schelling calls Absolute abstraction, a process in which the Absolutes ego finds itself in opposition to the non-ego in hopes of finding itself. It is pretty much ripped right out of Fichte’s writing, this absolute abstraction, and not by accident, as Schelling read and was remarkably influenced by Fichte, but the former eventually divorced himself from the latter in his later writings. From the viewpoint of humans, the Absolute is not knowable through reason but intuition. “The nature of the Absolute itself… cannot be known by explanation, but only through intuition. For it is only the composite which can be known by description. The simple must be intuited.”[3] Jacobi is brought to mind here, his use of faith instead of reason to perceive things-in-themselves, his insistence on the simple rather than the complex. We arrive now at perhaps one of the most fascinating stages of images-1.jpegSchelling: the idea of a primitive evolution of sorts. He explains it in this way: “History as a whole is a continual revelation of the Absolute, a revelation which gradually discloses it.”[4] Tying in with the notion of self-recognition, the entire course of history has, since its beginning, worked its way up to now, constantly evolving, never stopping, increasingly becoming more and more sentient, more receptive. “Gradually,” Schelling says, the Absolute “discloses” as its complexity grows greater than before. Evolution moves from death to life, from the inorganic to the organic, and from the organic to spirit, and from spirit to freedom, which the highest point of an organism’s potential. Interestingly, while he is not correct according to today’s scientific standards, Schelling based this creation of his on the latest scientific findings of his day, making his idea of evolution, albeit prototypical, the most accurate for his time. The world began, then abiotic (inorganic) things, like rocks, began to spring up, followed by biotic (organic) things, like trees, leading to animals (spirit), and finally freedom (what the manifestation of this stage is will be saved for later). After this, Schelling, angered by Hegel, whom he accused of stealing his ideas, inspiring an irresoluble grudge between the two despite their being roommates in college, thought it necessary to distinguish two types of philosophies: positive philosophy, the correct type, in which Schelling placed himself, and negative philosophy, the wrong type, in which he placed Hegel. The difference between the two was that positive philosophy was dedicated to existence, whereas negative philosophy was dedicated to the speculative, the logical, which as we know, was considered contemptible during the Romantic period. Schelling has led some to think him an early proponent of Existentialism as a result of this stage in his philosophy, stage characterized by his question of “Why is there anything at all? Why not nothing?”[5] Schelling’s epistemology consisted of a four-part flow: sensation, perception, reflection, and will. Starting with sensation, the individual, á la Fichte, limits himself, opening himself to the world, to that which he is not; i.e., he differentiates his self from the world, therefore receiving it. This leads to perception, where the individual then recognizes the external world and makes sense out it. Now that the individual has a sense of the external, he must engage in the internal, or introspection, looking inside of himself. It is with this dual knowledge, inside and out, that he can will, which allows for him to act upon this knowledge as well as interact with other minds, other people. Schelling’s metaphysics, I said, have impacted many a fine Unknown-6.jpegpoet, most notably, mayhap, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who was enchanted with this image of a living, pantheistic Nature, serving as the impetus for a number of his poems. Now we will talk about Schelling’s views on aesthetics and how Man fits into it all. We have spoken about God, the Absolute, and we have touched on the individual, specifically his origin and his source of knowledge; howbeit, we have not actually talked in depth about the nature of Man himself. In Schelling’s evolution, the final stage is freedom. Just below freedom is spirit, which is the creation of animals. Freedom, then, this final step in evolution, the most perfect organism, that which can have no superior, is none other than Man. But what makes humans different from animals? Are not we animals, after all? What makes humans different from and superior to animals is his ability to introspect. Recall that humans, through reflection, can internalize empirical information. Remember, too, that matter and nature are synonymous. Man happens to be actualized matter in the ladder of evolution, giving us the following syllogism:

Matter is Nature
Man is actualized Matter
Therefore Man is Nature

Man can thus do what the Absolute can only wish of doing: become self-aware. According to Schelling’s evolution, Man is the physical manifestation of freedom; Man is freedom in the physical embodiment of freedom! Since Man is self-conscious, and Man is Nature, it means Nature, too, is conscious; so Man, Nature, is able to discover himself, Nature. We come to the conclusion that Man is the highest being, evidently, and is necessary for the Absolute. “Nature is nothing more than the lifeless aggregate of an indeterminable crowd of objects…. Or the space in which… he [the artist] imagines things placed,”[6] writes Schelling. Nature is defined here as the place in which the artist acts, similar to Fichte’s theory of the world. He adds: “To philosophize about nature is to create nature.”[7] For this reason, Nature exists so we can shape it, so we can mold it to our liking. Just as there can be perfect art, so there can imperfect art, asserts Schelling. Imitation is seen as deplorable, like Plato said in the Republic, since it shames and blemishes Nature. Even worse are frauds, who say Nature is “not merely a dumb, but an altogether lifeless image.”[8] Such are enemies of beauty. Fine art, on the other hand, Schelling pairs with a Unknown-8.jpegbalance of form and soul, each of which is essential, meaning no one can be more dominant than the other. (As in the preponderance of ground over essence in God, imbalance results in evil.) The balance between the two necessities is achieved by grace, which Schelling finds to be the most important part of a work of art. On the act of creating art, of being a divine artist, Schelling writes: “Art springs only from that powerful striving of the inmost powers of the heart and spirit, which we call inspiration.”[9] Heart and spirit can be likened to the very relation of form and spirit, with emotion paired with faith. “Art, therefore, prefers to grasp immediately at the highest and most developed, the human form.” [10] Unfortunately, the greatest artists of the past, be they Homer, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, or van Gogh, will only come around once, according to Schelling. No one will ever emulate their greatness, nor will anyone be able to do what they did; but there will be new ones, now and in the future. While we may not recreate the great Greek sculptures or Sistine frescoes, we can create new works of art that will be looked upon and admired. The final sentence of Schelling’s essay “On the Relation of the Plastic Arts to Nature” is equally haunting as it is inspiring: “Nature never repeats herself.”[11]

 

 


[1] Copleston, A History of Philosophy, Vol. 7, p. 19
[2] Schlegel, Kritische Friedrich-Schlegel-Ausgabe, Vol. 18, p. 518
[3] Schelling, Werke, Vol. 4, pp. 15-6
[4] Schelling, Werke, Vol. 2, p. 603
[5] Edwards, The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Vol. 7, p. 309
[6] Adams, Critical Theory Since Plato, p. 446
[7] Tarnas, The Passion of the Western Mind, p. 369
[8] Adams, op. cit., p. 446
[9] Id., p. 457
[10] Id., p. 450
[11] Id., p. 468

 

 

For further reading: 
The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Nietzsche by Lawrence Cahoone (2010)
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud
 by Peter Watson (2006)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy
 Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Friedrich Schlegel
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
Critical Theory Since Plato
 by Hazard Adams (1971)
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)

History of Philosophy by Julian Marías (1967)
Story of Philosophy by Brian Magee (1998)

The German Romantic Philosophers (4 of 5)

Having gone over Schiller’s writings on aesthetics and their relation to humanity and freedom, having examined Fichte’s extensive metaphysical and ethical theories, which were inspired by Kant, we will briefly look at the educational and religious advancements made during Romanticism. Schiller thought art was humanity’s greatest achievement and was integral to being free, and in Fichte we saw a move toward the subjective and active, with emphasis on the individual and the world he creates for himself. Now we discuss Humboldt and Schleiermacher.

Unknown.jpegWilhelm von Humboldt (1767-1835) was the esteemed brother of Alexander von Humboldt, an explorer and scientist, with Charles Darwin being an admirer of his, who traveled the world collecting new plants and studying temperatures around the globe. This blog is not about his brother, though; but it does not go without saying that the Humboldts were a talented bunch, given that Wilhelm was a philosopher, educator, diplomat, political theorist, and linguist. The most lasting impression left by Wilhelm is his contribution to education, earning him the title of “the Francis Bacon of revival learning,”[1] in the words of Will Durant. During Wilhelm’s time, there were several high-ranked universities, the famous University of Jena, where Fichte and Schiller studied, among them. Assigned the duty of reforming the Prussian education system, Humboldt sought to secularize the university, taking the emphasis off of religious studies and placing it on more liberal arts. The Humboldt University of Berlin, formerly the University of Berlin, was founded by Humboldt in 1811. A fan of the Humanities, Humboldt required their teaching in his school, his interests in Ancient Greece prevailing, especially with the introduction of philosophy as a main course. In addition to philosophy, Humboldt required within the curriculum chemistry, history, and various other social sciences which he felt were more practical, more beneficial to the student, so as to prepare them for life, to educate them thoroughly and revitalize their curiosity. History was largely neglected, but by making it a mainstream topic, Humboldt allowed for more development in the subject. Hegel likely would have never systematized his theory of history had Humboldt not done this, and for this we owe a great respect to Humboldt. The school was no longer a place for students to merely listen to lectures and take notes but was now transformed into a Unknown-1.jpegprofessional, top-quality institution, with students now partaking in actual research that got them involved, that got them to see their work firsthand. Humboldt also made it incredibly hard to become a teacher without credentials, therefore ensuring that students got a quality education, one that taught them memorably, effectively. It was around this time, too, that the Ph.d. was created, although it cannot be said to be created by Humboldt himself. Not only did Humboldt introduce new material into schools, but he also pioneered a new subject: philology–the interpretation of texts. As avid a linguist as Herder, Humboldt was fascinated by different languages, studying the classics, both Western and Eastern, for there was a massive surge of interest in the East at this time while their works were being discovered and passed around. In particular, Humboldt, and Schleiermacher too, was intrigued by Indian texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, which he translated and thereby popularized. This interest in experimenting with different languages led to his studies in comparative linguistics, a study continued today. Like Herder, Humboldt thought language’s place in civilization was unique, likening it to a Volksgeist, a spirit of the people (he never used Volksgeist, but it is attributed to him). He served as the Prussian diplomat to Rome and subsequently to Vienna, and he played a large role in the Napoleonic Wars toward the end, persuading several nations to unite against the French, greatly influencing the rest of the war. Humboldt was a liberal, and like Mill, he valued individual rights above the government, which he thought should be small and limited so it would not infringe on the people’s rights.


Unknown-2.jpegThe greatest theologian of Romanticism was Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768-1834). At the core of Schleiermacher’s philosophy is Absolute dependence, Abhängigkeitsgefühl, what he calls the “religious feeling,” since the feeling, once achieved and properly perpetuated, inspires awe and a deep sense of faith. This faith is invested entirely in God and in nothing else, like Martin Luther. He reserved religious practice, not for transcendental knowledge but Absolute dependence; in other words, were a Neoplatonist or Christian to meditate with the end of reaching the Good, of seeing God, or of awakening to reality as, say, a Buddhist would, then they are doing it for the wrong reason, insofar as Schleiermacher thought religious activity was meant to strengthen one’s belief, to establish one’s piety, to place one’s life in the hands of God, i.e., to make them dependent on Him, absolutely, wholly; therefore, dependence is not to be placed on anything outside of the world, on some other reality, but on God Himself. Absolute dependence can only be achieved by looking inward, not by rationalizing, nor by acting. It is a sensation deep within the individual, and it must be found through self-consciousness and intuition. Faith and faith alone is the tool for being pious to God. If thought comes to fruition in being, as in knowledge, then it becomes Nature; and if being comes to fruition in thought, as in moral law, then it becomes spirit. Essentially, God is a combination of Nature and spirit who can be depended upon by means of intuition, for he is so vast that reason cannot envisage Him. Intuition allows us to embrace the Absolute, to feel it, and to understand the Universe, notwithstanding its infinitude. The relation between God and Universe is complicated, as God is not synonymous with Universe, yet He is also not anonymous with Universe; rather, they are correlative and work in the same sphere, so to speak. Schleiermacher can be considered a pantheist, in that he believed God is immanent; God permeates our reality. In fact, he says we are each unique parts of God Himself, Eigentümlichkeit, individual descendants of His, with special characteristics and talents. This individualistic doctrine is interesting coming from a theologian, for he not only expressing our relation with God, but he is also expressing our uniqueness, both in personality and in talent, which he thought we should look for, perfect, and flaunt in our own ways. Furthermore, this sets up an axiomatic relationship between the individual and the community: uniqueness implies that it is unique compared to other things, meaning there must be a community of other unique individuals, and community implies there are different people within it, meaning there must be uniqueness. Both Schleiermacher and Humboldt innovated their own disciplines: Humboldt innovated philology, and Schleiermacher hermeneutics, which has the same premise as philology, except that it focuses primarily on religious, spiritual, and philosophical works than language in general. Another similarity between Humboldt and Schleiermacher is their love of Eastern images.jpegtexts. “For Schleiermacher… the source of all religion ‘can be found’ in the unconscious or in the Orient, from whence all religions came.”[2] Hermeneutics is all about interpretation, be it of the book, the history, or the author. Schleiermacher is credited with engineering the hermeneutic circle, a method whereby an interpreter can study the work effectively. The first step is to understand the background or context of the work. One must find when the work was written, where it was written, and why it was written. Once the background is researched, one then studies the grammatical and psychological aspects of it, which means analyzing the language, syntax, and grammar of the work and the mental attitude of he who wrote it. Understanding what beliefs the author had at the time and what he was thinking allows for a personal connection with the text and allows the reader deeper within the text. Lastly, the interpreter looks at the piece in sections and holistically, switching between the two to get a better grasp of the general structure and specific details. This method has been adapted into editing in writing, for it has proved effective in finding organization and finding information the writer is trying to convey.

 


[1] Durant, The Story of Civilization, Vol. 10, p. 606
[2] Schwab, The Oriental Renaissance: Europe’s Discovery of India and the East, 1680-1880, p. 219

For further reading:
Ideas: A History of Thought and Invention, from Fire to Freud by Peter Watson (2006)
Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
 3rd ed. by Simon Blackburn (2016)
The Oxford Companion to Philosophy
 by Ted Honderich (1995)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 4 by Paul Edwards (1967)
The Encyclopedia of Philosophy 
Vol. 7 by Paul Edwards (1967)
A History of Philosophy
 Vol. 7 by Frederick Copleston (1994)
The Passion of the Western Mind 
by Richard Tarnas (1993)
The Story of Civilization 
Vol. 10 by Will Durant (1967)
Dictionary of Philosophy 
by Thomas Mautner (2005)
The Roots of Romanticism 
by Isaiah Berlin (1999)