Eastern and Western Philosophy: The Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius, Socrates, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein
by Rodney Ohebsion
There are a lot of -isms in the East. The typical factory there makes 100,000 a day. They don't just make iPads and t-shirts. They also make -isms.
Let's start with Buddhism.
As many people know, the Buddha (563-483 BC) was born to a very wealthy family. But he abandoned his wealth at the age of 29 in order to become a devoted to self-discipline and spiritual pursuits.
I'll bet at one point, his mother wasn't especially proud of him--or more specifically, his career. Her friend asked, "What does your son do?" And the Buddha's mother replied, "He's in the tree business." [Friend:] "Is he a farmer?" [Buddha's Mother:] "No--he's involved with trees." [Friend:] "He buys and sells trees?" [Buddha's Mother:] "No--he sits under one and meditates." [Friend:] "What else does he do?" [Buddha's Mother:] "That's pretty much it."
It's a good thing Buddha wasn't Jewish. Otherwise, his mother would've killed herself. [Buddha's Jewish Mother:] "My son sits under a tree all day? What kind of a life is that?"
Then of course, Buddha gained a lot of followers. Which probably changed his mother's attitude. Sort of. [Buddha's Jewish Mother:] "Well, he's not a doctor--but he founded a religion. It's not quite a religion--but he's like the chiropractor of religious founders. He could've been a doctor, though. Why didn't he become a doctor?"
I should point out that the Buddha's lifestyle wasn't really that unusual in his society. Back then in India, a lot of people left the world of material comforts and devoted themselves to the spiritual or religious life. It was, and to some extent still is, part of the culture.
So I guess maybe his mother was OK with it. I'm not sure. I think she had mixed feelings.
I bring this up in order to contrast the East and West. Nowadays in the West, the idea of someone doing that is extremely bizarre. Just imagine Donald Trump's son leaving Trump Enterprises, geting rid of everything, and living as a beggar. That's comparable to what the Buddha and plenty of others did. The Buddha's father was like Donald Trump. I'm pretty sure he was in real estate. He ran the Buddha Tower and Buddha Hotel and Casino. Actually, Buddha wasn't their last name. I guess it was the Gautama Hotel and Casino. And the Buddha left all of that and became a beggar. And according to Buddhist teachings, he eventually reached the highest spiritual state.
So what did he say?
The Buddha told us to vote Yes on Proposition 1: Doing Good. He told us to vote No on Proposition 2: Selfish or Excessive Desires. And he didn't tell us how to vote on Proposition 3: Religious Beliefs.
According to the Buddha, our selfish or excessive desires appear pleasant on the surface, and bait us into living in a hell of our own making. And once we stop following those desires, our self-created hell will disappear.
When the Buddha first embarked on his spiritual path, he tried depriving himself. But after a while, he decided that that was too much. He also felt that indulging oneself was too much. So he settled on satisfying the necessities of life, and stopping there. He felt that only the path of moderation allows us to conquer ourselves and bring our state of sorrow to an end. When someone asked for directions to the path, he said, "it’s somewhere between a Monastery and Rick James’s house."
A man who makes a million wants ten million—and should he make ten million, he’ll want a hundred million—and should he reach that goal, he’ll set his sights on a billion—and should he make it that far, he’ll long for ten billion—and should he manage to reach ten billion, he’ll still be unsatisfied. Next thing he’ll know, he’ll be dead.
According to the Buddha, a life like that isn’t as good as an hour well-spent. Really. All the nonsense you might be planning to do for the next five years won’t be as good as what you should do for the next hour or so.
Now, when the Buddha said vote Yes on Doing Good and Vote No on Selfish Desires, he didn't mean just vote. He didn't mean just read a book, listen to a guru, call yourself a Buddhist, and share the Buddha's teaching with others. He meant put on your gloves, get on your knees, and uproot your selfish or excessive desires now. And do good. Remain ever awake and vigilant, and always set your thoughts on the Way. Someone can point it out. But only a person can make the effort.
The Buddha also warned against underestimating the right and wrong paths. They can add up little by little—and before you know it, you’ll be a saint or something else altogether.
OK. Let's move on to Taoism.
The Taoist Sage Lao Tzu (604-531 BC) said, "I’d like to show you the Way. Only I can’t. Why? Because if I showed it to you, it wouldn’t be the actual Way. But by telling you that I can’t show you the Way, I am in fact showing you the Way. In a way. What am I talking about? I have no idea. And that’s exactly why I know exactly what I’m talking about. Why? Because if I knew what I was talking about, I wouldn’t know what I was talking about."
Are you with him so far? OK. He also added, "But don’t take my word for it. Find it yourself. How? By doing absolutely nothing. Don’t go out the door. Don’t even look out the window. By not looking, you’ll know everything. And by not doing, you’ll do everything, and nothing will remain undone."
Lao Tzu was for doing everything by not doing anything. So the next time someone sees you sitting on the couch doing nothing, calmly explain that you’re getting everything done.
Lao Tzu also told us that that we shouldn't try to run the world. And if leaders could keep this Way of not doing, everything would take care of itself.
Like Buddhism, Taoism gets into the topic of desires. It teaches that we can't have everything, and we can't pursue everything. Half of the world is trying to convince us that we need unimportant things—and many of us end up chasing non-essentials that crowd out what we really need. And when we want or value the wrong things, we lose the Great Way. (So if your wife thinks the Great Way leads to Bloomingdale's, let her know about Taoism.)
A person of the Way is content with the Way. By knowing the relative importance of things and setting the proper value on his life, most of the world’s bullshit seems unimportant.
No one would trade his health for possession of the world. And yet, people are often found risking just about everything—their health, well being, freedom, and their very lives—in hopes of gaining less than 0.00000001% of the world.
Many people torture themselves and sacrifice life’s realities to strive after empty gains, when they can just be human beings. How is that any different from being chained in prison? (Aside from the fact that they don’t have to use the toilet in front of others.)
Using a trillion dollar bait to catch a one dollar fish is a $999,999,999,999 error. Taoists ask whether we should give up so much for things that might not be that important. The Taoist way of life is simple. Society's way of life is complex. But Taoism claims that its way is what avoids giving up what's more important for what's less important.
As you might imagine, Taoists tend to be somewhat or very removed from society, and aren't that into its system of positions, honors, etc. Time's person of the year is usually a famous world leader--but Taoists' person of the year is usually someone most of us have never heard of. Every time I pick up the Person of the Year issue of Taoist Magazine, I look at the cover and think, "Who?"
Confucianism Magazine, on the other hand, has an unknown Person of the Year only about 50% of the time.
Confucianism represents itself as a more balanced school of thought relative to Taoism.
Like Taoists, Confucians aren't quite part of standard society. For instance, Confucius told us to care more about being worth knowing than actually being known, and to seek the approval of good people more than the approval of people in general. But he still felt that we shouldn't be removed from the world like Taoists.
He told us that we can be useful to the world without being a mere tool, implement, a cog in the world's machine.
And he let us know that we can be in harmony with the world without being mere conformists. He said, "A piano with 81 identical keys lacks harmony; a world of nothing but conformists lacks harmony; a world of nothing but pianos lacks everything but pianos."
Confucius (551-479 BC) told us that we should make ourselves great people. We should be around good influneces, but learn from everyone. We should put the moral way ahead of riches and honors, and fairness ahead of personal exemptions and favors. We should think, without becoming mere philosophers. We should listen to the wisdom of the Sages, and seek to put that wisdom in practice. We should have principles, without being misled by narrow ones. We should consider being teachers and part of government--but realize that being a good person also counts as teaching others and being part of government. And we should change the world and others, but pick our spots when it comes to that, and not fight every battle.
On the last two topics, Confucius said, "Speaking of high subjects to low men is like feeding a dead man lo mein."
Confucius also pointed out that, although we need good influences and the Sages' teachings, we become great people through our ourselves as individuals. He told us that a person makes the Way great, and the Way doesn't make the person great. He also said that "The practice of being a complete person comes from a person himself, and not from Confucius. Unless of course, you are Confucius. Which is pretty unlikely considering howI'm Confucius." And he added that "Although even Brad Pitt's girlfriend can be stolen, there is not a single individual who's free will can be stolen."
Confucius also had a lot to say about government. For instance, "Hire and promote the upright, fire and demote crooked, put the right person in the right position, don't expect one person to be fit for everything, ask advice from a variety of people who think for themselves, and don't forget to pick up your sister from the mall."
Alright. Let's move on to Western philosophy. I'm going to provide some commentary on it.
Wait. Am I allowed to do that? Do I need to add a footnote somewhere in this first? I think I do. That's a rule. If you want to offer commentary on Western philosophy, you need a footnote. So here it is.  There's a footnote.
OK. Let's start with Socrates (469-399 BC). He spent a lot of his life pondering things and performing his fifty minute set. Only for philosophers, it's a fifty hour set. And in Socrate's case, most of it consisted of him logically deducing that certain views were wrong. Any time anyone said anything, Socrates logified his way into telling them they were wrong. He did a lot of that. And he ended up being charged with blaspheming the local gods and corrupting the local youth. (I'm pretty sure the same thing happened to Lenny Bruce.)
Forced to defend himself, he addressed a crowd of Greeks in what, at the time, was considered the greatest trial in human history. (Keep in mind that this was well before The State v. Lindsay Lohan). And that's when he delivered his now legendary apology. Although it wasn't an "apology" apology. It was more like an, "I'm sorry you guys are such assholes" apology. Apologia Eseis Gyros Socrassholes. That's the Greek title.
According to Plato, here's what Socrates said: “A while back, I realized that—unlike other people—I’m wise enough to know that I don’t know shit. I proceeded to tell others that they don’t know shit, either—and by doing so, I gained some followers, and a lot of enemies. And here I am now, on trial because I pissed off some powerful people—including one guy who's saying I'm an atheist, and I believe in non-sanctioned gods. What people don’t realize is that without guys like me constantly agitating other people, the state would be as lazy as a pot smoker who just won the lottery.”
But after hearing Socrates’s little shpiel, the jury found him guilty by majority vote, and asked him what he thought he deserved as a punishment. “How about you kiss my Greek ass?” was his first reply, followed by a more serious, “I don’t know. How about some sort of fine?” The jury, however, had another idea in mind, and sentenced him to death—to which Socrates replied, “So what? For all I know, death might be better than life.”
And after a few days on death row, he spent his final hours with some friends, and remarked to them that “Like any true philosopher, I look forward to death—for now my immortal soul will finally be free from my mortal body and its needs. How do I know my soul is immortal? Well, everything comes from its opposite—and thus, if the living die, the dead live. Plus, since we know everything before we're born and then spend our lives remembering some of it, we must have existed before we were born. And the soul is invisible—and all invisible things are also immortal.”
That actually confuses me. Because Socrates insisted that he didn't know shit. But he also felt he knew a lot of shit. Including all the shit that happens after you die. Maybe I don't understand Western philosophy as well as I think I do.
So there's some Western philosophy. I don't think Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius, etc. were very fond of it. For starters, those guys probably didn't think conventional logic had much of a place in philosophy. For instance, Lao Tzu didn't really present much logic. The only example I could find was, "Socrates, Descartes, Kant, and all of those other Western philosophers present logic to support their ideas. But they all end up coming to different conclusions. Is that logical?"
And Buddha wasn't really into whys as much as he was into hows. And when he was into whys, they usually weren't Socratic whys.
But back to Socrates. After being sentenced to death, he was actually presented with an opportunity to escape and leave town--but he chose to go with the jury's decision. So he said some last goodbyes and ate some poisonous mushrooms. Wait a second. Not poisonous mushrooms. That's Eastern philosophy. Socrates drank some poisonous hemlock.
Let's move on to Descartes (1596-1650). Like Socrates, Descartes is a popular philosopher whose name isn't pronounced like it's spelled. The philosophy industry does that on purpose. They want to make people sound ignorant, so they bait them into saying, "so-crates, dess-cart-ess, cant," etc. And don't get me started on Nietzsche. Any time I see his name, I cross out a few of those consonants.
Anyways, Descartes said we can't trust what we know through our senses—because for all we know, everything our senses know might be wrong.
If we can visualize gloves that don’t really exist, how do we know that the “real” gloves we can see and feel on our hands aren’t also imaginary? And even if they are real, how do we know that our hands themselves aren’t imaginary?
According to Descartes, there’s only one source of reliable knowledge—the use of pure reason. So I guess we can reason our way to proving the gloves exist. Especially if we have a receipt. "I have a receipt, therefore I have gloves."
Is that Cartesian logic? I'm not sure.
And what about our hands. How can we prove they exist? No receipt, no proof.
I don't think Descartes was even that concerned with hands and gloves. He did say something about human existence, though. Apparently, the fact that we think proves that we exist. Because the thoughts must have a source. They can’t just come from nowhere. I mean, think about it. There you go. You just proved that you exist. At least according to Descartes. You can use his "I think, therefore I am" logic to prove that you exist. And if you have a receipt for your existence, that helps, too.
So we might not be able to prove much, but we can prove that we exist. We have thoughts and the ability to use reason. And true knowledge can only be gained through the use of reason. According to Descartes, if we really want to know anything, it’s necessary to start from the fact that we exist, and then work our way from there.
I started yesterday, and I'm up to ten pieces of real knowledge. They're not that interesting, though. It took me ten minutes to prove that soft tacos are very similar to burritos.
I don't think this Cartesian stuff is for me. I mean, what if the receipt for my gloves is also imaginary? Then what?
Let's move on from Descartes's Discourse to David Hume's Enquiry. According to Hume (1711-1776), we might think we know cause and effect—but that’s simply the effect of our extreme delusion. We sometimes assume that A causes B—but for all we know, B might not even be in the alphabet. For instance, when we see a bowling ball roll into a bunch of pins that fall over, we simply assume that the ball knocked down the pins—but in reality, this book might not even exist! Or when the country’s messed up, we all look at the President—but there’s a good chance Elvis Presley broke up the Beatles. Or based on the information we have, we could just as easily conclude that vitamin C causes scurvy.
Hume also pointed out that not only are we usually convinced that A causes B, we often go so far as to assume that anything that seems to resemble A will cause B or something like it, or that the existence of A means a thousand other things. Just because bin Laden is nuts, we shouldn’t assume that all bearded men are pretty much like him. (But just to be safe, you might want to avoid making direct eye contact with anyone who has more than a stubble.) And just because the Patriots have covered the spread nine straight times against the Dolphins, we shouldn’t assume that they’ll do it again. (Believe me—I know. My recently foreclosed home is proof of that theory.) And just because Tuesday has always followed Monday in the past, that doesn’t mean it’ll continue to do so in the future. (Which is exactly why I don’t believe in appointment books). And just because the last three examples have been followed by a parenthetical, there’s no guarantee that this one will. (In fact, I’m going to make sure it won’t—just to make a point.)
And that does it for Hume. Next up is Kant (1724-1804). He's considered the greatest philosopher ever. Whenever I hear about him, I feel like doing some serious philosophizing. I'm going to do that right now. I'm going to critique Kant's critiques. And maybe after I do, the world will rank me up there with him.
Kant is the author of works like Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of Practical Reason, and Critique of Judgement. He was very fond of critiques. I'll bet when he was in third grade, while everyone else was playing hide and go seek, he was critiquing hide and go seek. Critique of Hide and Go Seek. There wasn't much of a market for that. The print run was 2. So Kant moved on to other critiques. Including Critique of Pure Reason. I'm surprised there was a market for that. Nowadays, most of the people who read it are forced to. How many people read Critique of Pure Reason just because they want to? We need a critique of those people. Critique of Pure Critique of Pure Reason Readers.
As is often the case in philosophy, the works of Kant aren't always that easy to understand. You have to reread parts a few times to make sense of them. And even then, you still might not be able to figure out what's going on. "What the hell's this guy taking about?" You'll probably end up thinking that quite a bit. In fact, that's the main theme of Kant's works. "What is this guy talking about?"
Apparently, Critique of Pure Reason is easy to understand compared to Kant's last major work, Opus Postumum. No one knows what the hell it says, and it's considered his greatest work of all. I'll bet even Kant didn't really understand it. In fact, that's what he says in the book's preface:
"To be perfectly honest, I really can't make heads or tails out of this one. But I'm pretty sure it's a philosophical work. I mean, it's thick and unbelievably boring. All signs point to philosophy. If any of you find out what it's about, be sure to let me know, because I'm kind of curious myself."
That's the main goal in philosophy. Write a two thousand page book that even you yourself can't understand. That's why Kant is considered the greatest philosopher of all time. He didn't know what he was saying, others didn't know what he was saying--but we could all agree that his books were long. That's also one of the main themes of his philosophy. The primary theme is "What is this taking about?" The secondary theme is "When is this going to end?" And then there's that whole part about the thing-in-itself.
Philosophers have some nerve. They just demand that you listen to something for 200 hours. "Here we go. I'm going to talk about my philosophy. For 10,000 pages. And you might have to reread some parts three or four times. Otherwise, they're not goint to make much sense."
Before you go on for 200 hours, why don't you tell us why your book's worth studying in the first place? How about that, Kant?
I think the appeal of some books is enhanced by their having a puzzle-like quality. Either the reader has to solve the puzzle, or the book unveils everything for him. And that makes him think that what he finds is more meaningful.
It's more meaningful? Says who? It might not mean anything. I can make a puzzle out of bullshit. Jersey Shorecan do that, too. MTV can make a confusing, puzzling version Jersey Shore, where at the end, after 29 minutes of some bullshit your hardly understand, you find out that one of the characters did something inappropriate. And you have to watch the whole thing 5 times to make sense out of it.
There you go. Kantian Jersey Shore. Does that make it meaningful? No. But it's probably more meaningful than Kant.
Anyways, what did Kant say?
Well, he disagreed with Decartes. Descartes vs. Kant was like Tyson vs. Holyfield. Only when Descartes bit off Kant's ear, Descartes demanded that Kant prove the ear existed in the first place. I think Tyson should've used that defense.
Kant wasn't too fond of Descartes's philosophy. Descartes believed we can know something entirely through our understanding--and he used reasoning to prove that something was or wasn’t the case. But according to Kant, the only thing he proved was that he was full of shit.
Kant said we need to realize the limits of human reason, instead of expecting it to know what anything really is in itself. According to Kant, you don't really know anything. You can't know anything. You just know appearances. Your mind takes in the world through your senses—and your senses can only know appearances. You only know what your mind makes of the appearance of things. And that could be anything. You don't know what things are. You don't know things as they are. You don't know the thing-in-itself. You don't know. You can't know. You can know something. But you can't actually know the thing-in-itself. There's a thing-in-itself. And our mind perceives something. But we don't know what the thing-in-itself actually is in reality. Things are what they are—regardless of what they appear to be and what we think of them. And all in all, your mind has created a “real” world that may or may not exist in reality. You’ll have to live and die without ever knowing the reality behind what your mind makes out of appearances.
OK. That's Kant. I just summed up his philosophy in thirty seconds. I actually summed it up in ten seconds. And I restated it a couple of times. I can sum it up in three seconds. "You can't know the thing-in-itself." Done. Finished. Don't bother with 5000 pages of Kantian critiques.
"You can't know the thing-in-itself." So what? That's a career? Kant made a career out of that? How is that a career?
Yeah. You never expected us to analyze that--did you, Kant? You're trying to distract us with your theory. So we won't actually look into the fact that you made a career out of that shit.
There's one thing we definitely do know. We know the thing-in-itself when it comes this: Kant's career is bullshit.
I think this is all a distraction. People are quick to say that what we see on TV is a distraction. And Kant isn't a distraction? Kant's a distraction, too.
Why do we need to know we can't know the thing-in-itself? Explain that one, Kant.
And what makes Kant think he knows we can't know the thing-in-itself? Isn't he saying he knows the thing-in-itself when it comes to knowing we can't know the thing in itself? Kant should've ended Critique of Pure Reasonby saying, "So we can't know the thing-in-itself. Which means that my entire 'we can't know the thing-in-itself' philosophy might appear to make sense, when it could just as easily be pure bullshit. So maybe we can know the thing-in-itself."
We can't know the thing-in-itself. But that didn't stop Kant from running his mouth for 10,000 pages. About what he felt he knew.
And what the hell is a thing-in-itself, anyways? I don't know. I guess your Honda might seem like a Honda—but for all you know, it might be Mount Kilimanjaro. The universe might look like a universe—but it could just as easily be your ex-girlfriend disguised as a universe. You might think you know your wife—but in reality, she’s essentially unknowable. And you might be convinced you know Obama—but the truth is, he doesn’t even know himself. Not to mention the fact that you can’t even know the real you.
There you go. There's my award winning commentary on Kant. The guy who's telling me I can't know the thing in-itself.
And maybe I do know the thing-in-itself. What are you trying to say, Kant? That my books are bullshit?
Kant's starting to piss me off. I should dig up some dirt on him. I'll find something. I think he was an anti-Semite. Let me Google that.
I found a lot. Kant called the Jews cheating merchants and moneylanders. He considered them non-productive members of society. He also added that they have pretty much no concept of fairness when it comes to business.
I'm Jewish, by the way. Am I Jewish? I'm Jewish. I'm pretty sure I'm Jewish. I'm Jewish. Well, I'm not Jewish. Am I Jewish? Let's say I'm Jewish. I am Jewish. Am I Jewish? Yeah--I'm Jewish. Well--I'm not Jewish Jewish. Am I Jewish? I don't know. I'm Jewish. I might be Jewish. I'm Jewish. I'm pretty sure I'm Jewish.
Shall I present a counterargument now? OK. Maybe there's a grain of truth to what Kant's saying about the Jews. But that's the whole point. People make the habit of taking a grain of truth and going crazy with it. Like Kant did. You can make an argument like Kant's to make any group look bad. Germans, the French, truck drivers, psychologists... and the list goes on. Take your choice. Any group. Kant targeted the Jews. And he told us that they're lying, cheating merchants and moneylenders who don't do anything for society.
Well, I beg to differ. So here's my Critique of Kant's Anti-Semitic Views.
Guess what, Kant? Plenty of Jews aren't moneylenders or merchants.
Not to mention the fact that the world needs moneylenders and merchants. More than it needs your horseshitCritique of Pure Reason.
Moneylenders have a personal financial interest in the outcome of an investment, so they give their capital to the right parties. The ones that'll do more good with that capital. Like Google. As opposed to a swastika manufacturer. Moneylenders usually give money to companies like Google, and not swastika manufacturers. That's how the world allocates its resources. Through moneylenders. You got that, Kant? You anti-Semitic piece of shit. Oh--and you're complaining about Jewish usury? It's an open market. A lot of people have money and a willingness to lend it. Ever heard of that, Kant?
I'm not saying it's a perfect system. But all in all, the world needs moneylenders.
And it needs merchants. That's how we distribute goods. If it weren't for merchants, do you think you'd be able to walk into a Wal-Mart and buy whatever you want? Huh, Kant? Answer that question. Listen, Kant. Stop critiquing reason and listen to me. Wal-Mart saves you time and money. What--you don't like saving time and money? Or I suppose your time and money savings don't count.
You don't want to give any credit to merchants and moneylenders for Wal-Mart and Google? How about we stop giving credit to farmers for the food they produce?
Again, I'll admit that there's a grain of truth to what Kant is saying. But not much. By saying that Jews are dishonest, he seems to be implying that non-Jews aren't dishonest. I don't agree. I'd say 15% of Jewish businessmen are very dishonest, as opposed to 14% of non-Jewish businessmen. Congratulations, Kant. You're almost 100% wrong.
And here's another relevant number. Kant is 100% son of a bitch. There's a the conlusion of my critique. Critique of Kant's Anti-Semitism. Chapter 20. "Kant is almost 100% wrong about Jews. And he's 100% son of a bitch."
No--I'm not going to go that far. I'm not the type to turn completely against someone just because he hates Jews, or blacks, or some other group. For instance, I like Henry Ford and Walt Disney--even though I disagree with their views on Jews. So I don't necessarily hate Kant just because he was an anti-Semite. But I do hate him for Critique of Pure Reason.
And he's not the greatest philosopher of all time. I am. So if any of you Oxford philosophy guys are reading this, make sure you include me in your book on great Western philosophers. Ahead of Kant. It's Ohebsion, then Kant and everyone else. Honestly, after hearing all of Kant's thing-in-itself bullshit, I'm going to go ahead and say it's Ohebsion, then some other people, and then Kant. Oxford--you're going to have to drop Kant's ranking a few hundred spots. Take him out of your book on great Western philosophers, and put him in your book on OK Western philosophers. Is there a book on OK Western philosophers? Probably not. That probably doesn't have much commercial appeal. Very few people go to a bookstore and think, "You know what? I'm not in the mood for great Western philosophers. Maybe I should study some OK Western philosophers."
OK. Now let's move on to another Western philosopher. Hopefully one who won't piss me off as much as Kant.
Let's get into Schopenhauer (1788-1860). When he was thirty, he had philosophy all figured out. He solved all of philosophy's problems. And he gave us the solutions in The World as Will and Representation. He figured it would become an instant bestseller. "OK," he thought. "The book's out. Now everyone will acknowledge that I'm right. They'll put me in that Oxford book of great Western philosophers. Right ahead of Kant." That's what he expected. Instead, his book sold a few dozen copies. Hardly anyone noticed it. They were too busy going on an on about another German philosopher of the time: Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.
I can kind of relate to that. I'm the greatest comedian of all time--but no one knows me. Instead, they're into that son of a bitch Louis C.K. I'm also the greatest philosopher of all time--but people prefer Kant.
Anyways, after releasing The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer spent the rest of his life being right. He finally attained fame late in life, and nowadays, he's one of the most highly regarded philosophers of all time--somewhere between Kant and Hegel.
I won't really get into his whole "world as will and representation" theme. But he had a lot to say about a lot of topics.
Schopenhauer was a guy who truly believed the glass was half full. Only he was convinced it was half full of shit. As evidenced by the title of his later work: Parerga und Parali... pomerda - The Glass is Half Full... of Shit.
According to Schopenhauer, life might seem worthwhile and happy when we think about the past, or future, or something far off. But when real life and its details are right in our face, we see how ridiculous it is. He told us that instead of valuing and chasing life’s bullshit and expecting everything from the world, we should take it for what it is and have a different attitude.
He also felt that people play a part just about all of the time—and they’ve built a world where lies and phoniness rule--to the point where five sixths of what we see isn't much more than a show.
For instance, five sixths of so-called politeness is a mask people use to manipulate others. And even most friendships are about five sixths real. The other sixth is an act made to look like the real thing.
And when everyone's mask is removed, we'll find that five sixths of people are very unpleasant, and should really be avoided.
I'm beginning to get why Schopenhauer became a philosopher, and not a greeter at Wal-Mart. I can't really imagine him smiling at someone and saying, "Hi! Welcome to Wal-Mart." I can't even imagine him being greeted by someone like that. He'd probably punch a Wal-Mart greeter in the face.
Actually, he addresses the matter in Parerga und Parali... pomerda. In it, he points out how he did in fact punch a Wal-Mart greeter the first time he came across one. But from that point on, he devised a plan that involved paying a kid ten cents to create a distraction--and then while the greeter was looking at the kid, Schopenhauer snuck into the store without having to hear "Hi! Welcome to Wal-Mart." So even Schopenhauer shopped at Wal-Mart, notwithstanding the greeter. That only shows what a lunatic Kant is. Do you hear that, Kant?
Anyways, Schopenhauer stated that most people are extremely self-obsessed and vain, and that it's very difficult to be real friends with others, but very easy to offend or manipulate them.
Paraphrasing Goethe, he said, "If we had to depend for our life upon the favor of others, we should never have lived at all; from their desire to appear important themselves, people gladly ignore our very existence."
He also added that our self-obsessed nature insists that everything has to revolve around us. We soon realize, however, that that won't even come close to happening--because it's the world's nature to usually just throw some superficial tags on us, and almost always go on its own course as if we don't even exist. So what do most of us do? We settle for blabbing about ourselves to people who seldom care to listen.
That actually comes as a surprise to me. I figured people were fascinated by my in depth analysis of what I ate for breakfast last Tuesday. But I guess not. Maybe I should talk about what they ate for breakfast last Tuesday. Or maybe I should start talking about my lunches. My lunches are way more interesting than my breakfasts.
Anyways, after telling us that our best bet is to acknowledge that people are what they are, and not what we want them to be or what we think they are, Schopenhauer ends everything on a positive note. Instead of saying we should detest the detestable, he recommends developing sympathy for our fellow humans, and giving them the tolerance, regard, and love that we owe them.
I'm probably on board with that very last part. But I don't know about the rest of Schopenhauer's views. I'll say about them what I said about Kant's anti-Semitic views: there might be a grain of truth to all of that. In Kant's case, 5-10%. In Schopenhauer's case, one to two sixths.
By the way, Schopenhauer wasn't exactly Mr. I Love Jews, either. I don't think he was as anti-Semitic as Kant--but he did bring up something about usurious Jews.
But I'm a good guy. I learned from Schopenhauer's philosophy. So even though to Schopenhauer and especially Kant, I'm a son of a bitch Jew who's eager to cheat my way into a fortune, I still don't hate either of those guys. I will say this, though. I'm a better philosopher than the two of them combined. And even if I'm not, I'm a much better comedian than Louis C.K. I'll follow up with a Critique of Louis C.K. in another work.
OK. Let's move on to another philosopher I can outphilosophize--none other than Mr. Consonant himself, Friedrich Nietzsche.
Actually, let me talk about Schopenhauer a little more. My mention of Nietzsche will be like a teaser. You'll stick around to hear about him. Even if I go on for a few hours about something else. It'll be like one of those news teasers or previews.
Maybe I should talk about those teasers first. And then get into Schopenhauer. And then get into Nietzsche. By now, you're probably so eager to hear about Nietzsche that you'll stick around for an ad. So I should go with an ad, and then talk about teasers, and then Schopenhauer, and then Nietzsche. I'll also throw in some bonus mystery topics between now and Nietzsche. Assuming I don't die between now and the time I get to Nietzsche.
Kierkegaard was really into that idea. Pointing out how you might die between now and some event in the future. "I shall certainly attend your party, but I must make an exception for the contingency that a roof tile happens to blow down and kill me; for in that case, I cannot attend." That was Kierkegaard's idea of an RSVP. Should I talk about Kierkegaard? I might get into him, too. I have a lot on my plate right now. Let me start with the ad.
Here's an ad: Buy my books. All of them. And go to the internet and follow me, subscribe to me, etc. Do all of that. You know what? Just give me money. Send me some money. And throw a pie in your face.
OK. There's the ad. Now let's get into teasers. "Is Britney Spears pregnant? Find out later on Action Five News." Then they cover that story at the very end of the broadcast. You sit through 55 minutes of whatever, and then they get to the teaser story. "Is Britney Spears pregnant? No. OK. Thanks for tuning in to Action Five News. We'll see you tomorrow." And people do in fact tune in tomorrow. Even though those teaser stories turn out to be pretty ho hum most of the time.
If your marriage isn't going so great and you don't want your spouse to leave, you should just use a teaser like that. If you're three years into a marriage, just say to your wife, "Am I a good husband? Find out at 8:30 p.m during our fifteenth anniversary." She'll probably stick around. You'll have twelve years to do whatever you want.
Oh--and if you're in a relationship, and you're sticking around to see if someone's a good husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend, good luck.
OK. So that's that. Let's get back into Schopenhauer. Aside from what I mentioned earlier, he told us to be ascetics, and live a life of self-discipline, self-denial, etc. But Schopenhauer himself didn't even bother to attempt doing that. He had no interest in it. But all his life, he insisted, "This is the way to live."
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) did something like that, too. (Emerson's one of the bonus mystery topics.) He ran his mouth about nature. He told us about how we should be close to nature. But he himself didn't spend much time in nature.
I think Emerson was right. Schopenhauer might've been right, too. Let's say Schopenhauer was five sixths right. Emerson and Schopenhauer were right. They made good points. But they didn't listen to themselves. They probably got too much satisfaction out of being right. Especially Schopenhauer.
[Schopenhauer:] "I'm right about how we should live. Discipline. Asceticism. Self-denial." [Other Person:] "OK. Are you going to do that?" [Schopenhauer:] "No. I'm not going to do it. But I'm right. I'll let someone else do it."
A lot of philosophers are like that. They tell people do do something--but they themselves don't bother. Schopenhauer freely admitted to that.
Which brings up an ancient Taoist folktale. (By the way. This is the second bonus mystery topic. There may or may not be more.)
Someone claimed to know the secret of immortality. So the governor said to his people at the royal court, "Some guy's saying he knows the secret of immortality. Billy--go to that guy's house and ask him the secret."
By the way--Billy's the name of his messenger. I want to make sure you guys know exactly what's going on. So I'm going to give some of these people names.
So Billy the Messenger left a few days after the governor told him to. But the guy who claimed to know the secret ended up dying before Billy made it to his house.
News got back to everyone. The governor was pissed. As was someone else. Let's call him Lance. Lance said, "Darn it. We could've gotten the secret of immortality. If only Billy had made it there in time."
Then someone else--let's call him Quincy--replied, "What are you talking about, bro?" Only he said it in Chinese. Because this is all happening in Chinese. So Quincy said, "Ching kao ting tai, bro." By the way--"bro" is the same in all languages. Just like how "no" is the same in a lot of different languages. "Bro" is the same everywhere. So Quincy said, "Ching kao ting tai, bro." Which means, "What are you talking about, bro?" And he continued: "If that guy really knew the secret to immortality, he wouldn't have freakin' died. He would've used the secret to live forever."
But then someone else--let's call him Jebediah--said, "Hold the phone, Quincy. Sometimes people know something, but don't apply that knowledge. For instance, there was this master mathematician who knew everything--trigonometry, geometry, algebra, etc.--and he taught it to his sons. His sons didn't use any of it. But someone else learned it from the sons--and that person used it. So maybe Beauregard did in fact know the secret of immortality, and he ended up dying."
By the way--Beauregard is the guy who claimed to know the secret of immortality. I forgot to mention that. Quincy didn't even know his name until Jebediah mentioned it. And as soon as he did, Quincy said, "The guy's name was Beauregard? What the hell kind of name is that? This is ancient China. Around here, we have names like Billy, Lance, Quincy, and Jebediah."
And then someone else--let's call him Kant--said, "You can't know the thing-in-itself." Even in ancient China, Kant was running his mouth about that shit.
The point is, sometimes people have knowledge and pass it on, even though they don't really apply it. It's entirely possible that Schopenhauer, Emerson, etc. were right and had good ideas, but they didn't really apply them or live up to them.
But I'm still skeptical of people who claim they possess some information, but don't seem to be using it themselves. Generally speaking, I'm skeptical. But in the case of certain things, I'm a little receptive to the possibility that they know what they're talking about. Especially when it comes to get rich quick schemes.
OK. Let's move on to Kierkegaard (1813-1855). Beauregard Kierkegaard. Actually, no. It's Soren Kierkegaard. Beauregard is his cousin.
Soren Kierkegaard was a devout Christian who felt that the world of "Christianity" wasn't practicing the real religion. I guess he believed most Christians were Christians kind of the way Schopenhauer was an ascetic and Emerson was a nature lover. Every morning, Kierkegaard took a copy of Emerson's essay on nature and lit it on fire.
Kierkegaard said we must live within our truths. He wasn't into traditional Western philosophy's logical, abstract, detached quest for truth. He told us not to be too focused on and care too much about thought, facts, and objective content. Instead, he said that in order for human life to have meaning, we should inwardly discover and live the truth for ourselves. By doing so, we'll have the passion of faith and desire for the absolute and infinite beyond the here and now--a higher reality with higher meaning than anything in the world.
We must do that, even though our intellect might be saying something else. We can't think our way through life. We have to live through it. Action gets us through life. When real life enters the picture, everything changes.
Society sometimes distracts and dehumanizes us. It often places us in groups, and treats us like mere parts of the crowd. It tells us to be part of the public, wear this, watch that, read this, and buy that. And it reduces our work to mere dollars and cents.
And we often deny the fact that we'll die at some unpredictable point in the future. We usually understand death in a certain sense, without really understanding that that we'll die. We don't RSVP the way Kierkegaard did.
A person can't live passionately and find meaning as "Human #12313463047, Protestant American, Pleasure Seeker, Fact Accumulator, $75,000 to $100,000 a year, Immortal."
That reminds me of a point emphasized by self-help author Samuel Smiles (1812-1904). He said that although most societies value education over character, we ought to do the opposite. And it's not the least bit uncommon for someone to be educated but lack character, or have character and be uneducated. And Smiles adds that "the best sort of character, however, cannot be formed without effort. There needs the exercise of constant self-watchfulness, self-discipline, and self-control."
OK. Moving on to Nietzsche. I guess I didn't die before getting to him.
Nietzsche (1844-1900) became an atheist after watching Jingle All the Way, and proceeded to go to an atheist internet message board--only to find that the people there replaced religion with a psychotic support of a belief, group, country, etc.
Not liking the idea of merely eliminating religion from the picture, he developed his idea of finding meaning and value in life through another route.
As human beings, we can direct our will-to-power towards dominating others, like many of us do. We can also disregard that will and give up on real life, as suggested by many philosophers and religious figures. But Nietzsche was for an alternative: using that will to control some of our instincts and impulses, master ourselves, and become higher, life-affirming people who contribute to a higher civilization.
Nietzsche also let us know that the truth about the truth is that there is no truth--in other words, that thinking that there’s only one right way to think about something is really is no way to think. It’s simply a sign that our thinking is too fixed and narrow. Instead of thinking that this is so or this isn’t so, we should think about how many ways there are to think about something. There are many truths—and even in if there is a single truth, there’s no single correct perspective on it.
OK. Now let's get into Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). Like the other philosophers mentioned here, he spent a lot of his time developing a philosophy--and he told everyone it was right. "This is it! This is the truth! Other philosophies are OK. There's some good, some bad. But this is it! My philosophy!"
But then one day, he said, "Philosophy is bullshit. Everything is bullshit. Even bullshit is bullshit." He let us know that the only true philosophy is to do away with philosophy. Because philosophical problems themselves are the problem. In fact, they don't exist at all. They stem from confusion. Philosophers take stances and advance theories —and that's why they're full of shit. You can’t have a theory without being full of shit. Having a theory means you’re confused by ideas that don’t quite exist in reality. As opposed to Wittgenstein's solution. Which is actually a non-solution--a non-theory to replace theories, and an activity that eliminates the confusion of philosophy’s beliefs, and causes philosophical problems to solve themselves.
So there you go. Philosophical problems can only be solved by not solving them, and not by actually solving them.
Wittgenstein is considered a revolutionary. He turned against his own philosophy. "You know what? My philosophy is bullshit. All philosophy is bullshit. Philosophy? Whatever. The hell with it." And he became famous. I guess philosophers aren't easily offended. Wittgenstein said, "Philosophy is bullshit," and a lot of people replied, "OK. Great. This guy is awesome."
That's crazy. I can't believe it. How did he get away with that?
First he was a philosopher. He put out Western philosophical works with his theories. And then he said, "You know what? Forget philosophical theories. Philosophy's an actiivity. It's not just about having theories. You have to get rid of the theories. And focus on the activity."