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On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason by Arthur Schopenhauer
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it was amazing

Arthur told us to read this as the introduction to The World as Will and Representation, and boy was he right. Schopenhauer explains his treatment of Kant's philosophy so succinctly that WWR is really an exposition of what is written here. The strangest thing about Schopenhauer to me when i first approached him was his fixation on causality. You don't find a lot of thinkers so fascinated with the principle of sufficient reason. It is usually taken as a given. But it does form the basis of his whole system, which is why this is the proper introduction to his thought. 

Before reading this, it is necessary to have some familiarity with Plato and Kant, as Schopenhauer also told us in the introduction to WWR. The two things that one must approach this work which are found in Plato and Kant are 1) there is a difference between how the world appears to us and how it really is (Plato) & 2) we cannot go from this appearance to the thing in itself; the division of subject and object is fundamental (Kant). 

Given these two insights, the purpose of this work is to explore what Schopenhauer thinks is the general rule governing what we can know, which manifests itself in any attempt to understand "the world". It is also helpful to read Schopenhauer's criticism of Kant's philosophy to understand how Schopenhauer's treatment of the division of subject and object differs from that of Kant. The difference is that Arthur took the idealism associated with George Berkeley seriously. That is, an object is known by a subject and cannot be considered as just "out there". Without the subject the world as object disappears. The "external" world is in some way connected to us, as we are to it. It goes both ways. 

Most importantly, it is downright foolish and misleading to say that objects "cause" our representations. For causality is something that our knowing mind projects onto reality. Again without the knowing subject this world as object disappears, and so we cannot say these objects cause our sensations. Rather they are responsible for them, we attribute to these objects a reason. But if we try that, we must then explain how it is they are responsible for these effects ad infinitum, and so we discover that the principle of sufficient reason itself is fundamental to understanding and cannot be invoked to explain "the world" or "the thing in itself". It is imparted by our own consciousness. 

Kant described his philosophy as transcendental idealism and empirical realism, and George Berkeley's philosophy as material (empirical) idealism. Transcendental refers to knowledge beyond experience, empirical to the existence of objects known to the senses. Kant thought knowledge beyond experience is restricted to the subject (as phenomena), but that the objects of experience exist independently of the subject (as noumena, the thing-in-itself). Schopenhauer's philosophy I think can be described as transcendental realism and empirical idealism: knowledge beyond experience belongs to the subject and the objects of experience do not exist independently of the subject.

What the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason does is to ground sufficient reason as an explanation for various things we know, but not to invoke an explanation for it. That would require going to this noumenal world (which is dealt with in WWR). 

Sufficient reason is just that something is only explained with reference to something else, sufficient as in enough to explain its existence. Sufficient is not the same as necessary as a cause may have different effects and an effect may have different causes, it is the mutual relation between different things not in identity that defines causality. But is a relation that can only be for actually existing things. Nothing comes from nothing, something comes from something. This being based on the fundamental division of subject and object. Both have no meaning without the other. It is owing to this basic relation between different things that a reason is to be provided for something, which only is in relation to what else is. 

Aristotle attempted to separate different uses of sufficient reason into four as did Schopenhauer. These were material, final, formal, and efficient.

Material- what the cause is made of. "Wood."
Final- the end or purpose to which a cause occurs. "Write on"
Formal- what is the essence, nature, of the cause. "Rectangle."
Efficient- what brought the cause into existence. "Carpenter."

Together we get the causes of "table."

Schopenhauer differs from Aristotle by distinguishing valid uses for phenomena as opposed to objects (Kant). Aristotle in contrast to Kant was an transcendental realist: knowledge of objects is independent of experience and we can know their essence through experience.

Schopenhauer's four roots are:
Becoming (law of causality)- physical causes and effects
Knowing (reason)- abstract representation of causal relationships
Being (space & time)- relation of representations
Motives (action or will)- internal motivation of causal agent, subject

I think one can sort of map Schopenhauer's four roots to Aristotle's:
Becoming (material)
Knowing (final)
Being (formal)
Acting (efficient)

Schopenhauer's roots I also think can be thought to correspond to what are called the classical laws of thought. Schopenhauer acknowledges the four:

1) a subject is equal to the sum total of its predicates. Law of identity, a=a.

2) no predicate can be attributed and denied to a subject at the same time. Law of non-contradiction, a=-a=0. 

3) one of two opposite, contradictory predicates must belong to every subject. Law of the excluded middle. A is not A and B.

4) truth is the reference of a judgement to something outside of it, as its sufficient reason. 

The class of becoming corresponds to identity as like things can only be explained by like things, which shall always demand explanation. The effect is known by its cause and can contain only that. 

The class of knowing corresponds to non-contradiction. Among our representations, they may only follow from those of their type.

The class of being corresponds to excluded middle. Space and time which are a priori allow for multiplicity and coexistence (space) and succession (time), thus a relation between the two as well as a difference. 

The class of motives corresponds to sufficient reason. This is because it is through the immediate object of the inner sense (time) alone that we come to know the principle of causality at first through the law of causality and then its other groundings. 

(Notice how sequentially closer the four laws, roots, and Aristotle's classes come closer to Schopenhauer's will and away from phenomena...)

This connection of the four laws of thought with the four roots is largely mine, though Schopenhauer does list the four laws in this way, as what he calls metalogical truths, governing the second class (of reason). I hope this inference is accurate. If it is, then it is a splendidly easy way to understand this work. Together, the four laws of thought and the four roots explain everything. That i think Schopenhauer could assent to, even if I matched them incorrectly. 

The big point to all this is that the principle of sufficient reason and therefore all we can know is a result of the division of world into subject and object. It is that simple. Without this division, things wouldn't follow one after another, they would just be. But they could not "be" in a meaningful way without this division. 

The relevant part for his more popular ethical and aesthetic writings is the fourth class. This immediate motive power as will be shown in the World as Will and Representation is our direct access away from representation to the thing in itself.

If Schopenhauer is right about the principle of sufficient reason being "sufficient" to explain the different classes of knowing, then Kant's Procrustean table of judgements is reduced from twelve categories to one: causality. The end result of this is that it is possible to have intuitions without concepts (which Kant claimed would be blind). And thereby have access to the mysterious thing-in-itself through direct experience. The route to this is the inner sense of time, as opposed to the outer sense of space. Space gives us multiplicity via coexistence whereas time presents unity through duration. With time we experience an endless chain of causation where one thing becomes another, and an individual thing means nothing outside of its relation to other things. Just as the future makes no sense without a present or a past.

We can perhaps escape our own individuated existence and learn the true nature of things. Which is not God itself, whose existence is reasoned to by misapplying the principle of sufficient reason (cosmological and ontological arguments) outside of the universe itself whereas God is outside the world as a transcendental idea and not an empirical idea. The underlying nature of our world, noumena, however is knowable to us and all living things but unconsciously, not as individuated objects in the forms of space-time-causality which belong only to the knowing subject. It is not rational or at least known rationally. Yet it is intimately connected to our conscious life. Not as a cause, but as one in the same as the world as it appears to us.


(Updated July 2 2017)
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July 7, 2015 – Started Reading
July 7, 2015 – Shelved
July 15, 2015 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Douglas (new) - added it

Douglas Appreciate this review. I came to Idealism and Schopenhauer through Bernardo Kastrup. I keep back tracking (as you note is recommended) to gain a solid grounding. This review is helpful for a novice, non-academic. Wondering if you still agree with what you have written based on what you know now...? Would you change anything (such as equating Aristotle's four causes with Schopenhauer's four roots)?


Nick The immanent as ideal and the transcendental as real.


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