Hegel, Schopenhauer, Skinner, Maslow, Coles

In CoPhi we’re into the 19th century, with Hegel (and Robert Stern on Hegel’s dialectic) and his arch-rival Schopenhauer. And here come the Germans now, led by their skipper Knobby Hegel…

And in America the Philosophical‘s 20th century, here come the psychologists:  it’s common sense, behaviorism, Skinner, Maslow, and Coles. 

Later this week, Carlin Romano will appear in person: in our class on Thursday and at our first-ever Fall Lyceum on Friday afternoon. And you can catch him again on the radio this afternoon in middle Tennessee, on WMOT/89.5. 
Hegel was the ultimate optimist, Schopenhauer the uber-pessimist. I prefer to split the difference with meliorism, myself. More on that later. [Hegel up@dawn]

They’re both in the song, if that helps. Let’s see… Schopenhauer and Hegel were both out-consumed by David Hume.

But it would probably be more helpful to relate the Germans to their predecessor Kant.

Schopenhauer and Hegel tried to go beyond Kant’s proscription against specifying the “thing-in-itself,” the ultimate “noumenal” reality beneath the appearances. For Hegel, History’s the thing. For Schopenhauer it’s Will.

An amusing sidelight: in spite of himself, and his intent to renounce personal will (so as to starve ultimate Will, or at least deprive it), Schopenhauer was stubbornly competitive with his philosophical rival Hegel. He insisted on lecturing at the same time as the more popular Hegel, with predictable results

But you have to wonder if his auditors understood a word Hegel said? Maybe free gas was provided? (See William James’s “observations on the effects of nitrous-oxide-gas-intoxication” and his essay On Some Hegelisms – ”sounds like nonsense, but it is pure on-sense!”)

That’s funny, but not entirely fair. Hegel wanted to fly with Minerva, through a glorious dawn. Any given snippet of Hegelian prose may be impenetrable, but his overall objective is clear enough: he wanted us to understand ourselves and our lives as active participants in the great progressive unfolding of history, of the coming-to-consciousness of spirit (“geist”), of the birth of enlightenment and freedom. Friendly aspirations all.

My old Mizzou prof often spoke of  “Friend Hegel,” and so did Michael Prowse.

To the degree that we are thinking beings, Hegel says, we have to consider ourselves as part of a larger whole and not as neatly individuated। He calls this mental whole Geist, or Spirit, and tries to work out the rules by which it develops through time… Hegel didn’t regard Geist as something that stands apart from, or above, human individuals. He saw it rather as the forms of thought that are realised in human minds… What Hegel does better than most philosophers is explain how individuals are linked together and why it is important to commit oneself to the pursuit of the general or common good.

And that’s why, as Stern points out, 

Hegel thinks that one important movement in history is the movement from thinking that just one of us is entitled to freedom (a king, say) to some (the patricians of ancient Athens, say) to all of us, where obviously this development relates to changing views of what freedom is, what we are, how we relate to one another… I’m not free unless I’m working for the good of society.

That’s not Schopenhauer’s view, nor is it even remotely close to his mindset and general sensibility. Anything at all ambitious, let alone something as grand as the liberation of society and triumph of good, was to him just more fuel for the Will. Will is a voracious, never-sated, all-devouring blind force or power that uses us, and everything else in its path, to no end beyond its own perpetuation and expansion.

Moreover, Schopenhauer was morose and constitutionally dis-affected. He despised happiness as a form of self-delusion.

But I have to admit: for such an old sourpuss, Schopenhauer’s a lot of fun to read. His aphoristic Art of Controversy is a good place to begin.
The average man pursues the shadow of happiness with unwearied labour; and the thinker, the shadow of truth; and both, though phantoms are all they have, possess in them as much as they can grasp. Life is a language in which certain truths are conveyed to us; could we learn them in some other way, we should not live. Thus it is that wise sayings and prudential maxims will never make up for the lack of experience, or be a substitute for life itself.

And his Studies in Pessimism are oddly cheerful.

One of the lesser-known but more intriguing facets of Schopenhauer’s philosophy was his belief that music is our point of entree to Will, and to ultimate reality.

Schopenhauer, like Rousseau, loved his dog…So maybe he knew a little something about love.

Carlin Romano summarizes his book so far as a common-sense turn from epistemology fanaticism towards recognizing “all the philosophers in America who haven’t been philosophy professors.” 
Next, he turns to psychologists B.F. Skinner, Abraham Maslow, and Robert Coles.
Skinner, behaviorist and social engineer, thought he and we could reinforce the behaviors we consider “positive” in ourselves, our children, and our society. 

Techniques of positive reinforcement and cultural design could, if applied over time and on a grand scale, save the world from the catastrophes of urban decay, ecological ruin and uncontrolled population growth. Far from being an evil, antihumanist scientist, Skinner was the greatest humanistic scientist of our time.

So wrote his fawning biographer, who (unlike me) was untroubled by Skinner’s deterministic move “beyond freedom” (and dignity). “What is love except another name for the use of positive reinforcement? Or vice versa.” Are you asking me, Professor, or the rat in your box? Or your daughter, in her “Heir Conditioner”?

Skinner’s contemporary Abe Maslow, said to have a “messiah complex” and a very high opinion of himself, gave us “peak experiences,” “self-actualization,” the hierarchy of needs,” and ultimately, perhaps, positive psychology. He may have been a megalomaniac, but those are mostly good things. So is Commencement Addressism, “the commonsense view that everyone should become all he or she can be in life.” That’s just Aristotle and human potential. He was right: he did know more than Plato.

Robert Coles, child psychiatrist and (like me) Walker Percy fan, [Rivendell/Brinkwood teahousePercy, Foote, & Faulkner] comes across here as a wonderful teacher and a better human being. “Who ever heard of a philosopher that actually listened to others, let alone children?” [That’s a little harsh.] “But Coles listened.” He has a genuine feeling for the lives and minds and hearts of children, and especially the children of crisis. Listen to him, talking about Ruby Bridges and the heroic children of the civil rights movement in America.

Speaking of whom… I hope Romano finds room in a future edition of America the Philosophical for the late David Halberstam, whose great civil rights testament The Children should be known and read by every American.

via Blogger http://jposopher.blogspot.com/2013/11/hegel-schopenhauer-skinner-maslow-coles.html


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