[The following closely reasoned argument from Arthur Schopenhauer is a good illustration of the quote to which it is linked: ‘Philosophical argument, strictly speaking, consists mainly of an endeavour to cause the hearer to perceive what has been perceived by the speaker. The argument, in short, is not of the nature of proof, but of exhortation: Look, can’t you see what I see!’ Although Schopenhauer was an atheist, indeed the first great philosopher in the history of the Christian West to openly avow atheism, his argument nevertheless purports to show that we cannot doubt the indestructibility of our own being. It is not a view that many modern atheists would bother to espouse, notwithstanding its non-Christian understanding of the sort of being in us that survives bodily death. Nevertheless, it might be an valuable exercise to identify the inferences and assumptions in Schopenhauer’s argument that could be considered shaky or unwarranted.]
The present has two halves: an objective and a subjective. The objective half alone has the intuition of time as its form and thus streams irresistibly away; the subjective half stands firm and thus is always the same. It is from this that there originates our lively recollection of what is long past and, despite our knowledge of the fleetingness of our existence, the consciousness of our immortality.
Whenever we may live we always stand, with our consciousness, at the central point of time, never at its termini, and we may deduce from that that each of us bears within him the unmoving mid-point of the whole of endless time. It is fundamentally this which gives us the confidence to live without being in continual dread of death.
He who, by virtue of the strength of his memory and imagination, can most clearly call up what is long past in his own life will be more conscious than others of the identity of all present moments throughout the whole of time. Through this consciousness of the identity of all present moments one apprehends that which is most fleeting of all, the moment, as that alone which persists. And he who, in such intuitive fashion, becomes aware that the present, which is in the strictest sense the sole form of reality, has its source in us, and thus arises from within and not from without, cannot doubt the indestructibility of his own being. He will understand, rather, that although when he dies the objective world, with the medium through which it presents itself, the intellect, will be lost to him, his existence will not be affected by it; for there has been as much reality within him as without.
Whoever does not acknowledge all this will be obliged to assert the opposite and say: “Time is something completely objective and real which exists quite independently of me. I was only thrown into it by chance, have taken possession of a little of it and thereby attained to an ephemeral reality, as thousands of others who are now nothing have done before me, and I too shall very soon be nothing. Time, on the other hand, is what is real: it will then go on without me.” I think the fundamental perversity, indeed, absurdity, of this view has only to be clearly stated to become obvious.
All this means, to be sure, that life can be regarded as a dream and death as the awakening from it: but it must be remembered that the personality, the individual, belongs to the dreaming and not to the awakened consciousness, which is why death appears to the individual as annihilation. In any event, death is not, from this point of view, to be considered a transition to a state completely new and foreign to us, but rather a return to one originally our own from which life has been only a brief absence.
Consciousness is destroyed in death, to be sure; but that which has been producing it is by no means destroyed. For consciousness depends first of all on the intellect, but the intellect depends on a physiological process: it is obviously the function of the brain and is thus conditioned by the collaboration of the nervous and vascular systems; more precisely, by the brain nourished, animated and constantly stimulated by the heart; the brain through whose ingenious and mysterious structure, which anatomy can describe but physiology cannot understand, there come about the phenomena of the objective world and the workings of our thoughts. An individual consciousness, that is to say a consciousness of any kind, cannot be thought of apart from a corporeal being, because cognition, which is the precondition of all consciousness, is necessarily a function of the brain—properly speaking because brain is the objective form of intellect. Now since intellect appears physiologically, and consequently in empirical reality, i.e. in the realm of phenomenon, as something secondary, as a result of the life-process, it is also secondary psychologically, in antithesis to will, which alone is primary and everywhere the original element. And since, therefore, consciousness does not adhere directly to will but is conditioned by intellect, and this last is conditioned by the organism, there can be no doubt that consciousness is extinguished by death—as it is by sleep or by any form of fainting or swoon. But cheer up!—for what kind of consciousness is it? A cerebral, an animal, a somewhat more highly charged bestial consciousness, in as far as we have it in all essentials in common with the whole animal world, even if it does reach its peak in us. This consciousness is, in its origin and aim, merely an expedient for helping the animal to get what it needs. The state to which death restores us, on the other hand, is our original state, i.e. is the being’s intrinsic state, the moving principle of which appears in the production and maintenance of the life which is now coming to an end: it is the state of the thing in itself, in antithesis to the world of appearance. And in this primal state such a makeshift as cerebral highly mediate cognition, which precisely because it is so is cognition only of phenomena, is altogether superfluous; which is precisely why we lose it. For us its abolition is one with the cessation of the world of phenomena whose mere medium it was and in which capacity alone it is of any use. Even if in this primal state we were offered the retention of this animal consciousness we should reject it, as the cured cripple rejects his crutch. Whoever therefore regrets the impending loss of this cerebral consciousness, which is adapted to and capable of producing only phenomena, is to be compared with the converts from Greenland who refused to go to Heaven when they learned there would be no seals there.
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