The Neglected Philosophies: A (Willful) Interlude

In this article, I will unify some thoughts via idle speculation, using Schopenhauer as the connecting thread.

For a long time, I found Schopenhauer’s philosophy fascinating. What he wrote about The Will as the source of our unhappiness and its denial as our “salvation” is compelling and under-appreciated. Therefore, it was no surprise I led The Neglected Philosophies series with his views. Then as I blogged on other Neglected Philosophies, I saw connections.  Deeper thought revealed more connections with some of my other articles and other schools of thought.

What happens if I stay at the level of will, and assume that unhappiness is a function of willfulness? That is, I will not equate the will with anything else, but treat it as “atomic”. By  will and willfulness, I mean the inner state of intentionality (which may be affected by outward acts).  

NOTE: Willfulness is not all or nothing; we can be more or less willful, with a corresponding affect on happiness. This resolves the apparent paradox of being less willful by an act of will.

Looking at The Neglected Philosophies series… First, The Pyrrhonists claimed that suspending unnecessary judgments and taking appearances at face value led to tranquility.  Next,  Albert Camus claimed our misery was due to hope, and fully accepting our lot led to joy. Finally,  Bertrand Russell said we should not try to fit philosophy into our worldview, but contemplate with an open mind and therein find greater happiness. Judgment, hope and fitting findings into a priori views are more willful than appearance, acceptance and open-mindedness.

Going beyond this series to my other blogs… First, clinging leads to pain, letting go to relief. Second,  identifying leads to pain, while non-identification leads to relief. Finally, I associate my self with my will and  feel my sense of self loosen on contemplating determinism.  Clinging, identification and free will are more willful than letting go, non-identification and determinism.

Going beyond to other schools of thought… First,  Spinoza held that rejecting free will and accepting determinism was the key to happiness. Second, action is often stressful while contemplation/meditation is often relaxing. Third, some religions tie joy to ignoring our plans and pursuing God’s.  Finally, some paths tell us to be detached from the results of our action. Action, our plans and attachment to action are more willful than… You get the picture.

Is the will pain? Some willful acts brought me joy. However, they either involved my will winning out (eg: winning a game) or a less willful attitude (eg: enjoying something for its own sake). Maybe  resistance to will or conflict of the will is pain? That explains why some of our greatest frustrations are powerlessness — the will is still strong, but it is completely impeded. So having our way or reducing willfulness would both reduce conflicts; as always, we have more control over ourselves than others…

Could it be as “easy” as being less willful — more inwardly passive? Could I choose the most inwardly passive route where practical? Could a new maxim of life be “Be (inwardly) Passive”? 

I wonder…

19 thoughts on “The Neglected Philosophies: A (Willful) Interlude

  1. Hi. I’m not technically commenting on this…sorry…but since you mentioned determinism and since I’m currently trying not to hyperventilate about writing about it…I thought I had seen some posts on it somewhere but now I don’t. Am I missing them?

  2. I looked there briefly but there are so many posts…and it wasn’t in the philosophy category I don’t think. It’s ok. I’m just a little frustrated with Hume I guess. I want beginning to end, step by step and he seems to jump in down the road and make these little leaps…”it is universally accepted…”

  3. Well, I was just about to mention Taoism but Terence Stone got there before. I read the Tao Te Ting some years ago and it seems to focus on precisely this. I think by “no action” they actually mean “don’t oppose your natural tendencies.” Flow. Our will is precisely this: forcing our bodies to do something they wouldn’t do naturally (otherwise, we wouldn’t need to will it). So it seems Taoism (the original one, not the remixed version they have in China) perfectly fits what you mean.
    On a personal note, I love Taoism and when I read the Tao Te Ting I got goosebumps during at least half of the book. I also recommend reading Zhuang Zi, Lao Zi’s disciple (I’m using Mandarin pinyin spelling, I don’t know how they’re spelled in the West). He is more humorous and sometimes quite moving.

    1. I wonder what they really mean by “natural” tendencies? I don’t think it would be what most people would think of when they think of doing what comes naturally, since many would argue that this is what they’re doing in the first place and hence why they are in trouble 🙂

      Thanks a ton for mentioning Zhuang Zi. I’m skimming the Wikipedia article on him, and he sounds fascinating. I really like this:

      “[…] our natural dispositions are combined with acquired ones—including dispositions to use names of things, to approve/disapprove based on those names and to act in accordance to the embodied standards”

      1. I think Lao Zi thought humans should really follow their natural tendencies: he just believed that society had corrupted them with the hoarding of property, etc. He advocates for going back to a more animalistic state of mind. A dog would be a perfect example of what Taoists aspire to, in my understanding. When they’re tired, they sleep. When they’re hungry, they eat. They live in the moment and do not worry.

    2. One more book you might enjoy: “The Tao is Silent” by Raymond Smullyan. He is a Taoist mathematician. It is an amazing read: full of insight and, especially, sense of humor. It is a really approachable explanation of Taoism from a western perspective.

  4. I believe I bought a copy of the Tao Te Ching a couple of years ago but I don’t recall if I read any of it.
    Saturday was a good flow day for working on my essays. Sunday wasn’t. I don’t know what made the difference, time pressures maybe. I eventually abandoned it and studied Spanish the rest of the evening which then went well. That was likely a good thing as it will lessen pressure today and tomorrow.

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