Cosmic pessimism and addiction
by Arran James
So, while Schopenhauer himself was a curmudgeon, and while he does state that this is the worst of all possible worlds, his philosophy ultimately moves towards a third type of pessimism, one that he never names but which perhaps we can christen: a cosmic pessimism.x For Schopenhauer, the logical endpoint of pessimism is to question the self-world dichotomy that enables pessimism to exist at all. But such a move would entail a shift away from the relation and difference between self and world, human and non-human, subjective attitude and objective claim. Instead, it would entail a move towards an indifference, an indifference of the world to the self, even of the self to the self. Cosmic pessimism would therefore question even the misanthropy of moral and metaphysical pessimism, for even this leaves us as human beings with a residual consolation – at least the world cares enough to be ‘against’ us. Schopenhauer’s cosmic pessimism questions ethical philosophy’s principle of sufficient reason – that there is an inherent order to the world that is the ground that enables reliable judgements to be made regarding moral and ethical action. It also questions the fundamental relation between ethics and action, whether of the Aristotelian first principles type, the Kantian-axiomatic type, or the modern cognitivist-affectivist type. Cosmic pessimism seems to move towards an uncanny zone of passivity, ‘letting be’, even a kind of liminal quietism in which non-being is the main category. In cosmic pessimism, this ‘indifference’ is the horizon of all ethics. As an ethics, this is, surely, absurd. And this is perhaps why Schopenhauer’s ethics ultimately ‘fails’.
No self-world relation, the impossibility of such a relation. Under Schopenhauer’s gaze the question of whether the shark should eat the child makes no sense as it is part of this self-world (the child is the image of ourselves, the shark the image of the world). If there is but one Will in Schopenhauer it would be a question of the individuated wills (shark-child) being phenomenal instances of the noumenal Will. The question is thus should the Will eat the Will? A question then of a kind of cosmic suicide of the real. Should the real be allowed to consume itself? What would it mean to answer negatively, except that one hasn’t paid enough attention to entropy?
Lurking everywhere: undermining and idealism.
But, the Will operates like a death-drive integral to objects in this cosmic pessimism (cosmos is a term I’m using more and more instead of nature- it denatures nature quite nicely). The temporality of all objects leads to this same result: death, disintegration, disappearance. Autopsy vitalism sees the living object as if from the perspective of it’s disintegration and knows that the apotheosis of all things is catastrophic. If Schopenhauer undermines objects (operatives/operations) that is because deathdoes undermine objects. Not out of viciousness but out of the law of existence, its sole irrevocable law. This is the meaning of Inevitability. All cosmological things are constructed, be it by evolution or the processes in physics and chemistry, the written or spoken articulation of concepts (as in dynamic nominalism), by research, poetic experience, and so on. All cosmological things are subject to catastrophe. In this sense all things are subject to the law that Paul Virilio reserves for technological objects that the accident shows us the truth of the substance and, in this way, that ‘the accident is “invented”, it is a work of creation’ . Destruction reveals those powers, those capacities or operations, of an object that would otherwise remain withdrawn and, simultaneously, reveals that the catastrophic moment was always nascent within that object. As such, destruction and creation are conjoined and can’t be surgically or magically separated.
If Schopenhauer’s ethics fail perhaps it is because, when scrutinized, all ethics fail. Yet, as the strap line of this blog contests in it’s Beckettian reiteration, we can but fail again and again, failing a little better every time. Why? There is no reason why. The best I can think is compulsion, need, and, as I have written elsewhere, addiction. But perhaps addiction should be raised to a metaphysical principle. The cosmos: take it or leave it. That’s what it boils down to. And if you choose to leave it, you’re still right there.
 Paul Virilio. Interview in le Monde. Here.