What does Schopenhauer mean by 'A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants'?

  • I first encountered the bolded quote on p 80, Philosophy: A Complete Introduction (2012) by Prof Sharon Kaye (MA PhD in Philosophy, U. Toronto), part of Chapter 6 on Thomas Hobbes, Rousseau, free will, determinism, and compatbilism.

    [ Reddit :] I do not at all believe in human freedom in the philosophical sense. Everybody acts not only under external compulsion but also in accordance with inner necessity. Schopenhauer's saying, "A man can do what he [wants]1, but not [want]2 what he [wants]3," has been a very real inspiration to me since my youth; it has been a continual consolation in the face of life's hardships, my own and others', and an unfailing well-spring of tolerance.

    I conjecture the 3 wants above mean different desires: 1 and 2 mean primitive superficial urges or John Stuart Mill's phrase 'lower pleasures' (eg:chocolate, guilty pleasures, etc...); but 3 means John Stuart Mill's phrase 'higher pleasures' or second-order virtuous aretes. Did I neglect anything?

    Related: http://philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/28504/suicide-versus-the-will-to-live/28505#28505 the underlying Will to Live is all man can want and do and freedom is an illusion for Schopenhauer.

    I take it to mean that a man can do whatever he wants to mean that a man can do whatever he wants (legally) but cannot want what he wants (meaning either the law or the man's conscience will hold him back, from doing it).

    It seems a straightforward idea and a common one. He is agreeing with the Buddhists that our desires are conditioned, and that what we usually call freewill is our conditioning in action. This would be the perennial view on freewill.

    @Canada - Area 51 Proposal. As explained in my answer below, I think Mill's distinction between higher and lower pleasures is not at the heart of this question.

    This is one of my dearest sayings as well. It brilliantly captures the source of most inner conflicts and expresses it in a childlike manner. Let me help you understand this with an example, Consider yourself appearing for an interview with a firm you deeply admire and have always want to be a part of. You walk into the room with great expectations and enthusiasm. The interviewer asks you to sit down on a chair and begins to illustrate the situation. He says you will be given one task and if you do it right you make it otherwise you're out! He then says very plainly , I want you to feel extrem

    It would be appreciated if someone could kindly reference Bryan Magee's views on this topic. We must reference the literature in regards to this topic, and Bryan Magee's comments will help the OP in regards to better understanding this topic.

  • This is just an old paradox in discussions of free will.

    You are free to do whatever you desire. But you are not free to choose your desires. Similarly, Marx said, "man" makes his own history, but not under the historical conditions of his choosing. And Mill attempted to secularize the paradox by observing that we are slaves to habit, but can step back and form those habits. We can, in some measure, both rely on causes and effects and intervene between them.

    The idea, which arises in many forms, is that "freedom" is indeed inevitably paradoxical. There is no such thing as "absolute" freedom nor "absolute" constraint. There are only indeterminacies and determinations on different levels, of which one may or may not be aware.

    Great answer. A non-dualist might put it slightly differently and say that absolute freedom and absolute constraint are the same thing. In theistic terms this would be to say that God in infinitely free within the absolute constraints of His being, while in Taoism the Universe would unfold as it does 'Tao being what is' (Lao Tsu) and this would be both a freedom and a constraint. This is not a different view but elaborates it. There would be no paradox but there would be every appearance of one.

    @Nelson Alexander. Interesting and pertinent use of Mill. Are you thinking of System of Logic, VI.2 : 'A person feels morally free who feels that his habits or his temptations are not his masters, but he theirs; who, even in yielding to them, knows that he could resist; that were he desirous of altogether throwing them off, there would not be required for that purpose a stronger desire than he knows himself to be capable of feeling' ?

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