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Ragione sufficiente

My father graduated, among other things, in philosophy. But that’s not all: he was a glutton for philosophy, he devoured it. It was as if his mind was divided into two planes, one low and vulgar, the other cultured and sublime. As I got to know him, these two planes seemed more and more distinctly separated.
I think I am very much like him, and especially so when I was young and writing: you could very well recognise the fusion of the aristocratic and the plebeian souls, which coexisted without necessarily having any esteem for one another.

Compared to his father, however, I think the contrast in me is less strident, I have not reached such high peaks nor such low abysses, being for generational reasons a small civilised bourgeois. I have hardly ever read the classics of philosophy.

I have started to do so now, more or less by chance, beginning with Arthur Schopenhauer, who was very important to my father.

Born in Danzig in 1788, he lost his father as a young man and broke with his mother, then thanks to the large inheritance he received he was able to study medicine and philosophy in Göttingen and Jena. He graduated with a thesis on the fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason. As an old man, he would go back to work on this debut work and publish a revised version. Which is the one I am currently reading.

The principle of sufficient reason, let us say, belongs to the broader doctrine of causality, which in simple terms is the answer to the question: Why?

What in current Italian we can call the cause, the reason, the why, the reason indeed. All these terms, however, are too ambiguous according to the philosophers who have tried to define them in the past, and in particular too ambiguous according to Schopenhauer who boasts of giving a definitive solution to the question (the book, by the way, is fiercely polemical towards several of his colleagues and the intellectual milieu in general).

The principle of sufficient reason had already been defined earlier by Leibniz: for everything to be true/real/existing, there must be a sufficient reason for it to be so. This sufficient reason can be physical, logical, mathematical or ethical (this would be the “fourfold root” of the principle). For Leibniz everything that exists is therefore justified in its existence by this principle, and we could say, everything that exists is just. Hence his famous conviction that we live in the best of all possible worlds.

Schopenhauer, who takes his cue from Leibniz, pessimistically overturns his conclusions. Ours is not the best, it is the worst of all possible worlds because the human will is obscure and often pursues self-defeating goals.

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