In The World as Will and Representation, Arthur Schopenhauer spoke as a Teutonic philosopher, with mighty prose and thunderous proclamations from the lofty heights of classic Sophia and utterly uninfected by the pretentious delusions of grandeur that afflicted his German contemporaries. His distinctiveness among the early 19th century thinkers inspired Nietzsche to call him the "un-German to the point of genius," (Beyond Good and Evil, p 204) and Thomas Mann in turn called him the "most rational philosopher of the irrational."
Schopenhauer possessed great literary and rhetorical skills in his presentation of a bewitching philosophical construct with perceptive metaphors and penetrating insights that have been echoed, reinterpreted and elaborated by subsequent thinkers and artists in the late 19th and 20th century, and indeed far beyond the tiny circle of the professors of philosophy. In the rogues gallery of intellectuals and artists we find Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Freud, Richard Wagner and Mann, both Russian novelists Turgenev and Tolstoy, Proust, Zola, Mallarme and, most of all, Borges. The World as Will and Representation contained a philosophy starkly different from what Schopenhauer dismissed as the "meaningless verbosity of the newer philosophy school" (Gessammelte Briefe, p 29). Jargon-free writing made this masterpiece accessible to audiences outside of philosophy, and further cemented Schopenhauer's reputation as a major visionary.
Schopenhauer's philosophy describes a metaphysical portrait of reality, a "hermeneutics of existence" (Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy, p 214), and solves the problem of existence. The solution to the riddle of the world is the appropriate connection between the outer and the inner experiences – and for Schopenhauer it is representation and will. We should not mistake his philosophy for an alternative interpretation that competes with those of the natural sciences, for it emphasizes the internal essence of the experiential life against the external world. The foundation of this metaphysics lies within the concrete, the physical and the tangible, because concepts, according to Schopenhauer, must have some foothold in the visual or the firm ground of reality wherein they were originally abstracted from. Otherwise, such concepts as the "absolute" or "the infinity of being" are little more than paper money: "With concepts of these sorts, the firm ground that supports the whole of our knowledge trembles as it were. Therefore philosophizing may occasionally and in case of necessity extend to such knowledge, but it must never begin with it." (WWR II p 85) Much like David Hume, Schopenhauer baptizes meaning at the altar of direct perception.
Schopenhauer's original contribution to philosophy is the assertion that will is more fundamental than thought in both man and nature. In a "single thought" (WWR I xii), Schopenhauer put forth a holistic/unified/unitary and systematic metaphysics that hearkened back to the old school philosophy of Spinoza and Leibniz. The scholar Rudolf Malter summed up this single thought: "the world is the self-knowledge of the will." The world, according to the language of reason, history and morality, is not the true world, for its sole essence, the very substance of the world, of life itself, is the will that roars underneath. This will is the ubiquitous instinct of the universe, consisting of forces, impulses and dark urges that are all dynamic yet purposeless, thus dispatching modes of explanation such as reason or logic to secondary status.
Besides not being in competition with the natural sciences, neither is the notion of the will merely a stop-gap measure for possible holes in reasoning. "We are as little permitted to appeal to the objectification of the will, instead of giving a physical explanation, as to appeal to the creative power of God. For physics demands causes, but the will is never a cause." (WWR I p 140) However, in spite of its omnipotence, the transcendence of the will is possible, and is termed as the "negation of the will". This is not to be confused with the transcendence of religion, the visions of God, but the very assumption of the attitude that "quiets" the imperatives of the will and goes beyond the default egoistic disposition of the individual.
Schopenhauer's philosophy is a version of transcendental idealism, and provides the solution to the "riddle of the world" where the physical world is composed of phenomena that exist only for "the subject of knowledge." After recognizing this, then, we can explain the possibility of the knowledge of synthetic a priori truths. Man's cognitive functions construct reality according to the four characteristics of the "principle of sufficient reason." The World as Will and Representation demands a healthy acquaintance of Schopenhauer's interpretation of the understanding, the principle of sufficient reason (PSR hereafter), which was the subject of his dissertation work On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. In the WWR, Schopenhauer makes many references to this work, but since he obstinately refuses to repeat himself the reader is required to read that first and use it as a lifeline before plunging into the depths of the WWR. The Fourfold is decidedly Kantian where it extends the distinction between analytic and synthetic judgment to the assertion that thought is already conditioned by cognizing objects to be determined by other and distinct objects in four different ways. Essentially, the PSR means that there are four classes of objects in the world, and they are all representations. "Real objects" make up the first class, concepts the second class, space and time for the third and the fourth consists of human action. Schopenhauer listed four species of "groundings""
- A cause is the ground of its effect: the understanding always assumes the law of causality that allows for the perception of a physical world, which seems to be the cause of our sensations;
- A conclusion is grounded in a premise: reason, which consists of conceptual representations, secondary to representations of the understanding formed in and abstracted from perception, functions on the assumption that every judgment contains a justification;
- A geometrical truth is determined by the nature of space: sensibility functions with the principle that all things are located in a space of Euclidean geometry and in a time of arithmetic;
- The ground of every action is its motive: motives determine all human actions.
Since Schopenhauer's phenomenological method of philosophy bases abstraction in perception, then we should consider the PSR as the abstract expression of what is already evident in perception. Schopenhauer appears as a severe and rigorous skeptical empiricist in the Fourfold
and presents a fully-fledged systematic idealism in the WWR. However, the PSR merely explains the "connections and combinations of phenomena, not the phenomena themselves."
If everything in the world is mere representation, then we are incapable of drawing inferences from phenomena towards the nature of the thing in itself. Consequently, any knowledge of the thing in itself must be non-inferential.
The book is divided into 5 sections: 4 "books" and an appendix on Kantian metaphysics. The first two "books" deals with the dual aspects of the world as representation, and then as will, in the language of epistemology and metaphysics; and the latter two books resolves the aesthetic and ethical consequences. Book I contains a systematic account of the world of objects: where objects are objects of experience for a representing subject and consequently, there is no object without a subject, nor subject without an object. Book II unravels the riddle of the world, which indicates the inadequacy of the cognitions of the relations between representations, and the inner nature is missing; hence, the riddle is the inner nature of things, and lies beyond the orderly relations among representations.
Schopenhauer opens with the simple, austere and bold declaration of the world as "my representation"
, which actually means the world is given to ordinary perception, a world that consists of particular and concrete objects and is open for investigation. However, these objects are always representations for the subject, because the intellect of the subject conditions
experience. That is why there is no such thing as an object without representations for a subject - which means a theory of independent, self-existing substance such as materialism is not only false but also already impossible
from the get-go. Pure matter, independent of all attributes, may be conceivable, as an abstracta
of an abstraction, but cannot be perceivable in experience. The statement 'the world is my representation'
inaugurates transcendental philosophy where the representation always comprises both the subject and object.
The universal condition of everything that appears is the subject, a necessary presupposition, already presupposed by the forms of knowledge (space, time, etc). All knowledge of objects comes from phenomena, which is what appears for a subject. Therefore, there is no object in itself, an object existing independently of a subject. The subject's body is already an object of knowledge, and the subject-as-body is a representation. Representation presupposes (as well as contains) both the subject and the object, "for the division into object and subject is the first, universal and essential form of the representation"
(WWR I § 7). From the Upanishads
, Schopenhauer develops the insight that the subject of knowledge is the unknown knower and is distinct from all objects of knowledge, which means it is also independent of the principle of sufficient reason.
In direct experience the subject perceives "representations"
, and Schopenhauer describes two types: the intuitive
) and the abstract
; the former is perception
, and the latter consists of concepts
. The universal forms of perception are the properties of space and time and are known a priori
, which means they are always presupposed within every perception. Schopenhauer insists that time and space in themselves both belongs to the special class of representations that exist by themselves, and the PSR configures and entrenches representations.
In this exposition, Schopenhauer describes a phenomenology where perceptions are consciousness of objects, and the concept of causation is the only essential aspect of perception because the judgment that grants an object to another as its cause is the act of thought that is phenomenologically distinct
from the independent and antecedent perception of the object itself. It then comes as no surprise that Schopenhauer is not charitable to other views - such as Kant's - where all judgments are derived from the logical functions of judgments (i.e., quantity, quality, relation) and all concepts of objects must include those categories.
The abstract representations - concepts - are derivative of intuitive representations because they are representations reflected, or "representations of representations"
. Concepts are neither perceptive nor individual elements in space and time, but since they emerge from reflection they are necessarily repetitions of the original world of perception and invented by reason as a convenience. A concept is essentially related to another representation, which serves as its ground of knowledge and this series of relations ends with a concept that has its ground in the knowledge of perception. Therefore, all abstract knowledge depends on the world of perception as its ground of knowledge. Those concepts that are related to other concepts are abstracta
, while concepts that are directly related to knowledge of perception are concreta
. Relation, virtue, beginning are some examples of abstracta
; and examples like man, stone, or horse are examples of concreta
. These abstractions are provisional short cuts that allow human beings to reason and use language. It is with abstraction that people are capable of perceiving the future and the past, and consequently, being self-conscious of the decisions to be made and being deliberate in actions.
Since concepts are essentially distinct from intuitive representations, Schopenhauer does not think we can ever perceive or truly know anything evident of the essence of concepts. They remain at the discursive level, or at abstraction, and stunted by their nature as generalizations, which prevent them from being an ideal representation. Schopenhauer uses the metaphor of a mosaic to a painting to refer to the relationship between a concept and the experience it refers. Then, the acquirement of language grants the ability to conceive thoughts through abstractions. Yet language can never truly represent experience exhaustively, which leads to the following conjecture: experience consists of extra-linguistic character
. This implies that rational knowledge itself cannot truly add to our knowledge because its function is to render existing knowledge in a new form, a form that communicates ideas within a community. Incidentally, since concepts are by-products of reflection, they serve as obstacles in the creation of art - and Schopenhauer notes this in different artists: the singer, the composer, the painter, and the poet as well. With concepts, one can polish his technique in art, and no more.
Continuing as an epistemologist, Schopenhauer distinguishes reason
from the understanding
, which is the faculty of the mind that produces and compares representations of perception. These representations are objects of perception, which contains and presupposes causality because they are mediated through our sense organs and intellect. The formal and categorical framework of the mind conditions representations in perception. All perceived objects already conform to and are conditioned by the human senses and conceptual apparatus. Then all representations necessarily imply an object and subject, for they are always "object-for-a-subject"
. Each and every representation of perception presupposes the law of causality, or cause and effect, which is the sole function of the understanding
. The modern reader is advised to interpret Schopenhauer's term, the understanding, as brain function
, or what the brain is for and what it does in its every day activity as a biological organ.
Unlike the majority of philosophers, Schopenhauer does not hold reason in high regard. Reason
is the higher function that creates, stores, and utilizes the abstract concepts, making thinking possible by dealing with abstractions in reflection. These abstractions are concepts that have been made possible by the ability (with the aid of language) to formulate a generalization of many particular instances, or philosophically speaking, the mental activity of abstracting concepts from the representations of perception. These concepts are objects of reason, conceived and articulated via language; i.e., a car is a general representation devised to stand for many individual objects of perception - say, a Dodge Durango; but the concept of car always leaves out many detailed elements of what is perceived or experienced in each particular case.
However, the perception-attuned function of the brain is primary
, in both the evolution of the species and the development of the individual. As the "lower" function of perception, the understanding in the brains of all animals operates involuntary and independent of consciousness. For instance, all the concentration in the world can never ever raise consciousness to the level of biological functions, such as hair growth, or lymph glands manufacturing blood corpuscles, and regulate them. These functions are automatic, autonomous, and wholly inaccessible. Therefore, reason, while considered "higher," is actually secondary in the greater scheme of things.
The moon appearing larger at the horizon, the apparent motion of the beach while sailing past it, and others are some of the many examples of perception that turns out to be an illusion
(the deception of the understanding). Yet the illusion remains entrenched, despite the most sophisticated appeal of reason, because the understanding is distinct from reason. Perception is immediate in two ways: instantaneousness (time) and direct contact (space). The immediacy of time seems, at the level of perception, not to have taken any time at all, despite our scientific knowledge that there is an elaborate process that actually takes time; and for the immediacy of direct contact, there is no awareness of any perceptual apparatus being in the way between us and the object of perception. The senses are taken for granted. The understanding, because its knowledge already precedes reason, is utterly inaccessible to reason.
However, "if in the representation of perception illusion does at moments distort reality, then in the representation of the abstract error can reign for thousands of years, impose its iron yoke on whole nations, stifle the noblest impulses of mankind; through its slaves and dupes it can enchain even the man it cannot deceive"
(WWR I § 8 ). Errors have a greater staying power than illusion, and the very possibility alone charges the history of abstract thought guilty of inertia.
Given that logic (or more precisely, the propositions of logic) does not contain empirical content, it cannot contribute to experience or perception. Consequently, knowledge, for Schopenhauer, already exists prior to demonstration. Schopenhauer further elaborates this argument by claiming that the value of a philosophy lies within its insights, not the logical validity of its argument, for these insights consist of judgments, perceptions, choices or formulations that make up the premises. Granted, philosophy contains arguments that articulate its own position in order to persuade others of its truth/cogency, so they are only a method, a mode of communication, the form, never to be confused as the actual substance
Like a good Kantian, Schopenhauer avoids naive empiricism when he insists that perception is not only limited to the senses, but also actually includes
the intellect, because the intellect already presupposes causality. Thus, all perception is already conditioned by the intellect through its presupposition of causality, which means all experience demonstrably depends on it. This is why, contra
Hume, the knowledge of cause and effect does not come from experience, for perception already contains causality. If causality precedes experience, which includes knowledge, then that means both the subject and the object also precedes experience as necessary presuppositions. Otherwise, we have to deal with Hume's unpleasant conclusions in the Treatise on Human Nature
Schopenhauer describes the experience of empirical reality as representation and analyzable under the subject and object categories, but he does not think they are independent categories; they are dependent correlates
. The old squabble between the advocates of realism and idealism overlooks the fact that both doctrinaires begin with pure abstractions
, or objects that transcend experience. The realists postulate a transcendent object independent of all attributes, whereas the idealists counter with the transcendental subject wholly independent of all modes of apprehension. Both postulates are independent of experience, yet experience or all representations already include causality. This leads Schopenhauer to reject both idealism and realism (as well as any other loaded questions about the reality of the external world), for neither can maintain a relationship of the PSR between the subject and the object. Every attempt at explanation institutes a causal relationship between two entities, but if the entities are independent of experience and causality is already a necessary structural feature of experience then both of these attempts at metaphysical explanations are impossible by default.
However, representation does not exhaust the world completely, for the world includes something else. The self is "doubly conscious"
of the world: on the one hand, externally, as representation; and on the other, internally, as will. This immanent metaphysics is the consequence of inheriting Kantian baggage. Schopenhauer institutes a basic distinction in metaphysics between representation and the thing-in-itself, even though he does not employ Kant's proofs and has arrived at the distinction by a different road.
There are two aspects of the world: representation
, which is the thing-in-itself in appearance. The world as representation consists of individual objects that are spatiotemporally and causally connected. We know representation empirically, including its a priori
forms. The world as will is the undifferentiated inner nature of all objects. We know the will immediately and intimately, in each individual case; and for other objects, this is known by philosophical reflection and inference. However, the world as the absolute and ultimate thing in itself is utterly unknowable in principle. Ergo, there is no contradiction when Schopenhauer claims the thing in itself as will.
Thus the answer to what exactly the essence of the world, or what it is in itself, is will, which is not to say that it is not representation, but a "presentation" of another aspect of the same world. A reality that consists of representation already includes a subject that represents objects. However, this subject can never be its own object, and is not located anywhere within either space or time. Thus, the subject, as the pure transcendental self of cognition, is, pace
Kant, the a priori
condition of the possibility of experience. Schopenhauer tries to marry this philosophical conception with the fact that every individual person is already entrenched within a material world by having the exclusive and private awareness of his/her own body. People are more than just mere transcendental selves. Thus, one knows oneself as embodied will.
The understanding of the world as "will" is not to be confused with exposition, where causes are sought and investigated.
It is also important to understand that this "will" is not to be confused with the traditional meaning of the human will, which imports rationalistic baggage, because animals do not will something because they think it is good; for rather, it is good because it is something that some animal wills. Therefore, willing is more fundamental than rationality and is beyond consciousness. Moreover, we should avoid the misconception that individuals have a direct and unmediated access to the thing-in-itself whatsoever.
The Schopenhauer scholar Bryan Magee
lists two conventional definitions of the word "will":
- 1. Will as "Inner sense": acts of will (feelings, emotions, moods)
- 2. Direct knowledge of empirically observed movements of physical objects in space and time that are known simultaneously and directly from within that is not mediated through the senses. Take away all the empirical, observable features from your body's movements and what is leftover are the acts of will. Therefore, the total sum of the observed data composes one aspect of existence. The second definition of the will includes all that the subject of knowing can know in its inner sense, not including the detached, neutral processes of conceptual thought.
Schopenhauer praised Kant profusely for making the revolutionary philosophical distinction between phenomena and the thing-in-itself, and for not attributing the cause of phenomena/sensations to the thing-in-itself because causation is limited to the phenomenal world alone. Nevertheless, Schopenhauer departs from Kant by insisting that we can form an idea of the nature of the thing-in-itself, since our experience is not limited to the perception of the phenomenal world of objects in space and time: we know ourselves, not only perceptually as external objects, but also "from within", as will or the will to live
. The will is not to be the cause of phenomenal behavior of the external objects, for it is actually the same thing, both externally and internally.
Many scholars often interpret the will, as the individual's inner essence cognized in bodily action, as the will to live (Wille zum Leben
). The entire body is will by being the manifestation of the means for achieving the ends for the organism. Some scholars think this phrase is misleading because it fails to include the sexual impulse, which plays a much greater role than consciousness; and moreover, the phrase implies a conscious intent to live, whereas the will actually operates by originating and shaping the organism before the emergence of thought, desire, intent, purpose. Since the will is more fundamental than reason or consciousness, it even precedes desire. "Against the mighty voice of nature, reflection can do little."
(WWR I 281)
Given that the will is fundamentally one's own inner essence, and sheds light on existence and behavior, Schopenhauer thinks it is possible to extend this insight to the external world by a philosophical reflection. The will extends from the microcosm of the individual to the macrocosm; and thus, the entire universe itself is will. Given the idea of myself as thing-in-itself, I can deduce something about the nature of the physical reality. Although it is not possible to prove that reality is more than appearance, as something-in-itself, the alternative - the denial - collapses back into solipsism. If it is true that my body is, internally, Will in its true being, then, given that the physical reality is externally constant/homogeneous with it and belongs to the same unison of reality (external and internal), it follows that the same is true for everything in nature. It depends whether Schopenhauer is correct in asserting the will is actually the internal being of my body and behavior, instead of claiming it as the justification for extending this conclusion to other things in reality.
The obvious ramification of the will as the fundamental essence is its presence within humanity. Man is, at bottom, driven by "something" to maintain life, engage in sex, and participate in goals; but people pursue those goals according to purposes completely hidden from their consciousness. For instance, the will, in other words, "uses" individuals when they perceive a certain person to be an excellent object of sexual desire, all for the sake of perpetuating itself. Despite the apparent choice or conscious level of attraction, this indicates a fundamental impulse that predetermines behavior, the presence of a biological programming. The real focus of the will lies in the loins, the genitals, where nature relentlessly pursues the propagation of the species, and manifests itself to human consciousness/perception as the emotion of being "in love". Therefore, the individual's actions are not truly free, despite the consciousness’ apparent role in "choosing" its actions.
Given that the genitals are the real focus of the will, the life preserving principle, the sexual impulse is the strongest example of the affirmation of life; and for man, as a biological organism, procreation is every individual's highest goal. For nature, the preservation of the species is its only goal, and once the individual submits to the will of nature by procreating, s/he is superfluous.
"Nature... With all her force impels both man and the animal to propagate. After this she has attained her end with the individual and is quite indifferent to its destruction; for, as the will to live, she is concerned with the preservation of the species; the individual is nothing to her."
(WWR I pp 329-330) If we are more than just biological units, and our essence is will, then the entire universe is will as well, which continues to manifest itself in billions of individuals (at least on earth) while constantly struggling, growing, fighting, eating, ecreting, breathing, dying; or, basically, suffering. Everyday we "awaken to a life out from unconsciousness, the will finds itself as an individual in a limitless and boundless world, among innumerable individuals, all striving, suffering and erring, and as if troubled by an old dream it hurries back to unconsciousness"
The inner necessity of the gradation of the will is expressed by an outer necessity in phenomena (WWR § 28 ), which means things are dependent on other things: men depend on animals for sustenance, animals on one another, and the plants on soil, water and other nourishments, the planet on the sun, and so on. This indicates that will lives on itself, because there is nothing else, and its cannibalistic state is perpetual. "Yet till then its desires are unlimited, its claims inexhaustible, and every satisfied desire gives birth to a new one. No possible satisfaction in the world could suffice to still its craving, set a final goal to its demands and fill the bottomless pit of its heart."
Schopenhauer has unleashed a daemonic mythological fable from atheology.
The will never stops in its striving, nor does it ever become satiated. This terrifying force leads Schopenhauer to conclude it is purposeless as well as pointless. There is no redemption for the suffering of individuals. Life is completely deceptive, and if it makes promises, it never keeps its word. People are inclined to conceive of the world in rational terms by creating purposes in vain and continue under false pretenses in order to maintain the appearance of rationality. These pretenses serve as layers of contentment, but instead of containing happiness (which in itself cannot and does not exist) they are actually masks of emptiness, a yawning hole of nothingness. Only during moments of boredom, people are capable of seeing past the pretense and begin to realize the futility of their lives. Being bored is lacking fulfilled desires, as well as lacking immediate ones. When a person is pursing his/her desires, time rushes by. But when s/he is bored, time barely moves, and that reveals the existence of the individual being embodied in time. Most people are incapable of dealing with this, so they hurry towards something to fill the emptiness.
The wretchedness of the world and vicissitudes of humanity are evidence for pessimist beliefs, but pessimism is necessary due to the nature of the "underlying reality"
, the Will: for it is in constant search for a solution that is possible only by the very annihilation of existence. This accounts for pleasure as a negative, a lack, the cessation of suffering, which is the normal state of existence. Every part of the phenomenal world is driven to survive at another’s expense so there is a universal war of all against all. Because desire can never bring contentment but increase desire, the Will is the source of suffering. We are condemned to an endless pursuit of satisfying desires, for "we blow out a soap bubble as long and as large as possible, although we well know that it will burst"
. However, Schopenhauer's pessimism is not a necessary consequence of his metaphysical insights, for it is possible to find a ceaselessly striving dynamic reality as delightful, despite the attendant miseries. This sort of pessimism is on the verge of nihilism, for it presupposes that there ought to be some type of order or external purpose in the world. Moreover, the disappointment ensues once no such purpose is found; however, the presupposition of order is the cause of this disappointment.
The lowest grade of the will's objectifications are the universal forces of nature. Considered as qualitates occultae
, the laws of nature - the force of gravity - are neither the cause of an effect nor the effect of a cause, for they transcend
causation (which in itself presupposes time, and is meaningful only within time) and as well as time, because the cause of a stone's falling is its nearness to the earth, which attracts the stone. If the earth is not there, the stone will not fall, but gravity is already present. Therefore, since the laws of nature are independent of causation, outside of the PSR, they are groundless.
Schopenhauer agrees with Malebranch's doctrine of occasional causes
, where every natural cause is only occasional, where the will is given an opportunity to become objectificated by becoming visible in space and time, and partially dependent on phenomena. A piece of rock expresses gravity, solidity, electricity, chemical properties at a particular time that depends on causes or external impressions. However, the very inner being of these properties, existence of the rock in itself, has no ground, but is actually the "becoming visible of the groundless will"
. Therefore, each and every cause is an occasional cause.
Since the limits of science lie within the limits of explanation and the nature of phenomena, then the explanation by causation goes only so far. However, Schopenhauer avoids claiming the will as a cause, because its relation to the phenomenon is not configured by the PSR. "That which is in itself will, exists on the other hand as representation, that is to say, is phenomenon."
(WWR I § 27)
Then each phenomenon obeys the laws that constitutes its form, and has a cause that is explained only within a definite time and space, always as a particular phenomenon, and never according to its inner nature (WWR, I, § 27). In this section, Schopenhauer argues against reductionism, which presupposes that physical objects are only the conglomerate of the "phenomena of physical, chemical and mechanical forces that have come together in it by chance
" (WWR I § 27 p 142). He does not think natural science has any right to "refer the higher grades of the will's objectivity to the lower ones",
(WWR I § 27 p 143) because in doing so, the reduction to the phenomena of physical and chemical forces makes the Platonic Ideas impossible.
The knowledge of the will as the thing-in-itself, despite all the myriad differences between the manifold individuals and the multiplicity of phenomena, explains
the interrelatedness, connection, or harmony of everything, and the subsequent gradations of the Ideas. Schopenhauer calls this suitability
, and defines two aspects: internal (the inner economy of the organisms) and external, where the entire world, all phenomena, is the "objectivity of the one and indivisible will"
(WWR § 28 p 158). The inner suitability indicates the ordered composition of the individual organism, as well as its manifestation as the purpose of its species. The external suitability indicates the relationship between inorganic and organic nature as well as that of between individual organisms.
The inner teleology of nature is manifest in the foresight of animals that behave in anticipation of future events (the beaver erecting a damn, spiders and ant lions creating snares for their prey, birds that build nests for its future younglings, etc.), all testify the phenomenon of the unity of the one will in agreement with itself. (WWR § 28 p 161)
Instead of Kant's thing-in-itself, which he arrived at by inferring from what is grounded to the ground, the will signals Schopenhauer's departure from Kant. The final section of the book, criticism of Kantian philosophy, reveals the differences between these two thinkers in a more pronounced way, and will be discussed in the fifth section.
"Philosophy has so long been sought in vain because it was sought by way of the sciences instead of by way of the arts."
Schopenhauer is the first thinker to grant art the highest philosophical rank and constructs an aesthetic metaphysics in book III. Contra Kant, Schopenhauer claimed that the aesthetic experience, instead of revealing to us our moral vocations, is the vehicle for escaping the conditions of the Will. Like the message of the great modern religions, perfect resignation is the "giving up of all willing, turning back, abolition of the will and with it of the whole inner being of this world and hence salvation"
(WWR § 48 p 233). The function of the arts is the "expression and representation"
of the Platonic Ideas. The more efficient the Will manifests or "objectifies" itself in an Idea, the more valuable it becomes; since the art form reveals the nature of reality - a standard Neoplatonist
claim that art represents Ideas by virtue of representing the imagined essential as opposed to the imitation of the inessential material.
In this Book Schopenhauer's aesthetics is the attempt to subsume a modified form of Platonism within the esoteric version of Kantian metaphysics outlined in the first two Books. Briefly, the genuine aesthetic experience is the precursor of the apprehension of metaphysical truth. Philosophy consists of articulating in abstracta
inasmuch what the artist does in concreta
. Thus, philosophy is the articulation of concepts. Both the arts and philosophy are engaged in the same task, and both "work at bottom towards the solution of the problem of existence"
(WWR II p 406). Schopenhauer concedes that, given its "ineluctable generality of concepts"
, philosophy can never provoke as well as art.
The third book opens with a further exposition of the Ideas
as the definite grades of the objectification of the will, the original unchanging forms of all natural objects as well as the natural laws themselves (WWR § 30). Although the ideas are "present" in countless examples and instances, their relation to particular instances is that of an archetype to its copies (WWR § 30). All particular concrete individuals in space and time are nothing more than the Ideas filtered through the PSR. However, Schopenhauer maintains that while all the instances and aspects are beholden to the PSR - plurality and change - the Ideas are wholly independent of the PSR, and outside of knowledge, for they remain immutable. The only way for the Ideas to become an object of knowledge is through the destruction of the individuality of the knowing subject.
Schopenhauer admits that the Ideas of Plato and Kant's thing-in-itself are not the same thing, for the former was merely "immediate" while the latter was the unobjectified will. The Idea "retains the first and most universal form...of the representation in general, that of being object for a subject"
(WWR § 32 p 175). This characterization is the only form of knowledge, and so, it is "the most adequate objectivity possible for the will"
(WWR § 32 ibid).
Schopenhauer beautifully describes the relentlessness of the desires of the will, irrespective of whether the person is pursuing pleasure or fleeing pain, for everyone is "constantly lying on the revolving wheel of Ixion, always drawing water in the sieve of the danaids, and is the eternally thirsting Tantalus"
(WWR § 37 p 196). At least such relentlessness is not immutable, for there are breaks or momentary repose - and that is the moment of "pure contemplation, absorption in perception, being lost in the object, [and] forgetting all individuality"
(WWR § 37 p 197).
The temporary suspension of the will takes place when a person contemplates the aesthetic as a pure, will-free subject of knowing, and in doing so, the pleasure of the beautiful is achieved. During the moment of aesthetic experience, the striving of the will slows down, and momentarily frees the subject from the constant suffering. In a nutshell, everyday life is restless torment and the aesthetic experience is the momentary respite. Schopenhauer did not stop here, for he also recognized that the aesthetic dimension of experience contained a means of perceiving beyond the veils of reality. With typical chutzpah, Schopenhauer goes beyond Kant's conservative formulations with the assertion that art is cognitively superior to either empirical perception or the sciences, and that the intelligibility of art depends on the accuracy of metaphysical insights. However, it would be a mistake to read this section on aesthetic as a critique of the arts themselves, for Schopenhauer merely offered a conception of the value of art, and nothing else
"Knowledge in general belongs to the objectification of the will at its higher grades."
(WWR § 33) Therefore, knowledge is subservient to the will, and consequently, representation serves as a means for the will. Schopenhauer shrewdly describes the exception to this restriction of knowledge when the subject disintegrates its individuality and pries knowledge loose from the will, and becomes a "pure, will-less subject of knowledge"
(WWR § 34). This anarchic knowledge is also independent from the constraints of the PSR. The ability of the mind to focus completely on the object of perception will lead to the dissolution of the individuality and devolve to a pure subject, a "timeless subject of knowledge"
(WWR § 34), or a "clear mirror of the object"
(ibid, p 178). Once the subject is free of the will, the object is no longer an individual thing but the Idea or the "immediate objectivity of the will"
(ibid, p 179). Since the perceiving individual is limited to knowing particular objects, for he knows objects in particular locations and at particular moments, from a series of cause and effect, then only the pure subject knowledge can know Ideas.
While the other fields of knowledge (science, history, mathematics) are beholden to the PSR, art is concerned with what exists independently of all relations, yet is truly essential and contains the actual content of phenomena, incorruptible, eternally true: the ideas, which are the immediate and adequate objectivity of the thing-in-itself, the will (WWR I p 184). Schopenhauer thinks art is a second type of knowledge, completely independent of all relations, and yet retain the essential and true content of the world. Basically, art is the work of the genius. This knowledge in art repeats the Ideas apprehended through pure contemplation, which is the "way of considering things independently of the PSR"
(WWR § 36 p 185). While the PSR is rational, and completely essential for practical life, the method that wrenches free from such rationality is that of the genius, and is valid in art alone (WWR I p 185). Only the Genius has the ability of pure contemplation, which is being completely absorbed in the objects, sever his service to the will and be in a state of pure perception and eventually, the comprehension of the Idea. Once the individual will - the personal interests and goals - are dropped, the pure knowing subject emerges.
Even genius has its limits. If the genius is deficient in his grasp of the PSR (consequently the sciences and rationality) his individual genius will be severely curtailed. On the other hand, the genius' singular brilliance is due to a "preponderance of knowledge from perception through the senses and the understanding over abstract knowledge"
(WWR § 36 p 19). A Dionysos instead of an Apollo. The genius tends to grasp the Idea in things, which transcends the knowledge of relations or the connection of things, and see the one thing that represents its entire species adequately. "The individual object of [the genius'] contemplation... Appears in so strong a light that the remaining links of the chain ...to which the belong, withdraw into obscurity"
(WWR § 36 p 194). This ability exaggerates the genius' perception to extremes, and consequently, his actions as well. Striking a moderate balance, the golden "means" is utterly a foreign concept...
Schopenhauer often visited patients at the mental hospital, and his experiences resulted in amazingly prescient insights in psychology. One of them was a relationship between the genius and madness, not because of some defect of reason, but the "unusual energy of that whole phenomenon of the will"
(ibid). Schopenhauer also argued against the distinct demarcation between the sane and the insane, because the mad are not deprived of either of the faculties of reason or the understanding.
Many of the insane Schopenhauer had visited in lunatic asylums possessed great gifts, but he noted that the root of their maladies lie in the memory where a naturally continuous thread is shattered. Among the individual portions of their memories that took place, the gaps in the broken chain have been patched over by the imagination, which turn the fictional episodes into a "fixed mania" or momentary fancies. The more intense the insanity is, the worse off the memory. Here, Schopenhauer offers an explanation for why madness takes place: if the person's suffering continues beyond the moment it took place and is located with his memory, and has become utterly unbearable, then nature in the throes of self-preservation destroys the thread of memory
. This insight moves very close to those of early psychology, particularly that of Freud.
Only the genius has the capacity for utter and absolute objectivity. He can lose himself in his own perception by becoming the pure knowing subject, escape the ubiquitous will, and consequently, the knowledge that always accompanies the will. The utmost concern of the genius is the Ideas, the eternal forms of the world, of phenomena, and through perception the genius knows ideas, for they are not abstractions. Thus, the genius require a healthy amount of imagination to see beyond the immediate objects of perception - the representations - and toward the archetype.
The genius uses art to communicate others the Idea he has apprehended, grasped, or glimpsed. On the other side of the spectrum is your Average Joe/Jane who lives in the present, pursuing a life of comfort and ease. S/He is incapable of directing his/her attention to anything other than what has immediate relations to his/her will, and is quick to satisfy him/herself with the abstraction of the object of perception.
Even the most obstinate, stubborn and insensitive philistine is capable of experiencing aesthetic pleasure. The subjective aspect of aesthetic pleasure is the experience of the sublime
. If the observer moves from the knowledge of the relations that obey the will and towards aesthetic contemplation, then the observer experiences the feeling of beauty
. This takes place only once the observer wrenches himself loose and free from serving the vicious desires of the will. The transition from the feeling of beautiful to the sublime involves the transcendence of all interests of the will
The aesthetic presentation is a certain disinterested knowledge that takes place once the observer loses him/herself in the object and ceases to think or feel as, be an individual, and then the observed representation becomes a representation of an essence. However, the aesthetic representation differs from the perceptual representation, in the sense that establishes the centrality and moral purpose of aesthetics. Like Kant and Hegel, Schopenhauer claims art is the presentation of appearance as pure appearance, once art apprehends the Idea by muting the will.
The opposite of the sublime is the charm
, where we are lured into the illusion that satisfaction in human life is possible by inducing a false sense of fulfillment. Charm, or attraction, is the excitement of the will in the form of satisfaction or fulfillment, whereas the sublime feeling emerges from the transformation of something unfavorable to the will into an object of pure contemplation (WWR I p 207). On the other hand, attraction, by stirring his will, prevents the beholder from pure contemplation that is necessary for the sublime.
Schopenhauer dismissed the realist's prejudice that the artist's ability to create art depends on how well s/he imitates nature, because that fails to explain how the artist can recognize what is beautiful. The only way the artist can create according to the standard of beauty is if he anticipates the beautiful prior to experience, before he begins the creation of art. This a priori
anticipation is a different sort of knowledge than the forms of the PSR, where the universal forms of the phenomenon explains the "how" of appearances, which in turn develops the fields of mathematics and the sciences. The a prior
knowledge of the artist, which "makes the beautiful possible," is concerned with the content of phenomena, not the form - the what instead of the how. By anticipating the beautiful, the artist recognizes the Idea of the particular thing, and "understands Nature's half spoken words"
(WWR § 45, p 222). If the artist merely created the objects of art solely based on his experience, then greats like Shakespeare invented all the characters in his play solely from his experience of people. Schopenhauer finds this too far-fetched and incredulous, and insists that the genius creates according to the anticipation of the beautiful, even though some experience is necessary.
For Schopenhauer, the function of art is to privide us the cognition of platonic ideas through the representation of individual phenomena that "instantiate" them, and the phenomenal world instantiating the platonic ideas composes of four distinguishable grades. At bottom is the lowest grade of the will's objectification, the inorganic elements of nature - earth, water, air – which is what architecture does best. None of the other arts can equal architecture’s command of the natural elements - the open air, space, light, material, - and moreover, there are no symbolic representations. The second grade of the will's objectification is flowers, trees, plant life, and painting is the appropriate medium. The third grade is animal life, where the two-dimensional nature of painting is insufficient, and sculpture can capture the physical body of the animal, especially its mass, weight, bulk, balance and poise.
The three-dimensional sculpture cannot truly represent human life - the feelings, emotions, characters and relationships require a fourth dimension – time - and all these attributes may be captured in a lyric poem, but the full scale panorama of human life is best expressed in drama, which itself can incorporate poetry. The great tragedies of ancient Greece and the plays of Shakespeare are excellent examples. "Human beauty is an objective expression that denotes the will's most complete objectification at the highest grade... namely the idea of man in general"
(WWR, § 45, p 221). Nothing else inspires the purely aesthetic contemplation as fast, and as directly as the image of the most beautiful human being.
The Idea that the great works in poetry expresses is the "man in the connected series of his efforts and actions"
(WWR, I p 224). Through poetry, the will expresses itself most clearly of all the representational arts. The summit of poetic art is tragedy
, because it describes the most important aspect of life - the terrible side of life - much better than anything else, and ever beautifully. Tragedy encapsulates "the unspeakable pain, the wretchedness and misery of mankind, the triumph of wickedness, the scornful mastery of chance and the irretrievable fall of the just and innocent..."
(WWR, §51, p 253).
At the highest peak of aesthetics Schopenhauer places music, for it does not copy or repeat anything of phenomena - it actualy surpasses the world of perception itself - nor does it copy the Ideas themselves, for it is the copy of the will itself. Therefore, music is much more potent than all the other arts. True music is purely abstract, and doesn't represent anything in the world of phenomena, and therefore it doesn't present the cognition of the Platonic ideas through concrete particulars. Music bypasses both the Platonic ideas and representations of phenomena altogether. If all this is the case, then movies are at least at the level of drama, for they are frozen plays, ideally captured and maximized by the most appropriate camera angle, and augmented by special effects where needed, etc.
Since music does not express phenomena, for it is the inner nature of every phenomenon, the will itself, then it never express a particular emotion or passion - a specific sorrow or joy - instead those emotions themselves, their essence are expressed in music. Because music expresses the quintessence of existence, as opposed to the individual and particular instances, it is the universal and homogeneous language, as well as the oldest, and intelligible to all people, yet impossible to translate into another medium. Schopenhauer credits melody as the disclosure of all the deepest secrets of human willing and feeling, and the invention of such is the work of genius.
The fourth book, regarding ethics in general and particular context, is the "most serious"
discussion, largely because it is the most relevant for everyone. However, Schopenhauer is perceptive enough to recognize how ineffective systems of morals are in the production of virtuous folk, just as poorly as aesthetic theories are capable of generating geniuses in art. Consequently, "philosophy can never do more than interpret and explain what is present... "
(WWR § 53 p 271). The only true method of philosophy asks about the what, instead of the whence, the whither, or the why - what lies beyond phenomena, beyond the PSR, what is the inner nature of the world (p 274).
Schopenhauer then launches into a discussion about time according to phenomena and explains how the "now" is the only actual aspect of temporal existence while the past and the future are mere phantasms. Like Epicurus, but with a more sophisticated argument, Schopenhauer argues against death as a source of anguish. While the idea of death inspires a holy terror in most people, if we realize that only the "now" matters - because the present is the only true form of the phenomenon of the will - then we can dismiss death as a "false illusion"
and an "impotent specter"
, and both the past and the future are "empty mirages"
(p 284). The fear of death relies on our anticipation of the future, and the future is an aspect of time. Death concerns us only as individuals, and since our existence as individuals is only an illusion from the world of appearance, therefore death has no ultimate reality.
If the phenomenon is completely conditioned by the PSR, which entails necessity, then the will as the thing-in-itself is utterly free. But the freedom of the will as thing-in-itself cannot and does not extend directly to phenomena, and especially not in the highest grade of phenomena - man - for he is already conditioned by the form of all phenomena, the PSR. We consider ourselves a priori
free, once we consider the number of potential choices available to us, but it is only after experience and reflection, a posteriori
, that our action does follow our character and motives with necessity (WWR p 289).
The appearance of freedom of individual action comes from the point of view of the intellect. the intellect knows the conclusions of the will after the fact, empirically. In other words, the intellect cannot predict the choices of the will. Rational deliberation takes place once a hypothetical situation is entertained, and oftentimes promotes a solution, but direct inclination usually leans towards another solution, and always overpowers rational deliberation once the opportunity of action actually arises. The intellect can only meditate between the possible solutions, and then it passively awaits the true decision of the will. From the view of the intellect, both choices are equally possible, and this potentiality inspires the appearance of the empirical freedom of the individual. Nevertheless, since the will is inscrutable and impenetrable, the intellect, which is little more than the examination of the motives of different point of views, cannot determine the will.
The assertion of an empirical freedom of will depends on the presumption that man's inner nature is a knowing and abstract thinking entity, and consequently, this abstracta
becomes a willing subject. Nevertheless, Schopenhauer thinks the will is the primary and original aspect, and knowledge is the by-product of the phenomenon of will – just an instrument. Then people are what they are according to their will, and they learn of themselves only through experience - experiencing what they are - and they discover their character after the fact. For the free will advocates, the individual wills what s/he knows, but for Schopenhauer, s/he knows what s/he wills (WWR p 293). Motives, however, can influence character through knowledge, and that is how a person's manner can change while his/her character remains the same. Motives can influence the will, alter its direction, but not change the will. Therefore, pace
Seneca, willing cannot be taught, and always remains inscrutable. Motives themselves are concepts, abstract representations of reason, and through the conflict of several motives, the strongest emerges and determines the will with necessity.
Schopenhauer also notes that the ability to discern motives, deliberation, is precisely not only what distinguishes the human from the animal; it is also what makes human existence much more agonizing and tortuous than the animal. The greatest suffering isn't limited to the immediate present as representations of perception, but as abstract concepts that haunt thoughts and cause mental anguish and suffering. The animal has no such troubles for it lives in the present.
After elaborating on the intellect and the empirical character, Schopenhauer begins analyzing the third aspect of human behavior, acquired character, which is social - something articulated only within society - where someone is praised for having character or condemned for lacking any. But the acquired character is not like the empirical for it isn't unalterable or consistent. From the second book, where the will is described as a ceaselessly striving universal force, doubly omnipotent and omnipresent, and in human beings, the will underlies everything - actions, desire, beliefs, etc. The foundation of all willing is need, lack and once something is deficient or found to be dissatisfactory, striving ensues, and as long as this striving desire isn't satisfied, this is suffering; otherwise, the achievement of the goal is called satisfaction. But since satisfaction is always temporary, finite, and always yields to a new desire, then there is no final resolution of desire, no ultimate goal, and suffering is ineradicable. Therefore, all life is essentially suffering
(WWR § 56 p 310).
Even though from birth, life is a "continual rushing of the present into the dead past"
(WWR § 57 p 311) human beings live vicariously, just as much as a soap bubble is blown as large as possible with the full knowledge that it will pop. To will is always to desire and, in extreme cases, to desire the perfect satisfaction is a matter of delusion. Both excessive joy and extreme pain are erroneous, delusions, for they are the anticipation of the future; but pain is essential to life - excessive joy comes from the belief that permanent satisfaction of the desires has been achieved, inasmuch the nadir of sorrow comes from the vanishing of such potential "perfect" satisfaction. Schopenhauer, along with the Stoics, suggests equanimity whether the situation is horribly adverse or exceedingly fortuitous.
All happiness is essentially negative, for satisfaction is merely the absence of desire (WWR § 58 p 319) for gratification delivers us from a particular desire. This indicates that suffering is the immediately given, the positive aspect of willing. Schopenhauer points out that the great poems illustrate a struggle for unattainable happiness, and even once the hero, in the epic poem, actually achieves his monumental goal, happiness remains elusive and he remains no better off than before. In other words, true happiness, because it is impossible, cannot ever be the true object of art.
There are three extremes of human life, Schopenhauer notes: the great passions, found in the historical characters that populate epics and drama; the life of genius, those who achieve pure knowing and comprehend the Ideas by emancipating knowledge from its slavery to the will; and the empty longing of the bored. People, at very rare times, if ever, do find themselves close to one of the aforementioned extremes but rush back to the average everydayness of life (p 321).
When observing an individual's life in its entirety, at a distance, it becomes a tragedy, and up close where the trivial facts are magnified, it is a comedy (WWR § 58 p 322). As for the self-conscious person reflecting upon him/herself, Schopenhauer adds that "as if fate wished to add mockery to the misery of our existence our life must contain all the woes of tragedy, and yet we cannot even assert the dignity of tragic characters, but.. Are inevitably the foolish characters of a comedy"
That life is essentially suffering is reflected in the great work of Dante Alleghri, Inferno
, where he easily acquires material for his description of hell. Unsurprisingly, when it came to heaven, Dante found the attempt far too difficult, for there is no Paradise anywhere in existence. Instead, Dante fell back on the attempts of other saints and offered a botched composite.
Schopenhauer also goes after optimism, and found it a "wicked way of thinking, a bitter mockery of the unspeakable sufferings of mankind"
(WWR § 59 p 326). While it is true that entropy is irreversible, that nothing lasts forever, people live as if they will never die. Schopenhauer is remorseless when he insists the true and sole hope of humanity is to achieve the insight that existence, as an individual, is worthless. Despite being an atheist, Schopenhauer recognized the truth of the major religions (Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism) that ordinary existence is overrated, that their ascetic practices actually denies the purposeless will by stifling the desires and needs of the body. The ascetic is just one step away from self-renunciation, which is actually a more powerful version of the aesthetic experience that serves as a repose from the will. Once the tyranny of the desires of individuality is abandoned then one gains a viewpoint on the world that recognizes the fundamental unity between the subject and the external world. "The double sided world is the striving of the will to become conscious of itself so that, recoiling in horror at its inner, self divisive nature, it may annul itself and thereby its self affirmation and then reach salvation"
(John Atwell). Prosaically stated, cognitive self-awareness turns into self-destruction.
The first and most basic/primary affirmation of the will to live is the affirmation of the physical body, where the will manifests itself through action (WWR § 62 p 334). It follows that the principle morality of the majority is egoism, for their will to live predetermines the choices they make and conditions the actions. The concept of what is wrong describes when the individual extend the affirmation of his will far enough that it becomes the denial of the will in others. What is "right" is merely the negation of "wrong,” which is original and positive. Ergo, what is right is merely the lack of denying another's will for the sake of the affirmation of one's own will (WWR § 62 p339).
Temporal justice resides in the state, or precisely within its power of punishment, and is intended to prevent such actions from recurring in the future. The conception of retaliation implies time, and so, temporal justice is fundamentally concerned with the future. On the other hand, eternal justice is free from human institutions, free from chance or change, and "infallible, firm and certain"
(WWR § 63 p 350).
A person who lives in the moment, utterly within the folds of the veil of Maya, sees only phenomena, individual and particular objects, innumerable dichotomies: pleasure is distinct from pain, the murderer is distinguished from the victim, yet the person seeks justice or retribution. Mired within Maya, the superficial person, a prisoner of the will, is incapable of realizing that wickedness is actually an aspect of the will to live, for s/he thinks such evil must be opposed to nature. In other words, the veil of the Maya is the metaphysical underpinning of the principium individuationis
, the principle of individuality.
Yet at the bottom of his/her consciousness there lies an "obscure presentiment"
that there is a connection between him/her and everything else, and this very connection inspires a "dread", a fateful terror that undermines their presumptuous individuality. Once the illusion of such temporal happiness and other temporary pleasures cracks and shatters, the global miseries and relentless suffering of life is grasped, and then the optimistic faith of redemption is finally exposed as a pretense, a very effective self-deception that is necessary for the will to live. Beneath the pretense, there are no dichotomies, for the will encompasses both pleasure and pain, both the sadist and the masochist, the tormentor and the prisoner, cause and effect, for it "buries its teeth in its own flesh"
. Schopenhauer notes the great insight of the Upanishads
, where the formula for each individual is as follows: "tat tvam asi"
(This art thou).
surpasses the temporal limitations of phenomena, the particular instances of suffering, far beyond all individuality. While it remains inaccessible for most people, myth can translate the profound truth of eternal justice into native language, within the bounds of the PSR, in the form of religious teachings, especially those of Vedas and Buddhism. Christian ethics, in particular, indicates a special class of knowledge consisting of virtue and nobleness where retaliation is conspicuously absent. It is worth noting that "eternal justice" is often misunderstood and falsified by the individual once s/he fails to realize that the offender and the offended are one, and instead, desires to return the pain of the offended to the guilty party. Yet Schopenhauer is careful to detect a distinction between common revenge and the mania of retaliation that also stakes the individual's life with that of the perpetrator. The goal of common revenge aims at punishment in order to mitigate suffering, while the avenger goes far beyond self-love in order to prevent such outrageous acts from happening ever again (WWR § 64).
Whatever is agreeable to the will and achieves its goals is considered as good. When something is taken as good, such as good food, good books, good weather, good people, we are indicating two things at once: agreeable, the immediate satisfaction of the will in each case, and useful, the delayed satisfaction that concerns the future (WWR § 65). When we call someone "just," we are identifying a person who, in the affirmation of his will, never denies the will that manifests itself in another person (WWR § 66).
On the other hand, we attribute detrimental objects as bad, and in abstract cases, evil, when that object detracts from the striving of the will. When a person goes too far in the affirmation of his/her own will to live by denying the will in other individuals, and demands their abilities to serve his/her will or else they will be eliminated, he is called "bad," even though the source of such activity is egoism. The excess of affirming one's own will to live and the slavish devotion to one's own individuality that demarcates his/her own person from all others are "two fundamental elements of bad character"
(WWR § 65).
The wicked takes pleasure at the suffering of the others disinterestedly, and the extreme cases are instance of cruelty. The suffering of another is no longer a means to the ends of the malicious person, but an end in itself. Wickedness is similar to vengeance, but vengeance at least has the semblance of right, that if the same action of revenge is mandated by the law, and sanctioned by a society, then it would be just punishment.
Despite the omnipresence of the veil of Maya, guilt or the pangs of conscience take place because deep within the consciousness of the person, s/he knows that everything is one, and the distinction between the sufferer and the tormentor is a superficial one, even though space and time separate him/her from all other individuals. Guilt is an "inward alarm" of the wicked's own actions, and contains a faint sentiment of the intensity of the will, of the potency of the death grip the wicked has on his own life, and, simultaneously, the recognition of the misery of the oppressed and that s/he remains a part of the same force that inflicts pain upon itself. The stronger the person's affirmation of life, the further s/he is from the surrender and denial of that self-same will.
The person who offers help, support, and approval is considered as good, and relatively so. Nevertheless, when a person has a character of benevolence, friendliness and charity, on account of their choice of conduct to the will of others, they are also called good as well. Yet Schopenhauer does not consider "absolute good" as anything but a contradiction, for it is the highest good, the final satisfaction of the will where, once achieved, no new willing takes place, for the satisfaction has become imperishable. Once the will is satisfied, the cycle of desire and satisfaction restarts, and craving begins anew, making the "absolute good" an impossible fantasy.
Schopenhauer insists that morality absent of reason is mere moralization, and persuades nobody. The only motivation comes from self-interest, but virtue never comes from such origins. Therefore, abstract knowledge can never produce authentic virtue. Faintly echoing Plato, the concept of virtue lacks the tangible effect of the intuitive knowledge, and virtue can never be taught. All abstract knowledge is capable of is identifying the motives, and perhaps redirect the will, but never the will itself.
The only possible means of virtue is the reorganization that the inner nature of all individuals are the same. That is why there is no difference between the pious inquisitor who burns the heretic and the assassin who earns his pay by killing a high profile target. People delude themselves with customs and dogmas as the chief reason behind their deeds, but good actions are exceedingly rare, for they do originate in a "direct and intuitive knowledge that cannot be... arrived at by reason"
(WWR § 66 p 370). Here, Schopenhauer admits the limits of philosophy and claims that the concept can only express the conduct in the abstract, but never supply the intuitive knowledge itself. More interestingly, Schopenhauer shrewdly points out that since it isn't necessary for a sculptor to be beautiful in order to create beautiful art, nor isn't it necessary for the moralist to possess the very virtue he theorizes, and the philosopher doesn't have to be a saint. I leave the ironic conclusion for the reader to draw him/herself.
Whereas the wicked is incapable of seeing past the distinction between himself and another, the altruist immediately recognizes that his individuality is a "fleeting, deceptive phantom"
(WWR, § 66 p 372) and intuitively knows that his essence (inner being) is the same as that of others, and extends this "essence" to all other living creatures. Thus, he will refrain from causing suffering to anyone, and forgo himself comfort and pleasures in order to alleviate the sufferings of others. The veil of Maya does not deceive the just, for he recognizes himself in every creature.
Good conscience is the satisfaction felt at the completion of a disinterested action, which takes place only with the recognition that one's own inner being in itself is also another's. If egoism merely limits the interests to the phenomenon of a particular individual, then shared inner being enlarges the interests to all living things, and nurtures a calm and serene perspective. The egoist will be suspicious of everything, and puts everything in one basket - his/her well-being - and constantly be anxious. Therefore, the direct path to salvation is the formula of the Veda
– "this art thou!"
Love is essentially compassion and nothing else. The Italians call pure love pieta
, which is also the word for sympathy. Unlike Kant, who claimed that all good and virtue originate in abstract reflection (duty and categorical imperative) compassion is the sincere participation in the other's suffering and includes the disinterested sacrifices required. Schopenhauer distances himself from Kant when he argues moral laws are not independent of institutions and customs.
Schopenhauer defines "weeping" not as a positive instance of pain, but sympathy with ourselves, when we cry we are repeating the pain during reflection. "Thus we pass from the felt pain, even when it is physical, to a mere mental picture ...of it; then we find our own state so deserving of sympathy that, if another were the sufferer, we are firmly and sincerely convinced that we would be full of sympathy and love to help him"
(WWR § 67 p 376).
The difference between the egoist who is wedded to the principium individuationis
and the person who is aware of the inner nature of everything is that the former knows only particular objects and their relations to him/herself, and renews motives of his/her will, and the latter quiets the will by shuddering at the pleasures that affirms life and turns away (WWR § 68 p 379). Most of us desire the end of such suffering, but the veil of Maya is very potent, for its illusion of hopes and pleasure restarts the cycle of the will and traps us. Those of us who are no longer fooled by temporary reprieves will withdraw from the vicious circle and denies the inner nature of all things by becoming an ascetic. In this renunciation, the ascetic stops willing, resists bodily impulses of thirst, hunger, sex, avoid making new attachments, and becomes utterly indifferent to everything.
The first stage of asceticism is found in the Gospels, where we are commanded to love others as we love ourselves, return hatred with good actions, patience and the endurance of all insults and injuries without resistance. At the next stage, the Christian saints and mystics added complete resignation, voluntary poverty and utter indifference to all earthy matters, which will resolve in the annihilation of the will while in the throes of the contemplation of God. Meister Eckhart's Theologia Germanica
is a profound example of the denial of the will-to-live. However, a more sophisticated example is found in the Vedas, Puranas, and other poetical works of Hindu literature where the love of others is extended to all life, resistance to animal food, and, among others, a "deep unbroken solitude spent in silent contemplation with voluntary penance and terrible slow self-torture for the complete mortification of the will..."
(WWR § 68 p 388).
That the biographies of the saints are full of conflicts, temptations, and failure should reflect the fact that their struggle with the will to live is a perpetual one, a constant wrestling match with the indefatigable force of the universe. Usually, these sort of enchanting temptations are seen as the devil's snares, and the more intense the will is, the more obvious the conflict, and thus, the more profound the suffering. However, if and only if the sufferer stops and observes the entirety of his life as a series of sufferings, and goes beyond the surface level where those individual sufferings were caused, from the individual to the universal where his pain is merely an instance of the whole, he is brought to resignation and becomes revered.
Schopenhauer insists that this portrait is no "philosophical fable"
, but the actual inner, direct and intuitive knowledge of the great saints of Christians and the distinctive Hindus and Buddhists, despite the superficial differences between their dogmas. Therefore, the conduct of the ascetic comes from their intuitive grasp, not their professed dogmas. Although there is a huge chasm between this intuitive knowledge and the abstract kind, philosophy can bridge such and only the philosopher can articulate the concrete truths of intuition in abstractions, through reflection (WWR § 68 p 383).
Suicide, Schopenhauer is careful to note, is not identical with resignation, for it is actually an instance of the affirmation of the will. Where resignation gives up the pleasures of the will, rather than its sorrows, the suicide is expressing dissatisfaction with the conditions of his/her life and ends his/her own life. Since the thing-in-itself is not affected, and suicide is merely the termination of the life of an individual, Schopenhauer considers it a futile and foolish act. (WWR § 69 p 400) Since the individual cannot stop willing or stop suffering, he quits life. Yet the act of suicide actually affirms the will itself. The only thing that can abolish the will is knowledge, which means the road to salvation is the unchecked manifestation of the will for the sake of discovering the inner nature of phenomena.
Although freedom belongs only to the will itself, and not phenomena, once the will arrives at the knowledge of its own inner nature, it gains a 'quieter'
and that eliminates motivations or at least subsumes them into the background. Even though the self-suppression of the will comes from knowledge, yet the denial of the will cannot be planned. This great insight comes from out of the blue instead, and as the actual example of the freedom of the will it transforms the individual's entire inner nature, and turns him/her into a new person. Here, Schopenhauer applauds the Catholic Church’s distinction of grace or salvation and the natural man. Where Adam as the affirmation of the will forever cursed everyone with original sin as suffering and death, Christ symbolizes the freedom of sin as the denial of the will to live. Thus, we ought to interpret Christ not as the individual in the Gospels, but as the universal personification of the quieter (WWR § 70 p 405).
Schopenhauer closes the first volume with an objection that he cannot redress: the denial of the will is a transition from existence to nothingness (WWR § 71 p 409). He asserts that the idea of nothing is relative, and is a reference to a particular something that it negates. Of course, the idea of an absolute nothing cannot even be conceived. Therefore, the idea of nothing is always a relation to something else.
The permanent solution to misery is once there is a naked, honest and complete awareness of the abject wretchedness of life the person loses the desire for existence and gratification. This takes place with the saint or ascetic who doesn't have any concerns with life or prosperity. The will to live, through him, has denied itself, or is greatly reduced to a faint whisper that no longer maintains a concept of reality composed of spatiotemporal objects. Upon his death, this whisper will vanish as well as the world/reality of his consciousness. Therefore, since this concept of world/reality is merely the Will's delusional artifact of itself, it comes to an end once the Will ceases to desire.
Yet even if I, as a manifestation of the will, including reality-for-me, vanishes upon death, irrespective of achieving the level of the ascetic, the Will continues in the life of others. Then, given the ascetic's death, his particular grade of Will expires, whereas the ordinary Joe’s death does not entail the expiration of his grade of Will. Therefore, suicide is pointless and self-defeating, for it is a superficial complaint about the current conditions based on one particular grade of Will. If all men became ascetics, will everything cease? Sometimes, Schopenhauer seems to hint that something inconceivable to most excepting the ascetic (mystical contemplation) will be left. Schopenhauer admits that whatsoever remains after the complete abolition of the will is nothing. Yet, the same also goes for those where the will has turned against itself - "this very real world of ours with all its suns and galaxies, is - nothing"
(WWR § 70 p 412).[
Appendix: Critique of Kantian metaphysics
Schopenhauer devoted the final section of the first volume to a thorough critique of Kantian metaphysics. The critique was intended in order to highlight the greatness of Kant and the quote by Voltaire said it all: It is the privilege of true genius, and especially genius who opens up a new path, to make great mistakes with impunity.
Plato and the Hindu are the other intellectual muses, but Kant is the chief golden calf Schopenhauer genuflects before in the majority of the World as Will and Representation
, and at the end of the book, he wields the hammer of Uru to clear away the rusty flakes. It is much easier to point out the faults and errors in the work of a great mind than to give a clear and complete exposition of its value
(WWR p 415).
Interestingly, Schopenhauer often laments Kant's decision to edit his great work, The Critique of Pure Reason
, in an overreaction to the charges of naďve idealism. As explained in Book I, representation is compatible with Kant's transcendental idealism, where the spatial, temporal forms are how the objects in experience are (re)presented, and the basic structure of the concepts we think and judge with and the category of causality are the reflection of the structure of our perception or concept of reality. Nonetheless, when Kant argued that TI prevents us from having any knowledge of the thing-in-itself, Schopenhauer disagreed and insisted that our experience of willing is actually the mode of access to the nature of reality that complements our spatial/temporal/causal framework for representing objects.
The chief reason for the disagreement between Kant and Schopenhauer lie with their choices of method: Schopenhauer agreed with Kant to the extent that we do have transcendental knowledge of the fundamental conditions of experience, but did not share in Kant's convictions that transcendental knowledge is dependent on transcendental proofs or arguments. That is why Schopenhauer says we are not bound by Kant's conclusions about the limits of knowledge and advocated a more practical method that dances close to Hume’s empiricism and Husserl's phenomenology where direct experience indicates a dual approach to understanding it: the representations of spatiotemporal objects, and the capacity to will. Kant's method of discovering the fundamental principles of knowledge as a special sort of reflection is mistaken, for we can know this through direct and immediate scrutiny of our experience.
"An essential difference between Kant's method and that which I follow is to be found in the fact that he starts from indirect, reflected knowledge, whereas I start from direct and intuitive knowledge. He is comparable to a person who measures the height of a tower from its shadow; but I am like one who applies the measuring rod directly to the tower itself."
(WWR I pp 452-453)
Thus Schopenhauer's transcendental philosophy dispenses with transcendental proofs. Schopenhauer continues: "Philosophy, therefore is for [Kant], a science of concepts but for me a science in concepts, drawn from the knowledge of perception, the only source of all evidence and set down and fixed in universal concepts"
(ibid, p 453). Once Kant abandoned the realm of perception, he errs magnificently especially when he insisted that all the abstract categories of logical theory must be present in our knowledge of objects.
The main charge Schopenhauer lies at Kant’s feet is the complete lack of any distinction between abstract and discursive knowledge and intuitive knowledge (WWR I p 473). Yet, later on Schopenhauer then criticizes Kant for making that very distinction. Recall the famous dictum, "thoughts without content are empty; intuition without concepts are blind"
, which means there is no possible cognition of objects unless the two are combined. Schopenhauer says Kant blundered by bringing "thinking into perception"
, meaning an object is not perceived meaningfully until it is thought. Nevertheless, we do not think in order to see an object, for no reflection is required at all. Yet Kant actually says that the concept emerges spontaneously, not deliberately.
Schopenhauer is quick to dismiss Kant's categories as a sham; given the sole function of the understanding is causality. Moreover, Schopenhauer argued that all twelve categories are reducible to causality. This seems problematic, for we cannot think about causality without the notion of substance. The thought of something being caused already includes a substance of some kind. We are also incapable of thinking of causality without the assumption that all substances must behave in the same way under the same circumstances. we cannot think of causality without having the notion of quality. One could argue that Schopenhauer did not reject the categories altogether, but instead he took causation as the function that connects separate perceptions of distinct objects, a function that conditions perception of objects. The categories or the capacity of making judgments is secondary to perception because they are aspects of reason, which is in itself entirely parasitical on the originary cognitive activity of perception.
Animals do have knowledge of objects via perception, despite lacking the ability of making judgments. Therefore the forms of judgments are structured by reflection, a secondary cognitive activity.
"Forms of categorical judgment is nothing but the form of the judgment in general"
, i.e., the form of the abstract expression of the knowledge of objects, which is founded on perception. "Disjunctive judgments spring from the law of thought of the excluded middle… therefore entirely the property of reason."
(WWR I p 459) They show the basic form of the activity of comparing objects in the abstract. Schopenhauer concludes that all forms of judgments and the categories are the inherent structures of the activity of abstract thought, to which Kant might have conceded that the expression of abstraction is secondary to perception of the object, but he would have argued that we are capable of making judgments because of the synthetic nature of our conscious perception of objects – that which forms sensations as well as the conceptual structure.
Schopenhauer's most enduring criticism of Kantian philosophy is on causation. For Kant, the knowledge of the determinate temporal order of objective states of affairs depends on the knowledge of causal laws, whereas for Schopenhauer the knowledge of the temporal succession is independent of any such condition because it is already immediately given. This issue about the relation between the phenomenology of our experience of temporal order and the transcendental conditions of our experience remains unresolved today.
The Kantian scholar Paul Guyer indicated (in The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer
) three of Schopenhauer's objections to Kant's treatment of causality, that it marginalizes immediate perceptual knowledge for the sake of conceptual elements of the understanding:
- 1. The sequence of perceptions are events and our knowledge of the sequence of these perceptions cannot and do not depend on the causal laws that entails change in these represented objects.
- 2. The knowledge of the succession of states of affairs contain some earlier events that did not cause the later ones, so, the knowledge of succession does not depend on the knowledge of causality.
- 3. Kant's treatment of causation: Schopenhauer said that if the knowledge of temporal succession wasn't immediate, but actually depends on the knowledge of the laws that determine the speed and timing of those successions, then we must have nearly unlimited knowledge of the causal laws.
Guyer defends against the first two objections to rest on a misunderstanding of Kant's argument, and a failure of distinguishing between the phenomenological method and Kant's transcendental method. Nevertheless, he admits that a reconstruction of Kant's position must deal with the aforementioned third objection.
The philosophy is, of course, not free from criticism, and the following instances are among the best.
The mathematical critique:
The will is supposedly "singular", or more precisely uncountable
because numbers in arithmetic, which is an operation of the intellect, apply solely to the world of appearances. This limitation implies that numbers are inapplicable to the essence of reality. Now, since the Will is uncountable or numbers are inapplicable then it does not follow that it is singular. Schopenhauer could have said that since causality does not apply to reality itself, then it can no longer be considered as the "cement of the universe" and that the unity of the cosmos does not depend on the external relations between its components. Other philosophers have attacked the singular conception of the will. In Beyond Good and Evil
, Nietzsche points out that the very word "will" is merely a concept that implies unity-as-a-word, while referring to something very complicated – a plurality of sensations, often conflicting and struggling - that either affirms or negate. A thousand pinpricks of quanta fluctuating at all times...
Knowledge of the will via inner sense:
If the thing-in-itself is will, and we know this through "inner sense" given that there are less phenomenal forms between the thing-in-itself and the knowing subject, then this presupposes that a lower number of phenomena reveals the true nature of reality better or truer than a higher number. Schopenhauer does realize this difficulty in his later writings.
Moral judgment of existence:
Another problem is the entire metaphysical interpretation of existence as will: it seems plausible that an alternative rendition could be cast differently, where the will is not necessarily an evil force, but a dynamic force of power, of difference, something worth affirming. Instead of the solitary hermit who starves himself into unconsciousness, the brave and the defiant warrior who struggles against the overwhelming odds of fate could actually withstand the heaviest burden, a Sisyphean hero who pauses and wipes his brow. Affirmation as the inverted attitude of pessimism remains possible, even if the will is insatiable as the present is a continuous vanishing. Schopenhauer is easy prey for Nietzsche's criticisms, where the fatal error of subjecting existence to a moral judgment has merely repeated the error of the past metaphysicians. "A pessimist who negates both God and world but stops before morality - who affirms morality and plays his flute, affirms
laede neminem morality: excuse me? Is this really – a pessimist?"
Music as the copy of the will:
Could the copy of something so purposeless and evil ever be anything but the same? How can music possess an anesthetic quality that "quiets" the raging torrent, when it is already a copy of that inferno? Perhaps Schopenhauer should not have eliminated the representation aspect of art when it comes to music.
There are two readings of a text: the surface, where the actual words of the text are analyzed, and the symptomatic, where the problematic that enlighten or regulate the actual meaning of the text is identified and clarified. The text's problematic is the horizon of the text, of its thoughts, the "forms in which problems must be posed". This horizon is the limit of the language and the concepts that were available for Schopenhauer at a certain historical period. What makes symptomatic readings very insightful is its transcendental status, for the problematic constitutes the definite condition of the possibility of the theoretical structure of the text. Schopenhauer was limited to the concepts and the language that is derived from the problematic that was already present.
However, given the mastery of the German language and the relentless precision of the thought, identifying what Schopenhauer meant by looking at what he did not say seems a fruitless exercise. As a "thoroughly explicit writer"
, Schopenhauer maximized the style and the significance of his language in order to deliver the philosophy. In the introduction to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche
, George Simmel is correct that a "creative interpretation"
of Schopenhauer is not possible, unlike Kant, Spinoza and Leibniz and others.
Volume 2 contains more technical elaborations and extensions. There are several reasons why Schopenhauer's philosophy is breathtaking and a fascinating reprieve from the staid and stodgy crap peddled in the universities. He wrote very clear, simple, directly, and never without force, always animated and suffused with personality. On top of such loquacity, he also was erudite, possessing a remarkable grasp of the classics. Schopenhauer arrived at the same conclusions as the eastern thinkers but through the road of the western philosophers, and was the very first to actually represent their insights to the western audience but clothed in the garb of philosophy rather than mystic balderdash. The philosophy's central concern was with existence, the tragedies and the problems of life, which is far more significant than the scholastic quibbles of ivory tower residents. Instead of chickening out like most thinkers by painting an all-harmonious portrait of the universe that resolved the petty differences into a shallow smudge, Schopenhauer took the actual sufferings of people seriously, all the brief instances of passions, emotions, all the eating, the fighting, the drinking, etc. He corrected the mistakes of the last great thinker, Kant and made several advances beyond his epistemology by claiming that inner experience is the key to knowing the thing-in-itself. Schopenhauer replaced Kant's labyrinthiine program of concepts with a plausible model of the understanding: the principle of sufficient reason. The theory of aesthetic seems more penetrating than those of the other philosophers, except probably Nietzsche's, and possibly because he did not succumb to the temptation of reducing art to superficial functionalism. Schopenhauer's sense of morality and philosophy of religion retains much of the insights of the major religions, yet he was a staunch atheist, and the first of all philosophers to be openly so. The previous ones, Hobbes and Hume, could not afford such political suicide, so they kept quiet or spoke cryptically. Most importantly, the pessimist's philosophy anticipates a great deal of Darwin and Freud and Einstein, where he recognized that nature always favored the species over the individual (because the species is everything and the individual, nothing), that the sexual impulse was omnipotent, that the consciousness was a latecomer to the scene of evolution - just the tip of the iceberg of the psyche - and that everything in the universe is fundamentally a force, since energy and matter are indistinguishable at the subatomic level. Finally, Arthur Schopenhauer was none other than the greatest philosophical influence of the two major thinkers of the 20th century, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. In order to understand both, we must read Schopenhauer.
After completing the first edition, Schopenhauer summed up the reception of his book: "I dispatch [the world as will] calmly resigned to the fact that it, too, will fully endure the fate which truth has suffered at all times, with only a brief victory celebration between the two prolonged periods where it is condemned as paradoxical and disparaged as trivial"
(Preface, first edition). The paradox is that in his era the metaphysicians of the absolute actually resurrected the thing-in-itself and, in doing so, they regressed from the transcendental critique to transcendent sophisms. Instead, Schopenhauer turns from transcendental philosophy but away from transcendence and towards a nihilistic conclusion where existence, or being, is essentially the blind will, utterly purposeless. The triviality is the obvious reductionism of the natural sciences where nothing lies beneath the phenomenal world, and Schopenhauer's discovery of the metaphysical answer, the will, is all-too-often misunderstood.
In closing, I leave you with the words of the "Last German": "A philosophy in between the pages of which one does not hear the tears, the weeping, the gnashing of teeth and the terrible din of mutual universal murder is no philosophy."
By Awet Moges (2006)