Summary and Analysis of Schopenhauer’s Work: The World as Will and as Representation
The World as Will and Representation, published in 1819, by Arthur Schopenhauer (a german philosopher) is an immense work, a cathedral whose ambition is to synthesize the conceptions of ontology, metaphysics, morality or aesthetics.
Schopenhauer, a disciple of Kant, takes over and transforms Kantian idealism. Reading it requires some knowledge of Kantian philosophy.
The world as will and representation (published in 1818) is divided into four books consecutively dedicated to epistemology, ontology, aesthetics and finally ethics (Schopenhauer will develop his morality in his Aphorisms on wisdom).
- the first book describes the world as an idea. The world is seen as an object of experience, in the scientific sense, based on the principle of sufficient reason (see definition).
- the second book describes the world as will and how it manifests in the world and governs
- the third book discusses the Platonic theory of art, values genius and music at the center of his aesthetic theory
- the fourth book releases the ethical implications of affirming or denying the will to live.
The epistemology of Schopenhauer:
Schopenhauer posits from the outset that the world is an idea insofar as it is an object in the mind of a subject. The subject / object relation is that of all or nothing: if an object is perceived, it is then in the subject and thus becomes idea.
According to Schopenhauer, all objects of perception respect the fourfold principle of sufficient reason: physical form, mathematical form, logical form, and moral form. The physical form of the principle of sufficient reason is the principle of becoming. The mathematical form of the principle of sufficient reason is the principle of being. The logical form of the principle of sufficient reason is the principle of knowledge. The moral form of the principle of sufficient reason is the principle of action. Schopenhauer explains in his treatise On the Quadruple Root of Sufficient Reason (1813) that each form of the principle of sufficient reason governs a category of possible objects for a subject. The principle of becoming governs the class of representations that can constitute the experience of the subject. The principle of being governs the class of abstract representations and concepts. The principle of knowledge determines the class of intuitions a priori of space and time. The principle of action governs the class of objects that consist of the acts of the will. Therefore, the quadruple principle of sufficient reason is a set of rules that governs all the objects and events of the phenomenal world. Everything has a valid reason to be, whatever its category of belonging.
Schopenhauer and ideas:
According to Schopenhauer, there are two types of ideas. Primary ideas are perceptions and intuitions. It is the understanding that manages these. Secondary ideas include abstract concepts and representations related to reason. Thus, concepts are “representations of representations”. Thus, all representations are objects of possible experience, and all objects of possible experience are representations.
Schopenhauer argues that reason is the ability to produce or compare concepts, but understanding is the ability to produce or compare perceptions. Concepts can be thought of, and not perceived. Only the effects of concepts, not the concepts themselves, can become objects of possible experience. The effects of concepts are language, action and science.
Schopenhauer’s idealism thus leaves experience intact insofar as it is transcendental: experience is a condition of knowledge on which reason is based.
According to Schopenhauer, the world is will to the extent that all ideas are a manifestation of the will. The will is not an idea or a representation, but a thing in itself. The will is the underlying reality of the world, with the aim that all phenomena depend on it. Schopenhauer argues that the will is never an object for a subject, and therefore objectively outside the field of knowledge. Will is that force that drives people to act, whether or not they have rational motives. The will is therefore an autonomous and constraining force. The individual is only aware of his own representations and ideas, and not of the will of the will. Thus, an individual is not free to act as he pleases, because all his acts are governed by necessity. The will is the being-in-itself of the phenomenal world, and is not subject to the principle of sufficient reason or necessity. The will can therefore be irrational. Since it has neither origin nor special purpose. The will is independent of time, space, plurality, causality, reason or motive.
Schopenhauer and aesthetics:
In Plato, art is the idea of beauty. Schopenhauer’s idealism differs from Plato’s idealism. According to Schopenhauer, a table or chair is an object of perception, in this it is a manifestation of the will, which is the ultimate reality. According to Plato, a table or chair expresses the idea of a table or a chair, and it is the idea of the table or chair that is the ultimate reality.
Schopenhauer also explains that art is the direct and adequate objectivity of the will. Art is a way of seeing things independently of the principle of sufficient reason. On the other hand, science is a way of seeing things according to the principle of sufficient reason.
Schopenhauer and ethics:
Schopenhauer describes the satisfaction of a desire in a negative way, as a suspension of suffering. Happiness is negative, in the sense that it never provides lasting satisfaction. Art fulfills this function, according to Schopenhauer, to relieve human suffering.
Schopenhauer argues that the will aims at its own satisfaction, and that it manifests itself as a source of selfishness. Selfishness is the interest of each individual for his will. Altruism can sometimes force the egoism of the will, but temporarily. Voluntary renunciation of egoism implies a negation of the will to live. Morality is thus a negation of the will to live. Justice will be the conciliation of the will to live of each individual.
Moral asceticism advocated by Schopenhauer thus consists in reducing the will power, source of perpetually unsatisfied desires, on the individual. This represents the Buddhist part of Schopenhauer’s moral theory.
On suicide, Schopenhauer claims that it is useless because it is a rejection of suffering, an abandonment of life and not the will to live. Suicide is even a manifestation of the will. The will can be denied, but never destroyed because it is a thing in itself.
Schopenhauer’s ethics in World as will and representation is very pessimistic since he presents human life as a life condemned to suffering, slave to egoism and the will to live. Morality must therefore be built on pity, the most empathic form of empathy to deny the will to live. Man is a pathetic being because he is guided by the will but he must deny it to stop being unhappy. But to deny the will is to deny the world and its representations. Happiness, then, amounts to extricating oneself from the phenomenal world, to becoming nothingness: in this, Schopenhauer’s philosophy concludes that human life is impossible as a life incarnated in the world, here and now.