Philo
Sophos
·org

philosophy is for everyone
and not just philosophers

philosophers should know lots
of things besides philosophy



PhiloSophos knowledge base

Philosophical Connections

Pathways to Philosophy programs

University of London BA

Pathways web sites

Philosophy lovers gallery

GVKlempner: complete videos

PhiloSophos home

Pathways to Philosophy

Philosophical Connections

Compiled by Anthony Harrison-Barbet


SCHOPENHAUER

(1788 — 1860)

 

VOLUNTARISM

Arthur Schopenhauer was born in Danzig. His father was a wealthy businessman, his mother a novelist. He was educated privately and at schools in several countries before entering Göttingen University to study science and medicine. Becoming interested in philosophy he transferred to Berlin University and attended the lectures of Fichte and Schleiermacher (though he did not think much of them). The publication of his main work in 1819 secured him a lectureship at Berlin. Having unsuccessfully attacked Hegel's ideas he retired into seclusion to continue his research and writing (and was fortunate not to be short of money). Of a neurotic disposition and fond of the good things of life (wine, women, and song) he was entertaining and witty when in the company of people he could get on with. By the time he died his philosophy had started to attract scholarly interest.

 

METAPHYSICS

[1] In his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Schopenhauer sets out an analysis of the phenomenal world, that is, the world of our ideas (Vorstellungen), or things which are 'presented' to our 'subjective' minds. He distinguishes four classes of presentations and four ways in which they are connected with other objects, namely becoming, knowing, being, and action. And our knowledge of each class, he says, is governed by a corresponding form of the Principle of Sufficient Reason — which determines relations between phenomena (but does not apply to the phenomenal world as a whole or to any reality which might be supposed to lie outside phenomena).

(1) Empirical presentations comprising form and matter, namely physical objects. Schopenhauer sees the 'matter' of such presentations (sensations) as being organized by the activity of the mind through a priori forms of sensibility (intuition) of space and time, and related by the one pure form (or 'category') of the understanding — causality. Our knowledge of such presentations is explained by the principle of sufficient reason of becoming.

(2) Abstract concepts. These are related in judgements, and that the relevant principle of sufficient reason is that of knowing. If a judgement is grounded in another (as its sufficient reason), it is said to be true and can only then provide knowledge.

(3) A priori forms of intuition (space and time). The principle of sufficient reason of being determines how each part of space or time relates to another. In space the law is of relations in position (and is the basis of geometry), while time is governed by the law of irreversible succession (and is the basis of arithmetic).

(4) The subject which has the presentations, namely, the self. In this case the principle of sufficient reason is action; for Schopenhauer sees the self as the agent who brings about consequences as a result of motivation [a].

This analysis constitutes an introduction to his major work, The World as Will and Idea, the central assumption of which is that "the world is my idea". By this Schopenhauer means that the phenomenal world consists of one's intuitive presentations, spatially and temporally structured and causally related as a consequence of respectively the forms of intuition and the form of understanding [Vol. I, Bk 1]. Unlike animals man can reflect about this world through abstract concepts and can intuit directly the forms organizing our experience. For Schopenhauer the phenomenal world is made up not only of the structured appearances of matter but also of the perceiving subject itself [b]. Matter and intelligence, he says, are "inseparable correlates". Does the phenomenal world therefore exhaust reality? Schopenhauer says it does not. Underlying appearance (which he compares to the 'veil of Maya' or illusion in the Indian Upanishadic philosophy) is the noumenal realm or realm of things-in-themselves. Now while Kant had said that this realm is intrinsically unknowable, Schopenhauer identified it with a single Will devoid of all multiplicity. (He dismissed the kinds of rationalist and idealist 'transcendent' metaphysical speculation that would have been rejected by Kant) [Vol. I, Bk 2] [c]. He comes to this view through an examination of action. By looking within ourselves we find that the action of our bodies is nothing other than volition which has become 'objectified' as presentation. Each individual is a manifestation or aspect of the one Will, which Schopenhauer goes on to say is found also throughout Nature as forces, desires, impulses and instincts — whether in inorganic or organic beings [d]. It is, he says, "eternal striving" and also "the will to live" [Vol. I, Bk 4].

 

KNOWLEDGE

[2] [See especially Vols II, chs 1-4] Knowledge for Schopenhauer is limited to presentations, intuitions, abstract concepts, and to the self as the subject of volition [a]. We can know nothing of what lies beyond phenomena except through its objectification in the phenomenal world and our own individual wills. And indeed he regards the function of knowledge as primarily practical. The value of concepts lies in the use that can be made of them to order the data of perception, and to communicate particularly ethical principles. Perception itself is important in that it enables both man and other animals to provide for their immediate physical and sociological needs — food, shelter, and so on; while in the case of man, reason helps him to discover more sophisticated techniques, such as tool-making and building. Reason or intellect, however, is in the last analysis the servant of the will [b]. Nevertheless, despite the restrictions Schopenhauer places on reason, he admits what he calls intuition at the level of perceptual knowledge; this enables us to transcend practical considerations and achieve insight into the noumenal realm as manifested in organized Nature. Knowledge of any attributes the Will may possess in itself, however, is a matter for mystical experience; philosophy can have nothing to say about them [c]. This leads him on to his theory of aesthetics and ethics.

 

AESTHETICS/ ETHICS

[3] [See especially Vol. III, chs 34-39.] Schopenhauer's philosophy is broadly pessimistic. He sees all beings as engaged in a constant battle with each other and the world in general. This is because all things are manifestations of an irrational will to live [III, ch. 28] and are thus engaged in incessant striving for a 'satisfaction' which can never be achieved. This desire, Schopenhauer says, is pain or evil, happiness being relief from this pain [a]. However, it is possible to escape from this life of misery through art and by means of asceticism. He holds the view that the will objectifies itself through Platonic Ideas before it is manifested in individual things [I, Bk 3] [b]. He thinks of the Ideas as original species or forms, of which individual things are "empirical correlates", and as the universal forces revealed in the natural laws by which things are governed. Now, reason, once it has enabled man to satisfy his physical needs, can be released from this practical role and can lead to "will-less" contemplation of beauty (as Idea presented in perception), or of the sublime [c] (as when the Will, objectified in the form of the human body, is apprehended as a threat by virtue of its power of greatness). Man can free himself from the Will's enslavement by intuiting this directly, non-conceptually and objectively through art. The 'poetical arts', offer different degrees of objective contemplation of lower grade Ideas. Tragedy is the highest form [I, Bk III, 51]; and Schopenhauer understands this as depicting a battle with will, manifesting itself as fate (chance, error), and in self-destructive human action. In consequence the actors are 'purified', surrender to fate, and lose the will to live. There is, he says, no 'poetic justice' or reconciliation in tragedy. But it is music [III, ch. 3] which he sees as the highest of the arts because it alone exhibits the inner nature of the thing-in-itself, namely, the Will [d]. Nevertheless, aesthetic contemplation provides only a temporary respite. To achieve permanent release the will within us, the "wild beast", must be opposed.

[III, chs 40-9.] Given this somewhat negative conclusion, there seems to be little room for a meaningful ethic. However, Schopenhauer allows for the possibility that the individual intellect may come to 'penetrate' or see through the 'veil of Maya' (that is, grasp its illusory nature) in a series of stages, each stage representing a higher level of moral progress [e]. Thus the individual may come to recognise other beings as in the same situation as himself and therefore do them no harm. This is the just man who overcomes egoism. He may then see the totality of beings as appearances of the one undivided Will and thus reach the level of sympathy or love (agape as against eros — which is self-centred). However, Schopenhauer rejects any such notion as ultimate perfectibility of man or society. Finally, the highest level is attained through self-denial, asceticism: the Will itself is denied and 'abolished' [f]. Suicide is not an option of suicide, because this would be to give in to the Will. Nevertheless, it would seem that in death all is extinguished, and that there can be no personal immortality [g], the individual being but appearance. "Before us there is indeed only nothingness", he says. The function of philosophy is now seen to be to promote contemplation and renunciation. Intuition has to be lifted up to the level of conceptual reasoning so as to give us the requisite insight. His metaphysics is thus ultimately subordinated to man's existential and ethical needs [h].

 

CRITICAL SUMMARY

Perhaps the most significant feature of Schopenhauer's thought is his postulation of the primacy of the will (practical knowledge) as the basis for his world-view. As a corollary he emphasizes aesthetics — the contemplation of Platonic Ideas in works of art — as an activity of non-willing; and it is this which underpins his ethic of resignation. Also of special interest is his view of appearance as akin to the 'Veil of Maya' (illusion) of the Indian Upanishads. As might be expected there are a number of difficulties with his system.

(1) The individual disappears into the one Will, in that conceptualization can supply only universals, while awareness of will in striving is only 'immediate' knowledge, devoid of individual content.

(2) This leads to the problem of how the individual will might be supposed to be free in the universal Will. Schopenhauer says that we have limited freedom in so far as there is absence of constraint on us in the phenomenal world.

(3) The Platonic Ideas neither belong to the phenomenal world nor are they intuitions of or by the will; their introduction would therefore seem to be inconsistent with his main thesis. Furthermore, whether such Ideas are the objects of contemplation in works of art is debatable within the context of aesthetics itself.

(4) It is questionable whether Schopenhauer deals satisfactorily with the paradox of an individual will (for which striving is a necessary activity) which can renounce and obtain release through asceticism, if even what happens to us is a consequence of the universal Will.

But despite Schopenhauer's seemingly pessimistic conclusions, his 'voluntarism' has been influential in aesthetics and in psychology. His emphasis on action and agency have also be thought by some philosophers to offer a more fruitful approach to problems in the philosophy of mind than current materialist or neurobiologically based theories.

 

READING

Schopenhauer: Ueber die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde (1813) (On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason); Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1818) The World as Will and Representation). There are English translations by E. F. J Payne of both these; and there is an Everyman abridged edition of the latter ed. D. Berman.

Studies:

Introductory

P. Gardiner, Schopenhauer.

C. Janaway, Schopenhauer.

More advanced

J. Atwell, Schopenhauer on the Character of the World: The Metaphysics of the Will.

D. W. Hamlyn, Schopenhauer.

C. Janaway, Self and World in Schopenhauer's Philosophy.

Collections of essays

K. Ameriks (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism.

C. Janaway (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer.

 

 

CONNECTIONS

Schopenhauer

 

[1a] Principle of Sufficient Reason: in becoming (representations structured through space, time, and causality); knowing (abstract concepts); being (a priori forms of intuition); action (self as agent)

   Leibniz [Wolff]

   Kant

[1c]

[2a-c]

 

[1b] The phenomenal world consists of both structured appearances and the perceiving self; rejection of 'transcendent' metaphysics

   Kant

   Fichte

   Hegel

   Schelling

[2d 4a]

[note 1b 2a c]

[sec. 1]

[2a 3b c]

 

[1c; cf. 3a b] Noumenal realm underlying experience is single, unitary, irrational Will

   Condillac

   Kant

   Fichte

   Hegel

   Schelling

Royce

[4b]

[2d 3c 4a]

[note 1a]

[sec. 1]

[secs 1 & 2 6a]

[1b]

 

[1d] Bodies' actions are just volition — objectified as presentations: manifestation of Will — as forces, desires, instincts, through inorganic and organic levels

   Descartes

   Kant

   Schelling

Nietzsche

Royce

   Bergson

Scheler

[3g]

[3e]

[1e 6a]

[1b]

[1b]

[4a]

[2c]

 

[2a; cf. 1a 2c 3c d] Knowledge limited to presentations, intuitions, abstract concepts, self; but appearances are of the noumenal Will

   Kant

   Fichte

   Hegel

   Schelling

Wittgenstein

[2d 3c 4a]

[note 2c]

[sec. 1]

[secs 1 & 2]

[3b]

 

[2b; cf. 3h] Knowledge has primarily practical function; perception concerned with man's physical and social needs; reason/ intellect (Ego, Geist) subordinate to will

   Fichte

   Hegel

   Bergson

[1b 2b c]

[sec. 1]

[1c]

 

[2c; cf. 2a 3 c d] Intuition (at level of perceptual knowledge) gives insight into noumenal realm (Will in organized nature): but philosophy has nothing to say about any attributes of the Will in itself — left to mystical experience

   Kant

   Hegel

   Schelling

Wittgenstein

[2d 3c 4a]

[sec. 1]

[5b]

[3b]

 

[3a; cf. 3c e f] All things as manifestation of will to live: striving for (unattainable) satisfaction; desire is pain, relief from desire is happiness

   Kant

   Fichte

   Hegel

   Schelling

Nietzsche

Santayana

Scheler

 

[6a b-e 8a]

[2b]

[6f]

[4a]

[1b]

[5a]

[2c]

 

 

[3b] Will objectifies itself through Platonic Ideas before it is manifested in empirical correlates

   Plato

   Kant

[1c 2a]

[2d 3c 4a]

 

[3c; cf. 2a 3a d] Reason (after satisfaction of physical needs) can enjoy will-less, disinterested contemplation of beauty (the Idea through perception) or the sublime; hence escape from Will (through art)

   Plato

   Kant

   Hegel

   Schelling

Santayana

[15b]

[9b]

[8a b]

[5b 5c]

[5a]

 

[3d; cf. 3c] Tragedy: as 'purificatory' — surrender to fate (no 'poetical justice'; music highest of arts: exhibits inner structure of thing-in-itself (Willnot just Ideas)

   Aristotle

   Hegel

Nietzsche

   Ricoeur

[23c]

[8b]

[1a]

[10b]

 

[3e; cf. 3f] Individual intellect can grasp,'penetrate' the illusion of Maya and achieve moral progress    Kant [2d 4a 6a]

 

[3f; cf. 3a c e] The just man overcomes egoism, sees totality of things as appearances of undivided Will; experiences sympathy, love; aim is renunciation of Will through asceticism; rejection of the notion of perfectibility

   Kant

   Hegel

   Schelling

Nietzsche

Royce

Scheler

[6a 8a]

[sec. 6]

[4c]

[1b]

[2a]

[2b 4c]

 

[3g] No personal immortality

   Plato

   Descartes

   Kant

   Hegel

Royce

.[9b]

[3g]

[5b 8b]

[5b]

[2d]

 

[3h; cf. 2b] Metaphysics subordinate to man's existential and ethical needs

   Fichte

   Hegel

   Schelling

[2b c]

[sec. 1]

[secs 1& 2]