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Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophy

Schopenhauer's philosophy of Will
The World as Will and Idea / Representation

Arthur Schopenhauer believed that Immanuel Kant had either made, or greatly re-inforced, uniquely important breakthroughs in human understanding - these included Kant's division of reality into what was susceptible of being experienced, (the phenomenal), and what was not, (the noumenal).

Schopenhauer was greatly influenced by Kant's key insistence that the forms and frameworks of all possible experience were dependent on the contingent nature of our bodily apparatus, and would have been so whatever that apparatus had been. It follows from this that people are unable to envisage what anything was like independently of being experienced, and therefore that the nature of independent reality must remain a permanently closed book to us, being unconceptualizably and unimaginably different from anything we could apprehend. The Sciences, meanwhile, could be utilised to provide understanding of the Empirical World of time, space, and causally interconnected material objects.

Schopenhauer's principal work, The World as Will and Idea / Representation, is comprised of four books. The first and third treating with the World as Representation (or Idea) and being largely based on Kant, the second and fourth treating with the World as Will which, based on his own speculations, considered the notion that the Will is the key to all existence. The human body and all its parts being the visible expression of the will and its several desires. The teeth, throat, and bowels for example being "objectified" hunger.

Starting from the principle that the will is the inner nature of the body as an appearance in time and space, he concluded that the inner reality of all material appearances is Will. Where Kant had concluded that ultimate reality - the "thing-in-itself" (Ding an sich) - lay beyond being experienced, Schopenhauer postulated that the ultimate reality is one universal will. This will is the inner nature of each experiencing being and assumes in time and space the appearance of the body, which is an idea. Accordingly existence is the expression of an insatiable, pervasive, will generating a world that features such negatives as conflict and suffering, senselessness, and futility as well as many positives. It is the "will to live" that perpetuates this cosmic spectacle.

For Schopenhauer, who is considered to be a pessimistic philosopher, the tragedy of life arises from the nature of the will, which constantly urges the individual toward the satisfaction of successive goals, none of which can provide permanent satisfaction for the infinite activity of the life force, or will.

Such things as an interest in the Arts, and a moral life based on sympathy, tend to alleviate the suffering experienced in people's lives. A more telling alleviation is to be found through the denial, or suspension, of the will through asceticism.

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It is somewhat possible to associate Arthur Schopenhauer's philosophy with the approaches to matters philosophical, not only of some of the most celebrated figures in the western traditions of philosophy, but also with prominent authorities from other faith and philosphical traditions across the globe:-

"Whatever concept one may hold, from a metaphysical point of view, concerning the freedom of the will, certainly its appearances, which are human actions, like every other natural event, are determined by universal laws. However obscure their causes, history, which is concerned with narrating these appearances, permits us to hope that if we attend to the play of freedom of the human will in the large, we may be able to discern a regular movement in it, and that what seems complex and chaotic in the single individual may be seen from the standpoint of the human race as a whole to be a steady and progressive though slow evolution of its original endowment."

Immanuel Kant
Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Point of View (1784)

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Ralph Waldo Emerson


RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1803-1882) was, in his time, the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States. He remains widely influential to this day through his essays, lectures, poems, and philosophical writings.

In the later eighteen-twenties Ralph Waldo Emerson read, and was very significantly influenced by, a work by a French philosopher named Victor Cousin.

A key section of Cousin's work reads as follows:
"What is the business of history? What is the stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage of history? Man : evidently man and human nature. There are many different elements in history. What are they? Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is therefore the development of humanity, and of humanity only; for nothing else but humanity develops itself, for nothing else than humanity is free. …
… Moreover, when we have all the elements, I mean all the essential elements, their mutual relations do, as it were, discover themselves. We draw from the nature of these different elements, if not all their possible relations, at least their general and fundamental relations."
Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1829)

Even before he had first read Cousin, (in 1829), Emerson had expressed views in his private Journals which suggest that he accepted that Human Nature, and Human Beings, tend to display three identifiable aspects and orientations:
Imagine hope to be removed from the human breast & see how Society will sink, how the strong bands of order & improvement will be relaxed & what a deathlike stillness would take the place of the restless energies that now move the world. The scholar will extinguish his midnight lamp, the merchant will furl his white sails & bid them seek the deep no more. The anxious patriot who stood out for his country to the last & devised in the last beleagured citadel, profound schemes for its deliverance and aggrandizement, will sheathe his sword and blot his fame. Remove hope, & the world becomes a blank and rottenness. (Journal entry made between October and December, 1823)

In all districts of all lands, in all the classes of communities thousands of minds are intently occupied, the merchant in his compting house, the mechanist over his plans, the statesman at his map, his treaty, & his tariff, the scholar in the skilful history & eloquence of antiquity, each stung to the quick with the desire of exalting himself to a hasty & yet unfound height above the level of his peers. Each is absorbed in the prospect of good accruing to himself but each is no less contributing to the utmost of his ability to fix & adorn human civilization. (Journal entry of December, 1824)

Our neighbours are occupied with employments of infinite diversity. Some are intent on commercial speculations; some engage warmly in political contention; some are found all day long at their books … (This dates from January - February, 1828)

The quotes from Emerson are reminiscent of a line from another "leading voice of intellectual culture" - William Shakespeare.
There's neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee.
William Shakespeare: Henry IV (Pt 1), Act I, Scene II

Plato, Socrates and Shakespeare endorse a 'Tripartite Soul' view of Human Nature. Platos' Republic


"The first glance at History convinces us that the actions of men proceed from their needs, their passions, their characters and talents; and impresses us with the belief that such needs, passions and interests are the sole spring of actions."
Georg Hegel, 1770-1831, German philosopher, The Philosophy of History (1837)