Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was a German philosopher who was born in Danzig, Prussia (now Gdansk, Poland). He studied at the University of Göttingen, and then at the Unviersity of Jena, where he received his doctoral degree in philosophy in 1813. His dissertation was entitled, "Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde" (1813, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason), and in it he developed the theoretical principles that were later to be expressed in his theory of the freedom of the will. He produced his most important work, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation) in 1818, and two years later he became a lecturer at the University of Berlin. He moved to Frankfurt in 1833, and remained there for the rest of his life. His other philosophical works included Über den Willen der Natur (1836, On the Will in Nature), and Über die Freiheit des menschlichen Willens (1839, On the Freedom of the Human Will).
The World as Will and Representation (1818) is divided into four books. Each book has numbered sections. Book One describes the world as idea. The world is described as an object of experience and science, because it depends on the principle of sufficient reason. Book Two describes the world as the will, explaining how the will may be manifested in the world. Book Three discusses the Platonic Idea, which is different from intuitive or abstract ideas, because it does not depend on the principle of sufficient reason. Book Four discusses the ethical implications of the affirmation or denial of the will-to-live.
Schopenhauer begins by saying that the world is an idea insofar as it is an object in the mind of a subject. To be a subject is to be a perceiver, and it is not to be a perceived object. Insofar as a subject becomes a perceived object, the subject no longer exists. Subject and object are not a continuum; they have an either-or relationship. An object begins where a subject ends.1
All objects of perception must comply with the fourfold principle of sufficient reason. The principle of sufficient reason is fourfold, because it has a physical form, a mathematical form, a logical form, and a moral form. The physical form is the principle of becoming. The mathematical form is the principle of being. The logical form is the principle of knowing. The moral form is the principle of acting.
In his treatise On the Fourfold Root of Sufficient Reason, Schopenhauer explains that each form of the fourfold principle of sufficient reason governs a class of possible objects for a subject. The principle of becoming governs the class of complete representations that may constitute the totality of an experience.2 The principle of being governs the class of abstract representations or concepts. The principle of knowing governs the class of a priori intuitions of space and time. The principle of acting governs the class of objects that consist of only the subjectivity of the will.
Thus, the fourfold principle of sufficent reason is a set of rules that governs all objects and events in the phenomenal world. Each of the forms of the principle of sufficient reason corresponds to a different aspect of the nature of necessity.
The principle of sufficient reason of becoming (the law of causality) is that an effect must logically follow from a given cause. The principle of sufficient reason of being (the law of time and space) is that objects of perception must belong to time and space. The principle of sufficient reason of knowing (the law of ground) is that a conclusion must logically follow from a given premise. The principle of sufficient reason of acting (the law of motivation) is that an action must logically follow from a given motive.
Ideas (or representations) may be primary or secondary. Primary ideas include perceptions (or intuitions). Secondary ideas include concepts (or abstract representations). Thus, concepts are "representations of representations."3 All representations are objects of possible experience, and all objects of possible experience are representations.4
Reason is the faculty of producing or comparing concepts, while understanding is the faculty of producing or comparing perceptions. Concepts may only be thought, and they cannot be perceived. Only the effects of concepts, and not the concepts themselves, may become objects of possible experience. The effects of concepts include language, action, and science.
Matter and intellect together constitute the world as idea, and they cannot be separated from each other. Thus, idealism as a philosophy of existence does not deny the empirical reality of the physical world. True idealism is a transcendental, and not an empirical, philosophy. Transcendental idealism affirms that a transcendental unity of reason and experience is the condition for knowledge, and it therefore leaves the empirical reality of the world intact.5
The world is the will insofar as all ideas of the world manifest the will, says Schopenhauer. The will itself is not governed by the principle of sufficient reason, but all of its representations are governed by the principle of sufficient reason. It is not an idea or representation, but a thing-in-itself. It is the underlying reality of the world, because all objective phenomena depend on it for their being.
Furthermore, the will itself is never an object for a subject, and it therefore is objectively unknowable. It may only be known by means of its appearances or representations, which are governed by the principle of sufficient reason. Although it may be manifested by the actions of individuals, the actions of those individuals may be motivated by their own ideas or perceptions. The will does not explain their actions, because it does not obey the principle of sufficient reason. It may manifest itself in the actions of individuals, regardless of whether they have rational motives or aims. Idea as motive is not a necessary condition for the activity of the will.
Every individual or person, according to Schopenhauer, is in some way a manifestation of the will. An individual is a knowing subject whose will is manifested in the world as representation. An individual may know his own will only by its manifestations. No individual can know his own will as it exists in itself. An individual's own actions are manifestations of his own will and must therefore obey the principle of sufficient reason. Thus, an individual is not free to act in any way he pleases, because all of his actions are governed by necessity.
The world is an idea insofar as it is an object of perception, but the world is the will insofar as all of our perceptions of the world are acts of conscious or unconscious will. The will is the being-in-itself of the phenomenal world. The world as an idea objectifies the will, but there is no boundary between subject and object in the will itself.
The will is irrational. It is comprehensible in terms of its objective manifestations, but its inner nature can never be known or explained. It transcends time and space, which together constitute the principle of sufficient reason of being. Time and space are conditions for manifestations of the will, but the will itself is unconditioned by time or space. The plurality of things in time and space is an objectification of the will.
The will is not a necessary cause of its manifestations in the phenomenal world, because it is not governed by the principle of sufficient reason. The relationship between freedom and necessity is also the relationship between the will and its manifestations in time and space.
Moreover, the will is not an aim or desire to do something, and it has no motive or purpose in its willing. The principle of sufficient reason, which declares that actions must logically follow from some motive, governs only manifestations of the will and not the will itself.
The will manifests itself in the world of individual things and in the world of individual ideas or concepts. Each individual act of will may require a motive, but the principle of sufficient reason of acting applies only to these acts of will, and not to the will itself. The will is independent of time, space, plurality, causality, reason, and motive.
The will cannot properly be described as conscious, because consciousness is always consciousness of something, and thus implies a relation between a subject and an object. The will is neither a perceiving subject nor a perceived object.
The Platonic Idea is the only adequate objectification of the will, says Schopenhauer. The Platonic Idea is the object of art, and thus is knowable as an object of perception. However, subject and object are not separated in the Platonic Idea, which is the most universal kind of Idea as an act of will. The Platonic Idea is an eternal Idea, which is independent of the principle of sufficient reason.
Schopenhauerian idealism differs from Platonic idealism in its viewpoint regarding the nature of ultimate reality. According to Schopenhauer, a table or a chair is an object of perception and is thus a manifestion of an act of will. The idea of a table or chair is an act of will, and the will is ultimate reality. However, according to Plato, a table or a chair expresses the idea of a table or chair, and the idea of the table or chair is ultimate reality.
According to Schopenhauer, knowledge may be intuitive or abstract. Intuitive knowledge is derived from primary ideas (intuitions or perceptions), while abstract knowledge is derived from secondary ideas (concepts or abstract representations). All knowledge, except for knowledge of Platonic Ideas, depends on the principle of sufficient reason. Objective representations of the will are only knowable insofar as they are governed by the principle of sufficient reason. All knowledge depends on objectification of the will.
We may know ourselves as willing, but we cannot know ourselves as knowing. A knowing subject can never become a known object. We may comprehend appearances of the will in ourselves, but we cannot comprehend the will as a thing-in-itself. We may know the will in our own self-consciousness as a consciousness of freedom.
Art is the direct and adequate objectivity of the will. Art is a way of viewing things independently from the principle of sufficient reason. In contrast, science is a way of viewing things according to the principle of sufficient reason.
The act of willing arises from a need or desire for something, and it is therefore a manifestation of deprivation or suffering. The fulfillment of a wish terminates the act of willing. However, no object of desire that is obtained by a subject can provide lasting satisfaction. Thus, the conditions that are necessary for knowledge of the Platonic Idea include pure contemplation, extinction of desire, transcendence of the subject-object relation, and freedom from being confined by individuality.6
Schopenhauer describes the gratification of a wish or desire as a negative condition, because it provides only temporary deliverance from deprivation or suffering. Happiness is negative, because it never provides lasting satisfaction. Because happiness is never lasting or complete, only the absence of happiness can become the true subject of art.
The freedom of the will is also negative, because it is merely the absence of necessity. The intellect is subordinate to the will, because it cannot compel the will to act rationally and can only attempt to understand the motives and consequences of actions that have already been decided by the will. The intellect is capable of knowing, but it is not capable of willing. On the other hand, the will is the same as its willing, and it is not a faculty of knowing.
The will cannot be guided by the intellect, but the intellect can be guided by the will. The will as a thing-in-itself is inaccessible to rational knowledge and cannot be explained by the intellect. However, the intellect may be able to understand the motives for acts of willing if it understands how individuals define themselves by their own acts of willing.
The will desires everything for itself, says Schopenhauer, and it manifests itself as a source of egoism. Egoism concentrates the self-interest of each individual in the individuality of his or her own willing. Thus, the voluntary renunciation of egoism must be achieved by a denial of the "will-to-live." Ethical action consists of denying one's own will-to-live, and it consists of not denying the will-to-live of other individuals. Ethical action also consists of not compelling other individuals to deny their own will-to-live. Justice may be achieved when the affirmation of the will-to-live of one individual does not conflict with the affirmation of the will-to-live of other individuals.
Justice, according to Schopenhauer, is merely the negation of injustice. If an action by one individual does not deny the affirmation of the will-to-live of another individual, then that action is not morally wrong.
Conscience may consist of our self-knowledge, because it may reveal an understanding of the way in which one's own actions manifest the reality of the will. Virtue may proceed from intuitive knowledge, but not from abstract knowledge or from moral dogmas. Abstract knowledge may inform us of our motives, but motives may only explain the direction of the will, and and they cannot explain the will as a thing-in-itself. Intuitive knowledge of the will may not be expressible in words, but it may be expressible by actions.
Denial or suspension of the will may be achieved by means of asceticism. Self-sacrifice and self-restraint may also be methods of denying the will-to-live. Spiritual salvation and moral redemption from suffering may be achieved by denial of the will-to-live.
For Schopenhauer, suicide is not a denial of the will-to-live, because it is not a rejection of spiritual well-being, but merely a rejection of suffering. Suicide does not reject life itself, but only the conditions under which life is given. Suicide is a surrender of life, but it is not a surrender of the will-to-live. The individual who commits suicide gives up living, but does not give up willing. In the act of suicide, the will affirms itself, even though it puts an end to its individual manifestation.7
The will is free to affirm or deny itself. The denial of the will does not produce a state of nothingness. Nothingness is the negation of being, but being belongs to the world as representation, and not to the will as a thing-in-itself. Thus, nothingness is a negation of the world as representation, but it is not a negation of the will as ultimate reality. Being and nothingness are only appearances of the will. Nothingness must always be relative to the being of something in the world of representation, and thus there can be no absolute nothingness. Since the world as representation depends on the will for its existence, suspension of the will also suspends the existence of the world as representation.8
A weakness of Schopenhauer’s ethical theory is its negativity. In his view, ethical conduct requires a denial of the will-to-live, and ethical concern for others is contradictory to our own self-interest. In order to redeem ourselves, he says, we must suspend our willingness to make moral decisions about our own actions. This viewpoint may be self-contradictory, and it may fail to recognize that rational self-concern may be compatible with moral concern for others.
Schopenhauer’s ethical viewpoint is also extremely pessimistic. He says that ethical optimism is absurd, and that life consists of suffering. All human actions, he says, are ultimately caused by deprivation and suffering. The will is the underlying reality of the world, and it has no motive or purpose. The human intellect has no power over the will and cannot guide the will toward any moral object or goal.
In the fourth book of The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer concludes by saying that the cause of suffering is unfulfilled or frustrated volition. The only way to overcome suffering is by denial of the will. The will resists its own negation, but if the will is negated, then the world of representation is also negated. Thus, nothing is left of the world after the will has been negated. However, this nothingness of the world of representation presupposes the being of the world of representation.
1Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, translated by E.F.J. Payne (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), p. 5.
2Schopenhauer, in Schopenhauer's Early "Fourfold Root," translated by F.C. White (Aldershot: Avebury, 1997), p. 16.
3Ibid., p. 36.
4Ibid., p. 13.
5Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Volume II, translated by E.F.J. payne (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 8.
6Ibid., Volume I, pp. 196-7.
7Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea, translated by Jill Berman (London: Everyman, 1995), pp. 250-1.
8Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, translated by E.F.J. Payne, pp. 409-410.
Sahakian, William S. "Arthur Schopenhauer," in History of Philosophy. New York: Harper & Row (1968), pp. 204-11.
Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation. Translated by E.F.J. Payne. Volumes I and II. New York: Dover Publications, 1969.
Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Idea. Translated by Jill Berman. London: Everyman, 1995.
Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Idea. Translated by R.B. Haldane and J. Kemp. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1896.
Schopenhauer, Arthur. Schopenhauer's Early "Fourfold Root." Translated by F.C. White. Aldershot: Avebury, 1997.