Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Idea (1818) is divided into four books. Each book has numbered sections. Book One considers the world as idea. The idea is defined as an object of experience and science, and is dependent on the principle of sufficient reason. Book Two considers the world as the will, showing how the will manifests itself in the world. Book Three considers the Platonic Idea, which is the idea independent of the principle of sufficient reason. Book Four considers the ethical implications of the affirmation and denial of the will to life.
Schopenhauer begins by saying that the world is an idea, in the sense that it is an object in the mind of the subject, a perception of the perceiver. The perceiving subject is always the knower, and never the known. The object and the subject are not a continuum, but have an either-or relationship. The object begins where the subject ends.
All objects of perception must follow the principle of sufficient reason, which is manifested in four forms. The four forms of the principle of sufficient reason are:
1) the physical form (the principle of becoming),
2) the mathematical form (the principle of being),
3) the logical form (the principle of knowing), and
4) the moral form (the principle of action).
The principle of sufficent reason is, in essence, a set of rules, which governs objects or events in the phenomenal world. Each of the four forms of the principle of sufficient reason explains a different aspect of the nature of necessity.
The principle of sufficient reason of becoming (the law of causality) is that an effect must follow from a given cause. The principle of sufficient reason of being is that phenomenal objects must occupy space and time. The principle of sufficient reason of knowing is that a logical conclusion must follow from a given premise. The principle of sufficient reason of action is that an action must follow from a given motive.
Schopenhauer says that reason is the ability to have concepts, which are abstract ideas. Concepts as a class of ideas are different from ideas of perception. Concepts can only be thought, and not perceived. Only the effects of concepts, and not the concepts themselves, can become objects of experience. The effects of concepts include language, action, and science.
Matter and intellect constitute the world as idea, the one cannot exist without the other. According to Schopenhauer, idealism as a philosophy does not deny the empirical reality of the external world. True idealism is transcendental, rather than empirical. Transcendental idealism affirms that a transcendental unity of reason and experience is the condition for knowledge. Transcendental idealism thus leaves the empirical reality of the world intact.
According to Schopenhauer, the world is the will, in the sense that objects and ideas are phenomenal appearances of the will. The will is not governed by the principle of sufficient reason. The will is free, but its manifestations are governed by the principle of sufficient reason. The will manifests itself in action, but individual action is caused by the impact of motive on character.
Action that is without motive, and not directed by idea, may also be a manifestation of the will. Idea as motive is not a necessary condition for the activity of the will.
The individual, the person, is a manifestation of the will. The individual is a phenomenal form of will, and is thus dependent on the principle of sufficient reason. The individual is not free, but is governed by necessity.
The world is an idea, in the sense that it is an object of perception. But the world is the will, in the sense that all our perceptions are manifestations of acts of will. Thus, the will is the inner reality of the world.
The will is the being-in-itself of everything in the world. The world as an idea is an objectification of the will. The will cannot be explained, nor can it be fully accounted for. The will is comprehensible insofar as it manifests itself in the world, but its inner nature cannot be adequately explained.
The will is beyond time and space, which together constitute a form of the principle of sufficient reason. The will is a unity, and not a plurality. The plurality of things in time and space represents an objectification of the will.
The will cannot be viewed as 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 that between the will and its manifestations in time and space.
The will-in-itself cannot be defined as the will to do something. The will as a thing-in-itself does not have an object or purpose in its willing. The principle of motivation is a form of the principle of sufficient reason, which extends only to manifestations of the will.
The will objectifies itself in the phenomenal world. The will manifests itself in the world of individual things or objects, and in the world of ideas. The will can manifest itself as an object or idea, but the will-in-itself is free from time, space, plurality, causality, reason, or motive.
According to Schopenhauer, each individual act of will has a motive, without which the act of will cannot occur, because the individual act of will is governed by the principle of sufficient reason.
The will-in-itself is not conscious, because consciousness implies a relation between a subject and an
object. The will-in-itself is neither a knowing subject, nor an object of consciousness.
The Platonic Idea is an idea that is independent of the principle of sufficient reason. The Platonic Idea is the object of art. The Platonic Idea is necessarily an object, something known, but it does not have a form that depends on the principle of sufficient reason.
The full objectification of the will takes place in the Platonic Idea, which is the most universal form of idea manifested by the will. Only the Platonic Idea is the adequate objectivity of the will, and in it the subject and object are not separated.
Schopenhauerian idealism differs from Platonic idealism in its view of the nature of ultimate reality. According to Plato, a table or a chair expresses the idea of a table or chair, and the idea is the ultimate reality. According to Schopenhauer, the idea of a table or chair is the result of an objectification of the will, and the will is the ultimate reality.
According to Schopenhauer, knowledge is subject to the will. Knowledge is possible of objects only insofar as they follow the principle of sufficient reason. Thus, knowledge is possible of particular objects, as they exist at this time, or in this place, due to this cause, or under these conditions. But all knowledge is related to objectification of the will.
We can know ourselves as willing, but not as knowing. The knowing subject is never the known. The will cannot be known in-itself. We can know the will as it manifests itself in ourselves. The will can be known intuitively, but not as an object. We can know the will in our 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 forms of the principle of sufficient reason. In contrast, science is a way of viewing things that is in accordance with the forms of the principle of sufficient reason.
According to Schopenhauer, the act of willing arises from need, and therefore from deprivation or suffering. The fulfilment of a wish ends the act of willing. But no obtained object of desire can give lasting satisfaction. Thus, what is necessary for knowledge of the Platonic Idea is pure contemplation, the absence of desire, the state of total dedication to perception, the transcendence of the subject-object relationship, and freedom from being confined by individuality.
Schopenhauer sees the gratification of a wish or desire as negative, in that it is only a temporary deliverance from deprivation and suffering. Happiness is negative, in that it does not provide lasting satisfaction. Because happiness is never lasting or complete, it is only the absence of true happiness that can become the subject of art.
Schopenhauer also says that freedom of the will is negative, because this freedom is merely the denial of necessity. The intellect is subservient to the will, in that it learns the decisions of the will only after the will has decided on a mode of action. The will is inaccessible to the intellect, and the intellect can only explore the motives for actions, which are manifestations of the will. Self-knowledge can reveal the motives for the act of willing. Knowledge of the self and of the phenomenal world can also influence the motives for action.
The will wants everything for itself. The will manifests itself in us as a source of egoism. Egoism concentrates our self-interest in the particular manifestation of our individuality. On the other hand, altruism reduces our self-centered interest in the individuality of our own willing.
The affirmation or denial of the will has moral consequences. Schopenhauer argues that the voluntary renunciation of egoism is achieved by a denial of the will to life. Ethical conduct is defined by not denying the affirmation of the will in other individuals. Ethical conduct does not trespass on the affirmation of the will in another individual, or compel the individual to serve the will of other individuals. Justice is achieved when the affirmation of the will in one individual does not deny the will manifest in another individual.
For Schopenhauer, justice is merely the negation of injustice. Whenever an action does not trespass on someone else’s affirmation of the will to life, the given action is not wrong.
Conscience is achieved by self-knowledge of how we manifest the will in our own actions. Virtue proceeds from knowledge, but not from abstract knowledge or moral dogmas. Abstract knowledge can inform us of our motives, but motives can only alter the direction of the will, and not the will itself. Virtue comes from a direct, intuitive knowledge of the will, which cannot be expressed in words, but is communicated by action.
Denial or suspension of the will can be found in asceticism, which is the voluntary renunciation of physical comfort and gratification. Self-sacrifice and self-restraint are also a denial of the will to life, according to Schopenhauer. Spiritual salvation, or the redemption from suffering, can be found only in denial of the will.
Suicide is not a denial of the will to life, says Schopenhauer. To the contrary, suicide is an affirmation of the will, because the essence of negation lies in rejecting happiness rather than rejecting suffering. Suicide does not deny the will to life, but only the conditions under which life is given. Suicide is a surrender of life, but not the will to life. 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.
Only by knowledge of its own manifestation can the will suspend or negate itself. The denial of the will to life is not a will to absolute nothingness, because nothingness is only a negation of something. Nothingness is only an absence of being, and thus any negation is in relation to being, and is only a relative nothingness. Nothingness is a negation of the world as idea, an absence of objectification of the will.
A weakness of Schopenhauer’s philosophy is its negativity. Ethical conduct is seen as negative, and as requiring a denial of the will to life. Moral concern for others is seen as a denial of our basic instinct for self-concern and self-interest. We must deny who we are in order to redeem ourselves. This viewpoint leads to a form of self-contradiction, and fails to adequately recognize that self-interest and self-affirmation can be compatible with moral concern for others.
Schopenhauer’s viewpoint also represents an extreme pessimism. He says that optimism is absurd. Life means suffering. Every volitional act arises from deprivation and suffering. The act of willing arises from the wish for something that has not been obtained or achieved.
Schopenhauer concludes by saying that suffering is caused by unfulfilled or frustrated volition. The only way to overcome suffering is by denial of the will. The will resists its own negation, and the acceptance of nothingness. What remains after the will has been suspended or denied is nothing. But this nothing can only be in relation to being.
Composed by Alex Scott