The World as Will and Idea
... Squashed down to read in about 15 minutes
"We can surely never arrive at the nature of things from without."
Wikipedia - Full Text - Print Edition: ISBN 0460875051
Born in 1788 at Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland), to prosperous German-speaking parents, the Schopenhauer family moved to Hamburg when Arthur was 13, and in 1805, his father died, possibly by suicide. Schopenhauer studied metaphysics and psychology at Göttingen and became a lecturer at the University of Berlin where he is said to have scheduled his lectures to coincide with those of (the much more popular) Hegel, who he called a "clumsy charlatan".
Having been involved in a bizarre lawsuit after Caroline Marquet accused him of pushing her, and with a cholera epidemic threatening Berlin, he left for Frankfurt in 1833, to live only with a succession of poodles named Atma and Butz.
This abridgement reduces the original 27000 words down to 2448 (9%), giving an estimated reading time of 15 minutes. It is the condensed version first published by Sir John Hammerton in 1919.
The World as Will and Idea
"We can surely never arrive at the nature of things from without."
'THE world is my idea' is true for every living creature, though only man contemplates it, and so attains philosophical wisdom. This idea is found in Descartes, Indian Vedanta and Berkeley, though Kant erred by ignoring it.
Idea consists of the object, (in time and space), and the subject, (existing in every reflecting being). Without perception, the whole world as idea would disappear. The connection between subject and object is not one of cause and effect - object and idea are identical.
Is this world is nothing more than a mere idea, or something more substantial? We can surely never arrive at the nature of things from without. No matter how assiduous our researches may be, we can never reach anything beyond images and names. Man's knowledge all comes through his body. Every impression on the body is also an impression on the will. When it is opposed to the will it is called pain, and when consonant with the will, pleasure. My body is the objectivity of my will.
Human nature tends to relate everything to action. The world as idea is the perfect mirror of the will, a shadow the body, in which it recognizes itself in graduating scales of distinctness and completeness. Man has the will to live, but neither the will, nor the subject of cognition, is at all affected by birth or death. It is not the individual, but only the species, that nature cares for. The Will is only the present, not the future nor the past. No man ever lived in the past, no man will live in the future. Time is like a perpetually revolving globe or a running river, and the present is a rock. Therefore we should simply seek to know the present. Our spirit is of a totally indestructible nature, whose energy endures from eternity to eternity. The Will knows no necessity, therefore it is free. But the person is never free, he is already the determined phenomenon of the free volition of this will.
Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes © 2011
I - THE WORLD AS IDEA
'THE world is my idea' is a truth valid for every living creature, though only man can consciously contemplate it. In doing so he attains philosophical wisdom. No truth is more absolutely certain than that all that exists for knowledge, and, therefore, this whole world, is only object in relation to subject, perception of a perceiver - in a word, idea. The world is idea.
This truth is by no means new. It lay by implication in the reflections of Descartes; but Berkeley first distinctly enunciated it, while Kant erred by ignoring it. So ancient is it that it was the fundamental principle of the Indian Vedanta, as Sir William Jones points out. In one aspect, the world is idea; in the other aspect the world is will.
That which knows all things and is known by none is the subject; and for this subject all exists. But the world as idea consists of two essential and inseparable halves. One half is the object, whose form consists of time and space, and, through these, of multiplicity; but the other half is the subject, lying not in space and time, for it subsists whole and undivided in every reflecting being.
Thus, any single individual endowed with the faculty of perception of the object constitutes the whole world of idea as completely as the millions in existence; but let this single individual vanish, and the whole world as idea would disappear. Each of these halves possesses meaning and existence only in and through the other, appearing with and vanishing with it. Where the object begins the subject ends.
One of Kant's great merits is that he discovered that the essential and universal forms of all objects - space, time, causality - lie a priori in our consciousness, for they may be discovered and fully known from a consideration of the subject, without any knowledge of the object.
Ideas of perception are distinct from abstract ideas. The former comprehend the whole world of experience; the latter are concepts, and are possessed by man alone amongst all creatures on earth; and the capacity for these, distinguishing him from the lower animals, is called reason.
Much vain controversy has arisen concerning the reality of the external universe, owing to the fallacious notion that, because perception arises through the knowledge of causality, the relation of subject and object is that of cause and effect. For this relation only subsists between objects - that is, between the immediate object - and objects known indirectly. The object always presupposes the subject, and so there can be between these two no relation of reason and consequent.
Therefore, the controversy between realistic dogmatism and doctrinal scepticism is foolish. The former seems to separate object and idea as cause and effect, whereas these two are really one - the latter supposes that in the idea we have only the effect, never the cause, and never know the real being, but merely its action. The correction of both these fallacies is the same - that object and idea are identical.
The greatest value of knowledge is that it can be communicated and retained. This makes it inestimably important for practice. Rational or abstract knowledge is that knowledge which is peculiar to the reason as distinguished from the understanding. The use of reason is that it substitutes abstract concepts for ideas of perception, and adopts them as the guide of action.
The many-sided view of life which man, as distinguished from the lower animals, possesses through reason makes him stand to them as the captain, equipped with chart, compass and quadrant, and with a knowledge of navigation, stands to the ignorant sailors under his command.
Man lives two lives. Besides his life in the concrete is his life in the abstract. In the former he struggles, suffers and dies as do the mere animal creatures. But in the abstract he quietly reflects on the plan of the universe as does a captain of a ship on the chart. He becomes in this abstract life of calm reasoning a deliberate observer of those elements which previously moved and agitated his emotions. Withdrawing into this serene contemplation, he is like an actor who has played a lively part on the stage and then withdraws and, as one of the audience, quietly looks on at other actors who are energetically performing.
II - THE WORLD AS WILL
WE are compelled to further inquiry, because we cannot be satisfied with knowing that we have ideas, and that these are associated with certain laws, the general expression of which is the principle of sufficient reason. We wish to know the significance of our ideas. We ask whether this world is nothing more than a mere idea, not worthy of our notice if it is to pass by us like an empty dream or an airy vision, or whether it is something more substantial.
We can surely never arrive at the nature of things from without. No matter how assiduous our researches may be, we can never reach anything beyond images and names. We resemble a man going round a castle seeking vainly for an entrance, and sometimes sketching the facades. And yet this is the method followed by all philosophers before me.
The truth about man is that he is not a pure knowing subject, not a winged cherub without a material body, contemplating the world from without. For he is himself rooted in that world. That is to say, he finds himself in the world as an individual whose knowledge, which is the essential basis of the whole world as idea, is yet ever communicated through the medium of the body, whose sensations are the starting-point of the understanding of that world. His body is for him an idea like every other idea, an object among objects. He only knows its actions as he knows the changes in all other objects, and but for one aid to his understanding of himself he would find this idea and object as strange and incomprehensible as all others.
That aid is will, which alone furnishes the key to the riddle of himself, solves the problem of his own existence and reveals to him the inner structure and significance of his being, his action and his movements.
The body is the immediate object of will; it may be called the objectivity of will. Every true act of will is also instantly a visible act of the body, and every impression on the body is also at once an impression on the will. When it is opposed to the will it is called pain, and when consonant with the will, pleasure.
THE essential identity of body and will is shown by the fact that every violent movement of the will - that is to say, every emotion - directly agitates the body and interferes with its vital functions. So we may legitimately say: My body is the objectivity of my will.
It is simply owing to this special relation to one body that the knowing subject is an individual. Our knowing, being bound to individuality, necessitates that each of us can only be one, and yet each of us can know all. Hence arises the need for philosophy. The double knowledge which each of us possesses of his own body is the key to the nature of every phenomenon in the world. Nothing is either known to us or thinkable by us except will and idea. If we examine the reality of the body and its actions, we discover nothing beyond the fact that it is an idea, except the will. With this double discovery reality is exhausted.
III - THE WORLD AS IDEA - SECOND ASPECT
WE have looked at the world as idea, object for a subject, and next at the world as will. All students of Plato know that the different grades of objectification of will which are manifested in countless individuals, and exist as their unrealized types or as the eternal forms of things, are the Platonic ideas. Thus, these various grades are related to individual things as their eternal forms or prototypes.
Thus, the world in which we live is in its whole nature through and through will, and at the same time through and through idea. This idea always presupposes a form, object and subject. If we take away this form and ask what then remains, the answer must be that this can be nothing but will, which, properly speaking, is the thing-in-itself.
Every human being discovers that he himself is this will, and that the world exists only for him and does so in relation to his consciousness. Thus each human being is himself in a double aspect the whole world, the microcosm. And that which he realizes as his own real being exhausts the being of the whole world, the macrocosm. So, like man, the world is through and through will, and through and through idea.
Plato would say that an animal has no true being, but merely an apparent being, a constant becoming. The only true being is the idea, which embodies itself in that animal. That is to say, the idea of the animal alone has true being and is the object of real knowledge. Kant, with his theory of 'the thing-in-itself' as the only reality, would say that the animal is only a phenomenon in time, space and causality, which are conditions of our perception, not the thing-in-itself. So the individual as we see it at this particular moment will pass away, without any possibility of our knowing the thing-in-itself, for the knowledge of that is beyond our faculties.
Thus do these two greatest philosophers of the West differ. The thing-in-itself must, according to Kant, be free from all forms associated with knowing. On the contrary, the Platonic idea is necessarily object, something known and thus different from the thing-in-itself, which cannot be apprehended. Yet Kant and Plato tend to agree, because the thing-in-itself is, after all, that which lays aside all the subordinate forms of phenomena, and has retained the first and most universal form, that of the idea in general, the form of being object for a subject. Plato attributes actual being only to the ideas, and concedes only an illusive, dream-like existence to things in space and time, the real world for the individual.
IV - THE WORLD AS WILL - SECOND ASPECT
THE last and most serious part of our consideration relates to human action. Human nature tends to relate everything else to action. The world as idea is the perfect mirror of the will, in which it recognizes itself in graduating scales of distinctness and completeness. The highest degree of this consciousness is man, whose nature only completely expresses itself in the whole connected series of his actions.
Will is the thing-in-itself, the essence of the world. Life is only the mirror of the will. Life accompanies the will as the shadow the body. If will exists, so will life. So long as we are actuated by the will to live, we need have no fear of ceasing to live, even in the presence of death. True, we see the individual born and passing away; but the individual is merely phenomenal. Neither the will, nor the subject of cognition, is at all affected by birth or death.
It is not the individual, but only the species, that nature cares for. She provides for the species with boundless prodigality through the incalculable profusion of seed and the great strength of fructification. She is ever ready to let the individual fall when it has served its end of perpetuating the species. Thus does nature artlessly express the great truth that only the ideas, not the individuals, have actual reality and are complete objectivity of the will.
Man is nature itself, but nature is only the objectified will to live. So the man who has comprehended this point of view may well console himself when contemplating death for himself or his friends by turning his eyes to the immortal life of nature, which he himself is. And thus we see that birth and death both really belong to life, and that they take part in that constant mutation of matter which is consistent with the permanence of the species, notwithstanding the transitoriness of the individual.
V - THE WILL AS RELATED TO TIME
ABOVE all we must not forget that the form of the phenomenon of the will, the form of life in reality, is really only the present, not the future nor the past. No man ever lived in the past, no man will live in the future. The present is the sole form of life in sure possession. The present exists always, together with its content.
Now all object is the will so far as it has become idea, and the subject is the necessary correlative of the object. But real objects are in the present only. So nothing but conceptions and fancies are included in the past, while the present is the essential form of the phenomenon of the will, and inseparable from it. The present alone is perpetual and immovable. The fountain and support of it is the will to live, or the thing-in-itself, which we are.
Life is certain to the will, and the present is certain to life. Time is like a perpetually revolving globe. The hemisphere which is sinking is like the past, that which is rising is like the future, while the indivisible point at the top is like a motionless present. Or, time is like a running river, and the present is a rock on which it breaks but which it cannot remove with itself. As life is assured to the will, so is the present the single real form of life.
Therefore we are not concerned to investigate the past antecedent to life, nor to speculate on the future subsequent to death. We should simply seek to know the present, that being the sole form in which the will manifests itself. Therefore, if we are satisfied with life as it is, we may confidently, regard it as endless and banish the fear of death as illusive. Our spirit is of a totally indestructible nature, and its energy endures from eternity to eternity.
The problem of the freedom of the will is solved by the considerations which have thus been outlined. Since the will is not phenomenon, is not idea or object, but thing-in-itself, is not determined as a consequent through any reason, and knows no necessity, therefore it is free. But the person is never free, although he is the phenomenon of a free will, for this indisputable reason, that he is already the determined phenomenon of the free volition of this will, and is constrained to embody the direction of that volition in a multiplicity of actions.
Schopenhauer's grave at Hauptfreidhof, Frankfurt-am-Main
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