The World as Will and Representation
The World as Representation
(ie, as Phenomenon)
Schopenhauer spends the entirety of Book I
arguing that the entire experienced world is merely phenomenal, and that
Plato was right when he said, in his story of the cave, that what we experience
with our senses has no more reality than shadows have.
The experienced world is a mere appearance,
he says, much like a movie or video is a mere appearance. Despite how
emotionally engaged we may become in the movie, despite how much we may
weep or laugh or hope or care about the characters, it is still only a
representation. The entire experienced phenomenal world has that same
kind of reality for Schopenhauer: It is real as experienced, as an appearance,
as a phenomenon, but it does not have its own inherent substantive reality.
Rather than spend any more time on this idea,
however, I will simply remind you of some things we have already discussed
so far this quarter:
- The account of My Dream,
and how even things we directly experience may consist of only thoughtstuff
world as tulpa, in the Hindu tradition
- Quantum physics, and its claim that
what we used to think of as particles are actually less like existents
and more like probabilities and tendencies
- The physicist Sir James Jeans and his claim that the more we learn about
the nature of the world the less it looks like a great machine and the
more it looks like a great thought
- The arguments of George Berkeley about the immateriality of the
- All of which Plato got to much earlier
in his story of the cave
Schopenhauer considers this realization to
be an absolutely essential one. And he likes Shakespeare's ways of expressing
this same thought too.
We are such stuff as dreams are made on,
And our little life is rounded with a sleep.
-The Tempest, IV,
Life's but a passing shadow, a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.
It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Or as expressed in the verse we saw in Job
For we are but of yesterday, and know nothing,
Because our days upon the earth are a shadow.
Or even the words of the popular little ditty:
Row, row, row your boat, gently down the
Merrily merrily merrily merrily, Life is but a dream
We have spent already enough time on this
matter, though (this non-material matter?), and can thus afford to not
spend a great deal more time on Schopenhauer's arguments in Book I, interesting
as they are.
What you might do, however, is turn to
p. 419 in Die Welt and skim through Schopenhauer's one page
summary of how important are the insights in Plato's story of the cave.
Thus, to sum up this point: Schopenhauer's
teaching in Book I of Die Welt is that "the world is my representation."
My experienced world is an image for me, much like my dreams are images
for me. It is a phenomenal reality only, and hence does not have its own
inherent substantial noumenal reality.
The entire experienced world is mere representation,
much like a photo is a mere representation of a person.
What we can ask Schopenhauer, however, is
this: If the world is a representation (just like a photo is), what exactly
is it a representation of?
And that takes us to the next mini-lecture
where Schopenhauer will tell us that the answer to that question is: Der