It's all Der Wille
If my entire experienced world is mere representation,
the next question is: "What exactly is it a representation of?"
Schopenhauer's answer is this: The entire
phenomenal world, as well as each of the individual items in it, is
a representation of Will. But what could he possibly mean by this?
As long as we rely on experience only, the
empiricist philosophers are exactly right: we are able to know only
the "outer" of things, only the aspect of things that shows,
only the phenomenal aspect which appears to our experience. As long
as we rely only on experience, the only thing we can know is how things
appear on the outside and never what their innermost essence
And with all items in the universe - except
one - we are able to experience only their outer, external, phenomenal
aspect, never their inner nature. There is only one item in the entire
universe which I can know from the inside, and that is my own body.
Only in the case of my own body is it possible for me to turn within
and know its fundamental inner nature.
And when I do turn inward and try to feel
or understand what it is at its central core, what we will encounter
in there is pure life drive, what the philosopher Henri Bergson
terms the elan vital, the life force. The pure energy, drive,
urge that is at the center of all life. Schopenhauer says it thus
Whereas n the first book we were reluctantly
forced to declare our own body to be mere representation of the knowing
subject, like all the other objects of this world of perception, it
has now become clear to us that something in the consciousness of
everyone distinguishes the representation of his own body from all
others that are in other respects quite like it. This is that the
body occurs in consciousness in quite another way, toto genere
[totally] different, that is denoted by the word will. It is
just this double knowledge of our own body which gives us information
about that body itself, about its action and movement following on
motives, as well as about its suffering through outside impressions,
in a word, about what it is, not as representation, but as something
over and above this, and hence what it is in itself. We do
not have such immediate information about the nature, action, and
suffering of any other real objects. (p 103)
What Schopenhauer is observing here is that
every external state of a person's body coincides with some internal
will state of that body. Today we use the term "body language"
to suggest that external actions and states of a body provide some indication
of the internal feelings - what Schopenhauer might call will-states
- of that body.
Now I could conclude that my own body is
the only item in the universe that has such an inner dimension (will),
but that seems unlikely. It is more likely that every living item in
the universe, and for Schopenhauer every item in the universe,
is, in its inner essence, pure will. (This is not so unlike the teachings
of quantum physics that every item in the universe consists of pure
Schopenhauer requires that we not limit
our understanding of the term "will" to only the notion of
consciously willed choices that lead to human acts. We must instead
have a much broader understanding of the concept of will.
But anyone who is incapable of carrying
out the required extension of the concept will remain involved in
a permanent misunderstanding. For by the word will, he will
always understand only that species of it hitherto exclusively described
by the term, that is to say, the will guided by knowledge, strictly
according to motives, indeed only to abstract motives. This, as we
have said, is only the most distinct phenomenon or appearance of the
will. (p 111)
If a person is able to carry out the required
extension of the concept of will,
He will recognize that same will not only
in those phenomena that are quite similar to his own, in men and animals,
as their innermost nature, but continued reflection will lead him
to recognize the force that shoots and vegetates in the plant, indeed
the force by which the crystal is formed, the force that turns the
magnet to the North Pole, the force whose shock he encounters from
the contact of metals of different kinds, the force that appears in
the elective affinities of matter as repulsion and attraction, separation
and union, and finally even gravitation [and now the strong force
and the weak force which both operate at subatomic levels], which
acts so powerfully in all matter, pulling the stone to the earth and
the earth to the sun; all these he will recognize as different only
in the phenomenon, but the same according to their inner nature. He
will recognize them all as that which is immediately known to him
so intimately and better than everything else, and where it appears
most distinctly is called will. It is the innermost essence,
the kernel, of every particular thing and also of the whole. It appears
in every blindly acting force of nature, and also in the deliberate
condu8ct of man, and the great difference between the two concerns
only the degree of the manifestation, not the inner nature of what
is manifested. (pp 109-110)
Thus, the inner nature of every thing, the
thing-in-itself of each individual thing as well as of the whole, is
Now that is a skeletal outline of the main
elements of what Schopenhauer means when he says that the innermost
nature of things is Der Wille. Most of his discussion of The Will can
be found in the assigned readings in Book II.
Will develops mind
One other point needs to be made before
leaving this section, and then we will turn briefly to a passage in
Die Welt that summarizes Schopenhauer's philosophy.
The point is this: As will evolves into
living things, it develops consciousness (or mind, or what Schopenhauer
calls "knowledge") in order to help will achieve its wants.
We see even in most plants, for example, some elemental awareness of
where light is coming from. The plant's "will" needs light,
and it has developed some minimal level of awareness of light so that
its will can seek out that light and get what it wants. Animals have
more advanced degrees of consciousness in order to help their more distinct
development of will achieve its needs. And human beings have developed
a relatively rich level of consciousness to help their wills meet their
needs. When I want food, for example, consciousness might be put to
use to search around out in the world to find where a good pizza might
be found. So will has developed consciousness to help will meet its
Now we turn to the summary of Schopenhauer's
philosophy on p 152. Once you have some grasp of Schopenhauer's philosophy
you will see that this one short paragraph is a very tight summation
of Schopenhauer's entire philosophy. It reads thus:
Therefore, destined originally to serve
the will for the achievement of its aims, knowledge [what I've called
consciousness] remains almost throughout entirely subordinate to its
service; this is the case with all animals and almost all men.
That is, almost all humans have only enough
consciousness, or mind, to help them meet their will's needs. But some
few humans seem to have been born with an excess of consciousness, more
than is necessary merely for the purposes of serving that will's needs,
and it is that extra level of consciousness that allows these
people to "see" more than others can see. Schopenhauer continues:
However, we shall see in the third book
how, in the case of individual persons, knowledge can withdraw from
this subjection, throw off its yoke, and , free from all the aims
of the will, exist purely for itself, simply as a clear mirror of
the world; and this is the source of art. Finally, in the fourth book
we shall see how, if this kind of knowledge reacts on the will, it
can bring about the will's self-elimination, in other words, resignation.
This is the ultimate goal, and indeed the innermost nature of all
virtue and holiness, and is salvation from the world. (p 152)
To sum up:
Schopenhauer has now told us how things
are. We might call this his metaphysic, his description of the fundamental
nature of being. And it's not a very pretty picture. Life is full of
suffering and we are living in a world of illusion. That's just how
Is there hope?
We can now ask, Is there any hope? Are we
entirely stuck in suffering and illusion, or is there any way to transcend
these conditions of being in the world?
Schopenhauer answers that there is hope,
but not very much. There isn't much hope because in order for there
to be hope a person must see how things really are. If a person is about
to be attacked by a grizzly or is about to be fired from their job or
is about to flunk a course, or is about to be hit by a truck, if they
are blithely unaware that this travesty is about to befall them then
there isn't' much hope for them at all. In a similar way, if a person
is not aware of the real state of affairs in the world, there is not
much hope that their suffering can be overcome. But if they are aware
of the bear or the risk to their job or aware of the oncoming truck,
then there may be hope for them. Most people, says Schopenhauer, are
just not aware of the real situation in the world (which he has been
describing for us) and so for them there is no hope at all. For the
person who is aware of the real situation in the world, though
- that it is a world of suffering, will, and illusion - for that person
there is hope.
And where does hope lie? Schopenhauer says
hope lies in two directions (actually three, but we'll look at only
two of them).
- The encounter with the beautiful, which
we will call aesthetic contemplation.
This is discussed in Book III.
or self-denial, i.e., the practice of turning the will against itself
as a way of extinguishing its power. This is discussed in Book IV.
It is these two ways of salvation from the
world to which we turn next.