Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College


Arthur Schopenhauer's
The World as Will and Representation

An Introduction

A difficult book

This book is by far the most difficult and challenging book you'll be reading this quarter, but what is interesting is the reason why it is so challenging.

It is not challenging because Schopenhauer is a bad writer. He is considered a superb writer, with an ability to phrase things simply, clearly, and beautifully. Many people actually read Schopenhauer simply for the pure enjoyment of it.

Nor is the book challenging because the translation is a bad one. There have been some bad English translations of Schopenhauer, but this translation is considered a major improvement on the others, and is considered to be exceptionally well done.

The difficulty actually lies instead in the unusualness of Schopenhauer's worldview. It will take a fair amount of reading before you begin to see what he is saying, but once you do see it, the reading begins to flow well. I would bet that in this group of students, at least three or four of you (and maybe more) will find Schopenhauer to be not just understandable, but even downright enjoyable.

If you are having difficulty understanding Schopenhauer, you should consider the following aids.

  1. Post questions to me in the class forum about the readings. I strongly encourage this, since answers to questions you have will almost certainly be helpful to lots of your fellow students as well.

    When posting these questions, it will be most helpful to refer to specific parts of the text. For example, what does Schopenhauer mean by the sentence on page xx which begins "..." ? Or "What does Schopenhauer mean by "morphology" on page xx? The more specific the question the better, but even if you can't ask something specific, please feel free to pose questions either to me or to fellow students.

  2. Read over this series of introductory lectures on Schopenhauer's thought. (This is actually a requirement rather than a recommendation.) This should help a little.

  3. Read a secondary source on Schopenhauer. All of the history of philosophy books referred to on the course homepage > Library references have chapters on Schopenhauer. The chapter in Will Durant's book, The Story of Philosophy, is particularly readable.

  4. Read Schopenhauer a second time through. This is what Schopenhauer himself suggests. Of course most authors would like you to read their books through a second and third time, but in Schopenhauer's case it may be almost a necessity in order to fully understand the world view he is laying out for us. I know that most of you will not have time to read the book fully a second time, but perhaps you'll have time and inclination at some point in the future.

Schopenhauer lectures

These introductory lectures about Schopenhauer will be divided into several sections, each section constituting one mini-lecture. The sections will be as follows:

I. The Buddha's four noble truths and Schopenhauer
In which a favorable comparison will be drawn between the four noble truths in Buddhism and some of the key themes in Schopenhauer's philosophy.

II. Life is Suffering because Life is Willing
In which the source and root of all suffering is explained

III. The World as Representation (ie, Phenomenon)
In which the entire world - i.e., the entire "spatial, temporal, causal manifold" - is seen to be mere representation

IV. The World as Will
In which the ultimately noumenal, the really real, the thing it itself is discovered to be The Will (Der Wille)

V. Aesthetic Contemplation
In which the intimate encounter with The Beautiful is seen as a source of true insight and salvation

VI. Askesis
In which the practice of ascetidism, or self-denial, is seen as the only true and lasting path to awakening and salvation

VII. No will = No worldIn which the goal of Schopenhauer's philosophy is discovered to be: non-being, nirvana

VIII My Assessments of Schopenhauer
In which your professor offers his own personal assessments - some favorable and some not - of Schopenhauer's philosophy