Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College


Arthur Schopenhauer's
The World as Will and Representation

Lecture III

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:

  1. The account of My Dream, and how even things we directly experience may consist of only thoughtstuff

  2. The world as tulpa, in the Hindu tradition

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. The arguments of George Berkeley about the immateriality of the world

  6. 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, I

Or Macbeth's

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 8:9.

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 stream.
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.

In sum

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 Wille.