Tag Archives: nineteenth-century

Review of The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer

3 Oct

The two volumes of The World as Will and Representation are Schopenhauer’s most important work and his complete philosophy. Surprisingly written in his twenties, this comprehensive work covers all aspects of life and known fields of knowledge to civilisation in the early nineteenth-century; from his critique of Hegel and hailing of Kant to supporting his argument with elements from Buddhism and neuroscience. His philosophy can be summed up in this quote: ‘The will-to-live does not appear in consequence of the world, but the world appears in consequence of the will-to-live (V.II, 360).

Schopenhauer talks about two kinds of will, one includes the other: the will of the world and the will of the individual which is also part of the will of the world. The will of the world represents itself in all forms of life on earth, including human beings. In other words, all forms of existence are a demonstration of the world to be or of matter to live. To Schopenhauer, this is the prime causer of conscious existence (human beings) as well as non-conscious existence, and continues to be the prime mover of all living organisms and their ultimate instinct: survival. The second will Schopenhauer assesses is the will of the human being which is both an individual will by itself and also the universe’s most successful attempt at representing its will: being a conscious form of life. Unlike the will which is always subjective to the universe and/or the individual, representation can be objective as well as subjective; Objective in being an object existing by itself (though still in representation of the will) and independent from conception, and subjective when perceived by the human mind or other living organisms (animals) which can perceive but are incapable of forming concepts. Other forms of the subjectivity of representation could be argued as Schopenhauer himself mentions, such as the secondary representation of the individual’s conception of the universe, but these infinite replications of the Platonic ideal are not Schopenhauer’s concern.

Schopenhauer’s is the most logical fundamental philosophy I have come across and one that has from the beginning gained my attention and agreement with its argument. Having said that, there are several issues I am having with it. One of which is his soft spot towards what he perceived as genuine Indian religions, namely Hinduism, Brahmanism and Buddhism as opposed to his unjustified aggressiveness toward Islam and disliking of Judaism. At one occasion he mentions, ‘atheistic Buddhism is much more closely akin to Christianity than are optimistic Judaism and its variety, Islam (V. II, 444).’ The named above Indian religions have, without doubt, contributed heavily to Schopenhauer’s philosophy, especially when linking concepts such as reincarnation to the infinite cycle of representation. Nevertheless, at times Schopenhauer enthusiastically praises India and gives it credit for groundless achievements. For instance he asserts that Christianity as a doctrine ‘is Indian in spirit, and therefore, more than probably, Indian in Origin, although only indirectly, through Egypt (V.II, 488).’ Not only does this claim an incorrect and unsupported history of Christianity, but it also claims bizarrely that Egypt, the oldest known civilisation in the world, is Indian or India-influenced at the least. On the other hand, Schopenhauer aligns himself with Christianity in a way that undermines the independent superiority of his philosophy.

I wish perhaps to try to resolve the deepest mystery of Christianity, namely that o the Trinity, into the fundamental conceptions of my philosophy […]. The Holy Ghost is the decided denial of the will-to-live; the person in whom this exhibits itself in concerto is the Son. He is identical with the will that affirms life, and thereby produces the phenomenon of this world of perception, i.e., with the Father, in so far as affirmation and denial are opposite acts of the same will (V. II, 629).

Not only is he aligning his philosophy with Christianity here to add to its weight, but in doing so he is also saving Christianity from its opaque mysticism. The Trinity are translated into direct and simple symbols to the essence of life: Will and its consequences.

Schopenhauer’s style is akin to the classical fathers in its simplicity and directness; something which he consciously achieves being opposed to the verbosity of many German philosophers known in his time and particularly Hegel. This makes him one of the easiest modern philosophers to read. His philosophy though borrows from religions and science, carrying over some mistakes from both, stands high and aloof above any faith or philosophy. Its fundamental achievement is in regarding the world comprehensively and logically without superfluous complexity, and spiritually without mystery or mysticism.

The Reviewed translations from German are:

Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation, VI. Trans. by Alistair Welchman and Christopher Janaway (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2014).

This is a superb translation with a lot of explanations, commentary and footnotes; very helpful in understanding the context of Schopenhauer’s philosophy and his multifarious references to all fields of knowledge. This translation is also sufficient for getting a basic grasp on Schopenhauer’s philosophy and comes with a supplementary consisting of his critique of Kant’s philosophy. I look forward to the publication of the Cambridge translation of volume II.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation, VII. Trans. by E.F.J. Payne (New York: Dover Publications, 1966) – a reprint of The Falcon’s Wing Press edition of 1958.

This translation is equally excellent though it lacks the commentary of the newer translation and its fluidity. Having said that, this remains a masterpiece from its time and currently the best published second volume translation available. I particularly like the italicising of the conceptual phrases; something which the newer translation has adopted. I also like the use of Schopenhauer’s references and quotes in their original languages within the translated text, while translating them in the footnotes.

Note on my use of quotes:

To the critical reader, it may seem inadequate that I have quoted Schopenhauer only from his second volume. I only did so as he goes over many of the topics he discusses in the first volume in his second. It seemed to me more appropriate to quote him from his latest and most developed work while I was writing this review.