The World as Will and Representation

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The World as Will and Representation
File:Schop welt 2ed.jpg
The title page of the expanded 1844 publication
Author Arthur Schopenhauer
Original title Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung
Translator Richard Burdon Haldane
Country Germany
Language German
Subject Metaphysics
  • 1818 (1st edition)
  • 1844 (2nd expanded edition)
  • 1859 (3rd expanded edition)

The World as Will and Representation (German: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung) is the central work of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. The first edition was published in December 1818,[1] and the second expanded edition in 1844. In 1948, an abridged version was edited by Thomas Mann.[2]

English translations

In the English language, this work is known under three different titles. Although English publications about Schopenhauer played a role in the recognition of his fame as a philosopher in later life (1851 until his death in 1860)[3] and a three volume translation by R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, titled The World as Will and Idea, appeared already in 1883–1886,[4] the first English translation of the expanded edition of this work under this title The World as Will and Representation appeared by E.F.J.Payne (who also translated several other works of Schopenhauer) as late as in 1958[5] (paperback editions in 1966 and 1969).[6] A later English translation by Richard E. Aquila in collaboration with David Carus is titled The World as Will and Presentation (2008).[7]

Translator Aquila believes that the reader will not grasp the details of the philosophy of Schopenhauer properly without this new title: "The World as Will and Presentation." According to him, "Idea," "Representation," and "Presentation" are all acceptable renderings of the word Vorstellung, but it is the notion of a performance or a theatrical presentation that is key in his interpretation. The world that we perceive is a "presentation" of objects in the theatre of our own mind; the observers, the "subject," each craft the show with their own stage managers, stagehands, sets, lighting, code of dress, pay scale, etc. The other aspect of the world, the Will, or "thing in itself," which is not perceivable as a presentation, exists outside time, space, and causality. Aquila claims to make these distinctions as linguistically precise as possible.[8]

Relationship to earlier philosophical work

Schopenhauer in 1815, second of the critical five years of the initial composition of Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung

The main body of the work states at the beginning that it assumes prior knowledge of Immanuel Kant's theories,[9] and Schopenhauer is regarded by some as remaining more faithful to Kant's metaphysical system of transcendental idealism than any of the other later German Idealists. However, the book contains an appendix entitled critique of the Kantian philosophy, in which Schopenhauer rejects most of Kant's ethics and significant parts of his epistemology and aesthetics. Schopenhauer demands that the introduction be read before the book itself, although it is not fully contained in this book but appeared earlier under the title On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. He also states in his introduction that the reader will be at his best prepared to understand his theories if he has lingered in the school of Plato or he is already familiar with Indian philosophy.

Schopenhauer believed that Kant had ignored inner experience, as intuited through the will, which was the most important form of experience. Schopenhauer saw the human will as our one window to the world behind the representation; the Kantian thing-in-itself. He believed, therefore, that we could gain knowledge about the thing-in-itself, something Kant said was impossible, since the rest of the relationship between representation and thing-in-itself could be understood by analogy to the relationship between human will and human body. According to Schopenhauer, the entire world is the representation of a single Will, of which our individual wills are phenomena. In this way, Schopenhauer's metaphysics go beyond the limits that Kant had set, but do not go so far as the rationalist system-builders who preceded Kant. Other important differences are Schopenhauer's rejection of eleven of Kant's twelve categories, arguing that only causality was important. Matter and causality were both seen as a union of time and space and thus being equal to each other.

Schopenhauer frequently acknowledges drawing on Plato in the development of his theories and, particularly in the context of aesthetics, speaks of the Platonic forms as existing on an intermediate ontological level between the representation and the Will.

Development of the work

The development of Schopenhauer's ideas took place very early in his career (1814–1818) and culminated in the publication of the first volume of Will and Representation in 1819. This first volume consisted of four books – covering his epistemology, ontology, aesthetics and ethics, in order. Much later in his life, in 1844, Schopenhauer published a second edition in two volumes, the first a virtual reprint of the original, and the second a new work consisting of clarifications to and additional reflections on the first. His views had not changed substantially.

His belated fame after 1851 stimulated renewed interest in his seminal work, and led to a third and final edition with 136 more pages in 1859, one year before his death. In the preface to the latter, Schopenhauer noted: "If I also have at last arrived, and have the satisfaction at the end of my life of seeing the beginning of my influence, it is with the hope that, according to an old rule, it will last longer in proportion to the lateness of its beginning."[10]


Schopenhauer used the word "will" as a human's most familiar designation for the concept that can also be signified by other words such as "desire," "striving," "wanting," "effort," and "urging." Schopenhauer's philosophy holds that all nature, including man, is the expression of an insatiable will to life. It is through the will that mankind finds all their suffering. Desire for more is what causes this suffering.

Volume 1

Epistemology (Book 1)

As mentioned above, Schopenhauer's notion of the will comes from the Kantian thing-in-itself, which Kant believed to be the fundamental reality behind the representation that provided the matter of perception, but lacked form. Kant believed that space, time, causation, and many other similar phenomena belonged properly to the form imposed on the world by the human mind in order to create the representation, and these factors were absent from the thing-in-itself. Schopenhauer pointed out that anything outside of time and space could not be differentiated, so the thing-in-itself must be one and all things that exist, including human beings, must be part of this fundamental unity. Our inner-experience must be a manifestation of the noumenal realm and the will is the inner kernel of every being. All knowledge gained of objects is seen as self-referential, as we recognize the same will in other things as is inside us.

Ontology (Book 2)

In Book 2, electricity and gravity are described as fundamental forces of the will. Knowledge is something that was invented to serve the will and is present in both human and non-human animals. It is subordinate to the demands of the will for all animals and most humans. The fundamental nature of the universe and everything in it is seen as this will. Schopenhauer presents a pessimistic picture on which unfulfilled desires are painful, and pleasure is merely the sensation experienced at the instant one such pain is removed. However, most desires are never fulfilled, and those that are fulfilled are instantly replaced by more unfulfilled ones.

Aesthetics (Book 3)

Like many other aesthetic theories, Schopenhauer's centers on the concept of genius. Genius, according to Schopenhauer, is possessed by all people in varying degrees and consists of the capacity for aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience occurs when an individual perceives an object and understands by it not the individual object itself, but the Platonic form of the object. The individual is then able to lose himself in the object of contemplation and, for a brief moment, escape the cycle of unfulfilled desire by becoming "the pure subject of will-less knowing." Those who have a high degree of genius can be taught to communicate these aesthetic experiences to others, and objects that communicate these experiences are works of art. Based on this theory, Schopenhauer viewed Dutch still-life as the best type of painting, because it was able to help viewers see beauty in ordinary, everyday objects. However, he sharply criticized depictions of nude women and prepared food, as these stimulate desire and thus hinder the viewer from the aesthetic experience and becoming "the pure subject of will-less knowing."

Music also occupies a privileged place in Schopenhauer's aesthetics, as he believed it to have a special relationship to the will. Where other forms of art are imitations of things perceived in the world, music is a direct expression and articulation of the will.

Ethics (Book 4)

Schopenhauer claims in this book to set forth a purely descriptive account of human ethical behavior, in which he identifies two types of behavior: the affirmation and denial of the will.

According to Schopenhauer, the Will (the great Will that is the thing-in-itself, not the individual wills of humans and animals, which are phenomena of the Will) conflicts with itself through the egoism that every human and animal is endowed with. Compassion arises from a transcendence of this egoism (the penetration of the illusory perception of individuality, so that one can empathise with the suffering of another) and can serve as a clue to the possibility of going beyond desire and the will. Schopenhauer categorically denies the existence of the "freedom of the will" in the conventional sense, and only adumbrates how the will can be "released" or negated, but is not subject to change, and serves as the root of the chain of causal determinism. His praise for asceticism led him to think highly of Buddhism and Vedanta Hinduism, as well as some monastic orders and ascetic practices found in Catholicism. He expressed contempt for Protestantism, Judaism, and Islam, which he saw as optimistic, devoid of metaphysics and cruel to non-human animals. According to Schopenhauer, the deep truth of the matter is that in cases of the over-affirmation of the will – that is, cases where one individual exerts his will not only for its own fulfillment but for the improper domination of others – he is unaware that he is really identical with the person he is harming, so that the Will in fact constantly harms itself, and justice is done in the moment in which the crime is committed, since the same metaphysical individual is both the perpetrator and the victim.

Schopenhauer discusses suicide at length, noting that it does not actually destroy the Will or any part of it in any substantial way, since death is merely the end of one particular phenomenon of the Will, which is subsequently rearranged. By asceticism, the ultimate denial of the will, one can slowly weaken the individual will in a way that is far more significant than violent suicide, which is, in fact, in some sense an affirmation of the will.

According to Schopenhauer, denial of the will to live is the way to salvation from suffering. "Schopenhauer tells us that when the will is denied, the sage becomes nothing, without actually dying."[11] When willing disappears, both the willer and the world become nothing. "...[T]o one who has achieved the will-less state, it is the world of the willer that has been disclosed as 'nothing'. Its hold over us, its seeming reality, has been 'abolished' so that it now stands before us as nothing but a bad dream from which we are, thankfully, awaking." [12] As Schopenhauer wrote: " those in whom the will has turned and denied itself, this very real world of ours, with all its Suns and Milky Ways, is — nothing." [13]

Criticism of the Kantian Philosophy (Appendix)

At the end of Book 4, Schopenhauer appended a thorough discussion of the merits and faults of Kant's philosophy. Schopenhauer's critique of the Kantian philosophy asserted that Kant's greatest error was the failure to distinguish between perceptual, intuitive knowledge, or insight and conceptual, discursive knowledge, or investigative thinking. One of Kant's greatest contributions, according to Schopenhauer, was the distinction of the phenomenon from the thing-in-itself.

Volume 2

The second volume consisted of several essays expanding topics covered in the first. Most important are his reflections on death and his theory on sexuality, which saw it as a manifestation of the whole will making sure that it will live on and depriving humans of their reason and sanity in their longing for their loved ones. Less successful is his theory of genetics: he argued that humans inherit their will, and thus their character, from their fathers, but their intellect from their mothers and he provides examples from biographies of great figures to illustrate this theory.[14] The second volume also contains attacks on contemporary philosophers such as Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.

The contents of Volume II are as follows.


The value of this work is much disputed. Some rank Schopenhauer as one of the most original and inspiring of all philosophers, while others see him as inconsistent and too pessimistic.[15] He has had a huge effect on psychoanalysis and the works of Sigmund Freud; some researchers have even questioned whether Freud was telling the truth when he said that he had not read Schopenhauer until his old age. The notion of the subconscious is present in Schopenhauer's will and his theory of madness was consistent with this. Also, his theory on masochism is still now widely proposed by doctors.[16] Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Popper, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Leo Tolstoy, Carl Jung, Jorge Luis Borges, D. H. Lawrence, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, Gustav Mahler[17] and Richard Wagner were all strongly influenced by his work. For Nietzsche, the reading of The World as Will and Representation aroused his interest in philosophy. Although he despised especially Schopenhauer's ideas on compassion, Nietzsche would admit that Schopenhauer was one of the few thinkers that he respected, lauding him in his essay Schopenhauer als Erzieher (Schopenhauer as Educator 1874), one of his Untimely Meditations.

Schopenhauer's discussions of language and ethics were a major influence on Ludwig Wittgenstein.[18][19][20]

Some[21] see Schopenhauer's account of the Will as closely resembling classic examples of Monism. Schopenhauer also developed some ideas that can be found in the theory of evolution, before Darwin began to publish his work, for example the idea that all life strives to preserve itself and to engender new life, and that our mental faculties are merely tools to that end. However, he saw species as fixed. His respect for the rights of animals, – including a vehement opposition to vivisection – has led many modern animal rights activists to look up to him. He thought of animals and humans as both being objectifications of the same underlying Will.

See also


  1. Bryan Magee, Schopenhauer[page needed]
  2. Thomas Mann, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung von Schopenhauer in einer gekürzten Fassung dargeboten von Thomas Mann (Zürich : Classen, 1948)
  3. especially John Oxenford, "Iconoclasm in German Philosophy," in Westminster Review, new series 3 (1853): 388–407
  4. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World As Will and Idea, 3 vols. transl. R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1883–1886)
  5. Arthur Schopenhauer "The world as will and representation", transl. by E.F.J. Payne (Indian Hills, Colorado : The Falcon’s Wing, 1958)
  6. Arthur Schopenhauer "The world as will and representation", Courier Dover Publications (1969)
  7. Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Presentation, trans. Richard E. Aquila in collaboration with David Carus (New York: Longman, 2008)
  8. "It's All in the Presentation: A New Look at Schopenhauer". 24 June 2009. Retrieved 14 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. WWR I, xv.
  10. WWR I, xxviii
  11. Barbara Hannan, The Riddle of the World, Chapter 5, "Pessimism, Depression, and Salvation," "Salvation as Denial of the Will," p. 141.
  12. Julian Young, Schopenhauer, Routledge, NY, 2005, Chapter Eight, "Salvation," p. 197 f.
  13. The World as Will and Representation, Volume I, § 71. [ Denen, in welchen der Wille sich gewendet und verneint hat, diese unsere so sehr reale Welt mit allen ihren Sonnen und Milchstraßen – Nichts]
  14. Recent genetics research might show Schopenhauer to be right. For example, from New Scientist: "Eric 'Barry' Keverne ... and Azim Surani ... have evidence that in the mouse the mother's genes contribute more to the development of the 'thinking', or 'executive', centres of the brain, while paternal genes have a greater impact on the development of the 'emotional' limbic brain." (by Gail Vines, 03 May 1997, p 34, Where did you get your brains?)
  15. Peter Loptson, "Willing and Unwilling: A Study in the Philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer", Dialogue, Cambridge University Press, 1990.
  16. Between the quills: Schopenhauer and Freud on sadism and masochism. R Grimwade. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 2011
  17. see Mahler: Das Lied von der Erde by Stephen Helfling
  18. "...the deeper preoccupation of his [Wittgenstein’s] later years remained the same as that of his youth: to complete the logical and ethical tasks begun by Kant and Schopenhauer." Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin, Wittgenstein’s Vienna, Chapter 7, p. 224
  19. "Moving on by way of Schopenhauer to Wittgenstein .... The only hope for the individual is to save his own soul; and even this he can do only by avoiding worldly entanglements. One of the few pieces of authentic moral advice Wittgenstein was heard to give in his later years is the maxim, ‘One must travel light.’" Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin, Wittgenstein’s Vienna, Chapter 8, p. 244. Also, "The only life that is happy is the life that can renounce the amenities of the world." Wittgenstein, Notebooks 1914–1916, Note of August 13, 1916
  20. "In theoretical matters, Wittgenstein’s later philosophy of the Philosophical Investigations is very different from – according to many an explicit rejection of – the philosophy of the Tractatus. But since his personal life was rather clearly an attempt to live the ‘ethical’ life as conceived in the Tractatus, it seems that in existential matters he did not change his mind. Given that this conception of the ethical life is so strongly influenced by Schopenhauer, it may be said that, in a way, Schopenhauer stayed with him all his life." Julian Young, Schopenhauer, Routledge, New York, 2005, p. 232 f.
  21. Schopenhauer and Spinoza. HW Brann – Journal of the History of Philosophy, 1972 –

Further reading

  • Magee, Bryan, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer, Oxford University Press, 1997 (reprint), ISBN 0-19-823722-7
  • Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World as Will and Representation. Dover. Volume I, ISBN 0-486-21761-2. Volume II, ISBN 0-486-21762-0
  • Susanne Möbuß, Schopenhauer für Anfänger: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung – eine Lese-Einführung (introduction in German to The World as Will and Representation), 1998

External links