Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)

Schopenhauer made three great contributions to the Kantian tradition, which supplement the contemporary contributions of Fries:
  1. He retained Kant's notion of the thing-in-itself but recognized that it could not exist as a separate order of "real" objects over and above the phenomenal objects of experience. Hence Schopenhauer's careful use of the singular rather than the plural when referring to the "thing-in-itself." Kant left his "Copernican Revolution" incomplete by describing the ordinary objects of experience as phenomena while leaving the impression that in an absolute sense they were only subjective, with things-in-themselves as the "real" objects. Schopenhauer favorably compares Kant to Berkeley, even though both Kant and Schopenhauer reject a true "subjective idealism" in which objects exist in no way apart from consciousness. Schopenhauer's point was that, like Berkeley, phenomena are all there are when it comes to objects as objects. What stands over and above objects is something else. For Berkeley that was only God. For Schopenhauer it was the Will as thing-in-itself.
  2. Schopenhauer abolished Kant's machinery of synthesis through the pure concepts of the understanding, substituting his fourfold "Principle of Sufficient Reason." This misses much of the point of Kant's argument in the First Edition Transcendental Deduction and would not count as an advance on Kant if it did not also abolish the mistaken idea in Kant that Reason, as he conceived it, could produce out of the mere formalism of logic a substantive content to morality, aesthetics, etc. Schopenhauer does not have a very good substitute when it comes to morality (as do Fries and Nelson), but he does in aesthetics, which leads to,
  3. Schopenhauer's strong sense of aesthetic value, to which he gives an intuitive, perceptual, and Platonic cast in his theory of Ideas. Schopenhauer gave aesthetics and beauty a central place in his thought such as few other philosophers have done. His aesthetic realism is a great advance over Kant's moralistic denial of an objective foundation for aesthetic reality. Beyond that lies a realistic appreciation of many religious phenomena that is superior to Kant and conformable to insights that will later be found in Otto and Jung. Schopenhauer could take religion seriously in ways that others could not because of his pessimistic rejection of the value of life. This, indeed, embodies its own distortions, but it is a welcome corrective, as Jung later noted, to the shallow optimism of most other philosophers. And it does faithfully highlight the world-denying trend of important religions like Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, which must be addressed by any responsible philosophy of religion.
THE WILL, transcendent Thing-in-Itself, Books II & IV REPRESENTATION
THE SUBJECT, Upanishadic Unknown Knower, Book I THE OBJECT
Plato's IDEAS, objectivity free of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Book III SPACE & TIME, governed by the Principle of Sufficient Reason, Book I
BODY, Immediate Object of the Will EXTERNAL OBJECTS

The basic distinction in Schopenhauer's metaphysics is between representation and the thing-in-itself. The thing-in-itself turns out to be will. The will is introduced in Book II of The World as Will and Representation, where its manifestations in nature are also examined. That supplies, in effect, Schopenhauer's philosophy of science, which has its embarrassing aspects: Schopenhauer did not understand the new physics of light and electricity that had been developed by Thomas Young (1773-1829) and Michael Faraday (1791-1867). He disparaged the wave theory of light, which Young had definitively established, as a "crude materialism," and "mechanical, Democritean, ponderous, and truly clumsy" [Dover, p. 123]. Unfortunately, Schopenhauer does not seem to have understood the evidence for Young's discoveries about light, or even for Newton's--he still clung to Goethe's clever but clueless theory of colors. Schopenhauer also required that there be a "vital force," though that would still be part of respectable science for a while to come yet. Nevertheless, Schopenhauer would have been happy to learn how his beloved qualitates occultae would return in force with quantum mechanics: Things like strangeness, charm, baryon number, lepton number, etc., are exactly the kinds of irreducible types he demanded.

Book IV of The World as Will and Representation is also about the will, but now in terms of the denial of the will. The denial of will, self, and self-interest produce for Schopenhauer a theory both of morality and of holiness, the former by which self-interest is curtailed for the sake of others, the latter by which all will-to-live ceases. Schopenhauer's greatest eloquence about the evils, sufferings, and futility of life, and its redemption through self-denial, occur there.

On the representation side of his metaphysics, which occupies Books I and III of The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer must deal with two areas that exercise their own claims to be considered things-in-themselves. First, at the beginning of Book I, comes the Subject of Knowledge. Schopenhauer's thought there is refined by his reading of the Upanishads, where the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad distinguishes the Subject of Knowledge, the Unknown Knower, from all Objects of Knowledge, from everything Known. Schopenhauer accepts that distinction, and also that the Subject is free of the forms of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (space, time, causality, etc.).

But the subject, the knower never the known, does not lies within these forms [i.e. space, time, plurality]; on the contrary, it is always presupposed by those forms themselves, and hence neither plurality nor its opposite, namely unity, belongs to it. We never know it, but it is precisely that which knows wherever there is knowledge. [Dover, p. 5]
Since the Upanishads themselves posit an identity of the Subject, the Ātman or Self, with Brahman, the transcendent Supreme Reality, Being itself, one could not confess surprise if Schopenhauer were to identify the Subject with Kant's transcendent thing-in-itself. He does not, however--deciding, rather arbitrarily it must seem, to retain the Subject as an Unknowable side of representation, distinct from all Objects.

In Book III of The World as Will and Representation Schopenhauer turns to his theory of Ideas, which he says are the same as Plato's Ideas, and which are also free of the forms of space, time, and causality. For Schopenhauer, it is through the Ideas that all beauty is manifest in art and nature. Again, it would not be surprising if Schopenhauer took the Ideas to be transcendent realities, especially when that is precisely what Plato thought about his own Ideas; but, as with the Subject, Schopenhauer keeps them in representation, as the nature of Objects in so far as they are free of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. The bulk of Book III is then occupied with the examination of individual forms of art, culminating in music.

The final distinction, although it is one of the earliest made, in Book I, is that between the body and the other objects of representation in space and time. For Schopenhauer, the body is known immediately and the perception of other objects is spontaneously projected, in a remaining fragment of Kant's theory of synthesis and perception, from the sensations present in the sense organs of the body onto the external objects understood as the causes of those sensations. The body itself, in Book II, becomes the most immediate manifestation of the will, a direct embodiment of the will-to-live.

One might say that the most interesting aspect of Schopenhauer's metaphysics consists of the turns not taken. The reason why the Subject and the Ideas should be held separate from the Will sometimes seems only to be that this is necessary to produce the degree of pessimism that Schopenhauer requires: The will must be blind and purposeless; but as the Subject it would not be blind, and as the Ideas it would consist of all the meaning and beauty of the Platonic World of Ideas. Indeed, Jung would later see the process by which his Archetypes are instantiated, in the "individuation" of the Self through the "transcendent function," as the means by which consciousness is expanded and life made meaningful:

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. [Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books, 1961]
Although the theory of art Schopenhauer presents in Book III, by which the Ideas are instantiated much like Jung's Archetypes, might seem to describe meaning enough for anyone's life, Schopenhauer just cannot imagine that it is good enough. Probably it is not, since few enough people find meaning in life through art. Where they have always found it is in religion, and Schopenhauer passes on to that ground with his theory of holy self-denial. But not all religion is the denial of self or of life; and Schopenhauer is conspicuously unsympathetic with religions, like Judaism and Islām, that do not maintain the level of world-denial that he thinks necessary for "true" holiness. Thus his theory fails as phenomenology of religion. Only Otto can explain holiness in both world-affirmation and world-denial. But no one would ever accuse Schopenhauer of overlooking the evils of life or misunderstanding the motivation of world-denying religions.

An excellent bust of Schopenhauer by the great German sculptress, Elisabet Ney, can still be seen in her studio in Austin, Texas, where she and her husband had immigrated from Germany. After his experience sitting for the bust, Schopenhauer is said to have wondered if, desipte all his misogyny, women could after all be great artists.

Arthur Schopenhauer, An Introduction, by John Knoblock

Copyright (c) 1996 Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved
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