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Schopenhauer's Worldview: The Key to Resolving Conflict and Achieving Peace
The World as Will and Representation - Book Overview and Thoughts
“Accepting the existence of the will is the first step to resolve our conflicts, and make this world a better place.” - Beyond Thought
I hope you are all excited to learn about Schopenhauer’s worldview and how it might help us achieve peace in this world of never-ending conflict.
First, I’ll leave you with the highlights, and if you’re an avid reader, the whole overview and opinion will follow:
For Schopenhauer, we see the world through a dualistic lens: through representation, which he considered to be rational faculties, and through will, which he believed to be subjective experiences arising from the will of the world.
The concept of “the will” is central to the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. He saw it as a fundamental, blind force that drives all human behavior and that operates independently of reason. He also thought it was the source of all suffering, since all living things strive to survive through the satisfaction of their needs and desires, which ultimately form the will or the will-to-live, as he called it.
For Schopenhauer the main problem is that we live in the world of representation and we aren’t aware of the will, which ultimately helps us to understand that we are all one. If we are all one, then being compassionate is the least we can do to overcome conflict in this world.
Schopenhauer argued that the ultimate goal of human existence is to overcome the will, or at least be aware of it, and achieve a state of pure consciousness.
Art is one of the few ways that humans can temporarily escape the will and thus the suffering of the world. Art makes us reach a middle ground between representation and will.
Schopenhauer’s moral goal is to mitigate suffering by reducing one’s attachment to the will and cultivating a sense of compassion for all living beings.
I believe we all need some Schopenhauer in order to comprehend that we are all one and that we are all motivated by our own impulses that can ultimately lead to disaster.
Recognizing that desires and emotions come from the same underlying force, namely the will. We can begin to understand that we are all part of the will and that the world is will; even if our impulses are products of subjective experience that may at first appear to be very different from one another.
If this caught your interest, continue reading below.
Hegel, Kant and Schopenhauer
I am a big fan of Hegel’s philosophy, but we must acknowledge that his concepts can be idealistic; his philosophy is considered German idealism for a reason. I believe that in order to truly understand something, one must also delve deeply into its opposite, which is why I’d like to talk about Arthur Schopenhauer today, another German philosopher whose ideas were completely opposed to Hegel’s.
As we learned in a previous post, Hegel believed in the absolute idea, which is the realization of absolute knowledge through reason.
In fact, Hegel came to this idea by studying Kant’s transcendental idealism, which is worth explaining so that we can better understand Schopenhauer.
Kant was a type of “rationalist” within the realm of experience, which was unique.
Rationalist, meaning that he believed that reason was the best way to know the truth, as opposed to empiricists, who believed that our senses and experiences were the only way to know reality. It is important to note, however, that Kant’s intention was to resolve the debate between empiricists and rationalists, and ended up claiming that we are constrained by our senses anyway, and that we cannot know “things-in-themselves”, but that despite this, we can achieve “objective knowledge” within the realm of phenomena or appearances.
Returning to Hegel, he believed that humanity could not be trapped in this world of appearances, and that we must instead realize the absolute idea in order to overcome these limits. In other words, the thing Kant thought had limitations, namely reason, since it cannot grasp things as they are, is actually the way to absolute knowledge. Reason, in the end, can comprehend the entirety of existence, encompassing both appearance and essence. For Hegel, reason is capable of grasping the underlying contradictions until it resolves the complexities of reality, rather than being limited to empirical observation or abstract concepts.
Now that we understand the levels of optimism of previous philosophers, and that Kant said that “objective reality” cannot exist if there is no subject to perceive it — in other words, that we can never truly know the world as it is since we make reality with our minds using concepts — we can now get into Schopenhauer’s worldview.
Schopenhauer’s Worldview as Will and Representation
If we were to rank our philosopher guests, we could say that Hegel is the most idealistic, following Kant and his belief in absolute knowledge within the realm of experience, followed by our special guest today, Schopenhauer, who believed that we could never know the world as it is, not even within appearances.
Really? Yes. For Schopenhauer, the world is merely subjective and varies from person to person. He believed that the way we know the world is through our subjective experiences, which all stem from the same underlying force he called “will.” This means that our desires, emotions, and experiences shape the way we perceive and understand the world around us.
In order to make sense of the world, we use our rational faculties to create mental representations of it, which he called “representation.” This is actually how Kant outlines how we “objectivize” the universe by using concepts of space, time, and causality.
If we put those worlds together, we can say that he believed that our subjective experiences, the will, are what shapes our understanding of the world, but in order to make sense of them, we use our rational faculties to create mental representations of them in the world of representation.
In other words, he saw the world through a dualistic lens, as if everything had an objective reality within reason and a subjective perspective beneath the surface.
For instance, music can be seen this way.
From an objective standpoint, music is simply a series of sound waves that can be measured and analyzed in terms of their frequency, amplitude, and so on. They could also be classified so that we know what genre they belong to.
On the other hand, from a subjective standpoint, music can be much more than just a collection of sound waves and categories. Music can be experienced in a deeply personal and emotional way, and our experience of it can be shaped by our desires, and even our mood, which differs from person to person.
Now that we know Schopenhauer’s dualistic view of the world, we might begin to wonder:
“Well, if everything in this world is will and representation, what about my body?”
If I see my body in this way, with this double knowledge, it means that I see it as an object as well as something subjective and unique. This leads to theoretical egoism, which Schopenhauer considered problematic. He knew it couldn’t be refuted, but was convinced it required a solution.
Schopenhauer solved this problem by claiming that we should see the entire universe through the lens of will.
To quote Schopenhauer:
“…Further, it is free from all multiplicity, although its manifestations in time and space are innumerable. It is itself one, though not in the sense in which an object is one, for the unity of an object can only be known in opposition to a possible multiplicity; nor yet in the sense in which a concept is one, for the unity of a concept originates only in abstraction from a multiplicity; but it is one as that which lies outside time and space, the principium individuationis, i.e., the possibility of multiplicity…” -Schopenhauer
“… lies outside time and space.”
Will is then timeless and spaceless for him. But what precisely is it? What is will?
Schopenhauer saw the will as a blind, aimless and restless force that drove all living beings. This will is present in all nature, driving the constant struggle for existence among all organisms.
The will, according to Schopenhauer, was also the root of all pain. Suffering, he argued, was not only a part of the human experience, but was a fundamental component of the need to survive. All living organisms, whether aware of it or not, suffer as they try to survive and preserve their species. As for the case of humans, even if we are successful in fulfilling our desires, we either submit to the aching state of boredom or we acquire new desires, and begin a new cycle. Schopenhauer therefore believed that existence is suffering.
Romantic, isn’t it?
This point of view is similar to Spinoza’s conatus, which claims that everything that exists lives for as long as it possibly can and that the only way it ceases to exist is due to an external force that limits it from existing. We could add the battle to survive and exist in order to meet our needs and desires, and conclude that Schopenhauer’s suffering comes from this. He referred to this as the will-to-live.
We now know that will is suffering. But, why is it everywhere at once when it seems so different for each of us?
If we say will is timeless and spaceless, it means we cannot grasp it. The will is different for everyone, but it is everywhere at the same time. It is not something we have control over, but rather something that dominates us, and is at the root of all acts and motivations in the world.
The problem is then that we live in the world of representation, the world as an idea. This separates us in terms of space, time, causality, and so on. This creates conflict, our “objective reality” is problematic in nature, whereas will is one and it’s everywhere.
The will is then, the “thing-in-itself” for Schopenhauer. Desires, emotions and experiences are the core of all reality. We cannot access our world within reason like Hegel or Kant claimed, because all that is, is will.
Before we use reason, we feel, before we analyze, we suffer, and even if we try to avoid these aspects of the will, they arise involuntarily. The will is then our underlying reality.
If we recognize that we are all will, Schopenhauer’s metaphysics become simple. In his eyes, we and the rest of reality are one entity. The universe as representation is then merely a vehicle for the will to objectivize itself, thereby dividing us.
Platonic Ideas, The Sufficient Reason and Aesthetic Contemplation
Now that we know that will is our underlying reality. We can explain what the Platonic ideas and the concept of sufficient reason mean for Schopenhauer. These two concepts can help us understand the relationship between the world of appearances and the will.
The phenomenal world is formed by the forms of the principle of sufficient reason, which means that everything we perceive in this world has a rational explanation or cause and can be viewed in terms of space, time, and causality.
Remember our music example?
When we contemplate art, we forget about the suffering of existence and feel liberated from ourselves. We put an end to all pain and desires.
In other words, through aesthetic experience, we forget about our individual will, because we stop to see the world as a mere representation. Instead, perception takes over and concentrates on the interpretation of an idea, pulling us away from how we view things on a daily basis, through space, time, and causality, which, recall, divide us from one another. This provides us with some insight into what Schopenhauer calls the Platonic ideas.
For context, Plato has a concept called the world of forms that is inaccessible to us and distinct from the appearances we observe. For example, every dog we see is created from the idea, the form of the original dog in the world of forms, along with all of the ingredients that make that element a dog. Every dog is then created from this mold of the original dog, and the more this dog looks like the original form of a dog, the more “perfect” or “beautiful” it is.
For Schopenhauer, the Platonic ideas are thus levels of objectification in which the nature of the underlying will, the thing-in-itself, manifests, and while they are beyond the scope of pure human experience, since they are timeless and spaceless, they are conceptions that represent the closest we can come to knowing the reality of the will through perception.
These ideas are central to Schopenhauer’s metaphysics. Because, as previously said, they are will that has not been objectified and hence are not part of the world of representation, but rather a middle ground between representation and will.
The Platonic Ideas are thus a means for us to gain some insight into the reality of the underlying will through immersion in art, as well as ways for us to temporarily stop our suffering, which has the form of impulses, struggles and desires.
In fact, Schopenhauer loved music, claiming that it revealed the underlying will in its most direct and pure form. When we think about it, music is not a copy of anything in the realm of representation; it is not subject to the principle of sufficient reason; instead, it simply contains the underlying will itself.
The Assertion and Denial of the Will
As we have seen in Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, the will is everywhere, we are all one, and the will is the cause of all suffering.
This means that in order to live peacefully and avoid conflict one must have compassion, since we are all one.
If I hurt you, I am hurting myself, if I hurt my environment, I am hurting my own essence, if I betray you, I am betraying myself. For Schopenhauer, we should not be selfish, but rather have empathy.
Knowing the will is then having compassion. Being aware of the will is having empathy.
However, it is important to note that there is an extreme case that arises from denying the will altogether rather than simply being aware of it. This concept is called asceticism, and it arises when we are so self-aware of the will that we deny it in order to avoid suffering.
As we saw earlier, the will-to-live pushes us to fulfill our desires and pleasures, and by realizing them, we become a part of the suffering of the world. For Schopenhauer then the only way to escape this cycle of suffering is to renounce our desires and pursue a life of self-denial and discipline. A way of life where one does nothing for pleasure.
Isn’t it exciting? It appears to be something that may be applied to our daily lives in our consumerist society. A complete denial of hedonism and consumerism. It sounds like the trend we see nowadays on YouTube, the idea of “The Monk Mode.”
With this in mind, Schopenhauer recognized that asceticism is difficult to practice since it needs a strong will to resist one’s impulses and instincts. He saw it as a means of transcending individual will and achieving a level of inner serenity and enlightenment that only a few people could accomplish. Monks, for instance.
He went on to say that compassion would need to be the most important part of ethical behavior for the average person. He believed that showing compassion to others may help people recognize the suffering that is inherent in life, leading to a sense of empathy and universal compassion, as well as a sense of the will that rules the world. However, despite seeing compassion as an important moral principle for ordinary people, he still insisted that those seeking ultimate spiritual enlightenment must also practice asceticism if possible.
In a nutshell, Schopenhauer’s moral goal is to mitigate suffering by reducing one’s attachment to the will and cultivating a sense of compassion for all living beings.
We might believe that more Hegel is needed in today’s world of contradictions and extremes. We might believe that we require his ideas to shape our problems in order find solutions.
However, I believe we all need some Schopenhauer as well in order to comprehend that we are all one and that we are all motivated by our own impulses that can ultimately lead to disaster.
Recognizing that these impulses come from the same underlying force, namely the will. We can begin to understand that we are all part of the will and that the world is will; even if our impulses are products of subjective experience that may at first appear to be very different from one another.
Accepting the existence of the will is therefore the first step to resolve our conflicts, and make this world a better place.
Before we wrap up this post, there is an interesting fact to know.
You may have felt that Schopenhauer’s philosophy has some esoteric aspects, and you would be surprised to know that we can find similarities between his ideas and Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths. These similarities are centered on the concepts that life is suffering, that suffering is produced by desire, and that desire’s elimination leads to liberation. However, we can only find three of those four truths in his philosophy that correspond to his concept of the will and what it means.
Schopenhauer, A. (2011). The World As Will and Representation. Dover Publications.
B. M. (n.d.). Schopenhauer and Buddhism" by Bryan Magee. JSTOR. https://www.jstor.org/stable/1399616
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