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Published in 1819, The World as Will and Representation, sometimes translated as The World as Will and Idea (original German title: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung), is the central work of Arthur Schopenhauer.

Relationship to earlier philosophical work

The main body of the work states at the beginning that it assumes prior knowledge of Immanuel Kant's theories, 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 Criticism of the Kantian Philosophy in which Schopenhauer rejects most of Kant's ethics and significant parts of his epistemology and aesthetics.

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 that 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 also 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.

Many of the views articulated in Will and Representation are also closely related to those of Spinoza and Leibniz, but Schopenhauer rarely remarks on the influence of these thinkers.

Development of the work

The development of Schopenhauer's ideas took place very early in his career 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 volume which consisted of clarifications to and additional reflections on the first. His views did not change substantially.


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".


He used the word representation (Vorstellung) to signify the mental idea or image of any object that is experienced as being external to the mind. It is sometimes translated as idea or presentation. This concept includes the representation of the observing subject's own body. Schopenhauer called the subject's own body the immediate object because it is in the closest proximity to the mind, which is located in the brain.

Epistemology (Vol. 1, Book 1)

As was mentioned above, Schopenhauer's notion of the will comes from the Kantian things-in-itself, which Kant believed to be the fundamental reality behind the representation which 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 (Vol. 1, Book 2)

In Book Two, 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 animals and humans. 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 (Vol. 1, 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 which 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 those which depicted nude women or prepared food as these sorts of depictions tend to stimulate desire, and thus hinder the viewer from having 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 copy of the will.

Ethics (Vol. 1, 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. This is similar to Nietzsche's account of "master" and "slave" morality.

According to Schopenhauer, the Will (that is, the great Will which 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 sects of Catholicism. He expressed contempt for Protestantism, Judaism, and Islam, which he saw as optimistic, devoid of metaphysics and cruel to animals. However, he viewed the Bible and a great deal of other religious literature as containing a great deal of truth below the surface. For instance, Schopenhauer noted that virtually all religions have a concept of eternal justice; that is, an ultimate cosmic justice that can be seen in the universe by expanding the realm of consideration beyond the life of a single individual. 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.

The ultimate conclusion is that one can have a tolerable life not by complete elimination of desire, as in Buddhism, since this would lead to boredom, but by becoming a detached observer of one's own will and being constantly aware that most of one's desires will remain unfulfilled.

Criticism of the Kantian Philosophy (Vol. 1, Appendix)

At the end of Book 4, Schopenhauer appended a thorough discussion of the merits and faults of Kant's philosophy. Schopenhauer's criticism of the Kantian philosophy asserted that Kant's greatest error was the failure to distinguish between intuitive knowledge and conceptual, verbal knowledge.

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. While this has been much improved on since, his honesty on the subject is unusual for the time and the central role of sexuality in human life is now widely accepted. 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; unfortunately for Schopenhauer, there has been no evidence in the science of genetics to back up his claims (nor to specifically deny them). The second volume also contain what many readers view as attacks on contemporary philosophers such as Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.

The contents of Volume II are as follows.

Supplements to the First Book

First Half

The Doctrine of the Representation of Perception Through § 1 – 7 of

Volume I


I. On the Fundamental View of Idealism

II. On the Doctrine of Knowledge of Perception or Knowledge of the


III. On the Senses

IV. On Knowledge a Priori

Second Half

The Doctrine of the Abstract Representation or of Thinking


V. On the Intellect Devoid of Reason

VI. On the Doctrine of Abstract Knowledge, or Knowledge of Reason

VII. On the Relation of Knowledge of Perception to Abstract Knowledge

VIII. On the Theory of the Ludicrous

IX. On Logic in General

X. On the Science of Syllogisms

XI. On Rhetoric

XII. On the Doctrine of Science

XIII. On the Methods of Mathematics

XIV. On the Association of Ideas

XV. On the Essential Imperfections of the Intellect

XVI. On the Practical Use of Our Reason and on Stoicism

XVII. On Man's Need for Metaphysics

Supplements to the Second Book


XVIII. On the Possibility of Knowing the Thing-in-Itself

XIX. On the Primacy of the Will in Self-Consciousness

XX. Objectification of the Will in the Animal Organism

XXI. Retrospect and More General Consideration

XXII. Objective View of the Intellect

XXIII. On the objectification of the Will in Nature without Knowledge

XXIV. On Matter

XXV. Transcendent Considerations on the Will as Thing-in-Itself

XXVI. On Teleology

XXVII. On Instinct and Mechanical Tendency

XXVIII. Characterization of the Will-to-Live

Supplements to the Third Book


XXIX. On Knowledge of the Ideas

XXX. On the Pure Subject of Knowing

XXXI. On Genius

XXXII. On Madness

XXXIII. Isolated Remarks on Natural Beauty

XXXIV. On the Inner Nature of Art

XXXV. On the Aesthetics of Architecture

XXXVI. Isolated Remarks on the Aesthetics of the Plastic and Pictorial Arts

XXXVII. On the Aesthetics of Poetry

XXXVIII. On History

XXXIX. On the Metaphysics of Music

Supplements to the Fourth Book


XL. Preface

XLI. On Death and Its Relation to the Indestructibility of Our Inner nature

XLII. Life of the Species

XLIII. The Hereditary Nature of Qualities

XLIV. The Metaphysics of Sexual Love

Appendix to the Preceding Chapter

XLV. On the Affirmation of the Will-to-Live

XLVI. On the Vanity and Suffering of Life

XLVII. On Ethics

XLVIII. On the Doctrine of the Denial of the Will-to-Live

XLIX. The Road to Salvation

L. Epiphilosophy


The value of this work is much disputed. Some rank Schopenhauer as one of the most original and inspiring of all philosophers, whilst others see him as inconsistent and too pessimistic. Whilst his name is less well known outside Germany, he has had a huge impact on psychoanalysis and the works of 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. Nietzsche, Popper, Tolstoy, and the composer Richard Wagner were all strongly influenced by his work.

Schopenhauer's discussion of language was a major influence on Ludwig Wittgenstein.

He was the first philosopher to explicitly call himself an atheist (Hume only ever confessed to being agnostic). However, many interpreters see his account of the Will as closely resembling classic examples of pantheism, especially as propounded by Upnishads and Vedanta philosophy. Schopenhauer even believed in the theory of evolution, before Darwin began to publish his work. His interest in Eastern philosophy brought new ideas to the West. 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. The Animal Liberation Front commends him on their website[1].


  • Kant saw inner-sense as subject to time. Schopenhauer was thus violating Kant's laws when he said that the thing-in-itself could be known through inner-experience.
  • The concepts of time and space in the work have since been supplanted by the concept of spacetime.
  • The will is seen as blind and chaotic, yet it manifests itself in teleological nature, in the phenomenal realm. To explain this, Schopenhauer employs Plato's Ideas as an intermediary, but many believe that his explanation of their place in his overall ontology is ad hoc and poorly motivated.
  • Schopenhauer's view on suicide is widely misunderstood and ridiculed. It seems to have been taken from Buddhist teachings on the subject, yet Schopenhauer did not believe in thorough-going reincarnation. To many, it seems to be of little importance to the man that has committed suicide and left the horrors of the world behind that the Will lives on afterwards.
  • He contradicts himself over asceticism. At times, he says that it involves the most terrible pain, yet he also says that it leads to a cheerfulness that contrasts with the restless suffering of those that still will. Also, he mentions accounts of ascetics feeding themselves to crocodiles and being buried alive as examples of the denial of the will, but then says that the only form of suicide that involves a denial of the will comes from starvation.
  • Perhaps the strongest criticism for most people is that Schopenhauer preached asceticism as the answer to the problems of the world, yet made no attempt to practice what he preached. He conserved his money stringently, ate at fancy restaurants and had more than one affair. He wrote, "In general, it is a strange demand on a moralist that he should commend no other virtue than that which he himself possesses." (The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, § 68) However, some accounts of his life in philosophy dictionaries tend to pay a great deal of attention to his private life and exaggerate parts. Bertrand Russell produced a very derogatory article on Schopenhauer in this tone. The infamous story of him throwing a woman down a stairs is often told without mentioning the provocation he received beforehand or the possibility of deception on her part. Another point on this subject, is Schopenhauer's own claim that his ethical theories are purely descriptive rather than prescriptive. If this is to be taken seriously, then he does not "preach" any "practice," but merely describes the manner in which human beings behave.
  • Schopenhauer's understanding of Hinduism is a popular misconception. The concept "Thou art That" suggests not negation, but assimilation (of the individual with the whole).


See also

  • Schopenhauer's criticism of the Kantian philosophy
  • On the Freedom of the Will
  • Schopenhauer's criticism of the proofs of the Parallel Postulate
  • Schopenhauer's criticism of Kant's schemata

External Links

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