The World as Will and Idea: Abridged in 1 Vol

Author: Arthur Schopenhauer

ISBN: 9780460875059
Pages: 336
Description: “The world is my idea:”


And so with these words Schopenhauer begins his magnum opus with one of the most provocative opening lines in all of literature. He continues, “a truth which holds good for every thing that lives and knows,… [Man] knows not a sun, and not an earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels an earth; that the world which surrounds him exists only as idea–that is, only in relation to something else, the one who conceives the idea, which is himself.”

The whole of Schopenhauer’s philosophy is contained in these lines. The book that follows works to undo the assumptions the reader brings to them–primarily those surrounding “himself”. Read:

“We never know it [the subject], but wherever anything is known, it is the knower.”

“however immeasurable and massive this world may be, its existence hangs nonetheless by a single thread: that is, the actual consciousness in which it exists.”

“The world’s existence is irrevocably subject to this condition, and this brands it, in spite of all empirical reality, with the stamp of ideality and therefore of mere phenomenal appearance. As a result, the world must be recognized, at least from this aspect, as akin to dreaming,”

“inference from sensation to its cause which, as I have repeatedly pointed out, lies at the foundation of all sense perception, is certainly sufficient to signal for us the empirical presence in space and time of an empirical object, and is therefore quite enough for the practical purposes of life; but it is by no means sufficient to afford us any conclusion as to the existence and real nature, or rather as to the intelligible substratum, of the phenomena which in this way arise for us.”

Just as I’ve already suggested, so Schopenhauer himself reiterates throughout: “There is, indeed, just one thought which forms the content of this whole work.” And indeed this is just as much the case as it is the crux. The very pervasive difficulty is in trying to understand something that is impossible to understand from the way we are conditioned to know the world–which is under the forms of time and space. For Schopenhauer’s will lies outside of time and space, outside of cause and effect, outside of change and fate–all of which is mostly impossibly for us to completely comprehend.

Hence accusations of contradictions. But of course Schopenhauer presupposes such, and, just as he, through this work, fixates his reader in an exercise of understanding something that is near-impossible to understand, he also reconciles not only his own seeming contradictions but more ubiquitous ones such as that between fate and free-will. And this–you may have guessed–he does by incessantly hashing out the relationship between will and idea. In a very generalized nutshell such reconciliations are an insistence that certain dualisms are the same thing looked at from different perspectives.

–The will is infinite, timeless, spaceless, absolute, free. It is the eternal all-knowing knower.

Idea, being the manifestation of the will, is also infinite and yet exists only temporally, spacially; it exists only in condition, and is completely fated. Inside of it, each of us is only the will itself inside of time and space–i.e. the will seeing itself from a limited perspective, which, for being limited, draws it/us into the delusion of individuation or plurality.

“in the case of such beings as have knowledge,…the individual is the support of the knowing subject, and the knowing subject is the support of the world.”

The mystery in this equation can be somewhat lightened by ruminating on the concept of infinity or as Schopenhauer puts it:

“life has infinite time and infinite space to erase the distinction between the possible and the actual,”

Likewise, Schopenhauer’s uncanny sensitivity allows him to shed light on the foundations of human error:

“It is an error great as it is common that the most frequent, most universal and simplest phenomena are those that we best understand;”

He very elegantly and succinctly sums up man’s tragic penchant to assume and forget:

“Men quietly resign themselves to starting from mere qualitates occultae which they had given up trying to elucidate because they intended to build on them, not excavate beneath them.”

In all my limited investigation, I’ve never found a more compelling account of the cosmos. I sympathize with Borges’ regret and joy in the fact that he wouldn’t ever write an account of his worldview because Schopenhauer had already done it for him. Although it should be said that the fact that much of what Schopenhauer himself said had long existed in eastern metaphysics–primarily Buddhist and Hinduist–didn’t suffice to prevent him from writing his. And so we are the benefactors of this stubbornness. For, a large part of the thrill is to have both the rigor of a western style delineation and the–at least partial–validation that is the historic force of an ancient spiritual practice. This is not to say that the equating of any kind of western philosophy with an eastern spiritual tradition–or vice versa–proves its truth, but for those who recognize for themselves an experiential, non-dogmatic truth in one or another, it is rather exhilarating to jump over onto a parallel wire and see this truth from a different and uniquely established perspective.

“If we lose ourselves in contemplation of the infinite greatness of the universe in space and time, meditate on the the millennia of years that have passed and are yet to come, or if the night-sky actually brings before our eyes countless worlds, and so forces upon our consciousness the immensity of the universe, we feel ourselves reduced to nothing; as individuals, as bodies vitalised, as transient phenomena of will, we feel ourselves like drops in the ocean, dwindle and disperse into the void. But against this spectre of our own futility, against such mendacious impossibility, there rises up at once the immediate consciousness that all these worlds exist only in our ideation, only as modifications of the eternal subject of pure knowing, which we find ourselves to be as soon as we forget our individuality, and which is the necessary support of all worlds and all eras, and the condition of their existence. The vastness of the world which previously troubled us, now rests in us; our dependence on it is cancelled by its dependence on us.”

A brief note on this particular book (Everyman):
– It’s abridged. I never thought I’d read an abridged book much less defend one. Now that I’ve done the former–having been tricked in part by the fact that its abridgement goes slyly unmentioned on any part of the book’s exterior–I will do the latter. According to the editor, the hundreds of pages of lanced-off prose is mostly “digressions in which Schopenhauer excoriates his philosophical opponents.” Though I’m one who finds these excoriations highly entertaining, I count myself fortunate in being tricked into imbibing this more concentrated version in my major introduction to Schopenhauer’s own words. Tangents and references to unfamiliar thought, however entertaining, would have only weakened the understanding I ultimately gained.
– Translation. You’ll notice other Schopenhauer books titled, The World as Will and Representation, and The World as Will and Presentation, and perhaps wonder whether he is making some rather fine distinction each by writing an entire separate book. Worry not (Or should I say, ‘worry’?); these are merely translations of the same. I don’t necessarily have a pony in this race, yet–I plan to read them all–but I’ll say that the translator makes some very strong and salient points for the case of ‘idea’, most notably the hard-to-argue-with point that Schopenhauer himself, when translating Kant into English, used ‘idea’ for the German Vorstellung.
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