The World as Will and Representation  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

Jump to: navigation, search

""THE world is my idea":— this is a truth which holds good for everything that lives and knows, though man alone can bring it into reflective and abstract consciousness. If he really does this, he has attained to philosophical wisdom. It then becomes clear and certain to him that what he knows is not a sun and an earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels an earth; that the world which surrounds him is there only as idea, i.e., only in relation to something else, the consciousness, which is himself. If any truth can be asserted a priori, it is this: for it is the expression of the most general form of all possible and thinkable experience: a form which is more general than time, or space, or causality, for they all presuppose it; and each of these, which we have seen to be just so many modes of the principle of sufficient reason, is valid only for a particular class of ideas; whereas the antithesis of object and subject is the common form of all these classes, is that form under which alone any idea of whatever kind it may be, abstract or intuitive, pure or empirical, is possible and thinkable. No truth therefore is more certain, more independent of all others, and less in need of proof than this, that all that exists for knowledge, and therefore this whole world, is only object in relation to subject/perception of a perceiver, in a word, idea. This is obviously true of the past and the future, as well as of the present, of what is farthest off, as of what is near; for it is true of time and space themselves, in which alone these distinctions arise. All that in any way belongs or can belong to the world is inevitably thus conditioned through the subject, and exists only for the subject. The world is idea." --incipit The World as Will and Representation (1818-1859) by Arthur Schopenhauer

"essential to all life is suffering"[1]

In tristitia hilaris, in hilaritate tristis[2]

Related e



The World as Will and Representation (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung) is the central work of the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. The first edition was published in December 1818, and the second expanded edition in 1844. It features the essay "The Metaphysics of Sexual Love".


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) and a three volume translation by R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, titled The World as Will and Idea, appeared already in 1883-1886, 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 (paperback editions in 1966 and 1969). A later English translation by Richard E. Aquila in collaboration with David Carus is titled The World as Will and Presentation (2008).

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.


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 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 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 (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 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 (Vol. 1, Book 3)

Schopenhauer's aesthetics

"We might, therefore, just as well call the world embodied music as embodied will" ("Man könnte demnach die Welt ebenso wohl verkörperte Musik, als verkörperten Willen nennen")

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 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.

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 sects of 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.

The ultimate conclusion is that one can have a tolerable life not by complete elimination of desire, 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 perceptual, intuitive knowledge and conceptual, discursive knowledge. 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. 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. The second volume also contains 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 Understanding
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, while others see him as inconsistent and too pessimistic. While his name is less well known outside Germany, he has had a huge effect 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, Wittgenstein, Tolstoy, Jung, Borges, D.H. Lawrence, Camus, Beckett, Mahler and 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 discussion of language was a major influence on Ludwig Wittgenstein.

Many interpreters see Schopenhauer's account of the Will as closely resembling classic examples of Monism, especially as propounded by Upanishads and Vedanta philosophy. 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. In contrast to what Darwin discovered, however, he saw species as fixed. 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.

Full text

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "The World as Will and Representation" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools