The fourth book, regarding ethics in general and particular context, is the “most serious” discussion, largely because it is the most relevant for everyone. However, Schopenhauer is perceptive enough to recognize how ineffective systems of morals are in the production of virtuous folk, just as poorly as aesthetic theories are incapable of generating geniuses in art. Consequently, “philosophy can never do more than interpret and explain what is present… “ (WWR, p 271 § 53) The only true method of philosophy asks about the what – instead of the whence, the whither, or the why – what lies beyond phenomena, beyond the PSR, what is the inner nature of the world. (P 274)
Schopenhauer then launches into a discussion about time according to phenomena and explains how the “now” is the only actual aspect of temporal existence while the past and the future are mere phantasms. Like Epicurus, but with a more sophisticated argument, Schopenhauer argues against death as a source of anguish. While the idea of death inspires a holy terror in most people, if we realize that only the “now” matters – because the present is the only true form of the phenomenon of the will – then we can dismiss death as a “false illusion” and an “impotent specter” and both the past and the future are “empty mirages.” (P. 284) The fear of death relies on our anticipation of the future, and the future is an aspect of time. Death concerns us only as individuals, and since our existence as individuals is only an illusion from the world of appearance, therefore, death has no ultimate reality.
If the phenomenon is completely conditioned by the PSR, which entails necessity, then the will as the thing in itself is utterly free. But the freedom of the will as thing-in-itself cannot and does not extend directly to phenomena, and especially not in the highest grade of phenomena – man – for he is already conditioned by the form of all phenomena, the PSR. We consider ourselves a priori free, once we consider the number of potential choices available to us, but only after experience and reflection, a posteriori, that our action does follow our character and motives with necessity. (WWR p. 289)
The appearance of freedom of individual action comes from the p.o.v. of the intellect. the intellect knows the conclusions of the will after the fact, empirically. In other words, the intellect cannot predict the choices of the will. Rational deliberation takes place once a hypothetical situation is entertained, and oftentimes promotes a solution, but direct inclination usually leans towards another solution, and always overpowers rational deliberation once the opportunity of action actually arises. The intellect can only meditate between the possible solutions, and then it passively awaits the true decision of the will. From the view of the intellect, both choices are equally possible, and this potentiality inspires the appearance of the empirical freedom of the individual. Nevertheless, since the will is inscrutable and impenetrable, the intellect, which is little more than the examination of the motives of different point of views, cannot determine the will.
The assertion of an empirical freedom of will depends on the presumption that man’s inner nature is a knowing and abstract thinking entity, and consequently, this abstracta becomes a willing subject. Nevertheless, Schopenhauer thinks the will is the primary and original aspect, and knowledge is the byproduct of the phenomenon of will – just an instrument. Then people are what they are according to their will, and they learn of themselves only through experience, experiencing what they are, and they discover their character after the fact. For the free will advocates, the individual wills what s/he knows, but for Schopenhauer, s/he knows what s/he wills. (WWR, p 293) Motives, however, can influence character through knowledge, and that is how a person’s manner can change while his character remains the same. Motives can influence the will, alter its direction, but not change the will. Therefore, pace Seneca, willing cannot be taught, and always remains inscrutable. Motives themselves are concepts, abstract representations of reason, and through the conflict of several motives, the strongest emerges and determines the will with necessity.
Schopenhauer also notes that the ability to discern motives, deliberation, is precisely not only what distinguishes the human from the animal; it is also what makes human existence much more agonizing and tortuous than the animal. The greatest suffering isn’t limited to the immediate present as representations of perception, but as abstract concepts that haunt thoughts and cause mental anguish and suffering. The animal has no such troubles for it lives in the present.
After elaborating on the intellect and the empirical character, Schopenhauer begins analyzing the third aspect of human behavior, acquired character, which is social – something articulated only within society – where someone is praised for having character or condemned for lacking any. But the acquired character is not like the empirical for it isn’t unalterable or consistent. From the second book, where the will is described as a ceaselessly striving universal force, doubly omnipotent and omnipresent, and in human beings, the will underlies everything – actions, desire, beliefs, etc. The foundation of all willing is need, lack and once something is deficient or found to be dissatisfactory, striving ensues, and as long as this striving desire isn’t satisfied, this is suffering; otherwise, the achievement of the goal is called satisfaction. But since satisfaction is always temporary, finite, and always yields to a new desire, then there is no final resolution of desire, no ultimate goal, and suffering is ineradicable. Therefore, all life is essentially suffering. (WWR, § 56 p310)
Even though from birth, life is a “continual rushing of the present into the dead past,” (WWR, § 57 p.311) human beings live vicariously, just as much as a soap bubble is blown as large as possible, with the full knowledge that it will pop. To will is always to desire, and in extreme cases, to desire the perfect satisfaction is a matter of delusion. Both excessive joy and extreme pain are erroneous, delusions, for they are the anticipation of the future, but pain is essential to life – excessive joy comes from the belief that permanent satisfaction of the desires has been achieved, inasmuch the nadir of sorrow comes from the vanishing of such potential ‘perfect’ satisfaction. Schopenhauer, along with the stoics, suggests equanimity whether the situation is horribly adverse or exceedingly fortuitous.
All happiness is essentially negative, for satisfaction is merely the absence of desire (WWR § 58 p. 319) for gratification delivers us from a particular desire. Which indicates that suffering is the immediately given, the positive aspect of willing. Schopenhauer points out that the great poems illustrate a struggle for unattainable happiness, and even once the hero, in the epic poem, actually achieves his monumental goal, happiness remains elusive and he remains no better off than before. In other words, true happiness, because it is impossible, cannot ever be the true object of art.
There are three extremes of human life, Schopenhauer notes: the great passions, found in the historical characters that populate epics and drama, the life of genius, those who achieve pure knowing and comprehend the Ideas by emancipating knowledge from its slavery to the will, and the empty longing of the bored. People, at very rare times, if ever, do find themselves close to one of the aforementioned extremes but rush back to the average everydayness of life. (P 321)
When observing an individual’s life in its entirety, at a distance, it becomes a tragedy, and up close where the trivial facts are magnified, it is a comedy. (WWR, § 58, p 322) As for the self-conscious person reflecting upon him/herself, Schopenhauer adds that “as if fate wished to add mockery to the misery of our existence our life must contain all the woes of tragedy, and yet we cannot even assert the dignity of tragic characters, but.. Are inevitably the foolish characters of a comedy.” (p. 322)
That life is essentially suffering is reflected in the great work of Dante Alleghri, Inferno, where he easily acquires material for his description of hell. Unsurprisingly, when it came to heaven, Dante found the attempt far too difficult: for there is no Paradise anywhere in existence. Instead, Dante fell back on the attempts of other saints and offered a botched composite.
Schopenhauer also goes after optimism, and found it a “wicked way of thinking, a bitter mockery of the unspeakable sufferings of mankind.” (WWR, § 59, p.326) While it is true that entropy is irreversible, that nothing lasts forever, people live as if they will never die. Schopenhauer is remorseless when he insists the true and sole hope of humanity is to achieve the insight that existence, as an individual, is worthless. Despite being an atheist, Schopenhauer recognized the truth of the major religions (Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism) that ordinary existence is overrated, that their ascetic practices actually denies the purposeless will by stifling the desires and needs of the body. The ascetic is just one step away from self-renunciation, which is actually a more powerful version of the aesthetic experience that serves as a repose from the will. Once the tyranny of the desires of individuality is abandoned then one gains a viewpoint on the world that recognizes the fundamental unity between the subject and the external world.
“The double sided world is the striving of the will to become conscious of itself so that, recoiling in horror at its inner, self divisive nature, it may annul itself and thereby its self affirmation and then reach salvation.” (John Atwell)
Prosaically stated, cognitive self-awareness turns into self-destruction.
The first and most basic/primary affirmation of the will to live is the affirmation of the physical body, where the will manifests itself through action. (WWR § 62 p 334) It follows that the principle morality of the majority is egoism, for their will to live predetermines the choices they make and conditions the actions. The concept of what is wrong describes when the individual extend the affirmation of his will far enough that it becomes the denial of the will in others. What is “right” is merely the negation of “wrong,” which is original and positive. Ergo, what is right is merely the lack of denying another’s will for the sake of the affirmation of one’s own will. (WWR § 62 p339)
Temporal justice resides in the state, or precisely within its power of punishment, and is intended to prevent such actions from recurring in the future. The conception of retaliation implies time, and so, temporal justice is fundamentally concerned with the future. On the other hand, eternal justice is free from human institutions, free from chance or change, and “infallible, firm and certain.” (WWR § 63 p 350)
A person who lives in the moment, utterly within the folds of the veil of Maya, sees only phenomena, individual and particular objects, innumerable dichotomies: pleasure is distinct from pain, the murderer is distinguished from the victim, yet the person seeks justice or retribution. Mired within Maya, the superficial person, a prisoner of the will, is incapable of realizing that wickedness is actually an aspect of the will to live, for s/he thinks such evil must be opposed to nature. In other words, the veil of the Maya is the metaphysical underpinning of the principium individuationis, the principle of individuality.
Yet, at the bottom of his/her consciousness, there lies an “obscure presentiment” that there is a connection between him/her and everything else, and this very connection inspires a “dread,” a fateful terror that undermines their presumptuous individuality. Once the illusion of such temporal happiness and other temporary pleasures cracks and shatters, the global miseries and relentless suffering of life is grasped, and then the optimistic faith of redemption is finally exposed as a pretense, a very effective self-deception that is necessary for the will to live. Beneath the pretense, there are no dichotomies, for the will encompasses both pleasure and pain, both the sadist and the masochist, the tormentor and the prisoner, cause and effect, – for it “buries its teeth in its own flesh.” Schopenhauer notes the great insight of the Upanishads, where the formula for each individual is as follows: “tat tvam asi” (This art thou).
Eternal justice surpasses the temporal limitations of phenomena, the particular instances of suffering, far beyond all individuality. While it remains inaccessible for most people, myth can translate the profound truth of eternal justice into native language, within the bounds of the PSR, in the form of religious teachings, especially those of Vedas and Buddhism. Christian ethics, in particular, indicates a special class of knowledge consisting of virtue and nobleness where retaliation is conspicuously absent. It is worth noting that “eternal justice” is often misunderstood and falsified by the individual once s/he fails to realize that the offender and the offended are one, and instead, desires to return the pain of the offended to the guilty party. Yet Schopenhauer is careful to detect a distinction between common revenge and the mania of retaliation that also stakes the individual’s life with that of the perpetrator. The goal of common revenge aims at punishment in order to mitigate suffering, while the avenger goes far beyond self-love in order to prevent such outrageous acts from happening ever again. (WWR § 64)
Whatever is agreeable to the will and achieves its goals is considered as good. When something is taken as good, such as good food, good books, good weather, good people, we are indicating two things at once: agreeable, the immediate satisfaction of the will in each case, and useful, the delayed satisfaction that concerns the future. (WWR, § 65) When we call someone “just,” we are identifying a person who, in the affirmation of his will, never denies the will that manifests itself in another person. (WWR § 66)
On the other hand, we attribute detrimental objects as bad, and in abstract cases, evil, when that object detracts from the striving of the will. When a person goes too far in the affirmation of his/her own will to live by denying the will in other individuals, and demands their abilities to serve his/her will or else they will be eliminated, he is called “bad,” even though the source of such activity is egoism. The excess of affirming one’s own will to live and the slavish devotion to one’s own individuality that demarcates his/her own person from all others are “two fundamental elements of bad character.” (WWR § 65)
The wicked takes pleasure at the suffering of the others disinterestedly, and the extreme cases are instance of cruelty. The suffering of another is no longer a means to the ends of the malicious person, but an end in itself. Wickedness is similar to vengeance, but vengeance at least has the semblance of right, that if the same action of revenge is mandated by the law, and sanctioned by a society, then it would be just punishment.
Despite the omnipresence of the veil of Maya, guilt or the pangs of conscience take place because deep within the consciousness of the person, s/he knows that everything is one, and the distinction between the sufferer and the tormentor is a superficial one, even though space and time separate him/her from all other individuals. Guilt is an “inward alarm” of the wicked’s own actions, and contains a faint sentiment of the intensity of the will, of the potency of the death grip the wicked has on his own life, and, simultaneously, the recognition of the misery of the oppressed and that s/he remains a part of the same force that inflicts pain upon itself. The stronger the person’s affirmation of life, the further s/he is from the surrender and denial of that selfsame will.
The person who offers help, support, and approval is considered as good, and relatively so. Nevertheless, when a person has a character of benevolence, friendliness and charity, on account of their choice of conduct to the will of others, they are also called good as well. Yet Schopenhauer does not consider “absolute good” as anything but a contradiction, for it is the highest good, the final satisfaction of the will where, once achieved, no new willing takes place, for the satisfaction has become imperishable. Once the will is satisfied, the cycle of desire and satisfaction restarts, and craving begins anew, making the “absolute good” an impossible fantasy.
Schopenhauer insists that morality absent of reason is mere moralization, and persuades nobody. The only motivation comes from self-interest, but virtue never comes from such origins. Therefore, abstract knowledge can never produce authentic virtue. Faintly echoing Plato, the concept of virtue lacks the tangible effect of the intuitive knowledge, and virtue can never be taught. All abstract knowledge is capable of is identifying the motives, and perhaps redirect the will, but never the will itself.
The only possible means of virtue is the reorganization that the inner nature of all individuals are the same. That is why there is no difference between the pious inquisitor who burns the heretic and the assassin who earns his pay by killing a high profile target. People delude themselves with customs and dogmas as the chief reason behind their deeds, but good actions are exceedingly rare, for they do originate in a “direct and intuitive knowledge that cannot be… arrived at by reason.” (WWR § 66 p. 370) Here, Schopenhauer admits the limits of philosophy and claims that the concept can only express the conduct in the abstract, but never supply the intuitive knowledge itself. More interestingly, Schopenhauer shrewdly points out that since it isn’t necessary for a sculptor to be beautiful in order to create beautiful art, nor isn’t it necessary for the moralist to possess the very virtue he theorizes, and the philosopher doesn’t have to be a saint. I leave the ironic conclusion for the reader to draw him/herself.
Whereas the wicked is incapable of seeing past the distinction between himself and another, the altruist immediately recognizes that his individuality is a “fleeting, deceptive phantom” (WWR, § 66 p. 372) and intuitively knows that his essence (inner being) is the same as that of others, and extends this “essence” to all other living creatures. Thus, he will refrain from causing suffering to anyone, and forgo himself comfort and pleasures in order to alleviate the sufferings of others. The veil of Maya does not deceive the just, for he recognizes himself in every creature.
Good conscience is the satisfaction felt at the completion of a disinterested action, which takes place only with the recognition that one’s own inner being in itself is also another’s. If egoism merely limits the interests to the phenomenon of a particular individual, then shared inner being enlarges the interests to all living things, and nurtures a calm and serene perspective. The egoist will be suspicious of everything, and puts everything in one basket – his/her well-being – and constantly be anxious. Therefore, the direct path to salvation is the formula of the Veda – “this art thou!”
Love is essentially compassion and nothing else. The Italians call pure love pieta, which is also the word for sympathy. Unlike Kant, who claimed that all good and virtue originate in abstract reflection (duty and categorical imperative) compassion is the sincere participation in the other’s suffering and includes the disinterested sacrifices required. Schopenhauer distances himself from Kant when he argues moral laws are not independent of institutions and customs.
Schopenhauer defines “weeping” not as a positive instance of pain, but sympathy with ourselves, when we cry we are repeating the pain during reflection.
“Thus we pass from the felt pain, even when it is physical, to a mere mental picture …of it; then we find our own state so deserving of sympathy that, if another were the sufferer, we are firmly and sincerely convinced that we would be full of sympathy and love to help him.” (WWR § 67 p. 376)
The difference between the egoist who is wedded to the principium individuationis and the person who is aware of the inner nature of everything is that the former knows only particular objects and their relations to him/herself, and renews motives of his/her will, and the latter quiets the will by shuddering at the pleasures that affirms life and turns away. (WWR § 68 p. 379) Most of us desire the end of such suffering, but the veil of Maya is very potent, for its illusion of hopes and pleasure restarts the cycle of the will and traps us. Those of us who are no longer fooled by temporary reprieves will withdraw from the vicious circle and denies the inner nature of all things by becoming an ascetic. In this renunciation, the ascetic stops willing, resists bodily impulses of thirst, hunger, sex, avoid making new attachments, and becomes utterly indifferent to everything.
The first stage of asceticism is found in the Gospels, where we are commanded to love others as we love ourselves, return hatred with good actions, patience and the endurance of all insults and injuries without resistance. At the next stage, the Christian saints and mystics added complete resignation, voluntary poverty and utter indifference to all earthy matters, which will resolve in the annihilation of the will while in the throes of the contemplation of God. Meister Eckhart’s Theologia Germanica is a profound example of the denial of the will-to-live. However, a more sophisticated example is found in the Vedas, Puranas, and other poetical work of the Hindu literature where the love of others is extended to all life, resistance to animal food, and, among others, a “deep unbroken solitude spent in silent contemplation with voluntary penance and terrible slow self-torture for the complete mortification of the will…” (WWR § 68 p. 388)
That the biographies of the saints are full of conflicts, temptations, and failure should reflect the fact that their struggle with the will to live is a perpetual one, a constant wrestling match with the indefatigable force of the universe. Usually, these sort of enchanting temptations are seen as the devil’s snares, and the more intense the will is, the more obvious the conflict, and thus, the more profound the suffering. However, if and only if the sufferer stops and observes the entirety of his life as a series of sufferings, and goes beyond the surface level where those individual sufferings were caused, from the individual to the universal where his pain is merely an instance of the whole, he is brought to resignation and becomes revered.
Schopenhauer insists that this portrait is no “philosophical fable,” but the actual inner, direct and intuitive knowledge of the great saints of Christians and the distinctive Hindus and Buddhists, despite the superficial differences between their dogmas. Therefore, the conduct of the ascetic comes from their intuitive grasp, not their professed dogmas. Although there is a huge chasm between this intuitive knowledge and the abstract kind, philosophy can bridge such and only the philosopher can articulate the concrete truths of intuition in abstractions, through reflection. (WWR § 68 p. 383)
Suicide, Schopenhauer is careful to note, is not identical with resignation, for it is actually an instance of the affirmation of the will. Where resignation gives up the pleasures of the will, rather than its sorrows, the suicide is expressing dissatisfaction with the conditions of his/her life and ends his/her own life. Since the thing-in-itself is not affected, and suicide is merely the termination of the life of an individual, Schopenhauer considers it a futile and foolish act. (WWR § 69 p. 400) Since the individual cannot stop willing or stop suffering, he quits life. Yet the act of suicide actually affirms the will itself. The only thing that can abolish the will is knowledge, which means the road to salvation is the unchecked manifestation of the will for the sake of discovering the inner nature of phenomena.
Although freedom belongs only to the will itself, and not phenomena, once the will arrives at the knowledge of its own inner nature, it gains a ‘quieter’ and that eliminates motivations or at least subsumes them into the background. Even though the self-suppression of the will comes from knowledge, yet the denial of the will cannot be planned. This great insight comes from out of the blue instead, and as the actual example of the freedom of the will, it transforms the individual’s entire inner nature, and turns him/her into a new person. Here, Schopenhauer applauds the Catholic Church’s distinction of grace or salvation and the natural man. Where Adam as the affirmation of the will forever cursed everyone with original sin as suffering and death, Christ symbolizes the freedom of sin as the denial of the will to live. Thus, we ought to interpret Christ not as the individual in the Gospels, but as the universal personification of the quieter. (WWR § 70 p. 405)
Schopenhauer closes the first volume with an objection that he cannot redress: the denial of the will is a transition from existence to nothingness. (WWR § 71 p. 409) He asserts that the idea of nothing is relative, and is a reference to a particular something that it negates. Of course, the idea of an absolute nothing cannot even be conceived. Therefore, the idea of nothing is always a relation to something else.
The permanent solution to misery is once there is a naked, honest and complete awareness of the abject wretchedness of life the person loses the desire for existence and gratification. This takes place with the saint or ascetic who doesn’t have any concerns with life or prosperity. The will to live, through him, has denied itself, or is greatly reduced to a faint whisper that no longer maintains a concept of reality composed of spatiotemporal objects. Upon his death, this whisper will vanish as well as the world/reality of his consciousness. Therefore, since this concept of world/reality is merely the Will’s delusional artifact of itself, it comes to an end once the Will ceases to desire.
Yet even if I, as a manifestation of the will, including reality-for-me, vanishes upon death, irrespective of achieving the level of the ascetic, the Will continues in the life of others. Then, given the ascetic’s death, his particular grade of Will expires, whereas the ordinary Joe’s death does not entail the expiration of his grade of Will. Therefore, suicide is pointless and self-defeating, for it is a superficial complaint about the current conditions based on one particular grade of Will. If all men became ascetics, will everything cease? Sometimes, Schopenhauer seems to hint that something inconceivable to most excepting the ascetic (mystical contemplation) will be left. Schopenhauer admits that whatsoever remains after the complete abolition of the will is nothing. Yet, the same also goes for those where the will has turned against itself – “this very real world of ours with all its suns and galaxies, is – nothing.” (WWR § 70 p. 412)