Schopenhauer’s philosophy is, of course, not free from criticism, and the following instances are among the best.
The mathematical critique
The will is supposedly “singular,” or more precisely – uncountable – because numbers in arithmetic, which is an operation of the intellect, applies solely to the world of appearances. This limitation implies that numbers are inapplicable to the essence of reality. Now, since the Will is uncountable or numbers are inapplicable then it does not follow that it is singular. Schopenhauer could’ve said that since causality does not apply to reality itself, then it can no longer be considered as the “cement of the universe” and that the unity of the cosmos does not depend on the external relations between its components. Other philosophers have attacked the singular conception of the will. In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche points out that the very word “will” is merely a concept that implies unity-as-a-word, while referring to something very complicated – a plurality of sensations, often conflicting and struggling – that either affirms or negate. A thousand pinpricks of quanta fluctuating at all times…
Knowledge of the will via inner sense
If the thing-in-itself is will, and we know this through “inner sense,” given that there are less phenomenal forms between the thing-in-itself and the knowing subject, then this presupposes that a lower number of phenomena reveals the true nature of reality better or truer than a higher number. Schopenhauer does realize this difficulty in his later writings.
Moral judgment of existence
Another problem is the entire metaphysical interpretation of existence as will – it seems plausible that an alternative rendition could be cast differently, where the will is not necessarily an evil force – but a dynamic force of power, of difference, something worth affirming. Instead of the solitary hermit who starves himself into unconsciousness, the brave and the defiant warrior who struggles against the overwhelming odds of fate could actually withstand the heaviest burden, a Sisyphean hero who pauses and wipes his brow. Affirmation as the inverted attitude of pessimism remains possible, even if the will is insatiable as the present is a continuous vanishing. Schopenhauer is easy prey for Nietzsche’s criticisms, where the fatal error of subjecting existence to a moral judgment has merely repeated the error of the past metaphysicians. “A pessimist who negates both God and world but stops before morality, – who affirms morality and plays his flute, affirms laede neminem morality: excuse me? Is this really – a pessimist?”
Music as the copy of the will
Could the copy of something so purposeless and evil ever be anything but the same? How can music possess an anesthetic quality that “quiets” the raging torrent, when it is already a copy of that inferno? Perhaps Schopenhauer shouldn’t have eliminated the representation aspect of art when it comes to music.
There are two readings of a text: the surface, where the actual words of the text are analyzed, and the symptomatic, where the problematic that enlighten or regulate the actual meaning of the text is identified and clarified. The text’s problematic is the horizon of the text, of its thoughts, the “forms in which problems must be posed.” This horizon is the limit of the language and the concepts that were available for Schopenhauer at a certain historical period. What makes symptomatic readings very insightful is its transcendental status, for the problematic constitutes the definite condition of the possibility of the theoretical structure of the text. Schopenhauer was limited to the concepts and the language that is derived from the problematic that was already present.
However, given the mastery of the German language and the relentless precision of the thought, identifying what Schopenhauer meant by looking at what he did not say seems a fruitless exercise. As a “thoroughly explicit writer,” Schopenhauer maximized the style and the significance of his language in order to deliver the philosophy. In the introduction to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, George Simmel is correct that a “creative interpretation” of Schopenhauer is not possible, unlike Kant, Spinoza and Leibniz and others.
The second volume of The World as Will and Representation contains more technical elaborations and extensions, and I intend to finish it some time in the future, likely after I finish tackling Feuerbach and Stirner. Here are several reasons why Schopenhauer’s philosophy is breathtaking and a fascinating reprieve from the staid and stodgy crap peddled in the universities. He wrote very clear, simple, directly, and never without force, always animated and suffused with personality. On top of such loquacity, he also was erudite, possessing a remarkable grasp of the classics. Schopenhauer arrived at the same conclusions as the eastern thinkers but through the road of the western philosophers, and was the very first to actually represent their insights to the western audience but clothed in the garb of philosophy rather than mystic balderdash. The philosophy’s central concern was with existence, the tragedies and the problems of life, which is far more significant than the scholastic quibbles of ivory tower residents. Instead of chickening out like most thinkers by painting an all-harmonious portrait of the universe that resolved the petty differences into a shallow smudge, Schopenhauer took the actual sufferings of people seriously, all the brief instances of passions, emotions, all the fucking, the shitting, the eating, the fighting, the drinking, etc. He corrected the mistakes of the last great thinker, Kant and made several advances beyond his epistemology by claiming that inner experience is the key to knowing the thing-in-itself. Schopenhauer replaced Kant’s labyrinth program of concepts with a plausible model of the understanding: the principle of sufficient reason. The theory of aesthetic seems more penetrating than those of the other philosophers, except probably Nietzsche’s, and possibly, because he did not succumb to the temptation of reducing art to superficial functionalism. Schopenhauer’s sense of morality and philosophy of religion retains much of the insights of the major religions, yet he was a staunch atheist, and the first of all philosophers to be openly so. The previous ones, Hobbes and Hume, couldn’t afford such political suicide, so they kept quiet or spoke cryptically. Most importantly, the pessimist’s philosophy anticipates a great deal of Darwin and Freud and Einstein, where he recognized that nature always favored the species over the individual, (because the species is everything and the individual, nothing), that the sexual impulse was omnipotent, that the consciousness was a latecomer to the scene of evolution – just the tip of the iceberg of the psyche – and that everything in the universe is fundamentally a force, since energy and matter are indistinguishable at the subatomic level. Finally, Arthur Schopenhauer was none other than the greatest philosophical influence of the two major thinkers of the 20th century, Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. In order to understand both, you must read Schopenhauer.
After completing the first edition, Schopenhauer summed up the reception of his book: “I dispatch [the world as will] calmly resigned to the fact that it, too, will fully endure the fate which truth has suffered at all times, with only a brief victory celebration between the two prolonged periods where it is condemned as paradoxical and disparaged as trivial.” (Preface, first edition) The paradox is in his era the metaphysicians of the absolute actually resurrected the thing-in-itself and in doing so, they regressed from the transcendental critique to transcendent sophisms. Instead, Schopenhauer turns from transcendental philosophy, but away from transcendence, and towards a nihilistic conclusion where existence, or being, is essentially, the blind will, utterly purposeless. The triviality is the obvious reductionism of the natural sciences where nothing lies beneath the phenomenal world, and Schopenhauer’s discovery of the metaphysical answer, the will, is all-too-often misunderstood. In closing, I leave you with the words of the “Last German:” “A philosophy in between the pages of which one does not hear the tears, the weeping, the gnashing of teeth and the terrible din of mutual universal murder is no philosophy.”