There are two aspects of the world: representation and will, which is the thing-in-itself in appearance. The world as representation consists of individual objects that are spatiotemporal, causally connected. We know representation empirically, including its a priori forms. The world as will is the undifferentiated inner nature of all objects. We know the will immediately and intimately, in each individual case, and for other objects, this is known by philosophical reflection and inference. However, the world as the absolute and ultimate thing in itself is utterly unknowable in principle. Ergo, there is no contradiction when Schopenhauer claims the thing in itself as will.
Thus, the answer to what exactly the essence of the world, or what it is in itself, is will, which is not to say that it isn’t representation, but a “presentation” of another aspect of the same world. A reality that consists of representation already includes a subject that represents objects. However, this subject can never be its own object, and is not located anywhere within either space or time. Thus, the subject, as the pure transcendental self of cognition, is, pace Kant, the a priori condition of the possibility of experience. Schopenhauer tries to marry this philosophical conception with the fact that every individual person is already entrenched within a material world by having the exclusive and private awareness of his/her own body. People are more than just mere transcendental selves. Thus, one knows oneself as embodied will. The understanding of the world as “will” is not to be confused with exposition, where causes are sought and investigated.
It is also important to understand that this “will” is not to be confused with the traditional meaning of the human will, which imports rationalistic baggage, because animals do not will something because they think it is good, for rather, it is good because it is something that some animal wills. Therefore, willing is more fundamental than rationality and is beyond consciousness. Moreover, we should avoid the misconception that individuals have a direct and unmediated access to the thing in itself whatsoever.
The Schopenhauer scholar Bryan Magee lists two conventional definitions of the word “will:”
- 1. Will as “Inner sense:” acts of will (feelings, emotions, moods)
- 2. direct knowledge of empirically observed movements of physical objects in space and time that are known simultaneously and directly from within that isn’t mediated thru the senses. Take away all the empirical, observable features from your body’s movements and what is leftover are the acts of will. Therefore, the total sum of the observed data composes one aspect of existence. The second definition of the will includes all that the subject of knowing can know in its inner sense, not including the detached, neutral processes of conceptual thought.
Schopenhauer praised Kant profusely for making the revolutionary philosophical distinction between phenomena and the thing-in-itself, and for not attributing the cause of phenomena/sensations to the thing-in-itself because causation is limited to the phenomenal world alone. Nevertheless, Schopenhauer departs from Kant by insisting that we can form an idea of the nature of the thing-in-itself, since our experience is not limited to the perception of the phenomenal world of objects in space and time: we know ourselves, not only perceptually as external objects, but also “from within,” as will or the will to live. The will is not to be the cause of phenomenal behavior of the external objects, for it is actually the same thing, both externally and internally.
Many scholars often interpret the will, as the individual’s inner essence cognized in bodily action, as the will to live, (Wille zum Leben). The entire body is will by being the manifestation of the means for achieving the ends for the organism. Some scholars think this phrase is misleading because it fails to include the sexual impulse, which plays a much greater role than consciousness, and moreover, the phrase implies a conscious intent to live, whereas the will actually operates by originating and shaping the organism before the emergence of thought, desire, intent, purpose. Since the will is more fundamental than reason or consciousness, it even precedes desire. “Against the mighty voice of nature, reflection can do little.” (WWR, I, 281)
Given that the will is fundamentally one’s own inner essence, and sheds light of existence and behavior, Schopenhauer thinks it is possible to extend this insight to the external world by a philosophical reflection. The will extends from the microcosm of the individual to the macrocosm, and thus, the entire universe itself is will. Given the idea of myself as thing-in-itself, I can deduce something about the nature of the physical reality. Although it’s not possible to prove that reality is more than appearance, as something-in-itself, the alternative – the denial – collapses back into solipsism. If it is true that my body is, internally, Will in its true being, then, given that the physical reality is externally constant/homogeneous with it and belongs to the same unison of reality (external and internal) then it follows that the same is true for everything in nature. It depends whether Schopenhauer is correct in asserting the will is actually the internal being of my body and behavior, instead of claiming it as the justification for extending this conclusion to other things in reality.
The obvious ramification of the will as the fundamental essence is its presence within humanity. Man is, at bottom, driven by ‘something’ to maintain life, engage in sex, and participate in goals, but people pursue those goals according to purposes completely hidden from their consciousness. For instance, the will, in other words, “use” individuals when they perceive a certain person to be an excellent object of sexual desire, all for the sake of perpetuating itself. Despite the apparent choice or conscious level of attraction, this indicates a fundamental impulse that predetermines behavior, the presence of a biological programming. The real focus of the will lie in the loins, the genitals, where nature relentlessly pursues the propagation of the species, and manifests itself to human consciousness/perception as the emotion of being “in love.” Therefore, the individual’s actions are not truly free, despite the consciousness’ apparent role in “choosing” its actions.
Given that the genitals are the real focus of the will, the life preserving principle, the sexual impulse is the strongest example of the affirmation of life, and for man, as a biological organism, procreation is every individual’s highest goal. For nature, the preservation of the species is its only goal, and once the individual submits to the will of nature by procreating, s/he is superfluous.
“Nature… With all her force impels both man and the animal to propagate. After this she has attained her end with the individual and is quite indifferent to its destruction; for, as the will to live, she is concerned with the preservation of the species; the individual is nothing to her.” (WWR, I 329-330)
If we are more than just biological units, and that our essence is will, then the entire universe is will as well, which continues to manifest itself in billions of individuals (at least on earth) while constantly struggling, growing, fighting, eating, shitting, breathing, screwing, dying, or basically, suffering. Everyday we “awaken to a life out from unconsciousness, the will finds itself as an individual in a limitless and boundless world, among innumerable individuals, all striving, suffering and erring, and as if troubled by an old dream it hurries back to unconsciousness.”
The inner necessity of the gradation of the will is expressed by an outer necessity in phenomena (WWR § 28 ), which means things are dependent on other things: man depend on animals for sustenance, animals on one another, and the plants on soil, water and other nourishments, the planet on the sun, and so on. This indicates the will lives on itself, because there is nothing else, and its cannibalistic state is perpetual. “Yet till then its desires are unlimited, its claims inexhaustible, and every satisfied desire gives birth to a new one. No possible satisfaction in the world could suffice to still its craving, set a final goal to its demands and fill the bottomless pit of its heart.” Schopenhauer has unleashed a daemonic mythological fable from atheology.
The will never stops in its striving, nor does it ever become satiated. This terrifying force leads Schopenhauer to conclude it is purposeless as well as pointless. There is no redemption for the suffering of individuals. Life is completely deceptive, and if it makes promises, it never keeps its word. People are inclined to conceive of the world in rational terms by creating purposes in vain and continue under false pretenses in order to maintain the appearance of rationality. These pretenses serve as layers of contentment, but instead of containing happiness, (which in itself cannot and does not exist) they are actually masks of emptiness, a yawning hole of nothingness. Only during moments of boredom, people are capable of seeing past the pretense and begin to realize the futility of their lives. Being bored is lacking fulfilled desires, as well as lacking immediate ones. When a person is pursing his/her desires, time rushes by. But when s/he is bored, time barely moves, and that reveals the existence of the individual being embodied in time. Most people are incapable of dealing with this, so they hurry towards something to fill the emptiness.
The wretchedness of the world and vicissitudes of humanity is evidence for pessimist beliefs, but pessimism is necessary due to the nature of the “underlying reality,” the Will: for it is in constant search for a solution that is possible only by the very annihilation of existence. This accounts for pleasure as a negative, a lack, the cessation of suffering, which is the normal state of existence. Every part of the phenomenal world is driven to survive at another’s expense so there is a universal war of all against all. Because desire can never bring contentment but increase desire, the Will is the source of suffering. We are condemned to an endless pursuit of satisfying desires, for “we blow out a soap bubble as long and as large as possible, although we well know that it will burst.” However, Schopenhauer’s pessimism is not a necessary consequence of his metaphysical insights, for it is possible to find a ceaselessly striving dynamic reality as delightful, despite the attendant miseries. This sort of pessimism is on the verge of nihilism, for it presupposes that there ought to be some type of order or external purpose in the world. Moreover, the disappointment ensues once no such purpose is found; however, the presupposition of order is the cause of this disappointment.
The lowest grade of the will’s objectifications are the universal forces of nature. Considered as qualitates occultae, the laws of nature, – the force of gravity – are neither the cause of an effect nor the effect of a cause, for they transcend causation (which in itself presupposes time, and is meaningful only within time) and as well as time, because the cause of a stone’s falling is its nearness of the earth, which attracts the stone. If the earth is not there, the stone will not fall, but gravity is already present. Therefore, since the laws of nature are independent of causation, outside of the PSR, they are groundless.
Schopenhauer agrees with Malebranch’s doctrine of occasional causes, where every natural cause is only occasional, where the will is given an opportunity to become objectificated by becoming visible in space and time, and partially dependent on phenomena. A piece of rock expresses gravity, solidity, electricity, chemical properties at a particular time that depends on causes or external impressions. However, the very inner being of these properties, existence of the rock in itself, has no ground, but is actually the “becoming visible of the groundless will.” Therefore, each and every cause is an occasional cause.
Since the limits of science lie within the limits of explanation and the nature of phenomena, then the explanation by causation goes only so far. However, Schopenhauer avoids claiming the will as a cause, because its relation to the phenomenon is not configured by the PSR. “That which is in itself will, exists on the other hand as representation, that is to say, is phenomenon.” (WWR, I § 27)
Then each phenomenon obeys the laws that constitutes its form, and have a cause that is explained only within a definite time and space, always as a particular phenomenon, and never according to its inner nature. (WWR, I, § 27) In this section, Schopenhauer argues against reductionism, which presupposes that physical objects are only the conglomerate of the “phenomena of physical, chemical and mechanical forces that have come together in it by chance.” (WWR, I § 27, p. 142) He does not think natural science has any right to “refer the higher grades of the will’s objectivity to the lower ones,” (WWR, I § 27, p. 143) because in doing so, the reduction to the phenomena of physical and chemical forces makes the Platonic Ideas impossible.
The knowledge of the will as the thing-in-itself, despite all the myriad differences between the manifold individuals and the multiplicity of phenomena, explains the interrelatedness, connection, or harmony of everything, and the subsequent gradations of the Ideas. Schopenhauer calls this suitability, and defines two aspects: internal (the inner economy of the organisms) and external, where the entire world, all phenomena is the “objectivity of the one and indivisible will.” (WWR § 28 p. 158 ) The inner suitability indicates the ordered composition of the individual organism, as well as its manifestation as the purpose of its species. The external suitability indicates the relationship between inorganic and organic nature as well as that of between individual organisms.
The inner teleology of nature is manifest in the foresight of animals that behave in anticipation of future events (the beaver erecting a damn, spiders and ant lions creating snares for their prey, birds that build nests for its future younglings, etc.), all testify the phenomenon of the unity of the one will in agreement with itself. (WWR § 28 p. 161)
Instead of Kant’s thing-in-itself, of which he arrived at by inferring from what is grounded to the ground, the will signals Schopenhauer’s departure from Kant. The final section of the book, criticism of Kantian philosophy, reveals the differences between these two thinkers in a more pronounced way, and will be discussed in the fifth section.