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19th Century Philosophy, David Dilworth

Randy Dible

10.13.08

Schopenhauer’s Metaphysical System:

From Volume I, and Chapters 18, 25 and 30 of Volume II

Schopenhauer’s major work, The World as Will and Representation, has an

architectonic coherence dependent upon a ‘pinnacle’ or ‘foundation-stone’, as he

tells us in the preface, and this is ‘a single thought’which preserves the ‘most

perfect unity.’ The four aspects of the one thought comprise the four books of the

major work. This one thought is captured in the title and expounded in the text, and

it is the foundation of Schopenhauer’s metaphysical system. My task is to reveal

this system, clearly explain it, and compare it to my own.

Schopenhauer begins his book with the proposition “The world is my

representation.” (Vol. 1, Ch. 1, pp. 3) He admits in the first preface that this basis

has a prerequisite of acquaintance with the Kantian or Platonic philosophy, or better

yet, with the Indian philosophy of the Vedas from the Upanishads (Vol. 1, pp.xv).

The reason for this is that we must leave the naïve realism or materialism we were

born with when we discern the true nature of the objects of experience. This is

thematic in the ancient wisdom (Sophia, true knowledge) of the Upanishads, and

generally carries the name of Idealism. In the Western tradition, Plato was the first

to teach such a thoughtful philosophy, but we also find it in Descartes’ skepticism,

and especially in Berkeley, where it is most remarkably given (Vol. 1, Ch. 1, pp. 3).

Immanuel Kant’s Transcendental Idealism from the Critique of Pure Reason is


especially keen because it undermines the ultimacy of objective reality in

demanding the ideality of space and time themselves. But “Kant’s greatest merit is

in the distinction of the phenomenon from the thing-in-itself,” (Vol. 1, Appendix, pp.

417) in other words, the distinction of the representation from “the being-in-itself of

things” (Vol. 2, Ch. 18, pp. 194). Kant explained we could never penetrate the

things from the outside to get to the things in themselves (Vol. 2, Ch. 18, pp. 195),

and therefore we could have no knowledge of the thing-in-itself. By that route, it

would be impossible to know things for what they are beyond their appearances,

and at this point Schopenhauer states: “So far I agree with Kant.” (ibid) “But now,

as the counterpoise to this truth, I have stressed that other truth that we are not

merely the knowing subject, but that we ourselves are also among those realities or

entities we require to know, that we ourselves are the thing-in-itself. Consequently,

a way from within stands open to us to that real inner nature of things to which we

cannot penetrate from without.” (ibid) So Schopenhauer concludes the first

chapter with an equally powerful proposition, “The world is my will.” (Vol. 1, Ch. 1,

pp. 4)

The special employment of the word will in Schopenhauer includes the common

notion, but is meant as the bridge between the common notion of the will and the

Thing-in-Itself or Being-in-Itself, which is the primary reality. The notion of the will

as the thing-in-itself is our way of knowing what the noumenal reality is,

independent of conceptual relations, without attributes or predicates, although this

is a very different kind of knowledge, a higher knowledge, a more immediate

knowledge through being rather than the second-hand and second-order knowledge

of being seeing being (objectification, separation, and representation, simultaneous


and synonymous): “Space first arises by the knowing subject seeing outwards;”

(Vol. 2, Ch. 22, pp. 274-275), which gives only knowledge of the form or

appearance. But when a word is used to designate a common experience as well as

an extraordinary Reality, confusion may arise. This potential difficulty is found in

the confusion between the Will-in-Itself and the gradual degrees of the

objectification of the will, which is the nature of individuality and plurality alike

(ibidem, plus the whole of BookTwo). The Thing-in-Itself is not a multiplicity, nor a

mere individual, but for the discreet phenomena, themselves, it can be called the

things in themselves, which is a misleading, however common the phrase.

Although other animals have, according to Schopenhauer, precursors of such a

faculty as a free will, and indeed all objectivity is the objectification of the Will-in-

Itself, everything appears as separate only in the causal web of relations, only in the

world of phenomena, only for the intellect, not in Reality. The Will, in

Schopenhauer’s sense, is not to be confused with the complex of motives or others,

but to be immediately experienced as the Self, which in the Vedic texts he was so

infatuated with was called Atman, even “the highest Atman”; although

Schopenhauer did not use this word Self, or even Atman, as a central notion or a

special term, it appears to be the inspiration for such a transcendental notion as the

Will. In the original Sanskrit editions of the texts Schopenhauer was so inspired by,

the distinction between Atman and the individual is made evident in the term jiva or

jivatman, which means individual self, or ego, as opposed to the pure subject of

knowing. In “On the Pure Subject of Knowing”, Schopenhauer does actually employ

such a term for his Will, in the course of his discussion of the pure objectivity of

perception and the corresponding “pure will-less knowledge” in reference to

consciousness, wherein the “consciousness of our own self vanishes”, he says “…


consciousness of one’s own self, and thus subjectivity, i.e., the will, …” (Vol. 2, Ch.

30, pp. 368), and he calls the will “the principle of subjectivity”, and refers to the

very act of will as “the greatest concentration of subjectivity” (ibid.) This

terminology, however, still is not equivalent to the transcendental or abstract

character of “the highest Atman” or “pure subjectivity.”

In “On Teleology” (teleology here taken to be “the assumption of the suitability of

every part”), Schopenhauer states: “For, let it be said here once more, it is our

intellect that by means of forms, space, time and causality, apprehends as object

the act of will, in itself metaphysical and indivisible, and exhibiting itself in the

phenomenon of the animal; it is our intellect which first produces the plurality and

variety of the parts and their functions, and is then struck with amazement at their

perfect agreement and conspiracy that result from the original unity; here, then, in

a sense, it admires its own work.” (Vol. 2, Ch. 26, pp. 328) And: “for it leads

precisely to the conclusion, at any rate in organic nature, the knowledge of which

has throughout final causes for its clue, a will is that which forms or shapes.” (ibid.,

pp. 331-332) And we are also given: “their marvelous conspiracy” (ibid., pp. 334),

here referring to the concurrence of efficient and final causes. In other words, the

Will made every detail of the world, right down to the present circumstances, and it

is the one who formed the phenomena, the one who created the universe, right

down to the detail that I in particular find myself in this situation, and wonder how it

all came about! Indeed that is a cosmic conspiracy, a conspiracy of consciousness.

The cause or source and the end or product is none other than one, unity, even in

the production of objectivity. In the other parts of that chapter he illustrates this

conspiracy from unity in the manifestation of varied homologies.


This hidden and yet omnipresent and omnipotent Will-in-Itself is also the “pure

subject of knowing” (Vol. 2, Ch. 30, pp. 370, and pp. 368 above). In the chapter of

that title, Schopenhauer further describes the will and the pure subject of knowing,

at times identifying them. To find these two notions identical, and at the same time

accept statements such as “… a complete silencing of the will which leaves the

person as pure subject of knowing” (pp. 371) we must bear in mind the often

difficult distinction of the will from the objectification or manifestation of the will, for

in this case the silencing is metaphorical of the ceaseless striving of the will, which

we mean to squash out, to deny, to leave the person as the pure subject of

knowing. He calls this the “eternal world-eye” (ibid.) which looks out from all living

beings, as it remains “untouched by their arising and passing away.” “And as such

he is all things, in so far as he perceives them, and in him their existence is without

burden or hardship. Thus it is his existence in so far as it exists in his

representation; but then it is without will. On the other hand, in so far as it is will, it

is not in him. It is well for everyone in that state where he is all things; it is woeful

where he is exclusively one.” (ibid.) In my system, pure subjectivity (the pure

subject of knowing) is penultimate reality, and ultimate reality is, in a oddly

unqualified sense, pure objectivity (the pure objectivity of perception without the

perception, objectivity without an object, so to speak) or ‘pure superjectivity’ to tie

this transcendental term to that of ‘pure subjectivity’, as well as it radically

distinguish it from merely form-encapsulated, ordinary objectivity as dimensionless

and formless objectivity, as the Absolute Infinite, the more-than-concrete Reality of

all so-called objects (which we through ignorance identify with the forms or

distinctions objectivity is limited by.) These two views, Schopenhauer’s and mine,
are not the same, obviously, but there are resounding similarities, and my point is to

show how his fits into mine.

The metaphysical differences or dissensions I have so far found with Schopenhauer

(between Schopenhauer and myself), have been minor, centering on the

terminology (“Will” versus “Pure Subjectivity”). But I have one more fundamental

difference: the Thing-in-Itself, in as much as it is Being-in-Itself, or simply Being (in

the transcendental sense), is, in my system, penultimate reality,whereas in

Schopenhauer, it seems more ultimate than even that, for there is no mention in

Schopenhauer of anything ‘greater’ than the transcendental Will as Being (as the

Thing-in-Itself, i.e., not at all objectified). Indeed, not even in the majority of Vedic

interpretations, or even in mystical systems in general, do you find such a certain

distinction as I put forth between ultimate reality and penultimate reality. Of

course, in another sense, there are no levels of reality that are themselves a reality

in the ultimate sense (in the sense of the ground or reasons for there being levels at

all), yet neither should we confuse the word itself with the meaning signified by the

word (although this very move is taken by the linguistic or grammarian

metaphysicists of the Vedas, such as Bhartrhari; the absolute identification of the

object with its meaning) in as much as such confusion results from that between

subject and object, for rational purposes (although they are to be taken together, in

harmony, they often are not, and thus differences are born as asymmetries of the

metaphysical sort). In my system, there are non-ultimate realities; for a general

designation, “the world as form or phenomenal appearance”, however, the inclusion

of the “first” non-ultimate, which is the penultimate (which I term “pure subjectivity

as pure self-reference”) completes such a designation, as it is the boundary case


(the borderline, the horizon). As well, in my system, there is Ultimate Reality, which

is radically distinct from pure subjectivity, however, this ‘proemial relation’ or ‘first

distinction’ between these two is identical with pure subjectivity in the first case, as

the first distinction, Difference itself --so it is a “one-element system” so to speak,

where the one element is unity (unity and difference -- as the infinitesimal first

distinction or dimensionless point alone, that is to say ‘isomorphically’, so to speak,

for this is the source of form as the tracings of the first distinction—the ‘two’ are

really one), oneself, the same, indeed, this is the higher Self. Indeed, this one-

element system is none other than the prima ratio which is the basis of logic: logic

is the abstract representation of the consequences of drawing a distinction. And

Ultimate Reality is only the most abstract and most pure possibility, the very

outside the system, which would be ‘pure and radical nothingness’, except that

such is absolutely an impossibility, and so it is the beyond of being in a positive

sense of the impossible striving to conceive what apophasis warned us is not

possible—and to give it a positive designation, the only one which really does the

trick: the Absolute Infinite. This is not to be mistaken for Spinoza’s absolutely

infinite substance, for this is the very purity or abstraction of the Absolute Infinite

itself, whose only character is to be most similar to pure and radical nothingness

without so “being”, and distinct from the mathematical Infinities which are not the

metaphysically Infinite, but rather mere variations on quantities, at least of unity—

and these are not the Infinite!

The Truth of Schopenhauer’s metaphysical system (which corresponds to what I find

of it in my own tried and true metaphysical system) is true to the form, so to speak,

for the skeletal structure, the backbone of Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, the


structure of his system is close to being the same as my own, however much the

contents differ. But the biggest difference, and fortunately for humanity, the sole

difference, I find in historical metaphysical systems, is the fine distinction I make

between what most metaphysicists call ultimate although I call penultimate, and

the radical notion of a truly ineffable ultimate reality. This I do not find in

Schopenhauer, either. But among all the metaphysical systems of the great

philosophers and others that I have learned so far, Schopenhauer’s metaphysical

system is likely the one I find most agreeable, for now.