German philosophers: Arthur Schopenhauer


WE have looked at the world as idea, object for a subject, and next at the world as will. All students of Plato know that the different grades of objectification of will which are manifested in countless individuals, and exist as their unrealized types or as the eternal forms of things, are the Platonic ideas. Thus, these various grades are related to individual things as their eternal forms or prototypes.

Thus, the world in which we live is in its whole nature through and through will, and at the same time through and through idea. This idea always presupposes a form, object and subject. If we take away this form and ask what then remains, the answer must be that this can be nothing but will, which, properly speaking, is the thing-in-itself.

Every human being discovers that he himself is this will, and that the world exists only for him and does so in relation to his consciousness. Thus each human being is himself in a double aspect the whole world, the microcosm. And that which he realizes as his own real being exhausts the being of the whole world, the macrocosm. So, like man, the world is through and through will, and through and through idea.

Plato would say that an animal has no true being, but merely an apparent being, a constant becoming. The only true being is the idea, which embodies itself in that animal. That is to say, the idea of the animal alone has true being and is the object of real knowledge. Kant, with his theory of 'the thing-in-itself' as the only reality, would say that the animal is only a phenomenon in time, space and causality, which are conditions of our perception, not the thing-in-itself. So the individual as we see it at this particular moment will pass away, without any possibility of our knowing the thing-in-itself, for the knowledge of that is beyond our faculties.

Thus do these two greatest philosophers of the West differ. The thing-in-itself must, according to Kant, be free from all forms associated with knowing. On the contrary, the Platonic idea is necessarily object, something known and thus different from the thing-in-itself, which cannot be apprehended. Yet Kant and Plato tend to agree, because the thing-in-itself is, after all, that which lays aside all the subordinate forms of phenomena, and has retained the first and most universal form, that of the idea in general, the form of being object for a subject. Plato attributes actual being only to the ideas, and concedes only an illusive, dream-like existence to things in space and time, the real world for the individual.


THE last and most serious part of our consideration relates to human action. Human nature tends to relate everything else to action. The world as idea is the perfect mirror of the will, in which it recognizes itself in graduating scales of distinctness and completeness. The highest degree of this consciousness is man, whose nature only completely expresses itself in the whole connected series of his actions.

Will is the thing-in-itself, the essence of the world. Life is only the mirror of the will. Life accompanies the will as the shadow the body. If will exists, so will life. So long as we are actuated by the will to live, we need have no fear of ceasing to live, even in the presence of death. True, we see the individual born and passing away; but the individual is merely phenomenal. Neither the will, nor the subject of cognition, is at all affected by birth or death.

It is not the individual, but only the species, that nature cares for. She provides for the species with boundless prodigality through the incalculable profusion of seed and the great strength of fructification. She is ever ready to let the individual fall when it has served its end of perpetuating the species. Thus does nature artlessly express the great truth that only the ideas, not the individuals, have actual reality and are complete objectivity of the will.

Man is nature itself, but nature is only the objectified will to live. So the man who has comprehended this point of view may well console himself when contemplating death for himself or his friends by turning his eyes to the immortal life of nature, which he himself is. And thus we see that birth and death both really belong to life, and that they take part in that constant mutation of matter which is consistent with the permanence of the species, notwithstanding the transitoriness of the individual.


ABOVE all we must not forget that the form of the phenomenon of the will, the form of life in reality, is really only the present, not the future nor the past. No man ever lived in the past, no man will live in the future. The present is the sole form of life in sure possession. The present exists always, together with its content.

Now all object is the will so far as it has become idea, and the subject is the necessary correlative of the object. But real objects are in the present only. So nothing but conceptions and fancies are included in the past, while the present is the essential form of the phenomenon of the will, and inseparable from it. The present alone is perpetual and immovable. The fountain and support of it is the will to live, or the thing-in-itself, which we are.

Life is certain to the will, and the present is certain to life. Time is like a perpetually revolving globe. The hemisphere which is sinking is like the past, that which is rising is like the future, while the indivisible point at the top is like a motionless present. Or, time is like a running river, and the present is a rock on which it breaks but which it cannot remove with itself. As life is assured to the will, so is the present the single real form of life.

Therefore we are not concerned to investigate the past antecedent to life, nor to speculate on the future subsequent to death. We should simply seek to know the present, that being the sole form in which the will manifests itself. Therefore, if we are satisfied with life as it is, we may confidently, regard it as endless and banish the fear of death as illusive. Our spirit is of a totally indestructible nature, and its energy endures from eternity to eternity.

The problem of the freedom of the will is solved by the considerations which have thus been outlined. Since the will is not phenomenon, is not idea or object, but thing-in-itself, is not determined as a consequent through any reason, and knows no necessity, therefore it is free. But the person is never free, although he is the phenomenon of a free will, for this indisputable reason, that he is already the determined phenomenon of the free volition of this will, and is constrained to embody the direction of that volition in a multiplicity of actions.

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