The World As Will and Idea
Arthur Schopenhauer
1818

Alternatively titled The World As Will and Representation and most recently …Will and Presentation, this is, without question, the central text of the German philosopher and a hugely important reflection on will and knowledge emerging from the tradition of Immanuel Kant.

What is the nature of knowledge? How are we to understand the relationship between the objective world and the subjective person? What is existence of any thing without our experience of it? For Schopenhauer, there can be no knowledge of the world that is not always-already mediated by the individual subject. No less than individual reflection, the basis of our ‘objective knowledge’ – sensory experience – is intimately bound up with subjective ideation, such that there is no meaningful distinction between mind and body, between our idealist and materialist experiences of the world. Time, space, bodily experience, causal relationships, physical observation and analytical interpretation – these are a densely-woven network which ultimately has no comprehensible existence outside of our individual subjectivities, or wills. That is, the body and the will are one and the same, the latter being the consciousness of the former. And the world outside the will? Idea, representation, presentation – in German vorstellung – that external stuff that while it may exist for us all does not exist for us all in precisely the same way, and whose ‘real’ substance is never knowable by beings such as we who are, at our very cores, beings of will.

Schopenhauer was a student of world religions, and borrowed heavily from Buddhist and Hindu traditions, combining these with Kantian epistemology to examine the ways that the problems of knowing are the problems of subjectivity and the problems of human existence itself. A hugely influential piece, the impact of The World As Will and Idea can be seen in Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, Freud, and Einstein among a great many others.

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