Wednesday, April 18, 2018


If I had time one of the things I would most like to do is write a book about Schopenhauer, possibly relating his thought to that of Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Anscombe. So I might blog about him, especially The World as Will and Representation, from time to time. Here are some interesting bits of the preface:
I propose to point out here how this book must be read in order to be thoroughly understood. By means of it I only intend to impart a single thought. Yet, notwithstanding all my endeavours, I could find no shorter way of imparting it than this whole book. I hold this thought to be that which has very long been sought for under the name of philosophy
According as we consider the different aspects of this one thought which I am about to impart, it exhibits itself as that which we call metaphysics, that which we call ethics, and that which we call æsthetics
no other advice can be given as to how one may enter into the thought explained in this work than to read the book twice, and the first time with great patience, a patience which is only to be derived from the belief, voluntarily accorded, that the beginning presupposes the end almost as much as the end presupposes the beginning, and that all the earlier parts presuppose the later almost as much as the later presuppose the earlier.
the first perusal demands patience, founded on confidence that on a second perusal much, or all, will appear in an entirely different light
The second demand is this, that the introduction be read before the book itself, although it is not contained in the book, but appeared five years earlier under the title, “Ueber die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde: eine philosophische Abhandlung” (On the fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason: a philosophical essay).
But the same disinclination to repeat myself word for word, or to say the same thing a second time in other and worse words, after I have deprived myself of the better, has occasioned another defect in the first book of this work. For I have omitted all that is said in the first chapter of my essay “On Sight and Colour,” which would otherwise have found its place here, word for word. Therefore the knowledge of this short, earlier work is also presupposed.
Finally, the third demand I have to make on the reader might indeed be tacitly assumed, for it is nothing but an acquaintance with the most important phenomenon that has appeared in philosophy for two thousand years, and that lies so near us: I mean the principal writings of Kant
He likens reading Kant to having cataracts removed and to being reborn. And yet he does not seem to think that Kant has yet done enough.

There is also quite a bit of Wittgenstein-ish stuff like this (from the second preface):
anything true one may have thought, and anything obscure one may have thrown light upon, will appeal to any thinking mind, no matter when it comprehends it, and will rejoice and comfort it. To such an one we speak as those who are like us have spoken to us, and have so become our comfort in the wilderness of this life.  
Compare the first words of the Tractatus' preface:
This book will perhaps only be understood by one who has himself already at some time thought the thoughts that are expressed herein – or at least similar thoughts. –It is therefore not a textbook.—Its end would be reached if it gave pleasure to one person who read it with understanding.
In general there seem to me to be quite a few similarities to the early Wittgenstein here, even if they turn out to be only superficial.


  1. Have you read John Holbo's dissertation on Schopenhauer and the Tractatus?

  2. I would welcome such blogging and who knows might be the building blocks for that book.

  3. Great resonance between the early Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer. Both had a way with words and with thought and, if I am not mistaken, the one, Wittgenstein, was said to have read and thought well of the other, Schopenhauer. I, too, urge you to undertake more blogging in the German Romantic. Insightful and perceptive, he is too little known or studied today. (Perhaps because of a sense that he wasn't technical in the analytic way or original enough in his contributions because of the strong similarities between those and the millenia old thought of the East?)

  4. Thanks for the encouragement! And no, I haven't read John Holbo's dissertation. That sounds like a must read.

  5. So I'm curious: What is the single thought S wishes to impart, which is implied to be an answer to a question "which has very long been sought for under the name of philosophy"? The problem of expressing the entire structure of support, which has the logical form of an inclusion structure, for a problematic claim (here the "thought"), in a linear series of sentences ordered more or less in terms of given-new information, is well known and grappled with in different ways by different authors (e.g., W's Tractatus vs. Dummett). If the thought is expressed in a single sentence, much must be brought to bear, in the form of a highly developed instrument for understanding, in order for the full meaning of the sentence to be appreciated. Well, I'm wondering what that sentence is. (The description of the resonance (of the sentence within the instrument) is what's involved in critique.)


  6. I always took the "single thought" Schopey mentions there to be "The world is my representation", which is how the book proper starts.

  7. It crossed my mind that 'Om' might be a suitable answer, but another possibility might be 'Life is but a dream.' You would need a footnote qualifying this statement, but that's what the book is for. Perhaps.

    Wittgenstein once wrote that he was just trying to say the same thing over and over in different ways, but I don't think it would have been quite the same thing as Schop was trying to say. Maybe "you'd be surprised" or "look!"

  8. Holbo (p. vii): "I clam that Wittgenstein's Tractatus is conceived of as consisting of a single thought -- 'The world is all that is the case' -- elucidated metaphysically, aesthetically and ethically. Wittgenstein adopts this striking notion in (very adverse) imitation of Schopenhauer's conception of his philosophy of the World as Will and Representation. Schopenhauer declares that his philosophy consists of a single thought -- 'The world is my representation' -- elucidated metaphysically, aesthetically and ethically. What is Wittgenstein up to, following Schopenhauer so closely? Ultimately Wittgenstein's objective is to stand Schopenhauer on his head."

  9. Huh, I must've gotten that reading of the "single thought" from Holbo. Had no idea it wasn't my own thought; funny how influence works like that.

    Hope you enjoy the diss!

    1. Thanks--so far it's both interesting and fun.

      And influence works like that on me all the time. It's a little scary.

  10. For Wittgenstein: Yes, that's right. So, when it comes to the world, what exactly is the case?

    For Schopenhauer: Yes, that's right. So, what is your representation (which I paraphrase as "your understanding") of the world?

    And so we come back to Kant's Copernican revolution and critical view. Fact and understanding of the fact: which is richer?


  11. john atwell thinks the single thought is that the world is self-knowledge of the will, which on its face is more true to the representation/will/representation/will structure of WWR vol. 1, and the way S. talks about the only entirety of the book as constituting the thought's expression. (he is evasive about what the thought is, but once he's got most of his ducks lined up that's approximately the kind of thing he says.)

    in just the first section, 'the world is my representation' is already counterpointed by 'the world is my will', so it seems like the former truth (as he calls it) can't really serve as the single thought without telling some kind of story about why the thought that summarizes the world's co-equal 'side', the second thought, is in any way secondary. though the way S. frames the inadequacy of the first book of vol. 1 (abstracting to the level of representation, including one's own body, thanks to which one is conscious of its existence in itself as will) suggests reasons for telling such a story.

    in book 1's discussion of skepticism 'life is a dream' is conceded to be true in a way that i am not sure S. ever bothers canceling out or reconciling with the half of his doctrine about the world being will, though i guess it seems consistent with a reading of the end of the fourth book. the 'web of maya' formula gets mentioned right alongside the array of affirmations that life is a dream that S. mentions/offers.

  12. I think that "The world is my representation" is supposed to capture both "sides" because it is only through will that the world is MY representation. "The world is my will" is redundant, because there can't be any other will than "mine"; "the world is my representation" on the other hand expresses both that the world is nothing but representations and that these representations are united through will as what knows them as combined.

  13. there's a problem with the 'my' as well. S. does not consistently include it in later formulations of the two truths. this seems to be related to the way the will gets de-personalized and later the way that individuation is treated as illusory.

  14. It's likely to be hard to express Schop's single thought accurately in a sentence, since he himself felt unable to do so. Which is not to say that there's no point trying, of course, or that nothing can be gained by thinking about ways in which various attempts might fail.

  15. Why would Schopenhauer have concluded it would take a whole book to get his primary thought down properly? Perhaps because thoughts never stand alone, not even the simplest of them, but are always enmeshed in a larger web of ideas, beliefs, thoughts about things, and it is their place in that web that makes them thoughts at all. If so, what else is his book length effort but a re-weaving of a more extensive narrative so that that thought can be thought?

    In the end, doesn't his "story" of existence, of the nature of the universe itself, amount to an insight, not an argument, amount to a series of claims which, strung together, readjust our picture of what we all already know? And in that aren't we in Wittgensteinian territory -- or perhaps Wittgenstein was in Schopenhauer's? And, maybe, in the territory occupied by most philosophers in history (even if some have thought philosophy a matter of generating knock-down, drag-out arguments which cannot be refuted by counter arguments)?

    Perhaps the real message of all philosophy lies in the role played by insight, not argument, because, unlike geometry and mathematics philosophy deals with life not closed systems. (Have been reading a little Spinoza over the weekend so maybe my aversion to that sort of rationalism is showing -- even though I think Spinoza's own "picture" remarkably prescient in terms of our modern way of understanding the world.)

  16. I think Schopenhauer thinks something like this. At least, insight is very important for him. Although he also values Kant's work very highly, and it is not exactly devoid of arguments. (Nor is Schopenhauer's, of course.)