Sunday, February 6, 2011

Arthur Schopenhauer's "The World as Will and Idea": A Summary

What is the nature of reality? The entire world is just an idea. That's it. Kant was so close, but Berkeley fucking nailed it - the entire world is one bigass idea. There are two parts to this idea: object and subject, which sound more complicated than they are. The 'object' is just all the things that anyone perceives; it's the entire world as we know it. Except that you can't have a perception without someone perceiving it, and that is the subject, the 'haver' of the idea. It’s like when a bro sees something; his perception of seeing is the object, and the bro himself is the subject, except these are inseparable. You can't have one without the other - there's no thought without a thinker, and you're not thinking if you don't have thoughts. It really is all just one big fucking Idea. Any attempt to separate 'object' and 'subject' into truly different things, rather than parts of the same Idea, is doomed to failure, just like any attempt to separate ‘sight’ from ‘the bro who sees’ makes no sense.

But that's not enough. Kant said we want to know ultimate reality behind the Idea, and he was fucking right - we aren't happy being told that it lies beyond our grasp. Fuck that noise - I want to know what my ideas mean, what they say, whether there is any substance behind them, and if that yearning is wrong then I don't want to be right. Of course, Kant was right that we can never grasp ultimate reality from the outside looking in, which is exactly what everyone before me has tried. But where they all fucked up, and what makes me awesome, is that they all imagined themselves as winged cherubs, looking down on the world without being a part of it. But we are in the world as much as anything else; our bodies are objects just like the chair I'm sitting in. What sets my hand apart from the pen it holds? What if my body were just the object I'm closest to, and I had no more control over it than your body, which is also an object to me?


Answer: Pure. Motherfucking. Will. My willpower is the only thing that sets my body apart from any other object; the will manifests itself in the movement of my body. Emotions? Just violent movements of the will, as these too cause my body to react, whether my heart races or my breathing slows or, uh, you know... boners. Only the will allows us to take the body beyond an object of perception. The Will manifests itself into individuals, and these perceive and react, but they all have the same ability to perceive, and that ability is the subject itself.

What sets man apart is his ability to reason, to replace perception with abstract ideas - not only do we perceive individual things, we can categorize them and reason about them. Picture a triangle - got it? Good. No lower animal could complete such an exercise, but we can understand the idea of all triangles, or all numbers, or all cats; behind every perception is an abstract idea. And the idea behind every abstract idea, the highest idea, is pure unadulterated Idea - the Idea of being object for the subject, the Idea of being an Idea. This highest Idea is the ultimate reality - Idea itself. When we strip away even the notions of object and subject, only one thing remains that is neither - the goddamn Will, which is the thing-in-itself that Kant thought we couldn't know. Well there it is, bitches.

The Will is conscious, and is consciousness itself. Individual wills live and die, but they always maintain the Will itself. The Will exists now, in every moment, never in the past or the future. We have free Will indeed, for no reason or necessity or determination can constrain the Will. If we would participate in the thing-in-itself fully, we ought to live only in the present, with no regard for tomorrow or yesterday! By embracing the will, we need not fear death, for death is an illusion for individuals, and the Will we embrace is eternal. 

9 comments:

  1. I wish I knew everything you know.

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  2. Hmm... Schopenhauer makes me think of Buddha. How about a summary of the Buddha? And now that Wes has got you thinking no one in Athens is wiser than you, how about Socrates?

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  3. Yaay, you did Schopenhauer! I do love this guy, even though he's the epitome of pessimism, haha. Great summary!

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  4. @wtanksley, Schopenhauer was influenced by Buddhism and Eastern Philosophy (he even called himself a Buddhist), and in turn influenced Nietzsche. Love that guy.

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  5. Nietzsche and Freud, though the latter never acknowledged it.

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  6. Then it turned out that gorillas and other apes were capable of abstract thought, and we all learned that "Will" is just a physical phenomena of the brain.

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  7. @Exhausted, it's the other way around: the brain is actually the manifestation of the Will-to-know, says Schopenhauer.

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  8. @Exhausted: Apes are capable of abstract thought only in that they can think of something that isn't present, something they can't immediately see. They don't think about Idea, or Will. What sets us apart further is that humans are capable of concieving of things that don't even exist. Think of a purple-stripped cat with orange, glowing eyes, or think of a spaghetti monster. Apes can't do what you just did. This is called Ideation, and it's why Man made the laptop you're using, isn't of the apes.

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  9. Great summary! I'll go buy this book right now. Also, he has funny quotes about women and religious people.

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