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Site note: Why do we include a long chapter on Schopenhauer? Simply because this recognized brilliant philosopher, wrong though he may be in some of his positions, is importantly right in his major premise of the "World as Will and Idea", because this towering philosopher took on a wider and more relevant menu of issues, AND because he is just about the only philosopher that had the courage to deal so directly and openly with the issue of evil. to look it in the face.

[Schopenhauer] "was confident that, however belated, recognition would come. And at last, slowly, it came. Men of the middle classes–lawyers; physicians, merchants–found in him a philosopher who offered them no mere pretentious jargon of metaphysical unrealities, but an intelligible survey of the phenomena of actual life." - Durant, Will, The Story of Philosophy, Washington Square Press, New York, NY, 1967, Chapter VII, p. 301



Why did the first half of the nineteenth century lift up, as voices of the age, a group of pessimistic poets–Byron in England, De Musset in France, Heine in Germany, Leopardi in Italy, Pushkin and Lermontof in Russia; a group of pessimistic composers–Schubert, Schumann, Chopin, and even the later Beethoven (a pessimist trying to convince himself that he is an optimist); and above all, a profoundly pessimistic philosopher–Arthur Schopenhauer?

That great anthology of woe, The World as Will and Idea, appeared in 1818. It was the age of the "Holy" Alliance. Waterloo had been fought, the Revolution was dead, and the "Son of the Revolution" was rotting on a rock in a distant sea. Something of Schopenhauer's apotheosis of Will was due to that magnificent and bloody apparition of the Will made flesh in the little Corsican; and something of his despair of life came from the pathetic distance of St. Helena–Will defeated at last, and dark Death the only victor of all the wars. The Bourbons were restored, the feudal barons were returning to claim their lands, and the pacific idealism of Alexander had unwittingly mothered a league for the suppression of progress everywhere.  The great age was over. "I thank God," said Goethe, "that I am not young in so thoroughly finished a world."

All Europe lay prostrate. Millions of strong men had perished; millions of acres of land had been neglected or, laid waste; everywhere on the Continent life had to begin again at the bottom, to recover painfully and slowly the civilizing economic surplus that had been swallowed up in war. Schopenhauer, traveling through France and Austria in 1804, was struck by the chaos and uncleanliness of the villages, the wretched poverty of the farmers, the unrest and misery of the towns. The passage of the Napoleonic and counter-Napoleonic armies had left scars of ravage on the face of every country.  Moscow was in ashes.  In England, proud victor in the strife, the farmers were ruined by the fall in the price of wheat; and the industrial workers were tasting all the horrors of the nascent and uncontrolled factory-system.  Demobilization added to unemployment. "I have heard my father say," wrote Carlyle, "that in the years when oatmeal was as high as ten shillings a stone, he had noticed the laborers retire each separately to a brook, and there drink instead of dining, anxious only to hide their misery from one another.”[1]  Never had life seemed so meaningless, or so mean.

Yes, the Revolution was dead; and with it the life seemed to have gone out of the soul of Europe. That new heaven, called Utopia, whose glamour had relieved the twilight of the gods, had receded into a dim future where only young eyes could see it; the older ones had followed that lure long enough, and turned away from it now as a mockery of men's hopes. Only the young can live in the future, and only the old can live in the past; men were most of them forced to live in the present, and the present was a ruin: How many thousands of heroes and believers had fought for the Revolution!  How the hearts of youth everywhere in Europe had turned towards the young republic, and had lived on the light and hope of it,–until Beethoven tore into shreds the dedication of his Heroic Symphony to the man who had ceased to be the Son of the Revolution and had became the son in law of reaction. How many had fought even then for the great hope, and had believed, with passionate uncertainty, to the very end? And now here was the very end: Waterloo, and St. Helena, and Vienna; and on the throne of prostrate France a Bourbon who had learned nothing and forgotten nothing. This was the glorious denouement of a generation of such hope and effort as human history had never known before. What a comedy this tragedy was for those whose laughter was yet bitter with tears!

Many of the poor had, in these days of disillusionment and suffering, the consolation of religious hope; but a large proportion of the upper classes had lost their faith, and looked out upon a ruined world with no alleviating vision of a vaster life in whose final justice and beauty these ugly ills would be dissolved. And in truth it was hard enough to believe that such a sorry planet as men saw in 1818 was held up in the hand of an intelligent and benevolent God. Mephistopheles had triumphed, and every Faust was in despair. Voltaire had sown the whirlwind, and Schopenhauer was to reap the harvest.

Seldom had the problem of evil been flung so vividly and insistently into the face of philosophy and religion. Every martial grave from Boulogne to Moscow and the Pyramids lifted a mute interrogation to the indifferent stars. How long, O Lord, and Why? Was this almost universal calamity the vengeance of a just God on the Age of Reason and unbelief? Was it a call to the penitent intellect to bend before the ancient virtues of faith, hope and charity? So Schlegel thought, and Novalis, and Chateaubriand, and De Musset, and Southey, and Wordsworth, and Gogol; and they turned back to the old faith like wasted prodigals happy to be home again. But some others made harsher answer: that the chaos of Europe but reflected the chaos of the universe; that there was no divine order after all, nor any heavenly hope; that God, if God there was, was blind, and Evil brooded over the face of the earth. So Byron, and Heine, and Lermontof, and Leopardi, and our philosopher.


Schopenhauer was born at Dantzig on February 22, 1788. His father was a merchant noted for ability, hot temper, independence of character, and love of liberty. He moved from Dantzig to Hamburg when Arthur was five years old, because Dantzig lost its freedom in the annexation of Poland in 1793. Young Schopenhauer, therefore, grew up in the midst of business and finance; and though he soon abandoned the mercantile career into which his father had pushed him, it left its mark upon him in a certain bluntness of manner, a realistic turn of mind, a knowledge of the world and of men; it made him the antipodes of that closet or academic type of philosopher whom he so despised. The father died, apparently by his own hand, in 1805. The paternal grandmother had died insane.

"The character or will," says Schopenhauer, "is inherited from the father; the intellect from the mother."[2] The mother had intellect–she became one of the most popular novelists of her day–but she had temperament and temper too. She had been unhappy with her prosaic husband; and when he died she took to free love, and moved to Weimar as the fittest climate for that sort of life. Arthur Schopenhauer reacted to this as Hamlet to his mother's re-marriage; and his quarrels with his mother taught him a large part of those half-truths about women with which he was to reason his philosophy. One of her letters to him reveals the state of their affairs: "You are unbearable and burdensome, and very hard to live with; all your good qualities are overshadowed by your conceit, and made useless to the world simply because you cannot restrain your propensity to pick holes in other people:”[3] So they arranged to live apart; he was to come only to her "at homes," and be one guest among others; they could then be as polite to each other as strangers, instead of hating each other like relatives. Goethe, who liked Mme. Schopenhauer because she let him bring his Christiane with him, made matters worse by telling the mother that her son would become a very famous man; the mother had never heard of two geniuses in the same family. Finally, in some culminating quarrel, the mother pushed her son and rival down the stairs; whereupon our philosopher bitterly informed her that she would be known to posterity only through him. Schopenhauer quitted Weimar soon afterward; and though the mother lived twenty-four years more, he never saw her again. Byron, also a child of 1788, seems to have had similar luck with his mother. These men were almost by this circumstance doomed to pessimism; a man who has not known a mother's love–and worse, has known a mother's hatred–has no cause to be infatuated with the world.

Meanwhile Schopenhauer had gone through "gymnasium" and university, and had learned more than was on their schedules. He had his fling at love and the world, with results that affected his character and his philosophy.[4] He became gloomy, cynical, and suspicious; he was obsessed with fears and evil fancies; he kept his pipes under lock and key, and never trusted his neck to a barber's razor; and he slept with loaded pistols at his bedside–presumably for the convenience of the burglar. He could not bear noise: "I have long held the opinion," he writes, "that the amount of noise which anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity, and may therefore be regarded as a pretty fair measure of it.... Noise is a torture to all intellectual people. . . The superabundant display of vitality which takes the form of knocking, hammering, and tumbling things about, has proved a daily torment to me all my life long."[5] He had an almost paranoiac sense of unrecognized greatness; missing success and fame, he turned within and gnawed at his own soul.

He had no mother, no wife, no child, no family, no country. "He was absolutely alone, with not a single friend; and between one and none there lies an infinity."[6] Even more than Goethe he was immune to the nationalistic fevers of his age. In 1813 he so far fell under the sway of Fichte's enthusiasm for a war of liberation against Napoleon, that he thought of volunteering, and actually bought a set of arms. But prudence seized him in time; he argued that "Napoleon gave after all only concentrated and untrammeled utterance to that self-assertion and lust for more life which weaker mortals feel but must perforce disguise.”[7] Instead of going to war he went to the country and wrote a doctor's thesis in philosophy. After this dissertation On the Fourfold Root of Sufficient Reason (1813),[8] Schopenhauer gave all his time, and devoted all his power, to the work which was to be his masterpiece The World as Will and Idea. He sent the MS. to the publisher magna cum laude; here, he said, was no mere rehash of old ideas, but a highly coherent structure of original thought, "clearly intelligible, vigorous, and not without beauty"; a book "which would hereafter be the source and occasion of a hundred other books:”[9] All of which was outrageously egotistic, and absolutely true. Many years later Schopenhauer was so sure of having solved the chief problems of philosophy that he thought of having his signet ring carved with an image of the Sphinx throwing herself down the abyss, as she had promised to do on having her riddles answered.

Nevertheless, the book attracted hardly any attention; the world was too poor and exhausted to read about its poverty and exhaustion. Sixteen years after publication Schopenhauer was informed that the greater part of the edition had been sold as waste paper. In his essay on Fame, in "The Wisdom of Life," he quotes, with evident allusion to his masterpiece, two remarks of Lichtenberger's: "Works like this are as a mirror: if an ass looks in you cannot expect an angel to look out"; and "when a head and a book come into collision, and one sounds hollow, is it always the book?" Schopenhauer goes on, with the voice of wounded vanity: "The more a man belongs to posterity–in other words, to humanity in general–so much the more is he an alien to his contemporaries; for since his work is not meant for them as such, but only in so far as they form part of mankind at large, there is none of that familiar local color about his productions which would appeal to them."

And then he becomes as eloquent as the fox in the fable: "Would a musician feel flattered by the loud applause of an audience if he knew that they were nearly all deaf, and that to conceal their infirmity he saw one or two persons applauding? And what would he say if he discovered that those one or two persons had often taken bribes to secure the loudest applause for the poorest player?" In some men egotism is a compensation for the absence of fame; in others, egotism lends a generous cooperation to its presence.

So completely did Schopenhauer put himself into this book that his later works are but commentaries on it; he became Talmudist to his own Torah, exegete to his own jeremiads. In 1838 he published an essay On the Will in Nature, which was to, some degree incorporated into the enlarged edition of The World as Will and Idea which appeared in 1844. In 1841 came The Two Ground-Problems of Ethics, and in 1851 two substantial volumes of Parerga et Parliapomena–literally, "Byproducts and Leavings"–which have been translated into English as the Essays. For this, the most readable of his works, and replete with wisdom and wit, Schopenhauer received, as his total remuneration, ten free copies. Optimism is difficult under such circumstances.

Only one adventure disturbed the monotony of his studious seclusion after leaving Weimar. He had hoped for a chance to present his philosophy at one of the great universities of Germany; the chance came in 1822, when he was invited to Berlin as privat-docent. He deliberately chose for his lectures the very hours at which the then mighty Hegel was scheduled to teach; Schopenhauer trusted that the students would view him and Hegel with the eyes of posterity. But the students could not so far anticipate, and Schopenhauer found himself talking to empty seats. He resigned, and revenged himself by those bitter diatribes against Hegel which mar the later editions of his chef-d'oevre. In 1831 a cholera epidemic broke out in Berlin; both Hegel and Schopenhauer fled; but Hegel returned prematurely, caught the infection, and died in a few days. Schopenhauer never stopped until he reached Frankfort, where he spent the remainder of his seventy-two years.

Like a sensible pessimist, he had avoided that pitfall of optimists–the attempt to make a living with the pen. He had inherited an interest in his father's firm, and lived in modest comfort on the revenue which this brought him. He invested his money with a wisdom unbecoming a philosopher. When a company in which he had taken shares failed, and the other creditors agreed to a 70% settlement, Schopenhauer fought for full payment, and won. He had enough to engage two rooms in a boarding-house; there he lived the last thirty years of his life, with no comrade but a dog. He called the little poodle Atma (the Brahmins' term for the World-Soul), but the wags of the town called it "Young Schopenhauer." He ate his dinners, usually, at the Englischer Hof. At the beginning of each meal he would put a gold coin upon the table before him; and at the end of each meal he would put the coin back into his pocket. It was, no doubt, an indignant waiter who at last asked him the meaning of this invariable ceremony. Schopenhauer answered that it was his silent wager to drop the coin into the poor-box on the first day that the English officers dining there should talk of anything else than horses, women, or dogs.[10]

The universities ignored him and his books, as if to substantiate his claim that all advances in philosophy are made outside of academic walls. "Nothing," says Nietzsche, "so offended the German savants as Schopenhauer's unlikeness to them." But he had learned some patience; he was confident that, however belated, recognition would come. And at last, slowly, it came. Men of the middle classes–lawyers; physicians, merchants–found in him a philosopher who offered them no mere pretentious jargon of metaphysical unrealities, but an intelligible survey of the phenomena of actual life. A Europe disillusioned with the ideals and efforts of 1848 turned almost with acclamation to this philosophy that had voiced the despair of 1815. The attack of science upon theology, the socialist indictment of poverty and war, the biological stress on the struggle for existence,–all these factors helped to lift Schopenhauer finally to fame.

He was not too old to enjoy his popularity: he read with avidity all the articles that appeared about him; he asked his friends to send him every bit of printed comment they could find-he would pay the postage. In 1854 Wagner sent him a copy of Der Ring der Nibelugen, with a word in appreciation of Schopenhauer's philosophy of music. So the great pessimist became almost an optimist in his old age; he played the flute assiduously after dinner, and thanked Time for ridding him of the fires of youth. People came from all over the world to see him; and on his seventieth birthday, in 1858, congratulations poured in upon him from all quarters and every continent.

It was not too soon; he had but two more years to live. On September 21, 1880, he sat down alone to breakfast, apparently well. An hour later his landlady found him still seated at the table, dead.


What strikes the reader at once upon opening The World as Will and Idea is its style. Here is no Chinese puzzle of Kantian terminology, no Hegelian obfuscation, no Spinozist geometry; everything is clarity and order; and all is admirably centered about the leading conception of the world as will, and therefore strife, and therefore misery. What blunt honesty, what refreshing vigor, what uncompromising directness! Where his predecessors are abstract to the point of invisibility, with theories that give out few windows of illustration upon the actual world, Schopenhauer, like the son of a business man, is rich in the concrete, in examples, in applications, even in humor[11] After Kant, humor in philosophy was a startling innovation.

But why was the book rejected? Partly because it attacked just those who could have given it publicity–the university teachers. Hegel was philosophic dictator of Germany in 1818; yet Schopenhauer loses no time in assailing him. In the preface to the second edition he writes:

No time can be more unfavorable to philosophy than that in which it is shamefully misused on the one hand to further political objects, on the other as a means of livelihood. . . . Is there then nothing to oppose to the maxim, Primum vivere, deinde philosophari?[12] These gentlemen desire to live, and indeed to live by philosophy. To philosophy they are assigned, with their wives and children.... The rule, "I sing the song of him whose bread I eat," has always held good; the making of money by philosophy was regarded by the ancients as the characteristic of the sophists.... Nothing is to be had for gold but mediocrity. . . . It is impossible that an age which for twenty years has applauded a Hegel–that intellectual Caliban–as the greatest of the philosophers, . . . could make him who has looked on at that desirous of its approbation.... But rather, truth will always be paucorum hominum,[13] and must therefore quietly and modestly wait for the few whose unusual mode of thought may find it enjoyable.... Life is short, but truth works far and lives long; let us speak the truth.

These last words are nobly spoken; but there is something of sour grapes in it all; no man was ever more anxious for approbation than Schopenhauer. It would have been nobler still to say nothing ill of Hegel: de vivis nil nisi bonum–of the living let us say nothing but good. And as for modestly awaiting recognition,–"I cannot see," says Schopenhauer, "that between Kant and myself anything has been done in philosophy."[14] "I hold this thought–that the world is will–to be that which has long been sought for under the name of philosophy, and the discovery of which is therefore regarded, by those who are familiar with history, as quite as impossible as the discovery of the philosopher's stone."[15] "I only intend to impart a single thought. Yet, notwithstanding all my endeavors, I could find no shorter way of imparting it than this whole book.... Read the book twice, and the first time with great patience."[16] So much for modesty! "What is modesty but hypocritical humility, by means of which, in a world swelling with envy, a man seeks to obtain pardon for excellences and merits from those who have none.”[17] "No doubt, when modesty was made a virtue, it was a very advantageous thing for the fools; for everybody is expected to speak of himself as if he were one."[18]

There was no humility about the first sentence of Schopenhauer's book. "The world," it begins, "is my idea." When Fichte had uttered a similar proposition even the metaphysically sophisticated Germans had asked,–"What does his wife say about this?" But Schopenhauer had no wife. His meaning, of course, was simple enough: he wished to accept at the outset the Kantian position that the external world is known to us only through our sensations and ideas. There follows an exposition of idealism which is clear and forceful enough, but which constitutes the least original part of the book, and might better have come last than first. The world took a generation to discover Schopenhauer because he put his worst foot forward, and hid his own thought behind a two-hundred-page barrier of second-hand idealism.[19]

The most vital part of the first section is an attack on materialism. How can we explain mind as matter, when we know matter only through mind?

If we had followed materialism thus far with clear ideas, when we reached its highest point we would suddenly be seized with a fit of the inextinguishable laughter of the Olympians. As if waking from a dream, we would all at once become aware that its fatal result–knowledge–which it had reached so laboriously, was presupposed as the indispensable condition of its very starting-point. Mere matter; and when we imagined that we thought matter, we really thought only the subject that perceives matter: the eye that sees it, the hand that feels it, the understanding that knows it. Thus the tremendous petitio principii reveals itself unexpectedly; for suddenly the last link is seen to be the starting-point, the chain of a circle; and the materialist is like Baron Münchausen, who, when swimming on horseback, drew the horse into the air with his legs, and himself by his queue?[20]  The crude materialism which even now, in the middle of the nineteenth century,[21] has been served up again under the ignorant delusion that it is original, . . stupidity denies vital force, and first of all tries to explain the phenomena of life from physical and chemical forces, and those again from the mechanical effects of matter.[22] ... But I will never believe that even the simplest chemical combination will ever admit of mechanical explanation; much less the properties of light, heat, and electricity. These will always require a dynamical explanation.[23]

No: it is impossible to solve the metaphysical puzzle, to discover the secret essence of reality; by examining matter first, and then proceeding to examine thought: we must begin with that which we know directly and intimately–ourselves. "We can never arrive at the real nature of things from without. However much we may investigate, we can never reach anything but images and names. We are like a man who goes round a castle seeking in vain for an entrance, and sometimes sketching the facades.”[24] Let us enter within. If we can ferret out the ultimate nature of our own minds we shall perhaps have the key to the external world.


1. The Will To Live

Almost without exception, philosophers have placed the essence of mind in thought and consciousness; man was the knowing animal, the animal rationale. "This ancient and universal radical error, this enormous proton pseudos,[25] ... must before everything be set aside."[26] "Consciousness is the mere surface of our minds, of which, as of the earth, we do not know the inside but only the crust."[27] Under the conscious intellect is the conscious or unconscious will, a striving, persistent vital force, a spontaneous activity, a will of imperious desire. The intellect may seem at times to lead the will, but only as a guide leads his master; the will "is the strong blind" man who carries on his shoulders the lame man who can see."[28] We do not want a thing because we have found reasons for it, we find reasons for it because we want it; we even elaborate philosophies and theologies to cloak our desires.[29] Hence Schopenhauer calls man the "metaphysical animal": other animals desire without metaphysics. "Nothing is more provoking, when we are arguing against a man with reasons and explanations, and taking all pains to convince him, than to discover at last that he will not understand, that we have to do with his will."[30] Hence the uselessness of logic: no one ever convinced anybody by logic; and even logicians use logic only as a source of income. To convince a man, you must appeal to his self-interest, his desires, his will. Observe how long we remember our victories, and how soon we forget our defeats; memory is the menial of will.[31] "In doing accounts we make mistakes much oftener in our own favor than to our disadvantage; and this without the slightest dishonest intention.”[32] "On the other hand, the understanding of the stupidest man becomes keen when objects are in question that closely concern his wishes";[33] in general, the intellect is developed by danger, as in the fox, or by want, as in the criminal. But always it seems subordinate and instrumental to desire; when it attempts to displace the will, confusion follows. No one is more liable to mistakes than he who acts only on reflection.[34]

Consider the agitated strife of men for food, mates, or children; can this be the work of reflection? Certainly not; the cause is the half conscious will to live, and to live fully. "Men are only apparently drawn from in front; in reality they are pushed from behind";[35] they think they are led on by what they see, when in truth they are driven on by what they feel,–by instincts of whose operation they are half the time unconscious. Intellect is merely the minister of foreign affairs; "nature has produced it for the service of the individual will. Therefore it is only designed to know things so far as they afford motives for the will, but not to fathom them or to comprehend their true being."[36] "The will is the only permanent and unchangeable element in the mind; . . . it is the will which," through continuity of purpose, "gives unity to consciousness and holds together all its ideas and thoughts, accompanying them like a continuous harmony."[37] It is the organ-point of thought.

Character lies in the will, and not in the intellect; character too is continuity of purpose and attitude: and these are will. Popular language is correct when it prefers the "heart" to the "bead"; it knows (because it has not reasoned about it) that a "good will" is profounder and more reliable than a clear mind; and when it calls a man "shrewd," "knowing," or "cunning" it implies its suspicion and dislike. "Brilliant qualities of mind win admiration, but never affection"; and "all religions promise a reward ... for excellences of the will or heart, but none for excellences of the head or understanding."[38]

Even the body is the product of the will. The blood, pushed on by that will which we vaguely call life, builds its own vessels by wearing grooves in the body of the embryo; the grooves deepen and close up, and become arteries and veins.[39] The will to know builds the brain just as the will to grasp forms the hand, or as the will to eat develops the digestive tract.[40] Indeed, these pairs–these forms of will and these forms of flesh–are but two sides of one process and reality. The relation is best seen in emotion, where the feeling and the internal bodily changes form one complex unit.[41]

The act of will and the movement of the body are not two different things objectively known, which the bond of causality unites; they do not stand in the relation of cause and effect; they are one and the same, but they are given in entirely different ways,-immediately, and again in perception.... The action of the body is nothing but the act of the will objectified. This is true of every movement of the body; ... the whole body is nothing but objectified will.... The parts of the body must therefore completely correspond to the principal desires through which the will manifests itself; they must be the visible expression of these desires. Teeth, throat and bowels are objectified hunger; the organs of generation are objectified sexual desire. . . . The whole nervous system constitutes the antennae of the will, which it stretches within and without. . . .As the human body generally corresponds to the human will generally, so the individual bodily structure corresponds to the individually modified will, the character of the individua1.[42]

The intellect tires, the will never; the intellect needs sleep, but the will works even in sleep. Fatigue, like pain, has its seat in the brain; muscles not connected with the cerebrum (like the heart) never tire.[43] In sleep the brain feeds; but the will requires no food. Hence the need for sleep is greatest in brain-workers. (This fact, however, "must not mislead us into extending sleep unduly; for then it loses in intensity ... and becomes mere loss of time.")[44] In sleep the life of man sinks to the vegetative level, and then "the will works according to its original and essential nature, undisturbed from without, with no diminution of its power through the activity of the brain and the exertion of knowing, which is the heaviest organic function; . . . therefore in sleep the whole power of the will is directed to the maintenance and improvement of the organism. Hence all healing, all favorable crises, take place in sleep:[45] Burdach was right when he declared sleep to be the original state. The embryo sleeps almost continuously, and the infant most of the time. Life is "a struggle against sleep: at first we win ground from it, which in the end it recovers. Sleep is a morsel of death borrowed to keep up and renew that part of life which has been exhausted by the day."[46] "It is our eternal foe; even when we are awake it possesses us partly. After all, what is to be expected of heads even the wisest of which is every night the scene of the strangest and the most senseless dreams, and which has to take up its meditations again on awakening from them?[47]

Will, then, is the essence of man. Now what if it is also the essence of life in all its forms, and even of "inanimate" matter? What if will is the long-sought-for, the long-despaired-of, "thing-in-itself,"-the ultimate inner reality and secret essence of all things?

Let us try, then, to interpret the external world in terms of will. And let us go at once to the bottom; where others have said that will is a form of force let us say that force is a form of will.[48] To Hume's question–What is causality?–we shall answer, Will. As will is the universal cause in ourselves, so is it in things; and unless we so understand cause as will, causality will remain only a magic and mystic formula, really meaningless. Without this secret we are driven to mere occult qualities like "force," or "gravity," or "affinity"; we do not know what these forces are, but we know-at least a little more clearly-what will is; let us say, then, that repulsion and attraction, combination and decomposition, magnetism and electricity, gravity and crystallization, are Will.[49]  Goethe expressed this idea in the title of one of his novels, when he called the irresistible attraction of lovers die Wahlverwandschaften–"elective affinities.” The force which draws the lover, and the force which draws the planet, are one.

So in plant life. The lower we go among the forms of life the smaller we find the role of intellect; but not so with will.

That which in us pursues its ends by the light of knowledge, but here ... only strives blindly and dumbly in a one-sided and unchangeable manner, must yet in both cases come under the name of Will.... Unconsciousness is the original and natural condition of all things, and therefore also the basis from which, in particular species of beings, consciousness results as their highest efflorescence; wherefore even the unconsciousness always continues to predominate. Accordingly, most existences are without consciousness; but yet they act according to the laws of their nature,–i. e., of their will. Plants have at most a very weak analogue of consciousness; the lowest species of animals only the dawn of it. But even after it has ascended through the whole series of animals to man and his reason, the unconsciousness of plants, from which it started, still remains the foundation, and may be traced in the necessity for sleep.[50]

Aristotle was right: there is a power within that moulds every form, in plants and planets, in animals and men. "The instinct of animals in general gives us the best illustration of what remains of teleology in nature. For as instinct is an action similar to that which is guided by the conception of an end, and yet is entirely without this; so all construction in nature resembles that which is guided by the conception of an end, and yet is entirely without it."[51] The marvelous mechanical skill of animals shows how prior the will is to the intellect. An elephant which had been led through Europe, and had crossed hundreds of bridges, refused to advance upon a weak bridge, though it had seen many horses and men crossing it. A young dog fears to jump down from the table; it foresees the effect of the fall not by reasoning (for it has no experience of such a fall) but by instinct. Orangoutangs warm themselves by a fire which they find, but they do not feed the fire; obviously, then, such actions are instinctive, and not the result of reasoning; they are the expression not of intellect but of will.[52]

The will, of course, is a will to live, and a will to maximum life. How dear life is to all living things!–and with what silent patience it will bide its time! "For thousands of years galvanism slumbered in copper and zinc, and they lay quietly beside silver, which must be consumed in flame as soon as all three are brought together under the required conditions. Even in the organic kingdom we see a dry seed preserve the slumbering force of life through three thousand years, and, when at last the favorable circumstances occur, grow up as a plant." Living toads found in limestone lead to the conclusion that even animal life is capable of suspension for thousands of years.[53] The will is a will to live; and its eternal enemy is death.

But perhaps it can defeat even death?

2. The Will To Reproduce

It can, by the strategy and martyrdom of reproduction. Every normal organism hastens, at maturity, to sacrifice itself to the task of reproduction: from the spider who is eaten up by the female he has just fertilized, or the wasp that devotes itself to gathering food for offspring it will never see, to the man who wears himself to ruin in the effort to feed and clothe and educate his children. Reproduction is the ultimate purpose of every organism, and its strongest instinct; for only so can the will conquer death. And to ensure this conquest of death, the will to reproduce is placed almost entirely beyond control of knowledge or reflection: even a philosopher, occasionally, has children.

The will shows itself here as independent of knowledge, and works blindly, as in unconscious nature.... Accordingly, the reproductive organs are properly the focus of will, and form the opposite pole to the brain, which is the representative of knowledge.... The former are the life-sustaining principle, they ensure endless life; for this reason they were worshipped by the Greeks in the phallus and by the Hindus in the lingam. ... Hesiod and Parmenides said very significantly that Eros is the first, the creator, the principle from which all things proceed. The relation of the sexes . . is really the invisible central point of all action and conduct, and peeps out everywhere in spite of all veils thrown over it. It is the cause of war and the end of peace; the basis of what is serious, and the aim of the jest; the inexhaustible source of wit, the key of all illusions, and the meaning of all mysterious hints.[54] ... We see it at every moment seat itself, as the true and hereditary lord of the world, out of the fullness of its own strength, upon the ancestral throne; and looking down thence with scornful glance, laugh at the preparations made to bind it, or imprison it, or at least limit it and, wherever possible, keep it concealed, and even so to master it that it shall only appear as a subordinate, secondary concern of life.[55]

The "metaphysics of love" revolves about this subordination of the father to the mother, of the parent to the child, of the individual to the species. And first, the law of sexual attraction is that the choice of mate is to a large extent determined, however unconsciously, by mutual fitness to procreate.

Each seeks a mate that will neutralize his defects, lest they be inherited; . . . a physically weak man will seek a strong woman.... each one will especially regard as beautiful in another individual those perfections which he himself lacks, nay, even those imperfections which are the opposite of his own.[56] ... The physical qualities of two individuals can be such that for the purpose of restoring as far as possible the type of the species, the one is quite specially and perfectly the completion and supplement of the other, which therefore desires it exclusively.... The profound consciousness with which we consider and ponder every part of the body.... the critical scrupulosity with which we look at a woman who begins to please us ... the individual here acts, without knowing it, by order of something higher than himself.... Every individual loses attraction for the opposite sex in proportion as he or she is removed from the fittest period for begetting or conceiving: ... youth without beauty has still always attraction; beauty without youth has none.... That in every case of falling in love.... what alone is looked to is the production of an individual of a definite nature, is primarily confirmed by the fact that the essential matter is not the reciprocation of love, but possession.[57]

Nevertheless, no unions are so unhappy as these love marriages–and precisely for the reason that their aim is the perpetuation of the species, and not the pleasure of the individual.[58] "He who marries from love must live in sorrow," runs a Spanish proverb. Half the literature of the marriage problem is stultified because it thinks of marriage as mating, instead of thinking of it as an arrangement for the preservation of the race. Nature does not seem to care whether the parents are "happy forever afterwards," or only for a day, so long as reproduction is achieved. Marriages of convenience, arranged by the parents of the mates, are often happier than marriages of love. Yet the woman who marries for love, against the advice of her parents, is in a sense to be admired; for "she has preferred what is of most importance, and has acted in the spirit of nature (more exactly, of the species), while the parents advised in the spirit of individual egoism.”[59] Love is the best eugenics.

Since love is a deception practiced by nature, marriage is the attrition of love, and must be disillusioning. Only a philosopher can be happy in marriage, and philosophers do not marry.

Because the passion depended upon an illusion which represented that which has value only for the species as valuable for the individual, the deception must vanish after the attainment of the end of the species. The individual discovers that he has been the dupe of the species. If Petrarch's passion had been gratified, his song would have been silenced.[60]

The subordination of the individual to the species as instrument of its continuance, appears again in the apparent dependence of individual vitality on the condition of the reproductive cells.

The sexual impulse is to be regarded as the inner life of the tree (the species) upon which the life of the individual grows, like a leaf that is nourished by the tree and assists in nourishing the tree; this is why that impulse is so strong, and springs from the depths of our nature. To castrate an individual means to cut him off from the tree of the species upon which he grows, and thus severed, leaves him to wither; hence the degradation of his mental and physical powers. That the service of the species, i. e., fecundation, is followed in the case of every animal individual by momentary exhaustion and debility of all the powers, and in the case of most insects, indeed, by speedy death,-on account of which Celsus said, Seminis emissio est partis animae jactura; that in the case of man the extinction of the generative power shows that the individual approaches death; that excessive use of this power at every age shortens life, while on the other hand, temperance in this respect increases all the powers, and especially the muscular powers, on which account it was part of the training of the Greek athletes; that the same restraint lengthens the life of the insect even to the following spring; all this points to the fact that the life of the individual is at bottom only borrowed from that of the species.... Procreation is the highest point; and after attaining to it, the life of the first individual quickly or slowly sinks, while a new life ensures to nature the endurance of the species, and repeats the same phenomena. . . . Thus the alternation of death and reproduction is as the pulsebeat of the species. . . Death is for the species what sleep is for the individual; ... his is nature's great doctrine of immortality. . . . For the whole world, with all its phenomena, is the objectivity of the one indivisible will, the Idea, which is related to all other Ideas as harmony is related to the single voice.... In Eckermann's Conversations with Goethe (vol. I, p. 181), Goethe says: "Our spirit is a being of a nature quite indestructible, and its activity continues from eternity to eternity. It is like the sun, which seems to set only to our earthly eyes, but which, in reality, never sets, but shines on unceasingly." Goethe has taken the simile from me, not I from him.[61]

Only in space and time do we seem to be separate beings; they constitute the "principle of individuation" which divides life into distinct organisms as appearing in different places or periods; space and time are the Veil of Maya,–Illusion hiding the unity of things. In reality there is only the species, only life, only will. "To understand clearly that the individual is only the phenomenon, not the thing-in-itself," to see in "the constant change of matter the fixed permanence of form,"–this is the essence of philosophy.[62] "The motto of history should run: Eadem, sed aliter."[63] The more things change, the more they remain the same.

He to whom men and all things have not at all times appeared as mere phantoms or illusions, has no capacity for philosophy.... The true philosophy of history lies in perceiving that, in all the endless changes and motley complexity of events, it is only the self-same unchangeable being that is before us, which today pursues the same ends as it did yesterday and ever will. The historical philosopher has accordingly to recognize the identical character in all events, . . . and in spite of all the variety of special circumstances, of costumes and manners and customs, has to see everywhere the same humanity. . . . To have read Herodotus is, from a philosophical point of view, to have studied enough history.... Throughout and everywhere the true symbol of nature is the circle, because it is the schema or type of recurrence.[64]

We like to believe that all history is a halting and imperfect preparation for the magnificent era of which we are the salt and summit; but this notion of progress is mere conceit and folly. "In general, the wise in all ages have always said the same things, and the fools, who at all times form the immense majority, have in their way too acted alike, and done the opposite; and so it will continue. For, as Voltaire says, we shall leave the world as foolish and wicked as we found it.”[65]

In the light of all this we get a new and grimmer sense of the inescapable reality of determinism. "Spinoza says (Epistle 82) that if a Stone which has been projected through the air had consciousness, it would believe that it was moving of its own free will. I add to this only that the stone would be right. The impulse given it is for the stone what the motive is for me; and what in the stone appears as cohesion, gravitation, rigidity, is in its inner nature the same as that which I recognize in myself as well, and what the stone also, if knowledge were given to it, would recognize as will.”[66]  But in neither the stone nor the philosopher is the will "free." Will as a whole is free, for there is no other will beside it that could limit it; but each part of the universal Will–each species, each organism, each organ–is irrevocably determined by the whole.

Everyone believes himself a priori to be perfectly free, even in his individual actions, and thinks that at every moment he can commence another manner of life, which just means that he can become another person. But a posteriori, through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but subjected to necessity; that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning of his life to the end of it, he must carry out the very character which he himself condemns, and as it were, play the part which he has undertaken, to the very end.[67]


But if the world is will, it must be a world of suffering.

And first, because will itself indicates want, and its grasp is always greater than its reach. For every wish that is satisfied there remain ten that are denied. Desire is infinite, fulfillment is limited–"it is like the alms thrown to a beggar, that keeps him alive today in order that his misery may be prolonged tomorrow.... As long as our consciousness is filled by our will, so long as we are given up to the throng of desires with their constant hopes and fears, so long as we are subject to willing, we can never have lasting happiness or peace.”[68] And fulfillment never satisfies; nothing is so fatal to an ideal as its realization. "The satisfied passion oftener leads to unhappiness than to happiness. For its demands often conflict so much with the personal welfare of him who is concerned that they undermine it.”[69] Each individual bears within himself a disruptive contradiction; the realized desire develops a new desire, and so on endlessly. "At the bottom this results from the fact that the will must live on itself, for there exists nothing besides it, and it is a hungry will.”[70]

In every individual the measure of the pain essential to him was determined once for all by his nature; a measure which could neither remain empty, nor be more than filled ... If a great and pressing care is lifted from our breast.... another immediately replaces it, the whole material of which was already there before, but could not come into consciousness as care because there was no capacity left for it.... But now that there is room for this it comes forward and occupies the throne.[71]

Again, life is evil because pain is its basic stimulus and reality, and pleasure is merely a negative cessation of pain. Aristotle was right: the wise man seeks not pleasure, but freedom from care and pain.

[1]  Froude: Life and Letters of Thomas Carlyle, I, p. 52.

[2]  The World as Will and Idea; London, 1883; iii, 300.

[3]  In Wallace: Life of Schopenhauer; London, no date; p. 59

[4]  Cf. Wallace, 92.

[5]  The World as Will and Idea, ii, 199; Essays, "On Noise.”

[6]  Nietzsche: Schopenhauer. as Educator; London, 1910; p. 122.

[7]  Wallace; Article "Schopenhauer" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica.

[8]  Schopenhauer insists, hardly with sufficient reason, and almost to the point of salesmanship, that this book must be read before the World as Will and Idea can be understood. The reader may nevertheless rest content with knowing that the "principle of sufficient reason" is the "law of cause and effect," in four forms: 1-Logical, as the determination of conclusion by premises; 2-Physical, as the determination of effect by cause; 3-Mathematical, as the determination of structure by the laws of mathematics and mechanics; and, 4-Moral, as the determination of conduct by character.

[9]  In Wallace, Life, p. 107

[10]  Wallace, 1710

[11] "One instance of his humor had better be buried in the obscurity of a foot-note. "The actor Unzelmann," notorious for adding remarks of his own to the lines of the playwright, "was forbidden, at the Berlin theatre, to improvise. Soon afterwards he had to appear upon the stage on horseback." Just as they entered, the horse was guilty of conduct seriously unbecoming a public stage. "The audience began to laugh; whereupon Unzelmann severely reproached the horse–Do you not know that we are forbidden to improvise?"'-Vol. ii, p. 273.

[12] First one must live, then one may philosophize.

[13] Of few men

[14] Vol. ii, p. 5.

[15] Vo1. i, p. vii

[16] In fact, this is just what one must do; many have found even s third reading fruitful. A great book is like a great symphony, which must be heard many times before it can be really understood.

[17] I, 34.

[18] Essays, "On Pride."

[19] Instead of recommending books about Schopenhauer it would be better to send the reader to Schopenhauer himself: all three volumes of his main work (with the exception of Part I in each volume) are easy reading, and full of matter; and all the Essays are valuable and delightful. By way of biography Wallace’s Life should suffice. In this essay it has been thought desirable to condense Schopenhauer's immense volumes not by rephrasing their ideas, but by selecting and coordinating the salient passages, and leaving the thought in the philosopher's own dear and brilliant language The reader will have the benefit of getting Schopenhauer at first hand, however briefly.

[20] I, 34.

[21] Vogt, Büchner, Moleschott, Feuerbach, etc.

[22] I, 59.

[23] III, 43.

[24] I, 128.

[25] First lie, initial mistake.

[26] II, 409. Schopenhauer forgets (or does he take his lead from?) Spinoza's emphatic statement: "Desire is the very essence of man." - Ethics, part iv, prop. 18. Fichte had also emphasized the will.

[27] II, 328.

[28] II, 421.

[29] A source of Freud.

[30] III, 443.

[31] Essays, "Counsels and Maxims," p. 126.

[32] II, 433.

[33] II, 437.

[34] II, 251.

[35] III, 118.

[36] II, 463, 326; a source of Bergson.

[37] II, 333.

[38] II, 450m 449.

[39] II, 479.

[40] II, 486. This is the Lamarckian view of growth and evolution as due to desires and functions compelling structures and begetting organs.

[41] I, 132, A source for the James-Lange theory of emotion?

[42] I, 130-141; II, 482. Cf. Spinoza, Ethics, III, 2.

[43] II, 424 But is there no such thing as the satiation or exhaustion of desire? In profound fatigue or sickness even the will to live fades.

[44] II, 468

[45] II, 463.

[46] Counsels and Maxims," essay "On Our Relations to Ourselves."

[47] III, 333.

[48] I, 144.

[49] I, 142.

[50] I, 153; II, 418, 337.

[51] I, 210.

[52] I, 29.

[53] I, 178.

[54] "A source of Freud's theory of "wit and the unconscious."

[55] I, 426, 525; III, 314. Schopenhauer, like all who have suffered from sex, exaggerates its role; the parental relation probably outweighs the sexual in the minds of normal adults.

[56] A source of Weininger.

[57] III, 342, 357, 347, 360, 359, 352, 341.

[58] III, 372.

[59] III, 371.

[60] III, 370.

[61] III, 310; I, 214; III,312, 370, 267; I, 206, 362.

[62] I, 357-8.

[63] III, 227, “The same things, but in different ways.”

[64] III, 227, 267; Wallace, 97. Cf. Nietzsche's "eternal recurrence."

[65] Introduction to "The Wisdom of Life."

[66] II, 164.

[67] I, 147.

[68] I, 253.

[69] III, 368.

[70] I, 201.

[71] I, 409.

Durant, Will, The Story of Philosophy, Washington Square Press, New York, NY, 1967, Chapter VII, p. 300

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