Monday, May 30, 2005

The World As Will and Representation

I don't read much philosophy. After finishing part one of The World As Will and Representation I now know why. My knowledge of philosophy is confined to some Plato, some Aristotle, a few books by Nietzsche, Bertrand Russel's history of philosophy, and that's about it. I should try more, but it's so hard!

The introduction in itself is enough to put you off. Schopenhauer gives the reader a few tips on how to approach his book, replete with a reading list. Not only does he suggest you do some comprehensive preliminary study, he also advises we read his book twice to really get what he is saying. As I said, I have only got through part one, which was a long and arduous job. I can hardly imagine beginning all over again.

What does his book mean? Honestly, I'd be lucky if I could admit to understanding every third word. But let me try and break it down as best I can. Plato said the physical world was merely full of phenomena. Nothing is permanent. For example, time lapse photography could show a seed grow to a plant, the plant sprout a flower, then the flower wither and die, and also the plant eventually shrivel up. Apply this to the larger world, things, objects, come and go. Or as Shakespeare said in Hamlet, we are all passing through nature. Therefore Plato was prompted to ask, what is the real essence of the world? What is the real energy that creates these objects in the world?

Schopenhauer calls this energy the will, which projects itself into the objects we apprehend in the world, objects that he calls representations of the will. Thus we are all subjects, who perceive the world, which is the object.

I wish I could say I was smart and therefore eager to rush into the arms of part two. Nonetheless I did find the parts of the book I understood fascinating, especially his sections on music. Philosophy is just so abstract, and you really need to get a grasp on the language that is constantly used, so you don't find yourself totally bamboozled. I am presuming that, like any difficult language, Shakespeare for example, it requires much study and serious application. Just picking the book up cold and hoping to get it all in one reading won't happen. (Amazingly, Schopenhauer wrote the book before he was thirty!)

Here is my favourite quote from part one:

'The life of every individual, viewed as a whole and in general, and when only its most significant features are emphasized, is really a tragedy; but gone through in detail it has the character of a comedy.'

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