The World as Will and Idea

by Arthur Schopenhauer

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Last Updated on February 23, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 389

In The World as Will and Idea, German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer attempts to make sense of our reality. First, one must understand the bare bones of the theory, which is influenced by earlier philosophical works, particularly those articulated by Immanuel Kant and George Berkeley. The universe, or reality, should be seen as a binary system.

The first part of the binary system is the object, which is the physical universe and can be observed through our five senses. It is this external environment that makes up our material world. The second part of the binary is the subject—that would be every sentient being living in this reality (the object). The subject and the object are like conjoined twins; one cannot exist without the other.

The material reality we observe—although autonomous and self-sufficient, even without our existence—has no meaning until we give it meaning. In other words, the perception, interpretation, and understanding by the subject turns the object into a unified idea.

What Schopenhauer did with The World as Will and Idea was take this idea to another level. He believed that Kant and Berkeley were on the right path, but their ideas were still lacking. Schopenhauer pondered the mechanism between the subject and the object. Are they simply two parts of a singular system that are still essentially divided? Our bodies are objects, which are part of the universe, yet our mind is housed within this body. So what is their dynamic? The answer is will. The mind can will the body, an object, to move.

The mind, filled with emotions, is a computer where violent neurological processes occur that interact with external stimuli. It's like a feedback loop. The mind observes the object and then uses will to correspond to that object. This is what separates humans from other animals. We are able to analyze and process the physical reality around us and create complex ideas from them.

This has led to the creation of geometry to measure the shapes of objects, as well as color identification and categorization, the field of biology, and many other examples. Schopenhauer believes this is the key to understanding the true reality of the universe. By seeing the universe as a large idea, we, the subjects, can create our own ideas in order to reach the higher, capitalized "Idea."

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