Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Aesthetics, Part Two: Schopenhauer

Our next adventure into the world of aesthetic thought will deal with the ideas and theories of Arthur  Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer's thought takes up a smiler, but distinct, view as German Idealism (Hegel and Schelling). The main reason for his separation from the Idealism of which many of his contemporaries were teaching and propounding, was his disagreement with the over-abundant use of dialectic logic ( the main objection was the historizing tendency in Hegel's dialectic). Schopenhauer, instead, diverts by holding that there is not some rationally-infused will, or a specific principle of self-consciousness, but rather what the WILL - a mindless, aimless, non-rational, urge that is present at the foundation of our instinctual drives; and this same will is what is at the foundation of everything that exist.  He lands upon this former idea by way of his examination of Plato and Kant. From Kant he obtains the idea of the separation of phenomena and the "thing-in-itself"; Schopenhauer follows Kant's lead and accepts that the mind implicitly shapes the only knowable world to its categories of thought (but he rejects Kant's conception of building a system of knowledge - his criticism is that Kant's twelve categories of human understanding reduce down to just one, causality). One important claim that Schopenhauer makes in opposition to Kant, has to do with how knowledge is perceived. He takes sides with Plato - in many different aspects such as: adopting a type of Platonism. 

The "dialectic" that Schopenhauer seems to present is the WILL. The Will is the actualizing drive that produces objects; all individual objectification is really a matter of will, on his account. From this idea, he perpetuates the idea that the world has two parts: 1) the inner part of the Will, and 2)  the world as the Will and the world as representation. 

We are able to know the representational world by the principle of sufficient reason: our sense, motivation, judgment. This principle provides the compete scientific explanation of what something is, for Schopenhauer the what something is, is a representation.

To continue further, from the Will, ideas individuate, or become represented by the actual world. The result of the individuation of the Will is that the world in-and-of-itself is striving against itself and is thus: frustrating, meaningless,  and void of knowledge. Additionally, within this continuos strife there is us, humans, and within us there is also present this unyielding strife in the form of a desire cycle. In this cycle we will to get something/desire something, but because one lacks what you desire, you suffer. However, once you obtain something you possess a brief moment of fulfillment, and then ennui sets in, which is, again, suffering. So, desire -> satisfaction-> ennui-> desire = suffering.

How is it, then, that we can escape this vicious cycle? This is where the aesthetic applies.  By way of art and aesthetic experience, we are able to achieve a more tranquil state of consciousness, and  the genius is able to make manifest the ideas of platonic forms. Aesthetic perception thus raises a person into a pure will-less , painless, and timeless state of knowledge (Will-lessness is the negation of the Will).  So, to explain how this works: suppose that you are outside and you see an amazing sunset, and during that brief moment you experience a time in which you forget all particulars and desires - that is the state of will-less-ness. We appreciate works of art (of the artistic genius) so as to have better knowledge of the Platonic ideas, and the will-less state leads us closer to the these ideas. 

We read:
" Only through the pure contemplation described above, which ends entirely in the object, can ideas be comprehended; and the nature of genius consist in preeminent capacity for such contemplation" and "But what kind of knowledge is concerned with that which is outside and independent of all relations, that which alone is really essential to the world, the true content of its phenomena that which is subject too no chance and therefore is known with equal truth for all time and in a word the ideas, which are the direct and adequate objectivity of the thing in itself, the will?" (The World as Will and Idea)
(So the genius is the capacity to tap into these ideas and represent them via art. And music is able to bypass and know the will directly -music is unique)

The idea that one is able to come to an apprehension of certain Platonic forms by way of art is basically taking Plato's argument upside-down. Plato has claimed that art is down with the reflections and shadows of the physical world, and thus,  draws us away from the truth -the forms. Nevertheless, Schopenhauer holds that this is not the case, rather we come closer to them by art. 

I think that it is worthy to note that the story of Ixion ( a Greek myth) provides an interesting analogy of how Schopehauer cashes-out his idea of the Will and how one escapes it. According to the myth, Ixion was sentenced to be tied to a burning wheel by Zeus. Ixion received this punishment for lusting after Zeus' wife Hera, and the only time that Ixion is able to feel any form of relief from this punishment is when Orepheus played his Lyre. 


Sources and web pages to be visited for further info:
2) Certain lectures 


  1. Oh my goodness!!!! you are way too deep for this feeble brained Aunt of yours!!! But I love you!!!!

  2. Hi, Yeah Schopenhauer is deep for just about anyone - thats why I had to write this post to see if I could get him off my mind.

  3. That seems great. It seems like you have absolutely everything you need to know about Schopenhauer there, and then some. If you write that exact thing on the test, I'm sure you'll get an A+.