German Transcendental Idealist, perhaps the first Western philosopher to interpret, if not reality, at least Plato and Kant through Eastern Concepts (i.e. the Upanishads, Buddhism, Hinduism), but in such a way as to present, some will say, a somewhat pessimistic, even nihilistic misrepresentation of Eastern Thought. Others charge Schopenhauer for offering nothing more than a strange, idiosyncratic blending of Kant, Plato and Buddha.
Schopenhauer's dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, presented in 1813, is an innovative reading of Kant's philosophy, and can be used as a guide to the entire body of work to come after. The "principle of sufficient reason" attempts to capture the idea that all objects are relational, and that the mind, or consciousness, comes to understand the world through the relations of objects to each other.
The metaphysical underpinnings of the "principle" are explored and explained in Schopenhauer's monumental work, The World as Will and Representation, written in 1818, then revised and expanded in 1844. The title of this work is perfect, in that it captures within a single line of text, Schopenhauer's guiding thesis: the core of reality (World, Nature, Being), as well as the metaphysical nature of every object (Kant's thing-in-itself) is Will. Will is relationally manifested in every fact, experience and object. The phenomenal world in all its fantastic variety, is ultimately guided by the inner workings of a single drive which perpetually moves events toward the Will's further unfolding. Invoking Plato's Ideas, Schopenhauer claims that objects and events both hide and reveal the universal reality of Will. Taken as a whole, the relational principle of sufficient reason reveals itself as an immense, diabolic collusion of energy which no thing escapes. Every thing, from gnats to humans are subordinated by Will. As Schopenhauer says:
"...it is everywhere one and the same -- just as the first morning dawn shares the name of sunlight with the rays of the full midday sun -- it must in either case bear the name of will. For this word indicates that which is the being-in-itself of every thing in the world, and is the sole kernel of every phenomenon." (The World as Will and Representation, vol. I, trans. E. F. Payne; New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1969, 118)
Humans are able to experience -- even come to know -- this terrible truth through the body, since the body is itself a representation of the Will. For Schopenhauer, the way to understanding the World as Will is through Aesthetic Experience. Schopenhauer describes this state of awareness as a type of mystical experience. Kant's notion of the Sublime becomes, for Schopenhauer, the vehicle through which the human body 'sees,' through direct experience, the awesome visibility of a world feeding upon itself in order to maintain its unconscious hunger for future life...the need for prey, the anxiety of becoming prey, and the suffering and pain of the inevitable feast.
As such, the Will manifests a steady state of conflicting interests, forces, and desires, a dependent and interrelated cybernetic web. The experience of the sublime brings us into a direct understanding of our place within this dreadful hierarchy. Ultimately, we learn, just as the Buddha teaches, that all life is pain and suffering, and even our most cherished emotions are, in truth, illusory (Maya). In other words, all our personal cares, interests, loves, hates are not actually ours, but rather the Will manifesting itself through us. We are mere puppets in a cruel hierarchy of pain. The final lesson aesthetic experience teaches is that philosophical understanding compells us into a type of self-imposed ethical or moral condition where the goal of human life becomes the very denial of Will. But, the denial of the will to live -- just imagine -- is not easy. In fact, it requires all the muster and devotion of a religious saint. Our awareness of the World as Will demands a Buddha's compassion, a compassion that sees the radical equality of every living thing, and thereby dedicates every moment of one's life to quelling the suffering of even the smallest and seemingly insignificant of creatures.