The World as Will and Representation/Preface to the First Edition

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The World as Will and Representation by Arthur Schopenhauer, translated by R B Haldane and J. Kemp
Preface to the First Edition

I propose to point out here how this book must be read in order to be thoroughly understood. By means of it I only intend to impart a single thought. Yet, not withstanding all my endeavours, I could find no shorter way of imparting it than this whole book. I hold this thought to be that which has very long been sought for under the name of philosophy, and the discovery of which is therefore regarded by those who are familiar with this story as quite as impossible as the discovery of the philosophers stone, although it was already said by Pliny: Quam multa fieri non posse, priusquam sint facta, judicantur? (Hist. nat. 7, 1.)

According as we consider the different aspects of this one thought which I am about to impart, it exhibits itself as that which we call metaphysics, that which we call ethics, and that which we call aesthetics; and certainly it must be all this if it is what I have already acknowledged I take it to be.

A system of thought must always have an architectonic connection or coherence, that is, a connection in which one part always supports the other, though the latter does not support the former, in which ultimately the foundation supports all the rest without being supported by it, and the apex is supported without supporting. On the other hand, a single thought, however comprehensive it may be, must preserve the most perfect unity. If it admits of being broken up into parts to facilitate its communication, the connection of these parts must yet be organic, i.e., it must be a connection in which every part supports the whole just as much as it is supported by it, a connection in which there is no first and no last, in which the whole thought gains distinctness through every part, and even the smallest part cannot be completely understood unless the whole has already been grasped. A book, however, must always have a first and a last line, and in this respect will always remain very unlike an organism, however like one its content may be: thus form and matter are here in contradiction.

It is self-evident that under these circumstances no other advice can be given as to how one may enter into the thought explained in this work than to read the book twice, and the first time with great patience, a patience which is only to be derived from the belief, voluntarily accorded, that the beginning presupposes the end almost as much as the end presupposes the beginning, and that all the earlier parts presuppose the later almost as much as the later presuppose the earlier. I say "almost"; for this is by no means absolutely the case, and I have honestly and conscientiously done all that was possible to give priority to that which stands least in need of explanation from what follows, as indeed generally to everything that can help to make the thought as easy to comprehend and as distinct as possible. This might indeed to a certain extent be achieved if it were not that the reader, as is very natural, thinks, as he reads, not merely of what is actually said, but also of its possible consequences, and thus besides the many contradictions actually given of the opinions of the time, and presumably of the reader, there may be added as many more which are anticipated and imaginary. That, then, which is really only misunderstanding, must take the form of active disapproval, and it is all the more difficult to recognise that it is misunderstanding, because although the laboriously-attained clearness of the explanation and distinctness of the expression never leaves the immediate sense of what is said doubtful, it cannot at the same time express its relations to all that remains to be said. Therefore, as we have said, the first perusal demands patience, founded on confidence that on a second perusal much, or all, will appear in an entirely different light. Further, the earnest endeavour to be more completely and even more easily comprehended in the case of a very difficult subject, must justify occasional repetition. Indeed the structure of the whole, which is organic, not a mere chain, makes it necessary sometimes to touch on the same point twice. Moreover this construction, and the very close connection of all the parts, has not left open to me the division into chapters and paragraphs which I should otherwise have regarded as very important, but has obliged me to rest satisfied with four principal divisions, as it were four aspects of one thought. In each of these four books it is especially important to guard against losing sight, in the details which must necessarily be discussed, of the principal thought to which they belong, and the progress of the whole exposition. I have thus expressed the first, and like those which follow, unavoidable demand upon the reader, who holds the philosopher in small favour just because he himself is a philosopher.

The second demand is this, that the introduction be read before the book itself, although it is not contained in the book, but appeared five years earlier under the title, "Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde: eine philosophische Abhandlung" (On the fourfold root of the principle of sufficient reason: a philosophical essay). Without an acquaintance with this introduction and propadeutic it is absolutely impossible to understand the present work properly, and the content of that essay will always be presupposed in this work just as if it were given with it. Besides, even if it had not preceded this book by several years, it would not properly have been placed before it as an introduction, but would have been incorporated in the first book. As it is, the first book does not contain what was said in the earlier essay, and it therefore exhibits a certain incompleteness on account of these deficiencies, which must always be supplied by reference to it. However, my disinclination was so great either to quote myself or laboriously to state again in other words what I had already said once in an adequate manner, that I preferred this course, notwithstanding the fact that I might now be able to give the content of that essay a somewhat better expression, chiefly by freeing it from several conceptions which resulted from the excessive influence which the Kantian philosophy had over me at the time, such as — categories, outer and inner sense, and the like. But even there these conceptions only occur because as yet I had never really entered deeply into them, therefore only by the way and quite out of connection with the principal matter. The correction of such passages in that essay will consequently take place of its own accord in the mind of the reader through his acquaintance with the present work. But only if we have fully recognised by means of that essay what the principle of sufficient reason is and signifies, what its validity extends to, and what it does not extend to, and that that principle is not before all things, and the whole world merely in consequence of it, and in conformity to it, a corollary, as it were, of it; but rather that it is merely the form in which the object, of whatever kind it may be, which is always conditioned by the subject, is invariably known so far as the subject is a knowing individual: only then will it be possible to enter into the method of philosophy which is here attempted for the first time, and which is completely different from all previous methods.

But the same disinclination to repeat myself word for word, or to say the same thing a second time in other and worse words, after I have deprived myself of the better, has occasioned another delect in the first book of this work. For I have omitted all that is said in the first chapter of my essay "On Sight and Colour", which would otherwise have found its place here, word for word. Therefore the knowledge of this short, earlier work is also presupposed.

Finally, the third demand I have to make on the reader might indeed be tacitly assumed, for it is nothing but an acquaintance with the most important phenomenon that has appeared in philosophy for two thousand years, and that lies so near us: I mean the principal writings of Kant. It seems to me, in fact, as indeed has already been said by others, that the effect these writings produce in the mind to which they truly speak is very like that of the operation for cataract on a blind man: and if we wish to pursue the simile further, the aim of my own work may be described by saying that I have sought to put into the hands of those upon whom that operation has been successfully performed a pair of spectacles suitable to eyes that have recovered their sight — spectacles of whose use that operation is the absolutely necessary condition. Starting then, as I do to a large extent, from what has been accomplished by the great Kant, I have yet been enabled, just on account of my earnest study of his writings, to discover important errors in them. These I have been obliged to separate from the rest and prove to be false, in order that I might be able to presuppose and apply what is true and excellent in his doctrine, pure and freed from error. But not to interrupt and complicate my own exposition by a constant polemic against Kant, I have relegated this to a special appendix. It follows then, from what has been said, that my work presupposes a knowledge of this appendix just as much as it presupposes a knowledge of the philosophy of Kant; and in this respect it would therefore be advisable to read the appendix first, all the more as its content is specially related to the first book of the present work. On the other hand, it could not be avoided, from the nature of the case, that here and there the appendix also should refer to the text of the work; and the only result of this is, that the appendix, as well as the principal part of the work, must be read twice.

The philosophy of Kant, then, is the only philosophy with which a thorough acquaintance is directly presupposed in what we have to say here. But if, besides this, the reader has lingered in the school of the divine Plato, he will be so much the better prepared to hear me, and susceptible to what I say. And if, indeed, in addition to this he is a partaker of the benefit conferred by the Vedas, the access to which, opened to us through the Upanishads, is in my eyes the greatest advantage which this still young century enjoys over previous ones, because I believe that the influence of the Sanscrit literature will penetrate not less deeply than did the revival of Greek literature in the fifteenth century: if, I say, the reader has also already received and assimilated the sacred, primitive Indian wisdom, then is he best of all prepared to hear what I have to say to him. My work will not speak to him, as to many others, in a strange and even hostile tongue; for, if it does not sound too vain, I might express the opinion that each one of the individual and disconnected aphorisms which make up the Upanishads may be deduced as a consequence from the thought I am going to impart, though the converse, that my thought is to be found in the Upanishads, is by no means the case.

But most readers have already grown angry with impatience,and burst into reproaches with difficulty kept back so long. How can I venture to present a book to the public under conditions and demands the first two of which are presumptuous and altogether immodest, and this at a time when there is such a general wealth of special ideas, that in Germany alone they are made common property through the press, in three thousand valuable, original, and absolutely indispensable works every year, besides innumerable periodicals, and even daily papers; at a time when especially there is not the least deficiency of entirely original and profound philosophers, but in Germany alone there are more of them alive at the same time, than several centuries could formerly boast of in succession to each other? How is one ever to come to the end, asks the indignant reader, if one must set to work upon a book in such a fashion?

As I have absolutely nothing to advance against these reproaches, I only hope for some small thanks from such readers for having warned them in time, so that they may not lose an hour over a book which it would be useless to read without complying with the demands that have been made, and which should therefore be left alone, particularly as apart from this we might wager a great deal that it can say nothing to them, but rather that it will always be only pancorum hominum, and must there fore quietly and modestly wait for the few whose unusual mode of thought may find it enjoyable. For apart from the difficulties and the effort which it requires from the reader, what cultured man of this age, whose knowledge has almost reached the august point at which the paradoxical and the false are all one to it, could bear to meet thoughts almost on every page that directly contradict that which he has yet himself established once for all as true and undeniable? And then, how disagreeably disappointed will many a one be if he finds no mention here of what he believes it is precisely here he ought to look for, be cause his method of speculation agrees with that of a great living philosopher,[1] who has certainly written pathetic books, and who only has the trifling weakness that he takes all he learned and approved before his fifteenth year for inborn ideas of the human mind. Who could stand all this? Therefore my advice is simply to lay down the book.

But I fear I shall not escape even thus. The reader who has got as far as the preface and been stopped by it, has bought the book for cash, and asks how he is to be indemnified. My last refuge is now to remind him that he knows how to make use of a book in several ways, without exactly reading it. It may fill a gap in his library as well as many another, where, neatly bound, it will certainly look well. Or he can lay it on the toilet-table or the tea-table of some learned lady friend. Or, finally, what certainly is best of all, and I specially advise it, he can review it.


And now that I have allowed myself the jest to which in this two-sided life hardly any page can be too serious to grant a place, I part with the book with deep seriousness, in the sure hope that sooner or later it will reach those to whom alone it can be addressed; and for the rest, patiently resigned that the same fate should, in full measure, befall it, that in all ages has, to some extent, befallen all knowledge, and especially the weightiest knowledge of the truth, to which only a brief triumph is allotted between the two long periods in which it is condemned as paradoxical or disparaged as trivial. The former fate is also wont to befall its author. But life is short, and truth works far and lives long: let us speak the truth.


Written at Dresden in August 1818.

Footnotes[edit]

  1. F. H. Jacobi.