Platonic Idea and the World of Perception in Schopenhauer*

Yasuo Kamata

translated by Ortrun Schulz from the original in German:
Platonische Idee und die anschauliche Welt bei Schopenhauer (1988)

1) On the Apparent Contradiction in Schopenhauer's Doctrine of Ideas in The World as Will and Representation (1818/1819)

2) Schopenhauer's College Years and On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (1813): The Basic Structure of Experience

3) Dresden Time: Schopenhauer's Doctrine of Ideas as Development of his Transcendental-Philosophical Fundamental View

4) Summary

Appendix: What is the 'Thing-in-itself' in Schopenhauer?


On the Apparent Contradiction in Schopenhauer's Doctrine of Ideas in The World as Will and Representation (1818/1819)

The title of the following reflections is: Platonic Idea and the world of perception. We ask about the relationship of the world of perception we experience concretely, to the Platonic Idea. Many of you will be wondering that I am going to talk about this theme above all, which is essentially clear to everybody. Schopenhauer said in his main work The world as Will and Representation about the Platonic Idea: The will is "the thing-in-itself, and the Idea is the immediate objectivity of that will at a definite grade"1. Or: The Platonic Idea "has laid aside merely the subordinate forms of the phenomenon, all of which we include under the principle of sufficient reason; or rather it has not yet entered into them." 2 The Idea therefore is the first grade of that will's appearance. There the blind-formless will, the thing-in-itself, first assumes the basic form of representation: being-object-for-a-subject and enters into it, comes into being. The Idea is the eternal, unchangeable archetype of a species, e.g. of the crystal, the tulip, the squirrel, or man, as it were. When the Ideas, as first stages of the will's appearance, assume the further subordinate forms of appearance, that is to say when they are subject to the principle of sufficient reason, they appear as the particular things determined by space and time. These phenomena are the imperfect and transitory copies of the eternal archetypes. As a whole they make up the world of perception, which we usually call the objective, real world. Since the individuals come into being only by the principle of sufficient reason, as the Ideas are split only by the principle of sufficient reason into temporary things, so to speak, Schopenhauer calls the principle of sufficient reason - with reference to scholasticism - principium individuationis, the principle of individuation.
It is convincing, even all too convincing, to explain the relationship between the Platonic Idea and the world of perception solely by the archetype-copy-scheme and to stress the principle of sufficient reason as the bond and transition stage between the two. If we rely on this approved frame of interpretation, however, to interpret the whole main work The World as Will and Representation uniformly, we often face problems.
Let us consider Schopenhauer's theory of art, for example. On the one hand, it says:

"It [art] repeats the eternal Ideas apprehended through pure contemplation, the essential and abiding element in all the phenomena of the world. According to the material in which it repeats, it is sculpture, painting, poetry, or music." 3

An artwork's beauty consists in the expression of the archetype for the particular phenomena, being the original phenomenon. The Idea of things indeed is, unlike the abstract concept, not an arbitrary product of man, but the appearance of the all-one will. The artist cannot construct it arbitrarily, but only repeat it in concrete works of art.
On careful reading of The World as Will and Representation, however, one encounters passages which seem to contradict this interpretation of the Ideas. Schopenhauer's theory of art speaks not only of the artistic repetition (copying) of the Platonic Idea, but also of anticipation, the precognition of the Idea by the artist,

"so that, by recognizing in the individual thing its Idea, he, so to speak, understands nature's half-spoken words. He expresses clearly what she merely stammers. He impresses on the hard marble the beauty of the form which nature failed to achieve in a thousand attempts, and he places it before her, exclaiming as it were, 'This is what you desired to say!' And from the man who knows comes the echoing reply, 'Yes, that is it!'"4.

So it is the artist, who completes the Idea not yet real as the "Ideal". Is not, therefore, the Platonic Idea a product of man after all?
This assumption is corroborated by further remarks of Schopenhauer himself. Namely towards the end of Book 1 we find a mysterious sentence, "The Platonic Idea that becomes possible through the union of imagination and reason is the main subject of the third book of the present work." 5
Schopenhauer does have an answer at hand though in The World as Will and Representation, where he says that we ourselves are the same will who wants to recognize its objectification at its highest grade. 6 This answer belongs to the problem sphere of the will's analogy. By this the identity of the individual will and the world will is meant to be shown. Since the artist himself basically emerges from the same will as nature, it is not surprising that the artist can apprehend the Idea.
We are first ignoring altogether that this explanation does not provide a transcendental-critical answer to the question of the condition of the possibility of the anticipation of the Idea; this thought of the all-one will appears historically for the first time by the end of 1814. 7 The inference about the analogy of the will is formulated even much later, in the year 1816. 8 On the other hand, the basic conception of the doctrine of Ideas - especially with regard to its relationship with the world of perception -, as it is included in the main work, is fixed already in early summer 1814, as a continuation of the problems treated in the dissertation On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. And there also this seeming contradiction can be observed.
In a fragment of this time the interpretation of Ideas can be found which will later be condensed in the above-mentioned thought of the artistic anticipation of the Platonic Idea as well as the origin of the Platonic Idea from the interaction of imagination and reason:

"The P1atonic Idea is essentially a phantasm in the presence of the reason. It is a phantasm on which reason has imprinted her seal of generality; a phantasm where she speaks: 'this is how they all are', that is to say 'that in which this representative is not adequate to its concept, is not essential'. The Platonic Idea therefore originates through the unified activity of imagination and reason." 9

Hence the Platonic Idea is a phantasm, the product of imagination. Though it is not an object of experience, it is, as phantasm, a representation through and through. Here we are not talking about the Platonic Idea being the first mode of the will's appearance. Rather, it has its origin in the world of perception. But at this time also he says about the Ideas on several occasions that they are the true essence of the world, the eternal forms and really being, contrary to the 'sensible', finite things which only seem to be. 10
This twofold comprehension of the Ideas evidently belongs essentially to Schopenhauer's philosophizing. It would be too easy to ascribe Schopenhauer inconsequence and call his philosophy an "ingenious, colorful patchwork" (Windelband), if we reduced these seeming contradictions to his allegedly sick state of mind (Haym) or emphasized only one or the other of the two aspects and got rid of the other as an insignificant beauty flaw.
Instead we want to investigate now how Schopenhauer's doctrine of Ideas evolves after the composition of his dissertation.


Schopenhauer's College Years and On the Fourfold Root of
the Principle of Sufficient Reason
(1813): The Basic Structure of Experience

Schopenhauer had two philosophy teachers. Still a student of medicine in Goettingen, he was introduced to philosophy by G. E. Schulze. He decided to shift his major subject to philosophy and went to Berlin in 1811 to listen to Fichte. When the danger of war was threatening, Schopenhauer left Berlin and withdrew to Rudolstadt to finish writing his dissertation. In October 1813 he was awarded the doctoral degree at the University of Jena.
During the years in Goettingen, Schopenhauer's thinking was still strongly determined by the traditional-metaphysical interest in the infinite or divine. In the Berlin years, however, a different thought comes along: the thought of the coherent unity of consciousness. This new position comprehends being as being-an-object-for-a-subject. 11 This implies that one can talk about the being of an object only insofar it has a relationship to a subject, which means it is a representation. Being therefore means being-a-representation, and being-a-representation means being-an-object-for-a-subject. The object without relation to the subject, which means as it is in itself, or the thing-in-itself, has no being. While this consequent view of consciousness immanence appears convincing to Schopenhauer, he nevertheless could not easily give up his ardent craving for the infinite. During his time in Berlin, it is implied in his notion of the "better consciousness"12. The better consciousness constitutes a tension towards the position of being a representation and is maintained until the beginning of the time in Dresden; it finally disappears altogether from his manuscripts after several modifications and revisions of meaning by the end of 1814.
The dissertation of 1813, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason13 can be considered as an attempt to present everything that is coherently from the standpoint of being a representation.

"Our consciousness, insofar as it appears as sensibility, understanding, reason, is divided into subject and object, and contains nothing further by then. Being an object for the subject, and being our representation, is the same. (...) But nothing which exists for itself and as independent, nor anything singular or isolated, can become an object for us: but all our representations have a connection in conformity to law and an apriori determinable form." 14

If the being of any substance outside consciousness (the thing-in-itself) is excluded and all being is considered conscious-immanent, that is as subject and object of representation within consciousness, the question arises how empirical knowledge is to be understood. Schopenhauer distinguishes between two aspects of experience15: One of them is the immediate presence of the clear representation. It is the representation of an object in its unity. It may be composed and of different range. The other aspect is the representation of the whole of experience (total representation), which makes up the background of the immediately present representation.
There can only be one clear representation given in consciousness at a time. Since according to Kantian tradition, "time is the condition a priori of all appearance in general"16. One clear representation after the other becomes present. It is not possible that several clear representations are present at once. Whether a representation is a perception and not a memory or imagination, is measured in an objective manner insofar as this representation can be connected with the representation of the whole of experience and can be integrated in it or not. Furthermore, a representation is immediately present to consciousness in a subjective respect, if it stands in relationship to the own body, which is to say in a co-ordinate system of experience, where the body is its point zero (immediate object). Put more simple: If a representation fits into the context of the whole of experience mediated by one's own body, then it is identified as object of experience. Simultaneously it is integrated into this total representation and thereby supplements the total representation. This interaction of the two aspects, the immediate presence of the clear representation and the total representation as background, constitutes the basic structure of experience, and the order (the formal condition of possibility) of this interaction is causality. Causality means that the state of the total representation constituted in space changes in time.
Such a definition of experience deviates from common use. As representation is mostly conceived as copy which the subject receives from the 'outer' object. If such a thing-in-itself were presupposed outside consciousness, it would be easy to show the identity of the object (unity and absence of change). For the Kant-disciple Schopenhauer, however, it is not permissible to start from such a naive premise. But if one tries to hinge the identity of the object on the unity of consciousness, the question arises whether everything would be rendered prey to the subject's choice, and how the unity and stability of appearance could then be retained. This reveals what is the sense of the assumption of the thing-in-itself: Namely not that the thing-in-itself exists outside consciousness, but the guarantee for the identity of the object of experience as well as the unity of the phenomenal world.
In the inner sense of consciousness no simultaneity of several clear representations is possible. They are immediately present to consciousness, but always single and fleeting. On the other hand, the representation of the total of experience is not immediately present, as a rule, but stays backstage as non-actual. But it keeps its identity and behaves as something permanent. Now that which stays, what subsists, is conceived in the occidental tradition of thought as something 'real', as substance. Schopenhauer therefore says that the things allegedly real outside of consciousness (the so-called objective, real world) are in truth just the backstage non-actual representations, integrated into the network of the total of experience and therefore possess a certain stability and continuity.
Schopenhauer's distinction between the representation immediately present to consciousness and the non-actual representation was hence intended to demonstrate the identity, which means the stability and generality of experience and the phenomenal world without presupposing a thing-in-itself outside consciousness. If this were successful, there would be no more philosophically urgent reason to speak of the real object outside consciousness.


Dresden Time: Schopenhauer's Doctrine of Ideas as Development of his Transcendental-Philosophical Fundamental View

In his dissertation On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason Schopenhauer could outline the fundamental framework of his view on being a representation. He could show the identity of experience or the phenomenal world respectively as the interaction of the two aspects independent of each other, namely of the immediately present representation and the non-actual total representation, and identify the order of the phenomenal world as causality.
Yet two important problems remain unsolved:
1) The condition of the possibility of the original synthesis of a clear representation, in other words: the condition of the possibility that the representation immediately present to consciousness receives its own, unified shape and maintains it. Why, for example, do we always imagine a tree as a unity of stem, branches, twigs, leaves, blossoms, fruits, and roots out of sight? Why do we not consider the soil in which it grows or the bird's nest as component of the tree? Why, on the other hand, do we not apprehend the leaves as something accidental, such as insects or birds sitting on the tree?
2) In the dissertation the unity and stability of experience for the single subject was treated. Schopenhauer simply assumes that this unity and stability does not only apply to the single subject, but is general with all men; he talks about this identity of the community of knowing subjects as "the total representation of experience common to all of us"17.
The development of the doctrine of Ideas immediately after Schopenhauer's move to Dresden was meant to provide the answer to the two above-mentioned questions not yet discussed in his dissertation. These questions would also be easy to answer if the thing-in-itself was presupposed outside the realm of representation, as we have seen already. While its existence had to be postulated to secure the identity and generality of the world, Schopenhauer holds on to his view of being as representation.
Occidental history of philosophy has a prominent model to explain the identity and generality of the world. It is the tradition of the Platonic doctrine of Ideas, which has also entered Christian religion. According to it, the Idea is the trans-sensible archetype of things and of divine origin. That which really exists, is this divine Idea. Such a conception of Ideas can be observed in the young Schopenhauer in Goettingen, too. The Ideas are communicated either by God directly, or through the language of nature. Opposed to these the particular objects before our eyes are merely imperfect copies of this archetype, the divine Idea, which had been lying within the Deity during creation of the species. 18
Now Schopenhauer cannot dogmatically presuppose a divine entity transcending the realm of consciousness. So he transforms the traditional doctrine of Ideas on the level of being a representation.
On the level of being a representation - means: to presuppose nothing outside consciousness, but conceive all that is as representation within the coherent unity of consciousness. Transforming the Idea on the level of being a representation therefore means, to present the Idea also consequently as representation and point out its relationship to the world as representation. Now among perceptional representations only particular objects of experience can be given immediately to the consciousness. Though the Ideas are perceptional representations, they are not given to consciousness immediately at a certain moment, especially since they have no relationship to the body. They are representations reproduced or composed by imagination, that is, phantasms. This Idea, however, must at the same time be the condition of the possibility of the synthetic unity and stability of the particular objects of experience (representation): the Platonic Idea would hence be that one phantasm among many phantasms generated by imagination, which reason has approved of as the archetype of the particular objects of experience. In this sense and resembling Kant's "aesthetic regular idea (ästhetische Normalidee)", Schopenhauer calls the Platonic Idea "regular perception (Normalanschauung)".19 And this is exactly what the mysterious sentence cited above means, claiming that fantasy (imagination) and reason are the conditions of the possibility of the Platonic Idea. 20
This conception of the Platonic Idea does not correspond to Schopenhauer's usual theory of Ideas with which we are familiar. Did Schopenhauer then revise this interpretation of Ideas from 1814? In that case he would not have needed to include the above-cited, enigmatic sentence in his main work. The fact that Schopenhauer kept this seeming stumbling block in his main work shows, however, that it constitutes an essential element in his doctrine of Ideas. Our next task would then be to show how these two conceptions of the Ideas could be reconciled.
For this purpose we have to consider the problems of the will first, though, or rather restrict it to one problem. It may be mentioned already that the concept of will, too, requires a significant re-interpretation. Schopenhauer conceives of imagination as the will's effect on the faculty of representation. 21 The will is thereby construed as transcendental condition of the possibility of representation. It is not conceived of as substantial all-one will. Such a natural-philosophical, pantheistic interpretation of the will comes later. Here we have to show the possibility of transition from the transcendental to the natural-philosophical interpretation of the will.
If imagination is the will's effect on the faculty of representation, then indeed the will is essentially participating in the origin and maintenance of the Platonic Idea (the generally acknowledged phantasm), though the will insofar as it is considered as the condition of the possibility of representation. Here we can already discover the following line of thought, though still expressed in transcendental-critical language: will (its effect on the faculty of representation) - Platonic Idea (as phantasm) - the particular objects of experience (in accordance with the Platonic Idea as regular perception). If this line of thought is re-interpreted as a genetic process and translated into the traditional-metaphysical or religious language of the occident respectively, the result is the well-known frame of interpretation of the metaphysics of the will: will as the amorphous, all-one ground of the world - the Platonic Idea as first objectification of the will - the particular objects of perception as appearance of the will at the second grade.
Returning to our problem of the Platonic Idea, we can now, from our previous reflections, interpret those seemingly contradictory aspects of thought concerning the conception of Ideas united in front of the horizon of conscious-immanent being a representation. Namely, insofar the Platonic Idea is a phantasm, it is derived from the world of perception. Yet it functions as archetype for the particular objects of experience, as their synthetic unity is measured only with reference to it. The singular perceptional idea is therefore always identifiable as a copy of that Idea. So, this interaction of Platonic Idea and the particular perceptional ideas makes up the world as representation. These two as representations constitute the world as representation with regard to the identity and stability of the clear representation. The world as representation consists in the original two-way relationship between the Platonic Idea and the concrete-particular perceptive ideas. This reciprocity can be illustrated as two mutually supplementary movements, firstly from the Idea as archetype to the particular, perceptive ideas as copies, and secondly from these perceptive ideas as representations immediately given to consciousness to the Idea as phantasm, which is created by imagination and acknowledged by reason as general norm for the identification of the particular perceptive ideas. With this conception of Ideas the second question also can be answered, asking for the condition of the possibility of the identity of the world as representation for the subject in general. The Platonic Idea is a phantasm, thus deprived of the concrete spatial-temporal determination (individuality) and thereby the bonds of the body. Therefore, it can become the object for interest-free contemplation, object for the subject of pure knowledge. The Idea is the archetype, but because of its original two-way relationship to the particular idea also the preservation of the passing-past knowledge of the world of perception, which knowledge itself required the Platonic Idea. This never-ending, somehow the eternity of the Idea, cannot be dealt with on the level of the particular consciousness anymore, but only on the level of consciousness in general, in which the particular consciousness comes to itself. The particular consciousness becomes only by acquiring these archetypes; in the traditional Platonic language: by remembering these eternal Ideas.



In our reflections we have tried first to present the basic structure of experience in the young Schopenhauer with regard to its unity and stability as the interaction of two aspects mediated by the body, namely the immediate presence of the clear representation and the representation of the total of experience (the world for the particular subject) as the non-actual background of the immediately present representation. Schopenhauer calls these two aspects also being representation kat' entelecheian and can be representation kata dunamin. 22 Causality is the formal condition of the possibility of this experience and the objects of experience.
Secondly, we have described the world as representation with respect to the condition of the possibility of the original-synthetic unity of the concrete-particular clear representation as the interaction of the Platonic Idea as archetypical phantasm and the particular representation. Here, on the level of the Platonic Idea, could also be demonstrated the generality of the world of representation for the subject in general. Thirdly, the will could be sketched as the condition of the possibility of the Platonic idea and insofar as the condition of the possibility of the achieved unity of the world as representation.
Here we can go even farther: for example, the will, insofar as it processes itself as the transcendental condition of the possibility of the achieved unity of the world as representation, already possesses the signature of generality. This makes possible the mediation of particularity and generality. Also the above-mentioned 'analogy inference of the will' could be interpreted satisfactorily only within this problem field. This all-one will would then be analogous to the transcendental conception of the will and necessary for our substantial-metaphysically inclined way of thinking. If in this sense the will is always only referred to as the condition of the possibility of the world as representation, then the assumption arises that causality also is an action- and therefore will-directed articulation mode of the world as representation. Moreover, it seems to me as if the often controversially discussed possibility of the negation of the will can be argued in a stringent philosophical manner only if the concept of will is not conceived as primarily substantial, but transcendental-critical. These topics, however, belong to the other, no less important problem sphere of the world as will.

Appendix: What is the 'Thing-in-itself' in Schopenhauer?

To close I would like to return once more to the problem of the thing-in-itself.
1) Schopenhauer rejected the concept of the thing-in-itself first at the time of writing his dissertation, because it presupposed an object outside of consciousness. So, still in spring 1814 he wrote in Weimar where he frequently met Goethe: "Things-in-themselves, which would exist without being represented, which therefore would be something other than representations - to represent such things is the greatest possible contradiction." 23 Opposed to that in Dresden, Schopenhauer calls the Platonic Idea and then the will the thing-in-itself. 24 Here a shift of meaning with respect to the concept of "thing-in-itself" must be noted, however. As "being in itself" does not mean at that time in Dresden anymore "being outside consciousness", but the true sense of the assumption of the consciousness-transcendent thing: being the condition of the possibility of the unity and stability of experience. Thus the transcendental-philosophically transformed Platonic Idea, which as a matter of fact is also a representation, could be called thing-in-itself. The same applies to the will. Therefore it would not be sufficient, or it would even imply the danger of a falsification of Schopenhauer's philosophy, to prejudge in favor of a certain interpretation of the thing-in-itself, for instance a being outside consciousness, and assign Schopenhauer's thought only the former rejection and later rehabilitation of the always as such conceived thing-in-itself.
2) Until immediately before beginning to write down his main work 1816, the terms for the Platonic Idea as well as the will as thing-in-itself remain. 25 In the main work then, Schopenhauer called the will alone 'thing-in-itself' but no longer the Platonic Idea. The reason can only be guessed. It is quite possible that Schopenhauer did not denote the Idea as thing-in-itself anymore because the Platonic Idea is a representation after all and can be represented in a conscious-immanent unity as condition of the possibility of the unity of experience and the world completely within the structure of the world as representation. The Platonic Idea should therefore better be called in the Kantian tradition the formal-material condition of the possibility a priori of the world as representation. The will, on the contrary, is the condition of the possibility of keeping together the world due to its effect on the faculty of representation, which, however, cannot be presented within this free space between Idea and particular ideas. It somehow transcends the world as representation, even if it does not point to a substance existing outside consciousness.

* Paper presented in German on May 8 at the International Schopenhauer Anniversary Congress from May 6 to May 8, 1988 in Frankfurt a. M., Germany.
1 WI,201. The World as Will and Representation (henceforth WWR), transl. E.F.J. Payne, vol. I, New York: Dover Publications, 1969, p. 170.
2 WI,206. WWR I, p 175.
3 WI,217. WWR I, p. 184.
4 WI,262. WWR I, p. 222.
5 WI,48. WWR I, p. 40.
6 WI,262. WWR I, p. 222.
7 Cf. HN 1, 169f. and elsewhere. Manuscript Remains (MR).
8 Cf. HN 1, 390. MR.
9 NH I, 130 f. MR.
10 Cf. HN 1, 131 and elsewhere. MR.
11 Cf. HN 1,26 and elsewhere. MR.
12 HN 1,23 and elsewhere. MR.
13 Urfassung, Werke VII, 1-94 (= Go). Original works.
14 Go, 18, original spaced. Cf. G, 27. This comprehension of 'representation' resembling Reinhold's 'Sentence of Consciousness' proves (cf., e.g., Reinhold, Beyträge zur Berichtigung bisheriger Mißverständnisse der Philosophen, Jena 1790, 5. 167) that Schopenhauer's reading of Kant is mediated by Reinhold, who in turn was mediated by G. E. Schulze. Cf. G. Baum, "Aenesidemus oder der Satz vom Grunde", Zeitschrift fur philosophische Forschung 33 (1979), 5. 352-370.
15 Cf. Go, 23- 25.
16 Kant, Kritik der reinen Vernunft, B 50. Critique of Pure Reason.
17 Go, 77.
18 Cf. HN 1, 11. MR.
19 Cf. Go, 63, note. Cf. B. Dörflinger's contribution at the Schopenhauer Anniversary Congress in Frankfurt: "Zur Erkenntnisbedeutung des Asthetischen - Schopenhauers Beziehung zu Kant" (Sektion V "Schopenhauers Beziehung zur Tradition", 8 May 1988) and Y. Kamata, Der junge Schopenhauer, Freiburg/Munchen 1988, 5. 168 - 171.
20 W 1, 48 and HN 1, 130f., cited above. WWR I and MR.
21 Cf. Go, 80.
22 Cf. Go, 24.
23 HN 1, 96. MR.
24 Cf. HN 1, 149f., 169 and elsewhere. MR.
25 Cf. HN 1, 342 and elsewhere. MR.

Index (English)