Metaphysics of nature

Henry Moore OM, CH Storm at Sea, 1970–4


Presentation of Arthur Schopenhauer's recently published book

Na Metaphysics of nature, by the Boddhishatva of Frankfurt, which is now available to the Portuguese-speaking public and which is part of the set of his lectures read in Berlin in 1820, it is a cosmology, which precedes his aesthetics or, as he prefers, Metaphysics of beauty.[1]

Arthur Schopenhauer works, in these lectures, with a motivation similar to that of pre-Platonic philosophers, that is, the commitment to grasp the constituent elements of nature, not through myths, but in the fabric of nature itself. From this perspective, his metaphysics of nature postulates an originary and immemorial activity, activity, which established and permeates the cosmos.

Whoever investigates the cosmos can, however, through a special intellection in subjectivity, recognize that the innermost self consists of this activity, which, in the investigator's body, manifests itself in different feelings. The investigator, in this sense, is not a winged angel's head, geflügelter Engelskopf, but has an individuality, whose inner activity is the same as that of the cosmos and which Arthur Schopenhauer calls “will to life”, Wille zum Leben.

According to the author, every act of the will is at the same time an action of the body. The two are one and the same thing – with no causal relationship between them –, just given in two different ways: one, immediately, the act; another, mediately, the action intuited by the understanding. In turn, any action on the body causes a jolt of the will, which, if unpleasant, is called pain and, if pleasant, pleasure.

In this way, the nuclear notion of objectity of the will is introduced into the metaphysics of Schopenhauerian nature, Object of Willens, in other words: the body is the concreteness of wanting. In other words, the body is my representation in the brain, but it is also my will. It is the so-called philosophical truth par excellence, that is, “the reference of a judgment to the relationship that an intuitive representation, the body, has with that which is absolutely not a representation, but something toto genere different from this, will.”

The will of the investigator, which is discovered as the core of his being, can then be transposed by him analogically to the whole of nature through a special introspection of the causality acting in his body. In fact, continues Arthur Schopenhauer, every movement of our animal body occurs for a reason, motive; in turn, each movement of an inorganic being occurs due to a cause in the strict sense, Cause; and every movement of a plant occurs through stimulation, Reize.

However, in all these cases, there is the same principle of moving causality, causality. Therefore, if the investigator of nature, in his introspection, understands the causality of his own body, through its actions, he understands at the same time the nature of causality in general that moves all bodies, organic or inorganic, that is, he understands the “imo” of the world, its essential activity – precisely the will.

Thus, this metaphysics of nature presents its decipherment of the enigma of the world not through deductions from concepts, but through sensitivity and feelings. With this, the notion of body emerges for the first time in Western philosophy as an angular epistemic operator that opens philosophical horizons for, among others, Nietzsche's physiologism, Freud's theory of impulses, Jung's psychology of the unconscious, thinkers who move on the horizon of the blind and volitional unconscious indicated by Arthur Schopenhauer, since the will mentioned as the essence of the cosmos is pure blind impetus, blinder Drang, the root of all feelings and all emotions, the abysmal depth of the human being (and other beings), who is no longer master in his own home, because, instead of acting in a psychically autonomous way through the faculty of reason, on the contrary, it is something other, volitional, from within you, that holds the power of your decisions and movements.

Blind and unconscious will that gradually acquires clear vision when emerging from its unconsciousness, objectifying itself in different natural kingdoms, which present itself as its reflection in the mirror of representation, that is, as products of its endless and tireless immemorial activity. Increasingly complex beings show how the will is the active nucleus of the cosmos, which, in its essential activity, when it comes to Earth, rises from the unconscious planetary mass to human consciousness.

In this cosmology, in fact, we have a monism that seeks to unite Kant's doctrine about the thing in itself and Plato's doctrine about the Idea. That is, Arthur Schopenhauer interprets the archetypal Platonic Ideas as acts originating from the thing in itself, the Will, instituted in ascending degrees, understood as species of nature, ranging from the a-rational scope to human reason.

“We take the word “Idea” in its authentic, original meaning, established by Plato. I understand, therefore, under “idea”, each fixed and determined degree of objectification of the will, insofar as this is a thing in itself, as such alien to plurality. These degrees of objectification relate to singular things, to individuals of all types, certainly as their eternal forms or their prototypes.”

Such Ideas are precisely what enable reflections in the mirror of Will that is nature before us, and thus allow Arthur Schopenhauer's cosmology to operate at the timeless pole of representation. In turn, Ideas are clearly figured in art, which is defined as an exhibition of Ideas. Works of art adequately reproduce the cosmological activity of the Will, which is of life. Each Idea is an independent representation of the principle of reason, that is, independent of time, space and causality; It is an immutable model of what, in space, is changeable and transitory, due to time. Each Idea is one and undivided like the Will itself and this first objective perfectly, before entering the scene in the imperfect effective world in the form of individuals. Therefore, the domain of Ideas configures, in the beings that represent them, a kind of “surface ontology”.

It turns out that in this path of manifestation of Will as an activity in itself of the cosmos, Ideas, in order to be effectively objectified as species of nature, need matter (stuff), which is synonymous with space. This, through the causal clash of different beings, comes to be occupied by their bodies, something that necessarily generates conflict, as each being wants to objectify its species and to do so needs to conquer matter. In this way, the world becomes a battlefield, in which whoever does not devour is devoured, and whoever does not annihilate is annihilated. Therefore, Arthur Schopenhauer infers, the Will to life devours itself and precisely in this way, in an autophagy, it appears as the world; hence the universal suffering of creatures, all life is suffering, alles Leben ist Leiden.

On translating the German term Erscheinung by appearance rather than phenomenon

As I have just explained, in Arthur Schopenhauer's metaphysics of nature, the Will, as a cosmic activity, is objectified through original acts and becomes the world, that is, “appears” in individuals who represent their respective archetypal Ideas, or species. In this sense, the appearances of the world, the Erscheinung, are like reflections, temporal and fleeting images of archetypal eternal Ideas.

In this theater of life and death of existence presented by Arthur Schopenhauer, it is a vision of the world through the veil of maya cognitive which is the principle of reason of understanding, and its archetypal form of time, in which nothing subsists. In this context of unreality of what is transitory, I chose to pour Appearance precisely by appearance, since, in Portuguese, this term, both in its cultured and ordinary use, takes on the meaning of what is opposite to the essence of something; hence we say that “appearances can be deceiving”.

In this sense, the term corresponds very well to what Arthur Schopenhauer meant when he postulates that the world of effective beings submitted to the principle of reason, submerged in the transience of time, is inessential, always comes into being, but never is. This world presents a reality that is only apparent, since what appears, the Will as a thing in itself, is completely different from the representation. What appears is the appearance of the essence, not the essence itself.

There is here, then, a “deep abyss between the ideal and the real”, that is, between the world as we apprehend it by the intellect and its forms of space, time and causality, and the volitional activity that manifests the world. Consequently, the world as it appears to me in my brain is a composite of simulacra. A passage from the author well illustrates his thinking: in § 5 of The world as will and as representation, volume I, Schopenhauer quotes Pindar: “The human being is the dream of a shadow”. Then, he quotes Sophocles: “I see that we, the living, are nothing but simulacra, fleeting shadows”.

The term phenomenon, widely used in Portuguese (due to the influence of the first translators of Kantian lineage) to translate the German term Appearance, does not work well in the context of Schopenhauer's philosophy (I dare say not even in the context of Kant's philosophy), precisely because the author uses the Germanized Greek term phenomenon when referring to extraordinary appearances, that is, moments of irruption of the metaphysical identity of the Will in the effective world.

Furthermore, the term phenomenon corresponds, most of the time, in Brazil, to this extraordinary meaning, for example when we say that a brilliant football player is a phenomenon when he stands out among ordinary players; or when we refer to a natural event of great proportion and power, etc. The examples the author provides of phenomenon they are few and rare, as is the case of “sympathy”, which includes compassion, sexual love and magic, or the case of denial of the Will, suicide, etc.,[2] these phenomena are all understood as the irruption of the Will into the world of appearances, that is, they are instants in which it immediately pierces the veil of maya of the principle of reason and appears, so to speak, naked. This makes Arthur Schopenhauer very economical in his use of the term phenomenon.

In turn, the term Appearance is abundant in his texts. It indicates the commonly perceived flow of occurrences of effectivity that imperfectly manifest the Will. It is a term whose conceptual meaning is not suitable, I think, to be translated as “appearance”, which would be another possibility of translation, since apparition, among us, assumes in different contexts the meaning of what Arthur Schopenhauer wanted to mean with the term phenomenon. In fact, both in our common and cultured use of the Portuguese language, the term apparition is normally used to indicate an extraordinary appearance, such as the appearance of a dead person, the appearance of a ghost, the appearance of a specter, the appearance of a haunting , the miraculous appearance of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ, etc.

For a long time I translated Appearance by phenomenon; however, after deepening the meaning of the term phenomenon in Arthur Schopenhauer, during the various translations I made of his texts, I made the correction, with which, I am sure, the spirit of the philosophy of the Boddhishatva of Frankfurt is better captured in his lyrics.

*Jair Barboza He has a postdoctoral degree in philosophy from Universität Frankfurt. Author, among other books, of Schopenhauer: deciphering the enigma of the world (Paul).


Arthur Schopenhauer. Metaphysics of nature. Translation: Jair Barboza. São Paulo, Editora Unesp, 2023, 240 pages. []


 [1] There is actually a set of four lectures by the author, namely: (i) “Theory of all representation, thought and cognition”; (ii) “Metaphysics of nature”; (iii) “Metaphysics of beauty”; (iv) “Metaphysics of customs”, a quadripartition that thematically mirrors the four books of the philosopher’s magnum opus, The world as will and as representation (São Paulo: Ed. Unesp, 2 volumes, trans. Jair Barboza).

[2] Cf., in this regard, Barboza, J. “Schopenhauer: die Erscheinung, das Phänomen”. In: Voluntas Magazine: Studies on Schopenhauer, v.5, n.1 – 1st half of 2014, p. 3-8.

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