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The Metaphysics of Schopenhauer and Kant: from On the Possibility of Knowing the

Thing-in-Itself (The World as Will and Representation, Volume 2) and the

Transcendental Aesthetic (Critique of Pure Reason)

Randy Dible

December, 2008

Kant made the foundational system and Schopenhauer breathed reality into it. In

the Critique of Pure Reason, Immanuel Kant begins with the section called the

Transcendental Aesthetic (a transcendental critique of taste in the sense of a

science of speculative philosophy accounting for “all principles of a priori

sensibility”) wherein he applies key distinctions made in the introduction between

pure and empirical knowledge to our frame of reference for experience (conditions

for the possibility of experience, the “two pure forms of sensible intuition”) in the

notions of space and time. In the first section he explains the nature of appearance

or representation as divided into a prior and a posteriori, respectively, pure and

empirical, which in our forms of sensibility or receptivity we intuit as form and

matter. It is the principles of a priori sensibility which he develops in the

transcendental aesthetic, beginning with space, ending with time, but both can be

simply called dimensionality or extension, and as such constitute the frames of

reference for our forms of experience. Indeed, space and time, in this

transcendental or ideal aspect, are also called forms—forms of our intuition [of the

world]. It is this ideality of space and time that Schopenhauer recognizes as the

teaching of greatest significance from Kant. But where Kant failed to see, and

Schopenhauer knew, was the higher teaching that the reality beyond the
representations and appearances, indeed the reality which lent itself to appearance

and representation in micro, was neither absent nor inaccessible, but instead

transcended the difficulties of access, in being, just being it. Reality is ever-present,

and regardless of illusion and false appearances, it is always already the case. Kant

failed to see, according to Schopenhauer, that there are modes of knowledge which

accessed being by way of knowing (rather than thinking), knowing that the being of

one’s own being and the being of the thing-in-itself (the thing) are the same being,

the very being of being, which is being-itself. The things in themselves of Kant were

not numerous noumena, but only one Thing-in-Itself, Being, according to

Schopenhauer. And this teaching is nowhere more directly transmitted than in the

wisdom of the Vedas, from the Upanishads. Early translations of these Indian texts

were available to Schopenhauer, and he is known to have read the Upanishads

every night before going to sleep. In the preface to the first edition of the World as

Will and Representation, Schopenhauer explains the prerequisites of the reader

should he venture to understand the wisdom therein:

“Kant’s philosophy is therefore the only one with which a thorough

acquaintance is positively assumed in what is to be here discussed. But if in

addition to this the reader has dwelt for a while in the school of the divine

Plato, he will be the better prepared to hear me, and the more susceptible to

what I have to say. But if he has shared in the benefits of the Vedas, access

to which, opened to us by the Upanishads, is in my view the greatest

advantage which this still young century has to show over pervious centuries,

since I surmise that the influence of Sanskrit literature will penetrate no 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 divine
inspiration of ancient Indian wisdom, then he is best of all prepared to hear

what I have to say to him.”

There is a chapter of the second volume of Schopenhauer’s World as Will and

Representation called “On the Possibility of Knowing the Thing-in-Itself”. Such a

thesis as expressed in this title best articulates Schopenhauer’s key distinction from

Kant. In the middle of this chapter, Schopenhauer states where he departs from

Kant’s metaphysics: “… on the path of objective knowledge, thus starting from the

representation, we shall never get beyond the representation, i.e., the

phenomenon. We shall therefore remain at the outside of things; we shall never be

able to penetrate into their inner nature, and investigate what they are in

themselves. So far I agree with Kant. But now, as the counterpoise to this truth, I

have stressed that other truth that we are not merely the knowing subject, but that

we ourselves are also among those realities or entities we require to know, that we

ourselves are the thing-in-itself. Consequently, a way from within stands open to us

to that real inner nature of things to which we cannot penetrate from without.” (E.

F. J. Payne translation, World as Will and Representation, Volume 2, p. 195)

“Space” according to Kant “is a necessary a priorirepresentation, which underlies all

outer intuition….It must therefore be regarded as the condition of the possibility of

appearances and not as a determination dependent upon them. It is an a priori

representation, which necessarily underlies outer appearances.” (Norman Kemp

Smith translation, Critique of Pure Reason, p. 68) There is a similarity between

Kant’s abstraction of space itself or pure space, which is unlimited, and the unary

“Thing-in-Itself” of Schopenhauer: “Space is not a discursive or, as we say, general


concept of relations of things in general, but a pure intuition. For, in the first place,

we can representto ourselves only one space, and if we speak of diverse spaces, we

mean thereby only parts of one and the same unique space. Secondly, these parts

cannot precede the one all-embracing space, as being, as it were, constituents out

of which it can be composed; on the contrary, they can be thought only as in it.

Space is essentially one; the manifold in it, and therefore the general concept of

spaces, depends solely on [the introduction of] limitations. Hence it follows that an

a priori, and not an empirical, intuition underlies all concepts of space.” (Ibidem, p.

69) But this one-ness is only because for Schopenhauer “…our knowledge consists

only in the framing of representationsby means of subjective forms, such knowledge

always furnishes mere phenomena, not the being-in-itself of things.” (Payne,

Volume 2, p. 194) For Kant, “the intuition has its seat in the subject only, as the

formal character of the subject”, but Schopenhauer intuits that the subject is merely

a subjective form of pure or transcendental subjectivity, known in the Vedas as

Atman (the Self, in contrast to the Jivatman or Jiva, the individual self), which is the

ground of the human or any other being. Perhaps one could say that the pure or

empty space or subject of the object or thing is the thing in itself, not that we are to

confuse the pure dimensionality of space or dimensioned space (extended space) or

the frame of reference that is space with the pure subject of knowing, for that is to

be carefully distinguished from the subjective form (the frame of reference). These

may seem trivialities if taken purely as technicalities, but what they signify is the

point at which Schopenhauer departs from Kant, in the leap from the ponderability

of substantiality to the reality of substantiality, in other words, from the knowing of

form to “knowledge through identity”, in the words of Franklin Merrell-Wolff, a

twentieth century Californian mystical philosopher of the Sierra Nevadaswho has


made a similar departure from Kant as did Schopenhauer. Merrell-Wolff has said

that Kant’s greatest merit was to show the inverse relation of “ponderability” to

“substantiality.” Here, “ponderability” means the ability to think of or represent,

that is, as appearance, and “substantiality” means independence or “own-being”.

Kant: “Our exposition therefore establishes the reality, that is, the objective

validity, of space in respect of whatever can be presented to us outwardly as object,

but also at the same time the ideality of space in respect of things when they are

considered in themselves through reason, that is, without regard to the constitution

of our sensibility. We assert, then, the empirical reality of space, as regards all

possible outer experience; and yet at the same time we assert its transcendental

ideality—in other words, that it is nothing at all, immediately we withdraw the above

condition, namely, its limitation to possible experience, and so look upon it as

something that underlies things in themselves.” (Norman Kemp Smith, p. 72) Kant

continues “With the sole exception of space there is no subjective representation,

referring to something outer, which could be entitled [at once] objective [and] a

priori. For there is no other subjective representation from which we can derive a

priori synthetic propositions, as we can from intuition in space.” Later in that same

site, “The transcendental concept of appearances in space, on the other hand, is a

critical reminder that nothing intuited in space is a thing-in-itself, that space is not a

form of things inhering in themselves as their intrinsic property, that objects in

themselves are quite unknown to us.” (Norman Kemp Smith, p. 74)

Again, the key idea is Schopenhauer’s point of dissension from Kant, where he

becomes inebriated under the influence of the highest Atman of that holistic
medicine from India. Such a philosophical giant as Schopenhauer, even on the

shoulders of such a figure as Kant, cannot have the last word on the nature of the

Self, for only one-self can, and in the case of this author, these figures are only my

representation, the mere repetition of my own inner nature, at least it is so for my-

self. And my own dissension is that that though there truly is pure subjectivity

ontologically prior to all possible events and entities, prior to all actual events and

entities, it is not ultimate, however most prior. In the context of Schopenhauer’s

interpretation of the Upanishads, it seems he would side with Samkara’s Advaita

Vedanta in asserting that Atman is Brahman (NirgunaBrahman in particular, that is,

Brahman without any qualifications, conditions or limitations), but I reject this as it

is applied in the ultimate case. For me the highest Atman (Self), the One, or what I

call “pure subjectivity” (which some Hari-Krsnas employ in the context of their

Bhedabhedaveda, Difference-and-Non-difference Vedanta), or “pure self-reference”

(as the One is found to be in logic and cybernetics) is penultimate reality rather

than the ultimate reality it seems to be for most monists. Indeed I charge most

monists, whose intentions I am in complete agreement with, with confusion of the

One or Being with the category of the ultimate. On this note, I will end with

Schopenhauer quotes about the pure subject of knowing, from the supplement by

that title. To Schopenhauer, it is a secondary matter of interpretation whether, in

retrospect, the subjective form or individual knows itself to be in its formless

essence “all things” or “exclusively one” (Payne, p. 371).

“With the disappearance of willing from consciousness, the individuality is

abolished also, and with it its suffering and sorrow. I have then described the

pure subject of knowing, which remains over as the eternal world-eye. This

eye looks out from all living beings, though with very different degrees of
clearness, and is untouched by their arising and passing away. It is thus

identical with itself, constantly one and the same, and the supporter of the

world of permanent Ideas, i.e., of the adequate objectivity of the will.”

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