ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER

Dates: 1788-1860

Nationality: German

Schopenhauer’s violence-filled vision of the daily world sends him on a quest for tranquility, and he pursues this by retracing the path through which the Will objectifies itself. He discovers more peaceful states of mind by directing his everyday, practically-oriented consciousness towards more extraordinary, universal and less-individuated states of mind, since he believes that the violence that a person experiences, is proportional to the degree to which that person’s consciousness is individuated and objectifying. His view is that with less individuation and objectification, there is less conflict, less pain and more peace.

One way to achieve a more tranquil state of consciousness, according to Schopenhauer, is through aesthetic perception. This is a special state of perceptual consciousness where we apprehend some spatio-temporal object and discern through this object, the Platonic Idea that corresponds to the type of object in question. In this form of perception, we lose ourselves in the object, forget about our individuality, and become the clear mirror of the object. For example, during the aesthetic perception of an individual apple tree, we would perceive shining through the tree, the archetype of all apple trees (i.e., the Ur-phenomenon, as Goethe would describe it) in an appreciation of every apple tree that was, is, or will be.

Since Schopenhauer assumes that the quality of the subject of experience must correspond to the quality of the object of experience, he infers that in the state of aesthetic perception, where the objects are universal, the subject of experience must likewise become universal (WWR, Section 33). Aesthetic perception thus raises a person into a pure will-less, painless, and timeless subject of knowledge (WWR, Section 34).

Few people supposedly have the capacity to remain in such an aesthetic state of mind for very long, and most are denied the transcendent tranquillity of aesthetic perception. For Schopenhauer, only the artistically-minded genius has the capacity to remain in the state of pure perception, and it is to these individuals that we must turn — as we appreciate their works of art — to obtain a more concentrated and knowledgeable glimpse of the Platonic Ideas. The artistic genius contemplates these Ideas, creates a work of art that portrays them in a manner more clear and accessible than is usual, and thereby communicates the universalistic vision to those who lack the idealizing power to see through, and to rise above, the ordinary world of spatio-temporal objects.

Schopenhauer states that the highest purpose of art is to communicate Platonic Ideas (WWR, Section 50). As constituting art, he has in mind the traditional five fine arts minus music, namely, architecture, sculpture, painting, and poetry. These four arts he comprehends in relation to the Platonic Ideas — those universal objects of aesthetic awareness that are located at the objective pole of the universal subject-object distinction that is general root of the principle of sufficient reason. Schopenhauer’s account of the visual and literary arts corresponds to the world as representation in its immediate objectification, namely, the field of Platonic Ideas as opposed to the field of spatio-temporal objects.

Wicks, Robert. “Arthur Schopenhauer.”The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2009 Edition). Edward N. Zalta (ed.).  <plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2009/entries/schopenhauer/>

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