The Question of Coherence in Schopenhauer's System: An Examination of the Doctrine of the Will's Self-Overcoming
Dissertation directed by Michael Baur, Ph.D.
Since the latter portion of his life, in the middle of the nineteenth century, Arthur Schopenhauer has been one of the most influential figures in the cultural and intellectual history of European thought. Yet paradoxically, in spite of the fact that most of his attention was devoted to philosophy, his influence in other areas, such as literary theory, psychology and theology, has largely eclipsed his impact upon philosophy itself. He is not generally regarded as exercising any meaningful degree of influence upon contemporary work in that field.
One of the principle reasons for this lack of influence has been the widespread perception that, however intriguing and insightful his philosophical work is, it nevertheless suffers from the fatal flaw of inconsistency, bordering at times on theoretical incoherence. In particular, his contention that the Will is the fundamental basis of the world, the Thing-In-Itself that lies behind all of the phenomena of appearance, seems to contradict his belief that, through intellectual apprehension and ascetic self-denial, the Will can be overcome in the individual capable of the necessary intellectual and spiritual effort. For if the Will is truly the basis of everything in the world, what could possible exist to overcome it?
It is the aim of this dissertation to demonstrate that this seeming contradiction can be resolved, and that there is in fact considerable theoretical coherence in Schopenhauer’s philosophical system. The key to this resolution lies in Schopenhauer’s conception of the self, and its relationship to the Will. The dissertation is divided into four main sections. The first deals with the alleged contradictions in Schopenhauer’s system, and how these have been traditionally understood by critics and commentators. The second presents a detailed analysis of Schopenhauer’s conception of the Will. The third explores his conception of the self, and how this element of his system serves, if correctly understood, to resolve the apparent inconsistency. The last section deals with the implications of his conception of the self for an understanding of the meaning of tragedy and tragic drama.