PREVIEW-Episode 30: Schopenhauer on Explanations and Knowledge

Discussing Arthur Schopenhauer's On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, published in 1847 (as an expansion of his doctoral thesis from 1813).

This is a 33-minute preview of our vintage 2 hr, 14-minute episode which you can buy at or get for free with PEL Citizenship (see, and after you're signed in to the Citizen site, go to the Free Stuff page). You can also purchase the full episode in the iTunes Store: Search for "Partially Examined Schopenhauer" and look under "Albums."

What kinds of explanations are legitimate? S. thought that causal and logical explanations are often confused, resulting in philosophical errors. In laying out the four types of explanation -- the four versions of the principle of sufficient reason -- he clearly elaborates his modernized Kantian epistemology. We also discuss his strange notion of "will" that was so influential on Nietzsche and Freud. Plus, we discuss "Action Philosophers!"and "Walking Dead."

Read the book online here or purchase it.We also read this chunk of The World As Will and Representation.

End song: "The Answer," from the forthcoming album Impossible Things by New People.


  1. Moesy Pittounikos says

    Thank you for this brilliant podcast episode. I never thought that old Schopenhauer could be so funny. You do yourself a big favour by pumping out quality podcasting like this and there should be more of this thing online.

    You have obviously read Schopenhauer and you made some great points, though you forgot to mention that Erwin Schrodinger read every word of Schopenhauer and he also believed in the ‘Oneness’ behind the Veil of phenomena. Bhomian mechanics also points to a primordial oneness (Nietzsche’s term) to existence. Indeed, the fact that old Schopenhauer’s philosophy agreed with the East (it is a myth that he was influenced by the East) says allot about the Kantian premises of his Will-philosophy.

    Also, in the first volume of The World as Will and Representation, old Schopenhauer claims that space and time are the same substance. Hey, Albert Einstein said that too! Did you know that Einstein quotes Schopenhauer in several places?
    You claim that Schopenhauer is a footnote squashed between Kant and Hegel, but he is still big in the German speaking world apparently and we only about Hegel because of the success of Marxism in the 20th century. G Hegel’s massive system died with its author, only for Karl Marx to come along and resurrected Hegel’s sham philosophy and so the Hegelian baton got passed onto the Soviet Union. Let us throw Hegel into the dustbin of history.

    A great book on all this is Brian Magee’s The Philosophy of Schopenhauer. Magee worships Schopenhauer, which is funny. You can watch Magee discuss Schopenhauer with Frederick Copleston on You Tube.

    Thank you again for the podcasts, I will stick a donation in the pot soon.

    • Profile photo of Mark Linsenmayer says

      Thanks, Moesy; that’s all very helpful, given that the three of us are all pretty new to Schopenhauer. I’d definitely like us to dive further into physics… Bohm being a good example of someone who fascinated me some years back but whom I’ve not looked into since probably before grad school.

    • Michael Derpington says

      If it is a myth that he was influenced by the East, why does he quote eastern texts and mythology in Volume 1 repeatedly?
      did he just notice a similarity between his own views and theirs?

  2. Michael Derpington says

    I’ve really enjoyed listening to this in bed. You guys seem cool. I also like how you have disagreeements, it allows for a greater understanding and gives a better exposure to different interpretations

  3. Moesy Pittounikos says

    Hi a guy, Schopenhauer definitely was NOT influenced by the East, indeed, the truth, to my mind anyway, is even more exciting (or I may need to get out more).

    Here is a quote from the Sanskrit scholar, Max Müller, acknowledging Immanuel Kant’s achievement in bridging East and West; “The bridge of thoughts and sighs that spans the whole history of the Aryan world has its first arch in the Veda, its last in Kant’s Critique.…While in the Veda we may study the childhood, we may study in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason the perfect manhood of the Aryan mind”. By the way, Max Müller was writing in the early 1800’s and his use of the word ‘Aryan’ had yet to take on evil baggage. Originally, Aryan just meant Greek as well as Sanskrit culture.

    On the subject of Aryans, original Buddhism was an Aryan philosophy, but nowhere does Schopenhauer mention to word Aryan, but Nietzsche’s philosophy is very compatible with Aryan movements (though I must say that Nietzsche rarely uses to word). To be honest, Friedrich Nietzsche is closer to Buddhism in many surprising ways. I have never understood this Schopenhauer and Buddhism thing! Schopenhauer is very similar to Vedanta philosophy.

    So Kant, rather than the East, is Schopenhauer’s real starting point. He doesn’t just quote Eastern texts, but he also loved Western texts. The West is just as rich and mystical as the East.

    I hope this clears the confusion.

    • Profile photo of Daniel Horne says

      Hi Moesy,

      Schopenhauer first read Majer’s Latin translation of the Upanishads at the age of about 14, and he met Majer at about age of 25. S. studied the Upanishads in earnest during his late 20s, from 1815-17, during the years he was neighbors and friends with Karl Krause. World as Will and Representation was published when S. was 30, in late 1818.

      Now, it’s been argued that Schopenhauer was not so much _influenced_ by Indian thought, as he was impressed that Kantian epistemology largely aligned with Indian thought. But the connection between Kant and Hindu thought isn’t a necessary one to draw, even though Schopenhauer happened to “make” that connection. I can therefore see the argument that Schopenhauer’s early exposure to the Upanishads shaped his view of Kant, as much as his Kantian training led him to better appreciate the Upanishads, if you take my point. Which influenced what might be hard to pin down.

      Kant and Plato certainly provided the foundations of S’s explicit arguments. But I can see how S. might have favored certain interpretations over others (particularly his attempt to “merge” Kantian and Platonic concepts) as a result of his early exposure to and fascination with the Upanishads.

  4. Paul says

    What sort of moron claims Schopenhauer wasn’t influenced by the east? Read the foreword to world as will & representation.

  5. Moesy Pittounikos says

    Hi Paul
    Schopenhauer wasn’t influenced by the East, I promise. Yes, even in that introduction you mentioned, Schopenhauer admits his love for the East, but he probably had too many double espressos on that particular morning.

    In all seriousness, I won’t get in to a tit for tat over a dead German philosopher, but I would just like to say that, I reckon anyway, the reason why we want Arthur Schopenhauer to have been influenced by The East is the simple reason that our West is a bit rubbish and so we reckon there is something in the Vedas etc.. You know the script.

    The truth is far more exciting than a silly yearning for the mud of the Ganges. The God behind appearances is also behind your eyebrows. This is Kant’s turning Western philosophy inside out and coming to agreement with the Vedas and so Kant’s Copernican revolution is the real influence to Schopenhauer (this is the reason why Nietzsche hates Kant with such a rabid passion, because Kant created Schopenhauer, rather than the Upanishads, and N wanted to smash the legs off Schopenhauer’s system, so much so, that he thundered against all of Schopenhauer’s teachers! Nietzsche never criticises the East, you see, but he would have done if he thought that his master was influenced in such a way).

    Carl Jung’s two volume seminar of Nietzsche is the place to start if you are still convinced that I am a moron. Jung actually knew very old men who knew Arthur Schopenhauer and Jung even has some very funny first hand stories about Nietzsche (Carl Jung is a priceless witness to a lost world) . Jung also goes into great detail in explaining why Schopenhauer knew nothing of the East and why Nietzsche knew nothing of Buddhism!

    Peace mate.

  6. Frank Callo says

    Good to listen to this again. I read “will and Representation” in a class on Nietzsche, Kant and Schopenhauer where the prof said, too many times, that Schopenhauer felt that Will and Representation couldn’t be fully grasped without the Four Fold Root of Sufficient Reason. After a while I started to wonder “well, why aren’t we reading the latter then. After hearing this podcast I feel that you could get a grasp on what Schopenhauer was getting at in Will and Representation without the earlier work but the latter is helpful in understanding how Shopy thinks.

    What really interests me about Schopenhauer is what you guys got to in at about 1:15, the way we experience the object which we ARE. This is why I always think of Schopenhauer in the context of philosophy of mind, and especially the problem of consciousness. We can’t see our own eye, as one of you said (and as Alan Watts often points out) is the profound nug in this thing. We can’t know what we are REALLY because we always already ARE that thing. This is another way of saying that everything we know outside of our self (what ever that is) is know from outside. We stand apart from it and can therefore “part” the rest of the world through analysis (taking apart) and synthesis (putting together {parts}). No such operation is posible on ourselves because if we could somehow part our self we simply wouldn’t BE. Our being is founded on it wholeness, or, put another way, selfhood is wholeness and wholeness can not be grasped through dissection.

    You can sort of see the line to Freud here, especially in his concept of the id, some shadowy thing that drives us but which we can never bring into the light. The same line goes on through Lacan in his concept of the REAL which he conceptualizes as “forclosed”.

    what is intellectually irritating about this thing is that there isn’t much to say about it beside IT IS (you could draw a theological line back from this point to the Hebrew idea of God as the great I AM or the Taoist idea that the Tao is ultimately unspeakable). When we are confronted with the subject as object we are confronted with in insurmountable entity which I think has a lot to do with what the mind (as distinct from the brain or the connection of thought processes).

    Will is a miracle!

    To experience ourselves at the deepest level allows to understand the ground of all things because Atman = Brahman. It is important to remember how much influenced Schopenhauer was by the Upanishads.

  7. Daniel Horne says

    Hi Frank,

    These are all good points, but in defense of Schopenhauer, he wanted people to read the Fourfold Root in advance of World as Will precisely so that they wouldn’t conclude that the Will was simply an unexplained and unexplainable miracle. Yes, he thought the thing-in-itself was necessarily ineffable. But S. thought the Will could demonstrably provide a means of access to the thing-in-itself, and attempted to methodically demonstrate how this was so, via the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

    I’m not saying S.’s arguments on Will hold up, but he did take the time to methodically make them. He didn’t simply announce “It’s all Will!” and expect readers to simply accept it on his authority that it was a mysterious explanation for everything.

  8. Frank Callo says

    Daniel, yes, I totally agree with all you say.

    I `actually think that S did as good a job as anyone could do in his explication of will. One of the things I admire about his work is that he doesn’t simply say “so, there it is, stand in awe before it”. He seems to follow in a tradition in philosophy which seems largely lost to our time, namely, that there is some use we can derive from the ineffable. I think he is a mystical philosopher on the order of Aquinas or Lao Tzu.

    One of the main things that put me off the idea of doing philosophy “professionally” is the prevailing sense that if it isn’t measurable it isn’t important, and might not even exist.

    • Ryan says

      I think he is a mystical philosopher on the order of Aquinas or Lao Tzu.

      It’s interesting you say this though as I have not read World as Will and Representation but I do not think you will walk away with this conception after having read the Fourfold Root. It is formal and systemic almost to the point of being a frightening Kafkaesque bureaucratic-totality view of the world, and explicates a will radically dissected at its core, as it can not ever simply be pinned down to the being of either subject or object. Disappointingly, and clearly to Schopenhauer first as much as anybody, the will is never a self-recognized whole but rather always some how immanent to its own self. You will never subsume the will within yourself by way of knowing as its function is always just to will again and thereby breaking this formerly presupposed identity in which there is now only the will and no longer the self-willing.

      I think the relation between mysticism and philosophy is in fact important to Schopenhauer though because he is that which begins to perform the real final turn away from this truly ancient dichotomy (which really belongs to Hegel first, though each one of the German Idealists played their own part). You can perform the operation of analysis on yourself because it is not a Cartesian Dualist mind wholly separated from the rest of the world, but insofar as it is rather just the will and the world is also will, it can be examined from the outside in just the same way as everything else can be examined from outside, and the ineffable part which you would hope to attribute to humanity is part in whole of everything in so far as everything is will.

  9. Joe C says

    My brother introduced me to this podcast. I love it.

    There’s an organic flow to the discussion as each of you unpacks his knowledge about the subject, which makes it at once entertaining and didactic. I comment on this cast instead of another for no particular reason. I happened to have listened to this one because I just began to read S.’s World as Will and he recommends familiarizing myself with the FRSR before embarking on the World as Will.


  10. Danlanglois says

    Interesting podcast, I wouldn’t have thought it possible to get a group of guys together, who all see reasonably interested in this subject, and prepared. Giving something of Schopehauer’s attitude to contemporaries like Hegel, and his influence on Nietzsche, is very useful. I like the story that Schopenhauer tells, of having obtained a letter of introduction from Goethe, should he get the chance to present it to Byron. And, he gets the chance, in Italy, when Bryon arrives in town looking the splendid celebrity, rides in on a horse, w/girls swooning. Schopenhaeur is with his girlfriend, this story relating events from his twenties, or so. Maybe thirty. And, he considers, whether he wants so badly to meed Bryon, that it is worth introducing his girlfriend to Byron. And, he skips the opportunity, to his lasting regret. The notion of Schopenhauer as a young man amuses me, when we’re so familiar with the usual picture of him as an old Scrooge-looking type (which matches the ‘pessimist’ label). The notion of such a small European world, where Schopenhauer knew Goethe, and crossed paths w/Byron, also amuses the heck out of me.

    Such a golden age.

    I’ve been quite fascinated by Schopenhauer for years. There’s a fair amount, here in the podcast, attempting to relate Schopenhauer to Kant. The mere attempt, is enough to impress me. In the end, I’m inclined to give Kant some more credit than Schopenhauer does, where Schopenhauer disagrees, but Schopenhauer is so much more accesible. And, the fourfold root, this separation of math from logic, and both from causation, I find very challenging. These are three (of course I’m neglecting the fourth, which is ‘will’) ways of referring a ‘judgment’ to something outside of it, as its sufficient reason. Making a reference of this sort, is ‘truth’. There are, then, if you’re influence by Schopenhauer, no ‘a priori’ truths, or whathave you. No ‘synthetic’ truths. There is only one kind of truth. The kind that is true. But there are four kinds of reference of a judgment, to something outside of it. This is always *a* judgment, having a fourfold reason. which is not four different reasons. What scares me about this, is I can’t see a problem with it, but whether we quibble about whether ‘four’ is the right number, I have to agree with statements like this: ‘All that is innate in the whole of our cognitive faculty, all that is therefore a priori and independent of experience, is strictly limited to the formal part of knowledge..’

    A concise clarification of what ‘independent of experience’ means, in the case of a priori judgment. Furthermore: ‘Reason therefore has absolutely no material, but merely a formal, content, and this is
    the object-matter of Logic..It has nothing but forms..’ I need to slow down, to convey something of why I quote this kind of thing as fascinating, but I will try to sum up, that by this route, Schopenhauer has isolated logic and math from each other (of course we’re used to seeing efforts to unify them, but I’m inclined to see the point, here, I think) and from causation. also, Schopenhauer has isolated ‘will’ as a form of ‘reference’, of judgments, to something outside themselves. I sort of see math, logic, and causation, always being possible ”perspectives”, whatever we are talking about. And, so is ‘will’. Which perspective, Schopenhauer gleefully unpacks at length.


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