On the Will in Nature/Introduction



I break silence after seventeen years,[1] in order to point out, to the few who are in advance of the age and may have given their attention to my philosophy, sundry corroborations which have been contributed to it by unbiassed empiricists who are unacquainted with my writings, and who, in pursuing their own road in search of merely empirical know ledge, discovered at its extreme end what my doctrine has propounded as the Metaphysical (das Metaphysische) from which the explanation of experience as a whole must come. This circumstance is the more encouraging, as it confers upon my system a distinction over all hitherto existing ones; for all the other systems, even the latest—that of Kant—still leave a wide gap between their results and experience, and are far from coming down directly to, and into contact with, experience. By this my Metaphysic proves itself to be the only one having an extreme point in common with the physical sciences: a point up to which these sciences come to meet it by their own paths, so as really to connect themselves and to harmonize with it. Moreover this is not brought about by twisting and straining the empirical sciences in order to adapt them to Metaphysic, nor by Metaphysic having been secretly abstracted from them beforehand and then, à la Schelling, finding a priori what it had learnt a posteriori. On the contrary, both meet at the same point of their own accord, yet with out collusion. My system therefore, far from soaring above all reality and all experience, descends to the firm ground of actuality, where its lessons are continued by the Physical Sciences.

Now the extraneous and empirical corroborations I am about to bring forward, all concern the kernel and chief point of my doctrine, its Metaphysic proper. They concern, that is, the paradoxical fundamental truth,

that what Kant opposed as thing in itself to mere phenomenon—called more decidedly by me representation—and what he held to be absolutely unknowable, that this thing in itself, this substratum of all phenomena, and therefore of the whole of Nature, is nothing but what we know directly and intimately and find within ourselves as the will;

that accordingly, this will, far from being inseparable from, and even a mere result of, knowledge, differs radically and entirely from, and is quite independent of, knowledge, which is secondary and of later origin; and can consequently subsist and manifest itself without knowledge: a thing which actually takes place throughout the whole of Nature, from the animal kingdom downwards;

that this will, being the one and only thing in itself, the sole truly real, primary, metaphysical thing in a world in which everything else is only phenomenon—i.e. mere representation—gives all things, whatever they may be, the power to exist and to act;

that accordingly, not only the voluntary actions of animals, but the organic mechanism, nay even the shape and quality of their living body, the vegetation of plants and finally, even in inorganic Nature, crystallization, and in general every primary force which manifests itself in physical and chemical phenomena, not excepting Gravity,—that all this, I say, in itself, i.e., independently of phenomenon (which only means, independently of our brain and its representations), is absolutely identical with the will we find within us and know as intimately as we can know anything;

that further, the individual manifestations of the will are set in motion by motives in beings gifted with an intellect, but no less by stimuli in the organic life of animals and of plants, and finally in all inorganic Nature by causes in the narrowest sense of the word—these distinctions applying exclusively to phenomena;

that, on the other hand, knowledge with its substratum, the intellect, is a merely secondary phenomenon, differing completely from the will, only accompanying its higher degrees of objectification and not essential to it; which, as it depends upon the manifestations of the will in the animal organism, is therefore physical, and not, like the will, metaphysical;

that we are never able therefore to infer absence of will from absence of knowledge; for the will may be pointed out even in all phenomena of unconscious Nature, whether in plants or in inorganic bodies; in short, that the will is not conditioned by knowledge, as has hitherto been universally assumed, although knowledge is conditioned by the will.

Now this fundamental truth, which even to-day sounds so like a paradox, is the part of my doctrine to which, in all its chief points, the empirical sciences—themselves ever eager to steer clear of all Metaphysic—have contributed just as many confirmations forcibly elicited by the irresistible cogency of truth, but which are most surprising on account of the quarter whence they proceed; and although they have certainly come to light since the publication of my chief work, it has been quite independently of it as the years went on. Now, that it should be precisely this fundamental doctrine of mine which has thus met with confirmation, is advantageous in two respects. First, because it is the main thought upon which my system is founded; secondly, because it is the only part of my philosophy that admits of confirmation through sciences which are alien to, and independent of, it. For although the last seventeen years, during which I have been constantly occupied with this subject, have, it is true, brought me many corroborations as to other parts, such as Ethics, Aesthetics, Dianoiology; still these, by their very nature, pass at once from the sphere of actuality, whence they arise, to that of philosophy itself: so they cannot claim to be extraneous evidence, nor can they, as collected by me, have the same irrefragable, unequivocal cogency as those concerning Metaphysics proper which are given by its correlate Physics (in the wide sense of the word which the Ancients gave it). For, in pursuing its own road, Physics, i.e., Natural Science as a whole, must in all its branches finally come to a point where physical explanation ceases. Now this is precisely the Metaphysical, which Natural Science only apprehends as the impassable barrier at which it stops short and henceforth abandons its subject to Metaphysics. Kant therefore was quite right in saying: "It is evident, that the primary sources of Nature's agency must absolutely belong to the sphere of Metaphysics."[2] Physical science is wont to designate this unknown, inaccessible something, at which its investigations stop short and which is taken for granted in all its explanations, by such terms as physical force, vital force, formative principle, &c. &c., which in fact mean no more than x, y, z. Now if nevertheless, in single, propitious instances, specially acute and observant investigators succeed in casting, as it were, a furtive glance behind the curtain which bounds off the domain of Natural Science, and are able not only to feel that it is a barrier but, in a sense, to obtain a view of its nature and thus to peep into the metaphysical region beyond; if moreover, having acquired this privilege, they explicitly designate the limit thus explored as that which is stated to be the true inner essence and final principle of all things by a system of Metaphysics unknown to them, which takes its reasons from a totally different sphere and, in every other respect, recognises all things merely as phenomena, i.e., as representation—then indeed the two bodies of investigators must feel like two mining engineers digging a passageway who, having started from two points far apart and worked for some time in subterranean darkness, trusting exclusively to compass and spirit-level, suddenly to their great joy catch the sound of each other's hammers. For now indeed these investigators know that the point so long vainly sought for has at last been reached at which Metaphysics and Physics meet—they, who were as hard to bring together as Heaven and Earth—that a reconciliation has been initiated and a connection found between these two sciences. But the philosophical system which has witnessed this triumph receives by it the strongest and most satisfactory proof possible of its own truth and accuracy. Compared with such a confirmation as this, which may, in fact, be looked upon as equivalent to proving a sum in arithmetic, the regard or disregard of a given period of time loses all importance, especially when we consider what has been the subject of interest meanwhile and find it to be—the sort of philosophy we have been treated to since Kant. The eyes of the public are gradually opening to the mystification by which it has been duped for the last forty years under the name of philosophy, and this will be more and more the case. The day of reckoning is at hand, when it will see whether all this endless scribbling and quibbling since Kant has brought to light a single truth of any kind. I may thus be dispensed from the obligation of entering here into subjects so unworthy; the more so, as I can accomplish my purpose more briefly and agreeably by narrating the following anecdote. During the carnival, Dante having lost himself in a crowd of masks, the Duke of Medici ordered him to be sought for. Those commissioned to look for him, being doubtful whether they would be able to find him, as he was himself masked, the Duke gave them a question to put to every mask they might meet who resembled Dante. It was this: "Who knows what is good?" After receiving several foolish answers, they finally met with a mask who replied: "He that knows what is bad," by which Dante was immediately recognised. What is meant by this here is that I have seen no reason to be disheartened on account of the want of sympathy of my contemporaries, since I had at the same time before my eyes the objects of their sympathy. What those authors were, posterity will see by their works; what the contemporaries were, will be seen by the reception they gave to those works. My doctrine lays no claim whatever to the name "Philosophy of the present time" which was a competition among the amusing adepts of Hegel's mystification; but it certainly does claim the title of "Philosophy of time to come:" that is, of a time when people will no longer content themselves with a mere jingle of words without meaning, with empty phrases and trivial parallelisms, but will exact real contents and serious disclosures from philosophy, while, on the other hand, they will exempt it from the unjust and preposterous obligation of paraphrasing the national religion for the time being. "For it is an extremely absurd thing," says Kant,[3] "to expect to be enlightened by Reason and yet to prescribe to her beforehand on which side she must incline."—It is indeed sad to live in an age so degenerate, that it should be necessary to appeal to the authority of a great man to attest so obvious a truth. But it is absurd to expect marvels from a philosophy that is chained up, and particularly amusing to watch the solemn gravity with which it sets to work to accomplish great things, when we all know beforehand "the short meaning of the long speech."[4] However the keen-sighted assert that under the cloak of philosophy they can mostly detect theology holding forth for the edification of students thirsting after truth, and instructing them after its own fashion;—and this again reminds us forcibly of a certain favourite scene in Faust.[5] Others, who think that they see still farther into the matter, maintain that what is thus disguised is neither theology nor philosophy, but simply a poor devil who, while solemnly protesting that he has lofty, sublime truth for his aim, is in fact only striving to get bread for himself and for his future young family. This he might no doubt obtain by other means with less labour and more dignity; meanwhile however for this price he is ready to do anything he is asked to do, even to deduce a priori, nay, should it come to the worst, to perceive the 'Devil and his dam,' by intellectual intuition—and here indeed the exceedingly comical effect is brought to a climax by the contrast between the sublimity of the ostensible, and the lowliness of the real, aim. It remains nevertheless desirable, that the pure, sacred precincts of philosophy should be cleansed of all such traders, as was the temple of Jerusalem in former times of the buyers and sellers.—Biding such better times therefore, may our philosophical public bestow its attention and interest as it has done hitherto. May it continue as before invariably naming Fichte as an obbligato accompaniment to, and in the same breath with, Kant—that great mind, produced but once by Nature, which has illumined its own depth, as if forsooth they were of the same kind; and this without a single voice being heard to exclaim in protest 'Ηρακλῆς καὶ πίθηκος! May Hegel's philosophy of absolute nonsense—three-fourths cash and one-fourth crazy fancies—continue to pass for unfathomable wisdom without anyone suggesting as an appropriate motto for his writings Shakespeare's words: "Such stuff as madmen tongue and brain not," or, as an emblematical vignette, the cuttle-fish with its ink-bag, creating a cloud of darkness around it to prevent people from seeing what it is, with the device: mea caligine tutus.—May each day bring us, as hitherto, new systems adapted for University purposes, entirely made up of words and phrases and in a learned jargon besides, which allows people to talk whole days without saying anything; and may these delights never be disturbed by the Arabian proverb: "I hear the clappering of the mill, but I see no flour."—For all this is in accordance with the age and must have its course. In all times some such thing occupies the contemporary public more or less noisily; then it dies off so completely, vanishes so entirely, without leaving a trace behind, that the next generation no longer knows what it was. Truth can bide its time, for it has a long life before it. Whatever is genuine and seriously meant, is always slow to make its way and certainly attains its end almost miraculously; for on its first appear ance it as a rule meets with a cool, if not ungracious, reception: and this for exactly the same reason that, when once it is fully recognised and has passed on to posterity, the immense majority of men take it on credit, in order to avoid compromising themselves, whereas the number of genuine appreciators remains nearly as small as it was at first. These few nevertheless suffice to make the truth respected, for they are themselves respected. And thus it is passed from hand to hand through centuries over the heads of the inept multitude: so hard is the existence of mankind's best inheritance!—On the other hand, if truth had to crave permission to be true from such as have quite different aims at heart, its cause might indeed be given up for lost; for then it might often be dismissed with the witches' watch-word: "fair is foul, and foul is fair."[6] Luckily however this is not the case. Truth depends upon no one's favour or disfavour, nor does it ask anyone's leave: it stands upon its own feet, and has Time for its ally; its power is irresistible, its life indestructible.

  1. So had I written in 1835, when the present treatise was first composed, having published nothing since 1818, before the close of which year "Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung" had appeared. For a Latin version, which I had added to the third volume of "Scriptores ophthalmo logici minores," edente by J. Radius, in 1830, for the benefit of my foreign readers, of my treatise "On Vision and Colours" (published in 1816), can hardly be said to break the silence of that pause.
  2. Kant, "Von der wahren Schätzung der lebendigen Kräfte," § 51.
  3. Kant, "Krit. d. r. V." 5th edition, p. 775., (English translation by M. Muller, p. 640.)
  4. Schiller, "der langen Rede kurzer Sinn." [Tr.]
  5. Goethe's Faust, part 1, lines 1982-2000 ("I almost think theology would pay [...] stick to words [...] just where no ideas are, the proper word is never far [...] with words a system can be spun.") (Wikisource contributor note)
  6. Shakespeare, Macbeth. (Wikisource contributor note)