Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The 306 Greatest Books #137 - The World as Will and Presentation

The next up on my reading of the 306 greatest books is The World as Will and Presentation (AKA The World as Will and Idea or The World as Will and Representation) by Arthur Schopenhauer. This book can be found on the Sybervision Book List.

At long last I have finished the more than 1300 page drudge that is The World as Will and Presentation. This is the last philosophical books that are on the list and I am the more happy because of it. Schopenhauer states in the intro that to truly understand the work, you should read it twice. I am not going to do that because honestly, it didn't interest me nearly that much. The premise of the book is that everything in life can be broken down into two categories, the Will and the Presentation (or the Idea, or Representation, all based on translation). The Will is the desire that resides in all of us. It is the will to live, the will to eat, the will to want what we (and everything) wants. The Will is everything inside us. The Presentation is how everything appears to us from the outside. It is how the world looks through our eyes. It is everything outside of us. Like most philosophical works, Schopenhauer proceeds from the small and works to the larger, to the point where he is trying to explain everything from religion to science within the concepts he has stated. The problem with the work, and one that he seems to fail to notice, is that the book is way over bloated. He states almost identical phrases on numerous occasions and has a tendency to use 100 words to state something, when 10 would have done the job just fine. This book could easily be condensed down to a quarter it's actual size and have had all the depth and meaning that the original had. He needed an editor. That's not saying that the book isn't any good, it is, but only in parts. I occasionally found sections that I was deeply enraptured in but, but they were few and far between. It was like eating a bowl of cheap Raisin Bran, there were occasionally instances of delicious raisins, but mostly it was just bran. Also, one thing needs to be understood about this book. It is a product of it's times. Just like The Origin of Species, the science in The World as Will and Presentation is outdated and often insulting to the reader, where he makes general assumptions and runs with them (like everyone gets their intelligence only from their mother and that women are obviously the weaker sex that needs a man for everything). Reading this as a historical philosophy work and not a scientifically modern text is essential for getting the most out of the text.

In order to get the "full experience" from this book, it seemed that there needed to be some prerequisite reading. His entire philosophy is based on the works of Immanuel Kant. Luckily I had happened to read The Critique of Pure Reason before reading this book, but if I hadn't, I likely would have been mildly lost. He also mentions Descartes (Meditations) a lot, which again is useful to read beforehand. The one thing though that he insufferably keeps mentioning is his other "prize essays". It's rather sickening the amount that he mentions them, however the one true drawback was that he wrote this book with the assumption that the reader is fully acquainted with his essay "The Principle of Sufficient Ground", which obviously I had not read but apparently should have. The organization of the book is divided up into the main text, an appendix, and supplements to the text, totaling over 1300 pages. The main text only makes up about 475 pages of the document with the appendix finishing out the 600 page Volume 1. Volume 2 (all 700+ pages of it) is entirely made up of the supplements to the text. I wish I had known that the supplements are directly related to the chapters in the main text and broken up as such, otherwise I would not have read through the text cover to cover.  If I had to do it over again, I would read the supplements in relation to the chapters as I was going through each chapter. Reading the book cover to cover, it felt as if I had read the main text twice. Once the first time, then again as an over bloated version in the supplemental chapters. 

In general, the translation of the text can make or break this work. I am using the most up to date translation (Richard E Aquila's) and I believe it had made the difference. Often German to English translations feel rather clunky, however this one was remarkably easy to understand and process the information. A worse translation could have made this from a drudge to downright incomprehensible. Also, even though the author is extremely arrogant, he is also rather amusing by frequently insulting and mocking his contemporaries. It adds a bit of levity where this could be considered a very dry text. All in all, I would only recommend this text if you can get (1) A good translation and (2) a good abridgment of the text and (3) if you are into philosophical texts. The full version is not worth the effort of wading though, however the bits of wisdom sprinkled throughout the text did pique my interest sufficiently that I will go back to those specific section when I have more time.