The Ambiguity in Schopenhauer’s Doctrine of the Thing-in-Itself

Review of Metaphysics 74 (294):251-288 (2020)
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Abstract

The general attitude towards Arthur Schopenhauer’s metaphysics is rather fiercely critical and at times even tendentious. It seems that the figure of Schopenhauer as an irredeemably flawed, stubborn, and contradictory philosopher serves as a leitmotiv among scholars. Schopenhauer’s identification of the thing-in-itself with the will continues to be a thorny puzzle in the secondary literature, and it presents perhaps the greatest challenge to Schopenhauer scholars. Schopenhauer borrows the term ‘thing-in-itself’ from Immanuel Kant, who uses it to refer to a reality that is distinct from what appears to us, and hence unknowable. Despite the fact that several interpretations have been offered to make sense of Schopenhauer’s identification of the thing-in-itself with the will, there appears to be no consensus about how to interpret this identification as well as his understanding of the term ‘thing-in-itself’. Unlike the other interpretations, the interpretation that I offer here distinguishes between three distinct and mutually incompatible views that Schopenhauer formulates about the thing-in-itself. I argue that it is not only difficult to give a coherent, consistent account of Schopenhauer’s position, but also not worth trying, because such an endeavor comes at the cost of ignoring the textual richness and depth of thought that Schopenhauer’s works offer.

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Vasfi Onur Özen
Koc University

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