19th century philosophy

Primal Will: Unveiling the Depths of Maternal Instinct in Schopenhauer’s Philosophy”

In Book 2 of “The World as Will and Representation,” Schopenhauer elaborates on how individuals can access the world directly, beyond mere representations. This direct access is achieved through experiencing the “will to live,” which Schopenhauer sees as the fundamental driving force behind all actions and desires. He illustrates this concept by explaining how the physical constitution of our bodies is a direct manifestation of this will. For example, he states that “teeth, throat, and bowels are objectified hunger” (WWR, vol. 1, bk. 2, §20), meaning that these bodily organs exist to fulfill the fundamental desire to nourish and sustain life. His idea emphasizes that our bodily functions and structures are not just random or purely biological but are deeply tied to the underlying will that drives us. This will is evident in our instinctual actions and desires, reflecting a non-representational reality that shapes our existence. The will to live manifests in various forms, from the basic need for food and survival to more complex desires and behaviors. By recognizing this, we understand that our physical bodies and actions are not merely mechanical but are expressions of a deeper, intrinsic will that permeates all aspects of life.

A tragic historical example, the infamous experiment conducted by Unit 731 during World War II, amply demonstrates this primitive will. One stark and sharp illustration of the non-representational dimension of reality can be observed in the maternal instinct to protect offspring- the direct and visceral expression of the will to live. This instinct transcends rational thought and manifests itself as an unmediated drive to ensure the child’s survival. Unit 731 was a secret biological and chemical warfare research and development unit of the Imperial Japanese Army that engaged in deadly human experiments. The experimenters locked the mother and child in a sweltering room and observed whether the mother protected the child by holding or stepping on the child to prevent the heat.  Multiple experiences have shown that this is all mothers will choose to keep their children until they die.

In this extremely tragic situation, the mothers’ response speaks volumes about their willingness to protect their offspring. Despite the unbearable conditions, the mother chose to protect her children to death, holding them close to her body and desperately trying to keep them safe from the searing heat. This act of selflessness and sacrifice highlights the original, non-representational dimension of the will described by Schopenhauer. This response bypasses any form of rational deliberation or representative thinking. It is a direct manifestation of will, a force that compels individuals to act in a way that prioritizes the continuation of life and the protection of the next generation.

In conclusion, Schopenhauer’s notion of the will to live as a fundamental driving force finds a powerful and tragic illustration in the maternal instinct to protect one’s offspring, even in the direst of circumstances. This instinctual behavior underscores the non-representational dimension of reality, revealing the deep, intrinsic will that drives human actions and decisions. The harrowing example from Unit 731 starkly illuminates how the will to live transcends rational thought, manifesting as an unmediated drive that prioritizes the survival and protection of loved ones above all else.

Hegel’s Universality: The Mirror as a Philosophical Illustration

In the intricate tapestry of Hegelian thought, the mirror emerges as a compelling metaphor for the philosophical notion of universality which is deeply embedded in the self’s relation to the world. The passage “‘I’ is a universal and the object is a universal” (64) from Hegel’s “Phenomenology of Spirit” suggests a profound kinship between the subject and the object, hinting at a shared fundamental essence that transcends individual differences. This notion of universality is further enriched by the assertion “In essence, the object is the same as the movement” (67), which implies that the essence of an object is bound up with the process of its continual becoming within the consciousness of the subject.

A mirror, a simple yet profound object in our daily lives, aptly embodies Hegel’s concepts. When we look into a mirror, we see more than our physical appearance; we see the universal ‘I’. The reflection is not our subjective experiences, but a facet of our existence that becomes a universal symbol and is recognizable to all who perceive it. This is a manifestation of not only our identity but the common experience of self-recognition, epitomizing Hegel’s idea of universality where the individual’s reflection becomes a shared human symbol. Moreover, the mirror’s reflection also serves as a universal object. It captures the universal act of reflection, where every individual’s encounter with their image in the mirror goes beyond personal identity and resonates with the universal nature of human reflection. Thus, the mirror serves as a unique object that mirrors our universal capacity for self-perception.

In Hegel’s dialectic, the mirror transcends its function as a static reflector; it becomes integral to a dynamic interplay of recognition and self-exploration. The act of reflection is more than physical—it’s a cognitive journey of seeing, understanding, and connecting with oneself. Hegel’s idea that the essence of an object is its continuous becoming is clear here: our reflection only truly exists as we perceive it, alive and responsive to our every move. This ongoing interaction is not just a passive observation but an active engagement, a dance of awareness where the ‘I’ meets its image, leading us toward deeper self-consciousness. Through this process, we grasp our consciousness, a universal experience rooted in the act of reflective perception.