Schopenhauer’s critique of Kant is perhaps the most systematic and consistent of all such critiques, and his way of addressing philosophical issues is typical of the systematic philosophy, which is highly intellectualized in the sense that it accords a high value to abstractions and concepts seen as compressed and systematized knowledge. In that sense, Schopenhauer seems as an “intellectualist”, as his main work (The world as will and representation) attempts to encompas the philosophical explanation of everything (or almost everything), typical of the German philosophy of his time.
However, on a deeper level, Schopenhauer is an anti-intellectualist. This is not merely due to his high regard of the philosophy of the East, especially Indian philosophy, of which he was one of the few knowledgeable European philosophers at the time, but more importantly, to his understanding of the role of reason in everyday life, which he considered to be quite limited.
The main reason Schopenhauer was an anti-intellectualist is that he considered intuitive knowledge the most valuable type of knowledge. In his discussion of Euclidean mathematics, he questions even the mathematical manner of deducing proofs by saying that mathematics offers us insight into what is certainly true, however it does so in an overly intellectualistic way, by insisting on deducing consequences from abstract principles and premises, where we remain deprived of an intuitive understanding of why mathematical truths are in fact necessary. He mentions that to do so is the same as cutting off one’s legs in order to be able to walk on prosthetic limbs. Both types of walking get one from one place to another, however the existential quality of the former is incomparably higher than that of the latter. Similarly, he mentions that “the natural man” favors intuitive knowledge over abstract knowledge, and that only those who have looked at paper and books more than they have done at real life can prefer abstractions to the intuitive grasp of the truth. He concludes his discussion of representation as the subject of scientific knowledge by contrasting the ancient Stoics, who attempted to avoid pain and suffering by relying on abstract principles and refraining from engaging in wishes and passion, on the one hand, and Jesus Christ, as the epitome of the highest ethical truth, who suffered and died on the Cross for reasons that resonate with humanity, life and passion.
Shopenhauer also mentions the concept of “ocult knowledge” or “ocult truths”, namely the facts about experience that science cannot explain by the use of reason. He mentions that science can never offer answers to the nature of man, the “stoneness of a stone” or the reasons why certain representations that make up our life experience stand in particular mutual relations (such as geometrical truths, which describe space). Science cannot answer the “why” of why triangles or circles are the way they are, it can merely describe their relations and ascertain certain regularities (laws) that govern spatial distribution and organization of shapes. The “why”, according to Schopenhauer, belongs to philosophy, which starts at the point where science terminates, however Schopenhauer seems to contradict himself on the role of philosophy. On the one hand, he says that philosophy explains the “whys” where science can only describe the “whats”, and then he proceeds to say that philosophy is merely a theoretical copy of reality, which, then, suggests that it, too, can only capture the “whats” of the existential experience.
Equally anti-intellectualist is Schopenhauer when he speaks about rationality and ethics: the mind, he quips, is of a female nature in that it can only produce what has previously been put inside it (from the senses and the intuitive grasp of experience), and thus there is nothing ethically normative about the way the mind operates. A developed, highly capable mind can produce ethical monstrosities as much as it can produce ethically sublime choices, depending on what material the mind works with. It seems clear that for Schopenhauer the role of the mind and rational explanation is vastly exaggerated by the rationalist philosophy and rational science. What he is concerned with is the nature of will, which is the normative and the dynamic factor that he considers “thing in itself”, the only reality in our lives that transcends representations and chimeras. It is here that Schopenhauer brings us to the brink of what practical philosophy is and how it founds psychotherapy, although he explicitly considers only theoretical philosophy the “real” philosophy, and its practical application as a mere derivative of theory.
Schopenhauer’s understanding of knowledge and experience is at the same time epistemically sceptical in the same way as Kant’s (all we can understand about the world are representations as the subject of our “knowledge”), and highly practical (the actual reality, the actual “mover”of the world and “thing in itself” is will, the dynamic factor that accounts for and structures the very movement and flux of our world. This is where Schopnehauer may be seen as the first dynamist in theory (not merely a psychodynamist). It could be that the psychodynamic theories in psychology and psychotherapy in fact rest on Schopnehauer’s anti-intellectualism and emphasis on an action-oriented relationship of man to the world as a process that merge both man and the world together in the action of will.