Schopenhauer in Will and Representation writes:

What is the use of explanations that ultimately refer us to something whose inner nature is quite as unknown as the thing we started with? Do we in the end understand any more about the inner nature of these universal natural forces as we do the inner nature of an animal? Is not the one as much a sealed book as the other?

Unfathomable because it is without ground, because it is the content, that which the phenomena is, and which cannot be referred to the form, to the how, to the principle of sufficient reason.

But we who have in view not etiology but philosophy, that is not relative but unconditioned knowledge of the real nature of the world; take the opposite course and start from that which is most immediately known to us, and fully and entirely trusted by us...in order to understand what lies most distant from us.

Wikipedia notes that etiology deriving from aitia is the study of causation; is Schopenhauer saying here, that etiology as a study - a formal body of knowledge and understanding is always relative: that is a relation between two things; and hence is of no direct interest to some-one seeking unconditioned knowledge?

And in this sense are all sciences forms of etiologies? Being the study of causes of things? ie genetics - how the phenotype is determined by the genotype? But surely this is in the sense of deductive science and not the inductive - which seeks to determine (conditioned) causes.

  • I did not understand the last sentence: "but surely ...". Could you clarify? Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 2:20
  • I think etiology as he uses it is roughly synonymous with natural sciences and the search for causes and explanations... but I haven't read schopenhauer since I was an undergraduate.
    – virmaior
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 5:41
  • @tobolski: I was suggesting there is a distinction on science when we set out to determine how A causes B ie deduction; in my example given the genotype deduce the phenotype; as opposed to given B, find the principle A ie induction; it looks like Virmaior is suggesting that etiology is more concerned with finding first causes ie first principles; I suppose this is the sense that Aristotle discusses in Metaphysics. Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 8:13

2 Answers 2


Schopenhauer's intent in the passage is to contrast the knowledge of outer forms, which is the province of natural science, and the knowledge of inner nature, which is, according to Schopenhauer, in the province of philosophy, and which may ultimately leads to knowledge of the thing-in-itself.

By the term 'etiology' Schopenhauer refers to natural science, in as much as natural science studies the "external" relations of cause of effect. This is expressed more clearly a bit earlier in the World as Will and Representation (§17).

What is etiology?

Etiology proper comprehends all those branches of natural science in which the chief concern is the knowledge of cause and effect.

What does etiology (natural science) achieve?

However, it really does nothing more than indicate the orderly arrangement according to which the states of matter appear in space and time.

What does etiology (natural science) not achieve?

But it affords us absolutely no information about the inner nature of any one of these phenomena: this is called a force of nature , and it lies outside the province of causal explanation.


In this context I think Schopenhauer simply implies that science is the study of cause and effect, and only a study of how the world appears to us. Philosophy on the other can according to Schopenhauer give us direct knowledge of how the world really is.

So science is the study of the world as representation and philosophy can according to Schopenhauer be the study of the thing in itself.

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