The Concepts of Representation: Epistemological Discourse

Bayu Wikranta
7 min readDec 16, 2021
Arthur Schopenhauer.

How do humans and their knowledge relate to the world?

G.W.F Hegel in his Phenomenology of Spirit gives principle regarding human consciousness, which is the ‘knowing’ and the ‘immediate’ as humans earliest abilities. These abilities can be referred to as ‘immediate knowing’, or ‘instant awareness’. In everyday life, human consciousness has contained within them, parts of knowledge, experience, the five concrete senses, as well as ideas, principles — and these in general, make humans satisfied with what at present, judged as being completed. A stable entity and essence.

In the continuity of human consciousness, the consciousness can interfere with its own contents, due to the freedom and arbitrariness of its very content, where the contents feel determined externally (outside of itself), and manipulate the contents of itself. The contents will eventually return to a kind of certainty — eventually temporary, and that belief is fulfilled when it is in some kind of familiar state. What is familiar and known to the public, is not really known, is only for the sake of being said to be familiar and known to the public.

In cognition, what commonly happens is self-deception and deceiving others, based on well-known assumptions and simply believing them. The nature of this ‘knowing’, is a knowing that does not know how it came to be, and never strives to any. Subject and object, God, nature, understanding, sensibility, and so on are well known, as unquestioned, becomes a justification for what has been meant and intended, a point of departure which eventually returns to that very point.

If one seizes and examines something, it is one who finds out what everyone says according to his own mind about the thing one is questioning, or whether what is said is familiar or not. An ‘analysis’ on representation, for Hegel, exists as an attempt to negate the familiarity. It is to disintegrate a representation into its original elements, to return to its moments, which at least is not in the form of representation that one gets from outside the self but establishes the ‘instant’ ownership of the self. However, this analysis will still arrive at the familiarity and well-known ideas, or a determination that is innate. The activity of disintegration is power and understanding, the power of all power, absolute power.

Hegel’s study of representation stated above, can be a prelude to the idea of ​​individual ability, explained through ‘consciousness’ which generates the ability to ‘know’ — ‘knowing’. As for the ‘contents’ of these human abilities, it’s the result obtained from everyday life in the world. One can contemplate the existing condition of knowledge gained on experiences and the five concrete senses one possessed. Hegel seeks to invite humans to question the knowledge of their world, which knowledge comes from a systematic representation.

Furthermore, Hegel believed the truth will arrive at two points, something that is known in general — what is familiar, or to the truth that already exists and does not move — absolute. However, humans cannot reach the absolute truth, as Hegel (in de Vries, 1987), all things regarding the relational terms that are stated to be present between representation and the object of its representation, make the truth will forever be beyond human reach.

Hegel denied and stated critiques of representationalism. Willem de Vries, citing Hegel, assessed the pressure of a representation of the mind, which can disconnect the mind from the external world, and make the mind trapped in the world of ideas. Hegel was skeptical with the attempts of ‘representation’ which he thought was necessary to avoid subjective idealism and other positions of the representation’s own metaphysics. The substance of the world is crucial, that the right reasoning stands on non-representational relations to objects in our minds, which the right reasoning will always be universal. It is our knowledge of the universal, an object of pure thought, which is nonrepresentational and totally objective.

G.W.F Hegel.

Arthur Schopenhauer in his World as Will and Representation comes to oppose Hegel’s notions on ‘representation’. Schopenhauer states “The world is my representation”, as the most appropriate for all living beings, cognitive beings, especially humans who actually abstract their world into a reflective consciousness. Schopenhauer’s statement raises questions about the possible condition of ‘detachment’ or independence between the world of cognition and human consciousness seeing the material world outside of themselves.

The epistemological discourse on the question of ‘how’ the representation exists — and the subjective-objective nature contained in representational knowledge, can be seen from the a priori and a posteriori frameworks. Immanuel Kant (in Seung, 2007) gives the definitions as follows. A priori knowledge is knowledge of human ‘genetics’, which is part of the extension of the universal space-time. A priori knowledge is the necessary knowledge of infallible truth. Strict necessity and universality are the hallmarks of a priori cognition. A posteriori knowledge is a knowledge that is dependent on empirical intuition that the truth is uncertain, so it can be wrong.

In Kant’s concept of knowledge dependence on empirical intuition (experience), Kant gives concrete examples — mathematical propositions are a priori because mathematics only uses intuition, and their truth is imperative and universal. Whereas for example, “Smoking can cause lung cancer”, is a posteriori because it relies on empirical elements. That truth is uncertain and not universal. Kant through the explanation of the cognition of knowledge, this knowledge is then divided and its parts become meaning in his term Vorstellung (essentially: representation) — as perceptions and concepts, impressions and memories, judgments and conclusions, and everything that presents itself in consciousness.

Schopenhauer criticized Kant’s concept of a priori knowledge, which according to Schopenhauer — the truth of an a priori still expresses all forms of a posteriori possibility and experience imaginable. This form of possibility and experience is more universal than any form such as time, space — and causality, where it’s even a requirement of those forms. Forms (space, time, causality) still refer to certain representations, on the contrary, the dichotomy (separation/division) of subject-object is the totality of the form. All of this is cognition. As well the world itself is an object related to the subject, an intuition that’s only as eyewitness, that is, in other word— ‘representation’. This is the only form of ‘representation’, be it abstract or intuitive, pure or empirical. No truth is truer, no truth is more independent. No truth is need less proof. Everything is cognition.

Immanuel Kant.

Schopenhauer further criticized the a priori truth-possibilities that Kant exemplified through the study of science. For Schopenhauer, the existence of ‘space-time’ — at first through our recognition that ‘these’ objects as elements or substances whose properties exist simply as they are, and how these to carry out the expansion, filling, division, being indestructible, inconstancy, and mobility. What Schopenhauer trying to say, is that pre-cognitively, space-time is independent of humans, or becomes an a priori knowledge. But when humans are present, it is humans who provide a description of space-time through their explanation, a cognition. Schopenhauer is skeptical of the concept of knowledge which is a priori.

‘Representation’ is present and focused on everything that humans perceive in the world, the world which is a ‘presentation’. Through consciousness, humans present a language, and from that language humans present representations of their world, forming their own world. Representation is thus closely related to human consciousness and language. I present a conclusion that is more in favor of the concept presented by Schopenhauer, so that representation is a knowledge of a posteriori. Schopenhauer did not set a pursuit of truth, let alone an absolute and objective one. The search for the truth after one sacrifices everything, in the end, the truth is never certain. Instead, pay attention to seeing knowledge as an effort to guide and become a criterion for what is true, valuable, worthy of consideration, that is the presence of oppositions.

For Schopenhauer, the world in an objective view is an empirical reality, it is true that something is not thing-in-itself (because of human presence), but as an empirical object — it is real. Schopenhauer again mentions the law of causality, which could never stop human idealism from forming a bridge between something as a thing-in-itself, with human knowledge of the thing. The law of causality unites a phenomenon with our entire experience of the world conditioned by our knowledge as subject — the ‘intelligent’, ‘of knowing’, ‘to perceive’, and ‘understand’. These abilities emerge the necessity to form presuppositions, which humans become part of and equip themselves with the phenomena.


Hegel, G.F.W. 2018. Phenomenology of Spirit. Translated by: Terry Pinkard. London: Cambridge University Press.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. 2010. The World as Will and Representation Volume I. Translated by: Judith Norman, et al. London: Cambridge University Press.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. 1966. The World as Will and Representation Volume II. Translated by: E. F. J. Payne. New York: Dover Publications.

Seung, T.K. 2007. Kant: A Guide for the Perplexed. London: Continuum.

Vries, de Willem. 1987. Hegel on Representation and Thoughts. Idealistic Studies 17 (2),123–132.