Schopenhauer offers a double epistemological aspect of the world, which is to say, existence, as being at once Will and Idea. His work is not explicitly a study of ontology, i.e. essence/being, beyond the essences of Ideas, which for Schopenhauer are simply the intelligible, a priori objectifications of Will, for the subject. Although this system appears self-contained, and there is a stated atheism in Schopenhauer's later works, the master work nevertheless - and quite mysteriously - qualifies the World, as Will "for us". This is probably only an acknowledgment that even great geniuses like Schopenhauer, despite tremendous powers of reason, are hopelessly constrained by the principle of sufficient reason and the principium individuationes, from intellectually transcending one's own mind in order to attain to the whole truth (as opposed to knowledge) of ultimate realities. As Schopenhauer himself says, this would be like the Baron Münchausen lifting himself up by his own bootstraps. It is thus, in passing, that Schopenhauer recognises that the world "as Will" must itself only be an Idea (of the nature of the world), "for us", and thus can never truly describe the ineffable totality of the noumenon. But who is this "us" that the world is "for"?
Schopenhauer's Idealism is distinguished from German Idealism in its refutation of the 'divinity' transcendental character or absolute independence of the Subject. Instead, the subject is one half of one face of the World Will. Schopenhauer dispenses with this issue early on as mere "speculative theology", whereas this "for us" remains a paradox at the heart of his system: does the Will "for us" not in fact presuppose some higher standpoint, a knower who best understands the world, who is presupposed by its being understood according to, and attenuated by, the degree of species-consciousness and who, when one of its manifestations attains to this very understanding of the world and subdues it, can be said to overcome it "like a god"? It is my view that Schopenhauer's system tantalisingly invites us to undertake precisely such "speculative theology", if not, at least, to doubt the rigorousness or necessity of atheism to his system.
To the specific claims about the nature of the Will and its knower, Schopenhauer would respond, firstly, that the "knower" is simply the a priori subject of knowledge and secondly, therefore, it is just this same Will, seconded with knowledge (of its terrible manifest nature), that overcomes itself. In other words, the denial of the Will is achieved when the a priori subject of knowledge, in pure, will-less contemplation of the world as Idea (a subject which is itself ultimately also, Will), realises that the outer manifestations of the inner nature ought continually to be denied.
The 'divinity' that German Idealists like Fichte and Schelling situated in the Subject, Schopenhauer criticised as a species of sophistry, demonstrating his account of the dependence of the Subject upon Will just as objects depend on it, in the aspect of the world as Idea. Yet he doesn't offer an explanation for this "us" that nevertheless looms over his the Will just when his system demands or even suggests one. If the subject itself is not "the Absolute" or "transcendental", being merely Will, what relation to it does this "us"-ness stand, if the subject is not, ontologically, a two-way conduit of knowledge between the world and "us"? Why else would the moral injunction, ought, be imposed on the object-self by the subject-self, if there wasn't some eternal and sovereign standpoint pertaining to the claims of self-knowledge over the more universal and vociferous claims of worldy knowledge, which belong to desire?
Schopenhauer thinks this sovereign standpoint is simply the subject's knowledge that the Will, broken up into representations or phenomena, necessarily strives against its own true inner unity in consequence of our mental mapping of things in time, space and causality. This knowledge, the quieter of the Will in our object-being, can be achieved by contemplation of the world only by the pure subject of knowledge free from the worldy lusts, and which leads to an ascetic denial of all will to life.
The problem that Schopenhauer ignores is that this romantic "contemplation" is nonetheless still willing, a fact he practically concedes when later describing the daily struggle and suffering that the ascetic ethos - the rather insufferable summum bonum of his system - requires, as symbolised by the futility of slaying of the Hydra. Well we may ask, is the Will really "overcoming itself," or is it simply employing novel means of willing, commingled with self-deception, in cunning mimicry of what we would recognise ethically as holiness or blessedness? He has elided what appears to be a far more parsimonious explanation for this self-overcoming behaviour and that is to recognise a Self, being or essence of the world that is not Will alone, but includes it, is included in it, and is therefore superior to it by virtue of being itself capable of moral wisdom leading to will-lessness, or better, will-lessness transfigured by joyful wisdom, to compassion.
Instead, by describing the Will as cruel and evil, Schopenhauer proffers a judgment on the world. Describing the world as having both an autonomous, unified nature and a knower of its multiplicity of Ideas who is that very same Will manifest a priori as subject of knowledge, he fails to see that the basis for the Brahmanic/Buddhistic ethic of denying the Will to life, i.e. this "cruelty" of the manifest Will, is itself only a representation to that subject, or "for us", thus only an interpretation, and an unsatisfactory or incomplete one at that, as Nietzsche thought. Since our rational knowledge remains subject to the principle of sufficient reason our judgment of the nature of the ultimate reality of the world must remain limited, fallen.
It is thus that Nietzsche asked, rather than deny the Will because it is strife, why wouldn't you embrace the strife, because it is Will? A perverse conclusion, and no doubt one that Schopenhauer himself did not and would not have supported, but it follows ineluctably upon sound Schopenhauerian axioms. As Chesterton remarked, "Nietzsche scales staggering mountains but he turns up ultimately in Tibet. He sits down beside Tolstoy in the land of nothing and Nirvana. They are both helpless - one because he must not grasp anything, the other because he must not let go of anything. The Tolstoyan will is frozen by a Buddhist instinct that all special actions are evil. But the Nietzscheite's will is quite equally frozen by his view that all special actions are good; for if all special actions are good, none of them are special. They stand at the crossroads and one hates all the roads and the other likes all the roads. The result is - well, some things are not hard to calculate - They stand at the cross-roads."
It is my view that Schopenhauer can only avoid the absurd paradox of the Will overcoming itself, on the one hand, and the equally absurd Nietzschean Will to Power, on the other, if he transcends the desiccated Buddhistic atheism that governs the Will and finds a higher significance to it, thereby liberating his ethics from the overwhelming Tolstoyan pessimism ("it would be better to have never been born"), that does his masterpiece little justice. I believe that, by some uncharacteristically complacent atavism of philosophical thought (I dare not attribute motive, to such a great genius), when speaking of the World as Will "for us", Schopenhauer includes the "us" in the Will because he has not undertaken a meaningful analysis of the distinction between the Logos of Heraclitus, which he tacitly follows, and the Christian Logos of John, which he never mentions. This was partially explained by his (and his contemporaries') contempt for scholasticism and Judaism, which led to common misunderstandings of the inner meaning of Scripture (and particularly the doctrine of Original Sin, which he thought was merely Will, manifest as sexual desire) and partly, despite his extraordinary genius, his inability to overcome the rationalistic and empiricist temperament of his epoch in order grasp the true significance of the Christ event, as an anthropological, as well as theological revelation; anthropological, because it revealed the true origin of Man - thus also the true origin and problematic of the principium individuationes, or "knowledge of Good and Evil" - founded on a collective murder (of a scapegoat in a social crisis) and a lie (that the victim was guilty, dying as a propitiatory sacrifice ordained by violent gods), and theological because in demystifying this violence, as totally human, at the foundation of the species, the true being of the world, the "asher ehyeh asher (I am who I am/I am the Being)" or "Tat twam asi (this Thou art)" reveals itself as an undivided and non-violent essence.
To condemn the world as Schopenhauer does, therefore, as "will against itself" or, as Heraclitus wrote, as "polemos (strife), the king and father of us all", is to fall for the very fallacy that is Original Sin, i.e. to see differences in the world and to fail to see that the ever-present strife, chaos and cruelty is merely apparent "for us", constrained as we are in the fallen state to think according to the principle of sufficient reason and the principium individuationes (our brilliant but still limited way of understanding as causality and seeing as multiplicity), blinding us to the true identity of world, which as the Logos of John characterises it, is Love.