Arthur Schopenhauer

Copyright Michael D. Robbins 2005


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Arthur Schopenhauer—Philosopher

(1788-1860) February 22, 1788, Danzig, Germany, 12:00 PM, LMT. (Source: recorded. According to LMR, Lescaut quotes Family Bible in his Pisces update {not confirmed}.) Died of a lung hemorrhage on September 21, 1860, in Frankfurt am Main, Germany.        

(Ascendant, Cancer with Uranus also in Cancer and Mars also in Cancer, conjunct the proposed Ascendant and conjunct Juno; Sun conjunct Saturn in Pisces, H9, with Mercury also in Pisces; Moon in Virgo; Venus in Aries; Jupiter in Gemini; Neptune in Libra; Pluto in Aquarius)           

German philosopher, who became widely known for his fine prose style and his pessimism. His philosophy was atheistic but influenced by Eastern thought. His main work. The World As Will and Idea


A man can do what he wants, but not want what he wants.

A man's delight in looking forward to and hoping for some particular satisfaction is a part of the pleasure flowing out of it, enjoyed in advance. But this is afterward deducted, for the more we look forward to anything the less we enjoy it when it comes.

A man's face as a rule says more, and more interesting things, than his mouth, for it is a compendium of everything his mouth will ever say, in that it is the monogram of all this man's thoughts and aspirations.

After your death you will be what you were before your birth.

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.

Almost all of our sorrows spring out of our relations with other people.

Boredom is just the reverse side of fascination: both depend on being outside rather than inside a situation, and one leads to the other.

Change alone is eternal, perpetual, immortal.

Compassion is the basis of morality.

It is a clear gain to sacrifice pleasure in order to avoid pain.

It is in the treatment of trifles that a person shows what they are.

Martyrdom is the only way a man can become famous without ability.

Politeness is to human nature what warmth is to wax.

The alchemists in their search for gold discovered many other things of greater value.

The greatest achievements of the human mind are generally received with distrust.



Certainly one of the greatest philosophers of the 19th century, Schopenhauer seems to have had more impact on literature (e.g. Thomas Mann) and on people in general than on academic philosophy. Perhaps that is because, first, he wrote very well, simply and intelligibly (unusual, we might say, for a German philosopher, and unusual now for any philosopher), second, he was the first Western philosopher to have access to translations of philosophical material from India, both Vedic and Buddhist, by which he was profoundly affected, to the great interest of many, and, third, his concerns were with the dilemmas and tragedies, in a religious or existential sense, of real life, not just with abstract philosophical problems. As Jung said:
He was the first to speak of the suffering of the world, which visibly and glaringly surrounds us, and of confusion, passion, evil -- all those things which the [other philosophers] hardly seemed to notice and always tried to resolve into all-embracing harmony and comprehensiblility. Here at last was a philosopher who had the courage to see that all was not for the best in the fundaments of the universe.
[Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books, 1961, p. 69]
Philosophers upon whom Schopenhauer did have a strong effect, like Nietzsche and even Wittgenstein, nevertheless could not put him to good use since they did not accept his moral, aesthetic, and religious realism. Schopenhauer is all but unique in intellectual history for being both an atheist and sympathetic to Christianity. Schopenhauer's system, indeed, will not make any sense except in the context of Kant's metaphysics. For the purposes of the Proceedings of the Friesian School, Schopenhauer may be said to have made three great contributions to the Kantian tradition, which supplement the contemporary contributions of Fries:

1. He retained Kant's notion of the thing-in-itself but recognized that it could not exist as a separate order of "real" objects over and above the phenomenal objects of experience. Hence Schopenhauer's careful use of the singular rather than the plural when referring to the "thing-in-itself." Kant left his "Copernican Revolution" incomplete by describing the ordinary objects of experience as phenomena while leaving the impression that in an absolute sense they were only subjective, with things-in-themselves as the "real" objects. Schopenhauer favorably compares Kant to Berkeley, even though both Kant and Schopenhauer reject a true "subjective idealism" in which objects exist in no way apart from consciousness. Schopenhauer's point was that, like Berkeley, phenomena are all there are when it comes to objects as objects. What stands over and above objects is something else. For Berkeley that was only God. For Schopenhauer it was the Will as thing-in-itself.

2. Schopenhauer abolished Kant's machinery of synthesis through the pure concepts of the understanding, substituting his fourfold "Principle of Sufficient Reason." This misses much of the point of Kant's argument in the First Edition Transcendental Deduction and would not count as an advance on Kant if it did not also abolish the mistaken idea in Kant that Reason, as he conceived it, could produce out of the mere formalism of logic a substantive content to morality, aesthetics, etc. Schopenhauer does not have a very good substitute when it comes to morality (as do Fries and Nelson), but he does in aesthetics, which leads to,

3. Schopenhauer's strong sense of aesthetic value, to which he gives an intuitive, perceptual, and Platonic cast in his theory of Ideas. Schopenhauer gave aesthetics and beauty a central place in his thought such as few other philosophers have done. His aesthetic realism is a great advance over Kant's moralistic denial of an objective foundation for aesthetic reality. Beyond that lies a realistic appreciation of many religious phenomena that is superior to Kant and conformable to insights that will later be found in Otto and Jung. Schopenhauer could take religion seriously in ways that others could not because of his pessimistic rejection of the value of life. This, indeed, embodies its own distortions, but it is a welcome corrective, as Jung noted, to the shallow optimism of most other philosophers. And it does faithfully highlight the world-denying trend of important religions like Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, which must be addressed by any responsible philosophy of religion.

Schopenhauer's metaphysics, as stated in his classic The World as Will and Representation (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, 1818, 1844, 1859 -- E.F.J. Payne's English translation, Dover Publications, 1966), is structured through a small set of dichotomous divisions, displayed and color coded in the following table. Schopenhauer prided himself on the simplicity of this in comparison to Kant, whose system he compared to a Gothic cathedral. Hegel's metaphysics, which produced a potentially infinite elaboration of Kant's threefold structures, Schopenhauer regarded as, of course, nonsense.

The basic distinction in Schopenhauer's metaphysics is between representation and the thing-in-itself. The thing-in-itself turns out to be will. The will is introduced in Book II of The World as Will and Representation, where its manifestations in nature are also examined. That supplies, in effect, Schopenhauer's philosophy of science, which has its embarrassing aspects: Schopenhauer did not understand the new physics of light and electricity that had been developed by Thomas Young (1773-1829) and Michael Faraday (1791-1867). He disparaged the wave theory of light, which Young had definitively established, as a "crude materialism," and "mechanical, Democritean, ponderous, and truly clumsy" [Dover, p. 123]. Unfortunately, Schopenhauer does not seem to have understood the evidence for Young's discoveries about light, or even for Newton's -- he still clung to Goethe's clever but clueless theory of colors. Schopenhauer also required that there be a "vital force," though that would still be part of respectable science for a while to come yet. Nevertheless, Schopenhauer would have been happy to learn how his beloved qualitates occultae would return in force with quantum mechanics: Things like strangeness, charm, baryon number, lepton number, etc., are exactly the kinds of irreducible types he demanded.

Book IV of The World as Will and Representation is also about the will, but now in terms of the denial of the will. The denial of will, self, and self-interest produce for Schopenhauer a theory both of morality and of holiness, the former by which self-interest is curtailed for the sake of others, the latter by which all will-to-live ceases. Schopenhauer's greatest eloquence about the evils, sufferings, and futility of life, and its redemption through self-denial, occur there.

On the representation side of his metaphysics, which occupies Books I and III of The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer must deal with two areas that exercise their own claims to be considered things-in-themselves. First, at the beginning of Book I, comes the Subject of Knowledge. Schopenhauer's thought there is refined by his reading of the Upanishads, where the Br.hadâran.yaka distinguishes the Subject of Knowledge, the Unknown Knower, from all Objects of Knowledge, from everything Known. Schopenhauer accepts that distinction, and also that the Subject is free of the forms of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (space, time, causality, etc.).

But the subject, the knower never the known, does not lies within these forms [i.e. space, time, plurality]; on the contrary, it is always presupposed by those forms themselves, and hence neither plurality nor its opposite, namely unity, belongs to it. We never know it, but it is precisely that which knows wherever there is knowledge. [Dover, p. 5]

Since the Upanishads themselves posit an identity of the Subject, the Âtman or Self, with Brahman, the transcendent Supreme Reality, Being itself, one could not confess surprise if Schopenhauer were to identify the Subject with Kant's transcendent thing-in-itself. He does not, however -- deciding, rather arbitrarily it must seem, to retain the Subject as an Unknowable side of representation, distinct from all Objects.

In Book III of The World as Will and Representation Schopenhauer turns to his theory of Ideas, which he says are the same as Plato's Ideas, and which are also free of the forms of space, time, and causality. For Schopenhauer, it is through the Ideas that all beauty is manifest in art and nature. Again, it would not be surprising if Schopenhauer took the Ideas to be transcendent realities, especially when that is precisely what Plato thought about his own Ideas; but, as with the Subject, Schopenhauer keeps them in representation, as the nature of Objects in so far as they are free of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. The bulk of Book III is then occupied with the examination of individual forms of art, culminating in music.

The final distinction, although it is one of the earliest made, in Book I, is that between the body and the other objects of representation in space and time. For Schopenhauer, the body is known immediately and the perception of other objects is spontaneously projected, in a remaining fragment of Kant's theory of synthesis and perception, from the sensations present in the sense organs of the body onto the external objects understood as the causes of those sensations. The body itself, in Book II, becomes the most immediate manifestation of the will, a direct embodiment of the will-to-live.

One might say that the most interesting aspect of Schopenhauer's metaphysics consists of the turns not taken. The reason why the Subject and the Ideas should be held separate from the Will sometimes seems only to be that this is necessary to produce the degree of pessimism that Schopenhauer requires: The will must be blind and purposeless; but as the Subject it would not be blind, and as the Ideas it would consist of all the meaning and beauty of the Platonic World of Ideas. Indeed, Jung would later see the process by which his Archetypes are instantiated, in the "individuation" of the Self through the "transcendent function," as the means by which consciousness is expanded and life made meaningful:

As far as we can discern, the sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being. [Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 326]

Although the theory of art Schopenhauer presents in Book III, by which the Ideas are instantiated much like Jung's Archetypes, might seem to describe meaning enough for anyone's life, Schopenhauer just cannot imagine that it is good enough. Probably it is not, since few enough people find meaning in life through art. Where they have always found it is in religion, and Schopenhauer passes on to that ground with his theory of holy self-denial. But not all religion is the denial of self or of life; and Schopenhauer is conspicuously unsympathetic with religions, like Judaism and Islâm (or, for that matter, Confucianism and Taoism), that do not maintain the level of world-denial that he thinks necessary for "true" holiness. Thus his theory fails as phenomenology of religion. Only Otto can explain holiness in both world-affirmation and world-denial. But no one would ever accuse Schopenhauer of overlooking the evils of life or misunderstanding, as is all too common among Western intellectuals today, the motivation of world-denying religions.

An excellent bust of Schopenhauer by the great German sculptress, Elisabet Ney, can still be seen in her studio in Austin, Texas, where she and her husband had immigrated from Germany. After his experience sitting for the bust, Schopenhauer is said to have wondered if, desipte all his misogyny, women could after all be great artists.

(February 22, 1788 – September 21, 1860) was a German philosopher. He is most famous for his work The World as Will and Representation. He is commonly known for having espoused a sort of philosophical pessimism that saw life as being essentially evil, futile, and full of suffering. However, upon closer inspection, in accordance with Eastern thought, especially that of Buddhism, he saw salvation, deliverance, or escape from suffering in aesthetic contemplation, sympathy for others, and ascetic living. His ideas profoundly influenced the fields of philosophy, psychology, and literature.

Schopenhauer was born in Poland, Stutthof (Sztutowo) near Danzig (Gdansk). He was the son of Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer and Johanna Schopenhauer, a middle class mercantile family of Dutch heritage, although they had strong feelings against any kind of nationalism. Indeed, the name Arthur was selected by his father especially because it was the same in English, German, and French. His parents were both from the city, and Johanna was an author as well. After the city fell to Prussia during the second partition of Poland in 1793 the Schopenhauer family fled to Hamburg; in 1805 Schopenhauer's father died, possibly by suicide, and Johanna moved to Weimar. Schopenhauer never got along with his mother; when the writer Goethe, who was a friend of Johanna Schopenhauer, told her that he thought her son was destined for great things, Johanna objected: she had never heard there could be two geniuses in a single family.

Schopenhauer studied at the University of Göttingen and was awarded a PhD from the University of Jena. In 1820, Schopenhauer became a lecturer at the University of Berlin; it was there that his opposition to Hegel began.

While in Berlin, Schopenhauer became involved in a consuming lawsuit from a Caroline Marquet. She asked for daimages from him, a man of independent means, on the basis that she was injured when Schopenhauer allegedly pushed her. Marquet had noisily attracted Schopenhauer's attention. Then, Marquet's companion witnessed her as being prostrate outside of his apartment. Marquet claimed that the philosopher had assaulted and battered her after she refused to leave his doorway. In this manner, she succeeded in gaining, through the court, a portion of Schopenhauer's limited wealth. His reputation was permanently damaged by her legal machination.

Schopenhauer's health deteriorated during the year of 1860. He died of natural causes on September 21 of the same year at the age of 72.

Schopenhauer called himself a Kantian and despised Hegel. He formulated a pessimistic philosophy that gained importance and support after the failure of the German and Austrian revolutions of 1848.

Schopenhauer's starting point was Kant's division of the universe into phenomenon and noumenon, claiming that the noumenon was the same as that in us which we call Will. It is the inner content and the driving force of the world. For Schopenhauer, human will had ontological primacy over the intellect; in other words, desire is understood to be prior to thought, and, in a parallel sense, will is said to be prior to being. In solving/alleviating the fundamental problems of life, Schopenhauer was rare among philosophers in considering philosophy and logic less important (or less effective) than art, certain types of charitable practice ("loving kindness", in his terms), and certain forms of religious discipline; Schopenhauer concluded that discursive thought (such as philosophy and logic) could neither touch nor transcend the nature of desire— i.e., the will. In The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer posited that humans living in the realm of objects are living in the realm of desire, and thus are eternally tormented by that desire (his idea of the role of desire in life is similar to that of Vedanta Hinduism and Buddhism, and Schopenhauer draws attention to these similarities himself).

While Schopenhauer's philosophy may sound rather mystical in such a summary, his methodology was resolutely empirical, rather than speculative or transcendental:

Philosophy... is a science, and as such has no articles of faith; accordingly, in it nothing can be assumed as existing except what is either positively given empirically, or demonstrated through indubitable conclusions. (Parerga & Paralipomena, vol. i, pg. 106., E.F.J. Payne Translation)

This actual world of what is knowable, in which we are and which is in us, remains both the material and the limit of our consideration. (World as Will and Representation, vol. i, pg. 273, E.F.J. Payne Translation)

Schopenhauer's identification of the Kantian noumenon (i.e., the actually existing entity) with what we call our will deserves some explanation. The noumenon was what Kant called the Ding an Sich, the "Thing in Itself", the reality that is the foundation of our sensory and mental representations of an external world; in Kantian terms, those sensory and mental representations are mere phenomena. Schopenhauer's assertion that what we call our will is the same as this noumenon might at first instance strike some as oddly as Heraclitus's revelation that everything is made out of fire.

But Kant's philosophy was formulated as a response to the radical philosophical skepticism of David Hume and his fellow British Empiricists, who claimed that as far as we could tell there was no outside reality beyond our mental representations of it. Schopenhauer begins by arguing that Kant's demarcation between external objects, knowable only as phenomena, and the Thing in Itself of noumenon, contains a significant omission. There is, in fact, one physical object we know more intimately than we know any object of sense perception. It is our own body.

We know our human bodies have boundaries, and occupy space, the same way other objects known only through our named senses do. Though we seldom think of our bodies as physical objects, we know even before reflection that it shares some of their properties. We understand that a watermelon cannot successfully occupy the same space as an oncoming truck. We know that if we tried to repeat the experiment with our own bodies, we would obtain similar results. We know this even if we do not understand the physics involved.

We know that our consciousness inhabits a physical body, similar to other physical objects only known as phenomena. Yet, our consciousness is not commensurate with our body. Most of us possess the power of voluntary motion. We usually are not aware of our lungs' breath, or our heartbeat, unless our attention is called to it. Our ability to control either is limited. Our kidneys command our attention on their schedule rather than one we choose. Few of us have any idea what our livers are doing right now, though this organ is as needful as lungs, heart, or kidneys. The conscious mind is the servant, not the master, of these and other organs. These organs have an agenda which the conscious mind did not choose, and has limited power over.

When Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with the desires, needs, and impulses in us that we name "will," what he is saying is that we participate in the reality of an otherwise unachievable world outside the mind through will. We cannot prove that our mental picture of an outside world corresponds with a reality by reasoning. Through will, we know—without thinking— that the world can stimulate us. We suffer fear, or desire. These states arise involuntarily. They arise prior to reflection. They arise even when the conscious mind would prefer to hold them at bay. The rational mind is for Schopenhauer a leaf borne along in a stream of pre-reflective and largely unconscious emotion. That stream is will; and through will, if not through logic, we can participate in the underlying reality that lies beyond mere phenomena. It is for this reason that Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with what we call our will.


Schopenhauer was perhaps even more influential in his treatment of man's mind than he was in the realm of philosophy.

Philosophers have not traditionally been impressed by the tribulations of love. But Schopenhauer addressed it, and related concepts, forthrightly.

"We should be surprised that a matter that generally plays such an important part in the life of man [love] has hitherto been almost entirely disregarded by philosophers, and lies before us as raw and untreated material."

He gave a name to a force within man which he felt invariably had precedence over reason: the Will to Live (Wille zum Leben), defined as an inherent drive within human beings, and indeed all creatures, to stay alive and to reproduce.

Schopenhauer refused to conceive of love as either trifling or accidental, but rather understood it to be an immensely powerful force lying unseen within man's psyche and dramatically shaping the world:

"The ultimate aim of all love affairs more important than all other aims in man's life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it."

"What is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation..."

These ideas foreshadowed and laid the groundwork for Darwin's theory of evolution, Nietzsche's Will to Power and Freud's concepts of the libido and the unconscious mind.


This wild and powerful drive to reproduce, however, caused suffering and pain in the world. For Schopenhauer, one way to escape the suffering inherent in a world of Will was through art.

Through art, Schopenhauer thought, the thinking subject could be jarred out of their limited, individual perspective to feel a sense of the universal (metaphysics) directly — the "universal" in question, of course, was the will. The contest of personal desire with a world that was, by nature, inimical to its satisfaction is inevitably tragical; therefore, the highest place in art was given to tragedy. Music was also given a special status in Schopenhauer's aesthetics as it did not rely upon the medium of representation to communicate a sense of the universal. Schopenhauer believed the function of art to be a meditation on the unity of human nature, and an attempt to either demonstrate or directly communicate to the audience a certain existential angst for which most forms of entertainment — including bad art — only provided a distraction. A wide range of authors (from Thomas Hardy to Woody Allen) and artists have been influenced by this system of aesthetics, and in the 20th century this area of Schopenhauer's work garnered more attention and praise than any other.
According to Daniel Albright (2005), "Schopenhauer thought that music was the only art that did not merely copy ideas, but actually embodied the will itself."

Schopenhauer's politics were, for the most part, a much-diminished echo of his system of ethics (the latter being expressed in Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik, available in English as two separate books, On the Basis of Morality and On the Freedom of the Will; ethics also occupies about one fourth of his central work, The World as Will and Representation). In occasional political comments in his Parerga and Paralimpomena and Manuscript Remains, Schopenhauer described himself as a proponent of limited government. What was essential, he thought, was that the state should "leave each man free to work out his own salvation", and so long as government was thus limited, he would "prefer to be ruled by a lion than one of [his] fellow rats" — i.e., a monarch. Schopenhauer did, however, share the view of Thomas Hobbes on the necessity of the state, and of state violence, to check the destructive tendencies innate to our species. Schopenhauer, by his own admission, did not give much thought to politics, and several times he writes prideful boasts of how little attention he had paid "to political affairs of [his] day". In a life that spanned several revolutions in French and German government, and a few continent-shaking wars, he did indeed maintain his aloof position of "minding not the times but the eternities".

Schopenhauer on women
Schopenhauer is also famous for his essay "On Women" (Über die Weiber), in which he expressed his opposition to what he called "Teutonico-Christian stupidity" on female affairs. He claimed that "woman is by nature meant to obey", and opposed Schiller's poem in honor of women, Würde der Frauen. The essay does give two compliments however: that "women are decidedly more sober in their judgment than [men] are" and are more sympathetic to the suffering of others. However, the latter was discounted as weakness rather than humanitarian virtue.

The ultra-intolerant view of women contrasts with Schopenhauer's generally liberal views on other social issues: he was strongly against taboos on issues like suicide and masochism and condemned the treatment of African slaves. This polemic on female nature has since been fiercely attacked as misogynistic. In any case, the controversial writing has influenced many, from Nietzsche to 19th century feminists. While Schopenhauer's hostility to women may tell us more about his biography than about philosophy, his biological analysis of the difference between the sexes, and their separate roles in the struggle for survival and reproduction, anticipates some of the claims that were later ventured by sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists in the twentieth century.

Schopenhauer on homosexuality
Schopenhauer was also one of the first philosophers since the days of Greek philosophy to address the subject of male homosexuality. In the third, expanded edition of The World as Will and Representation (1856), Schopenhauer added an appendix to his chapter on the "Metaphysics of Sexual Love." In it, he develops the idea since only mature men and fully adult but pre-menopausal women are capable of bearing healthy children, in early adolescence and in late middle age the sexual appetite is susceptible of being turned towards another channel.

While there may again be more autobiography than analysis in this hypothesis, it is consistent with the general tenor of Schopenhauer's thought, which gives the Will in nature the position of setting an agenda for individual lives. It is also one of the first attempts at portraying homosexuality as a natural phenomenon, acknowledging its existence in every culture, and seeking to explain its appearance even in those cultures whose moralities sharply condemn homosexual behaviour.

Schopenhauer on Hegel
Schopenhauer seems to have disliked just about everything concerning his contemporary Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The following quotation from On the Basis of Morality (page 15-16) is quite famous:

If I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage, I should be quite right.

Further, if I were to say that this summus philosophus [...] scribbled nonsense quite unlike any mortal before him, so that whoever could read his most eulogized work, the so-called Phenomenology of the Mind, without feeling as if he were in a madhouse, would qualify as an inmate for Bedlam, I should be no less right.

Schopenhauer's critique of Hegel is directed at his perception that Hegel's works use deliberately impressive but ultimately vacuous jargon and neologisms, and that they contained castles of abstraction that sounded impressive but ultimately contained no verifiable content. He also thought that his glorification of church and state were designed for personal advantage and had little to do with search for philosophical truth. Although Schopenhauer may have appeared vain in his constant attacks on Hegel, they were not necessarily devoid of merit: the Right Hegelians interpreted Hegel as seeing the Prussian state of his day as perfect and the goal of all history up until then.

Common Misconceptions
Many are put off Schopenhauer by descriptions of him as an obstinate and arrogant man, who did not lead the ascetic life that he glorified in his work. The idea that he made resignation into a command to virtue is inaccurate, as he was merely trying to explain asceticism in terms of metaphysics. He does refer to the asceticism as a state of "inner peace and cheerfulness", but he also clearly states that he was not trying to recommend the denial of the will above the affirmation of the will. Furthermore, the call to asceticism was supposed to come to select individuals as knowledge all of a sudden, rather than being a virtue that can be taught. "In general," he wrote, "it is a strange demand on a moralist that he should commend no other virtue than that which he himself possesses." (The World as Will and Representation, Vol.I, § 68)

Nietzsche seems to have made this misinterpretation, leading some people to a distorted view of Schopenhauer. The following sentence from The Twilight of the Idols is often quoted:

He has interpreted art, heroism, genius, beauty, great sympathy, knowledge, the will to truth, and tragedy, in turn, as consequences of "negation" or of the "will's" need to negate.

Schopenhauer did see all these things as means to a more peaceful and enlightened way of life, but none of them were "denial of the will-to-live". Only asceticism is referred to in that way. Nietzsche also claimed that Schopenhauer did not recognise that suffering had a redemptive quality, yet his recognition of this seems blatantly clear in part 4 of The World as Will and Representation.

Also, his identification of the will with the Kantian "thing-in-itself" has been misunderstood. Kant defined things-in-themselves as being beyond comprehension and that no-one could know the inner nature of a material thing. It is sometimes thought that Schopenhauer denied this, but he did not. What he did assert was that one could know things about the thing-in-itself. For example, you can know that the will is a striving force, that it is endless, that it causes suffering, that it will produce boredom if unoccupied, etc. However, he did not say that you could directly know the will. In addition, it has sometimes been criticised that he never defined the will, but he explained that it could not be fully defined.

Schopenhauer is thought to have influenced the following intellectual figures and schools of thought: Richard Wagner, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, Theodule Ribot, Max Horkheimer, C. G. Jung, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Jorge Luis Borges, Dylan Thomas, Emil Cioran, Phenomenalism, and Recursionism.

Schopenhauer was, as a philosopher, a pessimist; he was a follower of Kant's Idealist school.

Born in Danzig, Schopenhauer, because of a large inheritance from his father, was able to retire early, and, as a private scholar, was able to devote his life to the study of philosophy. By the age of thirty his major work, The World as Will and Idea, was published. The work, though sales were very disappointing, was, at least to Schopenhauer, a very important work. Bertrand Russell reports that Schopenhauer told people that certain of the paragraphs were written by the "Holy Ghost."

Schopenhauer's system of philosophy, as previously mentioned, was based on that of Kant's. Schopenhauer did not believe that people had individual wills but were rather simply part of a vast and single will that pervades the universe: that the feeling of separateness that each of has is but an illusion. So far this sounds much like the Spinozistic view or the Naturalistic School of philosophy. The problem with Schopenhauer, and certainly unlike Spinoza, is that, in his view, "the cosmic will is wicked ... and the source of all endless suffering."1

Schopenhauer saw the worst in life and as a result he was dour and glum. Believing that he had no individual will, man was therefore at the complete mercy of all that which is about him. Now, whether his pessimism turned him into an ugly person, or whether its just a case of an ugly person adopting the philosophy of pessimism; -- I have no idea. But what I do know is that Schopenhauer had nobody he could call family. "His pessimism so affected his mother's social guests, who would disperse after his lengthy discourse on the uselessness of everything, that she finally forbade him her home. He parted from her, never to see her again." He never married, mainly because, I suppose, because any self-respecting woman would withdraw in horror, upon finding out Schopenhauer's view of women: they "are directly fitted for acting as the nurses and teachers of our early childhood by the fact that they are themselves childish, frivolous and short-sighted; in a word, they are big children all their life long." They are an "undersized, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped and short legged race ... they have no proper knowledge of any; and they have no genius." As great a problem as Schopenhauer was to himself, he was a brilliant conversationalist; "his audience, consisting of a small circle of friends, would often listen to him until midnight. He never seemed to tire of talking, even during his last days."2

To Schopenhauer life was a painful process, relief for which, might to achieved through art or through denial. "The good man will practise complete chastity, voluntary poverty, fasting, and self-torture." (Russell.) It was Schopenhauer's view that through the contemplation of art, one "might lose contact with the turbulent stream of detailed existence around us"; and that permanent relief came through "the denial of the will to live, by the eradication of our desires, of our instincts, by the renunciation of all we consider worth while in practical life."3 Presumably any little bits of happiness we might snatch would only make us that more miserable, such real and full happiness was not possible, "a Utopian Ideal which we must not entertain even in our dreams." It is not difficult to understand that this "ascetic mysticism" of Schopenhauer's is one that appeals to the starving artist.

Schopenhauer was "a lonely, violent and unbefriended man, who shared his bachelor's existence with a poodle. ... [He was of the view that the world was simply an idea in his head] a mere phantasmagoria of my brain, that therefore in itself is nothing."4


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