See biography by D. W. Hamlyn (1985); P. Gardiner, Schopenhauer (1963); B. Magee, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer (1988); E. von der Luft, ed., Schopenhauer: New Essays in Honor of His 200th Birthday (1988).
Arthur Schopenhauer, 1855.
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Arthur Schopenhauer (February 22, 1788 – September 21, 1860) was a German philosopher known for his atheistic pessimism and philosophical clarity. At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the fundamental question of whether reason alone can unlock answers about the world. Schopenhauer's most influential work, The World as Will and Representation, emphasized the role of man's basic motivation, which Schopenhauer called "will". Schopenhauer's analysis of "will" led him to the conclusion that emotional, physical, and sexual desires can never be fulfilled. Consequently, Schopenhauer favored a lifestyle of negating human desires, similar to the teachings of Buddhism.
Schopenhauer's metaphysical analysis of "will", his views on human motivation and desire, and his aphoristic writing style influenced many well-known philosophers, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Sigmund Freud.
Arthur Schopenhauer was born in 1788 in the ethnically Germanic city of Danzig as the son of Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer and Johanna Schopenhauer, both descendants of wealthy German families. In 1793, when Prussia acquired Danzig, Schopenhauer's family moved to Hamburg. In 1805, Schopenhauer's father died, possibly by committing suicide. Schopenhauer's mother Joanna moved to Weimar, then the centre of German literature, to pursue her writing career. After one year, Schopenhauer left the family business in Hamburg to join her.
Schopenhauer became a student at the University of Göttingen in 1809. There he studied metaphysics and psychology under Gottlob Ernst Schulze, who advised him to concentrate on Plato and Kant. In Berlin, from 1811 to 1812, he had attended lectures by the prominent post-Kantian philosopher J. G. Fichte and the theologian Schleiermacher.
In 1814 Schopenhauer began his seminal work The World as Will and Representation (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung.) He would finish it in 1818 and publish it the following year. In Dresden in 1819, Schopenhauer fathered an illegitimate child was born and died the same year.) In 1820, Schopenhauer became a lecturer at the University of Berlin . Schopenhauer scheduled his lectures to coincide with those of the famous philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, who Schopenhauer described as a "clumsy charlatan." However, only five students turned up to Schopenhauer's lectures, and he dropped out of academia. A late essay On University Philosophy expressed his resentment towards university philosophy.
In 1831, a cholera epidemic broke out in Berlin and Schopenhauer left the city. Schopenhauer settled permanently in Frankfurt in 1833, where he remained for the next twenty-seven years, living alone except for a succession of pet poodles named Atma and Butz. Schopenhauer had a robust constitution, but in 1860 his health began to deteriorate. He died of heart failure on September 21, 1860, while sitting in his armchair at home. He was 72.
Philosophers have not traditionally been impressed by the tribulations of love, but Schopenhauer addressed it and related concepts forthrightly:
He gave a name to a force within man which he felt had invariably 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:
Schopenhauer possessed a distinctly hierarchical conception of the human races, attributing civilizational primacy to the northern "white races" due to their sensitivity and creativity:
Despite this, he was adamantly against differing treatment of races, was fervently anti-slavery and supported the abolitionist movement in the United States. He describes the treatment of "[our] innocent black brothers whom force and injustice have delivered into [the slave-master's] devilish clutches" as "belonging to the blackest pages of mankind's criminal record." (Parerga and Paralipomena, "On Ethics," Sec. 5)
Schopenhauer additionally maintained a marked metaphysical and political anti-Judaism. Schopenhauer argued that Christianity constituted a revolt against the materialistic basis of Judaism, exhibiting an Indian-influenced ethics reflecting the Aryan-Vedic theme of spiritual "self-conquest" as opposed to the ignorant drive toward earthly utopianism of the superficially this-worldly Jewish spirit:
In 1821 he fell in love with 19-year old opera singer Caroline Richter, called Medon, and had a relationship with her for several years. He discarded marriage plans, however, writing, "Marrying means to halve one's rights and double one's duties", and "Marrying means, to grasp blindfold into a sack hoping to find out an eel out of an assembly of snakes." At the age of 43 in 1831, he again took interest in a younger woman, the 17-year old Flora Weiss, who rejected him. (ref: The Leuven Philosophy Newsletter pgs. 42-43)
Schopenhauer had generally liberal views on other social issues: he was strongly against taboos on issues like suicide and homosexuality, and condemned the treatment of African slaves. Schopenhauer held a high opinion of one woman, Madame de Guyon, whose writings and biography he recommended.
Schopenhauer's 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 told Richard Wagner's friend Malwida von Meysenbug, "I have not yet spoken my last word about women. I believe that if a woman succeeds in withdrawing from the mass, or rather raising herself above the mass, she grows ceaselessly and more than a man.
In another context, Schopenhauer reiterated his antidemocratic-eugenic thesis: "If you want Utopian plans, I would say: the only solution to the problem is the despotism of the wise and noble members of a genuine aristocracy, a genuine nobility, achieved by mating the most magnanimous men with the cleverest and most gifted women. This proposal constitutes my Utopia and my Platonic Republic" (Essays and Aphorisms, trans. R.J. Hollingdale, Middlesex: London, 1970, p. 154). Analysts (e.g., Keith Ansell-Pearson) have suggested that Schopenhauer's advocacy of anti-egalitarianism and eugenics influenced the neo-aristocratic philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, who initially considered Schopenhauer his mentor.
Concerning the Upanishads and Vedas, he writes in The World as Will and Representation:
He summarised the influence of the Upanishads thus: “It has been the solace of my life, it will be the solace of my death!”
Schopenhauer accepted Kant's division of the universe into phenomenal (perception) and noumenal (thought). Some commentators suggest that Schopenhauer claimed that the noumenon, or thing-in-itself, was the basis for Schopenhauer's concept of the will. Other commentators suggest that Schopenhauer considered will to be the only a subset of the "thing-in-itself" class, namely that we can can most directly experience.
Schopenhauer's identification of the Kantian noumenon (i.e., the actually existing entity) with what he termed 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 departed from Kant in his description of the relationship between the phenomenon and the noumenon. According to Kant, things-in-themselves ground the phenomenal representations in our minds. Schopenhauer, on the other hand, believed phenomena and noumena to be two different sides of the same coin. Noumena do not cause phenomena, but rather phenomena are simply the way by which our minds perceive the noumena, according to the Principle of Sufficient Reason. This is explained more fully in Schopenhauer's doctoral thesis, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.
Schopenhauer's second major departure from Kant's epistemology concerns the body. Kant's philosophy was formulated as a response to the radical philosophical skepticism of David Hume, who claimed that causality could not be observed empirically. 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 the breathing of our lungs or the beating of our hearts unless somehow our attention is called to them. 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 over which it has limited power.
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 thought that Hegel used deliberately impressive but ultimately vacuous verbiage. He suggested his works were filled with "castles of abstraction" that sounded impressive but ultimately contained no content. He also thought that his glorification of church and state were designed for personal advantage and had little to do with the search for philosophical truth. For instance, the Right Hegelians interpreted Hegel as viewing the Prussian state of his day as perfect and the goal of all history up until then. So although Schopenhauer's constant attacks on Hegel may have appeared vain and overly vociferous, they were not necessarily devoid of merit.
It is well-known that the book 'Oupnekhat' (Upanisad) always lay open on his table and he invariably studied it before sleeping.at night. He called the opening up of Sanskrit literature 'the greatest gift of our century', and predicted that the philosophy and knowledge of the Upanisads would become the cherished faith of the West.
Since compassion for animals is so intimately associated with goodness of character, it may be confidently asserted that whoever is cruel to animals cannot be a good man.
Nothing leads more definitely to a recognition of the identity of the essential nature in animal and human phenomena than a study of zoology and anatomy.In 1841, he praised the establishment, in London, of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and also the Animals' Friends Society in Philadelphia. Schopenhauer even went so far as to protest against the use of the pronoun "it" in reference to animals because it led to the treatment of them as though they were inanimate things. To reinforce his points, Schopenhauer referred to anecdotal reports of the look in the eyes of a monkey who had been shot and also the grief of a baby elephant whose mother had been killed by a hunter. He was very attached to his succession of pet poodles. Schopenhauer criticized Spinoza's belief that animals are to be used as a mere means for the satisfaction of humans
For Schopenhauer, Will had ontological primacy over the intellect; in other words, desire is understood to be prior to thought. Schopenhauer felt this was similar to notions of purushartha or goals of life in Vedanta Hinduism.
In Schopenhauer's philosophy, denial of the will is attained by either:
However, Buddhist Nirvana is not equivalent to the condition that Schopenhauer described as denial of the will. Occult historian Joscelyn Godwin stated, "It was Buddhism that inspired the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, and, through him, attracted Richard Wagner. This Orientalism reflected the struggle of the German Romantics, in the words of Leon Poliakov, to free themselves from Judeo-Christian fetters" (Arktos, p. 38). In opposition to Joscelyn Godwin's claim that Buddhism inspired Schopenhauer, the philosopher himself made the following statement in his discussion of religions: Buddhist philosopher Nishitani Keiji however sought to distance Buddhism from Schopenhauer. While Schopenhauer's philosophy may sound rather mystical in such a summary, his methodology was resolutely empirical, rather than speculative or transcendental:
In 2004, Professor Manuel Tarrazo published an article on the relation between Schopenhauer's epistemology and current mathematical optimization. He is a professor of finance at the McLaren School of Business at the University of San Francisco. The article's title is "Schopenhauer's prolegomenon to fuzziness." It appeared in the Fuzzy Optimization and Decision Making journal of Kluwer Academic Publishers, Volume 3, Number 3, September 2004 Professor Tarrazo asserts that "part of the work by Arthur Schopenhauer can be thought of as a prolegomenon to the existing concept of fuzziness. His epistemic framework offers a comprehensive and surprisingly modern framework to study individual decision making and suggests a bridge from the Kantian program into the concept of fuzziness, which may have had its second prolegomenon in the work by Frege, Russell, Wittgenstein, Peirce and Black. In this context, Zadeh's seminal contribution can be regarded as the logical consequence of the Kant-Schopenhauer representation framework."