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.
The Marquet Affair
While in Berlin, Schopenhauer was named as a defendant in an action at law initiated by a woman named Caroline Marquet.
She asked for damages, alleging that Schopenhauer had pushed her. Knowing that he was a man of some means and that he disliked noise, she deliberately annoyed him by raising her voice while standing right outside his door. Marquet alleged that the philosopher had assaulted and battered her after she refused to leave his doorway. Her companion testified that she saw Marquet prostrate outside of his apartment. Because Marquet won the lawsuit, he made payments to her for the next twenty years. When she died, he wrote on a copy of her death certificate, "Obit anus, abit onus
" (The old woman dies, the burden is lifted).
Philosophy of the "Will"
A key focus of Schopenhauer was his investigation of individual motivation. Before Schopenhauer, Hegel had popularized the concept of "Zeitgeist"- the idea that society consisted of a collective consciousness which moved in a distinct direction, directing the actions of its members. Schopenhauer, a reader of both Kant and Hegel, critized their logical optimism and the belief that individual morality could be determined by society and reason. Schopenhauer believed that humans were motivated only by their own basic desires, or "Wille zum Leben
" ("will": (lit. will-to-life
)) which directed all of mankind. For Schopenhauer, human desire was futile, illogical and directionless, and by extension, so was all human action in the world.
Expressions of the Will: Art and Aethetics
Schopenhauer's "will" displayed itself in its purest form in art and beauty. According to Schopenhauer, art was a spontaneous, pre-determined upwelling of the will which the artist
understood even before its composition. As the purest manifestation of the will, art placed man above science, nature, and reason. Since will was the motivator of all human interaction, art was superior to intellect and science, which were subjective and in constant flux. Therefore, Schopenhauer believed that true genius displayed itself in the permanent form of art. Aesthetic contemplation of art was man's closest contact with his will
. in the world. For Schopenhauer, human desire and will caused suffering or pain
; the best way to escape this pain was through this aesethetic contemplation.
Schopenhauer's moral theory proposed that of three primary moral incentives, compassion
. Compassion was the major motivator to moral expression. Malice and egoism were corrupt alternatives.
Schopenhauer was perhaps even more influential in his treatment of man's psychology
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 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:
- "The ultimate aim of all love affairs ... is 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 Darwin's theory of evolution and Freud's concepts of the libido and the unconscious mind.
Political and social thought
were, for the most part, an 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 quarter of his central work, The World as Will and Representation
). In occasional political comments in his Parerga and Paralipomena
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 proudly 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". He wrote many disparaging remarks about Germany and the Germans. A typical example is "For a German it is even good to have somewhat lengthy words in his mouth, for he thinks slowly, and they give him time to reflect." (The World as Will and Representation
, Vol. 2, Ch. 12)
Schopenhauer possessed a distinctly hierarchical conception of the human races, attributing civilizational primacy to the northern "white races" due to their sensitivity and creativity:
- "The highest civilization and culture, apart from the ancient Hindus and Egyptians, are found exclusively among the white races; and even with many dark peoples, the ruling caste or race is fairer in colour than the rest and has, therefore, evidently immigrated, for example, the Brahmans, the Incas, and the rulers of the South Sea Islands. All this is due to the fact that necessity is the mother of invention because those tribes that emigrated early to the north, and there gradually became white, had to develop all their intellectual powers and invent and perfect all the arts in their struggle with need, want and misery, which in their many forms were brought about by the climate. This they had to do in order to make up for the parsimony of nature and out of it all came their high civilization." (Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume II, Section 92)
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:
- "While all other religions endeavor to explain to the people by symbols the metaphysical significance of life, the religion of the Jews is entirely immanent and furnishes nothing but a mere war-cry in the struggle with other nations" ("Fragments for the history of philosophy," Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume I).
Views on women
In Schopenhauer's essay "Of Women
" (Über die Weiber
), 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.
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.
Heredity and eugenics
Schopenhauer believed that a person inherited level of intellect through one's mother and personal character through one's father. Schopenhauer quotes Horace's saying, "From the brave and good are the brave descended" (Odes
, iv, 4, 29) and Shakespeare's line from Cymbeline
, "Cowards father cowards, and base things sire base" (IV, 2) to reinforce his hereditarian argument (Payne, The World as Will and Representation
, Vol. II, p. 519). On the question of eugenics, Schopenhauer wrote:
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.
Views 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". He wrote that only those who were too old or too young to reproduce strong, healthy children would resort to pederasty
(Schopenhauer considered pederasty to be in itself a vice
). He also wrote that homosexuality did have the benefit of preventing ill-begotten children. Concerning this he stated "...the vice we are considering appears to work directly against the aims and ends of nature, and that in a matter that is all important and of the greatest concern to her, it must in fact serve these very aims, although only indirectly, as a means for preventing greater evils." Shrewdly anticipating the interpretive distortion on the part of the popular mind of his attempted scientific explanation
of pederasty as a personal advocacy
of a phenomenon Schopenhauer otherwise describes, in terms of spiritual ethics, as an "objectionable aberration", Schopenhauer sarcastically concludes the appendix with the statement that "by expounding these paradoxical ideas, I wanted to grant to the professors of philosophy a small favour, for they are very disconcerted by the ever-increasing publicization of my philosophy which they so carefully concealed. I have done so by giving them the opportunity of slandering me by saying that I defend and commend pederasty" (ibid., p. 567).
Schopenhauer said he was influenced by the Upanishads
, Immanuel Kant
, and Plato
. References to Eastern philosophy and religion
appear frequently in Schopenhauer's writing. As noted above, he appreciated the teachings of the Buddha
and even called himself a Buddhaist
He said that his philosophy could not have been conceived before these teachings were available.
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!”
Other influences were: Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, Matthias Claudius, George Berkeley, David Hume, René Descartes.
Criticism of Kant
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 has had a massive influence upon later thinkers, though more so in the arts
(especially literature music
) and psychology
than in philosophy. His popularity peaked in the early 20th century, especially during the modernist
era, and waned somewhat thereafter. Nevertheless, a recent number of publications have reinterpreted and modernised the study of Schopenhauer. His theory is also being explored by some modern philosophers as a precursor to evolutionary theory
and modern evolutionary psychology
. He is considered to have influenced the following intellectual figures and schools of thought: Friedrich Nietzsche
, Paul Deussen
, Richard Wagner
, Gustav Mahler
, Charles Darwin
, Theodule Ribot
, Ferdinand Tönnies
, Eugene O'Neill
, Max Horkheimer
, C. G. Jung
, Sigmund Freud
, George Gissing
, John N. Gray
, Ludwig Wittgenstein
, Albert Einstein
, Karl Popper
, Samuel Beckett
, Jorge Luis Borges
, Wilhelm Busch
, Dylan Thomas
, Leo Tolstoy
, Emil Cioran
, Thomas Mann
, Italo Svevo
, Joseph Campbell
, Eduard von Hartmann
, Erich von Stroheim
, Arnold Schoenberg
, and Recursionism
Schopenhauer vs. Hegel
Schopenhauer expressed his dislike for the philosophy of his contemporary Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
many times in his published works. The following quotation is typical:
In his "Foreword to the first edition" of his work Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik, Schopenhauer suggested that he had shown Hegel to have fallen prey to the Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.
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.
Schopenhauer read the Latin translation of the Upanishads
which were translated by a French writer Anquetil du Perron from the Persian translation of Prince Dara Shikoh named as ‘Sirre-Akbar’ (The Great Secret). He was so impressed by their philosophy that he called them 'The production of the highest human wisdom', and considered them to contain superhuman conceptions. The Upanisads was a great source of inspiration to Schopenhauer, and writing about them he said:
- "It is the most satisfying and elevating reading (with the exception of the original text) which is possible in the world;' it has been the solace of my life and will be the solace of my death."
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.
As a consequence of his philosophy, Schopenhauer was very concerned about the rights of animals. For him, all animals, including humans, are phenomenal manifestations of Will. The word "Will" designated, for him, force, power, impulse, energy, and desire. It is the closest word we have that can signify both the real essence of all external things and also our own direct inner experience. Since everything is basically Will, then humans and animals are fundamentally the same and can recognize themselves in each other. For this reason, he claimed that a good person would have sympathy for animals, who are our fellow sufferers.
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
Schopenhauer and Buddhism
Many Europeans, in the 1830s and 1840s, including Schopenhauer himself, found a correspondence between Schopenhauerian thought and the Four Noble Truths
. Similarities centered on the principles that life involves suffering, that suffering is caused by desire, and that the extinction of desire leads to salvation. Thus three of the four "truths of the Buddha" correspond to Schopenhauer's doctrine of the will.
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:
- Personal experience of an extremely great suffering that leads to loss of the will to live; or
- Knowledge of the essential nature of life in the world through observation of the suffering of other people.
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."
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