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Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), whose pessimistic philosophy was widely known in the late 19th century in Europe and the United States, held that ultimate reality was nothing but senseless striving or will, having no divine origin and no historical end.

Arthur Schopenhauer was born in Danzig on Feb. 22, 1788. His father, a successful Dutch businessman, had a taste for urbane living, travel, and bourgeois culture, while his mother aspired to the more exotic culture of writers and nonconformists. When Schopenhauer was 5, Danzig, formerly a free mercantile city, was annexed by Poland. As a consequence, his family moved to Hamburg, Germany, in search of a more congenial setting for his father's business. In 1797 Schopenhauer was sent to stay with a family in France, returning to Hamburg after 2 years to enter a private school. Later he became interested in literature, earning the disapproval of his father, who nonetheless gave him the choice of pursuing serious literary studies or traveling with the family for 2 years. Schopenhauer chose to travel.

His voyages over, Schopenhauer took a job as a clerk in a Hamburg merchant's office. That year, 1805, his father died, apparently a suicide. The mercantile world held only drudgery for young Schopenhauer, whose ambitions and desires were both unfocused and frustrated. Feeling constrained by a promise to his father, Schopenhauer remained at work until 1807, when he joyfully resigned in order to study Greek and Latin in a school at Gotha. Having enraged an unsympathetic instructor, he transferred to a school in Weimar, where his mother had already established herself as mistress of a literary salon frequented by Goethe and other notables. But Schopenhauer had earlier quarreled with his mother, whom he thought too free with her ideas and her favors. He therefore resided with his mentor, the philologist Franz Passow, who paid his tuition. Schopenhauer's studies went well, and in 1809, on acquiring a handsome legacy, he enrolled at the University of Göttingen. He studied mostly the sciences and medicine but eventually turned to philosophy.

Philosophical Studies

Schopenhauer's new passion for philosophy led him to the University of Berlin, where he hoped to cull the wisdom of Johann Gottlieb Fichte, then the foremost philosopher in Germany. He was disappointed in Fichte but remained at the university until 1813, when Prussia mobilized to expel the French after Napoleon's defeat. Seeing the dangers of staying in Berlin and having no heart for nationalistic fervor, Schopenhauer sought refuge in Rudolstadt. There he completed his doctoral dissertation, which he submitted successfully to the University of Jena. He published the dissertation at his own expense and then returned to Weimar. He met Goethe, who seemed sympathetic to his thinking. One fruit of their conversations was Schopenhauer's brief study Ü ber das Sehn und die Farben (1816; On Vision and Colors).

The World as Will and Idea

Schopenhauer's unhappy relations with his mother finally terminated in open hostility, and he moved to Dresden. By this time the central and simple idea of his philosophy had taken hold in his mind. The principal source of this idea was his own experience and moods, but the expression of it owed much to the philosophies of Plato and Immanuel Kant and the mystical literature of India. He foresaw that his reflections would eventually lift him above the absurd stresses and conflicts of his life, and he thought that ultimately his writings would usher in a new era not only in philosophy but also in human history. Whereas former philosophies had been parceled into schools and special problems, his own, as he envisaged it, would be a single, simple fabric. The simplest expression of this potent idea is probably the very title of the book he wrote at Dresden, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Idea). The world is necessarily present to a subject that perceives it; thus the world is "idea" or "representation." Yet the world is not created or constructed by the subject or the mind; its own nature is will, or blind striving. "My body and my will are one," and in the final analysis one person's will is indistinguishable from every other form of willing.

The book was printed by a reluctant publisher in 1818 and failed to gain a public. Nevertheless, with two books to his credit, Schopenhauer was given a lectureship in philosophy at the University of Berlin. At that time G. W. F. Hegel was the center of attention, and Schopenhauer decided to compete with him by lecturing at the same hour. But he addressed an empty room, and shortly his academic career was over.

Other Writings

In 1831 cholera was epidemic in Berlin, and Schopenhauer fled to Frankfurt, where he stayed for the rest of his life. In 1836 he published a study of contemporary science, Ü ber den Willen in der Natur (On the Will in Nature), showing that his philosophy was consistent with the sciences. In 1839 he won a prize from the Norwegian Scientific Society for an essay on freedom of the will. To this essay he added another, publishing them in 1841 as Die Beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik (The Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics). During these years he revised and augmented the text of The World as Will and Idea, which was republished in 1844 with 50 new chapters. In 1847 he republished his dissertation, Ü ber die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde (On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason). By now he was attracting some notice, but the fame he had predicted for himself was still only a dream.

Schopenhauer's style of life in his Frankfurt years has always both fascinated and puzzled his admirers. Though he wrote about the ultimate value of negating the will, he displayed unusual willfulness; though he extolled tranquility, he was always energetic; though he wrote savage diatribes against women, he could not forgo female company.

Parerga und Paralipomena

At last, in 1851, Schopenhauer published the book that brought him fame and followers. Titled Parerga undParalipomena, it was a collection of highly polished, insightful essays and aphorisms. Its style was probably the chief reason for the book's immediate success. Yet the ideas were important too, particularly the notion that will was primary over intellect. The pessimism that follows from such a notion was already in vogue, and Schopenhauer became its voice. Another reason for his fame was surely his appeal to the inner experience of moods and feelings, in contrast to the more traditional appeals to history, reason, authority, and objective evidence. His philosophy takes its source in "the selfsame unchangeable being which is before us." Life is all suffering, he said, but it can be reflected upon, and then it will be seen to be "nothing." Schopenhauer died on Sept. 21, 1860. By then he had countless followers, and he was idolized as a kind of savior.

Further Reading

Schopenhauer's own writings are readily available in translation. Particularly noteworthy is a selection of the essays and aphorisms from Parerga and Paralipomena, edited and translated by R. J. Hollingdale (1970), which includes an introduction containing biographical information. Patrick Gardiner, Schopenhauer (1963), is a study of the philosopher's life and works. Schopenhauer's life is presented in detail in Helen Zimmern, Arthur Schopenhauer: His Life and Philosophy (1876), and in William Wallace, Life of Schopenhauer (1890). A more critical assessment of Schopenhauer's work is in Frederick Copleston, Arthur Schopenhauer: Philosopher of Pessimism (1946).

Additional Sources

Safranski, Reudiger, Schopenhauer and the wild years of philosophy, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Janaway, Christopher, Schopenhauer, Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Simmel, Georg, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991. □

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Schopenhauer, Arthur

Schopenhauer, Arthur

Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860) was one of the few notable thinkers of his time to regard the relationship between life and death as the central problem of philosophy. He was also among the first Western intellectuals to draw insights from Buddhist and Hindu worldviews.

The German philosopher was born into a prosperous family that had many social and cultural connections. Contemporaries described Schopenhauer as a scintillating conversationalist with discerning taste in the arts. However, he was also seen as a gloomy person whose company was difficult to bear. Even as a youth, Schopenhauer was strongly affected by the imperfections of life one must endure suffering, loss, disappointment, and frustration until the hammer blow of death ends all. Life seemed like an all but unbearable burden. Why go on living, then? The answer was clear to him: People put up with the miseries of life because they are terrified of death. Schopenhauer's need to resolve the dilemma of a miserable life and a terrifying death would contribute much to his elaboration of a philosophical system that has continued to influence world thought. His writings often challenge the reader's stamina: Schopenhauer himself cautioned his readers that they must resign themselves to reading all three volumes of The World As Will and Representation (1818) twiceand then perhaps once again for good measure.

The Thing-in-Itself

Following Eastern religious perspectives, Schopenhauer rejected the assumption that the world presents itself directly to the human mind. He believed it is more accurate to say that people construct representations of the world and then respond to these ideas or images as though they were objective reality. Even such powerful ideas as life and death are framed within the conventions of language and societal custom. Not denying that there is a core of reality within representations of life and death, he argued that people often respond more to the representations than the reality.

The philosopher's quest to understand the world through words, logic, and reason had been missing the point, according to Schopenhauer. Words are usually limited to the superficial appearance of reality. Seldom do people recognize the thing-in-itself, the inner nature of both the universe and human nature. The essence of life is to be sought in a driving force, an incessant impulse that is far more powerful than reason. He called this force "The Will." The will might be regarded as the thing-in-itself in action. Life is the most significant example. The essence of life is the fierce impulse to continue, to survive. The will operates for the species as well as for the individual. The blind will of nature does not hesitate to sacrifice many individuals in order to keep the species going.

Death As the Answer to Life

Humans face a unique situationthey are driven by the will to live, like all other creatures, but are also aware of the certainty of death. In Schopenhauer's view, all religions have been motivated by the desire to find some way of coping with this dilemma. His own conclusion is, "Only small and limited minds fear death" (Schopenhauer 1957, vol. 1, p. 27). Humans have death as their destiny, their completion. Individuality ceases with death, but the essence of being is indestructible and remains part of the cosmic process.

Schopenhauer invites the reader to take a larger view of the universe instead of the usual concern for individual life. From this cosmic vantage point, life and death are reciprocals, not opposites. He notes that Eastern thought has long represented the same god as having both creative and destructive powers. Siva, for example, displays the lingam, a symbol of generation, although she is adorned with a necklace of skulls. Greeks and Romans celebrated "the full ardour of life" at their funerals to make a similar point (Schopenhauer 1957, vol. 1, p. 355). It would be wise then, according to Schopenhauer, for people to look "away from the death of the mourned individual [with] knowledge that the whole of nature is the phenomenon and also the fulfillment of the will to live" (p. 355).

The answer to death proposed by Schopenhauer has not been widely accepted, in part because many people continue to focus on individual fate rather than cosmic process. Among his many influences, however, was the life versus death instinct of Sigmund Freud, and continuing discussions about the value of death education and the ethics of rational suicide.

See also: Buddhism; Hinduism; Philosophy, Western; Plato; Thanatology

Bibliography

Choron, Jacques. Death and Western Thought. New York: Collier Books, 1963.

Janaway, Christopher. Self and World in Schopenhauer's Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989.

Schopenhauer, Arthur. The World As Will and Representation. 3 vols. 1818. Reprint, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957.

ROBERT KASTENBAUM

SÉANCE

See Communication with the Dead.

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Schopenhauer, Arthur

Arthur Schopenhauer (är´tŏŏr shō´pənhou´ər), 1788–1860, German philosopher, b. Danzig (now Gdansk). The bias of his own temperament and experience was germinal to the development of his celebrated philosophy of pessimism, which he presented with such clarity and skill as to gain eventual recognition as one of the great philosophers. He studied at Göttingen, Berlin, and Jena, and he traveled throughout Europe. In Berlin he opposed the teachings of G. W. Hegel and attempted unsuccessfully to establish himself as a lecturer. After 1831, Schopenhauer lived and worked in retirement, chiefly in Frankfurt am Main. He had no friends, never married, and was estranged from his mother, a woman of considerable intellectual ability. Schopenhauer's most important work is The World as Will and Representation (1818, tr. 1958). His other works, mainly elaboration and commentary upon his original thesis, include On the Will in Nature (1836, tr. 1889), The Basis of Morality (1841, tr. 1903), Essays from the Parerga and Paralipomena (1851, tr. 1951), and many lesser essays. Schopenhauer considered himself the true successor of Immanuel Kant. However, he interpreted Kant's unknowable thing-in-itself as a blind, impelling force that is manifest in individuals as a will to live. Intellect and consciousness, in Schopenhauer's view, arise as instruments in the service of the will. Conflict between individual wills is the cause of continual strife and frustration. The world, therefore, is a world of unsatisfied wants and of pain. Pleasure is simply the absence of pain; unable to endure, it brings only ennui. The only possible escape is the renunciation of desire, a negation of the will reminiscent of Buddhism. Temporary relief, however, can be found in philosophy and art. Schopenhauer held that music was unique among the art forms in that it expressed will directly. The ethical side of Schopenhauer's philosophy is based upon sympathy, where the moral will, feeling another's hurt as its own, makes an effort to relieve the pain. His stress on the strength of the impelling will influenced Friedrich Nietzsche and the psychology of Sigmund Freud.

See biographies by D. W. Hamlyn (1985) and D. E. Cartwright (2010); 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).

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Schopenhauer, Arthur

Schopenhauer, Arthur (1788–1860). German essayist and philosopher who developed a closely knit system in which was emphasized the primacy of the will over both reason and sensation. Schopenhauer was greatly influenced by Indian thought, which he held paralleled Kant in every key respect. He attributed this parallelism to the indirect influence of ancient Eastern thought on modern Western thought through the mediation of Christianity, whose founder—he deduced—must have been familiar with Hindu and Buddhist ideas. His major work was Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1819; tr. 1883, The World as Will and Idea).

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Schopenhauer, Arthur

Schopenhauer, Arthur (1788–1860) German philosopher, whose exposition of the doctrine of the will opposed the idealism of Hegel and influenced, among others, Nietzsche and Wagner. Schopenhauer's system, described in his main work, The World as Will and Idea (1819), was an intensely pessimistic one. The will to endure was an individual's prime motivation, and the negation of will and desire provided the possibility of escape from pain.

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