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Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)


German post-Kantian philosopher, who considered true philosophy as art, and accessible to only a few capable minds. Schopenhauer believed that Kant's most important insight was that human knowledge depends not only on what the reality is but also on what our bodies – senses, nervous system, brains – can contemplate. One can immediately know the thing-in-itself through the experience of an inner reality within one's own body. Schopenhauer's chief work is Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1818, The World as Will and Representation). The Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper once observed that there were more "good ideas" in Schopenhauer than in any other philosopher except Plato.

"Precisely because he had written The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer knew very well that to be a thinker is as illusory as being a sick man or a misfortunate man, and that he was profoundly something else. Something else: the will, the dark root of Parolles, the thing that Swift was." (The Total Library by Jorge Luis Borges, 1999, p. 408)

Arthur Schopenhauer was born in Danzig (now Gdansk), a son of a rich merchant, Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer, who was married to Johanna Troisner, some 20 years younger than her husband. Heinrich Floris admired the English way of life, he read Rousseau and Voltaire, and had a subscription to the London Times. The family sent Schopenhauer at the age of nine to France, where he acquired fluent French. Later he traveled with his parents to Holland, England, France, Switzerland, and Austria.

When Schopenhauer was 17, he was placed in a business school in Hamburg. He was apprenticed to merchants in Danzig (1804) and Hamburg (1805-07), with the expectation that he would take over the family business. After the death of his father (probably by suicide) in 1805, Schopenhauer enrolled in a gymnasium in Gotha. Schopenhauer's mother moved to Weimar and gained reputation as a popular novelist. Through her contacts, he became acquainted with Goethe, Schlegel, and the brothers Grimm.

With the inheritance Schopenhauer received, he was able devote himself entirely to intellectual pursuits. In 1809 Schopenhauer entered the University of Göttingen as a student in medicine and received later the degree of doctor of philosophy from the University of Jena in 1813. During this period he fell in love with Karoline Jagermann, the mistress of the duke of Weimar. She did not respond to his feelings. From 1814 to 1818 he lived in Dresden. After quarreling with his mother, Schopenhauer never saw her. He was twenty-six at that time.

At the University of Berlin he attended Johann Fichte's (1762-1814) lectures for two years but came to the conclusion that Fichte was a charlatan. In Parerga and Paralipomena (1851) he stated: "Fichte, Schelling and Hegel are in my opinion not philosophers, for they lack the first requirement of a philosopher, namely a seriousness and honesty of enquiry. They are merely sophists who wanted to appear to be, rather than to be, something. They sought not truth but their own interest and advancement in the world."

The World as Will and Representation was born during Schopenhauer's residence in Dresden. It was written in a non-academic style, with an ironic, aristocratic tone. Friedrich Nietzsche, who found a copy of Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung in a second-hand bookstore, did not put the book down until he had finished it. According to Schopenhauer, existence is the expression of an insatiable, pervasive will generating a terrible world of conflict and suffering, senselessness, and futility – very shortly, the world is a bad joke. The "will to live" perpetuates this cosmic spectacle. The goal of someone who sees through the illusions of life is the denial of this powerful will to live. Love serves the reproductive interests of the species and sexual impulse, the most powerful motive in human existence.

This dark view of existence was again presented in his essay 'Über den Willen in der Natur' (1836), where the brutality in the natural world is proved by the studies of naturalists. It has been often said, that Sigmund Freud's theories owe much to Schopenhauer's writings of the primal "will to live" and "sexual impulse," and his speculation that homosexuality may have a natural developmental purpose anticipates Freud's idea of the "life-instinct" and the centrality of libido in human life.

In Dresden Schopenhauer had an illegitimate son, but he had no fatherly relationship with the child, who died young. After a visit to Italy, Schopenhauer qualified as a private lecturer at the University of Berlin. In 1821 he started an affair with the 19-year old actress Caroline Richter. It didn't matter that she had other lovers and had a child who was not his own. Although he treated her badly, she was perhaps the great love of his life.

At the beginning of 1820, Schopenhauer advertised a course of lectures to be given at the same time as George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's (1770-1831), but when Hegel attracted more students the course did not proceed. Schopenhauer's second visit to Italy lasted almost three years, but he returned to Berlin in 1825. The epidemic of cholera, during which Hegel died, drove him to Frankfurt am Main. Here, with the exception of a short stay in Mannheim, he spent the rest of his life.

The Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences awarded in its essay contest Schopenhauer's On the Freedom of the Will (1839) gold medal. It had been written in response to the prize question "Can the freedom of the will be proven from self-consciousness?" This was his first public recognition as an important philosopher. Schopenhauer's answer was basically "no." On the Basis of Morals (1839) was submitted to the essay contest sponsored by the Royal Danish Society of Scientific Studies. The text was not awarded any prize, althoughSchopenhauer was the only participant. He was enraged by the society's decision.

Preferring the company of dogs to people, Schopenhauer lived in relative isolation, but it was not altogether reclusive life: he enjoyed concets and occasionally visiting art galleries, dined at the Englischer Hof, and read The Times of London every day. Five-sixths of human beings are worth only contempt, he once wrote. It was claimed, that he once pushed a neighbor down a flight of stairs for disturbing him. For the unlucky woman, a seamstress named Caroline Luise Marguet, who could not continue in his former profession, he had to pay 60 talers for the rest of her life.

Schopenhauer died in Frankfurt-on-Main of a heart attack on September 21, 1860, while sitting on his couch. Nearing his death he had said to Eduard Grisenbach: "If at times I have thought myself unfortunate, it is because of a confusion, an error. I have mistaken myself for someone else... Who am I really? I am the author of The World as Will and Representation, I am the one who has given an answer to the mystery of Being that will occupy the thinkers of future centuries. That is what I am, and who can dispute it in the years of life that still remain for me?" (The Total Library by Jorge Luis Borges, 1999, pp. 407-408)

For Schopenhauer Kant's distinction between the phenomenal and noumenal opened new views into the foundations of ethics, the nature of art and music, the true nature of religion – he was explicitly an atheist, the first great philosopher of the West to be so. He argued that noumenal and phenomenal are the same thing understood in different ways. The will is the ultimate source of reality, which is essentially irrational. It manifests itself among phenomena in two ways: as individual striving, and as Idea. Nature is indifferent to the individual, the species is favored over the individual. The universe before there was any life was nothing but embodiment of will, which in itself is timeless and imperishable – there is as much will in a pool of water or dead star as in a human being or human action. The will to exist is not itself this noumenal will but a manifestation of it in the world of phenomena. "Just as the spraying drops of the roaring waterfall change with lightning rapidly, while the rainbow which they sustain remains immovably at rest, quote untouched by that restless change, so every Idea, i.e. every species of living beings remains entirely untouched by the constant changes of its individuals. But it is the Idea or the species in which the will-to-live is really rooted and manifests itself; therefore the will is really concerned only in the continuation of the species." (from The World as Will and Representation)

It has been said that in political terms, Schopenhauer "was a rectionary liberal, looking to the state only to protect his life and property." (Straw Dogs: Thoughts On Humans And Other Animals by John Gray, 2007, p. 39) Life itself is painful, manifested in aimlessness and dissatisfaction. Man must understand that all willing is in vain. In the essay 'Unser Verhalten gegen Andere betreffend' (1851) Schopenhauer stated, "in savage countries they eat one another, in civilized they deceive one another." There is no hope of things becoming better. A saint could achieve compassion towards all beings from the insight that all are, fundamentally, one. In 'Über die Wiber' (1851) the philosopher reveals his own bitter misogyny, due to the lifelong hostility between himself and his mother, who was coldly rejecting.  

Schopenhauer's collection of essays, Parerga and Paralipomena, was widely read. He looked ironically beneath the social masks and reminded humankind of its selfishness, hypocrisy, and malice. The book made him a fashionable philosopher, who fascinated such writers and philosophers as Nietzsche, who found in him a kindred spirit, Tolstoy, and Proust. The Greek terms in the title of the book suggest supplementary writings, matters left over. Between The World as Will and Representation and Parerga Schopenhauer wrote a manual on the art of winning an argument, Eristik (1830-31, The Art of Always Being Right), which was first published in Arthur Schopenhauers handschriftlichen Nachlaß (1864), edited by Julius Frauenstädt. This satirical book revealed 38 rhetorical tricks (Kunstgriff), many of which Schopenhauer himself had used, to gain the upper hand in a debate. 

"I owe what is best in my own development to the impression made by Kant's works, the sacred writings of the Hindus, and Plato," Schopenhauer confessed. In The World as Will and Representation, there are several references to Buddhist thought. And in Parerga and Paralipomena, Schopenhauer discusses the merits of various translations of sacred Hindu texts. Schopenhauer was the first major German philosopher to study the Vedic and Buddhist texts. He become acquainted with Hindu thought around 1813-14, but he did not acquire much knowledge of Buddhism until after 1818. The sacred Hindu texts he once called "the consolation of my life." His library had some 130 items of orientalia.

Schopenhauer's reputation among academic philosophers has never been assured, and he has been read more for his aphoristic writings than for his metaphysics. Schopenhauer's attack on Hegel, whom he called "a commonplace, inane, loathsome, repulsive and ignorant charlatan..." did not increase his reputation as a serious critic.

Ludwig Wittgenstein reportedly read The World as Will and Representation in his youth and named Schopenhauer as an influence of his thought. He said on him in Culture and Value: "Schopenhauer is quite a crude mind, one might say, ie though he has refinement, this suddenly becomes exhausted at a certain level and then he is as crude as the crudest. Where real depth starts, his comes to an end. One could say of Schopenhauer: he never searches his conscience." (tr. Peter Winch, 1979) In Richard Wagner's (1813-1883) life,  Schopenhauer's philosophy was the biggest non-musical interest. Hoping his friends would share his enthusiasms, the composer made them read Schopenhauer.

Always maintaining a deep respect for music, Schopenhauer emphasized a direct kinship between philosophy and music, arguing that it is a direct manifestation of the noumenal, the voice of the metaphysical will. "When music suitable to any scene, action, event, or environment is played, it seems to disclose to us its most secret meaning," he wrote in The World as Will and Representation. Rejecting imitative, descriptive music he criticized Haydn's Die Schöpfung, which contained sounds from nature, even from animals, and Die Jahrszeiten, as "ungenuine," an imitation of ideas, not true music. "Music speaks directly to the heart, whereas it has nothing directly to say to the head, and it is an abuse if one assumes it does anything such– as happens in all music which paints images and which, for this very reason, deserves once and for all to be condemned." (Arthur Schopenhauer: New Material by Him and about Him by Dr. David Asher, edited and translated by Dan Farrelly, 2015, p. 55) In his taxonomy of the arts, architecture – dealing with natural elements – is the lowest grade of the will's objectification, and drama the highest. Music alone among the arts is non-representational.

For further reading: Schopenhauer: His Life and Philosophy by Helen Zimmern (1932); Schopenhauer, Philosopher of Pessimism by Fredrick C. Copleston (1946); Schopenhauer by Parrick Gardiner (1963); Schopenhauer, ed. by Michael Fox (1980); Schopenhauer by David W. Hamlyn (1980); The Philosophy of Schopenhauer by Bryan Magee (1982); The Philosophy of Schopenhauer in Its Intellectual Context by Arthur Hübscher (1989); Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy by Rudiger Safranski (1989); Schopenhauer by Christopher Janaway (1994); The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer, ed. by Christopher Janaway (1999); Schopenhauer: A Very Short Introduction by Christopher Janaway (2002); Straw Dogs: Thoughts On Humans And Other Animals by John Gray (2007); Arthur Schopenhauer: New Material by Him and about Him by Dr. David Asher, edited and translated by Dan Farrelly (2015); Historical Dictionary of Schopenhauer's Philosophy by David E. Cartwright (2016, 2nd ed.); A Road to Nowhere: The Idea of Progress and Its Critics by Matthew W. Slaboch (2017); Reconstructing Schopenhauer's Ethics: Hope, Compassion and Animal Welfare by Sandra Shapshay (2019) - Suom.: Schopenhauerilta on käännetty mm. valikoima Pessimistin elämänviisaus sekä teos Kuolema ja kuolematon (suom. Eino Kaila), erillinen lisäys teokseen Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung. 

Selected works:

  • Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde. Eine philosophische Abhandlung, 1813 (rev. ed. 1847)
    - 'On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason' (tr. Mrs. Karl Hillebrand, in Two Essays, 1889) / On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (E.F. J. Payne, 1974)
  • Über das Sehen und die Farben. Eine Abhandlung, 1816 (enlarged edition, ed. Julius Frauenstädt)
    - On Vision and Colors (2nd ed., tr. E.F.J. Payne, 1994)
  • Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, 1819 (2nd. ed. 1844, includes 'Über den Tod und sein Verhältnis zur Unzerstörbarkeit unseres Wesens an sich')
    - The World as Will and Representation (3 vols., tr. Richard B. Haldane and J. Kemp, 1883-86; 2 vols. E.F.J. Payne, 1958-1969) / The World as Will and Idea (tr. Jill Berman, 1995) / World as Will and Presentation I-II (tr. Richard Aquila, 2007-2008)
    - Pessimistin elämänviisaus (valittuja lukuja, suom. Sirkka Salomaa, 1944) / Kuolema ja kuolematon ('Über den Tod und sein Verhältnis zur Unzerstörbarkeit unseres Wesens an sich', suom. Eino Kaila, 1919)
  • Eristische Dialektik oder Die Kunst Recht zu behalten, 1830/31
    - The Art of Always Being Right (with an introduction and further chapters by A.C. Grayling, 2012)
    - Taito olla ja pysyä oikeassa (suom. Jarkko S. Tuusvuori, 2005)
  • Über den Willen in der Natur, 1836 (rev. ed. by Julius Frauenstädt, 1867)
    - The Will in Nature (tr. anonymously 1877) / 'On the Will in Nature' (tr. Mrs. Karl Hillebrand, in Two Essays, 1889)
    - 'Fyysillinen astronomia' (teoksessa Pessimistin elämänviisaus, suom. Sirkka Salomaa, 1944)
  • Über die Freiheit des menschlichen Willens, 1839
    - Essay on the Freedom of the Will (translated by Konstantin Kolenda, 1969) / Prize Essay On the Freedom of the Will (translated by Eric F.J. Payne, edited by Günter Zöller, 1999)
  • Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik: behandelt in zwei akademischen Preisschriften, 1841 (includes Über die Freiheit des menschlichen Willens, Über das Fundament der Moral, rev. ed. 1860)
    - Essay on the Freedom of the Will (tr. Konstantin Kolenda, 1960) / The Basis of Morality (tr. Arthur Brodrick Bullock, 1903; 2nd ed., 1915) / On the Basis of Morality (tr.  E.F.J.Payne, 1965) / The Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics (translated and edited by Christopher Janaway, 2009)
  • Parerga und Paralipomena: kleine philosophische Schriften, 1851 (2 vols.)
    - Parerga and Paralipomena; Short Philosophical Essays (2 vols., tr. E.F. J. Payne, 1974) / Essays from the Parerga and Paralipomena (tr. 1951) / Essays and Aphorisms (ed. and tr. R.J. Hollingdale, 1970)
    - Pessimistin elämänviisaus (valittuja lukuja, suom. Sirkka Salomaa, 1944)
  • Aus Arthur Schopenhauers handschriftlichen Nachlaß, 1864 (ed. Julius Frauenstädt)
  • Sämtliche Werke, 1873-74 (6 vols.. ed. Julius Frauenstädt)
  • Select Essays, 1881 (tr. Garritt Droppers and C.A. Dachsel)
  • Aphorismen zur Lebensweisheit, 1886
    - The Wisdom of Life; Counsels and Maxims (tr. T. Bailey Saunders, 1890)
  • Two Essays, 1889 (includes On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, On the Will in Nature, tr. Mrs. Karl Hillebrand)
  • Selected Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer, 1891 (ed. E.B. Bax)
  • The Art of Controversy, and Other Posthumous Papers, 1896 (ed. and tr. T. Bailey Saunders)
  • On Human Nature, 1897 (tr. T. Bailey Saunders)
  • The Wisdom of Life, and Other Essays (tr. Bailey Saunders and Ernest Belfort Bax, 1901)
  • Sämtliche Werke, 1937-41 (7 vols., ed. Arthur Hübscher)
  • Complete Essays, 1942 (tr. T. Bailey Saunders)
  • Der Handschriftliche Nachlass, 1966-1975 (5 vols., ed. Arthur Hübscher)
    - Manuscript Remains in Four Volumes (translated by E.F.J. Payne, 1988-1990)
  • Gesammelte Briefe, 1978 (ed. Arthur Hübscher)
  • Philosophical Writings, 1994 (ed. Wolfgang Schirmacher)
  • Das Buch als Wille und Vorstellung: Arthur Schopenhauers Briefwechsel mit Friedrich Arnold Brockhaus, 1996 (herausgegeben von Ludger Lütkehaus)
  • The Essential Schopenhauer: Key Selections from The World As Will And Representation and Other Works, 2010 (edited and with a foreword by Wolfgang Schirmacher)
  • On the Suffering of the World, 2020 (edited and with an introduction by Eugene Thacker)
  • Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung: kritische Jubiläumsausgabe der ersten Auflage von 1819 mit den Zusätzen von Arthur Schopenhauer aus seinem Handexemplar, 2020 (herausgegeben von Matthias Kossler und William Massei Junio unter Mitarbeit von Erik Eschmann)

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