Arthur Schopenhauer

1788-1860






Excerpts from Parerga and Paralipomena
The Proceedings of the Friesian School, an electronic journal of philosophy, has an excellent section on the thought of Schopenhauer.









Arthur Schopenhauer is frequently referred to as a pessimist who inaugurated an emphasis on the will in modern philosophy. His early education was in France and England; he entered the University of Gottingen as a medical student but transferred to Berlin in 1811 to study philosophy. His thesis, On the Fourfold Root of Sufficient Reason, was written in 1813. Though she had bitter and antagonistic relations him, his mother established a salon at Weimar which allowed him to meet literary figures, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose conversations inspired Schopenhauer's On Vision and Colors in 1816. The World as Will and Representation, his major work, appeared in 1818. After his father's death he devoted himself entirely to philosophy, being able to live comfortably on his inheritance.

When he applied to become a lecturer at the University of Berlin, he was accepted by a committee which included Hegel as a member. Schopenhauer offered his lectures at the same hours as Hegel, and found that no students could be won from him, which eventually ended his university career. He thereafter often referred to Hegel and his colleagues Schelling and Fichte as charlatans and windbags, although he had been a student of Fichte and his philosophy owed much to Fichte's conception of the will. He later wrote an essay called On University Philosophy which aired his personal resentment. Some of his later works include On the Will in Nature (1836), The Basis of Morality (1841), and Parerga and Paralipomena (1851), which was the book that finally brought him some recognition.

The two philosophers he admired most were Kant and Plato. He found Kant's doctrine of the unknowable thing-in-itself unacceptable, and thought that the ultimate reality was will. Humans are active creatures who find themselves compelled to love, hate, desire, and reject; the knowledge that this nature is so is irreducible. Although the will is entirely real, it is not free, nor does it have any ultimate purpose. Rather, it is all-consuming, pointless, and negative, "all life is suffering." There is also no escape from the will in nature; expressions of the will are seen throughout nature--in the struggles of animals, the stirring of a seed, the turning of a magnet. The only purpose in life must be that of escaping the will and its painful strivings. The arts, with their "will-less perception," provide a temporary haven--especially music, the highest of the arts. The only final escape is sheer extinction of the will. Outright suicide will not do because it is an assertion of the will. The three aids to salvation are philosophic knowledge, contemplation of works of art, and sympathy for others. His ideas were strongly influenced by the Upanishads and Buddhism. Schopenhauer was the first major European philosopher to make a point of atheism; however, he admired the asceticism of Christianity and Buddhism, declaring that after removing the dogmas these religions have as their philosophical underpinning the abolition of the will.

Schopenhauer's strongest influence was on Nietzsche, Freud, Wittgenstein, and musician Richard Wagner, whose Tristan and Isolde puts to music the blind will.


References:
1996 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Copyright 1996 Grolier Interactive, Inc.

The Concise Encyclopedia of Western Philosophy and Philosophers, J. O. Urmson and Jonathan Rée, editors. London: Unman Hyman, 1991.