Remembering Arthur Schopenhauer

Philosophical world celebrates 228-year of great thinker’s birth

Arthur Schopenhauer

228 year ago, 22 February 1788, in the city of Danzig (present-day Gdańsk, Poland) in a wealthy family of Johanna Schopenhauer and Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer was born a boy, who was destined to become one of the greatest philosophers of the world, even though his parents would prefer another career for their beloved son.

Today, on his birthday, let’s go over the main points of his biography, philosophy and influence on contemporaries.

Everything that the future philosopher wanted to know about other countries, he has learned in his youth, when, together with his parents, he traveled to Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France and England. Returning from a trip, Schopenhauer, following his father’s wish, began to learn trade, working for one large merchant, but when his father died soon after, he decided to devote himself to the scholar field. But business lessons clearly were not in vain as this well-known pessimist will say one day: “Life is a business that does not cover the costs.”

In 1809 he joined the faculty of medicine at the University of Göttingen, then studied philosophy in Berlin and Jena. At the end of his main work “The World as Will and Representation” (published in Leipzig, 1819) Schopenhauer went to Spain. Upon his return, he unsuccessfully tried to get the place at the Department of the University of Berlin, and in 1831 went to Frankfurt, which was considered him as the healthiest city in Germany and devoted himself exclusively to philosophical pursuits.

Schopenhauer’s writing focused on an extended investigation of individual motivation. Unlike Hegel, Schopenhauer believed that humans were motivated by their own basic desires rather than broader social trends. He considered human action directionless, and saw desire as the root of suffering and pain. Artistic contemplation, he argued, offered a temporary reprieve from this pain.

According to Schopenhauer, free will is impossible. As the modern Anglo-Scandinavian philosopher Peter Sjöstedt-H explains in his recently published book Noumenautics: “Briefly, Schopenhauer argues against free will thus:

· One cannot consciously determine what one wishes.

· Imagining an action is not the cause of an action.

· The purpose of reason is to offer motives to the will, Reason itself does not cause actions. It is advisor, not executor.

· All phenomena are subject to causality as this is a priori.

· Schopenhauer uses the “Water Analogy”: water can wave, swirl, gush, etc., but is not thereby free.

The essence of Schopenhauer’s philosophy was that there are two aspects of the self: the self as it appears as an object of perception and the self as a manifestation of will.

The will was a covert and distorting influence upon human character. Intellect and consciousness, in Schopenhauer’s view, arise as instruments in the service of the will and 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.

Schopenhauer has influenced intellectuals worldwide, most notably those in the fields of philosophy, the arts and psychology, and he was particularly popular during the proto-, pre- and Modernist era of the late 19th — early 20th centuries. Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Eduard von Hartmann, Philipp Mainländer, Jorge Luis Borges and many other writers, thinkers and artists have cited Schopenhauer as a major influence.

Some famous quotes:

…the greatest wisdom is to make the enjoyment of the present the supreme object of life; because that is the only reality, all else being merely the play of thought. On the other hand, such a course might just as well be called the greatest folly: for that which in the next moment exists no more, and vanishes utterly, like a dream, can never be worth a serious effort.
…a man never is happy, but spends his whole life in striving after something which he thinks will make him so; he seldom attains his goal, and when he does, it is only to be disappointed; he is mostly shipwrecked in the end, and comes into harbor with mast and rigging gone. And then, it is all one whether he has been happy or miserable; for his life was never anything more than a present moment always vanishing; and now it is over.
…to gain anything we have longed for is only to discover how vain and empty it is; and even though we are always living in expectation of better things, at the same time we often repent and long to have the past back again.
Every satisfaction he attains lays the seeds of some new desire, so that there is no end to the wishes of each individual will.
…if the lives of men were relieved of all need, hardship and adversity; if everything they took in hand were successful, they would be so swollen with arrogance that, though they might not burst, they would present the spectacle of unbridled folly — nay, they would go mad. And I may say, further, that a certain amount of care or pain or trouble is necessary for every man at all times. A ship without ballast is unstable and will not go straight.
He who lives to see two or three generations is like a man who sits some time in the conjurer’s booth at a fair, and witnesses the performance twice or thrice in succession. The tricks were meant to be seen only once; and when they are no longer a novelty and cease to deceive, their effect is gone.
…in order to increase his pleasures, man has intentionally added to the number and pressure of his needs, which in their original state were not much more difficult to satisfy than those of the brute. Hence luxury in all its forms; delicate food, the use of tobacco and opium, spirituous liquors, fine clothes, and the thousand and one things that he considers necessary to his existence.
…need and boredom are the two poles of human life.
If life — the craving for which is the very essence of our being — were possessed of any positive intrinsic value, there would be no such thing as boredom at all: mere existence would satisfy us in itself, and we should want for nothing. But as it is, we take no delight in existence except when we are struggling for something; and then distance and difficulties to be overcome make our goal look as though it would satisfy us.

Quotes source: Return Of Kings

Image: Wikipedia