Arthur Schopenhauer (22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was one of the greatest philosophers of the 19th century, known for his philosophy of pessimism and for his emphasis on the will. He claimed that our world is driven by a continually dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction.
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, dictating the actions of its members. Schopenhauer, a reader of both Kant and Hegel, criticized their logical optimism and the belief that individual morality could be determined by society and reason. Schopenhauer believed that humans were motivated by only their own basic desires, or Wille zum Leben (“Will to Live”), which directed all of mankind.
For Schopenhauer, human desire was futile, illogical, directionless, and, by extension, so was all human action in the world. He wrote “Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wants”. In this sense, he adhered to the Fichtean principle of idealism: “the world is for a subject”. This idealism so presented, immediately commits it to an ethical attitude, unlike the purely epistemological concerns of Descartes and Berkeley. To Schopenhauer, the Will is a malignant, metaphysical existence which controls not only the actions of individual, intelligent agents, but ultimately all observable phenomena; an evil to be terminated via mankind’s duties: asceticism and chastity.
He is credited with one of the most famous opening lines of philosophy: “The world is my representation”. Will, for Schopenhauer, is what Kant called the “thing-in-itself.” Nietzsche was greatly influenced by this idea of Will, while developing it in a different direction.
Schopenhauer in 1815, second of the critical five years of the initial composition of Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung.
In his 1851 essay Of Women, Schopenhauer 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” (“Dignity of Women”). 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.
Arthur Schopenhauer is the author of famous sayings like:
- “I have long held the opinion that the amount of noise that anyone can bear undisturbed stands in inverse proportion to his mental capacity and therefore be regarded as pretty fair measure of it.”
- “There is no more mistaken path to happiness than worldliness, revelry, high life.”
- “The two foes of human happiness are pain and boredom.”
- “To marry is to halve your rights and double your duties.”
- “Through what we do we learn what we are.”
Arthur Schopenhauer had a very strong impact on philosophy, literature and human minds of that time. Written in a simple language unusual for philosophy, his works reflected concerns and tragedies of the real life, not just usual empyreal problems all philosophers used to deal with.
Arthur Schopenhauer was the first European thinker to study the Upanishads, Indian teachings, and Buddhism, which deeply influenced his thought together with the works of Plato and Immanuel Kant. Like the majority of philosophers, Schopenhauer was up to build a proper philosophy of representation. He made an attempt to do it in 1819 in his famous work The World as Will and Idea, where he characterized the Will as a non-rational force driving the ultimately meaningless struggle for existence. Even if we were able to satisfy all of the Will’s demands, we would still be unhappy; because everything ends in disappointment and, finally, in death. In his view, reality is a representation of the Will, not God. He was the first to speak of life as suffering, and his own life was full of it.
Schopenhauer’s works influenced those of Nietzsche, Freud, Wittgenstein, and Richard Wagner.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche
Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz: A Pioneering Polymath of the 17th Century
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel