Schopenhauer was a German philosopher. He is most famous for his
work The World as Will and Representation. He is commonly known
for having espoused a sort of philosophical pessimism that saw life
as being essentially evil, futile, and full of suffering. However,
upon closer inspection, in accordance with Eastern thought, especially
that of Hinduism and Buddhism, he saw salvation, deliverance, or
escape from suffering in aesthetic contemplation, sympathy for others,
and ascetic living. His ideas profoundly influenced the fields of
philosophy, psychology, music, and literature.
Schopenhauer was born in 1788 in Stutthof (Sztutowo), Poland,
near Danzig (Gdansk). He was the son of Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer
and Johanna Schopenhauer, a middle class mercantile family of
Dutch heritage, although they had strong feelings against any
kind of nationalism. Indeed, the name Arthur was selected by his
father especially because it was the same in English, German,
parents were both from the city, and Johanna was an author as
well. After the city was annexed by Prussia during the second
partition of Poland, in 1793, the Schopenhauer family moved to
Hamburg; in 1805, Schopenhauer's father died, possibly by suicide,
and Johanna moved to Weimar. Because of a promise to pursue a
business career, Schopenhauer remained in Hamburg.
disgust of this career, however, drove him away to join his mother
in Weimar after only a year. He never got along with his mother;
when the writer Goethe, who was a friend of Johanna Schopenhauer,
told her that he thought her son was destined for great things,
Johanna objected: she had never heard there could be two geniuses
in a single family.
studied at the University of Göttingen and was awarded a
PhD from the University of Jena. In 1820, Schopenhauer became
a lecturer at the University of Berlin; it was there that his
opposition to Hegel began.
in Berlin, Schopenhauer was consumed in a lawsuit from a woman
named Caroline Marquet. She asked for damages from him, a man
of independent means, on the basis that she had been injured when
Schopenhauer allegedly pushed her. Marquet knew that Schopenhauer
disliked noise. She loudly attracted Schopenhauer's attention
by raising her voice outside of his door. Then, Marquet's companion
claimed that she witnessed her as being prostrate outside of his
claimed that the philosopher had assaulted and battered her after
she refused to leave his doorway. In this manner, she succeeded
in gaining, through the court, a portion of Schopenhauer's limited
wealth. He had to make payments for twenty years. When she died,
he wrote, "Obit anus, abit onus" (The old woman dies,
the burden is lifted).
health deteriorated during the year of 1860. He died of natural
causes on September 21 of the same year at the age of 72. Schopenhauer
called himself a Kantian and despised Hegel. He formulated a pessimistic
philosophy that gained importance and support after the failure
of the German and Austrian revolutions of 1848.
Schopenhauer's starting point was Kant's division of the universe
into phenomenon and noumenon, claiming that the noumenon was the
same as that in us which we call Will. It is the inner content
and the driving force of the world. For Schopenhauer, human will
had ontological primacy over the intellect; in other words, desire
is understood to be prior to thought, and, in a parallel sense,
Will is said to be prior to being.
attempt to solve or alleviate the fundamental problems of life,
Schopenhauer was rare among philosophers in considering philosophy
and logic less important (or less effective) than art, certain
types of charitable practice ("loving kindness", in
his terms), and certain forms of religious discipline; Schopenhauer
concluded that discursive thought (such as philosophy and logic)
could neither touch nor transcend the nature of desire—i.e.,
The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer posited that
humans living in the realm of objects are living in the realm
of desire, and thus are eternally tormented by that desire (his
idea of the role of desire in life is similar to that of Vedanta
Hinduism and Buddhism, and Schopenhauer draws attention to these
Schopenhauer's philosophy may sound rather mystical in such a
summary, his methodology was resolutely empirical, rather than
speculative or transcendental:
is a science, and as such has no articles of faith; accordingly,
in it nothing can be assumed as existing except what is either
positively given empirically, or demonstrated through indubitable
Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga & Paralipomena, vol. i, pg. 106.,
trans. E.F.J. Payne
actual world of what is knowable, in which we are and which is
in us, remains both the material and the limit of our consideration.”
Arthur Schopenhauer, World as Will and Representation, vol. i,
pg. 273, trans. E.F.J. Payne
identification of the Kantian noumenon (i.e., the actually existing
entity) with what he termed Will deserves some explanation. The
noumenon was what Kant called the Ding an Sich, the "Thing
in Itself", the reality that is the foundation of our sensory
and mental representations of an external world; in Kantian terms,
those sensory and mental representations are mere phenomena.
departed from Kant in his description of the relationship between
the phenomenon and the noumenon. According to Kant, things-in-themselves
cause phenomenal representations in our minds. Schopenhauer, on
the other hand, believed phenomena and noumena to be two different
sides of the same coin; noumena do not cause phenomena, but rather
they are simply the way by which our minds perceive the noumena,
according to the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which is explained
more fully in Schopenhauer's doctoral thesis, On the Fourfold
Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.
second major departure from Kant's epistemology concerns the body.
Kant's philosophy was formulated as a response to the radical
philosophical skepticism of David Hume who claimed that causality
could not be observed emprically. Schopenhauer begins by arguing
that Kant's demarcation between external objects, knowable only
as phenomena, and the Thing in Itself of noumenon, contains a
significant omission. There is, in fact, one physical object we
know more intimately than we know any object of sense perception.
It is our own body.
know our human bodies have boundaries and occupy space, the same
way other objects known only through our named senses do. Though
we seldom think of our bodies as physical objects, we know even
before reflection that it shares some of their properties. We
understand that a watermelon cannot successfully occupy the same
space as an oncoming truck. We know that if we tried to repeat
the experiment with our own bodies, we would obtain similar results.
We know this even if we do not understand the physics involved.
know that our consciousness inhabits a physical body, similar
to other physical objects only known as phenomena. Yet our consciousness
is not commensurate with our body. Most of us possess the power
of voluntary motion. We usually are not aware of our lungs' breath,
or our heartbeat, unless our attention is called to it. Our ability
to control either is limited. Our kidneys command our attention
on their schedule rather than one we choose. Few of us have any
idea what our livers are doing right now, though this organ is
as needful as lungs, heart, or kidneys. The conscious mind is
the servant, not the master, of these and other organs. These
organs have an agenda which the conscious mind did not choose,
and has limited power over.
Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with the desires, needs,
and impulses in us that we name "Will," what he is saying
is that we participate in the reality of an otherwise unachievable
world outside the mind through will. We cannot prove that our
mental picture of an outside world corresponds with a reality
by reasoning. Through will, we know—without thinking—that
the world can stimulate us.
suffer fear, or desire. These states arise involuntarily. They
arise prior to reflection. They arise even when the conscious
mind would prefer to hold them at bay. The rational mind is for
Schopenhauer a leaf borne along in a stream of pre-reflective
and largely unconscious emotion. That stream is will; and through
will, if not through logic, we can participate in the underlying
reality that lies beyond mere phenomena. It is for this reason
that Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with what we call our
Schopenhauer was perhaps even more influential in his treatment
of man's mind than he was in the realm of philosophy. Philosophers
have not traditionally been impressed by the tribulations of love.
But Schopenhauer addressed it and related concepts, forthrightly.
should be surprised that a matter that generally plays such an
important part in the life of man [love] has hitherto been almost
entirely disregarded by philosophers, and lies before us as raw
and untreated material."
He gave a name to a force within man which he felt invariably
had precedence over reason: the Will to Live (Wille zum Leben),
defined as an inherent drive within human beings, and indeed all
creatures, to stay alive and to reproduce.
refused to conceive of love as either trifling or accidental,
but rather understood it to be an immensely powerful force lying
unseen within man's psyche and dramatically shaping the world:
ultimate aim of all love affairs... is more important than all
other aims in man's life; and therefore it is quite worthy of
the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it."
"What is decided by it is nothing less than the composition
of the next generation..."
These ideas foreshadowed and laid the groundwork for Darwin's
theory of evolution and Freud's concepts of the libido and the
See main article: Schopenhauer's aesthetics
This wild and powerful drive to reproduce, however, caused suffering
and pain in the world. For Schopenhauer, one way to escape the
suffering inherent in a world of Will was through art.
art, Schopenhauer thought, the thinking subject could be jarred
out of their limited, individual perspective to feel a sense of
the universal (metaphysics) directly—the "universal"
in question, of course, was the will. The contest of personal
desire with a world that was, by nature, inimical to its satisfaction
is inevitably tragical; therefore, the highest place in art was
given to tragedy. Music was also given a special status in Schopenhauer's
aesthetics as it did not rely upon the medium of representation
to communicate a sense of the universal.
believed the function of art to be a meditation on the unity of
human nature, and an attempt to either demonstrate or directly
communicate to the audience a certain existential angst for which
most forms of entertainment—including bad art — only
provided a distraction. A wide range of authors (from Thomas Hardy
to Woody Allen) and artists have been influenced by this system
of aesthetics, and in the 20th century this area of Schopenhauer's
work garnered more attention and praise than any other.
to Daniel Albright (2005), "Schopenhauer thought that music
was the only art that did not merely copy ideas, but actually
embodied the will itself."
Schopenhauer's politics were, for the most part, a much diminished
echo of his system of ethics (the latter being expressed in Die
beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik, available in English as two separate
books, On the Basis of Morality and On the Freedom of the Will;
ethics also occupies about one fourth of his central work, The
World as Will and Representation). In occasional political comments
in his Parerga and Paralimpomena and Manuscript Remains, Schopenhauer
described himself as a proponent of limited government.
was essential, he thought, was that the state should "leave
each man free to work out his own salvation", and so long
as government was thus limited, he would "prefer to be ruled
by a lion than one of [his] fellow rats" — i.e., a
monarch. Schopenhauer did, however, share the view of Thomas Hobbes
on the necessity of the state, and of state violence, to check
the destructive tendencies innate to our species.
by his own admission, did not give much thought to politics, and
several times he writes prideful boasts of how little attention
he had paid "to political affairs of [his] day". In
a life that spanned several revolutions in French and German government,
and a few continent-shaking wars, he did indeed maintain his aloof
position of "minding not the times but the eternities".
also possessed a distinctly hierarchical conception of the human
races, attributing civilizational primacy to the "white races"
birthed in the north due to their sensitivity and creativity:
highest civilization and culture, apart from the ancient Hindus
and Egyptians, are found exclusively among the white races; and
even with many dark peoples, the ruling caste or race is fairer
in colour than the rest and has, therefore, evidently immigrated,
for example, the Brahmans, the Incas, and the rulers of the South
Sea Islands. All this is due to the fact that necessity is the
mother of invention because those tribes that emigrated early
to the north, and there gradually became white, had to develop
all their intellectual powers and invent and perfect all the arts
in their struggle with need, want and misery, which in their many
forms were brought about by the climate. This they had to do in
order to make up for the parsimony of nature and out of it all
came their high civilization.” (Parerga and Paralipomena,
Volume II, Section 92)
Schopenhauer is also famous for his essay "On Women"
(Über die Weiber), in which he 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. 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. However,
the latter was discounted as weakness rather than humanitarian
he fell in love with 19-year old opera singer Caroline Medon,
and had a relationship with her for several years. However he
discarded marriage plans: "Marrying means to halve one's
rights and double one's duties.", or even more drastic:
"Marrying means, to grasp blindfold into a sack hoping
to find out an eel out of an assembly of snakes." At
the age of 43 in 1831 he again takes interest in the 17-year old
Flora Weiss who rejects the much older adorer.
ultra-intolerant view of women contrasts with Schopenhauer's generally
liberal views on other social issues: he was strongly against
taboos on issues like suicide and masochism and condemned the
treatment of African slaves. This polemic on female nature has
since been fiercely attacked as misogynistic. However, he did
not hold a universally negative opinion of women in particular;
one should note that Schopenhauer had a very high opinion of Madame
de Guyon, whose writings and biography he highly recommended.
any case, the controversial writing has influenced many, from
Nietzsche to 19th century feminists. While Schopenhauer's hostility
to women may tell us more about his biography than about philosophy;
his biological analysis of the difference between the sexes, and
their separate roles in the struggle for survival and reproduction,
anticipates some of the claims that were later ventured by sociobiologists
and evolutionary psychologists in the twentieth century.
Schopenhauer was also one of the first philosophers since the
days of Greek philosophy to address the subject of male homosexuality.
In the third, expanded edition of The World as Will and Representation
(1856), Schopenhauer added an appendix to his chapter on the "Metaphysics
of Sexual Love." In it, he develops the idea that since only
mature men and fully adult but pre-menopausal women are capable
of bearing healthy children, in early adolescence and in late
middle age the sexual appetite is susceptible of being turned
towards another channel.
there may again be more autobiography than analysis in this hypothesis,
it is consistent with the general tenor of Schopenhauer's thought,
which gives the Will in nature the position of setting an agenda
for individual lives. It is also one of the first attempts at
portraying homosexuality as a natural phenomenon, acknowledging
its existence in every culture, and seeking to explain its appearance
even in those cultures whose moralities sharply condemn homosexual
Schopenhauer seems to have disliked just about everything concerning
his contemporary Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The following
quotation from On the Basis of Morality (page 15-16) is quite
I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel
is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity
with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it
is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling
all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language,
putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless,
and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage,
I should be quite right.
if I were to say that this summus philosophus [...] scribbled
nonsense quite unlike any mortal before him, so that whoever could
read his most eulogized work, the so-called Phenomenology of the
Mind, without feeling as if he were in a madhouse, would qualify
as an inmate for Bedlam, I should be no less right.”
Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Basis of Morality (page 15-16)
Schopenhauer had good reason to mistrust the writings of Hegel.
In his "Foreword to the first edition" of his work Die
beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik, Schopenhauer had found Hegel to
have fallen prey to the Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.
critique of Hegel is most certainly directed at his perception
that Hegel's works use deliberately impressive but ultimately
vacuous jargon and neologisms, and that they contained castles
of abstraction that sounded impressive but ultimately contained
no verifiable content. He also thought that his glorification
of church and state were designed for personal advantage and had
little to do with search for philosophical truth. Although Schopenhauer
may have appeared vain in his constant attacks on Hegel, they
were not necessarily devoid of merit: the Right Hegelians interpreted
Hegel as seeing the Prussian state of his day as perfect and the
goal of all history up until then.
Many are put off Schopenhauer by descriptions of him as an obstinate
and arrogant man, who did not lead the ascetic life that he glorified
in his work. The idea that he made resignation into a command
to virtue is inaccurate, as he was merely trying to explain asceticism
in terms of metaphysics. He does refer to the asceticism as a
state of "inner peace and cheerfulness", but he also
clearly states that he was not trying to recommend the denial
of the will above the affirmation of the will.
the call to asceticism was supposed to come to select individuals
as knowledge all of a sudden, rather than being a virtue that
can be taught. "In general," he wrote, "it is a
strange demand on a moralist that he should commend no other virtue
than that which he himself possesses." (The World as Will
and Representation, Vol.I, § 68)
seems to have made this misinterpretation, leading some people
to a distorted view of Schopenhauer. The following sentence from
The Twilight of the Idols is often quoted:
has interpreted art, heroism, genius, beauty, great sympathy,
knowledge, the will to truth, and tragedy, in turn, as consequences
of "negation" or of the "will's" need to negate.”
Friedrich Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols
did see all these things as means to a more peaceful and enlightened
way of life, but none of them were "denial of the will-to-live".
Only asceticism is referred to in that way. Nietzsche also claimed
that Schopenhauer did not recognise that suffering had a redemptive
quality, yet his recognition of this seems blatantly clear in
part 4 of The World as Will and Representation.
his identification of the will with the Kantian "thing-in-itself"
has been misunderstood. Kant defined things-in-themselves as being
beyond comprehension and that no-one could know the inner nature
of a material thing. It is sometimes thought that Schopenhauer
denied this, but he did not. What he did assert was that one could
know things about the thing-in-itself.
example, you can know that the will is a striving force, that
it is endless, that it causes suffering, that it will produce
boredom if unoccupied, etc. However, he did not say that you could
directly know the will. In addition, it has sometimes been criticised
that he never defined the will, but he explained that it could
not be fully defined.
Schopenhauer is thought to have influenced the following intellectual
figures and schools of thought: Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner,
Freud, Charles Darwin, Theodule Ribot, Eugene O'Neill,
Max Horkheimer, C. G. Jung, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Samuel Beckett,
Jorge Luis Borges, Dylan Thomas, Emil Cioran, Thomas Mann, Phenomenalism,