Profiles > Philosophy > Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) was a German philosopher best known for his book, The World as Will and Representation (German: Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung), in which he claimed that our world is driven by a continually dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction. Influenced by Eastern philosophy, he maintained that the truth was recognized by the sages of India. His solutions to suffering were similar to those of Vedantic and Buddhist thinkers (i.e., asceticism). His faith in "transcendental ideality" led him to accept atheism. At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four distinct aspects of experience in the phenomenal world. He has been influential in the history of phenomenology. He has influenced many thinkers, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Otto Weininger, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, and Jorge Luis Borges, among others.
Arthur Schopenhauer was born on 22 February 1788 in the city of Danzig, on Heiligegeistgasse, the son of Johanna Schopenhauer (née Trosiener) and Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer, both descendants of wealthy German patrician families. At the time Danzig became part of Prussia in 1793, Heinrich moved to Hamburg, although his firm continued trading in Danzig. In 1805, Schopenhauer's father may have committed suicide. Shortly thereafter, Schopenhauer's mother Johanna moved to Weimar, then the center of German literature, to pursue her writing career. After one year, Schopenhauer left the family business in Hamburg to join her. As early as 1799, he started playing the flute. He became a student at the University of Göttingen in 1809. There he studied metaphysics and psychology under Gottlob Ernst Schulze, the author of Aenesidemus, who advised him to concentrate on Plato and Immanuel Kant. In Berlin (1811-1812), he had attended lectures by the prominent post-Kantian philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte and the theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher.
Born 22 Feb 1788
Died 21 Sep 1860 (aged 72)
Nationality German
Era 19thCentury Philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Post Kantian philosophy, German Idealism
Main Interests Metaphysics, Aesthetics, Ethics, Phenomenology, Morality, Psychology
Notable Ideas Will, Fourfold root of reason, philosophical pessimism
In 1814, Schopenhauer began his seminal work The World as Will and Representation. He finished it in 1818 and published it the following year. In Dresden in 1819, Schopenhauer fathered, with a servant, an illegitimate daughter who was born and died the same year. In 1820, Schopenhauer became a lecturer at the University of Berlin. He scheduled his lectures to coincide with those of the famous philosopher Hegel, whom Schopenhauer described as a clumsy charlatan. However, only five students turned up to Schopenhauer's lectures, and he dropped out of academia. A late essay, On University Philosophy, expressed his resentment towards the work conducted in academies. While in Berlin, Schopenhauer was named as a defendant in a lawsuit initiated by a woman named Caroline Marquet. She asked for damages, alleging that Schopenhauer had pushed her. According to Schopenhauer's court testimony, she deliberately annoyed him by raising her voice while standing right outside his door. Marquet alleged that the philosopher had assaulted and battered her after she refused to leave his doorway. Her companion testified that she saw Marquet prostrate outside his apartment. Because Marquet won the lawsuit, Schopenhauer made payments to her for the next twenty years. When she died, he wrote on a copy of her death certificate, Obit anus, abit onus ("The old woman dies, the burden is lifted"). In 1819 the fortunes of his mother and sister, and himself, were threatened by the failure of the firm in Danzig in which his father had been a director and shareholder. His sister accepted a compromise compensation package of 70%, but Schopenhauer angrily refused this, and eventually recovered 9400 thalers. In 1821, at age 33, he fell in love with nineteen-year old opera singer, Caroline Richter (called Medon), and had a relationship with her for several years. He discarded marriage plans, however, writing, "Marrying means to halve one's rights and double one's duties," and "Marrying means to grasp blindfolded into a sack hoping to find an eel amongst an assembly of snakes." When he was forty-three years old, seventeen-year old Flora Weiss recorded rejecting him in her diary.
Philosophy of the "Will"
A key focus of Schopenhauer was his investigation into 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.
Views on Capital Punishment
According to Schopenhauer, whenever we make a choice, we assume, as necessary, that decision was preceded by something from which it ensued, and which we call the ground or reason, or more accurately the motive, of the resultant action. Choices are not made freely. Our actions are necessary and determined because every human being, even every animal, after the motive has appeared, must carry out the action which alone is in accordance with his inborn and immutable character. A definite action inevitably results when a particular motive influences a person's given, unchangeable character. The State, Schopenhauer claimed, punishes criminals in order to prevent future crimes. It does so by placing beside every possible motive for committing a wrong a more powerful motive for leaving it undone, in the inescapable punishment. Accordingly, the criminal code is as complete a register as possible of counter-motives to all criminal actions that can possibly be imagined. Should capital punishment be legal? For safeguarding the lives of citizens, he asserted, capital punishment is therefore absolutely necessary.The murderer, wrote Schopenhauer, who is condemned to death according to the law, must, it is true, be now used as a mere means, and with complete right. For public security, which is the principal object of the State, is disturbed by him; indeed it is abolished if the law remains unfulfilled. The murderer, his life, his person, must be the means of fulfilling the law, and thus of re-establishing public security. Schopenhauer disagreed with those who would abolish capital punishment.
Schopenhauer's politics were, for the most part, an 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 & On the Freedom of the Will. Ethics also occupies about one quarter of his central work, The World as Will and Representation. In occasional political comments in his Parerga and Paralipomena&Manuscript Remains, Schopenhauer described himself as a proponent of limited government. What 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" -- by a monarch, rather than a democrat. Schopenhauer shared the view of Thomas Hobbes on the necessity of the state, and of state action, to check the destructive tendencies innate to our species.
He also defended the independence of the legislative, judicial and executive branches of power, and a monarch as an impartial element able to practice justice (in a practical and everyday sense, not a cosmological one). He declared monarchy as "that which is natural to man" for "intelligence has always under a monarchical government a much better chance against its irreconcilable and ever-present foe, stupidity" and disparaged republicanism as unnatural as it is unfavorable to the higher intellectual life and the arts and sciences. Schopenhauer, by his own admission, did not give much thought to politics, and several times he writes proudly 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 position of "minding not the times but the eternities". He wrote many disparaging remarks about Germany and the Germans. A typical example is, "For a German it is good to have somewhat lengthy words in his mouth, for he thinks slowly, and they give him time to reflect".
Schopenhauer was influenced by the Upanishads, Immanuel Kant and Plato. References to Eastern philosophy and religion appear frequently in his writing. As noted above, he appreciated the teachings of Buddha. He said that his philosophy could not have been conceived before these teachings were available.Schopenhauer accepted Kant's double-aspect of the universe – the phenomenal (world of experience) and the noumenal (the true world, independent of experience). Some commentators suggest that Schopenhauer claimed that the noumenon, or thing-in-itself, was the basis for Schopenhauer's concept of the will. Other commentators suggest that Schopenhauer considered will to be only a subset of the "thing-in-itself" class, namely that which we can most directly experience.Schopenhauer had a robust constitution, but in 1860 his health began to deteriorate. He died of heart failure on 21 September 1860 while sitting at home on his couch with his cat. He was 72.
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