Arthur Schopenhauer

Who was Arthur Schopenhauer?

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was influenced by the other German idealists, whom he despised as optimistic fools. Unlike Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and both the Right or the Left Hegelians, his view of the Idea that formed and worked the world was pessimistic.

What are some highlights of Arthur Schopenhauer's life?

Educated in Germany, Schopenhauer traveled throughout his childhood to France, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, and England. After his father's death, which biographers attribute to suicide, his mother, Johanna Troisner, moved to Weimar and became a celebrated novelist. She introduced Arthur to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, August Wilhelm Schlegel, and the Brothers Grimm.

Schopenhauer studied medicine at the University of Gotttingen and philosophy at Berlin, getting his doctorate at the University of Jena. After that, he lived in Frankfurt. His doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (1813), formed the basis of his philosophy, which appeared systematically in his most important work, The World as Will and Representation (1818).

What were Arthur Schopenhauer's main ideas?

Schopenhauer offered an original interpretation of Immanuel Kant's (1724-1804) metaphysics based on additional inspiration. He wrote: "I owe what is best in my own development to the impression made by Kant's works, the sacred writings of the Hindus, and Plato." In his dissertation, he argued that Kant's phenomenal world, or the world of our experience, which Schopenhauer called "the world of representation," obeys the "principle of sufficient reason," which he stated this way: "every possible object ... stands in a necessary relation to other objects, on the one hand as determined, on the other as determining." That is, everything is both a cause and an effect and these relations are necessary, which is to say that they cannot be denied without logical contradiction.

Kant's noumenal world, or the "things in themselves," of which we can know nothing except that they exist, became knowable, according to Schopenhauer, through our inner reality, which is our will. Again following Kant, because mathemat

Arthur Schopenhauer was known for having a more pessimistic view of the world than German idealists like Friedrich Hegel (iStock).

Arthur Schopenhauer was known for having a more pessimistic view of the world than German idealists like Friedrich Hegel (iStock).

ics or numbers are projections of the mind that enable us to experience phenomena, Schopenhauer felt that the noumenal world has no number—it is "one." This claim would have no consequences in experience if it were true, since it is an effort to describe what underlies experience.

How did Arthur Schopenhauer think we could best become aware of noumenal will?

Through aesthetic experience, especially of nature and music, we can become aware of the noumenal world. Schopenhauer's theory of nature appreciation is a modification of Immanuel Kant's (1724-

1804) notion of the sublime. Schopenhauer thought that there is tranquility in the experience of the beautiful, but that the experience of the sublime, such as in watching a storm, requires an active participation. Thus, the observer tears himself away from his own will in contemplating the sublime object "by a free exaltation." Music is a pure expression of the absolute noumenal will. In listening to music, which expresses the universal will, we directly become universal subjects, bypassing our own individual wills.

What did Arthur Schopenhauer mean by his acronym WELT?

Schopenhauer thought the omnipresence of will was an endless cause of suffering; he even created an acronym to express this with the word Welt, or "world." The letters in WELT stood for Weh (woe), Elend (misery), Leid (suffering), and Tod (death). Schopenhauer thought that the only way out of this was to give up will by affirming the Noble Truths of Buddhism: life is suffering; desire causes suffering; eliminating desire eliminates suffering; desire can be eliminated only through a saintly life, which requires chastity, humbling of the body, and extreme poverty.

What was Arthur Schopenhauer's moral system?

Schopenhauer believed that we should harm no one and help others as much as we can. Only on the level of appearance, when we are in direct contact with our own individual wills, is this difficult. In the noumenal realm, there is only one will and we are all part of it, so to harm another person is, in effect, to harm ourselves.

What was Schopenhauer like as a person?

Schopenhauer was willful, misanthropic, and misogynistic—in short, not much of a "people person." While at the University of Berlin, he called Johann Fichte (1762-1814) a "charlatan." And he later wrote:

Fichte, Schelling and Hegel are in my opinion not philosophers, for they lack the first requirement of a philosopher, namely a seriousness and honesty of enquiry. They are merely sophists who wanted to appear to be, rather than to be, something. They sought not truth but their own interest and advancement in the world.

So much for men, in Schopenhauer's opinion. In his twenties, Schopenhauer experienced unrequited love for the mistress of the Duke of Weimar. He and his mother, a successful novelist, quarreled over his treatment of her guests and he never saw her again after age 26. Women, in general, he said:

...are directly fitted for acting as the nurses and teachers of our early childhood by the fact that they are themselves childish, frivolous and short-sighted; in a word, they are big children all their life long ... an undersized, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped and short legged race.... [T]hey have no proper knowledge of anything; and they have no genius.

Schopenhauer was also said to have abused at least one female servant. In his old age, he lived alone, except for a poodle.

What was Arthur Schopenhauer's influence?

Schopenhauer's philosophical ideas influenced Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), and his idea of an unconscious will was formative for Sigmund Freud's (1856-1939) ideas of psychology. Schopenhauer had profound effects in literature and was the first significant Western philosopher to incorporate Eastern thought in his system.

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