Arthur Schopenhauer is a German philosopher who lived at the height of a philosophical period in Germany, known as “German Idealism.” German Idealism all started with Kant, whose way of thinking and conceiving reality also helped spark the sector of philosophy known today as Continental Philosophy. Schopenhauer’s conception of reality is one of the most interesting concepts ever devised. It resonates with Eastern philosophical traditions and calls for a form of ethics centered around pessimism. Not only that, but on a personal note, Schopenhauer is hands down one of my favorite philosophers. His life is filled with a bouquet of events that made him interesting on both a philosophical and humanistic level.
Arthur Schopenhauer was born into a wealthy family. His father chose his first name carefully because ‘Arthur’ was spelled the same in many languages. Throughout the earlier portion of his life, he had traveled a great amount. Whether he was with his father or on his own, he spent much of his time in different countries. In his earlier teen years, he spent over two years in France, a time of his life which he regards as his favorite.
Schopenhauer always knew he wanted to enter a scholarly career, but the wishes of his father had prevented this from happening for awhile. When Schopenhauer was 19, his father had died (it is unclear whether or not it was suicide) and left him the family business. For two years after his father’s death, Arthur Schopenhauer attempted to follow in his father’s footsteps out of the respect for his wishes.
Ultimately though, he decided to attend school at the university of Göttingen, first studying medicine and eventually switching to philosophy. After two years he left Göttingen and went on to study philosophy at The University of Berlin, receiving lectures from Fichte, and Schleiermacher. Here, he wrote his dissertation on The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. This writing became the centerpiece of his work which he would later use to refute the German Idealists.
Oh, and it is appropriate to mention (as I’m sure Schopenhauer would have liked) the outright hate Schopenhauer had for Hegel. Philosophically, he thought Hegel had everything backwards and, personally, didn’t like anything about him. They ended up lecturing in the same university, and, as the story goes, Schopenhauer scheduled a course at the exact same time as Hegel’s. Unfortunately for Schopenhauer, Hegel was a much better known scholar at the time, leaving Schopenhauer with a meager audience (roughly two to three students). Schopenhauer left professorship two years later.
The World as Will and Representation
Often regarded as Schopenhauer’s masterpiece, it was intended as a response to Kant and German Idealism in general. One interesting thing about Schopenhauer that came up many times in this book was his appreciation for Asian philosophical concepts. While most scholars could argue that this material was available to many at that time and even before it, Schopenhauer is one of the only philosophers that willingly admits and draws connections between his beliefs and the beliefs of Hindus and Buddhists.
Without complicating things too much, The World as Will and Representation explains that there is only one central underlying principle behind reality. That is, the will. The will that causes our milky way galaxy to spin around the super massive black hole at its center is the very same will that causes me to continue typing — already the eastern overtones appear. This will inhabits human beings in such that the only way in which we are able to comprehend it is to cast a false image or “Representation” of the will.
Nietzsche’s conception of the Will-to-Power grew out of Schopenhauer’s Will-to-Life, which appears later in The World as Will and Representation. Schopenhauer explains that all Humans have a will to survive and live as long and as best as they can. In the end, though, one realizes that the will to live is ultimately the same as the will of the universe that ceases there existence.
Pessimism is a strong theme throughout all of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. In most of his writings he stresses the meaninglessness of life and that all life boils down to is suffering. This belief has Buddhist views tied into it. It also displays a lot of early existentialist ideas, which Nietzsche and others played off of.
Schopenhauer was also very concerned for animal welfare. He owned several poodles throughout his life and had much to say about treating animals respectfully. After all, animals are, in his view, another manifestation of the will and should not be discounted.
Later Life and Conclusion
Schopenhauer lived a rather quiet life after all was said and done. He revised The World as Will and Representation a few times and sent out different editions but didn’t have many other major works. He was confident that the book would catch on, so he didn’t feel the need to do much other than write a few essays. Eventually, he moved to Frankfurt and lived alone with his succession of poodles until his death in late September, 1860, at the ripe old age of 72.
Schopenhauer’s philosophy inspired great philosophers and scientists. His poetic writing style and passion makes him a great read for anyone. Though it is suggested by Schopenhauer himself that reading his work without the knowledge of Kant is fruitless, I would still suggest you pick up something by Schopenhauer and give it a look over. Try Schopenhauer’s Aphorisms. They’re easier to comprehend than The World as Will and Representation and offer some really interesting thoughts. I hope you enjoyed this long-short introduction to the world of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Until next time, keep on thinking!