From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Arthur Schopenhauer (February 22, 1788 –September 21, 1860) was a German philosopher. He is most famous for his work The World as Will and Representation, and most infamous for On Women. Notable ideas include will, fourfold root of reason and pessimism.
Schopenhauer's most influential work, The World as Will and Representation, claimed that the world is fundamentally what we recognize in ourselves as our will. His analysis of will led him to the conclusion that emotional, physical, and sexual desires can never be fulfilled. Consequently, he eloquently described a lifestyle of negating desires, similar to the ascetic teachings of Vedanta, Buddhism, Taoism and the Church Fathers of early Christianity.
Schopenhauer's metaphysical analysis of will, his views on human motivation and desire, and his aphoristic writing style influenced many well-known thinkers including Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, Carl Gustav Jung, Leo Tolstoy, and Jorge Luis Borges.
In 1821, 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 out an eel out of an assembly of snakes." When he was forty-three years old, seventeen-year old Flora Weiss recorded rejecting him in her diary.
Schopenhauer had a notably strained relationship with his mother Johanna Schopenhauer. After his father's death, Arthur Schopenhauer endured two long years of drudgery as a merchant, in honor of his dead father. Afterward, his mother retired to Weimar, and Arthur Schopenhauer dedicated himself wholly to studies in the gymnasium of Gotha. After he left it in disgust after seeing one of the masters lampooned, he went to live with his mother. But by that time she had already opened her infamous salon, and Arthur was not compatible with the vain, ceremonious ways of the salon. He was also disgusted by the ease with which Johanna Schopenhauer had forgotten his father's memory. Therefore, he gave university life a shot. There, he wrote his first book, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. She informed him that the book was incomprehensible and it was unlikely that anyone would ever buy a copy. In a fit of temper Arthur Schopenhauer told her that his work would be read long after the rubbish she wrote would have been totally forgotten.
Will and desire
A key aspect of Schopenhauer's thought is the investigation of what makes man less than reasonable. This force he calls "Wille zum Leben" or Will (lit. will-to-life), by which he means the forces driving man, to remain alive and to reproduce, a drive intertwined with desire. This Will is the inner content and the driving force of the world. For Schopenhauer, 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.
In attempting to solve or alleviate the fundamental problems of life, Schopenhauer was a rare philosopher who considered philosophy and logic less important (or less effective) than art, certain charitable practices ("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., Will.
Through art, Schopenhauer thought, the thinking subject could be jarred out of their limited, individual perspective to feel a sense of the universal 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.
Schopenhauer 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.
According to Daniel Albright (2004: p39, n34), "Schopenhauer thought that music was the only art that did not merely copy ideas, but actually embodied the will itself."
Philosophers have not traditionally been impressed by human sexuality, but Schopenhauer addressed it and related concepts forthrightly:
- "one ought rather to be surprised that a thing which plays throughout so important a part in human life has hitherto practically been disregarded by philosophers altogether, and lies before us as raw material." (The Metaphysics of Sexual Love)
He gave a name to a force within man which he felt had invariably 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.
Schopenhauer 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:
- "The ultimate aim of all [love affair]s ... 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 ..." (The Metaphysics of Sexual Love)
Influence and legacy in the arts
Schopenhauer is thought to have influenced the following intellectual figures and schools of thought: Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler, Charles Darwin, Théodule-Armand Ribot, Ferdinand Tönnies, Eugene O'Neill, Max Horkheimer, C. G. Jung, Sigmund Freud, George Gissing, John N. Gray, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Albert Einstein, Karl Popper, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Wilhelm Busch, Dylan Thomas, Leo Tolstoy, Emil Cioran, Thomas Mann, Italo Svevo, Joseph Campbell, Eduard von Hartmann, Phenomenalism, and Recursionism.
Views on women
In Schopenhauer's 1851 essay "Of Women" ("Über die Weiber"), 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" ("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. However, the latter was discounted as weakness rather than humanitarian virtue.
Schopenhauer's controversial writings have influenced many, from Friedrich Nietzsche to nineteenth-century feminists. Schopenhauer's 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.
After the elderly Schopenhauer sat for a sculpture portrait by Elisabet Ney, he told Richard Wagner's friend Malwida von Meysenbug, "I have not yet spoken my last word about women. I believe that if a woman succeeds in withdrawing from the mass, or rather raising herself above the mass, she grows ceaselessly and more than a man."
- On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde), 1813
- On Vision and Colors (Über das Sehn und die Farben), 1816 ISBN 0-85496-988-8
- The World as Will and Representation, (alternately translated in English as The World as Will and Idea. Original German is Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung), 1818/1819, vol 2 1844
- On the Will in Nature (Über den Willen in der Natur), 1836 ISBN 0-85496-999-3
- On the Freedom of the Will (Über die Freiheit des menschlichen Willens), 1839 ISBN 0-631-14552-4
- On the Basis of Morality (Über die Grundlage der Moral), 1840
- Parerga und Paralipomena, 1851; English Translation by E. F. J. Payne, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1974, 2 Volumes:
- Arthur Schopenhauer, Manuscript Remains, Volume II, Berg Publishers Ltd., ISBN 0-85496-539-4
- Antinatalism, a position advocated by Schopenhauer that one would be better off not having been born
- God in Buddhism
- Mortal coil
- Schopenhauer's criticism of the proofs of the Parallel Postulate
- Wooden iron
- The Art of Being Right
- To be, or not to be
- Sir William Jones
- The Metaphysics of Sexual Love