He looks grim and, for many, his philosophy is depressing. He called
it Pessimism. Yet Schopenhauer offers some of the most original
thought in the Western tradition. For one, he is among the few Western
philosophers to draw significantly from the Eastern traditions.
For another, Schopenhauer had remarkable influence upon philosophers such
as Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. Besides, there is never any guarantee
that the truth of things is going to be something that appeals to you.
Indeed, if you tend to avoid a way of thinking merely because it does
not attract you, then you are a good candidate for Pessimism; putting
your desires first is the way of the Will, and of course we expect the
world to conform to our wills and suit our desires. let's take a
look at what is in store when this does not work out.
Schopenhauer was strongly influenced by his knowledge of Hindu and Buddhist
philosophy. One of the important ideas in Buddhism is that the world
(i.e. all that we can experience and know) is illusion. That is, we can
only know the world through our own perspectives that inevitably distort
reality. This philosophical view is attributed to Sidhartha Gautama,
the Buddha (c. 563-483 BCE). Sidhartha also taught a fundamental
lesson about the problem of living, known as the Four Noble Truths.
|*Life is suffering
*Suffering arises from attachment to desires
*Suffering ceases when attachment to desire ceases
*Freedom from suffering is possible by practicing the Eightfold Path
The Eightfold Path is the basis of Buddhist practice:
understanding of the four noble truths.
Right aspiration: desire
to free oneself from attachment, ignorance, and hatefulness.
abstaining from harmful speech such as lying and abuse.
abstaining from harmful behaviors, such as killing and stealing.
making your living in such a way as to avoid dishonesty and hurting
others, including animals.
exerting oneself in regards to the content of one's mind: Bad
qualities should be abandoned and prevented from arising again;
Good qualities should be enacted and nurtured.
focusing of one's attention on one's body, feelings, thoughts,
and consciousness in such a way as to overcome craving, hatred,
meditating in such a way as to progressively realize a true understanding
of imperfection, impermanence, and unity.
World as will and representation
Schopenhauer connected Buddhist thought with the Western tradition, particularly
what Immanuel Kant called his Copernican Revolution. This
is the idea that all experience mediated through concepts so that that
the world that we can experience can only be known as it appears to us,
not as it actually in itself. Schopenhauer connects Kant's brilliant
analysis with the Buddhist view that the world is illusion.
world is my representation" is, like the axioms of Euclid, a
proposition which everyone must recognize as true as soon as he understands
it, although it is not a proposition that everyone understands as
soon as he hears it. To have brought this proposition to consciousness
and to have connected it with the problem of the relation of the ideal
to the real, in other words, of the world in the head to the world
outside of the head, constitutes, together with the problem of moral
freedom, the distinctive character of the moderns." [The
World as Will and Representation, Part I]
Everything that you can possibly experience and conceive is actually
part of your representation of reality, not reality itself. The
world is your world and nothing that is not part of your
representation can enter into it. Schopenhauer departs significantly
from Kant in placing the Will in a formative position even more fundamental
than the intellect.
the subject of knowing, who appears as an individual only through
his identity with the body, this body is given in two entirely different
ways. It is given in intelligent perception as representation, as
an object among objects, liable to the laws of these objects. But
it is also given in quite a different way, namely as what is known
immediately to everyone, and is denoted by the word will. Every true
act of his will is also at once and inevitably a movement of his body;
he cannot actually will the act without at the same time being aware
that it appears as a movement of the body. The act of will and the
action of the body are not two different states objectively known
connected by the bond of causality; they do not stand in the relation
of cause and effect, but are one and the same thing, though given
in two entirely different ways, first quite directly, and then in
perception for the understanding. The action of the body is nothing
but the act of will objectified, i.e., translated into perception."
[The World as Will and Representation, Part
You are probably familiar with the way in which people tend to select
and describe the facts according to their already existing beliefs.
For instance, it is not unusual for a political liberal and a political
conservative to view the same situation and to draw from it different
and conflicting interpretations (and then each will call it 'simple objective
fact'). Schopenhauer is claiming that our individual influence on
the represented world is far more complete that even the political will.
Our very concepts of time, space, causality, and of our own bodies and
actions are formative parts of the representation that each of us calls
can turn the expression of this truth in different ways and say: My
body and my will are one; or. What as representation of perception
I call my body, I call my will in so far as I am conscious of it in
an entirely different way comparable with no other; or, My body is
the objectivity of my will; or, Apart from the fact that my body is
my representation, it is still my will, and so on.." [The
World as Will and Representation, Part II]
This assertion of the Will as central to human experience has had great
influence on subsequent thinkers. In Schopenhauer's thought it leads
to a serious problem for human living.
The dilemma of desire
Life as an expression of the will is basically goal-oriented. We
seeking something. This is true of all life, but most of all of
the higher conscious animals. So long as we seek our goal, we are
not satisfied and the unfulfilled desire drives us forward. If we
do not satisfy the desire, then we remain unfulfilled. But if we
do satisfy the desire and win the goal, then we have no more motivation
and life has basically come to an end. Thus, life is motion towards
a goal. If we do not get the goal, then we remain dissatisfied. If we do
get the goal, then the life-force ceases. Either way, the fulfillment
of desire is impossible. We cannot have a fully fulfilled life and
enjoy it too.
sensual pleasure itself consists in a continual striving and ceases
as soon as its goal is reached. Whenever we are not involved in one
or other of these things but directed back to existence itself we
are overtaken by its worthlessness and vanity and this is the sensation
called boredom....boredom is nothing other than the sensation of the
emptiness of existence." [On the Vanity of
This may sound extreme and negative to you (indicating that it is conflicting
with your expectations in a certain way), but it is based on developed
reasoning that calls for consideration. This very idea is found
|Life is suffering
Suffering arises from attachment to desires
And must be what writer Isaac Asimov had in mind when he wrote;
tortures of hell, I think the boredom of heaven would be even worse."
Well, if this has not cheered you up enough already, please read the
following essay by Schopenhauer. In it you will find several important
features of his thought and gain a general idea of his approach as a writer.
Next - Read On The Vanity of