Arthur Schopenhauer
An authoritative article by Robert Wicks from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

Philosophy Talk: Schopenhauer
Listen to this excellent radio program and take notes. The segment is about one hour. The free Real Player is required for streaming audio.

"The Vanity of Existence"
A short and accessible article by Schopenhauer from his "Essays in Pessimism."

Arthur Schopenhauer
Commentary and diagrams from the Friesian School.

Schopenhauer and Buddhism
By Bryan Larsen

An Introduction to Buddhism
Brief descriptions of the main doctrines and history.

Interactive Tour of the Wheel of Life
Nicely animated graphical and textual explanation of the causes of suffering in Tibetan Buddhism. Have fun! :>

Schopenhauer, Arthur
Use the links to explore the ideas of this summary

The Philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer
From the Radical Academy




Arthur Schopenhauer

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.  They are:

*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:


Right view: understanding of the four noble truths.
Right aspiration: desire to free oneself from attachment, ignorance, and hatefulness.
Right speech: abstaining from harmful speech such as lying and abuse.


Right action: abstaining from harmful behaviors, such as killing and stealing.
Right livelihood: making your living in such a way as to avoid dishonesty and hurting others, including animals.
Right effort: 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.


Right mindfulness: focusing of one's attention on one's body, feelings, thoughts, and consciousness in such a way as to overcome craving, hatred, and ignorance.
Right concentration: 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. 

"The 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.

"To 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 II]

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 "the world." 

"We 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 desireTibetan Wheel of Life
Life as an expression of the will is basically goal-oriented.  We are always 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. 

"Even 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 Existence]

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 in Buddhism;

Life is suffering
Suffering arises from attachment to desires

And must be what writer Isaac Asimov had in mind when he wrote;

"Whatever the 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 Existence Go to Aristotle's Logic page


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