Arthur Schopenhauer

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Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schropenhauer
Mr. Schopenhauer
School: Post-Kantian philosophy

German Idealism

Main Interests: Metaphysics, aesthetics, ethics, morality, psychology
Notable ideas Will, Fourfold root of reason, Hedgehog's dilemma, philosophical pessimism
Born February 22 1788
Died September 21 1860 (aged 72)

'Arthur Schopenhauer' (22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was a German philosopher best known for his book, The World as Will and Representation, in which he claimed that our world is driven by a continually dissatisfied will, continually seeking satisfaction. Influenced by Eastern thought, he maintained that the "truth was recognized by the sages of India"; consequently, his solutions to suffering were similar to those of Vedantic and Buddhist thinkers; his faith in "transcendental ideality" led him to accept atheism and learn from Christian philosophy. He influenced a long list of thinkers, including Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, Carl Jung, Joseph Campbell, Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, and Jorge Luis Borges.

Philosophy Edit

(Schropenhauer's seminal work being The World as Will and Representation, the discussion of his philosophy below will concentrate on said book, after a relatively short introduction to On the Fourfold Root of The Principle of Sufficient Reason".)

The main body of the work states at the beginning that it assumes prior knowledge of Immanuel Kant's theories, and Schopenhauer is regarded by some as remaining more faithful to Kant's metaphysical system of transcendental idealism than any of the other later German Idealists. However, the book contains an appendix entitled critique of the Kantian philosophy, in which Schopenhauer rejects most of Kant's ethics and significant parts of his epistemology and aesthetics. Schopenhauer demands that the introduction be read before the book itself, although it is not fully contained in this book but appeared earlier under the title On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. He also states in his introduction that the reader will be at his best prepared to understand his theories if he has lingered in the school of Plato or he is already familiar with Indian philosophy.

Schopenhauer believed that Kant had ignored inner experience, as intuited through the will, which was the most important form of experience. Schopenhauer saw the human will as our one window to the world behind the representation; the Kantian thing-in-itself. He believed, therefore, that we could gain knowledge about the thing-in-itself, something Kant said was impossible, since the rest of the relationship between representation and thing-in-itself could be understood by analogy to the relationship between human will and human body. According to Schopenhauer, the entire world is the representation of a single Will, of which our individual wills are phenomena. In this way, Schopenhauer's metaphysics go beyond the limits that Kant had set, but do not go so far as the rationalist system-builders that preceded Kant. Other important differences are Schopenhauer's rejection of eleven of Kant's twelve categories, arguing that only causality was important. Matter and causality were both seen as a union of time and space and thus being equal to each other.

Schopenhauer frequently acknowledges drawing on Plato in the development of his theories and, particularly in the context of aesthetics, speaks of the Platonic forms as existing on an intermediate ontological level between the representation and the Will.

On the Four-Fold Root of The Principle Of Sufficient Reason Edit

Schopenhauer’s central proposition is the main idea of his entire philosophy, he states simply as “The world is my representation.” The rest of his work is an elaborate analysis and unpacking of this sentence, which begins with his Kantian epistemology, but finds thorough elaboration within his version of the principle of sufficient reason. This is responsible for providing adequate explanations for any ‘thing,’ or object that occurs in relation to a subject of knowing; of any representation possible there is always a possible question of 'why?' that one can address to it. It amounts to what Schopenhauer has done, in his view, to extend and complete what Kant began with his Critique of Pure Reason.

The Four ClassesEdit

Four classes of explanation fall under the principle’s rubric. Hence, four classes of objects occur always and already only in relation to a knowing subject, according to a correlative capacity within the subject. These classes are summarized as follows:

Becoming: Only with the combination of time and space does perceptual actuality become possible for a subject, allowing for ideas of perception, and this provides the ground of becoming to judgments. This is the law of causality, which is, when considered subjectively, intellectual and a priori understanding. All possible judgments that are inferences of a cause from an effect—a physical state a subject infers as caused by another physical state or vice versa—take this as the ground of the possibility of such judgments. The natural sciences operate within this aspect of the principle.

Knowing: This class of objects subsumes all judgments, or abstract concepts, which a subject knows through conceptual, discursive reason rooted in the ground of knowing. The other three classes of objects are immediate representations, while this class is always and already composed of representations of representations. Therefore, the truth-value of concepts abstracted from any of the other three classes of objects is grounded in referring to something outside the concept. Concepts are abstract judgments grounded in intuitions of time and space, ideas of perception (causality apparent in the outer world), or acts of will (causality experienced from within). This class makes language (in the form of abstract judgments that are then communicable) possible, and as a consequence, all the sciences become possible.

Being: Time and space comprise separate grounds of being. These a priori (prior to experience) forms respectively allow for an “inner,” temporal sense and an “outer,” spatial sense for the subject; subjectively, these are the forms of pure sensibility—they make sensations possible for a subject. The first makes arithmetic possible, and is presupposed for all other forms of the principle of sufficient reason; the other makes geometry possible. Time is one dimensional and purely successive; each moment determines the following moment; in space, any position is determined only in its relations to all other positions in a finite, hence, closed system. Thus, intuitions of time and space provide the grounds of being that make arithmetical and geometrical judgments possible, which are also valid for experience.

Willing: It is possible for a subject of knowing to know himself directly as ‘will.’ A subject knows his acts of will only after the fact, in time. Action then, finds its root in the law of motivation, the ground of acting, which is causality, but seen from the inside. In other words, not only does a subject know his body as an object of outer sense, in space, but also in an inner sense, in time alone; a subject has self-consciousness in addition to knowing his body as an idea of perception. Why does a subject act the way he does? Where a sufficient motive appears in the form either of an intuition, perception, or abstract conception, the subject will act according to his character, or ‘will.’ E.g., despite all plans to the contrary, when the actual moment comes to act, we do so within the constituents of the rhetorical situation (the various representations present in a subject’s experience) and are often surprised by what we actually say and do. The human sciences find their ground in this aspect of the principle.


Schopenhauer used the word "will" as a human's most familiar designation for the concept that can also be signified by other words such as "desire," "striving," "wanting," "effort," and "urging." Schopenhauer's philosophy holds that all nature, including man, is the expression of an insatiable will to life. It is through the will that mankind finds all their suffering. Desire for more is what causes this suffering.


He used the word representation (Vorstellung) to signify the mental idea or image of any object that is experienced as being external to the mind. It is sometimes translated as idea or presentation. This concept includes the representation of the observing subject's own body. Schopenhauer called the subject's own body the immediate object because it is in the closest proximity to the mind, which is located in the brain.

Epistemology (Vol. 1, Book 1)Edit

As mentioned above, Schopenhauer's notion of the will comes from the Kantian thing-in-itself, which Kant believed to be the fundamental reality behind the representation that provided the matter of perception, but lacked form. Kant believed that space, time, causation, and many other similar phenomena belonged properly to the form imposed on the world by the human mind in order to create the representation, and these factors were absent from the thing-in-itself. Schopenhauer pointed out that anything outside of time and space could not be differentiated, so the thing-in-itself must be one and all things that exist, including human beings, must be part of this fundamental unity. Our inner-experience must be a manifestation of the noumenal realm and the will is the inner kernel of every being. All knowledge gained of objects is seen as self-referential, as we recognize the same will in other things as is inside us.

Ontology (Vol. 1, Book 2)Edit

In Book Two, electricity and gravity are described as fundamental forces of the will. Knowledge is something that was invented to serve the will and is present in both human and non-human animals. It is subordinate to the demands of the will for all animals and most humans. The fundamental nature of the universe and everything in it is seen as this will. Schopenhauer presents a pessimistic picture on which unfulfilled desires are painful, and pleasure is merely the sensation experienced at the instant one such pain is removed. However, most desires are never fulfilled, and those that are fulfilled are instantly replaced by more unfulfilled ones.

Aesthetics (Vol. 1, Book 3)Edit

Like many other aesthetic theories, Schopenhauer's centers on the concept of genius. Genius, according to Schopenhauer, is possessed by all people in varying degrees and consists of the capacity for aesthetic experience. An aesthetic experience occurs when an individual perceives an object and understands by it not the individual object itself, but the Platonic form of the object. The individual is then able to lose himself in the object of contemplation and, for a brief moment, escape the cycle of unfulfilled desire by becoming "the pure subject of will-less knowing." Those who have a high degree of genius can be taught to communicate these aesthetic experiences to others, and objects that communicate these experiences are works of art. Based on this theory, Schopenhauer viewed Dutch still-life as the best type of painting, because it was able to help viewers see beauty in ordinary, everyday objects. However, he sharply criticized depictions of nude women and prepared food, as these stimulate desire and thus hinder the viewer from the aesthetic experience and becoming "the pure subject of will-less knowing." Music also occupies a privileged place in Schopenhauer's aesthetics, as he believed it to have a special relationship to the will. Where other forms of art are imitations of things perceived in the world, music is a direct copy of the will.

Ethics (Vol. 1, Book 4)Edit

Schopenhauer claims in this book to set forth a purely descriptive account of human ethical behavior, in which he identifies two types of behavior: the affirmation and denial of the will.

According to Schopenhauer, the Will (the great Will that is the thing-in-itself, not the individual wills of humans and animals, which are phenomena of the Will) conflicts with itself through the egoism that every human and animal is endowed with. Compassion arises from a transcendence of this egoism (the penetration of the illusory perception of individuality, so that one can empathise with the suffering of another) and can serve as a clue to the possibility of going beyond desire and the will. Schopenhauer categorically denies the existence of the "freedom of the will" in the conventional sense, and only adumbrates how the will can be "released" or negated, but is not subject to change, and serves as the root of the chain of causal determinism. His praise for asceticism led him to think highly of Buddhism and Vedanta Hinduism, as well as some monastic orders and ascetic practices found in Catholicism. He expressed contempt for Protestantism, Judaism, and Islam, which he saw as optimistic, devoid of metaphysics and cruel to non-human animals. According to Schopenhauer, the deep truth of the matter is that in cases of the over-affirmation of the will – that is, cases where one individual exerts his will not only for its own fulfillment but for the improper domination of others – he is unaware that he is really identical with the person he is harming, so that the Will in fact constantly harms itself, and justice is done in the moment in which the crime is committed, since the same metaphysical individual is both the perpetrator and the victim.

Schopenhauer discusses suicide at length, noting that it does not actually destroy the Will or any part of it in any substantial way, since death is merely the end of one particular phenomenon of the Will, which is subsequently rearranged. By asceticism, the ultimate denial of the will, one can slowly weaken the individual will in a way that is far more significant than violent suicide, which is, in fact, in some sense an affirmation of the will.

The ultimate conclusion is that one can have a tolerable life not by complete elimination of desire, since this would lead to boredom, but by becoming a detached observer of one's own will and being constantly aware that most of one's desires will remain unfulfilled.

Volume 2Edit

The second volume consisted of several essays expanding topics covered in the first. Most important are his reflections on death and his theory on sexuality, which saw it as a manifestation of the whole will making sure that it will live on and depriving humans of their reason and sanity in their longing for their loved ones. While this has been much improved on since, his honesty on the subject is unusual for the time and the central role of sexuality in human life is now widely accepted. Less successful is his theory of genetics: he argued that humans inherit their will, and thus their character, from their fathers, but their intellect from their mothers and he provides examples from biographies of great figures to illustrate this theory. The second volume also contains what many readers view as attacks on contemporary philosophers such as Fichte, Schelling, and Hegel.

Political ViewsEdit

In occasional political comments in his Parerga and Paralipomena and Manuscript Remains, Schopenhauer described himself as a proponent of limited government. What was essential, he thought, was that the state should "leave each man free to work out his own salvation", and so long as government was thus limited, he would "prefer to be ruled by a lion than one of [his] fellow rats" — i.e., by a monarch, rather than a democrat. Schopenhauer shared the view of Thomas Hobbes on the necessity of the state, and of state action, to check the destructive tendencies innate to our species. He also defended the independence of the legislative, judicial and executive branches of power, and a monarch as an impartial element able to practice justice (in a practical and everyday sense, not a cosmological one). He declared monarchy as "that which is natural to man" for "intelligence has always under a monarchical government a much better chance against its irreconcilable and ever-present foe, stupidity" and disparaged republicanism as "unnatural as it is unfavourable to the higher intellectual life and the arts and sciences."

Heredity and eugenics Edit

Schopenhauer believed that personality and intellect were inherited. He quotes Horace's saying, "From the brave and good are the brave descended" (Odes, iv, 4, 29) and Shakespeare's line from Cymbeline, "Cowards father cowards, and base things sire base" (IV, 2) to reinforce his hereditarian argument. Mechanistically, Schopenhauer believed that a person inherits his level of intellect through his mother, and personal character through one's father. This belief in the heritability of traits informed Schopenhauer's view of love – placing it at the highest level of importance. For Schopenhauer the “final aim of all love intrigues, be they comic or tragic, is really of more importance than all other ends in human life. What it all turns upon is nothing less than the composition of the next generation.... It is not the weal or woe of any one individual, but that of the human race to come, which is here at stake.” This view of the importance for the species of whom we choose to love was reflected in his views on eugenics or good breeding. Here Schopenhauer wrote:

"With our knowledge of the complete unalterability both of character and of mental faculties, we are led to the view that a real and thorough improvement of the human race might be reached not so much from outside as from within, not so much by theory and instruction as rather by the path of generation. Plato had something of the kind in mind when, in the fifth book of his Republic, he explained his plan for increasing and improving his warrior caste. If we could castrate all scoundrels and stick all stupid geese in a convent, and give men of noble character a whole harem, and procure men, and indeed thorough men, for all girls of intellect and understanding, then a generation would soon arise which would produce a better age than that of Pericles."

In another context, Schopenhauer reiterated his antidemocratic-eugenic thesis: "If you want Utopian plans, I would say: the only solution to the problem is the despotism of the wise and noble members of a genuine aristocracy, a genuine nobility, achieved by mating the most magnanimous men with the cleverest and most gifted women. This proposal constitutes my Utopia and my Platonic Republic". Analysts (e.g., Keith Ansell-Pearson) have suggested that Schopenhauer's advocacy of anti-egalitarianism and eugenics influenced the neo-aristocratic philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, who initially considered Schopenhauer his mentor.


The value of this work is much disputed. Some rank Schopenhauer as one of the most original and inspiring of all philosophers, while others see him as inconsistent and too pessimistic.He has had a huge effect on psychoanalysis and the works of Freud, to the point that some researchers have even questioned whether Freud was telling the truth when he said that he had not read Schopenhauer until his old age. The notion of the subconscious is present in Schopenhauer's will and his theory of madness was consistent with this. Also, his theory on masochism is still now widely proposed by doctors.

Nietzsche, Popper, Wittgenstein, Tolstoy, Jung, Borges, D.H. Lawrence, Camus, Beckett, Mahler and Wagner were all strongly influenced by his work. For Nietzsche, the reading of The World as Will and Representation aroused his interest in philosophy. Although he despised especially Schopenhauer's ideas on compassion, Nietzsche would admit that Schopenhauer was one of the few thinkers that he respected, lauding him in his essay "Schopenhauer als Erzieher" ("Schopenhauer as Educator", 1874), one of his Untimely Meditations. Schopenhauer's discussions of language and ethics were a major influence on Ludwig Wittgenstein. Some see Schopenhauer's account of the Will as closely resembling classic examples of Monism.

Schopenhauer also developed some ideas that can be found in the theory of evolution, before Darwin began to publish his work, for example the idea that all life strives to preserve itself and to engender new life, and that our mental faculties are merely tools to that end. However, Schopenhauer saw species as fixed. His respect for the rights of animals – including a vehement opposition to vivisection - has led many modern animal rights activists to look up to him.

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