Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer

He is best known for his 1818 work “The World as Will and Representation”, in which he characterizes the phenomenal world as the product of a blind, insatiable, and malignant metaphysical will. Proceeding from the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer developed an atheistic metaphysical and ethical system that has been described as an exemplary manifestation of philosophical pessimism, rejecting the contemporaneous post-Kantian philosophies of German idealism.

Arthur Schopenhauer was born in 1788 and was the son of a merchant, who intended his son to the merchant career as well. Together with his father, he made numerous trips through Europe. After his death in 1809, he first started studying medicine at the University of Göttingen, but then he quits to devote himself to the study of philosophy.

In 1819, he got the assignment of teacher at the University of Berlin, where Hegel also used to teach, who at that time was the dominant figure of German philosophy, but now he was criticized by Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer’s principal work, “The World as Will and Representation” (Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, 1819) occurs in the same year. He taught as a lecturer at the University of Berlin until 1831 when, due to a cholera epidemic, whose victim was Hegel, he takes refuge in Frankfurt am Main, where he will live until the end of his life as a retired free philosopher. Here, he began the study of Buddhist and Hindu philosophies as well as the mystics of primitive Christianity, mainly driven by Meister Eckhart and Jakob Böhme. During this period, he published the work “On the will in nature” (Über den Willen in der Natur, 1836), “The Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics” (Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik, 1841), aphorisms grouped in “Parerga and Paralipomena” (1851). Schopenhauer died in Frankfurt on 21 September 1860.

Under the influence of Plato and Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer lies in the problem of the theory of knowledge on the position of idealism. But in this view, Schopenhauer supports his own views and combats Hegel’s philosophy. Based on natural sciences, he developed an original perspective on the physiology of perception. According to Schopenhauer, the outside world exists only in so far as it is perceived and present in the human consciousness, in conclusion, as a representation. He didn’t fully agree with Kant, who believed that “the thing itself” (das Ding an sich) would be above all sensory experience and therefore could not be known. Schopenhauer claims that the will underlies at the representation of the world, having a strong unreasonable force and purpose. Unlike Hegel, he considers that the world and history are meaningless and do not have a final target. The will is not only for the actions of man, but determines the entire reality, organic or inorganic. The will manifests itself as a vital force in the animal world and as an impulse to procreation. This theory over the “primacy of will” is the central idea of Schopenhauer’s philosophy and had, since the second half of the 19th century to the present days, an increasing influence on philosophical thought.

Schopenhauer’s views on literature and art are a direct consequence of his pessimism and influence of Buddhist philosophy. The will is an existential impulse which gives no satisfaction, on the contrary, it is constantly creating new needs which can’t be fully satisfied, thus it becomes a source of suffering. Therefore there can be no lasting happiness. life is a vale of tears, full of pain. At a higher level, man can escape the dictate of Will, managing to break free. The release of suffering is achieved by denying the Will, which can be obtained by artistic contemplation or asceticism, renunciation and meditation. Through art, man escapes from the domination of Will and becomes a “pure and passive subject of knowledge”. He was named the second Buddha.

Even though Schopenhauer ended his treatise on the freedom of human will with the postulate of everyone’s responsibility for their character and, consequently, acts, the responsibility following from one’s being the Will as noumenon (from which also all the characters and creations come), he considered his views incompatible with theism, on grounds of fatalism and, more generally, responsibility for evil. In Schopenhauer’s philosophy, the dogmas of Christianity lose their significance, and the “Last Judgment” is no longer preceded by anything, “The world is itself the Last Judgment on it.” Whereas God, if he existed, would be evil.

At the appearance of his works, Schopenhauer hasn’t enjoyed an overwhelming attention. In philosophy, he exerted a great influence on the thinking of Friedrich Nietzsche, Henri Bergson, Ludwig Wittgenstein or Emil Cioran. In literature, Schopenhauer’s influence is recognized on the works of Lev Tolstoi, Mihai Eminescu, Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann or Michel Houellebecq. In psychology, his ideas were taken over by Eduard von Hartmann and Sigmund Freud.

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