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Arthur Schopenhauer
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Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer (February 22, 1788September 21, 1860) is one of the most important 19th century philosophers, most famous for his work, The World as Will and Representation. He is known for having espoused a sort of philosophical pessimism that saw life as being essentially evil and futile, but saw hope in aesthetics, sympathy for others and ascetic living.

Table of contents
1 Life
2 Philosophy
3 Aesthetics
4 Schopenhauer and sex
5 Schopenhauer on Hegel
6 Common Misconceptions
7 Train of influence
8 Bibliography
9 Source
10 External links


Schopenhauer was born in Danzig (now Gdansk in Poland), the son of Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer and Johanna Schopenhauer. His parents were both from Danzig, and Johanna was an author as well. The Schopenhauer family fled Danzig after it was annexed by Prussia in 1793 and moved to Hamburg; in 1807 Schopenhauer's father died, possibly by suicide, and Johanna moved to Weimar. Schopenhauer never got along with his mother; when the writer Goethe, who was a friend of Johanna Schopenhauer, told her that he thought her son was destined for great things, Johanna objected: she had never heard there were two geniuses in a single family. Schopenhauer studied at the University of Göttingen and was awarded a PhD from the University of Jena. In 1820, Schopenhauer became a lecturer at the University of Berlin; it was there that his famous quarrel with Hegel began.

Schopenhauer was influenced by Friedrich Schelling, called himself a Kantian, and despised Hegel — he formulated a pessimistic philosophy that gained importance and support after the failure of the German and Austrian revolutions of 1848.


Schopenhauer's starting point was Kant's division of the universe into phenomenon and noumenon, claiming that the noumenon was will and the most important since it is the inner content and the driving force of the world. For Schopenhauer, human will had primacy over the intellect, and the striving will was even more important. From this Schopenhauer devalued philosophy and logic for art because neither could prove the will. In The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer posited that humans living in the realm of objects are living in the realm of desire, and thus are eternally tormented by that desire (The role of desire in life is also central to the religion of Buddhism).

Schopenhauer's identification of the noumenon with will deserves some explanation. The noumenon was what Kant called the Ding an Sich, the "Thing in Itself", the reality that exists outside of, and the foundation of, our sensory and mental representations of an external world; in Kantian terms, those sensory and mental representations are mere phenomena. Schopenhauer's assertion that Will is this noumenon might at first instance strike some as oddly as Heraclitus's revelation that everything is made out of fire.

But Kant's philosophy was formulated as a response to the radical philosophical skepticism of David Hume and his fellow British Empiricists, who claimed that as far as we could tell there was no outside reality beyond our mental representations of it. When Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with Will, what he is saying is that we participate in the reality of an otherwise unachievable world outside the mind through Will. We cannot prove that our mental picture of an outside world corresponds with a reality by reasoning. Through Will, we know — without thinking — that the world can stimulate us. We suffer fear, or desire. These states arise involuntarily. They arise prior to reflection. They arise even when the conscious mind would prefer to hold them at bay. The rational mind is for Schopenhauer a leaf borne along in a stream of pre-reflective and largely unconscious emotion. That stream is Will; and through Will, if not through logic, we can participate in the underlying reality that lies beyond mere phenomena. It is for this reason that Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with Will.


For Schopenhauer, one way to escape the suffering inherent in a world of Will was through art.

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 horror 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.

Schopenhauer's politics were, for the most part, a much-diminished echo of his system of ethics (the latter being expressed in Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik, available in English as two separate books, On the Basis of Morality and On the Freedom of the Will; ethics also occupies about one fourth of his central work, The World as Will and Representation). In occasional political comments in his Parerga and Paralimpomena 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., a monarch. Schopenhauer did, however, share the view of Thomas Hobbes on the necessity of the state, and of state violence, to check the destructive tendencies innate to our species. Schopenhauer, by his own admission, did not give much thought to politics, and several times he writes prideful boasts of how little attention he had paid "to political affairs of [his] day". In a life that spanned several revolutions in French and German government, and a few continent-shaking wars, he did indeed maintain his aloof position of "minding not the times but the eternities".

According to Daniel Albright (2004), "Schopenhauer thought that music was the only art that did not merely copy ideas, but actually embodied the will itself."

Schopenhauer and sex

Schopenhauer is also famous for his essay Über die Weiber, in which 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. 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.

The ultra-intolerant view of women contrast with Schopenhauer's generally liberal views on other social issues [he was strongly against taboos on issues like suicide and masochism and condemned the treatment of Negro slaves]. This polemic on female nature has since been fiercely attacked by feminists as misogynistic; some people nevertheless hold it to be accurate. In any case, the controversial writing has influenced many, from Nietzsche to 19th century feminists. While Schopenhauer's hostility to women may tell us more about his biography than about philosophy, his 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.

Schopenhauer on Hegel

Schopenhauer seem to have disliked just about everything concerning his contemporary Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The following quotation from On the Basis of Morality is quite famous:

If I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage, I should be quite right.

Further, if I were to say that this summus philosophus [...] scribbled nonsense quite unlike any mortal before him, so that whoever could read his most eulogized work, the so-called Phenomenology of the Mind, without feeling as if he were in a madhouse, would qualify as an inmate for Bedlam, I should be no less right.

Common Misconceptions

Many are put off Schopenhauer by descriptions of him as an obstinate and arrogant man, who did not lead the ascetic life that he glorified in his work. The idea that he made resignation into a command to virtue is inaccurate, as he was merely trying to explain asceticism in terms of metaphysics. He does refer to the asceticism as a state of "inner peace and cheerfulness", but he also clearly states that he was not trying to recommend the denial of the will above the affirmation of the will. Furthermore, the call to asceticism was supposed to come to select individuals as knowledge all of a sudden, rather than being a virtue that can be taught.

Nietzsche seems to have made this misinterpretation and many gain a distorted view of Schopenhauer from reading Nietzsche. The following sentence from Twilight of the Idols is often quoted:

Schopenhauer did see all these things as means to a more peaceful and enlightened way of life, but none of them were "denial of the will-to-live". Only asceticism is referred to in that way. Nietzsche also claimed that Schopenhauer did not recognise that suffering had a redemptive quality, yet his recognition of this seems blatantly clear in part 4 of The World as Will and Representation.

Train of influence


Major works

Online texts


External links

to be added

This article is part of the Influential Western Philosophers series
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