Schopenhauer, a pessimistic philosopher, focused on the dark side of life and mental evils and cruelty, which he considered inevitable and that we as psychologists, intellectuals and masters of the mind view as mental disorders that have a negative effect on both the character of the affected and the human environment at large exposed to the vile side of human nature.
This negative view of man’s behaviour and role in life was a sharp contrast to the other more euphoric philosophers who marked the spirits of the generation before him, and who embraced a more idealistic and perhaps a slightly exaggerated euphoric side of man’s mind and character. Though Schopenhauer’s work originally gained little attention at the time it was published [perhaps being too avant-garde for the atavistic institutions of his time], he expressed an interpretation of the world that was dragging and opposed the great ideal of who went before him, such as Victor Schelling and Hegel on some very important points but did not deny expressions of art such as the romantic movement in its various forms.
Schopenhauer who never refrained from publicly criticising people and ideas he disliked was very vocal in his complete contempt for these men, and regarded himself as their great opponent in the ring of the leaders delivering the “Real truth” to mankind and civilisation. Schopenhauer’s work in many ways could be viewed as an extension of another famous German philosopher, namely Immanuel Kant, who preceded him by one generation, delivering his major philosophical work, “a critique of pure reason”. Schopenhauer worked out a system in which reality is known inwardly by a kind of feeling where intellect is only an instrument of the will: the biological will to live and where process rather than result is ultimate.
Schopenhauer’s pessimism lies in his very strong rejection of life. In fact, this rejection is so strong that he even had to address the question of suicide as a solution to life. He fortunately also rejected this “solution” to life, this rejection to life reflected influences with roots in Eastern philosophy, particularly Buddhism, and it is one of the most significant aspects of his work that he was the first Western philosopher to integrate Buddhist thought into Western philosophy. His preoccupation with the evil of the world and the tragedy of life was also somewhat reminiscent of ancient Hindu philosophies. His writings helped to stimulate in Germany an interest in Oriental thought and religion, which can also be seen in the work of many later German philosophers.
In “The World as Will and Idea”, Schopenhauer also considered the important question of the function of art. The value of arts to human life in far more depth than any of his predecessors, and even graded each of the arts, such as music, poetry, architecture [etc], from most important to least important. For that reason, his book had not only a profound effect on future philosophers, but also artists, particularly poets and composers, such as the enigmatic Wagner, who felt indebted to him and sent him a letter of gratitude when he was first introduced to Schopenhauer’s work.
It is believed that Wagner’s popular opera “Tristan und Isolde” in particular, shows Schopenhauer’s influence as a philosopher who believed that music was the highest form of art, an idea that of course, Wagner found pleasing and so the composer began to think of himself as a prime example of Schopenhauer concept of a genius. People in other fields of the arts were also influenced by Schopenhauer, including the novelist Thomas Mann. Schopenhauer’s ideas had the unique ability to influence not only philosophy but many other fields of human endeavour and expression. Within philosophy itself, Schopenhauer never founded a school of thought “per se”, but his influence instead was in stimulating other philosophers towards a particular line of thought, which varied with the individual and his or her response to Schopenhauer’s writing. His writing had a major impact on the German philosopher Nietzsche, who was also a friend of Schopenhauer’s admirer, Richard Wagner. Nietzsche shared the idea that life is tragic and terrible but can sometimes be transformed through art. Nietzsche was also the man famous,for his concept of the Ubermensch “Superman”, which later helped to inspire the German National Socialist movement and eventually the founding pillars of the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler.
So, these three names Schopenhauer, Wagner and Nietzsche are often linked and are also associated at times, through no fault of the men themselves with a dark period of human history.
“The world is Will and Idea” begins with the famous line, “The world is my idea” when Schopenhauer says the world is his idea, he is referring to the relationship between an “object” and “the subject” [i.e. The person [subject] who sees or senses the object]. As an example, he did not mean that an apple is identical with your abstract concept of an Apple, he means that the apple as perceived by you exist only in relation to you as a person or “the subject” who perceives it. Its reality is only in what you perceive, it is what you perceive it to be so.
So, the world is my idea means that a whole visible world and its sum of total experience is “object” for a “subject”, its reality consists in appearing to be perceived by a subject. This theory of the world of idea was taken and developed from Kant’s philosophy, but the second part of Schopenhauer’s philosophy “The World as Will” is completely his own and expresses his very unique interpretation of human life. Briefly, this interpretation says that the will, « the will to survive and live » is the strongest force in man and everything else is subordinate to it. His conception of the supreme wisdom of life is one of resignation to the power this “will” has and the tragic results of it.
Arthur Schopenhauer was born on February 22nd of 1788 in Danzig, Germany, he was the son of Henri Floris Schopenhauer aged 38 and Johanna Henriette Trosiener who was then 19 years old. His father was a wealthy merchant and banker who had already planned for his son to become a business man before his birth, and hoped Arthur would follow in his steps. He was also an independent minded man who moved his family from the city of Danzig when it was taken over by Prussia in 1793. The new family home was in Hamburg. Schopenhauer left to visit England and other countries, on the understanding that when he completed his tour, he would begin work in a business. Schopenhauer, then 16 years old, kept his promise but he had no attraction to business and when his father died, he got consent from his mother to continue his studies. In 1809, he entered the University of Göttingen to study medicine, but he changed to philosophy in his second year, as he put it “life is a problem and he decided to spend his life contemplating it”. He also studied at Weimar where he lived with his mother until he became estranged from her.
Schopenhauer had a moody, irritable temperament and could be violent in his passion. At the university, Schopenhauer developed an affection for Plato and visited Berlin to hear the lectures of contemporary philosophers Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762 – 1814) and Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834). Fichte was the first transcendentalist idealist and Schleiermacher was a founder of modern Protestant theology. Schopenhauer found Fichte’s comment, “No one could be a true philosopher without being religious” absurd and retorted that no man who was religious turns to philosophy since they have no need for it [a questionable statement when religion (e.g. Christianity) does not cover all the aspects of the experience of life in detail, or study God’s works methodically through the lens of science and rationality, to understand the further implications in the betterment of the human world].
Schopenhauer left Berlin when Prussia rebelled against Napoleon. He never developed strong German patriotic values and sentiments [perhaps never given a chance or a reason or support to do so at the time], and always regarded himself more as a cosmopolitan without any strong national affiliation. He went into retirement to write his first dissertation called “On the fourfold route of the principle of sufficient reason”, which was published in 1813 and earned him a doctorate at Vienna. The poet Goethe congratulated Schopenhauer, and in return he wrote an essay called « On Vision and Colours » which supported Goethe in his stand against Isaac Newton. But the dissertation, although it won the admiration of Goethe, went practically unnoticed. The author however always considered it the groundwork and essential introduction to his philosophy. Shortly after he published his dissertation, Schopenhauer met an Oriental scholar, Friedrich Majer (1771 – 1818), who introduced him to Indian philosophy and literature. He maintained an interest in Indian philosophy throughout his life, and as an old man, he meditated on the Upanishad, part of the Vedas [the sacred script of the Hindus]. He would later associate his theory of the world of ideas with the Indian doctrine of Maya [to the Indians, Maya is illusion or the world as an illusion]. To Schopenhauer, this meant that the individual subject and object he wrote were “Maya”, all at the end.
For 4 years between 1814 and 1818, Schopenhauer lived in Dresden, which is where he wrote his masterpiece “The World as Will and Idea”. He sent the manuscript to his publishers and left for an art tour of Italy. The book was published the following year in 1819, and although it received attention from some philosophers, it sold very few copies. This was a disappointment to the author who felt sure it contains the secret of the universe.
This failure did not kill his eagerness however, so he returned to Berlin and started lecturing. By now he was 32 years old. He deliberately scheduled his lectures for the hour at which the philosopher Hegel was also accustomed to lecture – planning to compete with the master. But his lecturing career was a failure and Schopenhauer gave it up after only one semester. His ideas seemed at odds with the dominant spirit of the time.
Schopenhauer roamed around a bit and then settled in Frankfurt in 1833, he read European literature and scientific books and journals looking for illustrations or confirmations of his theories. He frequented the theatre and also continued writing, publishing on the Will of nature and winning a Norwegian prize for an essay on freedom. He failed to win a similar prize from the Royal Danish Academy of the Sciences for a separate essay on ethics; they disapproved of his disparaging remarks about other philosophers. These two essays were later published together in 1841, under the title “The two fundamental problems of Ethics”.
In 1844, Schopenhauer published a second edition of “The world as Will and Idea”, which contained 50 new chapters. In the Preface, he took the opportunity to make a strong statement of his views about university professors of philosophy, which were of course not admiring. In 1848 there was an unsuccessful revolution in Germany. A revolution from which Schopenhauer had no sympathy whatsoever. But after the failure of this revolt, people were more willing to consider a philosophy which emphasised the evil in the world in which preached the rejection of life for the route of contemplation. Schopenhauer’s popularity was on the rise. In 1851, he published a collection of essays that dealt with a wide variety of topics, and finally in 1859, he published third edition of the “World as Will and Idea” with more supplements. In the last decade of his life, the author finally became a famous man, all kinds of visitors with all kinds of philosophies came to see him and to enjoy his brilliant conversations. Lectures were given on his system at the University, the very university he has attacked, a sure indication that he had finally achieved success. Schopenhauer has spent a long, lonely life of reflection and only after his works were ignored for many years that he attained fame and reputation. He died in September 1860, at the age of 72.
As a man, Schopenhauer was cultured, broadly educated, eloquent and articulate, witty and conversational, and a very talented writer, but he was also opinionated, egotistical, and often quarrelsome. His remarks about other philosophers were assaulted and his remarks about women in general were so scathing that they had to be deleted from his book by his editor. He was obsessed with the suffering of humanity, but did nothing to alleviate it. He himself made the comment that it is no more necessary for a philosopher to be a saint than it is for a saint to be a philosopher, and he never tried to prove otherwise. But, in the final analysis he was exactly the man he needed to be to write what he wrote. His pessimistic and grim interpretation of life are not very likely to have come from a man of infallible kindness or tolerance, and that interpretation of life played a significant role in the development of human thought and philosophy by inspiring both similar and opposing viewpoints which forced humanity to re-examine itself yet again.
Now is a summary of the text of “The World as Will and Idea”
The world is my idea. This truth applies to everything that lives and knows, but only man can reflect on it and bring his abstract consciousness to it. It becomes clear to him when he looks at the sun that what he knows is not a sun, but an eye that sees the sun, not a nurse but a hand that feels the earth. This truth is by no means new, it was a fundamental text of the Vedanta philosophy of the Hindus, it was also part of the reflections of the French philosopher René Descartes and finally it was also clarified by the philosopher George Berkeley – although neglected by Kant. But this view of the world as idea is one-sided and must be balanced by another one which is the impressive and awful truth that the world is my “Will”. The world has necessary hands, the subject and object. The object and the subject that perceives it operate together. If one were to disappear, then the whole world would cease to exist. All objects have universal forms and either space, time and causality or the relation of cause and effect as Kant has demonstrated, they may be discovered and known apart from the objects in which they appear, as an expression of reason or the principle of sufficient reason. But what if our whole life is but a dream, or how do we distinguish between dream and reality? Kant tried to answer this question by stating that the connection of ideas, according to the law of causality, constitute the difference between them. But the long life dream in distinction from our short dreams has always had complete connection, according to the principle of sufficient reason. We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little life is rounded with a sleep.
Life and dreams are leaves of the same book, the book we read through and the one whose leaves we turn idly to read a page here and there. Any system of philosophy that starts with the object has to deal with the whole world of perception, the most consistent form of these philosophies is simple materialism. It regards time and space and matter as existing absolutely. It ignores the relationship to the subject in whom these ideas exist, then it takes a law of causality as its guiding principle: causality exists by understanding alone. Materialism seeks the most simple states of matter and then tries to develop all other states from it. It ascends from mere mechanism and chemistry: the chemical properties and attractions of objects. It ascends to vegetable and animal life, to sensibility and thought. But, the thoughts and knowledge reached through materialism in a long, laborious process, assumed from its starting point that there was a subject or perceived matter: eyes that side, hands that felt it and understanding that knew it.
This system of philosophy which opposes this materialism is idealism, which instead starts with the subject and then tries to derive or reach the object from the subject, but it overlooked the fact that there can be no subject without an object, like materialism this idealism begins by assuming what it is supposed to prove later. The method of Schopenhauer’s system is different from both of these, for it starts from neither object nor subject, it starts from the idea. The idea is the first form of consciousness and its essential form is the antithesis or opposite of subject and object. For each one of us it is our own body that is the starting point in our perception of the world and we consider it like all other real object simply as an idea, the understanding which develops ideas could never come into being if there were no simple bodily sensations from which to start. If the thinker were no more than a pure knowing subject without a body like a winged cherub that is all spirit, he would not be able to know the nature of the world. He would be like a man going around a castle getting to its façade and trying in vain to enter it, all reality would be a riddle, but because the subject of knowledge is also an individual with a body and a bodily nature, the world becomes revealed, it is revealed in the will. Every true act of the will is a movement of the body for the action of the body is nothing but will expressed through an object. The body is the object, my body and my will are one. The double knowledge which each one has of his body out of idea and inner will becomes the key to the nature of the world. Phenomenal existence, the existence we perceive with our senses, is an idea and nothing more. Real existence or the thing in itself is will.
Will is a term that applies to both the highest and lowest in man’s nature, it is that which drives us to pursue the light of knowledge and it’s also that which in nature strives blindly and dumbly to survive. Both come under the common name of will, just as the first dim light of dawn in the rays of the full midday are both called sunlight. If we consider the impulse with which waters hurries to the ocean, or the way in which a magnet turns to the North Pole, or the eagerness with which electric poles seek to be united or the way a Crystal takes form, we can recognise our own nature, for the same will describes the inner nature of everything that is in the world. The world as will is one, it knows nothing of the multiplicity of things in the outer world: the world of perception, the world of time and space. Notions like more or less, don’t exist to it, it knows nothing of quantities or qualities. For this reason, it cannot be said that there is a small part of the will in a stone or a large part of the will in a man. Relations like this between part and whole belong to the idea of space which does not apply to the will. In reality, the will is present in its entirety and undivided in every object of nature and in every living thing. Yet in terms of its objectification, that is, its external expression, it has different grades in inorganic matter, in vegetation, in animals and in man. The lowest of these appear in the most universal forces of nature, in the form of gravity, rigidity, elasticity, electricity and the like, which are in themselves manifestations of the will, just as much as human actions are. The higher grades are seen in man where the will takes the form of individuality and consciousness. It is here that the will shows its second side. For in the human brain lies the potential of comprehending the will, so that as it is kindled by a spark it brings the whole world as idea into existence. In this manner, knowledge proceeds from the will, knowledge that is either from the senses or is rational and is destined to serve the will in its aim of expressing itself. In all beasts and in most men, knowledge remains in subjugation to the will, yet in certain individual men, knowledge can free itself from this bondage so the subject of knowledge exists for itself as a pure mirror of the world. As a rule, knowledge remains subordinate to the will and grows on the will [so to speak] as a head on the body. In the case of the beast, the head is directed towards the Earth where the objects of its will are. But in the case of man, the head is elevated and set freely upon the body as in the Apollo Belvedere where the head of the guard stands so freely on his shoulders that it seems delivered of the body and no longer subject to it.
The transition from the individual’s knowledge of particular things to the knowledge of the idea takes place suddenly. It happens when the knowledge of the will changes someone into a pure will-less subject of knowledge, contemplating things as they are in themselves. If raised by the power of the mind, a man leaves the common way of looking at things behind and forgets both his individuality and his will, then he becomes a pure “without will” timeless and painless subject of knowledge – this appears in the genius. For when Genius appears in a man a far larger amount of the power of knowledge comes to him than is necessary for the service of his will. This extra knowledge is free and purified from will: a clear mirror of the inner nature of the world. All willing arises from want. The satisfaction of a desire ends it, but for one wish that is satisfied, there remain 10 which are denied. No attained object of desire can give lasting satisfaction, for it is likely alms thrown to a beggar that keep him alive today that misery may be prolonged tomorrow.
Attending to the demands of the will continually occupies and influences our consciousness. But when we are lifted out of the endless stream of willing, we can comprehend things free from their relation to our will without any personal interest or subjective opinions, and then the peace we have been seeking comes of our own accord. For we are, at least for the moment, set free from the miserable striving of the will – the wheel stands still. There is no more slavery to the will. It is the function of the fine arts to express this freedom from will or the different grades along the way. Matter as such cannot be an expression of the idea but when it is expressed through an art like architecture, its characteristics of gravity, cohesion and hardness, the universal qualities of stone appear as a direct but low grade of the objectified or expressed will. In the building nature reveals itself a conflict between the gravity of the building and the rigidity of the structure of the support, as in the simplest form of a column. The problem of architecture, apart from practical utility, is to make this conflict appear in a distinct way so that the building material instead of a mere heap of matter bound to the earth is raised above it, so that the roof example is realised only by the means of the columns or arches which support it. The pleasure that comes from looking at a beautiful building lies in the fact that the viewer is set free from the knowledge which serves the will and is raised to the kind of knowledge which comes from contemplation that has no will.
The highest grade of the expression of the will is found in anything that reflects human beauty in a way which reveals the idea of man. No object transports us so quickly into will-less contemplation as the most beautiful human form. We know human beauty when we see it, but true artists can express it so clearly that it surpasses even what we have seen. In the genius of a sculptor, we find a representation of what nature intended to express, so that if you were to present his statue to nature, he would say “This is what you wanted to say!”
Painting as an art has character as well as beauty and grace for its object, for it attempts to represent the will of the highest grade in the idea of humanity. This, however, can be an abstract form of the concept known as the picture attempt [as it does at times an allegorical painting] to represent something other than what is perceived. In poetry the relationship is reversed, for here what is given directly in words is the concept that leads readers away to the object of perception, this is done through metaphors, similes, parables, allegories and the like. The aim of all poetry is the representation of man. When it is a representation of the poet himself, we have the lyric. The lyric poet reveals himself in joy or more often grief as the subject of his own will, but along with this as the sight of nature impresses him, there is the awareness of himself as the subject of pure will-less knowing, and his joy now appears as a contrast to the stress of desire: desire imposed on him by his will. Epic poetry portrays man in a more historical context in connection with significant situations in human life. Drama in the form of tragedy is not only the best of poetic art, but the most significant in terms of this system of philosophy because it is the strife of the will represented at its highest grade of objectivity, it becomes visible in human suffering that is brought about by fate or error or wickedness, in which the will lives on while people fight against and destroy one another. The tragic effect in poetry may be produced by means of a character of extraordinary evil such as Iago in Othello or Creon in Antigone or by blind fate as in the Oedipus Rex of Sophocles or by circumstance and the situation in which the character finds himself such as Hamlet. In the tragic character we can observe how the noblest of men – after a long personal conflict and inward suffering – come at last to renounce the pleasures of life and the particular goals once so keenly fought for, instead the character joyfully surrenders to life itself. It is in this sense that Hamlet renounces life for himself but askes Horatio to remain a while and to – in this harsh world – draw his breath in pain to tell Hamlet’s story and clear his name.
Beginning with architecture in which gravity and rigidity reveal the lowest grade of the conflict of the will with itself and ending with tragedy where this conflict reaches its highest grade, we have considered the arts and how they represent the will and the idea, but music stands quite alone, cut off from all the other arts, since it’s not a mere copy of any idea of existence in the world. Music is as direct an expression of the whole will as the world itself is. Nature and music are two different expressions of the same thing, and so music speaks a universal language. In the deepest tones of harmony in the bass we recognise the lowest grades of the will, for bass is in harmony with the crudest matter on which all things rest and from which they originate. The higher complimental parts of music are parallel with animal life and in the melody of high voice singing we recognise the high grade of the will in the effort and intellectual life of man. The pleasure we received from beauty, the consolation we get from art and the enthusiasm of the artist, rest on the fact that whereas existence in the world is something sorrowful and terrible, the contemplation of the world as idea is both soothing and significant. But in the case of the artist, the contemplation of beauty doesn’t quiet the will and it doesn’t provide a pathway out of life as does the resignation of the saint. The deliverance from the will only occurs when – tired of the game – one renounces life and gets a grasp on what is real. When the will – this blind and incessant impulse of nature – becomes conscious in man, it is recognised as the will to live. Man may affirm or deny it. He affirms the will to live when – having seen it as that which has produced nature and his own life – he then adds his own desires to it. The denial of the will to live occurs when the awareness or consciousness of it means the end of desire. The phenomena of the world – that what we see and perceive – no longer motivates the will, for the comprehension of the world as idea has freed the will and allowed it to be silent. It the essential nature of the will: nowhere free and everywhere powerful – to strive endlessly towards satisfaction that it is incapable of getting. Just as in nature, gravitation is the ceaseless striving towards a mathematical centre and this striving will not stop even if the whole universe were rolled into a single ball. In the same way the solid will become a fluid, the fluid will become a gas, and the plant – restless and unsatisfied – will strive through ascending forms until it goes to seed where it finds a new starting point.
All nature is a struggle in which war is waged that is deadly to both sides. All striving is in vain, and yet it cannot be abandoned and all this is identical to what appears in us. In us, the blind striving of nature becomes the will to live, but it is self-conscious will: we are aware of it! The fate of this will is in keeping with its striving nature in the face of constant obstacles and hindrances, and anyone who will consider the character and destiny of the will to live, will be convinced that suffering is essential to all life.
From where then did Dante take the materials for his hell? From the world! And when it came to describing the delights of heaven he had an insurmountable task, for the world could offer him no proper material. The fatal assertion of the will to live has produced man’s body and the desire to preserve and perpetuate it. So the assertion of the will is really the assertion of the body. In such assertion, we find the source of all egoism and all wrongdoing, but such selfhood is really an illusion due to a false philosophy in which the individual imagines he lives to himself alone. He is really only a product of the one will to live. Just as a sailor sitting in a boat trusting to his frail barque in a stormy sea, so it is that in the world of sorrows man sits quietly, trusting to the principle of individualisation and separateness, in which he only knows things superficially or as they appear to him, but when he comes to understand that the one will to live exists in all men alike, he realises that the difference between those that inflict suffering and those that bare it is only a perceived difference that is not real.
In truth, the evil man is like a wild beast, who frenzied and excited, unintentionally buries its teeth in its own flesh, injuring itself as it tries to injure another. But no matter how veiled and evil man is by illusion, he still feels the sting of conscience, which creates a sense that the gulf which seems to separate him from others isn’t real. As all hatred and wickedness rely upon egoism and as egoism rest on the assertion of the will to live, so do all goodness and virtue spring from the denial of the will to live. The will turns around and no longer asserts itself but denies its own nature instead. Man then denies his own nature as expressed in his body and no longer desires sensual gratification under any condition. Voluntary and complete chastity is the first step in the denial of the will to live. But then the human race would die out, and with it the mind in which the world is reflected, and without a subject of knowledge, there would be no object, there would be no world. To those in whom the will to live has turned and denied itself, this world of ours with all its sun and milky ways is nothing [dead inside].
These are some of the ideas and the basic themes presented in Schopenhauer’s “The world as Will and Idea”, a very lengthy work that of course includes many other ideas and elaborations of the ones we have mentioned. But the essence of Schopenhauer’s philosophy can be found in a few basic point.
To begin with, he sees the will of man, and specifically the will to survive as the dominant force in the universe and slavery to this will is the root of all evil. Man and all other creatures are subservient to their will to live. In exercising his will, man inflicts all kinds of cruelties and evil. Schopenhauer first examined these cruelties in the world of nature, spending a lot of time on the way in which animals of one species prey on those of another. Then he moved onto man and says, “the chief source of the most serious evils which afflict man is man himself”. Whoever keeps this last fact clearly in view sees the world as a hell which surpasses that of Dante, through the fact that one man must be the devil of another. Schopenhauer uses war and various other cruelties such as industrial exploitation, bravery and social abuses to back up his claim. Schopenhauer had no sympathy for the revolution of his time because he felt the state was justified, exactly because of the cruelty of man. It existed to make the world a little more bearable than it would otherwise be. He did not consider the state government divine, but he considered it necessary [a view he may have been willing to revise had he been alive in 2018 with democracy falling apart and not being properly applied, leading to evil, unethical, unscrupulous and unskilled street politicians getting into positions above their understanding].
Schopenhauer believed we can do something to alleviate suffering but it is pointless to think that we can change the fundamental character of the world or of human life. If war was abolished for instance and if all of men’s material needs were met, they would eventually still resort to conflict – “it is their nature”. He is quick to condemn the optimism or idealism of other philosophers who disregard the dark side of human existence, or who try to justify it as rational. To Schopenhauer these dark aspects of life were not secondary feature, they were the most significant aspects of human life in history. On this basis, he created his theory of The Blind and Striving Impulse, he called the Will. Then, he looked around and found support for his theory in the inorganic, organic and human phenomena of life.
Unquestionably, Schopenhauer held a one-sided vision of the world, but because of its one-sidedness and exaggeration it served as a counterbalance to philosophers like Hegel who focused attention on the glorious triumph of reason throughout history and he tended to dismiss evil and suffering with elaborate, evasive, phrasing. Schopenhauer did offer 2 ways of escape from the slavery to the will. One was the path of contemplation, which is the way of art and the other was the path of asceticism, of renouncing the world in one’s personal desires or will. He did believe that the human mind could develop beyond what was required just to satisfy his physical and material needs, it could develop a surplus of energy over and above what was needed to fulfil its biological function. When that happened, man can use the extra energy to escape the life of desire and striving, of assertion of the ego, of conflict, none of which brings him satisfaction anyway. In transcending the Will through art [expressing it with insight], Schopenhauer was very specific about which art forms served what purpose, and in defining which were superior to others. Not surprisingly, the supreme poetic art is tragedy, for tragedy reveals the real character of human life expressed in dramatic form or as he said the unspeakable pain: the wail of humanity, the triumph of evil, the mocking mastery of chance and the irretrievable fall of the just and innocent. But art and contemplation, besides reflecting on the evil of life, can also open a door that becomes perhaps the only hopeful point in Schopenhauer’s entire book. This door is opened when man can see through the veil of Maya [illusion]. Maya, being the Hindu concept for the illusionary nature of the world and life. It is Maya [illusion] that causes to see separateness and division where there is none, but Schopenhauer also believed that man had the intellectual capacity to develop gradually a site that penetrated Maya, and raised some questions that made even a glimmer of hope seem a little bright. What is the purpose of achieving such virtue? What happens afterward?
To start with, the man who denies the Will treats the world as nothing, for the world is just the appearance of the will, which he denied. So it is true that when the will denies itself, our world with all its sun and Milky ways is nothing as Schopenhauer said, then what happens at death? Schopenhauer is convinced of the finality of death. “Before us”, he says “there is indeed only nothingness”. Death or the withdrawal from the world means the extinction of consciousness, In life, he reduces existence to thin thread, and at death, it is finally destroyed. The man who denies his will to live reaches the final goal, which is to not live. Schopenhauer does leave one last hope beyond the grim disappearance of consciousness and of the world, admitting that it is possible that ultimate reality, which he called the thing in itself may possess attributes that we do not know about and that we cannot know. This reality would not be a state of knowledge since there would not be a subject and an object [that phenomenal and illusionary relationship that is required for knowledge], but it might resemble some experience that cannot be communicated and to which mystics refer to, but only in obscure vague ways. So, in the end like all great philosophers must, Arthur Schopenhauer admitted that he did not have all the answers but he thought he had some, and ultimately it is the questions his answers posed to others that became his most significant contribution, for the role of the philosopher and of philosophy itself is not only to solve our problems, but also to express points of views that stimulate us to further thought and consideration on human nature and the meaning of life, in that, he was incredibly successful.
Mis à jour le Mercredi, 4 Décembre 2019 | Danny J. D’Purb | DPURB.com
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