Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Becoming a Writer: Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer and his World as Will and ...Image by Christiaan Tonnis via Flickr

German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) was born to a wealthy family. Unfit for the business world, he committed himself to philosophical studies. His doctoral thesis was his book Uber die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde (On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason).

In 1818 he finished his major work, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation), which did not receive much notice. After 1820 he was Prioatdozens (private tutor) in Berlin, but he had scarcely any students in his classes, the reasons being his hours were at the same time as Hegel's. When the cholera epidemic struck Berlin in 183 I, Schopenhauer fled the city and settled for good in Frankfurt. Hegel stayed and the cholera killed him.

Schopenhauer's later books were more suc­cessful: Uber den Willen in der Natur (On Will in Nature), Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik (The Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics) , Aphorismen zur Lebensweisheit (Aphorisms on the Wisdom of Life), and Parerga und Paralipomena.

Throughout his life, Schopenhauer bitterly opposed the post ­Kantian idealist philosophers, especially Hegel. Since he considered Hegel a second rate philosopher yet famous, coupled with his own failure to become famous, tinted his philosophical thoughts with somber, pessimistic thoughts. Yet what saved him from total despair were his love art, music, and literary studies.

Unsatisfied with his mastering of Plato and Kant, he turned to Indian thought and Buddhism.
Toward the end of his life he started to get famous, and according to Bertrand Russell, he collected all sorts of newspapers clippings of articles written about him.  The title of Schopen­hauer's masterwork — The world as Will and Representation — contains the central thesis of his philosophy. The physical world is a "phenomenon," a representation or idea; Going beyond Kant, he held that the world as we know it is an appear­ance or deception. Space, time and causality (Kantian forms) are the forms which change this world into a world of objects; they order and arrange human sensations.

What unifies phenomena and humans is the transcendental ego; transcendental because it lies outside time and space. It is the ego that gives humans the will to live. Hence the name for his magnum opus The world as Will and Representation. Reality for Schopenhauer is the will.

Believing that human desire is limitless, it negates the positive aspect of the will, channeling it to evil. Herein rests the root of his pessimism.

Although knowledge and art in general have redeeming qualities, they are in the end but palliatives. The only redemption comes through the con­quering the will to live. When this will is mastered, one enters nirvana —a state of ecstatic nothingness— which is the greatest good, the true redemption, the only thing which can end the pain and unhappiness of the never-satisfied desire to live.

Schopenhauer opposes Socrates' doctrine and believes that virtue cannot be taught; rather, a person is good or bad according to his will. What makes Schopenhauer’s philosophy appealing, is his writing skills. But many scholars disregard his flights into esoteric realms as valueless for the study of serious philosophy.
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