0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Выберите необходимое действие:
Скачать книгу Schopenhauer: Philosophy in an Hour

Schopenhauer: Philosophy in an Hour

Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год

Читать онлайн «Schopenhauer: Philosophy in an Hour»

      Schopenhauer: Philosophy in an Hour
Paul Strathern

Philosophy for busy people. Read a succinct account of the philosophy of Schopenhauer in just one hour.Arthur Schopenhauer, the ‘philosopher of pessimism,’ makes it clear that he regards the world and our life in it as a bad joke. However, if the world is indifferent to our fate it doesn’t thwart us deliberately – its façade is supported by what Schopenhauer calls the universal Will. He saw this as a force that is blind and without purpose, bringing on all our misery and suffering. Schopenhauer taught that our only hope is to liberate ourselves from the terrible power of the Will and from the trappings of individualism and egoism that are at its mercy.Here is a concise, expert account of Schopenhauer’s life and philosophical ideas – entertainingly written and easy to understand. Also included are selections from Schopenhauer’s work, suggested further reading, and chronologies that place Schopenhauer in the context of the broader scheme of philosophy.



Paul Strathern


Cover (#u8219f0c9-7f47-5dd8-8636-e4b01b1c6a58)

Title Page (#uec05d672-91a8-5ec5-ba0d-71b921a69f5e)


Schopenhauer’s Life and Works


Further Information (#litres_trial_promo)

From Schopenhauer’s Writings

Chronology of Significant Philosophical Dates

Chronology of Schopenhauer’s Life

Recommended Reading

About the Author (#litres_trial_promo)


About the Publisher

Introduction (#u446c0858-7cae-55a4-8ea1-37fc97a03a49)

The modern age of philosophy began with Descartes, who doubted everything and reduced our knowledge to one central certainty: ‘Cogito ergo sum’ (I think, therefore I am). Unfortunately he then proceeded to rebuild our knowledge, much as if nothing had happened. After this, the British empiricists Locke, Berkeley, and Hume embarked upon a similarly rigorous destructive process, claiming that our knowledge can only be based on experience. By the time Hume completed this process, human knowledge had been reduced to ruins. According to him, all we in fact experienced was a gibberish of sensations: our conclusions from these had no philosophical validity whatsoever.

This was the absurdity that famously awoke Kant from his ‘dogmatic slumbers’. Taking account of empiricism but refusing to be cowed by it, Kant constructed the greatest of all philosophical systems.

Passing from the sublime to the ridiculous, Hegel then produced his own gross system. His contemporary, Schopenhauer, was to treat this monstrosity with the contempt it deserved. Schopenhauer was to maintain a recognisably Kantian point of view with regard to epistemology (how we know the world). Kant, however, also created a moral system of surpassing beauty and elevation. For Kant, the world had a moral foundation. ‘Es ist gut’ (It is good) were said to be his last words. And in his last great work, which dealt with the purpose of the world, he concluded: ‘Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.’ As we shall see, Schopenhauer saw it all very differently.

Schopenhauer’s Life and Works (#u446c0858-7cae-55a4-8ea1-37fc97a03a49)

With Schopenhauer we return to planet earth – with a vengeance. As a man, Schopenhauer was a nasty piece of work, but his writings are immensely endearing. Of the great philosophers he was the finest stylist since Plato. His philosophy too is very appealing. It is the first since Socrates to be imbued with the entire personality of the man who propounds it. From Schopenhauer’s writings you gain a very clear picture of what he was like as a person – with one proviso that is worth remembering at all times when reading him: what appears as witty, insightful, and destructive of humbug on the page may often be sarcastic, egotistical, and aggressive when encountered in real life. Offstage, comedians are seldom renowned for their human qualities – and just because witty philosophers are so rare doesn’t make them an exception to this rule. (Socrates is extremely fortunate that we have no testimony from his wife, Xanthippe.)

But Schopenhauer was original in another, more fundamental way. Not for nothing is he known as the ‘philosopher of pessimism’. With most other major philosophers you can’t escape feeling that the writer is on his best behaviour, and you’re expected to be so too. Everything is all very serious and moral. (Even Hume takes philosophy seriously while doing his demolition job.) Schopenhauer, on the other hand, makes it very plain that he regards the world and our life in it as a bad joke. In this he is undeniably closer to describing the actual state of affairs than those who view the world from an optimistic or purposive standpoint. This pessimism was immensely refreshing in its day, after centuries of Christianity and latter-day rationalism. But Schopenhauer was a pessimist only in so far as he claimed that the world is indifferent to our fate – it doesn’t thwart us on purpose.

This was an attitude that had not received full expression since the Stoics, who advocated a mealymouthed withdrawal from the evils of the horrible world. Schopenhauer advocated the same, but he did so in a distinctly combative and worldly manner. And he was far too egotistical to achieve such self-denial in his own life (though in his view he endured an existence of exemplary asceticism). These paradoxes account for much of Schopenhauer’s popularity. They stem from a contradiction that lay deep in his character and remained unresolved throughout his life.

Arthur Schopenhauer was born on February 22, 1788, in the Baltic city of Danzig (now the Polish city of Gdansk), just across the gulf from where his lifelong hero Immanuel Kant was living in Königsberg. Schopenhauer’s father was a merchant from a patrician family, and his mother was a lively woman with an unfulfilled artistic nature. The family was cosmopolitan in outlook – Arthur was given his name because it was also the same in French and English. When the Prussians, who did not share this zenophile outlook, marched into Danzig in 1793, Schopenhauer’s father immediately removed his home and business to the free port of Hamburg. Here the Schopenhauers eventually took up residence in a fine old house in the Altstadt (Old City).

The Schopenhauers’ new home was sufficiently grand to contain a panelled ballroom with a stuccoed ceiling, and in the customary manner it backed onto the large warehouses containing the family business which overlooked the Fleet (canal) for unloading barges. The house was one of many where the wealthy merchants of the city lived and entertained each other in stolid bourgeois fashion. It was not homely in any way, and young Arthur grew up a sophisticated little prig receiving (and eventually requiring) little love.

At the age of ten he was sent away for two years to France to learn French, staying with the family of a business friend of his father’s in Le Havre. Here he became like a brother to the son of the house, Anthime. When he was fifteen Arthur’s parents took him on a two-year grand tour of Europe. In London he was dazzled by Piccadilly and the theatres, but he was then forced to spend several months in ‘Egyptian darkness’ learning English at a school in Wimbledon while his parents toured Scotland. This English private-school education helped make up for all he had missed by not going to a Prussian school – being chased into the pool before breakfast, regular floggings from the masters, English ‘cuisine’, and endless church services. It also helped prepare him for the tourist sights to follow. These included a two-month stay in Bordeaux, in the very house that Hölderlin had fled in a fit of insanity two years earlier, and a visit to Toulon, where six thousand galley slaves were chained up in ‘the dirtiest, most revolting sojourn imaginable’. (Years later Schopenhauer was to draw on this horrific image to describe the misery of humanity fettered to the evil of the will to live.) In Bohemia Schopenhauer climbed Mount Schneekoppe, where his reaction has since been found in the chalet visitors’ book:

‘Who can climb

And remain silent?

Arthur Schopenhauer from Hamburg.’

But on the whole this was an immensely depressing time for young Arthur. Wherever the family travelled in Europe, evidence of the misery caused by the recent Napoleonic Wars was all too plain to see. Maimed beggars lined the streets of the cities, many villages were semiderelict, and still Napoleon’s megalomania remained unsatisfied. The age that had begun with such hopes at the French Revolution had degenerated into a despair felt all over Europe. This was the period that produced the sophisticated insouciance of Byron, the melancholy lyrics of the great Italian poet Leopardi, ‘a thoroughly finished world’ in the words of Goethe, where Beethoven tore the dedication to Napoleon from his Eroica (Heroic) Symphony.

Schopenhauer was deeply aware of such things and wished to play his own part in the world of culture. But this was not to be. His father browbeat him into becoming a businessman. At the end of his grand tour of Europe, Schopenhauer was forced to abandon his education and become apprenticed to a local business in Hamburg. This was a time of deep – and deeply repressed – personal distress for Schopenhauer. (At the same age, a very similar conflict caused the equally tough-minded Hume to suffer a nervous breakdown.)

Then suddenly Schopenhauer’s entire situation changed. In the early hours of April 20, 1805, Schopenhauer’s father climbed to the top of the warehouse at the back of the family mansion and flung himself into the Fleet. The precise nexus of reasons for his suicide remains uncertain. His marriage had become something of a painful charade; the European scene was immensely depressing; and business prospects didn’t look good. Yet perhaps more pertinent was his deep streak of melancholy (which his son was to inherit) and a family history of mental instability (Arthur’s paternal grandmother went insane). But Schopenhauer’s mind does not appear to have been affected by madness – there was to be no saner philosopher than Schopenhauer.

The suicide was hushed up, as such unusually profound decisions in high society often are (presumably in case they prove inspirational). The Schopenhauer business was wound up, leaving the family with a comfortable private income for life; and Arthur’s mother and his younger sister left Hamburg to live a new artistic existence in cultural Weimar. Meanwhile the eighteen-year-old Schopenhauer was left alone in the city, working at a job he didn’t like but felt obliged to continue with. Shortly before his death, Schopenhauer’s father had given him an essay by the poet Matthias Claudius called To My Son. This preached a stoic, alienated inwardness which was in deep accord with Schopenhauer’s feelings. But he didn’t spend his whole time in introspection. As was the case in his later years, Schopenhauer’s worldly sophistication allowed him to live a life apparently at deep variance with his innermost feelings. It was during this period that Schopenhauer’s friend Anthime, from Le Havre, arrived to study business in Hamburg. They both had money, and on the weekends the two of them went around the stage doors picking up actresses and chorus girls. If they didn’t score with them, they would make up for it with ‘the embraces of an industrious whore’.

In 1807 Schopenhauer finally summoned up the nerve to disobey his father’s wishes. He left Hamburg and went to school in Gotha in order to gain sufficient qualifications to enter university. But by now Schopenhauer was far too mature for school, and he was soon expelled (for writing a not particularly funny or even scurrilous poem about a wet schoolmaster). He then went to live with his mother at Weimar.

Mom had blossomed into a star of the literary salons. She’d started writing and had become friends with the unconventional Grand Old Man of German Literature, Goethe, and the witty Christoph Wieland (the German Voltaire). Madame Schopenhauer was much in demand but had the social daring to scorn proposals of marriage, preferring her independence. Schopenhauer was appalled at the sight of his mother enjoying herself in such a fashion; and she herself didn’t fancy having a disapproving son living under the same roof to cramp her style. Both were strong-willed and volatile, and soon fell out. There were several scenes, and much slamming of doors. No doubt Schopenhauer was genuinely shocked by his mother’s behaviour. (The concept of chauvinist hypocrisy, like Antarctica, had yet to be discovered, though some intrepid explorers of the oceanic emptiness of social life were becoming convinced that it existed.) No doubt Schopenhauer was also jealous of his mother’s success in such exalted literary company. He despised his mother’s aspirations to ‘genius’ (while harbouring similar aspirations himself), and his mother’s transformation almost certainly brought to the surface a latent oedipal frisson between them.

Everyone heaved a sigh of relief when young Arthur left in 1809 to study at the University of Göttingen. He enrolled as a medical student but soon began attending lectures in philosophy. It was here that Schopenhauer discovered Plato and then began reading Kant, who was to have such an overwhelming influence on his philosophy. Schopenhauer recognised the superlative skill of Kant’s philosophy and found himself bitterly disappointed when he tried studying the more modern work of Hegel. He soon began spreading his intellectual wings in his private notebooks, which reveal his remarkable philosophic acumen rapidly increasing in inverse proportion to his modesty. Schopenhauer came to the opinion that he was a giant among midgets on the philosophical scene in Göttingen; in 1811 he switched to Berlin to study under Fichte, the leading German philosopher of the period. (Hegel had published The Phenomenology of Mind four years earlier, but no one had yet pretended that they understood it.) But Schopenhauer quickly became disillusioned with Fichte’s obscurantism. What Schopenhauer was looking for was something as clear as science, and equally as convincing.

Despite all this, Schopenhauer was almost persuaded by Fichte’s enthusiasm for the War of Liberation to join the German fight against Napoleon. But in the end he thought better of it, and in 1812 he went off to write his doctoral dissertation. This was entitled On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason and is as interesting as it sounds, being largely a Kantian exploration of the four types of cause and effect (logical, physical, mathematical, and moral).

Schopenhauer now returned to Weimar, where Johanna Schopenhauer had taken up with a court official named Müller (who preferred to be known by the more aristocratic name of von Gerstenbergk). This unfortunate bergk was twelve years Johanna’s junior and liked to write poetry. Schopenhauer arrived on the scene and played his Hamlet role to the full. Müller wasn’t quite up to playing Claudius and would rise from the dinner table in a fit of pique at Arthur’s oblique cutting remarks – leaving the tyro Hamlet to have it out with Gertrude-Johanna. One of Johanna’s letters to her son catches the tone. ‘Not Müller, but you yourself have torn yourself away from me; your mistrust, your criticism of my life, of my choice of friends, your desultory behaviour towards me, your contempt for my sex, your greed, your moods ….’ Johanna was already becoming the figure who would produce the popular romantic novels that made her famous, and her son couldn’t bear it. He knew that he had an intellect far superior to hers (which wasn’t quite as negligible as many commentators would have us believe). Yet he was not capable of simply dismissing her literary pretensions from his mind as beneath his consideration. This conflict evidently had to run its course in order for unfinished psychological business to be played out.

But Weimar was more than just a soap opera of endless domestic tantrums for Schopenhauer. He also came to know Goethe. The budding philosopher and the mature genius would talk for hours. Schopenhauer later claimed that he ‘profited immensely’ from these conversations, and also that he helped Goethe with his ‘Theory of Colours’. This comes as a surprise, for Schopenhauer had studied medicine and possessed a good scientific brain. Goethe’s theory of colours was little more than a hobby of genius – the foible of an amateur scientist, with which he would pester his admiring visitors. A century before, Newton had already explained how white light is composed of all the colours of the spectrum. Goethe obstinately refused to believe what was obvious to anyone who had seen white light pass through a prism, whose refractive power broke it down into the colours of the rainbow. In Goethe’s view, white light was a colour in its own right. His theory claimed that all colours were in fact a mixture of light and darkness, permeated by a cloudy element that gave the ensuing grey dusk its coloured radiance.

This nonsense was taken seriously only because of Goethe’s genius in other fields, and then only by the literati and other scientific numskulls. Schopenhauer had considerable literary skill but certainly didn’t fall into the latter category. One wonders why he was taken in. For once his arrogance seems to have failed him. This was perhaps the last time Schopenhauer allowed his ideas to be influenced by a living being whose genius he was willing to recognise. From now on he would have sufficient self-certainty to follow his own intuition at all times – often in the teeth of prevailing contemporary opinion. Fortunately Schopenhauer had an exceptional intellectual instinct, which enabled him to produce a philosophy that was not only original but also uncannily prescient of intellectual developments to come – rather than the philosophical equivalent of Goethe’s theory of colours, which is the usual product of a thinker who dismisses the ideas of his contemporaries with the derision he feels they deserve.

The young Schopenhauer’s admiration for the aging Goethe was deep and heartfelt. And though their friendship was brief, it was the only such warm relationship he was to have in his life. It is no accident that Goethe was almost exactly the same age as Schopenhauer’s father would have been had he not committed suicide. Goethe’s benevolent brilliance was perhaps the only foil for the austere, powerful shadow of Schopenhauer’s dead father. But all this did little to improve things with mother. Goethe hardly helped matters at home when he informed Johanna Schopenhauer that her son would one day be recognised as a genius. In her view there was room for only one of this species on the family perch, and that place was already occupied.
Конец ознакомительного фрагмента
Купить и скачать всю книгу