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Philosopher of the Month: Arthur Schopenhauer [slideshow]

This September, OUP Philosophy honors Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) as the Philosopher of the Month. Schopenhauer was largely ignored by the academic philosophical community during his lifetime, but gained recognition and fame posthumously. He arrived at his philosophical position very early on and his philosophy can be seen as a synthesis of Plato and Kant, whom he greatly admired, along with the Upanishads and Buddhist literatures.

Schopenhauer only wrote one seminal work of philosophy, The World as Will and Representation, which he published in 1818. The work was intended as a continuation of Kant’s ‘transcendental idealism’: ‘My philosophy is founded on that of Kant, and therefore presupposes a thorough knowledge of it.’ Kant argued that the world is not the ‘thing-in-itself’, but rather a complex of mere appearances. Schopenhauer, however, tells us that the world must be viewed at a deeper level, as will. What determines and governs our actions is will –  a range of emotions and desires which result in actions. The world as Will in reality, according to Schopenhauer, is pure willing or a blind force/craving in the sense that it is undirected, futile, illogical and unmotivated. For this reason, Schopenhauer was known for being the philosopher of pessimism.  The world as Will is thus objectified as driven by the desire to survive at the expense of others. The human condition is characterized by universal conflict, envy, competition, opposition and above all suffering.

Schopenhauer did, however, offer ways to escape this suffering; one temporary and the other permanent. A temporary solution is through aesthetic contemplation, whereby our faculty of knowledge stops oneself from perceiving the world as just representation and allows one to be fully immersed in the beauty and sublime nature of art.

The permanent solution comes when we become so aware of our sufferings as a result of ‘will’ or ‘blind urging with no directed object’ that we relinquish our desires for satisfaction, pleasure and gratifications, and eventually our craving for life. Like an ascetic, one who gains this intuitive knowledge is no longer concerned with worldly matters or materials. Schopenhauer also advocates compassion for the suffering of others as an important driving force in altruistic behaviour.

Schopenhauer exerted a considerable influence on late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century writers, artists, and thinkers, such as Tolstoy, Turgenev, Maupassant, Wagner, Nietzsche, Proust, Hardy, Conrad, Mann, Joyce, and Beckett.

For more on Schopenhauer’s life and work, browse our interactive slideshow below:

Featured image credit: Frankfurt on the Main: Saalhof as seen from the Eiserner Steg (Iron Bridge), in the background the spire of Frankfurt Cathedral. CC-BY-SA-3.0 via Wikimedia.

Recent Comments

  1. Pieter van Megchelen

    Please check the Schopenhauer slide show. The pictures and the texts don’t match. Adam Smith is not Goethe for example. So either something is wrong with my browser, or your slide show has gone awry.

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