Arthur Schopenhauer; 22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was a German philosopher. He is best known for his 1818 work The World as Will and Representation (expanded in 1844), which characterizes the phenomenal world as the product of a blind noumenal will. Building on the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), Schopenhauer developed an atheistic metaphysical and ethical system that rejected the contemporaneous ideas of German idealism. He was among the first thinkers in Western philosophy to share and affirm significant tenets of Indian philosophy, such as asceticism, denial of the self, and the notion of the world-as-appearance. His work has been described as an exemplary manifestation of philosophical pessimism. Though his work failed to garner substantial attention during his lifetime, Schopenhauer had a posthumous impact across various disciplines, including philosophy, literature, and science. His writing on aesthetics, morality, and psychology have influenced many thinkers and artists. Those who have cited his influence include philosophers Emil Cioran, Friedrich Nietzsche and Ludwig Wittgenstein; scientists Erwin Schrödinger and Albert Einstein; psychoanalysts Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung; writers Leo Tolstoy, Herman Melville, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Machado de Assis, Jorge Luis Borges, Marcel Proust and Samuel Beckett; and composers Richard Wagner, Johannes Brahms, Arnold Schoenberg and Gustav Mahler.
Arthur Schopenhauer was born on 22 February 1788, in Danzig (then part of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth; present-day Gdańsk, Poland) on Heiligegeistgasse (present day Św. Ducha 47), the son of Johanna Schopenhauer (née Trosiener; 1766–1838) and Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer (1747–1805), both descendants of wealthy German patrician families. While they came from a Protestant background, neither of them were very religious; both supported the French Revolution, were republicans, cosmopolitans and Anglophiles. When Danzig became part of Prussia in 1793, Heinrich moved to Hamburg—a free city with a republican constitution. His firm continued trading in Danzig where most of their extended families remained. Adele, Arthur’s only sibling, was born on 12 July 1797. In 1797, Arthur was sent to Le Havre to live with the family of his father’s business associate, Grégoire de Blésimaire. He seemed to enjoy his two-year stay there, learning to speak French and fostering a life-long friendship with Jean Anthime Grégoire de Blésimaire. As early as 1799, Arthur started playing the flute. In 1803, he accompanied his parents on a European tour of Holland, Britain, France, Switzerland, Austria and Prussia. Viewed as primarily a pleasure tour, Heinrich used the opportunity to visit some of his business associates abroad. Heinrich offered Arthur a choice: he could stay at home and start preparations for university, or he could travel with them and continue his merchant education. Arthur chose to travel with them. He deeply regretted his choice later because the merchant training was very tedious. He spent twelve weeks of the tour attending school in Wimbledon, where he was disillusioned by strict and intellectually shallow Anglican religiosity. He continued to sharply criticize Anglican religiosity later in life despite his general Anglophilia. He was also under pressure from his father, who became very critical of his educational results. In 1805, Heinrich drowned in a canal near their home in Hamburg. Although it was possible that his death was accidental, his wife and son believed that it was suicide. He was prone to anxiety and depression; each becoming more pronounced later in his life. Heinrich had become so fussy, even his wife started to doubt his mental health. “There was, in the father’s life, some dark and vague source of fear which later made him hurl himself to his death from the attic of his house in Hamburg”.
Arthur showed similar moodiness during his youth and often acknowledged that he inherited it from his father. There were other instances of serious mental health history on his father’s side of the family. Despite his hardship, Schopenhauer liked his father and later referred to him in a positive light. Heinrich Schopenhauer left the family with a significant inheritance that was split in three among Johanna and the children. Arthur Schopenhauer was entitled to control of his part when he reached the age of majority. He invested it conservatively in government bonds and earned annual interest that was more than double the salary of a university professor. After quitting his merchant apprenticeship, with some encouragement from his mother, he dedicated himself to studies at the Ernestine Gymnasium, Gotha, in Saxe-Gotha-Altenburg. While there, he also enjoyed social life among the local nobility, spending large amounts of money, which deeply concerned his frugal mother. He left the Gymnasium after writing a satirical poem about one of the schoolmasters. Although Arthur claimed that he left voluntarily, his mother’s letter indicates that he may have been expelled.
Arthur spent two years as a merchant in honor of his dead father. During this time, he had doubts about being able to start a new life as a scholar. Most of his prior education was as a practical merchant and he had trouble learning Latin; a prerequisite for an academic career. His mother moved away, with her daughter Adele, to Weimar—then the centre of German literature—to enjoy social life among writers and artists. Arthur and his mother did not part on good terms. In one letter, she wrote: “You are unbearable and burdensome, and very hard to live with; all your good qualities are overshadowed by your conceit, and made useless to the world simply because you cannot restrain your propensity to pick holes in other people.” His mother, Johanna, was generally described as vivacious and sociable. She died 24 years later. Some of Arthur’s negative opinions about women may be rooted in his troubled relationship with his mother. Arthur moved to Hamburg to live with his friend Jean Anthime, who was also studying to become a merchant. He moved to Weimar but did not live with his mother, who even tried to discourage him from coming by explaining that they would not get along very well. Their relationship deteriorated even further due to their temperamental differences. He accused his mother of being financially irresponsible, flirtatious and seeking to remarry, which he considered an insult to his father’s memory. His mother, while professing her love to him, criticized him sharply for being moody, tactless, and argumentative, and urged him to improve his behavior so that he would not alienate people. Arthur concentrated on his studies, which were now going very well, and he also enjoyed the usual social life such as balls, parties and theater. By that time Johanna’s famous salon was well established among local intellectuals and dignitaries, the most celebrated of them being Goethe. Arthur attended her parties, usually when he knew that Goethe would be there—although the famous writer and statesman seemed not even to notice the young and unknown student. It is possible that Goethe kept a distance because Johanna warned him about her son’s depressive and combative nature, or because Goethe was then on bad terms with Arthur’s language instructor and roommate, Franz Passow. Schopenhauer was also captivated by the beautiful Karoline Jagemann, mistress of Karl August, Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, and he wrote to her his only known love poem. Despite his later celebration of asceticism and negative views of sexuality, Schopenhauer occasionally had sexual affairs—usually with women of lower social status, such as servants, actresses, and sometimes even paid prostitutes. In a letter to his friend Anthime he claims that such affairs continued even in his mature age and admits that he had two out-of-wedlock daughters (born in 1819 and 1836), both of whom died in infancy. In their youthful correspondence Arthur and Anthime were somewhat boastful and competitive about their sexual exploits—but Schopenhauer seemed aware that women usually did not find him very charming or physically attractive, and his desires often remained unfulfilled.
He left Weimar to become a student at the University of Göttingen in 1809. There are no written reasons about why Schopenhauer chose that university instead of the then more famous University of Jena, but Göttingen was known as more modern and scientifically oriented, with less attention given to theology. Law or medicine were usual choices for young men of Schopenhauer’s status who also needed career and income; he chose medicine due to his scientific interests. Among his notable professors were Bernhard Friedrich Thibaut, Arnold Hermann Ludwig Heeren, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, Friedrich Stromeyer, Heinrich Adolf Schrader, Johann Tobias Mayer and Konrad Johann Martin Langenbeck. He studied metaphysics, psychology and logic under Gottlob Ernst Schulze, the author of Aenesidemus, who made a strong impression and advised him to concentrate on Plato and Immanuel Kant. He decided to switch from medicine to philosophy around 1810–11 and he left Göttingen, which did not have a strong philosophy program: besides Schulze, the only other philosophy professor was Friedrich Bouterwek, whom Schopenhauer disliked. He did not regret his medicinal and scientific studies; he claimed that they were necessary for a philosopher, and even in Berlin he attended more lectures in sciences than in philosophy. During his days at Göttingen, he spent considerable time studying, but also continued his flute playing and social life. His friends included Friedrich Gotthilf Osann, Karl Witte, Christian Charles Josias von Bunsen, and William Backhouse Astor Sr. He arrived at the newly founded University of Berlin for the winter semester of 1811–12. At the same time, his mother had just begun her literary career; she published her first book in 1810, a biography of her friend Karl Ludwig Fernow, which was a critical success. Arthur attended lectures by the prominent post-Kantian philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte, but quickly found many points of disagreement with his Wissenschaftslehre; he also found Fichte’s lectures tedious and hard to understand. He later mentioned Fichte only in critical, negative terms —seeing his philosophy as a lower-quality version of Kant’s and considering it useful only because Fichte’s poor arguments unintentionally highlighted some failings of Kantianism. He also attended the lectures of the famous Protestant theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, whom he also quickly came to dislike. His notes and comments on Schleiermacher’s lectures show that Schopenhauer was becoming very critical of religion and moving towards atheism. He learned by self-directed reading; besides Plato, Kant and Fichte he also read the works of Schelling, Fries, Jacobi, Bacon, Locke, and much current scientific literature. He attended philological courses by August Böckh and Friedrich August Wolf and continued his naturalistic interests with courses by Martin Heinrich Klaproth, Paul Erman, Johann Elert Bode, Ernst Gottfried Fischer, Johann Horkel, Friedrich Christian Rosenthal and Hinrich Lichtenstein (Lichtenstein was also a friend whom he met at one of his mother’s parties in Weimar).
Schopenhauer left Berlin in a rush in 1813, fearing that the city could be attacked and that he could be pressed into military service as Prussia had just joined the war against France. He returned to Weimar but left after less than a month, disgusted by the fact that his mother was now living with her supposed lover, Georg Friedrich Konrad Ludwig Müller von Gerstenbergk (1778–1838), a civil servant twelve years younger than her; he considered the relationship an act of infidelity to his father’s memory. He settled for a while in Rudolstadt, hoping that no army would pass through the small town. He spent his time in solitude, hiking in the mountains and the Thuringian forest and writing his dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. He completed his dissertation at about the same time as the French army was defeated at the Battle of Leipzig. He became irritated by the arrival of soldiers in the town and accepted his mother’s invitation to visit her in Weimar. She tried to convince him that her relationship with Gerstenbergk was platonic and that she had no intention of remarrying. But Schopenhauer remained suspicious and often came in conflict with Gerstenbergk because he considered him untalented, pretentious, and nationalistic. His mother had just published her second book, Reminiscences of a Journey in the Years 1803, 1804, and 1805, a description of their family tour of Europe, which quickly became a hit. She found his dissertation incomprehensible and said it was unlikely that anyone would ever buy a copy. In a fit of temper Arthur told her that people would read his work long after the “rubbish” she wrote was totally forgotten. In fact, although they considered her novels of dubious quality, the Brockhaus publishing firm held her in high esteem because they consistently sold well. Hans Brockhaus (1888–1965) later claimed that his predecessors “saw nothing in this manuscript, but wanted to please one of our best-selling authors by publishing her son’s work. We published more and more of her son Arthur’s work and today nobody remembers Johanna, but her son’s works are in steady demand and contribute to Brockhaus’ reputation.” He kept large portraits of the pair in his office in Leipzig for the edification of his new editors.
Also contrary to his mother’s prediction, Schopenhauer’s dissertation made an impression on Goethe, to whom he sent it as a gift. Although it is doubtful that Goethe agreed with Schopenhauer’s philosophical positions, he was impressed by his intellect and extensive scientific education. Their subsequent meetings and correspondence were a great honor to a young philosopher, who was finally acknowledged by his intellectual hero. They mostly discussed Goethe’s newly published (and somewhat lukewarmly received) work on color theory. Schopenhauer soon started writing his own treatise on the subject, On Vision and Colors, which in many points differed from his teacher’s. Although they remained polite towards each other, their growing theoretical disagreements—and especially Schopenhauer’s extreme self-confidence and tactless criticisms—soon made Goethe become distant again and after 1816 their correspondence became less frequent. Schopenhauer later admitted that he was greatly hurt by this rejection, but he continued to praise Goethe, and considered his color theory a great introduction to his own. Another important experience during his stay in Weimar was his acquaintance with Friedrich Majer historian of religion, orientalist and disciple of Herder—who introduced him to Eastern philosophy. Schopenhauer was immediately impressed by the Upanishads (he called them “the production of the highest human wisdom”, and believed that they contained superhuman concepts) and the Buddha, and put them on a par with Plato and Kant. He continued his studies by reading the Bhagavad Gita, an amateurish German journal Asiatisches Magazin and Asiatick Researches by the Asiatic Society. Schopenhauer held a profound respect for Indian philosophy; although he loved Hindu texts, he never revered a Buddhist text but regarded Buddhism as the most distinguished religion. His studies on Hindu and Buddhist texts were constrained by the lack of adequate literature, and the latter were mostly restricted to Theravada Buddhism. He also claimed that he formulated most of his ideas independently, and only later realized the similarities with Buddhism. Schopenhauer read the Latin translation and praised the Upanishads in his main work, The World as Will and Representation (1819), as well as in his Parerga and Paralipomena (1851), and commented.
In November 1813 Goethe invited Schopenhauer to help him on his Theory of Colours. Although Schopenhauer considered colour theory a minor matter, he accepted the invitation out of admiration for Goethe. Nevertheless, these investigations led him to his most important discovery in epistemology: finding a demonstration for the a priori nature of causality. Kant openly admitted that it was Hume’s skeptical assault on causality that motivated the critical investigations in Critique of Pure Reason and gave an elaborate proof to show that causality is a priori. After G. E. Schulze had made it plausible that Kant had not disproven Hume’s skepticism, it was up to those loyal to Kant’s project to prove this important matter. The difference between the approaches of Kant and Schopenhauer was this: Kant simply declared that the empirical content of perception is “given” to us from outside, an expression with which Schopenhauer often expressed his dissatisfaction. He, on the other hand, was occupied with the questions: how do we get this empirical content of perception; how is it possible to comprehend subjective sensations “limited to my skin” as the objective perception of things that lie “outside” of me?
The sensations in the hand of a man born blind, on feeling an object of cubic shape, are quite uniform and the same on all sides and in every direction: the edges, it is true, press upon a smaller portion of his hand, still nothing at all like a cube is contained in these sensations. His Understanding draws the immediate and intuitive conclusion from the resistance felt, that this resistance must have a cause, which then presents itself through that conclusion as a hard body; and through the movements of his arms in feeling the object, while the hand’s sensation remains unaltered, he constructs the cubic shape in Space. If the representation of a cause and of Space, together with their laws, had not already existed within him, the image of a cube could never have proceeded from those successive sensations in his hand.
For Schopenhauer, human “willing”—desiring, craving, etc.—is at the root of suffering. A temporary way to escape this pain is through aesthetic contemplation. Here one moves away from ordinary cognizance of individual things to cognizance of eternal Platonic Ideas—in other words, cognizance that is free from the service of will. In aesthetic contemplation, one no longer perceives an object of perception as something from which one is separated; rather “it is as if the object alone existed without anyone perceiving it, and one can thus no longer separate the perceiver from the perception, but the two have become one, the entirety of consciousness entirely filled and occupied by a single perceptual image”. Subject and object are no longer distinguishable, and the Idea comes to the fore. From this aesthetic immersion, one is no longer an individual who suffers as a result of servitude to one’s individual will but, rather, becomes a “pure, will-less, painless, timeless, subject of cognition”. The pure, will-less subject of cognition is cognizant only of Ideas, not individual things: this is a kind of cognition that is unconcerned with relations between objects according to the Principle of Sufficient Reason (time, space, cause and effect) and instead involves complete absorption in the object. Art is the practical consequence of this brief aesthetic contemplation, since it attempts to depict the essence/pure Ideas of the world. Music, for Schopenhauer, is the purest form of art because it is the one that depicts the will itself without it appearing as subject to the Principle of Sufficient Reason, therefore as an individual object. According to Daniel Albright, “Schopenhauer thought that music was the only art that did not merely copy ideas, but actually embodied the will itself”. He deemed music a timeless, universal language comprehended everywhere, that can imbue global enthusiasm, if in possession of a significant melody.
Schopenhauer’s realist views on mathematics are evident in his criticism of contemporaneous attempts to prove the parallel postulate in Euclidean geometry. Writing shortly before the discovery of hyperbolic geometry demonstrated the logical independence of the axiom—and long before the general theory of relativity revealed that it does not necessarily express a property of physical space—Schopenhauer criticized mathematicians for trying to use indirect concepts to prove what he held was directly evident from intuitive perception. The Euclidean method of demonstration has brought forth from its own womb its most striking parody and caricature in the famous controversy over the theory of parallels, and in the attempts, repeated every year, to prove the eleventh axiom (also known as the fifth postulate). The axiom asserts, and that indeed through the indirect criterion of a third intersecting line, that two lines inclined to each other (for this is the precise meaning of “less than two right angles”), if produced far enough, must meet. Now this truth is supposed to be too complicated to pass as self-evident, and therefore needs a proof; but no such proof can be produced, just because there is nothing more immediate. Throughout his writings, Schopenhauer criticized the logical derivation of philosophies and mathematics from mere concepts, instead of from intuitive perceptions.
In fact, it seems to me that the logical method is in this way reduced to an absurdity. But it is precisely through the controversies over this, together with the futile attempts to demonstrate the directly certain as merely indirectly certain, that the independence and clearness of intuitive evidence appear in contrast with the uselessness and difficulty of logical proof, a contrast as instructive as it is amusing. The direct certainty will not be admitted here, just because it is no merely logical certainty following from the concept, and thus resting solely on the relation of predicate to subject, according to the principle of contradiction. But that eleventh axiom regarding parallel lines is a synthetic proposition a priori, and as such has the guarantee of pure, not empirical, perception; this perception is just as immediate and certain as is the principle of contradiction itself, from which all proofs originally derive their certainty. At bottom this holds good of every geometrical theorem. Although Schopenhauer could see no justification for trying to prove Euclid’s parallel postulate, he did see a reason for examining another of Euclid’s axioms. It surprises me that the eighth axiom, “Figures that coincide with one another are equal to one another”, is not rather attacked. For “coinciding with one another” is either a mere tautology, or something quite empirical, belonging not to pure intuition or perception, but to external sensuous experience. Thus it presupposes mobility of the figures, but matter alone is movable in space. Consequently, this reference to coincidence with one another forsakes pure space, the sole element of geometry, in order to pass over to the material and empirical.
Schopenhauer asserts that the task of ethics is not to prescribe moral actions that ought to be done, but to investigate moral actions. As such, he states that philosophy is always theoretical: its task to explain what is given. According to Kant’s transcendental idealism, space and time are forms of our sensibility in which phenomena appear in multiplicity. Reality in itself is free from multiplicity, not in the sense that an object is one, but that it is outside the possibility of multiplicity. Two individuals, though they appear distinct, are in-themselves not distinct. Appearances are entirely subordinated to the principle of sufficient reason. The egoistic individual who focuses his aims on his own interests has to deal with empirical laws as well as he can. What is relevant for ethics are individuals who can act against their own self-interest. If we take a man who suffers when he sees his fellow men living in poverty and consequently uses a significant part of his income to support their needs instead of his own pleasures, then the simplest way to describe this is that he makes less distinction between himself and others than is usually made. Regarding how things appear to us, the egoist asserts a gap between two individuals, but the altruist experiences the sufferings of others as his own. In the same way a compassionate man cannot hurt animals, though they appear as distinct from himself. What motivates the altruist is compassion. The suffering of others is for him not a cold matter to which he is indifferent, but he feels connectiveness to all beings. Compassion is thus the basis of morality.
Schopenhauer calls the principle through which multiplicity appears the principium individuationis. When we behold nature we see that it is a cruel battle for existence. Individual manifestations of the will can maintain themselves only at the expense of others—the will, as the only thing that exists, has no other option but to devour itself to experience pleasure. This is a fundamental characteristic of the will, and cannot be circumvented. Unlike temporal or human justice, which requires time to repay an evil deed and “has its seat in the state, as requiting and punishing”, eternal justice “rules not the state but the world, is not dependent upon human institutions, is not subject to chance and deception, is not uncertain, wavering, and erring, but infallible, fixed, and sure”. Eternal justice is not retributive, because retribution requires time. There are no delays or reprieves. Instead, punishment is tied to the offence, “to the point where the two become one. … Tormenter and tormented are one. The [Tormenter] errs in that he believes he is not a partaker in the suffering; the [tormented], in that he believes he is not a partaker in the guilt.” Suffering is the moral outcome of our attachment to pleasure. Schopenhauer deemed that this truth was expressed by the Christian dogma of original sin and, in Eastern religions, by the dogma of rebirth.
He who sees through the principium individuationis and comprehends suffering in general as his own will see suffering everywhere and, instead of fighting for the happiness of his individual manifestation, will abhor life itself since he knows that it is inseparably connected with suffering. For him, a happy individual life in a world of suffering is like a beggar who dreams one night that he is a king. Those who have experienced this intuitive knowledge cannot affirm life, but exhibit asceticism and quietism, meaning that they are no longer sensitive to motives, are not concerned about their individual welfare, and accept without resistance the evil that others inflict on them. They welcome poverty and neither seek nor flee death. Schopenhauer referred to asceticism as the denial of the will to live. Human life is a ceaseless struggle for satisfaction and, instead of continuing their struggle, ascetics break it. It does not matter if these ascetics adhere to the dogmata of Christianity or to Dharmic religions, since their way of living is the result of intuitive knowledge. The Christian mystic and the teacher of the Vedanta philosophy agree in this respect also, they both regard all outward works and religious exercises as superfluous for him who has attained to perfection. So much agreement in the case of such different ages and nations is a practical proof that what is expressed here is not, as optimistic dullness likes to assert, an eccentricity and perversity of the mind, but an essential side of human nature, which only appears so rarely because of its excellence.
Philosophers have not traditionally been impressed by the necessity of sex, but Schopenhauer addressed sex and related concepts forthrightly: … one ought rather to be surprised that a thing [sex] which plays throughout so important a part in human life has hitherto practically been disregarded by philosophers altogether, and lies before us as raw and untreated material. He named a force within man that he felt took invariable precedence over reason: the Will to Live or Will to Life (Wille zum Leben), defined as an inherent drive within human beings, and all creatures, to stay alive; a force that inveigles us into reproducing. Schopenhauer refused to conceive of love as either trifling or accidental, but rather understood it as an immensely powerful force that lay unseen within man’s psyche, guaranteeing the quality of the human race: The ultimate aim of all love affairs … is more important than all other aims in man’s life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it. What is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation … It has often been argued that Schopenhauer’s thoughts on sexuality foreshadowed the theory of evolution, a claim met with satisfaction by Darwin as he included a quotation from Schopenhauer in his Descent of Man. This has also been noted about Freud’s concepts of the libido and the unconscious mind, and evolutionary psychology in general.
Schopenhauer’s politics were an echo of his system of ethics, which he elucidated in detail in his Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik (the two essays On the Freedom of the Will and On the Basis of Morality). In occasional political comments in his Parerga and Paralipomena and Manuscript Remains, Schopenhauer described himself as a proponent of limited government. Schopenhauer shared the view of Thomas Hobbes on the necessity of the state and state action to check the innate destructive tendencies of our species. He also defended the independence of the legislative, judicial and executive branches of power, and a monarch as an impartial element able to practise justice (in a practical and everyday sense, not a cosmological one). He declared that monarchy is “natural to man in almost the same way as it is to bees and ants, to cranes in flight, to wandering elephants, to wolves in a pack in search of prey, and to other animals”. Intellect in monarchies, he writes, always has “much better chances against stupidity, its implacable and ever-present foe, than it has in republics; but this is a great advantage.” On the other hand, Schopenhauer disparaged republicanism as being “as unnatural to man as it is unfavorable to higher intellectual life and thus to the arts and sciences”. By his own admission, Schopenhauer did not give much thought to politics, and several times he wrote proudly of how little attention he 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 maintained his position of “minding not the times but the eternities”. He wrote many disparaging remarks about Germany and the Germans. A typical example is: “For a German it is even good to have somewhat lengthy words in his mouth, for he thinks slowly, and they give him time to reflect”.
Schopenhauer attributed civilizational primacy to the northern “white races” due to their sensitivity and creativity (except for the ancient Egyptians and Hindus, whom he saw as equal): The highest civilization and culture, apart from the ancient Hindus and Egyptians, are found exclusively among the white races; and even with many dark peoples, the ruling caste or race is fairer in colour than the rest and has, therefore, evidently immigrated, for example, the Brahmans, the Incas, and the rulers of the South Sea Islands. All this is due to the fact that necessity is the mother of invention because those tribes that emigrated early to the north, and there gradually became white, had to develop all their intellectual powers and invent and perfect all the arts in their struggle with need, want and misery, which in their many forms were brought about by the climate. This they had to do in order to make up for the parsimony of nature and out of it all came their high civilization. Schopenhauer was fervently opposed to slavery. Speaking of the treatment of slaves in the slave-holding states of the United States, he condemned “those devils in human form, those bigoted, church-going, strict sabbath-observing scoundrels, especially the Anglican parsons among them” for how they “treat their innocent black brothers who through violence and injustice have fallen into their devil’s claws”. The slave-holding states of North America, Schopenhauer writes, are a “disgrace to the whole of humanity”.
In his Metaphysics of Sexual Love, Schopenhauer wrote: Further, the consideration as to the complexion is very decided. Blondes prefer dark persons, or brunettes; but the latter seldom prefer the former. The reason is, that fair hair and blue eyes are in themselves a variation from the type, almost an abnormity, analogous to white mice, or at least to grey horses. In no part of the world, not even in the vicinity of the pole, are they indigenous, except in Europe, and are clearly of Scandinavian origin. I may here express my opinion in passing that the white colour of the skin is not natural to man, but that by nature he has a black or brown skin, like our forefathers the Hindus; that consequently a white man has never originally sprung from the womb of nature, and that thus there is no such thing as a white race, much as this is talked of, but every white man is a faded or bleached one. Forced into the strange world, where he only exists like an exotic plant, and like this requires in winter the hothouse, in the course of thousands of years man became white. The gipsies, an Indian race which immigrated only about four centuries ago, show the transition from the complexion of the Hindu to our own. Therefore in sexual love nature strives to return to dark hair and brown eyes as the primitive type; but the white colour of the skin has become a second nature, though not so that the brown of the Hindu repels us. Finally, each one also seeks in the particular parts of the body the corrective of his own defects and aberrations, and does so the more decidedly the more important the part is.
Schopenhauer also maintained a marked metaphysical and political anti-Judaism. He argued that Christianity constituted a revolt against what he styled the materialistic basis of Judaism, exhibiting an Indian-influenced ethics reflecting the Aryan-Vedic theme of spiritual self-conquest. He saw this as opposed to the ignorant drive toward earthly utopianism and superficiality of a worldly “Jewish” spirit: [Judaism] is, therefore, the crudest and poorest of all religions and consists merely in an absurd and revolting theism. It amounts to this that the ‘Lord’], who has created the world, desires to be worshipped and adored; and so above all he is jealous, is envious of his colleagues, of all the other gods; if sacrifices are made to them he is furious and his Jews have a bad time … It is most deplorable that this religion has become the basis of the prevailing religion of Europe; for it is a religion without any metaphysical tendency. While all other religions endeavor to explain to the people by symbols the metaphysical significance of life, the religion of the Jews is entirely immanent and furnishes nothing but a mere war-cry in the struggle with other nations.
In his 1851 essay “On Women”, Schopenhauer expressed opposition to what he called “Teutonico-Christian stupidity” of “reflexive, unexamined reverence for the female (abgeschmackten Weiberveneration)”. He wrote: “Women are directly fitted for acting as the nurses and teachers of our early childhood by the fact that they are themselves childish, frivolous and short-sighted.” He opined that women are deficient in artistic faculties and sense of justice, and expressed his opposition to monogamy. He claimed that “woman is by nature meant to obey”. The essay does give some compliments: “women are decidedly more sober in their judgment than [men] are”, and are more sympathetic to the suffering of others. Schopenhauer’s writings influenced many, from Friedrich Nietzsche to nineteenth-century feminists. 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. When the elderly Schopenhauer sat for a sculpture portrait by the Prussian sculptor Elisabet Ney in 1859, he was much impressed by the young woman’s wit and independence, as well as by her skill as a visual artist. After his time with Ney, he told Richard Wagner’s friend Malwida von Meysenbug: “I have not yet spoken my last word about women. I believe that if a woman succeeds in withdrawing from the mass, or rather raising herself above the mass, she grows ceaselessly and more than a man”.
In the third, expanded edition of The World as Will and Representation (1859), Schopenhauer added an appendix to his chapter on the Metaphysics of Sexual Love. He wrote that pederasty has the benefit of preventing ill-begotten children. Concerning this, he stated that “the vice we are considering appears to work directly against the aims and ends of nature, and that in a matter that is all important and of the greatest concern to her it must in fact serve these very aims, although only indirectly, as a means for preventing greater evils”. Schopenhauer ends the appendix with the statement that “by expounding these paradoxical ideas, I wanted to grant to the professors of philosophy a small favour. I have done so by giving them the opportunity of slandering me by saying that I defend and commend pederasty”.
Schopenhauer viewed personality and intellect as inherited. He quotes Horace’s saying, “From the brave and good are the brave descended” (Odes, iv, 4, 29) and Shakespeare’s line from Cymbeline, “Cowards father cowards, and base things sire base” (IV, 2) to reinforce his hereditarian argument. Mechanistically, Schopenhauer believed that a person inherits his intellect through his mother, and personal character through the father. This belief in heritability of traits informed Schopenhauer’s view of love—placing it at the highest level of importance. For Schopenhauer the “final aim of all love intrigues, be they comic or tragic, is really of more importance than all other ends in human life. What it all turns upon is nothing less than the composition of the next generation. … It is not the weal or woe of any one individual, but that of the human race to come, which is here at stake.” This view of the importance for the species of whom we choose to love was reflected in his views on eugenics or good breeding. Here Schopenhauer wrote: With our knowledge of the complete unalterability both of character and of mental faculties, we are led to the view that a real and thorough improvement of the human race might be reached not so much from outside as from within, not so much by theory and instruction as rather by the path of generation. Plato had something of the kind in mind when, in the fifth book of his Republic, he explained his plan for increasing and improving his warrior caste. If we could castrate all scoundrels and stick all stupid geese in a convent, and give men of noble character a whole harem, and procure men, and indeed thorough men, for all girls of intellect and understanding, then a generation would soon arise which would produce a better age than that of Pericles. In another context, Schopenhauer reiterated his eugenic thesis: “If you want Utopian plans, I would say: the only solution to the problem is the despotism of the wise and noble members of a genuine aristocracy, a genuine nobility, achieved by mating the most magnanimous men with the cleverest and most gifted women. This proposal constitutes my Utopia and my Platonic Republic.” Analysts (e.g., Keith Ansell-Pearson) have suggested that Schopenhauer’s anti-egalitarianist sentiment and his support for eugenics influenced the neo-aristocratic philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, who initially considered Schopenhauer his mentor.
Schopenhauer read the Latin translation of the ancient Hindu texts, the Upanishads, translated by French writer Anquetil du Perron from the Persian translation of Prince Dara Shukoh entitled Sirre-Akbar (“The Great Secret”). He was so impressed by its philosophy that he called it “the production of the highest human wisdom”, and believed it contained superhuman concepts. Schopenhauer considered India as “the land of the most ancient and most pristine wisdom, the place from which Europeans could trace their descent and the tradition by which they had been influenced in so many decisive ways”, and regarded the Upanishads as “the most profitable and elevating reading which is possible in the world. It has been the solace of my life, and will be the solace of my death”. Schopenhauer was first introduced to Anquetil du Perron’s translation by Friedrich Majer in 1814. They met during the winter of 1813–1814 in Weimar at the home of Schopenhauer’s mother, according to the biographer Safranski. Majer was a follower of Herder, and an early Indologist. Schopenhauer did not begin serious study of the Indic texts until the summer of 1814. Safranski maintains that, between 1815 and 1817, Schopenhauer had another important cross-pollination with Indian thought in Dresden. This was through his neighbor of two years, Karl Christian Friedrich Krause. Krause was then a minor and rather unorthodox philosopher who attempted to mix his own ideas with ancient Indian wisdom. Krause had also mastered Sanskrit, unlike Schopenhauer, and they developed a professional relationship. It was from Krause that Schopenhauer learned meditation and received the closest thing to expert advice concerning Indian thought.
The view of things that all plurality is only apparent, that in the endless series of individuals, passing simultaneously and successively into and out of life, generation after generation, age after age, there is but one and the same entity really existing, which is present and identical in all alike;—this theory, I say, was of course known long before Kant; indeed, it may be carried back to the remotest antiquity. It is the alpha and omega of the oldest book in the world, the sacred Vedas, whose dogmatic part, or rather esoteric teaching, is found in the Upanishads. There, in almost every page this profound doctrine lies enshrined; with tireless repetition, in countless adaptations, by many varied parables and similes it is expounded and inculcated. On the Basis of Morality, chapter 4: The book Oupnekhat (Upanishad) always lay open on his table, and he invariably studied it before going to bed. He called the opening up of Sanskrit literature “the greatest gift of our century”, and predicted that the philosophy and knowledge of the Upanishads would become the cherished faith of the West. Most noticeable, in the case of Schopenhauer’s work, was the significance of the Chandogya Upanishad, whose Mahāvākya, Tat Tvam Asi, is mentioned throughout The World as Will and Representation.
Schopenhauer noted a correspondence between his doctrines and the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism. Similarities centered on the principles that life involves suffering, that suffering is caused by desire (taṇhā), and that the extinction of desire leads to liberation. Thus three of the four “truths of the Buddha” correspond to Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the will. In Buddhism, while greed and lust are always unskillful, desire is ethically variable – it can be skillful, unskillful, or neutral. For Schopenhauer, will had ontological primacy over the intellect; desire is prior to thought. Schopenhauer felt this was similar to notions of puruṣārtha or goals of life in Vedānta Hinduism.
In Schopenhauer’s philosophy, denial of the will is attained by: personal experience of an extremely great suffering that leads to loss of the will to live; or
knowledge of the essential nature of life in the world through observation of the suffering of other people.
Buddhist nirvāṇa is not equivalent to the condition that Schopenhauer described as denial of the will. Nirvāṇa is not the extinguishing of the person as some Western scholars have thought, but only the “extinguishing” (the literal meaning of nirvana) of the flames of greed, hatred, and delusion that assail a person’s character. Schopenhauer made the following statement in his discussion of religions: If I wished to take the results of my philosophy as the standard of truth, I should have to concede to Buddhism pre-eminence over the others. In any case, it must be a pleasure to me to see my doctrine in such close agreement with a religion that the majority of men on earth hold as their own, for this numbers far more followers than any other. And this agreement must be yet the more pleasing to me, inasmuch as in my philosophizing I have certainly not been under its influence.
Some traditions in Western esotericism and parapsychology interested Schopenhauer and influenced his philosophical theories. He praised animal magnetism as evidence for the reality of magic in his On the Will in Nature, and went so far as to accept the division of magic into left-hand and right-hand magic, although he doubted the existence of demons. Schopenhauer grounded magic in the Will and claimed all forms of magical transformation depended on the human Will, not on ritual. This theory notably parallels Aleister Crowley’s system of magic and its emphasis on human will. Given the importance of the Will to Schopenhauer’s overarching system, this amounts to “suggesting his whole philosophical system had magical powers.” Schopenhauer rejected the theory of disenchantment and claimed philosophy should synthesize itself with magic, which he believed amount to “practical metaphysics”. Neoplatonism, including the traditions of Plotinus and to a lesser extent Marsilio Ficino, has also been cited as an influence on Schopenhauer.
Giordano Bruno and Spinoza: Schopenhauer saw Bruno and Spinoza as philosophers not bound to their age or nation. “Both were fulfilled by the thought, that as manifold the appearances of the world may be, it is still one being, that appears in all of them. … Consequently, there is no place for God as creator of the world in their philosophy, but God is the world itself”. Schopenhauer expressed regret that Spinoza stuck for the presentation of his philosophy with the concepts of scholasticism and Cartesian philosophy, and tried to use geometrical proofs that do not hold because of vague and overly broad definitions. Bruno on the other hand, who knew much about nature and ancient literature, presented his ideas with Italian vividness, and is amongst philosophers the only one who comes near Plato’s poetic and dramatic power of exposition. Schopenhauer noted that their philosophies do not provide any ethics, and it is therefore very remarkable that Spinoza called his main work Ethics. In fact, it could be considered complete from the standpoint of life-affirmation, if one completely ignores morality and self-denial. It is yet even more remarkable that Schopenhauer mentions Spinoza as an example of the denial of the will, if one uses the French biography by Jean Maximilien Lucas as the key to Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione.
The importance of Kant for Schopenhauer, in philosophy as well as on a personal level, cannot be overstated. Kant’s philosophy was the foundation of Schopenhauer’s, and he had high praise for the Transcendental Aesthetic section of Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Schopenhauer maintained that Kant stands in the same relation to philosophers such as Berkeley and Plato, as Copernicus to Hicetas, Philolaus, and Aristarchus: Kant succeeded in demonstrating what previous philosophers merely asserted. Schopenhauer writes about Kant’s influence on his work in the preface to the second edition of The World as Will and Representation: I have already explained in the preface to the first edition, that my philosophy is founded on that of Kant, and therefore presupposes a thorough knowledge of it. I repeat this here. For Kant’s teaching produces in the mind of everyone who has comprehended it a fundamental change which is so great that it may be regarded as an intellectual new-birth. It alone is able really to remove the inborn realism which proceeds from the original character of the intellect, which neither Berkeley nor Malebranche succeed in doing, for they remain too much in the universal, while Kant goes into the particular, and indeed in a way that is quite unexampled both before and after him, and which has quite a peculiar, and, we might say, immediate effect upon the mind in consequence of which it undergoes a complete undeception, and forthwith looks at all things in another light. Only in this way can any one become susceptible to the more positive expositions which I have to give. On the other hand, he who has not mastered the Kantian philosophy, whatever else he may have studied, is, as it were, in a state of innocence; that is to say, he remains in the grasp of that natural and childish realism in which we are all born, and which fits us for everything possible, with the single exception of philosophy.
In his study room, one bust was of Buddha, the other was of Kant. The bond which Schopenhauer felt with the philosopher of Königsberg is demonstrated in an unfinished poem he dedicated to Kant (included in volume 2 of the Parerga):
With my eyes I followed thee into the blue sky,
And there thy flight dissolved from view.
Alone I stayed in the crowd below,
Thy word and thy book my only solace.—
Through the strains of thy inspiring words
I sought to dispel the dreary solitude.
Strangers on all sides surround me.
The world is desolate and life interminable.
Schopenhauer dedicated one fifth of his main work, The World as Will and Representation, to a detailed criticism of the Kantian philosophy. Schopenhauer praised Kant for his distinction between appearance and the thing-in-itself, whereas the general consensus in German idealism was that this was the weakest spot of Kant’s theory, since, according to Kant, causality can find application on objects of experience only, and consequently, things-in-themselves cannot be the cause of appearances. The inadmissibility of this reasoning was also acknowledged by Schopenhauer. He insisted that this was a true conclusion, drawn from false premises.