- Schopenhauer, Arthur
- (1788–1860)German philosopher. Born in Danzig of a rich, anglophile, and cosmopolitan family, Schopenhauer was educated in both France and Britain, and was fluent in European and classical languages. Initially intended for a career in business, Schopenhauer could only enter university after the death of his father. He joined the university of Göttingen in 1809 to study medicine but transferred his affections to philosophy, and in 1811 studied for a time in Berlin, where he conceived a profound dislike of Fichte and Schleiermacher . He received his doctorate for the work that became Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde (1813, trs. as the Four-fold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, 1888). The roots are causality or becoming, knowing, being, and acting. It is said that his mother, with whom his relations were dreadful, commented that a book entitled The Fourfold Root was presumably intended for apothecaries. His major work, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (1818, trs. as The World as Will and Idea, 1886) was not an initial success, but gained him an assistant's position in Berlin. Here Schopenhauer famously lectured at the same times as Hegel, whom he regarded as a sophist and charlatan, but who was then at the height of his fame. Failing to dislodge Hegel, Schopenhauer ceased lecturing and finally retired to private life in 1831. He lived in Frankfurt, published various works, but only became widely known with his two volumes of aphorisms, Parerga und Paralipomena (roughly: comments and omissions) of 1851. In spite of his famous pessimism, Schopenhauer himself lived a moderately selfish and not altogether reclusive life, and seems to have indulged his share of the passions: he dined well at the Englischer Hof, had affairs, was reputed a brilliant and witty conversationalist, and read The Times of London every day. He was of a highly nervous and volatile disposition, and had to pay a quarterly allowance to an elderly seamstress whom he permanently injured by throwing downstairs (and on whose death certificate, which released him from the obligation, he wrote the remark ‘obit anus, abit onus’ (the old woman is dead, the burden departs). He finally achieved considerable fame in the last decade of his life.Schopenhauer took from Kant the distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal, but unlike the majority of Kant's followers he clung on to the ‘thing in itself’, and, following one strand in Kant, identified it with will. The will thus stands outside space and time, and all reason and knowledge is subject to it. Only in aesthetic contemplation do we escape it. Schopenhauer notoriously allies this doctrine with an extreme pessimism, for conforming to the dictates of the will leads to nothing but illusion and suffering. Admiring the Upanishads and Buddhist philosophy of resignation, Schopenhauer extols a kind of extinction as the ultimate goal of the good life; indeed it is not entirely clear why literal suicide is not the best way out. Thus Nietzsche (Ecce Homo, ‘Beyond Good and Evil’, Sec. 2) says that (along with Plato and Christianity) he requires no refutuation: the properly active Dionysian figure can just scent the decomposition.Although Schopenhauer's attitude to the world has influenced many writers, his glamorization of despair has usually seemed somewhat forced. However, his understanding of the ways in which the mind is subservient to the life of the organism, and the way in which drives and desires become suppressed and distorted, mark a major anticipation of psychoanalytic doctrine. He was one of the few philosophers whom Wittgenstein read and admired.
Philosophy dictionary. Academic. 2011.
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