Arthur Schopenhauer Biography


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Atwell, John E. Schopenhauer on the Character of the World: The Metaphysics of Will. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995. Atwell’s extended analysis of The World as Will and Idea attempts, against the views of others, to establish that Arthur Schopenhauer has a metaphysics, though a severely limited one.

Atwell, John E. Schopenhauer: The Human Character. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990. In a topical, highly readable approach, Atwell explores Schopenhauer’s ethics. Like other critics, he presses Schopenhauer’s examples logically to the point that they break down and reveal contradictions.

Fox, Michael, ed. Schopenhauer: His Philosophical Achievement. Brighton, England: Harvester Press, 1980. A collection of essays by distinguished scholars. The book is divided into three sections: general articles, giving overviews of Schopenhauer; articles dealing with basic philosophical issues; and comparative studies that relate Schopenhauer’s philosophy to others’ and explore intellectual debts.

Gardiner, Patrick L. Schopenhauer. Bristol, England: Thoemmes Press, 1997. A piercing analysis of Schopenhauer’s life and philosophy.

Hamlyn, D. W. Schopenhauer. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980. A general survey of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Clarifies his terms, explains his epistemology, and offers extensive analysis of his philosophical debt to Kant.

Jacquette, Dale, ed. Schopenhauer, Philosophy, and the Arts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996. A penetrating look at Schopenhauer’s philosophy and aesthetics.

Janaway, Christopher. Schopenhauer. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1994. Janaway’s concise though dense overview of Schopenhauer’s life and philosophical system represents an excellent introduction. Synopses of the major works are supplemented by references to lesser-known titles. Janaway exposes some limitations and contradictions in Schopenhauer’s system, notably in his concepts of will, freedom, ethics, and pessimism.

Safranski, Rüdiger. Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990. Essentially a biography, the book recounts the life and works of Schopenhauer. Safranski suggests that events in Schopenhauer’s life contributed to his outlook and the formation of his pessimistic system. In addition, he places the philosophy within the aesthetic and intellectual currents of Schopenhauer’s time. For a review of this biography see Magill’s Literary Annual review.

Tanner, Michael. Schopenhauer. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Includes bibliography.


(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

Financial independence enabled Schopenhauer to devote his life to philosophy, and he developed his pessimistic system as a follower of Immanuel Kant. In The World as Will and Idea, he identifies the will as the Kantian thing-in-itself that comprehends the external world through the mental constructs of time, space, and causality. As Schopenhauer understood it, will comprises intellect, personality, and the potential for growth and development. Although powerful, it is not free but is controlled by causation like all else that exists. Confronting a meaningless existence and a godless universe, Schopenhauer concluded that ethical behavior requires withdrawal from the pleasures of life in favor of contemplation. The individual must tame the will so that it becomes less insistent on its egoistic desires, which lead only to further desires. Where others are concerned, the proper attitude is compassion, since they too suffer an identical fate. The truth of Christianity, according to Schopenhauer, lies in its early emphasis on renunciation of the world and an ascetic life. Although he failed to clarify how this asceticism could be achieved in the absence of freedom, Schopenhauer’s work includes a strong suggestion. Because human actions are explicable through motives, he equates motive with cause. Thus, causation may be rooted in intellectual concepts. As the individual recognizes the futility of existence, he or she can become compassionate toward others and accept the futility of desire.