Arthur Schopenhauer Essay - Critical Essays

Schopenhauer, Arthur


Arthur Schopenhauer 1788-1860

German philosopher.

Believing himself to be the only worthy successor to Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer was one of the leading German metaphysicians of the nineteenth century. Schopenhauer conceived of Kant's ding an sich as an absolute Will that causes and impels all appearances in the phenomenal (and unreal) world. Schopenhauer incorporated Hindu and Buddhist thought into his philosophy and crystallized the pessimism of the late nineteenth century in his rejection of the apparent world and his endorsement of asceticism.

Biographical Information

Schopenhauer was born in Danzig (now Gdansk). His father, a businessman, and his mother, a popular novelist, moved the family to Hamburg when Danzig was annexed to Prussia in 1793. The elder Schopenhauer died in 1805, probably by suicide. To honor a promise to his father, Schopenhauer began a business career, but after a year, he convinced his mother to let him continue his education at the gymnasium in Gotha, where he studied Greek and Latin. After being expelled for improper conduct, Schopenhauer moved to Weimar, where his mother had established a literary salon frequented by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and other literary figures. In 1809, Schopenhauer enrolled in the University of Göttingen, where he studied medicine and, later, philosophy. While there, the skeptic Gottlob Ernst Schulze encouraged him to read Plato and Kant. The orientalist Friedrich Mayer also introduced him to the Upanishads and various Buddhist texts. Continuing his studies at the University of Berlin in 1811, Schopenhauer attended lectures by professed Kantians Johann Gottlieb Fichte and Friedrich Schleiermacher. Schopenhauer resented what he considered to be their misinterpretation of Kant; thus he began a lifelong antagonism toward academic philosophy. Schopenhauer left Berlin when the Prussians rose against the French in 1813. He submitted his dissertation, Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde (On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason), to the University of Jena, where he graduated in 1813. The work was praised by Goethe, and Schopenhauer returned to Weimar to collaborate with him on a study of anti-Newtonian color theory. Goethe disapproved of Schopenhauer's manuscript, however, so Schopenhauer independently published Über das Sehn und die Farben in 1816. After quarreling with his mother, Schopenhauer left Weimar in 1814 and never saw her again. From 1814 to 1818 Schopenhauer lived in Dresden and wrote his most acclaimed work, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung (The World as Will and Representation). The book garnered little critical interest when it was published in 1818, but with three of his works already published, Schopenhauer was awarded a lectureship in philosophy at the University of Berlin in 1820. Scheduling his lectures to coincide with those of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, whom he despised, Schopenhauer tried to discredit him and proselytize his admirers. Hegel was then at his most popular, however, and with no audience for Schopenhauer, he was soon dismissed. Schopenhauer lived in Italy for ten years before returning to Berlin to answer a charge of battery against a woman. He moved to Frankfiirt-am-Main in 1831 to escape a cholera epidemic—from which Hegel died—and rarely left Frankfurt after 1833. Schopenhauer continued to write and became fairly popular when he published Parerga und Paralipomena in 1851. Critical recognition followed, and by the time of his death in 1860, Schopenhauer was one of the best known philosophers in Europe.

Major Works

Schopenhauer considered his first published work—Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde—to be the proper introduction to his thought. In it, Schopenhauer contended that human knowledge presupposes the unprovable assumption that everything must have a ground or reason. Schopenhauer's greatest achievement, Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, published in 1818, outlines his contention that the world is but a phenomenal expression of the irrational and all-encompassing Will. The Will enslaves the human intellect to such impulses as the emotions, the sex drive, and the subconscious. According to Schopenhauer, people ought to transcend appearances through artistic contemplation and negate the Will through asceticism. Later works generally bolster his central metaphysical arguments. For example, his Über den Willen in der Natur (The Will in Nature) insists that his philosophy is supported by the empirical sciences, and Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik (On the Basis of Morality) addresses the problem of freedom and determinism. In 1844 he published a revised edition of Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, with fifty supplementary chapters, almost doubling the size of the 1818 edition.

Critical Reception

Critics largely ignored Schopenhauer's writings until late in his life. The essays of Parerga und Paralipomena were more approachable than the intimidating Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung and appealed to popular pessimistic sentiment. Positive reviews, especially a Westminster Review article from 1853, popularized Schopenhauer's philosophy and evinced favorable reactions throughout Europe. Schopenhauer's main influence thus was posthumous, but appealed to such artists, cultural critics, and philosophers as Thomas Mann, Friedrich Nietzsche, Leo Tolstoy, Richard Wagner, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Although twentieth-century analytic philosophers have shown little interest, Schopenhauer infused modern thought with a pessimism and irrationalism that helped shape nineteenth- and twentieth-century letters.

Principal Works

Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde: Eine philosophische Abhandlung [On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason] (philosophy) 1813

Über das Sehn und die Farben: Eine Abhandlung (philosophy) 1816

Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung: Vier Bücher, nebst einem Anhange, der die Kritik der Kantischen Philosophie enthält [The World as Will and Idea; also published as The World as Will and Representation] (philosophy) 1818; revised edition, 1844

Über den Willen in der Natur: Eine Erörterung der Bestätigungen, welch die Philosophie des Verfassers, seit ihrem Auftreten, durch die empirischen Wissenschaften erhalten hat [The Will in Nature: An Account of the Corroborations Received by the Author's Philosophy from the Empirical Sciences; also published as "On the Will in Nature"] (philosophy) 1836

Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik, behandelt in zwei akademischen Preisschriften [On the Freedom of the Will and On the Basis of Morality] (philosophy) 1841

Parerga und Paralipomena: Kleine philosophische Schriften [Parerga and Paralipomena: Short Philosophical Essays] (philosophy) 1851

Arthur Schopenhauers sämmtliche Werke (philosophy) 1873-74


John Oxenford (essay date 1853)

SOURCE: "Iconoclasm in German Philosophy," in The Westminster Review, Vol. III, No. 2, January 1, 1853, pp. 388-407.

[An English critic and playwright, Oxenford was a well-known translator of Goethe when the following article appeared in The Westminster Review in 1853. One of the first writings to have introduced Schopenhauer to the English-speaking world, "Iconoclasm in German Philosophy" was also translated into German; it was widely read in Germany, sparked reactions in France and Italy, and garnered Schopenhauer a number of admirers. In the article, Oxenford outlines Schopenhauer's metaphysics, contextualizing Schopenhauer in relation to Kant and his academic...

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Friedrich Nietzsche (essay date 1874)

SOURCE: "Schopenhauer as Educator," translated by William Arrowsmith, in Unmodern Observations, edited by William Arrowsmith, Yale University Press, 1990, pp. 147-226.

[One of the most important figures of the nineteenth century, Nietzsche was, among other things, a forerunner of existentialism, the first philosopher to recognize nihilism as a historical phenomenon, and an influential psychological theorist. In the following excerpt, which was originally published in 1874, Nietzsche criticizes his academic contemporaries and insists that the true philosopher is one who, like Schopenhauer, explores "the suffering of truthfulness. "]

A traveler who had visited many...

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Friedrich Nietzsche (essay date 1887)

SOURCE: "What Do Ascetic Ideals Mean?" in The Birth of Tragedy and The Genealogy of Morals, translated by Francis Golffing, Anchor Books, 1956, pp. 231-99.

[In the following excerpt from The Genealogy of Morals, which was originally published in 1887, Nietzsche contends that although Schopenhauer's aesthetic theory seemingly stresses disinterestedness, Schopenhauer instead considered art as a means to intellectual empowerment.]

Schopenhauer made use of the Kantian version of the esthetic problem, though he certainly did not look upon it with the eyes of Kant. Kant had thought he was doing an honor to art when, among the predicates of beauty, he gave prominence...

(The entire section is 1721 words.)

H. N. Gardiner (essay date 1888)

SOURCE: "Schopenhauer as a Critic of Religion," in The Andover Review, Vol. X, No. LV, July, 1888, pp. 1-23.

[In the following essay, Gardiner outlines and evaluates Schopenhauer's objections to religion and explores his life to suggest some factors that may have sparked his anti-religious fervor.]

[In James Martineau's A Study of Religion (1888),] the story is told of an eminent English Positivist, that, listening to an account of the argument in Mr. Fiske's Destiny of Man, he gave silent attention until the inference was being drawn of personal immortality, when he brake in with the exclamation: "What! John Fiske say that? Well; it only proves what I...

(The entire section is 9495 words.)

T. Bailey Saunders (essay date 1890)

SOURCE: "Translator's Preface," in The Wisdom of Life, Being the First Part of Arthur Schopenhauer's Aphorismen zur Lebensweisheit, by Arthur Schopenhauer, translated by T. Bailey Saunders, S. Sonnenschein & Co., 1890, pp. v-xxvi.

[In the following essay, Saunders comments on Schopenhauer's pessimism.]

Of Schopenhauer—as of many another writer—it may be said that he has been misunderstood and depreciated just in the degree in which he is thought to be new; and that, in treating of the Conduct of Life, he is, in reality, valuable only in so far as he brings old truths to remembrance. His name used to arouse, and in certain quarters still arouses, a vague sense...

(The entire section is 5362 words.)

Josiah Royce (essay date 1892)

SOURCE: "Schopenhauer," in The Spirit of Modern Philosophy, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1920, pp. 228-64.

[Royce was an American philosopher whose works include The World and the Individual (1900) and Lectures on Modern Idealism (1919). Royce's neo-Hegelian idealism conceives of reality as fragmentary manifestations of an absolute mind; only when the individual understands the unity of the ideal absolute can perfection be attained. In the following excerpt from a lecture originally published in 1892, Royce contextualizes Schopenhauer's metaphysics with regard to idealism versus realism and evaluates Schopenhauer in relation to Hegel.]

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William Caldwell (essay date 1896)

SOURCE: "The Positive Aspects of the System," in Schopenhauer's System in Its Philosophical Significance, William Blackwood and Sons, 1896, pp. 486-521.

[In the following excerpt, Caldwell outlines Schopenhauer's unique metaphilosophy.]

What is significant for philosophy in Schopenhauer is not so much the mere principle of will, which he sought to substitute for the idea of rationalistic metaphysic, as the simple fact of the attempted substitution. Strictly speaking, life cannot be grasped by thought as reducible, in the way of the old ontology, to some one or two entities. Whenever Schopenhauer talks of the will as if it were a thing in itself, we become...

(The entire section is 1144 words.)

Arthur O. Lovejoy (essay date 1911)

SOURCE: "Schopenhauer as an Evolutionist," in The Monist, Vol. XXI, No. 2, 1911, pp. 195-222.

[In the following essay, Lovejoy contends that Schopenhauer, especially in his later writings, proposes doctrines akin to Darwin's evolution.]

The Absolute of the philosophy of Schopenhauer is notoriously one of the most complicated of all known products of metaphysical synthesis. Under the single, and in some cases highly inappropriate, name of "the Will" are merged into an ostensible identity conceptions of the most various character and the most diverse historic antecedents. The more important ingredients of the compound may fairly easily be enumerated. The Will is, in the...

(The entire section is 8985 words.)

Irwin Edman (essay date 1928)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Philosophy of Schopenhauer, edited by Irwin Edman, The Modern Library, 1928, pp. v-xiv.

[Edman has edited works by Plato, Schopenhauer, and John Dewey. In the following excerpt, Edman comments on Schopenhauer's writing style and popular appeal.]

The popularity of Schopenhauer with a large unacademic public is easily explained. Part of the explanation is to be found in the extraordinarily vivacious and luxurious discourse that was his medium. He is one of the great German prose writers, and even in translation there is the tang of sense, the pungency of realistic observation in his pages. But there is something more. He seems to the...

(The entire section is 694 words.)

Thomas Mann (essay date 1939)

SOURCE: "Schopenhauer," in Essays of Three Decades, translated by H. T. Lowe-Porter, Alfred A. Knopf, 1947, pp. 372-410.

[Mann was a German novelist, short story and novella writer, essayist, and critic who acknowledged a deep indebtedness to Schopenhauer's philosophy. In the following essay, Mann overviews Schopenhauer's metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics and evaluates their historical significance.]

The Pleasure we take in a metaphysical system, the gratification purveyed by the intellectual organization of the world into a closely reasoned, complete, and balanced structure of thought, is always of a pre-eminently Æsthetic kind. It flows from the same source as the...

(The entire section is 17831 words.)

Radoslav A. Tsanoff (essay date 1942)

SOURCE: "The Moral Gospel of Pessimism," in The Moral Ideals of Our Civilization, E. P. Dutton & Co., 1942, pp. 389-405.

[In the following excerpt, Tsanoff outlines Schopenhauer 's criticisms of Kant's moral law and contrasts Schopenhauer's "pessimistic ethics of redemption" with Kant's a priori metaphysic of morals.]

In [Schopenhauer's] view of human life, a life of insatiate greeds preying on each other, of wretched and futile desires, what meaning could morality have? A moral philosophy which ignored these basic facts of human nature and motivation would be vain irrelevance. In the fourth book of The World as Will and Idea Schopenhauer,...

(The entire section is 2947 words.)

Bertrand Russell (essay date 1945)

SOURCE: "Schopenhauer," in A History of Western Philosophy, and Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, Simon and Schuster, 1945, pp. 753-59.

[One of the preeminent thinkers of the twentieth century, Russell wrote a number of important works in philosophy, including Principia Mathematica (1910-13), a highly influential study in mathematical logic that he co-authored with Alfred North Whitehead. In the following essay, Russell briefly describes Schopenhauer's life and the relative importance of his ideas in the history of philosophy.]

Schopenhauer (1788-1860) is in many ways peculiar among philosophers....

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Frederick Copleston, S. J. (essay date 1946)

SOURCE: "Schopenhauer, Other Thinkers, Christianity," in Arthur Schopenhauer: Philosopher of Pessimism, 1946. Reprint by Search Press, 1975, pp. 190-212.

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John Bowle (essay date 1954)

SOURCE: "The Cult of the Irrational: Schopenhauer: Nietzsche," in Politics and Opinion in the Nineteenth Century: An Historical Introduction, Oxford University Press, Inc., 1954, pp. 365-81.

[Bowle wrote a number of studies of European history and politics, including Western Political Thought (1947) and The Unity of European History (1948). In the following excerpt, Bowle outlines Schopenhauer's political philosophy.]

The introspection displayed by Schopenhauer and Nietzsche was already apparent in Herder and Hegel and the Romantic writers of their day. As this romanticism developed, it had often achieved benevolence and sensibility—in hatred of...

(The entire section is 1656 words.)

Georg Lukács (essay date 1954)

SOURCE: "The Bourgeois Irrationalism of Schopenhauer's Metaphysics," in Schopenhauer: His Philosophical Achievement, edited by Michael Fox, The Harvester Press, Sussex, 1980, pp. 183-93.

[A Hungarian literary critic and philosopher, Lukács is a leading proponent of Marxist thought. In the following excerpt, which originally appeared in his The Destruction of Reason (1954), Lukács contends that Schopenhauer's "purification" of Kant and his resulting idealism effect complacency toward social improvement and pacifies objectors to the established capitalist order.]

It is a well-established fact that on all crucial philosophical questions, Kant occupies a...

(The entire section is 4794 words.)

Max Horkheimer (essay date 1960)

SOURCE: "Schopenhauer Today," translated by Robert Kolben, in The Critical Spirit: Essays in Honor of Herbert Marchuse, edited by Kurt H. Wolff and Barrington Moore, Jr., Beacon Press, 1967, pp. 55-71.

[Horkheimer was a German-born American sociologist and philosopher. In the following essay, which was originally delivered as a lecture on the one-hundredth anniversary of Schopenhauer's death, Horkheimer addresses Schopenhauer's philosophies of history and politics, declaring that "Schopenhauer is the teacher for modern times. "]

Arthur Schopenhauer regarded fame with no less detachment than the majority of thinkers who finally gained it. Public recognition left him so...

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Patrick Gardiner (essay date 1963)

SOURCE: "The Possibility of Metaphysics," in Schopenhauer: His Philosophical Achievement, edited by Michael Fox, The Harvester Press, Sussex, 1980, pp. 37-49.

[Gardiner is an English critic, editor, and educator. In the following essay, which originally appeared in his Schopenhauer (1963), Gardiner examines Schopenhauer's distinction between philosophy and religion, and describes his approach to characterizing the Ding an sich.]

'A Man becomes a philosopher by reason of a certain perplexity, from which he seeks to free himself . . . But what distinguishes the false philosopher from the true is this: the perplexity of the latter arises from the contemplation of...

(The entire section is 5851 words.)

Paul Gottfried (essay date 1974)

SOURCE: "Arthur Schopenhauer as a Critic of History," in Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, April-June 1975, pp. 331-38.

[In the following essay, Gottfried examines Schopenhauer 's philosophy of history, contrasting it with that of Hegel and the Judeo-Christian tradition.]

During the second half of the nineteenth century, educated Europeans, particularly Germans, respected Schopenhauer primarily as a formal philosopher and stylist. His most enthusiastic readers also knew that he was interested in history, and his most fervent admirers defended his views on this subject. György Lukács, the Marxist scholar, with much justification, speaks of him as...

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Further Reading


Cartwright, David. "An English-Language Bibliography of Works on Schopenhauer." SchopenhauerJahrbuch 68 (1987): 257-66.

Bibliography of Schopenhauer criticism written in English.

Cartwright, David, and Luft, Eric von der. "Bibliographies." In Schopenhauer: New Essays in Honor of His 200th Birthday, edited by Eric von der Luft, pp. 327-404. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press, 1988.

Bibliographies of Schopenhauer's works through 1988 and an extensive selection of recommended secondary material.

Hübscher, Arthur....

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