Introduction to Schopenhauer Selections, edited by DeWitt H. Parker, 1928.


DeWitt H. Parker

In the history of European philosophy Schopenhauer occupies a place apart. Born in the golden age of German literature and philosophy, and acknowledging Kant as his intellectual father, he nevertheless remained outside of the straight line of development that had its starting-point in Kant, and although a product of his age, he was not of his age. While his great contemporaries, Schleiermacher, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel, found immediate recognition, Schopenhauer had to wait almost a generation before achieving fame or exerting influence. They were professors with an official standing in the community; Schopenhauer was a private scholar, a mere gentleman philosopher. In this last respect he was more like the philosophers of England and France of the eighteenth century. Again, like them, he wrote a clear and literary as opposed to the highly technical and serious style of the contemporary German philosophers, and was not averse to invective, satire, and talking down to his readers. Viewed in relation to the larger spirit and trend of European thought, which is dominantly rationalistic, optimistic, genteel, and pious, Schopenhauer's position is even more eccentric; for Schopenhauer was an antirationalist, pessimist, atheist; 'tough' as opposed to 'tender' minded, a wild ass of the desert in philosophy. Hence his great value to the student: he ventured to question the validity of fundamental assumptions grown conventional, and called attention to aspects of experience unseen by averted eyes. That his own vision was partly perverse cannot be denied; yet every philosopher since must reckon with it.

Arthur Schopenhauer was born February 22, 1788. His father, Heinrich Floris, was a wealthy and honored merchant, doing business in Danzig, then a free city under the nominal suzerainty of Poland. His mother, Johanna Henrietta, was daughter of the senator Trosiener. The families of both parents were proud and aristocratic, and from them Schopenhauer believed he inherited his own independence of mind and high spirits. More specifically, he claimed that to his father he owed his 'will'; that is, his temperament and character; to his mother, the quality of his intelligence. However this be, Heinrich Floris was a man of intense passions and iron resolution, of sombre cast of mind, with a pathologic streak that showed up in other members of the family. Johanna, on the other hand, was gay and pleasure-loving, gifted and witty, destined to win fame as a novelist and essayist. Heinrich desired that his son should be born in England, a country which he greatly loved, so a journey thither was undertaken to this end; but the health of the mother demanded a return to Danzig, where the child was born. Later, there was another child, Adele.

It was planned that the boy should follow the career of the father, so he was carefully educated in what Heinrich Floris called 'the book of the world.' In order that he might learn the French language, young Arthur was placed at the age of ten in the home of a business correspondent at Havre. Two years later he began attendance at a private school in Hamburg, where, at great financial sacrifice, his family had taken up residence, too proud to live longer in Danzig after it had been robbed of its freedom by Prussia in 1793. A three months' journey through Germany with his travel-loving parents provided a pleasant interruption to the four years of his schooling here. Meanwhile, enamoured of his studies, Schopenhauer began to rebel at the thought of a business career and longed to be a scholar. Shocked and disappointed, his father offered him a grand tour through Europe if he would relinquish his new ambitions. The bribe was effective, and the impressionable boy, eager to see the world, gave in. Two busy and many-colored years of travel were his, spent in Holland, France, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. Then on his return to Hamburg, true to his promise, he took up his post in the business house of his father. But he was not happy in his work, and at every opportunity read the books which he kept hidden under the counter.

His father's untimely death, in 1805, probably by suicide, freed him. With the consent of his mother, he withdrew from business and embraced the career of the scholar. Undaunted by his late beginning, he made careful preparation. In June, 1807, he attended the gymnasium at Gotha, paying especial attention to the study of Latin. In Weimar, next, where his mother had settled and become a member of Goethe's admiring circle of litterateurs, he studied Greek under Franz Passow. From Passow he derived his lifelong devotion to classical learning. On attaining his majority, master of a comfortable fortune inherited from his father, he entered the University of Göttingen, applying himself to the study of philosophy and the natural sciences, and continuing the while his reading of the Greek and Latin classics. G. E. Schulze was his professor, but Kant and Plato, whom he read on the advice of Schulze, were his real teachers. He also made acquaintance with the work of Schelling, to whom his own thought owed more than he would ever admit. In 1811 he went to Berlin, where he heard Fichte and Schleiermacher. Following Napoleon's disaster in Russia came the German battle for independence. Unlike Fichte, whose discourses stirred his people to patriotic fervor, Schopenhauer took little interest and no active part in the conflict. He sought refuge in the little town of Rudolstadt and gave himself up to meditation. Here he composed his first work, originally intended as a dissertation for the doctor's degree at the University of Berlin, but actually presented at Jena.

This little book, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, published at the author's expense in 1813, was regarded by Schopenhauer as the introduction to his entire system, and later revised in order to bring it into harmony with his more mature thought. Its thesis is that reason, or cause in the sense of reason, is not a simple, single thing, but multiple. There are, in fact, four different ways, according to Schopenhauer, of asking the question Why, and four types of reason, often confused, which may be given in answer: reason of knowing or logical reason; reason of becoming, or causality; reason of being, arithmetical and geometrical reasoning; and, finally, reason for action or motivation. The doctrine is obviously reminiscent of the well-known four causes of Aristotle: the formal, efficient, material, and final. The greatest novelty appears in the development of the conception of reason of being, although Schopenhauer leaned on Kant. Mathematical reasoning, Schopenhauer argued, is fundamentally different from ordinary logical or syllogistic reasoning in being based on intuition or construction, not on deduction from premises to conclusion; and accordingly Schopenhauer advocated the revision of Euclid, who, he believed, mixes the genuinely geometrical with the spurious logical proof. Schopenhauer even offered specimens of the right kind of proof. While the idea was interesting, Schopenhauer was unaware of the complexity of the problem he was raising, and his work on the logical foundations of mathematics has little value to-day. The book found few readers, yet won the praise of Goethe for its views on geometry.

Soon after the publication of this book, Schopenhauer lived for some time at Weimar with his mother. But it was not long before the incompatibility between the joyous, light-hearted mother and her bitter, misanthropic son made itself felt. An open break finally occurred, and Frau Schopenhauer frankly denied her home to her own son. So the young philosopher left Weimar, never to see his mother again, and with one more reason for distrusting life -- and woman. The next stage in his wandering was spent in Dresden. In Weimar he had become acquainted with Goethe, for whom he felt an admiration almost religious in its intensity, and had studied the theory of colors which the poet was passionately advocating against the generally accepted theory of Newton. The result was a new work, On Vision and Colors. Schopenhauer followed in the footsteps of Goethe, attacking Newton unsparingly, but introduced certain speculations of his own not wholly in agreement with the poet's. While Newton studied color from the physical standpoint, Goethe and Schopenhauer viewed it from the physiological and psychological aspects. The two points of view were not utterly unreconcilable, but beyond calling attention to some interesting facts not always rightly interpreted, neither Goethe nor Schopenhauer worked out a satisfactory theory. Adding another drop of bitterness to the philosopher's already brimming cup, the poet received the latter's brochure with indifference.

It was in Dresden also that Schopenhauer's chief work, The World as Will and Idea, published in 1818, was composed. Certain parts of his philosophy, like the theory of morals and human freedom, were more systematically or brilliantly treated later, but, as Schopenhauer himself recognised, his essential thought is contained in this work. His whole philosophy is there, completed at the early age of thirty years. And, as is the case with most philosophers -- there are, of course, the notable exceptions -- Schopenhauer succeeded in expressing his thought more clearly and persuasively than any of his commentators have been able to re-express it. His style is so informal and good that he who runs may not only read but understand. It will be of interest, however, to indicate some of the historical affiliations of Schopenhauer's leading conceptions and their affinity with contemporary ideas. Despite his great originality, Schopenhauer was a product of his age, an age destined to be the fertile source of practically all speculative philosophy for a hundred years.

From Kant, Schopenhauer inherited the 'standpoint of idealism,' for which "this our world which is so real, with all its suns and milky ways, is nevertheless nothing but idea." Kant believed he had proved the validity of this standpoint by showing that not only the particular items of our world -- as Berkeley had already asserted -- are subjective elements of mind but that the space and time forms of objects, and larger conceptions (categories) under which we think objects, are also subjective. This result, which seems at first sight so sceptical, was thought by Kant to provide the indispensable foundation for certainty in the exact sciences. For if things are what the mind makes them, they are as the mind makes them, and must conform to its underlying pattern. We can therefore anticipate experience with reference to its form, and know certain truths about objects in advance of perceiving them. The sciences which are concerned with the form of objects -- mathematics and mechanics -- are therefore a priori. Such was Kant's 'transcendental' idealism, offered in rebuttal of the scepticism which seemed to be the inevitable result of the train of thought initiated by the great English empiricists, Locke, Berkeley, and, above all, Hume.

The main outlines of Kant's transcendental idealism were accepted by Schopenhauer, but with certain modifications. Kant's elaborate table of categories was discarded, and the whole system of 'transcendental forms' reduced to three -- space, time, and causality. This was an immense and able simplification. But, besides, there is a strain of irrationalism, a distrust of the concept, in Schopenhauer's theory of knowledge that goes beyond anything in Kant. Kant, to be sure, had made the famous statement "concepts without intuition are empty," but he never condemned, as Schopenhauer did, the whole apparatus of conception and reasoning as derivative and secondary; had he not, indeed, completed the statement quoted by adding "intuitions without concepts are blind"? The roots of Schopenhauer's irrationalism are to be found rather in Herder, the parent of romanticism, many of whose statements regarding the inferiority of the concept read like a page of Bergson. It must not be lost sight of, however, that for Schopenhauer the intuitions which are the source of all knowledge are rich with the work of the mind, being everywhere shot through with the forms of space, time, and causality. But Schopenhauer believed, as we shall see, that in a single case, at least, intuition can penetrate even these forms to a reality hidden beneath.

For to Schopenhauer, as to Kant, the world revealed in our ordinary intuitions, even when these intuitions are refined and systematized by science, is only, after all, a mere phenomenon, a moving-picture show cast on the screen of consciousness. Yet the show is not all there is, Kant taught; for behind it lies the 'thing-in-itself,' the thing as it is for itself in contradistinction to the thing as it appears to the mind in perception. We can never know what the thing-in-itself is like, because we cannot help perceiving it under the purely subjective forms of our own consciousness; but we can know that it exists. Kant's attitude was cautious, agnostic; there are limitations to knowledge which no man, however learned, can transcend. Indeed, the very basis of our certainty in matters of science -- namely, the subjectivity of the forms of knowledge -- is the basis also of our inescapable ignorance of reality. Nevertheless, while insisting that no one could ever prove it so, Kant believed that the thing-in-itself was somehow brought close to us in our practical, especially our moral, experience. And Fichte, under whom be it remembered Schopenhauer studied in Berlin, proclaimed as the principle of all true philosophy 'the primacy of the practical reason.' In that little classic of philosophy Facts of Consciousness he sought to show that only through action can we escape from the 'egocentric predicament' in which, like a fly in a spider's web, we must remain caught if we continue to occupy the standpoint of idealism alone; only through action do we know even ourselves to be real, and only through moral action do other persons become for us more than mere phantoms, real as we ourselves are real.

When, therefore, Schopenhauer made his famous announcement that the 'will' and the thing-in-itself are the same, he was not so far apart from his teachers as he supposed. By 'will' Schopenhauer means striving, impulse, instinct, interest, desire, emotion. In such experiences, he asserted, subject and object are not separate, as in other kinds, for the self that knows is also the thing that it knows. Here is a veritable miracle in the realm of knowledge. It is true -- as Schopenhauer explains in the important Chapter XVIII of the supplements to Book Two of his chief work -- that even the knowledge that we get of reality through the experience of striving is still obscured through our incapacity to dispense entirely with the forms of intuition; we are exempt from space and causality, but not from time. Not even in striving, therefore, can we get at the naked reality of ourselves; yet here there are fewer veils between knowledge and reality than anywhere else. There are two ways, in fact, by which what I call myself can be known. By the one way, from the outside, I am known as one object among other objects in the phenomenal world, the world as idea. As such an object, I am my body. By the other way of knowing, from the inside, I know myself immediately and as I really am in my experience of striving. Putting the two ways of knowing together, I may say that the body is 'the objectification' of the will; that is, the way the will appears to an outside observer (who may, of course, be myself). Hunger, for example, is 'objectified' in teeth and claws, the sexual instinct in the organs of reproduction. My fellow men and the lower animals are known in the same two ways. In the first place, they are known as certain bodies, phenomena of the minds of whoever may perceive them. But even a transcendental idealist whose head is in the jaws of a lion believes that the lion is something more than his idea. His 'animal faith' assures him that there is a very hungry will there besides. And not only the bodies of the lower animals, but the phenomena of inorganic nature as well, should be interpreted after the analogy of our own wills; what the physicist calls force is really will. Again Schopenhauer proves his spiritual kinship with the German romanticists: "No one will understand nature,' said Novalis, "who does not in the most manifold relationships with all bodies through the medium of feeling mix himself with all things, feeling himself as it were into them."

Schopenhauer, however, parts company with both Kant and Fichte in his interpretation of the will; for whereas for them the will is reasonable, for him it is blind and radically opposed to intelligence. Intelligence is secondary to the will, and cannot formulate or prescribe its ends. It is the servant of the 'will to live,' like the claw or teeth of the animal. Its function is practical, not metaphysical. In such views as these Schopenhauer anticipated much of contemporary pragmatism and psychoanalysis, as well as one aspect of the philosophy of Bergson. The Elan Vital of Bergson, operating in ways impenetrable to intelligence, is an obvious transcription of the 'will to live' of Schopenhauer. Yet for Schopenhauer, as for Bergson, the will is blind only in the sense of being independent of intelligence and incapable of formulation on its terms; for it has its own cunning in the realization of its obscure desires. And Schopenhauer uses the very same type of illustration that Bergson employed later to show how accurately instinct, or 'the will,' works.

In all these respects Schopenhauer carried the philosophy of romanticism further than it had been carried before, and broke sharply with the classical tradition. But the break was not complete. Parallel with the development of romanticism in Germany there arose a new enthusiasm for classical antiquity, and a fresh study of its literature and history. The foundations of modern classical scholarship were laid in the Germany of the early nineteenth century. And in the case of the greatest of the thinkers and artists of the period, the inspiration of Greek beauty and Greek reasonableness acted as a balancing and restraining force against the extravagances of the romantic movement. This was true, for example, of Herder, Goethe, Schiller, Schelling, and Hegel. In this enthusiasm and inspiration Schopenhauer shared. He believed that a knowledge of the classics is the basis of all sound education; and in his view of woman and his taste in art he thought he was following the Greek example. Man, he believed, is superior to and more beautiful than woman; classic architecture more beautiful than Gothic. And for his theory of art he leaned on Plato and modified his own irrationalism through a new and fruitful interpretation of the Platonic Idea.

The will -- so Schopenhauer teaches -- exists at various levels of development such as the inorganic, the vital, the human, and objectifies itself in various determinate forms, or species in the Aristotelian sense. These forms are the Platonic Ideas. They are not abstractions, least of all mere concepts, but what Goethe called Type -- Ur -- Phenomena, eternal patterns which exist only as embodied in individual instances. Being universal, they are the same in every individual that manifests them, and at all times and places. Every concrete thing and every event is an illustration of one or another of these eternal forms. There is, therefore, nothing essentially new under the sun, and all that Nature ever does is to vary endlessly, through what seems to be a wasteful bounty of fresh individuals, old themes laid down 'before the beginning of years.' History, therefore, never brings forth anything new; and he who has read Herodotus has read it all.

This Platonic supplement to Schopenhauer's metaphysics is seemingly opposed to modern historical and evolutionary modes of thought. Schopenhauer died one year after the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859. Yet he did not deny the doctrine of descent, already much debated through the work of Lamarck and others; he believed only that new forms of existence are discontinuous with old forms, and, in some way difficult to understand, predetermined in the nature of things. Although descended from lower forms, the higher cannot be reduced to or explained through the lower. Life, for example, cannot be reduced to mechanism. His doctrine of levels of being and causality was a remarkable anticipation of the notion of 'emergence' introduced by Lloyd Morgan, Sellars, and Alexander, and of the notion of the contingency of the laws of nature advocated by Boutroux. But, believing as he did that time is an illusion, he could not have, accepted the notion of 'creative' evolution. Nor, making drafts on the supposedly infinite possibilities of the future, did he believe piously in 'progress,' or hope for a superman or for the emergence of a form of life that should conquer death, 'the last enemy.'

The classical and romantic elements in the metaphysics of Schopenhauer mingled with a new strain brought from the East. Schopenhauer was the first important European philosopher to be influenced by Hindu thought. In Dresden, while busy with the reflections that issued in the World as Will and Idea, he had studied the Latin translation of the Persian version of the Upanishads made by Anquetil Duperron, and found there views congenial with his own. One was a conviction of the underlying unity of all things, and the illusory character of individuality, even of one's own individuality. 'That art thou' is written on the face of everything we meet. Kant's doctrine of transcendental idealism seemed to Schopenhauer to confirm this thought; for, since space and time are the principles of individuation, if they are subjective creations of the intellect, so is individuality. Space and time are the many-colored glass that stains the white radiance of eternity. Once this glass is broken, once the veil of Maya (illusion) is rent, there is seen to be no difference between a thing that exists here and now and another thing that exists at some remote place in space and time. All reality is a single striving.

Schopenhauer put his doctrine of the unity of being to use in explaining teleology and adaptation in the organic world, and, in so doing, employed arguments that make it difficult to believe that there is a merely chance resemblance between his thought and that of Creative Evolution. Teleology, he argued, as Bergson argued later, is not the result of the accumulation of small selected adaptations, neither is it the result of intelligent foresight, as supposed by the rationalist and theist, but the inevitable showing forth of the underlying unity of the 'will to live.' So are explained the similarities in structure and function in widely different species and the seeming prescience of instinct. It is through the underlying unity of the will, which ignores the distinctions between to-day and to-morrow and between one individual and another, that we can understand such facts as the parent animal's action in laying its eggs where the offspring will find the food that they need when they hatch out; or, to put the matter the other way round, it is owing to our own false vision which breaks the single reality into illusory differences of space and time and individuality that there is a problem here at all. To provide for another creature is, metaphysically, the same as to provide for oneself; and to take thought for to-morrow is the same as to take thought for to-day; for self and not-self, to-day and to-morrow, are one. Another instance of the effect of Hindu thought on the philosopher was his pessimism. I do not mean that he derived his pessimism from the Upanishads; for it had its primary source in his own temperament and character. Already as a youth he was impressed, as most young people are not, with the suffering and vanity of existence. We usually assume that a man is normally cheerful and optimistic, and when he is not, we scent pathology. And, in Schopenhauer's case, there is little doubt that he inherited from his father a psychopathic disposition; but only a complete psychoanalytic study of his personality, now for obvious reasons impossible, would reveal the causes of his sombre outlook upon life. One source was probably the antipathy between him and his mother; a genial attitude toward the larger environment can hardly exist unless there have been happy relations within the home. Schopenhauer seems never to have felt genuine love toward any one, except perhaps his dog -- love which alone reconciles us to sorrow and death. Moreover, Schopenhauer's young manhood was passed during the period of misery, war, and disillusionment of the postrevolutionary and Napoleonic years. He was not the only great pessimist of his age -- witness Byron, Leopardi, Pushkin, Chopin. The theoretical basis which Schopenhauer gave to his pessimism makes evil no accidental or incidental fact in the world, but inescapable, essential. It is our central illusion, he tells us, to suppose that we are destined to be happy. Evil is primary, good secondary. Following Hobbes, Schopenhauer defines the good as the objective of desire; but desire itself is painful; hence the underlying motive in desire is to get rid of desire itself. The good is therefore negative, not positive; it is the easing of a burden. Desire starts with an original frustration. If not unhappy, man is -- what is perhaps worse -- bored, when, having desires, he yet has no objects for them. (To supply such objects, men have invented cards or similar entertainments.) It is easy enough to criticise this theory of value for overlooking the positive element of good that springs from the satisfaction of desire, or, more vividly sometimes, from the imaginative anticipation of satisfaction. On the other hand, Schopenhauer called attention to the fact that every desire, in so far as its appeasement is postponed or incomplete -- and of how few of our desires is this not true? -- is partly frustrated, and so contains an element of evil. There is a soul of evil in things good. And in many a vivid page, long before the doctrine of the 'struggle for existence' became a commonplace of thought, Schopenhauer described the conflict, not now within the will, but between the will of one individual or species and another. Here again, in neglecting the facts of mutual aid and co-operation, Schopenhauer's vision was myopic, yet what he did observe is there in the world, to be reckoned with by any philosopher who aims to see life whole. Upon the metaphysical foundation which we have been considering, Schopenhauer erected his aesthetics and his ethics. His observations on literature and art both in his chief work, including the appendices to it, and in his essays have been justly praised. Despite much absurdity in details, his theory of music as the image of emotion and desire as such, independent of all occasions or objects of desire -- music expresses, for example, joy, but cannot express what joy may be about, or longing, but does not tell us what we long for -- is essentially sound, and won for him the sympathy and discipleship of musicians; and his theory of architecture, while incomplete, anticipated the 'aesthetic mechanics' of Lipps.1 The general purpose of art he declared to be the revelation of the Platonic Ideas underlying the various stages and forms of objectification of will; music alone among the arts reveals the will itself, bare of objectification. Art is a new way of knowing (notice how many there are for Schopenhauer, never quite clearly and satisfactorily distinguished by him). Ordinary knowledge is under the control of the principle of sufficient reason and seeks, in the service of the will, the space, time, cause, relationships of objects. Art, on the other hand, freed from the uses of desire, is pure contemplation, envisaging the timeless universals embodied in its creations. Art has, therefore, a double value: first, as a pure joy in knowledge; and, second, as a release from the pain of desire. In aesthetic contemplation the observer identifies himself with what he beholds, and in losing his individuality escapes from suffering. He becomes a will-less 'world-eye.' Nature seems beautiful to us when it induces this mood of contemplation without effort, and meets us half-way in our endeavor to decipher its eternal designs. An artist or man of genius is one who divines the intentions of Nature more readily than other men do, and lives not as they for the appeasement of desire but for the sake of the intuition of the eternal, which liberates from desire. While Schopenhauer gave to this conception of art the stamp of his own unique personality, the conception was not entirely new. The theory that the object of art is the universal, not in the sense of the abstract concept, but of the typical individual, in which universality and individuality are fused, was the common property of the great thinkers of his age. To name just two examples: it is to be found in Goethe's little essay entitled Imitation of Nature, Manner, and Style, written in 1788; it is found again in Schelling's essay called The Relation of the Plastic Arts to Nature, written in 1807. The most original element of Schopenhauer's general theory of art was his reinterpretation of Kant's notion of the 'disinterestedness' of the aesthetic experience to mean will-lessness. Schopenhauer saw more clearly than any one before him the intimate connection between art and pain, and art's liberating function. But Schopenhauer was wrong in thinking that art liberates by ridding us of desire; for it is rather by giving a new, imaginative form to desire that art frees us, not from desire itself, but from its burdensomeness. And it is inconsistent with Schopenhauer's own presuppositions to assert that art rids us of desire; for if through art we become one with the reality of things, and that reality is desire, how can we escape desire? But here we touch upon one of the chief paradoxes of Schopenhauer's philosophy. Finally, if the world permits us the pure good of beauty, how is it nothing but evil? Is existence not thereby justified?

Schopenhauer's ethics bears the mark of his study of oriental philosophy and is, on the whole, consistent with the rest of his system. Owing to the fact that man knows only himself directly, and other people merely in idea, he is by original nature egoistic, selfish, ruthlessly seeking his own advantage against the good of his fellows. Yet reflection must convince that individuality is an illusion, and that it is absurd to oppose one's own will to the will of another, with whom one is, as a matter of fact, identical. Pity, which is the psychological spring of morality, is the phenomenal appearance of the underlying oneness of self and fellow man; to relieve the distress of another is to give assuagement to one's own. Schopenhauer believed that the state, with its system of justice, is not founded on morality, but -- and liere he borrowed from Hobbes and Rousseau -- on enlightened selfishness; the citizens, by implicit contract, agreeing among themselves to refrain from injuring, or encroaching on the property of, each other. But morality enjoins more than merely refraining from injuring another; it bids us help him, so far as we can, and even, in the person of the saint as exemplar, to renounce individuality entirely, with the hope that others will do the same; so ending the sorry scheme of existence altogether. Yet, while praising sainthood, as renunciation of the will to live, Schopenhauer condemned suicide, on the ground that it expressed rather a surrender to the forces of the will than a mastery over them, and was useless because the will cannot be annihilated by the destruction of a single individual, when there are countless others in which it still lives on.

Such, in brief outline, is the philosophy expounded in The World as Will and Idea. Schopenhauer was convinced of its truth as few men are convinced of the truth of their speculations. For him it was true all through; he had no doubts of a single portion of it. He confidently expected to be hailed as a prophet. Yet his book created hardly a ripple on the sea of opinion and remained practically ignored for a generation. This indifference Schopenhauer attributed to a conspiracy of silence on the part of the professors of philosophy, called by him philosophers by trade, men who live by rather than for philosophy. This accusation was, of course, absurd, almost insanely absurd; the plain fact was that Schopenhauer's work was born out of season. There were other luminaries in the sky, and an uncongenial intellectual atmosphere, and so long as their light shone his was bound to be in the shadow.

His great work in the hands of the printer, Schopenhauer set off for Italy. And then began a lonely, obscure, homeless life, embittered by lack of recognition, yet tireless in its devotion to learning and philosophy, and never faltering in the belief in its own significance. One is reminded of Cezanne, who also had to wait a generation for recognition, and his proud assertion: "You know there is but one painter in Europe, myself." Once or twice he thought of marrying, but fearing to lose the independence he so highly prized, abandoned the idea and remained a bachelor to the end of his days. Yet, while professing to despise women, he was far from being insensible to their charms, and was often tortured by his passions; there were several love adventures, some sordid, some more poetic, yet he seems never to have had any very deep attachments to men or to women. His dogs, of which there were a succession, were his most devoted companions. He twice sought to enter upon a university career. In 1830 he matriculated at Berlin and announced lectures, at the same hour as Hegel's, then at the height of his popularity, but discontinued them, owing to lack of students, after a single semester. His second attempt at teaching was at Heidelberg, but he failed again. These facts explain some of his bitterness against the professors.

In June, 1833, Schopenhauer took up residence in Frankfurt, where he remained until his death. For a decade more he lived in retirement unknown to his contemporaries, yet confident of ultimate triumph. "Nature does nothing in vain," he asked; "then why does she give me so many deep thoughts which find no sympathy among men?" And he answered: "My generation is not my proper field of activity, but only the ground upon which my physical person stands, which is, however, only an insignificant part of my whole person." While waiting for the recognition that was eventually to be his, he was not idle. He read deeply, and in the original tongues, the literature of France, Spain, Italy, England, and Germany, including the moralists and essayists, Montaigne, La Rochefoucauld, Le Bruyere, Chamfort, Shenstone, Shaftesbury, Vauvenargues, Lichtenberg. He continued his studies in the classics, and nursed the mystical strain in his nature with the works of Eckhart, the author of German Theology, Böhme, and Angelus Silesius. He attended theatres and concerts, and followed closely the development of scientific thought, looking everywhere for confirmations of his own system. In 1836 he brought out a new book, On the Will in Nature, an exposition of the confirmations which he believed he found in astronomy, physics, biology, and, be it added, in so-called 'spiritistic' phenomena. In 1839 lie contended successfully with a prize essay written in answer to the question propounded by the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences at Drontheim: Can the Freedom of the Human Will be proved from the evidence of Self-consciousness? The essay is one of the most brilliant discussions of this problem in philosophical literature, ranking with those of Edwards, James, and Bergson. This success brought him the keenest joy. But the following year he suffered a disappointment to balance it. For the essay which he wrote on the Source and Foundation of Morality, a problem propounded by the Royal Danish Society at Copenhagen, was not crowned. The failure was largely due to the fact that, not content to restate and amplify the theory of morality contained in Book Four of his chief work, he indulged in scurrilous attacks on his old, supposed enemies, the philosophy professors, particularly Fichte. The two essays were published together in 1841 under the title The Two Main Problems in Ethics. In 1844, despite the financial failure of the First Edition, his publishers were persuaded to bring out a revised edition of the World as Will and Idea, without cost, yet without profit to the writer. It contained fifty new chapters of supplementary material which Schopenhauer described, I think rightly, as the best he had written, the ripest fruit of his reflections, throwing light on many an obscure point in his system. Finally, in 1851, there appeared two volumes of essays on topics of general interest, embodying the wisdom garnered from his long life. Despite the forbidding Greek title, Parerga and Paralipomena, these essays were largely instrumental itn bringing him the recognition for which he had so long waited.

But even before this his day had come at last. The fame of his great early rivals, Schleiermacher, Fichte, and Hegel, had waned, and he was to have his turn now. He began to make disciples, of whom the chief was Julius Frauenstadt, his able publicity agent, whom he called his arch-evangelist. At first his fame was among non-academic folk, merchants, musicians, men of letters, soldiers, lawyers; but finally even the professors recognized the importance of his philosophy, for in 1853 J. E. Erdmann gave him an extended notice in his German Speculation Since Kant. The last ten years of his life were the happiest. In his apartment on the Schone Aussicht, unpretentious yet comfortable, where he lived in the company of his dog, surrounded by the likenesses of his favorite philosophers, including a bronze Buddha, and at the Englische Hof where he dined, he received many distinguished, admiring visitors. "Jupiter Tonans" was pointed out, no longer as a mere eccentric, but as a great man. And no item of attention was lost; he drank it all in with a naive, childish delight. In the best of health almost to the very end, the turbulence of passion gone, the dream of his young manhood attained, his personality vibrated a mellower, quieter tone. After a brief illness, he died peacefully and alone, September 21, 1860.

Admirable as philosopher and writer, Schopenhauer was not lovable as a man. The great defect of his personality was his incapacity to love; and he who does not love is rarely himself beloved. He was egotistical, childish, suspicious, morbidly timorous, passionate -- -no 'milk and water' nature, as he said of himself. Just in his dealings with other men, he was not generous or magnanimous. A cosmopolitan by temper and training, he was lacking in all patriotic and civic feeling. He felt keenly the misery of humankind, but took no interest in any efforts to alleviate it. Yet there were things in him to like: of little things, his love for animals and his appreciation of their significance for the spirit of man; of great things, a steadfastness of purpose and a love of truth such as few men have matched. And because he possessed these, all his faults may well be forgiven him. His appearance and personality in later life have been vividly portrayed as follows by Foucher de Careil: "His blue, lively eyes, his thin lips, about which played a fine, sarcastic smile, his broad brow framed by two white locks of hair, put the stamp of distinction and nobility upon his physiognomy, which sparkled with wit and mischief. His clothes, his lace ruffle, and white cravat, reminded one of an old gentleman of the time of Louis XV; his manners were those of a man of good society. Of a retiring disposition often bordering on the suspicious, he consorted with only his most intimate friends or with the strangers who came to visit Frankfurt. In conversation his movements were often of extraordinary liveliness. While he hated mere word-battles, he felt all the more the charm of a spirited and earnest debate. His conversation bubbled over with witticisms, citations, and interesting details, making the hours pass unnoticed. Many times his intimate friends listened to him until midnight without feeling fatigue, the brightness of his eye continuing undimmed. His conversation was distinguished above all for its peculiar clarity. Happy they who were so fortunate as to hear this last of the conversationalists of a vanished century. In this respect he was the contemporary of Voltaire, Diderot, Helvetius, and Chamfort."2

The philosophy of Schopenhauer is notable rather for the richness, variety, and brilliance of its insights than for consistency and totality of vision. He lacked the broad intellectual justice of a Hegel or an Aristotle, and the logical rigor of a Descartes or a Leibniz. Even when one is compelled to accept the essential theses of his philosophy, one has to reject a great deal as sheer nonsense, mere personal fancy or perversity. While such a philosopher has something for every type of thinker, he cannot found a school. Moreover, some of his doctrines are so violently opposed to the fundamental 'vital axioms' of our civilization that he could not exert the widest influence. Yet many exceptional minds have found inspired guidance in his writings, especially those spirits who, for one cause or another, have been impressed with the suffering and evil in existence, or have become sceptical of reason. Among artists, the greatest who felt his influence were Wagner, Grillparzer, and Tolstoy. Among important philosophers -- to omit all lesser names -- the man who came nearest to being a disciple, while disagreeing in significant matters, was Eduard von Hartmann, whose Philosophy of the Unconscious sought a reconciliation between Schopenhauer and his rival, Hegel; Friedrich Nietzsche, starting from a pessimistic basis derived from Schopenhauer, yet rose to the strenuous optimism of the doctrine of the Superman; Hans Vaihinger, in his Philosophy of the As-If, leaned on both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche for his theory of the biological function and fictitious character of the intellect; and, finally, Henri Bergson, if he did not actually borrow his theories of Elan Vital, of intuition, of the practical nature of the intellect, of teleology, directly from Schopenhauer, most certainly felt his influence. But more than this, one may rightly claim, as has already been observed, that the entire voluntaristic and antirationalistic movement of last century, and much of pragmatism, while springing from many sources, had Schopenhauer as one of its originators.


1 See Geoffrey Scott's The Architecture of Humanism.

2 Freely translated from the citation in Schopenhauer, by Heinrich Hasse, p. 54.


On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, 1788

On Vision and Colors, 1813

The World as Will and Idea, 1818

On the Will in Nature, 1836

The Two Main Problems of Ethics, 1841

Parerga and Paralipomena, 1851