Arthur Schopenhauer - Life and Work


Ajit Kumar AJIT KUMARWISDOM IAS, New Delhi.

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) came into the world on February 22, 1788 in Danzig (Gdansk, Poland). The Schopenhauer family was of Dutch heritage, and the philosopher's father, Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer (1747–1805), was a successful merchant and shipowner who groomed his son to assume control of the family's business. In March 1793, when Schopenhauer was five years old, his family moved to Hamburg after the formerly free city of Danzig was annexed by Prussia (modern Germany).
Schopenhauer toured through Europe several times and lived in France (1797–99) and England (1803), where he learned how to speak the languages of those countries. As he later reported, his experiences in France were among the happiest of his life. The memories of his stay at a boarding school in Wimbledon at age 15 were in contrast, rather agonized, setting him against the English style of Christianity for the rest of his life.
The professional occupations of a merchant or banker were not sufficiently consistent with Schopenhauer's scholarly disposition, and although for two years after his father's death in 1805 Schopenhauer continued to respect the commercial aspirations his father had had for him, he finally left his Hamburg business apprenticeship at age 19 to prepare for university studies.
In 1809, Schopenhauer began studies at the University of Göttingen, where he remained for two years, first studying medicine, and then, philosophy. In Göttingen, he absorbed the views of the skeptical philosopher, Gottlob Ernst Schulze (1761–1833), who introduced him to Plato and Kant. Schopenhauer next enrolled at the University of Berlin (1811–13), where his lecturers included Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762–1814) and Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834). His university studies in Göttingen and Berlin included courses in physics, psychology, astronomy, zoology, archaeology, physiology, history, literature and poetry.
At age 25, and ready to write his doctoral dissertation, he moved in 1813 to Rudolstadt. Entitling his work The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, it formed the centerpiece of his later philosophy, articulating arguments he would later use to criticize as charlatans, the prevailing German Idealistic philosophers of the time, namely, his former lecturer, J. G. Fichte, along with F. W. J. Schelling (1775–1854) and G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831). In that same year, Schopenhauer submitted his dissertation to the nearby University of Jena and was awarded a doctorate in philosophy in absentia.
Schopenhauer had suffered a great disappointment circa 1820 as his publication of The World as Will and Idea had fallen flat in terms of a public response - he himself considered that his philosophy explained a great deal!!!
A second edition published, in two volumes, some twenty five years later did not fare much better. This 1844 edition was remarkable in that the first volume was effectively the work of 1819 whilst the second, and larger, volume was a book of commentary. 
 In the intervening years he had written several works including On the Will in Nature (1836), The Freedom of the Will (1841), and The Foundations of Morality (1841).
 Although an Essay on the Freedom of the Will had been recognised through the awardance of a cultural prize in Norway in 1839 he was into his sixties when the publication of his collection of essays Parerga and Paralipomena (i.e. Additions and Omissions - 1851) really brought public attention to his life's work.
Schopenhauer was seventy-two years of age, and internationally famous, at the time of his death on September 21 1860.
Works
Schopenhauer published in 1818 Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, in four books, with an appendix containing a criticism of the Kantian philosophy (Eng. trans. by R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, 1883).
Book One considers the world as idea. The idea is defined as an object of experience and science, and is dependent on the principle of sufficient reason. Book Two considers the world as the will, showing how the will manifests itself in the world. Book Three considers the Platonic Idea, which is the idea independent of the principle of sufficient reason. Book Four considers the ethical implications of the affirmation and denial of the will to life.
Schopenhauer's metaphysics, as stated in The World as Will and Representation is structured through a small set of dichotomous divisions. Schopenhauer prided himself on the simplicity of this in comparison to Kant, whose system he compared to a Gothic cathedral. The basic distinction in Schopenhauer's metaphysics is between representation and the thing-in-itself. The thing-in-itself turns out to be will. The will is introduced in Book II, where its manifestations in nature are also examined. Book IV is also about the denial of will, self, and self-interest, producing for Schopenhauer a theory both of morality and of holiness, the former by which self-interest is curtailed for the sake of others, the latter by which all will-to-live ceases. Schopenhauer's greatest eloquence about the evils, sufferings, and futility of life, and its redemption through self-denial, occur there.
On the representation side of his metaphysics, which occupies Books I and III of The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer must deal with two areas that exercise their own claims to be considered things-in-themselves. First, at the beginning of Book I, comes the Subject of Knowledge. Schopenhauer's thought there is refined by his reading of the Upanishads, where the Brihadâranyaka Upanishad distinguishes the Subject of Knowledge, the Unknown Knower, from all Objects of Knowledge, from everything Known. Schopenhauer accepts that distinction, and also that the Subject is free of the forms of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (space, time, causality, etc.). He retains the Subject as an Unknowable side of representation, distinct from all Objects. In Book III Schopenhauer turns to his theory of Ideas, which he says are the same as Plato's Ideas, and which are also free of the forms of space, time, and causality. For Schopenhauer, it is through the Ideas that all beauty is manifest in art and nature. Schopenhauer keeps ideas in representation, as the nature of Objects in so far as they are free of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. The bulk of Book III is then occupied with the examination of individual forms of art, culminating in music. The final distinction, although it is one of the earliest made, in Book I, is between the body and the other objects of representation in space and time. For Schopenhauer, the body is known immediately and the perception of other objects is spontaneously projected, in a remaining fragment of Kant's theory of synthesis and perception, from the sensations present in the sense organs of the body onto the external objects understood as the causes of those sensations. The body itself, in Book II, becomes the most immediate manifestation of the will, a direct embodiment of the will-to-live. Schopenhauer’s viewpoint also represents an extreme pessimism. He says that optimism is absurd. Life means suffering. Every volitional act arises from deprivation and suffering. The act of willing arises from the wish for something that has not been obtained or achieved.
Schopenhauer gave aesthetics and beauty a central place in his thought such as few other philosophers have done. Schopenhauer believed through art the thinking subject could be jarred out of their limited, individual perspective, to feel a sense of the universal directly — the "universal" in question, of course, was the will. The contest of personal desire with a world that was, by nature, inimical to its satisfaction is inevitably tragic; therefore, the highest place in art was given to tragedy. Music was also given a special status in Schopenhauer's aesthetics as it did not rely upon the medium of representation to communicate a sense of the universal. Schopenhauer believed the function of art to be a meditation on the unity of human nature, and an attempt to either demonstrate or directly communicate to the audience a certain existential horror for which most forms of entertainment — including bad art-- only provided a distraction. In 1854 Richard Wagner sent him a copy of the Ring of the Nibelung, with some words of thanks for a theory of music, which had fallen in with his own conceptions. A wide range of authors (from Thomas Hardy to Woody Allen) and artists were influenced by Schopenhauer’s system of aesthetics, and in the 20th century this area of his work garnered more attention and praise than any other.
After a visit to Italy, Schopenhauer qualified as a private lecturer in the University of Berlin. He was accepted by a committee, which included Hegel as a member. Schopenhauer offered his lectures at the same hours as Hegel, and found that no students could be won from him, which eventually ended his university career. He later wrote an essay called On University Philosophy, which aired his personal resentment. Another later work, with its wild outcry against the philosophy of the professoriate, was entitled Uber den Willen in der Natur, and was published in 1836 (revised and enlarged, 1854; On the Will in Nature, 1889). Schopenhauer's second visit to Italy lasted almost three years, but he returned to Berlin in 1825. Epidemic of cholera, during which Hegel died, drove him to Frankfurt am Main in 1833. Here, with the exception of a short stay at Mannheim, he spent the rest of his life.
In 1844 appeared the second edition of The World as Will and Idea, in two volumes. The first volume was a slightly altered reprint of the earlier issue; the second consisted of a series of chapters forming a commentary parallel to those into which the original work was now first divided. The longest of these new chapters deal with the primacy of the will, with death and with the metaphysics of sexual love. He also projected a translation of Hume's Essays and wrote a preface for it. He succeeded in finding a publisher for the Parerga und Paralipomena, which appeared at Berlin in 1851 (2 vols., pp. 465, 531; sel. trans. by J. B. Saunders, 1889; French by A. Dietrich, 1909). For this bulky collection of essays, philosophical and others, Schopenhauer received as honorarium only ten free copies of the work. Soon afterwards, Dr E. 0. Lindner, assistant editor of the Vossische Zeitung, began a series of Schopenhauerite articles. Amongst them may be reckoned a translation by Mrs Lindner of an article by John Oxenford which appeared in the Westminster Review for April 1853, entitled "Iconoclasm in German Philosophy," being an outline of Schopenhauer's system. In 1854 Frauenstädt's, Letters on the Schopenhauerean Philosophy showed that the new doctrines were becoming a subject of discussion — a state of things made still more obvious by the university of Leipzig offering a prize for the best exposition and examination of the principles of Schopenhauer's system. New editions of his works were called for: a second edition of his degree dissertation in 1847, of his Essay on Colours and of The Will in Nature in 1854, a third edition of The World as Will and Idea in 1859, and in 1860 a second edition of The Main Problems of Ethics.
 

Saturday, 25th Jan 2014, 04:04:18 AM

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