Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer

by Julian Young

Best known as a pessimist, he was one of the few philosophers read and admired by Wittgenstein.In this comprehensive introduction, Julian Young covers all the main aspects of Schopenhauer's philosophy.

Beginning with an overview of Schopenhauer's life and work, he introduces the central aspects of his metaphysics fundamental to understanding his work as a whole: his philosophical idealism and debt to the philosophy of Kant; his attempt to answer the question of what the world is; his account of science; and in particular his idea that 'will' is the essence of all things.Julian Young then introduces and assesses Schopenhauer's aesthetics, which occupy a central place in his philosophy.

In the final chapter, he considers Schopenhauer's legacy and his influence on the thought of Nietzsche and Wittgenstein, making this an ideal starting point for those coming to Schopenhauer for the first time.

What People Think about "Schopenhauer"

Here's what I picked up from Young's elucidation of "The World as Will and Representation." Schopenhauer was inspired in part from sheer negativity towards his German philosophical contemporaries. He had utter contempt for Hegel, whose "absolute spirit," Schopenhauer pointed out, could not actually be conceived of in relation to actual lived experience. (Although the underlining suggestion is that Hegel- and the society that produced him- his benefactors- IS the Absolute Spirit.) Schopenhauer insisted that a concept could only be considered valid if it could be traced back to experience, or at least imaginable experience. That Schopenhauer does not, I think, adequately differentiate his ultimate findings from those of the likes of Hegel is a telling commentary on what I see as the "objective" posturings of "analytic" philosophy. Schopenhauer wants to discover, in other words, the nature of Kant's thing-in-itself, precisely that which Kant claims cannot be known by human consciousness. Life, then, does not naturally lead a human to truth, but to survival, a (perceived) world in which we can endure, if not rejoice. I can experience and describe what makes it "tick." Schopenhauer reports that what makes his body tick is "will" and, following Kant, he asserts that we can either universalize this observation, or make no claims about the world at all. Since, according to Schopenhauer, the latter is against human nature, we must ascribe will to all things, though not will as it is experienced by individual humans. But the World-Will demands that humans, to survive, treat others as a means, not an end. Given the horrific nature of being, philosophy is obliged to complete humanity's understanding of the world by trying to find some kind of consolation, some kind of escape from the "horror-of-the-world." That the last sentence could even articulate something meaningful (assuming it could) Schopenhauer takes as proof that the Kantian thing-in-itself must lie beyond the horrific World-Will. Schopenhauer thinks the mediocre (neither base nor brilliant) human (which is to say illusionistic individual manifestation of the World-Will) can experience a few seconds of release from itself through aesthetic experience, through the recognition of great art. In great works, Schopenhauer claims, the object of the individual's scrutiny is transformed into pure Platonic Ideality. What differentiates the mediocrity from a genius such as Schopenhauer, according to Schopenhauer, is that the latter can learn from aesthetic experience that a higher state than that of individual will is possible as a permanent state, that one can achieve an ascetic relationship to life. Schopenhauer claims that, underneath appearance, each individual, which is only an appearance, chooses its own nature. If World-Will is such that it has to appear the way it appears, freedom of the individual can appear, contra-Schopenhauer, to be possible, but it cannot be possible in essence. The illusory individual relates, for Schopenhauer, only to others in the way that makes the World-Will maintain the appearance of constancy. Another criticism of Schopenhauer: Is nirvana- that which, as described, I acknowledge can be momentarily glimpsed through aesthetic experience as a dissolution of self- as a permanent state, the actual seeing of the dissolving of the world of experience, any less cut off from actual, lasting experience, than the absolute spirit of Hegel? Is absolute spirit, as I read it, not just a less brash description of the unity of all things in a mind to come as that which Schopenhauer describes as a mind-writing-and-thinking-right-now in his description of ascetic experience? And thus, are Schopenhauer's claims not actually more elitist than those of Hegel and continental philosophy? He wrote the book when post-structuralism- he refers to it as post-modernism- was on its way out, but still in the vogue as a philosophical school, much as Hegelianism was in Schopenhauer's life-time. Both author and subject of this book can, I think, be criticized for their negation of false schools of thought, where there was really no schools but only constellations constructed by historians looking at historical moments.

I'm honestly not entirely sure how his strategy differs from that of the Stoics, but reading this book has given me a second wind in my previously-stymied efforts to abandon desires.