The drama of Arthur Schopenhauer

The life of Arthur Schopenhauer (Danzing, 1788-Frankfurt, 1860), one of the greatest German philosophers of all times, coincided with a cultural moment of extraordinary vitality: the birth of German idealism and romanticism.

August 29, 2022-Reading time: 5 minutes

His was a dramatic existence, marked by the figures of a domineering father and a mother with literary ambitions, and by an indomitable will to succeed in the dense intellectual environment in which he lived, where thinkers such as Kant, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel had shone.

At a time when the cult of reason prevailed, Schopenhauer already intuited some of the features that shape our present: irrationalism, tragic pessimism, the primacy of will, instincts and desire, as well as the importance of art to understand the nature of the human being. It is a pity that such an intelligent man lacked the humility of one who knows God".

In the wonderful biography dedicated to him by Rüdiger Safranski, it is stated that it is often forgotten that we are dealing with a philosopher of the early nineteenth century, although of late influence, especially through his disciple Nietszche.

For him, the will is both the source of life and the substratum in which all misfortune nests: death, the corruption of the existing and the background of the universal struggle. Schopenhauer swims against the current of his time: he is not animated by the pleasure of action, but by the art of abandonment.

In addition to his famous pessimism, his work has some useful elements such as his philosophy of inner strength and the invitation to silence.

Towards the end of his life he once said to an interlocutor, "A philosophy between whose pages one does not hear the tears, the howling and gnashing of teeth, as well as the dreadful din of the universal crime of all against all, is not a philosophy."

His father, a rich merchant, wanted to make him a merchant too (a man of the world and of fine manners). But Arthur, favored at this point by the early suicide of his father (from whom he would learn courage, pride, sobriety and a firm and hurtful arrogance) and helped by his mother, with whom he would later become enemies, became a philosopher. His passion for philosophy arose from amazement at the world and, since he had inherited fortune, he was able to live for philosophy and did not need to live from it.

His main work, The world as will and representationwas for him the real task of his existence and was not successful when it was published. He then retired from the stage without ever having performed, and he dedicated himself to contemplating the sometimes cruel carnival of life from the sidelines.

Being a man of prodigious self-esteem, he knew how to think and outline the three great humiliations of human megalomania: the cosmological humiliation (our world is but one of the innumerable spheres that populate infinite space and on which a layer of mold with living and cognizant beings moves); the biological humiliation (man is an animal in which intelligence serves him exclusively to compensate for the lack of instincts and inadequate adaptation to the environment); and the psychological humiliation (our conscious self does not rule its own house).

In the work of the philosopher from Danzing as well as in his biography, we can discover that Schopenhauer was a child without sufficient love (his mother did not love his father and some say that he took care of Arthur only out of obligation), which left wounds covered later by pride. In his Metaphysics of Manners he will say that the human being "will carry out all sorts of frustrated attempts and do violence to his character in the details; but on the whole he will have to bend to it" and that "if we want to grasp and possess anything in life we have to leave innumerable things to the right and left, renouncing them. But if we are incapable of making up our minds in this way and we throw ourselves on everything that attracts us in a provisional way, as children do at the annual fair, we run in this way in zigzag and get nowhere. He who wants to be everything can become nothing".

Influenced by the reading of Voltaire's Candide and overwhelmed by the desolation of life as he contemplated illness, old age, pain and death, he lost what little faith he had at the age of 17, at the age of 17 he lost what little faith he had and affirmed that "the clear and evident truth that the world expressed soon overlapped with the Judaic dogmas that had been inculcated in me and I came to the conclusion that this world could not be the work of a benevolent being but, in any case, the creation of a devil who had called it into existence to recreate himself in the contemplation of its pain". At the same time and paradoxically he will attack materialism saying that "the materialist will be comparable to the baron of Münchausen, who, swimming on horseback in the water, tried to pull the horse with his legs and to drag himself pulled his own pigtail forward".

And it is precisely his renunciation of Christian truths that will turn him into an individual of unbearable treatment and unhappy existence: he will end his days alone, angry for years with his mother and his only sister, without having managed to commit himself to any of the women he took advantage of, denounced by a neighbor who claimed that he threw her down the stairs in an argument because of the noise she made when talking, and found dead by his housekeeper on the sofa of his house.

When his mother took Schopenhauer's dissertation The quadruple rootArthur replied: "it will be read when not a single one of your writings is left in the back room" and his mother replied: "of yours, the whole edition will be about to be released".

However, throughout his life he would have moments of lucidity as when he gave importance to compassion in the lives of men (he himself left his inheritance to a charitable organization) or when he liked to climb the mountains and contemplate the beauty of the landscape from above. In his diary he wrote: "If we take away from life the brief moments of religion, art and pure love, what is left but a succession of trivial thoughts? And in a letter to his mother he will come to say: "the pulsations of divine music have not ceased to sound through the centuries of barbarism, and an immediate echo of the eternal has remained in us, intelligible to all the senses and even above vice and virtue".

In the political field, patriotism is strange to him, war events are "thunder and smoke", an extraordinarily foolish game. He was "fully convinced that I was not born to serve mankind with my fist but with my head, and that my fatherland is greater than Germany. For him, the state is a necessary evil, a social machine which, at best, couples collective egoism with the collective interest of survival and which has no moral competence. He does not want a State with a soul which, as soon as it can, tries to possess the souls of its subjects. Schopenhauer uncompromisingly defends freedom of thought.

In 1850 he finished his last work, the Parerga and Paralipomena, secondary writings, scattered but systematically ordered thoughts on various subjects. Among them are the Aphorisms on the wisdom of living, which later became so famous (together with The Art of Being Right: Exposed in 38 Stratagems). They do not lack the sense of humor of their author, who affirmed that taking ourselves too seriously in the present turns us into laughable people and that only a few great spirits managed to leave that situation to become laughable people. Shortly before his death he said: "Humanity has learned from me things it will never forget". Let us learn from his virtues and his mistakes.

La Brújula Newsletter Leave us your email and receive every week the latest news curated with a catholic point of view.
Banner advertising
Banner advertising