This page contains a list of the best books on or by Schopenhauer. Just to be clear, there is no single best book on Schopenhauer. The best book for you will depend on your preferred learning style and the amount of time that you want to spend reading about Schopenhauer. An 800-page scholarly overview is unlikely to be best for someone looking for a short beginner-friendly introduction, for example. This list aims to take this ambiguity into account by featuring books that will appeal to a variety of learning styles.
Secondly, this is not a list of personal recommendations. It was created by compiling recommendations from a variety of online sources including bibliographies, course syllabi, and community recommendations. You can find out more about this process here. Links to the sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a wider range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on or by Schopenhauer in no particular order.
Schopenhauer: A Very Short Introduction – Christopher Janaway
Publisher description: Schopenhauer is considered to be the most readable of German philosophers. This book gives a succinct explanation of his metaphysical system, concentrating on the original aspects of his thought, which inspired many artists and thinkers including Nietzsche, Wagner, Freud, and Wittgenstein. Schopenhauer’s central notion is that of the will–a blind, irrational force that he uses to interpret both the human mind and the whole of nature. Seeing human behavior as that of a natural organism governed by the will to life, Schopenhauer developed radical insights concerning the unconscious and sexuality which influenced both psychologists and philosophers.
Schopenhauer – Julian Young
Publisher description: Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was one of the greatest writers and German philosophers of the nineteenth century. His work influenced figures as diverse as Wagner, Freud and Nietzsche. 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. He carefully examines Schopenhauer’s theories of the sublime, artistic genius and music, before assessing his ethics of compassion, his arguments for pessimism and his account of ‘salvation’. 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.
Schopenhauer: A Biography – David E. Cartwright
Publisher description: In his quest to solve ‘the ever-disquieting riddle of existence’, Schopenhauer explored almost every dimension of human existence, developing a darkly compelling worldview that found deep resonance in contemporary literature, music, philosophy, and psychology. This is the first comprehensive biography of Schopenhauer written in English. Placing him in his historical and philosophical contexts, David E. Cartwright tells the story of Schopenhauer’s life to convey the full range of his philosophy. He offers a fully documented portrait in which he explores Schopenhauer’s fractured family life, his early formative influences, his critical loyalty to Kant, his personal interactions with Fichte and Goethe, his ambivalent relationship with Schelling, his contempt for Hegel, his struggle to make his philosophy known, and his reaction to his late-arriving fame.
The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer – Christopher Janaway
Publisher description: Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) is something of a maverick figure in the history of philosophy. He produced a unique theory of the world and human existence based upon his notion of will. This collection analyses the related but distinct components of will from the point of view of epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind, aesthetics, ethics, and the philosophy of psychoanalysis. This volume explores Schopenhauer’s philosophy of death, his relationship to the philosophy of Kant, his use of ideas drawn from both Buddhism and Hinduism, and the important influence he exerted on Nietzsche, Freud, and Wittgenstein.
The Essential Schopenhauer – Arthur Schopenhauer
Publisher description: The Essential Schopenhauer delivers the first comprehensive English anthology of the seminal philosopher’s writings. Edited by Wolfgang Schirmacher, president of the International Schopenhauer Association, this indispensible collection affords readers a uniquely accessible gateway into the monolithic thinker’s prodigious body of work. Just as the Harper Perennial Basic Writings series renders the work of Heidegger and Nietzsche accessible for English readers, The Essential Schopenhauer gives us unprecedented access to the complex ideas of this profound and influential thinker.
Essays and Aphorisms – Arthur Schopenhauer
This selection of thoughts on religion, ethics, politics, women, suicide, books, and much more is taken from Schopenhauer’s last work, Parerga and Paralipo-mena, published in 1851.
The World as Will and Representation – Arthur Schopenhauer
Publisher description: First published in 1818, The World as Will and Representation contains Schopenhauer’s entire philosophy, ranging through epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of mind and action, aesthetics and philosophy of art, to ethics, the meaning of life and the philosophy of religion, in an attempt to account for the world in all its significant aspects. It gives a unique and influential account of what is and is not of value in existence, the striving and pain of the human condition and the possibility of deliverance from it. This new translation of the first volume of what later became a two-volume work reflects the eloquence and power of Schopenhauer’s prose and renders philosophical terms accurately and consistently. It offers an introduction, glossary of names and bibliography, and succinct editorial notes, including notes on the revisions of the text which Schopenhauer made in 1844 and 1859.
The following sources were used to build this list:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Schopenhauer
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Schopenhauer
For more introductory philosophy resources and reading lists check out this collection of Resources and Reading Lists.