Who Is Arthur Schopenhauer?

A man is never happy, but spends his whole life in striving after something which he thinks will make him so; he seldom attains his goal, and when he does, it is only to be disappointed; he is mostly shipwrecked in the end, and comes into harbour with masts and rigging gone. And then, it is all one whether he has been happy or miserable; for his life was never anything more than a present moment always vanishing; and now it is over.

- Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Vanity of Existence

Podcast of the Day

Melvyn Bragg and guests AC Grayling, Beatrice Han-Pile and Christopher Janaway discuss the dark, pessimistic philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. As a radical young thinker in Germany in the early 19th century, Schopenhauer railed against the dominant ideas of the day. He dismissed the pre-eminent German philosopher Georg Hegel as a pompous charlatan, and turned instead to the Enlightenment thinking of Immanuel Kant for inspiration. Schopenhauer's central idea was that everything in the world was driven by the Will - broadly, the ceaseless desire to live. But this, he argued, left us swinging pointlessly between suffering and boredom. The only escape from the tyranny of the Will was to be found in art, and particularly in music. Schopenhauer was influenced by Eastern philosophy, and in turn his own work had an impact well beyond the philosophical tradition in the West, helping to shape the work of artists and writers from Richard Wagner to Marcel Proust, and Albert Camus to Sigmund Freud.

Listen to Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Schopenhauer on the In Our Time podcast

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Short Article of the Day

Schopenhauer, Arthur (Danzig, 1788–1860, Frankfurt/Main), the radical philosopher of pessimism, who described himself as the only worthy successor to Kant, assimilated all the negative trends of a disillusioned age. Like Voltaire, he mocked at the optimism of Leibniz, writing in a highly readable style, which enabled him to draw a Dantesque vision of suffering, demonstrating ‘welcher Art dieser meilleur des mondes possibles ist’. He had other rare gifts which made him conscious, when speaking about the few men endowed with genius, that he was one of them. This explains his reference to the average product of the human species as ‘Fabrikware der Natur’. He became known as a misanthropist (Menschenverächter), and as such is second only to Nietzsche. Schopenhauer was a highly complex individualist. His personal background counted with him more than with most philosophers and encouraged a stubbornly introspective nature...

Continue reading this excerpt on Schopenhauer from The Oxford Companion to German Literature

Further Reading

Arthur Schopenhauer was among the first 19th century philosophers to contend that at its core, the universe is not a rational place. Inspired by Plato and Kant, both of whom regarded the world as being more amenable to reason, Schopenhauer developed their philosophies into an instinct-recognizing and ultimately ascetic outlook, emphasizing that in the face of a world filled with endless strife, we ought to minimize our natural desires for the sake of achieving a more tranquil frame of mind and a disposition towards universal beneficence. Often considered to be a thoroughgoing pessimist, Schopenhauer in fact advocated ways — via artistic, moral and ascetic forms of awareness — to overcome a frustration-filled and fundamentally painful human condition. Since his death in 1860, his philosophy has had a special attraction for those who wonder about life’s meaning, along with those engaged in music, literature, and the visual arts...

Continue reading the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Schopenhauer by Robert Wicks

Related Topics

 DesireEmpathy | ExistenceHuman Nature | Kant | Literature | Nietzsche | Pain

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