Schopenhauer’s philosophy is considered by many to be deeply pessimistic. But he obviously must have made some valid observations since Nietzsche, Freud, Jung, Wagner, Mahler, Schoenberg, Darwin, Proust, Kafka, O’Neill, Tolstoy and Einstein credit him for having great influence on their work. This list includes leaders in philosophy, music, science, psychoanalysis, authors and playwrights. The breath of Schopenhauer’s influence makes his life and work worthy of serious review.
Schopenhauer wrote that the will is a blind, rationally inaccessible force that is a primitive energy. This energy manifests itself in and through everything. The will gives us pleasure so that we will reproduce and pain so that we will avoid being eaten. It is impersonal, insatiable and dwells within us. It is a source of considerable suffering. After you satisfy the cravings and desires of the will, you have a brief respite, but then typically you become bored. As Schopenhauer put it, “Life is nothing but a pendulum swinging between the pain of unfulfilled desires and boredom. Once we fulfill our desires then we are satiated and our strivings are quieted momentarily but we immediately sink into boredom or emptiness.” Schopenhauer says that unsatisfied desires often have unfortunate and painful consequences. So the two options for human existence are pain and boredom. As long as one is alive, they are under siege by the will and the only way to eliminate that is to eliminate one’s self. Schopenhauer felt that Buddhism offered a way to minimize the negative effects of the will.
Even though Schopenhauer was so pessimistic in his views of life, does not mean that he did not enjoy life. Nietzsche reminds us in his book, Beyond Good and Evil, “One must remember that Schopenhauer played the flute every night after dinner.” Nietzsche felt that Schopenhauer still found things in life that he enjoyed despite his pessimistic philosophy.
One must ask the question, “Was Schopenhauer’s view of life appropriate for everyone or just Schopenhauer?” And secondly, was Schopenhauer more vulnerable to the strivings of the will than others? Was he such a pained, fearful, neurotic person that his personality influenced his philosophy or did he actually discover the truth about certain things that lead to his view of the world? I think it highly probably that we are all affected to one degree or another by this will, but that degree differs from person to person. And we are probably more prone to the effects of the will at certain stressful points during our lives than others. Schopenhauer would disagree with my points here. He felt that we are all affected by the will beyond our ability to deal with it and find meaning in life. All we can do is try to minimize its effect on us.
The world is not just will to Schopenhauer, it is also idea. The world is what we think it is and that is always an illusion or a perception. The world is what our mind tells us it is. There is no reality, only illusion and even though an illusion is shared by many, it is still not reality. Life is just a spark in between two pools of darkness without any meaning or purpose.
Schopenhauer felt himself in competition with Hegel. In one of his writings he stated, “I wish to apologize to the reader of the future for mentioning Hegel, a philosopher you have never heard of.” Hegel celebrated the human spirit and taught his students how to enjoy that spirit. He believed that the human spirit controlled the destiny of history. In another classroom across the hall was Schopenhauer saying, “There is a force that wells up in you. It is always there. It gnaws at you. It is always victimizing you because it wants more and more. If you get what you want, you get bored. If you get what you want it might even be painful. Usually you don’t get what you want.”
Schopenhauer contradicted Hegel by saying that history doesn’t have a rational direction. History is just things happening and they happen because of this will that we experience through us, that is at work all the time trying to express and satisfy itself. He would say things like “we have these fancy philosophical types who are telling us we can celebrate the human spirit. They are telling us that we can learn to conquer our desires through reason. They tell us that we can be creative and remove ourselves from the will that is pulsating through us. That is all fine and good, but just let yourself experience your life and think about how you want food, sex, and excitement. Sometimes you get what you want and most of the time you don’t. Most of your desires are not met at all. So you suffer. You are always in a state of tension because of suffering, because of desire, because of the will. You are not even conscious of the will. It is buried below your conscious mind.”
As you can see Schopenhauer philosophy is very unpleasant and pessimistic. His ideas did not make people feel comfortable. Some have referred to it as “metaphysics from hell.” Life is a state of being where your desires are not satisfied and your questions are never answered. And you are stuck. There are no options except suicide and if you give in to suicide then you gave in to the will. This is pretty pessimistic stuff.
Nietzsche and Schopenhauer started at the same point with the same data and came to different conclusions. Both looked at life very accurately, both had no supernatural belief. Both looked directly at the reality of death, and both looked at nothingness. Nietzsche affirmed and embraced life and Schopenhauer chose to negate it. Hume and Schopenhauer had the same basic beliefs and reacted much differently. Hume was a very pleasant English gentleman and on his deathbed was asked how being an atheist he could be so calm facing death. Hume replied that there was nothing before he was born and he didn’t want to be bored with an association of those who thought they were going to heaven. There was absolutely no hint of pessimism or regret. So it seems that personality and life experiences must have an impact on the philosopher’s philosophy. It has been said that one must first understand the life of the philosopher before trying to understand their philosophy and that one follows the other. But Schopenhauer did not just take us to the edge of the abyss and leave us there to fend for ourselves. He offered remedies to the human condition as he saw it. His remedies are valuable insights into living life whether you believe in effects of the will.
Schopenhauer offers four methods of escape from this pulsing energy he called “the will.” The first solution is what he called aesthetic contemplation. For example we can get our minds off of things by seeing a movie or watching a sporting event. During Schopenhauer’s time you might go look at a painting or other types of art to get your mind off the underlying agony that is the constant companion of all humans. He admits that this type of relief is only fleeting and cannot sustain permanent relief. This notion of getting disengaged from life by getting one’s mind off of its misery can be helpful for a while. This may explain why the entertainment industry is so popular today.
The second suggestion Schopenhauer makes is the cultivation of sympathy for one’s fellow beings. That too is only temporary. It was Schopenhauer’s view that we should recognize that everyone is struggling with the will. All of us are suffering from its manifestations. We all suffer the same agonies, and the realization that we are all in this together makes coping with it easier. Having true sympathy or compassion, and understanding that everyone is struggling with the same thing, partially removes the ravages of the will. It is not a cure, but at least something that can temporarily help us along and perhaps engender a noncompetitive acceptance of the condition we all face as human beings.
The third suggestion is music. He believed that music has a special capacity to capture the will and lessen its negative impact on us. Schopenhauer believed that music has a calming effect. Music for Schopenhauer is not meant to make us understand anything. It is to get us away from thinking about anything. The music he listened to was usually without words or lyrics. Mozart not Rap. He thinks that music speaks in a language that can and does put us more at peace with ourselves.
The fourth suggestion is the most challenging. Hold your breath—the best we might do is lose the will to live. Schopenhauer thinks perhaps the best of all the remedies for the disease called life and its agonies would be to reach a condition of calm and tranquil passivity where our individual wills do not torment us anymore. We don’t allow anything to matter to us, even our very selves. It is his view that the loss of the will to live is not the same as the desire to commit suicide. He is suggesting that we reach a benign and mellow point where things don’t matter anymore, even you.
In summary the human predicament is that we are victims of life. Life itself is the disease and we need a cure from that disease and all the knowledge in the world will not bring about a cure. Schopenhauer brings a very strongly negative and pessimistic element into European philosophical thinking. He believes that the best we can accomplish is to find whatever peace of mind we can. This requires a disengagement from the painful cycle of desire and satisfaction of desires.
Schopenhauer proposed a thought experiment in which you go to a cemetery and knock on any tombstone and ask the person there if they want to be alive again and his conclusion was that none of the dead would want to be alive again. Nietzsche would contradict Schopenhauer on this point by saying, if you lived well, if you lived life to its fullest, you would be willing to live it again an innumerable number of times. This was Nietzsche’s law of eternal recurrence. That one must embrace and affirm life to the point that we would want to live it all over again an infinite number of times exactly the same way.
Schopenhauer was very taken with Buddhist beliefs. He was the major influential figure who brought Buddhist thinking to the West in a way that made it spread. The message of Buddhism is that life is suffering and to be alive is to suffer. Buddha said, “All is suffering.” Suffering is brought about by desire and desire does have a cure and the cure is to lose our attachment to our desires. It is this disengagement that Schopenhauer recommends.
Schopenhauer’s remedies are: aesthetic contemplation, cultivating sympathy for our fellow beings, good music, and disengagement from our attachments and desires are similar to many admonitions from the scriptures. The scriptures teach us that we should be willing to bear one another’s burdens, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort and to deny ourselves of all ungodliness. Despite his pessimism, there is much to benefit from understanding the following quotes of Schopenhauer.
So how does Schopenhauer’s philosophy relate to having an IRS problem? The IRS is like “the will.” It is unrelenting in its pursuit of you and your assets if you have an Arizona IRS debt. And Schopenhauer’s remedies will resonate with you during your first free consultation with Scott Allen E.A. You will be able to enjoy life more just knowing that you have a plan to resolve your tax debt. You will sense Scott’s sympathy for your situation with the IRS. You are not a number to Scott; you are a person with feelings and fears about what the IRS can do to you. You may not agrees with Scott’s choice of music, but his actions and results will be music to you. And finally, you will lose your neurotic attachment to your property once you know that Scott Allen E.A. of Mesa AZ will be able to protect them from IRS seizure and levy action. Call Scott Allen E.A. at 480-926-9300 and put your mind at ease.
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