Thus spoke Schopenhauer | Daily News

Thus spoke Schopenhauer

“I have spoken. You have heard. You know the facts. Now give your decision.”


As far back as the mid-sixties, my attention was drawn by my English lecturer to read the well-known essay by Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 – 1860) titled The World as Will and Idea (1818). This was a complete exposition of his philosophy. This tempted me to go in search of who Schopenhauer is and what else he has written over the years he lived. He is featured as a scholar who had entered Gottingen University in Germany in 1809 in order to pursue a course of studies leading to medicine and science.

During the years he had spent as a medical student, his mind was bent more towards the philosophy of human existence and its allied areas of living conditions. He was compelled to go to Berlin in order to complete his doctoral thesis in 1814. As his mind was bent towards the questioning of the very existence, he discovered himself gradually moving on to the field of philosophy of existence that paved the way to write the profound essay cited earlier. A reader of this work may find that he or she is entering into the sensitive areas of birth, existence, suffering and death, and at times reference is also made on the implied sense of what the births after death may mean.

World suffering

This has always been a controversial issue among most philosophies in all known cultures. Then as years rolled on, my attention in the late seventies was drawn to a collection of essays and aphorisms by Schopenhauer titled Essays and Aphorisms (1970) as selected and translated by RJ Hollingdale. His creativity lies in the translation of several well-known works of Nietzsche inclusive of Thus Spoke Zarathustra and his own work Nietzsche, the Man and his Philosophy.

On reading Schopenhauer, a reader may come across a well-knitted series of essays that cover the areas such as On the Suffering of the World, On the Vanity of Existence, On the Antithesis of Things in Itself and Appearance, On Aftermath and Denial of the Will to Live. These major essays of philosophy are followed by a series that could be testified as treatises on the aspects of On Suicide, On Women, On Thinking for Yourself. They are essays written in the form of dialogues that could be reckoned as an argument for and against a particular subject. One good example is the dialogue on religion that takes place between two characters, Demophiles and Philalethes.

Perhaps they are drawn from Greek or Roman mythology in order to gratify the value of the dialogue tradition that lies behind the age-old academic pursuance in these translations. As one argues for the need of religion, the other without denying states that religion is an entity that lies in the very living tradition that one exists. As such that character assumes the following view not so much as a contradiction but as an assumption.

The words go as follows:

“Just as there is folk poetry and proverbs, folk wisdom so there has to be folk metaphysics. For men have an absolute need for an interpretation of life and it has to be understood.”

Spiritual essence

Most thoughts and visions laid down by Schopenhauer transcends the barriers of mere pedagogical material. Instead, they tend to rest on rationalistic and spiritual essence, needed for all times and all cultures.

One such essay I happened to read in the collection is titled On Ethics. A much-discussed topic. But to Schopenhauer it is simply introduced in the following words:

“What distinguishes a moral virtue from a moral vice is whether basic feeling towards others behind it is one of envy or one of pity. For every man bears these two diametrically opposed qualities within him, inasmuch as they arise from the comparison between his own condition and that of others which he cannot help making. One or other of these qualities will become his basic disposition and determine the nature of his actions according to the effect this comparison has on his individual character.

That the original vision of Schopenhauer is seen as clouded in complexity. It is an extension perhaps of the thoughts on Ethics as laid down by the Greek thinker Aristotle. In this interpretation, Schopenhauer is seen as influenced by the Buddhist thought where he lays down the following concept in the same essay that goes as follows:

“As a consequence of their profounder ethical and metaphysical insight, Buddhists start not with cardinal virtue but with cardinal vices as ‘the antithesis’’ or negations of which the cardinal virtues first appear.” (133pp)

Vices and virtues

For a moment, I felt that the thinker Schopenhauer is attempting to analyse the Buddhist Four Noble Truths that lay emphasis on the suffering caused by vices and virtues. This essay as well as several other essays that bear the title such as On Aesthetics, On Psychology and On Religion, rest basically upon the essence of moral conduct that encircles the Buddhist vision as well as the nuances of spiritualism as laid down in several oriental streams of thought.

As stated by the translator, the volume contains a selection from the writings of Schopenhauer’s last writings. One needs not be a scholar in psychology or philosophy in order to feel the pulse of the writings of Schopenhauer. The metaphysical thought that he tends to express may be of value to creative activities for all times. As such, these jottings could well be regarded as a series of creative thinking for all times.

Add new comment