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Western Philosophy
19th-century philosophy
Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer
Name: Arthur Schopenhauer
Birth: February 22, 1788 (Stutthof (now Sztutowo), Poland)
Death: September 21, 1860 (Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany)
School/tradition: Kantianism, Idealism
Main interests
Metaphysics, Aesthetics, Phenomenology, Morality, Psychology
Notable ideas
Will, Fourfold root of reason
Influences Influenced
Berkeley, Matthias Claudius, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Locke, Plato, Rousseau, Spinoza, Upanishads |
Freud, Hesse, Horkheimer, Jung, Mann, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Wagner, Wittgenstein

Arthur Schopenhauer (February 22, 1788September 21, 1860, IPA: [ˈaɐtuːɐ ˈʃoːpənˌhaʊɐ]) was a German philosopher. He is most famous for his work The World as Will and Representation. Schopenhauer formulated a double-aspect theory to our understanding of reality, that of the world existing simultaneously but separately as will and representation. He is commonly known for having espoused a sort of philosophical pessimism that saw life as being essentially evil, futile, and full of suffering. However, upon closer inspection, in accordance with Eastern thought, especially that of Hinduism and Buddhism, he saw salvation, deliverance, or escape from suffering in aesthetic contemplation, sympathy for others, and ascetic living. His ideas profoundly influenced the fields of philosophy, psychology, music, and literature.


Schopenhauer was born in 1788 in Sztutowo near the Free City of Danzig (today Gdańsk, Poland). He was the son of Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer and Johanna Schopenhauer, a middle class mercantile family of Dutch heritage who had strong feelings against any kind of nationalism. Indeed, the name Arthur was selected by his father especially because it was the same in English, German, and French. His parents were both from the city, and Johanna was an author as well. After the city was annexed by Prussia during the second partition of Poland, in 1793, the Schopenhauer family moved to Hamburg. In 1805, Schopenhauer's father died, possibly by suicide, and Johanna moved to Weimar. Because of a promise to pursue a business career, Schopenhauer remained in Hamburg. His disgust with this career, however, drove him away to join his mother in Weimar after only a year. He never got along with his mother; when the writer Goethe, who was a friend of Johanna Schopenhauer, told her that he thought her son was destined for great things, Johanna objected: she had never heard there could be two geniuses in a single family.

Schopenhauer studied at the University of Göttingen and was awarded a PhD from the University of Jena. In 1820, Schopenhauer became a lecturer at the University of Berlin; it was there that his opposition to G. W. F. Hegel began. He attended lectures by the prominent post-Kantian philosopher J. G. Fichte and the theologian Schleiermacher, though Schopenhauer would start to react to the extreme idealism of Fichte. Schopenhauer daringly scheduled his own lectures at exactly the same time as his nemesis Hegel, in the hope of attracting students to come to his own lectures instead of Hegel. However, no students turned up to Schopenhauer's course of lectures, and subsequently he left, never to teach in a university again. In 1831 a cholera epidemic broke out in Berlin and both Hegel and Schopenhauer fled; but Hegel returned prematurely, caught the infection, and died few days later. Schopenhauer instead moved south, settling permanently in Frankfurt in 1833, where he remained for the next twenty-seven years, living alone with a succession of pet French poodles named Atma and Butz.

While in Berlin, Schopenhauer was involved in a lawsuit from a woman named Caroline Marquet. She asked for damages from him, a man of independent means, on the basis that she had been injured when Schopenhauer allegedly pushed her. Marquet knew that Schopenhauer disliked noise. She loudly attracted Schopenhauer's attention by raising her voice outside of his door. Then, Marquet's companion claimed that she witnessed her as being prostrate outside of his apartment. Marquet claimed that the philosopher had assaulted and battered her after she refused to leave his doorway. In this manner, she succeeded in gaining, through the court, a portion of Schopenhauer's limited wealth. He had to make payments for twenty years. When she died, he wrote, "Obit anus, abit onus" (The old woman dies, the burden is lifted).

Schopenhauer's health deteriorated during the year of 1860. He died of natural causes on September 21 of the same year at the age of 72.

Schopenhauer called himself a Kantian and despised Hegel. He formulated a pessimistic philosophy that gained importance and support after the failure of the German and Austrian revolutions of 1848.


Schopenhauer's starting point was Kant's division of the universe into phenomenon and noumenon, claiming that the noumenon was the same as that in us which we call Will. It is the inner content and the driving force of the world. For Schopenhauer, human will had ontological primacy over the intellect; in other words, desire is understood to be prior to thought, and, in a parallel sense, Will is said to be prior to being. In attempt to solve or alleviate the fundamental problems of life, Schopenhauer was rare among philosophers in considering philosophy and logic less important (or less effective) than art, certain types of charitable practice ("loving kindness", in his terms), and certain forms of religious discipline; Schopenhauer concluded that discursive thought (such as philosophy and logic) could neither touch nor transcend the nature of desire—i.e., Will. In The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer posited that humans living in the realm of objects are living in the realm of desire, and thus are eternally tormented by that desire (his idea of the role of desire in life is similar to that of Vedanta Hinduism and Buddhism, and Schopenhauer draws attention to these similarities himself).

Schopenhauer's philosophy was coincidentally very similar to Buddhism. Buddhism teaches the Four Noble Truths. These are: (1.) There is suffering; (2.) Suffering results from desire; (3.) Desire can be eliminated (Nirvana); (4.) Following the Eightfold Path leads to Nirvana. Schopenhauer's philosophy asserted the first three of Buddhism's four truths in that it associated will with desire, appetite, and craving. However, instead of the fourth truth, Schopenhauer described a twofold path. Denial of the will is attained by either: (1.) Personal experience of an extremely great suffering that leads to loss of the will to live; or (2.) Knowledge of the essential nature of life in the world through observation of the suffering of other people. Buddhist Nirvana is equivalent to the condition that Schopenhauer described as denial of the will.

While Schopenhauer's philosophy may sound rather mystical in such a summary, his methodology was resolutely empirical, rather than speculative or transcendental:

Philosophy... is a science, and as such has no articles of faith; accordingly, in it nothing can be assumed as existing except what is either positively given empirically, or demonstrated through indubitable conclusions.

— Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga & Paralipomena, vol. i, pg. 106., trans. E.F.J. Payne

Also note:

This actual world of what is knowable, in which we are and which is in us, remains both the material and the limit of our consideration.

— Arthur Schopenhauer, World as Will and Representation, vol. i, pg. 273, trans. E.F.J. Payne

Schopenhauer's identification of the Kantian noumenon (i.e., the actually existing entity) with what he termed Will deserves some explanation. The noumenon was what Kant called the Ding an Sich, the "Thing in Itself", the reality that is the foundation of our sensory and mental representations of an external world; in Kantian terms, those sensory and mental representations are mere phenomena. Schopenhauer departed from Kant in his description of the relationship between the phenomenon and the noumenon. According to Kant, things-in-themselves ground the phenomenal representations in our minds. Schopenhauer, on the other hand, believed phenomena and noumena to be two different sides of the same coin; noumena do not cause phenomena, but rather they are simply the way by which our minds perceive the noumena, according to the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which is explained more fully in Schopenhauer's doctoral thesis, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason.

Schopenhauer's second major departure from Kant's epistemology concerns the body. Kant's philosophy was formulated as a response to the radical philosophical skepticism of David Hume who claimed that causality could not be observed empirically. Schopenhauer begins by arguing that Kant's demarcation between external objects, knowable only as phenomena, and the Thing in Itself of noumenon, contains a significant omission. There is, in fact, one physical object we know more intimately than we know any object of sense perception. It is our own body.

We know our human bodies have boundaries and occupy space, the same way other objects known only through our named senses do. Though we seldom think of our bodies as physical objects, we know even before reflection that it shares some of their properties. We understand that a watermelon cannot successfully occupy the same space as an oncoming truck. We know that if we tried to repeat the experiment with our own bodies, we would obtain similar results. We know this even if we do not understand the physics involved.

We know that our consciousness inhabits a physical body, similar to other physical objects only known as phenomena. Yet our consciousness is not commensurate with our body. Most of us possess the power of voluntary motion. We usually are not aware of our lungs' breath, or our heartbeat, unless our attention is called to it. Our ability to control either is limited. Our kidneys command our attention on their schedule rather than one we choose. Few of us have any idea what our livers are doing right now, though this organ is as needful as lungs, heart, or kidneys. The conscious mind is the servant, not the master, of these and other organs. These organs have an agenda which the conscious mind did not choose, and has limited power over.

When Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with the desires, needs, and impulses in us that we name "Will," what he is saying is that we participate in the reality of an otherwise unachievable world outside the mind through will. We cannot prove that our mental picture of an outside world corresponds with a reality by reasoning. Through will, we know—without thinking—that the world can stimulate us. We suffer fear, or desire. These states arise involuntarily. They arise prior to reflection. They arise even when the conscious mind would prefer to hold them at bay. The rational mind is for Schopenhauer a leaf borne along in a stream of pre-reflective and largely unconscious emotion. That stream is will; and through will, if not through logic, we can participate in the underlying reality that lies beyond mere phenomena. It is for this reason that Schopenhauer identifies the noumenon with what we call our will.


Schopenhauer was perhaps even more influential in his treatment of man's mind than he was in the realm of philosophy.

Philosophers have not traditionally been impressed by the tribulations of love. But Schopenhauer addressed it and related concepts, forthrightly.

"We should be surprised that a matter that generally plays such an important part in the life of man [love] has hitherto been almost entirely disregarded by philosophers, and lies before us as raw and untreated material."

He gave a name to a force within man which he felt invariably had precedence over reason: the Will to Live (Wille zum Leben), defined as an inherent drive within human beings, and indeed all creatures, to stay alive and to reproduce.

Schopenhauer refused to conceive of love as either trifling or accidental, but rather understood it to be an immensely powerful force lying unseen within man's psyche and dramatically shaping the world:

"The ultimate aim of all love affairs... is more important than all other aims in man's life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it."
"What is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation..."

These ideas foreshadowed and laid the groundwork for Darwin's theory of evolution and Freud's concepts of the libido and the unconscious mind.


See main article: Schopenhauer's aesthetics

This wild and powerful drive to reproduce, however, caused suffering and pain in the world. For Schopenhauer, one way to escape the suffering inherent in a world of Will was through art.

Through art, Schopenhauer thought, the thinking subject could be jarred out of their limited, individual perspective to feel a sense of the universal directly—the "universal" in question, of course, was the will. The contest of personal desire with a world that was, by nature, inimical to its satisfaction is inevitably tragical; therefore, the highest place in art was given to tragedy. Music was also given a special status in Schopenhauer's aesthetics as it did not rely upon the medium of representation to communicate a sense of the universal. Schopenhauer believed the function of art to be a meditation on the unity of human nature, and an attempt to either demonstrate or directly communicate to the audience a certain existential angst for which most forms of entertainment—including bad art — only provided a distraction. A wide range of authors (from Thomas Hardy to Woody Allen) and artists have been influenced by this system of aesthetics, and in the 20th century this area of Schopenhauer's work garnered more attention and praise than any other.

According to Daniel Albright (2005), "Schopenhauer thought that music was the only art that did not merely copy ideas, but actually embodied the will itself."


Schopenhauer's politics were, for the most part, a much diminished echo of his system of ethics (the latter being expressed in Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik, available in English as two separate books, On the Basis of Morality and On the Freedom of the Will; ethics also occupies about one quarter of his central work, The World as Will and Representation). In occasional political comments in his Parerga and Paralipomena and Manuscript Remains, Schopenhauer described himself as a proponent of limited government. What was essential, he thought, was that the state should "leave each man free to work out his own salvation", and so long as government was thus limited, he would "prefer to be ruled by a lion than one of [his] fellow rats" — i.e., a monarch. Schopenhauer did, however, share the view of Thomas Hobbes on the necessity of the state, and of state violence, to check the destructive tendencies innate to our species. Schopenhauer, by his own admission, did not give much thought to politics, and several times he writes prideful boasts of how little attention he had paid "to political affairs of [his] day". In a life that spanned several revolutions in French and German government, and a few continent-shaking wars, he did indeed maintain his aloof position of "minding not the times but the eternities".

Schopenhauer possessed a distinctly hierarchical conception of the human races, attributing civilizational primacy to the "white races" birthed in the north due to their sensitivity and creativity.

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Schopenhauer additionally maintained a marked metaphysical and political anti-Judaism. Schopenhauer argued that Christianity constituted a revolt against the materialistic basis of Judaism, exhibiting an Indian-influenced ethics reflecting the Aryan-Vedic theme of spiritual "self-conquest" as opposed to the ignorant drive toward earthly utopianism of the degradingly this-worldly Jewish spirit. As noted scholar Bernard Lazare commented in his work Antisemitism: Its History and Causes: "Schopenhauer had professed...the antisemitism consisting in combating the optimism of the Jewish religion, an optimism which Schopenhauer found low and degrading, and with which he contrasted Greek and Hindu religious conceptions." (cf. Maria Groener, Schopenhauer und die Juden, (Munich: Deutscher Volksverlag, n.d., about 1920); Micha Brumlik (1991), "Das Judentum in der Philosophle Schopenhauers", in Marcel Markus, et al. (eds), Israel und die Kirche heute)

Occult historian Joscelyn Godwin stated "it was Buddhism that inspired the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer, and, through him, attracted Richard Wagner. This Orientalism reflected the struggle of the German Romantics, in the words of Leon Poliakov, to free themselves from Judeo-Christian fetters" (Arktos, p. 38).

Schopenhauer on women

Schopenhauer is also famous for his essay "On Women" (Über die Weiber), in which he expressed his opposition to what he called "Teutonico-Christian stupidity" on female affairs. He claimed that "woman is by nature meant to obey", and opposed Schiller's poem in honor of women, Würde der Frauen. The essay does give two compliments however: that "women are decidedly more sober in their judgment than [men] are" and are more sympathetic to the suffering of others. However, the latter was discounted as weakness rather than humanitarian virtue.

In 1821 he fell in love with 19-year old opera singer Caroline Medon, and had a relationship with her for several years. However he discarded marriage plans: "Marrying means to halve one's rights and double one's duties", or even more drastic: "Marrying means, to grasp blindfold into a sack hoping to find out an eel out of an assembly of snakes." At the age of 43 in 1831, he again took interest in a younger woman, the 17-year old Flora Weiss, who rejected her older adorer. [1]

The ultra-intolerant view of women contrasts with Schopenhauer's generally liberal views on other social issues: he was strongly against taboos on issues like suicide and masochism and condemned the treatment of African slaves. This polemic on female nature has since been fiercely attacked as misogynistic. However, he did not hold a universally negative opinion of women in particular; one should note that Schopenhauer had a very high opinion of Madame de Guyon, whose writings and biography he highly recommended.

In any case, the controversial writing has influenced many, from Nietzsche to 19th century feminists. While Schopenhauer's hostility to women may tell us more about his biography than about philosophy; his biological analysis of the difference between the sexes, and their separate roles in the struggle for survival and reproduction, anticipates some of the claims that were later ventured by sociobiologists and evolutionary psychologists in the twentieth century.

Schopenhauer on homosexuality

Schopenhauer was also one of the first philosophers since the days of Greek philosophy to address the subject of male homosexuality. In the third, expanded edition of The World as Will and Representation (1856), Schopenhauer added an appendix to his chapter on the "Metaphysics of Sexual Love." In it, he develops the idea that since only mature men and fully adult but pre-menopausal women are capable of bearing healthy children, in early adolescence and in late middle age the sexual appetite is susceptible of being turned towards another channel.

Schopenhauer on Hegel

Schopenhauer seems to have disliked just about everything concerning his contemporary Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. The following quotation from On the Basis of Morality (page 15-16) is quite famous:

If I were to say that the so-called philosophy of this fellow Hegel is a colossal piece of mystification which will yet provide posterity with an inexhaustible theme for laughter at our times, that it is a pseudo-philosophy paralyzing all mental powers, stifling all real thinking, and, by the most outrageous misuse of language, putting in its place the hollowest, most senseless, thoughtless, and, as is confirmed by its success, most stupefying verbiage, I should be quite right.

Further, if I were to say that this summus philosophus [...] scribbled nonsense quite unlike any mortal before him, so that whoever could read his most eulogized work, the so-called Phenomenology of the Mind, without feeling as if he were in a madhouse, would qualify as an inmate for Bedlam, I should be no less right.

— Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Basis of Morality (page 15-16)

Schopenhauer was convinced to have good reason to mistrust the writings of Hegel. In his "Foreword to the first edition" of his work Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik, Schopenhauer showed an interpretation of Hegel in which he would have been found to have fallen prey to the Post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy.

Schopenhauer's critique of Hegel is most certainly directed at his perception that Hegel's works use deliberately impressive but ultimately vacuous jargon and neologisms, and that they contained castles of abstraction that sounded impressive but ultimately contained no verifiable content. He also thought that his glorification of church and state were designed for personal advantage and had little to do with search for philosophical truth. Although Schopenhauer may have appeared vain in his constant attacks on Hegel, they were not necessarily devoid of merit: the Right Hegelians interpreted Hegel as seeing the Prussian state of his day as perfect and the goal of all history up until then.

Common misconceptions

Many tend to ignore Schopenhauer outright due to descriptions of him as an obstinate and arrogant man who did not lead the ascetic life that he glorified in his work.

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The idea that he made resignation into a command to virtue is inaccurate,
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as he was merely trying to explain asceticism in terms of metaphysics. He does refer to the asceticism as a state of "inner peace and cheerfulness", but he also clearly states that he was not trying to recommend the denial of the will above the affirmation of the will.
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Furthermore, the call to asceticism was supposed to come to select individuals as knowledge suddenly, rather than being a virtue that can be taught. "In general," he wrote, "it is a strange demand on a moralist that he should commend no other virtue than that which he himself possesses." (The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I, § 68)

Additionally, Schopenhauer's identification of the will with the Kantian "thing-in-itself" has been misunderstood. Kant defined things-in-themselves as being beyond comprehension and that the inner nature of a material thing was unknowable. It is sometimes thought that Schopenhauer denied this,

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but he did not. What he did assert was that one could know things about the thing-in-itself as such. For example, that the will is a striving force, that it is endless, that it causes suffering, that it will produce boredom if unoccupied, etc. Much like the thing-in-itself, he did not say that the will is directly knowable. Moreover, he has sometimes been criticised for never having defined the will,
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but he explained that it could not be defined exhaustively.
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Schopenhauer said he was influenced by the Upanishads, Immanuel Kant, and Plato. According to him, his philosophy could not have been conceived before these teaching were available at the same time. He also appreciated the teachings of the Buddha and even called himself a Buddhaist.

Other influences on him were: Jean Jacques Rousseau, John Locke, Baruch Spinoza, Matthias Claudius, George Berkeley, David Hume, Rene Descartes.

Schopenhauer is thought to have influenced the following intellectual figures and schools of thought: Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, Theodule Ribot, Eugene O'Neill, Max Horkheimer, C. G. Jung, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Albert Einstein, Karl Popper, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Wilhelm Busch, Dylan Thomas, Leo Tolstoy, Emil Cioran, Thomas Mann, Italo Svevo, Joseph Campbell, Phenomenalism, and Recursionism.

See also

  • Schopenhauer's criticism of the Kantian philosophy
  • Schopenhauer's criticism of Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals
  • wooden iron


Major works

  • Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde, 1813 (On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason)
  • Über das Sehen und die Farben, 1816 (On Vision and Colours) ISBN 0854969888
  • Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, 1818/1819, vol 2 1844 (The World as Will and Representation, sometimes also known in English as The World as Will and Idea)
  • Über den Willen in der Natur, 1836 (On the Will in Nature) ISBN 0854969993
  • Über die Freiheit des menschlichen Willens, 1839 (On the Freedom of the Will) ISBN 0631145524
  • Über die Grundlage der Moral, 1840 (On the Basis of Morality)
  • Parerga und Paralipomena, 1851 ISBN 0199242216

Online texts


  • Albright, Daniel (2004). Modernism and Music: An Anthology of Sources, p.39n34. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226012670.

Suggested additional reading:

Schopenhauer on the Character of the World, The Metaphysics of Will by John Atwell

Schopenhauer, The Human Character by John Atwell

Self and World in Schopenhauer's Philosophy by Christopher Janaway

Schopenhauer: A Very Short introduction by Christopher Janaway

The Philosophy of Schopenhauer by Bryan Magee

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Arthur Schopenhauer

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