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Arthur Schopenhauer - Biography

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was born in Danzig (now Gdansk) on the 22nd of February 1788, a son to the merchant Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer, and Johanna Troisner. When Schopenhauer was 17, his father placed him in a business school in Hamburg. He was apprenticed to merchants in Danzig (1804) and Hamburg (1805-07), with the expectation that he would take over his father's business. However, after his father's death, Schopenhauer enrolled in a gymnasium in Gotha (1807). He was then placed with the Greek scholar Franz Passow, who superintended his classical studies. This time he made so much progress that in two years he read Greek and Latin with fluency and interest. In 1809 his mother handed over to him (at the age of twenty-one) the third part of the paternal estate, which gave him an income, and in October 1809 he entered the University of Göttingen as a student in medicine. The direction of his philosophical reading was fixed by the advice of G. E. Schulze to study, especially, Plato and Kant. He later received the degree of doctor of philosophy from the University of Jena in 1813, and in the same year the press at Rudolstadt published his first book, Uber die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde, trans. in Bohn's Philological Library (1889). From 1814 to 1818 he lived in Dresden. At the University of Berlin he attended Johann Fichte's (1762-1814) lectures for two years. These lectures Schopenhauer attended with a spirit of opposition, which is said to have degenerated into contempt.

In November 1813 Schopenhauer returned to Weimar, and for a few months boarded with his mother. Though she had bitter and antagonistic relations him, his mother established a salon at Weimar, which allowed him to meet literary figures, including Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose conversations inspired Schopenhauer's On Vision and Colors in 1816. During this time he made some acquaintances destined to influence the subsequent course of his thought. Conversations with the Orientalist F. Mayer directed his studies to the philosophical speculations of ancient India. He was the first Western philosopher to have access to translations of philosophical material from India, both Vedic and Buddhist, by which he was profoundly affected. In 1808 Friedrich Schlegel had in his Language and Wisdom of the Old Hindus brought Brahman philosophy within the range of European literature. Still more instructive for Schopenhauer was the imperfect and obscure Latin translation of the Upanishads which in 1801 — 1802 Anquetil Duperron had published from a Persian version of the Sariskrit original. Schopenhauer was also the first major European philosopher to make a point of atheism; however, he admired the asceticism of Christianity and Buddhism, declaring that after removing the dogmas these religions have as their philosophical underpinning the abolition of the will.

Schopenhauer published in 1818 Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, in four books, with an appendix containing a criticism of the Kantian philosophy (Eng. trans. by R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, 1883).
Book One considers the world as idea. The idea is defined as an object of experience and science, and is dependent on the principle of sufficient reason. Book Two considers the world as the will, showing how the will manifests itself in the world. Book Three considers the Platonic Idea, which is the idea independent of the principle of sufficient reason. Book Four considers the ethical implications of the affirmation and denial of the will to life.

Schopenhauer's metaphysics, as stated in The World as Will and Representation is structured through a small set of dichotomous divisions. Schopenhauer prided himself on the simplicity of this in comparison to Kant, whose system he compared to a Gothic cathedral. The basic distinction in Schopenhauer's metaphysics is between representation and the thing-in-itself. The thing-in-itself turns out to be will. The will is introduced in Book II, where its manifestations in nature are also examined. Book IV is also about the denial of will, self, and self-interest, producing for Schopenhauer a theory both of morality and of holiness, the former by which self-interest is curtailed for the sake of others, the latter by which all will-to-live ceases. Schopenhauer's greatest eloquence about the evils, sufferings, and futility of life, and its redemption through self-denial, occur there.

On the representation side of his metaphysics, which occupies Books I and III of The World as Will and Representation, Schopenhauer must deal with two areas that exercise their own claims to be considered things-in-themselves. First, at the beginning of Book I, comes the Subject of Knowledge. Schopenhauer's thought there is refined by his reading of the Upanishads, where the Brihadâranyaka Upanishad distinguishes the Subject of Knowledge, the Unknown Knower, from all Objects of Knowledge, from everything Known. Schopenhauer accepts that distinction, and also that the Subject is free of the forms of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (space, time, causality, etc.). He retains the Subject as an Unknowable side of representation, distinct from all Objects. In Book III Schopenhauer turns to his theory of Ideas, which he says are the same as Plato's Ideas, and which are also free of the forms of space, time, and causality. For Schopenhauer, it is through the Ideas that all beauty is manifest in art and nature. Schopenhauer keeps ideas in representation, as the nature of Objects in so far as they are free of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. The bulk of Book III is then occupied with the examination of individual forms of art, culminating in music. The final distinction, although it is one of the earliest made, in Book I, is between the body and the other objects of representation in space and time. For Schopenhauer, the body is known immediately and the perception of other objects is spontaneously projected, in a remaining fragment of Kant's theory of synthesis and perception, from the sensations present in the sense organs of the body onto the external objects understood as the causes of those sensations. The body itself, in Book II, becomes the most immediate manifestation of the will, a direct embodiment of the will-to-live. Schopenhauer’s viewpoint also represents an extreme pessimism. He says that optimism is absurd. Life means suffering. Every volitional act arises from deprivation and suffering. The act of willing arises from the wish for something that has not been obtained or achieved.

Schopenhauer gave aesthetics and beauty a central place in his thought such as few other philosophers have done. Schopenhauer believed through art 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 tragic; 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 horror for which most forms of entertainment — including bad art-- only provided a distraction. In 1854 Richard Wagner sent him a copy of the Ring of the Nibelung, with some words of thanks for a theory of music, which had fallen in with his own conceptions. A wide range of authors (from Thomas Hardy to Woody Allen) and artists were influenced by Schopenhauer’s system of aesthetics, and in the 20th century this area of his work garnered more attention and praise than any other.

After a visit to Italy, Schopenhauer qualified as a private lecturer in the University of Berlin. He was accepted by a committee, which included Hegel as a member. Schopenhauer offered his lectures at the same hours as Hegel, and found that no students could be won from him, which eventually ended his university career. He later wrote an essay called On University Philosophy, which aired his personal resentment. Another later work, with its wild outcry against the philosophy of the professoriate, was entitled Uber den Willen in der Natur, and was published in 1836 (revised and enlarged, 1854; On the Will in Nature, 1889). Schopenhauer's second visit to Italy lasted almost three years, but he returned to Berlin in 1825. Epidemic of cholera, during which Hegel died, drove him to Frankfurt am Main in 1833. Here, with the exception of a short stay at Mannheim, he spent the rest of his life.

In 1844 appeared the second edition of The World as Will and Idea, in two volumes. The first volume was a slightly altered reprint of the earlier issue; the second consisted of a series of chapters forming a commentary parallel to those into which the original work was now first divided. The longest of these new chapters deal with the primacy of the will, with death and with the metaphysics of sexual love. He also projected a translation of Hume's Essays and wrote a preface for it. He succeeded in finding a publisher for the Parerga und Paralipomena, which appeared at Berlin in 1851 (2 vols., pp. 465, 531; sel. trans. by J. B. Saunders, 1889; French by A. Dietrich, 1909). For this bulky collection of essays, philosophical and others, Schopenhauer received as honorarium only ten free copies of the work. Soon afterwards, Dr E. 0. Lindner, assistant editor of the Vossische Zeitung, began a series of Schopenhauerite articles. Amongst them may be reckoned a translation by Mrs Lindner of an article by John Oxenford which appeared in the Westminster Review for April 1853, entitled "Iconoclasm in German Philosophy," being an outline of Schopenhauer's system. In 1854 Frauenstädt's, Letters on the Schopenhauerean Philosophy showed that the new doctrines were becoming a subject of discussion — a state of things made still more obvious by the university of Leipzig offering a prize for the best exposition and examination of the principles of Schopenhauer's system. New editions of his works were called for: a second edition of his degree dissertation in 1847, of his Essay on Colours and of The Will in Nature in 1854, a third edition of The World as Will and Idea in 1859, and in 1860 a second edition of The Main Problems of Ethics.

In April 1860 he began to be affected by occasional difficulty in breathing and by palpitation of the heart. Another attack came on, in autumn (9th September), and again a week later. On the evening of the 18th his friend and subsequent biographer, Dr. Gwinner, sat with him and conversed. On the morning of the 21st September he rose and sat down alone to breakfast; shortly afterwards his doctor called and found him dead in his chair. Schopenhauer's strongest lasting influence was on Nietzsche, Freud, and Wittgenstein.