Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

Obstinate 19th century German philosopher whose literary and aphoristic style, his emphasis on the will and his pessimistic view of human nature based on a unique combination Kant, Plato and eastern philosophy, greatly influenced Nietzsche and a host of 20th writers and philosophers.

Arthur Schopenhauer, was born in Danzig in 1788, into a middle class mercantile family of Dutch extraction. Arthur’s father was resolute man of action. Arthur’s mother entertained an interest culture and the arts, though mainly for the social prestige. In short, Arthur inherited his will from his father and his intellect from his mother.

His Dutch heritage perhaps explains Arthur’s character in later life - stubborn, haughty and domineering - all traits commonly, whether justifiably or not, associated with the Dutch. The family’s history of emotional instability may shed on light Arthur’s erratic behavior and pessimistic outlook on life.

Arthur enjoyed a pleasant and uneventful upper middle class childhood. His mother exposed the young boy to culture during the family’s numerous tours of Europe, which led Arthur to an abiding interest in literature and the arts fairly early.

Unfortunately, the elder Schopenhauer planned a merchant career for his son, oblivious to or dismissive of the young man’s inclinations. The Schopenhauer’s father gave the young man the choice between a very dreary and substandard education or a chance to tour Europe alone, and then apprentice in a merchant’s office upon return. Being an impetuous adolescent unable to defer gratification, Arthur chose the tour of Europe. Arthur then spent two of the most soul killing years of his life working in the office of a local merchant.

A combination of financial and emotional instability caught up to Arthur’s father; he was found dead after ‘falling’ from a granary, a probable suicide. Schopenhauer’s mother immediately took her husband’s fortune and embarked on a fabulous life in Germany’s literary salons. She herself was basically lighthearted and social and had neither an understanding of, nor patient for, her son’s pessimism and despondency. Arthur deeply resented his mother for spending his father’s money on such frivolity, though in truth he was probably envious of her lifestyle. This clash of temperaments and envious would only intensify throughout Arthur’s life.

Finally, Arthur asked his mother to release him from his office drudgery and provide him financial assistance to study at the university. She assented, perhaps only to stop his incessant whining. Schopenhauer was overjoyed and immediately enrolled at the University of G?ttingen as a medical student and continued his studies at the recently founded University of Berlin.

However, Schopenhauer quickly came to the conclusion that he had mastered the great philosophical questions far better than his professors had, though the professors themselves recognized no extraordinary talent in the young man).

Schopenhauer fell under the spell of Professor Schulze who advised Schopenhauer to restrict his reading strictly to Kant and Plato. Schopenhauer happily obliged and would later cite these two philosophers, almost exclusively, as providing the foundation for his own philosophical thought. He also was introduced to eastern philosophy through some recent European translations of the Uppshandids.

Arthur lived in the same town as his mother but did not live at home and limited his visits because of the constant clash of personalities. His mother had become a somewhat popular writer of entertaining novels and this fostered a literary rivalry between mother and son that continued throughout his lif. The rivalry culminated in a huge row. and Schopenhauer never saw his mother again and only resumed corresponding with her shortly before her death. His mother’s shallow intellectual and artistic interests, her frivolous expenditures and her convorting with other men largely formed the basis of Schopenhauer’s disdainful view of the entire female gender.

He finally took his Doctor’s degree at the University of Jena in 1813 at the age of 25. He based his thesis on some fundamental ideas that occurred to him two years earlier and which he would spend the rest of his life developing - and promoting.

He returned to Wiemar and immersed himself in writing his major work The World as Will and Idea for the next four years. He would spend the rest of his life pursuing and bolstering these ideas in substantially their originally form as they appeared to him age 28. He published the work in 1818 and met with a silence even greater than Hume’s first work, frustrating Schopenhauer’s desperate desire for recognition. A collaboration on the theory of color with Goethe soon soured, as did his other attempts for recognition. He attributed failures to a conspiracy of academic philosophers against his work, though he possessed no evidence besides his own failure.

During these decades of silence, he travelled extensively throughout Europe, especially in England, a country he adored for its more congenial attitudes when compared with severity of his native Germany.

At one point, he went to Berlin and obtained a teaching post at the University of Berlin, scheduling his class at the same time as Hegel’s most popular class. No one showed up and Schopenhauer never taught again.

His severely regulated way of life and a few stunning episodes exemplify Arthur’s extreme egocentric wilfulness. He never deviated from his daily routine which consisted of an early breakfast, work until noon, flute practice, a long daily walk (whatever the weather), an early dinner at the same English restaurant and an excursion to a concert or theatre performance, before retiring early. His wilfulness had its obstinate and nasty aspects, such as when he waged a two year legal battle to regain the full amount of his investment from a bankrupt enterprise though investors with larger stakes settled for a mere 30 percent. He threw a seamstress down some stairs when she refused to stop chattering outside his room. He resented the small sum the court order him to pay her for the rest her life. Perhaps it was his sheer force of will and self confidence that attracted the numerous ladies in his life with whom he conducted a number of short lived affairs, driven to do so, despite his low opinion of the sex, because of his ‘passionate nature.’

He finally settled in Frankfurt for good - a confirmed bachelor who lavished his affection on a string of small dogs. He continued to publish occasionally, but to little acclaim until 1838 when the Danish Academy awarded him a prestigious prize for his essay ‘On the Will in Nature.’ He savored the attention and was sure other awards would follow, but grew resentful when they failed to appear. Nevertheless, he published a second edition of his major work and slowly attracted acolytes, who he had scour publications looking for any mention of his work or scientific studies that could be construed as confirmations of his theories. Arthur finally gained widespread fame in 1851 with the publication of Parerga and Paralipomena, a collection of short aphoristic pieces on a variety of topics such as religion, women, pessimism, art and literature. These pithy and non-technical expositions of popular subjects struck a chord with the public and he soon gained a following of lay philosophers, though academics still ignored his work. He was able to enjoy his notoriety for nearly a decade until his health began to decline (though he refused to admit this weakness).

Arthur Schopenhauer died September 21, 1860 while having breakfast, leaving a calm countenance that seemed to exemplify facing death with same stoic indifference with which he faced life.