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Arthur Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer, Arthur (ärˈtŏr shōˈpənhouˌər) [key], 1788–1860, German philosopher, b. Danzig (now Gdansk). The bias of his own temperament and experience was germinal to the development of his celebrated philosophy of pessimism, which he presented with such clarity and skill as to gain eventual recognition as one of the great philosophers. He studied at Göttingen, Berlin, and Jena, and he traveled throughout Europe. In Berlin he opposed the teachings of G. W. Hegel and attempted unsuccessfully to establish himself as a lecturer. After 1831, Schopenhauer lived and worked in retirement, chiefly in Frankfurt am Main. He had no friends, never married, and was estranged from his mother, a woman of considerable intellectual ability. Schopenhauer's most important work is The World as Will and Representation (1818, tr. 1958). His other works, mainly elaboration and commentary upon his original thesis, include On the Will in Nature (1836, tr. 1889), The Basis of Morality (1841, tr. 1903), Essays from the Parerga and Paralipomena (1851, tr. 1951), and many lesser essays. Schopenhauer considered himself the true successor of Immanuel Kant. However, he interpreted Kant's unknowable thing-in-itself as a blind, impelling force that is manifest in individuals as a will to live. Intellect and consciousness, in Schopenhauer's view, arise as instruments in the service of the will. Conflict between individual wills is the cause of continual strife and frustration. The world, therefore, is a world of unsatisfied wants and of pain. Pleasure is simply the absence of pain; unable to endure, it brings only ennui. The only possible escape is the renunciation of desire, a negation of the will reminiscent of Buddhism. Temporary relief, however, can be found in philosophy and art. Schopenhauer held that music was unique among the art forms in that it expressed will directly. The ethical side of Schopenhauer's philosophy is based upon sympathy, where the moral will, feeling another's hurt as its own, makes an effort to relieve the pain. His stress on the strength of the impelling will influenced Friedrich Nietzsche and the psychology of Sigmund Freud.

See biographies by D. W. Hamlyn (1985) and D. E. Cartwright (2010); P. Gardiner, Schopenhauer (1963); B. Magee, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer (1988); E. von der Luft, ed., Schopenhauer: New Essays in Honor of His 200th Birthday (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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