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Arthur Schopenhauer (born in Danzig, February 22, 1788–died in Frankfurt am Main, September 1, 1860) was a German philosopher whose philosophy was influenced by Plato, Immanuel Kant and the teachings of the Upanishads. He had an outspoken pessimistic view of life, because life for him equalled willing and willing resulted in suffering. The main themes of his philosophical thought are present in his major work Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung ('The World as Will and Representation', or 'The World as Will and Idea'), published in 1819.
Early life and study
In his childhood he travelled extensively and went to Germany, France and England. His mother was a novelist and through her Arthur became acquainted with Goethe, Schlegel and the Brothers Grimm. He briefly studied medicine at the University of Göttingen and went to Berlin to study philosophy. In 1813 he received a doctorate in Jena for his dissertation On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, in which he laid the groundwork for his later philosophy.
The World as Will and Idea
Schopenhauer begins his book with the line "The World is my idea". By that he means that what we know of the outer world is no direct experience: it is our idea of the world as we know it through our perceiving consciousness. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato already made a distinction between the phenomenal world and the true world of ideas, and in the 18th century Immanuel Kant stated that there was the world of our senses on the one hand, and the thing in itself on the other hand, the thing that remained unknown because of the restrictions of our cognition. Now, what Schopenhauer calls 'the world as idea' is of course the exact opposite of what Plato meant by "Idea" in his Theory of Forms. The world as idea is the world as we experience it. What Kant called 'the thing in itself' and what Plato called 'Idea' or 'Form' Schopenhauer calls the World as Will. It refers to the entirety of all that exists, and it is an indivisible whole that we cannot grasp with our minds. But there are means by which we can get a glimpse of the other (noumenal) side of reality through the experience of our own body (that is part of the Will), through art and through music.
The World as Will and Idea consists of four parts:
- in the first part Schopenhauer discusses the difference between the world as we know it and 'the world as Will'.
- in the second part he suggests that there is a deeper underlying reality than the reality as science describes it, a world we can get a glimpse of by experiencing our body moving.
- in the third part he gives a detailed discussion of art. By contemplating the sublime in art, we get a glimpse of the Will, a feeling that is very similar to the admiration of beautiful and impressive scenes of nature.
- in the fourth part his pessimism takes over. He explains why there is no escape from suffering in the world because we cannot silence the blind force of the Will, the desire. Still, it helps to lead a life of asceticism and the repression of our desires can guard us from too much suffering.