Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library
  PREVIOUSNEXT  

CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · QUICK INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHIES
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · PORTRAITS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by William Morton Payne (1858–1919)
 
SCHOPENHAUER enjoys a unique distinction among the great philosophers of the modern world. Apart from the extraordinary powers of analysis that make him so important a factor in the development of philosophical thought, he possesses the literary faculty in a degree quite unexampled among the metaphysical writers of modern times, and must be reckoned with as a man of letters no less than as a thinker. The world of his thought lies before the reader as a fair sunlit meadow; and offers an enticing prospect to the traveler who has been toiling through the rugged ways of the Kantian categories, or the barren morass of the Hegelian logic. He not only has a definite set of ideas, deeply conceived and organically united, to present to his students, but he has clothed them in a verbal garb that makes metaphysics, for once, easy reading, and is perhaps too alluring to do the best possible service to exact thought. His clear, rich, and allusive style makes him one of the greatest masters of German prose; while of his chief philosophical work it is hardly too much to say, with Professor Royce, that it “is in form the most artistic philosophical treatise in existence,” unless we hark back to Plato himself. When we add to these considerations the breadth of his culture,—which touched upon so many human concerns, and so adorned whatever it touched that a close acquaintance with the whole of his work is almost a liberal education in itself,—we may understand why his figure is the most interesting, if not the most significant, in the history of nineteenth-century thought; and why his influence, instead of becoming a matter of merely historical interest, or declining into the cult of a coterie, is now steadily growing nearly forty years after his death.  1
  Arthur Schopenhauer was born in Danzig, February 22d (Washington’s and Lowell’s birthday), 1788. His father was a merchant in prosperous circumstances; his mother was a brilliant woman, who afterwards became a novelist of some repute and a leader in the social life of Weimar. In 1793 Danzig lost its rank as a free city, being absorbed by Prussia; whereupon the Schopenhauers removed to Hamburg. At the age of nine Arthur was sent to France for two years, and at the age of fifteen started upon two years of traveling with his family, although for a part of the time he was placed in an English school. He tried to follow the parental wishes in adopting a mercantile life; but the death of his father in 1805 changed these plans. The boy then determined to study the classics and work for a degree. He prepared himself at Gotha and Weimar, and entered the University of Göttingen in 1809. Here he studied for two years, then at Berlin; and then, in 1813, seeking to escape from the turmoil of warfare, he went first to Dresden, and afterwards to Rudolstadt, where he worked upon the dissertation which obtained for him, in the autumn of 1813, his degree at the University of Jena. This dissertation—which occupies an important place among his writings, because it contains the germ of his subsequent thinking—was entitled ‘Ueber die Vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom Zureichenden Grunde’ (The Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason). The mind is constantly asking, Why is this or that thing so? Why does that stone fall to the earth? Why must a given judgment be either true or not true? Why are equilateral triangles equiangular? Why do I raise my hand when threatened by a blow? For each of these things there is a sufficient reason; but the reasons are not of the same sort. In the first case there is a physical cause, in the second a logical consequence, in the third the datum of the problem necessitates the conclusion, while in the fourth the will offers the immediate explanation. These cases are perhaps but four aspects of one general principle; but as Schopenhauer pointed out, much confusion may result from a failure to distinguish clearly between them, and a “cause” may be a very different thing from a “because.”  2
  After obtaining his degree, our philosopher in embryo lived with his mother for a winter in Weimar; but they were separated the following year by incompatibility of temperament, and never met again. The four years 1814–18 were spent in Dresden, devoted chiefly to the composition of the philosopher’s magnum opus. A pamphlet ‘Ueber das Sehen und die Farben’ (Sight and Color), published during this period, is of historical but hardly of scientific interest. What value it still has, depends upon the acuteness of many of its observations, and upon the emphasis which it places upon the subjective aspect of color perception; but as an attempt to vindicate Goethe’s fantastic ‘Farbenlehre’ as against Newton’s, it was foredoomed to failure. Schopenhauer’s great work, ‘Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung’ (The World as Will and Idea), was turned over to his publisher in the spring of 1818, and without waiting for its appearance the author hastened to Italy, carrying with him the conviction that he had given to the world its first true and all-embracing system of philosophy; that he, and he alone, at the age of thirty, had unraveled “the master-knot of human fate,” and given their final solution to the problems that had been attempted by all the long line of philosophers from “Plato the Divine” to “Kant the Astounding.” Before attempting a characterization of this masterpiece of philosophical thought, the history of the forty or more years remaining to him may be briefly set forth. The Italian journey filled two years. In 1820 he returned to Germany, lectured at Berlin, and waited in vain for the recognition that he felt to be his due. Another Italian journey followed; then a period of several years passed mainly in Berlin, until that city was threatened with cholera in 1831, and Schopenhauer fled to a safer place. He finally settled upon Frankfort, where the remainder of his life was spent; where his temper gradually mellowed as time brought to him his long-delayed desert of fame; and where he died September 20th, 1860. His body lies in the Friedhof of the old city on the Main, beneath a simple block of dark granite, upon which his name alone is engraved.  3
  “Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung’ is, as the preface declares, the expression of a single thought; and it may be added that all of Schopenhauer’s subsequent writings are but further illustrations and amplifications of that thought. The work is divided into four books. The first, accepting as irrefragable the essential conclusions of the Kantian analysis of consciousness, discusses the world as Idea or Representation (Vorstellung). It fuses into one transparent whole the body of ideas that trace their lineage through Hobbes, Locke, and Berkeley to Kant; and shows how this so real world that we know, as presented to our senses, and built up into a self-consistent and harmonious structure by the acts of perception, conception, and reflection, must be viewed by the philosophical mind, after all, as but the Object with which the individual Subject is correlated, and can have no independent existence of its own in any way resembling the existence which it appears to have in our consciousness. For it is a world which lies in space and time, and is bound by the law of causality; and these things, as Kant once for all demonstrated, are but the forms of the intellect, the conditions which the Subject imposes upon whatever existence per se may turn out to be. It will thus be seen that there is nothing particularly novel in the first book; it is in the second that Schopenhauer makes his own most significant contribution to philosophy. For in this second book the question becomes, What is the “Ding an Sich” (Thing In-Itself) before which the Kantian analysis halted? What is the world, not as it appears to us, but in its innermost essence? It cannot be a world of space and time and causality, since they are only the forms of thought in which the Subject clothes the Object. The answer to this deepest of all problems must be sought by an interrogation of the consciousness. What is, apart from my sensation and my thinking, the very kernel of my being? Schopenhauer triumphantly replies, “The Will.” Not the will in the narrow sense,—the mere culmination of the conscious process which begins with sensation and ends with rational action,—but the will in the broader sense of a blind striving for existence; the power one and indivisible which asserts itself in our activity as a whole rather than in our separate acts, and not only in us, where it is in a measure lighted up by conscious intelligence, but in all the inanimate world, made one with ourselves by this transcendental synthesis. The stone that falls to earth, the crystal that grows from its solution, the flower that turns toward the sun, and the man who leads an army to victory, are all manifestations of the world-will; separate manifestations they seem to us, but in reality the same thing, for the Will knows nothing of space or time.  4
  In the third book, we return to the World as Idea, led this time by the guiding hand of Plato. The Will, in its creation of the World as Idea, objectifies itself in a succession of archetypal forms, ranging from the lowest, the forms of crude matter, to the highest, man. Plato discerned this truth, and set it forth in his doctrine of ideas. If Schopenhauer had lived ten years longer, he would have seen the new light of Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species,’ and have recognized that the objectification of the will takes place by a gradual process rather than by a series of leaps. This doctrine of archetypal forms leads the way to a philosophy of art, which is indeed the chief subject-matter of the third book. The artist is the one who perceives the idea that nature stammers in trying to express, and who holds it up for the admiration of mankind. Thus art is necessarily ideal in a literal sense, and an improvement upon nature. Moreover, in man’s contemplation of the eternal idea as revealed by art he finds a temporary escape from the world of will, and knows now and then an hour of happiness. In the passionless calm of contemplation he forgets the miseries to which he is bound as the objectification of will, and is in a measure freed from the bondage of self. It is the object of the fourth book to show how this temporary freedom may become a final release. For the will, unconscious in its lower manifestations, has provided for itself in man the lamp of intelligence, whereby it may come to discern its own nature and the hopelessness of its strivings. In man alone the will, having risen to the full height of conscious power, is confronted with a momentous choice: it may affirm itself, may will to go on with the hopeless endeavor to pluck happiness from the tree of life; or it may, recognizing the futility of all such endeavor, deny itself, as with the Indian ascetic, and sink into Nirvana. Here we have manifest the powerful influence which the sacred books of India had upon Schopenhauer’s thinking, an influence as great as that of either Plato or Kant. And allied with this doctrine is his theory of ethics, which bases all right conduct upon the individual’s recognition, dim or clear in various degrees, of the essential oneness of things; which finds in the illusive veil of Maya a figurative foreshadowing of the Kantian transcendentalism; and which discovers the deepest word of human wisdom in the reiterated formula, “Tat twam asi,” “This art thou,” of the ‘Upanishads.’  5
  A second edition of ‘Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung’ was called for in 1844, a third in 1859. In these editions the original work grew to more than double its earlier dimensions; but the added matter did not mar the symmetrical structure of the treatise first published, since it was relegated to a stout supplementary volume. Schopenhauer’s other works, all of which may be regarded as ancillary to this one, include ‘Ueber den Willen in der Natur’ (The Will in Nature: 1836); ‘Die Beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik’ (The Two Fundamental Problems of Ethics: 1841); and the two volumes of miscellaneous papers pedantically entitled ‘Parerga und Paralipomena’ (1851). The publication of the latter work marked the turning of the tide in the author’s fame, and occasioned an accession of the popularity which he had so long in vain awaited. The public, which had fought shy of the systematic exposition of his philosophy, was attracted by these miscellaneous papers, so piquant, so suggestive, so reflective of a strong literary personality; and through the side-lights which the ‘Parerga’ cast upon the philosopher’s more solid works, were led to take up the latter, and discover what a treasure it was that had so long been neglected. This tardy recognition was grateful to Schopenhauer, who had never lost faith in the enduring character of his work, and in the devotion of whose laborious days there had been mingled not a little of “the last infirmity of noble mind.” It is pleasant to think of this Indian Summer of fame that came to the Sage of Frankfort during the last ten years of his life; pleasant also, to know that when at last his work was finished, he passed painlessly away, assured that the world would not forget what he had done.  6
 
 
CONTENTS · GENERAL INDEX · SONGS & LYRICS · BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY
READER’S DIGEST · STUDENT’S COURSE · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.