1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Schopenhauer, Arthur
SCHOPENHAUER, ARTHUR (1788-1860), German philosopher, was born in Danzig on the 22nd of February 1788. His parents belonged to the mercantile aristocracy—the bankers and traders of Danzig. His father, Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer, the youngest of a family to which the mother had brought the germs of mental malady, was a man of strong will and originality, and so proud of the independence of his native town that when Danzig in 1793 surrendered to the Prussians he and his whole establishment withdrew to Hamburg. At the age of forty he married Johanna Henrietta Trosiener, then only twenty, but the marriage owing to difference of temperament was unhappy. Their two children, Arthur and Adele (born 1796), bore the penalty of their parents' incompatibilities. They were burdened by an abnormal urgency of desire and capacity for suffering, which no doubt took different phases in the man and the woman, but linked them together in a common susceptibility to ideal pain.
In the summer of 1787, a year after the marriage, the elder Schopenhauer, whom commercial experiences had made a cosmopolitan in heart, took his wife on a tour to western Europe. It had been his plan that the expected child should see the light in England, but the intention was frustrated by the state of his wife's health. The name Arthur was chosen because it remains the same in English, French and German. During the twelve years which followed the removal of the family to Hamburg (1793-1805) the Schopenhauers made frequent excursions. From 1797 to 1799 Arthur was a boarder with M. Gregoire, a merchant of Havre, and friend of the Hamburg house, with whose son Anthime he formed a fast friendship. Returning to Hamburg, for the next four years he had but indifferent training. When he reached the age of fifteen the scholarly and literary instincts began to awaken. But his father, steeped in the spirit of commerce, was unwilling that a son of his should worship knowledge and truth. Accordingly he offered his son the choice between the classical school and an excursion to England. A boy of fifteen could scarcely hesitate. In 1803 the Schopenhauers and their son set out on a lengthened tour, of which Johanna has given an account, to Holland, England, France and Austria. Six months were spent in England. He found English ways dull and precise and the religious observances exacting; and his mother had—not for the last time—to talk seriously with him on his unsocial and wilful character. At Hamburg in the beginning of 1805 he was placed in a merchant's office. He had only been there for three months when his father, who had shown symptoms of mental alienation, fell or threw himself into the canal. After his death the young widow (still under forty), leaving Arthur at Hamburg, proceeded with her daughter Adele in the middle of 1806 to Weimar, where she arrived only a fortnight before the tribulation which followed the victory of Napoleon at Jena. At Weimar her talents, hitherto held in check, found an atmosphere to stimulate and foster them, her aesthetic and literary tastes formed themselves under the influence of Goethe and his circle, and her little salon gained a certain celebrity. Arthur, meanwhile, became more and more restless, and his mother allowed him to leave his employment. He began his education again at Gotha, but a satire on one of the teachers led to his dismissal. 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 (aged twenty-one) the third part of the paternal estate, which gave him an income of r50, and in October 1809 he entered the university of Göttingen. The direction of his philosophical reading was fixed by the advice of G. E. Schulze to study, especially, Plato and Kant. For the former he soon found himself full of reverence, and from the latter he acquired the standpoint of modern philosophy. The names of "Plato the divine and the marvellous Kant" are conjunctly invoked at the beginning of his earliest work. But even at this stage of his career the pessimism of his later writings began to manifest itself, together with a susceptibility to morbid fears which led him to keep loaded weapons always at his bedside. He was a man of few acquaintances, amongst the few being Bunsen, the subsequent scholar-diplomatist, and Bunsen's pupil, W. B. Astor, the son of Washington Irving's millionaire hero. Even then he found his trustiest mate in a poodle, and its bearskin was an institution in his lodging. Yet, precisely because he met the world so seldom in easy dialogue, he was unnecessarily dogmatic in controversy; and many a bottle of wine went to pay for lost wagers. But he had made up his mind to be not an actor but an onlooker and critic in the battle of life; and when Wieland, whom he met on one of his excursions, suggested doubts as to the wisdom of his choice, Schopenhauer replied, "Life is a ticklish business; I have resolved to spend it in reflecting upon it." After two years at Göttingen he took two years at Berlin. Here also he dipped into divers stores of learning, notably classics under Wolf. In philosophy he heard Fichte and Schleiermacher. Between 1811 and 1813 the lectures of Fichte (subsequently published from his notes in his Nachgelassene Werke) dealt with what he called the "facts of consciousness" and the "theory of science," and struggled to present his final conception of philosophy. These lectures Schopenhauer attended - at first, it is allowed, with interest, but afterwards with a spirit of opposition which is said to have degenerated into contempt, and which in after years never permitted him to refer to Fichte without contumely. Yet the words Schopenhauer then listened to, often with baffled curiosity, certainly influenced his speculation.
In Berlin Schopenhauer was lonely and unhappy. One of his interests was to visit the hospital La Charite and study the evidence it afforded of the interdependence of the moral and the physical in man. In the early days of 1813 sympathy with the national enthusiasm against the French carried him so far as to buy a set of arms; but he stopped short of volunteering for active service, reflecting that Napoleon gave after all only concentrated and untrammelled utterance to that self-assertion and lust for more life which weaker mortals feel but must perforce disguise. Leaving the nation and its statesmen to fight out their freedom, he hurried away to Weimar, and thence to the quiet Thuringian town of Rudolstadt, where in the inn "Zum Ritter," out of sight of soldier and sound of drum, he wrote, helped by books from the Weimar library, his essay for the degree of doctor in philosophy. On the 2nd of October 1813 he received his diploma from Jena; and in the same year from the press at Rudolstadt there was published - without winning notice or readers - his first book, Über die vierfache Wurzel des Satzes vom zureichenden Grunde, trans. in Bohn's Philological Library (1889).
In November 1813 Schopenhauer returned to Weimar, and for a few months boarded with his mother. But the strain of daily association was too much for their antagonistic natures. His splenetic temper and her volatility culminated in an open rupture in May 1814. From that time till her death in 1838 Schopenhauer never saw his mother again. During these few months at Weimar, however, 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. In 1808 Friedrich Schlegel had in his Language and Wisdom of the Old Hindus brought Brahmanical 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 Sanskrit original. Another friendship of the same period had more palpable immediate effect, but not so permanent. This was with Goethe, who succeeded in securing his interest for those investigations on colours on which he was himself engaged. Schopenhauer took up the subject in earnest, and the result of his reflexions (and a few elementary observations) soon after appeared (Easter 1816) as a monograph, Über das Sehen und die Farben (ed. Leipzig, 1854). The essay, which must be treated as an episode or digression from the direct path of Schopenhauer's development, due to the potent force of Goethe, was written at Dresden, to which he had transferred his abode after the rupture with his mother. It had been sent in MS. to Goethe in the autumn of 1815, who, finding in it a transformation rather than an expansion of his own ideas, inclined to regard the author as an opponent rather than an adherent.
The grand interest of his life at Dresden was the composition of a work which should give expression in all its aspects to the idea of man's nature and destiny which had been gradually forming within him. Without cutting himself altogether either from social pleasures or from art, he read and took notes with regularity. More and.more he learned from Cabanis and Helvetius to see in the will and the passions the determinants of intellectual life, and in the character and the temper the source of theories and beliefs. The conviction was borne in upon him that scientific explanation could never do more than systematize and classify the mass of appearances which to our habit-blinded eyes seem to be the reality. To get at this reality and thus to reach a standpoint higher than that of aetiology was the problem of his as of all philosophy. It is only by such a tower of speculation that an escape is possible from the spectre of materialism, theoretical and practical; and so, says Schopenhauer, "the just and good must all have this creed: I believe in a metaphysic." The mere reasonings of theoretical science leave no room for art, and practical prudence usurps the place of morality. The higher life of aesthetic and ethical activity - the beautiful and the good - can only be based upon an intuition which penetrates the heart of reality. Towards the spring of 1818 the work was nearing its end, and Brockhaus of Leipzig had agreed to publish it and pay the author one ducat for every sheet of printed matter. But, as the press loitered, Schopenhauer, suspecting treachery, wrote so rudely and haughtily to the publisher that the latter broke off correspondence with his client. In the end of 1818, however, the book appeared (with the date 1819) as Die Welt als Wille and Vorstellung, in four books, with an appendix containing a criticism of the Kantian philosophy (Eng. trans. by R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, 1883). Long before the work had come to the hands of the public Schopenhauer had rushed off to Italy. He stayed for a time in Venice, where Byron was then living; but the two did not meet. At Rome he visited the art galleries, the opera, the theatre, and gladly seized every chance of conversing in English with Englishmen. In March 1819 he went as far as Naples and Paestium. About this time the fortunes of his mother and sister and himself were threatened by the failure of the firm in Danzig. His sister accepted a compromise of 70%, but Schopenhauer angrily refused this, and eventually recovered 9400 thalers.
After some stay at Dresden, hesitating between fixing himself as university teacher at Göttingen, Heidelberg or Berlin, he finally chose the last-mentioned. He was, however, not a good lecturer, and his work soon came to an end. His failure he attributed to Hegelian intrigues. Thus, except for some attention to physiology, the first two years at Berlin were wasted. In May 1822 he set out by way of Switzerland for Italy. After spending the winter at Florence and Rome, he left in the spring of 1823 for Munich, where he stayed for nearly a year, the prey of illness and isolation. When at the end of this wretched time he left for Gastein, in May 1824, he had almost entirely lost the hearing of his right ear. Dresden, which he reached in August, no longer presented the same hospitable aspect as of old, and he was reluctantly drawn onwards to Berlin in May 1825.
The six years at Berlin were a dismal period in the life of Schopenhauer. In vain did he watch for any sign of recognition of his philosophic genius. Hegelianism reigned in the schools and in literature and basked in the sunshine of authority. Thus driven back upon himself, Schopenhauer fell into morbid meditations, and the world which he saw, if it was stripped naked of its disguises, lost its proportions in the distorting light. The sexual passion had a strong attraction for him at all times, and, according to his biographers, the notes he set down in English, when he was turned thirty, on marriage and kindred topics are unfit for publication. Yet in the loneliness of life at Berlin the idea of a wife as the comfort of gathering age sometimes rose before his mind - only to be driven away by cautious hesitations as to the capacity of his means, and by the shrinking from the loss of familiar liberties. He wrote nothing material. In 1828 he made inquiries about a chair at Heidelberg; and in 1830 he got a shortened Latin version of his physiological theory of colours inserted in the third volume of the Scriptores ophthalmologici minores (edited by Radius).
Another pathway to reputation was suggested by some remarks he saw in the seventh number of the Foreign Review, in an article on Damiron's French Philosophy in the 19th Century. With reference to some statements in the article on the importance of Kant, he sent in very fair English a letter to the writer, offering to translate Kant's principal works into English. He named his wages and enclosed a specimen of his work. His correspondent, Francis Haywood, made a counter-proposal which so disgusted Schopenhauer that he addressed his next letter to the publishers of the review. When they again referred him to Haywood, he applied to Thomas Campbell, then chairman of a company formed for buying up the copyright of meritorious but rejected works. Nothing came of this application. A translation of selections from the works of Balthazar Gracian,. which was published by Frauenstlldt in 1862, seems to have been made about this time.
In 1833 he settled finally at Frankfort, gloomily waiting for the recognition of his work, and terrified by fears of assassination and robbery. As the years passed he noted down every confirmation he found of his own opinions in the writings of others, and every instance in which his views appeared to be illustrated by new researches. Full of the conviction of his idea, he saw everything in the light of it, and gave each aperçu a place in his alphabetically arranged note-book. Everything he published in later life may be called a commentary, an excursus or a scholium to his main book; and many of them are decidedly of the nature of commonplace books or collectanea of notes. But along with the accumulation of his illustrative and corroborative materials grew the bitterness of heart which found its utterances neglected and other names the oracles of the reading world. The gathered illhumour of many years, aggravated by the confident assurance of the Hegelians, found vent at length in the introduction to his next book, where Hegel's works are described as three-quarters utter absurdity and one-quarter mere paradox - a specimen of the language in which during his subsequent career he used to advert to his three predecessors Fichte, Schelling, but above all Hegel. This work, with its wild outcry against the philosophy of the professoriate, was entitled Über den Willen in der Natur, and was published in 1836 (revised and enlarged, 1854; Eng. trans., 1889).
In 1837 Schopenhauer sent to the committee entrusted with the execution of the proposed monument to Goethe at Frankfort a long and deliberate expression of his views, in general and particular, on the best mode of carrying out the design. But his fellow-citizens passed by the remarks of the mere writer of books. More weight was naturally attached to the opinion he had advocated in his early criticism of Kant as to the importance, if not the superiority, of the first edition of the Kritik; in the collected issue of Kant's works by Rosenkranz and Schubert in 1838 that edition was put as the substantive text, with supplementary exhibition of the differences of the second.
In 1841 he published under the title Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik two essays which he had sent in 1838-1839 in competition for prizes offered. The first was in answer to the question "Whether man's free will can be proved from self-consciousness," proposed by the Norwegian Academy of Sciences at Drontheim. His essay was awarded the prize, and the author elected a. member of the society. But proportionate to his exultation in this first recognition of his merit was the depth of his mortification and the height of his indignation at the result of the second competition. He had sent to the Danish Academy at Copenhagen in 1839 an essay "On the Foundations of Morality" in answer to a vaguely worded subject of discussion to which they had invited candidates. His essay, though it was the only one in competition, was refused the prize on the grounds that he had failed to examine the chief problem (i.e. whether the basis of morality was to be sought in an intuitive idea of right), that his explanation was inadequate, and that he had been wanting in due respect to the summi philosophi of the age that was just passing. This last reason, while probably most effective with the judges, only stirred up more furiously the fury in Schopenhauer's breast, and his preface is one long fulmination against the ineptitudes and the charlatanry of his bête noire, Hegel.
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. But, though only a small edition was struck off (500 copies of vol. i. and 750 of vol. ii.), the report of sales which Brockhaus rendered in 1846 was unfavourable, and the price had afterwards to be reduced. Yet there were faint indications of coming fame, and the eagerness with which each new tribute from critic and admirer was welcomed is both touching and amusing. From 1843 onwards a jurist named F. Dorguth had trumpeted abroad Schopenhauer's name. In 1844 a letter from a Darmstadt lawyer, Joh. August Becker, asking for explanation of some difficulties, began an intimate correspondence which went on for some time (and which was published by Becker's son in 1883). But the chief evangelist (so Schopenhauer styled his literary followers as distinct from the apostles who published not) was Frauenstadt, who made his personal acquaintance in 1846. It was Frauenstalt who succeeded in finding a publisher for the Parerga and Paralipomena, which appeared at Berlin in 1851 (2 vols., pp. 4 6 5, 53 1; sel. trans. by J. B. Saunders, 1889; French by A. Dietrich, 'clog). Yet for this bulky collection of essays, philosophical and others, Schopenhauer received as honorarium only ten free copies of the work. Soon afterwards, Dr E. O. 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 Frauenstadt's Letters on the Schopenhauerean Philosophy showed that the new doctrines were become 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. Besides this, the response his ideas gave to popular needs and feelings was evinced by the numerous correspondents who sought his advice in their difficulties. And for the same reason 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 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. Three years later he received a visit from his old college friend Bunsen, who was then staying in Heidelberg. On his seventieth birthday congratulations flowed in from many quarters. 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. By his will, made in 1852, with a codicil dated February 1859, his property, with the exception of some small bequests, was devised to the above-mentioned institution at Berlin. Gwinner was named executor, and Frauenstalt was entrusted with the care of his manuscripts and other literary remains.
It is often said that a philosophic system cannot be rightly understood without reference to the character and circumstances of the philosopher. The remark finds ample application in the case of Schopenhauer. The conditions of his training, which brought him in contact with the realities of life before he learned the phrases of scholastic language, give to his words the stamp of self-seen truth and the clearness of original conviction. They explain at the same time the naïveté which set a high price on the products his own energies had turned out, and could not see that what was so original to himself might seem less unique to other judges. Preoccupied with his own ideas, he chafed under the indifference of thinkers who had grown blasé in speculation and fancied himself persecuted by a conspiracy of professors of philosophy. It is not so easy to demonstrate the connexion between a man's life and doctrine. But it is at least plain that in the case of any philosopher, what makes him such is the faculty he has, more than other men, to get a clear idea of what he himself is and does. More than others he leads a second life in the spirit or intellect alongside of his life in the flesh - the life of knowledge beside the life of will. It is inevitable that he should be especially struck by the points in which the sensible and temporal life comes in conflict with the intellectual and eternal. It was thus that Schopenhauer by his own experience saw in the primacy of the will the fundamental fact of his philosophy, and found in the engrossing interests of the selfish 'pros the perennial hindrances of the higher life. For his absolute individualism, which recognizes in the state, the church, the family only so many superficial and incidental provisions of human craft, the means of relief was absorption in the intellectual and purely ideal aims which prepare the way for the cessation of temporal individuality altogether. But theory is one thing and practice another; and he will often lay most stress on the theory who is most conscious of defects in the practice. It need not, therefore, surprise us that the man who formulated the sum of virtue in justice and benevolence was unable to be just to his own kinsfolk and reserved his compassion largely for the brutes, and that the delineator of asceticism was more than moderately sensible of the comforts and enjoyments of life.
In various ways a reaction arose against this absorption of everything in reason. In Fichte himself the source of being is primeval activity, the groundless and incomprehensible deed-action (That Handlung) of the absolute ego. The innermost character of that ego is an infinitude in act and effort. "The will is the living principle of reason," he says again. "In the last resort," says Schelling (1809), in his Inquiries into the Nature of Human Freedom, "there is no other being but will. Wollen ist Ursein (will is primal being); and to this alone apply the predicates fathomless, eternal, independent of time, self-affirming." It is unnecessary to multiply instances to prove that idealism was never without a protest that there is a heart of existence, life, will, action, which is presupposed by all knowledge and is not itself amenable to explanation. We may, if we like, call this element, which is assumed as the basis of all scientific method, irrational - will instead of reason, feeling rather than knowledge.
It is under the banner of this protest against rationalizing idealism that Schopenhauer advances. But what marks out his armament is its pronounced realism. He fights with the weapons of physical doctrine and on the basis of the material earth. He knows no reason but the human, no intelligence save what is exhibited by the animals. He knows that both animals and men have come into existence within assignable limits of time, and that there was an anterior age when no eye or ear gathered the life of the universe into perceptions. Knowledge, therefore, with its vehicle, the intellect, is dependent upon the existence of certain nerve-organs located in an animal system; and its function is originally only to present an image of the interconnexions of the manifestations external to the individual organism, and so to give to the individual in a partial and reflected form that feeling with other things, or innate sympathy, which it loses as organization becomes more complex and characteristic. Knowledge or intellect, therefore, is only the surrogate of that more intimate unity of feeling or will which is the underlying reality - the principle of all existence, the essence of all manifestations, inorganic and organic. And the perfection of reason is attained when man has transcended those limits of individuation in which his knowledge at first presents him to himself, when by art he has risen from single objects to universal types, and by suffering and sacrifice has penetrated to that innermost sanctuary where the euthanasia of consciousness is reached - the blessedness of eternal repose.In substantials the theory of Schopenhauer may be compared with a more prosaic statement of Herbert Spencer (modernizing Schopenhauer and Herbert SpencerHume). All psychical states may, according to him, be treated as incidents of the correspondence between the organism and its environment. In this adjustment the lowest stage is taken by 'reflex action and instinct, where Spencer the change of the organs is purely automatic. As the external complexity increases, this automatic regularity fails; there is only an incipient excitation of the nerves. This feeble echo of the full response to stimulus is an idea, which is thus only another word for imperfect organization or adjustment. But gradually this imperfect correspondence is improved, and the idea passes over again into the state of unconscious or organic memory. Intellect, in short, is only the consequence of insufficient response between stimulus and action. Where action is entirely automatic, feeling does not exist. It is when the excitation is partial only, when it does not inevitably and immediately appear as action, that we have the appearance of intellect in the gap. The chief and fundamental difference between Schopenhauer and Spencer lies in the refusal of the latter to give this "adjustment" or "automatic action" the name of will. Will, according to Mr Spencer, is only another aspect of what is reason, memory or feeling - the difference lying in the fact that as will the nascent excitation (ideal motion) is conceived as passing into complete or full motion. But he agrees with Schopenhauer in basing consciousness, in all its forms of reason, feeling or will, upon "automatic movement - psychical change," from which consciousness emerges and in which it disappears.
(W. W.; X.)
- Johanna Schopenhauer (1766-1838) was in her day an author of some reputation. Besides editing the memoirs of Fernow, she published Notes on Travels in England, Scotland and Southern France (1813-1817); Johann van Eyck and his Successors (1823); three romances, Gabriele (1819-1820), Die Tante (1823) and Sidonia (1828), besides some shorter tales. These novels teach the moral of renunciation (Entsagung). Her daughter Adele (1796-1849) seems to have had a brave, tender and unsatisfied heart, and lavished on her brother an affection he sorely tried. She also was an authoress, publishing in 1844 a volume of Haus-, Wald-, und Feld-Märchen, full of quaint poetical conceits, and in 1845 Anna, a novel, in two vols. See Laura Frost, Johanna Schopenhauer: ein Frauenleben (1905).
- In this doctrine, so far as the facts go, Schopenhauer is indebted to a paper by R. Waring Darwin in vol. lxxvi. of the Transactions of the Philosophical Society.
- It was not till 1841 that a translation of Kant's Kritik in English appeared.
- He also projected a translation of Hume's Essays and wrote a preface for it.
- Kritic (Trans Anal.), bk. ii. Appendix.
- Uber die Seelenfrage, p. 9 (Leipzig, 1861).
- Mikrokosmus, i. 408(2nd ed.).