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24.9 Arthur Schopenhauer

Part four of my philosophy series, I have reached one of my personal favourites out of all the interseting people I am attempting to describe in this series. Schopenhauer built upon the work of Kant, and extended the theories he had developed out in unusual new directions. Kant argued that we cannot understand anything of the world around us, as we see only that which passes through our senses, that which our brains produce from the seemingly random data they recieve, and that therefore all patterns and appearances of logic and order in reality may well be created by our own minds. Schopenhauer, though, realised that there is some way we can understand a part of reality, he reasond that our own bodies exist, and that therefore they are a part of the outside universe, and that if we can come to understand them, from the inside as we are, we can understand something of everything else. (though as I proved some posts back, we really cannot understand most of what our bodies do.)
Schopenhauer’s idea of the universe was of everything being parts of a single whole, a continuous force or existance of which everything we percieve is just slightly different aspects. this force, he refered to as the ‘Will’, the driving force behind everything that happened, moving ever forwards, aimlessly and blindly but always leaving us struggling to keep up, a force that consisted mostly of a desire to continue existing. This theory, interestingly, has many parallels to other such ideas, both ancient and modern. Einstein, for example, proposed that matter is merely an expression of energy, and that the whole universe therefore is a single vast cloud of different forms of energy.
Schopenhauer, though, was rather pessimistic, he proposed that the Will was the force that drove our lives, controlled all our emotions and desires, all those things we wanted but could not quite have, the illogical, irrational things we did, everything that made life that little more difficult. He went and looked at reality and nature and saw terrible things, saw how so many living things had to eat each other to survive, how every living thing, in fact, was in constant competitoon with every other thing, a theory that would later on inspire such minds as Darwin and Wallace towards ideas of evolution in living organisms.
So, all life is basically a futile pursuit of desires we can never quite reach, and a competition with every other living thing for limited space and resources. However, there are some ways to avoid this. One is to set aside all desires and seek a life of simplicity, asceticism and meditation. The other is rather the opposite, to seek freedom through art. As with Kant, Schopenhauer argued that art liberated us from real world thoughts and desires, briefly setting our minds free from ‘servitude to the Will’. He particularly appreciated music, which he believed was the purest form of art, since the sounds could not be anything other than themselves, always purely abstract, just nice noises rather than an imitation of something real, as with say a painting of a vase of flowers. Many of Schopenhauer’s philosophies had many links to ideas of Eastern religions, Buddhism, Daoism and such like, though apparently he developed most of them with almost no contact with the original eastern Asian theories.
Finally, the idea that we are all part of the Will, of the whole of reality, has interesting implications, if our minds and bodies are a part of everything else, then everything else is a part of us, and in a sense we can feel that, that is why, for exaample, we can feel empathy for someone or something that has suffered harm or recieved bad news, because in a sense, we are all the same. And yet, still we compete continually with each other for our own advantage.

So, there we go, an unusual set of ideas, but something in them appeals to me, other than perhaps the constant pessimism, the endless competition and pursuit of desires, but then, I can see the truth in that all too clearly.
Anyway, next week, I shall move onto another rather interesting man, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who was working on theories of where the driving force of the universe was actually going, at the same time. (in fact, at the exact same time, Schopenhauer arranged to give his lectures whilst Hegel was giving his own, attempting to attract students away from what he saw as his biggest rival, but hardly anyone turned up so he gave in and returned to writing.)

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