Sunday, August 07, 2005

Schopenhauer - Part Two

I doubted I would read the second part of Schopenhauer’s World As Will and Representation after struggling through part one. The first part was basically the author’s argument with Immanuel Kant. Kant’s argument, as far as I can figure out, is that we create matter through thinking it exists. (Apologies if I have got this wrong). Whereas Schopenhauer believes it’s a bit of a mixture of what we perceive, or pre-conceived ideas (a priori, as Schopenhauer says throughout), and the thing-in-itself, or the will.

Part two covers a whole range of topics, and even though I found it a long haul to read, I nevertheless found part two thoroughly enjoyable. Most of what I understood, I mostly agreed with.

How do we sum up Schopenhauer’s pessimism? The following expression, which he frequently uses throughout his book, probably nails it best: life is a business which does not cover its costs. In other words, for all the work you put into life, it’s essentially not worth what you get in return. After all, once all of life’s labours are over what do you get? Death. The author starkly states, in italics no less, that life is essentially a pessimistic state of affairs.

Despite this, I didn’t find Schopenhauer all doom and gloom. Frankly, I just thought he was telling it like it is.

Another one of his radical ideas, which I agree with, is that moral character does not come from the head, or our thinking. It rather comes from the will – our basic impulses and urges. Hence he says that we are all doomed to keep repeating the same mistakes over and over, despite our attempts at self-rehabilitation. Schopenhauer believes that, contrary to thousands of years of belief and teaching, that the intellect is a minor, almost artificial part of our being. It’s more the icing on the cake, whereas the cake itself if really the will. I couldn’t agree more.

The chapter on death is brilliant. The author says how silly it is to worry about death, when in reality we’ve been dead (or un-alive) for all eternity before our birth. He believes that we are all a part of nature, that is our will, and our consciousness is a superficial, not important part of our being. If there is one description of death that I’ve read that I can say comes closest to what I think to be the most likely state of affairs, then this is it. It comes very close to that saying out of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, ‘We are all passing through nature, and into eternity.’

In this volume Schopenhauer’s dry, yet elegant prose got me hooked. I found myself turning page after page and thinking, exactly, yes, I couldn’t agree more. We are all duped that there is some fantastic point to our earthly lives, and the earthly treasures we build up, but the reality is we are all servants of the will. Nature dangles a carrot in front of us, to keep us plodding along, imbues us with a fear of death, so we will keep on doing her work, no matter how bad the returns.

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