We continue our brave and headlong journey into the world of German philosophy with the ‘rather difficult to nail down’ Schopenhauer.
Schopenhauer is often called a philosopher of pessimism but is also the same philosopher who inspired the soaring works of Wagner, inspired the prose of Guy de Maupassant and remained a lighthouse for Nietzsche and his lifework.
For Schopenhauer man is a metaphysical animal. For him, metaphysics was defined by a knowledge that went beyond the phenomena (Hello Kant!) and reached out to something beyond what can be experienced.So man by his nature, is an animal that marvels at his own existence and the universe around him , always aiming for the absolute.
According to Schopenhauer , this quest by man for the absolute that lies behind nature, makes him also a religious animal, that wonders about mysteries that cannot be seized by the intellect. But this search for the absolute that pushes man is bound to failure and is the cause of suffering. Our inexhaustible ‘Will to live’, which lies below all this ambition , keeps catapulting us into more and more misery.
Toc like a Pendulum
When our desire (the Will) is not satisfied it leads to frustration and suffering.When it is satisfied it leads to boredom and ennui.So we oscillate between boredom and suffering endlessly. And all happiness is just a temporary fulfillment of desire or a pause in deprivation.
Happiness is a warm art
One source of true happiness can be art which through its beauty extracts us from the suffering of existence. Schopenhauer called it the “aesthetic experience”. The aesthetic experience temporarily emancipates the subject from the Will’s domination and raises them to a level of pure perception. “On the occurrence of an aesthetic appreciation, the will thereby vanishes entirely from consciousness,” he said.
The more a person’s mind is concerned with the world as representation, the less it feels the suffering of the world as will. Music, for example, is one of the highest art forms, if not the highest, for, the artist expressed pure Will here.
Great art is possible when the artist is so fixed on their art that they neglect the “business of life” that in Schopenhauer’s mind meant only the domination of the evil and painful Will. For Schopenhauer, the relative lack of competence of the artist and the thinker for practical pursuits was not a stereotype: it was cause and effect.
Smells like a great spirit?
While art can truly help man escape the terrible dictatorship of desires and the Will to live, the escape is brief and fast fading.
Hence, for Schopenhauer, true happiness can only be achieved by renouncing the desire and attaining Nirvana. Deeply inspired by Indian philosophy, Schopenhauer was convinced that this was the only possible solution to the suffering of man.