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Schopenhauer’s Views on Idea of Will, and Death

Schopenhauer’s Views on Idea of Will, and Death
Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer. Credits:


By Mithu Das   January 27, 2019

Life swings like a pendulum to and fro between pain and boredom.Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher who was born in Gdańsk, Poland, in 1788. He is known to be a philosopher of pessimism (an opinion that bad things will happen). He had written many essays and books on philosophy. However, he had hardly been garnered for his works during his life.

Besides philosophy, Schopenhauer had a great interest in science, literature and music. The two sacred Hindu scriptures, the Vedas and the Upanishad, influenced him profoundly. In fact, the Upanishad, together with Plato and Kant, had helped him erect the foundation of his own philosophical system.

One of Schopenhauer’s great philosophical works is The World as Will and Idea which is comprised of four books. The second book of the series focuses on the Idea of Will. According to Schopenhauer, a man knows himself externally as body and internally as will (the primary essence of all things). “The basis of all willing is need, deficiency and thus pain. Consequently, the nature of brutes and man is subject to pain originally and through its very being. If, on the other hand, it lacks objects of desire, because it is at once deprived of them by a too easy satisfaction, a terrible void and ennui (boredom) comes over it, i.e., its being and existence itself becomes an unbearable burden to it.”

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Schopenhauer lived a longer life. He died a painless, sudden death, in 1860, at age 72. (Mind you, during the early eighteenth century life expectancy in Europe was shorter.) According to Wikipedia, “he remained healthy in his old age, which he attributed to regular walks no matter the weather, and always getting enough sleep.” Anyway, Schopenhauer tries to give his reason why people fear death (when even life is “want, wretchedness, affliction, and misery?”): It’s because “death ends the individual, which it openly professes itself to be, and since the individual is a particular objectification of the will to live itself, its whole nature struggles against death.” On the other hand, however, he argues, “just as the person seeing himself in the mirror does not perish when the mirror is broken, so the will is not affected when the individual perishes.”

Although Schopenhauer was a pessimist, he never supported suicide. He believes the “always open door” of Epictetus does not lead anywhere. “Whoever is oppressed with the burden of life, whoever desires life and affirms it, but abhors its torments, such a man has no deliverance to hope from death, and cannot right himself by suicide.”

After becoming acquainted with Hindu philosophy, Schopenhauer expresses his views on death: “The Hindus have long ago learned the lesson of Nature which shows that death is the great reprimand which the will to live, or more especially egoism, which is essential to this, receives through the course of nature; and it may be conceived as a punishment for our existence….”

Sources: Death and Western Thought by Jacques Choron; Encyclopedia Britannica; Wikipedia; Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

You might also like to read What Seneca Says About Death.

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