Biography of Arthur Schopenhauer / Биография Артура Шопенгауэра


Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) was one of the most original and provocative thinkers of the nineteenth century. He spent a lifetime striving to understand the meaning of living in a world where suffering and death are ubiquitous. In his quest to solve “the ever-disquieting riddle of existence,” Schopenhauer explored almost every dimension of human existence, developing a darkly compelling worldview that found deep resonance in contemporary literature, music, philosophy, and psychology.

This is the first comprehensive biography of Schopenhauer written in English. Placing him in his historical and philosophical contexts, David E. Cartwright tells the story of Schopenhauer’s life to convey the full range of his philosophy. He offers a fully documented portrait in which he explores Schopenhauer’s fractured family life, his early formative influences, his critical loyalty to Kant, his personal interactions with Fichte and Goethe, his ambivalent relationship with Schelling, his contempt for Hegel, his struggle to make his philosophy known, and his reaction to his late-arriving fame.

The Schopenhauer who emerges in this biography is the complex author of a philosophy that had a significant influence on figures as diverse as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Mann, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

David E. Cartwright is professor of philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater. He has published numerous articles on Schopenhauer and nineteenth-century German philosophy, translated and edited several of Schopenhauer’s books, and is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Schopenhauer’s Philosophy.


Arthur Schopenhauer continues to be one of the most widely read philosophers outside of academe, and it is only a slight exaggeration to say that academics have paid him more attention in the last thirty years than they have in any period following the publication of his philosophical masterpiece, The World as Will and Representation, which appeared in December 1818. This remark, however, is not an exaggeration at all if it is restricted to Anglo-American scholars. Schopenhauer’s broad popularity is relatively easy to understand, as is the resurgence of interest among scholars. In addition to addressing traditional topics in aesthetics, epistemology, ethics, logic, and metaphysics in the rigorous and specialized forms favored by philosophers, his fifty-year quest to discover and explain the meaning of the totality of experience led him to investigate almost every significant aspect of human experience.

Ever the perennialist, he dealt with universal themes concerning the human condition, such as love, sex, suffering, death, the meaning and value of life, and redemption. He also explored phenomena neglected by many philosophers, including colors, genius, homosexuality, humor, madness, the metaphysics of music, the moral status of animals, mysticism, paranormal phenomena, and weeping. Always committed to the truth, he trailed its spurs wherever its track steered. Seldom worrying about writing to please, he stated the truth as he saw it. His voracious curiosity and cosmopolitan sensibilities made him the first major Western philosopher to seriously consider Eastern thought. In addition to his stressing commonalities between Eastern and Western perspectives, Hinduism and Buddhism helped shape his philosophy, and he recognized ways in which Eastern thought transcended that of the West. Yet it is not simply his vast array of topics that draw readers to Schopenhauer. He loathed obscurantism of any kind, and he viewed the torturous styles of many of his contemporaries as displaying a poverty of thought that they attempted to conceal by incomprehensible jargon wrapped in ponderous sentence structures. Compared to his contemporaries and compared to most philosophers, he wrote wonderfully and clearly.

He philosophized from the heart, from a genuine astonishment about the world, and not simply from a puzzlement about what other philosophers had said. He wrote with wit, irony, and sarcasm; polemically and provocatively; with grace and beauty. At times, reading Schopenhauer is an aesthetic experience of the first order. His works abound with personal observations based on his travels, his experiences of great works of art, and his keen attention to human behavior. He was as likely to quote from Goethe as he was from Kant. To illustrate a point, or to clarify an idea, he would draw from world literature and religion, from poetry and philosophy, and from the natural sciences. Schopenhauer’s original and darkly compelling worldview, with its expressive and inviting style and its emphasis on instinctive drives and nonrational forces directing not only human behavior, but everything in the world, has had a remarkable history of influence. Some scholars have detected the imprint of his thought in the work of figures as diverse as Jacob Burckhardt, Paul Deussen, Emile Durkheim, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Erwin Schrodinger, Swami Vivek ? ananda, and Wilhelm ? Wundt. Others have heard him in the music of Johannes Brahms, Anton??

Dvorak, Gustav Mahler, Arnold Sch ? onberg, and Richard Wagner. Still ? others have read him in Charles Baudelaire, Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Joseph Conrad, Afanasij Fet, Gustav Flaubert, Theodor Fontane, Andre Gide, George Gissing, Thomas Hardy, Friedrich Hebbel, Her- ? mann Hesse, Henrik Ibsen, Thomas Mann, William Somerset Maugham, Guy de Maupassant, Herman Melville, Edgar Allan Poe, Marcel Proust, Wilhelm Raabe, August Strindberg, Leo Tolstoy, Ivan Turgenev, Virginia Woolf, and Emile Zola. Moreover, there are those who have noted his mark on the philosophies of Henri Bergson, Eduard von Hartmann, Max Horkheimer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Marcuse, Max Scheller, Richard Taylor, Hans Vaihinger, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

The resurgence of interest in Schopenhauer by scholars has been driven, in part, by his rich Wirkungsgeschichte. He claimed that we have learned some things from him that we will never forget. And, although this is true, it is as if scholars are recovering the memory of the author of those things. For decades, Schopenhauer had been viewed by Anglo-American analytic philosophers as a source for pointedly poignant observations on human life and as a figure of literary and not philosophical interest. But the tide has changed. Kant scholars, at first interested in Schopenhauer’s critique of the Kantian philosophy, have also come to appreciate the philosophical power of his thought. Philosophers first drawn to him in order to understand Schopenhauer’s formative influence on Nietzsche and Wittgenstein have also come to appreciate the rigor and power of his work. Now even a dyed-in-the-wool, hardline analytical philosopher has come to appreciate the explanatory power of his philosophy. But what about the thinker himself, about whom it was once said that students knew more about him than about his philosophy? Although Schopenhauer has been called an arch-pessimist, misanthrope, misogynist, cynic, irrationalist; a friendless, godless philosopher of will; unloved, loveless, arrogant, mother-despising, an academic failure; a fierce advocate of a contradictory worldview; even a seamstress-beating, Hegel-hating hurler of ad hominems – although Schopenhauer has been called all these, many of which are true, few know more about him.

For Schopenhauer was also a master of German prose, a poodle-loving, fluteplaying Rossini devotee, a polyglot, an Upanishads-reading Buddhist, and a Plato-esteeming, Kant-admiring, Goethe-revering, mission-driven philosopher of the body, of sexual love, of art, of tranquility, of compassion, and of redemption. In fact, Arthur Schopenhauer was, in many senses, a singular philosopher. But what is the thing in itself behind these many appearances?