These days my cooking music has turned from rap/classical to YouTube audio stories, I find it to be an excellent way to keep my mind stimulated while mindlessly cutting vegetables or making mashed potatoes.
One of the more interesting figures that I’ve learned about recently is the ideas of the 19th century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who suggested that the way to approach to life should be similar to Buddhist monks (known for his famous work The World as Will and Representation). Born in Germany in 1788 to wealthy parents, Schopenhauer studied the work of many prominent philosophers and began his famous work at the age of 26 (and finished it at age 31). I will (try to) summarize his ideas below in less than 250 words.
Schopenhauer believes there is a primal force called “will-to-life” within us (wile zum leben in German) that overcomes our logic reasoning and causes us to think, amongst other wasteful things, sex and love. Schopenhauer is more forgiving of the latter since he believes that love offers a logical goal, which is to conceive children. He argues that although people who opposite traits tend to fall in love with one another, they would actually make terrible friends and, apart from sex, would hate each others’ guts. Schopenhauer makes a comparison of humans to moles, which does its best to survive despite dismal living conditions (note that Schopenhauer considers living underground from a human’s perspective, and not the moles. Moles might love it there.).
In general, the “will-to-life” drives humans away from our “higher” logical self by wasting it on carnal pleasures and instincts, often reflecting regrettably over its aftermath. Schopenhauer believes that elder individuals’ faces are full of wrinkles because they are vastly disappointed that they have failed at the pursuit of happiness (on a side note, check out this old classic if you are interested in the stock market). Schopenhauer proposes two solutions:
- Emulate the actions of Eastern Buddhist monks – living in isolation, overcome one’s instincts, and never marry. Schopenhauer recognizes the difficulty of the average person overcoming such a thing and thus recommends highly the next solution,
- Immerse oneself in Arts and Philosophy – the objective is for it to act as a guide of continuous self-awareness to one’s actions, thus being able to look at oneself from an objective perspective and avoid the pitfall of being driven by the “will-to-life”.
Schopenhauer is an interesting character and it’s one of the philosophers that were eclipsed by the other ones I’ve studied in university. I admire him for recognizing the serene practicalities within the mysterious Eastern philosophy and being able to adapt it for the much more practical Western civilization. His comments on the misery of human life were sobering yet comical and witty, and although he didn’t end up being rich or famous, he found an audience for his work and died peacefully in 1860.
In my opinion, Schopenhauer’s approach to life is very conservative, his disdain for “will-to-life” may have held him back from doing certain things which would have made him more financially successful (but who knows what his definition of success was) or more popular (maybe fame isn’t the name of his game). However, his ideas are excellent in today’s hectic world and there is no doubt that a healthy dose of Schopenhaurism would bring a much needed break from our modern, fast-paced lifestyles.
It’s the last day of 2015 tomorrow, I’m expecting a fairly empty office and a shorter day tomorrow.