On Human Nature

Top of Schopenhauer

Book 2
谷月社
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 The following essays are drawn from the chapters entitled Zur Ethik and Zur Rechtslehre und Politik which are to be found both in Schopenhauer's Parerga and in his posthumous writings. As in my previous volumes, so also in this, I have omitted a few passages which appeared to me to be either antiquated or no longer of any general interest. For convenience' sake I have divided the original chapters into sections, which I have had to name; and I have also had to invent a title which should express their real scope. The reader will find that it is not so much Ethics and Politics that are here treated, as human nature itself in various aspects.
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 Arthur Schopenhauer (22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was a German philosopher. He is best known for his 1818 work The World as Will and Representation, in which he characterizes the phenomenal world, and consequently all human action, as the product of a blind, insatiable, and malignant metaphysical will.

Proceeding from the transcendental idealism of Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer rejected the contemporaneous post-Kantian philosophies of German idealism. Instead, he developed an atheistic metaphysical and ethical system that has been described as an exemplary manifestation of philosophical pessimism. Schopenhauer was among the first thinkers in Western philosophy to share and affirm significant tenets of Eastern philosophy (e.g., asceticism, the world-as-appearance), having initially arrived at similar conclusions as the result of his own philosophical work. His writing on aesthetics, morality, and psychology would exert important influence on thinkers and artists throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

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Publisher
谷月社
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Published on
Nov 22, 2015
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Pages
112
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / Essays
Philosophy / General
Philosophy / Mind & Body
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Schopenhauer is one of the few philosophers who can be generally understood without a commentary. All his theories claim to be drawn direct from the facts, to be suggested by observation, and to interpret the world as it is; and whatever view he takes, he is constant in his appeal to the experience of common life. This characteristic endows his style with a freshness and vigor which would be difficult to match in the philosophical writing of any country, and impossible in that of Germany. If it were asked whether there were any circumstances apart from heredity, to which he owed his mental habit, the answer might be found in the abnormal character of his early education, his acquaintance with the world rather than with books, the extensive travels of his boyhood, his ardent pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and without regard to the emoluments and endowments of learning. He was trained in realities even more than in ideas; and hence he is original, forcible, clear, an enemy of all philosophic indefiniteness and obscurity; so that it may well be said of him, in the words of a writer in the Revue Contemporaine, ce n'est pas un philosophe comme les autres, c'est un philosophe qui a vu le monde.

It is not my purpose, nor would it be possible within the limits of a prefatory note, to attempt an account of Schopenhauer's philosophy, to indicate its sources, or to suggest or rebut the objections which may be taken to it. M. Ribot, in his excellent little book, [Footnote: La Philosophie de Schopenhauer, par Th. Ribot.] has done all that is necessary in this direction. But the essays here presented need a word of explanation. It should be observed, and Schopenhauer himself is at pains to point out, that his system is like a citadel with a hundred gates: at whatever point you take it up, wherever you make your entrance, you are on the road to the center. In this respect his writings resemble a series of essays composed in support of a single thesis; a circumstance which led him to insist, more emphatically even than most philosophers, that for a proper understanding of his system it was necessary to read every line he had written. Perhaps it would be more correct to describe Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellungas his main thesis, and his other treatises as merely corollary to it. The essays in this volume form part of the corollary; they are taken from a collection published towards the close of Schopenhauer's life, and by him entitled Parerga und Paralipomena, as being in the nature of surplusage and illustrative of his main position. They are by far the most popular of his works, and since their first publication in 1851, they have done much to build up his fame. Written so as to be intelligible enough in themselves, the tendency of many of them is towards the fundamental idea on which his system is based. It may therefore be convenient to summarize that idea in a couple of sentences; more especially as Schopenhauer sometimes writes as if his advice had been followed and his readers were acquainted with the whole of his work.

 

Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim. It is absurd to look upon the enormous amount of pain that abounds everywhere in the world, and originates in needs and necessities inseparable from life itself, as serving no purpose at all and the result of mere chance. Each separate misfortune, as it comes, seems, no doubt, to be something exceptional; but misfortune in general is the rule.

I know of no greater absurdity than that propounded by most systems of philosophy in declaring evil to be negative in its character. Evil is just what is positive; it makes its own existence felt. Leibnitz is particularly concerned to defend this absurdity; and he seeks to strengthen his position by using a palpable and paltry sophism.[1] It is the good which is negative; in other words, happiness and satisfaction always imply some desire fulfilled, some state of pain brought to an end.

[Footnote 1: Translator's Note, cf. Thèod, §153.—Leibnitz argued that evil is a negative quality—i.e., the absence of good; and that its active and seemingly positive character is an incidental and not an essential part of its nature. Cold, he said, is only the absence of the power of heat, and the active power of expansion in freezing water is an incidental and not an essential part of the nature of cold. The fact is, that the power of expansion in freezing water is really an increase of repulsion amongst its molecules; and Schopenhauer is quite right in calling the whole argument a sophism.]

This explains the fact that we generally find pleasure to be not nearly so pleasant as we expected, and pain very much more painful.

The pleasure in this world, it has been said, outweighs the pain; or, at any rate, there is an even balance between the two. If the reader wishes to see shortly whether this statement is true, let him compare the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is engaged in eating the other.

 

 

The volume now before the reader is a tardy addition to a series in which I have endeavoured to present Schopenhauer's minor writings in an adequate form.

Its contents are drawn entirely from his posthumous papers. A selection of them was given to the world some three of four years after his death by his friend and literary executor, Julius Frauenstädt, who for this and other offices of piety, has received less recognition than he deserves. The papers then published have recently been issued afresh, with considerable additions and corrections, by Dr. Eduard Grisebach, who is also entitled to gratitude for the care with which he has followed the text of the manuscripts, now in the Royal Library at Berlin, and for having drawn attention—although in terms that are unnecessarily severe—to a number of faults and failings on the part of the previous editor.

The fact that all Schopenhauer's works, together with a volume of his correspondence, may now be obtained in a certain cheap collection of the best national and foreign literature displayed in almost every bookshop in Germany, is sufficient evidence that in his own country the writer's popularity is still very great; nor does the demand for translations indicate that his fame has at all diminished abroad. The favour with which the new edition of his posthumous papers has been received induces me, therefore, to resume a task which I thought, five years ago, that I had finally completed; and it is my intention to bring out one more volume, selected partly from these papers and partly from his Parerga.

A small part of the essay on The Art of Controversy was published in Schopenhauer's lifetime, in the chapter of the Parerga headed Zur Logik und Dialektik. The intelligent reader will discover that a good deal of its contents is of an ironical character. As regards the last three essays I must observe that I have omitted such passages as appear to be no longer of any general interest or otherwise unsuitable. I must also confess to having taken one or two liberties with the titles, in order that they may the more effectively fulfil the purpose for which titles exist. In other respects I have adhered to the original with the kind of fidelity which aims at producing an impression as nearly as possible similar to that produced by the original.

"Why do philosophers differ so widely as to the first principles of Morals, but agree respecting the conclusions and duties which they deduce from those principles?"

This is the question which was set as subject for a prize essay by the Royal Society of Holland at Harlem, 1810, and solved by J. C. F. Meister; and in comparison with the task before us, the inquiry presented no extraordinary difficulty. For:—

(1) The present question of the Royal Society has to do with nothing less important than the objectively true basis of morals, and consequently of morality. It is an Academy, be it observed, which invites this inquiry; and hence, from its position, it has no practical purpose in view; it asks for no discourse inculcating the exercise of uprightness and virtue, with arguments based on evidence, of which the plausibility is dwelt on, and the sophistry evaded, as is done in popular manuals. Rather, as its aim is not practical, but only theoretical, it desires nothing but the purely philosophical, that is, the objective, undisguised, and naked exposition of the ultimate basis of all good moral conduct, independent of every positive law, of every improved assumption, and hence free from all groundwork, whether metaphysical or mythical. This, however, is a problem whose bristling difficulties are attested by the circumstance that all philosophers in every age and land have blunted their wits on it, and still more by the fact that all gods, oriental and occidental, actually derive their existence therefrom. Should therefore this opportunity serve to solve it, assuredly the Royal Society will not have expended its money amiss.

 

 

The contents of this, as of the other volumes in the series, have been drawn from Schopenhauer's Parerga, and amongst the various subjects dealt with in that famous collection of essays, Literature holds an important place. Nor can Schopenhauer's opinions fail to be of special value when he treats of literary form and method. For, quite apart from his philosophical pretensions, he claims recognition as a great writer; he is, indeed, one of the best of the few really excellent prose-writers of whom Germany can boast. While he is thus particularly qualified to speak of Literature as an Art, he has also something to say upon those influences which, outside of his own merits, contribute so much to an author's success, and are so often undervalued when he obtains immediate popularity. Schopenhauer's own sore experiences in the matter of reputation lend an interest to his remarks upon that subject, although it is too much to ask of human nature that he should approach it in any dispassionate spirit.

In the following pages we have observations upon style by one who was a stylist in the best sense of the word, not affected, nor yet a phrasemonger; on thinking for oneself by a philosopher who never did anything else; on criticism by a writer who suffered much from the inability of others to understand him; on reputation by a candidate who, during the greater part of his life, deserved without obtaining it; and on genius by one who was incontestably of the privileged order himself. And whatever may be thought of some of his opinions on matters of detail—on anonymity, for instance, or on the question whether good work is never done for money—there can be no doubt that his general view of literature, and the conditions under which it flourishes, is perfectly sound.

It might be thought, perhaps, that remarks which were meant to apply to the German language would have but little bearing upon one so different from it as English. This would be a just objection if Schopenhauer treated literature in a petty spirit, and confined himself to pedantic inquiries into matters of grammar and etymology, or mere niceties of phrase. But this is not so. He deals with his subject broadly, and takes large and general views; nor can anyone who knows anything of the philosopher suppose this to mean that he is vague and feeble. It is true that now and again in the course of these essays he makes remarks which are obviously meant to apply to the failings of certain writers of his own age and country; but in such a case I have generally given his sentences a turn, which, while keeping them faithful to the spirit of the original, secures for them a less restricted range, and makes Schopenhauer a critic of similar faults in whatever age or country they may appear. This has been done in spite of a sharp word on page seventeen of this volume, addressed to translators who dare to revise their author; but the change is one with which not even Schopenhauer could quarrel.

Schopenhauer is one of the few philosophers who can be generally understood without a commentary. All his theories claim to be drawn direct from the facts, to be suggested by observation, and to interpret the world as it is; and whatever view he takes, he is constant in his appeal to the experience of common life. This characteristic endows his style with a freshness and vigor which would be difficult to match in the philosophical writing of any country, and impossible in that of Germany. If it were asked whether there were any circumstances apart from heredity, to which he owed his mental habit, the answer might be found in the abnormal character of his early education, his acquaintance with the world rather than with books, the extensive travels of his boyhood, his ardent pursuit of knowledge for its own sake and without regard to the emoluments and endowments of learning. He was trained in realities even more than in ideas; and hence he is original, forcible, clear, an enemy of all philosophic indefiniteness and obscurity; so that it may well be said of him, in the words of a writer in the Revue Contemporaine, ce n'est pas un philosophe comme les autres, c'est un philosophe qui a vu le monde.

It is not my purpose, nor would it be possible within the limits of a prefatory note, to attempt an account of Schopenhauer's philosophy, to indicate its sources, or to suggest or rebut the objections which may be taken to it. M. Ribot, in his excellent little book, [Footnote: La Philosophie de Schopenhauer, par Th. Ribot.] has done all that is necessary in this direction. But the essays here presented need a word of explanation. It should be observed, and Schopenhauer himself is at pains to point out, that his system is like a citadel with a hundred gates: at whatever point you take it up, wherever you make your entrance, you are on the road to the center. In this respect his writings resemble a series of essays composed in support of a single thesis; a circumstance which led him to insist, more emphatically even than most philosophers, that for a proper understanding of his system it was necessary to read every line he had written. Perhaps it would be more correct to describe Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellungas his main thesis, and his other treatises as merely corollary to it. The essays in this volume form part of the corollary; they are taken from a collection published towards the close of Schopenhauer's life, and by him entitled Parerga und Paralipomena, as being in the nature of surplusage and illustrative of his main position. They are by far the most popular of his works, and since their first publication in 1851, they have done much to build up his fame. Written so as to be intelligible enough in themselves, the tendency of many of them is towards the fundamental idea on which his system is based. It may therefore be convenient to summarize that idea in a couple of sentences; more especially as Schopenhauer sometimes writes as if his advice had been followed and his readers were acquainted with the whole of his work.

 

 

If my object in these pages were to present a complete scheme of counsels and maxims for the guidance of life, I should have to repeat the numerous rules—some of them excellent—which have been drawn up by thinkers of all ages, from Theognis and Solomon[1] down to La Rochefoucauld; and, in so doing, I should inevitably entail upon the reader a vast amount of well-worn commonplace. But the fact is that in this work I make still less claim to exhaust my subject than in any other of my writings.

[Footnote 1: I refer to the proverbs and maxims ascribed, in the Old

Testament, to the king of that name.]

An author who makes no claims to completeness must also, in a great measure, abandon any attempt at systematic arrangement. For his double loss in this respect, the reader may console himself by reflecting that a complete and systematic treatment of such a subject as the guidance of life could hardly fail to be a very wearisome business. I have simply put down those of my thoughts which appear to be worth communicating—thoughts which, as far as I know, have not been uttered, or, at any rate, not just in the same form, by any one else; so that my remarks may be taken as a supplement to what has been already achieved in the immense field.

However, by way of introducing some sort of order into the great variety of matters upon which advice will be given in the following pages, I shall distribute what I have to say under the following heads: (1) general rules; (2) our relation to ourselves; (3) our relation to others; and finally, (4) rules which concern our manner of life and our worldly circumstances. I shall conclude with some remarks on the changes which the various periods of life produce in us.

 The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer is best known for his 1818 work ‘The World as Will and Idea’, which characterises the phenomenal world as the product of a blind and insatiable metaphysical will.  Proceeding from the transcendental idealism of Kant, Schopenhauer developed an atheistic metaphysical and ethical system that is viewed by many as an exemplary manifestation of philosophical pessimism. His works on aesthetics, morality and psychology would exert a major influence on existential philosophy and Freudian thinking. This comprehensive eBook presents Schopenhauer’s collected works, with numerous illustrations, rare texts, informative introductions and the usual Delphi bonus material. (Version 1)


* Beautifully illustrated with images relating to Schopenhauer’s life and works

* Concise introductions to the major treatises

* The complete essays, translated by T. Bailey Saunders in seven volumes, with individual contents tables

* Major works include their original hyperlinked footnotes – ideal for students

* Excellent formatting of the texts

* ‘The World as Will and Idea’ translated by R. B. Haldane and J. Kemp, in the much expanded sixth edition of 1909

* Special Essays alphabetical contents list – find the essay you want to read easily

* Features three biographies - explore Schopenhauer’s intriguing life

* Scholarly ordering of texts into chronological order


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CONTENTS:


The Books

ON THE FOURFOLD ROOT OF THE PRINCIPLE OF SUFFICIENT REASON

THE WORLD AS WILL AND IDEA

THE ART OF BEING RIGHT

ON THE WILL IN NATURE

ON THE BASIS OF MORALITY

WISDOM OF LIFE

COUNSELS AND MAXIMS

RELIGION: A DIALOGUE

THE ART OF LITERATURE

STUDIES IN PESSIMISM

ON HUMAN NATURE

THE ART OF CONTROVERSY


The Essays

LIST OF ESSAYS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER


The Biographies

SCHOPENHAUER by Thomas Whittaker

SCHOPENHAUER by Elbert Hubbard

ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER by William Wallace


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Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim. It is absurd to look upon the enormous amount of pain that abounds everywhere in the world, and originates in needs and necessities inseparable from life itself, as serving no purpose at all and the result of mere chance. Each separate misfortune, as it comes, seems, no doubt, to be something exceptional; but misfortune in general is the rule.

I know of no greater absurdity than that propounded by most systems of philosophy in declaring evil to be negative in its character. Evil is just what is positive; it makes its own existence felt. Leibnitz is particularly concerned to defend this absurdity; and he seeks to strengthen his position by using a palpable and paltry sophism.[1] It is the good which is negative; in other words, happiness and satisfaction always imply some desire fulfilled, some state of pain brought to an end.

[Footnote 1: Translator's Note, cf. Thèod, §153.—Leibnitz argued that evil is a negative quality—i.e., the absence of good; and that its active and seemingly positive character is an incidental and not an essential part of its nature. Cold, he said, is only the absence of the power of heat, and the active power of expansion in freezing water is an incidental and not an essential part of the nature of cold. The fact is, that the power of expansion in freezing water is really an increase of repulsion amongst its molecules; and Schopenhauer is quite right in calling the whole argument a sophism.]

This explains the fact that we generally find pleasure to be not nearly so pleasant as we expected, and pain very much more painful.

The pleasure in this world, it has been said, outweighs the pain; or, at any rate, there is an even balance between the two. If the reader wishes to see shortly whether this statement is true, let him compare the respective feelings of two animals, one of which is engaged in eating the other.

 

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