Essays and Aphorisms

Essays and Aphorisms

One of the greatest philosophers of the nineteenth century, Schopenhauer believed that human action is determined not by reason but by 'will' - the blind and irrational desire for physical existence. This selection of his writings on religion, ethics, politics, women and many other themes is taken from Schopenhauer's last work, Parerga and Paralipomena, which he published...

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Title:Essays and Aphorisms
Author:Arthur Schopenhauer
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Edition Language:English

Essays and Aphorisms Reviews

  • britany

    the feel good hit of 1851

  • Dan Varley

    Nietzsche is a ray of f'n sunshine compared to Schopenhauer. Check it: "If the immediate and direct purpose of our life is not suffering than our existence is the most ill-adapted to its purpose in the world" --- holy shit!) but S. lays down some good nuggets on the denial of the will/desire that dovetails nicely with some Eastern philosophies.

    Some nice views on aesthetics (they give us a respite from the endless loop of desire->satisfaction -> desire, since when we see something beautifu

    Nietzsche is a ray of f'n sunshine compared to Schopenhauer. Check it: "If the immediate and direct purpose of our life is not suffering than our existence is the most ill-adapted to its purpose in the world" --- holy shit!) but S. lays down some good nuggets on the denial of the will/desire that dovetails nicely with some Eastern philosophies.

    Some nice views on aesthetics (they give us a respite from the endless loop of desire->satisfaction -> desire, since when we see something beautiful it releases us from that subjective prison of our own minds, however briefly.

    And some badass lines on thinking for yourself: "Fundamentally it is only our basic thoughts that possess truth and life, for only these do we really understand through and through. The thoughts of another that we have read are crumbs from another's table, the cast-off clothes of an unfamiliar guest." DAMN!

    Under appreciated philosopher. Gets too much of a bad rap for his pessimism when in fact I see a lot of life-affirming aspects of his writing.

  • Annie

    This is a great introduction to Schopenhauer- small, sweet (er...), easily taken in bites every few days to chew on, much more easily digested than his most prominent work, the World as Will and Representation. I wish this had been my first introduction to Schopenhauer, instead of WaWaR. You learn quite a bit more about his psyche and personality here, and I think it sets up nicely for reading his more extended philosophy.

    Soapy, as I like to call him, is one of my very favourite philosophers. N

    This is a great introduction to Schopenhauer- small, sweet (er...), easily taken in bites every few days to chew on, much more easily digested than his most prominent work, the World as Will and Representation. I wish this had been my first introduction to Schopenhauer, instead of WaWaR. You learn quite a bit more about his psyche and personality here, and I think it sets up nicely for reading his more extended philosophy.

    Soapy, as I like to call him, is one of my very favourite philosophers. Not because I particularly identify or agree with his ideas, the way I do, say, Hume, but because he’s fun to read in spite of his obnoxious fanboying over the insufferable Kant.

    No, Soapy’s fun because he’s ABSURD. He’s this creepy, cranky old guy who’s obsessed with his French poodles. He’s a nasty misanthrope, an egomaniac, and the actual most stubborn person ever born. Best of all, he’s painfully (...stubbornly) self-unaware. Regarding

    And he’s dark. Unrealistically pessimistic, so extreme he’s like a cartoon parodying himself. The following quote is about as cheerful as it gets:

    He defines hope as the confusion of the desire for a thing with its probability.

    ...And he wants us to formally address each other, not as “sir” or “Mr.” but as “Fellow Sufferer” and “Companion in Misery.”

    #crazyoldMaurice

  • Glenn Russell

    Arthur Schopenhauer wrote his essays and aphorisms in the financial hub city of Frankford, Germany during the mid-nineteenth century, a world where business owners and financiers ruthlessly competed against one another to amass fortunes, clerks chained to their desks toiled twelve hours a day, uneducated day laborers ground themselves down into faceless, mindless cogs of the urban wheel, and upper class ladies strolled the streets with parasols as they chattered incessantly over petty concerns -

    Arthur Schopenhauer wrote his essays and aphorisms in the financial hub city of Frankford, Germany during the mid-nineteenth century, a world where business owners and financiers ruthlessly competed against one another to amass fortunes, clerks chained to their desks toiled twelve hours a day, uneducated day laborers ground themselves down into faceless, mindless cogs of the urban wheel, and upper class ladies strolled the streets with parasols as they chattered incessantly over petty concerns - but, no matter what one's station in life - ruthless financial baron, toiling clerk, chattering lady or manual drudge - the monotonous hum of this bustling society gave few people encouragement or mental space to think independently or reflect philosophically. But no hustle and bustle for Arthur. Inheriting the family fortune and thus freed from any obligation to work for a living, Schopenhauer became a life-long bachelor and independent scholar, keeping his distance from other people as if they were a colony of doltish, novel-reading lepers.

    And, thus, after rousing in the morning and before playing the flute, partaking of lunch, and going for his two hour walk with his pet poodle, Schopenhauer sat at his desk, completely dedicating his time to writing. And this collection is Schopenhauer at his hyper-arrogant best, as self-appointed genius and highbrow aesthete, shooting verbal barbs and passing harsh judgment on everyone and everything in sight - would-be philosophers, journalists, bookworms, scholars, literati, historians, women, among numerous others.

    This book is great literature as well as original philosophy, the writing is so incredibly clear, crystal clear, actually - a straightforward, easy-to-follow, elegant prose. What a switch from hopelessly dry, turgid, stale academic philosophy with its endless references, footnotes and qualifications.

    On the topic of books and writing, here is a quote which is vintage Schopenhauer: "The thoughts a man is capable of always express themselves in clear, comprehensible and unambiguous words. Those who put together difficult, obscure, involved, ambiguous discourses do not really know what they want to say: they have no more than a vague consciousness of it which is only struggling towards a thought; often, however, they also want to conceal from themselves and others that they actually have nothing to say." Keep this in mind the next time you read an incomprehensible piece of writing - in truth, the burden is on the writer to make their thoughts clear, no matter how impressive the author's credentials.

    Among the topics address is aesthetics. As always, Schopenhauer never dances around an issue but goes right to the heart of the matter and tells it like it is. Here is what he has to say on opera: "Strictly speaking one could call opera an unmusical invention for the benefit of unmusical minds." For anybody with a keen interest in listening to music, these words have a very honest ring.

    Here is a quote that is especially appropriate to our current age of information: "Students and learned men of every kind and every ago go as a rule in search of information, not insight. They make it a point of honor to have information about everything . . . When I see how much these well-informed people know, I sometimes say to myself: Oh, how little such a one must have had to think about, since he has had so much time for reading!" The truth of this statement is compounded with the omnipresence of the internet.

    One more quote, this one capsulizing Schopenhauer's famous pessimistic view of life: "No rose without a thorn. But many a thorn without a rose." Even if you don't agree, you have to admire a brilliant, memorable metaphor.

    If you are new to Schopenhauer or philosophy, R. J. Hollindale provides an introduction which includes a mini-history of philosophy leading up to Schopenhauer, the cultural, literary and social context of Germany in the nineteenth century, as well as a mini-biography of Schopenhauer. This is all you will need to have a rich appreciation for one of the most lucid and influential philosophers in the Western tradition.

  • Jack

    I don't really have a review. I like Schopenhauer in both style and content. Everything here is worth reading apart from 'On Women', which I guess was kept in so that the editor could not claim they were ignoring Schopenhauer's virulent misogyny. Schopenhauer's aphorisms on books and writing are of s

    I don't really have a review. I like Schopenhauer in both style and content. Everything here is worth reading apart from 'On Women', which I guess was kept in so that the editor could not claim they were ignoring Schopenhauer's virulent misogyny. Schopenhauer's aphorisms on books and writing are of special interest. I am not quite so anti-obscurantist as he is; perhaps because I want to seek some higher meaning in a difficult writer rather than dismiss them out of hand. Nonetheless I will try to take his remarks on bad books to heart. Life is short - the 'pleasure' of logging another book on my reading challenge here is not worth the time spent slogging through some book that doesn't really engage my interest or teach me anything valuable. I may be one of those people Schopenhauer criticizes who needs to read less and think more.

  • Jason

    I'm sorry I didn't read this two years ago, when I thought pessimism was something reserved for those exiled from the general population's way of thinking. Considering it was written in the mid 19th century, everything in this book is highly accessible, written fairly simply, with only a few technicalities in between.

    And if it's the pessimism you want, then the opening essays are what you're after. They're drenched in reasons why we as a species are an error in creation, too highly adapted to

    I'm sorry I didn't read this two years ago, when I thought pessimism was something reserved for those exiled from the general population's way of thinking. Considering it was written in the mid 19th century, everything in this book is highly accessible, written fairly simply, with only a few technicalities in between.

    And if it's the pessimism you want, then the opening essays are what you're after. They're drenched in reasons why we as a species are an error in creation, too highly adapted to deal with the demands we place on ourselves, and so are destined for dissatisfaction. He's not without his failings - his view of women is not just absurd, it's just plain wrong. Having said that, the man deserves extreme respect for believing totally in what he says. Everything is drilled so forcefully that you can hardly do anything but nod agreement at times, regardless of whether the truth is a melancholy one. And it's not just that his tone is convincing - he actually has plenty to say on plenty of topics. The sections on ethics, philosophy and the intellect, and on thinking for yourself are fairly impressive. He places before you feelings most would probably never pay much attention to - that we fail to notice our good health but reversely are frustrated by the smallest of pains in a toe or finger, which all highlights that we're doomed for discontent because we fail to acknowledge our benefits, and so will keep striving for more and more, ultimately unhappy.

    This book isn't for those that are happy enough to drift through a delusional life of optimism - something I don't think is such a bad thing, even from a pessimist's point of view. If someone is fortunate enough to not be struck by the truths of this book, then I would say leave them be. However, once gained, they're almost impossible to shrug off. You see this fact most evident in those people who suffer chronic depression and who are forever bleak, even if they themselves aren't completely aware of it. But if you're helplessly susceptible to insight and clever thinking, then you can hardly ignore reading this book. It's seminal.

  • Eadweard

    " In our early youth we sit before the life that lies ahead of us like children sitting before the curtain in a theatre, in happy and tense anticipation of whatever is going to appear. Luckily we do not know what really will appear. For to him who does know, children can sometimes seem like innocent delinquents, sentenced not to death but to life, who have not yet discovered what their punishment will consist of. Nonetheless, everyone desires to achieve old age, that is to say a condition in whi

    " In our early youth we sit before the life that lies ahead of us like children sitting before the curtain in a theatre, in happy and tense anticipation of whatever is going to appear. Luckily we do not know what really will appear. For to him who does know, children can sometimes seem like innocent delinquents, sentenced not to death but to life, who have not yet discovered what their punishment will consist of. Nonetheless, everyone desires to achieve old age, that is to say a condition in which one can say: ‘Today it is bad, and day by day it will get worse – until at last the worst of all arrives.’ "

    ----

    " If the act of procreation were neither the outcome of a desire nor accompanied by feelings of pleasure, but a matter to be decided on the basis of purely rational considerations, is it likely the human race would still exist? Would each of us not rather have felt so much pity for the coming generation as to prefer to spare it the burden of existence, or at least not wish to take it upon himself to impose that burden upon it in cold blood? "

    ----

    " man ought to be, not monsieur, sir, but fellow sufferer, compagnon de misères. However strange this may sound it corresponds to the nature of the case, makes us see other men in a true light and reminds us of what are the most necessary of all things: tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity, which each of us needs and which each of us therefore owes. "

  • Florencia

    We are here to shatter your warm and fuzzy world inhabited by unicorns and puppies that eat cupcakes every time it rains. You may have the feeling of never leaving that world. And that's a valid choice, we all have our particular ways of dealing with our existence. If you do, avoid Schopenhauer's work. If you feel you can take it, proc

    We are here to shatter your warm and fuzzy world inhabited by unicorns and puppies that eat cupcakes every time it rains. You may have the feeling of never leaving that world. And that's a valid choice, we all have our particular ways of dealing with our existence. If you do, avoid Schopenhauer's work. If you feel you can take it, proceed to read this book.

    In 2005, I bought a little book called

    . I was quite young and I'm not sure where I found his name (I do remember the year because every time I buy a book, I write the date on them; a little quirk). I think it was during some period when I was obsessed with Hinduism and Buddhism and other aspects of the Eastern philosophy and religion. Schopenhauer was heavily influenced by the Upanishads.

    Anyway, I felt so close to his points of view. I always thought I'd enjoy reading his books. And I did. I enjoyed reading this one, most of the times.

    I decided to mention what I didn't like, first. And then, his other thoughts that truly emanate intelligence and creativity. That should be the last thing to be read.

    Let's start with those simple-minded creatures whose only job is to have children and were born to be nurses and teachers. Yes, women.

    After reading that, Schop certainly wasn't my favorite person in the world. And that is just the beginning. Do you think his misogynistic capabilities end there?

    Yes, ignoble and imperfect ladies. Women are portrayed as little human beings that make babies and never mature, and have to hold on to their beauty and charm in order to get successful businessmen to support them (okay, I know a couple of those, but do not generalize, I beg you. Just like all men aren't noble and perfect, for god's sake). It has been said that, in his last years, he had a more favorable opinion about women. Well, I haven't seen the page. No redemption for you on that subject, my friend.

    Next topic: freedom of the press. Or the permit to sell poison, whatever you want to call it.

    And then he focused on what he considered the perfect form of government... Yeah. I wasn't particularly fond of all his views developed in the essay "On law and politics".

    Moving on to the things I enjoyed reading. First, Hollingdale's introduction. Thoroughly researched and well-written. He shared many facts of Schopenhauer's life and work and he managed to keep me interested. He chose several essays and aphorisms from the second volume of

    (1851) to shed some light on his amazing work and form an idea of his philosophy.

    Schopenhauer described brilliant ideas without using an extremely complicated language that only scholars would be able to understand. The complexity of his thoughts and the way they are written... simply outstanding. It reminded me of my experience with Bertrand Russell, while reading

    . They have similar writing styles: straightforward and kind of humorous at times. Just the writing, though. Russell didn't think about S. with great enthusiasm since he considered him, basically, a hypocrite because he didn't live according to what he preached... I wouldn't know.

    The first essay is about a main characteristic of Schopenhauer's philosophy. Suffering. We seem to be doomed to suffer. And even if we wouldn't suffer, we would long for it.

    If we wouldn't have misery in our world, we would create it, just to have something to worry about, apparently. (There's a funny Utopia reference,

    .) So, he recommended us to see the world not as the perfect work of a superior being because first, the world is full of misery; second, we live in it. Humans are considered highly developed beings but, in fact, they are not. However, think about it. It couldn't be otherwise since we are here thanks to a punishment for a forbidden desire (insert "story of the Fall" here). All in all, once you have accepted suffering, you'll see it as something ordinary, you won't be surprised because you will think of it as something normal. Considering we have such a tragic origin and we are doomed to suffer, we should conduct ourselves with some indulgence. We must treat each other with tolerance, patience, forbearance and charity. Everything has its silver lining.

    The following chapter is about the vanity of existence, which I found brilliant.

    When I was younger, I used to be haunted by that thought. What is the present? What is now, this instant? Merely a second. Then it is all safe in the past. The past is not last year; it is already when I wrote "The past is not last year". That hopeless feeling of needing more time is universal.

    He then continued squeezing and kicking my soul with his thoughts on the human life and our needs that are impossible to satisfy.

    There are other essays and aphorisms about religion, philosophy, ethics, books and writing (that ooze arrogance from time to time) and introspection that are written with the same accessible language and express impressive—sometimes provocative—ideas. We may not agree with a couple of them but we have to admit that this man was an endless source of creativity. He expressed his ideas and backed them up with his own arguments and created a representation of the world that influenced many people. He wasn't afraid of showing what he really thought about several subjects, no matter how miserable and disturbing it all might be.

    So, here we are. I am full of contradictions, like any other person. I loved him and disliked him with the same intensity, at the same time.

    Kant's fan, Hegel's foe and one of the greatest, most interesting and provocative philosophers I have read so far.

    Actual rating:

    4 stars.

    * Also on

    .

  • C

    This is a bad book. A really bad book. Hell, it’s even a dangerous book. Anyone that takes Schoperhanuer seriously, is going to expect a rotten world, prolong a rotten world, and thus fortify the self fulfilling prophecy that nothing good has happened, will happen, and can happen. Fortunately this entire foundation is grounded on extremely shoddy philosophy.

    Schopenhauer was known in Germany as that guy who lectured in an empty room, while Hegel filled the auditorium. This isn’t surprising, Hegel

    This is a bad book. A really bad book. Hell, it’s even a dangerous book. Anyone that takes Schoperhanuer seriously, is going to expect a rotten world, prolong a rotten world, and thus fortify the self fulfilling prophecy that nothing good has happened, will happen, and can happen. Fortunately this entire foundation is grounded on extremely shoddy philosophy.

    Schopenhauer was known in Germany as that guy who lectured in an empty room, while Hegel filled the auditorium. This isn’t surprising, Hegel was conducting Philosophy, and Schopenhauer was conducting shrill whining before a live audience of one. If you’re going to pay a college to teach you philosophy, listening to the equivalent of a comedian without jokes, isn’t a frugal investment.

    Gramsci had a famous saying: Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will. Schopenhauer would twist this into, a pessimistic will, guarantees a pessimistic intellect. For Schopenhauer this is an ontological truth of the world, literally, there is one grand will, that exist independently of the phenomenal world, and it expresses itself in living beings, as a voracious Hobbesian creature that riddles us with torment, misery, and pain. Kant’s things in themselves are really this one thing, the will, in itself, and through us (and animals). How does Schopenhauer know this? How has he taken Kant’s masterpiece and transcended the phenomenal world, into the essence of the noumenon? Simple: sparse, intuition. It’s rather ironic than that when Schopenhauer goes on to explain what the world would look like without human subjects, he maintains all the properties of mind: space, time, causal relations, in existence. Clearly he didn’t understand Kant very well. One cannot explain the world without subjects, or at the very least, that description shouldn’t literally mirror our phenomenal depiction of it.

    What’s even more asinine is how petulant and hostile he was to Hegelian philosophy, when his own philosophy merely replaced Hegel’s Absolute, or Geist, with a Will. Whereas Hegel was a genius, with extreme philosophical cunning, able to piece together the necessary conclusions of his ontological foundation, and at least project some form of progress upon mankind, Schopenhauer leaves us with unconnected bits and pieces. There is no progress. There is no history. There is only misery from time immemorial.

    From these ridiculous ontological certainties, Schopenhauer moves on to explain to us that women are trifling, idiotic, subspecies. The businessman is the most authentic human being. The majority of the population requires religion because they’re essentially a brain stem, without frontal lobes, and Monarchies are the NATURAL EXPRESSION of human beings (I guess he never read a history book nor inquired into an anthropological text). Freedom of the press is dangerous, and authoritative ruling is universal and ubiquitous, thus necessary, and never eradicable. Any attempts at ethical behavior is really futile, all we can do is stare at each other in recognition of our own self-torment. Every once and a while a genius may arise amongst us, but overall 99% of us most be certain that we’ll never achieve anything except the occasional brief mitigation of pure despair.

    What’s really so ironic about this ontological certainty, with its barbarous conclusions, is that Schopenhauer only writes in Aphorisms and brief points. This is the guy who claims to have found the essence to all of reality, and unlike Hegel, he can’t properly systemize anything. All of his essays, on any subject, are helter skelter, scattered, internally contradictory, and fail to paint a systematic picture beyond: life sucks, then you die, ass hole.

    Now I can understand why Schopenhauer held such pessimism, and he’s brave enough to point out that the world is filled with suffering, depravity, torment, and pain. The Romantic Movement was being squashed by the material and social reality of an ever growing industrializing, capitalistic, heartless, mode of production. Atomizations of the people, and fractioning of the state, were necessary results. Alienation was subsequent. The bourgeois revolutions were replacing the tyranny of 1, by the tyranny of the 1%. Fortunately Marxism, and other socialist thinkers offered the necessary optimism to Schopenhauer’s defeatist pessimism. And thus Schopenhauer sat in the dustbin of history for some time. Now with the failure of Capitalism to be surmounted, and any chance at a proper romanticism – that incorporates a diverse and flourishing natural environment – is leading Philosophers, and many readers, back to Schopenhauer. (He alleviates the readers initial guilt as being a full blown hedonist, I suspect…)This is why the man is dangerous, instead of a revival of optimism, and a good Marxist vaccination against a static view of miserable history, we get poor philosophy, terrible ontology, an incoherent ethic, and certainty in failure.

  • Rakhi Dalal

    Just read the essay "On Women" from the collection. I laughed out loud.

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