Arthur Schopenhauer.

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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 Vorstellung_ as 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

All philosophy is in some sense the endeavor to find a unifying
principle, to discover the most general conception underlying the whole
field of nature and of knowledge. By one of those bold generalizations
which occasionally mark a real advance in Science, Schopenhauer
conceived this unifying principle, this underlying unity, to consist in
something analogous to that _will_ which self-consciousness reveals to
us. _Will_ is, according to him, the fundamental reality of the world,
the thing-in-itself; and its objectivation is what is presented in
phenomena. The struggle of the will to realize itself evolves the
organism, which in its turn evolves intelligence as the servant of the
will. And in practical life the antagonism between the will and the
intellect arises from the fact that the former is the metaphysical
substance, the latter something accidental and secondary. And further,
will is _desire_, that is to say, need of something; hence need and pain
are what is positive in the world, and the only possible happiness is a
negation, a renunciation of _the will to live_.

It is instructive to note, as M. Ribot points out, that in finding the
origin of all things, not in intelligence, as some of his predecessors
in philosophy had done, but in will, or the force of nature, from which
all phenomena have developed, Schopenhauer was anticipating something of
the scientific spirit of the nineteenth century. To this it may be added
that in combating the method of Fichte and Hegel, who spun a system out
of abstract ideas, and in discarding it for one based on observation and
experience, Schopenhauer can be said to have brought down philosophy
from heaven to earth.

In Schopenhauer's view the various forms of Religion are no less a
product of human ingenuity than Art or Science. He holds, in effect,
that all religions take their rise in the desire to explain the world;
and that, in regard to truth and error, they differ, in the main, not by
preaching monotheism polytheism or pantheism, but in so far as they
recognize pessimism or optimism as the true description of life. Hence
any religion which looked upon the world as being radically evil
appealed to him as containing an indestructible element of truth. I have
endeavored to present his view of two of the great religions of the
world in the extract which concludes this volume, and to which I have
given the title of _The Christian System_. The tenor of it is to show
that, however little he may have been in sympathy with the supernatural
element, he owed much to the moral doctrines of Christianity and of
Buddhism, between which he traced great resemblance. In the following
_Dialogue_ he applies himself to a discussion of the practical efficacy
of religious forms; and though he was an enemy of clericalism, his
choice of a method which allows both the affirmation and the denial of
that efficacy to be presented with equal force may perhaps have been
directed by the consciousness that he could not side with either view to
the exclusion of the other. In any case his practical philosophy was
touched with the spirit of Christianity. It was more than artistic
enthusiasm which led him in profound admiration to the Madonna di San

Sie trägt zur Welt ihn, und er schaut entsetzt
In ihrer Gräu'l chaotische Verwirrung,
In ihres Tobens wilde Raserei,
In ihres Treibens nie geheilte Thorheit,
In ihrer Quaalen nie gestillten Schmerz;
Entsetzt: doch strahlet Rub' and Zuversicht
Und Siegesglanz sein Aug', verkündigend
Schon der Erlösung ewige gewissheit.

Pessimism is commonly and erroneously supposed to be the distinguishing
feature of Schopenhauer's system. It is right to remember that the same
fundamental view of the world is presented by Christianity, to say
nothing of Oriental religions.

That Schopenhauer conceives life as an evil is a deduction, and possibly
a mistaken deduction, from his metaphysical theory. Whether his scheme
of things is correct or not - and it shares the common fate of all
metaphysical systems in being unverifiable, and to that extent
unprofitable - he will in the last resort have made good his claim to be
read by his insight into the varied needs of human life. It may be that
a future age will consign his metaphysics to the philosophical
lumber-room; but he is a literary artist as well as a philosopher, and
he can make a bid for fame in either capacity. What is remarked with
much truth of many another writer, that he suggests more than he
achieves, is in the highest degree applicable to Schopenhauer; and his
_obiter dicta_, his sayings by the way, will always find an audience.




_Demopheles_. Between ourselves, my dear fellow, I don't care about the
way you sometimes have of exhibiting your talent for philosophy; you
make religion a subject for sarcastic remarks, and even for open
ridicule. Every one thinks his religion sacred, and therefore you ought
to respect it.

_Philalethes_. That doesn't follow! I don't see why, because other
people are simpletons, I should have any regard for a pack of lies. I
respect truth everywhere, and so I can't respect what is opposed to it.
My maxim is _Vigeat veritas et pereat mundus_, like the lawyers' _Fiat
justitia et pereat mundus_. Every profession ought to have an analogous

_Demopheles_. Then I suppose doctors should say _Fiant pilulae et pereat
mundus_, - there wouldn't be much difficulty about that!

_Philalethes_. Heaven forbid! You must take everything _cum grano

_Demopheles_. Exactly; that's why I want you to take religion _cum grano
salis_. I want you to see that one must meet the requirements of the
people according to the measure of their comprehension. Where you have
masses of people of crude susceptibilities and clumsy intelligence,
sordid in their pursuits and sunk in drudgery, religion provides the
only means of proclaiming and making them feel the hight import of life.
For the average man takes an interest, primarily, in nothing but what
will satisfy his physical needs and hankerings, and beyond this, give
him a little amusement and pastime. Founders of religion and
philosophers come into the world to rouse him from his stupor and point
to the lofty meaning of existence; philosophers for the few, the
emancipated, founders of religion for the many, for humanity at large.
For, as your friend Plato has said, the multitude can't be philosophers,
and you shouldn't forget that. Religion is the metaphysics of the
masses; by all means let them keep it: let it therefore command external
respect, for to discredit it is to take it away. Just as they have
popular poetry, and the popular wisdom of proverbs, so they must have
popular metaphysics too: for mankind absolutely needs _an interpretation
of life_; and this, again, must be suited to popular comprehension.
Consequently, this interpretation is always an allegorical investiture
of the truth: and in practical life and in its effects on the feelings,
that is to say, as a rule of action and as a comfort and consolation in
suffering and death, it accomplishes perhaps just as much as the truth
itself could achieve if we possessed it. Don't take offense at its
unkempt, grotesque and apparently absurd form; for with your education
and learning, you have no idea of the roundabout ways by which people in
their crude state have to receive their knowledge of deep truths. The
various religions are only various forms in which the truth, which taken
by itself is above their comprehension, is grasped and realized by the
masses; and truth becomes inseparable from these forms. Therefore, my
dear sir, don't take it amiss if I say that to make a mockery of these
forms is both shallow and unjust.

_Philalethes_. But isn't it every bit as shallow and unjust to demand
that there shall be no other system of metaphysics but this one, cut out
as it is to suit the requirements and comprehension of the masses? that
its doctrine shall be the limit of human speculation, the standard of
all thought, so that the metaphysics of the few, the emancipated, as you
call them, must be devoted only to confirming, strengthening, and
explaining the metaphysics of the masses? that the highest powers of
human intelligence shall remain unused and undeveloped, even be nipped
in the bud, in order that their activity may not thwart the popular
metaphysics? And isn't this just the very claim which religion sets up?
Isn't it a little too much to have tolerance and delicate forbearance
preached by what is intolerance and cruelty itself? Think of the
heretical tribunals, inquisitions, religious wars, crusades, Socrates'
cup of poison, Bruno's and Vanini's death in the flames! Is all this
to-day quite a thing of the past? How can genuine philosophical effort,
sincere search after truth, the noblest calling of the noblest men, be
let and hindered more completely than by a conventional system of
metaphysics enjoying a State monopoly, the principles of which are
impressed into every head in earliest youth, so earnestly, so deeply,
and so firmly, that, unless the mind is miraculously elastic, they
remain indelible. In this way the groundwork of all healthy reason is
once for all deranged; that is to say, the capacity for original thought
and unbiased judgment, which is weak enough in itself, is, in regard to
those subjects to which it might be applied, for ever paralyzed and

_Demopheles._ Which means, I suppose, that people have arrived at a
conviction which they won't give up in order to embrace yours instead.

_Philalethes_. Ah! if it were only a conviction based on insight. Then
one could bring arguments to bear, and the battle would be fought with
equal weapons. But religions admittedly appeal, not to conviction as the
result of argument, but to belief as demanded by revelation. And as the
capacity for believing is strongest in childhood, special care is taken
to make sure of this tender age. This has much more to do with the
doctrines of belief taking root than threats and reports of miracles.
If, in early childhood, certain fundamental views and doctrines are
paraded with unusual solemnity, and an air of the greatest earnestness
never before visible in anything else; if, at the same time, the
possibility of a doubt about them be completely passed over, or touched
upon only to indicate that doubt is the first step to eternal perdition,
the resulting impression will be so deep that, as a rule, that is, in
almost every case, doubt about them will be almost as impossible as
doubt about one's own existence. Hardly one in ten thousand will have
the strength of mind to ask himself seriously and earnestly - is that
true? To call such as can do it strong minds, _esprits forts_, is a
description more apt than is generally supposed. But for the ordinary
mind there is nothing so absurd or revolting but what, if inculcated in
that way, the strongest belief in it will strike root. If, for example,
the killing of a heretic or infidel were essential to the future
salvation of his soul, almost every one would make it the chief event of
his life, and in dying would draw consolation and strength from the
remembrance that he had succeeded. As a matter of fact, almost every
Spaniard in days gone by used to look upon an _auto da fe_ as the most
pious of all acts and one most agreeable to God. A parallel to this may
be found in the way in which the Thugs (a religious sect in India,
suppressed a short time ago by the English, who executed numbers of
them) express their sense of religion and their veneration for the
goddess Kali; they take every opportunity of murdering their friends and
traveling companions, with the object of getting possession of their
goods, and in the serious conviction that they are thereby doing a
praiseworthy action, conducive to their eternal welfare. [Footnote: Cf.
Illustrations of the history and practice of the Thugs, London, 1837;
also the _Edinburg Review_, Oct.-Jan., 1836-7.] The power of religious
dogma, when inculcated early, is such as to stifle conscience,
compassion, and finally every feeling of humanity. But if you want to
see with your own eyes and close at hand what timely inoculation will
accomplish, look at the English. Here is a nation favored before all
others by nature; endowed, more than all others, with discernment,
intelligence, power of judgment, strength of character; look at them,
abased and made ridiculous, beyond all others, by their stupid
ecclesiastical superstition, which appears amongst their other abilities
like a fixed idea or monomania. For this they have to thank the
circumstance that education is in the hands of the clergy, whose
endeavor it is to impress all the articles of belief, at the earliest
age, in a way that amounts to a kind of paralysis of the brain; this in
its turn expresses itself all their life in an idiotic bigotry, which
makes otherwise most sensible and intelligent people amongst them
degrade themselves so that one can't make head or tail of them. If you
consider how essential to such a masterpiece is inoculation in the
tender age of childhood, the missionary system appears no longer only as
the acme of human importunity, arrogance and impertinence, but also as
an absurdity, if it doesn't confine itself to nations which are still in
their infancy, like Caffirs, Hottentots, South Sea Islanders, etc.
Amongst these races it is successful; but in India, the Brahmans treat
the discourses of the missionaries with contemptuous smiles of
approbation, or simply shrug their shoulders. And one may say generally
that the proselytizing efforts of the missionaries in India, in spite of
the most advantageous facilities, are, as a rule, a failure. An
authentic report in the Vol. XXI. of the Asiatic Journal (1826) states
that after so many years of missionary activity not more than three
hundred living converts were to be found in the whole of India, where
the population of the English possessions alone comes to one hundred and
fifteen millions; and at the same time it is admitted that the Christian
converts are distinguished for their extreme immorality. Three hundred
venal and bribed souls out of so many millions! There is no evidence
that things have gone better with Christianity in India since then, in
spite of the fact that the missionaries are now trying, contrary to
stipulation and in schools exclusively designed for secular English
instruction, to work upon the children's minds as they please, in order
to smuggle in Christianity; against which the Hindoos are most jealously
on their guard. As I have said, childhood is the time to sow the seeds
of belief, and not manhood; more especially where an earlier faith has
taken root. An acquired conviction such as is feigned by adults is, as a
rule, only the mask for some kind of personal interest. And it is the
feeling that this is almost bound to be the case which makes a man who
has changed his religion in mature years an object of contempt to most
people everywhere; who thus show that they look upon religion, not as a
matter of reasoned conviction, but merely as a belief inoculated in
childhood, before any test can be applied. And that they are right in
their view of religion is also obvious from the way in which not only
the masses, who are blindly credulous, but also the clergy of every
religion, who, as such, have faithfully and zealously studied its
sources, foundations, dogmas and disputed points, cleave as a body to
the religion of their particular country; consequently for a minister of
one religion or confession to go over to another is the rarest thing in
the world. The Catholic clergy, for example, are fully convinced of the
truth of all the tenets of their Church, and so are the Protestant
clergy of theirs, and both defend the principles of their creeds with
like zeal. And yet the conviction is governed merely by the country
native to each; to the South German ecclesiastic the truth of the
Catholic dogma is quite obvious, to the North German, the Protestant. If
then, these convictions are based on objective reasons, the reasons must
be climatic, and thrive, like plants, some only here, some only there.
The convictions of those who are thus locally convinced are taken on
trust and believed by the masses everywhere.

_Demopheles_. Well, no harm is done, and it doesn't make any real
difference. As a fact, Protestantism is more suited to the North,
Catholicism to the South.

_Philalethes_. So it seems. Still I take a higher standpoint, and keep
in view a more important object, the progress, namely, of the knowledge
of truth among mankind. And from this point of view, it is a terrible
thing that, wherever a man is born, certain propositions are inculcated
in him in earliest youth, and he is assured that he may never have any
doubts about them, under penalty of thereby forfeiting eternal
salvation; propositions, I mean, which affect the foundation of all our
other knowledge and accordingly determine for ever, and, if they are
false, distort for ever, the point of view from which our knowledge
starts; and as, further, the corollaries of these propositions touch the
entire system of our intellectual attainments at every point, the whole
of human knowledge is thoroughly adulterated by them. Evidence of this
is afforded by every literature; the most striking by that of the Middle
Age, but in a too considerable degree by that of the fifteenth and
sixteenth centuries. Look at even the first minds of all those epochs;
how paralyzed they are by false fundamental positions like these; how,
more especially, all insight into the true constitution and working of
nature is, as it were, blocked up. During the whole of the Christian
period Theism lies like a mountain on all intellectual, and chiefly on
all philosophical efforts, and arrests or stunts all progress. For the
scientific men of these ages God, devil, angels, demons hid the whole of
nature; no inquiry was followed to the end, nothing ever thoroughly
examined; everything which went beyond the most obvious casual nexus was
immediately set down to those personalities. "_It was at once explained
by a reference to God, angels or demons_," as Pomponatius expressed
himself when the matter was being discussed, "_and philosophers at any
rate have nothing analogous_." There is, to be sure, a suspicion of
irony in this statement of Pomponatius, as his perfidy in other matters
is known; still, he is only giving expression to the general way of
thinking of his age. And if, on the other hand, any one possessed the
rare quality of an elastic mind, which alone could burst the bonds, his
writings and he himself with them were burnt; as happened to Bruno and
Vanini. How completely an ordinary mind is paralyzed by that early
preparation in metaphysics is seen in the most vivid way and on its most
ridiculous side, where such a one undertakes to criticise the doctrines
of an alien creed. The efforts of the ordinary man are generally found
to be directed to a careful exhibition of the incongruity of its dogmas
with those of his own belief: he is at great pains to show that not only
do they not say, but certainly do not mean, the same thing; and with
that he thinks, in his simplicity, that he has demonstrated the
falsehood of the alien creed. He really never dreams of putting the
question which of the two may be right; his own articles of belief he
looks upon as _à priori_ true and certain principles.

_Demopheles_. So that's your higher point of view? I assure you there is
a higher still. _First live, then philosophize_ is a maxim of more
comprehensive import than appears at first sight. The first thing to do
is to control the raw and evil dispositions of the masses, so as to keep
them from pushing injustice to extremes, and from committing cruel,
violent and disgraceful acts. If you were to wait until they had
recognized and grasped the truth, you would undoubtedly come too late;
and truth, supposing that it had been found, would surpass their powers
of comprehension. In any case an allegorical investiture of it, a
parable or myth, is all that would be of any service to them. As Kant
said, there must be a public standard of Right and Virtue; it must
always flutter high overhead. It is a matter of indifference what
heraldic figures are inscribed on it, so long as they signify what is
meant. Such an allegorical representation of truth is always and
everywhere, for humanity at large, a serviceable substitute for a truth
to which it can never attain, - for a philosophy which it can never
grasp; let alone the fact that it is daily changing its shape, and has
in no form as yet met with general acceptance. Practical aims, then, my
good Philalethes, are in every respect superior to theoretical.

_Philalethes_. What you say is very like the ancient advice of Timaeus
of Locrus, the Pythagorean, _stop the mind with falsehood if you can't
speed it with truth_. I almost suspect that your plan is the one which
is so much in vogue just now, that you want to impress upon me that

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Online LibraryArthur SchopenhauerThe Essays of Arthur Schopenhauer; Religion, a Dialogue, Etc → online text (page 1 of 7)