Thursday, November 19, 2009


Poor old Schopenhauer (1788-1860), Scrooge and Sourpuss, victim of his own wan and withering emotions. At least Nietzsche eventually got over the petulant, purposeless rage against fate that kept his former hero sunk in a lifetime of pessimism, isolation, and despair. But from the vantage of mellow Jamesian meliorism, both resembled rodents.

"The mood of a Schopenhauer or a Nietzsche... though often an ennobling sadness, is almost as often only peevishness running away with the bit between its teeth. The sallies of the two German authors remind one, half the time, of the sick shriekings of two dying rats."

But Schopenhauer was not a total scrooge, at least towards his beloved little poodles (his favorite was "Atman") and one or two other human beings. That's why Alain de Botton chose him to exemplify "consolation for a broken heart."

His trouble was that he never learned to enjoy the passage of time. Might as well enjoy the ride, Artie. Give us a smile. "The present may be compared to a small dark cloud which the wind drives over the sunny plain," sure. But why not compare it to sunshine breaking through clouds? Sometimes it's like that, too.

JT does agree, though: time isn't really real, "nothingness itself is therefore the only objective element in time." So... embrace your subjectivity. Arguably, that's exactly what Schopenhauer did. His World as Will and Idea was an extrusion from the recesses of his subjective melancholy, and it gave him some considerable satisfaction to extrude it.

Schopenhauer deserves an award for the Most Howling Non-Sequitur by a supposedly-brilliant mind. "The hours pass the quicker the more agreeably they are spent, and the slower the more painfully they are spent... We become conscious of time when we are bored, not when we are diverted. [This proves] that our existence is most happy when we perceive it least, from which it follows that it would be better not to have it."

He's not wrong, though, to note that unremediated evil and suffering "can never be annulled, and consequently can never be balanced." There's no remedy for past suffering. As in bodily health, we must be pro-active. Practice preventive medicine, and pursue "wellness." Still, to call this world-- or even Schopenhauer's 19th century-- "the worst of all possible worlds," is to betray a dearth of imagination.

I don't disagree either, though, with his pronouncement that stoical equanimity too easily collapses into cynical renunciation.

The bit about how disgusted unhappy people are made by the spectacle of "one whom they imagine happy" scores no points against happy people.

Arthur would have been happy to greet the apocalypse, and would have been first in line for 2012. Of course Pompeii, the Lisbon earthquake, et al barely scratched the surface of possible cataclysm. He wishes.

His most sympathetic human views centered on art, which he actually said helps us "transcend egotistical interests and empathize with universal emotions."

Metaphysician, heal thyself.


Eric Samuels said...

Feeling grumpy 'is good for you' -

Phil said...

It (grumpiness in general, and your grumpiness in particular) might be good for you, Eric, but I'm not so sure about me. And that's liberal democratic pluralism in a nutshell. Accelerating Intelligence News