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Schopenhauer’s pessimism

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  • Jim
    Arthur Schopenhauer is known for his pessimistic appraisal of the human condition. The following passage seems to me to capture this aspect of his philosophy:
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 28, 2011
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      Arthur Schopenhauer is known for his pessimistic appraisal of the human condition. The following passage seems to me to capture this aspect of his philosophy:

      "We have already seen in nature-without-knowledge her inner being as a constant striving without aim and without rest, and this stands out much more distinctly when we consider the animal or man. Willing and striving are its whole essence, and can be fully compared to an unquenchable thirst. The basis of all willing, however, is need, lack and hence pain, and by its very nature and origin it is therefore destined to pain. If, on the other hand, it lacks objects of willing, because it is at once deprived of them again by too easy a satisfaction, a fearful emptiness and boredom come over it; in other words, its being and existence itself become an intolerable burden for it. Hence its life swings like a pendulum to and from between pain and boredom, and these two are in fact its ultimate constituents." ("The World as Will and Representation", Volume 1, Dover, pp.311-2)

      I think Schopenhauer goes wrong here by suggesting that all striving to achieve goals is a case of "need, lack and hence pain".

      Certainly when an individual is striving to achieve a goal, or complete a project, there is a sense in which something is incomplete, and hence involves some kind of "lack", however I think Schopenhauer is wrong to suggest that this must involve pain.

      Sometimes the journey is rewarding in itself, and happiness is not restricted to the few minutes when the destination is reached. For example I am striving to finish reading "The World as Will and Representation" before my reading group next week, but this is not painful to me; rather I am enjoying reading the book.

      Similarly we often take up short-term or long-term projects in our lives, where the struggle to achieve the end result is not painful but rewarding in itself. For example, struggling to bring up children, whilst often involving painful times, is more often an enjoyable striving, the best of times, often.

      Similarly when an author strives to complete his book, the creative writing itself can be a source of happiness. Learning a skill, doing a good job of work, climbing a mountain, cultivating a garden, caring for animals, can all involve striving towards an end, but the striving itself is fulfilling, and not the continual pain that Schopenhauer suggests it is.

      Schopenhauer's pessimism seems to rest on an equation between struggle and pain, but that is not my experience.

      Jim
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