Arthur Schopenhauer

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Arthur Schopenhauer (February 22, 1788 – September 21, 1860) was a German philosopher, best known for his work The World as Will and Representation. He 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. In addition to this, the system he developed has also been described as an exemplary manifestation of philosophical pessimism.


Schopenhauer regarded the world that we perceive as a "representation" of objects in the theatre of our own mind: "The world is my representation." He praises Immanuel Kant for his distinction between appearance (phenomenon) and the things-in-themselves (noumenon). Schopenhauer regarded that Will--as a cosmic principle--is the "thing-in-itself." Therefore, the human will is our one window to the world behind the representation. He thus disagreed with Kant that it is impossible to gain knowledge about the thing-in-itself. Schopenhauer used the word "will" as the human's most familiar designation for the concept that can also be signified by other words such as desire, striving, wanting, effort, and urging. Schopenhauer's philosophy holds that all nature, including man, is the expression of an insatiable will to life. It is through the will that mankind finds all their suffering. Desire for more is what causes this suffering.

Similarities with Eastern Thought

Schopenhauer read the Latin translation of the Upanishads, and was so impressed by their philosophy that he called them "the production of the highest human wisdom". He also noted a correspondence between his doctrines and the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, especially the ideas that life involves suffering, that suffering is caused by desire, and that the extinction of desire and will leads to liberation. In his philosophy, denial of the will (desire) is attained by either: (a) personal experience of an extremely great suffering that leads to loss of the will to live; or (b) knowledge of the essential nature of life in the world through observation of the suffering of other people. The fact that he regarded suffering as the central fact in life lead him to develop a philosophy that was pessimistic in several ways.


Schopenhauer was also interested in some traditions in Western esotericism and parapsychology, which influenced his philosophical theories. He praised animal magnetism as evidence for the reality of magic, and went so far as to accept the division of magic into left-hand and right-hand magic, although he doubted the existence of demons. He grounded magic in the Will, and claimed all forms of magical transformation depended on the human Will, not on ritual.

Blavatsky's opinion

...a profoundly original thinker [who] brought his philosophical views into a full system before he was thirty. Possessed of a large private fortune which enabled him to pursue and develop his ideas uninterruptedly, he remained an independent thinker and soon won for himself, on account of his strangely pessimistic view of the world, the name of the “misanthropic sage.” The idea that the present world is radically evil, is the only important point in his system that differs from the teachings of the Vedanta. According to his philosophical doctrines, the only thing truly real, original, metaphysical and absolute, is WILL. The world of objects consists simply of appearances; of Maya or illusion—as the Vedantins have it. It lies entirely in, and depends on, our representation. Will is the “thing-in-itself” [Ding an sich] of the Kantian philosophy, “the substratum of all appearances and of nature herself. It is totally different from, and wholly independent of, cognition, can exist and manifest itself without it, and actually does so in all nature from animal beings downward.” Not only the voluntary actions of animated beings, but also the organic frame of their bodies, its form and quality, the vegetation plants, and in the inorganic kingdom of nature, crystallization and every other original power which manifests itself in physical and chemical phenomena, as well as gravity, are something outside of appearance and identical with, what we find in ourselves and call—WILL. An intuitive recognition of the identity of will in all the phenomena separated by individuation is the source of justice, benevolence, and love; while from a non-recognition of its identity spring egotism, malice, evil and ignorance. This is the doctrine of the Vedantic avidya (ignorance) that makes of Self an object distinct from Parabrahm, or Universal Will. Individual soul, physical self, are only imagined by ignorance and have no more reality and existence than the objects seen in a dream. With Schopenhauer it also results from this original identity of will in all its phenomena, that the reward of the good and the punishment of the bad are not reserved to a future heaven or a future hell, but are ever present (the doctrine of Karma, when philosophically considered and from its esoteric aspect).

Without at all ranging myself under Schopenhauer’s banner, who maintains that in reality there is neither spirit nor matter, yet I must say that if ever he were studied, Theosophy would be better understood.

Schopenhauer’s doctrine is that the universe is but the manifestation of the will. Every force in nature is also an effect of will, representing a higher or lower degree of its objectiveness. (IU1, 55)

There is a reflection of every one of these views in Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Our “investigating” scientists might consult his works with profit. They will find therein many a strange hypothesis founded on old ideas, speculations on the “new” phenomena, which may prove as reasonable as any, and be saved the useless trouble of inventing new theories. (IU1, 57-58)

The bold theories and opinions expressed in Schopenhauer’s works differ widely with those of the majority of our orthodox scientists. “In reality,” remarks this daring speculator, “there is neither matter nor spirit. The tendency to gravitation in a stone is as unexplainable as thought in human brain. . . . If matter can — no one knows why — fall to the ground, then it can also — no one knows why — think. . . . As soon, even in mechanics, as we trespass beyond the purely mathematical, as soon as we reach the inscrutable, adhesion, gravitation, and so on, we are faced by phenomena which are to our senses as mysterious as the WILL and THOUGHT in man — we find ourselves facing the incomprehensible, for such is every force in nature. Where is then that matter which you all pretend to know so well: and from which — being so familiar with it — you draw all your conclusions and explanations, and attribute to it all things? . . . That, which can be fully realized by our reason and senses, is but the superficial: they can never reach the true inner substance of things. Such was the opinion of Kant. If you consider that there is in a human head some sort of a spirit, then you are obliged to concede the same to a stone. If your dead and utterly passive matter can manifest a tendency toward gravitation, or, like electricity, attract and repel, and send out sparks — then, as well as the brain, it can also think. In short, every particle of the so-called spirit, we can replace with an equivalent of matter, and every particle of matter replace with spirit. . . . Thus, it is not the Cartesian division of all things into matter and spirit that can ever be found philosophically exact; but only if we divide them into will and manifestation, which form of division has naught to do with the former, for it spiritualizes every thing: all that, which is in the first instance real and objective — body and matter — it transforms into a representation, and every manifestation into will.” [“Parerga,” ii., pp. 111, 112.] (IU1, 58)

No one can better treat his subject than does Schopenhauer in his Parerga. In this work he discusses at length animal magnetism, clairvoyance, sympathetic cures, seership, magic, omens, ghost-seeing, and other spiritual matters. “All these manifestations,’’ he says, “are branches of one and the same tree, and furnish us with irrefutable proofs of the existence of a chain of beings which is based on quite a different order of things than that nature which has at its foundation laws of space, time and adaptability. This other order of things is far deeper, for it is the original and the direct one; in its presence the common laws of nature, which are simply formal, are unavailing; therefore, under its immediate action neither time nor space can separate any longer the individuals, and the separation impendent on these forms presents no more insurmountable barriers for the intercourse of thoughts and the immediate action of the will. In this manner changes may be wrought by quite a different course than the course of physical causality, i.e., through an action of the manifestation of the will exhibited in a peculiar way and outside the individual himself. Therefore the peculiar character of all the aforesaid manifestations is the visio in distante et actio in distante (vision and action at a distance) in its relation to time as well as in its relation to space. Such an action at a distance is just what constitutes the fundamental character of what is called magical; for such is the immediate action of our will, an action liberated from the causal conditions of physical action, viz., contact.” “Besides that,” continues Schopenhauer, “these manifestations present to us a substantial and perfectly logical contradiction to materialism, and even to naturalism, because in the light of such manifestations, that order of things in nature which both these philosophies seek to present as absolute and the only genuine, appears before us on the contrary purely phenomenal and superficial, and containing at the bottom of it a substance of things à parte and perfectly independent of its own laws. That is why these manifestations — at least from a purely philosophical point of view — among all the facts which are presented to us in the domain of experiment, are beyond any comparison the most important. Therefore, it is the duty of every scientist to acquaint himself with them.” [Schopenhauer: “Parerga.” Art. on “Will in Nature.”] (IU1, 59-60)

Mahatma K.H. to A.O. Hume:

Schopenhauer’s philosophical value is so well known in the western countries that a comparison or connotation of his teachings upon will, etc., with those you have received from ourselves might be instructive.