Schopenhauer on the Inevitability of Unhappiness

To read the full-text of this research, you can request a copy directly from the author.


Schopenhauer on the Inevitability of SufferingCriticisms of Schopenhauer's Thesis that to Desire Is to SufferThe Unattainability of True SatisfactionThe Inevitability of BoredomThe Negative Nature of Pleasure and SatisfactionHappiness and Well-BeingDegrees of Unhappiness: The Possibility of AmeliorationThe Paradox of the Suspension or Negation of the WillThe Inevitability of UnhappinessReferencesFurther Reading

No full-text available

Request Full-text Paper PDF

To read the full-text of this research,
you can request a copy directly from the author.

Full-text available
This paper aims to clarify Schopenhauer’s a priori argument for pessimism and, to an extent, rescue it from standard objections in secondary literature. I argue that if we separate out the various strands of Schopenhauer’s pessimism, we hit upon problems and counterexamples stemming from psychology. For example, instances where striving (willing) does not appear to equate to suffering, which puts pressure on the Schopenhauerian claim that human life, qua instantiation of the will, is painful. Schopenhauer’s sensitivity to the complexities of human psychology means that he may be able to stave off such concerns. However, this reveals that true force of Schopenhauer’s argument lies in the manner in which he combines an a priori formulation with empirical observation. I conclude that, though not unproblematic, Schopenhauer’s argument in its most refined forms offers a deep articulation of the human condition, and warrants serious consideration.
Pessimism is, roughly, the view that life is not worth living. In chapter 46 of the second volume of The World as Will and Representation, Arthur Schopenhauer provides an oft‐neglected argument for this view. The argument is that a life is worth living only if it does not contain any uncompensated evils; but since all our lives happen to contain such evils, none of them are worth living. The now standard interpretation of this argument (endorsed by Kuno Fischer and Christopher Janaway) proceeds from the claim that the value—or rather valuelessness—of life's goods makes compensation impossible. But this interpretation is neither philosophically attractive nor faithful to the text. In this article, I develop and defend an alternative interpretation (suggested by Wilhelm Windelband and Mark Migotti) according to which it is instead the actual temporal arrangement of life's goods and evils that makes compensation impossible.
Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung entstand in den Jahren 1814 bis 1818 in Dresden und erschien im Dezember 1818 mit der Jahreszahl 1819 bei Brockhaus in Leipzig. Unmittelbar nachdem das Hauptwerk erschienen war, habilitierte sich Schopenhauer mit seinem Buch an der Berliner Universität und wurde dort Privatdozent.
Schopenhauer asserts that ‘the will, which is objectified in human life as it is in every appearance, is a striving without aim and without end’. The article rejects some recent readings of this claim, and offers the following positive interpretation: however many specific aims of my specific desires I manage to attain, none is a final aim, in the sense that none terminates my ‘willing as a whole’, none turns me into a non-willing being. To understand Schopenhauer’s claim we must recognize his central contrast between happiness and will-lessness. Happiness is the satisfaction of individual desire, but no act of will that succeeds in satisfying individual desire is the attainment of a final aim, in that none brings about a conscious state in which the subject experiences no more unfulfilled desires. Such a state is the ultimate goal of existence, in Schopenhauer’s view, but happiness does not provide a route along which it can be attained.
Friedrich Nietzsche once commented that Schopenhauer showed 'great knowl- edgeability about the human and all-too-human' and had a 'native sense of reality', all of which was 'not a little dimmed by the motley leopard-skin of his metaphysics (which one must first remove from him if one is to discover the real moralist genius beneath it).' 1 Schopenhauer apparently thought of himself first and foremost as a system-building metaphysician, but his overall system has been found wanting in coherence by many commentators, and it has had few serious philosophical adherents. However, as Nietzsche implies, such an assessment may obscure the breadth, profundity, and originality of Schopenhauer's insights in ethics and aesthetics, which were widely influential in the mid to late 19th century, but whose influence since then has largely vanished. The aim of the chapters in this volume is to explore Schopenhauer's conceptions of value from a variety of philosophical perspectives, governed by the question whether they stand up better to scrutiny and deserve more prominence than contemporary ethics and aesthetics have tended to give them. At the heart of Schopenhauer's philosophy is a vision of human beings as essentially driven by will. To exist as a living being is to strive after ends, fundamentally those of staying alive and producing new life, secondarily the many diverse means towards those ends, and then, in the case of human beings, a vast array of other objects of desire or need corresponding to our widening cognitive and cultural repertoire. It is built into all such existence that we suffer. We have to pursue ends because we live, and not all ends can be satisfied. Striving towards some end is itself a species of suffering because it arises from a feeling that something is lacking; but attaining an end does not protect us from further feelings of want. What we achieve through the action of our will does not stop us from willing and therefore suffering some more. Even a person who regularly gets exactly what he or she wants is not safe from suffering: there lurks the spectre of boredom, in which we painfully feel the absence of any lack that motivates us to act. We have not chosen to live or to have the nature essential to all living things, that of endlessly willing and endlessly being exposed to suffering. Nor does our suffering have any ultimate redeeming point. Our existence and the existence of the world that is so ready to frustrate our willing are not designed to achieve any good, nor are we capable of making any progress towards perfection. In this fundamental part of Schopenhauer's philosophy of value, which has to do with the will as essence of the self and of the world, we
Schopenhauer: The Human Character
  • J. Atwell
Schopenhauer: New Essays in Honor of his 200th Birthday
  • D. Cartwright
Parerga and Paralipomena
  • A. Schopenhauer
Willing and Nothingness: Schopenhauer as Nietzsche's Educator
  • I. Soll