Sunday, December 16, 2007

The rishi from Germany

Kuldip Dhiman

Arthur Schopenhauer
by Thomas Mann. Rupa. Pages 162. Rs 150.

So long as we are given up to the throng of desires with its constant hopes and fears we never obtain lasting happiness or peace.

THIS might look like a translation of a Vedic or Buddhist verse, but these are the words of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), the German philosopher who took off from where the other great system builder Immanuel Kant left. Although some of Schopenhauer's philosophy is similar to Indian philosophy, he discovered the latter after he had more or less formulated his own worldview.

The Living Thoughts of Schopenhauer by Thomas Mann, a Nobel Laureate himself, is a short book that contains the essence of the great philosopher's work along with the author's own interpretation of it. It is, however, not clear if this is also the original title of the book since its printing history, which could be extremely valuable to the serious reader, is not given. Written in an academic style, the book will prove very useful to an advanced student of philosophy, but not to someone who is new to the subject. It is not a Schopenhauer-made-easy kind of book. Mann presumes that the reader is familiar with the philosophic and historical context in which he wrote.

Schopenhauer believed that anyone who wished to understand him, would have to first understand the works of Kant and Plato. Both talk about the phenomenal world and the 'other' world. The true reality lies beyond the phenomenon, though we might call it 'Idea' or 'Das Ding an sich.'


What he took, writes Mann, was the 'idea' and the 'Ding an sich'. But with the latter he did something very bold, even scarcely permissible— he named it and also defined it. He called it the Will. The Will is the ultimate and absolute. It is the irreducible, primeval principle of being, the source of all phenomena, the begetter, the impelling force producing the whole visible world and all life.

Schopenhauer regards the body as an appearance whose reality exists in the will. The will is not subject to space and time and the categories of Kant. All knowledge is foreign to the will, it is something independent of knowledge; it is entirely original and absolute. The will, this 'in-itself-ness' of things, writes Mann, exists outside time and space and causality, demands objectivation, which occurs in such a way that its original unity becomes a multiplicity. Schopenhauer called it principium individuationis — the principle of individuality.

Schopenhauer made valuable contribution to Ethics and Aesthetics as well. According to him, like art, virtue is not a thing to be learned. Just as a man cannot become an artist by having explained to him the essence of the creative state, so he cannot shun evil and ensue good by instruction. The will cannot be 'taught' because it is free and absolute.

Schopenhauer took a bleak view of life, or so it seems. Pain is positive, he says, and pleasure is negative as happiness is nothing but the absence of pain. What causes our suffering is our willing. If we gave up the will we might experience the ultimate bliss, the state of nothingness, or Nirvana. 

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