Dear Sir, Your editorial on the correctness and practicality of Arthur Schopenhauer’s philosophy in our everyday lives was well very well-written. In it, you have made clear the main elements of Schopenhauer’s philosophy: that existence, far from harmonious, is actually full of conflict, that the will – the innermost essence of every man – is irrational and nothing but a blind impulse toward existence, and that happiness cannot be attained by humankind because the will necessitates suffering (Pfeffer, 1972, p. 42).
To solve the problem of existence, you proposed what Schopenhauer himself suggested, and that is the negation of the will as much as possible. This is similar to what Buddhists do in their denial of man’s desires. Thus, like Schopenhauer, you propose everyone should try to rid themselves of their will to attain Nirvana.
Sir, as much as I intellectually enjoyed your exposition of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, I would have to disagree with you both. I think that the will should not be denied because it does not necessarily lead to suffering. Instead, suffering must be overcome by changing those who are willing. These refutations are based on the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, whose thought I think has more practical applications in life than Schopenhauer’s.
Nietzsche greatly admired Schopenhauer because of the wisdom that allowed him to break with the optimism of the Western philosophical tradition which followed Friedrich Hegel. However, Nietzsche’s philosophy developed into a complete and utter refutation of Schopenhauer’s, which he deemed wrong and I deem wrong. For Nietzsche, pessimism was good, as long as it is not the “weak pessimism” that Schopenhauer adopted (Pfeffer, 1972, p. 44).
This kind of pessimism is uncreative and negative and would simply lead men to living lives based on nothingness. What Schopenhauer did was merely to replace Kant’s transcendental world of reason with the will but the basic approach did not change (Strong, 1988, p. 227). I would even venture to say that Schopenhauer’s suggestion when it comes to living life is far more absurd than that of Kant. For while Kant instructed us to use reason in everything we do, Schopenhauer would rather us erase our will – something which is virtually impossible since the will cannot be completely destroyed.
It is easy to point out what Schopenhauer’s biggest mistake was in terms of Nietzsche’s philosophy. Nietzsche’s concept of the master and slave morality draws a line between self-affirming values and self-denying values. The master morality consisting of self-affirming values of selfishness and absolute individualism will lead to the creation of the ideal Superman who will be perfect in mind and body (Mencken, 2003, p. 64-65). On the other hand, self-denying values, which are mainly perpetuated by Christianity, will lead to man’s ruin.
Schopenhauer, with his belief that the will should be negated because it necessarily leads to suffering, clearly adopted a slavish attitude toward life. The danger with following Schopenhauer is that his philosophy was a direct result of his own slavish nature, and thus, men would suffer more and perish if they followed it. Schopenhauer took his own psyche and prescribed it to everyone without thinking that his will was not shared by the entire world. Thus, said Nietzsche, people should not be forced to say that “the world is Schopenhauer writ large (Strong, 1988, p. 227).”
Schopenhauer is also wrong when he said that happiness is impossible for it is nothing but a form of pain and a brief cessation of desire (Nietzsche, 2006, p.11). From my own experience, I could definitely say that I have experienced happiness and though it did not last forever, the feeling was not a negative one.
It also doesn’t make sense to me why a person would want to move away from happiness simply because it is fleeting. Again, Nietzsche has a better opinion on happiness because to him, happiness is a function of power. Whatever increases power is good and feels good. Therefore, happiness is power and to attain happiness, men should strive to be powerful. The path to happiness is not denying the will but to change those who are willing.
Instead of negating the will or curbing our desires, men must always act for the benefit of the generations to be born after him, according to Nietzsche. By practicing life-affirming values, the instinct to apply the will to power becomes sharper. Generations of putting the master morality into practice and getting rid of slavish beliefs would eventually lead to the formation of a new society of supermen with perfected instincts (Mencken, 2003, p. 67). For me, this goal is clearly far superior, more positive and beneficial to humankind than what Schopenhauer proposed.
Schopenhauer’s philosophy is basically that of resignation and negation. His ways to achieve the abolishment of the will should inspire revulsion in someone who loves life. Schopenhauer said that the will could be destroyed through timeless contemplation such as what artists do, and by living a life of an ascetic (Nietzsche, 2006, p.11). Nirvana is the ultimate goal of these lifestyles, which is supposed to be a state of perfect nothingness and peace. Schopenhauer defended his view by saying that this state of nirvana might be nothing to a man who still desires, but to a man who has denied his will, the current world we’re living in “with all its suns and milky way is nothing (Pfeffer, 1972, p. 45).”
While Schopenhauer was right when he said there will always be suffering, it does not follow that we should adopt his attitude of resignation and negation. It also does not follow that we must abolish our desires and live as hermits and artists devoid of passion. As Nietzsche said, suffering is not something to destroy for it is a productive power. Instead of escaping suffering and struggle, men must overcome these to cancel out their weaknesses and preserve their strengths (Pfeffer, 1972, p. 45).
Clearly, Nietzsche was correct again in this aspect as Schopenhauer was wrong. The answer to creating more powerful, happier selves and society is not to eradicate our desires. Instead, we must assert our individualism and selfishness more strongly, not to create chaos, but to build a better future for the generations after us. Schopenhauer was a great thinker but he allowed his slavish nature took control of his ideas. I have no doubt that following his philosophy would only lead to our ruin.
Mencken, H.L. (2003). The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. Tuczon: See Sharp Press.
Nietzsche, F. W. (2006). The Nietzsche reader, Volume 10. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell.
Pfeffer, R. (1972). Nietzsche: disciple of Dionysus. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press.
Strong, T.B. (1988). Friedrich Nietzsche and the politics of transfiguration. Berkeley: University of California Press.