Schopenhauer was, as a philosopher, a pessimist; he was a follower of Kant's Idealist school.
Born in Danzig, Schopenhauer, because of a large inheritance from his father, was able to retire early, and, as a private scholar, was able to devote his life to the study of philosophy. By the age of thirty his major work, The World as Will and Idea, was published. The work, though sales were very disappointing, was, at least to Schopenhauer, a very important work. Bertrand Russell reports that Schopenhauer told people that certain of the paragraphs were written by the "Holy Ghost."
Schopenhauer's system of philosophy, as previously mentioned, was based on that of Kant's. Schopenhauer did not believe that people had individual wills but were rather simply part of a vast and single will that pervades the universe: that the feeling of separateness that each of has is but an illusion. So far this sounds much like the Spinozistic view or the Naturalistic School of philosophy. The problem with Schopenhauer, and certainly unlike Spinoza, is that, in his view, "the cosmic will is wicked ... and the source of all endless suffering."1
Schopenhauer saw the worst in life and as a result he was dour and glum. Believing that he had no individual will, man was therefore at the complete mercy of all that which is about him. Now, whether his pessimism turned him into an ugly person, or whether its just a case of an ugly person adopting the philosophy of pessimism; -- I have no idea. But what I do know is that Schopenhauer had nobody he could call family. "His pessimism so affected his mother's social guests, who would disperse after his lengthy discourse on the uselessness of everything, that she finally forbade him her home. He parted from her, never to see her again." He never married, mainly because, I suppose, because any self-respecting woman would withdraw in horror, upon finding out Schopenhauer's view of women: they "are directly fitted for acting as the nurses and teachers of our early childhood by the fact that they are themselves childish, frivolous and short-sighted; in a word, they are big children all their life long." They are an "undersized, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped and short legged race ... they have no proper knowledge of any; and they have no genius." As great a problem as Schopenhauer was to himself, he was a brilliant conversationalist; "his audience, consisting of a small circle of friends, would often listen to him until midnight. He never seemed to tire of talking, even during his last days."2
To Schopenhauer life was a painful process, relief for which, might be achieved through art or through denial. "The good man will practise complete chastity, voluntary poverty, fasting, and self-torture." (Russell.) It was Schopenhauer's view that through the contemplation of art, one "might lose contact with the turbulent stream of detailed existence around us"; and that permanent relief came through "the denial of the will to live, by the eradication of our desires, of our instincts, by the renunciation of all we consider worth while in practical life."3 Presumably any little bits of happiness we might snatch would only make us that more miserable, such real and full happiness was not possible, "a Utopian Ideal which we must not entertain even in our dreams." It is not difficult to understand that this "ascetic mysticism" of Schopenhauer's is one that appeals to the starving artist.
Schopenhauer was "a lonely, violent and unbefriended man, who shared his bachelor's existence with a poodle. ... [He was of the view that the world was simply an idea in his head] a mere phantasmagoria of my brain, that therefore in itself is nothing."4
2 See Henry Alphern's An Outline History of Philosophy; and see Russell's work on Schopenhauer; and see Durant's work on Schopenhauer.
4 Chambers. This view that "I alone exist" is known as "solipsism."
[BIOGRAPHIES JUMP PAGE]