The Worst of All Possible Worlds: an Introduction to Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer is a true oddity in the history of philosophy. Although a great metaphysical systematizer in the tradition of Leibniz and Hegel, Schopenhauer posed a worldview entirely antithetical to the “optimism” characteristic of traditional Western philosophizing. Whereas for Leibniz ours is “the best of all possible worlds,” Schopenhauer insisted that we are “not to be pleased but rather sorry about the existence of the world.” Ignored for much of his life, languishing resentfully in Hegel’s shadow, Schopenhauer at last achieved prominence when his conception of the world as objectified “Will,” of life as endless conflict, struck a resounding chord with a younger generation of 19th century thinkers and artists, including Nietzsche, Wagner, Tolstoy, Baudelaire, and Melville. What is the philosophical basis for Schopenhauer’s profound pessimism? How, in a world constituted by “representation” and ceaseless “will,” can humans live meaningfully, peacefully, and morally?
In this class, we’ll make our way through Schopenhauer’s magnum opus The World as Will and Representation, as we attempt to make sense—metaphysically, epistemologically, aesthetically, and ethically—of his systematic philosophy. We’ll consider its roots not only in Kantian and Platonic idealism, but also in Hindu and Buddhist thought. How, for Schopenhauer, do art and aesthetic experience serve as a means for achieving something like “salvation”? What are the moral ramifications of Schopenhauer’s pessimism for an ethics of asceticism and compassion?
Course ScheduleThursday, 6:30-9:30pm EST
April 14 — May 05, 2022