You are on page 1of 5

http://www.inforefuge.

com/schopenhauersaesthetic-system Schopenhauer¶s Aesthetic System
Schopenhauer attempts to provide us with an explanation of ourselves and our place in the world, and how we should act in response to that world in order to escape its inherent suffering. But I feel that his description of the world and his prescription for living in it are conflicting and misguided. I have serious doubts about several parts of Schopenhauer¶s philosophy. For example, his ontological stance (a universal will shared among all sentient beings) is questionable as well as its phenomenological and existential implications. But primarily, I¶m interested in the advice that Schopenhauer gives us for living in this world of suffering (or ³non-living´ as it seems to me). In my understanding, Schopenhauer says that an individual is, at his core, a will. This will it seems is the blind desire for life, the yearning to exist and continue to exist. For the will to exist it must communicate with the individual¶s ³reason´, the intellectual aspect of the individual, which can lead the will to the water of life to drink. The problem is that the language used by the will to communicate is that of pain and suffering. The will perceives a lack of something and immediately says to reason, ³Here is pain. It is from a want. Fill this void´. And then reason goes on to do so, (consciously or unconsciously) creating a temporary relief of suffering for the will. Schopenhauer then goes on to say that because this is temporary the will must always swing between the suffering and the absence of suffering; ³its life swings like a pendulum to and fro between pain and boredom, and these two are in fact its ultimate constituents.´ And so, Schopenhauer¶s ontology tells us that life is basically suffering. He moves from this assertion to a prescription about how one may escape this suffering via art, that great mystical savior. He says, ³What might otherwise be called the finest part of life, its purest joy, just because it lifts us out of real existence, and transforms us into disinterested spectators of it, is pure knowledge which remains foreign to all willing, pleasure in the beautiful, genuine delight in art´ (italics mine; [1]). I have several problems with this. First, why should we even consider escaping this type of life (real existence)? And furthermore, if we deny suffering are we denying life? Dealing with the first question, ³Why should we consider escaping this life´, I feel that we¶re dealing with phenomenological, existentialist, and ontological issues. Phenomenologically, It seems very difficult to accurately describe life from one perspective, analyze another¶s life, and declare one better that the other. I think Schopenhauer attempts to answer this by declaring that we all share the will as a universal. It allows us to be bound to each other and to execute comparisons among all sentient beings. But I feel that he has no way of verifying this. If he¶s right then he¶s right, but if he¶s wrong then he only believes that he is right and is misguided by his subjective approach. Ontologically, it seems Schopenhauer is trying to get us to transcend above this existence, but I¶m not sure if there is anything to transcend to. What completely baffles me about his philosophy is that he even says that the world of suffering is the ³real existence´, and yet he

But I think the existentialists would say that they are nearly beyond comparison and by unifying them via the will Schopenhauer is mistaken. giving a definition (the same definition at core) to man and animals and plants and all that live. the more manifolod do its needs become. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche both view human evolution as an artistic process. Each man and woman decides for himself and herself what they are and are to become. ³it lifts us out of real existence´. Though. To sum it up (if possible). we are raised for the moment above all willing. We saw evidence for (1) earlier in his admonition to rise above the suffering via art and we see evidence for (2) in his theory of the will as universal. considered purely in itself. We need to bring it back down to the dirt and soil and earth as Aristotle recommended. Existentialists believe in sheer freedom and accept the consequences and ramifications of their actions wholly. Though Schopenhauer does seem to have many differences with thinkers like Nietzsche. to his credit Schopenhauer does say that ³the more complicated the organization becomes in the ascending series of animals. which really gets us no further in the end.wants us to escape from it to some purported ³higher´ realm of existence. irresistible urge. He believes that art can liberate us. Existentialists prefer subjectivity. universal definition does not precede them. But I just don¶t see how it¶s possible to differentiate between the ³real´ existence and the ³true´ existence. is devoid of knowledge. but yet they do share some suffering in that both of their attempts to live are stifled at some point. we are. Here Schopenhauer is clearly stating what the will is. He is. to which no attained goal can put an end´. the theorist of the will to power. it seems absurd to lump people and other animals together when talking about the striving will and the suffering it entails. understands evolutionary . above all desires and cares. For example. existence precedes essence. I think Schopenhauer is trying to posit some ethereal world which is not the true world. rid of ourselves´ [1]. as we see it appear in inorganic and vegetable nature and in their laws. that they are isolated entities in an indifferent and often ambiguous universe. if they so choose. for he is in fact declaring that (1) there is something else besides this world and this suffering and (2) ³essence precedes existence´ and not the contrary. and is only a blind. According to this theory ³the will. So he is saying that the suffering an animal feels is not quite that of modern man. and the uniqueness therein as the only reality.´ [2] Secondly. we need to just look around and observe the suffering. This is in direct contradiction to most existentialist thought. Nietzsche. in effect. and the more varied and specially determined the objects capable of satisfying them. We have gained nothing from looking toward the sky as Plato did. and view general existence as arcane. but a romanticized and falsified version of this one. in the positive. there are some similarities. the individual¶s experience. consequently the more torturous and lengthy the paths for arriving at these«´ [1]. A basic tenet of existentialism is that man has no universal definition. I feel that a great many existentialists would be upset with Schopenhauer¶s generalization. so to speak. existentialism is a ³philosophical movement that emphasizes the individual. the self. and also in the vegetative part of our own life«It always strives because striving is its sole nature. This brings us to the existentialist point of view. ³when we enter the state of pure contemplation [of art]. So. For them. it seems that by viewing a proper work of art we are supposed to be lifted out of this harsh existence in order to know the ³true nature of life and of existence´.

³The awakening of the Kunsttrieb differentiates the animals. in the case of the beautiful. in a particularly artistic way ± this we share with no other living thing. Consequently. metaphysician of The Birth of Tragedy. he lamented the fact that he had labored ³to express strange and new evaluations in Schopenhauerian«formulations. Organisms are deemed µhigher¶ or µlower¶ according to their µartistic¶ capacities or their sufficiency as media for the expression of the Kunsttrieb. appropriated the Kantian version of the aesthetic problem. of course. supra-individual phenomenon (Moore. the world of appearance. In the µAttempt at SelfCriticism¶ which prefaced the second edition of The Birth of Tragedy in 1886. The same is true of the young Schopenhauer. one fashioned by a cosmic process represented by his famous distinction between the Apollonian and Dionysian. This conception of aesthetic pleasure Nietzsche explicitly develops in opposition to the Kantian model of pleasure. cosmic becoming. Nietzsche writes. but also a universal. on the other hand. It is impossible (at least for a male. their worldviews could even be constructed in similar manners. The object in which we take pleasure is a kind of µfree¶ orderliness. he was also trying to break away. the . In this. For Nietzsche the world ± that is. who. This seems very similar to what Schopenhauer is saying when he talks of the Will in association with animals: ³The difference of its [Will] manifestations in the various species of animal beings depends on the different extension of their spheres of knowledge in which the motives of those manifestations are to be found´ [1]. however. or pseudo-sexual force that prompts one to recreate himself in a work of art has a parallel in Schopenhauer. as he correctly observes. like the object of sexual attraction. the world as µrepresentation¶ in Schopenhauer¶s sense ± is itself a work of art. But while Nietzsche shared some of the same philosophical ideas as Schopenhauer. Human beings. Nietzsche establishes a hierarchy. represent the highest level of objectification. it resembles ± or rather. That we see nature in a particular way. is not so much Kant as Schopenhauer. although he certainly did not view it through Kantian eyes. For Nietzsche. criticizing Schopenhauer and the Kantian process that was used in Schopenhauer¶s philosophy. On the basis of his concept of the Kunsttrieb. the work of art. 7).history as one aspect of a universal. heterosexual viewer) to gaze at a female nude without interest. For Schopenhauer. His real target here. it is not its end. But there is also an artistic gradation of the animals´ [3]. is perceived without categorizing it in this way. things which fundamentally ran counter to both the spirit and taste of«Schopenhauer´ (Moore. 8). actually stimulates desire. Nietzsche felt that in the aesthetic state the organism experiences an irresistible feeling of superabundant energy which must be discharged and channeled into creativity. And so he felt the need to clarify his views. Kant argues that the aesthetic attitude involves detachment from appetitive behavior. from purposiveness. the kind of orderliness we recognize in an object of perception when we bring it under a concept but which. for whom µart¶ designates not only a mode of human activity or its artifacts. graded according to the various levels of its objectification in nature. Though Kant holds that disinterestedness is a necessary condition for aesthetic pleasure. as the unfolding of certain creative forces immanent in nature. Nietzsche¶s idea of the Kunsttrieb. Other similarities can be seen deeper in the ideas of the two philosophers. however. is actually a species of ± sexual arousal. and above all from sexuality. in much the same way as Schopenhauer orders the natural world according to the progressively more µadequate¶ objectification of the Will.

whose equally famous description of beauty as µa promise of happiness¶ he makes his own. is contradicted by nature: µWhy is there any beauty in sound. is art the proper medium through which to make the escape? Why is it seen as a higher. art thus gestures towards the ethic of self-denial which he advocates. Schopenhauer¶s enjoyment of fine art may be no different than someone¶s enjoyment of a Big Mac or one¶s occasional need for a pint of vodka.org/wiki/Existentialism [3]: Nietzsche. Nietzsche contends. Cambridge. argues that µall beauty stimulates procreation¶ (p. Repudiating the Kantian-Schopenhauerian conception of aesthetic experience. in The Symposium. creating a line of demarcation between the two philosophies (Moore. Works Cited: [1]: Schopenhauer quote handout [2]: http://en. 14-15). lift a person out of real existence. interpreting it in the more narrow sense as the promise of sexual pleasure.object of pleasure is one¶s own state of disinterestedness: the pleasure gained from a temporary release from the blind urging of the will. the celebration of the µSabbath after the hard labor of desire¶. rhythmic movements in nature? What is it that forces out beauty?¶ He answers these questions this time by quoting Plato.wikipedia. 54). What about games or sex or food or anything else that allows us to escape from suffering. the criterion for a great work of art is that it must be capable of ³lifting us out of real existence´ and that when we ³enter the state of pure contemplation [of it]. however. Backed up by the authority of Stendhal and Plato. Beginning on a new topic. another great problem I have with Schopenhauer is the means of his ³escape´. we are«for the moment rid of ourselves. something which he desperately craved in order to deliver him from the tyranny of his own sexuality. for example. Nietzsche thus finally breaks with Schopenhauer. Is this to be revered as another savior? Harvard educated Dr. . If indeed his prescribed escape is justified. more transcendental approach when other things may work just as well? For example. It seems that the swing from boredom to pain that Schopenhauer talks of is no different from the aesthetic swing of true perception to entanglement in suffering. µa no-less sensual but more happily constituted nature than Schopenhauer¶. Nietzsche embraces instead the view of Stendhal. because art remains enmeshed within the economy of means and ends: the momentary state of serene detachment is for Schopenhauer itself an object of desire. This model of aesthetic experience as disinterested contemplation is. 2002. LSD can create entirely new visual objects for a person and allow one to enter into a new state of consciousness. This claim. self-defeating. fragrance. Drugs.´ But if I can find this same effect elsewhere it stands to reason I don¶t need art. As a means of restraining the human being¶s sexual interest. who. Timothy Leary thought it could. To invoke again existentialist thought. colour. ³On Truth and Lies in an Extra-Moral Sense´. he again attacks Schopenhauer for mistakenly seeing in beauty the means of denying the µprocreative drive¶. he declares. as a means to arouse the will. In Twilight of the Idols.

³Art and Evolution: Nietzsche¶s Physiological Aesthetics.[4]: Moore. Gregory.´ British Journal for the History of Philosophy 10(1) 2002: 109-126. 2005. . May 4.