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The Story of Philosophy Series – Are we best served by pessimism?
September 26, 2021 at 6:00 pm - 9:00 pm BST
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Picture early Nineteenth century Europe. Waterloo had been fought. The Revolution was dead. Millions had perished. Millions of acres neglected. As Durant so eloquently puts it, “the life seemed to have gone out of the soul of Europe.” The people lost hope. Many lost their faith, failing to see how such a ruined Earth could be under the care of an intelligent and benevolent God.
It is no wonder that this age birthed Byron, Schubert and many more infamous, pessimistic artists. It is no wonder that German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer’s somewhat bleak take on life grew in popularity and had a profound impact on the arts. Leo Tolstoy, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Mann, Joseph Conrad and Anton Chekhov all found inspiration in his ideas.
At the time, most philosophy advocated for a world that was progressing towards a goal. Schopenhauer had other ideas. He observed the chaos, suffering, his father’s suicide, mother’s hatred and concluded that life was meaningless and suffering inevitable.
Rather than life being driven by purpose, he believed humans possess an inherent Will, that constantly drives us to desire things that will ensure our survival. Today, that could mean anything from food to the latest iPhone. This Will outwits the intellect and our limitless desire can never be satisfied, leading to inevitable pain.
As the great writer put it:
“Life therefore oscillates like a pendulum from right to left, suffering from boredom.”
- Are we surprised that Schopenhauer held this view of the world?
- Do we consider his views to be pessimistic or realistic?
- How does his perspective serve us and do we believe it to be true?
- What would the other philosophers we have met on our journey think? There was not much room for pessimism in Plato’s Republic, but Voltaire’s Candide was an infamous attack on Leibnizian optimism.
This salon is part of an 11-month Interintellect series exploring the evolution and story of Western philosophers and their ideas through ‘The Story of Philosophy’ by Will Durant. In subsequent months, we will explore key philosophers in turn by reading the relevant chapter of Durant’s book and additional texts. Click here to find out more about this salon series and join us on this journey exploring the story of philosophy.
The group will be most valuable for everyone if we all set out to contribute what we can in the spirit of vigorous and open discussion. Please approach your reading and discussion with an open but active mind and sincere intent.
We look forward to seeing you there.
- The Story of Philosophy – Will Durant ( Chapter 7)
- The semi-satisfied life, Aeon
- The Power of Schopenhauer, Steven Gambardella, Medium
- What Arthur Schopenhauer learned about genius at the asylum.
- How Schopenhauer’s thought can illuminate a midlife crisis, Aeon
- David Bather Woods on Schopenhauer on Compassion, Philosophy Bites Podcast
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