Happiness According to Arthur Schopenhauer
Not unlike his predecessors, Schopenhauer discusses humans’ existence from the point of anthropocentric view. However, Schopenhauer’s views on the nature of reality itself present a challenging topic for analysis and discussion. According to the author’s philosophical views, humans are incapable of true happiness. The reasons behind this notion might shed light on the rationale that has driven the author toward making such an assumption. In this paper, I would like to explore why the idea of happiness, as presented by Arthur Schopenhauer, is a temporary and undesirable state and present my personal opinion regarding the author’s perceptions.
Suffering as Human Nature
There are many reasons why some people might dislike Schopenhauer’s philosophical ideas. The roots and the outcomes of the ideas put in place by an author bear the utmost important place in the discussion of an idea such as his. To begin this discovery, first, it is necessary to understand what previous works shaped these new thoughts. Schopenhauer’s book The World as Will and Representation is partially based on Kant’s ideology that humans’ cognition shapes a world in a way that makes it subjective (Schopenhauer, 2010). Moreover, the author often uses the ideas of Plato, namely his most famous work Republic, next to Kant’s ideology for comparison and a better understanding of their synergies.
Schopenhauer’s views present a bold take on the role of humans in the world. The existence of a species capable of intellectual thoughts inevitably leads to their ultimate disappointment in their reality (Schopenhauer, 2010). The ability to create and understand metaphysical concepts makes people seek non-existing objects or experiences. Therefore, this kind of suffering is not physical but mental. Schopenhauer (2010) states that “no achieved object of willing gives lasting, unwavering satisfaction” (p. 219). Satisfaction, being a state where there are no more desires, is an ultimate yet faulty final goal that humanity can neither change nor achieve (Schopenhauer, 2010). Making people happy means making them passive to the point of being dead.
The very notion of true happiness as the state in which no more desires exist implies the lack of conscious processes. In the end, Schopenhauer (2010) concludes that “incurable suffering and endless misery are the appearance of the will” (p. 439). And while the world itself aims to get rid of the will, people cannot prevent themselves from resisting the inevitable merely due to their intelligence (Schopenhauer, 2010). Suffering by Schopenhauer is the world people exist in and create by their will, making happiness only fictional. The outcome of this idea defines why happiness is a short state that is incompatible with the very nature of intelligence.
Strife as a Result of Will
Since the idea of will is the centerpiece of Schopenhauer’s philosophical views, it is essential to discuss the place of happiness in the world that is commanded by will. This force of objects that makes them what they are is not unique to humans. Will is the reason behind any conceivable action of any human being, according to the author (Schopenhauer, 2010). Moreover, this will is what gives humans their desires, which, in turn, leads to the creation of new objects, bringing ideas into reality. However, it also puts them into a perpetual state of dissatisfaction, forcing minds to keep working.
Therefore, this inner strife is a driver that cannot be left unmentioned. This profound emotion is a result of a deep-seated desire for happiness and serves as the reason why this authentic happiness is undesirable. Schopenhauer (2010) argues that “the essence of a human being consists in the fact that his will strives, is satisfied, and strives anew, and so on and on” (p. 287). Since one’s extent of will defines their cognition, happiness can only be achieved by ceasing to will for anything. Such a state is the death of the mind, which would stop the pain, yet it will also prevent people from seeing the real world. The author’s work attempts to help people to realize this fact and live with it.
Therefore, strife is the second reason why happiness is an unreachable state of mind. It is well that sets new desires after fulfilling previous ones, leaving satisfaction only as an idea. People expect more than they have, putting no limit on their collective imagination yet receiving suffering as a by-product. Since people seek happiness, and death prevents new desires from appearing, happiness can be considered the death of humanity.
After reading Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation, I was left with mixed feelings. For one, I found the idea of will as the driving cause for the existence of human civilization a reasonable explanation for humanity’s progress. Desires that humans experience allow people to experience suffering without leaving the world due to its mere existence. Even if dragging themselves through the tragedy of the real world, people live for happiness and, perhaps, can experience it at some point in their lives, although momentarily.
Therefore, I am inclined to agree with the author’s reasoning. I support his idea that true happiness is a state that cannot be merely achieved by an individual. However, I also believe that the idea of happiness can serve as the light at the end of the tunnel for the majority of people. While this process may be filled with suffering, the exact desire to move forward is based on the idea that goals that people set for themselves may procure happiness as the outcome. Moreover, since Schopenhauer considered death as the ultimate goal of life, there is a way to link these two ideas. I believe that this notion is supported by the idea that happiness can be reached, even if only for a moment that an intellectual being experiences before its death.
In conclusion, Schopenhauer’s philosophical views earn him the title of the philosopher of pessimism for his fundamental disbelief in the ability of humans to experience true happiness. This notion occurs primarily due to the intellectual capabilities of human beings that drive them towards the constant pursuit of idealistic desires that are, ultimately, unachievable. This inability to fulfill one’s desires entirely drives people into a constant state of suffering, out from which they continuously seek escape in the ideas that they believe would bring them happiness. However, as soon as the previous desire has been satisfied, a new one will unavoidably arise. This constant strife is driven by the will that dictates the nature of every object ever existing. Together, suffering and strife make happiness an unachievable pursuit. However, I think that the mere idea of happiness also fuels people to continue their existence through suffering and makes them strive for new horizons. Despite the perceived meaninglessness of this pursuit, this goal lessens suffering through progress.
Schopenhauer, A. (2010). The world as will and representation (J. Norman, A. Welchman, & C. Janaway, Trans.). Cambridge University Press.