Lessons From: Schopenhauer's Will to Live

How to lose the "Will" to live to let go of suffering and live a happy life

Note before you begin: I know the subtitle is strange when the Will to live needs to be lost to reduce suffering, but when you get to the end of this article, you'll understand what Schopenhauer tried to say. 

Arthur Schopenhauer was a man greatly influenced by Immanuel Kant, considered by some to be the greatest philosopher to have ever lived. Post-Kantian thought was generally about a few key topics, including the idea that people are an end rather than a means, and critical philosophy, which was acknowledging our limits of understanding through philosophical thought. The movement was called German Idealism, which meant that properties we see in objects are a result of our perspective and not something which is necessarily in the essence of the object itself. Schopenhauer hated this. He was, in a sense, an Eastern philosopher in the West, supporting the notion that the world is what it is and he believed asceticism, which is abstinence from pleasure to focus on improvement a.k.a. "monk mode", was the way to go. 

His most important work, The World as Will and Representation, deals with what he considered fundamental to nature in general and humanity itself. We all have an insatiable Will to life, which is the source of both our ambition and our suffering. This is where his support for asceticism comes from; if you rid yourself of desire, you rid yourself of pain, and though this sounds pretty similar to Buddhism, it is not exactly the same, for this "wanting" is not considered part of human nature by those who adhere to that dogma. 

The first volume of the Will is split into four books. It is quite esoteric because you need to have a pretty good understanding of Kant's philosophy to understand what he wrote about. The first half of the volume deals with the world as an idea, and the basic gist of it is that our inner experience is the result of a manifestation of the world's essence, so to say. Electricity and gravity are said to be the forces of Will, and knowledge was invented to serve it be it in humans or others. The pessimism in Schopenhauer's philosophy can be seen here, for he says that unfulfilled desires are the cause of human suffering. 

Book 3/4 talks about genius, and Schopenhauer claims that everyone has a certain degree of it in one way or another, and this is what permits you to enjoy the aesthetic experience, or understanding what an object truly is in its platonic form and not the object itself. Anybody who could explain the aesthetic or display it was truly a genius in his eyes and music was, in his opinion, the most pure expression of the aesthetic because it showed raw articulation of the Will. 

Book 4 is about ethics, and supposed to be a descriptive account of our ethical behavior. There are two behaviors, the affirmation and the denial of Will. According to him, the essence of the Will is conflicted with the egoism in humans and animals, and transcending this egoism leads to compassion, a display of the possibility of leaving the Will behind. The Will can be released or denied but never changed, and he praised some forms of Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism because of their asceticism, while having disdain for Protestantism, Judaism and Islam because of their optimism and cruelty. He also talks about suicide and doesn't see it as a destruction of the Will, but an affirmation of it, and asceticism, the denial of the Will, the individual may be weakened but will be saved from suffering, and he who has gotten rid of the Will has gotten rid of its hold on him and is nothing but a bad dream from which one awakens. 

What can we learn from this?

Again, this all goes back to asceticism. I won't tell you to get rid of your ego or desire for more, because I agree with Schopenhauer in that it's a part of human nature. What I will tell you is that if you let ambition consume you, you will suffer even after you achieve your goals because you'll suffer from chronic dissatisfaction. Instead, like I mentioned in Lessons From Amelie, simply take a breath, enjoy the little things and realize that there is no true endgame, so you might as well be happy while you build your future instead of waiting for that future to come. 

Read more about the Will here:

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