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4 - Schopenhauer’s Theory of Human Suffering and Lack of Meaning

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 March 2023

Jon Stewart
Affiliation:
Slovak Academy of Sciences
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Summary

This chapter examines the nihilistic dimension in the first volume of Schopenhauer’s The World as Will and Representation. It begins with an account of the philosopher’s theory of the will as the fundamental metaphysical principle of the universe. Schopenhauer describes the will as a never-ending inward discord in every living thing that is the result of the constant drive to satiate one’s needs for food, drink, sex, sleep, and so on. This striving is what Schopenhauer calls “suffering,” and he claims that all life is suffering. He emphasizes the nature of human beings as finite and always on the way to death. He argues that time and space are infinite, in comparison to which the human being is a tiny, insignificant thing that occupies only a small space and a short period of time. Schopenhauer recommends the disposition of asceticism as the solution of the constant suffering and striving of the human condition. With asceticism one tries to break the never-ending circle of the will by renunciation, resignation, and denial of the will-to-live. Schopenhauer seems to concede that it is impossible to escape nihilism (even with the strictest ascetic discipline), and in the end everything dies and disappears into nothingness.

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Chapter
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A History of Nihilism in the Nineteenth Century
Confrontations with Nothingness
, pp. 126 - 148
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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