Show

Schopenhauer

Week of: 
April 5, 2005
What is it: 

Arthur Schopenhauer, the great Nineteenth Century philosopher, had a pessimistic vision of the world as "will and idea.” Our will to survive serves no high purpose; the world is at best a shared illusion.   Schopenhauer influenced Nietzsche and Wittgenstein and inspired our guest, prominent psychiatrist Irv Yalom, to write the novel The Schopenhauer Cure. What truths, metaphysical or psychological, can we wrest from Schopenhauer's gloomy vision?

Listening Notes: 

Schopenhauer was part of the school known as German idealism, following Kant and Hegel. One of his main themes was that the world was idea, that is, it is a mental phenomenon that everyone shares. Schopenhauer thought we could know the nature of reality, the will, because we are part of it. He was greatly influenced by Indian religion and philosophy. He thought the will was exemplified in cycles of boredom and desire. Even so, he played the flute everyday after dinner.

Ken introduces Doctor Irving Yalom, psychologist and author of The Schopenhauer Cure. How was Schopenhauer's pessimism related to his philosophical views? Yalom tells us that Schopenhauer was a negative person throughout his life. Does the world being an illusion entail that life is suffering? Either way, the idea that the world is a mere illusion is unsettling. Yalom points out several similarities between Schopenhauer and Nietzsche: both embraced the inevitability of death, neither had religious beliefs, both closely examined life.

Ken poses the question: suppose we take Schopenhauer's advice seriously and try to quell all our desires? If the first humans overcame all their desires, then the species would have ended. That's bad. But, John counters, who is it bad for? Maybe it isn't that bad. Is there a split between human activity and nature? Schopenhauer thought not because human activity was part of nature. It is not much of a reconciliation between the human activity and nature. His views were more of a reduction of man to nature. Where does value come from if man just is part of nature and nature is cold and unfeeling, lacking any intrinsic value? Ken proposes that we make value. Nature does not provide it.

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:58): Amy Standen talks to Professor Lanier Anderson of Stanford University about Schopenhauer, Wagner and Nietzsche. 
  • Sixty Second Philosopher (Seek to 49:46): Ian Shoales gives a biography of Arthur Schopenhauer.

Irv Yalom, Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry, Stanford University

Related Resources: 

Schopenhauer Resources

  • Background information on German idealism, the intellectual movement of which Schopenhauer was a member.

More on Irv Yalom

Get Philosophy Talk

Radio

Sunday at 10am (pacific) on KALW 91.7 FM Local Public Radio, San Francisco

Podcast

Individual downloads via CDBaby and iTunes. Multipacks and The Complete Philosophy Talk via iAamplify

John Perry and Ken Taylor

Continue the Conversation

Sidebar Menu

Upcoming Shows

  • July 3 : The Radical Democracy Movement
    Liberal democracy has its problems, including the fact that in trying to build consensus, it often ends up oppressing minorities or those who dissent...
  • July 10 : An Eye for an Eye: The Morality of Revenge
    We are often taught that vengeance is a reprehensible or unworthy motivation and that, as a result, pursuing revenge should not be the method of...
  • July 17 : Identity Politics
    The notion of identity has become so hugely important in contemporary political discourse that no conversation on social issues would be complete...
  • July 24 : The Mystery of Music
    Most of us listen to music on a regular basis, but we don't think much about how we listen. Moreover, when we disagree about music, we're usually...
  • July 31 : More Than Just Pun and Games
    Puns have been called both the highest and lowest form of humor. There is something about them that is at once painful and pleasurable, capable of...

Support Philosophy Talk

DONATE TODAY

Philosophy Talk relies on the support of listeners like you to stay on the air and online. Any contribution, large or small, helps us produce intelligent, reflective radio that questions everything, including our most deeply-held beliefs about science, morality, culture, and the human condition. Make your tax-deductible contribution now through Stanford University's secure online donation page. Thank you for your support, and thank you for thinking!