Schopenhauer and Prozac

Saturday, April 2, 2005 -- 4:00 PM
John Fischer

I admit it: I've been reading a lot of Schopenhauer, especially his Essays on Pessimism. They are fascinating, and extremely beautifully (and of course provocatively) written. Here's a cheery and lovely passage: "Could we foresee it, there are times when children might seem like innocent prisoners, condemned, not to death, but to life, and as yet all unconscious of what their sentence means. Nevertheless, every man desires to reach old age; in other words, a state of life of which it may be siad; 'It is bad to-day, and it will be worse to0morrow; and so on till the worst of all."

Hmm.  Later, he says, "... you may look upon life as an unprofitable episode, disturbing the blessed calm of non-existence."  Take that, Lucretius! 

What I'm wondering is this (and it is of course not original with me).  In present times, Schopenhauer would probably see a therapist of some sort, who would give him some kind of anti-depressant medication and "talk-therapy"--perhaps cognitive therapy or psychodynamically informed therapy.  The combination might be "effective"--but then we would lose this brilliant curmudgeon, or at least his delightfully curmudgeonly writing.  Would Schopenhauer have been better off undepressed?  Would the world have been better off?

Comments (9)


Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, April 2, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

Was it the case that Schopenhauer was as grumpy in

Was it the case that Schopenhauer was as grumpy in real life as he was in his writing (at least, when he was not around his mother, with whom I understand he had a fairly nasty literary competition)? Because it's possible that taking pessimism to its extreme in his philosophical musings took the edge off of it in the project of getting through the day.
It does seem possible, if one is not utterly debilitated, to opt out of the SSRI culture -- hardly anyone is going to make an adult go to the doctor and get Prozac. True, there is more social pressure to "take care of" moods that don't fit with the range considered desirable, but grumpy people often have the wherewithal to tell the perky people to take a flying leap.
Moreover, it seems utterly reasonable that a realistic view of the state of the world and the human condition sometimes calls for a bad mood. It doesn't always make living fun. But, it might put you in a place to assess the problem and perhaps even start making real changes in the way we're living, rather than just getting the meds to change the way we feel about it.

Guest's picture

Guest

Saturday, April 2, 2005 -- 4:00 PM

There is no great genius without some touch of mad

There is no great genius without some touch of madness- Seneca.
Plato?s cave 2005
The following is poetry, not to be taken seriously:
?The normal people are really crazy, and the crazy people are sane.
This world is a psychiatric hospital. The nurses and doctors are the priests of the
Sciences, Business, and the Arts-they are the best patients-they need no pills-they are brainwashed. Every now and then someone wakes up to the fact that they are in the
Hospital. They see the systems and the absurd rituals performed in the hospitals.
First they try to wake the other people to the fact, they do this knowing that
They will be called crazy, and that the other patients can?t hear what they are
Saying no matter what they tell them. When the genius/madman speaks to his fellow patient, they just stay quiet and say nothing out of fear of having to actually speak and think. He really wants to wake up the smart quiet patients that say nothing. The best patients, the smart quiet ones, get to become nurses and even the doctors after some time. The madman, genius, finally decides that only a minute amount of people wake up.
So he finally decides to write a book, hoping that he can communicate through time
To another person who will also wake up centuries later, who can write another
Book that will eventually be able to wake up more patients, or make changes to
The system in the hospital. The mad genius could keep quiet and try to become a
Nurse or even a doctor and try to reform the system a little bit, but the time used to
Get to be a doctor or a nurse could be used more usefully writing the books.
Eventually the madman, after his death, finally gets called a genius centuries later-and his book is put on the shelf, and a minute amount of patients pick up, read, and understand it. The really smart madmen can balance their writing of truth, with their acting as a nurse/doctor. If Schopenhauer took the pills/and psychiatric brainwashing-he would have never wrote his great book, but made the gradual step back to become a silent patient. ?

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, April 3, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

I disagree. Schopenhauer's penetrating intellect w

I disagree. Schopenhauer's penetrating intellect would have seen through all the therapy and psychology nonsense so beloved in our day. His therapy was thinking, reading, and writing.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, April 3, 2005 -- 5:00 PM

Are we allowed to say he might be getting too mixe

Are we allowed to say he might be getting too mixed up between two different views of the self? The idea that our lives must be innately meaningful seems to go hand in hand with the religious belief in the afterlife. But if we discount the afterlife as implausible (as I understand Schopenhauer does) aren't we asking a little too much that our lives be somehow innately meaningful? In more speculative, tea-drinking moments I seem to be able to accept the notion that if all I am is an element in a vast causal chain (and not, it should be added, an easy to isolate element - not something I can easily delineate and say 'such is me') that meaning rather dries up. Is this wrong? Or is that Schopenhauers problem - he feels this too but it depresses him?
To actually try to answer the question asked; surely we should be asking whether or the pharmacological answers offered to psychological problems are actually helpful. It seems to be a case of supressing the symptoms rather than treating the cause and ditto to a lesser extent with 'talk therapy'. As far as I can understand it Schopenhauer understood fully what he was depressed about and it was that understanding with depressed him. Short of trying to convince him that life essentially was 'meaningless' in the way he looked at it but that didn't really change matters much, I can't see any real solution to problem of the man himself.
Is it a real problem if life is meaningless?

curmudgeon's picture

curmudgeon

Sunday, May 13, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

Was Schopenhauer even a 'depressed' individual in

Was Schopenhauer even a 'depressed' individual in the first place? I have always found it puzzling why everyone always seems to assume this without giving it any further thought. When you read his 'curmudgeonly' writings do you not also find yourself laughing along with him at every other page?
Why is it so difficult to accept Schopenhauer's 'pessimistic view' of the world as being an objective one? Is it not true that life is ultimately meaningless, and all around we see people who are evil and selfish and egotistical? Do we not look on the news channel and hear about atrocities taking place every single day? If we reflect on the history of mankind has it not been nothing more than 'war of all against all' until recent decades?
Perhaps you find his view 'pessimistic' because you happen to be among the minority of the human species living in the 1st world in the 21st Century? What about the rest of the world still living in abject poverty? Surely you accept he fact that one day, all your work will come to nothing, your health will fail and you will probably die after much suffering?
Schopenhauer was simply giving an objective account of what life actually is about, and in his own words his philosophy provided him with much comfort. If anything, he was simply a melancholy man with a genuinely wicked sense of humour - hardly depressed!

curmudgeon's picture

curmudgeon

Sunday, May 13, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

Was Schopenhauer even a 'depressed' individual in

Was Schopenhauer even a 'depressed' individual in the first place? I have always found it puzzling why everyone always seems to assume this without giving it any further thought. When you read his 'curmudgeonly' writings do you not also find yourself laughing along with him at every other page?
Why is it so difficult to accept Schopenhauer's 'pessimistic view' of the world as being an objective one? Is it not true that life is ultimately meaningless, and all around we see people who are evil and selfish and egotistical? Do we not look on the news channel and hear about atrocities taking place every single day? If we reflect on the history of mankind has it not been nothing more than 'war of all against all' until recent decades?
Perhaps you find his view 'pessimistic' because you happen to be among the minority of the human species living in the 1st world in the 21st Century? What about the rest of the world still living in abject poverty? Surely you accept he fact that one day, all your work will come to nothing, your health will fail and you will probably die after much suffering?
Schopenhauer was simply giving an objective account of what life actually is about, and in his own words his philosophy provided him with much comfort. If anything, he was simply a melancholy man with a genuinely wicked sense of humour - hardly depressed!

Guest's picture

Guest

Tuesday, May 15, 2007 -- 5:00 PM

I am entirely in line with what Curmudgeon wrote a

I am entirely in line with what Curmudgeon wrote above. Schopenhauer exemplifies a clarity of thought and presentation that is rare in the history of philosophy. It is further evident that he must have had an extrememly healthy and well-balanced mind. He was neutrally concerned with the truth of the matter- what really is, and how it is. His affinity with eastern thought (Hinduism, Buddhism) influenced and cultivated this line of thinking as well. It is true that a depressed person will see no purpose in living. Schopenhauer understood that there was no point to life on a grand or universal scale, but still dedicated his entire life to the attempt of offering a well-balanced and neutral account of our existence, the suffering it entails, and the ways in which people aesthetically and morally seek to avoid it- in short, make the best out of this miserable life. It isn't about what they ought to do, but what they do. (the denial of the will, and extinction of the individual ego showcased as the highest pursuit of all great religions.)
For Schopenhauer to have sorted through all of the material that he did- which was more than any philsopher before and after him, and to arrive at a just notion of the world afterwards, showcases a depth and character of a mind that was well in control of itself. For Schopenhauer, just because life is miserable and pointless does not mean that we cannot overcome it and live well. The suffering state of the world is precisely the reason we continually seek for well-being!-or we'd be unconditionally content.

Guest's picture

Guest

Sunday, May 4, 2008 -- 5:00 PM

I think that A-Schop was as inconsistent as he tho

I think that A-Schop was as inconsistent as he thought a fool should be. If one reads the collection of Schopenhauer essays in succession, one after the other, then one would find that the tone of his opinions, or "observations" if you wish, (everyone has an opinion) changed with his age; this is to say that his teachings changed. What was Schopenhauer if not emotionally driven? I'm sorry, I love his writings, and I do not wish to cheapen his intellect, but I think that the man simply wanted to be loved. Plain and simple. This means, to I, that even he didn't completely believe half of what he wrote.

Guest's picture

Guest

Wednesday, January 14, 2009 -- 4:00 PM

Don't all observations change with age? Try readin

Don't all observations change with age? Try reading your comment again and think about the subject some more after these years, read other works of Schopenhauer, etcetera, and examine your thoughts on it. Big chance you think different or that you're thoughts on the subject evolve when gaining more experience or knowledge.

 

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