Schopenhauer and the Poodles

The Original Grumpy Old Man
The Original Grumpy Old Man

Low Expectations

I don't read many philosophical works....well okay, I don't read any philosophical works, not directly anyway..[ Who does...?] Sometimes I'll read a not too onerous excerpt or a summary provided by an easy to read middle-man and usually when I do I find the ideas pretty fascinating. Just as interesting are the philosophers themselves and I'm often left wondering how their life experiences impacted on their ideas. Take Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860, whose seminal work The World as Will and Representationwas a significant influence on big thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.


When I look at pictures of Schopenhauer I see a man who has looked deeply into the world and doesn't like what he has observed His expression is grim, self-protective and rigidly set with a kind of internal stoicism.. The philosopher didn't think much of human existence. He recognised the indifference of nature and believed that we must be a "kind of error" and our lives entirely meaningless. Desire can never be satiated and dissatisfaction is an inevitable malady of living. Just like ants in a colony:

There is nothing to show but the satisfaction of hunger and sexual passion and a little momentary gratification now and then between endless needs and exertions.


Schopenhauers morose view of the world began early. At seventeen, after the suicide of his father in a canal, he was already gripped with what he described as "the misery of life" . Even earlier, at the age of six, he recalled how his parents came home one day to find him "deep in despair". He seems to have had a natural propensity to peer into the dark side, behind the social disguise of civilization to where savagery lies. Still, in many ways he was fortunate; a comfortable inheritance meant he was free to pursue the intellectual life he desired and he considered philosophy an art. In the scheme of things he had it better than most. Although he felt our own human helplessness, he also gave advice on how to deal with it. He believed that, if we don't expect too much, we may avoid the bitter dissapointments that blight so many lives:

Much would have been gained if through timely advice and instruction young people could have eradicated from their minds the erroneous notion that the world has a great deal to offer them.

Schopenhauer On Women

I was very fond of them...if only they would have had me

Although he had his affairs, Schopenhauer wasn't all that successful with women. For a start it was a drag being a super-intellect:

Sometimes I speak to men and women just as a little girl speaks to her doll. She knows of course that the doll doesn't understand her but she creates for herself the joy of communication through a pleasant and conscious self-deception .

Perhaps he was a tad up himself but I'm guessing it was simple honesty. Often he preferred his own company to the deception:

A man of genius can hardly be sociable, for what dialogues could indeed be so intelligent and entertaining as his own monologues?

Nor did he get on with his own mother who was cold and rejecting.

Life is so Short

It doesn't seem he put much effort in to socialising with women either. When a friend suggested they go out cruising for girls [though probablly not in that language] Schopenhauer's reaction was *file under tedious* :

Life is so short,questionable and evanescent that it's not worth the trouble or major effort.

I guess he didn't think much of that old maxim 'nothing ventured, nothing gained'.

Unfortunately he had the added impediment of not being very good-looking, not that that's necessarily a block but Schopenhauer may have felt it keenly as he had faced an early, painful rejection from one particular woman, probably because of it. It certainly wasn't his only rejection...in The Consolations of Philosophy, Alain de Botton [one of my readable middle-men] describes a poignant incident where Schopenhauer, at 43, attempted to flirt with a young woman on a boat trip by shyly passing her a bunch of grapes. The woman later jotted down the incident in her diary;

I didn't want them. I felt revolted because old Schopenhauer had touched them, and so I let them slide, quite gently, into the water behind me.

There is a touching melancholy about that scene. Endowed with brain cells aplenty,it seemed the charisma gene had passed him by. He did manage a ten year on-again off-again relationship with a young singer, Caroline Medon, but with typical Schopenhauerian negativity, he dismissed the notion of marriage:

To marry means to do everything possible to become an object of disgust to each other.

Schopenhauer held strong opinions about the will to life, that is, natures inexorable force to roll forward the species, most often at the expense of an individuals personal happiness. According to Schopenhauer we do not choose our life partners because they are the most suited to us or will make us the most content; rather nature has chosen them for us, based upon the will to being's biological preference:

The coming generation is provided for at the expense of the present.

When potential mates meet, unconsciously they will choose that which will produce the most suitable offspring:

There is something quite peculiar to be found in the deep unconscious seriousness with which two young people meet for the first time, the searching and penetrating glance they cast at each other, the careful inspection of all the features and parts their respective persons have to undergo. This scrutiny and examination is the meditation of the genius of the species concerning the individual possible through these two.

Doomed to failure? Probably, according to Schopenhauer
Doomed to failure? Probably, according to Schopenhauer | Source

Poodles are Better than People.


Schopenhauer seemed to grow more irascible, eccentric and mysongynistic as he grew older....he was the ultimate pessimist's poster-boy. His tolerance levels weren't all that they should be and once he even pushed a woman down a flight of stairs for making too much noise. Yet he had one great consolation that saw him through his student days until his death; a stream of poodles, whom he adored and babied like humans. In fact he was said to have scolded them with the gentle invective, "You are not a dog. You are human. A human. A human!!", perhaps the greatest compliment he could conjure, or the greatest insult.

Interestingly, he called all his dogs the same name...Atma,[and nicknamed them Butz] the hindu word for the universal soul from which all universal souls arise. Some have suggested this may be connected to his theory of individuality and the idea that a particular type of animal expresses the Platonic ideal of its species.


Of course there's much more to Schopenhauer's life and ideas than can be found in this meagre offering and I'm told by reliable sources that he's refreshingly readable and has much to offer. Some scholars have suggested that he was far more attached to the world than he liked to make out and according to Anthony Kenny[cited below] he "lived the normal life of a self-centred academic". Yet looking at his portraits, there's something extra there. Maybe I'm just being fanciful but I see in his face...well, not even disappointment but more a sense of low expectations realised. It is a kind of... "see! I always knew life would be this crappy" expression ...and as he said himself:

A man's face as a rule says more, and more interesting things, than his mouth, for it is a compendium of everything his mouth will ever say, in that it is the monogram of all this man's thoughts and aspirations.

Schopenheaur lived according to his own view of the world and it couldn't be any other way, Still I can't help finding it a little sad that he couldn't fully embrace the advice of his mother's friend, Goethe:

If you wish to draw pleasure out of life, you must attach value to the world.



Coming soon: Nietzche and that Moustache



Sources

Alain de Botton The Consolations of Philosophy, Hamish Hamilton 2000 [from which I got most of the information for this hub]

Anthony Kenny The Oxford Illustrated History of Western Philosophy, Oxford Uni. press, 1994

More by this Author


Comments 47 comments

Arthur Windermere profile image

Arthur Windermere 6 years ago

To be fair, those aren't photographs. Someone just drew the guy. lol

Thanks for this enjoyable hub. Interesting learning about his personal life. Women sure were stupid in his day. Thank heavens for equality and education. Or maybe he just ran into a Paris Hilton type and didn't realize the pretty ones are often dangerous.

Schopenhauer is one I regrettably don't know a great deal about. From what I read here, and what I've learned elsewhere, I have a lot in common with him. Except (I like to think) I'm not a jerk and I've never been depressed in my life. Too much Il Penseroso and not enough L'Allegro makes me a dull boy. I had enough melancholia when I was a Catholic.

I do believe Schopenhauer's pessimism abated in one area: Art. He thought people were truly free in creating art.

Cheers!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hahaha..sh*t. I mean paintings...there goes my credibility! I think in future I might have to get you to proof-read all my hubs...I'm obviously an idiot!


David Stone profile image

David Stone 6 years ago from New York City

Loved this approach.


jstankevicz profile image

jstankevicz 6 years ago from Cave Creek

Ok, Jane, you are now my middle-man, er middle-person on philosophers. Great article, alternating great quotes with great insights!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi David and Jstan...thankyou for the supportive comments!


secularist10 profile image

secularist10 6 years ago from New York City

Love it, Jane.

"Even earlier, at the age of six, he recalled how his parents came home one day to find him "deep in despair". He seems to have had a natural propensity to peer into the dark side and behind the social disguise of civilization to where savagery lies."

Nowadays we would call that "depression" and keep him on a steady stream of pills. Which would be a shame, IMHO. I have found that some of my most enlightening insights (as far as I'm concerned, anyway) have arisen when I was down in the dumps.

"A man of genius can hardly be sociable, for what dialogues could indeed be so intelligent and entertaining as his own monologues?"

I think I may have found my new favorite quote!

BTW, is Jane Bovary your real name, or is it just a very romantic, Victorian-era sounding pseudonym? :)


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Lol..it's not my real name..just an affectation.

It's great to see you here in my lair secularist. I agree it would be a terrible thing to drug up everyone who saw the world too clearly. Anyway he had his poodles and he also had music...he played the flute every day after dinner. Even though he was probably a pain in the *rse, I bet he would have been an interesting guy to know. He did have some great sayings..haha..I love that one you quoted myself. Thanks for the comments.

See you 'round the traps


Momma Mia profile image

Momma Mia 6 years ago from North Carolina

Great Hub!! Thankyou for sharing!! I have my 2 poodles and I play the flute too....but I am glad my views on life and the people here are brighter than his...sounds like he just needed to find humor in what he always saw as stupidity! I Know it helps me greatly!! Thanks again

Mia


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks Momma Mia,

You and Schopenhauer have some things in common then but it's good to hear you feel more optimistic. I can tell by your profile pic that you don't have that grumpy attitude!

Cheers


TroyM profile image

TroyM 6 years ago

"On Women

I was very fond of them...if only they would have had me"

Your comments are too neat!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Troy,

You mean Schopenhauers comments...he said that! But thanks .


Dixon Steele profile image

Dixon Steele 6 years ago

It seems like most nineteenth century philosphers, as their images have been relayed to us through photography or painting, have that Tim Burton look. It was an era of such apperent optimism in Western thought. Hegel had united the knowledge that Kant had septerated. But I think of Nietzche on his chair after suffering his mental breakdown, or Kierkegaard who gave up the opportunity of marrying a woman he loved and who loved him. Or Max Stirner who died poor and unappreciated. (and whose only surviving image coincidently is a sketch by Engles)Many a madcap hair-do, and many a skewed tomented expression, in a world that had banished terror, had made everything knowable and secularised despair into a mechanism, the cog of which we are still working our way free of in this still 'Enlightened' West.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

The price of thought...? Still better to be an unhappy human being than a happy pig, as they say. I like this quote from Yeats.

A Drive to Reason

Civilisation is hooped together, brought

Under a rule, under the semblance of peace

By manifold illusion, but Man's life is thought,

And he, despite his terror, cannot cease,

Ravening through century after century

Ravening, raging and uprooting, that he may come

Into the desolation of reality.


James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

Truly a fascinating article. Not a very happy chap. Oh well.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi James! Thanks for stopping by.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Hmmm - misogynist, pessimist, grumpy old man? Still, he must have had something going for him since we still talk and write about him, I guess. Not really my kind of guy, though. Which is why I haven't read him, most likely.

Thanks for the introduction and saving me trouble of reading him, which now I won't bother to do! LOL! Especially since I don't like poodles much. Atman indeed! And then to call them "Butz" - what was the man thinking?

Great Hub and enjoyable read, thank you.

Love and peace

Tony


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Tony, he's not everyone's cup of tea I guess but I hope I haven't put you off him..apparently he is good to read! Thanks for the comment.


ConsciousObserver profile image

ConsciousObserver 6 years ago

Hello Jane, This was an excellent read. One thing I notice about the famous philosophers is that they weren't shy to tell how above others intellectual thinking they were. I think this is a partially closed biased assumption on their part. I think if anyone looks deep enough in others, they will find a touch of genius in the most ignorant person alive. Thanks for the hub.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Lol...yes, they did have plenty of confidence it seems.Particularly Schopenhaur. Apparently he used to get really annoyed that his rival Hegel got a bigger turnout to his lectures, even though Hegel was older and had the established reputation. Ego! Thankyou for commenting CO.


ConsciousObserver profile image

ConsciousObserver 6 years ago

Anytime. Philosophy of ego would be a fun write. lol It can be both good and bad.


alberich 6 years ago

Interestning choice "Schopenhauer" the pessemist who lived in this mortal coil . Really good article too. Carry on!!!!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks! His irascibility appealed to me...he seemed quite a character.


alberich 6 years ago

Yes, I remember when I read philosophy history for the first time in highschool then I always came back to him because he differ from all the other guyes and he has gumption!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi alberich,

If Schopennhaur were an animal, he'd probably be a squirrel! You must be English, because you used the word "smashing'...I don't hear that too often.


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

I see Schopenhauer's point: The coming generation is provided for at the expense of the present. When we do have children we do tend to fall into the trap of sometimes going without so they can have a better future. We don't see this sort of commitment as a never ending cycle.

In terms of Science Fiction shows, if this guy Schopenhauer was a great scientist living in another galaxy he'd be Rodney McKay of Stargate Atlantis. I kind of like this Rodney and not just because he has my Christian name. He's a Canadian and that is close enough to Australian. Also he is somewhat shy with women and I really liked it when he started doing okay with the cute female doctor in the final season. I also like it when he outshines the military leader and pilot hot-shot. He is a total pessimist like your Schopenhauer, too.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hey Rod, not just that but [according to Schopenhauer] we don't choose the right partners to begin with...but rather just go with what will produce the best offspring.

Nice to see you!


Rod Marsden profile image

Rod Marsden 6 years ago from Wollongong, NSW, Australia

Right, so we are taken away by our genes. I have heard about that. Nothing to do with intelligence and a sit down analysis with paper and pen or computer just all looks and scent. Well, I can see where Schopenhauer would come up with that though I added the bit about the genes...a little after his time.

Nice to see you, too.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hahaha...we'd probably be better off if we could do a cold analysis of future partners but no, it IS all looks and scent it seems. Certainly not too logical anyway.


David Nicholls 6 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this. Thank you!


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hey David..thankyou for dropping by with a comment.


David Nicholls 6 years ago

I don't know if this will be of any interest, but I have created a webpage for anyone studying Schopenhauer: I will be adding your page to this shortly.

http://www.schopenhauer.oneuk.com/

Regards

David


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

David, thankyou for dropping in to tell me this.

I had a look at your site and it looks like a terrific resource. Schopenhauer was such a fascinating character..I'm sure there'll be a lot of interest. And I'm thrilled that you would want to use my page.

Cheers


spookyfox profile image

spookyfox 6 years ago from Argentina

I haven't read him (yet) but I share the view that we're condemned to never be satisfied, an idea that Wagner then put into music. I think that's the reason buddhists free themselves from any desire.

Now where is that hub about Nietzsche and his facial hair?


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Lol spooky...I never did get around to that hub. False advertising! I'll do it one of these days.

Yes, I think Schopenhauer was onto something. Even wanting to free yourself from desire is a desire..ah, as those buddhists say *life is unsatisfactory*.

Thanks for commenting.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Hey Jane. I love this quote:

"When I look at pictures of Schopenhauer I see a man who has looked deeply into the world and doesn't like what he has observed His expression is grim, self-protective and rigidly set with a kind of internal stoicism.. The philosopher didn't think much of human existence. He recognized the indifference of nature and believed that we must be a "kind of error" and our lives entirely meaningless. Desire can never be satiated and dissatisfaction is an inevitable malady of living. Just like ants in a colony.

There is nothing to show but the satisfaction of hunger and sexual passion and a little momentary gratification now and then between endless needs and exertions."

I disagree with Schopenhaur on so many different levels but his gravity is impressive!!! I enjoyed your analysis of his likeness and I am in full agreement. I think for many people of his time, life was just plain more difficult. I feel as though there is a certain amount of subjectivity that is unknowingly applied just as is the case for Freud and his "everything is sexual" intonations. For many of us many things are sexual often, for some rarely at all, but to lay claim to everything having that engagement is the equivalent of a land grab, at least in philosophy. Time to get back to reading yet another onerous philosophical work....

Great work remind me to come back and comment here again if I don't!!!

Ben


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Ben,

It's always lovely to see your friendly face here. I can't help liking Schopenhauer, even though he had such a bleak view of human existence. Even a hardened cynic like me can't muster up quite as gloomy a view of things.

Sometimes I do think sex drives everything, though we may not be aware of it. I don't know. I'm sure you're right about the subjectivity...it's unavoidable and yes, Schopnehauer's gravity is impressive!

Thanks for reading and the great comment Ben.


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 6 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

I appreciate sharing the same sentence with the word "lovely" that goes a long way in my book Jane.

For such a hardened cynic you have a warm side to me. Although I mastered the art of the Venne Diagram and was a Philosophy Club drop-out, this is still an introductory article to me on Schopenhauer and I thank you for it. Perhaps Arthur only wrote (or philosophized) when he was in a sarcastic mood, perhaps not. Either way, he would've done well to read up on Ben Franklin, also a deeply philosophical homely fella. He might've learned to pick up chicks, as did Franklin, a scoundrel near and dear to my heart.

Best,

Ben


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 6 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi Ben, I'll have to check out Ben Franklin...he sounds a lot more lovable than Schopenhauer. In the latter case, I think the rejections got to him.

Cheers


Disturbia profile image

Disturbia 5 years ago

"To marry means to do everything possible to become an object of disgust to each other." He speaks the truth... lol.


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hahaha...I suspect he might be!


clark farley profile image

clark farley 5 years ago

Very enjoyable Hub...the pictures were perfect aguments...while reading about this indisputedly brilliant man, what came to my mind: ..."those who can't..."


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Hi clark..yes, lol. Thanks for popping by.


waxi 5 years ago

Great hub again by Jane and now I discover jane is not the real name But even if I get to know the real name I ll still call you Jane :)

I think Schoepanheur;s poodles name was Tatum His mother was a novelist she once kicked him down the stairs and he left home -he was a chatter box [like me ] and yes he wasn't too fond of ladies -UNLIKE ME

All he said makes me shudder and some times recoil with horror -look around and it , many a times , makes sense

Good work Jane now I wait for your Hub on Neitzsche and his moustache

Waqxi


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Thanks waxi...I'm working on that Nietzsche hub! I knew Schopenhauer had problems with this mother but I didn't know she kicked him down the stairs..wow, harsh! yet he did the same thing to an old woman. Was he getting his revenge? Hmm..interesting.


waxi 5 years ago

Hi Jane

Maybe he was ...lets face the facts Philosophers are just like other men in their real lives and Men can be [er sorry for guys reading this ] jerks lol ...Philosophers brains spend more time thinking on extra planetary issues when they land on planet they lack the skills to behave as sensible men thats how I see it

No wonder in the end most of them lose their marbles

Neitzsche was once travelling in train with his sister Elizabeth [that anti semitic vixen hahaha ] and they started picking on a fellow passenger who was a gentleman till he eventually got off the train earlier than his destined platform If you see his pictures and more you read his works , one gets the impression he was a stolid soul But I give him credit that some of his epigramms are hilarious

Take care

Waqxi


Jane Bovary profile image

Jane Bovary 5 years ago from The Fatal Shore Author

Neitzsche is definitely an interesting character and I think, a very creative writer but his philosophy is too harsh for me. I have noticed though, that he seems to appeal to certain young men. Maybe they see themselves as *ubermen*.


David 11 months ago

New website dedicated to Schopenhauer:

http://www.21centuryvision.co.uk/

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working