Throughout the world almost every living person on the planet will witness suffering at least once in a life time. Suffering as we know it is defined as the pain we experience due to an injury, medical malpractice or even disruptions in one’s family life and etc. Although we endure suffering, do we constantly suffer? According to the German Philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer who proposed that life is “full of suffering” and that this suffering is directly caused by the will of the individual. I wish in this short paper to carry this claim further and try to explain why Schopenhauer thinks that life is full of suffering and how he believes that this suffering can be overcome. I will also attempt to show my perspective of why I don’t agree to his arguments.
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Schopenhauer proposed his pessimistic view on an individual’s condition in this world by stating that life is filled with suffering, and that this suffering that we experience is directly caused by our will. We know Life tends to want, and because its wants are regularly unfulfilled, it largely exists unfulfilled and in a state of deprivation. By the wanting or expecting something, an individual is setting himself up to sufferÂ until that objective is met. Then, upon fulfillment of the desire, a new aim is set forth, and thus the cycle of suffering begins again. When Schopenhauer says that all life is suffering he means everything that lives and strives, is filled with suffering, he puts it as “It is absurd to look upon the enormous amount of pain that abounds everywhere in the world.”(Pg 63) Suffering is ultimately caused by the frustration and conflict that arises from competition between individual wills.
For Schopenhauer suffering seems to be such a great cause that the world is subjected to, he feels happiness that we experience at times is not actually happiness in life. In fact, if an individual is to measure the joy they experienced in the world it would have to be measured through Schopenhauer’s ways, as he states; “not by its joys and pleasures, but by the extent to which it has been free from suffering” (pg 64) He goes even further to say that Suffering is the purifying process through which alone, in most cases, a person is consecrated.
Schopenhauer claimed that more intense the willing, the more intense will be the suffering. So, now, the problem here is how to diminish the capability of one’s willing such that we may get a relief from suffering? Schopenhauer answer is actually a very simple one, although according to me not, by any means, easy to accomplish. The answer is; being capable of denying what will wants. This practice is called Aestheticism or self-denial and, according to Schopenhauer, is the one adequate solution to the central life problem.
Schopenhauer ideology of life filled with suffering is a total contradiction to want to live without wanting to suffer. Of course that contradiction over here again is his metaphysics of Will. The
question, really is do we suffer all the time? I would go on to disagree with this argument. Even if we do suffer, between periods of suffering, there is concise happiness as wants are fulfilled. Schopenhauer claims that this pleasure can never be more than liberation from pain, further suggesting that humans only experience happiness through the memory of suffering and pain. This view is opposite to the modern view of suffering and happiness. We don’t necessarily experience happiness from suffering as a memory. If for example I have bad memories of being bullied in school, I would not attain pleasure by remembering those memories and therefore I find this argument unsound.
Life to some extent has suffering, this fact is unavoidable. However, by realizing this, and by focusing on the positives, human beings can lead reasonably enjoyable lives. Therefore, an individual should do exactly the opposite of what Schopenhauer suggests, and experience each emotion, good or bad, as fully as possible. If we are to consider the roles played by both the ordinary perception and aesthetic state, it seems that it is actually desirable that things are as they are. That is, we need to recognise that our suffering serves a great good and that is the promotion of our own survival. I find Schopenhauer to be mistaken; we do not always suffer, as there are little things that make life joyous.
Furthermore, Schopenhauer compares our lives to animals, he states; “The lower animals appear to enjoy a happier destiny than men.” (pg64) On the same side with Schopenhauer I believe that animals live better lives than us. The fact that animals don’t construct memories from their past and replay it, they obviously live better lives than us. Take for example a gold fish; most experiments claim they have a life span of three seconds, comparing that to a human life it can be said that we would suffer by recollecting old memories that brought us pain and suffering. Unlike us humans animals don’t bother about the future or the past. They live in the present. So when it comes to animals I would agree that they live better lives than us and thus the argument is sound.
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Schopenhauer Aesthetic system according to me is a completely feeble. Even if it were possible to forget and give up all of our will, why would we ever do such a thing? I understand that our will at times is totally pointless and at times a lot of desires arise, and we are only capable of fulfilling some or none of them, but this does not mean we should practice aesthetics.
The one problem that I see with the aesthetic system is that, Will, is the ultimate cause of our suffering. And we can be freed from our suffering through practising aesthetic. This idea seems to be contradictory, how can we be free of suffering by losing our individualism and perceiving the will objectively when the will is evil in nature? As Schopenhauer puts is.
What is believed is that it is essential for us to see the world subjectively and not objectively, using our own experiences in order to survive. It is therefore fair to claim that our will is acting in our best interest. It also allows us to have desires that are needed in order to survive. For instance, it is essential for us to have a will to eat regularly in order to nourish ourselves; if we failed to do this we would die. And therefore I find this argument unsound.
It would be fair for me to say that I totally find Schopenhauer’s ideology of life being filled with suffering invalid. However, I do find his argument on animals living a better life than human to be somewhat valid. The idea of aestheticism for combating suffering according to me is also not valid. I have tried to show that his conception of the will was mistaken on the grounds that he failed to properly appreciate the great good that our will actualises: our survival. Overall I believe that life is good, it has its up’s and down’s which Schopenhauer failed to realise. However one should live to the fullest and enjoy every single moment in life before we leave this world for good.
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