Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) is the great philosopher of the times. His works are clear understandable for a reader. He writes in very realistic manner. The best way to explain the basic outline of Schopenhauer`s system of philosophy is to investigate the following important essays: “On the Antithesis of Thing In Itself and Appearance”, “On the Vanity of Existence”, “On Affirmation and Denial of the Will to Live”, and “On the Indestructability of Our Essential Being by Death”. Thus, the basic outline of Schopenhauer`s system of philosophy is the following.
The fundamental reality of the world for Schopenhauer is Will. Schopenhauer follows the ideas of Plato and distinguishes two worlds. He stated that every being in nature is at the same time a phenomenon and a thing-in-itself, and it is capable of a double explanation, a physical and metaphysical. From his point of view, physically human being is explained by physical causes. It is the world in where a person lives. Metaphysically “the same human being must be explained as the phenomenon of his own perfectly free and original Will, which has created in him the corresponding intellect” (Schopenhauer, “Some Reflections on the Antithesis of Thing-in-itself and Phenomenon”, 184). In this metaphysical world forms of things do not exist, they are not necessary. The philosopher explains the difference between the thing-in-itself and the phenomenon. The thing-in-itself is the subjective essence of life, the phenomenon is objective one. The separation of subject and object, as well as time, is the main issues to divide these two worlds. In the physical world, Will has many limitations. In the metaphysical world, there are no limitations and causes for Will, which becomes to be the thing-in-itself.
Other fundamental character of all things for Schopenhauer is perishability. Schopenhauer insists on the vanity of existence. Human life is short. A person comes in this world and in a short time goes out. A person`s life is like a flash in the night. A man finds himself “suddenly existing, after thousands and thousands of years of non-existence: he lives for a little while; and then, again, comes an equally long period when he must exist no more” (Schopenhauer, “On the Vanity of Existence”). From Schopenhauer point of view, a person lives only in the present. The present is so short, that in the every next moment the previous one becomes to be the past. One attribute of this existence is movement. A man is always in the move. Will has to be satisfied. Will stimulates person for the restless acting. A person makes an aim and satisfies the process of its achieving. When a goal is achieved, Will forces a person to make another aim and achieve it. This process is continuous and can be stopped only with the death. Schopenhauer compares it with the process of running down the hill. Thus, human being can never stop and has no rest till the death. “Will is the lord of all worlds: everything belongs to it, and therefore no one single thing can ever give it satisfaction, but only the whole, which is endless” (Schopenhauer, “On the Vanity of Existence”). In this restless reality happiness is inconceivable. The process generates only suffering. Two simple impulses, such as hunger and the sexual instinct, are produced by this restless motion.
The big attention Schopenhauer puts to the sexual impulse, which has an endless series of generations in view. The main issue of affirmation of the Will-to-live is the act of procreation. People do not speak about this fact, but it always presents in person`s minds. Multiple forms of the world are the phenomenon of Will-to-live, and the focus of this Will is in the act of procreation. Schopenhauer suggests: “the life of a man, with its endless care, want, and suffering, is to be regarded as the explanation and paraphrase of the act of procreation” (“On the Affirmation of the Will-to-live”). In the other words, the act of procreation is the first step for suffering. When a person comes to this life, he/she begin to suffer, until the death. The fear of death Schopenhauer explains as illusory thing. It has no sense because life is the suffering, and death is the rescue from the suffering. This fear of the death exists only in a person`s brain and is caused by Will-to-live.
Another point Schopenhauer insists on is the fact that after the death a person becomes to be everything and nothing. A person becomes to be nothing in the sense of individuality. Individuality is not the true of human being and not the thing-in-itself. It is the phenomenon, which has limits of time and form. Individuality is restricted by the beginning and the end. It is the form of reality, which is characterized with the suffering. The main attribute of this individuality is Will-to-live. From the other side, a person after the death remains to be everything. There are no forms, no time and limitations anymore. Only pure Will, the being in itself, remains with a person. The philosopher makes a conclusion, according to which “individuality is not a state of perfection but of limitation; so that to be freed from it not loss but rather gain” (“Short Dialogue on the Indestructability of Our True Being by Death”).
The system of Schopenhauer`s philosophy is based much on pessimism. His essay “On Suicide” is a part of his Studies on Pessimism. In this essay, Schopenhauer gives his point of view on suicide. He refuses the statement of monotheistic religions, according to which suicide is considered as a crime. Schopenhauer approves that the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, has no prohibition of suicide. Beside this, it has no philosophical ground. Schopenhauer does not support the point of view that suicide is a criminal and forbidden act. He suggests that this crime was minded out by the church for approving the postulate that religion is the only possible escape from suffering, and the way to happiness. From the other side, Schopenhauer does not support suicide as the way to avoid the suffering. From his philosophical point of view, suicide has no sense. Nothing can be changed with a commitment of it.
For Schopenhauer, the death is the main aim of existence. All human life is suffering. A person during the life has to obtain the knowledge of suffering. For the philosopher, person can obtain the true being only after the death, when Will-to-live would have its logical end. It is a natural process. From this point of view, suicide is an attempt to escape the suffering. It is avoidance of the Will-to-live. A person committed suicide does not fulfill life`s purpose by the end. Thus, according to Schopenhauer`s philosophical system, the killing of oneself is not a valid response to the truth of suffering.
From Schopenhauer`s point of view, the causes of suicide are in person`s inability to struggle with circumstances of life. There is a situation, when a person cannot satisfy wishes and desires. The Will remains as uncompleted thing. Usually, a person takes delight in existence when he/she is struggling for something, makes aims and achieves goals. In the case of suicide, person has no delight in existence because the goal cannot be achieved by him/her. This leads to dissatisfaction and disappointing. A person feels the terrors of life. Schopenhauer states: “as soon as the terrors of life reach the point at which they outweigh the terrors of death, a man will put an end to his life” (“On Suicide”).
Beside this, point is in Schopenhauer`s division of human being on physical and metaphysical. Committing suicide, a person has a business only with physical being, and not with metaphysical one, which is a thing-in-itself and a pure Will. By killing oneself, a person destroys only his/her physical body as the manifestation of the Will-to-live. A person destroys his/her individuality, which is only the phenomenon presented in the form and time. Nevertheless, a person cannot destroy the Will-to-live, which is indifferent to individuality and has nothing to do with it. Thus, a person committed suicide cannot destroy the true reality, the thing-in-itself. For this reason, suicide has no sense from a metaphysical point of view. In spite of suicide, the true being is still there. After the death, a human being becomes nothing and remains everything. The matter of fact, “as we have no idea of time when in perfectly unconscious state, it is all the same to us when we are dead whether three months or ten thousand years pass away in the world of consciousness” (Schopenhauer, “Short Dialogue on the Indestructability of Our True Being by Death”).
Schopenhauer puts an attention to mental processes. In the essay “Suicide” he states that great mental suffering causes the distraction of thoughts, which considers by a person as a pause in mental suffering. This makes suicide easy to commit. From the other side, a human being is the phenomenon of his/her own free and the original Will. It can be supposed that a person who has distraction of minds cannot have pure Will. Thus, suicide is not the true realization of Will.
Another point is in the vanity of existence. Schopenhauer states: “of every event in our life we can say only for one moment that it is; for ever after, that it was” (“On the Vanity of Existence”), and “that which has been exists no more; it exists as little as that has never been” (“On the Vanity of Existence”). From this point of view, everything is temporary. The reality, in which we live, is an illusion. The past and the future are painted only by a person`s imagination. Thus, by Schopenhauer`s philosophical system, there is no sense to commit a suicide because all the circumstances, by which the terrors of life were provided, do not exist anymore. They had a place only for one short moment, which became to be the past. The memories and thoughts about it are only the play of a person`s imagination.
Schopenhauer was a follower of Kant. At the same time, their points of view on suicide are different. Kant authorizes the absolute moral ban of this act. He suggested that suicide in not moral act and directed against ethical norms. When for Schopenhauer suicide cannot be considered as a crime, for Kant suicide is an offence of humanity. Suicide for him is an egoistic act of deprivation. A man is not a thing, or something that can be used as means. He concludes: “I cannot, therefore, dispose in any way of a man in my own person so as to mutilate him, to damage or kill him” (“Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals”, 47). Thus, Schopenhauer considers suicide from a metaphysical point of view, and Kant – from physical and ethical one.
Kant, Immanuel. Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals. Trans. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott: ArcManor, Rockville, Maryland, 1998. Print.
Schopenhauer, Arthur. On the Affirmation of the Will-to-live. International Schopenhauer Association. N.d. Web. 11 Dec. 2013
On Suicide. Trans. T. Bailey Saunders, M.A. Free books, online. The University of Adelaide, 13 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.
On the Vanity of Existence. Trans. T. Bailey Saunders, M.A. Free books, online. The University of Adelaide, 13 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2013
Short Dialogue on the Indestructability of Our True Being by Death. Trans. Mrs. Rudolf Dircks. Free books, online. The University of Adelaide, 12 Nov. 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.
Some Reflections on the Antithesis of Thing-in-itself and Phenomenon. Selected essays of Schopenhauer, edited with an Introduction, by Ernest Belford Bax, London, G. Bell and Sons, LTD. 1926 (182-191)