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The Wisdom of Life

by Arthur Schopenhauer

A disciple of Kant and a significant factor in shaping Nietzsche's thinking, Arthur Schopenhauer worked from the foundation that all knowledge derives from our experience of the world, but that our experience is necessarily subjective and formed by our own intellect and biases: reality, therefore, is but an extension of our own will. In this essay, translated by THOMAS BAILEY SAUNDERS (1860-1928) and first published in English in the 1890s, Schopenhauer explores concepts of what internal driving forces and external interpersonal dynamics contribute to the individual's happiness, from our own personalities to our wealth and social standing. The datedness of some of Schopenhauer's ideas—including a decidedly prefeminist interpretation of women's choices and a connection between fame and reputation that is no longer always active in our celebrity culture—only serve to highlight the philopher's basic assumption of human life: that it is characterized chiefly by misery. Students of philosophy and of 19th-century intellectualism will find this a fascinating read.

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Recommendations: 1

Categories: PhilosophyReligion & Spirituality

Reading time: 23 hours


Alain de Botton
Author, Journalist and Philosopher

Firstly, he writes beautifully. He writes beautifully in German. There are some wonderful translations into English. And there’s something about somebody articulating the most despairing thoughts that brings us a huge amount of comfort. For a start we think, “I’m not alone.” All those suspicions you have often three in the morning in despair or gazing out of the aeroplane window in a low moment and you just think, what on earth is the point of all this? Well, Schopenhauer has been there. He’s investigated the territory of despair and he’s put his flag all over it, and it is wonderful what he manages to see. Most of us only glimpse despair out of the corner of our eye and we can’t bear it.