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A "Fun" Excerpt From My Thesis


Affirmation and Denial of the Will to Live:
Schopenhauer’s Suicide, Genius and the Saint

My philosophy shows the metaphysical foundation of justice and the love of mankind, and points to the goal which these virtues necessarily lead, where they are practiced in perfection. At the same time it is candid in confessing that a man must turn his back upon the world, and that the denial of the will to live is the way of redemption. --Schopenhauer[1]


If the world is a world of suffering because of the infinite will to live of all beings, then, like the Eightfold Path, there are ways to end such suffering. The key, according to Schopenhauer, will have to lay in confronting the will to live itself: taking a stand against it, determining a new relationship with it or ultimately annihilating it.

If Being is the will that underlies all phenomena, then to confront, determine and annihilate the will it is to be done not only ontologically but also practically. That is to say, the will must be thought of and lived out in a new manner that comes from a new decision before it. Schopenhauer says that upon having “the veil of Maya” lifted from man’s eyes, man can finally see that suffering is the reality that all beings share; and with this realization, suffering then is no longer only his fate alone as what the illusion of the principium individuationis had initially shown. In short, suffering is not something only I am privileged with—it is the law of all life.

Two roads then lay before this enlightened man. One can affirm the will to live, that is, to ride it or heighten it or take it to its most extreme conclusions—denying life to the other (murder) or denying one’s life (suicide). And one can also deny the will to live, that is, suspend it, negate it or annihilate it.

The first possibility of affirming the will is a path followed by most men; it is easy to keep the eyes closed before a brutal reality and it is far easier to continue playing the only game taught to man since he opened his eyes. There can also be dignity in this, especially when one has a great will. Such dignified men are the men of might and courage or those we call heroes: heroes of the flesh who are able to conquer lands and peoples, times and places, sometimes even life itself—like those immortal heroes remembered in songs and epics.

The second path of denying the will is a path for the few and the rare. Few: because it is nowise easy to set aside a will which the body itself embodies; and rare: because seldom are men successful in this attempt. To set aside the body and the experienced world of the will: this means staying suspended in the air of the imagination and dwelling in the house of the intellect. Such a man Schopenhauer calls the genius.

The genius are those poets and philosophers and men of art and reflection whose eyes are not to be eclipsed by the sun of the will. They are those men who see through the vanity of all existence but at the same time create a new existence. Their works show places to be found elsewhere than this hell of a world; their minds take flight to reach the heavens mortal bodies cannot go; they envision the world under the aspect of eternity. The poet lives in a world that he himself creates with his words while the philosopher builds a humble shed with his truths. The genius has seen the world as what it is; now he wants to surpass it. And this surpassing can be done no longer through willing against the will of the world but through the intellect detaching itself from its servitude to the will.

In one of his so-called “psychological observations,” Schopenhauer describes how this detachment is accomplished by poets and philosophers:

Look at the poet or the philosopher, in whom reflection has reached such a height, that, instead of being drawn on to investigate any one particular phenomenon of existence, he stands in amazement before existence itself, this great sphinx, and makes it his problem. In him consciousness has reached the degree of clearness at which it embraces the world itself: his intellect has completely abandoned its function as the servant of his will, and now holds the world before him; and the world calls upon him much more to examine and consider it, than to play a part in it himself. If, then, such a man will be said to exist most of all, and there will be sense and significance in so describing him.[2]

The poet and philosopher deny the will by leaving the lived world in favor of a world of creation and a world of ideas—they do this purely for the aesthetic pleasure alone and without a hint of the craving and desire that come from the body. Aristotle already said that the happiest man is the free man of pure contemplation—the philosopher—who contemplates upon ideas and serves no other purpose than the sheer pleasure it brings.

Some, however, can completely deny all willing not only by annihilating it but also by overcoming it. These are men are rarer than poets and philosophers. To deny such willing means to invert it by not willing at all, by using a will-less will which becomes indifferent to all willing and thereby to all suffering. Such an indifference does not mean escaping the suffering world by turning its back to it—on the contrary. It is to embrace that very suffering that afflicts both the mind and the body but at the same time to disqualify it by annulling it. How so? By buttressing suffering’s weight and carrying it squarely on the shoulders: and what a suffering man carries for a long time becomes part of him in no time, that is, suffering vanishes and is extinguished when it is incorporated by a mind that understands it and a heart which accepts it as a burden never to be passed to an other.

“As he denies himself, denies the will that appears in his own person,” Schopenhauer says, “he will not resist when another does the same thing, in other words, inflict wrong in him.” And he immediately continues in The World as Will and Representation:

Therefore, every suffering that comes to him from outside through chance or the wickedness of others is welcome to him; every injury, every ignominy, every outrage. He gladly accepts them as the opportunity for giving himself the certainty that he no longer affirms the will, but gladly sides, with every enemy of the will’s phenomenon that is his own person. He therefore endures such ignominy and suffering with inexhaustible patience and gentleness, returns good for all evil without ostentation, and allows the fire of anger to rise again within him as little as he does the fire of desires.[3]

Not only is such a man neither indifferent to his own body (asceticism) nor merely apathetic to the sufferings of the world (indifference), he also he accepts his fate (resignation) or can even sometimes laugh at it (renunciation). What is more, this man willingly allows himself to carry the burden of his brother and to care for his suffering sister (charity). Because one can only give what one has; and what such a man can give is the silent strength that he has gained by annihilating his own will.

This anti-will—a powerless power but a power nonetheless—is the inverted will to life. But to be sure, this counter-will is not a will to death—even if death for this man, according to Schopenhauer, “is cheerfully accepted as a longed-for deliverance” because with death, “this last slender bond is now severed.”[4] No—what gives this anti-will, if at all, any strength is that through all the suffering it experiences, this will-less will delivers itself and all the suffering it suffers in its handless hands and offers these to the hands of the Other—the hands of the God. This displacement of the will and suffering for the God: what Schopenhauer and the Christian tradition call sacrifice.

Schopenhauer quotes two men—coincidentally a poet in Angelus Silesius and a philosopher in Meister Eckhart—who describe this sacrifice made by such men who have annihilated the will. He says of Angelus Silesius:

In fact, it is worth mentioning as extremely remarkable that this thought [of sacrifice] has also been expressed by the admirable and immeasurably profound Angelus Silesius in the little poem entitled “Man brings all to God”; it runs: “Man! all love you; great is the throng around you: / All flock to you that they may attain God.” [5]

And of Meister Eckhart, Schopenhauer adds immediately:

But an even greater mystic, Meister Eckhart…says…wholly in the sense here discussed: “I confirm this with Christ, for he says: ‘I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things [men] unto me’ (John xii, 32). So shall the good man draw all things up to God, to the source whence they first came.[6]

To offer one’s own suffering and the sufferings of others as sacrifice: this is only possible for men who believe in a God which also suffers and carries a cross—the suffering Christ. These men follow the path taken by the Son of Man on the way to Calvary all the way to that peak of the mountain from where they will no longer descend.

These men, finally, in one last offering, and through that one final will, sacrifice their lives for others and ultimately for the God whom they believe they will join in paradise upon their death. These men are no longer men of the flesh or men of the mind—they are men of poor hearts and men of diminished souls.

In a word, these men are the saints.




[1]]Schopenhauer, "On the Sufferings of the World," SSI, 14.

[2]Schopenhauer, “Further Psychological Observations,”SSI, 53.

[3]Schopenhauer, World as Will and Representation I, 382.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid., 381.

[6]Ibid.

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