The Philosophy of Schopenhauer by Bryan Magee

This volume allows Bryan Magee ( the length to set out the arguments of the great German pessimist. He is largely sympathetic to Schopenhauer. Firstly he takes over 100 pages to explain how Schopenhauer’s starting point is very much the ‘transcendental idealism’ of Immanuel Kant.

Briefly put this is a stance that Kant arrived at in his Critique of Pure Reason (1781, We do not face reality head on, he argues. Whatever experiences we have of any sort are always filtered by the perceptual, and conceptual, apparatus that we have on board for the business of living. A simple example is that we see the world in colour whereas dogs do not. Is colour really ‘there’ in the world and dogs have an inferior set of tools? If we take that position we would also have to accept the possibility that there could be creatures on this planet, or beyond, who have superior perception to ours. The use of instruments in science offers no escape from this impasse. Whether we are looking at subatomic particles in The Large Hadron Collider, or gazing into the depths of space – our experimental evidence is still subject to the suite of concepts with which our minds have to grapple the world. You might summarise this point by saying that ‘there is no view from Nowhere’ (Cf. the excellent The View from Nowhere by Thomas Nagel in which this point is also made.)

Magee goes on to discuss bodies and wills, subject and objects and then on to the metaphysics of the person plus the world as will. His second part (from page 271 – 458) describes the influence of Schopenhauer on artists and intellectuals, which was immense, and reaches down to the present day. This is the best book you can read in English on Schopenhauer. Then dive into his own work for the rigour and the pleasure as he was arguably the best prose stylist ever to write philosophy.

Limber up to the task by listening to the Radio 4 ‘In Our Time’ 45 minute episode available at the link  With AC Grayling – Professor of Philosophy at Birkbeck College, University of London; Beatrice Han-Pile – Professor of Philosophy at the University of Essex; and Christopher Janaway – Professor of Philosophy at the University of Southampton. First broadcast Thursday 29 Oct 2009.

480 pages in Clarendon Press paperback edition.

ISBN 978-0198237228

Bryan Magee ponders a particularly abstruse argument of Schopenhauer

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