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Arthur Schopenhauer is regarded as one of the best German philosophers of all time. Born in February 1788, Schopenhauer wrote many articles and books. However, it is later in his career that his work gained a lot of recognition from other philosophers, poets, musicians, and artists.
His most renowned work was the book, ‘The World as a Will and Representation’ whose main theme is the dissatisfaction that people have in life hence will live to achieve the level of satisfaction that we desire (Hamlyn, 1980). His thoughts and ideologies influence a great number of writers especially during the 19th and 20th century.
By critically analyzing his works, it is evident that the theories that Schopenhauer presented revealed that life had two broad aspects; the will that people had and their world of representation. As stated earlier, the will of people drives them to achieve a level of satisfaction that they desire in life. On the other hand, their world of representation plays a significant role in cognitive conditioning in individuals.
Therefore, basing his arguments on Darwin’s theory of natural selection, Schopenhauer believed that people compete among themselves to procreate and survive and in the process, they end up being slaves in their lives while striving to achieve their will. With regards to all these, this paper will critically analyze the aesthetic writings of Arthur Schopenhauer.
Schopenhauer View on Aesthetics
Just like the other philosophers of his time, Schopenhauer’s view towards aesthetics was primarily based on Kant’s argument that enhanced the view that people had on the subject with regards to philosophical views. Prior to the arguments that were presented by Kant, people regarded beauty as an objective phenomenon that was determined by the smoothness, the size, and the delicacy of an object (Cartwright, 2001).
However, Kant’s theories regarded beauty as a factor that was determined by the subject. As such, different subjects have different tastes and preferences. Through his aesthetic writings, Schopenhauer expanded the views that people had with regards to the subject.
However, unlike Kant who believed that aestheticians should base their ideologies on aesthetic judgment, Schopenhauer believed that people should base their decisions on their aesthetic experience (Cartwright, 2001). According to Schopenhauer, ideas that did not have solid content did not have any basis for support. Consequently, thoughts that were not based on intuition did not have focus.
These ideologies thus explained the reason why people have to communicate information or ideas by either showing or saying what we mean. Thus, to fully explain his ideology of aesthetic experience, Schopenhauer used based his arguments on two different perspectives; the beautiful and the sublime. These perspectives are present in both nature and art.
On the subjective side of an individual, ordinary perspective is determined by the will that he/she has in life. Thus, according to Schopenhauer, the principle of sufficient reason (PSR) plays a significant role in determining the cognitive development in individuals (Janaway, 2009).
Thus, as a result of their cognition, people develop a specific sense with regards to space, time, and logic that people have to achieve the well-less perspective that enables them not only to view objects for as a means of striving to achieve their personal goals and objectives but actually for what they are (Guyer, 1996).
However, for people to achieve such a level of cognition, they need to stop thinking in an ordinary way. It is due to this fact that Schopenhauer concluded that it is only the genius will be able to achieve such a level of cognition.
The objective side of Schopenhauer’s theory of aesthetic experience is based on the concept of Platonic Ideas. It is always believed that people view life from two different perspectives. The first perspective is that life is based on the will that people have.
It is from this will that people determine the goals and objectives that they want to achieve, the means through which they will achieve them, and most importantly, their level of satisfaction after achieving them. On the other hand, however, people view life as a form of representation.
According to this perspective, life highly depends on the manner in which individuals view the constructs of time, space, and causality (Gardiner, 2007). From a critical analysis, it is evident that these views are not related. However, Schopenhauer developed the concept of Platonic Ideas to merge the views that people had towards life with regards to these two perspectives.
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Thus, when a subject moves to the state of tranquility, it will be easier for him/her to achieve the will-less state of aesthetic experience. Thus, according to Schopenhauer, it is easier for such an individual to experience the beauty of the object as well as the beauty of nature since they have been able to perceive the representations of the intrinsic and determinant forms (Sandra, 2012).
However, the representation that these objects have might be stimulating or hostile to the will that individuals have towards life. Schopenhauer uses a table of readily prepared foods such as oysters, lobsters, and bread with butter as an example to show things that bring appetite to the lives of individuals.
Due to the role that they play in sustaining their will, these objects easily find their way in various forms of artistic representation such as paintings.
While focusing on the sublime, Schopenhauer focuses on the representations that hostile to the will of individuals hence bringing about a negative feeling in them (Sandra, 2012). These representations are either powerful than human beings or threaten their existence on earth. Schopenhauer uses examples such as desert landscapes and cascades as examples of representations that bring about a sublime experience to people.
Due to their nature therefore, he concluded that it is impossible for representations to be regarded as aesthetic contemplations (Sandra, 2012). However, Schopenhauer believes that people can still enjoy the aesthetic value of sublime representations.
However, for people to enjoy such a value, they first need to acknowledge the threat that these representations have on their lives. In doing so, people will be able to consciously turn away from the threat that comes about from these representations, which in the process makes them to turn away from their will.
These factors lay the basis behind Schopenhauer’s theory of aesthetic pleasure. In accordance with this theory, people gain pleasure from three different sources. The first source of pleasure is the state of will-lessness that people gain from understanding and appreciating the beauty that comes from either objects or nature.
The satisfaction that a subject gains from experiencing the beauty of these representations is a major source of pleasure. Secondly, people gain pleasure that people gain from consciously turning away from their will. In such an event, an individual gains pleasure from the pride or respect that comes about as a result.
Finally, people gain pleasure from the views that they have from the ideas that they have generated. Thus, from this analysis, it is evident that people can gain pleasure either from their subjective side or their objective side.
An important argument that Schopenhauer developed was with regards to aesthetic freedom. While explaining his concept of aesthetic experience, Schopenhauer stated that people need to expand their level of cognition for them to achieve aesthetic experience.
However, in so doing, individuals will have to deviate from the views and perspectives that they have on time, space, and causality, which in turn deviates them further away from their will. However, Schopenhauer argues that the intellectuality in individuals highly depend on the will that they have.
In this respect therefore, it is impossible for individuals to achieve aesthetic value since they have to go against their intellectuality hence bringing about two characters within an individual; the empirical character and the empirical character. Thus, acting in accordance to his/her empirical character, an individual will always strive to achieve his/her will in life.
However, the intelligent character is capable of detaching itself from the will of an individual. For instance, an individual might decide to stop pursuing his/her will. In his view therefore, Schopenhauer believes that in this case, such an individual will gain aesthetic freedom and to a higher extent, human freedom (Sandra, 2012).
The aesthetic writings of Schopenhauer reveal that people live to achieve their will in life. Thus, the main desire that people have in their lives is to achieve their will. However, with every desire that we achieve, people tend to lose the focus that they had in life or seek new desires. In the process therefore, people use their intellectuality to strive and achieve our desires in life.
Despite the fact that the intelligence that people might have, our empirical character always seeks to achieve our desires in life. Schopenhauer concluded that the only way we can free ourselves from our will is by failing to pursue our desires. This will give people the freedom from aesthetic experience as well as humanity.
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Gardiner, P. (2007). Schopenhauer. Middlesex: Penguin Books Guyer, P. (1996). Pleasure and knowledge in Schopenhauer’s aesthetics. In D.
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Hamlyn, D. W. (1980). Schopenhauer. London: Routledge.
Janaway, C. (2009). Better Consciousness: Schopenhauer’s Philosophy of Value. Oxford: Blackwell.
Sandra, S. (2012). Schopenhauer’s Aesthetics. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/schopenhauer-aesthetics/#BriBac