Schopenhauer: A Biography

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Cambridge University Press, Mar 29, 2010 - Biography & Autobiography - 575 pages
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was one of the most original and provocative thinkers of the nineteenth century. He spent a lifetime striving to understand the meaning of living in a world where suffering and death are ubiquitous. In his quest to solve "the ever-disquieting riddle of existence," Schopenhauer explored almost every dimension of human existence, developing a darkly compelling worldview that found deep resonance in contemporary literature, music, philosophy, and psychology. This is the first comprehensive biography of Schopenhauer written in English. Placing him in his historical and philosophical contexts, David E. Cartwright tells the story of Schopenhauer's life to convey the full range of his philosophy. He offers a fully documented portrait in which he explores Schopenhauer's fractured family life, his early formative influences, his critical loyalty to Kant, his personal interactions with Fichte and Goethe, his ambivalent relationship with Schelling, his contempt for Hegel, his struggle to make his philosophy known, and his reaction to his late-arriving fame. The Schopenhauer who emerges in this biography is the complex author of a philosophy that had a significant influence on figures as diverse as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges, Emile Durkheim, Sigmund Freud, Thomas Hardy, Thomas Mann, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.

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This review is for: Schopenhauer: A Biography by David E. Cartwright (Hardcover)
This is a deeply satisfying biography of Schopenauer in that it not only covers, and in full detail, not only the
full arc of Arthur Schopenhauer from birth to date and the historical background to his life, but it examines conscientiously and copiously as well the various knots and questions philosophers have had about his system since Schopenhauer first published his works.
I don't think this book serves the first-time student of Schopenhauer's writings. There are many other good books that introduce well Schopenhauer's system and biography. This book is for those who have more than a passing acquaintance with the man and his works. While not written in an academic manner, the challenges in reading afforded here are for the Schopenhauerian warrior or disciple, and the challenges are well met and rewarding in almost every case.
I developed a love for Schopenhauer's philosophy at the age of 41 and I'm now 65. While I've read most of his major works, with the sole exception of his "On the Will in Nature" and "The Basis of Morality" (and David Cartwright does a beautiful job revealing the content and core of both of these books for his readers, a really special gift), and while I have read most of the biographies and philosophical exegetes available to date in English, including John E. Atwell's pair of wonderful books on Schopenhauer, "Schopenhauer on the Character of the World: The Metaphysics of Will" and his "Schopenhauer: The Human Character" (both of which works are frequently referenced in Cartwright's biography), I must state that nothing that I read, even including the recently published biography by Peter B. Lewis, altered very much my view of Schopenhauer from my first encounter of his "The World As Will and Representation" at the age of 41 and my reading Rudiger Safranski and Helen Zimmern (who wrote a very good introductory bio on Schopenhauer, despite what another and earlier Amazon critic touted) directly after reading Schopenhauer's major work. Nothing altered my view in any significant sense about Schopenhauer, that is, until I encountered David E. Cartwright's mammoth and mammothly impressive biography.
I'm afraid David E. Cartwright successfully altered my view of Schopenhauer such that even his philosophy now shows itself as a god with feet of clay, even while I already knew, and long ago, the man himself had feet of clay. John Atwell, in the early 1990s, already proved in his writings that Schopenhauer's system had a crack or two in it. Chapter 7 of this biography, "The Single Thought of Dresden," is what John Atwell had already addressed. However, David E. Cartwright goes farther, exposing Schopenhauer's gasbag ideations on the subject of the paranormal while also hammering on the contradictions in Schopenhauer's magnum opus, whether apparent or real, regarding the denying of the will and the Will as the thing in itself. The biographer also exposes Schopenhauer as far less an atheist than i had supposed. Schopenhauer's whole philosophy is suffused with a spiritualism and even a religiosity that wasn't distinctly apparent to me before.
This biography significantly changed my opinion about the man and his philosophy. I'm both wiser and sadder. This biography helped me fall out of love with Schopenhauer, hold him and his philosophy off at farther range than I once previously held him. Not for weaknesses in the man, but for the many significant weaknesses in his thinking. What else is new, eh?
On a bright note, David Cartwright made some remarkable and, I think, edifying, clarifications on Schopenhauer's ideas as to what does constitute good character versus what constitutes bad character, and why we cannot know that we are not absolutely distinct from other individuals on a metaphysical basis due to our deep ignorance of the "I." (See page 493, for instance



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About the author (2010)

David E. Cartwright is Professor of Philosophy and Religious Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. He has published numerous articles on Schopenhauer and nineteenth-century German philosophy and is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Schopenhauer's Philosophy.