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The Essential Schopenhauer: Key Selections from The World As Will and Representation and Other Writings [Paperback]

Arthur Schopenhauer
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Book Description

1 Dec 2010

“We should be grateful to Schopenhauer for managing to express the truth about life so beautifully.” —Alain De Botton, author of The Consolations of Philosophy


“Schopenhauer’s philosophy has had a special attraction for those who wonder about life’s meaning, along with those engaged in music, literature, and the visual arts.” —Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy


The Essential Schopenhauer delivers the first comprehensive English anthology of the seminal philosopher’s writings. Edited by Wolfgang Schirmacher, president of the International Schopenhauer Association, this indispensible collection affords readers a uniquely accessible gateway into the monolithic thinker’s prodigious body of work. Just as the Harper Perennial Basic Writings series renders the work of Heidegger and Nietzsche accessible for English readers, The Essential Schopenhauer gives us unprecedented access to the complex ideas of this profound and influential thinker.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics (1 Dec 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061768243
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061768248
  • Product Dimensions: 20.4 x 13.6 x 2.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 114,058 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

A new, comprehensive English anthology

What is the meaning of life? How should I live? Is there any purpose to the universe? Generations have turned to the great German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer for answers to such essential questions of existence. His influence has extended not only to later philosophers—Nietzsche, Freud, and Wittgenstein among them—but also to musicians, artists, and important novelists such as Tolstoy, Thomas Mann, and Proust.

The Essential Schopenhauer, the most comprehensive English anthology now available of this seminal thinker’s writings, will open English readers to Schopenhauer’s profound ideas. Selected by Wolfgang Schirmacher, president of the International Schopenhauer Association, The Essential Schopenhauer is an invaluable and accessibleintroduction to Schopenhauer’s powerful body of work.

About the Author

German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860) is the author of The World as Will and Representation. Wolfgang Schirmacher is Director of the European Graduate School and President of the International Schopenhauer Society. He lives in New York City.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Misery, misery, all the way 27 Dec 2012
By Peasant TOP 500 REVIEWER
This is an edited selection of Schopenhauer's work, mostly from his early "The World as Will and Representation", but including selections from later works. The selecting has presumably been done by Schirmacher, who has also written an introduction. The purpose of this book seems to be to present to the general reader the "gist" of Schopenhauer's philosophy. The whole project, however honest its aim may be, is deeply flawed.

It is not easy - indeed I found it impossible - to identify which of Schopenhauer's books the selections are taken from. We are told they are largely from "The World as Will and Representaion", but there is nothing obvious to distinguish which bits are from elsewehere. Once we are within Schrimacher's selected text, elisions appear - as [ . . . ] - betraying the fact that Schirmacher has excised part of Schopenhauer's text. This alone is enough to make one profoundly uneasy about accepting this book as a portrayal of Schopenhauer's thought. An academic text should make its sources blindingly clear, and these elisions - well, what has been edited out? Fluff, waffle - or something which dilutes the particular picture of Schopenhauer which the editor wishes to get across?

We turn to the introduction to get some idea of Schirmacher's approach. It very soon becomes clear to the British reader that Schirmacher has a US sensitivity and US priorities. He assumes a largely church-going audience. He drags in, rather clumsily, apocalyptic attitudes to technology, the future of humanity and the fate of the planet. He tries to link Schopenhauer to almost every guru of modern times from Freud and Darwin (where the link is clear) to such sundry figures as Karl Popper, Hobbes, Lacan, Albert Camus and Derrida.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Philosophy in detail 12 July 2012
I didn't like this book as much as the other one I recently read (Essays and Aphorisms), but this was a lot more encompassing of Schopenhauer's whole philosophy and had a lot more from his main work, The World as Will and Representation. I found myself starting to get bored with the last third of the book or so, where the theme tends to be repetitive, but it still has a lot to offer and is still more interesting than most philosophy books. Schopenhauer had a clear way of thinking and a clear philosophy, basing much of it off of Kant and Plato, but also a lot off of Eastern philosophy, which perhaps makes it more unique. He is a lot more accessible than most philosophers, and this book shows that he was not nearly as pessimistic as his reputation tends to portray. I doubt I will read his main work now, after reading this, but I would highly recommend the previously mentioned Essays and Aphorisms to those interested in his philosophy.
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3 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars insomnia conquered, book could last years. 9 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is heavy stuff, for a pea brain such as I. Each time I pick it up, and have to re read a page ten times, and then I am confused.
But I think I get the gist. "Life is S*** and then you die"

Job done.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Great contents, so-so editorial assistance 15 Dec 2010
By John L Murphy - Published on
Imagine your life as a handful of copper coins. With them you pay back the debt incurred by your birth. You pay out what you hold, over time and in space, until what you owe nature balances by your own death. So Arthur Schopenhauer encourages us to face our mortal reckoning, to tally up our fatal receipt for our earthly expenses. "For to nothing does our existence bear so close a resemblance as to the consequence of a false step and a guilty lust." In his post-Romantic, Germanic version of the Fall, we wander this fallen existence already hopelessly having to atone for our very being.

His reputation as a grim, stoic, and unflinchingly realistic philosopher has endured nearly two centuries. But before Wolfgang Schirmacher assembled this anthology--modifiying and arranging previous translations by E.F.J. Payne (1958 and 1974), Konstantin Kolenda (1960), and Arthur Brodrick Bullock (1903)--his massive life's work The World as Will and Representation (1819, with a second edition in 1844 and a third in 1859, the texts of "The Buddha of Frankfurt" had not been published in a one-volume English-language reader that draws from his major work as well as his shorter, if equally formidable, essays. What remains understated is how much Schirmacher contributed to a fresh version of these standard translations. The press release credits him as a translator, while the book credits him as editor. He acknowledges moving footnotes into the main texts and brackets are scattered throughout, but the lack of help for a reader facing this philosopher for the first time does disappoint.

This collection in the Harper Perennial Modern Thought series has a few suggested sources for further reading, and an index, but it does not mediate between the reader and the text. Schirmacher, after a brisk introduction linking Schopenhauer to The Simpsons, George Carlin, Albert Camus, and The Catcher in the Rye, leaves the reader to tackle his subject with no editorial summations, endnotes, nor explanations.

The results, living up to the daunting legacy Schopenhauer leaves for us one-hundred-and-fifty years after his death, certainly prove bracing. Twenty topically arranged excerpts make the reader confront Schopenhauer. He begins by emphasizing the driving force that moves all: the "will-in-itself." This natural power carries all along with it, unthinkingly. This inner nature manifests itself through external phenomena. Ideas nestle within the will; forms reveal themselves as representation. But they lack consistent, eternal truth: they no more endure than the shapes discerned in clouds or on a frosty windowpane.

He sums up his metaphysical outlook: "the world as will is the first world (ordine prior), and the world as representation, the second (ordine posterior). The former is the world of craving and therefore of pain and a thousand different woes. The latter, however, in itself is essentially painless; moreover, it contains a spectacle worth seeing, altogether significant, and at least entertaining." This inspires Schopenhauer's examination of aesthetics.

In our world, we distinguish the world as will in subjects and in objects as representation. This sounds simple. What complicates this dichotomy unfolds in Schopenhauer's determination to examine how knowledge, aesthetics, beauty, art, education, the sublime, women, suicide, ethics, eternal and temporal justice, compassion, mysticism and asceticism, and ultimately death and rebirth all align with his construction. These chapters comprise the bulk of this anthology.

His dislike for most opera and most of Dante, his rationalization for the dissimulations women practice, his examples from gladiators, the American prairie, Australian aborigines, and weeping by mourners extend his thoughts into many surprising directions. His worldview takes in all he can imagine. For example, he reconfigures as male an object of art in terms of the subject the artist perceives as female, within which the artist brings forth by its conception the artistic impulse to create and bring forth. Once he searches for the will-in-itself as the wellspring for all nature, he never stops finding it.
26 of 36 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hardly essential or new 9 Dec 2010
By James J. Omeara - Published on
I'm giving this 3 stars only because the content itself is so worthy. Otherwise, a useless and downright disappointing volume. Contrary to the publisher's blurb above, this is 'new' only in the sense that new plates or whatever they use these days were used to print it. The selections themselves are mind-numbingly familiar, and the translations are old, some dating back to the 1900s. No doubt this was done to avoid royalties. Not necessarily bad, but exactly the same material, often in new translations and with helpful notes, can be found in any number of Schopenhauer anthologies, most cheaply available online or in used bookstores.

The editor rejoices in the title of "Arthur Schopenhauer Chair" at the European Graduate School, and while I must confess I had never heard of either, you would still expect him to contribute something. Instead, he's actually subtracted value, by not only recycling old translations, but providing no notes at all, even removing the ones provided by the older editions! To top it off, his "Introduction" is a lazy piece of name-dropping and opaque po-mo sludge, the sort of thing Mr. Irwin in The History Boys was teaching the boys how to do to impress their examiners at Cambridge. Blah blah blah Lacan, blah blah blah Adorno, etc.

All these references to shopworn names like Camus and Wittgenstein fail to make Schopenhauer "sexy" or "relevant", since Schopenhauer has always been more read then these academic frauds and will be read long after these exploded fashions are forgotten. Anything of value in their work comes from Schopenhauer, and these epigones add nothing to our understanding of his work. Far from indicating any new 21st century respect for Schopenhauer, it seems from reading this "Introduction" that he has been swallowed up by the academic machine, and the "Arthur Schopenhauer Chair" is exactly the sort of thing The Old Man mocked: "professors not of philosophy, but of other professors of philosophy."
0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars parse your mock out 22 May 2013
By Bruce P. Barten - Published on
I have been puzzled about Schopenhauer, so I bought a big biography to find out about his parents and the times he lived in. The key to finding a stink bait to use for catching channel catfish must have been like business for hucksters like Schopenhauer's father, who made plenty of money before Arthur Schopenhauer was born in 1788, only a year before the adoption of the United States Constitution and the French Revolution. If you ever thought religion or philosophy should be good for someone, you might consider madness as it shows up in Revolution in Poetic Language (European Perspectives Series) (1974, 1984) by Julia Kristeva:

Madness places the infinity of significance
within a subject who then imagines he
possesses it; as a result, he splits off from
his family and its history, which had relegated
infinity to the Absolute of religion. In making
himself the living representative of infinity,
the subject (Igitur) immobilizes it, immobilizes
himself, and dies the victim of the logic he
had contested. (Kristeva, p. 226).

Arthur Schopenhauer's father committed suicide and his mother wrote romance novels that were popular, so she joined the circle of Goethe and had a great social life. Arthur had some friends and wrote letters when he was young, but this book is selected from the things he wrote in reaction to the way individuals get cut from bloated intellectual meritocracies. As he described this:

The intellect which has arisen merely to serve
the will and, in the case of almost all men,
remains in such service, their lives being
absorbed in such use and in the results thereof,
is used abnormally, as it were abused, in all
the free arts and sciences; and in this use are
set the progress and honor of the human race. (Essential Schopenhauer, p. 108).
0 of 15 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Schopenhauer is a sexist pig 23 Dec 2013
By PJ - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
He bluntly says that women are inferior, incapable of having a strong intellect. Let this philosopher die by not reading or propagating his works. He belongs in the scrap heap of history. If he is this wrong about women, imagine what else he may be wrong about. His works provoke a mental rot.
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