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Good fun but underdeveloped.
on 19 June 2011
This is a pocket-book collection of five essays, translated by R J Hollingdale in 1970. Penguin lazily provide no background information whatsoever, not even dates, let alone context, so I have no idea whether these were spread across decades of Schopenhauer's career or written all at one go.
The first essay, "On Religion: A Dialogue", is the best, being a fair and shrewd discussion of the utility of religion. The next, "On Ethics", is perhaps the worst, packed with spurious claims and special pleading that would require a much longer work to justify. There's also a startling pomposity in its pronouncements, particularly this one:
"After my prize essay on moral freedom no thinking person can remain in any doubt that moral freedom is never to be sought in nature but only outside of nature."
No thinking person can doubt..? Is this a joke, or the arrogance or youth, or was the author an insufferable prig?
The remaining three essays are "On Psychology", "On Religion" and "On Various Subjects". All the essays, bar the dialogue, are in choppy bite-size pieces, which makes for easy reading. Schopenhauer does make some arresting observations, aspiring to aphorisms:
"If you want to know how you really feel about someone take note of the impression an unexpected letter from him makes on you when you first see it on the doormat."
I enjoyed his dissection of the particular problems faced by christian theologians in attempting to reconcile their scriptures, and there is much in here that is striking. Equally, however, much is simply asserted without philosophical rigour, and the essays make little effort to develop substantial arguments. This is not, then (I would guess), a representative summation of his philosophy, but simply a spicy taster.