According to T Bailey Saunders, these essays, published in 1896, were drawn from from chapters entitled Zur Ethik and Zur Rechtslehre und Politik found in Schopenhauer's Parerga and his posthumous writings. Saunders used the title 'Human Nature' in order to cover the subject contained in the essays - Human Nature; Government; Free-Will and Fatalism; Character; Moral Instinct and Ethical Reflections. While these reveal the nature of Schopenhauer's pessimism they also demonstrate the egotistical nature of his thought. He followed Kant in arguing our knowledge of the world is one of appearance rather than reality but claimed humankind can discover reality through self-knowledge. He referred to the reality lying behind appearance as 'will' which can be seen in every voluntary action.
Schopenhauer had a very low opinion of human beings arguing that will is destructive and self-serving. "Man is at bottom a savage, horrible beast'. Other characteristics include obstinacy, pride and vanity which all tend to miss the essence of truth. He claimed the civilised world was nothing but a masquerade with the exception of merchants. In seeking to find 'truth' Schopenhauer castigates those who do not agree with his 'superior' knowledge even though, in essence, it is no different from the Christian message that 'all have sinned and come short of the glory of God'. He condemned hypocrisy, particularly in the practice of slavery and examples of Victorian parents killing their children for insurance monies. He states, 'No animal ever torments another for the mere purpose of tormenting but man does it and it is this that constitutes that diabolical feature in his character which is so much worse than the merely animal'.
Schopenhauer was not content with claiming the world has a physical and a moral significance but argued he alone understood it. He was able 'to exhibit the true and only genuine and sound basis of morality everywhere and at all times effective, together with the results to which it leads. The actual facts of morality are too much on my side for me to fear that my theory can ever be replaced or upset by any other'. He bemoans the fact that it is Kant's moral principle which prevails in university teaching. He states, 'When you come into contact with a man.......do not attempt an objective appreciation of him according to his worth and dignity.....but fix your attention only upon his sufferings, his needs, his anxieties his pains'. For support he appeals to the Buddhist practice of starting with cardinal vices rather than cardinal virtues (Lust, Indolence, Anger and Avarice)'. He dismisses Plato's virtues of Justice, Valour, Temperance and Wisdom as superficial and those of Christianity (Faith, Love and Hope) as theological.
He claimed there were two ways in which man becomes conscious of his own existence. One is in its external physical manifestation. As such man grasps the phenomenon alone, 'the mere product of the principle of individuation'. The other is by going into the depths of his own nature from which he perceives he is the only real being 'that he is all in all' a real being who perceives itself in others who present themselves from without as though they form a mirror of himself. This 'makes a man immediately conscious that he is the thing-in-itself'. For 'the first way I have Kant and as regards both, I have the Vedas to support me'. He concludes 'that our self can exist in other beings whose consciousness is separated and different from our own'. Hence 'so entirely is the individual consciousness a phenomenon that even in the same ego two consciousnesses can arise of which the one knows nothing of the other'. In sum, Kant's thing-in-itself is not an unknowable part of experience but an object in itself. This appealed to German philosophy, art and psychology but, in the long term, only served to demonstrate the lack of substance in atheistic philosophy whose attachment to the inevitability of rational progress Schopenhauer sought to undermine without recognising its incompatibility.
In other essays Schopenhauer makes value judgments of philosophical categorisation about Natural Rights including ideas of Right, Wrong, Property, State, Punishment which, in criticising academia, he regards as 'the most extravagant, abstract, remote and meaningless conceptions'. Claiming to have proved the State 'is merely an institution existing for the purpose of protecting its members against outward attack or inward dissension' (hardly the mark of a genius!) the existence of Rights for some represents the absence of Rights for others. Therefore it is not Right which is positive but Wrong which is the order of the day. The difference between societies is one of form rather than substance. Hence Slavery and poverty are two forms of the same thing, the absence of Rights. "Right in itself is powerless; in nature it is Might that rules'. Schopenhauer is on stronger ground dealing with practical issues than those of an abstract nature although it is equally true that his arguments were similar to many of his contemporaries.
Schopenhauer did not believe in free will. 'The will itself, as something that lies beyond time and so long as it exist at all, never changes'. Hence mankind 'can absolutely never do anything else than just what at that moment he does do'. The comparison with Calvin's doctrine of predestination is obvious from Schopenhauer's claim, 'the whole course of a man's life, in all its incidents great and small, is as necessarily pre-determined as the course of a clock'. However, he distinguishes between will as freedom of physical action (which is mere phenomenon) and will as metaphysical in the sense of the thing-in-itself which is innate and 'irrevocably established in his nature, or is born with him'. According to the writer of Ecclesiastes 'What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun' (1.9 NIV). Schopenhauer's view of human nature was no different except for his atheism and uninhibited self-praise. Philosophically unoriginal and outdated. Three stars.