Durant 1926: Philosophy (Schopenhauer)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter VII Section 6.1 from the book THE STORY OF PHILOSOPHY by WILL DURANT. The  contents are from the 1933 reprint of this book by TIME INCORPORATED by arrangement with Simon and Schuster, Inc.

The paragraphs of the original material (in black) are accompanied by brief comments (in color) based on the present understanding.

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VI. The Wisdom of Life 

(1) Philosophy

Consider, first, the absurdity of the desire for material goods. Fools believe that if they can only achieve wealth, their wills can be completely gratified; a man of means is supposed to be a man with means for the fulfillment of every desire. “People are often reproached for wishing for money above all things, and for loving it more than anything else; but it is natural and even inevitable for people to love that which, like an unwearied Proteus, is always ready to turn itself into whatever object their wandering wishes or their manifold desires may fix upon. Everything else can satisfy only one wish; money alone is absolutely good, … because it is the abstract satisfaction of every wish.” Nevertheless, a life devoted to the acquisition of wealth is useless unless we know how to turn it into joy; and this is an art that requires culture and wisdom. A succession of sensual pursuits never satisfies for long; one must understand the ends of life as well as the art of acquiring means. “Men are a thousand times more intent on becoming rich than on acquiring culture, though it is quite certain that what a man is contributes more to his happiness than what he has.” “A man who has no mental needs is called a Philistine”; he does not know what to do with his leisure—difficilis in otio quies [quiet in leisure is difficult]; he searches greedily from place to place for new sensations; and at last he is conquered by that nemesis of the idle rich or the reckless voluptuary—ennui.

A life devoted to the acquisition of wealth is useless unless we know how to turn it into joy; and this is an art that requires culture and wisdom. “What a man is contributes more to his happiness than what he has.” 

Not wealth but wisdom is the Way. “Man is at once impetuous striving of will (whose focus lies in the reproductive system), and eternal, free, serene subject of pure knowledge (of which the focus is the brain).” Marvelous to say, knowledge, though born of the will, may yet master the will. The possibility of the independence of knowledge first appears in the indifferent way in which the intellect occasionally responds to the dictates of desire. “Sometimes the intellect refuses to obey the will: e. g., when we try in vain to fix our minds upon something, or when we call in vain upon the memory for something that was entrusted to it. The anger of the will against the intellect on such occasions makes its relation to it, and the difference of the two, very plain. Indeed, vexed by this anger, the intellect sometimes officiously brings what was asked of it hours afterward, or even the following morning, quite unexpectedly and unseasonably.” From this imperfect subservience the intellect may pass to domination. “In accordance with previous reflection, or a recognized necessity, a man suffers, or accomplishes in cold blood, what is of the utmost, and often terrible, importance to him: suicide, execution, the duel, enterprises of every kind fraught with danger to life; and in general, things against which his whole animal nature rebels. Under such circumstances we see to what an extent reason has mastered the animal nature.”

Not wealth but wisdom is the Way. Marvelous to say, knowledge, though born of the will, may yet master the will.

This power of the intellect over the will permits of deliberate development; desire can be moderated or quieted by knowledge; and above all by a determinist philosophy which recognizes everything as the inevitable result of its antecedents. “Of ten things that annoy us, nine would not be able to do so if we understood them thoroughly in their causes, and therefore knew their necessity and true nature. … For what bridle and bit are to an unmanageable horse, the intellect is for the will in man.” “It is with inward as with outward necessity: nothing reconciles us so thoroughly as distinct knowledge.” The more we know of our passions, the less they control us; and “nothing will protect us from external compulsion so much as the control of ourselves.” Si vis tibi omnia subjicere, subjice te rationi [If you would subject all things to yourself, subject yourself to reason]. The greatest of all wonders is not the conqueror of the world, but the subduer of himself.

The more we know of our passions, the less they control us. The greatest of all wonders is not the conqueror of the world, but the subduer of himself.

So philosophy purifies the will. But philosophy is to be understood as experience and thought, not as mere reading or passive study. 

The constant streaming in of the thoughts of others must confine and suppress our own; and indeed in the long run paralyze the power of thought. … The inclination of most scholars is a kind of fuga vacuum [empty flight] from the poverty of their own minds, which forcibly draws in the thoughts of others. … It is dangerous to read about a subject before we have thought about it ourselves. … When we read, another person thinks for us; we merely repeat his mental process…. So it comes about that if anyone spends almost the whole day in reading, … he gradually loses the capacity for thinking. … Experience of the world may be looked upon as a kind of text, to which reflection and knowledge form the commentary. Where there is a great deal of reflection and intellectual knowledge, and very little experience, the result is like those books which have on each page two lines of text to forty lines of commentary. 

So philosophy purifies the will. But philosophy is to be understood as experience and thought, not as mere reading or passive study. 

The first counsel, then, is Life before books; and the second is, Text before commentary. Read the creators rather than the expositors and the critics. “Only from the authors themselves can we receive philosophic thoughts: therefore whoever feels himself drawn to philosophy must seek out its immortal teachers in the still sanctuary of their own works.” One work of genius is worth a thousand commentaries.

Read the creators rather than the expositors and the critics. One work of genius is worth a thousand commentaries.

Within these limitations, the pursuit of culture, even through books, is valuable, because our happiness depends on what we have in our heads rather than on what we have in our pockets. Even fame is folly; “other people’s heads are a wretched place to be the home of a man’s true happiness.”

What one human being can be to another is not a very great deal; in the end everyone stands alone; and the important thing is, who it is that stands alone. … The happiness which we receive from ourselves is greater than that which we obtain from our surroundings. … The world in which a man lives shapes itself chiefly by the way in which he looks at it. … Since everything which exists or happens for a man exists only in his consciousness, and happens for him alone, the most essential thing for a man is the constitution of his consciousness. … Therefore it is with great truth that Aristotle says, “To be happy means to be self-sufficient.”

Within these limitations, the pursuit of culture, even through books, is valuable, because our happiness depends on what we have in our heads rather than on what we have in our pockets. 

The way out of the evil of endless willing is the intelligent contemplation of life, and converse with the achievements of the great of all times and countries; it is only for such loving minds that these great ones have lived. “Unselfish intellect rises like a perfume above the faults and follies of the world of Will.” Most men never rise above viewing things as objects of desire—hence their misery; but to see things purely as objects of understanding is to rise to freedom. 

When some external cause or inward disposition lifts us suddenly out of the endless stream of willing, and delivers knowledge out of the slavery of the will, the attention is no longer directed to the motives of willing, but comprehends things free from their relation to the will, and thus observes them without personal interest, without subjectivity, purely objectively,—gives itself entirely up to them so far as they are ideas, but not in so far as they are motives. Then all at once the peace which we were always seeking, but which always fled from us on the former path of the desires, comes to us of its own accord, and it is well with us. It is the painless state which Epicurus prized as the highest good and as the state of the gods; for we are for the moment set free from the miserable striving of the will; we keep the Sabbath of the penal servitude of willing; the wheel of Ixion stands still.*

*Ixion, according to classical mythology, tried to win Juno from Jupiter and was punished by being bound to a forever-revolving wheeL 

Most men never rise above viewing things as objects of desire—hence their misery; but to see things purely as objects of understanding is to rise to freedom. 

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