Durant 1926: The Wisdom of Death (Schopenhauer)

Reference: The Story of Philosophy

This paper presents Chapter VII Section 7 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.


VII. The Wisdom of Death 

And yet, something more is needed. By Nirvana the individual achieves the peace of will-Iessness, and finds salvation; but after the individual? Life laughs at the death of the individual; it will survive him in his offspring, or in the offspring of others; even if his little stream of life runs dry there are a thousand other streams that grow broader and deeper with every generation. How can Man be saved? Is there a Nirvana for the race as well as for the individual?

There is Nirvana for the individual, but is there a Nirvana for the race as well?

Obviously, the only final and radical conquest of the will must lie in stopping up the source of life—the will to reproduce. “The satisfaction of the reproductive impulse is utterly and intrinsically reprehensible because it is the strongest affirmation of the lust for life.” What crime have these children committed that they should be born?

If, now, we contemplate the turmoil of life, we behold all occupied with its want and misery, straining all their powers to satisfy its infinite needs and to ward off its multifarious sorrows, yet without daring to hope for anything else than simply the preservation of this tormented existence for a short span of time. In between, however, and in the midst of this tumult, we see the glance of two lovers meet longingly; yet why so secretly, fearfully, and stealthily? Because these lovers are the traitors who seek to perpetuate the whole want and drudgery which would otherwise speedily reach an end; … here lies the profound reason for the shame connected with the process of generation.

Obviously, the only final and radical conquest of the will must lie in stopping up the source of life—the will to reproduce. 

It is woman that is the culprit here; for when knowledge has reached to will-Iessness, her thoughtless charms allure man again into reproduction. Youth has not intelligence enough to see how brief these charms must be; and when the intelligence comes, it is too late. 

With young girls Nature seems to have had in view what, in the language of the drama; is called a striking effect; as for a few years she dowers them with a wealth of beauty and is lavish in her gift of charm, at the expense of all the rest of their lives; so that during those years they may capture the fancy of some man to such a degree that he is hurried away into undertaking the honorable care of them … as long as they live—a step for which there would not seem to be any sufficient warrant if only reason directed man’s thoughts. … Here, as elsewhere, Nature proceeds with her usual economy; for just as the female ant, after fecundation, loses her wings, which are then superfluous, nay, actually a danger to the business of breeding; so, after giving birth to one or two children, a woman generally loses her beauty; probably, indeed, for similar reasons.

A women’s brief and thoughtless charms allure man into reproduction.

Young men ought to reflect that “if the object which inspires them today to write madrigals and sonnets had been born eighteen years earlier, it would scarcely have won a glance from them.” After all, men are much more beautiful in body than women. 

It is only a man whose intellect is clouded by his sexual impulse that could give the name of the fair sex to that undersized, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped, and short-legged race; for the whole beauty of the sex is bound up with this impulse. Instead of calling them beautiful there would be more warrant for describing women as the unesthetic sex. Neither for music, nor for poetry, nor for the fine arts, have they really and truly any sense of susceptibility; it is a mere mockery if they make a pretense of it in order to assist their endeavor to please. … They are incapable of taking a purely objective interest in anything. … The most distinguished intellects among the whole sex have never managed to produce a single achievement in the fine arts that is really genuine and original; or given to the world any work of permanent value in any sphere.

The whole beauty of the sex is bound up with this sexual impulse. Women are, otherwise, unesthetic and incapable of taking a purely objective interest in anything.

This veneration of women is a product of Christianity and of German sentimentality; and it is in turn a cause of that Romantic movement which exalts feeling, instinct and will above the intellect. The Asiatics know better, and frankly recognize the inferiority of woman. “When the laws gave women equal rights with men, they ought also to have endowed hem with masculine intellects.” Asia again shows a finer honesty than ours in its marriage institutions; it accepts as normal and legal the custom of polygamy, which, though so widely practiced among us, is covered with the fig-leaf of a phrase. “Where are there any real monogamists?”—And how absurd it is to give property-rights to women! “All women are, with rare exceptions, inclined to extravagance,” because they live only in the present, and their chief out-door sport is shopping. “Women think that it is men’s business to earn money, and theirs to spend it”; this is their conception of the division of labor. “I am therefore of opinion that women should never be allowed altogether to manage their own concerns, but should always stand under actual male supervision, be it of father, of husband, of son, or of the state—as is the case in Hindostan; and that consequently they should never be given full power to dispose of any property they have not themselves acquired.”* It was probably the luxury and extravagance of the women of Louis XIII’s court that brought on the general corruption of government which culminated in the French Revolution.

*An echo of Schopenhauer’s dissatisfaction with his mother’s extravagance.

Schopenhauer is very critical of womenkind and looks down upon them.

The less we have to do with women, then, the better. They are not even a “necessary evil”; life is safer and smoother without them. Let men recognize the snare that lies in women’s beauty, and the absurd comedy of reproduction will end. The development of intelligence will weaken or frustrate the will to reproduce, and will thereby at last achieve the extinction of the race. Nothing could form a finer denouement to the insane tragedy of the restless will;—why should the curtain that has just fallen upon defeat and death always rise again upon a new life, a new, struggle, and a new defeat? How long shall we be lured into this much-ado-about-nothing, this endless pain that leads only to a painful end? When shall we have the courage to fling defiance into the face of the Will,—to tell it that the loveliness of life is a lie, and that the greatest boon of all is death? 

According to Schopenhauer, the nirvana of the race lies in the extinction of the race. The loveliness of life is a lie, and that the greatest boon of all is death.


Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: