If one were to walk over to someone and say, “hey, did you know in the scope of time life is meaningless, humans are just finite beings trapped in infinity, striving for pleasure and relief from boredom, a clear indication that there is no real meaning to existence.” The person you talk to might think you’re crazy and manic-depressive. However, all you have just said is not crazy it just uses language that means something different in a metaphysical sense than in ordinary conversation. Likewise, before one reads Schopenhauer one must understand that the words he uses cannot be translated like one would read prose. Instead of asking ‘what is going on’? rather one’s mind must be detached from his body and placed into a fresh water basin, so he may ask the question of what understanding is being expressed, and spend an indefinite time re-reading again and again and again, until something clicks. Using this alley prevents one from boiling the philosophy into oversimplified form, where one may wave goodbye as its crucial essence evaporates.
A colleague of mine took to reading the material he found at my working station. When I returned for work a few days later he imparted his ideas, sequenced as follows:
A) The message is very depressing
B) Schopenhauer is basically just saying that life is meaningless
C) [His idea of a meaningless life] is the antithesis of Judaism (substitute any religion)
So here I am using this platform to argue against every point he deduced from reading The Emptiness of Existence by explaining the implications of his philosophy and then analyzing and adding my own flare through a Judeo-Christian lens.
The Message Is Depressing?
Schopenhauer may have been a depressed and bitter fellow, but his philosophy is simply not depressing as one typically understands it. His essay deals with the vision one sees as they pull away from life, that is to say an existential perspective, which generally finds meaninglessness in life’s absurdity. As an example, Schopenhauer regards philosophy as meaningful because one must depart from life in order to understand the nature of existing. To deny the meaninglessness, according to Schopenhauer, is to deny the existence of time.
“when we are engaged in something that is of a purely intellectual nature, when, in reality, we have retired from the world, so that we may observe it from the outside, like spectators at a theatre.”
The Preciousness of Time
Point #1: People are not aware how much time is wasted
"Every evening makes us poorer by a day. It would probably make us angry to see this short space of time slipping away, if we were not secretly conscious in the furthest depths of our being that the spring of eternity belongs to us, and that in it we are always able to have life renewed."
Instead of seeing moments as time forever lost people believe that they have an unlimited supply. Because of this denial they don’t understand that even sleeping is a precious waste of moments, once one becomes aware he will feel very angry about how many moments he let slip by.
Point #2: The way people use time is like an individual running on a treadmill that rests on a moving floor leading to death
Sound absurd? This is existentialism folks
The scenes of our life are like pictures in rough mosaic, which have no effect at close quarters, but must be looked at from a distance in order to discern their beauty...We accept the present as something that is only temporary, and regard it only as a means to accomplish our aim. So that most people will find if they look back when their life is at an end...they will be surprised to find that something they allowed to pass by unnoticed and unenjoyed was just their life — that is to say, it was the very thing in the expectation of which they lived. And so it may be said of man in general that, befooled by hope, he dances into the arms of death."
Looking at one’s life too closely leaves one to think of the present as a means to an end. One sees life as a series of staircases. At the close of life one realizes how little they enjoyed the moments that they used anticipating something better in the future. This absurdity of endless pursuit is likened to dancing with an imagined purpose, yet falling unexpectedly into death’s arms with none.
Point #3 – Dwelling in what was, refer to point #1, it never was anything meaningful
"The present tense happens as one climbs the stairs in expectation of reaching the platform. Yet, as the end of wants and needs never reaches a conclusion, there are endless platforms to climb... How foolish it is for a man to regret and deplore his having made no use of past opportunities, which might have secured him this or that happiness or enjoyment! What is there left of them now? Only the ghost of a remembrance!"
The present tense can be likened to climbing the stairs in expectation of reaching a platform. “There are endless platforms to climb.” Therefore, dwelling in the past is equally meaningless because it carries the same endlessness of desire, the completion of which would not bring a person any lasting joy anyway.
- Potentially more depressing than understanding man’s folly to believe himself immortal is to live in the future that never will arrive (because then a new future will manifest and be sought after), and reach the end and realize that one wasted his time without being present, either because he is sleeping, seeking, or dwelling in the past. Moreover, rejecting this reality as too depressing is to reject the reality of one’s own mortality and to become the dancer towards death.
- Most importantly, looking into life’s meaning does not have to be beautiful, or good, or moralistic. In fact, changing one’s lens to think deeply into the sublime can be more deeply gratifying than an admiration of life’s superficial aesthetic. Which leads into the next point about Schopenhauer’s incompatibility with religious values and philosophy.
On the flip side, one can expand on Schopenhauer’s ideas to enhance one’s religious understanding and observance.
It goes like this…
An argument to deter one from listening to their יֵצֶר הָרָע (evil inclination).
Point #1 – Chasing desire is endless, and only leads to more desire
"the insatiability of each individual will; every time it is satisfied a new wish is engendered, and there is no end to its eternally insatiable desires...Even sensual pleasure itself is nothing but a continual striving, which ceases directly its aim is attained. "
Point #2 – Denouncing Hedonism (life’s goal to maximize pleasure and gratification)
In the present age, which is intellectually impotent and remarkable for its veneration of what is bad in every form… pantheists make bold to say that life is, as they call it, “an end-in itself.” If our existence in this world were an end-in-itself, it would be the most absurd end that was ever determined…
Life presents itself next as a task, the task, that is… If this is solved, then that which has been won becomes a burden, and involves the second task of its being got rid of in order to ward off boredom….
So that the first task is to win something, and the second, after the something has been won, to forget about it, otherwise it becomes a burden.
To want and desire is a burden
Finally, proving the Judeo-Christian purpose of life
“Even the pomp and splendour of the rich in their stately castles is at bottom nothing but a futile attempt to escape the very essence of existence, misery”
According to Schopenhauer, The default of man is misery and is only distracted by striving for gratification (once attained is refilled with new compulsion) and leaving existence through thinking. When one isn’t engaged in these behaviors – he is “thrown back in existence,” a familiar state of boredom emerges once again. Boredom, according to Schopenhauer, is “merely feeling the [default] emptiness of life,” which he offers as proof that “existence in itself has not value.”
Schopenhauer deduces that this void proves that human life must be a mistake. However, one can also conclude that this is where spirituality comes in. That there is a creator that allowed for one to engage in the “earthly pleasures” of this world, recognize its futility, and understand that there must be something more. Perhaps this “default” that Schopenhauer recognizes is actually a proof of God. God created the physical world to feel barren without the spiritual aspect attached to it.
Schopenhauer concludes stating:
No man has ever felt perfectly happy in the present; if he had it would have intoxicated him.
Unless of course they expand on this philosophy. The end in-itself is to strive within the finality of the physical world attach themselves to their Creator, and then finally reach the resolution they have expected and prepared for all their days.
So… incompatible with religion?
Read between the lines in Judaism, and to become a critical reader and you won’t think so.