Schopenhauer Quotations

Collated in no order by Peter Sjöstedt-H
'I belong to those readers of Schopenhauer who know quite definitely after reading the first page that they will read every page and will listen to every word he has to say. My confidence in him was instantaneous and remains ... he knows how to say the Serious simply, the Moving without rhetoric, and the Rigorously Scientific without pedantry.'– Nietzsche ('Schopenhauer as Educator', 1874)
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Image: Gareth Southwell

There is no surer sign of greatness than when a man refuses to take any notice of offensive or insulting remarks, in that he simply attributes them … to the poor knowledge of the speaker and, therefore, merely perceives them without feeling them.’ (PPii, ch.XXVI)


To use many words for the purpose of conveying few ideas is everywhere the infallible sign of mediocrity; whereas that of an eminent mind is the inclusion of many ideas into few words.’ (PPii, ch.XXIII)


Superiority in our dealings with men results solely from our not needing them at all and our letting them see this. For this reason, it is advisable from time to time to let everyone feel, whether man or woman, that we can very well manage without them. This strengthens friendship; in fact, with most men it can do no harm if, now and then, in our attitude to them we insert a grain of disdain.’ (PPi, ch.5)


Knowing without willing is the condition, not to say the essence, of all gifts of aesthetic intelligence.’ (PP, ‘The Will in Nature’)


[S]cience … can never reach a final goal or give a satisfactory explanation. It never aims at the inmost nature of the world; it can never get beyond the [conscious] representation; on the contrary, it really tells us nothing more than the relation of one representation to another.’ (WWRi, §6)


Whoever writes carelessly thereby confesses at the very outset that he himself does not attach any great value to his own ideas.’ (PPii, §285)


There are three kinds of aristocracy:
(1) of birth and rank,
(2) of money, and
(3) of the mind or intellect.
The last is really the most distinguished and is acknowledged as such if only it is given time.
Even Frederick the Great said, ‘privileged minds have equal rank with sovereigns’, and this to his chamberlain who took umbrage at the fact that, whereas ministers and generals dined at the chamberlain’s table, Voltaire should be given a place at the table where only monarchs and their princes sat.’ (PPi, ch.5)


[T]hrough the large amount of hand-work in experimenting, the head-work of thinking has got out of practice …’ (WWRii, ch.XXIV)


The reason civilization is at its highest point among Christian peoples is not that Christianity is favourable to it but that Christianity is dead and no longer exercises much influence.’


If what makes death seem so terrible to us were the thought of non-existence, we should necessarily think with equal horror of the time when as yet we did not exist. … An entire infinity ran its course when we did not yet exist, but this in no way disturbs us.’ (WWRii, ch. XLI)


Suffering caused by the will of another … includes a quite peculiar and bitter addition to the pain or injury itself, namely the consciousness of someone else’s superiority … By returning the injury, either by force or cunning, we demonstrate our superiority … and thereby annul the proof he gave of his superiority over us. Thus the heart acquires the satisfaction it thirsted for … But … usually the pleasure we hoped for from it is made bitter by the pity we afterwards feel; indeed, an exacted revenge will often subsequently break the heart and torment the conscience.’ (PPi)


If your abilities are only mediocre, modesty is mere honesty; but if you possess great talents, it is hypocrisy.’


Money is human happiness in abstracto; consequently he who is no longer capable of happiness in concreto sets his whole heart on money.’ (PP)


We can regard our life as a uselessly disturbing episode in the blissful repose of nothingness.’ (PPii§156)


Anger indicates a weak point: Should your opponent surprise you by becoming particularly angry at an argument, you must urge it with all the more zeal; not only because it is a good thing to make him angry, but because it may be presumed that you have here put your finger on the weak side of his case, and that just here he is more open to attack than even for the moment you perceive.’


Every ought simply has no sense and meaning except in relation to threatened punishment or promised reward … Thus every ought is necessarily conditioned through punishment or reward, hence, to put it in Kant’s terms, essentially and inevitably hypothetical [with if-clause] and never, as he maintains categorical [without if-clause] … Therefore an absolute ought is simply a contradictio in adjecto.’ (‘On the Basis of Morals’, §4)


Philosophy has the peculiarity of presupposing absolutely nothing as known; everything to it is equally strange and a problem.’ (WWRi, §15)


The ability to deliberate … yields in reality nothing but the very frequently distressing conflict of motives … This conflict makes the motives try out repeatedly, against one another, their effectiveness on the will … until finally the decidedly strongest motive drives the others from the field and determines the will. This outcome is called resolve, and it takes place with complete necessity as the result of the struggle … “I can will this” is in reality hypothetical and carries with it the additional clause, “if I did not prefer the other.” But this addition annuls the ability to [freely] will.’


Talent hits a target no one else can hit; genius hits a target no one else can see.’


Thing-in-itself signifies that which exists independently of our perception, that which actually is. To Democritus it was matter; fundamentally this is what it still was to Locke; to Kant it was = x; to me it is will.’ (PPii)


Before Kant we were in time; now time is in us.’


Kant’s first false statement lies in his concept of ethics itself, a concept which we find articulated most clearly [in Metaphysics of Morals]: ‘In a practical philosophy it is not a concern to indicate reasons for what happens, but laws for what ought to happen, even if it never happens.’ – This is already a decided petitio principii [question begging]. Who told you that there are laws to which we ought to subject our actions? Who told you that something ought to happen that never happens? – What justifies your assuming this beforehand and thereupon immediately to press upon us an ethics in a legislative-imperative form as the only possible sort?’ (‘On the Basis of Morals’, §4)


Our intrinsic actual being is, so far as we are able to penetrate it, nothing but will, and this is in itself without cognition. If then death deprives us of intellect we are thereby only transported to our cognitionless primal state, which is not however simply an unconscious state but rather one elevated above that form, a state in which the antithesis of subject and object falls away, because that which is to be known would here be actually and undividedly one with that which knows.’ (PPii)


The act of the will and the action of the body are not two different states objectively known, connected by the bond of causality; they do not stand in the relation of cause and effect, but are one and the same thing, though given in two entirely different ways … the will is knowledge a priori of the body, and the body is knowledge a posteriori of the will.’ (WWRi, §18)


Young, strong, and handsome men are called by nature for the propagation of the human race so that it may not degenerate … Women, however, are by no means conscious of this supreme principle in abstracto but only in concreto; and for it they have no other expression than their course of action when the opportunity occurs. (PPii, §367)


Language is a work of art and should be regarded as such.’ (PPii, §289a)


Again, this ignorance [of Kant’s philosophy] depends, at any rate to a great extent, on the deplorable influence of that infamous English clergy, with whom stultification of every kind is a thing after their own hearts, so that they may be able still to keep the English nation, otherwise so intelligent, labouring under the most degrading bigotry. … They do this by means of their connexions, as well as by means of scandalous, unwarrantable wealth that increases the misery of the people.’ (WWRii, ch. XXVI)


It should also be laid down by law that everyone in his first year at university must attend lectures devoted entirely to philosophy.’ (PPii, §256)


In general there is nothing but matter and the forces inherent in it.”  But with these “inherent forces,” here spoken of so readily, it must be at once remembered that to assume them reduces every explanation to a wholly incomprehensible miracle, and then lets it stop at this, or rather begin from it … physics can never  be set on the throne of metaphysics.’ (WWRii, ch. XXIV)


People need external activity because they have no internal activity … [this] explains the restlessness of those who have nothing to do, and their aimless travelling. What drives them from country to country is the same boredom which at home drives them together into crowds.’ (PP)


A great deal of reading or learning is prejudicial to one’s own thinking.’ (PPii, §246)


The nocturnal studies of scholars may be the reason why the owl is the bird of Athena.’ (PPii, ch. XVII, §202)


Consider the Koran, for example; this wretched book was sufficient to start a world-religion, to satisfy the metaphysical need of countless millions for twelve hundred years, to become the basis of their morality and of a remarkable contempt for death, and also to inspire them to bloody wars and the most extensive conquests. In this book we find the saddest and poorest form of theism. … I have not been able to discover in it one single idea of value.’ (WWRii)


Intellectual talking and ideas are fit only for intellectual society; in ordinary society they are positively loathed, for here in order to go down well it is absolutely necessary to be dull and narrow-minded.’ (PPi, C&M)


Everyone will shun, endure, or like solitude exactly in proportion to his own worth. For in solitude the wretch feels the whole of his wretchedness, the great mind the full extent of his greatness; in short, everyone feels himself to be what he is.’ (PPi, C&M)


Every good book should at once be read through again partly because the matters dealt with, when read a second time, are better understood in their sequence, and only when we know the end do we really understand the beginning … it is as if we are looking at an object in a different light.’ (PPii, ch.XXIV)


Effort, trouble, and struggle with opposition are as necessary to man as grubbing in the ground is to a mole … The full pleasure of his existence is in overcoming obstacles which may be of a material nature as in business and the affairs of life, or of an intellectual, as in learning and investigating … If he lacks the opportunity for this, he creates it as best he can; according to the nature of his individuality, he will hunt or play cup and ball; or, guided by the unconscious urge of his nature, he will pick a quarrel, hatch a plot, or be involved in fraud … merely in order to put an end to an intolerable state of repose.’ (PPi, ch.V)


[P]lants have no consciousness of the outer world … [yet] the mere analogue of a consciousness which exists in them must … be conceived as a dull self-enjoyment.’ (PP, ‘Will in Nature’)


Spinoza had special reasons for calling his sole and exclusive substance God, namely to preserve at least the word, if not the thing. The stake of Giordano Bruno and Vanini was still fresh in the memory.’ (WWRii, ch.XXVII)


By wine or opium we can intensify and considerably heighten our mental powers, but as soon as the right measure of stimulus is exceeded, the effect will be exactly the opposite.’ (‘Essay on the Freedom of the Will’)


[Hegel’s] fundamental ideas were the absurdest fancy, a world turned upside down, a philosophical buffoonery … its contents being the hollowest and most senseless display of words ever lapped up by blockheads, and its presentation, as seen in the works of the author himself, being the most repulsive and nonsensical gibberish, recalling the rantings of a bedlamite.’ (PPi)


I owe what is best in my own development to the impression made by Kant’s works, the sacred writings of the Hindus, and Plato.’ (WWRi, appx417)


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Influence (chronological)

Charles Darwin

‘With mankind, especially with savages, many causes interfere with the action of sexual selection as far as the bodily frame is concerned. Civilised men are largely attracted by the mental charms of women, by their wealth, and especially by their social position; for men rarely marry into a much lower rank. The men who succeed in obtaining the more beautiful women will not have a better chance of leaving a long line of descendants than other men with plainer wives, save the few who bequeath their fortunes according to primogeniture [firstborn child]. With respect to the opposite form of selection, namely, of the more attractive men by the women, although in civilised nations women have free or almost free choice, which is not the case with barbarous races, yet their choice is largely influenced by the social position and wealth of the men; and the success of the latter in life depends much on their intellectual powers and energy, or on the fruits of these same powers in their forefathers. No excuse is needed for treating this subject in some detail; for, as the German philosopher Schopenhauer remarks, “the final aim of all love intrigues, be they comic or tragic, is really of more importance than all other ends in human life. What it all turns upon is nothing less than the composition of the next generation…. It is not the weal or woe of any one individual, but that of the human race to come, which is here at stake.”* (The Descent of Man, chapter 20) * “Schopenhauer and Darwinism,” in Journal of Anthropology, Jan.,1871, p. 323.


Richard Wagner

‘Nietzsche and Wagner, themselves geniuses of the first rank, and in different fields, each regarded his reading of Schopenhauer as having changed the course of both his life and his work. The two of them discussed Schopenhauer incessantly.’ – Bryan Magee (The Philosophy of Schopenhauer, ch. 13)


Friedrich Nietzsche

‘I belong to those readers of Schopenhauer who know quite definitely after reading the first page that they will read every page and will listen to every word he has to say. My confidence in him was instantaneous and remains …he knows how to say the Serious simply, the Moving without rhetoric, and the Rigorously Scientific without pedantry.’ (‪Schopenhauer as Educator)


Leo Tolstoy

‘Do you know what t his summer has meant for me? Constant raptures over Schopenhauer and a whole series of spiritual delights … I don’t know if I’ll ever change my opinion, but at present I’m certain that Schopenhauer is the most brilliant of men.’ (Letter to A. A. Fet, 30th August 1869)


Sigmund Freud

‘Schopenhauer, as psychologist of the Will, is the father of all modern psychology. From him the line runs, by way of the psychological radicalism of Nietzsche, straight to Freud and the men who built up his psychology … Freud’s description of the id and the ego – is it not to a hair to Schopenhauer’s description of the Will and the Intellect, a translation of the latter’s metaphysics into psychology?’ – Thomas Mann (Essays of Three Decades)


Thomas Mann

‘The Wagnerian-Schopenhauerian, the Romantic realm, which, you know, is really the homeland of my psychic life. [–––] As a Schopenhauerian I am convinced of the metaphysical freedom of the will – and its empirical unfreedom.’ (Letters to Paul Amann, 16-12-1916 and 25-3-1917)


Albert Einstein

‘I do not believe in free will. Schopenhauer’s words: “Man can do what he wants, but he cannot will what he wills,” accompany me in all situations throughout my life and reconcile me with the actions of others, even if they are rather painful to me. This awareness of the lack of free will keeps me from taking myself and my fellow men too seriously as acting and deciding individuals, and from losing my temper. (My Credo)


Erwin Schrödinger

‘The great thing was to form the idea that this one thing – mind or world – may well be capable of other forms of appearance that we cannot grasp and that do not imply the notions of space and time. This means an imposing liberation from our inveterate prejudice. There probably are other orders of appearance than the space-time-like. It was, so I believe, Schopenhauer who first read this from Kant.’ (Mind and Matter, ch. 5) (His book My View of the World is also full of references to Schopenhauer)


Ludwig Wittgenstein

‘[The] influence of Schopenhauer on Wittgenstein … can be asserted with absolute certainty; it is clear in the notebooks, and Wittgenstein himself stated in conversation that when he was young he believed Schopenhauer to have been fundamentally right … the Tractatus is full of Schopenhauerian theses and ideas: the account of what is right or wrong about solipsism (5. 62-5. 641); the distinction between the psychological phenomenon of the will, which is a matter for science, and the ethical will, which rewards or punishes itself in its very action (6. 422); the worthlessness of the world (6.41); the timelessness or eternity of the present moment of life and the consequent folly of fearing death (6. 4311); and the power of the will to change the world as a whole without changing any facts (6. 43).’ – P. T. Geach (Philosophical Review, lxvi (1957), 558.)


Karl Popper

‘The best witness is Schopenhauer … a man of supreme integrity who cherished truth beyond anything else. There can be no doubt that he was as competent a judge in philosophical matters as could be found at the time. Schopenhauer, who had the pleasure of knowing Hegel personally and suggested the use of Shakespeare’s words, “such stuff as madmen tongue and brain not”, as motto of Hegel’s philosophy.’ (The Open Society and Its Enemies ii, ch. 12)


Related Articles:

Schopenhauer and the Philosophy of Mind

The Teutonic Shift from Christian Morality – Kant, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche 

Schopenhauer – Atheist, Idealist, Visionary


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