Monday, May 24, 2010

Schopenhauer: Dogs Are Preferable To Humans

Arthur Schopenhauer is my favorite pessimist.  (Although Giacomo Leopardi and Philip Larkin are definitely in the running.)  I say this subject to the proviso (as I have noted before) that one person's "pessimism" is another person's "realism."  However, I do not intend to urge Schopenhauer's view of the world upon the rest of you.

But, for those of you who may shy away from pessimism, please bear in mind that Schopenhauer's pessimism (and his accompanying misanthropy) sometimes reach such heights (or is it depths?) that you can only break out in laughter at his antics.  Thus, I give you Arthur's following piece of wisdom about dogs.

First comes the not uncommon apostrophe upon the deficiencies of the average human being:  "There are few who have even a small surplus of intellectual powers. . . .with the others, it is better not to enter into any relations . . . what they have to say will not be worth listening to.  What we say to them will seldom be properly grasped and understood."  Arthur then comes to this conclusion (in the form of a bit of advice):

"To anyone who needs lively entertainment for the purpose of banishing the dreariness of solitude, I recommend a dog, in whose moral and intellectual qualities he will almost always experience delight and satisfaction."

"Ideas Concerning the Intellect Generally and In All Respects," in Parerga and Paralipomena, Volume II (translated by E. F. J. Payne), page 82.

Appallingly misanthropic?  Yes.  Arrogant and supercilious?  Yes, of course.  Entertaining?  Yes.  (At least for some of us.)  But don't you get the feeling that Arthur is perhaps pulling our leg -- having a bit of fun with us?  (I have always suspected that Philip Larkin was wont to do the same thing, particularly when he sat down for interviews.)

A final note:  in connection with Arthur's advice, one should be aware that he was devoted to his beloved poodles, who lived with him in his rooms, and accompanied him on his daily walks among the burghers of Frankfurt-am-Main.


Anonymous said...

I definitely don't think he was 'pulling our leg'. A study of his writings would certainly indicate this. Moreover, he was, as he was
so often, absolutely correct.

Stephen Pentz said...

Anonymous: thank you very much for visiting, and for your thoughts. I have have no doubt that Schopenhauer never dissembled in his writing. But I also think that he was capable -- particularly in the less formal essays in Parerga and Paralipomena -- of trying to provoke people, which is what I meant by "pulling our leg." As I say, I think that he did have a fine sense of humor.

Thanks again.

michael winn said...

I agree with Anonymous. Not to discredit your erudite discourse, my reading of Schopenhauer seems to indicate to myself a quite serious man. But as isolated as thinkers of even our ability are(if I may presume), one can only barely imagine the utter contempt real genius would have for them(as a group; quite different from individuals--this would take some time). And to one who has loved dogs with passion, it rings quite true. Thanks for the output.

Stephen Pentz said...

michael winn: Thank you very much for your thoughts. Please accept my apologies for the delayed response.

Oh, I have no doubt that he was "a quite serious man." I wouldn't admire his thought as much as I do if I didn't think that was the case. (The affinity of his thought with Buddhism is of particular interest to me.) But I do believe that he had a sense of humor and was capable of pulling our leg. I think this is particularly true of some of the passages in Parerga and Paralipomena. Others may disagree, of course. I'm no expert.

As for dogs: no one exceeds me in the love of dogs (although you, and others, may well equal me). On that subject, I completely agree with Arthur's sentiments. Although, as you suggest, we all ought to view these matters in terms of individuals, not groups.

Thank you very much for visiting. I hope you will return soon.