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The Wisdom of Life

Schopenhauer's take on will and deliberation

By Arthur Schopenhauer
13-minute read
Audio available
The Wisdom of Life by Arthur Schopenhauer

Schopenhauer’s The Wisdom of Life (1851) is a short philosophical essay about what constitutes human happiness. Starting with ancient Greek philosophers’ ideas on human happiness, Schopenhauer develops his own thoughts on what people need to be happy.

  • Academic and armchair philosophers
  • Anyone striving for happiness and wisdom
  • Lovers of nineteenth-century German philosophy

Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) was a prominent German philosopher. He rejected the idealism of his time in favor of a more practical materialism. Schopenhauer greatly influenced other intellectuals, including Richard Wagner, Friedrich Nietzsche, Leo Tolstoy and Thomas Mann.

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The Wisdom of Life

By Arthur Schopenhauer
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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The Wisdom of Life by Arthur Schopenhauer
Synopsis

Schopenhauer’s The Wisdom of Life (1851) is a short philosophical essay about what constitutes human happiness. Starting with ancient Greek philosophers’ ideas on human happiness, Schopenhauer develops his own thoughts on what people need to be happy.

Key idea 1 of 8

Life's blessings can be divided into three categories.

Ruminating on the qualities and nature of human life is nothing new. But after the rumination comes the practical part. How, exactly, are you supposed to live your life for maximum benefit and happiness?

Of course, the Greek philosophers got there first. Aristotle thought human blessings could be classified into three categories: blessings that are external to the self, blessings of the soul and blessings of the body.

Aristotle was on the right track. There are three categories of blessings, but they don’t align with his conception of them.

First and foremost, there's personality, or “what a man is.”

Personality isn’t just your character; it also covers your health, strength, beauty, temperament, moral outlook, intelligence and education.

These attributes are generally determined by nature, and as such they're very significant in governing human happiness.

Most importantly, a person’s inner constitution, or “what he is made of,” plays the biggest role in shaping his well-being. Just think of health: it’s axiomatic that a healthy beggar is happier than a sick prince.

Needless to say, for Schopenhauer, the greatest pleasures are those of the mind. As he puts it, “An intellectual man in complete solitude has excellent entertainment in his own thoughts and fancies, whilst no amount or diversity of social pleasure […] can ward off boredom from the dullard.”

The second category is property, or “what a man has.”

Material wealth can satisfy real and basic needs, but it won’t get you any further than that. It’s never going to truly satiate you or compensate for a lack of inner wealth. Happiness comes from elsewhere. That’s why rich people, though materially well off, aren’t particularly happy.

Finally, there’s position. In other words, how you're thought of by others.

An inwardly rich person, unlike a fool, will pay little heed to others’ opinions. She’ll just live her life.

That’s the basics covered. Now let’s look at each blessing in more detail.

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