Exploring Schopenhauer's contempt for Hegel
Lessons for modernity from this heated 19th-century philosophical rivalry
We may have battles of the minds online now but of course this is not a new phenomenon. Instead of memes, in the tumultuous landscape of 19th-century philosophy, a fierce rivalry simmered between two giants: Arthur Schopenhauer and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Schopenhauer, a philosopher known for his somewhat pessimistic, but highly self-aware worldview, held a deep-seated contempt for Hegel's elaborate system.
With some time to process the debate it’s fairly clear Schopenhauer held more instructive wisdom that’s practical and pragmatic for us to follow. It’s worth brief consideration on this debate as we all construct our personal philosophies for navigating the world.
Individual will vs. absolute spirit
At the heart of Schopenhauer's critique was his rejection of Hegel's Absolute Spirit and the intricate system it underpinned. Schopenhauer, an advocate for the primacy of individual will, saw Hegel's grand metaphysical structure as detached from the concrete experiences of individuals. In the modern context, where individual agency is increasingly recognized and valued, Schopenhauer's emphasis on the importance of personal will appears correct. Society is simply not rational enough for this to be otherwise. Summoning the power of individual determination is critical to navigate the complexities of a world that is often dictated by overarching systems that don’t actually serve us. To put as simply as possible: we need to focus on what we can control.
The aesthetics of pessimism
Despite being sometimes considered as a ‘pessimistic’ philosopher, Schopenhauer placed great importance on the arts and aesthetics as a means of transcending the bleakness of existence. Similar to Nietzsche, who famously stated ‘life without music would be a mistake,’ he viewed art as a direct expression of the will, providing solace in the face of life’s inherent suffering. So I don’t believe he was a full on doomer. In the modern age, characterized by its own set of challenges and uncertainties, Schopenhauer's perspective invites us to find beauty and meaning amid the harshness of existence. Whether through literature, music, or visual arts, the act of engaging with aesthetics becomes a form of resistance against any difficult realities we may be facing. This is why MBAs and some technology nerds are misguided in their mission to turn creative works into paint-by-numbers factories. They misunderstand all of this. It’s worth another post sometime on how continued failure here actually harms everyone’s mental state, I’ll get to that in the future.
Intuition and mystical insights
Schopenhauer placed a high premium on intuition, seeing it as a direct connection to the underlying reality of the world. Hegel, with his systematic approach, drew Schopenhauer's ire for what he perceived as an overemphasis on intellectual abstraction. In today's information-saturated society, Schopenhauer's advocacy for cultivating intuition offers a counterbalance. It prompts us to tap into our innate, natural insights, fostering a connection with the world and ourselves in an age often dominated by external discourse.
Navigating the struggle of existence
Schopenhauer's philosophy acknowledged the inescapable nature of human suffering, a theme that resonates with the challenges of modernity. His exploration of the will as the driving force behind human actions invites us to confront the struggles of life head-on and not ignore them through hedonistic escapism (drugs/alcohol etc). When grappling with existential questions and uncertainties, Schopenhauer's recognition of the universal struggle becomes a call to acknowledge, understand, and navigate the complexities of our existence. We’re personally accountable.
Breaking free from Hegelian hegemony
The disdain for Hegel from Schopenhauer wasn't merely a philosophical difference: it represented a rebellion against what he perceived as an intellectual hegemony at the time. In the present age, where tribalism is rearing its head again, Schopenhauer's rebellion serves as a reminder to question dominant narratives and explore alternative viewpoints. Embracing intellectual curiosity fosters a richer, more nuanced understanding of the world and guards against the dangers of unquestioned authority crowds on the far left and right yearn for.
Clarity and accessibility
Postmodern and highly academic prose no one understands but the writer should be outright rejected. Schopenhauer criticized Hegel's dense, convoluted writing style, advocating for clarity and accessibility in philosophical discourse. In an era marked by information overload, Schopenhauer's call for clarity becomes particularly relevant. It encourages us to communicate complex ideas in a way that is accessible to a broader audience, fostering a wider-enjoyed intellectual culture vs forcing people to jump through nonsensical hoops of academia. Smart people are running away from such philosophy, as it causes widespread suffering (ie, effective altruism).
Schopenhauer's disdain for Hegel offers more than a historical anecdote; it serves as a reminder we should not be afraid to reject certain ideals that over the long term bring more pain than relief. By embracing individual agency, finding solace in aesthetics, cultivating intuition, confronting the struggles of existence, challenging dominant narratives, and prioritizing clarity, we can draw on Schopenhauer's pragmatic insights to stay grounded in an increasingly complex world pulling us away from reality. I still think he’s actually less pessimistic than people lead on.
And for your moment of zen, here’s a fun vlog I found on this topic.
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