Summary of Schopenhauer on Hope: From “Psychological Observations”

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I would be remiss if I didn’t consider the critique of hope found in the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. (I considered his view of pessimism in my last post.) He speaks of hope most directly in an essay titled, “Psychological Observations.” Immediately preceding his brief discussion of hope, he makes these pertinent observations:

 it is usual throughout the whole world to wish people a long life. It is not a knowledge of what life is that explains the origin of such a wish, but rather knowledge of what man is in his real nature: namely, the will to live.

The wish which everyone has, that he may be remembered after his death, and which those people with aspirations have for posthumous fame, seems to me to arise from this tenacity to life …

We wish, more or less, to get to the end of everything we are interested in or occupied with; we are impatient to get to the end of it, and glad when it is finished. It is only the general end, the end of all ends, that we wish, as a rule, as far off as possible.

These considerations of wishing, especially that we don’t die, lead him directly to his discussion of hope.

Hope is to confuse the desire that something should occur with the probability that it will. Perhaps no man is free from this folly of the heart, which deranges the intellect’s correct estimation of probability to such a degree as to make him think the event quite possible, even if the chances are only a thousand to one. And still, an unexpected misfortune is like a speedy death-stroke; while a hope that is always frustrated, and yet springs into life again, is like death by slow torture.

Notice here that his conception of hope entails expectation, the kind of hope I also reject. But surprisingly, in the following passage he seems to defend hope:

He who has given up hope has also given up fear; this is the meaning of the expression desperate. It is natural for a man to have faith in what he wishes, and to have faith in it because he wishes it. If this peculiarity of his nature, which is both beneficial and comforting, is eradicated by repeated hard blows of fate, and he is brought to a converse condition, when he believes that something must happen because he does not wish it, and what he wishes can never happen just because he wishes it; this is, in reality, the state which has been called desperation.

Essentially he’s saying that to lose expectant hope, which he says is both beneficial and comforting, is to despair. This suggests that hope is a good after all. Yet this brief discussion of hope must be taken in the context of his entire philosophy. First, what he writes here is more description than prescription; he says that people do find comfort in hope, not that they should. Second, he would reject the action motivating, attitudinal hope that I advocate because he believes blind will motivates action, and we are all better off dead. In the end, Schopenhauer’s philosophy challenges the hopeful among us.

2 thoughts on “Summary of Schopenhauer on Hope: From “Psychological Observations”

  1. I believe you meant “My goal is to educate” in the first paragraph, not “educated.”

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