German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, had some fascinating thoughts about the nature and existence of man. These three selections highlight some of his most interesting views.
August Glen-James, editor
There is no absurdity so palpable that one could not fix it firmly in the head of every man on earth provided one began to imprint it before his sixth year by ceaselessly rehearsing it before him with solemn earnestness.
- The great misfortune for intellectual merit is that it has to wait until the good is praised by those who produce only the bad; indeed, the misfortune already lies in the general fact that it has to receive its crown from the hands of human judgement, a quality of which most people possess about as much as a castrate posses of the power to beget children.
- The difference between man and man is incalculably great, and many would be appalled if they could see others as they really are. [If they could see] through the veil of pretense, falsity, hypocrisy, lies and deception which extends over everything, so that they would know how little true honesty there is in the world and how often, even where one least suspects it, all the virtuous outworks merely conceal the fact that, secretly and in the innermost recess, dishonesty sits at the helm. For our civilized world is nothing but a great masquerade. You encounter knights, parsons, soldiers, doctors, lawyers, priests, philosophers and a thousand more: but they are not what they appear--they are merely masks behind which as a rule money-grubbers are hiding. One man puts on the mask of justice the better to attack his fellows; another, with the same object in view, chooses that of public good and patriotism; a third that of religion and purity of faith. Many have put on the mask of philosophy, philanthropy and the like for their various ends. . . . Then there are universal masks without any special character, as it were dominoes, which are therefore to be met with everywhere: among these are strict honesty, politeness, sincere sympathy and grinning affability. Usually, as I say, there is nothing but industrialists, businessmen and speculators concealed behind all these masks. In this respect the only honest class is that of the tradesmen, since they alone give themselves out for what they are: they go about without any mask on, and thus they stand low in the social order.
- Man excels all the animals even in his "ability to be trained." Moslems are trained to turn their faces towards Mecca five times a day and pray: they do so steadfastly. Christians are trained to cross themselves on certain occasions, to genuflect, etc.; while religion in general constitutes the real masterpiece in the art of training, namely the training of the mental capacities--which, as is well known, cannot be started too early. There is no absurdity so palpable that one could not fix it firmly in the head of every man on earth provided one began to imprint it before his sixth year by ceaselessly rehearsing it before him with solemn earnestness. For the training of men, as of animals, can be completely successful only in early youth.