I'm teaching Schopenhauer next week, so I wanted to say the thing I love most about his philosophy. In spite of the fact that he’s (ahem) quite a fan of his own book, he doesn’t think it’s enough for us to read it. To save the world, we also need to go to the theatre! 1/
And—the astonishing part—not in order to learn lessons! 2/
Schopenhauer famously thinks life is suffering (there are only two real choices: pain or boredom). We’d be better off if we didn’t exist. Indeed we’d be better off if *nothing* existed. (Lovely summary below, by @dbatherwoods.) 3/
Fascinatingly, there are suggestions that Schopenhauer thinks we can bring that about! If we all stop willing, the world goes poof! 4/
But how do we get there? How do we get to a point where we've lost the will to will?
Amazingly, the answer is by watching tragedy.
Even more amazingly, it’s *not because tragedy teaches us lessons*. 5/
Tragedies are a bummer. They give us the feeling of what it would be like if, as Schopenhauer thinks, all human striving were destructive or at best pointless. Our reaction, as audience members? Resignation. If no striving is worthwhile, we may as well stop doing it. 6/
But here’s the really cool part. Once we resign ourselves, we suddenly feel—relieved! Blissful! That’s why we go to tragedies, in spite of the fact that they show us "the terrible side of life.” 7/
And when we feel this way, we’re experiencing a "different kind of existence,” one in which we’ve stopped willing. 8/
Here’s the lovely point about that: we do not learn this as a "message" from the plot, or from something a character says. We learn it from our own emotions/reactions! We learn it because of the *experience* of watching the play, and noticing what goes on inside ourselves. 9/
That’s why even Schopenhauer’s book (2 volumes, 700 pages each) isn’t enough. You’ve got to watch tragedies. Because *this* kind of knowledge is special; it "can be given to us only indirectly.” You have to learn it in the flesh. 10/
tl; dr: art is indispensable, because propositional knowledge alone won’t save the world. /
(Endnotes are always a good place to anticipate objections, so let me add: I'm not saying Schopenhauer sees *no* didacticism in tragedy, but rather that its special value doesn't reside there. You can get the lessons from treatises. Like his!)
(Also, I messed up, and I'm teaching Schopenhauer tomorrow, not next week. Better get back to those teaching notes!)

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