Last time we saw how Arthur Schopenhauer transformed his pessimistic views of society and the world into a program of contentment through solitude – which distilled down to three main arguments: (1) solitude is a form of simplification; (2) solitude is a sign of self-sufficiency; and (3) solitude is natural. We pick up now with his other observations.
Consider the following: “No man can be in perfect accord with anyone but himself – not even with a friend or the partner of his life; differences of individuality and temperament are always bringing in some degree of discord, though it may be a very slight one. That genuine, profound peace of mind, that perfect tranquility of soul, which next to health, is the highest blessing the earth can give, is attained only in solitude, and, as a permanent mood, only in complete retirement…”8 Despite this last point, he thinks the young should be trained to “bear being left alone…” 9 and learn to take some of their solitude with them into society, that is, to be to some extent alone even when in company.
Schopenhauer admits that solitude is intolerable for persons with “vacuity of soul” or inelastic minds, that is, persons who “possess only a small fraction of humanity in themselves” who thus try to combine with others to make a full person. But the person who is par excellence, is “complete in himself.” He uses the example of the music of an orchestra by many musicians contrasted with the pianist, “a little orchestra in himself.”10 He asserts: “Solitude is doubly advantageous…Firstly, it allows him to be with himself, and secondly, it prevents him from being with others…much constraint, annoyance, and even danger there is in intercourse with the world…almost all our sufferings spring from having to do with other people; and this destroys the peace of mind…”11
Schopenhauer concedes solitude is most appropriate later in life when one has experienced the disagreeable in the world and learned through reflection to recognize one’s true needs. After giving examples of great thinkers of the past such as Voltaire and Petrarch, he concludes: “It is natural for great minds – the true teachers of humanity – to care little about the constant company of others … The mission of these great minds is to guide mankind over the sea of error to the haven of truth – to draw it forth from the dark abysses of a barbarous vulgarity up into the light of culture and refinement.”12
In conclusion we see that Schopenhauer finds solitude is the means to contentment because it involves simplification, demonstrates self-sufficiency, is natural, is a form of perfection, and avoids troublesome interactions. Solitude is critical for tranquility later in life, but must be learned by us in our youth in part by taking some of it with us into the world. In the end, solitude is not only a means to peace, but also to our greatest contemplations.
8Schopenhauer, Arthur, Counsels and Maxims (part of The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims). Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1995. ISBN 978-1-57392-033-9, page 26.
9Ibid., page 27.
11Ibid., page 30.
12Ibid., page 33-34.