Schopenhauer on Natural Discontentment

How should a man be content so long as he fails to obtain complete unity in his inmost being? For as long as two voices alternately speak in him, what is right for one must be wrong for the other. Thus he is always complaining. But has any man ever been completely at one with himself? Nay, is not the very thought a contradiction?

That a man shall attain this inner unity is the impossible and inconsistent pretension put forward by almost all philosophers. {Audacter licet profitearis, summum bonum esse animi concordiam. — Seneca} For as a man it is natural to him to be at war with himself as long as he lives. While he can be only one thing thoroughly, he has the disposition to be everything else, and the inalienable possibility of being it. If he has made his choice of one thing, all the other possibilities are always open to him, and are constantly claiming to be realised; and he has therefore to be continuously keeping them back, and to be overpowering and killing them as long as he wants to be that one thing. For example, if he wants to think only, and not to act and do business, the disposition to the latter is not thereby destroyed all at once; but as long as the thinker lives, he has every hour to keep on killing the acting and pushing man that is within him; always battling with himself, as though he were a monster whose head is no sooner struck off than it grows again. In the same way, if he is resolved to be a saint, he must kill himself so far as he is a being that enjoys and is given over to pleasure; for such he remains as long as he lives. It is not once for all that he must kill himself: he must keep on doing it all his life. If he has resolved upon pleasure, whatever be the way in which it is to be obtained, his lifelong struggle is with a being that desires to be pure and free and holy; for the disposition remains, and he has to kill it every hour. And so on in everything, with infinite modifications; it is now one side of him, and now the other, that conquers; he himself is the battlefield. If one side of him is continually conquering, the other is continually struggling; for its life is bound up with his own, and, as a man, he is the possibility of many contradictions.

How is inner unity even possible under such circumstances? It exists neither in the saint nor in the sinner; or rather, the truth is that no man is wholly one or the other. For it is men they have to be; that is, luckless beings, fighters and gladiators in the arena of life.

To be sure, the best thing he can do is to recognise which part of him smarts the most under defeat, and let it always gain the victory. This he will always be able to do by the use of his reason, which is an ever-present fund of ideas. Let him resolve of his own free will to undergo the pain which the defeat of the other part involves. This is character. For the battle of life cannot be waged free from all pain; it cannot come to an end without bloodshed; and in any case a man must suffer pain, for he is the conquered as well as the conqueror. Haec est vivendi conditio.

{p.83, Arthur Schopenhauer, The Art of Controversy and Other Posthumous Papers. Selected and Translated by T. Bailey Saunders.
London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., First Published 1896, Reprinted 1921 The Aberdeen University Press Ltd.}

~ by Thanatologist on 2009-07-27.

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