As February contains Valentines Day, it’s hard not to think of it as the month of romance. The search for love is such a central part of life, you might think that it’s a common theme of philosophy. Sadly not.
Pop songs, poems, and chick lit are full of it. Greek philosophers not so much.
Thankfully, we have Schopenhauer. I say ‘thankfully’ in a very lose sense as I’m not convinced his ideas are that sensible. But he certainly wrote a lot about love.
Arthur Schopenhauer believed that love was a basic tenement of life. Indeed, life should be built upon it. However, contrary to common opinion, Schopenhauer maintained that it had nothing to do with happiness. In his book, he argued that it was a grave error to suppose that love led to happiness and you should not be fooled into thinking that it would.
For Schopenhauer, love was important simply because it leads to the survival of our species. He thought that we put ourselves through all the trials and tribulations of dating and relationships, simply because we want to propagate. He called this ‘the will to life.’
He maintained that no one would make the conscious decision to actually have children. We need love to trick us into doing so! Despite having a child himself, he obviously had a very dim view of them.
Have you ever wondered why we are attracted to a certain type but not others?
Schopenhauer’s answer was that this was simply our unconscious sense telling us that they will make wonderful co-parents. He took the idea that ‘opposites attract’ in a very literal sense believing that we should actually seek out our bodily opposites. Tall people should seek short. People with big chins should search out people with small chins. He even went as far as to surmise we should seek opposites in skin colour. The result, he maintained would be perfectly balanced children.
Of course, he believed that once love has tricked us into thinking that attraction equalled happiness (and that children had been produced) things would end. Well, either we would be unhappy for the rest of time or divorce. Either way, he believed that the individual would suffer.
What can we actually learn from Schopenhauer?
Firstly, I think there’s the idea that we have no choice but to fall in love. It’s not a choice. We can’t simply go out and say – that’s who I’m going to have. It’s a tricky thing and can happen when we least expect or aren’t even looking.
Secondly, I like the idea that love is a strong emotion. In fact it may be the only thing strong enough to give us the ability to raise children. We learn that children are more important than ourselves and that love will help.
Thirdly, I think there could be something to learn about rejection. Schopenhauer would say it’s wrong to ever take things personally. When someone rejects you, it’s not because of your personality or anything you’ve done. There’s simply not an animalistic attraction there. And there’s nothing you can really do about that.
Why should we not listen to Schopenhauer and just embrace the fluffy Valentine’s tat?
Schopenhauer did have a turbulent relationship for ten years. However, he wouldn’t commit and claimed that if they married they would become ‘objects of revulsion’ to each other. As life went on, Schopenhauer became more of a solitary character – although he enthusiastically pursued a much young lady – she found him disgusting.
Unhappy in love. Work ignored. Deemed utterly misogynistic. Schopenhauer sunk to the depths of extreme pessimism, even claiming that you should ‘swallow a toad each morning so as not to meet anything more disgusting.’ He said that we should trust fear not faith. At the end of his life he was alone, except for his pet poodle.
He has gone down in history as a pessimist with weird ideas. I despair a little that he is even deemed a ‘philosopher of love’! In short, I’d rather just keep the idea that I love my husband because of his merit and will happily indulge in all the random trappings of Valentines!
What do you think? Do his ideas give you any hope? Or just a laugh at his strange little outlook? Come share your thoughts on Facebook or just comment below.