25 Great Quotes From German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer

You may have first been exposed to German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer with his essay On Women, which I reviewed a year ago. It was originally found in his Studies In Pessimism compilation which includes eight other essays. Here are my favorite quotes from those essays:


…the greatest wisdom is to make the enjoyment of the present the supreme object of life; because that is the only reality, all else being merely the play of thought. On the other hand, such a course might just as well be called the greatest folly: for that which in the next moment exists no more, and vanishes utterly, like a dream, can never be worth a serious effort.


…a man never is happy, but spends his whole life in striving after something which he thinks will make him so; he seldom attains his goal, and when he does, it is only to be disappointed; he is mostly shipwrecked in the end, and comes into harbor with mast and rigging gone. And then, it is all one whether he has been happy or miserable; for his life was never anything more than a present moment always vanishing; and now it is over.


…to gain anything we have longed for is only to discover how vain and empty it is; and even though we are always living in expectation of better things, at the same time we often repent and long to have the past back again.


Every satisfaction he attains lays the seeds of some new desire, so that there is no end to the wishes of each individual will.


…if the lives of men were relieved of all need, hardship and adversity; if everything they took in hand were successful, they would be so swollen with arrogance that, though they might not burst, they would present the spectacle of unbridled folly—nay, they would go mad. And I may say, further, that a certain amount of care or pain or trouble is necessary for every man at all times. A ship without ballast is unstable and will not go straight.


He who lives to see two or three generations is like a man who sits some time in the conjurer’s booth at a fair, and witnesses the performance twice or thrice in succession. The tricks were meant to be seen only once; and when they are no longer a novelty and cease to deceive, their effect is gone.


…in order to increase his pleasures, man has intentionally added to the number and pressure of his needs, which in their original state were not much more difficult to satisfy than those of the brute. Hence luxury in all its forms; delicate food, the use of tobacco and opium, spirituous liquors, fine clothes, and the thousand and one things that he considers necessary to his existence.


…need and boredom are the two poles of human life.


…something of great importance now past is inferior to something of little importance now present, in that the latter is a reality, and related to the former as something to nothing.


If life—the craving for which is the very essence of our being—were possessed of any positive intrinsic value, there would be no such thing as boredom at all: mere existence would satisfy us in itself, and we should want for nothing. But as it is, we take no delight in existence except when we are struggling for something; and then distance and difficulties to be overcome make our goal look as though it would satisfy us.


[Consciousness makes] the individual careful to maintain his own existence; and if this were not so, there would be no surety for the preservation of the species. From all this it is clear that individuality is not a form of perfection, but rather a limitation; and so to be freed from it is not loss but gain.


The real meaning of persona is a mask, such as actors were accustomed to wear on the ancient stage; and it is quite true that no one shows himself as he is, but wears his mask and plays his part. Indeed, the whole of our social arrangements may be likened to a perpetual comedy; and this is why a man who is worth anything finds society so insipid, while a blockhead is quite at home in it.


Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world. This is an error of the intellect as inevitable as that error of the eye which lets you fancy that on the horizon heaven and earth meet.


No one knows what capacities for doing and suffering he has in himself, until something comes to rouse them to activity: just as in a pond of still water, lying there like a mirror, there is no sign of the roar and thunder with which it can leap from the precipice, and yet remain what it is; or again, rise high in the air as a fountain. When water is as cold as ice, you can have no idea of the latent warmth contained in it.


With people of only moderate ability, modesty is mere honesty; but with those who posses great talent, it is hypocrisy.


…man may have the most excellent judgment in all other matters, and yet go wrong in those which concern himself; because here the will comes in and deranges the intellect at once. Therefore let a man take counsel of a friend. A doctor can cure everyone but himself; if he falls ill, he sends for a colleague.


Imagination is strong in a man when that particular function of the brain which enables him to observe is roused to activity without any necessary excitement of the sense. Accordingly, we find that imagination is active just in proportion as our sense are not excited by external objects. A long period of solitude, whether in prison or in a sick room; quiet, twilight, darkness—these are the things that promote its activity; and under their influence it comes into play of itself.


The scenes and events of long ago, and the persons who took part in them, wear a charming aspect to the eye of memory, which sees only the outlines and takes no note of disagreeable details. The present enjoys no such advantage, and so it always seems defective.


The little incidents and accidents of every day fill us with emotion, anxiety, annoyance,  passion, as long as they are close to us, when they appear so big, so important, so serious; but as soon as they are borne down the restless stream of time  they lose what significance they had; we think no more of them and soon forget them altogether. They were big only because they were near.


It is a curious fact that in bad days we can very vividly recall the good time that is now no more; but that in good days, we have only a very cold and imperfect memory of the bad.


The ordinary method [of education] is to imprint ideas and opinions, in the strict sense of the word, prejudices, on the mind of the child, before it has had any but a very few particular observations. It is thus that he afterwards comes to view the world and gather experience through the medium of those ready-made ideas, rather than to let his ideas be formed for him out of his own experience of life, as they ought to be.


A man’s knowledge may be said to be mature, in other words, when it has reached the most complete state of perfection to which he, as an individual, is capable of bringing it, when an exact correspondence is established between the whole of his abstract ideas and the things he has actually perceived for himself. His will mean that each of his abstract ideas rests, directly or indirectly, upon a basis of observation, which alone endows it with any real value; and also that he is able to place every observation he makes under the right abstract idea which belongs to it.


The nobler and more perfect a thing is, the later and slower it is in arriving at maturity. A man reaches the maturity of his reasoning powers and mental faculties hardly before the age of twenty-eight; a woman at eighteen.


…to marry means to halve one’s rights and double one’s duties.


The delight which a man has in hoping for and looking forward to some special satisfaction is a part of the real pleasure attaching to it enjoyed in advance. This is afterwards deducted; for the more we look forward to anything, the less satisfaction we find in it when it comes. But the brute’s enjoyment is not anticipated, and therefore, suffers no deduction; so that the actual pleasure of the moment comes to it whole and unimpaired.”

And here are nine more things I learned from the essays:

1. The unconscious man, the brute, is superior to man because, while he doesn’t have hope and anticipation, he doesn’t get restless or experience discontent.

2. The punishment of wealth is boredom.

3. All the faults you criticize in others are what you’re capable of, and which may be a prominent feature of your future. It is therefore prudent to have tolerance for your fellow man.

4. Consciousness is beneficial because it gives us a stronger will to live. It makes us think we are special and unique, giving us a fear of death that increases our survivability. It’s evolution’s victory of intelligence over will, but comes at a cost of allowing us to see life’s vain and futile character. Yet even with individual character, most humans lead generic forms of existence.

5. Effortless mastery comes when you simply follow what your brain wants to do.

6. Pleasure comes from alternating between work and rest, hardship and comfort, pleasure and pain. There is no happiness in constant satisfaction.

7. Stimulus from the external world must be digested before it becomes creativity in the same way that food must digest before converting to nutrients that the body can use. There is a lag time between experience and mental enlightenment.

8. Smell is strongly connected to memory because it is unique and unambiguous. Smelling the perfume of your ex-girlfriend will immediately evoke a vivid memory of her.

9. Education stuffs you full of ideas without the coinciding experience that gave rise to those ideas in the first place, giving you incorrect perspective and notions.

The essays are surprisingly readable, and you can even pick out a bit of Schopenhauer’s humor. I recommend it.

Read More: “Studies In Pessimism” on Amazon

24 thoughts on “25 Great Quotes From German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer”

  1. Nice
    For pratical mans like you, i also recommend Ernst Jünger.

    “That is why the existential aspect is given priority in Jünger’s works, which show an entire gallery of types of the “third hero” (novels The Steel Storm, A Heart in Search for Adventures, On Marble Cliffs, Escape to the Forest, Heliopolis, etc.), who is following the way of inner Revolution, exploring the most extreme and risky forms – war, mysticism, drugs, erotism, borderland psychic states. Nietzsche’s formula “that which does not kill me, makes me stronger” is Ernst Jünger‘s credo in literature, as well as in life. Just like his characters, he calmly drinks champagne.”


      1. “Der Waldgang” and “The Storm of Steel”(note: from my point of view, the best book about WW1) are also amazing.

        A memoir of astonishing power, savagery, and ashen lyricism, Storm of Steel illuminates not only the horrors but also the fascination of total war, seen through the eyes of an ordinary German soldier. Young, tough, patriotic, but also disturbingly self-aware, Jünger exulted in the Great War, which he saw not just as a great national conflict but—more importantly—as a unique personal struggle. Leading raiding parties, defending trenches against murderous British incursions, simply enduring as shells tore his comrades apart, Jünger kept testing himself, braced for the death that will mark his failure.


    1. I just finished Storm of Steel. Wow! Junger was an amazing presence in that nightmare. Luck, grit, and perhaps even something more than either of these brought him back whole. Amazing story!

  2. Aaaand that is why widespread antidepressant use has destroyed a generation of new philosophers. By preventing the acknowledgement of reality they produce an abortion of spiritual birth.

  3. I like the points you derived from schopenhauer’s essays. And there’s no telling he was a great man who was decades ahead of his time.
    But the first half of the quotes you made of his work are various ways of saying the same thing. Namely, that people can never be satisfied. They can live in the moment and experience that bliss, but it always fades so they go after something else. It’s no wonder the collection was entitled essays on pessimism (realism). Basic hedonic treadmill stuff
    The second half however was solid information, good observances and actionable information.
    I’ve begun to notice a lot recently. more now than ever.
    information is just as addictive like any other desire (desire for wealth, desire for sexual gratification, drugs, you name it).
    And that the majority of people read volumes and volumes of information, save posts, comments, blogs, articles etc simply practise another form of hoarding, addiction.
    Because the act of storing the information, gives a small instantaneous gratification payoff that tricks the brain into thinking a person is acting upon that information, using it to apply to himself, changing his method of doing things, and learning. But instead its a cop out.
    It would all come under ‘mental masturbation’.
    From this train of thought i’ve come to understand two things:
    Any and all information of value are used in the following ways:
    1) Positive reinforcement and encouragement of an existing attitude or belief. emergent Red pill men read Roosh’s adventures and feel more comfortable in their choices, they see the path ahead of them that others have tread and dare to take it.
    2)Development of loose guidelines or a particular train of thought (way of thinking/doing) from the article. So this articles train of thought would be intense realism. Magic and bliss do not last, and we need up and downs to maximise long term ‘contentment’.
    Both 1 and 2 can be healthy or unhealthily used.
    For instance, dogmatic adherence to a particular persons methodology or philosophy is undesireable (2).
    So if someone said ‘hurr durr roosh is teh best i’m moving to poland, i don’t need game there’. this would be in the unhealthy camp
    Aunhealthy situation for (1) would be someone saying “see this issue X? i’m right, aren’t i right? agreee with meeee, please, look at how much effort i’m putting into sounding red pill, oh yeah lets go over some tropes again”
    A lot of the recent new contributers articles seem to be from the former (1) and a little obsessive hero worship on the latter (2)

    1. > It would all come under ‘mental masturbation’.
      “Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”
      I have seen that quotation attributed to Einstein, which is probably bullshit, but it rings very true to me and I often bring it to mind when I catch myself wasting time with books and articles:

  4. Here’s my favorite quote from Schopenhauer:
    “If you try to imagine, as nearly as you can, what an amount of misery, pain and suffering of every kind the sun shines upon in its course, you will admit that it would be much better if, on the earth as little as on the moon, the sun were able to call forth the phenomena of life; and if, here as there, the surface were still in a crystalline state.”
    Paraphrase for English-learners:
    “If you try to imagine, as nearly as you can, how much misery, pain, and suffering there is on Earth, you will admit that it would be much better if the Earth was as lifeless as the Moon.”

  5. I am surprised that you haven’t made any reviews on Marquis de Sade’s epic adventures. Two books are to be added to your reading list – Justine, or good conduct well-chastised and Juliette, or Vice amply rewarded. Sade’s philosophy is somewhat disturbing and feels wrong but is immensely powerful. It divides the world into two group, the strong and the weak, women are categorized as weak, obviously. According to Sade, any deceptive methods employed, and thus morally wrong, are good to achieve your goals.
    Cheers from Bogota

  6. What? No Comments? No Philosophy nerds I guess. Schopenhauer was a failure with women in my view. According to de Botton he quit women and turned into the equivalent of a cat lady, but with Poodles.

  7. Schopenhauer inherited money and didn’t have to work. If he had to struggle for his physical survival like almost everyone else in the 19th Century, he might have appreciated the ordinary accomplishments of life more.
    Funny how the empirical social science doesn’t support the beliefs of our ancestors’ sages regarding happiness. People in developed Western countries report greater happiness than in other countries, despite the nearly universal denigration of wealth and security in the wisdom tradition. And Buddhist countries don’t seem particularly happy unless they have also developed economically, despite the propaganda by Western intellectuals that Buddhism by itself promotes happiness.

  8. You’ve obviously misinterpreted one of the greatest philosophers arguments and essays. Shame on you. Even your writing of this article is disgusting and ironic in light of his philosophy.

  9. some very good quotes there….his essay “On women” hit me like a bolt of lightning about 5 years ago…I put it in both my books.

  10. Good job, you completely misunderstood Schopenhauer’s concept of the Will (which is central to his philosophy).
    By the way, I know that you chose Schopenhauer because of his sexist quotes, so you will try to tie the value of his philosophy with that of sexism to try to convince someone that such ideas are worthy. The truth is that his sexist opinions are unrelated, or even contradictory to the rest of his philosophy.
    Now when I will say that I admire him, people will think bad of me (as I am a man) thanks to you, a sexist nutjob unsuccessfully trying to validate his ideas. Good job, idiot.

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