We should first define our terms, to not only limit the scope of the argument, but also to clarify what Schopenhauer exactly means. It should first be said that he does not mean “good” or “bad”, which Schopenhauer defines as being that which feels good or useful (or rather, what the will desires) in the case of the former, as well as that which is bad (what the will wishes to avoid or what displeases it) in the case of the latter.
He also does notmean certain forms of aesthetic enjoyment — I will very briefly come back to this later in the essay. Finally, he also does not mean to imply that all emotions can be said to be of either a character of happiness or one of suffering — in fact, Schopenhauer is an early critic of the term “feelings”, as he states in x11 of the first volume of The World as Will and Representation, which I will quote at length, since it’s scope is quite broad, and thus useful to our purposes of clarification:
The concept that the word “feeling” denotes, certainly only has a negative content, being that
something that is in consciousness is not a concept, not abstract knowledge of reason: whatever
it may be, it belongs under the concept feeling, whose immoderately wide sphere conceives of
the most heterogeneous of things, of which one will never accept how they come together, as
long as one has not recognized, that only under this negative consideration of not being abstract
concepts, do they coincide. For the most dissimilar, even antagonistic elements lie calmly next
to one another in this concept, for example religious feelings, feelings of lust, moral feelings,
bodily feelings as touch, as pain, as the feeling for colours, sounds and their harmonies and
disharmonies, feelings of hate, detestation, self-satisfaction, honor, disgrace, justice, injustice,
the feeling that something is true, aesthetic feeling, feelings of strength, weakness, health,
friendship, love, etc., etc..
However, quite a few emotions will have either the character of being a desire to attain something or to avoid something, as Schopenhauer explains in x57, from which we will derive part of our definition for suffering:
The constant efforts to banish suffering do nothing more than to prompt it to change its form.
This is originally lack, hardship, care for the preservation of one’s life. Was it, which is quite
difficult, successful to push aside the pain in this form, it will immediately present itself in a
thousand others, depending on age and circumstance, as sexual desire, passionate love, jealousy,
envy, hate, fear, ambition, monetary greed, disease, etc., etc.. If, finally, it cannot present itself
in another form, it appears in the sad, grey garb of weariness and boredom, against which
many things are then attempted. If it is finally successful to chase away this form, it will hardly
happen without letting the pain come back in one of its other forms, and to thus begin the
dance anew; for every human life is thrown to and fro between boredom and pain.
Since Schopenhauer presents a multitude of observations on the nature of the different forms of suffering, we will have to give a few more quotes that will form the premises to his argument.
First, Schopenhauer identifies all striving as pain in x57:
Every human life flows onward between wanting and achieving. The desire is, by its nature,
pain: achieving it quickly brings forth satiation: the goal was only apparent: possession takes
away the attractiveness: in a new form the desire, the need begins anew: where it does not, it is
followed by ennui, emptiness, boredom, against which the battle is just as agonizing as against
Note that Schopenhauer has not yet identified the characteristic of “lack”, which is a part o striving; this will happen below in his main argument; for now, we will turn to boredom. As he has already explained in the prior quote that human life “is thrown to and fro between boredom and pain”, we require a more clear picture of the former, also from x57:
That which occupies all the living and keeps them in motion, is the striving for existence. But
what to do with this existence, once it is secured, they do not know: thus the second thing
that keeps them in motion is the striving to alleviate the burden of existence, to deaden it, “to
kill the time”, i.e. to escape boredom. Thus we see that almost all people that are secure from
hardship and care, after they have finally thrown off all burdens, become a burden to themselves
and now consider every passed hour to be a success, that is, every deduction from the life that
they had until then used all their might to preserve for as long as possible. Boredom is to be
taken as anything but a minor evil: in the end it paints true desperation onto the features. It
makes it so that beings, which love one another as little as humans do, still seek one another,
and thus becomes the source of companiable intercourse. It is also the case that everywhere,
as with other general calamities, provisions are made against it, already as a matter of good
poliy-making; because this evil, as much as its extreme opposite, famine, can drive men to the
greatest excesses: panem et Circenses is what the people need
From this we can see why boredom may be adequately classified as suffering.
Suffering, then, might be denoted in three categories: The craving or striving for things, in whatever form that may be; physical or mental agony, harm or pain; and finally, ennui, weariness and boredom. For the sake of clarity and simplicity I will call these striving,
pain and boredom.By contrast, happiness is merely the opposite of these things: fulfilment, pleasure and the relief or freedom from pain and boredom.
But to go into more detail, we will
have to present Schopenhauer’s argument for the non-existence of happiness. Also note that Schopenhauer himself equates striving as pain — for the sake of clarity in later objections
I shall not do so, and since all ultimately fall under the concept of suffering, I do not think this will do Schopenhauer’s meaning any violence