Saturday, June 04, 2011

Zoller, Gunter. Review of David E. Cartwright, SCHOPENHAUER: A BIOGRAPHY. NDPR (May 2011).

Cartwright, David E.  Schopenhauer: a Biography.  Cambridge: CUP, 2010.

The most recent entry on the philosophical biography list is David Cartwright's tome on Arthur Schopenhauer. In addition to having published numerous articles on the philosophy of Schopenhauer, especially on his ethics, and having served as president of the North American Division of the Schopenhauer Society, Cartwright is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Schopenhauer's Philosophy (2004), which already exhibits a biographical approach to Schopenhauer's thought. Now Schopenhauer's life is the stuff of biography. Unlike his philosophical contemporaries and predecessors, he did not spend an entire life devoted to academic teaching and career building. He came to advanced schooling, university studies and academic philosophy somewhat late, after a detour through an apprenticeship as a merchant. But he also had the advantage of social privilege and financial independence over his colleagues and competitors, who often were not able to travel much and did not have Schopenhauer's first-hand experience of the larger world outside of libraries and lecture halls.

To be sure, the narrative potential of his life has not escaped earlier writers on Schopenhauer. In fact, there are several fairly recent and quite successful biographies or biographical accounts of Schopenhauer available, some of them even written in English or published in English translation. To begin with, there is Arthur Hübscher's extensive biographical sketch of Schopenhauer's life (Arthur Schopenhauer. Ein Lebendsbild) that opens the first volume of the critical edition of Schopenhauer's works edited by Hübscher (first edition 1937). More recently, the German philosopher-turned-philosophical-biographer, Rüdiger Safranski, issued a very well-received, almost novelistic rendition of Schopenhauer's life (Schopenhauer and the Wild Years of Philosophy; German edition 1987, English translation 1991). Moreover, Bryan Magee's volume, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer, which contains a close account of Schopenhauer's philosophical thought and its influence, opens with a succinct chapter on "Schopenhauer's Life as Background to his Work" (1983, revised edition 1997).

What Cartwright's biography adds to the existing body of biographical work on Schopenhauer is breadth and detail. . . .


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