The Early Days of a Better Nation

Friday, March 23, 2012

Another Practical Handbook

The other day I picked up in the library a nifty little management and self-help paperback called The Art of Always Being Right, by Arthur Schopenhauer. I read it in half an hour, with yelps of joy and pain. In the fine tradition of Machiavelli, Edward Luttwak and Darrel Huff, this book enlightens the just in the guise of instructing the wicked. (Or, just maybe, the other way round.)

You can read all about it and read the whole thing free online in several places, including a graphic version by someone fully aware of all internet traditions. (Via.)

Remember to use this power only for good.

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I seem to remember mentioning Schopenhauer myself somewhere back there...Ooooh, shiny! Well, probably nothing important.
In all seriousness, I simply cannot get over the contrast between the humor, readability and elegance of what Schopenhauer himself would call "occasional" writings (Essays, etc.), and what I'm sure only seems like the mind-numbing turgidity of his magnum opus, "World as Will and Idea". Still, I read somewhere in one of our host's books somewhere about the difference in the kind of philosophies that emerged out from within the Vienna's Ringstrasse (Logical Positivism et. al.) and those which emerged out oF the student bars of Berlin (Hegelian idealism, Schopenhauerian pessimism, Stirnerian egoism, and of course, erm, 'proletarian materialism')Guess that comes with the territory.

I think it has more to do with the difference between short and long works: Kant's 'What is Enlightenment?' v. _Critique of Pure Reason_, Sartre's 'Existentialism and Humanism' v. _Being and Nothingness_, etc. Needless to say, I've only read the shorter works in each case.

Schopenhauer is one of my favourite philosophers. His ideas are sometimes weird, but as a master of German prose style he writes clearly and entertainingly. His arguments might not always be cogent, but they are presented quite well and are argued for intelligently. He is one of the few continental philosophers who analytic thinkers take seriously. I can recommend his prize-winning essay on free will. It proposes that free will is compatible with determinism, a thesis that we now call 'soft determinism.' Its statement is simple, historically grounded, and neatly defended. Many philosophers think it's true.

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