Frederick Copleston and Bryan Magee on Schopenhauer

44 minutes

Commodity city

10 minutes

Can apes really ‘talk’ to humans?

8 minutes

Flawed

13 minutes

The Night Watch

8 minutes

The intellectual legacy of philosophy’s greatest pessimist: life is suffering, art is supreme

‘Life,’ Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in a typical mood in 1818, ‘is deeply steeped in suffering, and cannot escape from it; our entrance into it takes place amid tears, at bottom its course is always tragic, and its end is even more so.’ He is popularly known as the world’s greatest downer: whenever you think you might’ve found a smidgen of happiness, there’s Schopenhauer to prove it’s nothing more than a moment’s relief in the permanent misery of human existence. The problem is that he’s such a good writer you’re liable to start agreeing with him: happiness is just a temporary stay on the constant want of satisfaction after all! He is philosophy’s pessimist par excellence – but he is also one of the greatest thinkers to have ever lived.

Born just before the French Revolution and dying in mild obscurity at age 72, Schopenhauer’s posthumous influence is unrivalled – perhaps an ironic fate for one who thought that the future is nothing but the anticipation of suffering. His most famous disciple is Friedrich Nietzsche, but others who owe him a serious debt of gratitude amount to a list of intellectual summits: Richard Wagner, particularly for Tristan und Isolde; Ludwig Wittgenstein, who claimed Schopenhauer was the one philosopher he studied before upending the philosophical world with his Tractatus; Sigmund Freud, who was an absolutely miserable jerk for not giving Schopenhauer more credit for his explorations of the unconscious; and many others, such as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges and Jacob Burckhardt. But beyond Schopenhauer’s relentless pessimism, what did he actually believe?

In 1987 Bryan Magee, a philosopher, MP and radio broadcaster, presented The Great Philosophers on the BBC. The idea was simple: invite an eminent thinker to sit on the couch and talk casually about the beliefs of some important historical philosophers. In the episode presented here, Magee is joined by Fr. Frederick Copleston to discuss the foundational ideas of Schopenhauer’s system of thought. As Magee is keen to announce at the beginning of the programme, he himself is the most respected expounder of Schopenhauer’s philosophy in the Anglophone world – nevertheless, Copleston, a brilliant historian of philosophy, is the perfect match for their discussion. Over the next 44 minutes, relax as two aggressively English philosophers explain Schopenhauer’s metaphysics and ethics, his search for the limits of thought, and even how he anticipated modern day physics by, in Magee’s words, the mere ‘reasoning out of it’.


The intellectual legacy of philosophy’s greatest pessimist: life is suffering, art is supreme

‘Life,’ Arthur Schopenhauer wrote in a typical mood in 1818, ‘is deeply steeped in suffering, and cannot escape from it; our entrance into it takes place amid tears, at bottom its course is always tragic, and its end is even more so.’ He is popularly known as the world’s greatest downer: whenever you think you might’ve found a smidgen of happiness, there’s Schopenhauer to prove it’s nothing more than a moment’s relief in the permanent misery of human existence. The problem is that he’s such a good writer you’re liable to start agreeing with him: happiness is just a temporary stay on the constant want of satisfaction after all! He is philosophy’s pessimist par excellence – but he is also one of the greatest thinkers to have ever lived.

Born just before the French Revolution and dying in mild obscurity at age 72, Schopenhauer’s posthumous influence is unrivalled – perhaps an ironic fate for one who thought that the future is nothing but the anticipation of suffering. His most famous disciple is Friedrich Nietzsche, but others who owe him a serious debt of gratitude amount to a list of intellectual summits: Richard Wagner, particularly for Tristan und Isolde; Ludwig Wittgenstein, who claimed Schopenhauer was the one philosopher he studied before upending the philosophical world with his Tractatus; Sigmund Freud, who was an absolutely miserable jerk for not giving Schopenhauer more credit for his explorations of the unconscious; and many others, such as Samuel Beckett, Jorge Luis Borges and Jacob Burckhardt. But beyond Schopenhauer’s relentless pessimism, what did he actually believe?

In 1987 Bryan Magee, a philosopher, MP and radio broadcaster, presented The Great Philosophers on the BBC. The idea was simple: invite an eminent thinker to sit on the couch and talk casually about the beliefs of some important historical philosophers. In the episode presented here, Magee is joined by Fr. Frederick Copleston to discuss the foundational ideas of Schopenhauer’s system of thought. As Magee is keen to announce at the beginning of the programme, he himself is the most respected expounder of Schopenhauer’s philosophy in the Anglophone world – nevertheless, Copleston, a brilliant historian of philosophy, is the perfect match for their discussion. Over the next 44 minutes, relax as two aggressively English philosophers explain Schopenhauer’s metaphysics and ethics, his search for the limits of thought, and even how he anticipated modern day physics by, in Magee’s words, the mere ‘reasoning out of it’.


Five miles of fake flowers, cat cushions and muzak: enter the world’s largest market

The Yiwu International Trade City in China is the world’s largest wholesale market for consumer goods, stretching some five miles and featuring roughly 75,000 vendors. The Chinese-American filmmaker Jessica Kingdon’s observational documentary Commodity City employs static shots of everyday scenes from the market – mostly without dialogue – to convey the seemingly endless stretches of vendor booths that specialise in everything from cat pillows to Santa figurines. Through these vignettes, Kingdon captures the incongruous interplay of boredom and commerce, vastness and claustrophobia that characterises this otherworldly space, offering a hypnotic anthropologic exploration of consumer culture and capitalism.

Director: Jessica Kingdon

Producers: Daniel Cooper, Kira Simon-Kennedy

People have been trying to talk with apes for nearly a century. How far have we got?

Since the early 20th century, a number of curious (and sometimes ethically dubious) psychological studies have tried to figure out if we can communicate with great apes using language. In the 1970s, the answer was reported to be an unequivocal ‘yes’ after Koko, a female western lowland gorilla, learned to sign at her handler, a graduate student at Stanford University, using a modified version of American Sign Language. But more recent critiques of the Koko studies (and others) dispute the idea that great apes have had truly meaningful two-way language communication with humans. This video from NPR’s Skunk Bear offers a brief survey of the history of ape-human communication research, suggesting that ‘Can we talk with them?’ might be the wrong question to ask.

Video by Skunk Bear

Producers: Ryan Kellman, Adam Cole

There’s nothing like falling for a plastic surgeon to help you embrace your body as it is

After meeting a potential romantic partner – ‘the nicest guy in the world’– while on vacation, the Canadian filmmaker Andrea Dorfman had a difficult time reconciling everything she liked about him with her judgment of his work as a plastic surgeon. Although most of his work was reconstructive, she couldn’t kick the feeling that the cosmetic surgeries he performed made people feel imperfect, sending the message that some body shapes are better than others. In her charming, vulnerable and heartfelt animated film Flawed, Dorfman sketches out the story of their romance in time-lapse watercolour animations that recreate how the two corresponded with handmade postcards as she confronted insecurities from childhood that challenged her ideas about herself. Flawed was nominated for a News and Documentary Emmy Award following its 2010 release.

Director: Andrea Dorfman

Producer: Annette Clark

Website: National Film Board of Canada

How Rembrandt used light and motion to make a mundane commission a masterpiece

The oil painting Militia Company of District II Under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq (1642), better-known as The Night Watch, is probably Rembrandt’s most famous work. Its status and critical acclaim, though, have little to do with its subject matter: a civic-guard group tasked with keeping watch on the city walls. In 17th-century Amsterdam, it was highly common for these guilds – mostly well-off men who rarely saw anything resembling conflict – to commission portraits of themselves wearing their uniforms and holding weapons. So why has The Night Watch endured while so many similar portraits have drifted into obscurity? In this video essay, Evan Puschak (also known as the Nerdwriter) examines how Rembrandt’s riveting interplay of light, motion, texture and expression transformed a commonplace commission into a masterwork.

Video by The Nerdwriter

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