Frederick Copleston and Bryan Magee on Schopenhauer

44 minutes

Multiverse

3 minutes

The mechanics of bird flight

3 minutes

Shepherd’s delight

8 minutes

We are built to be kind

5 minutes

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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’.

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Time dilates and people flow in and out of each other in a hallucinatory urban commute

Warning: this film features rapidly flashing images that can be distressing to photosensitive viewers.

A commute is often judged good or bad by how long it takes, but sometimes getting from one place to another can yield wrinkles in our experience of time. The Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Kondo explores this phenomenon in his often breathtaking video Multiverse, layering time on itself to create a hallucinatory vision of countless scooterists flowing through Taiwan’s capital Taipei. The result is a vision of a city and its people that takes an ordered freneticism and manipulates it to create a sense of time speeding up and standing still. People are momentarily discernible as individuals before morphing into strange amalgams of humanity. As the piece progresses, the pace becomes increasingly dizzying, until finally the crowd melds into an amorphous blur of light and motion. For another surreal take on the urban world from Kondo, watch his video Eye Know (2014).

Director: Hiroshi Kondo

Music and Sound design: Himuro Yoshiteru

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Flight manifest: from take-off to landing, a bird’s eye introduction to flying

It seems to be a deeply human experience to catch sight of a bird on the wing and stand there entranced, whether by a hummingbird’s frenetic zipping lines, a hawk’s graceful curves or any of the countless other forms of avian flight. Created by the US animator Stephen Cunnane as a tool to demonstrate realistic bird movements to other animators, this breezy short renders winged flights using silhouettes, detailing the key manoeuvres of avian aerodynamics. If only this how-to manual allowed us to take to the air ourselves… For more from Cunnane, watch his companion animation Animal Gaits.

Video by Stephen Cunnane

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A horse walks into a pub: on the excruciating trauma of being told a joke

You’re at a party, perhaps finding your next drink, when someone you hardly know comes up and asks: ‘Hey, want to hear a good one?’ The real answer is almost always: ‘No, thank you,’ but as a polite guest, what choice do you really have? This excerpt from the film Shepherd’s Delight (1984) drops the viewer directly into this awkward scenario, with a quip about two racehorses talking shop in a bar. As the joke-teller eagerly addresses his audience, a wry running commentary breaks down the psychological minutiae of joke-telling, including the many emotions – from discomfort to sweet relief – experienced by the audience. Infused with a peculiar, subversive sense of humour, the UK filmmaker John Smith’s short is a mad meta-comedy – clever, a bit mean and discomfitingly relatable.

Director: John Smith

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Don’t misread Darwin: for humans, ‘survival of the fittest’ means being sympathetic

One of the shockwaves from Charles Darwin’s idea that humans evolved from other animals was moral panic. If our ethics are not guided by an omnipotent and all-knowing god and, instead, life is driven by ‘survival of the fittest’ via natural selection, how could we possibly expect humans to behave with anything other than brash self-interest? Yet Darwin’s use of the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ was hardly meant to suggest that existence was a knockdown, drag-out fight – he was very clear that generosity, sympathy and all those other traits that give us warm feelings are central to human survival. In this short video, the psychologist Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley puts kindness in evolutionary context, connecting his own recent neural-imaging work on compassion with Darwin’s view that sympathy is a cornerstone of human flourishing.

Video by Fig. 1

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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’.

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