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Schopenhauer differs from most other philosophers in that he has influenced not only the development of the history of thought, the course along which modern philosophy has proceeded, but in that his views have been welcomed as an inspiration, accepted almost in the spirit of a religious faith by workers in quite other departments of life.
No philosopher has so directly touched and influenced the great art movements of modern times. It is now nearly one hundred years since the publication of his greatest work, and his philosophy is a more potent and vitalising force to-day than in his own lifetime. It has been a source of inspiration to artists and has directly stimulated their creative activity, probably more than any other abstract system has ever done.
Poetry has always been influenced subtly by philosophy. Spenser and Shelley are imbued through and through with the doctrines of Plato. Goethe wrote some of his finest work under the spell of Spinoza, and some of Wordsworth's deepest experiences were interpreted to him through the ideas of Kant. It is to all artists, but especially to musicians, that Schopenhauer makes his most intimate appeal. For in his system music plays a strangely important part, above and apart from all the other arts. In analysing its spiritual character, he endows it with mystic significance. One famous instance of this influence is that of Wagner. His acquaintance with Schopenhauer's philosophy marked a turning-point in his artistic life. It gave a tremendous stimulus to his musical productivity, and while under its influence he composed his greatest works.
Schopenhauer's system expresses, according to his own statement, only a single thought, viewed in different aspects. He considers it from the metaphysical, æsthetic, and ethical points of view. This fundamental thought, which lies at the root of his entire philosophy, is concerned with the significance of the will. The will alone gives the key to the understanding of man's existence. Every force in nature is to be regarded as will, and the inner reality of the universe is to be found only in will.
While it is especially to those who are concerned with the problems arising out of the function and significance of art that Schopenhauer offers such fruitful and fascinating suggestions, the other aspects of his system offer solutions in the sphere of ethics and metaphysics of almost equally vital importance. His insistence on the significance of instinct and intuition in all the lower and higher forms of life is of great importance in the history of philosophy. It is an aspect of the subject which until later times had been strangely neglected. This prominence which is given to instinct and intuition, is connected directly with his philosophy of the will.
Schopenhauer, unlike most philosophers, has always been read and appreciated by the general reader and student of life, as distinguished from the specialised student of philosophy. His fundamental attitude towards philosophy explains this to a great extent. Notwithstanding his marked leaning towards mysticism, he brought philosophy down to earth, and into relation with, the actual facts of life. He exchanged abstractions for realities. Philosophy had always been far too much concerned, he maintained, with abstract conceptions, and the philosopher had tended too exclusively to be a mere man of books and learning. The true philosopher, on the contrary, should be a guide to fine living as well as to high thinking.
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