The philosopher’s task is, for Germany’s Arthur Schopenhauer, to make explicit the deciphering of the enigma of the world. And this is achieved, to the extent that one discovers that the world is Will and representation: philosophy ought to be, then, the comprehension of this mystery. The history of philosophy merely describes how much each philosopher has drawn close to that discovery about the world. This relationship permeates Fragments of the History of Philosophy , by Schopenhauer, published in 1851. As the history of philosophy is not, for the author, an orderly process, and has its ups (Plato and Kant, for example) and downs (Hegel, amongst others), one realizes why it is fragmentary: one tries before to interpret some philosophers and sets off from their ideas on what is related to the mission of philosophy.
The fragments are not, then, random, but are, shall we say, the result of a surgical incision, a choice of someone who knows he is running the risk of becoming a forensic pathologist – doing a mere history of philosophy is not doing philosophy, but rather an autopsy, in which the living text of the philosophers is replaced by the dead letter of the commentary: “Reading, instead of the works of the philosophers themselves, varied expositions of their doctrines or the history of philosophy in general is the same as our wanting someone to chew up the food for us. Who would read the history of the world, if he were at liberty to observe with his own eyes the past events that interested him But, as far as the history of philosophy is concerned, an autopsy like this of its object is truly accessible to us, namely, the very writings of the philosophers in which, however, for love of brevity, we can even limit ourselves to some well chosen main chapters” (Fragments, §1).
It is worth observing that the attitude of forensic pathologist-historian is overshadowed by that of the philosopher who is, shall we say, physiological: it is a question of perceiving not only what philosophies die of, but, in particular, what they live on.The instruments for this double incision come from Schopenhauer’s thinking: Will, representation, thing in itself, phenomenon, body, idealism, dogmatism are notions that command his (unfair) interpretation of the various philosophies – which both denounces the theoretical landmarks of the author, which range from the Greeks to the moderns, passing by the neoplatonists and scholastics (influences not always duly recognized – for example, Aristotle and Plotinus) and constitute, above all, a testimony of his own philosophy.
And, for being a text of maturity, there are in the Fragments precious indications about the transformations that we find in his work since the publication of On the Will in Nature (1836). Accordingly, it is not by chance that the philosophy of the moderns and their attempts at deciphering the enigma of the world are seen following the notions of substance and matter, central for the metaphysics of Will in the second edition of The World as Will and Representation (1844). In this movement, Schopenhauer, now with a knowledge of the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason, revisits the philosophy of Kant, at the same time that he criticizes the “sophists” Fichte, Schelling and Hegel: the Fragments constitute a key text for an understanding of the development of the relations between the metaphysics of the Will, Kantian criticism, and the so-called “German idealism”.
For its importance in the inside of Schopenhauer’s work, translating the Fragments is a precise choice of someone with a profound knowledge of the philosopher. Maria Lúcia Cacciola offers the reader, besides a fine introductory essay, an excellent translation enriched with notes, contributing once again to make even more lively the necessary debate on this thinker, so often unjustly overshadowed.
Eduardo Brandão is a doctor in Philosophy from the University of São Paulo and a professor of philosophy of the Sociology and Politics School Foundation.
Fragments of the History of Philosophy
Translation, presentation and notes:
Maria Lúcia Cacciola