- Schopenhauer’s Compass: An Introduction to Schopenhauer’s Philosophy and Its Origins by Urs App
In the past several decades of scholarship on Arthur Schopenhauer, a cottage industry has emerged that investigates the relationship between Schopenhauer and Indian thought. Studies on Schopenhauer and Indian thought usually fall into one (or more) of three categories: comparative studies of Schopenhauer’s views and Indian philosophies such as Advaita Vedānta and Buddhism,1 studies on Schopenhauer’s reception of Indian thought,2 and studies examining the extent to which Indian sources might have influenced the development of Schopenhauer’s philosophical views.3
As early as 1816, Schopenhauer himself gave impetus to studies of this third type with his famous remark: “I confess, by the way, that I do not believe that my theory could have come about before the Upanishads, Plato, and Kant could cast their rays simultaneously into the mind of one man.”4 To this day, however, scholars have been puzzling over precisely how—and to what extent—the “Upanishads” influenced the development of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Of course, as is well known, the young Schopenhauer in 1814 studied not the Sanskrit Upaniṣads themselves but the Oupnek’hat (1802), Anquetil-Duperron’s Latin rendering of Prince Dara Shikoh’s Persian translation of—and commentary on—the original Sanskrit Upaniṣads. Hence, careful examination of the Oupnek’hat is clearly indispensable both for studies of Schopenhauer’s complexly mediated reception of Indian thought and for studies on the possible influence of Indian thought on Schopenhauer’s philosophical views.
Strangely, however, very few studies have discussed the Oupnek’hat in any detail or examined Schopenhauer’s own heavily annotated copy of the Oupnek’hat [End Page 942] now held in the Frankfurt Archives. All of this changed with Urs App’s philologically pioneering book, Schopenhauers Kompass: Die Geburt einer Philosophie (Rorschach/Kyoto: UniversityMedia, 2011), the centerpiece of which is a sustained and painstaking examination of Schopenhauer’s annotated copy of the Oupnek’hat. While numerous Schopenhauer scholars have acknowledged the significance of App’s book, it has not yet received the wide attention it deserves, perhaps in part because it was written in German and in part because the publisher is somewhat obscure.
We should all be grateful to App for translating his own German book into English as Schopenhauer’s Compass: An Introduction to Schopenhauer’s Philosophy and Its Origins, thereby making it accessible to a much wider audience. As App points out in the book’s preface, the English edition is on the whole a literal translation of the original German book, but he did take the liberty to modify sentences and arguments at certain places and to discuss some relevant publications that appeared after 2011 (such as Stephen Cross’ important book, Schopenhauer’s Encounter with Indian Thought). The new English edition also contains two valuable appendices. Appendix 1, “Schopenhauer’s Favorite Book,” is entirely new, and Appendix 2, “Research Perspectives,” is an expanded and updated version of the concluding chapter of the original German edition. In light of these changes, even those who have already read the German edition of the book would benefit from reading at least the two appendices to the English edition.
In chapter 1, App employs the apt metaphor of a compass as a hermeneutic framework to help illuminate the genesis and evolution of Schopenhauer’s metaphysics of the will. Just as a compass needle simultaneously indicates the “two diametrically opposed directions” of South and North, Schopenhauer’s thought—throughout his life—exhibits an antipodal structure, a simultaneous concern with the “South” end of suffering and the “North” end of salvation or liberation from suffering (p. 11).
In the ten remaining chapters of the book, App carefully tracks how Schopenhauer’s terms for—and explanations of—the twin poles of suffering and salvation subtly evolved in the course of his early thinking from 1806 to 1816, culminating in Schopenhauer’s mature conception of the affirmation and abolition of the will. In...