Arthur Schopenhauer was born in 1788. He is probably my favorite philosopher. Not surprisingly, he was a proponent of philosophical pessimism, which is “a worldview or ethic that seeks to face up to the distasteful realities of the world and eliminate irrational hopes and expectations.” I think that puts rather too rosy a gloss on what Schopenhauer wrote. I don’t actually accept his idea in The World as Will and Representation, but I nonetheless think he is onto something profound. The will is what keeps us living even though life is nothing so much as a sequence of painful events. As Wikipedia describes the will as it applies to ontology, “Schopenhauer presents a pessimistic picture on which unfulfilled desires are painful, and pleasure is merely the sensation experienced at the instant one such pain is removed. However, most desires are never fulfilled, and those that are fulfilled are instantly replaced by more unfulfilled ones.” On the other hand, if you look at those photos of him as an old man, I think you can tell that he saw humor in the absurdities of life. Ultimately, I think that is our only hope. Because life does not make sense and continuing through all of this pain makes no sense. If it gets better, it will only be temporary.
The tallest man in human history, Robert Wadlow was born in 1918. He was 8 feet 11 inches tall—three feet taller than his father. When I was a kid, I thought he was amazing. Now I look at him and I am filled with sadness. How can people look at him and think that there is a loving god. The man lived in pain most of his life and if he had lived longer, he certainly would have reached the point where he couldn’t walk. What a mess.
Other birthdays: the great Romantic period composer Frederic Chopin (1810); poet James Russell Lowell (1819); astronomer Pierre Janssen (1824); physicists Heinrich Hertz (1857); the great chess writer Savielly Tartakower (1887); the great film director Luis Bunuel (1900); actor John Mills (1908); announcer Don Pardo (96); film director David Greene (1921); actor Paul Dooley (86); statesman Ted Kennedy (1932); film director Jonathan Demme (70); actor Julie Walters (64); actor Kyle MacLachlan (55); and actor Drew Barrymore (39).
The day, however, belongs to the great Shakespearean scholar Terry Eagleton who is 71 today. But the truth is that I don’t know much about his work. I have one of his books, William Shakespeare. It was my first exposure to him where he wrote, “To any unprejudiced reader—which would seem to exclude Shakespeare himself, his contemporary audiences and almost all literary critics—it is surely clear that positive vlue in Macbeth lies with the three witches.” He goes on to discuss how the witches are democratic whereas the Scots are hierarchical and so on. How can you not love a man who would write such a thing?
Since then, I have read a number of Eagleton’s book. He writes these very insightful short books on philosophy such as Reason, Faith, and Revolution and On Evil. I especially like him because intellectually he is an outsider. Just as I am an atheist who offends all other atheists, he is a Christian who offends all other Christians. This is pretty much because my form of atheism is the same as his form of Christianity. Regardless, he is always worth reading because he always has something interesting to say, unlike most intellectuals.
Happy birthday Terry Eagleton!