Arthur Schopenhauer On Noise

Arthur Schopenhauer, a 19th-century German philosopher, expressed his thoughts on noise in his essay titled “On Noise” (“Über Lärm” in German), which is part of his collection of essays titled “Parerga and Paralipomena.” Schopenhauer was known for his pessimistic philosophy and his exploration of human suffering.

In “On Noise,” Schopenhauer discusses the impact of noise on human well-being and tranquility. He expresses a strong dislike for unnecessary and disruptive sounds, considering them a serious intrusion into one’s peace of mind. Schopenhauer argues that the detrimental effects of noise go beyond mere annoyance; he suggests that it has the power to disrupt thought, concentration, and overall mental well-being.

Schopenhauer identifies different types of noise, ranging from the urban cacophony of city life to the intrusive sounds of people talking loudly or making unnecessary noise in public spaces. He criticizes the social norms that seem to tolerate and even encourage such disturbances. According to Schopenhauer, excessive noise reflects a lack of consideration for others and contributes to the overall dissatisfaction and discomfort of human existence.

In the essay, Schopenhauer also touches upon the idea that people are drawn to noise as a distraction from their own thoughts and inner emptiness. He sees this as a form of escapism and suggests that individuals who constantly seek out noise may be trying to avoid confronting the deeper, more profound aspects of their own existence.

While Schopenhauer’s views on noise may be seen as extreme by some, his perspective reflects his broader philosophical themes, including the challenges of human existence and the pursuit of inner peace in a world filled with suffering.

If a big diamond is cut up into pieces, it immediately loses its value as a whole; or if an army is scattered or divided into small bodies, it loses all its power; and in the same way a great intellect has no more power than an ordinary one as soon as it is interrupted, disturbed, distracted, or diverted; for its superiority entails that it concentrates all its strength on one point and object, just as a concave mirror concentrates all the rays of light thrown upon it.

Noisy interruption prevents this concentration.

The most intelligent of all the European nations has called “Never interrupt” the eleventh commandment.
But noise is the most impertinent of all interruptions, for it not only interrupts our own thoughts but disperses them. Where, however, there is nothing to interrupt, noise naturally will not be felt particularly. Sometimes a trifling but incessant noise torments and disturbs me for a time, and before I become distinctly conscious of it I feel it merely as the effort of thinking becomes more difficult, just as I should feel a weight on my foot; then I realise what it is.

Nothing gives me so clear a grasp of the stupidity and thoughtlessness of mankind as the tolerance of the cracking of whips.

Hammering, the barking of dogs, and the screaming of children are abominable; but it is only the cracking of a whip that is the true murderer of thought.

But we can see often enough something that is even still worse. I mean a carter walking alone, and without any horses, through the streets incessantly cracking his whip. He has become so accustomed to the crack in consequence of its unwarrantable toleration. Since one looks after one’s body and all its needs in a most tender fashion, is the thinking mind to be the only thing that never experiences the slightest consideration or protection, to say nothing of respect? Carters, sack-bearers (porters), messengers, and such-like, are the beasts of burden of humanity; they should be treated absolutely with justice, fairness, forbearance and care, but they ought not to be allowed to thwart the higher exertions of the human race by wantonly making a noise. I should like to know how many great and splendid thoughts these whips have cracked out of the world. If I had any authority, I should soon produce in the heads of these carters an inseparable nexus idearum between cracking a whip and receiving a whipping.

Let us hope that those nations with more intelligence and refined feelings will make a beginning, and then by force of example induce the Germans to do the same. Meanwhile, hear what Thomas Hood says of them (Up the Rhine): “For a musical people they are the most noisy I ever met with” That they are so is not due to their being more prone to making a noise than other people, but to their insensibility, which springs from obtuseness; they are not disturbed by it in reading or thinking, because they do not think; they only smoke, which is their substitute for thought.

The nature of our intellect is such that ideas are said to spring by abstraction from observations, so that the latter are in existence before the former. If this is really what takes place, as is the case with a man who has merely his own experience as his teacher and book, he knows quite well which of his observations belong to and are represented by each of his ideas; he is perfectly acquainted with both, and accordingly he treats everything correctly that comes before his notice. We might call this the natural mode of education.

He has never attempted to abstract fundamental ideas from his own observations and experience, because he has got everything ready-made from other people; and it is for this very reason that he and countless others are so insipid and

Recommended books:

If you’re interested in exploring the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer further, here are some recommended books by and about him:

“The World as Will and Representation” (“Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung”) – This is Schopenhauer’s magnum opus and provides a comprehensive exposition of his philosophical system.

“Essays and Aphorisms” (“Essays und Aphorismen”) – This collection includes some of Schopenhauer’s shorter writings and aphorisms, offering insights into various aspects of his philosophy.

“On the Suffering of the World” (“Über die Weiber”) – This is a shorter work by Schopenhauer that delves into his thoughts on human suffering and the nature of existence.

“Schopenhauer: A Very Short Introduction” by Christopher Janaway – This is part of the “Very Short Introductions” series and provides a concise overview of Schopenhauer’s life and key ideas.

“The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer” edited by Christopher Janaway – This collection of essays by various authors provides in-depth analyses of different aspects of Schopenhauer’s philosophy.

“Arthur Schopenhauer: Philosopher of Pessimism” by Julian Young – This biography explores Schopenhauer’s life and philosophy in a detailed and accessible manner.

“Schopenhauer’s Porcupines: Intimacy and Its Dilemmas: Five Stories of Psychotherapy” by Deborah Anna Luepnitz – While not directly about Schopenhauer, this book draws on his metaphor of the porcupines to explore the challenges of human intimacy, applying psychological insights.

“Schopenhauer: A Biography” by David E. Cartwright – This biography provides a comprehensive account of Schopenhauer’s life and intellectual development.

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