The previous post on Schopenhauer may be found here.
At this point, Schopenhauer develops his argument concerning solitude. We can see this argument in a few different ways. There are three quotations which help outline his argument:
From what has been said it is obvious that the love of solitude is not a direct, original impulse in human nature, but rather something secondary and of gradual growth. It is the more distinguishing feature of nobler minds, developed not without some conquest of natural desires, and now and then in actual opposition to the promptings of Mephistopheles–bidding you exchange a morose and soul-destroying solitude for life amongst men, for society;
The love of solitude which was formerly indulged only at the expense of our desire for society, has now come to be the simple quality of our natural disposition–the element proper to our life, as water to a fish. This is why anyone who possesses a unique individuality–unlike others and therefore necessarily isolated–feels that, as he becomes older, his position is no longer so burdensome as when he was young.
Let me advise you, then, to form the habit of taking some of your solitude with you into society, to learn to be to some extent alone even though you are in company; not to say at once what you think, and, on the other hand, not to attach too precise a meaning to what others say; rather, not to expect much of them, either morally or intellectually, and to strengthen yourself in the feeling of indifference to their opinion, which is the surest way of always practicing a praiseworthy toleration.
These arguments contain an overweening pride: “the distinguishing feature of nobler minds”; “anyone who possesses a unique individuality – unlike others”; “not to expect much of them, either morally or intellectually”. At first read, it would be easy just to think Arthur is a self-impressed jerk, even if he is smart.
But there is something else here: a justification for this difference from others. And seen from a distance, it inspires a certain sadness for the man. He admits that solitude was not a natural condition, but something he grew into, he learned it. He began by feeling “isolated” and later learned this as solitude. He had to engage in conquest of his “natural desires.” For one who has learned solitude, he “feels that, as he becomes older, his position is no longer so burdensome as when he was young.”
He wanted to have (more) friends. He learned to live with none or few and then wrapped himself in a sense of superiority to disburden himself of loneliness.
There is some psychological protecting himself against the temptation to desire company:
It is the more distinguishing feature of nobler minds, developed not without some conquest of natural desires, and now and then in actual opposition to the promptings of Mephistopheles–bidding you exchange a morose and soul-destroying solitude for life amongst men, for society;
It is Faust’s devil Mephistopheles who tempts him to feel lonely and desire company. But by resisting the desire for company, he is turning his back on the Devil.
It really should be noted that what is missing here is any sense of balance. There are remarkable goods in solitude. Contemplation, prayer, meditation are necessary. To be always in company is as crippling as to be always alone. We are made for both. Taking Jesus as the model for the most well-balanced man, we see him both alone and in company; never neglecting one or the other.
What we have in Schopenhauer is someone defending himself from loneliness with arrogance (at least as he portrays himself in this book); and for that, I feel some sympathy for him – even though the comic self-preening is difficult to overlook. Perhaps it is easier to feel sympathy for him, because I never had to endure what seems to have been his scorn for others.