Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Suri and Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer was a gloomy German philosopher of genius from the nineteenth century (1788-1860). He remains of interest today in part because of the extremely dark, incomplete, but deeply fascinating things he wrote about love. He began by observing that most philosophers have not been interested in love:

“It is absurd that an emotion which plays such an important part in the life of man has been so little studied by philosophers.”

But he knew how important love is in the lives of everyone:
“Love interrupts at every hour the most serious occupations, and sometimes perplexes for a while even the greatest minds. It does not hesitate to interfere with the negotiations of statesmen and the investigations of scientists.”

Why do we fall in love? Schopenhauer believed it was the action of a force within us far stronger than reason, which he termed the will-to-life, and which he defined as an inherent drive within all human beings to have children. The will-to-life ensured that the most career-minded individuals would be seduced by the thought of love and background hopes for a child.

Schopenhauer refused to think of our interest in love as either disproportionate or accidental. It was entirely in line with love’s function.

“Why all this noise and fuss? Why all the urgency, uproar, anguish and exertion? Why should such a trifle play so important a role? It is no trifle that is here in question; on the contrary, the importance of the matter is perfectly in keeping with the earnestness and ardour of the effort. The ultimate aim of all love-affairs is actually more important than all other aims in a person’s life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it.”

The fact that the continuation of the species is seldom in our minds when we ask for a phone number is no objection to the theory. We are, suggested Schopenhauer, split into conscious and unconscious selves, the unconscious governed by the will-to-life, the conscious subservient to it and unable to learn of all its plans.

“The intellect does not penetrate into the secret workshop of the will’s decisions. It is being lied to all the time during the period of being in love.”

Why should such deception be necessary? Because, for Schopenhauer, we would not form relationships and have children unless we had completely lost our minds.

One of the most profound mysteries of love is why we go for some people and not others. Our choosiness did not surprise Schopenhauer. We are not free to fall in love with everyone because we cannot produce healthy children with everyone. Our will-to-life drives us towards people who will raise our chances of producing beautiful and intelligent off-spring, and repulses us away from those who lower these same chances. Love is nothing but the conscious manifestation of the will-to-life’s discovery of an ideal co parent.

Unfortunately, his theory of attraction led Schopenhauer to a conclusion so bleak, it may be best if hopeful engaged readers stopped here: namely, that a person who is highly suitable for creating a healthy child with is almost never (though we cannot realise it at the time because we have been blindfolded by the will-to-life) very suitable for us emotionally.

The pursuit of personal happiness and the production of healthy children are two radically different projects, which love maliciously confuses us into thinking of as one for a required stretch of time. Then one day, when it is too late, we realise.

We should not be surprised by marriages between people who could never even have been friends:

“Love casts itself on people who, apart from attraction, would be hateful, contemptible, and even abhorrent to one another. But the will of the species is so much more powerful than that of reason, that lovers shut their eyes to all problems, overlook everything, misjudge everything, and bind themselves for ever to an object of passion. They are so completely infatuated by a delusion, which will vanish as soon as the will of the species is satisfied, leaving behind a detested partner.”

Schopenhauer was in little doubt that all parents were involved in some kind of trans-generational sacrifice:

“The coming generation is provided for at the expense of the present.”

Schopenhauer might have offered unflattering explanations of why we fall in love, but he offered real consolation for failed relationships – the consolation of knowing that unhappiness is entirely normal.

“The point of marriage is not intellectual entertainment or emotional understanding, but the procreation of healthy children.”

Schopenhauer did not mean to depress us, rather to free us from romantic expectations, which he believed to be at the root of human misery.

“There is only one inborn error, and that is the notion that we exist in order to be happy. So long as we persist in this inborn error, the world seems to us full of contradictions. For at every step, in great things and small, we are bound to experience that the world and life are certainly not arranged for the purpose of maintaining happiness. So much would be gained if through timely advice and instruction all young people could have eradicated from their minds once and for all the foolish notion that the world has a great deal to offer them.”