Sublimation and Denial

Even though these powerful, irrational forces are a natural part of human existence, humans can and should attempt to rise above them. With great effort, humans are capable of approaching nirvana, a state characterized by freedom from irrational strivings. Schopenhauer anticipated Freud’s concept of sublimation when he said that some relief or escape from the irratio- nal forces within us can be attained by immersing ourselves in activities that are not need-related and therefore cannot be frustrated or satiated, activities such as poetry, theatre, art, music, Platonic philos- ophy, or unselfish, nonsexual, sympathetic love. Also, one can attempt to counteract these irratio- nal forces, especially the sex drive, by living a life of asceticism.

Schopenhauer believed that humans suffer more than other animals because our superior intellect allows us to detect the irrational urges within us. This same intellect, however, pro- vides what little relief is possible from the need and need satisfaction cycle—that is, by pursuing intel- lectual activities, instead of biological ones. Or we can attack the will head on, depriving it of fulfill- ment as much as possible. Because, for Schopen- hauer, will is the cause of everything; to deny it is to flirt with nothingness. Coming as close as possible to nonexistence is as close as one can get to not being totally controlled by one’s will. The will must be served if life is to continue, but one can be a reluctant servant.

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