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Eminent German philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), was in foster care for two years as a child. 

Arthur Schopenhauer was born into a successful merchant family in Danzig, Prussia (now Gdansk, Poland) but the family moved to Hamburg in Germany when Arthur was five. His father, Heinrich Floris Schopenhauer (1747-1805) wanted his son to work in the family business and Arthur’s education was aligned to this purpose. His mother, Johanna Trosiener Schopenhauer (1766-1838), became a writer of fiction and travelogues; her work was published in 1831. 

When Arthur was nine, he was sent to live for two years in Le Havre, France with one of his father’s business colleagues. This, says Robert Wicks, was the happiest period of his childhood. He became friends with the family’s son, Anthime Grégoires, and learned to speak French fluently. 

On his return to Hamburg, Arthur became increasingly disenchanted with the upper-class lifestyle of his parents and preferred his schoolwork. At fifteen, he was persuaded by his disappointed father to abandon his studies in favour of an extended period of travel through Europe and an apprenticeship in business on his return. Arthur kept his promise, including for two years after his father’s death. 

Johanna Schopenhauer sold the family business soon after her husband died and moved to Weimar—the intellectual heart of Germany at the time—a year later with Arthur’s younger sister, Adele. Arthur followed two years after, in 1807, moving to Gotha near Weimar initially, and then to Weimar where he lived in a separate house from his mother. With the help of a tutor, Arthur qualified to study medicine at the University of Gottingen in 1809 and two years after that he transferred to the University of Berlin and took up philosophy. By then, Arthur was financially independent having inherited a share of his father’s money in 1809. 

The popular Johann Gottlieb Fichte was lecturing at the University of Berlin, but Schopenhauer soon became disillusioned with Fichte’s ideas.  

In 1812, and with Berlin under the threat of a military attack by France, twenty-five-year-old Schopenhauer moved to the town of Rudolstadt, wrote his doctoral thesis and was awarded his doctorate from the University of Jena. Schopenhauer then returned to Weimar and sent a copy of his thesis to the literary giant, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a friend of his mother’s. 

After a disagreement with Johanna, 26-year-old Schopenhauer left Weimar for Dresden and never saw his mother again. During the four years Schopenhauer spent in Dresden, he completed what is regarded his “most famous and influential work” (Wicks, 6), The World as Will and Representation 

Despite his desire to work as an academic, Schopenhauer was unsuccessful in gaining an ongoing university post. He did some translation work and then left Berlin (in response to an outbreak of cholera) for Frankfurt via Mannheim where he remained for the rest of his life, devoting himself to writing. Schopenhauer did not receive recognition for his intellectual work—which was influenced by Indian philosophy—until he was in his sixties.  

Arthur Schopenhauer is often regarded as a pessimistic philosopher as from an early age, and like Buddha (he is believed to be the first Western philosopher to study Buddhism), he had been struck by the prevalence of suffering he witnessed. Schopenhauer’s ideas have influenced philosophers like Nietzsche, psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, musicians like Richard Wagner and writers including Thomas Mann. 

The Schopenhauer Society in Frankfurt was founded in 1911; it has an Australasian division which was established in 2020. 


Margrieta, Beer.  Schopenhauer. Kitchener, Ontario: Batoche Books, 2001. 

Arthur, Hubscher. “Arthur Schopenhauer. German philosopher”. Britannica, 2021.  

Wicks, Robert. Schopenhauer. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2008.