Julian Young at the TLS:
Schopenhauer’s discovery that the underlying “essence” of life is will is not a happy one. For, as the second of the Buddha’s “Four Noble Truths” tells us, to will is to suffer. What follows, as the first of the “Truths” tells us, is that life is suffering, from which Schopenhauer concludes that “it would be better for us not to exist”. He offers two main arguments in support of the claim that to will is (mostly) to suffer, the first of which I shall call the “competition argument” and the second the “stress-or-boredom argument”.
The world in which the will – first and foremost the “will to life” – must seek to satisfy itself, the competition argument observes, is a world of struggle, of “war, all against all” in which only the victor survives. On pain of extinction, the hawk must feed on the sparrow and the sparrow on the worm. The will to life in one individual has no option but to destroy the will to life in another. Fifty years before Darwin, Schopenhauer observes that nature’s economy is conserved through overpopulation: it produces enough antelopes to perpetuate the species but also a surplus to feed the lions. It follows that fear, pain and death are not isolated malfunctions of a generally benevolent order, but are inseparable from the means by which the natural ecosystem preserves itself.