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daliI don’t know what possessed me to do it but I sat down to read some Arnold Schopenhauer (a 19th Century German philosopher) this past weekend. Schopenhauer was famous for his pessimism. A couple brief quotes will give you the flavor of his joyful wisdom:

“If the immediate and direct purpose of our life is not suffering then our existence is the most ill-adapted to its purpose in the world.”

Or: “Today it is bad, and day by day it will get worse―until at last the worst of all arrives.”

Charming.

He thought  the way most of us try to alleviate the agony only makes it worse. Power, money, and sex are cruelly transitory, the pleasure vanishing quickly leaving only more painful desires and frustration. Life has only one direction, a more and more precipitous decline and there is nothing we can do about it. This is true for all living beings but humans have it worse because we have memory and imagination so we can relive the horrors and imagine our demise. Distractions such as politics, religion and family life are as unstable as pleasure and desire.

Life with Arnold must have been a barrel of laughs. The problem is nothing he says is false. He’s right that pleasure and desire are short-lived and much of life is unstable and subject to persistent decline.

The solution to coping with these truths, one that apparently never occurred Schopenhauer, is to embrace the transitory. The fact that an event is short-lived makes it even more precious, even more worthy of esteem.

If wine teaches us anything at all, it is to do just that.  Wine changes from the moment it is fermented until it is finally consumed. Aroma notes are ephemeral, vintages and bottlings disappear forever once they are consumed, the very best wines inevitably decline. You really cannot fully appreciate wine without appreciating its ephemeral, transitory nature. The work of wine is get us to acknowledge that.

Schopenhauer makes only occasional references to wine so I don’t know if he admired it. But one thing is sure—he did not understand its significance.

For more on the philosophy of wine visit my Monday Column archives on Three Quarks Daily

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