Peter Wessel Zapffe
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|Born||December 18, 1899
|Died||October 12, 1990
|Era||20th century philosophy|
|School||Biosophy, philosophical pessimism|
|Notable ideas||Biosophy, the Last Messiah, "remedies against panic"|
Peter Wessel Zapffe (December 18, 1899 – October 12, 1990) was a Norwegian metaphysician, author and mountaineer. He was well known for his somewhat pessimistic view of human existence and his philosophy is considered to be an example of philosophical pessimism, much like the work of the earlier philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, by whom he was inspired. His thoughts regarding the error of human existence are presented in the essay "The Last Messiah" (original: Den sidste Messias, 1933). This essay is a shorter version of his best-known work, the philosophical treatise On the Tragic (original: Om det tragiske 1941).
Zapffe's theory is that humans are born with an overdeveloped skill (understanding, self-knowledge) which does not fit into nature's design. The human craving for justification on matters such as life and death cannot be satisfied, hence humanity has a need that nature cannot satisfy. The tragedy, following this theory, is that humans spend all their time trying not to be human. The human being, therefore, is a paradox.
In The Last Messiah Zapffe described four principal defense mechanisms that humankind uses to avoid facing this paradox:
- Isolation is "a fully arbitrary dismissal from consciousness of all disturbing and destructive thought and feeling".
- Anchoring is the "fixation of points within, or construction of walls around, the liquid fray of consciousness". The anchoring mechanism provides individuals a value or an ideal that allows them to focus their attentions in a consistent manner. Zapffe also applied the anchoring principle to society, and stated "God, the Church, the State, morality, fate, the laws of life, the people, the future" are all examples of collective primary anchoring firmaments.
- Distraction is when "one limits attention to the critical bounds by constantly enthralling it with impressions". Distraction focuses all of one's energy on a task or idea to prevent the mind from turning in on itself.
- Sublimation is the refocusing of energy away from negative outlets, toward positive ones. The individual distances him/herself and looks at their existence from an aesthetic point of view (e.g., writers, poets, painters). Zapffe himself pointed out that his produced works were the product of sublimation.
Zapffe was a prolific mountaineer and took a very early interest in environmentalism. This form of nature conservationism sprung from the intent, not of protecting nature, but to avoid human culturalization of nature. He is the author of many humorous short stories about climbing and other adventures in nature.
Zapffe was married twice. He remained married to his second wife Berit Zapffe until his death in 1990. Berit herself died in May 2008. Zapffe believed that having children should be problematised and remained childless by choice.
Greater works 
- Om det tragiske (En: On the Tragic), Oslo, 1941 and 1983.
- Den fortapte sønn. En dramatisk gjenfortælling (En: The Prodigal Son: A Dramatic Renarration), Oslo, 1951.
- Indføring i litterær dramaturgi (En: Introduction to Literary Dramaturgy), Oslo, 1961.
- Den logiske sandkasse. Elementær logikk for universitet og selvstudium (En: The Logical Sandpit: Elementary Logic for University and Individual Study), Oslo, 1965.
- Lyksalig pinsefest. Fire samtaler med Jørgen (En: Blissful Pentecost: Four Dialogues with Jørgen), Oslo, 1972.
- Hos doktor Wangel. En alvorlig spøk i fem akter (En: With Doctor Wangel: An Earnest Jest in Five Acts), by Ib Henriksen (pseudonym.), Oslo, 1974. Play.
- Rikets hemmelighet. En kortfattet Jesus-biografi (En: The Secret of the Kingdom: A Short Biography of Jesus), Oslo, 1985.
Collections of his shorter writings 
- Essays og epistler (En: Essays and epistles), Oslo, 1967.
- Barske glæder og andre temaer fra et liv under åpen himmel (En: Rough Joys, and other themes from a life lived under the open sky), Oslo 1969.
- Spøk og alvor. Epistler og leilighetsvers (En: Jest and Earnest: epistles and occasional verse), Oslo, 1977.
- Hvordan jeg blev så flink og andre tekster (En: How I Became So Clever, and other texts), Oslo, 1986.
Other works 
- Vett og uvett. Stubber fra Troms og Nordland (En: Sense and Silly: small stories from Troms and Nordland) by Einar K. Aas and P.W Zapffe, Trondheim 1942.
See also 
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Peter Wessel Zapffe|
- Peter Wessel Zapffes fotografier til Nasjonalbiblioteket
- "Philosopher of tragedy" by Thomas Hylland Eriksen
- "The View from Mount Zapffe" by Gisle Tangenes
- University of Oslo
- University of the Arctic
- Family genealogy