Schopenhauer’s Porcupine Dilemma

Tonight the porcupine shivers in the chill
of this long blue darkness, waiting for dawn

to reach out and warm the flesh
under spines, but bitter cold remains,

and does so for his brothers, equally armed,
a necessary solitude, for the creatures

embrace is a weapon of pain

cold from pain and the pain of cold,
there will be warmth but there will be the sting

of spines that pierce soft flesh,
the dilemma and the dance of life.


Note: Schopenhauer’s Porcupine Dilemma, also known as the Hedgehog Dilemma, ‘originates in the following parable from the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer‘s Parerga und Paralipomena, Volume II, Chapter XXXI, Section 396:[1]

A number of porcupines huddled together for warmth on a cold day in winter; but, as they began to prick one another with their quills, they were obliged to disperse. However the cold drove them together again, when just the same thing happened. At last, after many turns of huddling and dispersing, they discovered that they would be best off by remaining at a little distance from one another. In the same way the need of society drives the human porcupines together, only to be mutually repelled by the many prickly and disagreeable qualities of their nature. The moderate distance which they at last discover to be the only tolerable condition of intercourse, is the code of politeness and fine manners; and those who transgress it are roughly told—in the English phrase—to keep their distance. By this arrangement the mutual need of warmth is only very moderately satisfied; but then people do not get pricked. A man who has some heat in himself prefers to remain outside, where he will neither prick other people nor get pricked himself.’ (wikipedia)


4 thoughts on “Schopenhauer’s Porcupine Dilemma

  1. Love hearing of Schopenhauer’s Porcupine Dilemma…the video was also a fine addition…Ah but you poem was just perfect!…and given how I was just feeling… a most appropriate last poem to read this evening…Thanks!

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