Category Archives: Hartmann, Eduard von


from Philosophy of the Unconscious


Born in Berlin in 1842, Karl Robert Eduard von Hartmann initially intended to embark on a military career. However, plagued by a problem with his knee, he turned to philosophy, obtaining a doctorate from the University of Rostock.

Hartmann wrote voluminously, producing some 12,000 pages, later published in selected form in 10 volumes. Hartmann’s works include historical and critical works (among them studies of Kant [q.v.], Schelling, Schopenhauer [q.v.], Hegel [q.v.], and extended polemics against Nietzsche [q.v.]), popular works, and systematic works including self-criticism originally published anonymously. His wife Agnes Taubert was co-author of the work Pessimism and its Opponents (Berlin 1873). Hartmann’s thought is based on a metaphysics of the absolute associated with Hegel and Schopenhauer.

Hartmann’s first and most celebrated work Philosophy of the Unconscious (Berlin, 1869), selections from a chapter of which is presented here, develops an extensive and unique treatment of universal suicide. It is heavily influenced by Buddhist thought. Hartmann posits three stages of illusion to which humanity is subject, around which Philosophy of the Unconscious is structured: (1) that “happiness is considered as having been actually attained at the present stage of the world’s development, accordingly attainable by the individual of today in his earthly life”—this illusion is in Hartmann’s view exhibited particularly prominently in the ancient world and in childhood; (2) that “happiness is conceived attainable by the individual in a transcendent life after death,” an illusion characteristic of the Middle Ages and youth; and (3) that “happiness [is] relegated to the future of the world,” an illusion associated with modern times and adulthood. Hartmann opposes the suicide of the individual as selfish and ethically reprehensible, but he argues for the release of the Unconscious from its sufferings, when humanity—all humanity, everywhere—unites in the collective understanding that by willing its own nonexistence, the world-process will cease. Future human existence is thus precluded. Humankind and the world in general will thus be released from the misery of existence once and for all in the “cosmic-universal negation of will as the act that forms the end of the process, as the last moment, after which there shall be no more volition, activity, or time.”

Hartmann died in Berlin in 1906.

Eduard von Hartmann, Philosophy of the Unconscioustr. William Chatterton Coupland, Vol III. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, & Co., 1893, pp. 98-100, 120-142; footnotes and internal references deleted.



This perception, that from the point of view of the ego of the individual the denial of the will or forsaking of the world and renunciation of life is the only rational course, Stirner entirely misses.  It is, however, an infallible specific for an over-balanced egoism.  Whoever has once realized the preponderating pain that every individual must endure, with or without knowledge, in his life, will soon contemn and scorn the standpoint of the self-preserving and would-be enjoying—in a word, self-affirming ego.  He who has come to hold lightly his egoism and his ego will hardly insist upon the same as the absolute pivot on which everything must turn, will rate personal sacrifice less highly than usual, will less reluctantly accept the result of an investigation which exhibits the Ego as a mere phenomenon of a Being that for all individuals is one and the same.

Contempt of the world and life is the easiest path to self-denial; only by this path has a morality of self-denial, like the Christian and Buddhist, been historically possible.  In these fruits which it bears for facilitating the infinitely difficult self-renunciation lies the immense and hardly to be sufficiently estimated ethical value of Pessimism.

But lastly, had Stirner approached the direct philosophical investigation of the Idea of the Ego, he would have seen that this idea is just as unsubstantial and brain-created a phantom as, for instance, the Idea of honour or of right, and that the only being which answers to the idea of the inner cause of my activity is something non-individual, the Only Unconscious, which therefore answers just as well to Peter’s idea of his ego as Paul’s idea of his ego.  On this deepest of all bases rests only the esoteric ethics of Buddhism, not the Christian ethics.  If one has firmly and thoughtfully made this cognition his own, that one and the same Being feels my and thy pain, my and thy pleasure, only accidentally through the intervention of different brains, then is the exclusive egoism radically broken, that is only shaken, though deeply shaken, by contempt of the world and of life; then is the standpoint of Stirner finally overcome, to which one must at some time have entirely given adhesion in order to feel the greatness of the advance; then first is Egoism sublated as a moment in the consciousness of forming a link in the world-process, in which it finds its necessary and relatively, i.e., to a certain degree, authorised place.

There occurs, namely at the end of each of the preceding stages of the illusion, and before the discovery of the next, the voluntary surrender of individual existence—suicide, as a necessary consequence.  Both the life-weary heathen, and the Christian, despairing at once of the world and his faith, must in consistency do away with themselves; or if, like Schopenhauer, they believe themselves unable to attain by this means the end of the abolition of individual existence, they must at any rate divert their will from life to quietism and continence, or even asceticism.  It is the height of self-deception to see in this saving of the dear Ego from the discomfort of existence anything else than the grossest selfism, than a highly refined Epicureanism, that has only taken a direction contrary to instinct through a view of life opposed to instinct.  In all Quietism, whether with brutish inertness it is content merely to eat and drink, or loses itself in idyllic love of Nature, or in reverie natural or artificially induced (by narcotics) passively revels in the images of a luxuriant fancy, or surrounded by the refinements of a luxurious life, languidly drives away ennui with the choicest morsels of the arts and sciences—in all this Quietism the Epicurean trait is unmistakable, the inordinate desire to pass life in the manner most agreeable to the individual constitution, with a minimum of effort and displeasure, unconcerned about the thereby neglected duties to fellow-men and society.  But even asceticism, which is apparently the counterpart of Egoism, is also always egoistic, even when it does not, like the Christian, hope for reward in an individual immortality, but merely hopes, by the temporary assumption of a certain pain, to attain the shortening of the evil of life and individual deliverance from all continuation of life after death (new birth, &c.)  In the suicide and in the ascetic the self-denial is as little deserving of admiration as in the sick person who, to escape the prospect of a perpetual toothache, reasonably prefers the painful drawing of the tooth.  In both cases there is only well-calculated egoism without any ethical value; rather an egoism that in all such situations of life is immoral, save when the possibility of fulfilling one’s duties to one’s relatives and society is entirely cut off….

The Goal of Evolution and the Significance of Consciousness
(Transition to Practical Philosophy)

We saw that the chain of final causes is not, like that of phenomenal causality, to be conceived as endless, because every end in respect of the following one in the chain is only means; therefore in the end-positing understanding the whole future series of ends must always be present, and yet a completed endlessness of ends cannot be present in it.

Accordingly the series of final causes must be finite, i.e., they must have a last or ultimate end, which is the goal of all the intermediate ends.  Further, we have seen that justice and morality by their very nature cannot be final ends, but only intermediate ends; and the last chapter has taught us that also positive happiness cannot be the goal of the world-process, because not only is it not attained at every stage of the process, but even its contrary, misery and unblessedness, is at all times attained, which besides increases in the course of evolution by destruction of the illusion and with the heightening of consciousness.

It is altogether absurd to conceive evolution as end in itself, i.e., to ascribe to it an absolute value; for evolution is still only the sum of its moments; and if the several moments are not only worthless, but even objectionable, so too is their sum, the process.  Many indeed call freedom the goal of the process.  To me freedom is nothing positive, but something private, the absence of constraint.  I cannot understand how this is to be regarded as goal of the evolution, if the Unconscious is one and all, and therefore there is no one from whom it could suffer constraint.  If, however, there is anything positive in the notion of freedom, it can only be the consciousness of inner necessity, the formal in the rational, as Hegel says.  Then is an increase of freedom identical with an increase of consciousness.  Here we come to a point already frequently mentioned.  If the goal of evolution is anywhere to be looked for, it is certainly on the path where we, so far as we can overlook the course of the evolution, perceive a decided and continuous progress, a gradual advance.

This is only and solely the case in the development of consciousness, of conscious intelligence, but here also in unbroken ascent from the origin of the primitive cell to the standpoint of humanity of the present day, and with the highest probability farther as long as the world lasts.  Thus Hegel says: “All that happens in heaven and on earth happens eternally; the life of God and all that takes place in time has this sole aim, that the spirit attain self-knowledge, become its own object, find itself become independent, unite itself with itself; it is duplication, alienation, but in order to find itself to be enabled to come to itself.”  Likewise Schelling: “To the Transcendental philosophy Nature is nothing but the organ of self-consciousness, and everything in Nature is only necessary because only through such a Nature can self-consciousness be achieved”; “and consciousness is that with which the whole creation is concerned”.  Individuation, with its train of egoism and wrong-doing and wrong-suffering, serves the origination of consciousness; the acquisitive impulse serves the enhancement of consciousness by the liberation of the mental energies through increasing opulence, likewise vanity, ambition, and the lust of fame by spurring on the mental activity; sexual love serves it by improving mental capacity; in short, all those useful instincts that bring the individual far more pain than pleasure may often impose the greatest sacrifices.  By the way of the unfolding of consciousness must then the goal of evolution be sought, and consciousness is beyond a doubt the proximate end of Nature—of the world.  The question still remains open whether consciousness is really ultimate end, therefore also self-end, or whether it again serves only another end?

One’s own object consciousness can assuredly not be.  With pain it is born, with pain it consumes its existence, with pain it purchases its elevation; and what does it offer in compensation for all this?  A vain self-mirroring!  Were the world in other respects fair and precious, the empty self-satisfaction in the contemplation of its reflected image in consciousness might at any rate be excused, although it would always remain an infirmity; but an out-and-out miserable world, that can never have any joy in the sight of itself, but must condemn its own existence as soon as it understands itself, could such a world be said to have a rational, final, and proper end in the ideal apparent duplication of itself in the mirror of consciousness?  Is there then not enough of real wretchedness that it should be repeated in the magic lantern of consciousness?  No; Consciousness cannot possibly be the ultimate object of the world-evolution guided by the all-wisdom of the Unconscious.  That would only mean doubling the torment, preying on one’s own vitals.  Still less can one suppose that the purely formal determination of action according to laws of conscious reason can be a rational man’s aim; for why should the reason determine action, or why should action be determined by reason apart from the diminution of pain thereby to be induced?  Were there not painful being and willing, no reason need trouble itself about its determination.  Consciousness and the continuous enhancement of the same in the process of the world’s development can thus in no case be end in itself; it can merely be means to another end, if it is not to float aimlessly in the air, whereby then also regressively the whole process would cease to be evolution, and the whole chain of natural ends would hang aimlessly in the air; thus, properly speaking, would, as ends, be annulled and declared irrational.  This assumption contradicts the all-wisdom of the Unconscious, therefore it only remains for us to search for the end which the development of consciousness subserves as means.

But where to get such an end?  The observation of the process itself, and of that which mainly grows and progresses in it, leads only to the knowledge that it is Consciousness; morality, justice, and freedom have already been set aside.

However much we may ponder and reflect, we can discover nothing to which we could assign an absolute value, nothing that we could regard as end in itself, nothing that so affects the world-essence in its inmost core, as Happiness.  After happiness strives everything that lives, according to endæmonist principles motives influence us, and our actions are consciously or unconsciously guided.  On happiness in this or that fashion all systems of practical philosophy are grounded, however much they may think to deny their first principle.  The endeavour after happiness is the most deeply rooted impulse, is the essence of the will itself seeking satisfaction.  And yet the investigations of the last chapter have shown that this endeavour is exposed to objections; that the hope of its fulfilment is an illusion; and that its consequence is the pain of disillusion, its truth the misery of existence; have taught us that the progressive evolution of consciousness has the negative result of gradually perceiving the illusory character of that hope, the folly of that endeavour.  Between the will striving after absolute satisfaction and felicity and the intelligence emancipating itself more and more from the impulse through consciousness a deeply pervading antagonism cannot therefore be mistaken.  The higher and more perfectly consciousness develops in the course of the world-process, the more is it emancipated from the blind vassalage with which it at first followed the irrational will; the more it sees through the illusions aroused in it by impulse for the cloaking of this irrationality, the more does it assume a hostile position in opposition to the will struggling for positive happiness, in which it combats it step by step in the course of history, breaks through the ramparts of illusions behind which it is entrenched one after the other, and will not have drawn its last consequences until it has completely annihilated it, in that after the destruction of every illusion only the knowledge remains that every volition leads to unblessedness, and only renunciation to the best attainable state, painlessness.  This victorious contest of consciousness with the will as it empirically meets our eyes as result of the world-process, is now, however, anything but accidental; it is ideally contained in consciousness, and is necessarily posited along with its development.  For we saw that the essence of consciousness is emancipation of the intellect from the will, whereas in the Unconscious the idea only appears as servitor of the will, because there is nothing but the will to which it can owe its origin, being incapable of self-origination.

Further, we know that in the sphere of ideation the logical, rational, rules, which is intrinsically just as repugnant to the will as the will to it; whence we conclude that if the idea has only attained the necessary degree of independence, it will have to condemn everything contra-rational (anti-logical) that it finds in the irrational (alogical) will, and to annihilate it.  Thirdly, we know from the foregoing chapter that there follows from volition always more pain than pleasure; that therefore the will that wills happiness attains the contrary, unhappiness; therefore most irrationally and for its proper torment digs its teeth into its own flesh, and yet on account of its unreason can be taught by no experience to desist from its unblessed willing.  From these three premises it necessarily follows that consciousness, so far as it attains the necessary clearness, activity, and fullness, must also more and more perceive, and accordingly contest to the last, the irrationality of volition and endeavour after happiness.  This contest, hitherto recognized by us only a posteriori, was accordingly not an accidental, but a necessary result of the creation of consciousness; it lay therein a priori preformed.  But now, if consciousness is the proximate end of Nature or the world; if we necessarily need for consciousness a further end, and can absolutely think no other true end than the greatest possible happiness; if, on the other hand, an endeavour after positive happiness that is identical with volition is preposterous because it only attains unblessedness, and the greatest possible attainable state of happiness is painlessness; if, lastly, it lies in the notion of consciousness to have for result the emancipation of the intellect from the will, the combating and final annihilation of willing, should it be any longer doubtful that the all-knowing Unconscious thinking end and means at once has created consciousness for that very reason, to redeem the will from the unblessedness of its willing, from which it cannot redeem itself,—that the real end of the world-process, to which consciousness serves as final means, is this, to realize the greatest possible attainable state of happiness, namely, that of painlessness?

We have seen that in the existing world everything is arranged in the wisest and best manner, and that it may be looked upon as the best of all possible worlds, but that nevertheless it is thoroughly wretched, and worse than none at all.  This was only to be comprehended in such wise, that, although the “What and How” in the world (its essence) might be determined by an all-wise Reason, yet the “That” of the world (its existence) must be posited by something absolutely irrational, and this could only be the will.  This consideration is for the rest only the same applied to the world as a whole that we have long known as applied to the individual.  The atom of body is attractive power, its “What and How,” i.e., attraction according to this or that law, is Presentation; its “That,” its existence, its reality, its force, is will.  Thus also the world is what it is and how it is as presentation of the Unconscious, and the unconscious idea has as servant of the will, to which it itself is indebted for actual existence, and as compared with which it has no independence, also no counsel and no voice in the “That” of the world.  The will is essentially only non-rational (destitute of reason, alogical), but in that it acts, it becomes through the consequences of its volition, irrational (contrary to reason, anti-logical), inasmuch as it attains unblessedness, the contrary of its volition.  Now to bring back this irrational volition, which is guilty of the “That” of the world, this unblessed volition into non-volition and the painlessness of nothingness, this task of the logical in the Unconscious is the determinator of the “What and How” of the world.  For the Reason the question therefore is to repair the mischief done by the irrational Will.  The unconscious idea represents the will, if not positively as will, yet negatively as the negative of the logical, or as its own limit, i.e., as the non-logical; but it has in the first place and as such no power over the will, because it has no independence in respect of it, therefore it must employ an artifice to utilize the blindness of the will, and to give it such a content, that by a peculiar turning back upon itself in individuation it falls into conflict with itself, whose result is consciousness, i.e., the creation of an independent power opposed to the will, in which it can now begin the contest with the will.  Thus the world-process appears as a perpetual struggle of the logical with the non-logical, ending with the conquest of the latter.  If this conquest were impossible, if the process were not at the same time development to a fairly beckoning goal, if it were interminable, or even one that exhausted itself in blind necessity or contingency, so that all wit would in vain endeavour to steer the ship into harbour, then, and only then, would this world be really absolutely cheerless, a hell without an exit, and dumb resignation the only philosophy.  But we who perceive in Nature and history only a single grand and marvelous process of development, we believe in a final victory of the ever more radiantly shining reason over the unreason of blind volition; we believe in a goal of the process that brings us release from the torment of existence, and to whose induction and acceleration we too may contribute our mite in the service of reason.

The main difficulty consists in this, how the termination of this contest, the final redemption from the misery of volition and existence into the painlessness of non-willing and non-being, in short, how the entire annulling of volition by consciousness is to be conceived.  There is only one attempt to solve this problem known to me, namely, that of Schopenhauer, in sects. 68-71 of the first volume of the “World as Will and Idea,” which essentially agrees with the similar but more obscure designs of the mystical ascetics of all ages, and of the doctrine of Buddha, as Schopenhauer himself very plainly shows.

The main point of this theory consists in the assumption that the individual, in virtue of the individual cognition of the misery of existence and the unreason of volition, is able to cause his personal willing to cease, and thereby to be individually annihilated after death, or, as Buddhism expressed it, to be no more born again.  It is obvious that this assumption is altogether incompatible with the fundamental principles of Schopenhauer, and only his inability to grasp the notion of development renders explicable the shortsightedness which made it impossible for him to get rid of this palpable inconsistency in his system.  This inconsequence must here be indicated very briefly.—The will is for him the ἕν καì πâν, the sole being of the world, and the individual only subjective appearance, in strictness never objectively actual phenomenon of this essence.  But even if it were the latter, how should it be possible for the individual to negate his individual will as a whole, not merely theoretically but also practically, as his individual volition is only a ray of that Only Will?  Schopenhauer himself rightly declares that in suicide the negation of the will is not attained, but it is said to be attained in the highest conceivable degree in voluntary starvation.  That sounds indeed almost absurd, if one remembers his declaration “that the body is the will itself, objectively regarded as a phenomenon in space,” whence it immediately follows that with the annulling of the individual will, also its appearance in space, the body must disappear.  According to our view, with suppression of the individual will at least all the organic functions dependent on the unconscious will, as heart-throb, respiration, &c., must instantly cease, and the body collapse as corpse.  That this too is empirically impossible will be doubted by nobody; but whoever is obliged to first kill his body by refusal of food proves by that very act he is not able to deny and abolish his unconscious will to live.

But supposing the impossible to be possible, what would be the consequence?  One of the many rays or individual objectifications of the One Will, that which related to this individual, would be withdrawn from its actuality, and this man be dead.  That is, however, no more and no less than happens at every decease, no matter to what cause it is due, and to the Only Will the consequences would have been the same if a tile had killed that man; it continues after, as before, with unenfeebled energy, with undiminished avidity, to lay hold of life wherever it finds it and can lay hold of it; for to acquire experience and become wiser by experience is impossible to it, and it cannot suffer a quantitative abatement of its essence or its substance through the withdrawal of a merely one-sided direction of action.  Therefore the endeavour after individual negation of the will is just as foolish and useless, nay, still more foolish, than suicide, because it only attains the same end more slowly and painfully: abolition of this appearance without altering the essence, which for every abolished individual phenomenon is ceaselessly objectified in new individuals.  Accordingly all asceticism and all endeavour after individual negation of will is perceived and proved to be aberration, although an aberration only in procedure, not in aim.  And because the goal which it endeavours to gain is a right one, it has when rare, by ever whispering in the world’s ear a memento mori, as it were, and provoking a presentiment of the issue of all endeavour, a high value; it becomes, however, injurious and pernicious when, attacking whole nations, it threatens to bring the world-process to stagnation, and to perpetuate the misery of existence.  What would it avail, e.g., if all mankind should die out gradually by sexual continence?  The world as such would still continue to exist, and would find itself substantially in the same position as immediately before the origin of the first man; nay, the Unconscious would even be compelled to employ the next opportunity to fashion a new man or a similar type, and the whole misery would begin over again.

If we look more deeply into the nature of asceticism and personal negation of will, and to the position which it occupies in the historical process in its highest flowering in pure Buddhism, it appears as the issue of the Asiatic pre-Hellenic period of development, as the union of hopelessness for here and hereafter with the still uneradicated egoism which thinks not of the redemption of the whole but only of its own individual redemption.  As we briefly pointed out above the immorality and perniciousness of this standpoint for the whole of humanity and the world-process, so now the folly of the same is revealed for the individual who builds upon it, in that the personal hope of redemption has turned out illusory, consequently every means made use of for this end (thus also Quictism, so far as it is not to serve an individual or nationally coloured Epicureanism, but to lead to redemption through individual negation of the will) is absurd.

Schopenhauer, too, means at bottom something different to what he says.  Before him, too, hovers in shadowy outlines, as the only goal worthy of effort, a universal negation of will, as, e.g., the following passage proves: “After what was said in the second book on the connection of all phenomenon of will (humanity), the weaker reflection of the same, animality (and the still lower forms of objectification of will), would also pass away, as with the full light the penumbræ disappear”.

On the following page he points, among others, to the biblical passage (Rom. Viii. 22) in which it is said, “For we know that the whole creation groaneth together” for the redemption; it expects, however, its redemption “from us which have the first-fruits of the spirit.”  Such deeper perspectives are, however, nevertheless, out of the question for Schopenhauer’s expressly declared standpoint, not only because their consideration would require a surrender of the latter, but also because the following out of them is not at all possible with the unhistorical world-theory of his subjective idealism.  It only becomes so when the reality of time and the positive meaning of the temporal, i.e., historical, development is acknowledged, through whose cumulative progress the prospect opens up of a future attainment of such states of humanity as may enable that which now appears absurd one day to obtain realization.

For him, who has grasped the idea of development, it cannot be doubtful that the end of the contest between consciousness and the will, between the logical and the non-logical, can only lie at the goal of evolution, at the issue of the world-process; for him who before all holds fast to the universality and unity of the Unconscious, the redemption, the turning back of willing into non-willing, is also only to be conceived as act of each and all, not as individual, but only as cosmic-universal negation of will, as the act that forms the end of the process, as the last moment, after which there shall be no more volition, activity, or time (Rev. x. 6).  That the cosmic process cannot be thought without an end in time, cannot be of endless duration, is presupposed; for if the goal lay at an infinite distance, a finite duration of the process, however long, would bring no nearer the goal, that would still remain infinitely remote.  The process would thus no longer be a means for reaching the goal, consequently it would be purposeless and aimless.  As little as it would comport with the notion of development to ascribe an infinite duration in the past to the world-process, because then every conceivable development must be already traversed, which yet is not the case, just as little can we allow to the process an endless duration for the future; both would abolish the idea of development towards a goal, and would put the world-process on a level with the pouring of water into a sieve of the daughters of Danaus.  The complete victory of the logical over the alogical must therefore coincide with the temporal end of the world-process, the last day.

Whether humanity will be capable of so high an enchancement of consciousness, or whether a higher race of animals will arise on earth, which, continuing the work of humanity, will attain the goal, or whether our earth altogether is only an abortive attempt to reach such goal, and it will only be reached, when our little planet has long been reckoned to the frozen celestial bodies, on a planet invisible to us of another fixed star under more favourable conditions, is hard to say.  Thus much is certain, wherever the process may come to an end, the goal of the process and the contending elements will always be the same in this world.  If really humanity is able and called to bring the world-process to a final issue, it will at all events have to do this at the height of its development under the most favourable circumstances of the earth’s habitableness, and therefore we do not need for this case to trouble about the scientific perspective of a future congelation and refrigeration of the earth, since then long before the occurrence of such a terrestrial refrigeration the world-process altogether would have been arrested, and the existence of this kosmos with all its world-lenses and nebulæ have been abolished.

Schopenhauer does not hesitate to declare man equal to the task, but he is only so decided because he conceives the problem in an individual sense, whereas we must apprehend it universally, when it of course requires quite other conditions, which we shall soon examine more closely.  However that be, of the world known to us we are the first-fruits of the spirit and must bravely wrestle.  If victory does not follow, it is not our fault.  If, however, we are capable of victory, and we should only miss obtaining it through indolence, we, i.e., the creative being of the world, which is one with us, would have to bear so much the longer as immanent punishment the torment of existence.  Therefore vigorously forward in the world-process as workers in the Lord’s vineyard, for it is the process alone that can bring redemption!

Here we have reached the point where the philosophy of the Unconscious gains a principle which alone can form the basis of practical philosophy.  The truth of the first stage of the illusion was despair of existence here; the truth of the second stage of the illusion was despair also of the hereafter; the truth of the third stage of the illusion was the absolute resignation of positive happiness.  All these points of view are merely negative; practical philosophy and life, however, need a positive stand-point, and this is the complete devotion of the personality to the world-process for the sake of its goal, the general world-redemption (no longer, as in the third stage of the illusion, in the hope of a positive happiness in some later phase of the process).  Otherwise expressed, the principle of practical philosophy consists in this, to make the ends of the Unconscious ends of our own Consciousness, which follows immediately from the two premises, that, in the first place, consciousness has made the goal of the world-redemption from the misery of volition its own goal; and, secondly, that it has the persuasion of the all-wisdom of the Unconscious, in consequence of which it recognizes all the means made use of by the Unconscious as the most suitable possible, even if in the special case it should be inclined to harbour doubts thereon.  Since selfishness, the original source of all evil, which theoretically, by the acknowledgment of Monism, has already been ascertained to be naught, can practically be effectively broken by nothing else than the cognition of the illusory nature of all endeavours after positive happiness, the requisite perfect devotion of the personality to the whole is at this standpoint more readily attainable than at any other….Further, since the dread of pain, the fear of the eternal prolongation of the sensually present pain, yields always a far more energetic motive for effective action than the hope of a felicity represented as future, at this standpoint instinct will be restored to its rights far more powerfully than in the third stage of the illusion by the mere suppression of egoism, and the affirmation of the will to live proclaimed provisionally alone true; for only in complete devotion to life and its pains, not in cowardly renunciation and withdrawal, is anything to be achieved for the world-process.  The reflecting reader will also, without further suggestion, understand how a practical philosophy erected on these principles should be shaped, and that such an one cannot contain the disunion, but only the full reconciliation with life.  It is now also obvious how only the unity of Optimism and Pessimism, here expounded, of which every human being carries in himself an obscure image as his norm of action, is able to give an energetic, and indeed the strongest conceivable impulse to effective action, whilst the one-sided Pessimism from nihilistic despair, the one-sided and really consistent Optimism from easy unconcern must lead to Quietism.  [For those readers who regard the standpoint of our time, which I call the third stage of the illusion, the true one, and who are not inclined to deem it possible that this too will ever be recognized in the manner indicated by me as illusion by the further historical development of the consciousness of humanity, I will only remark, that the principles here expressed (to make the ends of the Unconscious ends of consciousness, &c.) remains just as valid for them, as the observations made on occasion of the third stage of the illusion with respect to egoism (suicide, Quietism, &c.) retain their validity from the point of view here reached, since it is for both indifferent whether the final goal of the world-development be conceived positively or negatively.]

We have in conclusion still to deal with the question, in what manner the end of the world-process, the relegation of all volition to absolute non-volition, with which, as we know, all so-called existence (organization, matter, &c.), eo ipso disappears and ceases, is to be conceived.  Out knowledge is far too imperfect, our experience too brief, and the possible analogies too defective, for us to be able, even approximately, to form a picture of the end of the process; and I beg the gentle reader not to take the following for an apocalypse of the end of the world, but only for hints which are to prove that the matter is not quite so unthinkable as it might well appear to many at the first blush.  But even those whom these aphorisms on the mode of conceiving that event may far more repel than the bare enouncement of the same, I beg not to be misled as to the proved necessity of that only possible goal of the world-process by the difficulties which attend the comprehension of the “How” at a point so remote from the end.  Of course, we can only contemplate the case that mankind, and not another species of living beings unknown to us, is called to solve the problem.

The first condition of the success of the work is this, that by far the largest part of the Unconscious Spirit manifesting itself in the present world is to be found in humanity; for only when the negative part of volition in humanity outweighs the sum of all the rest of the will objectifying itself in the organic and inorganic world, only then can the human negation of will annihilate the whole actual volition of the world without residuum, and cause the whole kosmos to disappear at a stroke by withdrawal of the volition, which alone gives it existence.  (That is here the only question, not as to a mere suicide of humanity en masse, the complete inutility of which for attaining the goal of the world-process has already been proved above.)  This supposition now, that one day the major part of the actual volition or of the functioning Unconscious Spirit may be manifested in humanity, seems to possess no difficulty in principle.  On the earth we see man ever suppressing other animal and vegetable life, save those animals and plants that he employs for his own use.  Future still undreamt-of advances in chemistry and agriculture may permit the increase of the earth’s population to a very considerable degree, although it already now amounts to upwards of  I 300 millions, a relatively small part of the solid land supporting as dense a population as the means of obtaining nourishment known at our present stage of civilization allow.  Of the stars only a comparatively small part have entered upon that brief period of refrigeration which permits of the existence of organisms; but not to mention that for the raising of a luxuriant organisation quite other conditions are required than merely the right temperature (e.g., irradiation through rays of light, suitable atmospheric pressure, existence of water, right mixture of the chemical constituents of the atmosphere, &c.), of that insignificant number which at all support organisation, only a very small part again will be able to produce beings of a stage of organisation approximating to the human.  The sidereal developments are measured by such immense intervals that it is a priori extremely improbable that the existence of a highly organized species on another star should coincide with the duration of mankind on earth.—But now how much greater is the spirit that manifests itself in a cultivated man than that in an animal or a plant; how much greater than that in an unorganised complex of atoms!  One must not commit the error of estimating the strength of the active will merely by the mechanical effect, i.e., by the degree of the resistance of atomic forces overcome; this would be extremely one-sided, since the manifestation of the will in the atomic forces is only the lowest.  The will, however, has many other aims, and a contest of the most violent desires can take place without any perceptible influence on the position of the atoms.  Therefore the hypothesis seems to me to be by no means far-fetched, that one day in a remote future humanity may combine in itself such a quantity of spirit and will, that the spirit and will active in the rest of the world is considerably outweighed by the former.

The second condition of the possibility of victory is, that the consciousness of mankind be penetrated by the folly of volition and the misery of all existence; that it have conceived so deep a yearning for the peace and the painlessness of non-being, and all the motives hitherto making for volition and existence have been so far seen through in their vanity and nothingness that that yearning after the annihilation of volition and existence attains resistless authority as a practical motive.  According to the last chapter, this condition is one whose fulfilment in the hoary age of humanity we may expect with the greatest probability, when the theoretical cognition of the misery of existence is truthfully comprehended, and this cognition gradually more and more overcomes the opposing instinctive emotional judgment, and even becomes a practically efficient feeling, which, as a union of present pain, memory of former pain and fore-feeling of care and fear—becomes a collective feeling in every individual, embracing the whole life of the individual, and through sympathy the whole world, which at last attains unlimited sway.  Doubt as to the general motive power of such an idea at first certainly arising and communicated in more or less abstract form, would not be authorised, for it is the invariably observed course of historically regulative ideas which have arisen in the brain of an individual, that although they can only be communicated in abstract form, they penetrate in course of time into the heart of the masses, and at last arouse their will to a passionateness not seldom bordering on fanaticism.  But if ever an idea was born as feeling, it is the pessimistic sympathy with oneself and everything living and the longing after the peace of non-existence; and if ever an idea was called to fulfil its historical mission without turbulence and passion, silently but steadily and persistently in the interior of the soul, it is this.  Since experientially the individual negation of the will at variance with the ends of the Unconscious furnished in such numerous cases a sufficient motive for overcoming the instinctive will to live in quietistic ascetic self-immolation (certainly without any metaphysical result), it is not obvious why at the end of the world-process the universal negation of will fulfilling the purpose of the Unconscious should not likewise be able to afford a sufficient motive for overcoming the instinctive will to live, especially as everything hard is the more easily executed the greater the co-operation.  It should further be noted that humanity has still a life of many generations in which to gradually subdue and deaden, by habit and hereditary influence, the passions opposing the pessimistic feeling and the longing after peace, and to strengthen the pessimistic disposition by hereditary transmission.  Even now we may remark that the natural force of passion and its demoniac power has to yield no inconsiderable domain to the leveling and enfeebling influences of modern life, and this enfeebling process will attain results the more considerable the more law and morals restrict personal caprice, and the more rationally life is managed according to the pattern of trivial worldly prudence from childhood upwards.  It is one of the signs of humanity’s growing old that not a growth, but a diminution of the energy of feeling and of passion opposes the growth of intellectual clearness; that thus the influence of conscious intellect in the provinces of feeling and willing, undeniably present at every stage, is for a twofold reason, constantly on the increase, until in old age it becomes decidedly dominant.  From this point of view, too, the possibility therefore appears anything but remote that the pessimistic consciousness will one day become the dominant motive of voluntary choice.—We may modify this second condition in such a way that not all humanity, but only a part thereof, need be penetrated by this consciousness, provided that the spirit that is manifested in it be the larger half of the active spirit of the universe.

The third condition is a sufficient communication between the peoples of the earth to allow of a simultaneous common resolve.  On this point, whose fulfilment only depends on the perfection and more dexterous application of technical discoveries, imagination has free scope.

If we assume these conditions as given, there is a possibility that the majority of the spirit active in the world may form the resolve to give up willing.

There now arises the further question whether, in the nature of the will, its functional activity and the mode of its determination by motives, the possibility is at all given of attaining a universal negation of the will, supposing the preponderating part of the actual world-will to be contained in that mass of conscious mind which resolves a tempo to will no more, no matter whether this supposition be fulfilled within humanity or another species, or only under quite other conditions of existence of a future phase of development of the kosmos?  We have to go back for the decision of this last question to our knowledge of the nature of volition and the laws of motivation following therefrom, it being always assumed that these must remain identical in every possible form of objectification of the will.

It admits of no doubt that a special volition in man, a desire, affection, or passion, may, in certain circumstances, be neutralized by the influence of conscious reason in the special case.  If, e.g., I aim at honour by a deed or a work, and my reason tells me that those whose recognition I covet are fools and blockheads, this insight, if it is sufficiently convincing and potent, is able to allay my ambition, at least in this case.  But now all psychologists are agreed that such a suppression is not to be conceived by direct influence of the reason on the desire to be suppressed, but only indirectly by the motivation or excitement of an opposite desire, which now on its part comes into collision with the first, the result of which is that they neutralise one another.  Only in this manner is the suppression of the positive world-will to be conceived that Schopenhauer calls the will to live.  Conscious cognition cannot directly diminish or suppress the will, but it can only excite an opposite, therefore negative will, which diminishes the intensity of the positive will.  Quite inadmissible accordingly is Schopenhauer’s doctrine of the quietive of the will consisting in an altogether different mode of knowledge, before which the motives are to be inefficient, and which shall be the only possible case of an incursion of the transcendent freedom of the will into the world of phenomena.  Such incomprehensible, utterly unjustified miracles are with our view superfluous.  How beautifully, on the contrary, Schelling says, “Even God cannot otherwise conquer the will than through itself.”

If in the struggle of the special desires often two desires effect no reciprocal suppression in spite of the struggle, this happens either because they are only partially opposed, but partially pursue different side-ends, therefore their paths form only an angle, as it were; or it happens because the one desire is indeed in fact continually annihilated, but just as continually is instinctively born anew from the persistent ground of the Unconscious, so that there arises the appearance of its not being altered at all.  In the opposition of the affirmation and negation of will the contrast is so mathematically strict that the former case certainly cannot occur, and for an immediate resurgence of the world-will after its total annihilation there is at any rate entirely wanting the analogy with the single desire, because in the latter the background of the actual world-will, in the former, however, nothing actually any longer remains.  (For the rest, the possibility of a resurgence will receive notice in the following chapter.)  As long, then, as the opposition of the will motived by consciousness has not yet attained the strength of the world-will to be suppressed, so long will the continually annihilated part continually reassert itself, supported on the remaining part, which also further secures the positive direction of the will; but as soon as the former has attained the same strength as the latter, there is no obvious reason why both should not completely paralyse one another and reduce to zero, i.e., be destroyed without residuum.  A negative excess is therefore inconceivable, because the zero-point is the goal of the negative will which it will not transgress.

The motivation or excitement of the negative will by conscious knowledge is, according to the analogy of the excitement of a special negative desire through rational insight, not merely conceivable, but demanded; for here in the universal, just as in the individual, the ground on which reason sets in motion the conscious will of opposition is no other than an endæmonological one—regard to the attainment of the happiest possible state, beyond which goal the positive unconscious will in its blindness darts to its misery.  This endeavour after the greatest possible state of satisfaction, which the blind will only seeks from want of understanding in a perverse direction, thus belongs actually quite universally to the nature of the will itself, and wherever in the kosmos so high a consciousness may arise that it perceives the absurdity of the way to the goal, there necessarily a conscious volition is motived by this knowledge, which seeks to attain the greatest possible state of satisfaction by the opposite path, namely, by way of negation of the will.

The result of the last three chapters is, then, as follows.  Volition has by its nature an excess of pain for its consequence.  Volition, which posits the “That” of the world, thus condemns the world, no matter how it may be constituted, to torment.  To obtain redemption from this unblessedness of volition, which the all-wisdom or the logical element of the unconscious Idea cannot directly effect, because it is itself in bondage to the Will, the logical in the Unconscious procures the emancipation of the Idea through consciousness in that it thus dissipates the will in individuation, so that its separate tendencies turn against one another.  The logical principle guides the world-process most wisely to the goal of the greatest possible evolution of consciousness, which being attained, consciousness suffices to hurl back the total actual volition into nothingness, by which the process and the world ceases, and ceases indeed without any residuum whatever whereby the process might be continued.  The logical element therefore ensures that the world is a best possible world, such a one, namely, as attains redemption, not one whose torment is perpetuated endlessly.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Christianity, Europe, Hartmann, Eduard von, Selections, The Modern Era