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Eduard von Hartmann

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Eduard von Hartmann

Eduard von Hartmann
Born (1842-02-23)February 23, 1842
Berlin, Prussia
Died June 5, 1906(1906-06-05) (aged 64)
Berlin, Prussia
Era 19th-century philosophy
Region Western philosophy
School Transcendental realism, philosophical pessimism, pantheism
Main interests Metaphysics, ethics
Notable ideas The Unconscious

Karl Robert Eduard von Hartmann (February 23, 1842 – June 5, 1906) was a German philosopher.


He was born in Berlin, and educated with the intention of a military career. He entered the artillery of the Guards as an officer in 1860, but was forced to leave in 1865 because of a knee problem. After some hesitation between music and philosophy, he decided to make the latter his profession, and in 1867 obtained a Ph. D. from the University of Rostock. He subsequently returned to Berlin.[1] For many years, he lived a retired life of study,[2] doing most of his work in bed, while suffering great pain.[3] He died at Gross-Lichterfelde.[1]


His reputation as a philosopher was established by his first book, The Philosophy of the Unconscious (1869; 10th ed. 1890). This success was largely due to the originality of its title, the diversity of its contents (von Hartmann professing to obtain his speculative results by the methods of inductive science, and making plentiful use of concrete illustrations), the fashionableness of its pessimism and the vigour and lucidity of its style. The conception of the Unconscious, by which von Hartmann describes his ultimate metaphysical principle, is not at bottom as paradoxical as it sounds, being merely a new and mysterious designation for the Absolute of German metaphysicians.[1]

The Unconscious is both Will and Reason (the latter concept also interpreted as Idea) and the absolute all-embracing ground of all existence. Von Hartmann thus combines pantheism with panlogism in a manner adumbrated by Schelling in his positive philosophy. Nevertheless Will and not Reason is the primary aspect of the Unconscious, whose melancholy career is determined by the primacy of the Will and the latency of the Reason. Will is void of reason when it passes from potentiality to actual willing.[1] The original state of the Unconscious is one of potentiality, in which, by pure chance, the Will begins to strive. In the transition state, called that of the empty Will, there is no definite end. Acting on its own, the Will creates absolute misery.[2]

To avoid the unhappiness of aimless desire, the Will realizes the ideas already potentially present and the Unconscious becomes actual. The existence of the universe is the result, then, of the illogical Will, but its characteristics and laws are all due to the Idea or Reason and are, therefore, logical.[2] It is the best of all possible worlds, which contains the promise of the redemption of the Unconscious from actual existence by the exercise of Reason in partnership with the Will in the consciousness of the enlightened pessimist.[1]

The history of the world is that given by natural science, and particular emphasis is laid upon the Darwinian theory of evolution. Humanity developed from the animal, and with the appearance of the first human being the deliverance of the world is in sight, for only in the human being does consciousness reach such height and complexity as to act independently of the Will. As consciousness develops, there is a constantly growing recognition of the fact that deliverance must lie in a return to the original state of non-willing, which means the non-existence of all individuals and the potentiality of the Unconscious.[2] When the greater part of the Will in existence is so far enlightened by reason as to perceive the inevitable misery of existence, a collective effort to will non-existence will be made, and the world will relapse into nothingness, the Unconscious into quiescence.[1]

Von Hartmann called his philosophy a transcendental realism, because in it he professed to reach by means of induction from the broadest possible basis of experience a knowledge of that which lies beyond experience. A certain portion of consciousness, namely perception, begins, changes and ends without our consent and often in direct opposition to our desires. Perception, then, cannot be adequately explained from the ego alone, and the existence of things outside experience must be posited. Moreover, since they act upon consciousness and do so in different ways at different times, they must have those qualities assigned to them which would make such action possible. Causality is thus made the link that connects the subjective world of ideas with the objective world of things.[2]

An examination of the rest of experience, especially such phenomena as instinct, voluntary motion, sexual love, artistic production and the like, makes it evident that Will and Idea, unconscious but teleological, are everywhere operative, and that the underlying force is one and not many. This thing-in-itself may be called the Unconscious. It has two equally original attributes, namely, Will and Idea (or Reason).[2]

The Unconscious appears as a combination of the metaphysics of Hegel with that of Arthur Schopenhauer.[1] In von Hartmann's view, Hegel and Schopenhauer were both wrong in making Idea or Reason subordinate to Will or Will subordinate to Idea or Reason; on the contrary, neither can act alone, and neither is the result of the other. The Will's lack of logic causes the existence of the "that" (German: Daß) of the world; the Idea or Reason, though not conscious, is logical, and determines the essence, the "what" (German: Was). The endless and vain striving of the Will necessitates the great preponderance of suffering in the universe, which could not well be more wretched than it is. Nevertheless, it must be characterized as the best possible world, for both nature and history are constantly developing in the manner best adapted to the ending of the world; and by means of increasing consciousness the idea, instead of prolonging suffering to eternity, provides a refuge from the evils of existence in non-existence.[2]

Von Hartmann is a pessimist, for no other view of life recognizes that evil necessarily belongs to existence and can cease only with existence itself. But he is not an unmitigated pessimist.[2] The individual's happiness is indeed unattainable either here and now or hereafter and in the future, but he does not despair of ultimately releasing the Unconscious from its sufferings. He differs from Schopenhauer in making salvation collective by the negation of the will to live depend on a collective social effort and not on individualistic asceticism. The conception of a redemption of the Unconscious also supplies the ultimate basis of von Hartmann's ethics. We must provisionally affirm life and devote ourselves to social evolution, instead of striving after a happiness which is impossible; in so doing we shall find that morality renders life less unhappy than it would otherwise be. Suicide, and all other forms of selfishness, are highly reprehensible. His realism enables him to maintain the reality of Time, and so of the process of the world's redemption.[1]

The essential feature of the morality built upon the basis of Hartmann's philosophy is the realization that all is one and that, while every attempt to gain happiness is illusory, yet before deliverance is possible, all forms of the illusion must appear and be tried to the utmost. Even he who recognizes the vanity of life best serves the highest aims by giving himself up to the illusion, and living as eagerly as if he thought life good. It is only through the constant attempt to gain happiness that people can learn the desirability of nothingness; and when this knowledge has become universal, or at least general, deliverance will come and the world will cease. No better proof of the rational nature of the universe is needed than that afforded by the different ways in which men have hoped to find happiness and so have been led unconsciously to work for the final goal. The first of these is the hope of good in the present, the confidence in the pleasures of this world, such as was felt by the Greeks. This is followed by the Christian transference of happiness to another and better life, to which in turn succeeds the illusion that looks for happiness in progress, and dreams of a future made worth while by the achievements of science. All alike are empty promises, and known as such in the final stage, which sees all human desires as equally vain and the only good in the peace of Nirvana.[2]

The relation between philosophy and religion lies in their common recognition of an underlying unity, which transcends ali the apparent differences and divisions due to individual phenomena. Many changes must take place in the existing religions before they will be suited to modern conditions, and the resulting religion of the future will be a concrete monism.[2]

Von Hartmann's Philosophy of the Unconscious has been the subject of many different estimates, but is regarded as having less intrinsic than historical value. Its influence upon other thinkers was especially marked during the years following its first appearance, but by the early 20th century that influence had much decreased.[2]


Carl Jung wrote in his autobiography, Memories, Dreams, Reflections (1963), that he read von Hartmann "assiduously" (p. 101) ISBN 0-679-72395-1.

Friedrich Nietzsche offers a scathing criticism of von Hartmann, calling his philosophy "unconscious irony" and "roguery", in the second of his Untimely Meditations, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life.


Von Hartmann's numerous works extend to more than 12,000 pages. They may be classified into:


  • Grundprobleme der Erkenntnistheorie
  • Kategorienlehre
  • Das sittliche Bewusstsein
  • Die Philosophie des Schönen
  • Die Religion des Geistes (The Religion of the Spirit; 1882)
  • Die Philosophie des Unbewussten (3 vols., which now include his, originally anonymous, self-criticism, Das Unbewusste vom Standpunkte der Physiologie und Descendenztheorie, and its refutation, Eng. trans. by William Chatterton Coupland, 1884)
  • System der Philosophie im Grundriss, i
  • Grundriss der Erkenntnislehre
  • Beiträge zur Naturphilosophie (1876)

Historical and critical

  • Das religiöse Bewusstsein der Menschheit (The Religious Consciousness of Mankind in the Stages of Its Development; 1881)
  • Geschichte der Metaphysik (2 vols.)
  • Kants Erkenntnistheorie
  • Kritische Grundlegung des transcendentalen Realismus (Critical Grounds of Transcendental Realism)
  • Uber die dialektische Methode
  • studies of Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Hermann Lotze (1888), Julius von Kirchmann
  • Zur Geschichte und Begründung des Pessimismus (1880)
  • Neukantianismus, Schopenhauerismus, Hegelianismus
  • Geschichte der deutschen Ästhetik und Kant
  • Die Krisis des Christentums in der modernen Theologie (The Crisis of Christianity in Modern Theology; 1880)
  • Philosophische Fragen der Gegenwart
  • Ethische Studien
  • Aesthetik (1886-87)
  • Moderne Psychologie
  • Das Christentum des neuen Testaments
  • Die Weltanschauung der modernen Physik
  • Wahrheit und Irrthum im Darwinismus (1875)
  • Zur Reform des höheren Schulwesens (1875)


  • Aphorismen über das Drama (1870)
  • Shakespeares Romeo und Juliet (1875)
  • Soziale Kernfragen (The Fundamental Social Questions; 1894)
  • Moderne Probleme
  • Tagesfragen
  • Zwei Jahrzehnte deutscher Politik und die gegenwärtige Weltlage (1888)
  • Das Judentum in Gegenwart und Zukunft (Judaism in the Present and the Future; 1885)
  • Die Selbstzersetzung des Christentums und die Religion der Zukunft (1874)
  • Gesammelte Studien
  • Der Spiritismus (1885)
  • Die Geisterhypothese des Spiritismus (The Ghost Theory in Spiritism; 1891)
  • Zur Zeitgeschichte

His select works were published in 10 volumes.

See also


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