Philipp Mainländer

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Philipp Mainländer
Philipp Mainlaender.png
Born October 5, 1841
Offenbach am Main, Grand Duchy of Hesse
Died April 1, 1876(1876-04-01) (aged 34)
Offenbach am Main, Grand Duchy of Hesse
Era 19th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
School Philosophical pessimism
Main interests
Metaphysics, psychology
Notable ideas
The will to die (Wille zum Tode)[1]

Philipp Mainländer (October 5, 1841 – April 1, 1876) was a German poet and philosopher. Born as Philipp Batz, he later changed his name into Mainländer from adoration for his hometown Offenbach am Main.

In his central work Die Philosophie der Erlösung (The Philosophy of Redemption) – according to Theodor Lessing "perhaps the most radical system of pessimism known to philosophical literature"[Note 1] – Mainländer proclaims that life is absolutely worthless, and that "the will, ignited by the knowledge that non-being is better than being, is the supreme principle of morality."[Note 2]


Born in Offenbach on October 5, 1841 "as a child of marital rape",[Note 3] Philipp Mainländer grew up the youngest of six siblings.

In 1856, at his father's instruction, Mainländer entered the commercial school of Dresden to become a merchant. Two years later, he was employed in a trading house in Naples, Italy, where he learned Italian and acquainted himself with the works of Dante, Petrarca, Boccaccio, and – most notably – Leopardi. Mainländer would later describe his five Neapolitan years as the happiest ones of his life.

During this critical period of his life, Mainländer discovered Arthur Schopenhauer's central work The World as Will and Representation. Nineteen years old at the time, he would later describe the event as a penetrating revelation, referring to the month of February 1860 as the "most important of [his] life".[Note 4] Indeed, Schopenhauer would remain the most important influence on Mainländer's later philosophical work.

In 1863, Mainländer returned to Germany to work in his father’s business. In the same year, he also penned the three part poem Die letzten Hohenstaufen ("The Last Hohenstaufens"). Two years later, on October 5, Mainländer’s 24th birthday, his mother died. Deeply affected by this experience of loss, Mainländer began an ongoing turn away from poetry and towards philosophy. During the following years, he studied Schopenhauer, Kant – "not poisoned through Fichte, Schelling and Hegel, but rather critically strengthened through Schopenhauer"[Note 5])", Eschenbach's Parzival, and the classics of philosophy from Heraclitus to Condillac.

In March 1869, Mainländer worked in the banking house J. Mart. Magnus in Berlin with the declared goal of amassing a small fortune within a few years and then leading a decent life from the interest earnings. However, the stock market crash at the Wiener Börse on May 8, 1873 (Wiener Krach), totally ruined Mainländer and caused a sudden end to these plans. In 1873, Mainländer resigned from his post at the bank without really knowing what he would do afterwards.

Development of The Philosophy of Redemption[edit]

Although his wealthy parents had bought off his military service in 1861, Mainländer – according to an autobiographic note – expressed the desire "to be absolutely in all things submitted to another one once, to do the lowermost work, to have to obey blindly"[Note 6] and sedulously undertook numerous attempts to serve with weapons. On April 6, 1874, Mainländer, already 32 years old, submitted a request directly to the emperor Wilhelm I of Germany which was granted; this resulted in his appointment to the Cuirassiers in Halberstadt, beginning September 28. During the four months leading up to his conscription, Mainländer, obsessed with work, composed the first volume of his main work The Philosophy of Redemption.

Mainländer handed the completed manuscript to his sister Minna, asking her to find a publisher while he completed his military service. The author composed a letter to the as yet unknown publisher, requesting the omission of his birth name and substitution of the nom de plume "Philipp Mainländer", and stating that he would abhor nothing more than "being exposed to the eyes of the world"[Note 7]).

On November 1, 1875, Mainländer — originally committed for three years, but in the meantime, as he noted in a letter to his sister Minna, "exhausted, worked-out, […] at completely […] healthy body ineffably tired"[Note 8]) — was prematurely released from military service, and traveled back to his hometown of Offenbach, where he — again having become obsessed with work — within a mere two months, corrected the unbound sheets of The Philosophy of Redemption, composed his memoirs, wrote the novella Rupertine del Fino, and completed the 650-page second volume of his magnum opus.

From February of that year on, Mainländer's mental collapse — which has been compared to the collapse Nietzsche would suffer years later[7] — became apparent. Eventually, descending into megalomania and believing himself to be a messiah of social democracy,[6]:124 on the night on April 1, 1876, Mainländer hanged himself in his residence in Offenbach, using a pile of copies of The Philosophy of Redemption (which had arrived the previous day from his publisher) as a platform. He was thirty-four years old.

Nietzsche's criticism[edit]

Nietzsche's strong interest in Schopenhauer led him to read writers who were influenced by Schopenhauer. Such writers were Eduard von Hartmann, Julius Bahnsen, and Mainländer. He did not think that these authors were genuine German pessimists. Nietzsche mentioned Mainländer only once in his works.

Could one count such dilettantes and old maids as the sickeningly sentimental apostle of virginity, Mainländer, as a genuine German? … Neither Bahnsen, nor Mainländer, and especially Eduard von Hartmann, gives a secure handle regarding the question whether Schopenhauer's pessimism, his horrified look into a god – deprived, stupid, blind, insane, and questionable world, his honest horror, was not merely an exceptional case among Germans but was a German event.

— Die fröhliche Wissenschaft (The Gay Science), § 357


  • Philipp Mainländer, Die Philosophie der Erlösung (Vol. I: 1876; Vol. II: 1886)
  • Philipp Mainländer, Die Letzten Hohenstaufen. Ein dramatisches Gedicht in drei Theilen: Enzo – Manfred – Conradino (1876)
  • Philipp Mainländer, Die Macht der Motive. Literarischer Nachlaß von 1857 bis 1875 (1999)


  1. ^ "vielleicht das radikalste System des Pessimismus, das die philosophische Literatur kennt"[2]
  2. ^ "[der] von der Erkenntnis, daß Nichtsein besser ist als Sein, entzündete Wille [ist] das oberste Prinzip aller Moral."[3]
  3. ^ "als Kind ehelicher Notzucht"[4]:95
  4. ^ "[den] bedeutungsvollsten Tag [seines] Lebens"[4]:98
  5. ^ "nicht durch Fichte, Schelling und Hegel vergiftet, sondern vielmehr durch Schopenhauer kritisch gestählt"[4]:102
  6. ^ "einmal unbedingt einem anderen in allem unterworfen zu sein, die niedrigste Arbeit zu tun, blind gehorchen zu müssen"[4]:88
  7. ^ "als den Augen der Welt ausgesetzt zu sein"[5]
  8. ^ "verbraucht, worked out, […] bei vollkommen […] gesundem Körper unaussprechlich müde"[6]:121


  1. ^ Philipp Mainländer, Die Philosophie der Erlösung (Vol. I: 1876; Vol. II: 1886).
  2. ^ Theodor Lessing: Schopenhauer, Wagner, Nietzsche. Eine Einführung in die moderne Philosophie. Leipzig 1907.
  3. ^ Philipp Mainländer: Philosophie der Erlösung. Quoted after Ulrich Horstmann (Ed.): Vom Verwesen der Welt und anderen Restposten, Manuscriptum, Warendorf 2003, p. 85.
  4. ^ a b c d Fritz Sommerlad: Aus dem Leben Philipp Mainländers. Mitteilungen aus der handschriftlichen Selbstbiographie des Philosophen. Printed in Winfried H. Müller Seyfarth (ed.): Die modernen Pessimisten als décadents. Texte zur Rezeptionsgeschichte von Philipp Mainländers‚ Philosophie der Erlösung‘.
  5. ^ Philipp Mainländer: Meine Soldatengeschichte. Tagebuchblätter. Quoted after Ulrich Horstmann (Ed.): Vom Verwesen der Welt und anderen Restposten. Manuscriptum, Warendorf 2003, p. 211
  6. ^ a b Walther Rauschenberger: Aus der letzten Lebenszeit Philipp Mainländers. Nach ungedruckten Briefen und Aufzeichnungen des Philosophen. ‚Süddeutsche Monatshefte‘ 9.
  7. ^ Ulrich Horstmann: Mainländers Mahlstrom. Über eine philosophische Flaschenpost und ihren Absender. In Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 508, 1989.

External links[edit]