Philipp Mainländer

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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
Main interests
Notable ideas
The universe is finite in size and has had a beginning
The movement of the universe is towards nothingness
God is dead
The will to death (Wille zum Tode)[1]

Philipp Mainländer (October 5, 1841 – April 1, 1876) was a German poet and philosopher. Born Philipp Batz, he later changed his name to "Mainländer" in homage to his hometown, Offenbach am Main.

In his central work Die Philosophie der Erlösung (The Philosophy of Redemption or The Philosophy of Salvation[4]) – 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[10] – became apparent. Eventually, descending into megalomania and believing himself to be a messiah of social democracy,[9]: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.


In Mainlander's philosophy the concept of "death" is central. It is the driving force of his system and the means for salvation. In the "Philosophy of Redemption", the pessimistic philosopher states clearly that:

"The sign of our flag is not the crucified saviour, but the death angel with huge, calm, mild eyes, carried by the dove of the redemption thought"

Working in the metaphysical framework of Schopenhauer, Mainländer sees the "will" as the innermost core of being, the ontological arche. However, he deviates from Schopenhauer in important respects. With Schopenhauer the will is singular, unified and beyond time and space. Schopenhauer's transcendental idealism leads him to conclude that we only have access to a certain aspect of the thing-in-itself by introspective observation of our own bodies. In contrast, Mainländer is a proponent of realism and sees time and space as absolute properties. This means that what we observe as will is all there is to observe, nothing more. There are no hidden aspects. Furthermore, via introspection we can only observe our individual will. This also leads Mainländer to the philosophical position of pluralism. The goals he set for himself and for his system are reminiscent of ancient greek philosophy. Namely - what is the relation between the undivided existence of the "One" and the everchanging world of becoming that we experience.

Additionally, Mainländer accentuates on the idea of salvation for all of creation. This is yet another respect in which he differentiates his philosophy from that of Schopenhauer. With Schopenhauer, the silencing of the will is a rare event. The artistic genius can achieve this state temporarily, while only a few saints have achieved total cessation throughout history. For Mainländer, the entirety of the cosmos is slowly but surely moving towards the silencing of the will-to-live and to (as he calls it) "redemption".

These are the aims and challenges that Mainländer's metaphysics face and these are the issues he seeks to elucidate. He was a scientific thinker that attempted to integrate the new theories of the science of his day into an all-encompassing system. One such new theory was that of entropy, the eventual heat-death of the universe. Combining scientific terminology with his own philosophical investigations, Mainlander theorized that an initial singularity that existed in the vast nothingness suddenly dispersed and expanded into the known universe, with expansion gradually increasing outward just as the laws of thermodynamics suggest. This dispersion from a singular unity to a multitude of things offered a smooth transition between monism and pluralism. Mainländer thought that with the regression of time, all kinds of pluralism and multiplicity would revert back to monism and he believed that, with his philosophy, he had managed to explain this transition from oneness to multiplicity and becoming.

The Death of God[edit]

Despite his scientific means of explanation, Mainländer was not afraid to philosophize in allegorical terms. Infact, that is where his philosophy is most striking, dramatic and even theological. Formulating his own "myth of creation", Mainländer equated this initial singularity with God. As in most systems, Mainländer's God was omniscient and omnipotent. Everything in existence was under his power. Yet this God desired the one thing he could not have as it transcended his existential jurisdiction: He desired non-being[11]. But because nothingness was the antithesis of existence, and because God was existence itself, there could be no simple and sudden transition between being and non-being. Therefore, God "fragmented" itself in a divine act of suicide that will eventually blend with nothingness, once all of God's divergent "parts" have also embraced nothingness. In this innovative fable, Mainländer explains the "motive" of the singularity and the goal of it and it's various manifestations.

In this way, Mainländer reinterprets Schopenhauer's metaphysics in two important aspects. Primarily, in Mainländer's system there is no "singular will". It has broken apart into individual wills and each subject in existence possesses an individual will of his own. Because of this, Mainländer can claim that once an "individual will" is silenced and dies, it achieves absolute nothingness and not the relative nothingness we find in Schopenhauer. By recognizing death as salvation and by giving nothingness an absolute quality, Mainländer's system manages to offer "wider" means for redemption. Secondarily, Mainländer reinterprets the Schopenhauerian will-to-live as an underlying will-to-die, i.e. the will-to-live is the means towards the will-to-die. Each movement, each prompts of animal instinct and every kind of activity in the organic and inorganic world (such as planetary gravitation, atomic trepidation or even the birth of a child) further aids in expanding energy and moving towards entropy, hence the realization of God's ultimate and final desire.


Mainländer's philosophy also carefully inverts other doctrines. For instance, Epicurus sees happiness only in pleasure and since there is nothing after death, there is nothing to fear and/or desire from death. Yet Mainländer, being a philosophical pessimist, sees no desirable pleasure in this life and praises the sublime nothingness of death, recognizing precisely this state of non-existence as desirable.

Mainländer (influenced by Max Stirner) espouses an ethics of egoism. That is to say that what is best for an individual is what makes one happiest. Yet all pursuits and cravings lead to pain. Thus, Mainländer concludes that a will-to-death is best for the happiness of all and knowledge of this transforms one's will-to-life (an illusory existence unable to attain happiness) into the proper (sought by God) will-to-death. Ultimately, the subject (individual will) is one with the universe, in harmony with it and with it's originating will, if one wills nothingness. Based on these premises, Mainländer makes the distinction between the "ignorant" and the "enlightened" type of self-interest. Ignorant self-interest seeks to promote itself and capitalize on it's will-to-live. In contrast, enlightened self-interest humbles the individual and leads him to asceticism, as that aligns him properly with the elevating will-towards-death.[12]


It was noted by critics that his work reveal a gentle and warmhearted personality.[13][14][15]:121 Jullien Arrét expressed that many pages feel warm due to the "generosity of his soul", and as a more general characterization that "Mainländer had a delicate and sincere nature, a truly remarkable individuality."

On every page of his work emerges such a gentle, human-friendly image, who can speak in such a gentle yet serious tone, can smile so sublimely, that – it sounds contradictory to his teachings, but it is true – express such a devout soul, that we, deeply moved, kindly nod to his work, making us confess: you may not convert us to your redemption, but we can and we have to understand you, you pure, noble heart![14]

— Fritz Sommerlad

Also Frederick C. Beiser noted "Mainländer's humanity": "He had the deepest sympathy for the suffering of the common man and much of his thinking was preoccupied with the poverty of the mass of people and the workers. … It is not the least token of Mainländer’s humanity that he was sympathetic to the Jews, whose charity and sagacity he much admired."[16]


Self-portrait of Alfred Kubin in The Philosophy of Redemption

Nietzsche immediately read The Philosophy of Redemption in the year it was published, before any review had appeared. The work caused him to move away from Schopenhauer's philosophy.[17] In his own works however, Nietzsche gave no attention to Mainländer until a decade later, that is, in The Gay Science wherein he introduces the phrase God is dead: "Could one count such dilettantes and old maids as the sickeningly sentimental apostle of virginity, Mainländer, as a genuine German? After all he was probably a Jew – (all Jews become sentimental when they moralize)."[18] On the other hand, it has been suggested that Mainländer was more than a mere influence, and was instead plagiarized.[19]

Nietzsche also mentions in one of his letters that he met an adherent of Mainländer's philosophy, "a quiet and modest man, a Buddhist, passionate vegetarian."[Note 9] The "modest man" told Nietzsche that Mainländer was, in fact, not a Jew.[21]

In the same period, Max Seiling wrote that he believed Mainländer to be one of the few wise heroes to have walked on this earth.[15]:6

Alfred Kubin, one of the founders of Der Blaue Reiter, wrote about The Philosophy of Redemption, "this work – which expresses my actual thoughts and steels and strengthens me – this philosophy, forms the consolation of my life and death."[Note 10]

The Japanese writer Akutagawa wrote in A Note to a Certain Old Friend, "I read Mainländer, whose work has become deeply ingrained in my consciousness."[23]

Emil Cioran was very impressed by the work of Mainländer.[24] When he discovered that Jorge Luis Borges had written about Mainländer, he started a correspondence with Borges on Mainländer.


In English:

In German:

  • 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)

In Spanish:

  • Philipp Mainländer, Filosofía de la redención (Traducción de Manuel Pérez Cornejo; Edición de Carlos Javier Gonzalez Serrano y Manuel Pérez Cornejo; Ediciones Xorki, 2014)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "vielleicht das radikalste System des Pessimismus, das die philosophische Literatur kennt"[5]
  2. ^ "[der] von der Erkenntnis, daß Nichtsein besser ist als Sein, entzündete Wille [ist] das oberste Prinzip aller Moral."[6]
  3. ^ "als Kind ehelicher Notzucht"[7]:95
  4. ^ "[den] bedeutungsvollsten Tag [seines] Lebens"[7]:98
  5. ^ "nicht durch Fichte, Schelling und Hegel vergiftet, sondern vielmehr durch Schopenhauer kritisch gestählt"[7]:102
  6. ^ "einmal unbedingt einem anderen in allem unterworfen zu sein, die niedrigste Arbeit zu tun, blind gehorchen zu müssen"[7]:88
  7. ^ "als den Augen der Welt ausgesetzt zu sein"[8]
  8. ^ "[verbraucht, worked out, […] bei vollkommen […] gesundem Körper unaussprechlich müde] error: [undefined] error: {{lang}}: no text (help): text has italic markup (help)"[9]:121
  9. ^ ["ein stiller bescheidener Mann, Buddhist, etwas Anhänger Mainländer's, begeisterter Vegetarianer."] error: [undefined] error: {{lang}}: no text (help): text has italic markup (help)[20]
  10. ^ "dieses Werk– welches meine eigentlichen Gedanken ausspricht und mich stählt und festigt, – diese Philosophie bildet den Trost meines Lebens und Sterbens"[22]


  1. ^ Beiser, Frederick C. (2008). Weltschmerz, Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 218. ISBN 0198768710. 
  2. ^ Thomas H. Brobjer (2008). Nietzsche's Philosophical Context: An Intellectual Biography. University Of Illinois Press. p. 149. ISBN 9780252032455. 
  3. ^ "Der Philosoph Philipp Mainländer entdeckt das Nirwanaprinzip: Die Welt als Gottes Selbstmordprojekt". Neue Zürcher Zeitung. 15 March 2003. Immerhin hat kein Geringerer als Friedrich Nietzsche, solange er wie Mainländer Schopenhauer verehrte, den philosophischen Mitjünger gewürdigt (beider Lektüreerlebnis gleicht als Erweckung dem augustinischen «Nimm, lies» bis ins Detail). 
  4. ^ Windelband, W (1958). History of philosophy. New York,: Harper & Row. In this respect he comes into contact with Mainländer, who with him and after him worked out Schopenhauer's theory to an ascetic “Philosophy of Salvation”. 
  5. ^ Theodor Lessing: Schopenhauer, Wagner, Nietzsche. Eine Einführung in die moderne Philosophie. Leipzig 1907.
  6. ^ Philipp Mainländer: Philosophie der Erlösung. Quoted after Ulrich Horstmann (Ed.): Vom Verwesen der Welt und anderen Restposten, Manuscriptum, Warendorf 2003, p. 85.
  7. ^ 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'.
  8. ^ Philipp Mainländer: Meine Soldatengeschichte. Tagebuchblätter. Quoted after Ulrich Horstmann (Ed.): Vom Verwesen der Welt und anderen Restposten. Manuscriptum, Warendorf 2003, p. 211
  9. ^ a b Walther Rauschenberger: Aus der letzten Lebenszeit Philipp Mainländers. Nach ungedruckten Briefen und Aufzeichnungen des Philosophen. ‚Süddeutsche Monatshefte' 9.
  10. ^ Ulrich Horstmann: Mainländers Mahlstrom. Über eine philosophische Flaschenpost und ihren Absender. In Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 508, 1989.
  11. ^ Ligotti, Thomas. The Conspiracy Against The Human Race. Hippocampus Press, 2011. 
  12. ^ Beiser, Frederick. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900. Oxford University Press, (2016). 
  13. ^ Arrét, Jullien (January 1885). "La philosophie de la rédemption d'après un pessimiste". Revue philosophique. 19: 632 – via BnF Gallica. 
  14. ^ a b Sommerlad, Fritz (1899). Rupertine del Fino. Frei bearbeitet und mit einem Vorwort von Fritz Sommerlad. München: Morgenblatt der Allgemeinen Zeitung. p. 4. 
  15. ^ a b Seiling, Max (1888). Mainländer, ein neuer Messias: ein frohe Botschaft inmitten der herrschenden Geistesverwirrung. München. 
  16. ^ Beiser, Frederick C. (2008). Weltschmerz, Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 202–203. ISBN 0198768710. 
  17. ^ Thomas H. Brobjer (2008). Nietzsche's Philosophical Context: An Intellectual Biography. University Of Illinois Press. p. 149. ISBN 9780252032455. Decher emphasizes the importance of the fact that Mainländer reinterpreted Schopenhauer's metaphysical and single will to a less metaphysical multiplicity of wills (always in struggle) and the importance of this for Nietzsche's will to power. It was in a letter to Cosima Wagner, December 19, 1876, that is, while reading Mainländer, that Nietzsche for the first time explicitly claimed to have parted ways with Schopenhauer. It may be relevant that Mainländer's book ends with a long section (more than 200 pages) consisting mainly of a critique of Schopenhauer's metaphysics. 
  18. ^ Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. § 357. 
  19. ^ "SWR2 Wissen: Philipp Mainländers Anleitung zum glücklichen Nichtsein". Südwestrundfunk. 28 September 2008. Erzählerin: "Lust schafft Leid – das meinte schon Schopenhauer. Friedrich Nietzsche, ein anderer Schopenhauerschüler, studierte Mainländers Philosophie der Erlösung. Einige „Mainländerianer" haben ihn bezichtigt, von ihm abgeschrieben zu haben." O-Ton - Guido Rademacher: "Ob er jetzt tatsächlich ein Plagiator war, das kann ich nicht behaupten. Es gibt fantastische Parallelen." 
  20. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche: Letter to Heinrich Köselitz, 17/05/1888.
  21. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche: Letter to Heinrich Köselitz, 17/05/1888. " — Er hat mir bewiesen, daß Mainländer kein Jude war. —"
  22. ^ Winfried H. Müller-Seyfarth: Lichte Finsternis, Alfred Kubin und Ernst Barlach 2015.
  23. ^ Akutagawa, Ryūnosuke (8 June 2018). "Note to an Old Friend" (PDF). 
  24. ^ Robert Wicks. Schopenhauer's 'The World as Will and Representation': A Reader's Guide. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 156. ISBN 1441104348. Cioran was impressed especially by Mainländer. 
  25. ^ "Durch Dr Atzerts engagierte Leitung resp. Betreuung entsteht eine englische Übersetzung der Philosophie der Erlösung in Australien." [Through Dr Atzert's engaged leadership and support, an English translation of the Philosophy of Redemption is currently underway in Australia.] In: Mainländer Global. Offenbacher Mainländer-Symposium 2016 (Internationale Mainländer-Studien, Bd.4/17), Königshausen & Neumann, 2017. p.111.

External links[edit]