Philipp Mainländer

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Philipp Mainländer
P.Mainländer (cropped).jpg
Mainländer c. 1867
Philipp Batz

(1841-10-05)5 October 1841
Died1 April 1876(1876-04-01) (aged 34)
Offenbach am Main, Grand Duchy of Hesse, German Empire
EducationCommercial school, Dresden
Notable workDie Philosophie der Erlösung
Era19th-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
Main interests
Notable ideas

Philipp Mainländer (5 October 1841 – 1 April 1876) was a German philosopher and poet. 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)[7] — according to Theodor Lessing, "perhaps the most radical system of pessimism known to philosophical literature"[Note 1] — Mainländer proclaims that life is worthless, and that "the will, ignited by the knowledge that non-being is better than being, is the supreme principle of morality."[Note 2]


Early life and career[edit]

Mainländer with his sister Minna in 1855

Born in Offenbach am Main, on October 5, 1841 "as a child of marital rape",[Note 3] Philipp Mainländer grew up the youngest of six siblings. One of his brothers was mentally ill, according to Cesare Lombroso in The Man of Genius, as had been one of his grandfathers who had died at the age of 33.[11]

Mainländer attended the Realschule in Offenbach from 1848 to 1856.[2]: 203  In 1856, at his father's instruction, he 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 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 5 October, 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 8 May 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 Die Philosophie der Erlösung[edit]

Mainländer, in 1875, wearing his military uniform

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 6 April 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 28 September. During the four months leading up to his conscription, Mainländer, obsessed with work, composed the first volume of his main work Die Philosophie der Erlösung. Describing this time, he later wrote:

And now an enchanting life began, a spiritual blossoming full of bliss and blissful shivers. […] This life lasted four full months; it filled June, July, August and September. Completely clear, consistent, and well-rounded was my system in my mind, and a creative frenzy revived me that did not need the whip of the thought that I must be finished by 28 September; for on 1 October I had to put on the king's coat - this date could not be postponed. If I hadn't finished by then, it would take three years for me to put the finishing touches on my work, i.e. I would have seen myself thrown into an abyss into which the furies of a broken existence would inevitably have thrown me.[12]

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 pen name "Philipp Mainländer", and stating that he would abhor nothing more than "being exposed to the eyes of the world".[Note 7]

On 1 November 1875, Mainländer – originally committed for three years, but in the meantime, as he noted in a letter to 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 Die Philosophie der Erlösung, composed his memoirs, wrote the novella Rupertine del Fino, and completed the 650-page second volume of his magnum opus.


Around the beginning of 1876, Mainländer began to doubt whether his life still had value for humanity. He wondered whether he had already completed the duties of life, or whether he should employ it to strengthen the social democratic movement.[14]: 131  Despite writing down addresses to the German workers, these plans did not materialize. Very shortly after the publication of the first volume of his main work, he ended his life by hanging himself.[10]: 101  Mainländer was buried in Offenbach cemetery.[15]


Title page of the second volume of Die Philosophie der Erlösung

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. 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.[2]: 202  The goals he set for himself and for his system are reminiscent of ancient Greek philosophy: 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".

Mainländer theorized that an initial singularity dispersed and expanded into the known universe. 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 to monism and he believed that, with his philosophy, he had managed to explain this transition from oneness to multiplicity and becoming.[16]

Death of God[edit]

Despite his scientific means of explanation, Mainländer was not afraid to philosophize in allegorical terms. Formulating his own "myth of creation", Mainländer equated this initial singularity with God.

Mainländer reinterprets Schopenhauer's metaphysics in two important aspects. Primarily, in Mainländer's system there is no "singular will". The basic unity 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.[17]


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 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 its 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 its 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.[18]


It was noted by critics that his work reveals a gentle and warmhearted personality.[19][20][21]: 121  Lucien Arréat 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."[19]

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![20]

— Fritz Sommerlad

Frederick C. Beiser also notes "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."[2]: 202–203 


Self-portrait of Alfred Kubin in Die Philosophie der Erlösung

Nietzsche immediately read Die Philosophie der Erlösung in the year it was published, before any review had appeared. The work contributed to his final separation from Schopenhauer's philosophy.[22] In his own works, Nietzsche gave no attention to Mainländer until a decade later, that is, in the second, expanded edition of The Gay Science, the same book in which he had introduced the phrase "God is dead" in the first edition five years prior: "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)."[23] It has been suggested that Mainländer was more than a mere influence, and was instead plagiarized.[24][25]

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.[27]

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.[21]: 6 

Mainländer's work was not well received by authorities. In Imperial Russia, Mainländer's essay on the esoteric meaning of the Trinity was banned.[28] In the German Reichstag, Die Philosophie der Erlösung was brought up to the rostrum on occasion of the Anti-Socialist Laws.[28] Prominent socialists however took interest in his work. The socialist leader August Bebel refers to and uses the arguments of the pessimistic philosopher in his feminist work Woman and Socialism.[29] Bebel mentions Mainländer's sister in his autobiography.[30] Also Eduard Bernstein wrote that he was "very interested" in Mainländer.[31] Ferdinand Domela Nieuwenhuis (1846–1919), the first prominent Dutch socialist, considered Mainländer's work a "great contribution" for socialism.[32]

Alfred Kubin, one of the founders of Der Blaue Reiter, wrote about Die Philosophie der Erlösung, "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."[34] He also refers to Mainländer in his novel Kappa.[35]

Emil Cioran was very impressed by the work of Mainländer.[6] When he discovered that Jorge Luis Borges had written about Mainländer, he started a correspondence with Borges on Mainländer.[citation needed]


In English:

  • The Philosophy of Redemption (Vol. I & Vol. II) – currently being translated[36]

In German:

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

In Spanish:

  • Filosofía de la redención (translation by Manuel Pérez Cornejo; Ediciones Xorki, 2014)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "vielleicht das radikalste System des Pessimismus, das die philosophische Literatur kennt"[8]
  2. ^ "[der] von der Erkenntnis, daß Nichtsein besser ist als Sein, entzündete Wille [ist] das oberste Prinzip aller Moral."[9]
  3. ^ "als Kind ehelicher Notzucht"[10]: 95 
  4. ^ "[den] bedeutungsvollsten Tag [seines] Lebens"[10]: 98 
  5. ^ "nicht durch Fichte, Schelling und Hegel vergiftet, sondern vielmehr durch Schopenhauer kritisch gestählt"[10]: 102 
  6. ^ "einmal unbedingt einem anderen in allem unterworfen zu sein, die niedrigste Arbeit zu tun, blind gehorchen zu müssen"[10]: 88 
  7. ^ "als den Augen der Welt ausgesetzt zu sein"[13]
  8. ^ "verbraucht, worked out, … bei vollkommen … gesundem Körper unaussprechlich müde"[14]: 121 
  9. ^ "ein stiller bescheidener Mann, Buddhist, etwas Anhänger Mainländer's, begeisterter Vegetarianer."[26]
  10. ^ "dieses Werk– welches meine eigentlichen Gedanken ausspricht und mich stählt und festigt, – diese Philosophie bildet den Trost meines Lebens und Sterbens"[33]


  1. ^ Monika Langer, Nietzsche's Gay Science: Dancing Coherence, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, p. 231.
  2. ^ a b c d e Beiser, Frederick C. (2016). "Mainländer's Philosophy of Redemption". Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860–1900. Oxford: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198768715.001.0001. ISBN 978-0-19-876871-5.
  3. ^ Mainländer, Philipp (2018). The Immanent Philosophy of Philipp Mainländer: Analytic of the Cognition, section 28 (PDF).
  4. ^ Thomas H. Brobjer (2008). Nietzsche's Philosophical Context: An Intellectual Biography. University Of Illinois Press. p. 149 n. 42. ISBN 9780252032455.
  5. ^ "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).
  6. ^ a b Robert Wicks (26 May 2011). Schopenhauer's 'The World as Will and Representation': A Reader's Guide. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 156. ISBN 978-1441104342. "Cioran was impressed especially by Mainländer".
  7. ^ 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”.
  8. ^ Theodor Lessing: Schopenhauer, Wagner, Nietzsche. Eine Einführung in die moderne Philosophie. Leipzig 1907.
  9. ^ Philipp Mainländer: Philosophie der Erlösung. Quoted after Ulrich Horstmann (Ed.): Vom Verwesen der Welt und anderen Restposten, Manuscriptum, Warendorf 2003, p. 85.
  10. ^ a b c d e 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.
  11. ^ Lombroso, Cesare (1889). "Chapter IV: Genius and Insanity". The Man of Genius. ISBN 9783752434262.
  12. ^ Mainländer, Philipp (2003). Horstmann, Ulrich (ed.). Vom Verwesen der Welt und anderen Restposten eine Werkauswahl [A Selection of Works From the Decay of the World and Other Remaining Items] (in German). Warendorf. p. 207. ISBN 978-3-933497-74-1. OCLC 76487012.
  13. ^ Philipp Mainländer: Meine Soldatengeschichte. Tagebuchblätter. Quoted after Ulrich Horstmann (Ed.): Vom Verwesen der Welt und anderen Restposten. Manuscriptum, Warendorf 2003, p. 211
  14. ^ a b Walther Rauschenberger: "Aus der letzten Lebenszeit Philipp Mainländers. Nach ungedruckten Briefen und Aufzeichnungen des Philosophen." Süddeutsche Monatshefte 9.
  15. ^ Sommerlad, Fritz (1898). "Aus dem Leben Philipp Mainländers" [From the life of Philipp Mainländer]. Zeitschrift für Philosophie und philosophische Kritik (in German). 112: 74–101.
  16. ^ Mainländer, Philipp (2018). The Immanent Philosophy of Philipp Mainländer: Metaphysics, section 2 (PDF).
  17. ^ Beiser, Frederick (2016). Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900. Oxford University Press.
  18. ^ Beiser, Frederick. Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900. Oxford University Press, (2016), chapter on Ethics.
  19. ^ a b Arréat, Lucien (January 1885). "La philosophie de la rédemption d'après un pessimiste". Revue philosophique. 19: 632 – via BnF Gallica.
  20. ^ a b Sommerlad, Fritz (1899). Rupertine del Fino. Frei bearbeitet und mit einem Vorwort von Fritz Sommerlad. München: Morgenblatt der Allgemeinen Zeitung. p. 4. Archived from the original on 17 April 2016.
  21. ^ a b Seiling, Max (1888). Mainländer, ein neuer Messias: ein frohe Botschaft inmitten der herrschenden Geistesverwirrung. München.
  22. ^ 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.
  23. ^ Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. § 357.
  24. ^ "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."
  25. ^ Rademacher, Guido (2006). Der Zerfall der Welt: Philipp Mainländer ; kurz gelebt und lange vergessen. London. p. 160. ISBN 978-1-84790-006-7.
  26. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche: Letter to Heinrich Köselitz, 17/05/1888.
  27. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche: Letter to Heinrich Köselitz, 17/05/1888 — Er hat mir bewiesen, daß Mainländer kein Jude war. —"
  28. ^ a b Arrét, Jullien (January 1885). "La philosophie de la rédemption d'après un pessimiste". Revue philosophique. 19: 648 – via BnF Gallica.
  29. ^ Bebel, August (1879). Die Frau und Sozialismus. Zürich-Hottingen: Volksbuchhandlung. pp. 18, 90, 144.
  30. ^ Bebel, August (1914). Aus meinem Leben. Berlin.
  31. ^ Bernstein to Kautsky, 17.8.1984
  32. ^ Domela Nieuwenhuis, Ferdinand (1880). "De Wijsbegeerte der Verlossing". De Banier. 1: 247–287.
  33. ^ Winfried H. Müller-Seyfarth: Lichte Finsternis, Alfred Kubin und Ernst Barlach 2015.
  34. ^ Akutagawa, Ryūnosuke (8 June 2018). "Note to an Old Friend".
  35. ^ Akutagawa, Ryūnosuke (2000). Kappa. Translated by Bownas, Geoffery. Boston, Massachusetts: Tuttle Publishing. p. 129. ISBN 978-0-8048-3251-9.
  36. ^ Cf. Mainländer Global: Offenbacher Mainländer-Symposium 2016 (Internationale Mainländer-Studien, 4/17), Königshausen & Neumann, 2017, p. 111.

Further reading[edit]

  • Beiser, Frederick C., Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016.

External links[edit]