Philosophy of the Unconscious

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Philosophy of the Unconscious
The Philosophy of the Unconscious.jpg
AuthorEduard von Hartmann
Original titlePhilosophie des Unbewussten
TranslatorW. C. Coupland
SubjectUnconscious mind
  • 1869 (Duncker, in German)
  • 1884 (in English)
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)

Philosophy of the Unconscious: Speculative Results According to the Induction Method of the Physical Sciences (German: Philosophie des Unbewussten) is an 1869 book by the philosopher Eduard von Hartmann.[1] The culmination of the speculations and findings of German romantic philosophy in the first two-thirds of the 19th century, Philosophy of the Unconscious became famous.[2] By 1882, it had appeared in nine editions.[3] A three volume English translation appeared in 1884.[4] The English translation is more than 1100 pages long.[5] The work influenced Sigmund Freud's and Carl Jung's theories of the unconscious.[4][6]


Hartmann reviews the work of many German philosophers and discusses the ideas of the Indian Vedas,[5] as well as collecting facts about perception, the association of ideas, wit, emotional life, instinct, personality traits, individual destiny, and the role of the unconscious in language, religion, history, and social life.[2] He refers to what Jakob Böhme, Friedrich von Schelling, and Arthur Schopenhauer had called the will as the unconscious.[2] As part of his attempt to reconcile Schopenhauer, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and other philosophers he argues that the unconscious Absolute is both will and idea, which respectively account for the existence of the world and its orderly nature. Will appears in suffering, idea in order and consciousness. Thus there are grounds for both pessimism and optimism, and, since the Absolute is one, these must be reconciled. As the cosmic process advances, idea prevails over will, making aesthetic and intellectual pleasures possible. Yet intellectual development increases our capacity for pain and material progress suppresses spiritual values. Hence ultimate happiness is unattainable on Earth or heaven, or by progress towards an earthly paradise. These illusions are ruses employed by the absolute to induce mankind to propagate itself. We will eventually shed illusions and commit collective suicide, the final triumph of idea over will.[7]

According to Hartmann, the unconscious has three layers: "(1) the absolute unconscious, which constitutes the substance of the universe and is the source of the other forms of the unconscious; (2) the physiological unconscious, which like Carus' unconscious, is at work in the origin, development, and evolution of living beings, including man; (3) the relative or psychological unconscious, which lies at the source of our conscious mental life."[2] Mankind had reached the second stage, with the forces of irrational will competing with rational mind, while misery and civilization would advance until misery and decay reach a climax when the third stage will be possible, the will checked for reason to prevail.[8]

Hartmann rejects the theory that dreams are wish-fulfillments, writing, "As for dreams, all the little miseries of our waking life also pass over with them into the state of sleep, but not one thing that can at least partly reconcile the cultivated person to life: the enjoyment of science and art..."[9]

In a chapter on "The unconscious in mysticism" (chapter IX), Hartmann compared mysticism with philosophy, mentioning some western European authors including Molinos, Fichte, Schopenhauer and Spinoza. He concluded that it was as difficult to distinguish a genuine inspiration of "the Unconscious" in the waking state when in a mystical mood from freaks of fancy, as to distinguish a clairvoyant dream from an ordinary one, given that, in the one case (the dream) only the result, and in the other (the mood), only the purity and inner worth of the result, could decide between them.


Philosophy of the Unconscious was translated from German into French and English, and went through many editions in all three languages, exerting a great influence on European culture and helping to make the idea of the unconscious familiar and accepted by the close of the 19th century.[10] The work was widely read.[11] Philosophy of the Unconscious received a critical discussion in the philosopher Franz Brentano's Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (1874); Brentano commented that Hartmann's definition of consciousness perhaps referred to "something purely imaginary" and certainly did not agree with his definition of consciousness.[12]

The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche described Hartmann's book as a "philosophy of unconscious irony", in his On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, one of the essays included in Untimely Meditations (1876). In Nietzsche's words: "Take a balance and put Hartmann's 'Unconscious' in one of the scales, and his 'World-process' in the other. There are some who believe they weigh equally; for in each scale there is an evil word—and a good joke."[13]

Hartmann's work has been seen as preparing the way for Freud's later theory of the unconscious.[4] Freud consulted Philosophy of the Unconscious while writing The Interpretation of Dreams (1899),[6] in which he called Hartmann the firmest opponent of the theory that dreams are wish fulfillments.[9] The philosopher Hans Vaihinger was influenced by Philosophy of the Unconscious, relating in his The Philosophy of 'As if' (1911) how it led him to Schopenhauer.[14] The psychiatrist Henri Ellenberger writes in his The Discovery of the Unconscious (1970) that the main interest of Hartmann's work is not its philosophical theories, but its wealth of supporting material.[2]

The psychologist Hans Eysenck writes in his Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire (1985) that Hartmann's version of the unconscious is very similar to Freud's.[5] The philosopher Roger Scruton, writing in Sexual Desire (1986), described Philosophy of the Unconscious as the "first major treatise" about the unconscious. He credited Hartmann with offering a "canny and vigorous" description of sexual desire, but nevertheless considered him unsuccessful in explaining its intentionality.[15] John Kerr writes that Hartmann's ideas about "destruction and transformation" parallel those of psychoanalyst Sabina Spielrein.[16] The Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli was influenced by Philosophy of the Unconscious in his poetics program, "Il fanciullino" ("The child", 1897).[17]

English translation[edit]

The first English translation by, W.C.Coupland,[18] was published in 1884, with the title Philosophy of the Unconscious, a literal translation of the German title. It is currently available as a reprint with the same title[19] but the unattributed article on von Hartmann in the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition (1910–1911) added "Die" to the title of the German and "The" to its English translation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Full title "Philosophie des Unbewussten: Speculative Resultate nach inductiv-naturwissenschaftlicher Methode (speculative results according to the inductive method of physical science) (original sub-title in 1st edn 1869: Versuch einer Weltanschauung): cited by Sebastian Gardner, "Eduard von Hartmann's Philosophy of the Unconscious, chapter 7 of "Thinking the Unconscious, Nineteenth-Century German Thought", ed. Nicholls and Liebscher, Cambridge University Press, 2010.[1]
  2. ^ a b c d e Ellenberger, Henri F. (1970). The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. New York: Basic Books. pp. 209–210. ISBN 0-465-01672-3.
  3. ^ Dufresne, Todd (2000). Tales from the Freudian Crypt: The Death Drive in Text and Context. Stanford: Stanford University Press. p. 88. ISBN 0-8047-3885-8.
  4. ^ a b c Stack, George J. (1999). Audi, Robert, ed. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 363. ISBN 0-521-63722-8.
  5. ^ a b c Eysenck, Hans (1986). Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 33. ISBN 0-14-022562-5.
  6. ^ a b Sulloway, Frank (1979). Freud, Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend. London: Burnett Books. p. 253. ISBN 0 233 97177 7.
  7. ^ Inwood, M.J. (2005). Honderich, Ted, ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 361. ISBN 0-19-926479-1.
  8. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  9. ^ a b Freud, Sigmund; Robertson, Ritchie (1999). The Interpretation of Dreams. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 106. ISBN 0-19-210049-1.
  10. ^ Stevens, Anthony (1991). On Jung. London: Penguin Books. p. 12. ISBN 0-14-012494-2.
  11. ^ Smith, Roger (1997). The Norton History of the Human Sciences. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. p. 401. ISBN 0-393-31733-1.
  12. ^ Brentano, Franz (1995). Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. London: Routledge. p. 104. ISBN 0-415-10661-3.
  13. ^ Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, trans. (revised edition 2010) by Ian Johnston.[2]
  14. ^ Vaihinger, Hans (1968). The Philosophy of 'As If'. Fakenham: Cox & Wyman. p. xxviii.
  15. ^ Scruton, Roger (1994). Sexual Desire. London: Phoenix. pp. 194–195. ISBN 1-85799-100-1.
  16. ^ Kerr, John (2012). A Dangerous Method. London: Atlantic Books. p. 590. ISBN 978 0 85789 178 5.
  17. ^ Elio Gioanola, Giovanni Pascoli: sentimenti filiali di un parricida, Jaca Book, 2000, p.18.
  18. ^ Author of The elements of mental and moral science as applied to teaching, by W.C. Coupland, published London, 1889 [3]
  19. ^ Such as published by Routledge, 2010, ISBN 9780415613866, and by Nabu Press, 2010, ISBN 1146864655

External links[edit]