SCHOPENHAUER AND FREUD Christopher Young & Andrew Brook
A close study of Schopenhauer's central work, The World as Will and Representation, reveals
that a number of Freud's most characteristic doctrines were first articulated by Schopenhauer. A
thinker always expresses something of his culture, of course, but the parallels to be found between Freud and Schopenhauer go well beyond cultural influence. Schopenhauer's concept of
the will contains the foundations of what in Freud became the concepts of the unconscious and
the id. Schopenhauer's writings on madness anticipate Freud's theory of repression and his first
theory of the etiology of neurosis. Schopenhauer's work contains aspects of what become the
theory of free association. And most importantly, Schopenhauer articulates major parts of the
Freudian theory of sexuality. These correspondences raise some interesting questions about
Freud's denial that he even read Schopenhauer until late in life.
"For the Zeitgeist of every age is like a sharp east wind which blows through everything. You can find traces of it in all that is done, thought and written, in music and painting, in the flourishing of this or that art: it leaves its mark on everything and everyone."
In the nineteenth century, certain general themes occupied much of the German-speaking world,
and none more so than the will and the unconscious. These themes may well have reached their
highest development in Freud, as many have suggested, but they did not begin with him, nor
even with Nietzsche. To find their origins and first clear articulations, we have to go back at least
as far as the strange misanthropic philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer. In the latter we find not
only an anticipation of some of Freud's most characteristic ideas but a surprisingly complete
articulation of them. It is general knowledge, of course, that Schopenhauer anticipated Freud to
some extent (we examine some discussions of the link below). Indeed, Freud himself acknowledged this, though with a curious ambivalence to which we will return later. However, the correspondences are far more extensive and far more detailed than is generally known. The reason
they are not generally known may be that it takes a thorough and careful reading of Schopenhauer's texts to reveal them, and so far as we can discover, no one has done such a study. We aim
to do at least some parts of one in this paper.
When we recall that Freud denied that he even read Schopenhauer until "late in life" (1925a, p. 29), such a study takes on added interest. (Evidence we will examine later suggests that he probably had 1915 or about then in mind; in 1915, he was 59 years old.) Freud could easily have acquired the general shape of Schopenhauer's ideas in other ways in his youth, of
The authors would like to thank Dr. Vann Spruiell, Editor for North America, and anonymous referees for the Journal for helpful suggestions and comments.
course -- in Freud's youth, Schopenhauer was the most widely discussed philosopher in the German-speaking world -- but the extent of the correspondences between their views would lead one to wonder. In any case, as we were surprised to discover, writings from long before Freud claims here to have read Schopenhauer contain detailed references to him! For example, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) refers to a work of his three times. Schopenhauer certainly defined the Zeitgeist that, in the words of his own aphorism, blew "like a sharp east wind" through Freud's time, but the evidence suggests that Freud was more directly influenced by him than that -- whatever he said later. A curious state of affairs.
We will limit ourselves to correspondences in psychological doctrine between the two thinkers,
though there are other similarities in their views, too, for example in their ethics and aesthetics.
We look first at Schopenhauer's concept of the will. Though a metaphysical concept, aspects of it
had a profound influence on his psychology. Metaphysical language notwithstanding, Schopenhauer's `will' is strikingly similar to aspects of Freud's early endogenous stimuli or later id. Moreover, Schopenhauer's doctrine contains a clear anticipation of the primary process, and sexuality
is as central as it is in Freud's later doctrine of the id. In addition, Schopenhauer also identified a
process that is not only similar to Freud's later concept of repression but is even expressed in
similar language, and he attempted to trace the etiology of madness. Though his attempt is
flawed, it foreshadows Freud's first theory of neurosis; Schopenhauer also saw madness as far
more similar to mental health than was customary at the time. Finally, Schopenhauer's concept of
the thread of memory and his notion of association as a means of recovering lost memories and
dreams anticipate aspects of Freud's later doctrines. Before we examine these correspondences,
let us look briefly at what others have done.
As we said earlier, many writers have noted broad parallels of outlook between Schopenhauer
and Freud, especially in their ethical and aesthetic outlooks. Their common pessimism is a well-known example. Bischler (1939), one of the earliest studies, is typical in this regard -- he restricted
his comments to similarities in the two thinkers' pessimism and in their aesthetic and ethical positions. For him the important similarity is that one finds in both of them "the same sombre realism
which traces human spirituality back to the workings of obscure primitive and instinctual forces."
(1939, p. 88). However, he largely passes over similarities in their psychology, except for some
comments on their theories of love, where he focuses on the divergences, not the similarities.
There are a few studies of the similarities in their psychology specifically. Proctor-Greg (1956) is
the only early one. She noted similarities in their treatment of mental illness, though only briefly,
and remarked on certain correspondences between features of Schopenhauer's psychology and
Freud's topographical model. Like Bischler, she also noted the parallels in aesthetic and ethical
The first significant study was done by Ellenberger, in his classic 1970 history of dynamic
psychology. He remarks on Schopenhauer's psychological doctrines several times, crediting him
for example with recognizing parapraxes, and urges that Schopenhauer "was definitely among
the ancestors of modern dynamic psychiatry." (1970, p. 205). He also cites with approval Foerster's interesting claim that "no one should deal with psychoanalysis before having thoroughly
studied Schopenhauer." (1970, p. 542). In general, he views Schopenhauer as the first and most
important of the many nineteenth-century philosophers of the unconscious, and concludes that
"there cannot be the slightest doubt that Freud's thought echoes theirs." (1970, p. 542). However,
Ellenberger tries to cover the whole nineteenth century, so his treatment of any given thinker is
Gupta's 1980 essay is also a notable contribution. He claims that "[i]n Schopenhauer's writings
are to be found many of the piercing insights which were later developed and elaborated by
Freud." (1980, p. 226). On psychological matters, Gupta observes the similarities between the two
with respect to Schopenhauer's will and Freud's id (1980, pp. 226-8), and between Schopenhauer's pioneering ideas on sexuality and Freud's later ideas. He also notes that "Schopenhauer
comes close to Freud's theory of rationalization" (1980, p. 226), points out that Schopenhauer
anticipated the notion of repression, and makes the penetrating observations that "both considered excessive repression damaging to human personality." (1980, p. 231). He further observes
that they both held childhood to be central to the formation of later personality (1980, pp. 231-2).
Important though these observations are, they by no means exhaust the topic. In addition, Gupta
offers little evidence even for the claims he does make.
Remarks on the relationship to Freud have also been made by writers on Schopenhauer. Gardiner
(1963) contains brief references to Schopenhauer's description of repression and to the similarities between the will and Freud's unconscious, for example. He also touches on the relation of
Schopenhauer's doctrine of sexuality to Freud's. Similarly, in a 1989 book on Schopenhauer,
Magee notes several similarities between Schopenhauer and Freud, observing that "many of the
ideas that constitute the core of Freudianism were set out fully and clearly by Schopenhauer."
(1989, p. 283). He also expresses the opinion that it would have been impossible for Freud to
have been as independent of Schopenhauer's influence as he claimed to be, an issue we will
Finally, Thomas Mann once made some trenchant observations on the subject. In his view,
Schopenhauer, as psychologist of the will, is the father of all modern psychology. From him the line runs, by way of the psychological radicalism of Nietzsche, straight to Freud and the men who built up his psychology of the unconscious and applied it to the mental sciences [1968, 408].
Mann observed many points of correspondence between Schopenhauer and Freud, ranging from
similarities in their general psychological outlook to similarities between Schopenhauer's will and
intellect and Freud's id and ego. Mann made these comments, interestingly enough, in a speech
on Freud's eightieth birthday.
One purpose of our paper is to provide some foundation for the kind of claims we have just
sketched. We turn now to Schopenhauer's notion of the will. As we will see, his psychology
grows directly out of that notion, especially his doctrines that sexuality is pervasive in all human
motivation and that intellect is secondary to the will. For Schopenhauer, the will is fundamental.
It underlies and animates everything phenomenal -- everything we can observe or what we call
the objective world. According to Schopenhauer, we can know something of the will through
awareness of our own volition; individual volition is merely a limited manifestation of the same
will from which the entire objective world arises. In Schopenhauer's view, the will is endlessly
striving and all its teeming manifestations in this world are forever beyond the reach of any satisfaction, the foundation of his pessimism. Setting aside the broader metaphysical functions
Schopenhauer assigns the will, let us examine how he saw it in its manifestations in the volition
of individual human beings.
Schopenhauer thought that the will itself is unconscious, but that it manifests itself in sexual desire and the `love of life' in human beings. The latter are both manifestations of an underlying will to live. Freud took over this whole picture of dual instincts rooted in a single will to live and preserved it unchanged until at least 1923. For both of them, the sex drive was by far the stronger of the two, "the most perfect manifestation of the will to live" (1844, 2, p. 514).(1) Indeed, Schopenhauer went so far as to claim that
man is concrete sexual drive; for his origin is an act of copulation, and his desire of desires is an act of copulation, and this impulse alone perpetuates and holds together his whole of his phenomenal existence [1844, 2, 514].
Again: "The sexual impulse is the most vehement of all craving, the desire of desires, the concentration of all our willing." (1844, 2, p. 514). Like many of his ideas, Schopenhauer's insights on
the power of sexual desire are expressed in metaphysical language. In fact, he viewed his claims
about sexuality as simple inferences from the metaphysical construct of the will. When the will
manifests itself in the form of a living creature, it aims to perpetuate itself according to the reproductive means of the creature. Thus sex is basic to the will perpetuating itself. It is "the most
complete manifestation of the will-to-live, its most distinctly expressed type." (1844, 2, p. 514).
For Schopenhauer, we know sex to be the "decided and strongest affirmation of life by the fact
that for man in the natural state, as for the animal, it is his life's final end and highest goal," (1819,
1, p. 329). Because the sexual drive is the strongest affirmation of life and the most complete
manifestation of the will-to-live, Schopenhauer refers to the genitals as "the real focus of the will"
(1844, 2, p. 514), that is, the clearest physical manifestation that the will manages to achieve in the
physical world. The sexual drive "springs from the depths of our nature." (1844, 2, p. 511).
These doctrines anticipate Freud's ideas on sexuality in a most striking way. Like Freud's theory,
they emphasize the importance and the universality of the sexual drive; for Schopenhauer,
sexuality is a part and the most powerful part of virtually all human motivation, and his illustrations of the manifestations of this drive read like a summary of Freud's theory. Indeed,
Schopenhauer even expanded the domain of sexuality before Freud, stretching it far beyond
procreation and even beyond orgasm and genital pleasure. Indeed, they both come close to using
the term to describe virtually all pleasure-seeking of any sort, though Freud went further than
Schopenhauer, as we will see.
Schopenhauer found manifestations of the sexual impulse where they had never before been thought to exist. Consider this remarkable passage:
To all this corresponds the important role which the sex-relation plays in the world of mankind, where it is really the invisible central point of all action and conduct, and peeps up everywhere in spite of all the veils thrown over it. It is the cause of war and the aim and object of peace, the basis of the serious and the aim of the joke, the inexhaustible source of wit, the key to all allusions, and the meaning of all mysterious hints, of all unspoken offers and all stolen glances; it is the daily meditation of the young and often the old as well, the hourly thought of the unchaste, and even against their will the constantly recurring imagination of the chaste, the ever ready material for a joke, just because the profoundest seriousness lies at its root. (1844, 2, p. 513, translation slightly modified).
This passage is not unique. Here is another.
Next to the love of life, [sexual love] shows itself ... as the strongest and most active of all motives, and incessantly lays claim to half the powers and thoughts of the younger portion of mankind. It is the ultimate goal of almost all human effort; it has an unfavourable influence on the most important affairs, interrupts every hour the most serious occupations, and sometimes perplexes for a while even the greatest minds. It does not hesitate to intrude with its trash, and to interfere with the negotiations of statesmen and the investigations of the learned. It knows how to slip its love-notes and ringlets even into ministerial portfolios and philosophical manuscripts [1844, 2, 533].
Thus Schopenhauer traces the ubiquitous manifestations of the sexual instinct. Even the most sublime love is essentially sexual: "in very case of being in love, however objective and touched with the sublime that admiration may appear to be, what alone is aimed at is the generation of an individual... ." (1844, 2, p. 535). Similarly,
all amorousness is rooted in the sexual impulse alone, is in fact absolutely only a more closely determined, specialized, and indeed, in the strictest sense, individualized sexual impulse, however ethereally it may deport itself [1844, 2, 533].
The above passages are so completely in line with psychoanalysis that it is difficult to believe that
their author was dead by the time Freud started school! Indeed, without the clinical and theoretical backing that Freud first provided many decades later, they must have seemed quite incredible
to most readers.
As we just said, like Freud later, Schopenhauer covered a much broader range of phenomena by
the term `sexuality' and its cognates than the term covers in ordinary discourse. In drastically
broadening range of motive and activity called `sexual', motive and activity where nothing sexual
in the ordinary sense could be found, Schopenhauer at least kept some link to the orgasmic, the
genital -- to sexuality in its common sense. If the will is the ground of everything, including all
instincts and therefore something much broader than normal sexuality, at least its manifestations
are sexual in the ordinary sense. Freud went much further; he not only expanded the range of the
sexual, he expanded the concept itself, calling many things sexual that have no obvious link to
orgasmic or genital pleasure at all. As he admitted: "psychoanalysis is commonly reproached
with having extended the concept of what is sexual far beyond its usual range. The fact is undisputed; ... ." (1910b, p. 222).
In fact, Freud's expansion of the concept of sexuality is altogether more complicated than
Schopenhauer's. A number of ideas from a number of different sources contended for control of
Freud's use of the term `sexuality'. As a result, he used the term `sexuality' at least three different
and incompatible ways. Sometimes by `sexuality' he meant the ordinary notion, to do with
genital pleasure and orgasm, activities related to genital pleasure, and the alternatives to or alternative avenues to genital pleasure. This is the narrowest of his three usages and is the notion of
sexuality at work when he speaks, for example, of the loss of the sensual interests that castration
induces as "obliterating the sexual characters" entirely (1920, p. 214). However, he also used the
term in two very different extended ways. In one, he treated all sensual pleasures as sexual
because of their link to genital and/or orgasmic pleasure (1916-1917, pp. 323-5), even the "affectionate current" of tenderness in us (1925a, p. 38), viewing the latter as the residue of infantile
sexual pleasure (1905, p. 200)). Here he explicitly divorces the sexual from the genital, or greatly
loosens the links between them (1905, p. 180; see 1913, p. 323; 1925a, p. 38). In this sense of
`sexual', there are many sexual pleasures that castration would not remove, so many that Freud
could be puzzled about how to tie them all together (1905, p. 233). In the broadest of his three
usages, the term `sexual' refers to what Plato calls Eros: all the forces that seek life, build structure, and synthesize psychic material.
These competing conceptions confront one another in the last paragraph of the well-known 1920 Preface to the fourth edition of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality (1905). Here Freud also links his view(s) to Schopenhauer:
some of what this book contains -- its insistence on the importance of sexuality in all human achievements and the attempt that it makes at enlarging the concept of sexuality -- has from the first provided the strongest motives for the resistance against psychoanalysis. ... We might be astonished at this; ... . For it is some time since Arthur Schopenhauer ... showed mankind the extent to which their activities are determined by sexual impulses -- in the ordinary sense of the word. ... And as for the `stretching' of the concept of sexuality ..., anyone who looks down with contempt upon psychoanalysis from a superior vantage-point should remember how closely the enlarged sexuality of psychoanalysis coincides with the Eros of the divine Plato [1905, p. 134; `divine Plato' was Schopenhauer's way of referring to Plato, too (1844, 1, p. xv.)].
Strangely enough, no concept of sexuality anything like as enlarged as this is to found anywhere
in the Three Essays themselves. There is a great deal more to be said about Freud's conception or
conceptions of sexuality, of course, but even our cursory examination is enough to show that
Schopenhauer anticipated Freud's ideas on the topic in some interesting ways. Schopenhauer's
claims about the ubiquity of sexuality in human affairs are particularly striking.
On how people cope with the dominating force of sexual desire, Schopenhauer again anticipated Freud. His account of how far human beings will go to deny the power of sexuality is every bit as acerbic as Freud's:
This ... is the piquant element and the jest of the world, that the chief concern of all men is pursued secretly and ostensibly ignored as much as possible. But, in fact, at every moment we see it
seat itself as the real and hereditary lord of the world, out of the fullness of its own strength, on
the ancestral throne, and looking down from thence with scornful glances, laugh at the preparations which have been made to subdue it, to imprison it, or at least to limit it and if possible to
keep it concealed, or indeed so to master it that it shall only appear as a subordinate, secondary
concern of life [1844, 2, p. 513].
The two agree on another point, too. Like Freud, Schopenhauer treated sexuality from two very different perspectives: the individual, and the species. As he wrote, "It is true that the will-to-live manifests itself primarily as an effort to maintain the individual; yet this is only a stage towards the effort to maintain the species." (1844, 2, p. 514). In Freud the same dual perspective takes this form:
On the one view, the individual is the principal thing, sexuality is one of its activities and sexual
satisfaction is one of its needs; while on the other view, the individual is a temporary and transient appendage to the quasi-immortal germ-plasm, which is entrusted to him by the process of
generation [1915a, p. 125].
Though the two thinkers agree on many things with respect to sexuality, they do not agree on
everything. In particular, Schopenhauer did not think that there is any such thing as infantile
sexuality. In fact, he attributes the happiness of youth to the fact that the sexual impulse, so
"pregnant with evil, is lacking in the child ...; from this arises the character of innocence, intelligence, and reasonableness" which we find in children (1844, 2, p. 395). In response, we might try
to say that the sensual zones and pleasures of Freud's theory of infantile sexuality are sexual only
in the extended sense of the term we delineated earlier. Freud no more believed that infantile
sexuality is aimed at orgasmic release or that it is genital than anyone else -- indeed, his stages of
psychosexual development were specifically built on a denial of the latter point. If so, it may
sometimes appear as if his infantile `sexuality' comes down to little more than `organ-pleasure',
bodily sensuality in general (see in this regard the argumentative discussion at 1916-1917, pp.
323-5). Such a minimalist readings would seriously understate the originality of his theory,
however; for Freud, the infantile part-instincts and erogenous zones are sexual in a much stronger
sense than that -- they are the origins of genital sexuality in the human organism.(2)
In light of this disagreement about infantile sexuality, it is interesting that the two of them did agree on the central importance of childhood to adult life. As Freud put the point, "the child is psychologically father to the adult and ... the events of his first years are of paramount importance for his whole later life." (1940a, p. 187). There are few ideas for which Freud is better known. It is not well-known that Schopenhauer held the same view:
the experiences and acquaintances of childhood and early youth become thereafter the types and
rubrics of all later knowledge and experience, ... . Thus the firm foundation of our world view is
formed even in the years of childhood, together with its shallowness or depth: it is later carried
out and completed; yet not essentially altered [quoted in McGill, 1971(3)].
Schopenhauer parallels Freud on some more theoretical issues, too. They both display the same unsettledness about whether he had one fundamental kind of motivator or two, an unease that came to a head in Freud in 1920. Schopenhauer often distinguished the sexual drive from "the love of life" as two drives ("Next to the love of life", he says, sexual love is "the strongest and most active of all motives ..." (1844, 2, p. 533, our emphasis). But he also he often ran them together in an undifferentiated notion of the will. Again like Freud, he saw them even when separated as manifestations of will, as Freud always saw both libido and the self-preservative drive as discharge of endogenous stimuli or avoidance of excessive exogenous stimuli. Strangely enough, the only parallel that Freud ever acknowledged between himself and Schopenhauer on the drives concerned not his pre-1920 theory of libido and self-preservation as separate drives but his post-1920 theory which merged the two under the concept of Eros and contrasted both with the newly-introduced death drive, the theory of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. Indeed, Freud links both parts of the new doctrine to Schopenhauer there. He treats sexual drives as fundamental to eros ("... the true life instincts" (1920, p. 40)), and then linked this expanded concept to Schopenhauer (1920 Preface to the Three Essays, quoted above). Similarly, when he introduces his controversial death drive later in (1920), he tells us that
We have unwittingly steered our course in the harbour of Schopenhauer's philosophy. For him death is the `true result and to that extent the purpose of life', while the sexual instinct is the embodiment of the will to live. [1920, p. 50]
All of this is a little curious. First, Schopenhauer never married sexuality and the urge to self-preservation in the way Freud is now doing. Secondly, he never postulated a positive drive to die.
It was bad enough for him that death was the inevitable result of living; he did not think anything
actually sought it. In short, Freud first acknowledged the parallels between his drive theory and
Schopenhauer's only at the point at which they largely ceased to exist!
Turn now to the relation of the will to the intellect. According to Schopenhauer, the will must
objectify itself in the world to satisfy its strivings. To do so, it creates for itself an intellect appropriate to its needs. Thus, he holds that the intellect is secondary to the will, and subordinate to its
demands. Being the basis of the intellect, the will "rules it, guides it, incites it to further effort, in
short imparts to it the activity that is not originally inherent in it." (1844, 2, p. 213, see p. 224).
This led Schopenhauer to the idea that the intellect was not as rational as had been previously
supposed; the will dictates, unseen, what the mind desires, believes and thinks. Our states of
consciousness and our decisions had previously been thought to be the outcome of processes of
reasoning. Schopenhauer argues that these states have their origin in the will. We can almost hear
Freud: "the ego is in the habit of transforming the id's will into action as if it were its own." (1923,
p. 25). Schopenhauer was not the first to part company with the enlightenment in this way; recall
Hume's famous dictum that "reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions." However,
Schopenhauer gave the will far greater prominence than any previous thinker. In particular, he
built his whole model of the psyche upon it. Freud, of course, shared Schopenhauer's view that
the `intellect is entirely secondary' to the functioning of the mind -- "the ego is not master in its
own house," (1917, p. 143, italics in original). Further, they both saw that the intellect promptly
takes the demands of the will as its own. Schopenhauer was even aware of the phenomenon of
rationalization. He did not explicitly formulate the concept, but it is integral to his view that the
intellect takes what is really the will's motives as its own and justifies them as though its own
processes of decision-making were the author of them.
Schopenhauer's theory of the primacy of the will even contains an anticipation of Freud's notion that infants begin life totally isolated, discharging energy blindly by a wild primary process.
The new-born child moves violently, screams and cries; it wills most vehemently, although it does not yet know what it wills. For the medium of motives, the intellect, is still undeveloped. The will is in the dark concerning the external world in which its objects lie; and it rages like a prisoner against the walls and bars of his dungeon. Light, however, gradually comes; at once the fundamental traits of universal human willing, and at the same time their individual modification that is here to be found, show themselves [1844, 2, pp. 234-235].
Compare Freud. The infant
betrays its unpleasure, when there is an increase of stimulus and an absence of satisfaction, by the motor discharge of screaming and beating about with its arms and legs [1911, p. 220n.].
Freud thinks the infant then hallucinates some situation of satisfaction. When the expected
satisfaction does not occur, "the psychic apparatus had to decide to form a conception of the real
circumstances in the external world and to endeavour to make a real alteration in them." (1911, p.
220). The reality principle, the secondary process, and the ego are born.
This too is in line with Schopenhauer. For him, the will creates the intellect, which "is designed merely to prescribe to the individual will its motivations, i.e. to indicate to it the objectives of its desires together with the means of taking possession of them" (1970, p. 59). Again compare Freud:
we are bound to suppose that a unity comparable to the ego cannot exist ... from the start; the ego has to be developed. The auto-erotic instincts, however, are there from the very first; so there must be something added to auto-eroticism ... in order to bring about narcissism [1914b, p. 76]. ... We may well ... conclude that instincts and not external stimuli are the true motive forces behind the advances that have led the nervous system, with its unlimited capacities, to its present high level of development [1915a, p. 120].
For Freud, motor discharge is in the service of an (un)pleasure principle (1895) and he eventually
developed a sophisticated account in which discharges are not outwards but at the self, an activity
he called auto-erotism and needed in order to make room for the idea of primary narcissism
(1914b, p. 88). So his account goes far beyond anything Schopenhauer wrote. Nevertheless, the
two views start from the same picture.
Freud adhered to this picture in one form or another throughout his life, from the Project for a Scientific Psychology of 1895 and Chapter VII of the Interpretation of Dreams of 1900 (pp. 565ff, 598ff.) at least to Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920, pp. 10ff.) and even later, with appropriate modifications to accommodate the introduction of the death instinct. As we have seen, the parallels with Schopenhauer are close. They even agree that the "afflux of stimulation" that gets mental life going is "incessant and unavoidable" (1915a, p. 120), and that this is what makes it so demanding and urgent. Nor can it be quieted by fleeing. The only way to stop it is to find some object that quiets its source, something that creates an `experience of satisfaction', for example food or sexual discharge. Similarly, Schopenhauer's characterizations of how the will operates even anticipate the notion of primary process.
For what the bridle and the bit are to an unmanageable horse, the intellect is to the will in man; it must be led by this bridle by means of instruction, exhortation, training, and so on; for in itself the will is as wild and impetuous an impulse as is the force appearing in the plunging waterfall; in fact it is, as we know, ultimately identical therewith [1844, 2, p. 213].
In fact, in the 1911 work quoted above, Freud actually cites Schopenhauer, one page before the
one from which we just quote. However, the citation is on a different topic. Freud never seems to
have acknowledged the parallels that we have just discussed.
These parallels even extend to their respective views of pleasure and the way the will operates.
Both saw pleasure as merely negative, a removal of an irritant, a direct consequent of seeing the
will or id as endlessly striving. For Schopenhauer, pleasure is the momentary cessation of the
will's striving, for Freud the discharge or at the very least the achievement of constancy in the
flow of stimuli from the drives. "Every unpleasure," ought "to coincide with a heightening, and
every pleasure with a lowering, of mental tension due to stimulus." (1924, pp. 159-60). Only in
1924 did Freud even partially modify this view. Thus, for the first thirty years of his work on
psychology, he adhered to the view of Schopenhauer, whether or not he was aware of it. It being
transparently obvious that much pleasure is not like this, their both thinking that it is catches
In one respect, Schopenhauer carried through the implications of the primacy of the will or the
id even more consistently than Freud. If Freud was a child of the German romanticism to which
Schopenhauer so richly contributed, he was also a child of nineteenth century scientific empiricism. In line with the later, he believed that the inquiring mind could operate rationally and
discover truths about the world. If rationality was threatened by the unconscious, it was a threat
that could be overcome, at least in science. However, as French analysts demonstrate, his model
of the mind can easily be taken to point in exactly the opposite direction. From this point of view,
when Schopenhauer said that "[e]very passion, in fact every inclination or disinclination, tinges
the objects of knowledge with its colour ... most common of occurrence is the falsification of
knowledge brought about by desire or hope," (1844, 2, p. 141), he was perhaps more in tune with
this implication of the power of the unconscious than Freud was.
Let us dwell for a moment on the specific issue of the will's unconsciousness; the parallels with Freud on this issue are particularly close. Schopenhauer writes that the intellect "does not penetrate into the secret workshop of the will's decisions." Indeed,
the intellect remains so much excluded from the real resolutions and secret decisions of its own will that sometimes it can only get to know them, like those of a stranger, by spying out and taking unawares; and it must surprise the will in the act of expressing itself, in order merely to discover its real intentions [1844, 2, p. 209-10].
Unconsciousness is a regular and inevitable phase in the processes constituting our psychical activity; every psychical act begins as an unconscious one, and it may either remain so or go on developing into consciousness, according as it meets with resistance or not [1912, p. 264].
Even Schopenhauer's suggestion that we can gain some knowledge of the will by surprising it in
the act of expressing itself anticipates a doctrine of Freud's, in this case the notion of free association.
The parallels in the two doctrines of the unconscious explored so far may not seem especially surprising to us now, standing as we do on the other side of Freud. A further parallel is remarkable even now: Schopenhauer's main argument for the existence of the unconscious mental states is also the argument that Freud used most frequently. First we note that much thought, feeling and behaviour cannot be explained on the basis of conscious mental states alone. "It is evident," wrote Schopenhauer, "that human consciousness and thinking are by their nature necessarily fragmentary." (1844, 2, p. 138). By this he means that conscious psychological states often seem disjointed, do not add up to any coherent picture of what the beliefs, feelings and motives behind something were like. On the basis of conscious psychological states alone, we cannot find reasons for much of what people think and feel and do, cannot give a psychological explanation of them (for this notion, see Brook, 1992). Likewise, from consciousness alone it is often impossible to determine the origins of a thought, or the mechanisms by which we arrive at our conclusions. Freud makes the same point:
conscious acts remain disconnected and unintelligible if we insist upon claiming that every mental act that occurs in us must also necessarily be experienced by us through consciousness [1915c, p. 167].
Therefore, if mental life has psychological causes at all, they must be unconscious; there is nothing conscious to do the job. As Freud put it,
We have found -- that is, we have been obliged to assume -- that very powerful mental processes or ideas exist ... which can produce all the effects in mental life that ordinary ideas do (including effects that can in their turn become conscious as ideas), though they themselves do not become conscious [1923, p. 14].
Freud used this argument repeatedly throughout his career (1909, pp. 175-6; 1915c, pp. 166ff.;
1923, pp. 14-18; 1940, pp. 196-7). What interests us here is that this is the same argument as
Schopenhauer used. The only difference between them is that Schopenhauer says the unconscious processes that fill up the gaps and provide psychological continuity are expressions of the
will, Freud expressions of the dynamic unconscious or later the id.(4)
The two thinkers also agree on the relationship of the unconscious to consciousness. Schopenhauer believed just as strongly as Freud that vastly more of the psyche is unconscious than conscious. "Consciousness is the mere surface of our mind, and of this, as of the globe, we do not know the interior, but only the crust." (1844, 2, 136). Again,
Let us compare our consciousness to a sheet of water of some depth. Then the distinctly conscious ideas are merely the surface; on the other hand, the mass of the water is the indistinct, the feelings, the after-sensations of perceptions and intuitions and what is experienced in general, mingled with the disposition of our own will that is the kernel of our inner nature [1844, 2, p. 135].
Or, as he put it in a work that Freud cites three times in the Interpretation of Dreams, "the
intellect is a mere superficial force, essentially and everywhere touching only the outer shell,
never the inner core of things." (1851, p. 301). The same image of consciousness as an outer shell
runs through the whole of Freud's work, from the Project to the famous diagram of the mind in
Lecture XXXI of the New Introductory Lectures (1933, p. 78). The parallel is made more striking
by the fact that they both held that only the outer layer of the psyche is in contact with or affected by the external world. The intellect, "enlightened by experience, ... draws up and modifies
its precepts," says Schopenhauer (1844, 2, p. 224), but the will is unaffected by external reality. In
Freud, the "processes in the id are entirely unconscious, while consciousness is the function of
the ego's outermost layer, which is concerned with the perception of the external world." (1925b,
Schopenhauer even shared Freud's notion that consciousness is not the natural state of psychological contents, that coming to consciousness is an extra step.
It is no more possible for an idea to enter consciousness without an occasion than it is for a body to be set in motion without a cause. Now this occasion is either external, and thus an impression on the senses, or internal, and hence itself again an idea which produces another idea by virtue of association. This association in turn rests either on a relation of ground and consequent between the two, or on similarity, or even on mere analogy, or finally on the simultaneity of their first apprehension; and this again can have its ground in the spatial proximity of their objects [1844, 2, p. 133].
Freud put it this way:
every psychical act begins as an unconscious one, and it may either remain so or go on developing into consciousness, according as it meets with resistance or not. [1912, p. 264, a passage also cited earlier]
For Schopenhauer, what makes it possible to follow these paths of association is that ideas, i.e.
psychological states, are arranged in an ordered sequence, along temporal, causal and (we think)
narrative lines, tied together by virtue of being successive stages in the unfolding of the unchanging projects of the will. This continuity is also what makes the thread of memory possible (see n.
3 above). What associations do, to simplify a bit, is to trace these sequences in various ways.
The notions of similarity and analogy in Schopenhauer's theory of association anticipate the associative mechanisms that Freud identified as central to dream work, namely, condensation and displacement (1900, Ch. IVA to IVD). Schopenhauer even uses the example of remembering a forgotten dream to illustrates his theory.
The search for the thread of recollection shows itself in a peculiar way, when it is a dream that we have forgotten on waking up. Here we look in vain for that which a few minutes previously occupied us with the force of the clearest and brightest present, but has now entirely vanished. We then try to seize any impression that has been left behind, and on which a slender thread hangs. By virtue of association, this thread might draw the dream back into our consciousness [1844, 2, p. 134].
This passage contains the essence of Freud's later notion of free association. Freud of course
broadened both the theoretical formulation and the applications of the idea, but the basic notion
was formulated by Schopenhauer.
To be sure, their views of consciousness and the unconscious do differ in some respects.
Schopenhauer emphasizes his view that the will is "the true and ultimate point of unity of consciousness, and the bond of all its functions and acts" (1844, 2, p. 140). By unity, he seems to
have meant the continuity and stability of our basic drives and interests, what existentialists call
`projects'. Freud would have denied that what Schopenhauer called the will has even that much
unity, being governed as it is by the primary process. The disagreement here may be more apparent than real. In Schopenhauer, when the will is manifested in individual persons, its unity is lost.
In this state, Schopenhauer too sees it as pursuing conflicting aims without regard to mutual
contradiction -- cardinal feature of the primary process. Another difference is that for Schopenhauer, consciousness, the intellect, is viewed as a separate psychic system. Freud could go both
ways on the question. He could say that consciousness is "only a quality or attribute of what is
psychical, and moreover an inconsistent one." (1940b, pp. 285-6). He could also tie it to the pre-conscious and treat the two together as a separate psychic structure, the structure that with
further developments evolved into the ego.
To summarize, there are striking parallels between Schopenhauer and Freud in their doctrines of
the will or id and its relationship to consciousness. For both, the will or the id is unconscious and
governed by non-rational primary processes, seeks satisfaction endlessly and insatiably, provides
the most powerful motives in human life, causes rationality and the conscious mind to come to
be, is needed to explain thought, feeling and action. For both, these discoveries force a fundamental re-evaluation of consciousness. Schopenhauer's concept of the will is an extremely close
precursor of Freud's notion of the id (see Gupta, 1980, pp. 226-8). Freud finished work that
We will now turn to a quite different topic, Schopenhauer and psychopathology. In the context of his relationship to Freud, his theory of the causes of `madness', as he called it, is very interesting. He thought that madness is caused by the repression of painful memories or traumata, though he did not use the word `repression'. By `madness', Schopenhauer seems to have meant what we would now call psychosis or severe affective disorder; the cases he describes would mostly be diagnosed in one or the other of the two categories now. As an account of psychosis, his idea is not very plausible. However, as account of neurosis, it is virtually the same as Freud's first theory. Schopenhauer introduces his observations with the penetrating remark that madness does not affect the entire range of mental capabilities:
Neither the faculty of reason nor understanding can be denied to the mad, for they talk and understand, and often draw very accurate conclusions. They also, as a rule, perceive quite correctly what is present, and see the connexion between cause and effect [1819, 1, p. 192].
Thus these disorders lie in something other than a simple inability to connect with reality, as many might suppose. In fact, they originate in problems of memory:
For the most part, mad people do not generally err in knowledge of what is immediately present; but their mad talk relates always to what is absent and past, and only through these to its connexion with what is present. Therefore, it seems to me that their malady specifically concerns the memory [1819, 1, p. 192].
We are reminded of Freud's first theory, that `hysterics suffer mainly from reminiscences' (1893-1895, p. 7). There is more.
For Schopenhauer, the failure of memory that causes the trouble is something very specific. In some cases memory is preserved, but in others,
it is a case of the thread of memory being broken, its continuous connexion being abolished, and of the impossibility of a uniformly coherent recollection of the past. Individual scenes of the past stand out correctly, just like the individual present; but there are gaps in their recollections that they fill up with fictions ... . In his memory the true is forever mixed up with the false. Although the immediate present is correctly known, it is falsified through a fictitious connexion with an imaginary past [1819, 1, p. 192].
As we recall, Schopenhauer used the metaphor of the thread of memory to describe the ordering of consciousness by the will (see n. 4); when the thread is broken, there are periods in the will's activities that are no longer represented in memory, the continuity of aim in these activities notwithstanding. What could break the thread? According to Schopenhauer, traumata are the villains. "The fact that violent mental suffering or unexpected and terrible events are frequently the cause of madness," Schopenhauer writes, "I explain as follows."
Every such suffering is as an actual event always confined to the present; hence it is only transitory, and to that extent is never excessively heavy. It becomes insufferably great only in so far as it is a lasting pain, but as such it is again only a thought, and therefore resides in memory. Now if such a sorrow, such a painful knowledge of reflection, is so harrowing that it becomes positively unbearable, and the individual would succumb to it, then nature, alarmed in this way, seizes upon madness as the last means of saving life. The mind, tormented so greatly, destroys, as it were, the thread of memory, fills up the gaps with fictions, and thus seeks refuge in madness from the mental suffering that exceeds its strength.
Even with far less intense experiences,
we all frequently try, as it were mechanically, to banish a tormenting thought that suddenly occurs to us, ... to turn ourselves from it, to distract ourselves by force [1819, 1, p. 193].
According to Schopenhauer, then, in madness the thread of memory is broken by the mind
banishing painful memories from consciousness and replacing them with a fiction. This is an
astonishing anticipation of Freud's first theory of the etiology of neurosis! Nor were Schopenhauer and Freud the only ones to believe this; in the passage in which Freud's famous aphorism
occurs, he immediately goes on in a long footnote to discuss others "who have held similar views
on hysteria to ours" (1893-1895, p. 7n.). In it, he mentions Moebius, Strümpell and Benedikt --
but not Schopenhauer. Yet it is hard not to think that Schopenhauer was the original source of
the idea for all of them.
The remarks on our tendency to banish tormenting thoughts also shows us the extent to which Schopenhauer was aware of the "psychopathology of everyday life" (1901), the connection between mental illness and `normal' psychological processes. In fact, Schopenhauer explains innocuous behaviour by exactly the same principles of symptom formation as explain madness. As Freud would later write:
The neuroses have no psychical content that is peculiar to them and that might not equally be found in healthy people. Or as Jung has expressed it, neurotics fall ill of the same complexes against which we healthy people struggle as well [1910a, p. 50].
Freud mentions Jung, but not Schopenhauer. In connection with this, one of Freud's greatest early achievements was to give credence to the idea that neurotic symptoms are purposive, reactions to something, not just expressions of arbitrary neurological failure. Freud may have given the idea credence, but he was not the first to articulate it; we already find it in Schopenhauer: nature "seizes upon madness as a means of saving life." If Schopenhauer's contemporaries and Freud's neurological colleagues saw mental illness as a symptom of neurological breakdown, they both saw it as psychologically functional; madness is a way of coping. The idea first entered Freud's work about 1890.
The splitting of consciousness in these cases of acquired hysteria is accordingly a deliberate and intentional one. At least it is often introduced by an act of volition; ... [1893-1895, p. 123].
It was a decisive improvement on the other prominent theory of his time, the constitutional
weakness theory, a decisive step on the road to understanding neurosis as motivated, psychic
phenomena. Freud rightly never gave it up. However, it did not originate with him.
Schopenhauer's insights into the nature of repression run very deep. The will always
makes its supremacy felt in the last resort. This is does by prohibiting the intellect from having certain representations, by absolutely preventing certain trains of thought from arising . . . it then curbs and restrains the intellect, and forces it to turn to other things. However difficult this often is, it is bound to succeed the moment the will is in earnest about it; for the resistance then comes not from the intellect, which always remain indifferent, but from the will itself; and the will will have an inclination in one respect for a representation it abhors another. Thus the representation is in itself interesting to the will, just because it excites it. At the same time, however, abstract knowledge tells the will that the representation will cause it a shock of painful and unworthy emotion to no purpose. The will then decides in accordance with this last knowledge, and forces the intellect to obey. This is called `being master of oneself'; here, obviously, the master is the will, the servant the intellect [1844, 2, p. 208].
Even as late as 1919, Freud ascribed to the same motive for repression as Schopenhauer: "we
have a perfect right to describe repression, which lies at the basis of every neurosis, as a reaction
to a trauma -- as an elementary traumatic neurosis." [1919, p. 210].
Schopenhauer also was the first to articulate the concept of resistance. We can understand the memory gaps of the mad better, he tells us, when
we remember how reluctant we are to think things that powerfully prejudice our interests, wound our pride, or interfere with our wishes; with what difficulty we decide to lay such things before our own intellect for accurate and serious investigation; how, on the contrary, pleasant affairs come into our minds entirely of their own accord, and, if driven away, always creep on us once more, so that we dwell on them for hours. In this resistance on the part of the will to allow what is contrary to it to come under the examination of the intellect is to be found the place where madness can break in on the mind [1844, 2, p. 400, our italics].
As all this shows, Schopenhauer already had the essentials of the whole traumatic theory of
neurosis. He specified the role played by traumatically-induced repression of memories, identified the phenomena of substitute fantasies and symptoms, and gave a stunningly full account of
resistance fifty years before Freud did, even using the word. In short, Freud's first theory of
neurosis was impressively anticipated in Schopenhauer's psychology.
Schopenhauer even articulated a thought that is on the road to the clinical insight that it is therapeutic to bring the unconscious to consciousness.
Every new adverse event must be assimilated by the intellect, in other words, must receive a place in the system of truths connected with our will and its interests ... . As soon as this is done, it pains us much less; but this operation itself is often very painful, and in most cases takes place only slowly and with reluctance. But soundness of mind can continue only in so far as this operation has been correctly carried out each time. On the other hand, if, in a particular case, the resistance and opposition of the will to the assimilation of some knowledge reaches such a degree that the operation is not clearly carried through; accordingly, if certain events or circumstances are wholly suppressed for the intellect, because the will cannot bear the sight of them; and then, if the resultant gaps are arbitrarily filled up for the sake of the necessary connexion; we then have madness [1844, 2, p. 400].(5)
It is only a short step from this to the idea of making the repressed unconscious conscious, to the idea of recovering unconscious memories, fantasies, etc., and depriving them of their power by assimilating them into consciousness. In Freud's words, "The therapeutic influence of psycho-analysis depends on the replacement of unconscious mental acts by conscious ones and is effective within the limits of that factor." (1925b, 265). Again,
the mental and somatic power of a wishful impulse, when once its repression has failed, is far stronger if it is unconscious than if it is conscious; so that to make it conscious can only be to weaken it. An unconscious wish cannot be influenced and it independent of any contrary tendencies, whereas a conscious one is inhibited by whatever else is conscious and opposed to it [1910a, p. 53].
Thus, Schopenhauer not only anticipated fundamental theoretical ideas of Freud's, he also anticipated at least a few of Freud's central clinical discoveries.
There are other parallels between Schopenhauer's work and Freud's, too many to examine
exhaustively here. Schopenhauer had a detailed theory of dreams, a theory that occupies a
substantial portion of his one-hundred page Essay on Spirit Seeing and Everything Connected
Therewith (1851). Freud cites this essay three times in the Interpretation of Dreams. The parallels here are extensive enough to fill a paper on their own. This same essay and some other works
display a knowledge of neurophysiology quite remarkable for someone of Schopenhauer's time
and discipline; his theory of the systems that make up the brain and of how experiences could
consist of communication of impulses in and among these systems anticipates the psy/phi/omega
systems and the Qn said to circulate among them of the Project. These parallels would also
require a paper of their own. Rather than examining parallels between the two thinkers any
further, we will turn instead to the more difficult issue of the extent to which Schopenhauer had a
direct influence on Freud.
Freud's own remarks on Schopenhauer divide into two groups, with 1915 as the turning-point. Before 1915, Freud made few references to Schopenhauer. There are two references to widely-circulated anecdotes about Schopenhauer (1906, p. 119, a passage which also contains a reference to von Hartmann, to whom we will return, and 1909, p. 196n.), three interesting references in (1900) to Schopenhauer's Essay on Spirit Seeing, to which we will also return, and a very few others. Only three of the pre-1915 references are to The World as Will and Representation, one a general reference to Schopenhauer on death and two to a passage that Freud knew about at all, he tells us, only because Rank showed it to him. He is arguing in the passage for the originality of his theory of repression.
The theory of repression quite certainly came to me independently of any other source; I know of no outside impression which might have suggested it to me and for a long time I imagined it to be entirely original, until Otto Rank ... showed us a passage in Schopenhauer's World as Will and Representation in which the philosopher seeks to give an explanation of insanity. [He is probably referring to the passage from 1844, 2, pp. 192-208, quoted above.] What he says there about the struggle against accepting a distressing piece of reality coincides with my concept of repression so completely that once again I owe the chance of making a discovery to my not being well read [1914a, p. 15].
In short, prior to 1915, Freud said little to indicate that he had so much as read Schopenhauer.
The only significant exceptions are the references in (1900).
After 1915, the pattern changes markedly. The Introductory Lectures explicitly acknowledge Schopenhauer as a forerunner of psychoanalysis:
Probably very few people can have realized the momentous significance for science and life of the recognition of unconscious mental processes. It was not psycho-analysis, however, let us hasten to add, which took this first step. There are famous philosophers who may be cited as forerunners - above all the great thinker Schopenhauer, whose unconscious `will' is equivalent to the mental instincts of psycho-analysis. It was this same thinker, moreover, who in words of unforgettable impressiveness admonished mankind of the importance, still so greatly-underestimated by it, of its sexual craving [1916-1917, p. 143; Strachey thinks Freud had the passage we cited above from 1844, 2, pp. 513-14, in mind].
Then in the 1920 preface to Three Essays, we find:
... it has been some time since Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher, showed mankind the extent to which their activities are determined by sexual impulses -- in the ordinary sense of the word [1905, p. 134].
There is also Freud's statement discussed earlier that his view of the sexual instincts as the "true
life instincts" echoes Schopenhauer: "We have unwittingly steered our course into the harbour of
Schopenhauer's philosophy" (1920, p. 49).
Freud acknowledged parallels between his thought and Schopenhauer's very fully after 1915, then. However, he also maintained that he only read Schopenhauer for the first time at that time or later, long after he had finished formulating the major conceptions of psychoanalysis.
The large extent to which psycho-analysis coincides with the philosophy of Schopenhauer - not only did he assert the dominance of the emotions and the supreme importance of sexuality but he was even aware of the mechanism of repression - is not to be traced to my acquaintance with his teaching. I read Schopenhauer very late in life [1925a, p. 59].
That is to say, Freud wants us to believe that it is just a co-incidence that Schopenhauer arrived at
so many of his ideas decades earlier. McGrath (1986, p. 148) shows that even if Freud was right
to say that he only read Schopenhauer late in life, the parallels on repression were far from being
a co-incidence. One of Freud's most influential teachers, Meynert, was the first medical doctor to
give a full description of repression and he explicitly credited the idea to Schopenhauer (1851).
Even if Schopenhauer had no direct influence on Freud, it is hard to believe that the same was
true of Meynert. Yet as little as a year after Freud wrote the impressive 1914 acknowledgement
quoted above, he could go so far as to claim that repression was a "concept which could not have
been formulated before the time of psychoanalytic studies." (1915b, p. 146) What are we to make
of all this?
It is clear that Freud's attitude to Schopenhauer was deeply conflicted. `If Schopenhauer formulated some important points first,' Freud seems to want to say, `at least I arrived at them again independently, without his help.' Add to this the strange things that Freud could say about philosophers generally, for example, his claim of 1923 repeated a number of times philosophers reject the idea of unconscious psychical states:
To most people who have been educated in philosophy the idea of anything psychical which is not also conscious is so inconceivable that it seems to them absurd and refutable simply by logic ... . Their psychology of consciousness is incapable of solving the problems of dreams and hypnosis [1923, p. 13].
Given that his youth was steeped in the philosophers of German romanticism, this is a remarkable thing to say! Schopenhauer denied the unconscious? (Not to mention von Hartmann, of whom more below, Nietzsche and other lesser figures.) As Ellenberger notes,
In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the philosophical concept of the unconscious, as taught by Schopenhauer and von Hartmann, was extremely popular, and most contemporary philosophers admitted the existence of an unconscious mental life [1970, p. 311].
In fact, not only did this tradition not deny unconscious mental life, they held the concept to be
of the highest value. The trouble is, Freud was well aware of all this. So what is going on?
Perhaps something like the following. One philosopher who influenced Freud did deny the very
possibility of unconscious psychic states: Franz Brentano. (Brentano was not the only nineteenth
century philosophers who equated the psychical with the conscious, too, but the others are not
known to have influenced Freud.) Brentano must have had a major affect on Freud. Freud attended his lectures for at least two years, and at just the time Brentano published his famous 1874
book in which the equation of the psychical with the conscious appears most prominently. And
Brentano was the only philosopher under whom Freud studied. Curiously, Freud referred to him
only once in any of his works and even then only to a riddle (1906), but when Freud thought of
philosophers, it may well have been the image of Brentano who came to mind ever after, so
much so that Schopenhauer and the many other philosophers of his youth were excluded completely. In places, parts of what attributes to philosophers in 1923 even echo the exact wording of
passages in the 1974 book (see p. 101 and the pages following for some examples). Yet it was
Schopenhauer who shaped philosophical opinion in Freud's youth, not Brentano. Indeed, probably very few people outside the University of Vienna had even heard of Brentano.
There is no definitive way to settle the question of whether Freud read Schopenhauer before, say, 1892 or not, but such evidence as there is makes us wonder. The pattern of his references to Schopenhauer is mostly in line with his assertion that he first read Schopenhauer in 1915 or later, but that is far from decisive. Against him is ranged evidence both circumstantial and direct. The circumstantial evidence encompasses, first, the fact that the period of Freud's secondary schooling and university, roughly from 1865 to 1875, was the period of Schopenhauer's greatest fame. Indeed, he was virtually the official philosopher of the German-speaking world in those years. Secondly, as a student, Sulloway (1979) tells us, Freud belonged to Leseverein der deutschen Studenten Wiens (Reading Society of the German Students of Vienna). Along with Wagner and Nietzsche, Schopenhauer was a prime topic of conversation. Thirdly, Brentano refers to Schopenhauer a number of times in his 1874 book. Just these circumstantial facts are enough to show that, even if we were to grant Freud his claim about when he read Schopenhauer, he was certainly exposed to his ideas. That is enough to compromise Freud's claims that he made his discoveries entirely independently. Certainly, as Herzog remarks,
Freud was fully aware of a philosophical tradition, centred in Germany, that placed great emphasis on the concept of a psychical unconscious ... [d]espite his insistence that he had read neither Schopenhauer nor Nietzsche until after making his own discoveries. [1988, p. 169].
In Magee's words, "There is no doubt whatever that from the beginning [Freud] had imbibed
some of Schopenhauer's fundamental ideas via the writing of others." (1989, 284).
In particular, we know that he read von Hartmann (Brandell 1979, 93). Eduard von Hartmann was
a popularizer of Schopenhauer and his The Philosophy of the Unconscious (1869) and numerous
works of the 1870's were immensely popular, though they are little read now. Schopenhauer's
psychology is right at the centre of Von Hartmann's view, a view which also contains important
anticipates of Freud's ideas. Moreover, Brentano discussed von Hartmann at length and on
precisely the question of unconscious mental states in his 1874 book. So Freud was at least
exposed to Schopenhauer's ideas. In addition, most of Freud's early followers would have been
acquainted with Schopenhauer. Freud acknowledges that Rank was; so was Jung, who identified
Schopenhauer as a direct influence (see Jung, 1973).
It is overwhelmingly probable, however, that Freud himself read some Schopenhauer. Magee
thinks that "it is impossible to believe that [Freud] had read none of Schopenhauer's writings"
(1989, p. 284) -- most university students in Freud's time would have read at least The World as
Will and Representation -- and there is direct evidence in his favour. Freud himself cites one of
Schopenhauer's works, and not once but three times The Interpretation of Dreams. These are
the citations we mentioned earlier. Freud does not refer to The World as Will and Representation, but he does refer to the Essay on Spirit Seeing and Everything Connected Therewith,
which contains many of the same psychological views. This essay appeared in 1851, three years
before Freud's birth. The whole volume was explicitly prepared as a supplemental to the big
work, and this essay repeats things from it about madness, dreams, the intellect being just the
shell of the mind, and so on. From this we can only conclude that Freud's later denials were
wrong; he had read some Schopenhauer by the time he formulated the ideas of psychoanalysis.
Moreover, the 1851 essay refers to the big work five times, and on topics of the utmost interest to
Freud: madness, the memory theory of madness, dreams, the will, intellect as merely the shell of
the mind, and so on. Freud was a voracious reader and he has the keenest interest in these topics.
It is hard to believe that the essay would not have piqued his curiousity enough to make him seek
out the work from which it was derived. In fact, Freud actually owned a copy of Schopenhauer's
doctoral thesis, though it was uncut. For all the reasons we have laid out, we conclude that the
deep similarities in their theories were not just a co-incidence; when Freud said, "Why should not
a bold thinker have guessed something that is afterwards confirmed by sober and painstaking
detailed research?" (1933, p. 107), we suspect he should have said "that is afterwards taken up
and confirmed by sober and painstaking detailed research."(6) Freud has similarly conflicted
attitudes to Nietzsche. However much of either philosopher he actually read, he was certainly not
innocent of all exposure to their ideas. Overall, Freud's claim that he made his discoveries independently of Schopenhauer would be like a psychologist today claiming that discoveries he or
she had made in dynamic psychology were independent of Freud!
The burden of our argument has been that the general shape of much of Freud's psychology was first articulated by Schopenhauer. A thinker always expresses something of his culture, of course, as we noted in the aphorism with which we began. Schopenhauer was the most widely discussed philosopher in the German-speaking world in Freud's young adulthood. But the parallels go well beyond cultural influence. The concept of the will contains the foundation of Freud's concepts of the unconscious and the id. Schopenhauer's writings on madness clearly anticipate Freud's theory of repression, his first theory of the etiology of neurosis, and important parts of the theory of free association. Most significantly, Freud's views of sexuality are extremely similar to Schopenhauer's.
Bischler, W. (1939). Schopenhauer and Freud: a comparison. Psychoanal. Q. 8, 88-97.
Brandell, G. (1979). Freud: A Man of His Century. New Jersey: Humanities Press.
Brentano, F. (1874). Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint. Trans. A. C. Rancurello, D. B. Terrell and L. L. McAlister. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973
Brook, A. (1992). Psychoanalysis and commonsense psychology. Annual of Psychoanal. New Jersey: Analytic Press.
Ellenberger, H. (1970). The Discovery of the Unconscious: The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. New York: Basic Books.
Freud, S. (1893-1895). Studies of Hysteria. S.E. 2.
--------. (1895). Project for a Scientific Psychology. S.E.3.
--------. (1900). Interpretation of Dreams. S.E. 4 & 5.
--------. (1901). The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. S.E. 6
--------. (1905). Three Essays On The Theory of Sexuality. S.E. 7.
--------. (1909). Notes On A Case Of Obsessional Neurosis. S.E. 10.
--------. (1910a). Five Lectures In Psycho-Analysis. S.E. 11.
--------. (1910b). Wild psychoanalysis. S.E. 11.
--------. (1911). Formulations on the two principles of mental functioning. S.E. 12
--------. (1912). A note on the unconscious. S.E. 12.
--------. (1913). The disposition to obsessional neurosis. S.E. 12.
--------. (1914a). On the history of the psycho-analytic movement. S.E. 14.
--------. (1914b). On narcissism. S.E. 14.
--------. (1915a). Instincts and their vicissitudes. S.E. 14.
--------. (1915b). Repression. S.E. 14.
--------. (1915c). The unconscious. S.E. 14.
--------. (1916-1917). Introductory Lectures On Psycho-Analysis. S.E. 15.
--------. (1917). A difficulty in the path of psycho-analysis. S.E. 17.
--------. (1919). Introduction to Psycho-Analysis And The War Neuroses. S.E. 17.
--------. (1920). Beyond The Pleasure Principle. S.E. 18.
--------. (1923). The Ego and the Id. S.E. 19.
--------. (1924). The economic theory of masochism. S.E. 19.
--------. (1925a). An Autobiographical Study. S.E. 20.
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Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies
OTTAWA, Canada K1S 5B6
1. . Though The World as Will and Representation was published 1819, we date Volume 2 1844 because it did not appear until the second edition, which was published in 1844. A third edition was also published in Schopenhauer's lifetime and he expanded the work still further. As he tells us in the Preface, "though in the same type," it has "136 pages more than its predecessor."
2. . We would like to thank Dr. Vann Spruiell for invaluable suggestions here.
3. . McGill does not give a reference and we were unable to locate the original passage. Like us, Magee quotes it from McGill and was unable to locate the passage.
4. . Schopenhauer went so far as to urge that even memory relies on the unifying force of the will's stable and unceasing urges:
.... if we reflect deeply on the matter, we shall reach the conclusion that memory ... requires the foundation of a will as ... a thread on which the recollections range themselves, and which holds them firmly together, or that the will is, so to speak, the ground on which the individual recollections stick, and without which they could not be fixed. [1844, 2, p. 222].
We will return to this notion of the `thread of memory' later.
5. . A possible problem: on the one hand, Schopenhauer talks about filling the gaps in consciousness, either with memories or with fictitious inventions (fantasies, invented history, deliria). On the other, it is because of gaps in consciousness that we must postulate an unconscious will. Schopenhauer seems not to have noticed the tension; nor did Freud notice the parallel tension in his theory. Schopenhauer could have said that even the best efforts of the most self-aware intellect to fill the gaps will always leave many unfilled.
6. . Moreover, Schopenhauer may have been less a mere speculator than Freud alleges. As Magee notes, he "was a frequent visitor to insane asylums, where he would hold long conversations with the inmates, and go back again and again to talk to those who particularly interested him" (1988, p. 266).