Deussen, Paul (1845–1919)

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Paul Deussen, the German philologist and philosopher, was the son of a Protestant clergyman in the village of Oberdreis in the Westerwald. He received a thorough classical training in the old secondary school of Pforta, where he developed a close friendship with Friedrich Nietzsche. Both Deussen and Nietzsche enrolled in the theological faculty at the University of Bonn, but Nietzsche soon shifted to classical philology and followed his teacher Ritschl to Leipzig. Deussen remained in Bonn for four semesters, then also shifted to classical philology and earned his doctorate at Berlin in 1869 with a dissertation on Plato's Sophist. After a brief period of teaching in secondary schools, he became the tutor for a Russian family in Geneva in 1872. There he intensified his study of Sanskrit, began a study of the Indian philosophical classics, and became an enthusiastic follower and interpreter of Arthur Schopenhauer (after having long resisted Nietzsche's enthusiastic endorsements). In 1881 he qualified to lecture in Berlin under Eduard Zeller on the basis of his work The System of the Vedanta, and became an extraordinary professor in 1887. Appointed full professor in Kiel in 1889, he retained this post until his retirement.

Deussen's major work, on which he labored for more than twenty years, was the Universal History of Philosophy, consisting of two large volumes in six parts. The first volume was devoted to Indian thought and the second to the thought of the West from the Greeks to Schopenhauer, with a section on the philosophy of the Bible.

For Deussen the history of philosophy was a discipline indispensable not only for the understanding of life but for its religious interpretation as well. Its task was to strip off the "mythical vestments" or "hulls" of the various philosophical and religious systems in order to discover the single unified truth that all share.

This unified, permanent truth was made clear in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant as completed by Schopenhauer, but it also embraced insights from the Vedanta, Plato's doctrine of Ideas, and Christian theology. Schopenhauer, Deussen said, had "freed the essentials of Kant from the weight of traditional misunderstanding" and offered "the completion of a unified doctrine which is grounded in experience, internally coherent in its metaphysics, and which appears, in its practical part, as a Christianity renewed throughout its whole depth on scientific foundations, and which will become, and for the predictable future remain, the foundation of all human scientific and religious thought" (Geschichte der Philosophie, Vol. 1, Part 1, p. 22). Rightly understood, Schopenhauer was the philosophus Christianissimus (the most Christian philosopher). The affirmation of the will to live is the egoism of our natural existence; its denial is "disinterested righteousness, the love of man, and the willingness to sacrifice for great causesall great, heroic, overindividual striving and creating" (Erinnerungen an Friedrich Nietzsche, p. 105). But the divine, in this synthetic conception, cannot be understood theistically. The highest Being is beyond all personality, and all will eventually confess, "I believe in one living, but not one personal God."

Deussen was one of the early interpreters of Jakob Boehme (1897). He edited a critical edition of Schopenhauer in fourteen volumes (Munich, 1911), and he founded the Schopenhauer Society and edited its yearbook from 1912 until his death.

See also Boehme, Jakob; Continental Philosophy; History and Historiography of Philosophy; Indian Philosophy; Kant, Immanuel; Nietzsche, Friedrich; Plato; Schopenhauer, Arthur.


Deussen's chief work was Allgemeine Geschichte der Philosophie, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Religionen, 2 vols. (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 18941917); Vol. I, Part 2 was translated by A. S. Geden as The Philosophy of the Upanishads (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clark, 1908). Die Elemente der Metaphysik (Aachen: J. A. Mayer, 1877), was translated by C. M. Duff as The Elements of Metaphysics (London, 1894).

Deussen was the first Western philosopher to include Eastern thought in a general history of philosophy in any scientific way. Among his publications in this field are Das System des Vedanta (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1883), translated by Charles Johnston as The System of the Vedanta (Chicago: Open Court, 1912); Die Sūtra des Vedānta, translated from the Sanskrit (Leipzig, 1887), translated by H. Woods and C. B. Rumble as The Sutras of the Vedanta with the Commentary of Cankara (New York, 1906); Sechzig Upanishads des Veda, which he translated from the Sanskrit (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1897); Vier philosophische Texte des Mahâbhâratam (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1906); Bhagavadgītā. Der Gesang des Heiligen (Leipzig, 1911); and Die Geheimenlehre des Veda (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 19071909.

Three volumes of an autobiographical nature are Mein Leben (Leipzig, 1927); Erinnerungen an Friedrich Nietzsche (Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus, 1901); and Erinnerungen an Indien (Leipzig: Lipsius and Tischer, 1904). Bound together with the Erinnerungen an Indien is a lecture, "On the Philosophy of the Vedanta in Its Relations to Occidental Metaphysics," delivered and first published in Bombay in 1893.

On Deussen, see "Erinnerungen an Paul Deussen," which is Vol. 20 of Jahrbuch der Schopenhauergesellschaft (1920).

L. E. Loemker (1967)