Hartmann, Eduard von (1842–1906)

views updated


The German pessimistic philosopher Karl Robert Eduard von Hartmann was born in Berlin, the son of a Prussian artillery officer. Von Hartmann entered a school for artillery officers, but a knee injury in 1861 that aggravated older rheumatic ailments barred him from a military career and left him a lifelong semi-invalid. After two years devoted to musical composition and painting, he turned to an intensive study of philosophy. By 1867 von Hartmann had nearly finished his Die Philosophie des Unbewussten (Berlin, 1869; 9th ed. translated by W. C. Coupland as The Philosophy of the Unconscious, 3 vols., London, 1884). This work brought him prompt and widespread recognition, and the rest of his professional life was devoted to a long series of books that amplified and in some details modified its views, and applied them to various fields of philosophy and problems of contemporary culture. Before his death he had published the first volume of an eight-volume System of Philosophy (System der Philosophie im Grundriss, Bad Sachsa, 19071909). Unlike Arthur Schopenhauer's, von Hartmann's pessimism did not keep him from two happy and fruitful marriages.

Influences of von Hartmann

Although he is generally regarded as a follower of Schopenhauer, von Hartmann found Schopenhauer's intense morbidity and his intuitive procedure temperamentally alien, and he corrected a basic incompatibility between Schopenhauer's Kantian phenomenalism and his Platonism by imposing upon the doctrine of the "will to live" a Hegelian but nondialectical doctrine of an intelligible categorial structure. Von Hartmann also acknowledged an indebtedness to the early Friedrich Schelling for his theory of the unconscious, to the later Schelling for the process in which nature and consciousness emerge from unconscious potencies, and to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz for the synthesis of individualism and monism. In Die Philosophie des Unbewussten von Hartmann built these influences into a system inductively grounded upon the data provided by the natural and historical sciences.

Will and Ideas

Although Schopenhauer's concept of Will is needed to explain the dynamism of the world process, it cannot, according to von Hartmann, explain the world order. G. W. F. Hegel's dialectic is absurd, but his concept of the notion is required to explain world order, even though it cannot account for the process by which, according to both Schopenhauer and Hegel, self-consciousness comes into being out of the unconscious. Ideas define the "what" of the world; Will determines its "that." The opposition of Will to the ordering of the Ideas brings about the emergence of consciousness and individuals.

Individuation results from the conflict of purposes into which the universal Will is driven through its resistance to its logical counterpart, the Ideas. Consciousness is required to emancipate the Ideas from bondage to the Will and its torments. Since space and time are the "sole principium individuationis known to us" (Philosophy of the Unconscious, Vol. II, p. 230), the result is a phenomenal but real evolutionary process of nature involving the greatest possible emergence of purposes. Consciousness, when it attains its maturity, will "suffice to hurl back the total actual volition into nothingness, by which the process and the world ceases without any residuum whatever." (Von Hartmann suggested later, in Volume III, that the undifferentiated, substantial Will might continue to proliferate other orders of consciousness after this destruction.)

In this differentiation between the Unconscious Will and the Ideas, three orders of being must therefore be distinguished: (a ) the metaphysical order of the unconscious; (b ) the objective phenomenal-real order of nature; and (c ) the subjective-ideal order of consciousness. The physiological unconscious in the second order ("the resting molecular predispositions of the central organs of the nervous system," Die moderne Psychologie, Bad Sachsa, 1901, p. 76), provides an unconscious ground for the total consciousness of an organism; conscious perception, in turn, is the bond by which knowledge of the transcendent but phenomenal-real order becomes possible.


In his Kategorienlehre (Berlin, 1896) von Hartmann distinguished between categorial concepts and the categorial functions of which they are the conscious representations. These unconscious rational functions assure that the concepts establish a relationship between phenomena and the thing-in-itself. There are innumerable categories, distinguishable as categories of sense and thought. There are two kinds of sense categories: sensations, which include quality, intensive quantity, extensive quantity (for example, temporality), and perceptions (that is, spatiality). The categories of thought include the primary category of relation, the categories of reflective thought (comparing, distinguishing, measuring, modality, and others), and the categories of speculative thought (causality, finality, substantiality).


Von Hartmann rejected both the irrational intuitionism of Schopenhauer and the mechanistic and materialistic assumptions of much of the science of his day. His own view of nature was teleological, an interpretation he undertook to demonstrate mathematically by a calculation of probabilities (he estimated the probability of eyesight being produced by mere mechanical processes as less than 15/107) and also by analogies with alleged facts of experience. Instincts are unconsciously purposive, for example, and unconscious ideation in the nerve endings must be assumed to explain the slightest voluntary bodily movements. It is noteworthy that von Hartmann was one of the first to criticize Darwinism, arguing that evolution requires a vitalism and a "heterogeneous generation" of new variations within the germ cells of existing forms of life.


Among the factors that account for the great popularity of The Philosophy of the Unconscious, the most important is von Hartmann's restatement and justification of philosophical pessimism in the third volume. He regarded Immanuel Kant, not Schopenhauer, as the father of his pessimism: This is not the worst of all possible worlds; indeed, the infinite purposiveness of the particulars in it makes it the best of all possible worlds. Nevertheless, it can be shown that it would be better if there were no world at all, and, paradoxically, the purposiveness of this world is moving to that end.

The argument for pessimism in The Philosophy of the Unconscious consists of a remarkable combination of neurological and psychological considerations with commonsense considerations about the misery in the world. Pessimism results from the successive dispelling of three stages of optimistic illusion. The first stage is that happiness has already actually been attained in the present stage of the world; the second is that happiness can be attained in a transcendent life after death; and the third is that happiness will be attained in a future state of this world.

In a later historical and critical essay on pessimism, Zur Geschichte und Begrundung der Pessimismus (Berlin, 1888), von Hartmann modified this sweeping argument for the misery of the world by setting up five criteria of value (Wertmassstäbe ): pleasure, purposiveness, beauty, morality, and religiosity. His pessimistic theory of the Weltlustbilanz, he now claimed, was based on only the first criterion, and he described his theory as a "eudaemonological pessimism" but a "teleological-evolutionary optimism" in the nonhedonistic fields of value. He still held that efforts to assess values always involve the subjective, hedonistic component, and therefore involve a balance of misery.

Von Hartmann was concerned with showing that, far from making ethics and religion impossible, pessimism is the only foundation for a tenable ethical system and that it provides as well the wider teleological perspective from which religion, including contemporary Christianity, can be evaluated. In his Phänomenologie des sittlichen Bewusstseins (Berlin, 1879) he tried to show that all previous efforts to provide a philosophical basis for ethics, whether hedonistic, or built upon formal principles (which, he held, inevitably collapse into an ethics of ends), or socially oriented like utilitarianism and social democracy, had failed because they are untrue of man and the universe. The proper goal, which unites all lesser ethical ends, can only be a cooperative participation in the cultural process contributing to the satisfaction of all particular wills and, therefore, contributing ipso facto to the termination of the universe.

This conclusion anticipates von Hartmann's religious thought. The ethics of pessimism becomes a cosmic drama of redemption. The goal of the absolute religion of the future must be to save God, as Will, from the agony involved in his own inevitable creativity. The essence of vital Christianity, according to von Hartmann, lies in its pessimism about the present world, and liberal Protestantism is the last dying phase of Christian ethics because, by adhering to a faith in social progress, it has lapsed into the first stage of optimism.

Although the unorthodox nature and clear forcefulness of von Hartmann's thought drew a popular following, much critical comment was directed at his paradoxical theory of the unconscious, his criticism of religion, and the incompatibility between his pessimism and his idealistic ethics and philosophy of religion.

Except for a brief attempt to revive interest in von Hartmann's work during the years after his death, it has been largely neglected. He has been hailed as the last of the great speculative idealists, as a philosopher of science who opposed the mechanistic materialism of his time and anticipated the vitalism of the twentieth century, and as a psychologist who introduced the unconscious as a decisive mental factor. His criticism of the human predicament, along with Schopenhauer's, prepared the way for more complete, intensified forms of pessimism and nihilism in the twentieth century.

See also Beauty; Categories; Darwinism; Determinism, A Historical Survey; Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich; Idealism; Kant, Immanuel; Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm; Nihilism; Pessimism and Optimism; Pleasure; Schelling, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von; Schopenhauer, Arthur; Teleology; Unconscious.


Additional works by von Hartmann include Ausgewählte Werke, 13 vols. (Leipzig, 18851901); Das Unbewusste vom Standpunkte der Physiologie und Descendenztheorie (Berlin, 1872); Die Selbsterzetzung des Christentums und die Religion der Zukunft (Berlin, 1874); Wahrheit und Irrthum im Darwinismus: eine kritische Darstellung der organischen Entwickelungstheorie (Berlin: Duncker, 1875), translated by H. J. Darcy as "The True and the False in Darwinism," in Journal of Speculative Philosophy 11 (1877): 244249 and 392399; Kritische Grundlegung des transcendentalen Realismus (Berlin, 1875); Die Religion des Geistes (Berlin, 1882), translated by Ernest Dare as The Religion of the Spirit (London, 1886), Part III separately translated by Thomas Hitchcock as Religious Metaphysics (New York, 1883); Philosophic des Schönen (Leipzig, 1882); Das Grundproblem der Erkenntnistheorie (Leipzig, 1889); Geschichte der Metaphysik, 2 vols. (Leipzig, 18891890); and Das Problem des Lebens (Bad Sachsa, 1906).

A chronological bibliography of von Hartmann's writings, prepared by Alma von Hartmann, appeared in Kantstudien 17 (1912): 501520. See also Hans Stäglich, Verzeichnis der Eduard von Hartmann-Literatur (Leipzig, 1932).

For interpretation and criticism, see Arthur Drews, Eduard von Hartmanns philosophisches System in Grundriss (Heidelberg, 1902); Otto Braun, Eduard von Hartmann (Stuttgart: F. Frommanns, 1909); Leopold Ziegler, Das Weltbild Hartmanns (Leipzig, 1910); E. H. di Carlo, La filosofia della storia de Eduard von Hartmann (Palermo, 1906); R O. Petraschek, Die Logik des Unbewussten, 2 vols. (Munich, 1926); and W. Rauschenburger, Eduard von Hartmann (Heidelberg, 1942).

In English, J. W. Caldwell, "The Epistemology of Eduard von Hartmann," in Mind, n.s., 2 (1893): 185207, and "Hartmann's Moral and Social Philosophy," in Philosophical Review 8 (1899): 465483 and 589603, are noteworthy.

Two popular but accurate accounts of von Hartmann's thought and influence are contained in G. Stanley Hall, Founders of Modern Psychology (New York: Appleton, 1912), pp. 181246, and Radoslav Tsanoff, The Nature of Evil (New York: Macmillan, 1931), Ch. 12.

L. E. Loemker (1967)

About this article

Hartmann, Eduard von (1842–1906)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article