Philosophy of the Unconscious

The Philosophy of the Unconscious
Author Eduard von Hartmann
Original title Philosophie des Unbewussten
Translator W. C. Coupland
Country Germany
Language German
Subject Philosophy
  • 1869 (Duncker, in German)
  • 1884 (in English)
Media type Print

The Philosophy of the Unconscious (German: Philosophie des Unbewussten) is an 1869 book by Eduard von Hartmann.[1] The culmination of the speculations and findings of German romantic philosophy in the first two-thirds of the 19th century, it 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]


  • Summary 1
  • Reception 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4


Hartmann reviews the work of many German philosophers and discusses the ideas of the Indian 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]


The 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 has been seen as preparing the way for Freud's later theory of the unconscious.[4] Freud consulted The 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] Psychologist Hans Eysenck writes that Hartmann's version of the unconscious is very similar to Freud's.[5]

Philosopher Hans Vaihinger was influenced by Hartmann's work, relating in his The Philosophy of 'As If' (1911) how it led him to Schopenhauer.[11]

Medical historian Henri Ellenberger believes that the main interest of The Philosophy of the Unconscious is not its philosophical theories, but its wealth of supporting material.[2]

See also


  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.  
  3. ^ Dufresne, Todd (2000). Tales from the Freudian Crypt: The Death Drive in Text and Context. Stanford: Stanford University Press. p. 88.  
  4. ^ a b c Stack, George J. (1999). Audi, Robert, ed. The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 363.  
  5. ^ a b c Eysenck, Hans (1986). Decline and Fall of the Freudian Empire. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. p. 33.  
  6. ^ a b Sulloway, Frank (1979). Freud, Biologist of the Mind: Beyond the Psychoanalytic Legend. London: Burnett Books. p. 253.  
  7. ^ Inwood, M.J. (2005). Honderich, Ted, ed. The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 361.  
  8. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica Online
  9. ^ a b Freud, Sigmund; Robertson, Ritchie (1999). The Interpretation of Dreams. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 106.  
  10. ^ Stevens, Anthony (1991). On Jung. London: Penguin Books. p. 12.  
  11. ^ Vaihinger, Hans (1968). The Philosophy of 'As If'. Fakenham: Cox & Wyman. p. xxviii.