Schopenhauer on human sexuality  

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"the sexual impulse ... appears as a malevolent demon that strives to pervert, confuse, and overthrow everything" [...], Arthur Schopenhauer, "The Metaphysics of Sexual Love"

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Arthur Schopenhauer said about human sexuality that it plays a prominent role in human behaviour and is worthy of serious thought. The chapter in Alain de Botton on a "broken heart" in The Consolations of Philosophy is a summary of Schopenhauer's views on the matter. Two chapters in The World as Will and Representation, "Leben der Gattung" and "The Metaphysics of Sexual Love" illustrate the centrality that Schopenhauer places on the sexual life of the human species.

Contents

On the power of passion

the sexual impulse ... appears as a malevolent demon that strives to pervert, confuse, and overthrow everything

Man is "concrete sexual desire" (konkreter Geschlechtstrieb)

Man is "concrete sexual desire" (konkreter Geschlechtstrieb) says Schopenhauer in The World as Will and Representation, in his 42nd chapter "Leben der Gattung."[1]

Freud translator James Strachey was of the opinion that the passage from which the above quote comes greatly influenced Freud's theory of psychosexual development which gave the sex life of man center stage, although he never said so in so many words. Freud did mention Schopenhauer in his essay "The Resistances to Psycho-Analysis" ("Schopenhauer has emphasized the unique importance of sex life with memorable emphasis").

The genitals are the real focus of the will

"The genitals are the real focus of will and are therefore the opposite pole to the brain, the representative of knowledge…. The genitals are the life-preserving principle assuring to time endless life. In this capacity they were worshipped by the Greeks as the phallus and by the Hindus as the lingam, which are therefore the symbol of the affirmation of the will". --Fourth book of The World as Will and Representation, “The Assertion and Denial of the Will”[2]

In German:

"Diesem allem zufolge sind die Genitalien der eigentliche Brennpunkt des Willens und folglich der entgegengesetzte Pol des Gehirns, des Repräsentanten der Erkenntnis, d.i. der anderen Seite der Welt, der Welt als Vorstellung. Jene sind das lebenerhaltende, der Zeit endloses Leben zusichernde Prinzip, in welcher Eigenschaft sie bei den Griechen im Phallus, bei den Hindu im Lingam verehrt wurden, welche also das Symbol der Bejahung des Willens sind. Die Erkenntnis dagegen gibt die Möglichkeit der Aufhebung des Wollens, der Erlösung durch Freiheit, der Überwindung und Vernichtung der Welt."

The will as a "strong blind man"

Comparing will to intellect Schopenhauer states that the will is a strong blind man carrying the intellect (a lame man who can see) on his shoulders.

In truth, however, the happiest figure of the relation of the two [will and intellect] is the strong blind man who carries on his shoulders the lame man who can see.[3]

The metaphor comes from Gellert's fable Der Blinde und Der Lahme.

Illico post coitum cachinnus auditur Diaboli

petite mort, post coitum

"Illico post coitum cachinnus auditur Diaboli" (directly after copulation the devil's laughter is heard) is a dictum by Schopenhauer.

For has it not been observed how illico post coitum cachinnus auditur Diaboli]? Seriously speaking, this is due to the fact that sexual desire, especially when through fixation on a definite woman it is concentrated to amorous ...
Hat man denn mcht bemerkt, wie illico post coitum cachinnus auditur Diaboli? welches, ernstlich gesprochen, darauf beruht, daß die Geschlechtsbegierde, zumal wenn, durch Fixieren auf ein bestimmtes Weib, zur Verliebtheit koncentrirt, ... --Parerga and Paralipomena, Arthur Schopenhauer

A gene-centric view of human love

gene-centrism

Schopenhauer notes that the sexual impulse has the power to disrupt all of society, describing it as "the ultimate goal of almost all human effort" and noting of its effect that it appears as "a malevolent demon that strives to pervert, confuse, and overthrow everything". In searching the answer for this bizar phenomenon, by which something trivial as love affairs would be given so much attention, both in fiction and real life, he posits that what is of importance is not the individual love affair, but the collective love affairs of mankind, since these determine the future generations, in short the human reproductive success.

These ideas foreshadowed and laid the groundwork for Darwin's theory of evolution and Freud's concepts of the libido and the unconscious mind.

For all love, however ethereally it may bear itself, is rooted in the sexual impulse alone, nay, it absolutely is only a more definitely determined, specialised, and indeed in the strictest sense individualised sexual impulse. If now, keeping this in view, one considers the important part which the sexual impulse in all its degrees and nuances plays not only on the stage and in novels, but also in the real world, where, next to the love of life, it shows itself the strongest and most powerful of motives, constantly lays claim to half the powers and thoughts of the younger portion of mankind, is the ultimate goal of almost all human effort, exerts an adverse influence on the most important events, interrupts the most serious occupations every hour, sometimes embarrasses for a while even the greatest minds, does not hesitate to intrude with its trash interfering with the negotiations of states men and the investigations of men of learning, knows how to slip its love letters and locks of hair even into ministerial portfolios arid philosophical manuscripts, and no less devises daily the most entangled and the worst actions, destroys the most valuable relationships, breaks the firmest bonds, demands the sacrifice sometimes of life or health, sometimes of wealth, rank, and happiness, nay, robs those who are otherwise honest of all conscience, makes those who have hitherto been faithful, traitors; accordingly, on the whole, appears as a malevolent demon that strives to pervert, confuse, and overthrow everything ; then one will be forced to cry, Wherefore all this noise ? Wherefore the straining and storming, the anxiety and want ? It is merely a question of every Hans finding his Grethe. 1 Why should such a trifle play so important a part, and constantly introduce disturbance and confusion into the well-regulated life of man ? But to the earnest investigator the spirit of truth gradually reveals the answer. It is no trifle that is in question here ; on the contrary, the importance of the matter is quite proportionate to the seriousness and ardour of the effort. The ultimate end of all love affairs, whether they are played in sock or cothurnus, is really more important than all other ends of human life, and is therefore quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which every one pursues it. That which is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation. The dramatis personae who shall appear when we are withdrawn are here determined, both as regards their existence and their nature, by these frivolous love affairs. As the being, the existentia, of these future persons is absolutely conditioned by our sexual impulse generally, so their nature, essentia, is determined by the individual selection in its satisfaction, i.e., by sexual love, and is in every respect irrevocably fixed by this. This is the key of the problem : we shall arrive at a more accurate knowledge of it in its application if we go through the degrees of love, from the passing inclination to the vehement passion, when we shall also recognise that the difference of these grades arises from the degree of the individualisation of the choice.
The collective love affairs of the present generation taken together are accordingly, of the whole human race, the serious meditatio compositionis generationis futurae, e qua iterum pendent innumerae generationes. This high importance of the matter, in which it is not a question of individual weal or woe, as in all other matters, but of the existence and special nature of the human race in future times, and therefore the will of the individual appears at a higher power as the will of the species-this it is on which the pathetic and sublime elements in affairs of love depend, which for thousands of years poets have never wearied of representing in innumerable examples ; because no theme can equal in interest this one, which stands to all others which only concern the welfare of individuals as the solid body to the surface, because it concerns the weal and woe of the species. Just on this account, then, is it so difficult to impart interest to a drama without the element of love, and, on the other hand, this theme is never worn out even by daily use. --tmosl

"When passion is extinguished, life is a comedy brought to an end by automata dressed in the clothes of humans"

In his essay 'Ages of Life' in Parerga and Paralipomena Schopenhauer states:

"Still, it should not be forgotten that, when this passion is extinguished, the true kernel of life is gone, and nothing remains but the hollow shell; or, from another point of view, life then becomes like a comedy, which, begun by real actors, is continued and brought to an end by automata dressed in their clothes."

The excerpt is quoted in The Possibility of an Island by Michel Houellebecq.

See also




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