Will to live  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
self preservation, will (philosophy)

The will to live is a psychological vital force to fight for survival and self preservation. It is also a key aspect of Schopenhauer's philosophy.


In psychology

The will to live is considered to be a very basic drive in man; however, it is not necessarily thought to be the main driving force. Out of Vienna come three schools of psychotherapy: Sigmund Freud's first school involves what has been termed the pleasure principle, or the will to pleasure; Alfred Adler broke away from Freud to create his second school of individual psychology, or the will to power, which has also been more broadly termed the will to superiority and is based in Nietzsche's work; Victor Frankl, after spending time in a German concentration camp, developed his third school of Viennese psychotherapy called logotherapy, or the will to meaning. Before all this, as can be seen by studies in fields like zoology and ethology, and also in Schopenhauer's work, there is the very basic and powerful will to live.

Psychologists have established that human beings are social creatures who possess a need to engage in interpersonal relationships. In assessing the will to live it should be borne in mind that it could be augmented or diminished by the relative strength of other simultaneously existent drives. Therefore, one may consider what are the ends that each member of humanity inherently seeks a means to? From this perspective psychologists generally agree that there is the will to live, the will to pleasure, the will to superiority and the will to connection. There is also usually varying degrees of curiosity with regard to what may be termed the will to identity or establishing meaningful personal responses to the questions: "Who am I?" and "Why am I here?" The will to live is a platform without which it would not be possible to satisfy the other drives.



A key aspect of Schopenhauer's thought is the investigation of what makes man less than reasonable. This force he calls "Wille zum Leben" or Will (lit. will to life or will to live), by which he means the forces driving man, to remain alive and to reproduce, a drive intertwined with desire. This Will is the inner content and the driving force of the world. For Schopenhauer, Will had ontological primacy over the intellect; in other words, desire is understood to be prior to thought, and, in a parallel sense, Will is said to be prior to being. Schopenhauer's identification of this world-constituting process as an irrational will to live influenced later 19th- and early 20th-century thinking, such as the work of Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud.

Schopenhaue was perhaps even more influential in his treatment of man's psychology than he was in the realm of philosophy.

Philosophers have not traditionally been impressed by the tribulations of love, but Schopenhauer addressed it and related concepts forthrightly in The Metaphysics of Sexual Love:

"We should be surprised that a matter that generally plays such an important part in the life of man [love] has hitherto been almost entirely disregarded by philosophers, and lies before us as raw and untreated material."

He gave a name to a force within man which he felt had invariably precedence over reason: the will to live (Wille zum Leben), defined as an inherent drive within human beings, and indeed all creatures, to stay alive and to reproduce.

Schopenhauer refused to conceive of love as either trifling or accidental, but rather understood it to be an immensely powerful force lying unseen within man's psyche and dramatically shaping the world:

"The ultimate aim of all [love affair]s ... is more important than all other aims in man's life; and therefore it is quite worthy of the profound seriousness with which everyone pursues it." --The Metaphysics of Sexual Love
"What is decided by it is nothing less than the composition of the next generation ..." --The Metaphysics of Sexual Love

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

Compared to Nietzsche's will to power

main The Will to Power

Schopenhauer posited a "will to live," in which living things were motivated by sustaining and developing their own lives. Nietzsche instead posited a will to power, a significant point of contrast to Schopenhauer's ideation, in which living things are not just driven by the mere need to stay alive, but in fact by a greater need to wield and use power, to grow, to expend their strength, and, possibly, to subsume other "wills" in the process. Thus, Nietzsche regarded such a "will to live" as secondary to the primary "will to power", and more generally there are varied manifestations of it, two prominent distinctions by Nietzsche are: a "life-denying" modality and a life-"enhancing" or -"affirming" one. Henceforth, he opposed himself to social Darwinism, as he contested the validity of the concept of "adaptation", which he considered a narrow and weak "will to live".

See also

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