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Schopenhauer: The Grandfather of Psychology

Schopenhauer: The Grandfather of Psychology

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Published by Frank A. Sicoli
Frank A. Sicoli
Frank A. Sicoli

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Frank A. Sicoli on Feb 04, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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The unmerited obscurity to which writers likemyself are long condemned, encourages such people to appropriate their thoughts without somuch as naming them.
The examination of Arthur Schopenhauer and Sigmund Freud is destined to bea bumpy ride, with one particularly nasty bump to get over on the road. Ultimately,the authenticity of Freud’s work is at stake, and the title, “father of modern psychology”. There are stunning similarities between many aspects of Freud’s psychology and Schopenhauer’s philosophy. This issue is the topic of debate fromtime to time in intellectual circles, but never achieves the amplification needed togain attention, other than blather and gossip. Remarkably, the people blathering areusually more acquainted with Freud than Schopenhauer; indeed, this is no surprise.Schopenhauer’s philosophy is nearly extinct and the very mention of his name sendsshrills streaking up professor’s spines.Undoubtedly there will always be disagreement as to Schopenhauer’sinfluence on Freud. On one hand, Freud honorably mentions Schopenhauer’s profound influence in several of his major texts, but, on the other hand, I think heintentionally fudges the date as to when he was formally introduced to the philosopher’s work. I don’t want to get too wrapped up in this issue; there are moreinteresting elements at hand, when comparing and contrasting the work of these twogreat minds. Nevertheless, this is an obstacle that we need to negotiate. If weassume that Freud was introduced to Schopenhauer’s philosophy during the latter  part of his life, then we also have to conclude that he lived during the turn of thecentury Vienna, which marked the zenith of Schopenhauer’s fame, and yet, failed to
Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason and the Will in Nature. translated by Mme. Karl Hillebrand (London: George Bell and Sons, 1891) 230.1
come in contact with his work. This was a period when Schopenhauer’s philosophywas all the rage, and the voice of a whole generation that was badly bruised by war and poverty.
Arthur Schopenhauer – with the epigrammatic punch and elegant style whichset him off from his academic and professional colleagues in philosophy – was the most widely read and influential in the Vienna of the 1890s.
Yet, Freud had no recollection of this man’s philosophy regardless of the fact thathis friends, colleagues, and neighbors were very much interested in the “sage of Frankfurt”. Apparently, it was only until years later that Freud read
The World asWill and Representation
and acknowledges that Schopenhauer is in many cases theoriginal voice of which his is only the echo. Nevertheless, this bump bounces manyscholars right off the road.Why stop short at petty concerns? No matter what side one takes on thisissue, I think it is undeniable that the synthesis of these two works yields some veryremarkable discoveries. More so, in Freud’s case, which unattached fromSchopenhauer’s philosophy is merely a surface show of concepts without anyfoundation or ground, in effect, a mere shell without the kernel
. The combinationof these systems gives the reader a chance to trace the roots of psychoanalysis, downdeep into the rich, fecund, soil of Schopenhauer’s philosophy. In order to do this,the shell needs to be cracked and then reattached around the kernel. As a result,Freud’s work not only takes on new meaning, but also gains support from one of theonly complete metaphysical systems of all time. Due to lack of space and the scopeof the essay, I am only able to chip off and attach several large pieces of the shell
Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin, Wittgenstein’s Vienna. (New York: Touchstone Book, 1973) 164.
Schopenhauer frequently refers to the metaphor of the “shell and kernel”.2
over the kernel.The areas I examine in this essay are the theories of the unconscious andrepression, and the primacy of the sexual impulse. Nevertheless, each element isimportant to the development of Freud’s sexual theory; moreover, equally importantto psychoanalysis on the whole.Schopenhauer’s description of the unconscious is not as apparent as thatwhich we find in Freud’s case. He frequently refers to “unconscious motives”,“unconscious desires”, and hints at the underlying layer of consciousness as the“abyss” into which unpleasant experiences are stored, but never isolates theunconscious as something
from the intellect. In fact, “unconscious” isnot even listed in,
The World as Will and Representation’s
forty-page index
As aresult, the only way to explain Schopenhauer’s theory of the unconscious is todescribe the root and origin of consciousness itself. This takes us headlong intoSchopenhauer’s metaevolution, which is as prescient to Darwin’s theory of naturalselection, contemporary evolutionary psychology, and molecular biology, as it is toFreud’s metapsychology and theories of sexuality.Consciousness is the necessary starting-point of all examinations andconsequently, Schopenhauer’s philosophy is fundamentally idealistic, on the groundsthat the only world we know is in our head; in other words, “the world is myrepresentation”. At this point, Schopenhauer’s epistemology is in accordance withthe Cartesian premise,
cogito ergo sum
and he considers Descartes the “father of modern philosophy”, that is, even though he arrives at his conclusions

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