Psychology Of Genius In Arthur Schopenhauer

Psychology Of Genius In Arthur Schopenhauer


1.1          INTRODUCTION:

In the evolutionary system, advancement in the human world was as a result of the urge to satisfy the immediate needs of man and even more. Every organism is essentially endowed with its means of livelihood. So, nature has done so well to provide animals with their own means of attack, nutrition, defence and every means of survival.




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Hitherto, with further development of the organism in higher animal, a higher means of survival is required. This higher requirement manifests itself in the form of human reason and the intelligence. The reason, then, in a gradual process develops in man as an essential tool to discover and to create new ways of satisfaction, in order to conquer its own world – the human world.

One might not relent to question the value of the human intellect and what it is all about. However, human intellect bestows its subject with the power of reason – ratio or intelligence. And this, therefore, distinguishes   the man, homo sapiens, as that thinking or wise individual from other evolutionary categorization of humans as  in homo erectus

[ standing  man], homo habilis  etc. Also, it plays an important role in every  human make-up.

According to Prof Copleston,  [1963] reason “ has primarily a biological function. If one may so speak, Nature intends it as an instrument for satisfying the needs of a more highly complicated and developed organism than that of animals.”1

One would not to a greater extent question the insatiability of the human needs and desires. And could one as well question the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer that man and his world are virtually the Will, the blind desire, and representation. Every satisfaction presupposes a desire, and the latter seeks to attend the former in a logical dialectics. So, then, as man wangles in his eternal and insatiable desires, he immerses himself in it and becomes the Will as Schopenhauer opined.

Consequently, human intellect could be seen as a liberator, a key to human freedom, and emancipation. Schopenhauer [1788] espoused it well that though intellect is by its nature, the servant of the Will, it is capable in man of developing to such an extent that it can achieve its objectivity. That is to say, “that though man’s mind is in the first instance, an instrument for satisfying His bodily needs, it can develop a kind of surplus energy which sets it free at least temporarily, from the service of desire” [1]

After man might have been liberated, at least temporarily from the service of desire, what would then happen, if I may ask? Schopenhauer answers that, “he becomes a disinterested spectator: he can adopt a contemplative attitude, as in aesthetic contemplation and in philosophy” This aesthetic contemplation according to Schopenhauer is the way of being a genius.


Arthur Schopenhauer was born at Danzig on Feb. 22nd, 1788. His father, a wealthy merchant, hoped that his son would follow in his footsteps, and he allowed the boy to spend the years 1803-4 in visiting England, France and other countries on the understanding that at the conclusion of the tour, he would take up work in a business house. The young Schopenhauer fulfilled his promise, but he had no relish for a business career and on his father’s death in 1803, he obtained his mother’s consent in the continuing of his studies.

In 1809, he entered the University of Gottingen to study medicine, but he changed to philosophy in his second year at the university. As he puts it, “life is a problem and he had decided to spend his time reflecting on it”3 In the philosophy of Schopenhauer, German idealism took a new turn. While, for example, Hegel identifies the ultimate reality, the absolute, with Reason, Schopenhauer identifies it with the WILL. For Hegel, the absolute is Reason, but for Schopenhauer, the Absolute is the Will. In Schopenhauer’s idealism, the absolute is not an intelligent being developing consciously towards its goal but rather a blind irrational impulse for life, the will-to-live. His idealism is more directly derived from Kant than those of the three idealists before him, for in his own idealism the absolute is precisely the thing-in-itself (the noumenon) of Kant.4

After the failure of the Revolution of 1818, a revolution for which Schopenhauer had no sympathy at all, people were ready to pay attention to a philosophy that emphasized the evil in the world and the vanity of life and preached a turning away from life to aesthetic contemplation and asceticism. And in the last decade of his life, Schopenhauer became a famous man. Visitors came to see him from all sides. And although the German professors had not forgotten his sarcasm and abuse, lectures were delivered on his system in several universities, a sure sign that he has at last arrived. He died in September 1860. May his soul rest in peace. So be it.


Among so many problems unravelled in the mystery of the mind, stands most prominently, the question and the concept of genius. And to make matters worse is the modern usage of the word “genius”. Genius is conceived hitherto as a “gift of heaven” or a remarkable character imposed on some individuals. Often, geniuses are seen as extra-ordinary being or super-humans. This ideology would to some extent arouse the mind of a philosopher and a critical thinker to inquire why such gift

(if it is) to one, and dullness of intellect, or even idiocy to the other.

The problem is really philosophical as it questions the one and universal essence of humanity, of which every human being is made of.

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Baffled with the above problem, I, therefore as a matter of fact, invite the philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer into the intellectual stage to know what he has to say. We must acknowledge the fact that Schopenhauer’s view of life is grim and pessimistic. For him, life is an endless strife for the unattainable. The world is a world of endless strife, conflict, suffering and evil. It is impossible to stop any of these because they are manifestation of the Will. This notion makes Schopenhauer the most celebrated philosopher of pessimism. He, however, recommends only two ways by which the pain and suffering of life can be minimized. And these are: “Aesthetic contemplation and asceticism, especially as it is practiced in Buddhism”5 Schopenhauer went further to assert that the ideas that are the immediate and adequate objectivity of the thing-in-itself, of the Will, are Artsthe work of genius. Consequently, only through pure contemplation through which these eternal ideas are comprehended that constitutes the nature of genius. An immediate question then would be: Is a genius consists only in pure contemplation and apprehension of the immutable truths as we see in Schopenhauer? And if so, is everybody given that ability of contemplation and apprehension? However, this is just the statement of the problem.


Among so many puzzles and mysteries in the universe, hitherto, unravelled in the Mystery of Mind stands prominently the question of genius. More often than not, you hear some people say: “Beethoven was a genius”. Albert Einstein was a genius”. “Geothe was a genius”. An obvious observation is the fact that the honour of genius, if so, is only appreciated and accorded to great minds – the Mahatmas, of past generations. Well acclaimed are those people, that, it seems there is no existing genius in every present generation. Would it not be a superficial judgment or observation to measure genius until only after his or her departure from existence?

Again, the concept of genius and the cognition of the same appear vague and enigmatic when considered from the threads of history. This is so, insofar as people still question the concept. And even, until now, Werner Reyneke in his article, has once more raised some questions on that phenomenon: “What is genius?  Where does it come from? Where is it going to? Is genius just the imagination of the genius himself and the unimaginable bewilderment in the empty hearts of his expectators?” 6

Our study of the psychology of genius, we tend also to raise such similar questions as:

What is genius, and who is a genius? Is genius a natural or a supernatural gift to individuals and not all? Of which benefits is genius to its subject and society in a whole? Again, is one born a genius? Or, is it developed or achieved in the course of life and existence? Is everybody a genius, or is it reserved to few individuals? Besides, what makes a genius, a genius? Does it consist of so many knowledge and highly intelligent quotients? In fact, how do we recognize a genius? Do we know a genius by his or her character and behaviour? If so, of which character does a genius exhibit? And finally, is one a genius just by conventional recognition and a standard measurement?  These critical questions and more are what we intend to investigate and explore in our research.

Furthermore, this project is an attempt at formulating and exposing the nature and concept of genius and creativity.  It geared also to enlighten the bright ones as it is supposed to help those who consider themselves less intellectually fortunate. In short, it will reiterate the fact that training and persistence can do miracles in one’s life as in genius.

Again it goes without saying that people seems to have so much regard or repute for the great minds –  the geniuses. They tend to go extra-miles to emulate them. But all things being equal or unequal, they lack the means or knowledge for such attainment. The quest for such endowment of the ambitious- seekers who would like to rise above the sky, shining like a bright morning star and soaring like the eagle is another ultimate purpose of this study.


The gift of genius whether by nature or nurture remains the flower of civilization and development of humanity. Any country, race, nation that involves itself in the massacre of genius would be very remote. Thus, the wail of humanity is checked by the activities of genius in their creative mindedness.

All things been equal or unequal, our study of the psychology of genius is not to be solely in an abstract or abstruse manner. The Schopeneaurian idealistic concept of genius in terms of aesthetic contemplation must be re-visited to have a practical and useful relevance. It goes without saying that our study will not only add to our knowledge, it will go further to enable students and all lovers of knowledge to adopt the way and the secret of the great minds or the geniuses.

Once more, the study would go a long way towards self-knowledge, auto-realization and auto-actualization. Of course, we cannot neglect the fact that the project would also pave way for understanding, as a necessary virtue in inter-human relationship.

1.6          SCOPE OF STUDY

This work will not as a matter of truth dwells solely on Schopenhaurian idealistic concept of genius. Neither will this work pretend to present the whole psychological investigation on genius, nor promise to exhaust its concept, for this would bring to a halt our further knowledge. Therefore, this work will not as a matter of fact close any intellectual window to the further knowledge of genius. However, the work would be articulated in five chapters as in the table of contents. Finally, there would be a critical reappraisal of Schopenhauerian’s concept of a genius.

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For the purpose of this work, the method to be employed would be expository, critical and mildly evaluative. This method is aimed to approach the topic in a philosophical manner for proper comprehension




The term ‘genius’ is originally a Latin term from Roman mythology meaning ‘spirit’. It means either the internal driving force within all living things, or a specific spirit, or demon with supernatural powers. A similar term from Arabic legend is ‘jinnee’.


The investigation into the phenomenon of a genius is to some extent confirms the reality of the assertion: E  pur se mouve –  “where there is smoke, there must be a fire”. This is a true and a logical conclusion that needed no logical analysis. It is quite reasonable and realistic that there are things above and beyond our experiential senses and knowledge; of which we know little or utterly nothing. Sometimes, we approach them through scepticism or we refer them as superstition.

In its explanation of the concept of genius, the esoteric philosophy holds that it has to do with one’s individual spirit. Hence, “the flame of genius is lit by no means of anthropomorphic hand, but that of one’s own spirit.”

According to H.P. Blavatsky,

it is the very nature of the spiritual Entity itself of our Ego, which keeps on weaving new life – woofs into the web of re-incarnation on the loom of time, from the beginnings to the ends of the great life – cycle. [the period of one’s full  Manvantara composed of seven rounds] 7

In esoterism, what we regard as ‘the manifestation of genius’ in an individual constitute more or less efforts of the  Ego to assert itself on the  outward plane of its  objective form – the man of clay, in his daily life. Thus, we can see that the objectivity of a genius is well highlighted in this prevailing philosophy. In as much as, the nature of genius subsists in the individual Ego, then, the concept of genius becomes less bizarre and ordinary. Yet, the manifestation of the Ego, the – thing-in-itself in its subject expresses itself in different forms. This multiple expression goes further to account the reason for the classification of geniuses.

Nonetheless, the classification of geniuses does seem as if there are multiplications or divisions of the essence of man. Absolutely no! Every man has one and the same essence of humanity. And in the words of H.P.Blavatsky,

No Ego differs from another Ego, in its primordial or original essence and nature. That which makes one mortal a great man and of another a vulgar, silly person is, as said, the quality and make up of the physical shell or casing, and the adequacy or inadequacy of brain and body to transmit and give expression to the light of the real, inner man and this aptness or inaptness is, in its turn, the result of karma. 8

It all means that though every subject has the potentiality of genius in their individual Ego, it can still be checked or even thwarted by individual feebleness and weakness.


In modern usage, one is referred to as a genius when he or she manifests a very special mental prowess. This mental ability can be as a matter of fact a very high intelligence. This can be seen in the intellectual field or in any other existential human field. Again, it can be ascribed to someone in his or her creative ingenuity.

The modern usage of the term – genius is also the popular usage. The term is also applied to one who is a polymath, or someone skilled in many mental areas. And specifically, it is based on mental skills rather than any other, like athletic skills. And finally, the term- genius denotes the possession of a superior talent in any field. For instance, one may be said to have a genius for golf. 9




Genius, for Schopenhauer,

is the ability  to leave entirely out of sight our own interest, our willing, and our aims, and consequently to discard entirely our own personality for a time, in order to remain pure knowing subject, the clear eye of the world; and this not merely for moments, but with the necessary continuity and conscious thought…10

The concept of genius in Schopenhauer consists precisely in his philosophy of the WILL. The world and all therein is made up of the Will, says Schopenhauer. The Will can be understood in  the Kantian concept of the thing-in-itself. Otherwise known as the ‘noumena’. As a metaphysical doctrine, the Will is that force of desire and longing with which every individual is made of. As man continues to yield to this existential blind Will, he immerses himself in it, that he, himself becomes essentially part of the Will, or even the Will itself. If such becomes the case, man becomes a slave of the Will, as he finds himself in the servitude of the Will – the blind desire. The phenomenon of genius on the other hand rests in the denial of the Will and all its intricacies. Hence, Schopenhauer enumerated two ways in which the intellect or an individual can be liberated from the servitude of the Will. They are thus: “Aesthetic contemplation and Mortification or self denial.”

Accordingly, aesthetic contemplation is the way of genius. It is the “capacity to remain in a state of pure perception, to lose oneself in perception, to remove from the service of the Will, the knowledge which originally existed only for this service”11

Nature abhors a vacuum. Hence, contemplation must possess an object less it becomes an empty venture. And so, the object of contemplation for Schopenhauer is the Idea. Idea is that kind of knowledge that,

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Considers what continues to exist outside and independently of all relations, but which alone is really essential to the world, the true content of its phenomena, that, which is subject to no change and is therefore known with equal truth for all time, in a word, the Ideas, that are the immediate and adequate objectivity of the thing – in –itself or of the Will.12    


Schopenhauer espoused more of artistic genius than any other. For him, the work of art is purely a clear manifestation of the work of a genius. Accordingly, every form of art as in sculpture, painting, poetry, or music lies in the knowledge of the Ideas, and its sole aim is the communication of this knowledge.

A genius in his work of art plucks the object of his contemplation from the stream of the world’s course, and holds it isolated before it. And in order to reach a deeper insight into the nature of the world, it is absolutely necessary for us to learn to distinguish the Will as thing-in-itself, from its adequate objectivity, and then to distinguish the different grades at which this objectivity appears more distinctly and fully, i.e the ideas themselves from the mere phenomenon of the Ideas in the forms of the principle of sufficient reason, the restricted method of knowledge of individuals.

As we have said, in contemplation the individual crosses the realm of the common knowledge of particular things and rises to the knowledge of the idea that takes one’s knowledge from the service of the Will. It entails the subject’s ceasing to be merely individual, and being now, “a pure Will-less subject of knowledge” And according to Schopenhauer,

Such a subject of knowledge no longer follows in accordance with the principle of sufficient reasoning; on the contrary, it rests in fixed contemplation of the object presented to it out of its connection with any other, and rises into this. 13

Raised up by the power of the mind, we relinquish the ordinary way of considering things and cease to follow under the guidance of the forms of the principle of sufficient reason merely their relations to one another, whose final goal is always the relation to our own will. Thus, we no longer consider, “the where, the when, the why, and the wither in things, but simply and solely the what.” Hence, the quiddity of the object is intuited.

Furthermore, we do not let abstract thoughts, the concept of reason to take possession of our consciousness, but, instead of all these, devote the whole power of our mind to perception, sink ourselves completely therein, and let our whole consciousness be filled by the calm contemplation of the natural object actually present, whether, it be a landscape, a tree, a rock, a crag or anything else.


After man might have been liberated, “at least temporarily from the service of desire,” i.e of the impulses of the blind Will or desire, what would then happen? Schopenhauer answers that, “He becomes a disinterested spectator: he can adopt a contemplative attitude, as in aesthetic contemplation and in philosophy”14 The aesthetic contemplation according to Schopenhauer is the way of genius.

Only through the pure contemplation, whereby one becomes absorbed entirely in the object for the proper comprehension   of the primordial or the eternal ideas that constitutes the nature of genius. Now as this demands, a complete forgetting of our own person and its relations and connexions, the nature of genius is of complete objectivity. Here, objectivity is the tendency of the mind, as opposed to the subjective directions i.e to the Will.

Schopenhauer really consented in a way to the modern usage of the term – genius, as marked by a greater knowledge and wisdom. According to him,

“for genius to appear in an individual, it is as if  a measure of the power of knowledge must have fallen to his  lot far exceeding that required for the service of an individual Will; and this superfluity of knowledge having become free, now becomes the subject purified of Will and the clear mirror of the inner nature of the world.” 15

At the long run, Schopenhauer tries to proffer a rational explanation to the animation, amounting to disquietude in men of genius. Disquietude in genius highlights the unsociability of genius .This is because the present most often than not, does not satisfy the men of genius. This is because it does not fill their consciousness. This gives them that restless zealous nature, and the constant search for the new objects worthy of contemplation. The common mortal, on the other hand is entirely filled and satisfied by the common present, and also becomes absorbed


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