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Hegel and Schopenhauer:
At the Threshold of Artificial Life
I. History of the issues at hand
The history of philosophy has rarely seen the likes of the animosity Schopenhauer
harbored toward his contemporary Hegel. This sentiment was fed by a number of
sources: envy of the highly successful elder philosopher, whom Schopenhauer,
lacking in this regard, viewed as a usurper; the gnawing disappointment, manifesting
itself in high-handed pretensions, at his own lack of success. One is often tempted to
overlook that this animosity between Hegel and Schopenhauer was as abstract as it
was one-sided, for Hegel was already dead when the poisonous barbs Schopenhauer
aimed at him began to circulate. It was in fact the Hegelian school against which
Schopenhauer fought, from his isolated, unsociable existence in Frankfurt, and the
vehemence of his efforts grew the more the school’s influence waned in the face of the
rising Biedermeier era at the time of the Restoration. From today’s perspective,
Schopenhauer might strike us as a bold and daring critic of German Idealism, but it
did not actually take much courage to kick out at a dead king whose followers over a
wide front had begun to beat a hasty retreat. So it would seem that Schopenhauer’s
fusillade of abuse served rather to bring his own system, with its “anthropological
turn” (Arthur Hübscher), into sharper relief and at the same time to offer his services
as a groundbreaking thinker to a new generation. Both arguments have their
legitimacy, yet we should be wary of giving Schopenhauer the last word in his dispute
with Hegel. In order to arrive at an appropriate philosophical understanding of this
relationship, one must be able to appreciate Hegel as Schopenhauer did, but also to
think, with Schopenhauer, against him: more than an antipode, Schopenhauer – in a
dialectical sense – is a negating consummator of German Idealism, and it is in his
philosophy that its furious final act takes place. At the same time, his philosophy
heralds the turn to Kierkegaard, Feuerbach and Nietzsche.
Originally, Schopenhauer and Hegel were not rivals. When Schopenhauer submitted
his application in Latin for qualification as a lecturer at the University of Berlin, he
had the full endorsement of Hegel, who at that time stood at the pinnacle of his
renown. Hegel had high expectations for the young man with whom Goethe had
conversed about his color theory, and showed himself to be quite benevolent during
the habilitation colloquium. Later, Schopenhauer liked to recount how Hegel had
made a fool of himself on account of his ignorance in the natural sciences, while he
himself had known the right answer, but then after all, that was the role of the
candidate. At any rate, Hegel showed no ill will whatsoever, and Schopenhauer
attained the desired teaching qualification. Perhaps only a psychiatrist will ever be
able to figure out what devil had got into him when he decided to hold his lecture, “On
My Entire System,” at the very same day and time Hegel gave his own popular lecture.
At any rate, it was a poor marketing decision, a folly he could indulge in only because
of the modest fortune he inherited from his father, which freed him from having to
earn his living from his teaching activity. Having failed in Berlin owing to poor
attendance at his lectures, Schopenhauer retreated embittered to Frankfurt, survived
Hegel, who died of cholera in 1831, and awaited his hour, which despite Hegel’s
demise was long in coming. It was not until just a few years before his death in 1860
that Schopenhauer was able to savor the first fruits of his success, which for all that
left a sour taste in his mouth. It was poets like Friedrich Hebel and composers like
Richard Wagner who were the first to show Schopenhauer their admiration, while the
university philosophers he scorned with such powerful (and prophetic) words gave
him a decidedly cooler reception. They left the faithful stewardship of Schopenhauer’s
works to professors of Indology like Paul Deussen, who founded the Schopenhauer
Society in 1915, and professors of German literature like Arthur Hübscher, president
of that society for over 40 years. This situation often led to sectarianism among the
members: no philosopher but Schopenhauer was accorded recognition. The
Schopenhauer experts among German philosophers could be counted on two hands –
to be sure, this group included such world-renowned contrarians as Ludwig
Wittgenstein, as well as Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy, the sociologist
and philosopher Arnold Gehlen, and the editor of the Philosophisches Wörterbuch
(Philosopical Dictionary) and the Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung (Journal for
Philosophical Research), Georgi Schischkoff. Karl Raimund Popper was also deeply
influenced by Schopenhauer, as were his two philosophical rivals Max Horkheimer
and Theodor W. Adorno. The early 1980s ushered in a minor Schopenhauer
renaissance, as evidenced by the many complete editions made available in paperback
and the surprisingly interesting dissertations that have appeared since this time. This
newly awakened interest also led to the founding of the Internationale SchopenhauerVereinigung (International Schopenhauer Association) in 1985. The Association’s
stated objective, not only to study Schopenhauer thoroughly but to bring him into
dialogue with other contemporary philosophers as well, has since led to numerous
conferences and symposia in Germany and abroad. This activity has ameliorated the
hesitancy of Schopenhauer scholars to explore the thought of other philosophers,
particularly Nietzsche and Heidegger, and successful efforts have been made to bring
Schopenhauer’s thought into the current debates about postmodernity, ethics, and
aesthetics. Yet is has been difficult to initiate a Schopenhauer-Hegel debate, even if a
number of different approaches have been attempted. In the Hübscher Festschrift
"Zeit der Ernte – Studien zum Stand der Schopenhauer-Forschung" (“Harvest Season
– Studies on the State of Schopenhauer Research,” ed. W. Schirmacher, Stuttgart
1982), Peter Engelmann, who later became publisher at the Passagen-Verlag
publishing company, and I took the bull by the horns and attempted to do justice to
the two philosophers. The International Hegel Society chairmen Wilhelm Raimund
Beyer and Wolfgang Lefevre invited me to the 1988 conference on “Nature and Mind”
in Berlin, and in 1994 an invitation to a plenary lecture at the International Hegel
Congress in Budapest was extended to the president of the International
Schopenhauer Society, but to this day the two societies have still not met in joint
session. It seems that Schopenhauer’s curse still exerts its influence – as in former
days, disguised as lack of interest.
II. In the Face of Artificial Life
In Berlin and in Budapest, my lectures have sought to determine Hegel’s relevance to
a philosophy of artificial life. In them, the debate with Schopenhauer took place under
cover, for this philosopher too – just as every other one of the tradition – must prove
himself in the face of the emerging artificial life. The basis of discussion has changed
completely: instead of once again making history versus anthropological constants,
dialectics versus the search for truth, intellect versus will and body the fundamental
questions of the Hegel-Schopenhauer controversy, these oppositions now become
indifferent in view of a new determination of human life. Indifferent does not mean
unimportant or without informative value, but only that both sides turn out to be
aspects of a new, essentially different phenomenon; that their difference, to freely
quote Heidegger, merely bears out the identity of the other. In properly Hegelian
manner, these oppositions are subjected to a second negation and find themselves
dialectically in another dimension; not pacified, but productively utilized.
Nevertheless, it is Schopenhauer who encourages a more radical view: what happens
here is not solely another dialectical sublation like so many others before it, but
rather that “the will turns” and can in artificial life become identical with itself.
Creation’s character of suffering is sublated and will remain revoked regardless of how
the dialectic of lived life continues, for Homo generator, the human being that
generates itself as nature and culture, has finally brought its ethical knowledge into
harmony with the course of the world.
To be sure, nothing is yet to be seen of this pacified earth, nor of nature’s having
become humane; too violent, unjust, and unpredictable does the condition of human
society appear at the beginning of this 21st century. Yet attentive philosophical
thought can already discern the sign of another world, the human world, and sees
how invisible educators all over the world are at work to bring humans to themselves
at last. Those living today will only to a very limited degree take part in this “turning”
[Kehre] (Heidegger), that will not lead us to a “human park” (Peter Sloterdijk), but
rather allow us to realize the art of life. It is the very media so readily scorned by
Sloterdijk and other well-meaning cultivators of humanity that are the most
successful educators: they educate indirectly and without intention, and accustom
the not-yet-initiated almost unintentionally to the culture of self-networking. It is selfevident that this net culture, in which software and hardware augment one another,
cannot become operative without economic and political changes. But such changes
are no longer dependent upon the will of contemporaries, whose share of altruism has
certainly not increased since Schopenhauer’s time; rather, they result as networking
gains. It is easy to say (and often complained) that the internet and whatever
succeeds it will fundamentally change life on earth in every respect, but no one has
the imagination necessary to imagine this as a whole (the visionaries of internet
society are the one-eyed ones among the blind). “Genuine philosophers,” nevertheless
(to recall Schopenhauer’s distinction), have an advantage over the studiers of trends
and the prophets of science: their specialty has always been the whole, whether true
or untrue, which they attempt to grasp intuitively and pin down with bold metaphors.
Of course, they could never work without the help of the philosophical tradition,
whose courageous work in the formulation of concepts has preceded them into the
unknown. This past now comes back at us from the future, and both Hegel and
Schopenhauer number among those conceptual artists without whose work our
insight into that which is (as Heidegger said) would never have been possible. We
must not let it discourage us that day-to-day reality will require decades (if not
centuries) before the notion of Homo generator in artificial life becomes as self-evident
as those of objective reality or Kantian ethics have become today. No philosopher
would be able to discern anything that has not long since become reality. The
fundamental error of metaphysics did not consist in posing questions to which there
are no answers (for humans will always do this), but in granting prescriptive power to
the theory born in human heads. Then, the best theoretical knowledge and the most
violent of means (this applies particularly in politics) were used to attempt to bring
this figment of the imagination, this purely cerebral creation to life. Yet only Homo
creator could do this, the anthropocentric chimera that previously obscured our
authentic form as Homo generator. We are not God, who represents metaphysics
carried to an extreme, but we generate world with materials given in all their
mutability. Thus, the world springs not from our heads; our spirit springs from the
world, whose exhortation to determine it is fundamentally limited. Something is
always already there, and this There teaches our theory to be modest. To be sure, our
spirit is autopoietic, but neither as individual self nor as a reflex reaction to
impressions from the world. It would be going too far to follow the course of the
human monad’s “unfolding, folding, re-unfolding,” as Deleuze recently determined**.
For our context, all that matters is the post-metaphysical aspect: theories, concepts,
conceptions of the world are factors in a world process that is already in motion – they
inspire, refine, and change what transpires through us, but – apart from theory itself
– they have no causative, originary force. At first glance, it is correct that we live in
“interpretation worlds,” but these secondary worlds, as heeded as they are, owe their
existence to a life that is unheeded in ethical worlds and thus effectively lived.
III. Questions to Hegel and Schopenhauer
What is the role of dialectics in artificial life? Will contradictions and injustices
continue to act as driving forces for historical development or will Schopenhauer’s
eristic dialectics with their warning against a contemptible dialogue partner carry the
day? To put the question thus is perhaps to put it too succinctly. To be sure,
transparency of argumentation strategies will have to become part of the general
pedagogical curriculum so that the netizens of tomorrow will not be so easily duped,
but it is just as certain that error and folly can never be completely eradicated: the
total amount of necessary suffering, and one must concede this point to
Schopenhauer, will most likely remain the same for all eternity. Yet Hegel’s faith in
the power of historical dialectics to promote freedom through self-consciousness is
equally justified: the total amount of self-inflicted suffering in our life will sink
dramatically. Our self-generation fulfills itself autopoietically in the art of a well-lived
life: valuation, the infinite finiteness of the world (Weltfülle), the giving of meaning
come about as though by themselves (auto) (Guattari, Chaosmosis, 20-21). Envy,
hate, and jealousy reveal themselves to be historically dependent factors, not
anthropological constants; schadenfreude spices up the play of media and no longer
threatens anyone’s existence, since people no longer exercise control over each other.
Whatever mischief the nasty neighbor threatens to carry out, the effects of his
misdeeds remain dependent on my consent: if I refuse to play along, he will have to
make do with my virtual clone. Schopenhauer had a neighbor, a gossipmonger, whose
presence poisoned the atmosphere of the stairway their apartments shared until the
day he pushed her down the stairs (for which he subsequently paid dearly). He could
have prevented the situation entirely had he refused to play along. We are no longer
compelled to coexist, for each monad, if it wanted to, could lead the life of a hermit at
the highest technical standard of living – including the occasional orgy. For the
survival of the individual (and of the species) is no longer in question, even if it will
still continue to be an issue for some time. In the artificial life of the posttechnological age, the most advanced technologies ensure imperceptibly and without
calling attention to themselves that the human right to the absence of want,
compulsion, and untimely death will be globally fulfilled.
What, then, remains of the question of truth, what impels the knowledge of beings
and Be-ing, when death, this wellspring of metaphysical inquiry, has become a
welcome guest, the pain-free end of a life lived to the fullest? Ontology and
epistemology are dialectically “sublated” [“aufgehoben”], for what I can know about
manifold Be-ing is ethically and aesthetically decided [/determined; entschieden] from
the start. The psychiatrist and philosopher Felix Guattari – a compatriot of Gilles
Deleuze, after Heidegger perhaps the most important thinker of the 20th century – in
his last book attempted to define as “chaosmosis”* the way that ethics and aesthetics,
the individual and his or her socio-cultural environment fulfill Homo generator’s selfgiven mission: the osmotic “production of subjectivity,” in which all materials take
part in equal measure. It is as a productive factor of this bringing-forth, which follows
no linear logic, that dialectics remains operative, and truth is its most beautiful
“Who are we?” “What does it mean to be human?” Such questions answer themselves:
we are the askers of questions, whatever the answers turn out to be. In the transition
to artificial life, this controversial choice between intellect-essence and will-nature,
between Hegel and Schopenhauer, has become only more controversial. In the
century of the brain and in light of the “egotism of the gene,” Schopenhauer’s
biological perspective seems to have been fully justified. Yet one should not overlook
that Schopenhauer was only expressing bluntly what Hegel knew enough to repress,
but in their appraisal of the situation, their positions were close indeed: biology is not
humane, the law of “eat or be eaten” is a moral abomination. Albert Camus declared a
century later, in the gesture of the “human in revolt,” that he rejected creation in its
entirety if even one child had to suffer.
One can only wonder at the inhumanity with which modern-day neuro-philosophers
advocate a biological computer in our head, a computer that requires the ego only as
a projection. It is as though they could not bear the thought that there is no longer an
authority to determine who the human being is and to dictate how he should
construct his life. Thus does an organ that without me is a mere object (and a
potential food) become the profane idol that we must serve. Even more absurd is the
paean sung to the gene, to whose pipe we must dance. This genetically specified
reincarnation of the Schopenhauerian Will in Nature, according to which our sexual
organs constitute the center of the universe, can only remind us why the human
being, against all appearances and despite his close genetic kinship with the animals,
is not an animal. From the very beginning, being a human has meant acting
differently from animals, having to become human, and this becoming can be thought
of as open-ended, as never coming to a conclusion. To this end, we take merely the
materials as given, but none of their determinacies, and generate whatever occurs to
us – not what occurs to natural evolution. Feedback too, the falsification of the
human project remains is left solely to our judgment, which, to be sure, in its own
interest heeds the materiality of the phenomena. Neither nature worship nor
contempt for nature characterizes the work of Homo generator, for whom mind and
body, will and insight develop the self itself, each in different ways yet in their
intention identical ways, which show themselves as life-techniques. In no way are
these intentions necessarily anthropocentric, but they are indeed anthropomorphic;
they do not place the “eccentric human” (Hellmuth Plessner) in the center, but they
do defend his right to a home. Homo generator will allow no objective determination to
deny its own self-experience. Whether it is symbolization or language itself that
determines the limits of our experience, can remain an open question, since the self
itself is not an empirical self, but rather an activity that generates something like the
ego, the self, the individual.
Nothing shows more clearly than the spirit-will controversy between Schopenhauer
and Hegel that such dichotomies are fruitless. As much as the presumptuous and
antithetical claim to primacy has afforded us a sharper view of the respective
phenomenon, it obscures the necessity of the work of both in the task of establishing
a truly human life. Hegel had much greater confidence in our ability to humanize the
world (in his interpretation, to spiritualize [vergeistigen] it) than the more melancholy
Schopenhauer. From an early age, the latter had a clear picture of human baseness
and the wrath of nature, and as much as he hated the inhumanity of it all, he was
unable to believe humanity capable of extricating itself from the workings of nature.
Thus, all that remained as an ethical stance was the solidarity of the sufferers, as Max
Horkheimer pointed out. This solidarity is rooted in humanitarianism and it demands
of us, even and above all in happy circumstances, that we not see ourselves as
rescued ones and that we behave optimistically.
But the Schopenhauer of the black moods had his white days too, and always at
those times when he was overwhelmed by the intuition that the will could turn
around and nothingness could become the starting point of a world without selfinflicted suffering. Yet the early-embittered philosopher withheld for the most part
this intellectual-mystical experience from his fellow humans, for without a foregoing
reprimand and penitent mending of ways, he saw no opportunity to bring about this
turnabout of will – doubtless, the teachings of Christianity had a lasting effect here.
Nevertheless, the ethical white shimmered through Schopenhauer’s metaphysical
black clearly enough to become time and again the aesthetic (in the sense of aisthesis)
jumping-off place for philosophers after him – Nietzsche is the first of the “white”
The artificial life co-generated by Nietzsche seems to have begun without an inner
conversion preceding it, but this appearance may deceive. While one indeed cannot
speak here of a change of attitude as general as it is individual, Hegel’s offensive
thesis of world history as last judgment just may have borne itself out, at least
indirectly. The bloody 20th century, which revealed its inhuman character in the gas
warfare of the First World War and the atomic bombs of the Second, outdid nature’s
inhumanity with the manufacture of death at Auschwitz. With Auschwitz, humanity
has lost its innocence, but since that time it is irrevocably challenged as Homo
generator: human nature does not exist, it must be generated in a global exertion
without end. The ongoing ecological crisis makes it clear that this nature is not
limited to the human person and the world it shares, but includes that which is
known as the natural environment. Thus, while the forces of nature may want to
remind us time and again through unforeseeable and uncontrollable events that they
are not the work of human hands, Homo generator has never claimed that they were.
It is merely our responsibility to bring them, in their materiality (tamable or not), into
an anthropomorphic world, and no hurricane or earthquake can then serve as an
explanatory excuse for the inhuman suffering caused by them.
How does the human being live, what determines human development, what can
humans hope for, and how will human existence fulfill itself? The ethics of the saint
is Schopenhauer’s resigned answer, justified as much by the media obsession with
serial killers as by the young mercenaries from the realm of investment banking. An
international ethics guaranteed by the constitutional state, on the other hand, is
Hegel’s well-founded hope, which has been at least partially realized in the
universality of human rights championed these days by Western courts. Human
beings need not resign themselves to being born in wretched circumstances and
robbed of their human rights by an unjust state. Schopenhauer thought so as well,
but he was skeptical about whether this situation could ever change. Yet it is in the
Hegelian world spirit that Schopenhauer’s saint morality achieves concreteness, and
to the astonishment of all proves itself eminently useable. No tradition, as venerable
as it may be, and no international law that harasses its own citizens from behind the
protective shield of sovereignty, can offer any lasting protection these days from
punishment threatened by an enraged world community. To be sure, the courage and
the will of governments to intervene for moral-ethical reasons (and not merely out of
self-interest) in the internal affairs of other states is still a rare phenomenon, and it is
all too common that they look the other way in cowardice. Yet history, which in
Marx’s words cannot take form without us, has revealed itself as an opportunity for
becoming human: one must merely take heart and seize the seam of its cloak, just as
the Monday demonstrators did in Leipzig in 1989 – among them members of my
family as well.
What is ethically decisive here is not merely the sum of our inner qualities, as
Schopenhauer thought, but just as much, if not even more so, the conditions of posttechnological society. The social human being is not the individual pressed into the
service of society, but rather the ensemble of all shared and developed life
technologies, from the global economy, to education and culture, to the Internet. The
fundamental changes in the hardware and software of our global existence, changes
which neither individual states nor isolated societies can resist, take place for the
most part behind our backs, if not without our active participation. This development
need not cause alarm; what one ought to fear is missing out on this transformation
itself. Hegel’s ruse of reason is at work here, just as is Schopenhauer’s artist of
genius, who can silence the will within for moments at a time and bring into
circulation a “graspable idea,” the truth framed in a work. We would be doing justice
to Schopenhauer and Hegel if we could finally succeed in deeming highly desirable
these indirect transformation processes and the ethical happenings behind our backs.
Such acknowledgment, however, must remain no more than a momentary flash! The
intuitions of a fulfilled life must be released immediately into oblivion for them to
remain effective.
Translated by Daniel Theisen
· Guattari, Felix, Chaosmosis – An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm. Transl. P.Bains /
J.Pefanis. Indiana University Press, Bloomington 1995.
** Deleuze, Gilles, [get English title and info] Die Falte: Leibniz und der Barock.
Übers.U.J.Schneider. Frankfurt/ Main 1995.