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The Concept of Unconsciousness by Eduard von Hartmann Research Paper

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The Philosophy of the Unconscious is the most important encyclopedic work of Eduard von Hartmann, in which the phenomenon of the unconscious is subjected to careful analysis not only from a biological and psychological, but also from a metaphysical point of view. Von Hartmann focuses on the unconscious, pushing the question of his self-awareness to the background. It is important to dwell on the key characteristics of Hartmann’s doctrine of the unconscious, where consciousness and the unconscious are not connected in experience.

Although the unconscious is revealed and manifested in people’s sexuality, language, spiritual life, for the direct experience of consciousness, the psychological reason for the existence of the consciousness is impenetrable and unattainable. It is the product of the interaction of the unconscious with the material carrier or nervous system of the human body. If one imagines that consciousness as a mirror, then the unconscious will be its backbone, and the mirror does not reflect itself. Therefore, it can be concluded that the given notions are derivatives of the unconscious.

Von Hartmann constructs a single unconscious of two pillars, such as wills and beliefs. Moreover, Von Hartmann considers the latter to be an ontological principle, equal with the will, and these are attributes of one substance, that is, the unconscious. He considers the ideal representation in himself and the real idea proceeds from what the will desired. Von Hartmann does not recognize the existence of matter because it turns out to be only a system of atomic forces.

Von Hartmann

Will is an active principle, and not a simple dream or desire, and it is the action itself, that is, the world is instantly created by the will. The material world is nothing but an unstable, constantly changing state of equilibrium between a great many intersecting actions of the will (Kapp, 1870). The philosopher focuses on the cosmogonic interaction of will and representation. Representation, unlike the will, is passive, feminine, and without a will does not exist. The will, however, also cannot exist without representation, for it must be the will to something, and this something is the idea. This indestructible and excruciating empty will of the will, devoid of representation, can only be suppressed by gaining the latter.

Von Hartmann argues that this consciousness, associated with absolute displeasure, can only be recognized as extraterrestrial. Thus, both the will and the idea gain being after they are combined. The world owes its existence to the actualization of the will perceiving the view (“Karl Robert Eduard Von Hartmann (1842-1906”). To explain this process, which takes place outside of consciousness, von Hartmann introduces the concept of unconscious thought. Unconscious thoughts are something like Platonic ideas, united by the presence of logical content, which implicitly assumes the existence of an absolute goal. Such a logical move excludes the actual irresponsibility and darkness of the unconscious, endowing it with an apophatic positive characteristic.

Nevertheless, a real object and subject arise only with consciousness, and the term objective here is metaphorical and allegorical. Von Hartmann opposes the correlation of the concept of spirit exclusively with consciousness and calls the unconscious spirit (Brennan, 2002). The unconscious in this context should not be understood only psychologically, as the lack of consciousness, this is the most important ontological category, in some cases conceptually taking the place of the divine super-consciousness.

Thus, being comes from unity in the unconscious of two principles, such as illogical and logical. Since the unconscious is the substantial basis of everything, consciousness is its manifestation (Roehr, 2015). Von Hartmann also resolves this issue in an ontological, not psychological, manner. Thinking about consciousness, the thinker, first of all, gives its negative characteristic.

Following the German idealists, he denies the identity of consciousness and personality. Consciousness is related, first of all, not to the object in the subject-object dichotomy, but the idea of ​​the object. The essence of consciousness is neither the ability of memory nor the ability to compare ideas. In addition, consciousness is impossible without the material movement of brain vibrations (Beiser, 2014). However, although the matter is a necessary condition for the emergence of consciousness, the process of its occurrence nevertheless proceeds in the spirit, and it should be considered in the context of the arrival of a representation to its subject.

Matter or material motion determines only the content of what is represented. Von Hartmann sees the essence of consciousness in isolation of representations from his mother soil, from the will to its realization and the opposition of this emancipation from the will (Esman, 2016). That is, consciousness is a separation of representation from the will, which the latter resists. In other words, the idea begins to exist without a will, and the will seeks to achieve bliss. This will be the fulfillment of the goals of the unconscious, and this concept is the specificity of the Hartmann system, and almost every historical and philosophical narrative pays special attention to it. This theoretical construction served as the basis on which Eduard von Hartmann built his metaphysics of the unconscious.

Freud and Von Hartmann

Sigmund Freud argued that many actions have an unconscious character in the implementation of which a person does not realize. People’s unconscious desires and fantasies, which are contrary to public morality and generally accepted norms of behavior, are also crowded into the unconscious, and also worry people too much to be aware. He examined how this or that motivation manifests itself in dreams, neurotic symptoms, and creativity. It is known that the main regulator of human behavior is the drives and desires of the subject (Leuzinger-Bohleber, Arnold, & Solms, 2016).

As the attending physician, he was faced with the fact that these unconscious experiences and motives can seriously aggravate life and even become the cause of neuropsychiatric diseases. This directed him to the search for a means of ridding his analysands of conflicts between what their consciousness says and hidden, blind, unconscious impulses (Civitarese, 2016). Therefore, the main difference is manifested in the fact that Hartmann’s approach to the unconscious was highly metaphysical because he utilized abstract concepts, such as a will. However, Freud’s approach is primarily based on one’s psychology, and his conclusions were derived from evidence of psychoanalysis. The key similarity lies in the notion of conscious being derived from the unconscious, which means that the latter acts as a base for the former.


In conclusion, it is important to note that Von Hartmann’s major works were dedicated to the mystery of the unconscious. His approach to the question was highly abstract and philosophical, whereas Freud used practical methodologies, such as psychoanalysis. However, both of them were certain that consciousness is a derivate of the unconscious, although Von Hartmann included key elements, such as a will. Therefore, it is evident that Von Hartmann assessed the given subject as a theist, and Freud used a more atheistic approach.


Beiser, F. C. (2014). After Hegel: German philosophy, 1840-1900 (1st ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Brennan, J. F. (2002). History and systems of psychology (6th ed.). London, UK: Pearson.

Civitarese, G. (2016). Truth and the unconscious in psychoanalysis (1st ed.). London, UK: Routledge.

Esman, A. H. (2016). The unconscious without Freud by Rosemarie Sponner Sand. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 85(1), 240-242.

Kapp, E. (1870). Philosophy of Unconscious. The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, 4(1), 84-94.

Karl Robert Eduard Von Hartmann (1842-1906). Web.

Leuzinger-Bohleber, M., Arnold, S., & Solms, M. (2016). The unconscious: A bridge between psychoanalysis and cognitive neuroscience. London, UK: Routledge.

Roehr, S. (2015). [Review of the book After Hegel: German philosophy, 1840-1900, by F. C. Beiser]. Journal of the History of Philosophy 53(4), 790-791.

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