Psychology Of Genius In Arthur Schopenhauer

Project and Seminar Material for Philosophy

Psychology Of Genius In Arthur Schopenhauer

Table of Contents

  • Title
  • Certification
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgements
  • Table of Contents

Chapter One

  • 1.0 General Introduction:
  • 1.1 Introduction
  • 1.2 Biographical Sketch of Arthur Schopenhauer
  • 1.3 Statement of the Problem
  • 1.4 Purpose of the Study
  • 1.5 Significance of the Study
  • 1.6 Scope of Study
  • 1.7 Methodology of the Work.

Chapter Two

  • 2.0 Precedental Background
  • 2.1 The Etymology of a Genius
  • 2.2 The Esoteric Philosophy of a Genius
  • 2.3 Modern and Popular Usage of the term-genius

Chapter Three

  • 3.0 Schopenhaurian Concept of a Genius
  • 3.1 Genius in Aesthetics Contemplation
  • 3.2 Genius in the Work of Art
  • 3.3 The nature of Genius

Chapter Four

  • 4.0 General Notion of a Genius
  • 4.1 What is a Genius
  • 4.2 Types of geniuses
  • 4.2.1 The Natural or Objective Genius
  • 4.2.2 The Man-made or Subjective Genius
  • 4.3.0. Classification of a genius
  • 4.3.1. Names Synonymous with the word genius
  • 4.3.2. World Popular geniuses
  • 4.4 The Significant Works of some geniuses
  • 4.5. The Creative and the Genius
  • 4.6. Characteristics of Genius
  • 4.7. Fostering Creative Thinking

Chapter Five

  • 5.0 Evaluation and Conclusion
  • 5.1 Critical Appraisal of Schopenhaurian Concept of Genius
  • 5.2 Becoming a genius
  • 5.3 The Relevance of Genius
  • 5.4 Conclusion
  • Bibliography

Chapter One

1.0 General Introduction

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.

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.

1.1 Biographical Sketch of Arthur Schopeneaur

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.

1.3 Statement of the Problem

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.

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 Arts – the 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.

1.4 Purpose of the Study

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.

1.5 Significance of the 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.

1.7 Methodology of the Work

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

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Critical Appraisal of Schopenaurian Concept of a Genius

Schopenhauer’s exaltation of the role of artistic genius indicates the philosopher’s affinity with the romantic spirit of idealism. However, his explanation on the nature of artistic genius appears vague and ambiguous for the relation between a genius and the ordinary man is not clearly distinguished. Sometimes, Schopenhauer implies that genius means not only the ability to apprehend the ideas [platonic], but also the ability to express them in works of art. At other times, he implies that a genius is simply the faculty of intuiting the ideas and the ability to give external expression to them is a matter of technical training. We therefore, in our prevailing discussion so far on genius, confirm the philosopher’s first approach on the nature of genius in terms of creative production.

Aesthetic contemplation, as the way of genius in Schopenhauer affords a person a temporary or transient escape from the slavery of the Will. But, by a way of criticism, a person who yearns to escape from the servitude of the Will by involving himself or herself in aesthetic contemplation or even in asceticism [a means to the denial of life, for Schopenhauer] is in a way conforming to that irrational impulse of the Blind Will to live. This means that when somebody denies a life in aesthetic contemplation or asceticism, the person invariably longs for a better life. And this is indirectly a response to the futile Will to live. Therefore, there is a kind of dialectics involved.

Nonetheless, in the totality of his philosophy, Schopenhauer has succeeded in opening the eyes of psychologists and of course philosophers to the subtle depth and omnipresent force of instinct. Therefore, intellectualism – the conception of man as above all a thinking animal, consciously adapting means to rationally chosen ends fell sick with J. Rousseau, bed-ridden with Immanuel Kant and died with Schopenhauer.

Not until after two centuries of introspective analysis, philosophy found behind thought, desire; and behind the intellect, instinct; just as after a century of materialism, physics finds behind matter, energy. We owe it to Schopenhauer that he revealed our secret hearts to us, showed us that our desires are the axioms of our philosophies, and cleared the way to an understanding of thought as no mere abstract calculation of impersonal events, but as a flexible instrument of action and desire.

Most importantly and despite exaggerations, Schopenhauer taught us again the necessity of genius, and the value of art. He saw that “the ultimate good is beauty, and that the ultimate joy lies in the creation or cherishing of the beautiful. He joined with Goethe and Carlyle in protest against the attempts of Hegel and Marx and Buckle to eliminate genius as a fundamental factor in human history…”29

Becoming A Genius

“Even if you are not a genius, you can use the same strategies as Aristotle and Einstein, to harness the power of your creative mind and better manage your future.” We therefore highlight some strategies that encourage one to think productively, rather than reproductively, in order to arrive at solutions to problems. “The strategies are common to the thinking styles of creative genius in science, art, and industry throughout history.” They are as follows:

  1. Look at problems in many different ways, and find new perspective that no one has else taken [or no one else has publicized]
  2. Produce:  This is a distinguishing characteristic of genius. Dean Keith found that the most respected scientists produced not only great works, but also many ‘bad ones’. They weren’t afraid to fail or to produce mediocre in order to arrive at excellence.
  3. Make novel combinations: Combine and recombine ideas, images, and thoughts into different combinations no matter how incongruent or unusual no matter how incongruent or unusual. The laws of heredity on which modern science of genetics is based came from the Austrian monk Grego Mendel who combined mathematics and biology to create a new science.
  4. Think in opposites: Physicist Niels Bohr believed that if you held opposites together, then you suspend your thought and your mind moves to a new level. His ability to imagine light as both a particle and wave led to his conception of complementarities.
  5. Think metaphorically: Aristotle considered metaphor a sign of genius, and believed that the individual who had the capacity to perceive resemblances between two separate areas of existence and link them together was a person of special gifts.
  6. Prepare yourself for chance: Whenever we attempt to do something and fail, we end up doing something else. That is the first principle of creative accident. Failure can be productive only if we do not focus on it as an unproductive result; instead, analyze the process, its components, and how you can change them.[Michalko, Michael, “Thinking like a Genius,” 30

The Relevance of Genius in a Society

Genius, as we have investigated so far, most especially the creative genius which produces new methods, new concepts, new understandings, new inventions, new works of art, is at the very root of human progress. The history of civilization is the history of human creative triumphs, from learning to make something out of nothing.

In our contemporary world, it is apparent that we need people who are capable of coming up with creative and appropriate solutions to highly complex problems – including problems centering around ecological violations, group prejudice and discriminations, economic crises, political rivals, the increasing gap between “ the haves” and the “ have- nots” countries and individuals. And the last but not the least, is the religious bigotry e.t.c.

The relevance of a genius to the individual as a person can also be highlighted. A human being will not be remembered after his death for his intelligence, but for something extraordinary he has done[ applied intelligence], like having been a great artist, philosopher, composer, scientist, writer, poet etc. There are many super – intelligent people in the world who are not famous for anything, who have done absolutely nothing extraordinary, in fact they seem like normal unintelligent people leading an ordinary, mediocre life. Therefore, being a genius not only helps humanity but also immortalizes the individual person[ genius].


As a matter of fact, I would like to conclude this project by reiterating the proposition that everybody is a genius, either in an objective or subjective sense. However, I do not mean this in the psychometric sense of the word, in which an individual must score above the upper 99th percentage on a standardized measure of intelligence to qualify. Again, I would like to say from our prevailing investigations so far in the world of geniuses that ability combined with hard work makes a genius. To be a genius [subjective genius] is the ability to work out the potentials [objective genius] latent in an individual.

Once more, in this conclusion, I would like to lament bitterly over so many excruciations and predicaments in which some of our creative geniuses have been engulfed as a result of misunderstanding that arose out of ignorance of creative characteristics. Therefore, I hope that this project will enable teachers, formators and all who helps in children upbringing to understand the creative [genius] characteristics in the individuals they bring up to avoid understanding.

As I said earlier, this project or investigation on the psychology of geniuses is not meant to close every windows of learning and knowledge on this same subject. Therefore, permit me to conclude this project with this question:

From observations and investigations so far, why is it that some creative geniuses do not perform excellently in their academics during their school days? For instance, Thomas Aquinas in his school days was mocked as a “dumb-horse”. Thomas Edison did not prove himself academically. Even Chike Obi, our renowned mathematician and professor was not wonderful in his early school days. Likewise, our erudite professor, Wole Soyinka and so many others.

In conclusion, intelligence, creativity and genius are generally regarded as highly valuable asserts of the human mind. As a strong positive correlation exists between IQ and the median earned income, most people would gladly bost their IQ, improve creativity or accept being called a genius. Exceptions to this rule are few and most people revolve around a claim that intelligence may be an obstacle on the way towards universal happiness. Here are few exemplary arguments against human intelligence listed by the detractors of genius:

  • High intelligence reveals existential truths and as such is highly depressive.
  • High intelligence prevents atavistic enjoyment of relationships
  • High intelligence is a source of envy and other bad feelings in others
  • High intelligence leads to inhuman behaviours and most sophisticated forms of evil.

Therefore in this work we ignore and rebut the above claims and categorically state the fact that one could become more intelligent, creative, and innovative. Hence, we reiterate the fact that genius is not born but made or achieved; it depends on certain factors as we saw from this work.

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