I effect nothing marks the inspection of self, I will nothing
marks the contempt of self.) 5 Another moral obligation is
to preserve our lives. Since we are here by the will of God,
it is our duty to abide here until he commands "Non exire
ex hac vita, nisi Deus revocaverit." (Not to depart from this
1. Ethica, sec. 2:2.
2. Ib., Tr. I, sec. II; ii, n
3. Ib., iii i.
4. Ib., iii i.
5. Ib., iv i.
Renunciation in Its Historical Development 29
life unless God recalls.) 1 Geulincx was a sharp opponent of
suicide. We must abide by the will of God even if circum-
stances of life be dreadful and we be threatened with a thou-
sand deaths. 2 It is not only our duty to preserve our lives
but to preserve the race. Man is under obligation to pro-
create: "Sicut edere debeo, ut ego hie maneam sic & aliqui
generare debent, ut genus humanum hie maneat." (Just as
I ought to eat that I may remain here, so even ought we to
procreate that the race of men may remain here.) 3 Here
Geulincx is in sharp oppostion to the Buddhist and Schopen-
hauer who advocate the extinction of the race as the great-
est blessing for mankind. Unlike Taoism, Geulincx believes
in work and activity but only so far as they make for the
preservation of the self and posterity and must be free from
all self-interest that every thing may be submitted to God.
In this respect Geulincx approaches the Yoga doctrine. Dis-
cussing the question of happiness, he believes that man is un-
happy because he seeks happiness, u Umbra est felicitas; fugit
te, cum, sequeris sam; sequiturte, cum fugis." (Happiness
is a shadow; it flees you when you follow it and it follows
you when you flee it.) 4 Happiness is not attained by pursuing
it but it will pursue those who flee from it. Man must take
care of his obligation to God and he will have no time to
pursue happiness. His premises granted, Geulincx is logical
to the end. If we are related to the world as mere specta-
tors, totally unable to effect any thing in it, then our ethical
vocation must consist in renouncing the world, obediently
fulfilling the obligations consequent upon inspectio sui. Ac-
cording to Geulincx, therefore, the highest morality is the
willing submission to God founded upon a thorough con-
The Cartesian schism between mind and body not only
profoundly influenced Geulincx and his ethical system but
1. Ethica, Tr. I, sec. II, v.
2. Ib., v:3.
3. Ib., vi :2.
4. Ib., Tr. I, sec. II, pt. n.
30 The Ethical Ideal of Renunciation
it affected certain of his contemporaries along similar lines.
For Nicolas Malebranche, the problem of mind and body
maintained its reality and Occasionalism offered the only
solution. However, where God was the actor for Geulincx,
he became the thinker for Malebranche "God is the intelligi-
ble world or the place of minds, as the material world is the
place of bodies." 1 We see, therefore, the material world
only because God reveals it to us. He is to the mind what
light is to the eye. As the eye dwells in light, so the mind
is in God, thinks in God and sees in God. Objects are ideas
in God in archetypal form and we being in God, see objects
through these ideas so that all knowledge consists in seeing
as God sees. It follows then that if all knowledge consists
in knowing God, all morality consists in loving God. The
error of life comes from the fact that the soul is united to
the body as well as to God and the sensuous rises and mingles
with the ideas from God and the will is misled. The true
conduct of life, therefore consists in making the body sub-
ordinate to the mind, subduing the passions, all of which
amounts to a decided asceticism. Like Geulincx, Male-
branche can find no place for man's will. He has no will.
God is all will and the human virtue is to surrender every-
thing, body, passions, will and the world for the love of
God that we may be able to think his thoughts purely and
With Spinoza, the schism of Cartesianism disappears.
Thought and extension become attributes of one substance,
God, impersonal and unintelligible and with indifferent will.
Soul is but the modification of the thought of God and
body but the modification of his substance. Will and in-
tellect are identical in their essence. As a part of the Divine
Being we are passive beings, limited, impotent and the slave
of things. Our freedom comes through the knowledge of
things as they are. A passion ceases to be a passion as soon
as we know its real nature. Morality is the knowledge of
i. The Search after truth, tr. T. Taylor, pt. II, ch. 6.
Renunciation in Its Historical Development 31
things as they are. "The highest good of the mind is the
knowledge of God, and the highest virtue of the mind is
to know God." 1 To be virtuous is to act in accordance with
this knowledge. This is similar to Guelincx. In fact the
"Amor intellectualis Dei" of Spinoza 2 corresponds with the
"Amor Dei et rationis" of Geulincx. Spinoza would make
the highest end of conduct a constant and eternal love of
God and consequently, man's attitude toward the world must
be one of mental acquiescence. Necessity and joyful resigna-
tion sum up the ethical teachings of Spinoza.
It is quite evident that the ultimate end of these lines of
thought from Cartesianism through Geulincx, Malebranche
and Spinoza would be a determinism of pronounced char-
acter. God becomes the real agent and man but a will-less and
passive being. This particular form of thought found an un-
willing mind in another thinker of this period who also was
influenced by Cartesianism, Blaise Pascal (1623-62). He
turned away from reason fpr it failed to satisfy and from
nature because it made him pessimistic and took refuge in
the feelings. In a sense Pascal resembled Kant. As Kant
did away with speculative reason to make a place for the
practical reason, Pascal put away all natural philosophy and
turned to ethics where he believed there was stability. God
is not conceived through reason but felt by the heart is Pas-
cal's principle. Sin has driven out our love for God with
which we were created and self-love has taken its place. Our
moral vocation, therefore, consists in hating and renouncing
self and despising the world in order to make a place for the
grace of God. The merit of human volition is in not re-
sisting this transforming grace of God. Pascal's contempt
for philosophy, his pessimistic outlook upon nature and man,
his exaltation of the will above reason, make him a forerun-
ner of Schopenhauer to whose system of ethics we must now
1. Ethic, pt. 5, prop. 25, tr. W. H. White.
2. Ib., prop. 36.
32 The Ethical Ideal of Renunciation
C. REVIVAL OF RENUNCIATION IN THE NINETEENTH
As yet our historical inquiry has yielded no substantial
metaphysical basis for our ethical ideal of renunciation.
This, however, is the contribution of the Nineteenth Century
to our subject. In the systems of Taoism and Yogaism, re-
nunciation received some metaphysical support, but it was
crude, naive and dogmatic in character, while in Buddhism
and Christianity, the ground was predominantly ethical.
With the rise of rationalism, renunciation was placed on a
rational basis in the Occasionalism of Geulincx and Male-
The reign of renunciation in this field was brief and in
the strife which succeeded Cartesianism between Empiricism
on the one hand and Idealism on the other, it practically dis-
appeared from the philosophical field, both in the pre-Kant-
ian period and in the German Idealism which followed the
development of the Kantian principles. Traces of renuncia-
tion, however, are not lacking in the general literature of
the earlier periods of the Nineteenth Century, but they ap-
peared in the unreasoned and impulsive pessimism which was
common. Striking examples of renunciation may be found
in the poetry of Leopardi and A. de Lamartine. In the
former there is a denial of the value of human life and an ur-
gent counselling to despise self and nature, 1 while the latter
seeks Christian resignation as an anodyne for the pains and
ills of human existence. 2 Schelling, also, in his Nachtwachen
makes the life of man but the mask of nonentity, only some-
thing which will be torn in pieces and cast away. 3 But it is
not until the system of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
appeared that renunciation is thoroughly revived and placed
on metaphysical grounds. Like Buddha, Schopenhauer con-
demned human life in toto. He could find no such thing as
human happiness for the evil in the world far outweighs the
1. Quoted by James Sully, "Pessimism," pg. 26.
2. Ib., pg. 27.
3. Ib., pg. 28.
Renunciation in Its Historical Development 33
good. This world is the worst possible of worlds because
if it were slightly worse it could not exist at all. Human life
is valueless and if there appear to be elements of value in
it, these are over-balanced by the worthless elements with
which life abounds. Non-existence is, therefore, to be pre-
ferred to existence and the complete renunciation of life and
the world is the only course for man to pursue. To see
Schopenhauer's contribution to our subject, it will be neces-
sary to examine his metaphysical grounds and trace some-
thing of the way in which he lays the foundation and pro-
ceeds to build his ethical system with its hedonic pessimism,
which ends in his thorough-going ideal of renunciation.
Starting with the subjective idealism of Kant and proceed-
ing apriori, Schopenhauer reduces the phenomenal world to
Idea 1 and the noumenal world or the "Ding an sich" to
Will.- This Will, which is the metaphysical principle of the
system and u The inmost nature, the kernel of every par-
ticular thing and of the whole" is in its nature but a striving
impulse, ever striving for objectification but blindly and un-
intelligently. This objectification of the Will appears in
every grade of nature from the lowest blind force to the
highest and most deliberate action of man. In man this prin-
ciple comes to self-consciousness and knows itself as volition-
al activity. The whole phenomenal world leaps into ex-
istence as the mirror of the Will but as we shall see later,
the Will has over-reached itself in kindling this light of
knowledge for it develops the power to react upon the Will
and to bring about its self-surrender. 3 The stimulus of this
activity of the world principle is found in want which arises
from deficiency and, therefore, from suffering. Suffering is
the ever present companion of the Will and the higher the
grade of objectification the more intense the suffering. For
this reason the Genius would suffer most of all men. 4 Man
finds relief from this suffering in Art, which serves to quiet
1. The World as Will and Idea, tr. Haldane and Kemp, Vol. I, bk. i.
2. Ib., bk. 2.
3. Ib., Vol. I, bk. 2, sees. 24-27.
4. Ib., bk. 3, sec. 36.
34 The Ethical Ideal of Renunciation
the striving of the Will. Art provides the opportunity for
contemplation during which man becomes a "Will-less, pain-
less and timeless subject of knowledge." This relief, how-
ever, is limited to only a few for contemplation is difficult
to attain, and even for these favored few the relief is only
temporary, for the state of contemplation is fleeting. Aesthe-
tics, thus failing to give man any lasting satisfaction or re-
lief from his suffering incident to the incessant striving of the
Will, Schopenhauer turns to the ethical field. 1 A further
study of the World-Will, leads Schopenhauer to see that
it is always willing life and in its essence is the "WILL-TO-
LIVE." Now if the essence of man is the Will-to-live and
he has in his power the control of this metaphysical principle,
and man has such a power in his intellect, the human problem
is, therefore, the assertion or the denial of the Will-to-live *
Schopenhauer does not hesitate in his course of action but
proceeds to suppress the Will-to-live. With knowledge as
either the motive or the quieter of the Will, man may well
ask what is to be gained by the assertion of the Will. Schop-
enhauer answers that only dissatisfaction and suffering can
result. The Will has no goal and is therefore susceptible to
no final satisfaction. The striving goes on forever, restrain-
ed only by hindrances which produce suffering. There be-
ing no end of striving, there can be no end of suffering. 3 In
the individual, there may seem to be an aim for the Will
which will be the satisfaction of a want but a posterori, we
know that if the want is satisfied, satiety is begotten and ennui
ensues which is only another form of pain. The want of lif s
is pain and the satisfaction of want leads to pain, thus hu-
man life "Is tossed backwards and forwards between pain
and ennui." 4 Whatever happiness there is in life is purely
negative, only the deliverance from pain, and therefore at
the best, can never be enduring. 5 To assert the Will is to
1. The World as Will and Idea, Vol. I, bk. 3, sec. 52.
2. Ib., bk. 4, sec. 54.
3. Ib., bk. 4, sec. 56.
4. Ib., bk. 4, sec. 57.
5. Ib., sec. 58.
Renunciation in Its Historical Development 35
continue this miserable existence in a world which like "All
bad ware is covered over by a false lustre." To escape
the badness and the delusion of existence, the denial of the
Will-to-live is the only remedy. This denial can never take
the form of suicide which is only a very strong assertion of
the Will and effects the particular manifestation of the
World- Will only. Equipped with knowledge, man sees suf-
fering in the world and feeling it in his own life, he pierces
the veil of delusion which hangs over his existence and delib-
erately sets himself, by various practices, to deny the Will.
Ultimately this means the Will-to-live turning upon itself
and surrendering its existence. When this is absolutely and
completely done, all things are abolished and there remain
"No Will, no idea, no world," 1 and the renunciation is vic-
torious. Nothing remains. This nothingness is the high-
est goal and by no means should be evaded or as Schopen-
hauer sums it up: "We must banish the dark impression of
that nothingness which we discern behind all virtue and holi-
ness as their final goal, and which we fear as children fear
the dark; we must not even evade it like the Indians, through
myths and meaningless words, such as re-absorption in
Brahma or the Nirvana of the Buddhists. Rather do we
freely acknowledge that what remains after the entire ab-
solution of the Will is for all those who are still full of
Will, certainly nothing; but, conversely, to those in whom the
Will has turned and has denied itself, this our world, which
is so real, with all its suns and milky-ways is nothing." 2
Sharp is the contrast between Schopenhauer and the Oc-
casionalists. Where Geulincx and Malebranche left man
without will, Schopenhauer made him all will. For the
former, the world must be renounced because the will can
effect nothing and for the latter renunciation of the world
is the only escape from the will which effects too much. The
Occasionalists did not advocate asceticism nor chastity but for
Schopenhauer these are useful instruments in subduing the
1. The World as Will and Idea, Vol. I, bk. 4, sec. 71.
2. Ib., sec. 71.
36 The Ethical Ideal of Renunciation
will and making for the complete extinction of the race,
which to him is the greatest of blessings.
Among the disciples of Schopenhauer, there is a turning
away from his extreme pessimistic conclusions with the ex-
ception of Junius Bahnsen (1830-1881) who went to the
greatest length, even denying the consolation of Aesthetics
and the possibility of the final annihilation of the Will-to-
live. He could find no evidence of intelligence, order or de-
sign in the universe and therefore any representation of it in
Art, instead of bringing quiet and satisfaction as Schopen-
hauer contended, could only produce disturbances and even
anguish to the logical mind of man. Having dispensed with
the intellect, Bahnsen destroyed the only instrument which
Schopenhauer possessed for the subduing of the will and left
nothing but the "Will rending itself in an eternal self-parti-
tion." He concludes that all affirmation of life and the
world is useless. "Enough, so far our senses, our search,
our thought, our speculative grubbing, reach, we obtain noth-
ing but a vain moaning in the world and no prospect of re-
The human mind, however, can not content itself with
a view of life entirely devoid of hope or consolation. Even
Schopenhauer sought something of consolation in his idea of
eternal justice, the exaltation of Art and the freedom from
the fear of death. It is to be expected that there would be
disciples of Schopenhauer who would seek to soften the hard
lines of their Master's conclusion. Such a disciple was Frau-
enstadt (1813-1878) who denied that the term pessimist
could be applied to a cosmical system which asserts the de-
nial of the Will-to-live and sought some consolation for the
Will. He distinguishes between the higher Will of man and
the inferior will of the animal which Schopenhauer had
identified. 2 By rejecting the subjective idealism of his mas-
ter, he is able to find a reality in human history and an end
and plan for the historical process. Thus he gave Will the
1. Sully's Pessimism, pg. 107.
2. Sully's Pessimism, pg. 108.
Renunciation in Its Historical Development 37
element of purpose in which resides the consolidation and of-
fers a basis for a sort of reconciliation between pessimism
But by far the most important follower of Schopenhauer
is Edward von Hartmann (1842-1906) who, while accept-
ing the general position of the founder of the Pessimistic
School, sought to escape his extreme conclusions. Hartmann
admits the misery of the human existence and advocates the
denial of the Will-to-live as the only hope for man but upon
a more optimistic basis than Schopenhauer. In his "Philoso-
phy of the Unconscious" he attempts to reconcile Schopen-
hauer and Hegel by making the Will unconsciously intelli-
gent and by so doing, approaches the optimism of Leibnitz.
Where Schopenhauer had his Platonic ideas to serve as
stages in the evolution of the Will, Hartmann makes the idea
the guide of the Will as it realizes itself in the world. By
the introduction of the principle of intelligence, Hartmann is
able to agree with Leibnitz that this is the best possible
world. He says: u lf, in the all-wise Unconscious, among all
possible representations, that of a better world had had a
place, this other would certainly have been produced." 1
However, since it is the nature of the Will to be eternally
unsatisfied and all pleasure consists in such satisfaction, this
world, while the best possible, is only a world of pain and
misery, to which nothingness is decidedly preferable. Thus
so far as the nature of the world is concerned, Hartmann and
Schopenhauer are in agreement, but where the latter makes
evil irreparable, the former by assuming an end for the world,
makes evil reparable. Again Hartmann differs from his
master, in the effect of the denial of the Will. When the
Unconscious comes to consciousness, the intellect is emanci-
pated from the Will and man becomes conscious of the na-
ture of the Will and the pain and the misery which it must
ever cause unless it is subdued, but where Schopenhauer
makes the intellect the quieter of the Will, Hartmann makes
I. Philosophy of the Unconscious, Vol. Ill, ch. xvi, tr. W. C. Coupland.
38 The Ethical Ideal of Renunciation
the conscious denial of the Will set up an antagonism within
the Will itself between a willing-to-will movement and a non-
willing-to-will movement. The result of this antagonism is
that the Will devours itself and returns to nothing. Accord-
ingly, Hartmann believes that Schopenhauer's contention for
the denial of the Will-to-live, is premature and that instead
of the individual denying the Will, he should affirm the
Will-to-live or in other words, since the end of the world
is to emancipate the intellect from the will, it becomes man's
duty to work in harmony with the Unconscious and help on
with the world process. Hartmann claims that his optimism
supplies an adequate basis for practical effort and hopeful
endeavor, the end of which is to so further the cause of in-
telligence that the race will be brought the more quickly to
recognize the futility of willing and all unite in one universal
aim to end the misery of the world by one great act of Will-
The influence of Schopenhauer's pessimism is not confined
to philosophic speculation but appears in certain artistic cir-
cles, especially in the works of Richard Wagner (1813-1883.
In his earlier thinking, Wagner was under the influence of
the Romantic School with its conception of the joy of life,
the music of which can be heard in Lohengrin and Tannhaus-
er. However, the very pronounced atmosphere of Hegelian
thought had its effect upon Wagner, especially the left school
of Hegelianism under the leadership of Feuerbach (1804-
72) who turned away from the Hegelian notion that God
comes to consciousness in man and posited the principle of
self-consciousness as the Absolute and man the beginning, the
middle and the end of all things. Under the inspiration of
this idea, Wagner began a work which finally developed into
the Triology of the Nibelung. It is anarchistic in char-
acter and aims to make Siegfried, the superman, completely
triumphant over Wotan the god. But before the completion
of the Nibelung Triology, Wagner came under the influence
of Schopenhauer, with his principle of the Will of sorrow and
weakness. Siegfried, while vanquishing the god, Wotan, by
I. Philosophy of the Unconscious, Vol. Ill, ch. xiv.
Renunciation in Its Historical Development 39
breaking his spear, begins to weaken and the Triology ends
with the sublime renunciation of "Rest, rest Thee Oh God"
(Ruhe! Ruhe, du Gott.) 1 The influence of Schopenhauer
upon Wagner is seen more in the latter's "Tristan and
Isolde," a work of which Wagner said himself, in a letter to
Liszt: "I have in my head 'Tristan and Isolde' the simplest
and most full blooded musical conception : with the black flag
that floats at the end of it I shall cover myself to die." As
Siegfried and Brunhilda express the joy of living and the
exaltation of the will, Tristan and Isolde express the misery
of life and the negation of the will. They praise the night of
oblivion and curse the day. 2 Personality is a delusion: "No
more Tristan. . . . no more Isolde" (Nicht mehr Tri-
stan. . . . nicht mehr Isolde.) 3 Death is sought as
the supreme bliss. The highest joy is unconscious oblivion.
As Tristan takes the cup in which he believes is the deadly
poison and places its brim to his lips he cries:
"Vergessen's giit'ger Trank,
dich trink 'ich sender Wank !' M
Thus Wagner would make the renunciation of life and the
denial of the will the highest joy. Tristan also practises non-
resistance in refusing to defend himself against Melot 5 and
King Mark manifests no resentment against Tristan but in
fact forgives him, 6 while the story ends in the complete nega-
tion of the will. As Isolde, in Buddhistic fashion sinks to the
breast of the dead Tristan, she utters these renunciatory
"In dem wogenden Schwall.
in dem tonenden Schall,
in des Welt-Athems
hochste Lust!" 7
1. Die Gotterdammerung, Act iii.
2. Tristan and Isolde, ed. by Henderson, Act ii, sc. 2.
3. Ib., Act ii, sc. 2.
4. Ib., Act i, sc. 6.
5. Ib., Act iii, sc. 3.
6. Ib., Act iii, sc. 3.
7. Ib., Act iii, sc. 3.
40 The Ethical Ideal of Renunciation
However, Wagner does not cover himself with the "Black
flag" of Buddhistic renunciation and Schopenhauerian pes-
simism as delineated in "Tristan and Isolde" but in the clos-
ing years of his life and thought he turned from this pes-
simism of weakness to the Christian pessimism of strength.
This he portrays in "Parsifal" which is really Wagner's
great confession of faith. When he wrote a friend near the
end of his life these words: "Can you conceive of a moral
duty without some form of renunciation" he had accepted
the Christian point of view and spoke of renunciation in the
Like Wagner, Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) did not so
much argue the principle of renunciation as he portrayed it.
He, too, had his romantic period from which he turned to
the realistic. It is in this period when renunciation makes its
appearance. In "Brand" Ibsen follows to its logical con-