On the Affirmation of the Will-to-Live  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

"On the Affirmation of the Will-to-Live" is the 45th chapter in Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation.

Full text[1]


IF the will to live exhibited itself merely as an impulse to self-preservation, this would only be an assertion of the individual phenomenon for the span of time of its natural duration. The cares and troubles of such a life would not be great, and consequently existence would be easy and serene. Since, on the contrary, the wilL_gdlls life abso- lutelyi and for jdl_time, it exhibits itself also as sexual impulse, which has in view an endless series of genera tions. This impulse does away with that carelessness, serenity, and innocence which would accompany a merely individual existence, for it brings unrest and melancholy into the consciousness ; misfortunes, cares, and misery into the course of life. If, on the other hand, it is volun tarily suppressed, as we see in rare exceptions, then this is the turning of the will, which changes its course. The will does not then transcend the individual, but is abol ished in it) [Yet this can only take place by means of the individual doing painful violence to itself/ If, how ever, it does take place, then the freedom from care and the serenity of the purely individual existence is restored to the consciousness, and indeed in a higher degree. On the other hand, to the satisfaction of that most vehement of all impulses and desires is linked the origin of a new existence, thus the carrying out of life anew, with all its burdens, cares, wants, and pains ; certainly in another

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nomenon were so absolutely and in themselves, where would then be eternal justice J| Life presents itself as a problem, a task to be worked out, and therefore, as a rule, as a constant conflict with necessity. Accordingly every one tries to get through with it and come off as well as he can. He performs life as a compulsory service which he owes. But who has contracted the debt ? His beget ter, in the enjoyment of sensual pleasure. Thus, because the one has enjoyed this, the other must live, suffer, and die. However, we know and look back here to the fact that the difference of the similar is conditioned by space and time, which in this sense I have called the principium individuationis. Otherwise eternal justice could not be vindicated. Paternal love, on account of which the father is ready to do, to suffer, and to risk more for his child than for himself, and at the same time knows that he owes this, depends simply upon the fact that the begetter recognises himself in the begotten.4

The life of a man, with its endless care, want, and suffer ing, is to be regarded as the explanation and paraphrase of the act of procreation, i.e., the decided assertion of the will to live ; and further, it is also due to this that he owes to nature the debt of death, and thinks with anxiety of this debt. Is this not evidence of the fact that our existence involves guilt ? At any rate, we always exist, subject to the periodical payment of the toll, birth and death, and succes sively partake of all the sorrows and joys of life, so that none can escape us : this is just the fruit of the assertion of the will to live. Thus the fear of death, which in spite of all the miseries of life holds us firmly to it, is really illusory; but just as illusory is the impulse which has enticed us into it. This enticement itself may be seen objectively in the reciprocal longing glances of two lovers; they are the purest expression of the will to live, in its assertion. How soft and tender it is here ! It wills well- being, and quiet pleasure, and mild joys for itself, for others, for all. It is the theme of Anacreon. Thus by


allurements and flattery it makes its way into life. But when once it is there, misery introduces crime, and crime misery ; horror and desolation fill the scene. It is the theme of Aeschylus.

But now the act through which the will asserts itself and man arises is one of which all are, in their inmost being, ashamed, which they therefore carefully conceal ; nay, if they are caught in it, are terrified as if they had been taken in a crime. It is an action of which in cold reflection one generally thinks with dislike, and in a lofty mood with loathing. Reflections which in this regard approach the matter more closely are offered by Montaigne in the fifth chapter of the third book, under the marginal heading : " Ce que c'est que l'amour" A peculiar sadness and repentance follows close upon it, is yet most perceptible after the first performance of the act, and in general is the more distinct the nobler is the character. Hence even Pliny, the pagan, says : "homini tantum primi coitus paenitentia, augurium scilicet vitae a paenitenda origine" (Hist. Nat., x. 83). And, on the other hand, in Goethe s " Faust," what do devil and witches practise and sing of on their Sabbath ? Lewdness and obscenity. And in the same work (in the admirable " Paralipomena " to " Faust ") what does incarnate Satan preach before the as sembled multitude ? Lewdness and obscenity. But simply and solely by means of the continual practice of such an act as this does the human race subsist. If now optimism were right, if our existence were to be thankfully recog nised as the gift of the highest goodness guided by wisdom, and accordingly in itself praiseworthy, com mendable, and agreeable, then certainly the act which perpetuates it would necessarily have borne quite another physiognomy. If, on the other hand, this existence is a kind of false step or error ; if it is the work of an origin ally blind will, whose most fortunate development is that it conies to itself . in order to abolish itself ; then the act


which perpetuates that existence must appear precisely as it does appear.

With reference to the first fundamental truth of my doctrine, the remark deserves a place here that the shame mentioned above which attaches to the act of generation extends even to the parts which are concerned in this, although, like all other parts, they are given us by nature. This is again a striking proof that not only the actions but even the body of man is to be regarded as the mani festation, the objectification, of his will, and as its work. For he could not be ashamed of a thing which existed without his will. "

The act of generation is further related to the world, as the answer is related to the riddle. The world is wide in space and old in time, and of an inexhaustible multiplicity of forms. Yet all this is only the manifestation of the will to live ; and the concentration, the focus of this will is the act of generation. Thus in this act the inner nature of the world expresses itself most distinctly. In this regard it is indeed worth noticing that this act itself is also distinctly called "the will" in the very significant German phrase, " Er verlangte von ihr, sie sollte ihm zu Willen sein" (He desired her to comply with his wishes). As the most distinct expression of the will, then, this act is the kernel, the compendium, the quintessence of the world. Therefore from it we obtain light as to the nature and tendency of the world: it is the answer to the riddle. Accordingly it is understood under " the tree of knowledge," for after acquaintance with it the eyes of every one are opened as to life, as Byron also says :

" The tree of knowledge has been plucked, all s known."

Don Juan, i. 128.

It is not less in keeping with this quality that it is the great appyrov, the open secret, which must never and nowhere be distinctly mentioned, but always and every where is understood as the principal matter, and is there-


fore constantly present to the thoughts of all, wherefore also the slightest allusion to it is instantly understood. The leading part which that act, and what is connected \vith it, plays in the world, because love intrigues are everywhere, on the one hand, pursued, and, on the other hand, assumed, is quite in keeping with the importance of this punctum saliens of the egg of the world. The source of the amusing is simply the constant concealment of the chief concern.

But see now how the young, innocent, human intellect, when that great secret of the world first becomes known to it, is startled at the enormity ! The reason of this is that in the long course which the originally unconscious will had to traverse before it rose to intellect, especially to human, rational intellect, it became so strange to itself that it no longer knows its origin, that pcenitenda origo, and now, from the standpoint of pure, and therefore innocent, knowing, is horrified at it.

Since now the focus of the will, i.e., its concentration and highest expression, is the sexual impulse and its satis faction, this is very significantly and naively expressed in the symbolical language of nature through the fact that the individualised will, that is, the man and the brute, makes its entrance into the world through the door of the sexual organs.

The assertion of the will to live, which accordingly has its centre in the act of generation, is in the case of the brute infallible. For the will, which is the natura naturans, first arrives at reflection in man. To arrive at reflection means, not merely to know the momentary necessity of the individual will, how to serve it in the pressing present as is the case with the brute, in pro portion to its completeness and its necessities, which go hand in hand but to have attained a greater breadth of knowledge, by virtue of a distinct remembrance of the past, an approximate anticipation of the future, and thereby a general survey of the individual life, both one s


own life and that of others, nay, of existence in general. Eeally the life of every species of brute, through the thousands of years of its existence, is to a certain extent like a single moment ; for it is mere consciousness of the present, without that of the past and the future, and con sequently without that of death. In this sense it is tq_ be regarded as a permanent moment, a Nunc stans. jlfere we see, in passing, most distinctly that in general the form of life, or the manifestation of the will with con sciousness, is primarily and immediately merely the pre sent. Past and future are added only in the case of man, and indeed merely in conception, are known in abstracto, and perhaps illustrated by pictures of the imagination. Thus after the will to live, i.e., the inner being of nature, in the ceaseless striving towards complete objectifi cation and complete enjoyment, has run through the whole series of the brutes, which often occurs in the various periods of successive animal series each arising anew on the same planet, it arrives at last at reflection in the being who is endowed with reason, man. Here now to him the thing begins to be doubtful, the question forces itself upon him whence and wherefore all this is, and chiefly whether the care and misery of his life and effort is really repaid by the gain ? " Le jeu vaut-U Uen la chandelle?" Accordingly here is the point at which, in the light of distinct knowledge, he decides for the assertion or denial of the will to live ; although as a rule he can only bring the latter to consciousness in a mythical form. We have consequently no ground for assuming that a still more highly developed objectification of the will is ever reached, anywhere; for it has already reached its turning-point here.

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