Philipp Mainländer

German poet and philosopher

Philipp Mainländer (October 5, 1841 – April 1, 1876) was a German philosopher and poet. Born Philipp Batz, he later changed his name to "Mainländer" in homage to his hometown, Offenbach am Main. In his central work Die Philosophie der Erlösung (The Philosophy of Redemption or The Philosophy of Salvation) — according to Theodor Lessing, "perhaps the most radical system of pessimism known to philosophical literature" — Mainländer proclaims that life is absolutely worthless, and that "the will, ignited by the knowledge that non-being is better than being, is the supreme principle of morality."

The kingdom of heaven after death, nirvana and absolute nothingness are one and the same.
The movement of the cosmos is the movement from over-being to non-being.


  • God has died and His death was the life of the world.
  • Every action of man, the highest as well as the lowest, is egoistic; for it flows from a certain individuality, a certain I, with a sufficient motive, and can in no way be omitted. To go into the reason of the difference of characters is not the place here; we have simply to accept it as a fact. Now it is just as impossible for the merciful man to let his neighbor starve as it is for the hard-hearted man to help the poor. Each of the two acts according to his character, his nature, his ego, his happiness, consequently egoistically; for if the merciful one did not dry the tears of others, would he be happy? And if the hard-hearted one relieved the suffering of others, would he be satisfied?
  • The will must not only despise death, it must love it; for chastity is the love of death.
  • Life is hell, and the sweet still night of absolute death is the annihilation of hell.
  • The man who has known clearly and distinctly that all life is suffering; that, whatever the way in which it may appear is essentially unhappy and full of pain (even in the ideal state), so that he, like the Christ Child on the arms of Sistine Madonna, can only look into the world with eyes filled with horror, and who then contemplates the deep tranquility, the inexpressible happiness in aesthetic contemplation and, in contrast to the waking state, the happiness of dreamless sleep, whose elevation into eternity is only absolute death, - such a man has to be kindled by the advantage offered, - he cannot do otherwise. The thought of resuscitating in his unhappy children, that is, having to follow his way through the streets of existence, full of thorns and hard stones, without rest or repose, is, on the one hand, the most shocking and exasperating he can have; and, on the other hand, it must be the sweetest and most refreshing thought to be able to break the long course of the process, in which he was forced to walk by, with bloody feet, beaten, tormented and martyred, languishing in search of quietude. And once he is on the right track, the sexual instinct worries him less with every step, little by little becoming easier for his heart, until at last his inner being stands in the same joyfulness, blessed serenity and complete immobility as the true Christian saint. He feels in harmony with the movement of humanity from being into non-being, out of the agony of life into absolute death; he gladly enters into this movement of the whole, he acts eminently morally, and his reward is the undisturbed peace of heart, the "calmness of the sea of the mind," the peace that is higher than all reason. And all this can take place without the belief in a unity in, above or beyond the world, without fear of a hell or hope for a kingdom of heaven after death, without any mystical intellectual view, without incomprehensible effect of grace, without contradiction with nature and our awareness of our own self: the only sources from which we can draw with certainty, - merely as a result of an unprejudiced, pure, cold realization of our reason, "man's supreme power".
  • What is the ideal state? It will be the historical form that encompasses all mankind. However, we will not define this form in more detail, because it is quite a minor matter: the main thing is the citizen of the ideal state. He will be what individuals have been since the beginning of history: a thoroughly free man. He has completely outgrown the taskmaster of historical laws and forms and stands above the law, free from all political, economic and spiritual fetters. All external forms are fragmented: man is completely emancipated. All driving forces have gradually disappeared from the life of mankind: Power, property, fame, marriage; all emotional ties have gradually been torn: man is weary. His spirit now judges life correctly and his will is kindled by this judgment. Now the heart is filled with only one longing: to be blotted out forever from the great book of life. And the will reaches its goal: absolute death.
  • But at the bottom, the immanent philosopher sees in the entire universe only the deepest longing for absolute annihilation, and it is as if he clearly hears the call that permeates all spheres of heaven: Redemption! Redemption! Death to our life! And the comforting answer: you will all find annihilation and be redeemed.
  • And who is and should be a pessimist? He who is mature for death and is in no condition to love life, just as the optimist cannot turn away from it. If he does not realize that he will live on in his children, his procreation loses its horrible character; but if he does realize it, he will recoil in horror from it, just like Humboldt when he noticed that the torments that another being must endure for perhaps eighty years are too high a price to pay for a few minutes of pleasure, and will consider the procreation of children, and rightly so, as a crime.
  • The kingdom of heaven after death, nirvana and absolute nothingness are one and the same.
    • Philosophie der Erlösung, Erster Band (2014), Metaphysik (Anhang: Kritik der Lehren Kant’s und Schopenhauer’s) ISBN 978-1494963262
  • I felt serene that I had forged a good sword, but at the same time I felt a cold dread in me for starting on a course more dangerous than any other philosopher before me. I attacked giants and dragons, everything existing, holy and honourable in state and science: God, the monster of ‘the infinite’, the species, the powers of nature, and the modern state; and in my stark naked atheism I validated only the individual and egoism. Nevertheless, above them both lay the splendour of the preworldly unity, of God . . . the holy spirit, the greatest and most significant of the three divine beings. Yes, it lay ‘brooding with wings of the dove’ over the only real things in the world, the individual and its egoism, until it was extinguished in eternal peace, in absolute nothingness.
    • Quoted in Die modernen Pessimisten als décadents, p. 108, which is quoted in Frederick C. Beiser, Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (2018), Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198822653, pp. 205-206
  • Why did God not immediately disappear into nothingness, if he wished to no longer be? One must ascribe omnipotence to God, for his power was unlimited; consequently, if he had willed to no longer be, he would have exterminated himself at once; instead, the universe of multiplicity arose, a universe of struggle, which is a manifest contradiction. How does one explain this? ... God existed alone, in absolute solitude and, consequently, it is correct to maintain that he was not limited by anything external; his power was, in this sense, omnipotent, since nothing outside of him limited it. However, his power was not omnipotent regarding himself, or in other words: his power could not destroy itself; the simple unity could not cease to exist by itself. God had the freedom to be as he willed; however, he was not free from his determinate essence.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter I (Sobre el origen del universo), pages 54-55, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • 1. God willed to no longer be;
    2. God's essence was the obstacle to his immediate entry into non-being;
    3. God's essence had to disintegrate in a world of multiplicity, whose individuals all have the desire to no longer be;
    4. in this striving they hinder each other, fight against each other and thus weaken each other's strength;
    5. the complete essence of God passed into the world in a transformed form, as a certain sum of power;
    6. the whole world, the universe, has one goal, the non-being, and achieves it through the continuous weakening of the sum of its forces;
    7. each individual will be carried through the weakening of his strength, in his evolutionary process, to the point where his desire to achieve extermination can be fulfilled.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter I (Sobre el origen del universo), page 57, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • The movement of the cosmos is the movement from over-being to non-being. The universe, however, is the disintegration into multiplicity, that is, into egoistic individualities arrayed against each other. Only in this struggle of essences, which before were a simple unity, can the original essence itself be destroyed.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter II (La ley universal del debilitamiento de la fuerza), page 59, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • The first movement and the origin of the universe are one and the same. The transformation of the simple unity into the world of multiplicity, the transition from the transcendent to the immanent realm, was precisely the first movement; all subsequent movements were only continuations of the first, that is, they could not have been anything else than a new disintegration or further fragmentation of ideas. This further disintegration could manifest itself in the early periods of the universe only through the actual division of simple matter and its connections. Each simple chemical force had the urge to expand its individuality, i.e., to change its motion; however, it clashed with all others possessing the same urge, and thus arose the most fearsome struggles of the ideas with each other, in states of maximum impetus and agitation. The result was always a chemical bond, i.e., the victory of the stronger force over a weaker one and the entry of the new idea into the endless struggle.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter II (La ley universal del debilitamiento de la fuerza), pages 59-60, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • The plant grows, reproduces (in some way) and dies (after living for some time). Disregarding any particularity, the great and actual fact of death, which could not appear on the scene anywhere in the inorganic realm, comes to light first and clearly. Could the plant die if it did not want to die in the depths of its essence? It follows only its fundamental impulse, which drew all its desire from God's longing for non-being.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter III (Teleología del exterminio), page 69, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • The animal basically follows its impulses, which are limited to hunger, thirst, the need to sleep and everything related to mating; it lives in a narrow sphere. To the human being, on the other hand, life comes to him through reason, in the form of wealth, women, honor, power, fame, etc., which fuels his will to live, his yearning to live. Reason makes satisfaction, artificially, a refined enjoyment. Thus death is detested with all one's soul and the mere mention of such a word tormentingly contracts the hearts of the majority, and the fear of death turns into anguish of death and despair, when human beings cast their eyes upon it. On the contrary, life is loved with passion. Accordingly, in the human being the will to death - the innermost impulse of his essence - is no longer concealed by the will to live as simply as in the animal, but disappears completely into the depths, from where it only manifests itself, from time to time, as a deep longing for tranquility.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter III (Teleología del exterminio), pages 71-72, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • Let us suppose that, in the future, the birth of a human being occurs without pain, and that science succeeds in protecting humans from every disease: in short, that the old age of these protected beings is fresh and vigorous, ending suddenly with a gentle and painless death (euthanasia). Death is the only thing we cannot take away and, consequently, we have before us a short and painless life. Is this a happy life? Let us examine it carefully. The citizens of our ideal state are human beings of gentle character and developed intelligence. They have, so to speak, been inculcated with a complete knowledge - free from absurdity and error - and however they reflect upon it, they will always consider it to be right. There are no more effects whose causes are enigmatic. Science has indeed reached its pinnacle and every citizen is satisfied with its achievements. The sense of beauty is powerfully displayed in everything. We cannot suppose that all are artists, yet everyone indeed possesses the capacity to enter easily into an aesthetic relation. They have been freed from all worries, for their work has been organized in an unprecedented manner and everyone is self-governing. Are they happy? They would be if they did not feel in themselves a terrible monotony and emptiness. Their needs have been taken away from them; they truly have neither worry nor suffering, but instead they have been seized by tedium. They have paradise on earth, but its atmosphere is stifling and suffocating. If they still had enough energy to endure such an existence until natural death, they would surely not have the heart to go through it again as rejuvenated beings.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter IV (Humanidad, Civilización y estado ideal), pages 87-88, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • And this unhappiness - which corrodes and shakes the heart - is the driving force in the lives of the lower groups of the population, which whips them toward the path of redemption. The poor are consumed with the burning desire to possess the houses, the gardens, the goods, the saddle horses, the carriages, the champagne, the jewels and daughters of the wealthy. Well, then give them all these trifling possessions. Rise and descend from the luminous heights, from where you have seen with intoxicated gaze the promised land of eternal tranquility, where you had to recognize that life is essentially unfortunate, where the blindfold had to fall from your eyes; descend into the dark valley through which the turbid stream of the dispossessed creeps, and place your delicate, but loyal, pure and courageous hands in the calloused hands of your brothers. "They are brutes." Then give them motives that will ennoble them. "Their manners disgust." Then change them. "They believe that life has value. They consider the rich happier, for they eat and drink better, because they feast and make noise. They think the heart beats more peacefully under silk than under the coarse garb of toil." Then disillusion them, but not with sayings, but with deeds. Let them experience, let them prove for themselves that neither wealth, nor honor, nor fame, nor a pleasant life makes for happiness. Break down the barriers that separate those deceived by supposed happiness and they will be perplexed. Then they will complain: "We had thought we could be happy like this, and it turns out that, deep down, nothing has changed in us". All human beings must first of all be fed up with all the pleasures that the world can offer, before mankind can be ripe for redemption. Since their redemption is their destiny, they must be satiated, and such satisfaction is only brought about when the social question is resolved.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter IV (Humanidad, Civilización y estado ideal), page 91, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • The immanent philosophy does not recognize any miracle and does not know how to account for events in another unknown world, which would be a consequence of the actions of this world. Therefore, there is for it only a completely certain negation of the will to live, which is expressed by virginity. As we have seen in physics, the human being finds absolute annihilation in death; nevertheless, he is only apparently extinguished if he continues to live in his children, for in these children he has already risen from the dead: he has embraced life in them anew and affirmed it for an indeterminate time. This everyone feels instinctively. The insurmountable aversion of the genders after copulation in the animal kingdom manifests itself in the human being as a profound sadness.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter V (El santo y el demonio), page 106, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • Everything in the universe is unconsciously a will to death. This will to death is, above all in the human being, hidden in its entirety by the will to live, because life is a means to death, which presents itself clearly for even the most feeble-minded individual: we die unceasingly, our life is a slow agony, death daily overpowers every human being until, finally, it extinguishes with a breath the light of life in each one of us.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter VII (Apología del suicidio), page 128, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • He who is not afraid of death, enters a house engulfed in flames; he who is not afraid of death, jumps without hesitation into a turbulent flood; he who is not afraid of death, charges into a dense hail of bullets; he who is not afraid of death, fights unarmed against thousands of armored titans; in summary, he who does not fear death is the only one who can do something for others, bleed for others, and has, at the same time, the only happiness, the only desirable good in this world: undisturbed peace of heart.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter VII (Apología del suicidio), page 129, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • How easy it is to throw stones on the suicide's grave, and how difficult it was, on the other hand, the struggle of that poor man who had prepared his deathbed so well. First, he cast a fearful glance from afar towards death and turned away in fright; then he avoided it, trembling and going around it in wide circles which, however, became smaller and smaller every day until, at last, he clasped death's neck with his weary arms and looked directly into its eyes: and then there was peace, sweet peace.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter VII (Apología del suicidio), page 129, ISBN 978-9562890922
  • Pessimistic philosophy will be for the historical period that is now beginning, what the pessimistic religion of Christianity was for the one that has passed. The symbol of our flag is not the crucified redeemer but the angel of death with large, placid and clement eyes, supported by the dove of the idea of redemption; in essence, it is the same symbol.
    • Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), trans. Sandra Baquedano Jer, chapter VIII (Perspectiva hacia el vacío), page 133, ISBN 978-9562890922

Quotes about Philipp Mainländer

  • Mainländer has a worldview of his own about the origin of the universe: God, saturated with his own over-being, decides that non-existence is better than existence; accordingly, like the Big Bang at the beginning of time, he commits suicide, desirous of non-being. Thus, the universe has not arisen out of a divine desire for creation, but is the result of a depletion of divine will. The philosophy of the decomposition or disintegration of the universe means that everything, organic and inorganic, is subordinated to the law of the weakening of power, that is, that the human being is also in the universe to die and cease to be. The death of God has generated life, but the course of life is not different from the slow process of divine disintegration. It is a will that can be verified daily in cemeteries, and is part of a cosmological telos.
    • Sandra Baquedano Jer, Filosofía De La Redención: Antología (2011), on the book's back cover, ISBN 978-9562890922

Frederick C. Beiser, Weltschmerz: Pessimism in German Philosophy, 1860-1900 (2018), Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0198822653

  • The heart and soul of Mainländer’s philosophy lies in its gospel of redemption. That gospel is very simple, and it can be summarized in two propositions: (1) that redemption or deliverance comes only with death; and (2) that death consists in nothingness, complete annihilation. All of Mainländer’s philosophy is devoted to the explanation and defence of this gospel.
    • p. 206
  • Metaphysics, he tells us, gives us a view of the world as a whole, so that all the partial perspectives of the earlier chapters of his book now appear as a single vision. That vision is, to put it mildly, macabre. We now enter the darkest recesses of Mainländer’s imagination, which fabricate for us a grim cosmology of death. What the metaphysician sees from his exalted standpoint of the whole of things, Mainländer attests, is that everything in nature and history strives for one thing: death. There is in all things in nature, and in all actions in history, “the deepest longing for absolute annihilation”. In his earlier chapters of his book, in the discussion of physics, ethics and politics, Mainländer wrote about the individual will to life as the very essence of everything, not only of every human being, but also of every thing that exists, whether inorganic or organic. Now in metaphysics, however, we see that this was only a limited perspective, because the striving for existence or life is really only a means for a deeper goal: death. We live only so that we die, because the deepest longing within all of us is for peace and tranquillity, which is granted to us only in death. In this longing of all things for death, we are only participating, unbeknownst to ourselves, in the deeper and broader cosmic process of the divine death. We long to die, and we are indeed dying, because God wanted to die and he is still dying within us.
    • p. 218.
  • Better than life in the ideal state is complete tranquillity and deliverance, which comes only with death. Why, though, bother with creating the ideal state if we can have death now? Mainländer answers: though he personally can find redemption in all political conditions, so that he does not need to bother with the ideal state, the same is not true for the masses, who need to live in the ideal state before they find redemption. Why, though, must they first live in such a state? To that question Mainländer responds somewhat cryptically: before we turn against life, we must learn to enjoy all that it has to offer. Only he who attempts to enjoy all the rotten fruits of this earth will see through its emptiness and discover for himself the true value of death.
    • p. 228.

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