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The International Journal of

Int J Psychoanal (2011) 92:149169

doi: 10.1111/j.1745-8315.2010.00378.x

Between the quills: Schopenhauer and Freud on


sadism and masochism
Robert Grimwade
630 First Avenue Apt. 18L, New York, NY 10016, USA rjgrimwade@gmail.com
(Final version accepted 7 July 2010)

It is a matter of common knowledge that Sigmund Freud (18561939) and


Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860) shared a common worldview. Everyone
familiar with the works of these two thinkers should recognize their general
philosophical affinities. Both men were pessimistic about the power of human
reason and attributed human behavior to powerful unconscious forces and, as a
result, both were deeply skeptical about the future of human society. Drawing
from previous literature, this essay compares the philosophical theory of Schopenhauer with the psychoanalytic theory of Freud. We find that, while Schopenhauer
and Freud share a common philosophical orientation and diagnosed the same
fundamental problems with life in civilization, they proposed some ostensibly
similar, yet ultimately very different solutions. Focusing on each thinkers respective notion of sadism and masochism, this paper tries to understand and come to
terms with the dimensions of this radical pessimism.
Keywords: history of psychoanalysis, interpretation, metapsychology

Introduction
Everyone familiar with the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860)
and Sigmund Freud (18561939) should immediately recognize their philosophical affinity. Many obvious parallels strike even the casual reader. Both
thinkers conceived that sexuality played an enormous role in human
behavior, far beyond the limited area granted it by their respective contemporaries. Both believed that the vast majority of mental activity proceeds
unconsciously and that the role of the conscious mind had been greatly
overestimated by the philosophical tradition. Both men understood human
behavior as the product of powerful and often conflicting drives. Each thinker held that mental illness involved a disorder of memory. And perhaps
most importantly, they shared a pessimistic view of human nature, which
required them to confront the complexities of human aggression and the
problems of life in civilization.
The first section of this essay focuses on the many structural similarities
of their general theories and the second attempts to examine their respective
theories of human aggression. The problem of sadism and, perhaps most
importantly, masochism consistently occupied both thinkers throughout
their intellectual careers. These theories allow us to see the underlying
reasons for their pessimistic view of human life in society, which is little
more than a fraught and tenuous alliance generated by the forced repression
and sublimation of our dark essential nature.
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The large extent to which psycho-analysis coincides with the philosophy of Schopenhauer not only did he assert the dominance of the emotions and the supreme
importance of sexuality but he was even aware of the mechanism of repression is
not to be traced to my acquaintance with his teaching. I read Schopenhauer very
late in my life.
(Freud, 1925, pp. 5960)

With any study that compares the thought of two monumental figures,
there inevitably arises the question of influence. It is certain that Freud read
Schopenhauer as he readily admits to having done so. It is not a matter of
if Freud read Schopenhauer, but when. While Freud claims that he read
Schopenhauer late in life, many authors, including, notably Young and
Brook (1994), have questioned Freuds claim. In this essay, I refrain from
any speculation as to whether Freud took his ideas directly from Schopenhauer, as my intention is not to undermine Freuds originality, but to
advance our interdisciplinary understanding of sadism, masochism, and
human aggression. In my view, even if Freud gained his initial orientation
directly from Schopenhauer, Freuds dynamic and novel insights into the
human mind and his singlehanded invention of psychoanalytic method go
far beyond what Schopenhauer could have ever conceived. Thus I leave the
question of Schopenhauers influence on the father of psychoanalysis to the
educated reader.

1. Some notable similarities


1.1 The will and the id
As R. K. Gupta (1975) pointed out in her essay, Freud and Schopenhauer:
There is a striking similarity between Schopenhauers view of the will and
Freuds concept of the id (p. 721). Both Freud and Schopenhauer saw
unconscious drives as the real motive force behind all human behavior.
Schopenhauer used the German term Wille to represent the dark unconscious striving at the heart of the universe that is indivisible, timeless,
irrational, and absolutely amoral.
Schopenhauers metaphysics, explicated rather consistently throughout his
philosophical works and personal journals, is an Eastern-inspired strain of
Kantian idealism. For Schopenhauer the empirical world, of sense perception, is appearance, illusion, the veil of Maya, mere representation. He
accepts this, for the most part, as proven by Kants Critique of Pure Reason
(1781, 1787) but Schopenhauer, unlike Kant, understood the world of experience as illusory. Like many influential philosophers of his time, Schopenhauer was not content within the epistemological limitations established by
Kant. Schopenhauer was convinced that, while Kant was right about the
limits of knowledge, he had missed something very important about human
experience: that it is embodied.1 Our embodied nature, Schopenhauer
claimed, gives us privileged access to the inside of a phenomenon: we know
1

See The World as Will and Representation, I, paras 6, 18 (Schopenhauer, 1818) for a discussion of the
body as the immediate object of experience. The extent to which Schopenhauer follows Spinoza on this
point is of interest, but unfortunately beyond the purview of this essay.

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what it feels like to be a representation from the inside. The most immediate
and direct feeling of our body is desire, a drive, a striving for X, and the
various affects that arise from this want or need. This vital impulse,
Schopenhauer declares, is what must be behind all the phenomena in nature
and, furthermore, all the phenomena in reality. This is what all the forces of
the universe must feel like from the inside in, at least, some dull degree.
This impulse, the will, is not subject to time and space, in his parlance the
principle of individuation, and is therefore singular and indivisible. As
Kants thing-in-itself it is absolutely the same in everything that exists and
only receives its difference via the subject who brings space and time as a
priori conditions of the understanding. Thus will as the thing-in-itself is
the singular totality and primal unity of all that exists in representation.
Only in representation is there difference and multiplicity. For Schopenhauer, everything in the universe is the representation of one indivisible will.
The will-in-itself is free as there is nothing to limit or determine it. The will
is a blind striving, a blind impulse of which we are the mere objectification. This, Schopenhauer believed, is confirmed and demonstrated by
empirical observations of nature, which reveal that all of nature, including
human life, is bellum omnium contra omnes. In nature the will, as the indivisible thing-in-itself, appears whole in each individual who strives with the
entire force of the world for its continued existence. Nature as the objectification of will entails that, in modern vernacular, desire comes before the
organ: Teeth, gullet, and intestinal canal are objectified hunger; the genitals
are objectified sexual impulse [Geschlechtstrieb] (Schopenhauer, 1818,
p. 108). Schopenhauer recognizes the objectifications of this will as a
continuous line of development from the blind impulse of nature, through
plants and animals, all the way to human bodies. Even a river gushes with
the same vehemence as animal and human desires because it is the objectification of unconscious impulse, a representation of the world will.
The will as will in itself [noumenon] is not subject to the principle of individuation, where it appears as blind striving, yet in its phenomena this will
takes on a different character as a will to life [Wille zum Leben]. This will
to life manifests itself into two basic drives and a series of lesser drives that
are subordinate to these.
The will-to-live manifests itself in reference to the individual as hunger and fear of
death; in reference to the species, as sexual impulse and passionate care for the offspring.
(Schopenhauer, 1844, pp. 4845)

The will to life2, as a will to will, manifests itself as a multiplicity of


drives; the two most basic and important of these are hunger and the sexual drive [Geschlechtstrieb]. (It is important to bear in mind that these are
separated in representation alone, as the in-itself they both are the will to
life.) Here Schopenhauer moves directly into what shall become the territory
of Freudian psychoanalysis.
2
Schopenhauer sometimes called the will to life the drive for self preservation [Trieb zur
Selbfterhaltung]; for example, see The World as Will and Representation, II, ch. 45 (Schopenhauer, 1844).

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Freuds id [das Es] (part of the structural model of the psyche) is strikingly similar to Schopenhauers will. The id is a mass of unconscious drives
which act according to the pleasure principle to discharge tension. It is a
dark and inaccessible part of the mind that strives for expression. The id is
responsible for all the basic functions of the mind and contains the drives
for sex, hunger, and other basic necessities. It is without a sense of time,
completely irrational, and amoral. But Freud does not attribute this dark
unconscious striving to the whole universe as Schopenhauer does. Freud,
unlike Schopenhauer, is concerned with empirical verifiability not metaphysical speculation. For Freud the drive is a process on the border of psyche
and soma, ultimately based upon entirely biological processes. For Freud
the drive does not precede the organ, in fact, the organ is the source [Quelle]
of the drive. So while Schopenhauer understood all the perceived world as
the manifestation of the will, Freud understood the id as issuing from
mechanical and chemical processes of the body; thus for Freud the id is not
free, it is utterly determined.

1.2 The role of sexuality


The sexual impulse is proved to be the decided and strongest affirmation of life
it is his [humankinds] lifes final end and its highest goal. Self-preservation and
maintenance are his first aim, and as soon as he has provided for that, he aims at
the propagation of the race.
(Schopenhauer, 1818, p. 329)

As many authors have noted including Bischler (1939), Wisdom


(1945), Proctor-Gregg (1956), Gupta (1975), and Young and Brook
(1994) Schopenhauer anticipates Freuds expanded conception of sexuality. Schopenhauer anticipated Freuds early (pre-1923) distinction between
sexual drives and self-preservative drives and understood that sexuality
underlies most, if not all, human behaviour. He states: It is really the invisible central point of all action and conduct (Schopenhauer, 1844, p. 513).
Like Freud, he understood sexuality to be the most powerful of drives:
Sexual desire bears a character very different from that of any other; it is not only
the strongest of the desires, but is even of a more powerful kind than all the others
are ... it is the desire that constitutes even the very nature of man. In conflict with
it, no motive is so strong as to be certain of victory for its sake moreover, animal
and man undertake every peril and conflict.
(ibid., pp. 5123)

Schopenhauer, further anticipating Freud, understood love as entirely sexual in nature: All amorousness is rooted in the sexual impulse alone (ibid.,
p. 533). Schopenhauer, however, with his predilection for metaphysics,
connected sexuality to the will-of-the-species, which always serves as its
guiding metaphysical thrust. Freud also understood sexual desire as the
primary stimulus in human life. Since all desire is libidinal in Freuds view,
all of life, including psychological development, is spurred on and defined
by erotic charge. The salient difference between Freuds and Schopenhauers
view of sexuality is the absence of the metaphysical will in Freuds model.
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As we have seen above, Freud, as a scientist, preferred purely biological


explanations to metaphysical ones. Nevertheless, Schopenhauer had
extended the concept of sexuality, lord of the world (1844, p. 513), further
than anyone before him by expounding: It is the ultimate goal of almost all
human effort (ibid., p. 533, emphasis mine). Freud himself acknowledged
this in Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality: For it is some time since
Arthur Schopenhauer, the philosopher, showed mankind the extent to which
their activities are determined by sexual impulses in the ordinary sense of
the word (Freud, 1905, p. 134).3
The concept Eros, a prominent feature of Freuds later works, appears
by name in Schopenhauers The World as Will and Representation to
describe the will-to-live as sexual impulse (Schopenhauer, 1818, p. 330).4
While Schopenhauer had a conception of Eros, as Young and Brook (1994,
pp. 106107) suggest, he had no explicit notion of Thanatos. In Beyond the
Pleasure Principle Freud states: We have unwittingly steered our course
into the harbour of Schopenhauers philosophy. For him death is the true
result and to that extent the purpose of life, while the sexual instinct is the
embodiment of the will to live (Freud, 1920, pp. 4950). Although Freud
was correct about the sexual instinct being the embodiment of the will-tolife, he was incorrect about death being the purpose of life for Schopenhauer. While Schopenhauer often makes statements such as: Birth and
death belong equally to life, and hold the balance as mutual conditions of
each other, or, if the expression be preferred, as poles of the whole phenomenon of life which ostensibly accord with Freuds depiction, Schopenhauer
did not view death as some final cause (Schopenhauer, 1818, p. 275). The
will in itself is entirely indifferent to the death of a single individual. On the
level of the individual, this will-to-live is, following Spinoza, primarily a selfpreservative instinct.5 In Schopenhauers view, each individual being naturally
strives for life and resists death. Freuds death drive [Todestrieb] is a unique
and unprecedented theory in the history of ideas. For Schopenhauer the will
always wills itself: it wills life, the expansion and growth of each individual
and the species.
While Schopenhauer does not account for the death drive proper, he certainly accounts for some of its outward manifestations. Freuds death drive
is a multifaceted concept which explains many behaviors; projected inwardly
it is masochistic, outwardly it is sadistic: the destructive instinct, the
instinct for mastery, or the will to power (Freud, 1924, p. 163). For Schopenhauer, in congruence with the early views of Freud, outwardly aggressive
and destructive behaviors are the result of the struggle for continued
existence. All living things, as manifestations of will, are bound to struggle
against anything and everything to the utmost extremity of their power
to persevere in being and expand themselves. The collision of these
3

As we shall see, Schopenhauers use of sexual impulses was certainly not ordinary.

He attributes the etymology of the word and the concept to Hesiod and Parmenides and provides a
beautiful and insightful quote by Pherecydes: Zeus transformed himself into Eros, when he wished to
create the world (ibid.).
5

See Spinozas Ethics Book III, pp. 57 (Spinoza, 1677).

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individuated wills inevitably ensues. The fight for space, mates, and other
resources necessitate a world full of profound conflicts and eternal strife.
For Schopenhauer, the world will is eating itself alive and he is profoundly
disturbed by the thought that millions upon millions of creatures are being
torn apart incessantly in an eternal cycle of anguish.
As Young and Brook (1994) suggest, Schopenhauer did not recognize
infantile sexuality, but understood the profound significance of childhood
experiences for later life and development:
The experiences and acquaintances of childhood and early youth afterward become
the regular standing types and rubrics of all later knowledge and experience, their
categories as it were, to which we subsume everything that comes later, although we
are not always clearly conscious of so doing. Accordingly, the solid foundation of
our view of the world and thus its depth or shallowness are formed in childhood.
(Schopenhauer, 1851b, p. 478)

For Schopenhauer it is the absence of the role of the will-to-live of the


species (i.e. the sexual impulse) in childhood that allows the intellect to
thrive. For Schopenhauer children are little philosophers, thriving intellects
not yet dominated by the sexual impulse. Here Schopenhauer stands in
direct opposition to Freud. As is well known, Freuds early discovery of
infantile sexuality was an entirely original and pivotal part of his theory that
he never abandoned.

1.3 The unconscious and the role of the intellect


Schopenhauer and Freud both recognized unconscious processes at the
heart of human life. In his early works, Freud recognized the unconscious as
a separate psychic system from the conscious system mediated by a preconscious. In The Unconscious Freud describes some features of what he then
understood as the system Ucs: The nucleus of the unconscious consists of
instinctual representatives which seek to discharge their cathexis (Freud,
1915b, p. 186). The unconscious is characterized by timelessness, disregard
for reality, and irrationality. As we have indicated above, Schopenhauers
notion of will has similar characteristics: it is atemporal, as, following
Kant, time is a form of intuition. It has no regard for phenomena (Schopenhauers equivalent to what Freud is calling reality) because it is the
Kantian thing-in-itself. Furthermore, it is inherently irrational since reason is
a faculty of the thinking subject that only applies itself in conscious thought.6
In Freuds structural theory the id is timeless, irrational and characterized
by a blind striving. Both thinkers understood these amoral and irrational
unconscious drives as the motor behind most if not all human behavior.
As Young and Brook (1994) note, Schopenhauer understood the intellect
as secondary to the will much as Freud understood the relation between the
ego and the id. Schopenhauer asserts the master is the will the servant is
the intellect (Schopenhauer, 1844, p. 208). And the will shows itself as that
original force, against which the intellect can do nothing (ibid., p. 227).
6

Schopenhauer is not always clear on this matter. He considers the will to be an irrational striving, says
it has no aims, but often speaks of its aims.

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Freud understood the ego as representing reason and common sense and
the id as a bundle of unconscious drives. In The Ego and the Id he provides
us with the following analogy:
The functional importance of the ego is manifested in the fact that normally control
over the approaches to motility devolves upon it. Thus in relation to the id it is like
a man on horseback, who has to hold in check the superior strength of the horse;
with this difference, that the rider tries to do so with his own strength while the ego
uses borrowed forces Often a rider, if he is not to be parted from his horse, is
obligated to guide it where it wants to go; so in the same way the ego is in the habit
of transforming the ids will into action as if it were its own.
(Freud, 1923, p. 19)

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud presents consciousness as a


protective shield which developed to resist outside stimuli, to protect the
deeper layers of the organism (Freud, 1920, p. 18). As is clear from the
above quotes, while both theorists give the ego limited powers, Schopenhauer virtually condemns it: Everything primary, and consequently everything genuine, in man works as the forces of nature do, unconsciously
(Schopenhauer, 1851a, p. 175). When Schopenhauer begins to advocate a
strong ethical position rather than merely stating the facts, he obliges the
reader to deny the will-to-live and thereby the role of the intellect shifts into
a more commanding position.7 After this turning point a noteworthy
similarity emerges. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Civilization and Its
Discontents and other works Freud notes that all of civilization is characterized by repression of the id. Throughout his works, Schopenhauer
understood the intellect as an organ of the will, but it was rare and advanced
intellects that made civilization possible, as these knowing subjects regulate
and channel the striving of the will (Schopenhauer, 1818, p. 152).

1.4 Mental illness


Wisdom (1945), Proctor-Gregg (1956), Gupta (1975), and Young and Brook
(1994) rightfully notice that Schopenhauers conception of mental illness
anticipates many of Freuds early concepts and theories. Schopenhauer
proposed that trauma, memory, and repression play a significant role in
madness. It is a little known fact that Schopenhauer was a frequent visitor to insane asylums where he would hold long conversations with the
inmates, and go back again and again to talk to those that interested him
(Magee, 1989, p. 226 n.). As a result of these conversations Schopenhauer
discovered the role of repressed memories in madness:
If such a sorrow, such painful knowledge or reflection, is so harrowing that it
becomes positively unbearable, and the individual would succumb to it, then nature
alarmed in this way seizes on madness as the last means of saving life. The mind,
tormented so greatly, destroys as it were the thread of its memory, fills up the gap
with fictions, and thus seeks refuge in madness from the mental suffering that
7
The ascetic denial of the will is one of the central tenets of Schopenhauers moral philosophy.
Expansion of the intellect by rigorous acetic denial of the will-to-live allows one to escape suffering. For
more on this, see Schopenhauers fourth section of The World as Will and Representation, Vol. I
(Schopenhauer, 1818) and the corresponding sections in Vol. II (Schopenhauer, 1844).

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exceeds its strength, just as a limb affected by mortification is cut off and replaced
with a wooden one
(Schopenhauer, 1818, p. 193)

Compare this with the following passage from Freud and Breuers Preliminary Communication: These memories, unlike other memories of their
past lives, are not at the patients disposal. On the contrary, these experiences are completely absent from the patients memory when they are in a
normal psychical state, or are only present in a highly summary form
(Breuer and Freud, 1893, p. 9). Further, Freud states that these repressed
memories correspond to traumas that have not been sufficiently abreacted
(ibid., p. 10).
In The Neuro-Psychoses of Defence Freud (1894) describes defence as an
effort to push away an experience that the conscious mind cannot handle,
however, in cases of hysteria (and other neuroses) the memory or its affective trace cannot be eradicated (Freud, 1894, p. 48). Compare Freuds
more advanced conception of defense with that of Schopenhauer quoted
above. In Studies on Hysteria Freud discovered that he had to to overcome
a psychical force in the patients which was opposed to the pathogenic ideas
becoming conscious (being remembered) (Breuer and Freud, 1893, p. 268).
This force of resistance is a defense. Schopenhauer states that there is resistance on the part of the will to allow what is contrary to it to come under
the examination of the intellect (Schopenhauer, 1844, p. 400, emphasis
mine). Freud discovered that: The patients ego had been approached by
an idea which proved to be incompatible, which provoked on the part of the
ego a repelling force of which the purpose was defence against this incompatible idea. This defence was in fact successful. The idea in question was
forced out of consciousness and out of memory (Breuer and Freud, 1893,
p. 269). This force of repression, or defense, would eventually lead to
Freuds discovery of the unconscious. At this early stage in Freuds work,
treatment involved bringing these repressed memories into the conscious
mind. Compare this with Schopenhauers novel idea: Every new adverse
event must be assimilated by the intellect, in other words, must receive a
place in the system of truths connected with our will and its interests
(Schopenhauer, 1844, p. 400). Allowing these memories into the intellect is
often very painful and if this does not occur, then the gaps are filled up
with fictions and we have madness (ibid.). While Schopenhauers speculative account is less sophisticated than Freuds technical one, it nevertheless
indicates that Schopenhauer understood that the broken thread of memory,
repression, and trauma play a significant role in mental illnesses.

2. Sadism and masochism


Now that we have compared some of Schopenhauers major anticipations of
Freuds theory, we are able to approach the topic proper: the comparison of
Freuds account of sadism and masochism with Schopenhauers. We have
seen above that Freuds meta-psychological theory was constantly evolving
and expanding. As his ideas matured so did his conception of sadism and
masochism. Schopenhauer, on the other hand, wrote the World as Will and
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Representation, Vol. 1 (his major work) in 1818, at the age of 31, and stood
by the philosophical views presented in this work until his death in 1860
(McGill, 1931, p. 304). (The second volume published in 1844 was only an
expansion and deepening of the views presented in volume one with no significant structural changes.) I shall begin with Freuds initial account of a
secondary masochism presented in The Three Essays on Sexuality (1905),
Instincts and their vicissitudes (1915a), and A child is being beaten (1919) and
then present his later account of a primary sadismmasochism presented
in Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), The Ego and the Id (1923), The economic problem of masochism (1924), Civilization and Its Discontents (1930). I
shall then give an account of Schopenhauers understanding of sadism and
masochism while unearthing relevant similarities and differences.

2.1 Freud on sadism and masochism


The sexuality of most male human beings contains an element of aggressiveness a
desire to subjugate; the biological significance of it seems to lie in the need for
overcoming the resistance of the sexual object by means other than the process of
wooing. Thus sadism would correspond to an aggressive component of the sexual
instinct which has become independent and exaggerated and, by displacement, has
usurped the leading position.
(Freud, 1905, pp. 1567)

Freud initially understood sadism as the manifestation of an overstated


aggressive component drive of the sexual drive (as indicated in the above
quote). This understanding of sadism revolved around Freuds new insights
into the functions of the sexual drive. In the Three Essays on the Theory of
Sexuality Freud (1905) combined his theory of sexuality with his theory of
the neuroses and gave his first account of sadism and masochism. In the
Three Essays, Freud decomposed the drive into two separable dimensions,
the aim [Ziel] and the object [Objekt]. The sexual aim is the act to which
the drive is driven and the sexual object is that person, part-person,
animal, or thing, towards which the drive is directed. In this early model,
masochism is nothing more than an extension of sadism turned round
upon the subjects own self, which thus, to begin with, takes the place of the
sexual object (Freud, 1905, p. 158). The sexual aim of the sadist is overstated
acts of mastery, cruelty, and violence toward the sexual object, and his sexual object is the person to whom these acts are done. In masochism, the
aim of sadism is sustained but, by inversion, the object becomes the subject
himself. At this point sadism is clearly an innate and primary manifestation
of libido, Freud notes: Cruelty in general comes easily to the childish nature, since the obstacle that brings the instinct for mastery to a halt at
another persons pain namely a capacity for pity is developed relatively
late (ibid., p. 192). In this early account masochism is understood as secondary: an inversion of sadism.
After his account of a primary sadism and secondary masochism in the
Three Essays, the problem of masochism was often on Freuds mind as
evidenced by his various correspondences. A notable example is Freuds
statement in a 1911 letter to Ferenczi: I hardly know a more deceptive and
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more complicated problem in our field than that of masochism (Brabant


et al., 1994).
In Instincts and their vicissitudes Freud (1915a) again presents the theory
of a secondary masochism, which is an inverted sadism:
In the case of the pair of opposites sadismmasochism, the process may be represented as follows:
(a) Sadism consists in the exercise of violence or power upon some other person as
object.
(b) This object is given up and replaced by the subjects self. With the turning round
upon the self the change from an active to a passive instinctual aim is also effected.
(c) An extraneous person is once more sought as object; this person, in consequence
of the alteration which has taken place in the instinctual aim, has to take over the
role of the subject.
(Freud, 1915a, p. 127)

If the aim of the sadists exaggerated aggressive drive to conquer,


master, and control the sexual object cannot be achieved then he
unconsciously replaces his sexual object with himself: He becomes his own
sexual object. Thus he derives a sadistic pleasure from being dominated,
tortured, and mastered by another person with whom he identifies. This,
Freud tells us, is the essence of masochism.
A child is being beaten: A contribution to the study of the origin of sexual
perversions (Freud, 1919) is essentially an essay on masochism, written while
Freud was working on Beyond the Pleasure Principle (Brabant et al., 1994).
In this essay Freud discusses a common fantasy shared by many of his
patients, namely that a child is being beaten. Freud analyzed this phenomenon in terms of its relation to the oedipal complex and, while he found a
satisfactory explanation for this occurrence, he remained doubtful as to
whether it was purely sexual or purely sadistic. While affirming the secondary nature of masochism, this essay adds guilt issuing from the critical
conscious over against the ego (what will later become the superego) as
playing a significant role in the creation of masochism. This guilt about the
incestuous oedipal object choice of early childhood inevitably leads to
repression which transforms the sadistic fantasy, He loves only me, and not
the other child, for he is beating it, into a masochistic one, No, he does
not love me, for he is beating me. As Freud states: This being beaten is
now a convergence of the sense of guilt and sexual love. It is not only the
punishment for the forbidden genital relation, but also the regressive substitute
for that relation (Freud, 1919, p. 189). Secondary masochism issues from a
repressed sadistic fantasy: So far as I know, this is always so; a sense of
guilt is invariably the factor that transforms sadism into masochism. But
this is certainly not the whole content of masochism (ibid.). While Freud
clarified his understanding of secondary masochism in A child is being beaten, he was painfully aware that this was only part of the story.
In Beyond the Pleasure Principle Freud (1920) speculatively introduced his
new dual drive theory. The death drive allowed for a primary destructive
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masochism, which at this stage was not yet fully articulated by Freud. As
discussed above, the death drive is essentially the drive of living things to
dissolution, destruction, and death. Freud discovered this primal instinct
through the phenomenon of traumatic repetition in the dream and fantasy
content of his patients. He discovered, much to his surprise, that the compulsion to repeat can override the pleasure principle, as evidenced by patients
who relive traumatic events day after day and night after night. Freud
describes this phenomenon, using what is for him an uncharacteristic adjective, demonic. He speculatively suggests that this traumatic repetition can
be explained by biological and psychic entropy and that his theory of tension reduction can be explained by this backward pull of the drives.
Organic life, says Freud, tends toward the inorganic, death. The striving for
rest he coined the nirvana principle and the underlying drive, the death
drive. Note this climactic section of the text where Thanatos and the
nirvana principle give rise to the possibility of a primary masochism:
Clinical observations led us at that time to the view that masochism, the component
instinct which is complementary to sadism, must be regarded as sadism that has
been turned round upon the subjects own ego. But there is no difference in principle between an instinct turning from an object to the ego and its turning from the
ego to an object which is the new point now under discussion. Masochism, the
turning round of the instinct upon the subjects own ego, would in that case be a
return to an earlier phase of the instincts history, a regression. The account that
was formerly given of masochism requires emendation as being too sweeping in one
respect: there might be such a thing as primary masochism a possibility which I
had contested at that time.
(Freud, 1920, pp. 545)

By the time he published The economic problem of masochism Freud


(1924) was certain that there was a primary masochism, which is the inward
manifestation of the death drive. In this paper he states: If mental processes are governed by the pleasure principle in such a way that their first
aim is the avoidance of unpleasure and the obtaining of pleasure, masochism is incomprehensible (Freud, 1924, p. 159). He explains that masochism
appears in three forms: erotogenic, feminine, and moral, but that the erotogenic lies at the bottom of the others (ibid., p. 161). Further exploration of
these forms leads Freud to formally assert a primary sadism and masochism
that issue from the death drive. Thanatos itself represents a primary masochism and, when this drive is deflected by Eros, it becomes outwardly
manifested as the destructive instinct, the instinct for mastery, or the will
to power (ibid., p. 163). Thus sadism is the outward manifestation of the
death drive, and masochism the inward. There is also, in addition, a secondary masochism that can occur: In certain circumstances the sadism, or
instinct of destruction, which has been projected, can be once more introjected, turned inwards (ibid., p. 164).
Men are not gentle creatures who want to be loved, and who at the most can defend
themselves if they are attacked; they are, on the contrary, creatures among whose
instinctual endowments is to be reckoned a powerful share of aggressiveness. As a
result, their neighbour is for them not only a potential helper or sexual object, but

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also someone who tempts them to satisfy their aggressiveness on him, to exploit his
capacity for work without compensation, to use him sexually without his consent,
to seize his possessions, to humiliate him, to cause him pain, to torture and to kill
him. Homo homini lupus. Who, in the face of all his experience of life and history,
will have the courage to dispute this assertion?
(Freud, 1930, pp. 678)

It is not until Civilization and Its Discontents that Freud (1930) turns his
undivided attention to the outward manifestation of the death drive and
develops his theory of aggression, mastery, and destruction. After personally
witnessing the atrocities of World War I, Freud became convinced, like
Schopenhauer before him, that instinctual passions are stronger than
reasonable interests (Freud, 1930, p. 112). Aggressiveness is unquestionably
understood as part of human nature even seen in the nursery. For the
author of Civilization and Its Discontents, civilization is itself repressive, a
place where aggressive drives are inverted, repressed, or sublimated. Since
civilization is inherently repressive, we are, in a loose sense, a society of
masochists repressing our aggressive and sexual instincts. Many of us are
masochists in the true sense deriving pleasure from controlling ourselves,
enjoying the repression of our primal instincts by an overactive superego.
(Only in society where authority is internalized, does the super-ego torment
the sinful ego.) Others are sadists indulging in positions of power and acts
of mastery over others. In almost every human relationship sadism and masochism are at play. The student must submit to the teacher, the citizen to
the police, and the child to the parent: We all dominate some and prostrate
ourselves before others at different points in our lives. And above all these
particular social relations the state or civilization, in some sense the ultimate
sadist, tramples over the individual who is forced to play the ultimate masochist. Anticipating Foucault, Freud sees the state as having a monopoly on
aggression as aggression is the greatest impediment to civilization (Freud,
1930, p. 81). The satisfaction of the destructive instinct is accompanied by
an extraordinarily high degree of narcissistic enjoyment, owing to its presenting the ego with a fulfilment of the latters old wishes for omnipotence
(ibid.). It provides immense satisfaction to release this primal drive for
destruction, even when completely detached from Eros. It is this destructive
instinct which twists Eros, creating sadism and masochism. In Freuds final
analysis, sadism and masochism are merely a result of the great struggle
between Eros and Thanatos, between civilization and chaos, between life
and death, and we are the active and passive victims of this endless war:
[C]ivilization is a process in the service of Eros, whose purpose is to combine single
human individuals, and after that families, then races, peoples and nations, into one
great unity, the unity of mankind. Why this has to happen, we do not know; the
work of Eros is precisely this. These collections of men are to be libidinally bound
to one another. Necessity alone, the advantages of work in common will not hold
them together. But mans natural aggressive instinct, the hostility of each against all
and of all against each, opposes this programme of civilization. This aggressive
instinct is the derivative and the main representative of the death instinct which we
have found alongside of Eros and which shares world-dominion with it. And now, I
think, the meaning of the evolution of civilization is no longer obscure to us. It
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must present the struggle between Eros and Death, between the instinct of life and
the instinct of destruction, as it works itself out in the human species. This struggle
is what all life essentially consists of, and the evolution of civilization may therefore
be simply described as the struggle for life of the human species. And it is this battle
of the giants that our nurse-maids try to appease with their lullaby about Heaven.
(Freud, 1930, p. 122)

Schopenhauer on sadism and masochism


Deceived by the knowledge bound to its service, the will here fails to recognize
itself; seeking enhanced well-being in one of its phenomena, it produces great suffering in another. Thus in the fierceness and intensity of its desire it buries its teeth in
its own flesh, not knowing that it always injures itself, revealing in this form
through the medium of individuation the conflict with itself which bears its inner
nature. Tormentor and tormented are one.
(Schopenhauer, 1818, p. 354)

For Schopenhauer, pleasure in the pain of others and in ones own pain are
both rooted in the will-to-live. While Schopenhauer never knew these terms,
we can clearly see that he was thinking of what would be later called sadism and masochism. As we have seen above, the will-to-live manifests itself
as our desire for our own preservation and expansion and secondarily for
the preservation and expansion of the species. When two individuals meet
who are both striving after the same resources, the will-to-live necessitates a
clash. Thus the will-to-live accounts for his understanding of a form of primary sadism, our pleasure in acts of other directed cruelty, our Schadenfreude. This pleasure in the pain of others is the pleasure of being and
expanding; of fulfilling the primal urges of the will-to-live of the individual.
When we are successful, we destroy everything and anything in our path.
The role of the intellect, as a survival tool of the will, explains the extreme
cruelty of man and the dominion of the strong over the weak. For Schopenhauer, like Freud after him, man is a cruel beast: [The] human race reveals
in itself with terrible clearness that conflict, that variance of the will with
itself, and we get homo homini lupus (Schopenhauer, 1818, p. 147). For
Schopenhauer, cruelty arises out of the extreme pressure of the will which
can never be satisfied: [T]he subject of willing is constantly lying on the
revolving wheel of Ixion, always drawing water in the sieve of the Danaids,
and is the eternally thirsting Tantalus (ibid., p. 196). The inherent inability
to escape this miserable fate and achieve the aims of the will-to-live causes
deep inner suffering that is then projected onto the external world. In other
words, he tries to mitigate his own suffering by the sight of anothers, and
at the same time recognizes this as an expression of his own power (ibid.,
p. 364). The will creates a frustration of instinct, which then must be projected outward. Combined with the narcissistic pleasure involved with the
expression of power, cruelty becomes an end in itself. In this sense the willto-live always gives rise to what Freud would recognize as sadistic phenomena.
The important, and obvious, similarity between the two theories is that
sadistic acts are understood as the manifestation of an overwhelming
instinct, or drive. Schopenhauer, like the young Freud, conceived of
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destructiveness and mastery as arising from essentially self-preservative


instincts. As discussed above, the most salient difference is that Schopenhauer
had no concept equivalent to Freuds death drive. In Schopenhauers view,
everything arises from the will-to-live which is an unconscious desire and
striving for self-preservation and expansion. Yet, on the level of the
noumenon of the will-in-itself there is something akin to the death drive.
In the first volume of The World as Will and Representation Schopenhauer describes the self-mortifying efforts of the will. The objectified
phenomena of the will are always striving for life, either of the species or
of the individual, but the will as thing-in-itself is the ultimate cause of
everything experienced in the phenomenal world. In some ways this is akin
to the unconscious instinctual death drive. Each individual is, on the
noumenal8 level, the de-individuated world will and only individuated by
experience (as phenomena). In other words, the will is a blind striving on
the noumenal level whose turmoil is experienced as endless conflict in the
phenomenal world. In some sense, the phenomena of the will are collectively, in themselves, a conflict between life-giving forces and destruction.
The phenomena of will act like Eros and Thanatos. However, even this
interpretation of will does not account for Freuds death drive proper. As
an individuated, intelligible phenomenon there is no equivalent in
Schopenhauers philosophy to the death drive. Freuds bizarre and astute
conception is his own.
Schopenhauer acknowledged that man is also capable of compassion and
this notion is rooted in a phenomenon responsible for another form of
masochism. For Schopenhauer, compassion is based on self-identification
of will when the barrier between ego and non-ego is broken. Due to egodissolution one will often engage in what appear to be masochistic
behaviors, risking or subjecting oneself to harm in order to help others with
no material advantage to be gained, that is, acts of selfless compassion.9
This destruction of the barrier between ego and non-ego also indicates a
primary masochism. In On Feeling, Knowing, and Valuing Scheler describes
Schopenhauers recounting of the ensuing observation by an English officer
in the Indian jungle:
[A] white squirrel, having met the gaze of a snake, hanging on a tree and showing
every sign of a mighty appetite for its prey, is so terrified by this that it gradually
moves toward instead of away from the snake, and finally throws itself into the
open jaws. It is of no consequence whether this be a case of conscious suggestion
alone (quite involuntary, of course, on the snakes part), or whether it may not also
involve a hypnotic narcosis. The squirrels instinct for self-preservation has succumbed to an ecstatic participation in the object of the snakes own appetitive nisus,
namely swallowing. The squirrel identifies in feeling with the snake, and thereupon
8

Schopenhauer, following Kant, divides the world into phenomena, things as they are for us, and
noumena, things as they are themselves. The noumena lie behind the mind as imposed forms of space,
time, and causation. For Schopenhauer the noumenon is the single world will, an indivisible (and
unconscious) primal striving, and the phenomenal world is the individuated world of sense experience. In
some ways this distinction is comparable to the psychoanalytic distinction between drive and wish.

This allowed Schopenhauer to account for the motives behind self-sacrifice, a notoriously difficult
problem for him.

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spontaneously establishes a corporeal identity with it by disappearing down its


throat.
(Scheler, 1992, p. 62)10

This primary masochism is the enjoyment of being an active participant


in the process of the others will-to-live. It is the preys identification with
the powerful will of the predator. As Scheler puts it: Masochism, whether
of the gross or refined type, resembles its opposite, sadism, in being simply
a (twofold) manifestation of the erotic power (Scheler, 1992, p. 62). Sexuality as the lord of the world is the secret motivator behind all actions that
go beyond mere self-preservation. The very act of being dominated, even
being eaten or destroyed is inherently erotic. The ego is caught up in the
erotic expression of will and now de-individuated it enjoys unrestrained participation in the world will devouring itself. In this state of pure terror the
ego is paralyzed, like the squirrel caught in the gaze of death, and even its
will-to-live is forced to submit to the overwhelming dominion of the world
will. The chaotic blind striving of the will, the thing-in-itself buttressing the
phenomenal world, is exposed in all its glory. It lures its participants into
abysmal, ecstatic submission. Yet this is merely a portent of the most significant and primary masochism for Schopenhauer, namely the deep pleasure
that results from losing our individuality, from self-dissolution. It is simultaneously horrible and wonderful, pleasurable and painful, enchanting and
terrible.
This de-individuation is the essence of the poetic art of tragedy for
Schopenhauer. It sees through the form of the phenomenon, the principium
individuationis; the egoism resting on it (Schopenhauer, 1818, p. 253). The
denial of the will-to-live and the dissolution of the individual into the world
will is the essence of tragedy.11 For the sadist, and vicarious masochist,
pleasure is derived from watching Oedipus tear out his eyes. Witnessing the
dissolution of the ego succumbing to its tragic fate, to a state of primal
oneness as the world will. The protagonist is sacrificed to the chorus and
the eager audience. We indulge in the vicarious sadistic and masochistic
pleasure of ego dissolution. The tragic heros dissolution is our own as we
are all united by the overwhelming seductive power of the world will.
If we compare this notion with Freuds discussion of the oceanic feeling
in Chapter One of Civilization and Its Discontents we can almost feel Freud
addressing the Schopenhauerian notion expressed above. Freuds friend12
expressed this oceanic feeling as an indissoluble bond, of being one with
the world (Freud, 1930, p. 12). Freud explains this feeling by referring to
the process of individuation, the establishment of ego boundaries, by which
the infantile ego defines, or distinguishes between, everything internal and
external. Since this process occurs to varying extent in each individual, its
effects can be felt to a greater or lesser extent in later life. Overextended ego
10
Unfortunately I was unable to locate the source of this account in Schopenhauers works. Scheler does
not cite his source.
11
Schopenhauers notion of tragedy would influence the young Nietzsche. See The Birth of Tragedy
(Nietzsche, 1872).
12

This friend was apparently the famous French novelist, Romain Rolland.

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boundaries cause an individual to feel at one with or overwhelmed by the


world. Freud states, however, that he has never felt this oceanic feeling and
sees it as a form of puerile mysticism. Nevertheless, Freud has offered us an
alternate, albeit less mystical, explanation of the phenomena of ego-dissolution.
There is another form of masochism in Schopenhauers philosophy, the
masochism of the ascetic, which he sometimes refers to as the joy of grief.
Schopenhauer absolutely idealized the ascetic who denies the will-to-live and
all its phenomenal manifestations:
By the expression asceticism I understand in the narrower sense this deliberate
breaking of the will by refusing the agreeable and looking for the disagreeable, the
voluntarily chosen way of life of penance and self-chastizement, for the constant
mortification of the will For only in the case of a few is knowledge sufficient to
bring about the denial of the will
(Schopenhauer, 1818, p. 392)

This form of masochism, while directed at the will, is manifested in the


phenomenal world as a masochistic ego. In Freudian terms it would be a
severe sanction prescribed by the superego against the id resulting in the
punishment of an unduly masochistic ego. Schopenhauer recommended this
ascetic masochism as a method of destroying desire, the cause of suffering,
much in the spirit of Buddhist and Christian asceticism. For Schopenhauer,
this masochistic practice is the way to ensure that one escapes desire, to
overcome the will itself and be free of suffering. Since in Schopenhauers
system, like Freuds, pleasure is un-pain, denying the will through ascetic
practices is a pleasurable activity:
If the will is to a certain extent broken then practically nothing more is desired,
and finally the character shows itself as mild, sad, noble, and resigned. Finally when
grief no longer has any definite object, but is extended over the whole of life, it is
then to a certain extent self-communion, a withdrawal, a gradual disappearance of
the will, the visibility of which, namely the body, is imperceptibly but inwardly
undermined by it, so that the person feels a certain loosening of his bonds, a mild
foretaste of the death that claims to be the dissolution of the body and of the will
at the same time. A secret joy therefore accompanies this grief ... the joy of grief.
(Schopenhauer, 1818, p. 396)

Strangely, suicide is not a valid option in Schopenhauers system. Most


suicides, he claims, are simply due to an acknowledgement of ones lack of
ability to achieve the goals of the will and are therefore essentially an affirmation, not a denial, of the will-to-live.13 It is also pointless, in his view, as
killing oneself has no effect on the world will.14 The only way to truly deny
the will is to engage in traditional ascetic practices; to abstain from plea-

13

Schopenhauers position on suicide is interesting. He does not advocate suicide but he believes that it
should not be illegal for a number of reasons, one of which is that the state is punishing someone for
failing at their attempt.

14
There is one notable exception to Schopenhauers general position on suicide: ascetic suicide by
starvation. He does not advocate this action directly but he claims that it can be a true denial of the
world will. See The World as Will and Representation I, para 69 (Schopenhauer, 1818).

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sure of any kind, to deny desire in order to annihilate it; to cut it off at the
source; to beat it out of oneself.
In Civilization and Its Discontents Freud addresses this issue directly. He
discusses various possible ways of contending with suffering, saying that
each person, guided by the pleasure principle, his reality principle, and general disposition, will find his own way of seeking pleasure or, more precisely,
of avoiding pain. He says that if one wants to take on the dreaded external
world alone he can only defend himself by turning away from it. He
acknowledges the methods advocated by Schopenhauer: The extreme form
of this is brought about by killing off the instincts, as is prescribed by the
worldly wisdom of the East and practised by Yoga. If it succeeds, then the
subject has, it is true, given up all other activities as well he has sacrificed
his life; and, by another path, he has once more only achieved the happiness
of quietness (Freud, 1930, p. 29). In these individuals Thanatos has overcome Eros. Their striving for the happiness of quietness, the nirvana principle, draws them from a life of futile striving to what is not properly a life.
Freud, like Schopenhauer, acknowledges the inherent discomfort and unease
which characterize engaged life. But Freud, rather forlornly, offers us
another solution: to regulate our instincts and live in a tenuous and fraught
alliance with other people in civilization.15 This is Freuds implicit challenge
to Schopenhauers pessimism: a life worth living, a life with emotional attachments to others, is unavoidably characterized by suffering and a life of isolation, the kind of life Schopenhauer advocates, is not properly speaking, a life.
This was something that Schopenhauer, with his faith in the solitary and
self-sufficient individual, could simply not accept.
In Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego Freud said: Let us keep
before our eyes the nature of the emotional relations which hold between
men in general. According to Schopenhauers famous simile of the freezing
porcupines no one can tolerate a too intimate approach to his neighbour
(Freud, 1921, p. 101). Schopenhauers fable of the porcupines appears in
Volume Two of Parerga and Paralipomena:
One cold winters day, a number of porcupines huddled together quite closely in
order through their mutual warmth to prevent themselves from being frozen. But
they soon felt the effect of their quills on one another, which made them again
move apart. Now when the need for warmth once more brought them together, the
drawback of the quills was repeated so that they were tossed between two evils, until
they had discovered the proper distance from which they could best tolerate one
another. Thus the need for society which springs from the emptiness and monotony
of mens lives drives them together; but their many unpleasant and repulsive qualities and insufferable drawbacks once more drive them apart. The mean distance
which they finally discover, and which enables them to endure being together, is
politeness and good manners. Whoever does not keep to this is told in England to

15
This is in complete opposition to Schopenhauer. Schopenhauers political philosophy is negligible. It is
loosely based on his morality and mentioned only rarely in his works. For him, the state, as long as it
must exist, should serve three essential functions; to protect the individual from external enemies, internal
enemies, and from the state itself (Magee, 1989, p. 205). If the state stretched itself beyond serving these
basic functions, Schopenhauer saw it as unwelcome interference. For Schopenhauer social life was a
burden. As we have seen, Schopenhauer advocated a complete withdrawal from social and political life.

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keep his distance. By virtue thereof, it is true that the need for mutual warmth will
be only imperfectly satisfied, but, on the other hand, the prick of the quills will not
be felt. Yet whoever has a great deal of internal warmth of his own will prefer to keep
away from society in order to avoid giving or receiving trouble and annoyance.
(Schopenhauer, 1851c, pp. 6512, emphasis mine)

For Schopenhauer, those with internal warmth will avoid society altogether, while the rest of us oscillate between a state of empty longing and
the sting of each others quills in a desperate but futile attempt to find a
balance between our unachievable desires and our pain. Freud too recognized the delicate balance of life in civilization. According to him, aversion
and hostility characterize almost every relationship:
The evidence of psycho-analysis shows that almost every intimate emotional
relation between two people which lasts for some time marriage, friendship, the
relations between parents and children contains a sediment of feelings of aversion
and hostility, which only escapes perception as a result of repression. This is less
disguised in the common wrangles between business partners or in the grumbles of
a subordinate at his superior. The same thing happens when men come together in
larger units. Every time two families become connected by a marriage, each of them
thinks itself superior to or of better birth than the other. Of two neighbouring
towns each is the others most jealous rival; every little canton looks down upon
the others with contempt. Closely related races keep one another at arms length;
the South German cannot endure the North German, the Englishman casts every
kind of aspersion upon the Scot, the Spaniard despises the Portuguese. We are no
longer astonished that greater differences should lead to an almost insuperable
repugnance, such as the Gallic people feel for the German, the Aryan for the
Semite, and the white races for the coloured.
(Freud, 1921, p. 101)

As we have noted above, masochistic tendencies and practices are essential


to life in society. To live in society we must submit to the laws of the state.
We must repress our natural aggressive and sexual drives. It seems that, for
every blow thrown, there is someone only too willing to turn the other
cheek. Perhaps this social masochism serves Eros in its civilization-building
activity by drawing the masochists together with the sadists that oppress
them. Our masochistic tendencies and identifications are essential parts of
the glue that binds us together. And our sadistic tendencies, our fear and
hatred for what is other, even in the slightest respect, violently separate us.
Perhaps, society essentially involves a masochistic binding and sadistic
splitting. Perhaps, following Schopenhauer, these two impulses drive for
individuation and the drive for unity are incompatible.
In our comparison of Freud and Schopenhauers views of sadism and
masochism, we have thus far accounted for all three forms of masochism
Freud presents in The economic problem of masochism but one: the feminine.
(This is a complex topic that has been treated extensively elsewhere. For
our purposes a few remarks will have to suffice.) We accounted for the
Schopenhauerean equivalent to erotogenic masochism with his notion of
ego-dissolution, and we have accounted for a form of moral masochism in
his notion of the ascetic denial of the will. All that remains is feminine
masochism, the existence and nature of which (unfortunately) both theorists
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agreed upon and for which both have been, and should be, held accountable. The so-called natural sexual masochism of women is evidenced
throughout the works of both Freud and Schopenhauer. For Freud, women
are biologically sexually passive or submissive and as such they have an
innate masochism. The male aggressor has a biological drive to dominate
and subdue a female. In his words from Three Essays: The sexuality of
most male human beings contains an element of aggressiveness a desire to
subjugate; the biological significance of it seems to lie in the need for
overcoming the resistance of the sexual object by means other than the
process of wooing (Freud, 1905, pp. 1567). The obvious inverse assumption is that women lack this aggression and instead are passive recipients
and have an inherent sexual masochism. In A child is being beaten Freud
acknowledges there are men who enjoy a feminine form of masochism, but
the feminine form itself is characteristically female implying a natural
feminine masochism (Freud, 1919, p. 161). As Greer states in The Female
Eunuch: [Freud] did not suggest that one way Eros could recruit his forces
would be by re-endowing women with their sexuality, their fealty to Eros.
Instead, he and his followers elaborated the concept of female masochism as
divinely ordained by biology (Greer, 1970, p. 106). Schopenhauers
infamous views on women are well known, and as we might expect he has a
much stronger view of the natural feminine passivity and submissiveness. In
his view, women as the weaker sex ... are driven to rely not on force, but
on cunning and what there ought to be is housewives and girls who hope
to become housewives and therefore educated, not in arrogant haughtiness,
but in domesticity and submissiveness (Schopenhauer, 1851a, pp. 83, 87).
In his infamous remarks on women, Schopenhauer portrays a masculine
activity as the desire and subsequent striving for a domination and mastery.
For Schopenhauer, women are merely the passive objects of active male
desire. Unfortunately, the father of psychoanalysis and the great pessimist
were not radical and revolutionary in every respect.

Conclusion
We have seen how Schopenhauer and Freud understood human life as a
sadisticmasochistic relation fundamentally characterized by suffering, and
how each theorist tried to solve this problem. Schopenhauers fundamental
theoretical assertion, that the complete denial and suppression of instinct
was necessary to alleviate suffering, is in complete opposition to Freuds
view. Freud offered us an alternative to Schopenhauers life denying worldweary pessimism: the good life, a life of rewarding emotional attachments
inevitably involves a certain amount of suffering. Schopenhauer could not
accept this fragile and uncomfortable balance. For Schopenhauer, no shared
joy was worth the pain of life in civilization.
At the end of our inquiry it is prudent, despite my earlier rejection of the
question, to briefly return to one of the most over-discussed questions in
the SchopenhauerFreud literature, namely, what was Schopenhauers influence on Freud? My response, as writing this essay has made clear to me, is
to take Freud at his word. Freud emerged from the intellectual background
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of a Germany still recoiling from the influence of Kant, Schopenhauer,


Nietzsche and others. Freud was certainly influenced by Schopenhauer early
in his intellectual life regardless of whether he read him then or only later.
Was there a German intellectual who escaped the influence of the great
pessimist whose World as Will and Representation lay on every bourgeois
coffee-table? It seems that, while Schopenhauer anticipated some early
psychoanalytic notions, he only lay some of the basic groundwork for Freud.
Schopenhauer could never have imagined what Freud would later do with
these vague and general notions. Schopenhauer, as a child of his age, simply
lacked Freuds extensive and nuanced understanding of mental phenomena
but was able to infer many psychological truths by the sheer force of his
genius. Now it is time to finally move past this distracting question and
listen to Freud:
You may perhaps shrug your shoulders and say: That isnt natural science, its
Schopenhauers philosophy! But, Ladies and Gentlemen, why should not a bold
thinker have guessed something that is afterwards confirmed by sober and painstaking detailed research?
(Freud, 1933, p. 107)

Translations of summary
Zwischen den Stacheln: Schopenhauer und Freud uber Sadismus und Masochismus. Esist allgemein bekannt, dass Sigmund Freud (18561939) und Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860) eine gemeinsame Weltanschauung teilten. Jeder, der mit den Arbeiten dieser beiden Denker vertraut ist, kann ihre
allgemeinen philosophischen Affinitten erkennen. Beide Mnner waren pessimistisch im Hinblick auf
die Kraft des menschlichen Verstandes und schrieben das menschliche Verhalten machtvollen unbewussten Krften zu, und infolgedessen waren beide hchst skeptisch, was die Zukunft der menschlichen
Gesellschaft betrifft. Gesttzt auf frhere Literatur vergleicht diese Abhandlung die philosophische
Theorie Schopenhauers mit der psychoanalytischen Theorie Freuds. Wir kommen zu dem Ergebnis, dass
obwohl Schopenhauer und Freud eine gemeinsame philosophische Orientierung hatten und die gleichen
grundlegenden Probleme des Lebens in der Zivilisation diagnostizierten sie vordergrndig hnliche,
dennoch letztlich sehr unterschiedliche Lsungen vorschlugen. Indem wir den Blick auf die jeweilige
Auffassung der beiden Denker ber Sadismus und Masochismus konzentrieren, versuchen wir in diesem
Essay, die Dimensionen dieses radikalen Pessimismus zu verstehen und zu akzeptieren.
Entre las plumas fuentes: Schopenhauer y Freud sobre el sadismo y el masoquismo. Es comnmente sabido que Sigmund Freud (18561939) y Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860) compartan una
visin de mundo. Todo aqul que conoce la obra de estos dos pensadores debera identificar sus afinidades filosficas generales. Los dos eran pesimistas respecto del poder de la razn humana, y atribuan la
conducta humana a fuerzas inconscientes poderosas. Como resultado, ambos eran profundamente escpticos acerca del futuro de la sociedad humana. A partir de la literatura preexistente, este ensayo compara
la teora filosfica de Schopenhauer con la teora psicoanaltica de Freud. Encontramos que, si bien ambos comparten una orientacin filosfica y diagnostican los mismos problemas fundamentales de la vida
en la civilizacin, proponen soluciones ostensiblemente similares pero, en ltima instancia, muy diferentes. Centrndose en la nocin de sadismo y masoquismo de cada uno de estos autores, este ensayo intenta entender y asumir las dimensiones de este pesimismo radical.
Entre les plumes: Schopenhauer et Freud a` propos du sadisme et du masochisme. Chacun sait
que Sigmund Freud (18561939) et Arthur Schopenhauer (178818860) partageaient la mme vision du
monde. Quiconque conna t leurs uvres respectives saura reconna tre sans difficult leurs affinits philosophiques. Tous deux portaient un regard pessimiste sur le pouvoir de la raison humaine et attribuaient
le comportement humain
des forces inconscientes puissantes, ce qui fait quils taient terriblement sceptiques concernant lavenir de la socit. Sinspirant dtudes antrieures, lauteur de cet article tablit une
comparaison entre la thorie philosophique de Schopenhauer et la thorie psychanalytique de Freud. Il
consid re que bien que Schopenhauer et Freud partagent la mme orientation philosophique et le mme
diagnostic quant aux probl mes fondamentaux inhrents
la vie dans la civilisation, les solutions quils

Int J Psychoanal (2011) 92

Copyright 2011 Institute of Psychoanalysis

Between the quills: Schopenhauer and Freud on sadism and masochism

169

proposent sont en fin de compte radicalement diffrentes contrairement aux apparences. En centrant sa
rflexion sur les notions de sadisme et de masochisme propres
chacun de ces penseurs, lauteur tente de
saisir les dimensions relatives
ce pessimisme foncier.
Questioni spinose: Sadismo e Masochismo in Shopenhauer e Freud. Il fatto che Sigmund Freud
(18561939) e Arthur Schopenhauer (17881860) avessero la stessa visione del mondo cosa ben risaputa. Chiunque conosca lopera di questi due pensatori riconosce anche le loro generali affinit
filosofiche.
Entrambi, esprimendo tutto il loro pessimismo nei confronti del potere della ragione umana e attribuendo il comportamento umano a potenti forze inconsce, hanno di fatto mostrato un profondo scetticismo
circa il futuro dellumanit
. Partendo dalla letteratura esistente in capitolo, questo lavoro mette a confronto la teoria filosofica di Shopenhauer con quella psicoanalitica di Freud. A conclusione del contributo
viene sottolineato che sebbene vi sia una condivisione dellorientamento filosofico e la stessa visione delle
cause di afflizione della vita civilizzata, questi due autori propongono tuttavia soluzioni che solo a prima
vista sono simili ma risultano, in ultima analisi, ben diverse. Il lavoro, partendo dal significato che ognuno dei due pensatori attribuivano a sadismo e maschismo, si sviluppa nel tentativo di comprendere
e integrare le dimensioni del loro radicale pessimismo.

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