Research An Unknown American Contribution to the German Pessimism Controversy: Amalie J. Hathaway’s...

An Unknown American Contribution to the German Pessimism Controversy: Amalie J. Hathaway’s ‘Schopenhauer’

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By Carol Bensick

In 1875, an essay called “German Pessimism” was published anonymously by William James in The Nation.  An account of Otto Pfleiderer’s Der Moderne Pessimismus of the same year told Americans that they need not know anything about this merely “ethnic” threat.  Six years later, an “ethnic” speaker at the  Concord School of Philosophy would demur.

In August 1881, at the third season of the Concord, Massachusetts School of Philosophy, a paper was given that was later described by the Springfield Republican as “one of the most notable” and by Lilian Whiting even “one of the finest” then read.  The topic was “Schopenhauer” and the giver, Mrs. Amalie Hathaway of Little Prairie Ronde, Michigan, was praised by the respected Republican not only as “probably by far the best grounded in philosophy among American women,” but as “the only woman there who thought level with the men.”

This is not all.  Philosopher Bronson Alcott, co-founder of the School, did not hesitate to credit Hathaway,in the Boston Women’s Journal, with “undoubtedly possess[ing] the keenest mind in speculative philosophy in this country”. The Newport, RI, Daily News rated Hathaway specifically as “probably the ablest exponent in America of those great Germans, Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer”.  The New York Times itself admitted that Hathaway was “an authority on Kant and Hegel” .

Let us look at this remarkable paper.

Hathaway begins her paper by acknowledging that the official Anglo-American attitude in 1881 toward Schopenhauer is disapproval.  According to the current textbook on Modern Philosophy for Descartes to Hartmann by Harvard’s Alford Professor of Philosophy (and notorious reviewer of Emerson’s Nature) Francis Bowen,  “much of [Schopenhauer’s] philosophy is unsound and pernicious.”  Schopenhauer “himself [is]… a bad man.”  “A misanthrope, a pessimist, and an atheist,” Schopenhauer is “one who believes in nothing but his own merits.” In defiance of this, Hathaway justifies studying Schopenhauer nonetheless, not because his philosophy is sound, but because his philosophy is a product of the present age; He was a pleasant person, but that did not make him a bad man, only a solitary worker. Rejected as she shows by his own mother and by the contemporary philosophical profession, anyone who led the solitary life he led, “alone with philosophy and his proud, wounded spirit,”  would have needed to have just such “an intense consciousness of his own worth.” to function productively.

To make this case, Hathaway takes some time relating Schopenhauer’s early life. She invites the audience to empathize with “the boy “ who “chafed and fretted” under an imposed apprenticeship. She reveals that even in expelling him from her house Johanna Schopenhauer conceded that “what repels me does not lie in your heart”–i.e., that contra Francis Bowen, even someone who disliked him did not claim that there was anything wrong with his heart.  Hathaway takes pains to point out that Arthur’s dissertation “attracted much attention, being at once recognized as a truly valuable contribution to philosophic thought.” In other words, she does not ask the audience to take her bare word for his philosophy being meritorious. She sets us up to share the shock when after “the young doctor” “hastened  to… present to his mother” The Four-fold Root of Sufficient Reason, “ the first-fruits of his labors,”  Johanna Schopenhauer laughs at the cumbrous title–to feel the blow when his great book The World as Will and Idea is met with “silence and utter neglect,” and when “after persistent efforts” he still had “no encouragement from any quarter,” she asks us to agree that “whatever may have been the great philosopher’s faults,” we should accept “the testimony of his best friends that… [he was] sensitive, sympathetic, [and] keenly alive to the sufferings of fellow- creatures.”

Having hopefully discredited Bowen’s judgment and  prepared us to listen with an open mind, Hathaway turns to Schopenhauer’s philosophy in The World as Will and Idea. By stating that she won’t discuss “whether he can legitimately ask” what is the cosmos aside from my idea, and “leaving aside all questions as to the speculative validity“ of looking “upon all other objects as analogues of our own body”, as Schopenhauer teaches doing, she conveys that she herself does not regard the book as entirely valid, thus adding to her credibility.  After briskly, indeed, breathtakingly, paraphrasing Schopenhauer’s metaphysics of the idea and the will, she hastens to address Schopenhauer’s pessimism, which she admits is his main claim to attention outside Germany, and to which she says “his ethics are closely related.”  According to her, Schopenhauer undertakes to “prove” pessimism, which he finds to be rooted “deep in the nature of the cosmic will.” For pessimism, “The pursuit of happiness is recognized as an illusion and an evil, and the will-to-live as humanity’s great guilt.”  Paradoxically, she continues, Schopenhauer makes this terrible realization to be “the ethical value of pessimism.”  For him, it “makes of pessimism the basis of the highest moral development, preparing the way for self-renunciation and,” thereby, “moral regeneration.”

For Schopenhauer, Hathaway relates, “the ideal of moral perfection is asceticism.”  She cites his example of a medieval French monastic order called  La Trappe, the meaning of the survival of whose “terrible severity” over the centuries it requires pessimism to explain.  With regard to immortality, “consciousness passes away with the brain, but the will which created the body and built the brain is immortal.”  Hence, “The only question is, whether it shall remain individual will, reassert itself in other forms of existence, or whether it shall deny itself and return to the all,” “the final negation.”  This makes Francis Bowen’s estimate look correct;  however, Hathaway emphasizes that Schopenhauer teaches that “all negation is relative;… nothing is only the negation of something as known to us.”

Next Hathaway turns to Schopenhauer’s aesthetics, which as she allows are rightly well known to be based in Platonic idealism rather than German. According to Hathaway, Schopenhauer borrows the Hegelian classification of the arts with the exception of music.  She writes, “Music is not a representative of the cosmic  ideas …[I]t is, like the ideas, an immediate manifestation of the cosmic will.”  It also “has a mysterious correspondence” with both “the all of nature” and “with nature within us.”  In it “The human will itself…find[s] a repose.”

Hathaway now turns to criticism, seven pages of it out of a nineteen-page essay of which three pages were biographical.  Although a woman, addressing professional (male) educators, clearly she is not content to remain at the level of exposition. She zeroes in on “the psychological aspect” because Schopenhauer’s  “cosmology is confessedly anthropomorphic.”  In a startling turn, she suddenly attacks Schopenhauer almost viscerally for being “capricious, extravagant, even fantastic”, over and above his admitted “subjective bias”; for his “neglect of “ what she assumes are “fundamental unities”; for his “tendency to disintegrate“ things.  His “separation of the intellect from the will” in particular she judges a “fundamental, systemic error”; referring to the contemporary new experimental psychology, she contends that “will severed from intelligence is not will,  as we know it in consciousness.”  “Nor can intelligence be emancipated from the will,”  she proceeds; “The emancipation of the intellect from the will is, in fact, [only] a rhetorical phrase.” Just so, the alleged “creation of the intellect by the will, psychologically considered, …is another instance of the seductions of a rhetorical genius.” It can be no more than this because  “logically and metaphysically, the creation of the intellect by the will is…untenable.”  Logically,  “it is [an] anomaly,” not only “a begging of the question” but one “more to be condemned than that of simple materialism, because trespassing on deeper philosophical ground”; “Metaphysically, it is an ignoring of… “what she claims is “the ultimate identity of potentiality and actuality,” which for her is a “prime philosophical necessity.”

According to Hathaway, “Both the extravagance and the truth of his psychology and metaphysics” appear again starkly in Schopenhauer’s pessimism. His pessimism is only as valid as these are. “Empirically,” she states, it is obviously “impossible to substantiate either the truth or the falsehood of pessimism.”  To do Schopenhauer justice, where his successor Von Hartmann (whom, incidentally, Francis Bowen admires) places pessimism on a scientific basis, which Hathaway derides, Schopenhauer places it on a poetic one.  And the “pathos…, power, … [and] “lofty impressiveness” of Schopenhauer’s words, she warns,  tend “for the time being” illegitimately to “overwhelm the student and silence the objector.”

Addressing Schopenhauer’s ethics, Hathaway asserts that it could have destroyed his pessimism, — her desideratum–if Schopenhauer had only worked out his own principles.  The reason he does not, she suggests, is that “his sympathetic nature” is “overshadowed by a world’s suffering,” and he is committed to his peculiar, already-shown to be untenable, “theory of the human will.” She finally asks why Schopenhauer made his mistakes. She suggests it is because he had a bias toward pessimism, which limited his view. “The life of the spirit in its beauty and its power does not reveal itself to the pessimist,” she asserts. Thus “pessimism can maintain itself only by disregarding the spiritual aspect of life,–its compensations, its wealth, its beauty, its power, its hope.”  Finally, she repeats, if only Schopenhauer had adapted the Platonic doctrine of ideas into his ethics, “pessimism would have reached the transformation which Schopenhauer now, in his loftiest moods, [only] suggests.”

Hathaway  winds up with an ambitious attempt to consider Schopenhauer in “relation to recent German thought.” In consideration of “the extensive Schopenhauer literature which,” she informs the Americans, “has sprung up,”  she boldly proposes, “the great pessimist seems to have opened a new philosophic era.” Presumably referring to the prize-winning and other essays Schopenhauer published after his academic World as Will and Idea,  he has, she observes, “made his works accessible to the German mind at large, awakening an interest and obtaining a foothold outside of the aristocracy of thought which has its centres at the universities.”  In addition, she is careful to point out, “the followers of Schopenhauer in Germany are by no means confined to those pessimistically inclined.” Raising the question of why the pessimist Schopenhauer became a philosopher to begin with, she replies, “Philosophical Germany must needs give a philosophical expression” to “the pessimistic current of the time.”  And the particular expression of it Schopenhauer gave, she would convince us,  is “noble and lofty”.  Recalling the opinion by Frances Bowen with which she began, the only way to explain Bowen’s now obviously absurd impression that the Schopenhauerian philosophy is “pernicious” is to assume as she bluntly states that Bowen was swayed by religious “bigotry.”

One of the idiosyncracies of Hathaway’s lecture in contrast to the typical lecture at the Concord School is how it ends.  Wiping her hands (feet?) of poor Francis Bowen, Hathaway plainly seems reluctant to stop speaking.  Uttering aloud what makes more sense as a promise to herself than an announcement, since of course it is not up to her whether she will be asked to speak at the School again, she states that  ”I reserve for a future occasion” to pursue her topic further, in  “[a] closer and more comprehensive study of nineteenth century pessimism as a philosophical movement in Germany.”

This sounds more like a book topic than a lecture. Some possible hints of a book in germ can indeed be found in the Schopenhauer lecture. Although Hathaway does not directly raise the question of why pessimism has arisen, she does suggest an answer indirectly, in two places. In paragraph 34, she advances the presumably shocking claim that “Christianity is essentially pessimistic.”  This is because “Christianity came to mankind with an intense conviction of the worthlessness of the present world, an all-absorbing sense of its wrong and its pain and its guilt.” The only difference in this from, for example, Buddhism, is “that Christianity lights up the gloom of the earth-life with the hope of heaven.”  In Paragraph 89, she elaborates the previous claim by stating that the admitted pessimistic consciousness of the 19th century is “the natural residuum of a Christian cosmology robbed of its heaven”, where heaven is defined philosophically as “the transcendental beyond.”  “Take out the hope of heaven, “ she pronounces, “and Christian hymns and sermons without end tell us the story of a world-despairing pessimism.” The nobility she ascribes to Schopenhauer then would seem to lie in her perception (concurring with his own) of his “honesty” in facing up to this development.

Although she would persuade us to admire Schopenhauer’s nobility, Hathaway makes clear she does not share his pessimism.  According to her, “a higher life… is possible to the human soul,”  to which we “ascend step by step.”  As we ascend, “the facts and laws of the lower nature…,” represented by Schopenhauer’s will, “are transformed and reversed.”

Needless to say, only the highlights of this lengthy and dense lecture have been mentioned here. Hathaway’s admitted use of rhetoric and unadmitted efforts at poetry make summary frankly impossible. Necessarily, for a first encounter, the approach has been limited to exposition; in particular, I have not attempted a feminist reading. This is not to say one would not be useful; clearly it could help to account for the neglect of lecture and author, and also perhaps for certain peculiarities as a life and works of Schopenhauer.  Historically, the feminist angle would call for comparison with the only previous paper on Schopenhauer in English by a woman,  the (also neglected) Anglo-Irish philosopher Frances Power Cobbe, and the first subsequent  1886 paper in English by a woman, the St. Louis Hegelian and fellow speaker at the Concord School of Philosophy, Ellen M. Mitchell. It would also benefit from comparison with the comments about Schopenhauer in the letters of Anne Lynch Botta, a teacher and renowned salonniere in Rhode island and New York, and of Sarah Wyman Whitman, a close friend of William James, in 1865 and 1887 respectively; the 1903 NYU dissertation by Carrie Logan on “The Psychology of Schopenhauer”; and the essay on Schopenhauer by the first PhD (1894, unclaimed) from Radcliffe, Mary Whiton Calkins, in German Classics of the 19th and 20th Century edited by Kuno Francke, a 1914 sourcebook on German philosophers in translation. One would also benefit from looking at a story by “Octave Thanet” (Alice French), “Schopenhauer on Lake Pepin” (1888).  As well as such later essays in English, it would be perhaps even more interesting to look at an essay, translated from the German, by a Swiss woman, Olga Plumacher, then residing by great coincidence in the United States, specifically Kentucky in a colony in the recent British journal Mind entitled “Pessimism,” published, interestingly,  in 1879 (just two years previous to Hathaway’s lecture). Plumacher published again on the  Hartmann Litteratur in 1881. Ideally, and if one read German, one would want to place Hathaway in the context of the German ‘Pessimism Controversy”, recently rediscovered and studied by the distinguished Scholar of German nineteenth century philosophy, Frederick Beiser, Weltschmerz (2016). Investigating this occurrence led Beiser to discover “Two Forgotten Female Philosophers,” Agnes Taubert von Hartmann and the aforementioned Olga Plumacher Taubert wrote Pessimismus in 1875, which the American philosopher-psychologist G. Stanley Hall tells us in The Founders of Modern Psychology (1912) was “a well-known book.” Yet one more woman contributed to the controversy.  Hartmann’s second wife, Alma Lorenz, who gave and published a lecture series in 1902,  contributed “Hartman’s Konkreter Monismus” to Der Monismus in a series edited Andrew Drew in 1908. She published a bibliography of Von Hartmann in 1912, and edited a third edition of Harmann’s Phanomenology in 1924. It is revealing to note that Alma, who also intended to write a history of 19th century popular philosophy, published an article about Emerson’s reception and status in Germany in 1903, in Unity.  All this is regretfully for another day and a German speaking scholar. Including Zimmern, all this at least makes clear that there was something about pessimism/pessimists that was particularly attractive, whether inspiring or antagonizing to women, be they Anglo-Irish, German, American, Swiss.

So much said, it’s yet perhaps allowable to add a word about Hathaway’s critique of Francis Bowen. On the surface, her lecture is just Hathaway’s defense of Schopenhauer against Bowen. But Schopenhauer’s name is popularly synonymous with a particularly venomous misogyny. Insofar as Bowen is anti-Schopenhauer and Hathaway is pro-Schopenhauer, this makes them, in consistency, anti-misogynist and her pro-misogynist respectively. Indeed, there is a strange point in the lecture where Hathaway implies that Schopenhauer’s vaunted misogyny is slander, a rumor.

In contrasting Bowen with Hathaway, one sees that she recognizes that Schopenhauer’s atheism and misanthropy are rhetorical.  Women would not read him (as a writer Hathaway quotes says that German women were being noticed doing) if they did not benefit from it.

In fact, Bowen’s complaint against Schopenhauer’s character is extraneous to his impartial philosophical discussion in his textbook. He is not hostile to Schopenhauer’s philosophy. Had he been, he could have omitted him from the book without blame, Schopenhauer’s reputation being what it was. To the apparent surprise of a German cultural historian (Hurth), Bowen’s predecessor in writing on Schopenhauer, Frederick H. Hedge, the first Anglo-American to publish an essay on Schopenhauer, also had the opportunity to reject him, and did not. In truth, Hathaway does not really think Bowen is too negative. She really thinks he is too indifferent. As we remember, Hathaway’s real judgment on Schopenhauer is that he is capricious and fantastic– that is, self-indulgent, irresponsible, in his position of a teacher-guide. She does not object to him because he rejected Hegel. New England didn’t love Hegel. As anti-Hegel and pro-Plato Schopenhauer is quite in line with New England. Nor is misogyny out of line with it. So Hathaway had a delicate job. Because of her reverence for Schopenhauer’s German birth, she must vindicate Schopenhauer as a great philosopher against Bowen’s irrelevant moralism and piety, whether assumed or sincere. But she must stand firm against Schopenhauer’s pessimism. His ethics are as noble as possible assuming a pessimist cosmos. But she must not let women be persuaded that this is a pessimist cosmos, because in her view, it is not.

In short, for Frances Bowen, Schopenhauer is a good philosopher but a bad man. For Amalie Hathaway, Schopenhauer is a good man (and writer) but a bad philosopher– contrary to what gender stereotypes would predict.

Until last year, Bronson Alcott’s and that of the Springfield Republican had for years been the highest accolades of Amalie Hathaway known to this researcher.   Imagine my surprise, then, when while hunting something else in the archives of the Woman’s Journal, I fell flat on a paper by the title “Amelia J. Hathaway (sic),”  signed by H.E.I. — initials not corresponding to those of any of the editors or contributors on the masthead. It identifies its subject as “one of the most remarkable women this generation has produced,” “from whom great things were confidently expected.” Considering that depending on how you define generation this could include Florence Nightingale, the Brontes, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, not to mention Julia Ward Howe, this is a daring claim. HEI makes it because Hathaway’s death is having an impact on “the most cultivated and intellectual people, East and West.” Well, who was this remarkable woman? Baldly, she was “a worker in the field of philosophy and science.”

Having hopefully piqued our interest, HEI explains why she thinks the life of Hathaway is worth publishing in the Woman’s Journal.  She thinks that two social groups will benefit.  First, “women who aspire to live the intellectual life,” and second, “scholars and thinkers.”  Indeed, again overcome with her admiration for Hathaway, she despairs that “nothing short of a memorial volume could do full justice to it.” Memorial volumes were in vogue in the late nineteenth century.  Trusting that such a volume “is doubtless forthcoming,”–a too-hopeful prediction– HEI presents her own sketch as it were to tide us over.

Hathaway, she says, was born in Muhlhausen.  This is a town in the state of Thuringia, Germany, a state which also included the university town of Jena.  Karl John, Amalie’s father, took his family to Wisconsin when Amalie was twelve. “Even as a child,” says HEI, Amalie “began to ponder some of the deepest questions that philosophers seek to solve.” But Hathaway needed to work for a living, so at age 15 she took charge of a “country school.” In passing, HEI mentions that Hathaway had a knee problem which required her to use crutches, but nevertheless maintained a “cheerful,” “enthusiastic,” and “animated” demeanor. (This detail may recall Jane Addams with her spinal problem, whose demeanor was remarked contrastingly as distant.) HEI stresses that Hathaway’s upbeat attitude belied “the long years of patient struggle and earnest study” which had been required to [develop] “that brilliant mind.”

In any event, “while [still] teaching,” HEI resumes, Hathaway continued studying. In something that distinguishes her from contemporary American women philosophers Sarah Dorsey or Julia Ward Howe, Hathaway according to HEI planned “to avail herself of higher educational opportunities at a future time.” To this end, the self-sufficient teacher “laid aside money,” and so was able to be “one of the first women to be admitted to “the University of Michigan, which HEI boasts had a “well-equipped library.”  It was due to Michigan, and the “instruction of [its] professors,” that Hathaway became what she did. HEI purports to quote Hathaway.  “‘My real life, my happy student life, began when at the Ann Arbor library I first entered upon the earnest study of science and philosophy.” In case we were so conventional as to expect that, as a woman, Hathaway would have been attracted to literature or art, we will be surprised to learn that she chose, instead, courses in higher mathematics, Latin, Greek, and history–a reading list significantly similar to that of the young Julia Ward Howe.

At this point in HEI’s narrative there appears the one other character that it includes besides Hathaway. “Dr. Cocker” is here introduced as “delivering the famous course of lectures upon moral philosophy” that have since been published. This is Benjamin Cocker, a colorful English adventurer who became a Methodist minister in Michigan preoccupied with the popular theory of the Greek origins of Christian religion and who was appointed professor of philosophy at Ann Arbor. Chicago journalist Sara Underwood would later link Hathaway with Cocker in an article about the Concord School of Philosophy. According to HEI, it was Cocker’s lectures that “first turned [Hathaway’s] attention to the works of German metaphysicians and philosophers” that her own lecture will concern. Because she was already able “to read them in the original,” Hathaway  was “soon absorbed,” becoming an “earnest student of Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Hartmann, and others.”  The “delight” which HEI says not just passive audiences but “critical audiences” experienced testify to “how thorough” and “how successful she was in mastering” Cocker’s lectures. It is bold in HEI that the word, “mastering,” rarely applied to women, is used–a boldness that we will have reason to suspect HEI discovered in Hathaway.

While pursuing her “delightful student life,” HEI continues, Hathaway met the nurseryman, horticulturalist and self-taught poet Benjamin Hathaway, who was doing research in the library for an epic about the Iroquois.  After he became her husband, Amalie had to “pursue[] her studies “while overseeing “a home on a farm[,]”–a true “little house on the prairie,”  seriously in the boonies. Here HEI takes time out from her account to paint a picture of Hathaway at the end of her work day sitting reading “her favorite German authors, and writing those essays and lectures which have been the delight of scholars and thinkers.” We should remark that HEI is not the only person to point out the pleasurableness listeners perceived in Hathaway’s lectures: more than one later writer would call her ”charming.

According to HEI, the farmer and his wife developed a habit during the winter season of “seeing the libraries, attending lectures and literary clubs” in Ann Arbor and Chicago.  They particularly patronized The Philosophical Society of Chicago, a society that was  “for many years the nucleus of the best and most advanced thought of that city.” Now HEI gives one of two anecdotes. One day the Society was discussing a paper on German philosophy. Amalie Hathaway made a remark. The Society was so “impress[ed]” by how “evidently she understood the whole subject under discussion” and how “abundantly able’ she was “to hold her own against the most practiced thinkers and speakers” that she was immediately invited to give a lecture of her own. HEI is concerned to point out “this was a very high compliment to a stranger.” Hathaway’s lecture at the next meeting not only justified the invitation but impressed many as “the best of the season.”

There follows an invaluable list of Hathaway’s lost lectures, otherwise requiring a laborious search of daily newspapers.  For five  successive winters,’ Hathaway gave lectures on “Mental Automatism,” “Immanuel Kant,” The Hegelian Philosophy,” “Pessimism from the Standpoint of Hegel,” and one supposes HEl meant to include “Schopenhauer” to make up five…  Significantly, but befitting the readers of the Woman’s Journal, HEI asserts that Hathaway was “especially sought after… by women,” apparently needing to “get her all to themselves for an afternoon… and then ask all the questions they wished.” Perhaps they did not feel comfortable, or perhaps were cut off, asking questions at the Philosophical Society itself. Or perhaps HEI was angling her account to feminists.

The second anecdote concerns an 1881 visit of Bronson Alcott to a meeting–not clearly whether a women’s club or the Philosophical Society–at a lady’s house, Mrs. Helen Sheed,  where he heard Hathaway lecture. According to HEI, he immediately approached Hathaway, saying “We want you at our Summer School of Philosophy this summer.” Hathaway’s husband is quoted later as saying that “the two months in Boston and Concord and … New England” were “never happier or more fruitful.”  (He was hawking his self-published books and giving scientific papers at horticultural society meetings while she attended sessions and spoke at the Concord School of Philosophy.)

Coming to the point where she has to admit that Hathaway’s career has been cut off, HEI shares with her readers what she happens to know were Hathaway’s hopes for the future.  Hers was an “aspiration to accomplish some worthy and permanent work in the world of letters.” Clearly “letters” here is broader than “belles lettres,” not limited to poetry or fiction.  It is interesting to compare Hathaway’s dream with the childhood ambition of Julia Ward Howe, viz., the novel or play of the hour. HEI takes time to imagine what was going through Hathaway’s head between the moment of her heart attack and her death; she dares to suggest that it was “her unfinished work,” not her husband or even her newborn, that she most regretted leaving.

An account “of the particular quality and influence of Mrs. (sic) Hathaway’s work in the domain of speculative philosophy,” HEI withholds, blaming “space.”  We may well suspect that she is not qualified to understand Hathaway’s philosophy, something that limits nearly all of the newspaper accounts of the lectures of nineteenth-century women philosophers.  HEI suggests that “since the earnest brain and busy fingers that produced it are quiet in death,” the paper on Schopenhauer in particular “will be read with intenser and peculiar interest.” Perhaps the time has come for HEI’s prediction to be fulfilled.

Of course a full estimation of the reception of Schopenhauer or even pessimism cannot be made based on women authors alone. Doing so can be defended on two counts. First, a helpful account of the male reception has been recently provided by Christa Buschendorf in “The Challenge of German Pessimism: The reception of Schopenhauer in Transcendentalism and Pragmatism,” published in 2009 in Nineteenth-Century Prose (36, 2), in which she discusses the treatments of Schopenhauer by Emerson, Frederick Henry Hedge, and William James. Second, a reference work published in the current year, The Palgrave Schopenhauer Handbook, by Sandra Shapshay, contains no mentions not only of Hathaway but of Mitchell, Cobbe, Plumacher, or any of the other women on which we have touched, despite the fact that Shapshay herself concedes that Schopenhauer “rose to prominence in no small part thanks to the work of women writers.” (p 399).  Shapshay comments that this is “ironic, given that Schopenhauer was a notorious misogynist,” who wrote “extensively” on women’s (biological and metaphysical inferiority.”  But then it is ironic for her to be helping return Schopenhauer to prominence.

Shapshay herself evidently feels defensive about writing about Schopenhauer. Her argument is that we can still glean “historical perspective and philosophical insight” from “studying this somewhat neglected dead white male.” Not to do so is “to deprive ourselves,” which she is so bold as to say is “foolish.”  This ignores that it is Schopenhauer’s alleged sexism, not only his dead-white-male-ness, that makes her project questionable.

Schopenhauer expressed himself loosely about gender, and as Helen Zimmern surmised, evidently generalized from a too-limited sample. But that this equates to misogyny isn’t self-evident. Schopenhauer’s  anti-women remarks are in any case not in his academic nor his prize-winning works. More importantly, sexism, even if present, is not what these philosophical read and Amalie Hathaway in particular found to worry about in his writing.  It was his philosophical errors, not his personal prejudices that concerned them.


Carol Bensick has a Cornell Ph.D. in Early and Nineteenth-Century American Literary/Intellectual History.  As a Research Affiliate of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, she now works to restore overlooked women philosophers to nineteenth century American history.


  1. Schopenhauer has been dead since 1860. He had his day, he had his say. May he rest in peace. Good bye forever Arthur. Over and done.

    I mean no disrespect to the author’s above, who of course have every right to pursue their own interests. If this article was not representative of so many other philosophy articles I would raise no complaint. However, speaking to the profession as a whole and not any particular individual it must be asked…

    Is it the goal of academic philosophy to become as irrelevant to the modern world as possible? Does the endlessly repetitive examination of long dead philosophers and highly arcane obscure topics no one in the real world cares about at all really represent the highest use of the miracle of reason?

    Such a focus would seem to reveal to the reader that the best and brightest among us are not able, or perhaps not willing, to grasp what a perilous state the modern world is in. I don’t understand why this should have to be explained to such a highly educated group as the APA.

    If it is true that the APA members represent the best and the brightest, and…

    If it is true that the modern world is racing towards crisis of epic scale, then…

    Upon what logic do professional masters of reason apply themselves to anything but that which is the most relevant to the modern world, the survival of our civilization?

    If we are to focus instead on long dead famous people, perhaps someone can share with us an article about Emperor Nero of Rome, who is said to used his vast powers to fiddle while Rome burned.


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