The Genius of Madness

Arthur Schopenhauer was a German philosopher of the late 18th century (and early 19th century) whose masterpiece, The World as Will and Representation (Second Edition, 1844) work would influence great thinkers, such as Sigmund Freud.

The second chapter of Schopenhauer’s work, entitled ‘On Madness,’ requires a nuanced study, which I’ll spare you! What is worth noting is that, unlike any philosopher before him, Schopenhauer visited the local asylum before writing.

Asylums in the early 19th century were more homes where people were left by families, sometimes ghoulish places with little actual medical care. Intellectually challenged people were housed with the schizophrenia, and both were housed with sometimes the criminally violent. Schopenhauer would have seen a vast diversity of suffering — and abandonment.

Yet, he made a singular observation whose influence we see to the present day in the past-focus therapeutic settings of the West. Schopenhauer concluded that it was a defining similarity among all residents that they seemed to forget who they were. They had no memory of their identity.

In the West, we go into a broken past to reconstruct an identity that is true, free of the lies of abusers and their enablers. It becomes the foundation of a new, well, and integrated life. Schopenhauer was the first to identify this element of well-being.

It’s also important to remember that with victims of abuse and trauma from other cultures, the affinity Westerners have for the therapy-by-appointment setting is not the same; however, the process of discovering a true identity through stories or even work can be very similar.

One way our Christian identity is grounded are the Scriptures of old and Traditions. These link us to a past far beyond the times of our abuse and, indeed, reveal all that it means to be a child of God, now and through all time into Eternity.

For a nuanced review of this idea of Schopenhauer, check out David Bather Woods’s article, What Schoepenhauer Learned About Genius at the Asylum, published in Aeon’s newsletter Psyche on March 31, 2021.

If you found this helpful, you might like a weekly roundup of posts delivered to your mailbox. Subscribe for free here.