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Julius Bahnsen

Dr. Julius Friedrich August Bahnsen (March 30, 1830 – December 7, 1881) was a German philosopher. Bahnsen is usually considered the originator of characterology and a real-dialectical method of philosophical reflection which he laid down in his two-volume Contributions to Characterology (1867) and developed forth with his following works, amongst others his Opus magnum The Contradiction in the Knowledge and Being of the World (1880/82).

Biographical data

Born in Tondern (Tønder), Schleswig, in 1847 Bahnsen began his study of philosophy and (under Gregor Wilhelm Nitzsch) philology in Kiel. From 1849 he fought as a volunteer against the Danes in the First War of Schleswig (1848–1851) and fled to Tübingen in the Kingdom of Württemberg after the disarming of Schleswig-Holstein’s army in 1850. There he studied philosophy and in 1853 graduated under Friedrich Theodor Vischer with a topic relating to the aesthetics. Various employments as a teacher followed. In 1862, Bahnsen acquired an employment at a progymnasium in Lauenburg (Lębork), Hinterpommern, where he lived until his death.

Philosophical work

As a disciple of Schopenhauer, Bahnsen dared a mergence of Hegel’s dialectic (which Bahnsen, however, accepted only within the realms of the abstract) and Schopenhauer’s monism. Though in this connection the reasonless, all-embracing Schopenhauerian will is still accepted as the essence of the world and the only thing real, it doesn’t regard the will as being the same within all individuals, but as just as manifold as these individuals.

This characterological element of Bahnsen’s teachings, on which the works of such philosophers as Ludwig Klages are build upon, is laid down in the Contributions to Characterology (1867) as well as the disquisitions On the Relationship Between Will and Motive (1870) and Mosaics and Silhouettes (1877). Since the nature of unreasonableness consists in contradiction—particularly the contemporaneous existence of multiple will directions attaching themselves to each other—it follows that not only reality is a continuous struggle of material contrasts (real-dialectic), but that the inside of each individual is addicted to the insolvable antagonism of opposite will directions (will collisions) as well. Bahnsen negates a redemption of the countless will units (“will henades”, as he expresses it himself) and postulates the permanence of the existence of the contradiction as a basic nature of the world, whereby the law of this world becomes a tragic world order.

The real-dialectical side of his teachings Bahnsen laid down in the paper On the Philosophy of History (1871), his central work The Contradiction in the Knowledge and Being of the World (1880/82), and his anniversary publication to the jubilee of the city Tübingen The Tragical as World Law and Humour as Aesthetic Shape of the Metaphysical (1877).


  • Julius Bahnsen, Winfried H. Müller-Seyfarth (Ed.): Das Tragische als Weltgesetz und der Humor als ästhetische Gestalt des Metaphysischen. (“The Tragical as World Law and Humour as Aesthetic Shape of the Metaphysical.”) VanBremen VerlagsBuchhandlung, Berlin 1995
  • Julius Bahnsen, Anselm Ruest (Ed.): Wie ich wurde, was ich ward, nebst anderen Stücken aus dem Nachlaß des Philosophen. Leipzig 1931


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