September 24, 2023

Schopenhauer and Iqbal

Thus in order of being first comes the universal will, then, the unchanging Ideas. Then the universal will individuates itself into the particular ideas of persons and things.

allama iqbal


Both Schopenhauer and Iqbal are voluntarists. Will to Schopenhauer and ego to Iqbal are the ultimate constituents of reality. It may be noted that in modern terminology will is “a term denoting the activity or motor tendencies of the organism. In a more restricted and personal sense, Will refers to a person’s ability to perform voluntary acts…. The Will is the person expressing himself in action.”1 Probably this is why some observers consider Iqbal as the follower of Schopenhauer with regard to the former’s concept of ‘Human Ego’. But this is not the fact. If we minutely study Iqbal’s thought, its sources and the nature of Schopenhauer’s philosophy, we will immediately discover the unsoundness of such opinions. Actually, there is a great difference between Schopenhauer’s concept of human will and Iqbal’s view of human ego.

The Human Will



    Fundamental Principle

For Schopenhauer, whose whole system is founded on two basic principles___Will and Idea, the will is Will to live.2 It is thing-in-itself. It is noumena which transcends the world of phenomena. It is neither space-and-time-bound nor subject to the law of causation. It is beyond one’s perception. Schopenhauer says, “Thing-in-itself signifies that which exists independently of our perception, in short that which properly is. For Democritus this was formed matter. It was the same at bottom for Locke. For Kant it was = X. For me it is Will.”3

Again, Schopenhauer says that the world, which is universe,4 is through and through Will.5 All spheres inorganic like stone6 and living beings like birds, animals and man7 are the manifestations of will. “By Will, Schopenhauer means to include not only consciously reasoned volition, but also all subconscious and unconscious inward impulses and desires, the whole striving and conative side of nature.”8 He says, “every definite and fixed grade of objectification of will is Idea.9 How the Will works? According to Schopenhauer, this all pervading and universal will is manifested in ideas, which assume objectification in individual objects. Thus an individual man is phenomenal presentation or a copy of the idea of man as species, just in the sense of Plato’s Ideas. Schopenhauer explains it thus: “… these different grades of the objectification of will which are manifested in innumerable individuals, and exist as their unattained types or as the eternal forms of things, not entering themselves into times and space, which are the medium of individual things, but remaining fixed, subject to no change, always being, never becoming, while the particular things arise and pass away, always become and never are, – that these grades of the objectification of will are, I say, simply Plato’s Idea.”10

Thus in order of being first comes the universal will, then, the unchanging Ideas. Then the universal will individuates itself into the particular ideas of persons and things.


Iqbal, on the other hand, says that it is ego, and not will, which is the reality of being. Unlike Schopenhauer’s Will, the ego is a concrete reality. Iqbal says, “The ego reveals itself as a unity of what we call mental states. Mental states do not exist in mutual isolation. They mean and involve one another. They exist as phases of a complex whole, called mind.”11

Unlike Schopenhauer, Iqbal as discussed in previous chapter, does not believe in universal ego. Iqbal believes in individuality and uniqueness of each human ego. He says that the “important characteristic of the unity of the ego is its essential privacy which reveals the uniqueness of every ego. In order to reach a certain conclusion all the promises of a syllogism must be believed in by one and the same mind. If I believe in the proposition ‘all men are mortal’, and another mind believes in the proposition ‘Socrates is a man’, no inference is possible. It is possible only if both the propositions are believed in by me.”12 He further says, “My recognition of a place or person means reference to my past experience, and not the past experience of another ego. It is this unique inter-relation of our mutual states that we express by the world ‘I’ …..”13.

Again, for Iqbal man is not the copy of eternal Ideas as Plato believed. The human ego is ‘Amr’ of God.14 


Salient Features

Schopenhauer considers will as purposeless, blind and impulsive. He says, “The will, which, considered purely in itself, is without knowledge, and is merely a blind incessant impulse…”15 The human will, which is the mirror of the Will,16 is blind and purposeless. It has rightly been said about Schopenhauer’s will that “it moves without cause, has no goal; it is desire itself, striving, yearning, wanting without rhyme or reason.”17 Also, it is not free; it is determined. He says that “every man is to be regarded as specially determined and characterised phenomenon of will….”18 Besides, the human will is mortal. “Before us there is indeed only nothingness.”19 Death means total extinction.

To elaborate, the universal Will is free and immortal, but the individuals in whom the former is individuated or differentiated are neither free nor immortal. As compared with universal will whom there is nothing to determine, the individuals are secondary, derivative, and determined. There is no personal immortality. “This basal will…. manifests itself in eternal, immutable types, which Plato calls Ideas. The different organic species, for example, are eternal immutable types. The species do not change; the individuals belonging to the species grow and die, but the will-type or the species endures. These types form an ascending scale, a graduated series or hierarchy, rising from the lowest stages of matter to man. Individuals may come and individuals may go, but will goes on forever. Hence, the fundamental part of us, the will, is immortal; the particular, individual form in which it expresses itself is mortal.”20


But Iqbal considers the human ego as purposive. Rather purpose is the core of life. He says, “Life is only a series of acts of attention, and an act of attention is inexplicable without reference to a purpose, conscious or unconscious.”21 Alluding to the Qura’nic verse quoted above, Iqbal says, “The verse…. means that the essential nature of the soul is directive, as it proceeds from the directive energy of God;..”22 Further, Iqbal is a great champion of freedom of ego. He argues, “Man’s first act of disobedience was also his first act of free choice; and that is why, according to the Qur’anic narration, Adam’s first transgression was forgiven.”23 Also, to Iqbal immortality is earned only through action and deeds. He says:

“Immortal life for us lies in constant travelling.”24


                  Relationship with the Ultimate Reality

Schopenhauer thinks that the individual ego has no concern with the Ultimate Will, the thing-in-itself. He says “the will itself, as thing-in-itself, is by no means included in that multiplicity and change. The diversity of the (Platonic) Idea, i.e. grades of objectification, the multitude of individuals in which each of these expresses itself, the struggle of forms for matter – all this does not concern it, but is only the manner of its objectification, and only through this has an indirect relation to it, by virtue of which it belongs to the expression of the nature of will for the idea.”25


Iqbal’s human ego on the contrary is very much concerned, and that too directly, with the Ultimate Ego (God or Reality). Human ego is dependent on God, Who is the source of all guidance, inspiration, betterment, and achievements of the ego. The development of the ego is not possible without God. He says: “Like pearls do we live and move and have our being in the perpetual flow of Divine Life.”26



Schopenhauer speculates that the will to live is constant war and strife, which generate pain, life weariness and suffering. He says, “the basis of all willing is need, deficiency, and thus pain. Consequently, the nature of brutes and man is subject to pain originally and through its very being.”27

Schopenhauer concludes thus: “The more intense the will is, the more glaring is the conflict of its manifestation, and thus the greater is the suffering.”28 According to Schopenhauer, therefore, will is the root of all-evil. To him, true solution lies in the negation of will, without which deliverance from life and suffering is not possible.29 He says that “with the free denial, the surrender of the will, all…phenomena are…abolished; that constant strain and effort without end and without rest at all the grades of objectivity, in which and through which the world consists; the multifarious forms succeeding each other in gradation; the whole manifestation of the will; and, finally, also the universal forms of this manifestation, time and space, and also its last fundamental form, subject and object; all are abolished. No will, no idea, no world.”30

Schopenhauer recommends two ways of escape from the slavery of the Will. First is ‘Aesthetic contemplation’. He thinks that poetry, art and music give escape from pangs and sufferings of the Will. When man “gives up the four-fold principle of sufficient reason as a way of knowing things and assumes the aesthetic mode of contemplation, he derives a peculiar pleasure from that mode in varying degrees depending upon the aesthetic object…This is the state of pure contemplation that the great Greek philosophers spoke of.31 But for Schopenhauer it is a temporary escape. The second way is permanent. It is the way of asceticism, celibacy, self-mortification, fasting etc. Schopenhauer thinks that asceticism, as “as an end in itself, is meant to serve as a constant mortification of will, so that the satisfaction of the wishes, the sweet of life, shall not again arouse the will, against which self-knowledge has conceived a horror.”32 Again, through fasting and self-afflicted torture one “may more and more break down and destroy the will, which he recognises and abhors as the source of his own suffering existence and that of the world.”33

Also, through sympathy one can permanently escape the slavery of the will and negate the will to live and principle of individuation. “This conception of sympathy, that is to say, to share the sufferings of others, forms for Schopenhauer the foundation of morality. And the feeling of sympathy is not to be confined to human beings alone but must embrace all living creatures. Thus, the metaphysical pessimism furnishes the basis of Schopenhauer’s ethics. If man recognises in all human beings his own ego and in the sufferings of others his own sufferings, he would shudder to enjoy life. And when all turns against itself, the attachment of the individual to physical life becomes weaker, he becomes enlightened, and denies life.”34

Schopenhauer, however, does not appreciate committing suicide. “Suicide would, however, not help, because death touches only the body, the appearance of will and not the will itself.”35

From the above it is obvious that pessimism pervades Schopenhauer’s thought through and through. Some thinkers rightly regard him as a “European Buddhist”.36 William Killey Wright says, “The pessimism in Schopenhauer may be claimed to be based on a false analysis of desire…The joy in life is something positive; struggle itself is welcome if it is reasonably often successful and leads to further growth. Schopenhauer is right that nothing desired will permanently satisfy anybody. The remedy, however, is not to cease endeavors, but ever to seek new ends which previous attainments have brought within one’s horizon.”37 Again, Will Durant pointedly comments, “It never occurred to Schopenhauer that it was better to have fought and lost than never have fought at all…. Everywhere he saw strife; he could not see behind the strife, the friendly aid of neighbours, the rollicking joy of children and young men, the dances of vivacious girls, the willing sacrifices of parents and lovers, the patient bounty of the soil, and the renaissance of spring.”38


Unlike Schopenhauer, Iqbal is full of hope, determination and inspiration. Unlike Schopenhauer to whom the will is the root of all evil, Iqbal’s ego is positive force behind life. He says:

“The form of existence is an effect of the Self,

Whatsoever thou seest is a secret of the Self.

When the Self awoke to consciousness,

It revealed the universe of Thought.”39

Against Schopenhauer, therefore, Iqbal gives the lesson of self-realization and development of the self where action plays one of the dominant roles. He says that “if he (man) does not take the initiative, if he does not evolve the inner richness of his being, if he ceases to feel the inward push of advancing life, then the spirit within him hardens into stone and he is reduced to the level of dead matter.”40 He further says, “His (man’s) career, no doubt, has a beginning, but he is destined, perhaps, to become a permanent element in the constitution of being…. When attracted by the forces around him, man has the power to shape and direct them; when thwarted by them, he has the capacity to build a much vaster world in the depths of his own inner being, wherein he discovers sources of infinite joy and inspiration. Hard his lot and frail his being, like a rose leaf, yet no form of reality is so powerful, so inspiring, and so beautiful as the spirit of man.”41

Iqbal believes in constant struggle. Even the destination does not satisfy him. He says:

“Don’t seek the end of the journey, for you have no end;

As soon as you search the end, you lose your soul.”42

In this respect, Iqbal loves tension and pain, which come in the process of self-realization. He says:

“If even a jot is lessened from the tension of existence,

I will not buy eternal life at this cost.”43

It is logical consequence of the above that unlike Schopenhauer, who recommends aesthetic contemplation and self-mortification as escape from life, Iqbal advocates positive view of art, and preservation of ego.

Iqbal states that poetry, music and art are lifeless if they are not conducive to self-realization and cannot generate struggle and action. He says:

“Nations do not revive without miracles

And art, which lacks the vigour of Moses’s strike, is dead.”44

Iqbal does not believe in art for art’s sake. Instead he believes art for the sake of life. He says, “That which fortifies personality is good, that which weakens it is bad. Art, religion and ethics must be judged from the stand-point of personality.”45

Iqbal considers asceticism, mortification and scourging also condemnable because they teach escapism. Fasting and other disciplines advocated in Islam are to purify and develop ego and not to weaken the spirit. In a beautiful verse he stresses on the preservation of ego. He says:

“Never for an instant neglect self-preservation:

Be a diamond, not a dewdrop!”46

Iqbal’s own criticism of Schopenhauer is note worthy. He regrets that “to the pessimist Schopenhauer the world is one perpetual winter wherein a blind will expresses itself in an infinite variety of living things which bemoan their emergence for a moment and then disappear for ever.”47 Again, in his poem “Schopenhauer and Nietzsche” Iqbal says about Schopenhauer:

“A bird flew from his nest to the garden;

A thorn from a rose ran into his delicate body,

He spoke ill of the nature of the garden,

He bewailed about his own as well as of others’ griefs,

Said he, “In this world whose foundation has been laid amiss,

There is no morning which is not followed by evening.”48


i.  Objectification of the Will / Ego

However, there is some similarity between the ideas of the two philosophers. Schopenhauer believes in the objectification of the will. To him, body is an objectified will and visible expression of our desires. He says, “The parts of the body must…. completely correspond to the principal desires through which the will manifests itself; they must be the visible expressions of these desires. Teeth, throat, and bowels are objectified hunger; the organs of generation are objectified sexual desire, the grasping hand, the hurrying feet, correspond to the more indirect desires of the will which they express.”49

Iqbal also says:

“What is the source of our wakeful eye?

Our delight in seeing hath taken visible shape.

The partridge’s leg is derived from the elegance of its gait,

The nightingale’s beak from its endeavour to sing.”50

But this view is reminiscent of Rumi, who centuries before Schopenhauer, expressed nearly the same view in the following lines:

“Wine in ferment is a beggar suing for our ferment:

Heaven in revolution is a beggar suing for our consciousness

Wine became intoxicated with us, not we with it:

the body came into being from us, not we from it.”51

Again, Rumi expresses the force of need behind objectified self thus:

“Because without need the Almighty God does

not give any thing to any one.

And if there had not been need of the heavenly spheres also,

He would not have created from non-existence the Seven Skies.

Need, then, is the noose for (all) things that exist:

Man has instruments in proportion to his need,

God has not put eyes in the mole, because it

does not need eyes for (getting) food.52

ii. Inorganic matter possesses the Will / Ego

Further, there is another striking affinity between the views of Iqbal and Schopenhauer, For Schopenhauer, even an inorganic matter possesses will; and there are different degrees of will from inorganic to organic nature. Schopenhauer says, “I must recognise the inscrutable forces which manifest themselves in all natural bodies as identical in kind with that which in me is the will, and as differing from it only in degree.”53 Again, he says, “I…. consider the inner being, which alone imparts meaning and validity to all real necessity (i.e. effect following upon a cause) as its presupposition. In the case of men this is called character; in the case of a stone it is called quality, but it is the same in both. When it is immediately known it is called will. In the stone it has the weakest, and in man the strongest degree of visibility, of objectivity.”54

Iqbal, too, does not believe in the inertness of matter. He agrees with modern relativity-physics according to which, “A piece of matter has become not a persistent thing with varying states, but a system of inter-related events. The old solidity is gone, and with it the characteristics that to the materialist made matter seem more real than fleeting thoughts.”55 To him also there are degrees of ego. He says, “Throughout the entire gamut of being runs the gradually rising note of egohood until it reaches its perfection in man.”56

However, it is not Schopenhauer’s discovery, for Rumi had earlier stated that the ground of all being was spiritual. He was a spiritual monist. There was no inert matter according to him. He said:

“Air and earth and water and fire are (His) slaves:

with you and me they are dead, but with God they are alive.”57

Again, as regards the degrees of the self, this concept is also Islamic. The Qur’an says: “And it is He Who hath made you His representatives on the Earth, and hath raised some of you above others by various grades, that He may prove you by His gifts. (6:165)”58 According to the Hadith, “Men are mines like mines of gold and silver.” i.e. they have different natures and capacities.”59




1.   Harold Titus, Ethics for Today, p.87

2.   Schopenhauer, The World As Will And Idea, Vol.I, p.354

3.   Schopenhauer’s Works, 1 p.34 referred to by Frederick Copleston in A History of Philosophy, Volume 7 Part II, p.36.

4.   Helen Zimmern, Schopenhauer, p. 138-147

5.   Schopenhauer, The World As Will and Idea, Volume I, p. 211.

6.   Ibid., p. 165

7.   Ibid., p. 370

  • William Kelley Wright, The History of Modern Philosophy, p. 361
  • Schopenhauer, op., cit. P.167-68

10. Ibid., p. 168

11. Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, p. 98-99.

12. Ibid., p. 99

13. Ibid., p. 100

14. Ibid., p. 103

15. Schopenhauer, op.cit., p. 354

16. Ibid.

17. Frank N. Magill, Masterpieces of World Philosophy (ed.),p. 585.

18. Schopenhauer, op.cit., p. 171

19. Ibid., p. 531

20. Frank Thilly, A History of Philosophy, p. 498-99.

21. Iqbal, op.cit., p. 52

22. Ibid., p. 103

23. Ibid., p. 85

24. B.A. Dar’s trans. of Iqbal’s Gulshan-e-Raz-i-Jadid,p. 45

25. Schopenhauer, op.cit., p. 199

26. Iqbal, The Reconstruction, p. 72

27. Schopenhauer, op.cit., p. 402

28. Ibid., p. 511

29. Ibid, p.513-4

30. Ibid., p. 531

31  Frank N. Magill, op.cit., p. 586

32. Schopenhauer, op.cit., p. 492-93.

33. Ibid., p. 493

34. Athar Rashid, ‘Arthur Schopenhauer’ Article in ‘Iqbal’ – A Journal of The Bazm-i-Iqbal, Lahore, July 1962.

35. Ibid.

36. Helen Zimmern, op.cit., p. 14

37. William Kelly Wright, op.cit., p. 381

38. Will Durant, The Story of Philosophy, Paper Back, The Pocket Library, p. 346

39. R.A. Nicholson, Trans. of Iqbal’s Asrar-i-Khudi  p. 16

40. Iqbal, The Reconstruction, p. 12

41. Ibid., p. 11-12

42. B.A. Dar, trans. of Iqbal’s Gulshan-i-Raz-i-Jadid, p. 45

43. Iqbal, Zabur-i-Ajam, p. 77 (trans.)

44. Iqbal, Zarb-i-Kalim, p. 117 (trans.)

45. Iqbal, qt. by R.A. Nicholson, op.cit., p. xxi-xxii

46. R.A. Nicholson, trans. of Asrar-i-Khudi, op.cit., p. 102-3

47. Iqbal, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, op.cit., p.81

48. Iqbal, Piyam-i-Mashriq, p.234 (trans.)


49. Schopenhauer, op.cit., p. 141

50. R.A. Nicholson, (trans. of Iqbal’s Asrar-i-Khudi), p.25

51. Rumi, Mathnawi, i, 1811-1812

52. Ibid, ii, 3274-75, 77, 79,84-86

53. Schopenhauer, op.cit., p. 164

54. Ibid.

55. Iqbal, The Reconstruction, p.34

56. Ibid, p. 71-72

57. Rumi, Mathnawi, i, 1811-12

58. The Qur’an, qt. by Iqbal in The Reconstruction, p.95

59. Qt. by R.A. Nicholson in Commentary on Mathnawi, I, II, p.313

(Dr Nazir Qaiser)

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