Paul Deussen

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Deussen around 1914
Paul Deussen's birthplace in Oberdreis
Deussen's travelogue Memories of India (1904)
Deussen's grave in Oberdreis

Paul Deussen (born January 7, 1845 in Westerwalddorf Oberdreis , † July 6, 1919 in Kiel ) was a German philosophy historian and Indologist . He was also the founder of the Schopenhauer Society and a lifelong friend of Friedrich Nietzsche . Deussen, who became known with the Indian philosopher and Hindu saint Vivekananda , is considered to be the first Western scholar to place Indian thought on an equal footing with Western philosophy.


Growing up as a Westerwald pastor's son, Deussen attended the elite humanistic boarding school Schulpforta near Naumburg for five years together with Nietzsche . After graduating from high school in 1864, they studied for two semesters in Bonn and became members of the Frankonia fraternity in Bonn . Deussen discovered Sanskrit in Bonn. While Nietzsche moved to Leipzig, Deussen continued his studies in classical philology in Tübingen and Berlin. After receiving his doctorate on Plato's Dialogue Sophistes , he worked as a high school teacher in Minden and Marburg. Nietzsche, who had meanwhile converted him to Schopenhauer , found him a well-paid private tutor position with a Russian industrialist in Geneva, where he also gave philosophical lectures as a private lecturer at the university there and founded the Sanskrit course.

Since his pupil was to become an engineer, Deussen went to Aachen with him. Here he held lectures on the philosophy of Schopenhauer at the Polytechnic, which earned him protest articles from the newspaper "Echo der Gegenwart", which is close to political Catholicism, and fierce criticism in the Prussian state parliament. The responsible Ministry of Commerce made it an obligation to limit itself to the history of philosophy on the development from Plato to Kant . Deussen then renounced the “unchristian” Indian ideas of Schopenhauer, but not a representation of the pre-Socratics. Hundreds of listeners flocked to his lectures, whose written summaries he had distributed and published as a book in 1877. The "Elements of Metaphysics" later became a widely used textbook throughout Germany.

After another private tutoring with a prince in the Ukraine, Deussen completed his habilitation in Berlin with the Indological work “The System of Vedanta”. He stayed in contact with Nietzsche by letter; There were personal reunions several times in Basel and in 1887 in Sils-Maria , where Deussen visited him, accompanied by his young wife Marie (née Volkmar). Deussen was also one of the few loyal followers who paid hospital visits to Nietzsche, who had been mentally deranged since 1889, in Naumburg. In the same year Deussen was appointed full professor to Kiel, where he began to put his life plan of a “general history of philosophy with special consideration of religions” into practice.

In 1892/93 Deussen and his wife went on a six-month trip to India. In Bombay he gave a speech about Advaita-Vedanta and its relationship to Western metaphysics, which was significant for the awakening Neo-Hinduism . In the following years Deussen worked on his monumental translation of "Sixty Upanishads of the Veda", which appeared in 1897 and is still considered a standard work today.

In 1911 he founded the Schopenhauer Society and in the same year began to publish the first historical and critical complete edition of Schopenhauer's works .

He vehemently condemned the outbreak of the First World War.

Deussen was guided by the basic philosophical conviction that “in all countries and at all times, in all nearness and distance, it is one and the same nature of things which one and the same spirit faces when looking at it. How could it be otherwise than that the thinking spirit, as long as it is not blinded by traditions and prejudices, as long as it is pure and impartial towards nature, in its exploration of it everywhere, in India as in Greece, in ancient and modern times? would have to achieve the same results. "

Paul Deussen's grave is located on the church hill next to the Protestant church of Oberdreis .

Deussen and the Advaita Vedanta

Deussen was convinced that the Advaita Vedanta occupies an omnipresent position in India and advocates this thesis not only in his well-known speech in Bombay , but also in all of his research. From this circumstance the acquaintance with Swami Vivekananda resulted , who shared Deussen's view. Vice versa, Deussen saw in Vivekananda's position above all his personal view of Hinduism , which sees Advaita Vedanta as the primary religion in India. Historically, however, this is questionable; the Advaita Vedanta was originally intended only by and for an elite minority. This knowledge generates another causality for the acquaintance between Paul Deussen and Vivekananda. Both see the "core of Hinduism" in Advaita Vedanta. Because of this problematic assumption, Deussen finds in Vivekananda the confirmation of the extensive presence of Advaita Vedanta in India, without having to face the fact that this idea might not be correct. This example shows that pre-defined, European ideas shaped India into the post-colonial period without critically reflecting on the actual facts.



  • The elements of metaphysics (1877) - "together with a preliminary consideration of the nature of idealism" - 6th edition (1919)
  • The system of the Vedânta. According to the Brahma-Sûtra's des Bâdarâyana and the Commentare des Çankara on them as a compendium of the dogmatics of Brahmanism from the standpoint of Çankara (1883)
  • The Sûtra's of the Vedânta or the Çariraka-Mimansa of the Badarayana with a complete commentary of the Çankara. Translated from Sanskrit (1887)
  • General history of philosophy with special consideration of religions (1894ff.):
    • Volume I, Part 1: General Introduction and Philosophy of the Veda except for the Upanishads (1894)
    • Volume I, Part 2: The Philosophy of the Upanishads (1898)
    • Volume I, Part 3: The Post-Vedic Philosophy of the Indians (1908)
    • Volume II, Part 1: The Philosophy of the Greeks (1911)
    • Volume II, Part 2.1: The Philosophy of the Bible (1913)
    • Volume II, Part 2.2: The Philosophy of the Middle Ages (1915)
    • Volume II, Part 3: The modern philosophy from Descartes to Schopenhauer (1917)
  • Sixty Upanishad's of the Veda (1897)
  • Memories of Friedrich Nietzsche (1901)
  • Memories of India (1904)
  • Vedânta and Platonism in the light of Kantian philosophy (1904)
  • Vedânta, Plato and Kant (1917)
  • My life (1922). Digitized version of the University Library Kiel


  • Heiner Feldhoff : Nietzsche's friend. The life story of Paul Deussen. Böhlau, Cologne et al. 2008, ISBN 978-3-412-20195-1 (2nd edition. 2009).
  • Arthur Hübscher:  Deussen, Paul Jakob. In: New German Biography (NDB). Volume 3, Duncker & Humblot, Berlin 1957, ISBN 3-428-00184-2 , p. 622 f. ( Digitized version ).
  • Tobias Delfs: Devasena on the move. The Kiel philosopher Paul Deussen, the British and the "Orient" . In: Oliver Auge, Martin Göllnitz (ed.): With a thirst for research and a thirst for adventure. Expeditions and research trips from Kiel scientists, Peter Lang, Frankfurt am Main et al. 2017, pp. 107–145.

Web links

Wikisource: Paul Deussen  - Sources and full texts
Commons : Paul Deussen  - Collection of Images

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Bergunder : Indian Swami and German Professor: “Religion beyond Eurocentrism”, in: Michael Stausberg (Ed.): Religionswissenschaft, Berlin 2012, p. 106.