The Philosophy of Genius

Leonardo Da Vinci

Genius is the highest form if will-less knowledge. The lowest forms of life are entirely made up of will, without knowledge; man in general is mostly will and little knowledge; genius is mostly knowledge and little will.

Genius consists of this, that the knowing faculty has received considerably greater development than the service of the will demands. This involves some passage of force out of reproduction into intellectual activity.

The fundamental condition of a genius is an abnormal predominance of sensibility and irritability over reproductive power. Genius is simply the completest objectivity, the objective tendency of the mind. Genius is the power of leaving one’s own interests, wishes and aims entirely out of sight, of entirely renouncing one’s own personality for a time, so as to remain upre knowing subject, clear vision of the world.

Therefore the expression of genius in a face consists of this, that in it a decided predominance of knowledge over will is visible. In ordinary countenance there is a predominant expression of will, and we see that knowledge only comes into activity under impulse of the will, and is directed merely by motives of personal interest and advantage.

Freed from will, the intellect can see the object as it is; genius holds up to us the magic glass in which all that is essential and significant appears to us collected and placed in the clearest light, and what is accidental and foreign is left out.

Thought pieces through passion as sunlight pours through a cloud, and reveals the heart if things; it goes behind the individual and particular to the “Platonic Idea” or universal essence of which it is a form- just as a painter sees, in the person whom he paints, not merely the individual character and feature, but some universal quality and permanent reality for those unveiling the individual is only a symbol and a means.

The secret in genius, then lies in the clear and impartial perception of the objective, the essential, and the universal. It is this removal of the personal equation which leaves the genius so maladapted in the world of the will-ful, practical, personal activity. By seeing so far he does not see what is near; he is imprudent and “queer”; and while his vision is hitched to a star he falls into a will.

Hence, partly, the unsociability of genius; he is thinking in the fundamental, the universal, the eternal; others are thinking of the temporary, the specific, the immediate; his mind and theirs have no common ground, and never meet.

“As a rule, a man is unsociable just in the degree in which he is intellectually poor and generally vulgar. The man of genius has his compensations, and does not need company so much as people live in perpetual dependence on what  is outside them.

The pleasure which he receives from all beauty, the consolation which art affords, the enthusiasm of the artist, enable him to forget the cares of life, and repay him for the suffering that increases in proportion to the clearness if consciousness, and for his desert loneliness among a different race of men.

The result, however, is that the genius is forced onto isolation, and sometimes into madness; the extreme sensitiveness which brings him pain along with imagination and intuition, combines with solitude and maladaption to break the bonds that hold the mind to reality.

~ Schopenhauer

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