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Chapter 29 - On physiognomy

from PARERGA AND PARALIPOMENA, VOLUME 2

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 November 2015

Adrian Del Caro
Affiliation:
University of Tennessee
Christopher Janaway
Affiliation:
University of Southampton
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Summary

§377

That the exterior of a human being graphically reproduces his interior and the face expresses and reveals his whole essence is an assumption whose a priori nature and thus certainty are demonstrated by the universal desire, which appears at every opportunity, to see someone who has distinguished himself in any way, bad or good, or who has produced an extraordinary work or, failing this, at least to learn from others what he looks like. Hence, on the one hand, the rush to those places where he is expected to be, and on the other the efforts of the daily newspapers, especially in England, to describe him minutely and strikingly, until soon thereafter painters and engravers give us graphic portrayals and finally Daguerre's invention, so highly valued for precisely this reason, satisfies our need most perfectly. Likewise in ordinary life everyone examines the physiognomy of everyone they meet and tries secretly to ascertain his moral and intellectual nature in advance from his facial features. All this could not be the case if, as some fools imagine, the appearance of a man were of no significance, as if the soul were indeed one thing and the body another, relating to the former as a coat to the man himself.

On the contrary each human face is a hieroglyph which truly can be deciphered, indeed whose alphabet we bear within us ready-made. A human being's face even says more and is more interesting, as a rule, than his mouth, for it is the compendium of everything that he will ever say, being the monogram of all this human being's thinking and striving. It is also the case that the mouth expresses only the thoughts of a man, while the face expresses a thought of nature. Therefore everyone is worthy of being carefully observed, even if everyone is not worth talking to. – Now if each individual is worth observing as an individual thought of nature, then so too in the highest degree is beauty, for it is a higher, more universal concept of nature: it is nature's thought of the species. This is why it compels our gaze so powerfully; it is nature's fundamental and main thought, whereas the individual is only a secondary thought, a corollary.

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Schopenhauer: Parerga and Paralipomena
Short Philosophical Essays
, pp. 568 - 574
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2015

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