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What if Arthur Schopenhauer Had Used DMT?

Psychotropic plants as a cure for modern pessimism

by Ballard Quass, the Drug War Philosopher

December 6, 2019

n the "Wisdom of Life," Arthur Schopenhauer sums up an unspoken assumption of Western philosophy when he writes:

"Every man is pent up within the limits of his own consciousness and cannot get directly beyond those limits any more than he can get beyond his own skin."

Indeed, Schopenhauer's famous pessimism is derived from the daily observance of this supposed "fact of life."

But what if it's not a fact? What if we discovered that human psychology was quite therapeutically pliable after all? Wouldn't such a finding require a revision, not only of Schopenhauer's pessimistic philosophy but of Western philosophy in general, insofar as it presupposes stark limitations on the ability of individual human beings to change their own psychology for the better? Wouldn't it require the doomsayers of today to admit that there may be hope for humanity after all, if we only open our eyes (and our research laboratories) to the astonishing psychological healing potential of psychedelic plants?

These are not just hypothetical questions, for a scientific study of psychoactive plants is now proving to Western researchers what partakers of these substances have known for millennia, namely that plants like ibogaine, ayahuasca, and psilocybin can be used strategically to foster new understandings in the human mind, to help one rise above a parochial and neurosis-making upbringing, as well as problematic genetics, and to thrive in the world, in spite of the negative cards that they may have been dealt both by nurture and by nature.

But Western philosophy has entirely missed the implications of these developments. Why? Because most philosophers (like most European-Americans) are stealth puritans who are suspicious of psychoactive plants, unfavorably associating them with witches in Medieval times and with hippies in the present, a jaundiced view of Mother Nature that no doubt traces its origins to the Garden of Eden and that fiasco with the apple (or was it a pomegranate?).

Moreover, the Western penchant for materialism has encouraged drug researchers to dismiss psychedelic mental states out of hand as mere madness, refusing to consider the time-honored evidence of their psychologically therapeutic value, while they dogmatically search instead for reductively formulated nostrums whose chemical effects on the body may (at least in theory) be quantified. It's as though today's scientific credo with respect to psychological cures was:

Better a theoretically justifiable materialist solution with dubious results than a non-quantifiable solution that actually works.

How would a change in such attitudes benefit philosophy?

To make this clear, we can ask the following question:

"What would Schopenhauer's philosophy have been like had he experienced the mind-expanding effects of naturally occurring DMT?"

I think the answer is obvious: he would have rewritten his largely normative credos in a far more prescriptive fashion, insisting that humanity had no justifiable reason to abjure psychological plant medicines and that, to the contrary, there is every reason to think that such use can be philosophically therapeutic, and even ontologically revealing.

Why? Because this hypothetical Schopenhauer of ours would have discovered that psychedelics are custom-made to provide the user with a kind of intuitive proof of the tenets of what Aldous Huxley identified as "the perennial philosophy," that unifying view of life that has long been recognized and advocated by the non-materialists of the world.

I may be giving Schopenhauer too much credit here, but his use of DMT may have even spurred him to propose the following instructive syllogism:

Proposition 1: The unexamined life is not worth living.

Proposition 2: Psychedelics provide us with an unrivaled means to examine life.

Conclusion: Psychedelic plants are an indispensable part of every philosopher's tool chest.

Such a syllogism, developed in the 19th century, could have prevented America's march toward drug-war fascism, by reminding us that plants are our friends and that problems with their misuse are precisely that - problems with their misuse and not with the substances themselves. Meanwhile, if other philosophers were to take Schopenhauer's lead, the materialist west could begin a long-awaited merger with eastern thought and a unifying understanding of reality could finally be assayed.

As for what would be left behind by such a philosophical rebooting, good riddance, for it would be nothing but desperate materialist arguments about Matrix conspiracies, brains in a vat, and the supposed illusory nature of consciousness (and even reality) itself -- all of which mad speculation is elegantly refuted by the intuitive lessons provided by the psychedelic experience, at least when said experience is undertaken with due reverence (even if such reverence is only adopted heuristically by a materialist skeptic) and a willingness to learn.

Pessimism got the final word in Schopenhauer's actual philosophy, but that is only because, like most western thinkers then and now, he was reckoning without a consideration of what psychoactive plants might have to say on the matter. Of course, in his day, he had an excuse. He was no doubt unaware of the philosophically empowering potential of Mother Nature.

But today's materialists have no such excuse. Therefore, when they try to tell us that life is even bleaker than Schopenhauer implied, they should follow all such pronouncements with an asterisk, to inform the reader that the philosopher in question has not yet evaluated his dour outlook in the light of any ontological intuitions provided by psychedelic plants.

Perhaps someday there will even be a sort of reverse drug test at the Philosophy Department's front door, so that no one can enter who has not had at least one experience with psychedelic medicine. At very least, today's materialist philosopher should come clean about their willful renunciation of nature's pharmacy. If they want to tell us that reality itself does not exist, that's fine - as long as they admit to having unscientifically discounted a priori the contrary evidence provided by the reverent and strategic use of Mother Nature's plants.

May 5, 2022 The above author, bless him, (this Ballard Quass chappie) is writing under the perhaps somewhat naive assumption that his audience is conversant with the potential of psychoactive medicines to help human beings survive and thrive in the world, both individually and collectively. In response to this concern, I adduce the following remedial reading list, so to speak, to bring the challenged reader up to speed on this topic, starting with a heart-warming essay about the rave scene in Britain, in which MDMA (aka Ecstasy) brought unprecedented peace, love and understanding to the dance floor -- until Drug Warriors looked that gift horse straight in the mouth by cracking down on Ecstasy, after which -- surprise, surprise -- dance floor violence went through the flippin' roof! Another "victory" for the truly bone-headed war on psychoactive medicine.

How the Drug War Killed Leah Betters and ended the peaceful rave scene in Britain.

Oh, and do notice, please, that nitrous oxide is discussed by William James in a book about religious experiences -- not a book about the danger of narcotics but a book about religious experiences! This is why the Drug War is a war on religion -- indeed, it's a war on the religious impulse itself. Brian has said as much in several essays. See, for instance, Why the Drug War is Worse than a Religion.

Oh, and how about using psychedelic medicine to HUGELY increase music appreciation? Check out The Educational Use of Psychoactive Plants.

Next essay: Tweet to Alex Adams
Previous essay: Euthanasia in the Age of the Drug War

More Essays Here

Some Tweets against the hateful war on drugs

"Dope Sick"? "Prohibition Sick" is more like it. For me the very term "dope" connotes imperialism, racism and xenophobia, given that all tribal cultures have used "drugs" for various purposes. "Dope? Junk?" It's hard to imagine a more intolerant, dismissive and judgmental terminology.
I have dissed MindMed's new LSD "breakthrough drug" for philosophical reasons. But we can at least hope that the approval of such a "de-fanged" LSD will prove to be a step in the slow, zigzag path toward re-legalization.
I think many scientists are so used to ignoring "drugs" that they don't even realize they're doing it. Yet almost all books about consciousness and depression (etc.) are nonsense these days because they ignore what drugs could tell us about those topics.
The worst form of government is not communism, socialism or even unbridled capitalism. The worst form of government is a Christian Science Theocracy, in which the government controls how much you are allowed to think and feel in life.
The book "Plants of the Gods" is full of plants and fungi that could help addicts and alcoholics, sometimes in the plant's existing form, sometimes in combinations, sometimes via extracting alkaloids, etc. But drug warriors need addiction to sell their prohibition ideology.
Now drug warriors have nitrous oxide in their sights, the substance that inspired the philosophy of William James. They're using the same tired MO: focusing exclusively on potential downsides and never mentioning the benefits of use, and/or denying that any exist.
Psychiatrists keep flipping the script. When it became clear that SSRIs caused dependence, instead of apologizing, they told us we need to keep taking our meds. Now they even claim that criticizing SSRIs is wrong. This is anti-intellectual madness.
If politicians wanted to outlaw coffee, a bunch of Kevin Sabets would come forward and start writing books designed to scare us off the drink by cherry-picking negative facts from scientific studies.
We need a scheduling system for psychoactive drugs as much as we need a scheduling system for sports activities: i.e. NOT AT ALL. Some sports are VERY dangerous, but we do not outlaw them because we know that there are benefits both to sports and to freedom in general.
It's interesting that Jamaicans call the police 'Babylon,' given that Babylon denotes a society seeking materialist pleasures. Drug use is about transcending the material world and seeking spiritual states: states that the materialist derides as meaningless.
More Tweets

essays about

The Drug War as a Litmus Test for Philosophical Wisdom
The Philosophical Idiocy of the Drug War
The Philosophy of Drug Use
The Philosophy of Getting High
Without Philosophy, Science becomes Scientism
Materialism and the Drug War
Calling All Philosophers
Critique of the Philosophy of Happiness
Heidegger on Drugs
In Praise of Thomas Szasz
Join Philosophers Against the Drug War
Libertarians as Closet Christian Scientists
Majoring in Drug War Philosophy
Rationality Uber Alles
Scientism and America's Drug War hypocrisy
Speaking Truth to Academia
Nietzsche and the Drug War
How Scientific Materialism Keeps Godsend Medicines from the Depressed
Psychedelics and Depression
Drug Use as Self-Medication
John Locke on Drugs
Puritanical Assumptions about Drug Use in the Entertainment Field
Why Kevin Sabet is Wrong
I asked 100 American philosophers what they thought about the Drug War
The Great Philosophical Problem of Our Time
What We Mean When We Say 'Drugs'
Whitehead and Psychedelics

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You have been reading an article entitled, What if Arthur Schopenhauer Had Used DMT?: Psychotropic plants as a cure for modern pessimism, published on December 6, 2019 on For more information about America's disgraceful drug war, which is anti-patient, anti-minority, anti-scientific, anti-mother nature, imperialistic, the establishment of the Christian Science religion, a violation of the natural law upon which America was founded, and a childish and counterproductive way of looking at the world, one which causes all of the problems that it purports to solve, and then some, visit the drug war philosopher, at (philosopher's bio; go to top of this page)