28. A tetradic movement

Troxler (1780 – 1866)


The attention to Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler (1780 – 1866) was for the first time drawn by a reference in the erudite work of Henri F. ELLENBERGER ‘The Discovery of the Unconscious’ (1970). Troxler was mentioned in relation with Fabre d’Olivet (‘Les Vers Dores de Pythagore‘) and Jung as a supporter of the tetractyne way of life. So the search to the work of Troxler was on and turned out a painstaking exercise. Clearly, he was not in the limelight of historical interest. HEUSSER (1984) gave an excellent introduction to his work and discussed some of the guiding (tetradic) thoughts. More regional activities were highlighted by SPIES (1967).

Troxler (fig. 186) wrote his most important work at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He used the maxim ‘Die Philosophie wird die Wissenschaft, und die Wissenschaft wird das Leben heilen‘ (Philosophy will cure science, just like science will cure life) and indicated the direction of thoughts in the ages to come. He was aware to live at the beginning of an important period in human history (HEUSSER, 1984). A ‘philosophy of medicine’ was a serious matter, which could benefit the cause of human care (RISSE, 1976).


Fig. 186 – A portrait of the Swiss physician and pedagogue Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler (1780 – 1866), a nearly forgotten tetragonic mind at the beginning of the nineteenth century. He placed the ‘Tetractys‘ in the center of his anthropology. His theory of illnesses (pathology) and their mutual relation with the different organic systems stands as a model of tetradic thinking. In: HEUSSER (1984).

Troxler was born on the 17th of August 1780 in Beromünster in the canton of Lucerne (Switzerland). He followed the gymnasium in Lucerne (1796 – 1798) and studied medicine, natural sciences and philosophy in Jena (1799). F.W.J. von Schelling (1775 – 1854) and Hegel were his teachers (DÜSING, 1988). His Ph.D.-thesis (in 1803) was about ophthalmology (visibility!) and this subject kept him occupied for a number of years. In the meantime, he designed the ‘Grundriss der Medizin’ (1805) and traveled with a Polish countess through Italy and France.

In 1805 he was back in Switzerland to review the therapeutic methods used in an influenza epidemic. Due to this critical approach, he had to move to Vienna, where he got acquainted with Beethoven. He married in 1809 with Wilhelmina Wolborn, from a distinguished family ‘der alten preussischen Garde‘. This marriage brought eleven children (of which four died of illnesses in the period between 1815 and 1819) and lasted fifty years.

Troxler returned to his birthplace Beromünster in 1810 and started as a general practitioner. In 1819 he was appointed professor in Lucerne, but his academic career was erratic. A nationalistic pamphlet (‘Fürst und Volk’, 1821) cost him a possible professorate in Basle or Freibourg. Between 1823 and 1830 he was teacher and president of the ‘Bürgerliche Lehrverein‘. This period was described as the happiest in his life. Later professorates in Basle (1930) and Bern (1834) were not successful, although his popular lectures in the evenings drew a full house of, in particular, women. This detail of his life was reminiscent of Erhard Weigel and his lectures in the open air.

Troxler retired in his mansion in Aarau in 1853, although he was still being honored in 1858 in Jena. He grew isolated after the death of his wife in 1859 and died on the 6th March of 1866 at Aarau, eighty-six years old.

Most of Troxler’s books are now unreadable and difficult to obtain. The modern edition of his ‘Naturlehre des menschlichen Erkennens, oder Metaphysik‘ (TROXLER, 1985) is a good reason to lose all interest in Troxler – and might explain his obliteration. His message, however, was important enough. He was a tetradic thinker avant-la-lettre. ‘The tetractys is in many ways the core of Troxler’s anthropology’ said HEUSSER (1984, p. 88) in his extensive study of his life. The four major constituents (divisions) of human life are, in Troxler’s view, as follows:

1. The ‘Geist‘ is the ‘Nous‘ or ‘Pneuma‘ of the classics, the infinite humanity in man (‘die unendliche Menschheit im Menschen’). This could be translated as the invisible invisibility of modern quadralectic thinking.

2. The ‘Seele‘ and

3. The ‘Leib‘ are a polarity. The first can be compared with the Psyche and the second with the Soma. Soul and body are the invisible and visible components of human visibility.

4. Finally the ‘Körper‘ (Sarx), as representatives of the lowest member of the human total being (‘unterste Glied der menschlichen Gesamt-wesenheit‘). The pluriform ‘bodies’ are the collective element in a visible invisibility (the trees and the wood).

‘The four components of the nature of man, represented in the tetractyn as spirit (Geist), soul (Seele), body (Leib) and human beings (Körper) are a unity. The spirit itself shapes the unity and comprises all the other divisions’ stated Troxler in his book ‘Naturlehre des menschlichen Erkennens oder Metaphysik‘ (1828). In an earlier book ‘Blicke in das Wesen des Menschen‘ (1812) are these ‘Wesensgliedern‘ (Geist, Seele, Leib and Körper) figured in a scheme of four possibilities:

1.   relative active                                                   vital process                                       Geist

2.               passive                                                                                                                Körper

3.   relative active                                                  organism                                            Seele

4.               passive                                                                                                               Leib

This four-fold arrangement was interconnected in the following scheme:

                                                                           SPIRIT (GEIST)

                                                                   (absolute self-determined)

  SOUL (SEELE)                                                                                                      BODY (LEIB)

  (relative self-determined)                                                                      (relative impressionable)

                                                               HUMAN BEINGS (KÖRPER)

                                                                     (absolute determined)

This scheme represented the back-bone of Troxler’s world, although he expressed his vision in different ways. In 1814 he wrote a book called the ‘Symbolik des Traumes’ (The Symbolism of Dreams) and was a forerunner of Sigmund Freud (1856 – 1939) and his ‘Interpretation of Dreams’ (1900). The ‘dream’ was regarded as a glimpse in the world of the invisible invisibility, the ultimate reflection: ‘Das Nichterscheinende ist sogar das Wesentliche des Ganzen‘.

Franz von Baader (1765 – 1841) worked, at the same time and in the same spirit as Troxler, on a study about ecstasy (1817). In a letter to Andreas Alexander Sperl, dated the 31st of December 1817, he criticized professor Troxler (SUSINI, 1967; p. 146).

Troxler’s tetradic division of the organism as an expression of its main functions, is as follows (HEUSSER, 1984):

                                                                      SYSTEM of Spiration


  SYSTEM of Reflexion                            SYSTEM of Circulation             SYSTEM of Digestion

          (Seele)                                                           (Gemüt)                                       (Leib)

                                                                     SYSTEM of Existence


Translated to the area of illnesses (pathology), the scheme – and subsequent the different types of illnesses – are as follows:



   Virtualpathologie                                                                                            Humoralpathologie

         (Seele)                                                                                                                      (Leib)



The influence of von Schelling, who reached his creative zenith in the period between 1798 and 1803 (BROWN, 1977), was evident. The tetradic movement, with its geographic expressions of direction, became a contemporary philosophical tool. The four categories of nature:

——————————–  Minerals  (Inanimate matter)

——————————–  Plants

——————————–  Animals

——————————– Humans

were seen by Schopenhauer as the grade’s of Will’s objectification in a natural hierarchy. They are subject to the rhythm of day and night, and the effects are reflected in their being. In its ‘highest’ form – the human being – it is, according to Troxler, the rhythm between body and soul. The Body (Leibe) is a consummation of the Day (Soma) and the Soul (Seele) is a reconstruction of the Night (Psycho).

The conclusion of this brief outlook on the work of Troxler pointed to a ‘renaissance’ of tetradic thinking. Rationalism was gradually identified as a too narrow and static. New ways had to be explored. The tetradic way of thinking, which was an integral part of the history of thought in Europe, offered an existing framework, which had to be rediscovered.

Europe, as a cultural entity, reached a stage of maturity. The insight developed that the struggle and pains of the past were partly self-inflicted, and caused by the inability to break the chains of dualism. This deduction led to a bewildering mixture of all types of division thinking in the further history of the nineteenth and twentieth century. The wider outlook initiated, on the one hand, such enormous achievements as the theory of relativity (Einstein, 1905), but the narrower view resulted, on the other hand, in revolutions and two World Wars (1914 – 1918; 1940 – 1945). The Cold War kept the fire of oppositional thinking burning for another forty-five years. The demolition of the Berlin Wall and the new setting of the Brandenburg Gate with its quadriga (1989) may well be the breakthrough of an essentially peaceful spirit in Europe.

Practical thinkers with a tetradic-analogical mind, like von Schelling, von Baader and Troxler are now nearly forgotten, or at least seen as second-rate in relation to the kings of dialectic-deductive thinking, like Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) and George Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831)(see: RUSSELL, 1945; p. 718). Their position as guides into a wider world of division thinking should be appreciated. They have broken the ground for a differentiated world view in their emphasis on the geometric elements in the classical form – under the collective name of ‘neoclassicism’ – and on a specific experience of the senses – called ‘romantic’.

The position of the half-forgotten thinkers of the early nineteenth century should be revalued in a modern, quadralectic perspective. These representatives of the four-fold provide the fundamental ingredients of the last important philosophical break-through in the European cultural period. They were the future. While the kings of dualistic thinking, like Kant and Hegel, made their marks at the closure of an era, which lasted for about six hundred years (1200 – 1800). They were history. The power of dualism was lost. Now it was the time to plant the seeds for a new (tetradic) understanding.

BROWN, Robert F. (1977). The Later Philosophy of Schelling. The Influence of Boehme on the Works of 1809 – 1805. Brucknell University Press, Lewisburg.

DÜSING, Klaus (Ed.) (1988). Schellings und Hegels erste absolute Metaphysik (1801 – 1802). Zusammenfassende Vorlesungsnachschriften von I.P.V. TROXLER. Text von Troxlers Nachschriften der Vorlesung Schellings vom Sommersemester 1801 und der Vorlesung Hegels vom Wintersemester 1801/1802. Jürgen Dinter, Verlag für Philosophie, Köln. ISBN 3-924794-6-5

ELLENBERGER, Henri F. (1970). The Discovery of the Unconscious. The History and Evolution of Dynamic Psychiatry. Basic Books, Inc. Publishers, New York. ISBN 0-465-01672-3

HEUSSER,  Peter  (1984).  Der Schweizer Arzt und Philosoph  Ignaz  Paul Vital Troxler (1780 – 1866).  Seine Philosophie, Anthropologie und Medizintheorie. Basler Veröffent-lichungen zur Geschichte  der  Medizin und der Biologie.  Fasc.  XXXIV.  Schwabe & Co.  Ag.  Verlag, Basel/Stuttgart. ISBN 3-7965-0821-9

RISSE, Guenther B. (1976). ‘Philosophical’ Medicine in Nineteenth-Century Germany: An Episode in the Relations between Philosophy and Medicine. Pp. 72 – 92 in: The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy, 1976, Vol. 1, Issue 1.

RUSSELL, Bertrand (1945). A History of Western Philosophy. And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day. Simon and Schuster, New York.

SPIES, Emil J. (1967). Ignaz Paul Vital Troxler: der Philosoph und Vorkämpfer des schweizerischen Bundesstaates, dargestelt nach seinen Schriften und den Zeugnissen der Zeitgenossen. Francke, Bern.

SUSINI, Eugène (1967). Lettres inédites de Franz von Baader. Presses Universitaires de France, Paris. Publications de la faculté des lettres et sciences humaines de Paris-Sorbonne. Serie ‘Textes et Docu-ments’. Tome XVI.

TROXLER, Ignaz P.V. (1985). Naturlehre des menschlichen Erkennens, oder Metaphysik. Gemeinschaftsverlag Felix Meiner/Rolf Kugler. Philosophische Bibliothek, Band 32. ISBN 3-7873-0650-1

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