Again I'm questioning about one of Schopenhauer's passages, more specifically:

Daher bleiben die Weiber ihr Leben lang Kinder, sehn immer nur das Nächste, kleben an der Gegenwart, nehmen den Schein der Dinge für die Sache und ziehn Kleinigkeiten den wichtigsten Angelegenheiten vor. Die Vernunft nämlich ist es, vermöge deren der Mensch nicht, wie das Thier, bloß in der Gegenwart lebt, sondern Vergangenheit und Zukunft übersieht und bedenkt;

My dictionary (and google too) tells me "übersehen" means something more like in the context of "overlooking" something, but here, the usage of "übersieht" side-by-side with the word "bedenkt" (to ponder, to think about) in this specific context looks very out. Can someone clarify the usage of this word in this context for me?

4 Answers 4


There are two basic translations for "übersehen" in English.

The first is to "overlook" something. That is you miss something because you looked above (over) or around it, or anywhere in the general area except the right place.

The second, less common, but more relevant translation is to "look over" something. That is you look at something, not in a general way, but piece by piece so that you have "gone over" it carefully. Others have used the term "survey."

I would translate this "gone over" meaning in the figurative sense as "reflect on" or "consider." In this context, "übersehen" is synonymous with "bedenken." Which is something you want to do with regard to the past and future.

This is an unusual case where one word has two potentially "opposite" meanings like "cleave" (to cling and to cut) in English.


The verb übersehen has four meanings:

  1. Oh! Ich habe dich total übersehen.

    This means: I looked at your direction, but I didn't notice you. (Maybe because you was hidden in the crowd, or because I wasn't observant enough.)

  2. Ich werde mal ausnahmsweise übersehen, dass du zu spät gekommen bist.

    This means: You are too late, and I know it, but I will act as if I hadn't noticed it. (I will not report you.)

  3. Sie standen am Gipfel des Hügels und übersahen die weite Landschaft, die Felder, die Häuser und das Meer am Horizont.

    This means: They stand on the summit of a hill and look over the wide landscape. They do not focus on details, they just enjoy the view.

  4. Herr Gruber betrat die Halle und mit dem Blick des Experten übersah er die vielen Maschinen und verschafft sich so ein grobes Bild der Lage.

    This means: Mr. Gruber entered the hall, and looked at all the machines with an experts eye, and got a rough picture of the situation.

As you will have noticed already, meaning #2 is derived from meaning #1, and #4 from #3. (#2 and #4 are the figurative versions of #1 and #3).

Your example is (condensed to its core):

Der Mensch übersieht und bedenkt Vergangenheit und Zukunft.

This is meaning #4: It describes a view where you see everything without focusing on details, and where you can learn something about how the parts, that you see, are connected or linked together.

I would translate it as:

People survey and consider past and future.


It's tricky here and I think Schopenhauer did it by purpose to have the reader stumble and read the sentence again.

In the sentence before he complained about the women's habit to live in the present. So she übersieht past and future in the sense she can't see it. First meaning of übersehen: darüber hinweg sehen, ignore.

In the tricky sentence he uses a negation and deep nesting, omits words to bedazzle the reader further, and, as a last twist of the mind, uses the other, entirely opposite meaning of übersehen: überschauen, survey.

  • Frage dazu: ist die erste Bedutung ein untrennbares Verb und die zweite Bedeutung ein trennbares?
    – Beta
    Sep 2, 2017 at 7:29
  • 1
    Nein, sie sind beide nicht trennbar.
    – Janka
    Sep 2, 2017 at 12:08
  • There's no trickery here. He's using übersehen in the sense of überblicken
    – PiedPiper
    Sep 3, 2017 at 15:02

In this case übersehen means überblicken and not overlook. Übersehen is rarely used in this sense today

  • You are contradicting yourself.
    – Janka
    Sep 2, 2017 at 12:07
  • @Janka You are correct: My comment to your answer was wrong: I rewrote it
    – PiedPiper
    Sep 3, 2017 at 15:03

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