How Schopenhauers ethics of compassion can ? How Schopenhauers ethics of compassion can contribute
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Enrahonar. Quaderns de Filosofia 55, 2015 41-49ISSN 0211-402X (paper), ISSN 2014-881X (digital) http://dx.doi.org/10.5565/rev/enrahonar.207How Schopenhauers ethics of compassion can contribute to todays ethical debate*Ursula WolfUniversitt Mannheim email@example.comAbstractThe article has three parts. The first part exposes Schopenhauers critique of Kant who tries to derive morality from pure reason. The second part exhibits Schopenhauers ethics of compassion which is based on the insight that the will can only be moved by the weal and woe of a being and that moral action thus can only be possible where the others well-being or misery is the immediate motive. Schopenhauer claims that we encounter this phenomenon in our experience, namely in the everyday phenomenon of compassion. The advantages of this ethics of compassion over utilitarianism are demonstrated. The third part discusses some difficulties, e.g. whether this approach can cope with the area of justice.Keywords: compassion; suffering; Kant; utilitarianism; moral motivation; moral rights; animals.Resum. Com ltica de la compassi de Schopenhauer pot contribuir al debat tic davuiLa primera part daquest article resumeix la crtica de Schopenhauer a Kant i destaca lar-gument schopenhaueri que lacci moral noms s comprensible si s causada per una motivaci emprica. Dacord amb Schopenhauer, aquesta motivaci s la compassi adreada al benestar o dany daltres individus, siguin humans o animals. La segona part de larticle pre-senta els aspectes principals de la seva aproximaci basada en la compassi i subratlla alguns dels seus avantatges sobre lutilitarisme. La tercera part assenyala els lmits de la posici scho-penhaueriana, derivats fonamentalment de la seva transici a una metafsica de la voluntat.Paraules clau: compassi; sofriment; Kant; utilitarisme; motivaci moral; drets morals; animals. Reception date: 3-1-2014Acceptance date: 28-3-2014 Summary1. Schopenhauers critique of Kant2. Schopenhauers compassion approach3. Problems of Schopenhauers approachBibliographical references* Translated from German by Jens Tuider.42 Enrahonar 55, 2015 Ursula WolfPhilosophical ethics today has to face the ongoing controversies about ques-tions raised in the context of applied ethics. Given this situation, some types of theory prove to be rather inadequate right from the outset. This holds true for an ethics of pure reason as represented by Kant because founding maxims on reason will lead to diverging results in this case. Contractualism, which is based merely on instrumental rationality, does not appear to be helpful either since only very basic minimum conditions for coexistence can be derived from it and, as far as specific questions are concerned, it can only point towards procedural justice but cannot provide any substantive criteria. Moreover, both theories are faced with the difficulty of being unable to account for the range of morality, which, according to todays common sense view, ought, at least, to include animals. However, utilitarianism, which does meet this requirement and is often used as a solution, also faces severe problems since its strategy of setting off different kinds of pleasure against each other is controversial and, furthermore, since it skips the notion of individual rights and overtaxes moral agents owing to its orientation towards aggregate well-being. On the other hand, it does also not seem satisfactory to completely do without some general focus of orientation and confine oneself to mid-level material norms as some exponents of applied ethics do (Beauchamp and Childress, 2008). I think we do need some general moral conception as a point of reference which, however, must be so designed that it can cope with the material character of the problems in question and tie in with moral agents ordinary motivational make-up. Here, Schopenhauers ethics of compassion can make important contributions. Indeed, one may think that his ethical theory is the most current part of Schopenhauers philosophy (Malter, 1996). 1. Schopenhauers critique of KantIn his On the Basis of Morality (BM), Schopenhauer develops his ethical position, thereby setting himself apart from Kant. His critique is directed at four aspects of Kants conception: (a) the method, (b) the law-like form, (c) the question of motivation, (d) the content.(a) According to Schopenhauer, Kants basic error already lies in his notion of morality, according to which morality is concerned with laws about what ought to happen. Schopenhauers counterproposal is that all we can achieve in philosophy is to clarify and interpret the positively given and that the objective of philosophy is to achieve an understanding of the real phenomena. This contrast between theories in the Kantian tradition, which try to provide a justification of morality in the sense of inference of the normative, and those in the tradition of Schopenhauer, which proceed in a phenomenological or hermeneutic fashion, searching for a justification of morality in the other sense of making visible its implicit foundations, has run through the debates of moral philosophy until How Schopenhauers ethics of compassion can contribute Enrahonar 55, 2015 43today1. In order to decide this controversy, one has to take a closer look at Schopenhauers critique of Kants notion of the law.(b) Schopenhauer first rejects Kants determination of the form of morality: his notion of the law or the ought. Schopenhauer accepts the common notion of the law which we use to talk about positive laws that have been established by humans arbitrarily. Moreover, one can, in a figurative sense, speak of natural laws, which the human will is also subject to. Contrary to Kants assumption, human beings do not have a share in pure reason which would place them partly outside of natural causality; instead their will is continously subject to the law of causality, according to which no action can take place without a sufficient motive (BM 4). Then, however, apart from positive laws or religious commandments, there can be no moral laws that exist categorically or absolutely. Such a concept of an absolute ought is, unwittingly, adopted from Christian ethics or it remains, if consistently understood in non-religious terms, vacuous as its sense violates the princi-ple of sufficient reason and is thus unexplainable. (c) Thus, Schopenhauers critique of Kants notion of an absolute moral law at the same time implies the reproach that Kant cannot provide an adequate explanation for the moral motivation. According to todays theorists, this is in fact one of the main difficulties of the Kantian approach. Schopen-hauer rightly points to Kants doctrine of the highest good, which shows that Kant has to postulate the concurrence of virtue and happiness at least as a regulative idea, thus tying the absolute ought in a way to the idea of a reward or the avoidance of a negative consequence like unhappiness after all. Then, however, Schopenhauer argues, the ought is hypothetical in turn as it is based on rewards and punishments; and an action that aims at receiving rewards or avoiding punishments is egoistically motivated and is thus ultimately selfish and without any moral value (BM 4). But even if we do not reduce Kants position to this conditional reading of the ought, his theory still remains inappropriate as an explanation of morality since the idea of self-legislation of the will, which occurs in a person spontane-ously, is impossible. According to Schopenhauer, moral action, like any other form of action, can only be brought about by a motivating force that exists in the empirical world (BM 6), for human beings are consistently subject to the law of causality, and consequently the motivating force needs to be positively efficient, i.e. real or empirical.(d) In this context (BM 6), Schopenhauer criticises another mistake in Kants conception which he claims has been given little attention so far and which concerns the content of morality, namely the lack of real substance. This 1. On Schopenhauers method in ethics and in philosophy in general see Dieter Birnbacher, Schopenhauer, Stuttgart, reclam 2009, 116 f.; Tilo Wesche, Leiden als Thema der Philosophie, in Lore Huehn, ed., Die Ethik Arthur Schopenhauers im Ausgang vom Deutschen Idealismus, Ergon Verlag, Freiburg 2005, 133-145, 134; Paul Guyer, Schopenhauer, Kant, and the Methods of Philosophy, in Christopher Janaway, ed., The Cambridge Companion to Schopenhauer, Cambridge, CUP 1999, 93-137.44 Enrahonar 55, 2015 Ursula Wolfpoint is closely linked with the aspect of motivation in as much as purely abstract concepts cannot move human beings and like Kants content-free morality has no carrying capacity. Let me anticipate my assessment of Schopenhauers critical objections against Kant: I consider the first two points to be inspiring though problem-atic whereas I deem the last two points to be central and irrefutable. The first point, which concerns the method, is difficult, and one can certainly admit that Schopenhauer is partly right here: we cannot derive morality from a form of reason that is located in a higher intellectual world but rather have to recon-struct the form in which moral acting is possible in the real world. On the other hand, moral theory can, contrary to Schopenhauers descriptive approach, always transcend the factually encountered moral understanding and try to improve it by eradicating inconsistencies, elaborating substantive ideas in a clearer and more differentiated manner and so on. Therefore, moral theory is never purely descriptive but always also contributes to the further development of a normative conception. As far as the other points are concerned, I first deem the classification of the moral aspects that Schopenhauer discusses successively to be very helpful: form, motivation, content. The ethical debate is often flawed as only a single concept or principle is discussed without an awareness of the complexity of morality as a phenomenon. In what follows, I will adopt this tripartite division since I deem it fit and proper indeed. As far as the first aspect, the form, is concerned, the question is whether Schopenhauers critique of the notions of law and rights is really adequate. It is certainly impossible to derive morality from a kind of pure reason which is located in a higher world. One clearly has to agree with Schopenhauer that moral acting can only be rendered comprehensible if a factually given, i.e. empirical, motive can be shown. This emphasis on the law of causality, that human beings are subject to, ties in neatly with todays discourse which stresses human beings natural endowment and the continuity between humans and animals, owing to the insights of evolutionary theory, neuro-physiology and ethology (Beisel, 2013). But even if we take this understand-ing as a basis, morality is something normative, containing an ought as part of its form. So, even if we consider the purpose of moral theory to be of a rather reconstructive nature, we are dealing with a phenomenon that is only partly factually given; partly, however, it is of a normative kind. The positive law is not the only thing that exists for there are also moral social norms, the adherence to which the members of a society mutually demand from each other. As a matter of fact, humans are social beings who exist in relations of mutual recognition and have a need for such recognition. Why does Scho-penhauer rule this motive out? The reason is that it is an egoistic motive. Those who adhere to social moral norms with the intention of being appreci-ated as moral persons by other persons act selfishly. Schopenhauer here right-ly identifies a problem of the social norms approach. How Schopenhauers ethics of compassion can contribute Enrahonar 55, 2015 452. Schopenhauers compassion approachAccording to Schopenhauer, then, every action has to be caused by an empiri-cally given motivating force. He distinguishes three such motivating forces: egoism, malice and altruism. The main motivating force in humans and animals alike is egoism, the striving for ones own well-being (BM 14). Schopenhauers explanation hereof is not psychological but epistemological: each subject is given to itself in an immediate way whereas the others are given to a subject only in a mediate way. As a result of this immediate givenness, each subject is the whole world to itself; everything else, however, only exists as the subjects representa-tion or idea. Egoism is not the only anti-moral motivating force; another instance is ill-will or malice, into which egoism can degenerate, so that one wants the woe (unhappiness) of the other. Thirdly, however, there are actions that have true moral value, which are characterised, first of all, by the absence of any egoistic motives and are thus termed altruistic actions (BM 15). If there is no action without an empirical motive, the question arises as to what this motive could be if egoism is factually inherent in the very form of existence of beings.In Schopenhauers view, the will or an action is always motivated by the weal and woe, which means that the lives of beings that have the requisite capabilities can fare well or badly. Such a being is either the actual agent or another being. If it is the agent, the action is egoistic. If the action is egoistic, it cannot have moral value. Therefore, an action can only be moral in its rela-tion to other beings; this is the only way for it to be an action of true philan-thropy and justice. If such an action is to be possible, the others well-being needs to be my immediate motive. I must want the others well-being or not want his ill-being as if it were my own, and Schopenhauer claims that we encounter this phenomenon in our experience, namely in the everyday phe-nomenon of compassion. Feeling compassion, we identify with others and immediately take part in their suffering, we feel their woe as if it were our own and thus want their well-being as if it were our own. So it is this hint at the existence of compassion which provides the basis for the possibility of identification or non-egoistic actions, i.e. the basis of morality2. Schopenhauer no longer explains the question of how this phenomenon is to be ultimately understood by way of a mere analysis of the given. Instead, in compassion he sees at the same time the great mystery of ethics, its arche-typal phenomenon and its boundary stone, about which only metaphysical speculation, as we find it in his major work The World as Will and Represen-tation, can make any claims. According to this conception, the possibility of identification is based on the assumption that all things and living beings are objectivations of a single will. The human individual is such a realisation of the will, although with the special characteristic of having understanding or repre-sentations, including, in particular, a representation of the fact that it is will or 2. Cartwright (2013: 249), stresses the uniqueness of this central role of compassion within the whole tradition of Western moral philosophy (and also metaphysics).46 Enrahonar 55, 2015 Ursula Wolfdrive itself. Since human beings are material objectivations of the will, they are isolated. An isolated individual suffers not only now and then but, in fact, constitutionally since the will is boundless and impossible to satisfy. Compas-sion draws attention to the fact that other individuals suffer likewise. The insight into the universality of suffering, on the other hand, can lead to the insight into the arbitrariness of the distinction between individuals. The next step is the insight into the futility of willing and the renunciation of life and willing. This step goes beyond the problems of moral philosophy which is why I will not deal with it here. However, the ethical ideas Schopenhauer develops before this transition into metaphysics contain a number of impor-tant insights.As already alluded to in Section 1., we should pay attention to Schopen-hauers hint that morality is a complex phenomenon, the explanation of which requires elaborating on at least the three aspects of the form, the content and the motivation. Usually, Schopenhauers ethics is considered with regard to the aspect of motivation and is categorised as an ethics of compassion. However, the idea that this motive is always directed at the weal and woe of others makes an equally important contribution to the determination of the content of morality; moreover, both aspects are closely correlated.Schopenhauer conceives of both compassion and the life orientation of beings in a fundamental sense when he relates both to the weal and woe. I would like to briefly outline the advantages of this conception for a substan-tiation and elaboration of an ethics of universal consideration by drawing a comparison to utilitarianism which, at first glance, seems to be similarly ori-ented owing to its reference to happiness and unhappiness. As far as the con-tent is concerned, utilitarianism refers to the total sum of well-being, whereby it violates the common idea that morality is about the consideration of indi-viduals whose lives can fare well or badly; and as far as the corresponding motive is concerned, utilitarianism invokes the feeling of benevolence towards total happiness, a feeling which does not exist as a given motive in our experi-ence. This lack of a possible empirical motive in utilitarianism leads to an unrealistic overtaxing of moral agents whereas Schopenhauers orientation towards the negative emotion of compassion implies that moral acting consists in not making others suffer and helping them in time of need.The utilitarian orientation towards the sum of happiness also goes with the use of a reduced notion of suffering and happiness as it takes these to be iso-lated states and considers individuals merely as receptacles for these states. Schopenhauer, by contrast, speaks of the weal and woe of human beings and animals; here, experiences of pleasure and suffering are viewed as constituents of life as a whole. Compassion does not simply refer to states of suffering as such but to another being that suffers. Therefore, Schopenhauer can, like utilitarianism but with an ethical conception that is more in line with common sense morality, include animals (BM 19, 7). The emotion of compassion, which makes altruistic acting possible and is thus constitutive of moral acting, can refer to animals in the same way as to humans; and therefore, animals are How Schopenhauers ethics of compassion can contribute Enrahonar 55, 2015 47included in the ranks of moral objects straight away. This inclusion, however, differs from the utilitarian one insofar as moral objects are considered to be fully-fledged living beings striving for their well-being.3. Problems of Schopenhauers approachThe great importance that Schopenhauer attaches to the notion of well-being or suffering could also be used to eradicate a difficulty that some critics see in his approach. With regard to compassion, Schopenhauer claims to have found the moral drive out of which flow both the virtue of justice and the virtue of philanthropy (BM 17). This distinction roughly corresponds to Kants dis-tinction between negative and positive duties, between the prohibition of injur-ing and the precept of assistance. The fact that the prohibition of injuring or inflicting suffering follows from the conception of compassion is certainly without problems. It is less clear, however, whether this really covers the area of justice and whether compassion can be the adequate basis here (Cartwright, 2012: 258). For it seems rather odd to say that, for example, one keeps a promise out of compassion. This problem might be solved if, following Schopenhauer, the notion of suffering is understood in a more comprehensive sense so that it includes not only feelings of pain and unpleasure. In his words (BM 16, 3rd axiom), the motives that move the will are weal and woe in general and in the broadest possible sense of the word. One could then say that those moral objects who are persons are susceptible to (sometimes purely symbolic) violations of a higher-order and that contempt, disregard, violations of reciprocal social rela-tions, as they occur in the case of injustice, belong to this class. To me, this seems to be plausible indeed; for motives are intelligible only if they can be integrated in some way into the striving for the good life. By mentioning the two cardinal virtues, we have already come across anoth-er important point whose interpretation requires some clarification. One com-mon objection against an approach based on the empirical motive of compas-sion is that this emotion, like all other emotions, is erratic and thus inappropriate as a basis for a universalistic morality (Tugendhat, 2006). But Schopenhauer does not claim that moral acting requires the moral agent to be determined by the factual occurrence of feelings of compassion. Instead we can, based on this affect, form the general maxim not to inflict suffering on anyone and develop this maxim into a solid resolution, a virtue (BM 17).The critical question as to why we should develop compassion, of all emo-tions, into an expanded attitude, and not any adverse affects like glee, becomes superfluous given Schopenhauers methodological approach. For his aspiration is not to derive morality from something pre-moral but to explain what moral-ity, as a given fact, is constituted of. The feeling of compassion explains how moral acting is empirically, and thus motivationally, possible. Morality, how-ever, consists of a generalised altruistic attitude, an attitude of regard for the well-being of other sentient beings but not its opposite. 48 Enrahonar 55, 2015 Ursula WolfMore difficult is the question of where Schopenhauer takes the concept of moral virtues from and how he can explain the decision to make a permanent resolution to act in accordance with the generalised form of compassion. This step is necessary for Schopenhauer because, as individualized objectivations, we cannot completely identify with others and thus have to use cognition to reach the insight that all other beings suffer too. Thus reason turns compassion into a solid resolution to respect the rights of individuals, not to interfere with these rights, to avoid the self-reproach of being the cause of other beings suf-fering (BM 17).But on what basis can Schopenhauer speak of a moral right? On a first level, one could reply, as indicated above, that rights and duties do exist within a specific part of morality in a harmless sense, i.e. that they form a dimension that is central for human life in particular. That would correspond roughly with Bernard Williamss view that the notion of a moral ought is pointless but that a locally limited everyday notion of obligation, for example in the context of promising or more generally in the context of reciprocal social relations, does in fact make good sense (Williams, 1985). But this is just the way Scho-penhauers notion of rights is not limited. For the social form of morality is factually not universal but limited to a community whose members conceive of themselves accordingly whereas generalised compassion has no limits; according to its own sense, generalised compassion refers exactly to all beings who can suffer (Tugendhat, 2006: 29). This is the very reason why this attitude is fundamental for the comprehensibility of the universal content of contem-porary morality. What Schopenhauer unwittingly makes use of here is a strong universal notion of moral rights to which a strong notion of ought should correspond; with his critique of the law-like form of morality, however, Schopenhauer has just tossed this concept overboard. In fact it is also part of the common idea of morality that there are basic moral rights that normally constitute a bound-ary for other moral agents actions; and it seems to be part of the idea of a moral virtue, as distinct from a virtue of character related merely to the success of ones own life, that one accepts corresponding obligations and that one makes the demand that all other moral agents ought to develop this virtue and act accordingly as well. Without a foundation on religious authorities, pure reason or other absolute values, however, it is impossible to derive absolute obligations or absolute rights. The special weight of morality that one would like to ensure with these notions cannot be extracted from a conception of consideration for the weal and woe of all sentient beings based on an attitude of generalised compassion. For this is only one among other attitudes to life, and it is, for the time being, an open question of how much weight it has among these various attitudes. However, it is exactly the openness of this ques-tion that can also be seen as an advantage. Moral theories which take as a basis some notion of absolute value tend to deny the very existence of this question right from the outset.How Schopenhauers ethics of compassion can contribute Enrahonar 55, 2015 49Bibliographical referencesBeauchamp, Tom L. and Childress, James F. (2008). Principles of Biomedical Ethics. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 6.ed.Beisel, Marie-Christine (2012). Schopenhauer und die Spiegelneurone. Wuerz-burg: Koenigshausen & Neumann.Birnbacher, Dieter (2009). Schopenhauer. Stuttgart: Reclam.Cartwright, David E. (2012). Schopenhauer on the Value of Compassion. In: Bart Vandenabeele (ed.). A Companion to Schopenhauer. Oxford: Black-well, 249-265.Guyer, Paul (1999). Schopenhauer, Kant, and the Methods of Philosophy. In: Christopher Janaway (ed.). The Cambrigde Companion to Schopenhau-er. Cambridge: CUP, 93-137.Malter, Rudolf (1996). Was ist heute an Schopenhauers Philosophie aktuell?. In: Dieter Birnbacher (ed.). Schopenhauers Philosophie in der Gegenwart. Wuerzburg: Koenigshausen & Neumann, 9-17.Tugendhat, Ernst (2006). Das Problem einer autonomen Moral. In: Scara-no, Nico and Surez, Mauricio (eds.). Ernst Tugendhats Ethik. Einwaende und Erwiderungen. Muenchen: Beck, 13-30. Wesche, Tilo (2005). Leiden als Thema der Philosophie. In: Lore Huehn (ed.). Die Ethik Arthur Schopenhauers im Ausgang vom Deutschen Idealismus. Freiburg: Ergon Verlag, 133-145. Williams, Bernard (1985). Ethics and the limits of philosophy. London: Fontana Press.Ursula Wolf, born 1951 in Karlsruhe (Germany), has taught Philosophy at the FU Berlin and at Frankfurt University. Since 1998 she has been Professor of Practical Philosophy at the Uni-versity of Mannheim. Her research focuses on ancient philosophy and modern ethics. She has recently published tica de la relacin entre humanos y animales (Madrid, Plaza y Valds, 2014).Ursula Wolf, nascuda el 1951 a Karlsruhe (Alemanya), ha estat professora de filosofia a la Universitat Lliure de Berln i a la Universitat de Frankfurt. Des de 1998 s catedrtica de filo-sofia prctica a la Universitat de Manheim. La seva recerca se centra en la filosofia antiga i en ltica moderna. Ha publicat recentment tica de la relacin entre humanos y animales (Madrid, Plaza y Valds, 2014).
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