Schopenhauer's Critique of Kant's Foundation for Morals

Dissertation, University of Pennsylvania (1993)

I begin by contrasting Kant's moral rationalism with Schopenhauer's voluntarism, a contrast which I articulate in terms of two opposed models of moral reasoning: a top-down model and a bottom-up model. I hypothesize that Kant accepted a top-down model and Schopenhauer a bottom-up model. I turn from this contrast to a discussion of the general framework of Kant's moral philosophy. Kant describes moral laws as laws of what ought to happen as opposed to laws of what does happen. Schopenhauer accuses Kant of begging the question by assuming that there are moral laws at the outset of the Groundwork. Schopenhauer's criticism of the imperatival form of Kant's foundation for morals is directed against what he takes to be Kant's assumption that the morality of an action is to be analyzed as consisting in the action's being done in obedience to a unique moral law. Schopenhauer argues that the moral worth of an action cannot correctly be analyzed as consisting in its being done in obedience to a unique moral imperative. Schopenhauer's argument depends on his equating a sufficient motive for action with a sufficient egoistic motive. In order to understand why Schopenhauer accepts this equation, I investigate the sense in which Schopenhauer thinks human beings are egoistic, and the relation of his assertion of egoism to his metaphysics of the will to live. Schopenhauer thinks that egoism entails being motivated only by one's own pain and suffering. The role of compassion in Schopenhauer's foundation for morals is to explain how a person can be motivated by the pain and suffering of others in the same direct manner in which ordinarily only his own pain and suffering motivate him. Schopenhauer ignores the possibility that being directly motivated by others' pain and suffering could as easily cause a direct interest in their misery as it could in their well-being. While Schopenhauer makes a strong case for compassion as a powerful support for a person who is determined to act morally, he fails to prove his thesis that compassion yields a sufficient criterion of moral action
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