Schopenhauer and Nietzsche on Moral Growth
According to Immanuel Kant, the outcome of moral growth should be a person that is rational and free and possesses a good will. The Kantian Enlightened mature person is a master of his or her feelings also in the case that these emotions are in accordance with the categorical imperative. Arthur Schopenhauer holds a very different view on what is a truly morally mature person. For Schopenhauer, a mature person is not the one that follows duty (categorical imperative), but the truly mature is a holy ascetic who has developed his virtues of compassion (Mitleid) to perfection. Schopenhauer claims that morality is a matter of intuition (Anschauung), not practical reason and duty. Nevertheless, Schopenhauer was impressed by Kant’s architecture of thinking. Schopenhauer’s ethics, in the same manner as his metaphysics, grows from his critique of Kant, which does not diminish his debt to Kant (On the relationship between Kant’s and Schopenhauer’s metaphysics, see Räsänen 2005; Viljanen 2009.). Schopenhauer considers Kant’s model of the two kingdoms as “Kant’s greatest and most brilliant merit in the service of ethics” (Schopenhauer 2010, p. 184) (The phrase “member of two kingdoms” is not Kant’s own expression but rather an established interpretation of his practical philosophy. Kant only wrote about being a member of the sensible and the intelligible world. Schopenhauer didn’t use the phrase “two kingdoms” either. He used the expression “coexistence of freedom with necessity” (Schopenhauer 2010, p. 185).).
The causality of reason in its intelligible character does not arise or start working at certain time in producing an effect. For then it would itself be subjected to the natural law of appearances, to the extent that this law determines causal series in time, and its causality would then be nature not freedom.
Freedom belongs not to the empirical, but only to the intelligible character. A given person’s ‘doing’ is necessarily determined externally through motives and internally through his character; hence, everything that he does occurs necessarily. But in his ‘essence’, there lies freedom.
Schopenhauer writes that it is commonly thought that the will of the human being is free and independent. Schopenhauer states that every individual action is determined by the effect of motive on the character. Effect and cause are one form of the universal law of principle of sufficient reason (principii rationis), and human action, like every phenomenon (appearance), follows this law. The thing-in-itself, or a noumenal thing, is free from the law of principle of sufficient reason (of acting). “But because in self-consciousness the will is known directly and in itself, there also lies in this consciousness the consciousness of freedom” (Schopenhauer 1969, p. 113). A priori (before experience), everyone considers himself to be quite free, but a posteriori (through experience), everyone finds that he is not free. Schopenhauer cites Helvetius: La Liberté est un mystère – Freedom is a mystery (Schopenhauer 2010, p. 33).
In his work, Schopenhauer combined eighteenth-century Enlightenment, early nineteenth-century Romanticism, and Ancient Indian philosophy. His philosophy contains strong pessimism, but still there can be found some positive Stoic and Buddhist notions of morality. Schopenhauer claims that the source of morality is our natural feeling of compassion (Mitleid) which comes to contradiction with the basic strive of “will-to-live” (Wille zum Leben) (see Salomaa 1944, pp. 305–308). According to Schopenhauer, all animals, including humans, are manifestations of the will-to-live. The will-to-live is for Schopenhauer the ultimate thing-in-itself (see Schopenhauer 1969, pp. 112–120). Everything else is phenomenal – Platonic shapes on the wall. The will to live is noumenal (Platonic eidos). The noumenal world is the “world as will” (Die Welt als Wille) and the phenoumenal world is the “world as representation” (Die Welt als Vorstellung). In a Spinozian manner, the (metaphysical) will is the world, but humans cannot have knowledge about the will. Human knowledge concerns spatial and temporal phenomena (appearances) wherefrom humans form representations – Platonic shadows of the shadows. In the phenoumenal world, will manifests itself as the will-to-live. To deny will is same as denying the world and will-to-live, which is for Schopenhauer the ultimate moral end. Will is the source of all suffering, and a person who is free from willing is at the highest state of morality aimed at peaceful nothingness (see Schopenhauer 1966, pp. 603–633).
For Schopenhauer, the will-to-live is not an empirical will. Will is metaphysical (noumenal), and humans cannot have any empirical knowledge of this will. Nevertheless, we do know or feel it intuitively. Intuitively we understand that there exists some irrational essence that blindly forces us to live and makes us want to exist. We have this intuition because we have a body, and the body is a manifestation of will or the objectivity of will (Schopenhauer 1969, p. 100). Through our bodies, will makes us prefer existing over nonexisting. It makes us will rather than deny willing. Will is irrational, senseless, original, and groundless (Schopenhauer 1969, p. 290). Intuitively we follow the irrational ethics of the will-to-live. Intuitively we grasp the greedy hunger for life, but we cannot find any deeper meaning for life. We are thrown into existence without knowing what the point of living is. The will-to-live contains no deeper meaning. The will-to-live just produces the eternal circulation of life wherein a single individual’s life or death is unimportant. According to Julian Young’s interpretation, will is not only bad but also clearly mad (Young 2005, p. 82).
The will-to-live does not produce any lasting satisfaction or happiness. Quite contrary, blind and irrational will produces needs, anxiety, deprivation, distress, and suffering. Any achieved satisfaction is limited and provisional. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. The will-to-live makes our existence almost a living hell. Happiness is more like an illusion, and the simple existence of evil makes us question the value of existence as a whole. Referring to Lord Byron, Schopenhauer declares (Schopenhauer 1966, p. 576): “For that thousands had lived in happiness and joy would never do away with the anguish and death-agony of one individual; and just as little does my present well-being undo my previous sufferings.” Mankind cannot expect any progress to happen related to the decreasing of suffering. Wars, crimes, and other forms of evil will always reappear eadem sed aliter – in the same but still a different way. Schopenhauer comes to the ultimate pessimistic conclusion (Schopenhauer 1966, p. 171): “…we very soon look upon the world as something whose non-existence is not only conceivable, but even preferable to its existence.”
The existence of the world we cannot – and should not – undo, and suicide is not an option. The best that we can do, according to Schopenhauer, is to liberate ourselves from suffering by denial of the will-to-live. That is the road to salvation. Will has the power to freely abolish itself. Schopenhauer refers to this as the euthanasia of the will (see Schopenhauer 1966, pp. 634–639). Here we have a certain kind of Schopenhauerian theory of moral development. It is a road from suffering to holiness and self-denial. Schopenhauer claims that mankind has two ways to liberate itself from suffering and needing: art and morality. With art we can achieve only momentary liberation in a form of aesthetic consciousness, which is quickly followed by a return to mundane suffering (Schopenhauer’s aesthetics consciousness in mind Adorno & Horkheimer made their famous interpretations on Odysseus and Sirens (Adorno & Horkheimer 1997, p. 34): “What Odysseus hears is without consequence for him; he is able only to nod his head as a sign to be set free from his bonds; but it is too late; his men… leave him at the mast in order to save him and themselves… The prisoner is present at a concert, an inactive eavesdropper like the later concertgoers, and his spirited call for liberation fades like applause.” Adorno & Horkheimer transformed will-to-live into “treadmill of self-preservation of bourgeois subjectivity”.). Only morality, which leads to a total denial of the will, can guarantee ultimate liberation, but only a few of us can achieve it.
Fundamental disposition towards others, assuming the character either of Envy or of Sympathy, is the point at which the moral virtues and vices of mankind first diverge. These two diametrically opposite qualities exist in every man; for they spring from the inevitable comparison which he draws between his own lot and that of others. According as the result of this comparison affects his individual character does the one or the other of these qualities become the source and principle of all his actions. Envy builds the wall between Thee and Me thicker and stronger; Sympathy makes it slight and transparent; nay, sometimes it pulls down the wall altogether; and then the distinction between self and not-self vanishes.
‘Neminem laede, immo omnes, quantum potes iuva – Harm no one; rather, help everyone as much you can.’ This is and remains the true, pure content of all morals… From the other side, egoism screams with a loud voice: ‘Help no one; rather harm everyone if it brings you advantage;’ indeed, malice gives the variant: ‘but harm everyone as much as you can.’
Reconstructed Schopenhauerian theory of moral growth
A person’s will another’s woe.
A person’s will one’s own weal.
Disappearance of the usual egocentricity in a form of a aesthetic consciousness.
Ordinary level compassion
Mixture of egoism and compassion.
Strong feeling of compassion, life of an ascetic.
Final level of saintness
Total withdrawal of all willing.
The second stage (level 1) is perfecting of one’s virtues of love and sympathy (partial denial of the will-to-live) and leaving the stage of natural egoism. This is the best thing that most of us can do. We can never entirely deny our egoism but we can limit it. We can listen to the voice of our conscience and enhance our natural feeling of compassion. The third stage (level 2) is that of a holy man and means a total denial of the will. It is attained only through asceticism and complete self-surrender. The person turns away from all the pleasures of life. This is the way of perfect virtue. It cannot be taught, and systems of ethics cannot produce a holy man. A saint or holy man understands the metaphysical unity of all things and feels everybody’s suffering as his own. A saint tries to ease others’ suffering, but in the final stage (level 2.5) a saint gives up all willing, including wanting to help others, and withdraws from all earthly activities. We present the following Schopenhauerian moral stages.
If we force Schopenhauer’s moral theory into developmental theory, we get an ethical scale on which one can go forwards or backwards. In Parerga and Paralipomena, Schopenhauer claims that the will-to-live causes embitterment, which might lead to a situation wherein one tries to lighten one’s own suffering by agonizing others. This road eventually evolves into real malice and evilness, and the person gains satisfaction of others’ suffering (see Schopenhauer 2000, p. 215). In this case, we can speak of moral degeneration. Schopenhauer wants people to avoid the road to embitterment and selfishness. He offers the road to salvation, which is the narrow path of asceticism and the holy man. In a way, this is Schopenhauer’s notion of the Übermensch. The path of the holy man is only for the few and elected.
I would, therefore, like to lay down the following rule in contrast to the above-mentioned moral principle of Kant. In the case of every man with whom we come in contact, we should not undertake an objective estimation of his worth and dignity; and so we should not take into consideration the wickedness of his notions; for the first could easily excite our hatred and the last our contempt. On the contrary, we should bear in mind only his sufferings, his need, anxiety, and pain. We shall then always feel in sympathy with him, akin to him, and, instead of hatred or contempt, we shall experience compassion; for this alone is the άγάπη [agape] to which the Gospel summons us. The standpoint of sympathy or compassion is the only one suitable for curbing hatred or contempt, certainly not that of seeking pretended ‘dignity’.
Friedrich Nietzsche: Immoralist
Nietzsche’s moral theory can be described as master-morality. His idea of moral is essentially aristocratic, and it does not include an idea of equality or kinship between all human beings. Master-morality is the morals of the few, who are essentially better than others. Master-morality is to be understood as a negation to the so-called slave-morality, which is closer to our common understanding of morality. The common notion of morality includes certain moral principles and virtues like equality and universality, goodness and happiness, compassion (pity), and caring for other people. For Nietzsche, it was pity which needed to be overcome, because it represents weakness. Hence his view on morality and moral growth is very different from Schopenhauer’s, even though Schopenhauer was one of the most important philosophers for Nietzsche. Nietzsche sees Schopenhauer as a great teacher and a worthy opponent to his ideas. Schopenhauer saw compassion and pity as the ground for morality. For Nietzsche, those feelings are the lowest and the most destructive things, and they are features of the slave-morality of the masses. Nietzsche would have never said this, but from Nietzsche’s point of view Schopenhauer is “a slave-lover or herd-lover.”
According to Nietzsche, masses are like herding animals who only seek immediate satisfaction and release from senseless suffering. Their moral belongs to the lower slave-morality, and it is quite senseless to offer them a higher education. Only a selected group of people are worthy of being educated, and even fewer are capable of educating. There must be a different moral and a different education for the noble and for the masses. Nietzsche declares that the education of the masses cannot be the goal. Rather, it must be the education of individual, selected human beings – in other words, geniuses.
The only value of the masses is that they are needed when noblemen are educated in the spirit of master-morality. The masses are a kind of material storage from which noblemen can rise. The masses are not worthy of education. Education is a kind of mentor–student relation. Education has nothing to do with either the majority of children or the majority of adults. The goal is to educate those few decorous students who understand the importance of committing themselves to the power of the genius-teacher and following him. Nietzsche describes this concept through the analogy of two kinds of travelers: mass travelers and the rarer lone travelers on the way to education. If you chose to follow the path of the smaller group, the road will be more difficult to follow; it will be steeper and more winding. The first path is quite easy to follow, which is perhaps why most of us choose it. And as you travel along this path, you are sure to encounter many likeminded souls traveling both in front of and behind you. The other path will offer less companionship and, as mentioned above, will be more difficult to follow, steeper, and often dangerous. Three types of people belong to this smaller group. First and foremost, is the teacher-philosopher, i.e., genius. Secondly, are the students who are likely to become geniuses, the first-rate talents. And thirdly, are the group of students who are needed in the process of the birth of genius. They are assistants who are second- and third-rate talents. Nietzsche considered himself to be a philosopher in this elitist group. Moreover, in the text Schopenhauer as Educator, it is Nietzsche who is the hero, not Schopenhauer, because he understands Schopenhauer’s brilliance and genius, which elevates him to Schopenhauer’s level and even beyond it (Kakkori 2008; Nietzsche 2004, p. 96, 1983, pp. 175–176) (The text Schopenhauer as educator is actually about Nietzsche as educator. See example Fitzsimons 1999.).
The true teacher is a philosopher, and for Nietzsche it was Schopenhauer. True teachers are great philosophers who teach the truth about things. These great philosophers do not give lectures every day, because they know that they cannot always speak about truth and true things. They also know that there are days when they cannot think of anything. A true teacher can also select his students, so he does not have to speak to the masses. According to this idea, lecturing on the history of philosophy is not speaking of truth. Nietzsche refers to those university philosophers who must teach every day and cannot choose their students as “learned” – as opposed to philosophers (Nietzsche 1983, p. 186.).
Masters and Masses – Bad and Evil
Nietzsche presents his idea of morality and its division into master-morality and slave-morality in his book Beyond Good and Evil (2009). The division of people into the masses and the few and privileged is typical for Nietzsche in his entire production. Nietzsche considers master-morality as higher system of morality which makes a distinction between good and bad, or between “life-affirming” and “life-denying.” Wealth, strength, health, and power, the sorts of traits found in the Homeric hero, count as good, while bad is associated with the poor, weak, sick, and pathetic, the sorts of traits conventionally associated with slaves in ancient times. Examples of those who belong to the masters and whom Nietzsche admired are Alcibiades, Caesar, Descartes, Napoleon, and Leonardo da Vinci.
The noble type of man separates from himself the beings in whom the opposite of this exalted, proud disposition displays itself he despises them. Let it at once be noted that in this first kind of morality the antithesis ‘good’ and ‘bad’ means practically the same as ‘noble’ and ‘despicable’, – the antithesis ‘good’ and ‘evil’ is of a different origin.
Good means a different thing to noblemen and to the masses. The noblemen belong to a world wherein there is no division between good and evil – like the title of Nietzsche’s opus Beyond Good and Evil (Jenseits von Gut und Böse) indicates. This other world does not mean the Kingdom of Heaven, but rather the world where the Nietzschean hero, the Übermensch, rules by revaluating all values. There is no more anything evil, only good or bad according to whether it is good or bad for the few noblemen. This moral is not for all people. Therefore, there must be different kinds of moral to different kinds of people (Nietzsche 2009, fragment 228): “The requirement of one morality for all is really a detriment to higher men, in short, that there is a distinction of rank between man and man, and consequently between morality and morality.”
The well-being of the Nietzschean hero is the only value. What happens to most of the people, to the masses, has no importance or value. It would be easy to interpret Nietzsche’s moral to be individual and subjective. But that is not correct – Nietzsche’s moral is not founded on individual decision, but rather on hierarchy of ranging order (Salomaa 1988, p. 51).
Valuable is what benefits noblemen. Nietzsche always looks into the world through the eyes of the noblemen. For example, in one of his texts he describes how young men are having a dialog with an older wise man up on a hill while watching at the same time a larger group of people wandering down in the valley. Zarathustra wanders alone looking at the world from the perspective of outsider. He never takes into account how things are for the masses, or what is good for the masses. There is no Kantian maxim nor virtues, only an order of the hierarchy of people. Both Kohlberg (1969) and Gilligan (1993) would consider this the lowest stage of moral development, but for Nietzsche it is an outcome of a nobleman’s moral development. Master-morality has no developmental relation to slave-morality. Master-morality and slave-morality are two separate forms of moral.
Development of the moral of mankind according to Nietzsche (2009, fragment 32).
Value of action
PREMORAL period of mankind
The longest period of human history
Value is dependent on the CONSEQUENCES of action.
MORAL period of mankind
Last ten thousand years
Value is dependent on the INTENTION of the action.
ULTRAMORAL period of mankind
Nowadays, among immoralists (Nietzsche, Übermensch), or some day in the near future.
Value of action is outside of moral. Value of an action lies in that which is NOT INTENTIONAL.
For Nietzsche, there is only one imperative: “Know thyself!” This imperative is not of the same kind as Kant’s categorical imperative. Nietzsche’s imperative is not a moral one, even though it belongs to the development of the moral of mankind. In the premoral period, this imperative was totally unknown. In the moral period, it was the first attempt at gaining self-knowledge. The ultramoral period is the time of Nietzsche’s imperative. The imperative is not a moral one because it does not take into account other people, only oneself. Nietzsche sees no problem here because the whole point is to overcome the moral period and its focus to the intention of action, which keeps in mind the well-being of others.
The target of Nietzsche’s ethical criticism is all forms of the slave-morality including Kantian deontological moral, utilitarianism, Schopenhauerian pity-morality, British sentimentalists, etc. All philosophers since Plato have made an error, because they wanted to give a foundation to morality. Nietzsche saw that the error is that morality itself has been regarded as something given. This means that the problem of morality itself and its existence has been omitted. Against pity, Nietzsche claims that he who feels pity is brought down to the level of the pitiful people. Pity makes person ill and weak. It is something which does not enhance life. In Nietzsche’s Zarathustra (Nietzsche 1999), God dies in pity. When compassion or pity is considered as the basic principle of society, the will is denied. Schopenhauer makes the same point, but for him it constitutes the ultimate end of moral development.
Nietzsche and the Will
Nietzschean master-morality represents the will to power as revaluating all the values. The need for revaluating is the essence of Nietzschean nihilism. All old values have lost their meanings, even God is dead, and there is no transcendental horizon left. The will to power is all, and it is even better to will for nothingness than to deny the will to power. The opposite of the will to power is asceticism, which according to Nietzsche means the denial of life. Nietzsche’s Übermensch is capable of the will to power and revaluating all the values. It seems also that the Übermensch has no pity or other weak sentiments; he is beyond all compassion and feminine feelings because they constrict the will to power (Mitleid is translated as pity when Nietzsche is using it. Schopenhauer uses Mitleid in a different sense, and Schopenhauer’s Mitleid is translated here as compassion. Mitleid is always something very negative and destructive for Nietzsche. See Cartwright 1988, pp. 558–567.).
Moral growth means overcoming yourself by becoming what you are. This is what Nietzsche means by his slogan “Know thyself!”. For Schopenhauer, moral growth means becoming something that is against the essence of the world, which is the will-to-live. The Schopenhauerian ascetic holy man is an unnatural denier of life who has totally finished willing. Schopenhauer sees that the holy man possesses a mystical power to overcome the will. According to Nietzsche, there is no escape from willing, because “man would much rather will nothingness than not will…” (Nietzsche 1998, p. 118).
Nietzsche asks: “What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves?” Devaluating the highest values, like beauty, goodness, and truth, means corruption and depravity. Even Nietzsche believes that time of nihilism has come, but he does not actually portray the decadence. He is interested in nihilism because it makes possible revaluating all the values, and this revaluating all the values is grounded on the will to power. Nietzsche says that the will to power is the innermost essence of being (Nietzsche 1968, p. 369 § 693). Willing in general always means willing to be stronger, willing to grow – and willing the means to this (Nietzsche 1968, p. 356, 675). Nietzsche’s positive attitude toward willing is almost opposite to Schopenhauer’s concept of the will. Nietzsche knows this and argues that what Schopenhauer calls will is a mere empty word (Nietzsche 1968, pp. 369, 692).
The will to power was not a problem for Nietzsche like it was for Schopenhauer. Nietzsche regards even ridiculous the way how Schopenhauer tries to overcome endless willing in the aesthetic experiencing of beautiful art. Schopenhauer follows Kant’s idea of beauty. For Kant, beauty is at the same time universal and without interest. This beautiful has the power to ease endless willing. Nietzsche wonders how, for example, “under the enchantment of beauty one can look at even robeless female statues ‘without interest’” (Nietzsche 1998, p. 72). For Schopenhauer, sexual looking at a female statue destroys the aesthetical experience whose purpose is to free the consciousness from willing, especially sexual willing which always leads to misery.
Will is the essence of power. Will actually wants willing itself, and this way it overcomes itself. Will wants to get stronger, and this means it wants more power. Will is not only wanting but also demanding. It demands all power – power to revaluate all the values. Accordingly to Nietzsche, there are no transcendental powers to give us our laws, neither a Kantian maxim to tell us what we should do, nor laws from God. This is the reason why Nietzsche makes the existence of all moral questionable and considers himself to be an ultra-moral being who is beyond all morality. His denial of moral and all transcendental made had a strong influence on twentieth-century philosophy, for example Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Michel Foucault. Our moral thinking has not recovered from Nietzsche’s announcement of the death of God.
We can conclude that for Nietzsche, moral growth means overcoming oneself by becoming what one is. At the same time this means overcoming morality and becoming ultramoral or immoralist. This is not possible for the masses. The masses follow a slave-morality like Christianity or Schopenhauerian pity morality. The overcoming of morality is only possible for the master race. So there is no developmental link between slave-morality and master-morality. We can also conclude that for Schopenhauer, moral growth means coming to something that is against essence of the world. The essence of the world is the will-to-live. The Schopenhauerian ascetic holy man is an unnatural denier of the world and will. Schopenhauerian ascetic holy is total opposite of Nietzschean übermensch. Übermensch does not recognize golden rule or other imperative than “Know thyself!” The Schopenhauerian “Übermensch” is a kind of Jesus who lives beyond the golden rule because his purpose is to sacrifice his own needs for the sake of others (the mass). Nietzsche was intentionally anti-Christian. His teacher, Schopenhauer, tried to understand the idea of agape better than Christian.
Carol Gilligan’s theory of moral development has many common features with Schopenhauer’s moral theory. Schopenhauer and Gilligan share the same critique of Kantian moral cognitivism. Their most striking difference is that Schopenhauer was not sensitive for gender issues. Schopenhauer is, like Nietzsche, a practical and theoretical chauvinist. Our construction of the Schopenhauerian model of moral development has some resemblance with Gilligan’s theory of moral development. In both models, the starting point is some kind of egoistic or egocentric point of view. After that, the Schopenhauerian model is a kind of reversal of Gilligan’s theory. For Gilligan, caring both for oneself and for others is a legitimate ethical standpoint and actually the highest possible ethical stance (Gilligan 1993, p. 74). For Schopenhauer, there is no true synthesis of caring for oneself and caring for others. The highest ethical stance is the way of absolute virtue which means the total sacrifice of one’s own well-being for the sake of the other.
There is one way in which the Schopenhauerian model can contribute to Gilliganian notion of growth. Gilligan does not consider or empirically study the possibility of moral degeneration or moral unlearning. In certain circumstances, a person can deviate – or just decide to do so – from everyday egoism to plain malice or evilness. In some extreme situations, social structures even support this kind of moral degeneration (war crimes, Milgram experiment, deviant socialization, etc.). It is of utmost importance for any theory of moral development to consider the case of moral degeneration and its remedies ex pre & ex post facto (before and after the act).
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