Willingly Disinterested: Altruism in Schopenhauer’s Ethics

In Stefano Bacin, Alfredo Ferrarin, Claudio La Rocca & Margit Ruffing (eds.), Kant und die Philosophie in weltbürgerlicher Absicht. Akten des XI. Internationalen Kant-Kongresses. Boston: de Gruyter. pp. 639-650 (2013)
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In Kant’s ethics, disinterest is derived from the concept of the categorical imperative and is taken to be the condition of the possibility of all moral actions. Schopenhauer, by contrast, treats disinterest as a necessary but insufficient condition for morality, and severs it from its ties to the categorical imperative. Disinterest, for Schopenhauer, leads to the concept of compassion, which he praises as the sole ground of all morality. But compassion seems fundamentally opposed to disinterest, since it involves taking an active interest in someone else’s plight: a consideration not really treated in Kant. In this paper, I tackle the problem of reconciling compassion, in Schopenhauer, with the criterion of disinterest that he inherits from Kant. I also take up the challenge of explaining compassion’s altruistic tendency to act for another’s well-being if we take Schopenhauer’s determinism at face value, and acknowledge that human actions are fundamentally egoistic.



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Michel-Antoine Xhignesse
Capilano University

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