On willing and the phantasy of empathy

Dissertation, University of Kansas (2022)
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The ultimate goal of this dissertation is to expose Friedrich Nietzsche’s critically neglected account of empathic concern. In what follows, I will briefly present the main ideas and purpose of the project, and include necessary background. Since a significant portion of Nietzsche’s work on moral psychology and ethics is directed toward naturalizing and conceptually redefining the metaphysical implications of Arthur Schopenhauer’s account of compassion, I begin by critically examining Schopenhauer’s metaphysics. At its simplest, Schopenhauer’s narrative goes as follows: the phenomenal world is determined and driven by a metaphysical striving and yearning (more clearly, a will-to-live) that can never be satisfied. We have access to this underlying reality of existence, i.e., the thing-in-itself, subjectively, in the inner awareness which we have of our own experience of willing. Unfortunately, the subtleties and nuances of Schopenhauer’s understanding of inner awareness and its centrality within his overall oeuvre have generally been overlooked or underappreciated by scholars. I suspect that the main reason for this problem is that there does not seem to be an adequate account of the relation between representation and willing in Schopenhauer’s system. I offer an in-depth analysis of Schopenhauer’s understanding of inner awareness, as well as demonstrate its significance as the essential precursor to self-knowledge and world-understanding. The thing-in-itself, a term Schopenhauer borrows from Immanuel Kant, signifies a fundamental reality that underlies the apparent diversity and change in the world, a reality that is distinct from what is merely temporal or changeable. Schopenhauer’s identification of the thing-in-itself with the will has been deeply problematic and puzzling to commentators, because willing and striving is temporal, and no temporal phenomenon can be identical to the thing-in-itself. I distinguish between three distinct views that Schopenhauer formulates about the thing-in-itself, and suggest to understand these three accounts as contrasting but not contradictory views, in other words as different perspectives on the same reality. Next, I examine the theory of empathy that Nietzsche presents in his book, Daybreak, as an alternative to Schopenhauer’s account of compassion, which is solely based on his metaphysics of the will. For Schopenhauer, compassion is associated with an instinctual recognition that beneath our apparent separateness as individuals, we are in fact the expression of the same metaphysical will. Nietzsche moves away from this metaphysical conception and calls, instead, for a naturalistic account in which empathy relies on a sense of psychological closeness and perceived similarity to others, which then results in a feeling of oneness between individuals. Yet, for Nietzsche, this feeling of oneness manifests itself as a sense of being in solidarity with others who share similar experiences, while still recognizing one another’s numerical distinctiveness. Finally, I examine Nietzsche’s assessment of the value of compassion. Nietzsche seems to be critical of all compassion but at times also seems to praise a different form of compassion, which he refers to as ‘our compassion’ and contrasts it with ‘your compassion’. Some commentators have interpreted this to mean that Nietzsche’s criticism is not as unconditional as it may seem–that he does not condemn compassion entirely. I disagree and contend that even though Nietzsche appears to speak favorably of some forms of compassion, he regards all compassion as fundamentally bad. I argue that, for Nietzsche, ‘our compassion’, however regrettable qua compassion it is, may give occasion for a rare and peculiar insight into ‘co-suffering’ with others, which in turn results in overcoming compassion entirely.



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Vasfi Onur Özen
Koc University

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