About Rationally Speaking
Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Monday, October 10, 2005
Schopenhauer, the compassionate curmudgeon
Schopenhauer was conscious of the fact that his private life didn't necessarily hold up to his own moral theories, but (wisely, I think) attributed this to the normal range of human failings. Just because one is imperfect it doesn't follow that the same person cannot attempt to set moral standards for himself and for others. Indeed, as Schopy himself says: “It is just as little necessary for the saint to be a philosopher as for the philosopher to be a saint; just as it is not necessary for a perfectly beautiful person to be a great sculptor, or for a great sculptor to be himself a beautiful person. In general, it is a strange demand on a moralist that he should commend no other virtue than that which he himself possesses.”
Schopy was influenced by his (and my!) philosophical hero, David Hume, which brought the German philosopher to emphasize compassion as the basis of morality. According to Madigan's nice summary, Schopenhauer wrote in On the Basis of Morality that neither theistic commandments nor categorical imperatives (as in Kant's rational morality) will bring human beings to behave morally. The key, instead, is to cultivate our natural tendency for compassion.
Schopy realized that we have other tendencies as well (egoism, when we care for our own well-being first; and malice, when we positively wish to hurt other people), so that compassion would constantly struggle against the other two. To be moral, then, means to work toward emphasizing compassion over egoism and malice. As Madigan points out, this approach reminds one of Plato's three-part soul (desires, will and reason), which is in turn quite similar to Freud's three-part theory of the human mind (the ID, irrational and emotional; the EGO, rational; and the SUPEREGO, moral). I guess great thinkers really do think alike (or they do read each other...).