May anyone please help me if I interpreted Schopenhauer's ethics correctly/have forgotten something important:

"Important for the ethics of Schopenhauer is the egoism - because you see yourself as the center of the world because of the allmighty will - which after Schopenhauer is a basic characteristic of the human.

Fundamental for the ethic of Schopenhauer is also the pity. By the pity of the misery of someone else you recognize yourself - so the will in yourself and the will in the one in the misery - through the insight in the misery of life in the other (the one in misery).

Thus the egoism is being overcome and you're ready to help the one in misery. Only through that the will can sustain itself."

I'm thankful for every help I can get, thanks.

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    The will isn't the human's, it is the metaphysical Will to Live that is underlying all living existence. Pity is only central because it is the first step of the epistemic preconditions necessary for coming to know the Will to Live in order to ultimately overcome it by letting go of your personal life (not identical with active suicide). No quotes, therefore no answer, but we had some questions recently on this topic.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Apr 16, 2016 at 19:47
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    See Arthur Schopenhauer : "he believes that the supreme principle of the universe is likewise apprehensible through introspection, and that we can philosophically understand the world as various manifestations of this general principle. For Schopenhauer, this is not the principle of self-consciousness and rationally-infused will, but is rather what he simply calls “Will” — a mindless, aimless, non-rational urge at the foundation of our instinctual drives, and at the foundational being of everything." 1/2 Sep 20, 2016 at 13:29
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    Thus Will (the supreme foundation of everything) and not will (human, individual). 2/2 Sep 20, 2016 at 13:29

1 Answer 1


Schopenhauer's moral theory addresses the real agents of morality, human beings as they actually are in their everyday conduct (in his view) and not as mere Kantian rational agents. As human beings actually are, the main barriers to moral conduct are egoism and malice or spitefulness (not just egoism) :

▻ Egoism (Egoismus) and spitefulness (Gehdssigkeit)

'From egoism we should probably derive greed, gluttony, lust, selfishness, avarice, covetousness, injustice, hardness of heart, pride, arrogance, etc.; while to spitefulness (Gehdssigkeit) might be ascribed disaffection, envy, ill-will, malice, pleasure in seeing others suffer, prying curiosity, slander, insolence, petulance, hatred, anger, treachery, fraud, thirst for revenge, cruelty, etc.' (G., III, p. 582; B., pp. I57-I58 : 'G' = Arthur Schopenhauer: Sämtliche Werke in sechs Bänden, (ed. E. Grisebach, Reclam, Leipzig 1891–1895. Text, Schopenhauer, De Grundlage de Morale - 'On the Basis of Morality', 1840.)

▻ Compassion (Mitleid) or pity

Egoism and spitefulness can be combatted only, but can be effectively combatted and overcome, by compassion.

'There are only-three fundamental springs of human conduct, and all possible motives arise from one or other of these: They are (i) Egoism, which desires the weal of the self, and is limitless; (2) Malice, which desires the woe of others, and may develop to the utmost cruelty; (3) Compassion, which desires the weal of others, and may rise to nobleness and magnanimity. Every human act is referable to one of these springs, although two of them may work together.' (G., III, p. 59I; B., pp. I7I-I72.)

▻ Taxonomy of compassion : negative and positive.

Negative compassion is justice : the just 'respect the rights of every man, and abstain from all encroachment on them; they keep themselves free from self-reproach, by refusing to be the cause of others' trouble; they do not shift on to shoulders not their own, by force or by trickery, the burdens and sorrows of life, which circumstances bring to everyone; they prefer to bear themselves the portions allotted to them, so as not to double those of their neighbours. (G., III, pp. 595-596; B., p.179.)

Positive compassion is lovingkindness. If justice respects the rights of others, lovingkindness extends beyond the claims of rights. It responds to pain helplessness, distress. It is a universal response to the various plights of humankind and not constrained by rights, duties and contracts - the stock in trade of justice.

You had Schopenhauer's theory essentially correct. I have merely refined a few points and added detail.

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    @Timo Güntner. You have an answer to your question on Schopenhauer's ethics.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Jan 28, 2018 at 22:30

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