Schopenhauer on the Content of Compassion

Marshall, Colin. Schopenhauer on the content of compassion. Noûs. 2021; 55: 782–799.

On the traditional reading, Schopenhauer claims that compassion is the recognition of deep metaphysical unity. In this paper, I defend and develop the traditional reading. I begin by addressing three recent criticisms of that reading from Sandra Shapshay: that it fails to accommodate Schopenhauer's restriction to sentient beings, that it cannot explain his moral ranking of egoism over malice, and that Schopenhauer requires some level of distinction to remain in compassion. Against Shapshay, I argue that Schopenhauer does not restrict compassion to sentient beings and that a more metaphysically refined version of the traditional reading can accommodate both Schopenhauer's moral ranking of characters and allow for some level of distinction in compassion. I then turn to four further questions for the traditional reading: what the relation is between the feeling of compassionate pain and the recognition of metaphysical unity, how cognitions mediate compassion, whether compassion is limited to the present, and how the feeling of compassion relates to Schopenhauer's fundamental moral principle. I conclude by explaining how, in a reductive vein, the traditional reading can also allow for compassion to have normative content.

Status of Research
Research Type