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“Boundless Compassion”: The Contemporary Relevance of Schopenhauer's Ethics

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Schopenhauer had important things to say about ethics in both normative and meta-ethical senses, but his impact on the evolution of moral theory has been minimized by the unfortunate neglect of his philosophy in general. A contemporary assessment of his ethical views reveals that they are both imaginative and interesting, not least because they challenge assumptions held by more canonical figures in the history of philosophy, both before and after his time. Since the roots of ethics are currently being vigorously re-examined, it is regrettable that Schopenhauer's ideas have been omitted from mainstream discussion in the field. I attempt to remedy this lack by investigating how his ethics of compassion contributes to the following areas: reconciling ethics with strict determinism; naturalizing ethics; developing the philosophy of education; seeking inner peace and world peace; re-visioning our relationship with non-human animals and the environment. As this list indicates, Schopenhauer's moral theory has relevance for a much wider audience, beyond the limited sphere of professional philosophy. And because the world is in dire need of moral rejuvenation, any inspiration provided by a major thinker such as Schopenhauer should be heartily welcomed. While certain internal problems are posed by his metaphysical and epistemological doctrines, we can see past these in order to appropriate the living insights still to be found in Schopenhauer's ethical thought.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: School of Social Science, University of New England, Armidale, NSW 2351, Australia

Publication date: July 1, 2006

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