Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Schopenhauer’s Lockean Critique of Kant’s Ethics

Commemorative stamp on Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer has referred to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Johann Gottlieb Fichte more frequently than to John Locke but his remarks about Hegel and Fichte are mostly derisive, whereas he has some positive things to say about Locke. Also, he has referred to Locke more often than to David Hume and George Berkeley combined. Part of his motivation for frequently referring to Locke is that he wants to contrast him with Hegel and Fichte. In his Die beiden Grundprobleme der Ethik, Schopenhauer says that it must be to Locke’s credit that Fichte calls him the worst of all philosophers.

But there is another reason for Schopenhauer’s repeated references to Locke. In his essay, “Locke as Schopenhauer's (Kantian) Philosophical Ancestor,”  David E. Cartwright notes:
Why did Schopenhauer refer to Locke more frequently than he did to his fellow classical British empiricists? Why did Schopenhauer regard Locke as a summus philosophus? To answer these questions, it is necessary to understand how Schopenhauer viewed Kant's relationship to Locke, since he saw himself intimately related to Locke through a mediation by Kant: “Accordingly, it will be seen that Locke, Kant, and I are closely connected, since in the interval of almost two hundred years we present the gradual development of a coherently consistent train of thought”. Insofar as Schopenhauer considered himself a Kantian, and as he saw Kant as Lockean, Schopenhauer viewed his philosophy standing in a philosophical lineage traceable to Locke. Schopenhauer also tended to view his relationship to Kant in terms comparable to those through which he conceived Kant's relationship to Locke. Just as Schopenhauer claimed that his philosophy transcended Kant's, while retaining fidelity to Kantian insights, he claimed that Kant’s philosophy transcended Locke’s, while retaining fidelity to Lockean insights. But Schopenhauer's fidelity to Kant extends only to dimensions of his metaphysics and epistemology. Schopenhauer radically rejected Kant's practical philosophy, and he used the empirically minded Locke as an ally against Kant's ethics. 
Schopenhauer had several differences with Kant’s moral philosophy. In contrast to Kant’s non-empirical, prescriptive ethics of duty, Schopenhauer developed an empirically based descriptive virtue ethics. In his On The Basis of Morality, Schopenhauer makes it clear that his ethics “is in essentials, diametrically opposed to Kant’s.” In order to travel on the path of his kind of ethics, Schopenhauer had to appeal to the empirically minded Locke.

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