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Schopenhauer's Pessimism and the Unconditioned Good MARK MIGOTTI SCHOPENHAUERTOOK PESSIMISMtO be a profound doctrine that had long been accepted by the majority of humanity, albeit usually in the allegorical form given to it by one or another religious creed. Accordingly, he credited himself, not with the discovery of pessimism, but with the provision of a satisfactory philosophical exposition and defense of its claims. It was, he contended, only within the context of his philosophy, animated by the "single thought" that "the world is the self-knowledge of the will,"' that the ultimate significance of pessimism and the arguments demonstrating its inescapability can be brought to light. If, nevertheless, he sometimes appears to protest too much, to defend pessimism as if it were a striking and novel affair, he would have attributed this to the fact that he was, unfortunately, writing in the midst of one of the most naively optimistic cultures known to world history. 2 The philosophical reception of Schopenhauer's pessimism since the publication of The World as Will and Representation in 1818 would, one suspects, have been taken by him as further evidence of modern Western philosophy's optimistic somnambulance. For while other, comparably fundamental aspects of his thought--for example, his theories of action, of the self, and his criticisms of Kant--have received a welcome amount of fruitful, critical attention, his I would like to thank John Atwell, David Schmidtz, Susan Haack, Rudolf Makkreel and, especially,two anonymous referees, for prompting me to make substantial improvements to an earlier draft of this paper. ' Arthur Schopenhauer, Der handschrifllicher Nachlass 1, ed. Arthur Hiibscher (Frankfurt-amMain : Kramer, 1967),462; Manuscript Remains 1, trans. E. F.J. Payne(NewYork: Berg Publishing , 1988), 512. 'See, for example, Arthur Schopenhauer, D/e Welt als Wille und VorsteUung II. In Arthur Schopenhauer. Ziircher Ausgabe, ed. Arthur Hiibscher et. al. (Zurich: DiogenesVerlag, 1977),w 4:721, 732-33; The World as Will and Representation II, trans. E. F. J. Payne(New York: Dover Press, 1969),615, 625-26. Future references to this work willbe made within the text, by the abbreviation WW followed by section number, German edition volume and page number and English translation page number. [643] 644 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 33:4 OCTOBER ~995 pessimism has not. Amongst enthusiastic followers it has sometimes been swallowed more or less whole, but from more independent-minded readers it has generally met with disdainful mockery or well-intentioned neglect.3 The aim of this paper is to help rectify' this imbalance. In the first of its four sections, I present an account of Schopenhauerian pessimism that can claim a good measure of textual support, and the essential features of which are found often enough in the secondary literature to warrant calling it the mainstream interpretation.4 In section 2 I show that, as critics have charged, the arguments for pessimism on this interpretation suffer from a pair of fatal ambiguities , and in section 3 I sketch an alternative argument for pessimism, one not so obviously open to the sort of knock-down refutation to which the first argument succumbs. In the paper's final section l explore further the philosophical consequences of this alternative argument for pessimism. 3Gyorg'yLukacs, "Schopenhauer," chapter ~,section 4 of The Destruction of Reason, trans. Peter Palmer (London: Merlin Press, 1979), 19~-243, isthe locusclassicusof an attitude of superior scorn. Bryan Magee, The Philosophy of Schopenhauer (Oxford: "the Clarendon Press, 1983), z3-14, D. W. Hamlyn, Schopentmuer (London: Routledge, z98o), *43, Michael Fox, "Schopenhauer on Death, Suicide, and Renunciation." in Schopenhauer: His Philosophical Achievement, ed. Michael Fox (Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble Books, 198o), ]47-7o, and David Cartwrigh*, "Schopenhauer on Suffering, Death, Guilt, and the Consolation of Metaphysics,"in Schopenhauer: New Essays in Hotwr ofHis 2ooth Birthday, ed. Eric yon der Luft (Lewiston,NY: Edwin Mellen Press, t988), 66, all incline to the viewthat it was temperament, not argument, that drove Schopenhauer to pessimism, while Patrick Gardiner, Schopenhatwr (London: Penguin Books, ]963), does not discuss pessimism by name. Not even Nietzsche, the deepest and most astute of Schopenhauer'scritics,can resistbarbs of the following sort: "Schopenhauer, although a pessimist, in ]act played the flute...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 643-660
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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