Comparing Nietzsche and Schopenhauer's Attitudes Towards Life
ABSTRACT: On the basis of his metaphysics, Schopenhauer was led to advocate quietism and resignation as attitudes toward life. In the course of his career, Nietzsche reversed his estimation of Schopenhauer from initial agreement to final excoriation. In what follows, I examine and assess the grounds on which Nietzsche revised his opinion of Schopenhauer as educator of humanity. I argue that three fundamental issues divide Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. The first concerns the eliminability of human suffering. The second regards the value of sympathy to those who feel rather than are recipients of this sentiment. The third is the value of cultivating indifference to the suffering of others. Schopenhauer considers suffering as inextricably bound up with human existence, whereas Nietzsche views suffering as a sign of weakness that is ultimately eliminable from human existence. Schopenhauer assumed that sympathy and compassion have a benign effect upon those who experience these emotions; Nietzsche maintains they have the opposite effect. Contra Nietzsche, Schopenhauer deplores the cultivation of indifference towards the suffering of others. I defend Schopenhauer against Nietzsche on all three issues, though I argue that Schopenhauer exaggerates the ubiquity of human suffering and hence the need and desirability of the cultivation of self-denial.
1. Nietzsche's Revaluation of Schopenhauer
On the basis of his metaphysics, Schopenhauer was led to advocate quietism and resignation as an attitude to life. As is well known, Nietzsche held Schopenhauer's views on this and other matters in far higher esteem at the start of his intellectual career than he did at its end. To illustrate, consider two brief quotations, one from either end of his career. The first is from the early text, Schopenhauer as Educator.
I judge a philosopher by whether he is able to serve as an example....[Schopenhauer's] greatness is the fact that he faces the picture of life as a whole in order to interpret it as a whole.... Schopenhauer's philosophy should be interpreted ... by the individual ... in order to gain insight into his own misery, needs and limitations and to know the antidotes and consolations; namely, sacrifice of the ego, submission to the noblest intentions, and above all, justice and mercy. He teaches us how to distinguish between real and apparent advancements of human happiness, how neither becoming rich, nor being respected, nor being learned can raise the individual above his disgust as the valuelessness of his existence, and how the struggle for all these good things is given meaning only by a high and transfiguring goal: to win power in order to come to the help of nature, and to correct her foolishness and clumsiness a little — at first, admittedly, solely for oneself, but eventually for everybody.... This is a struggle which in its deepest and innermost nature leads to resignation. (1)