Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy is based on the idea that virtue results from practical reason. This is exemplified in Kant’s categorical imperative which forms the standard of rationality from which all moral requirements are derived:

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

Kant divides the duties imposed by this formulation into two subsets:

Perfect duty
According to his reasoning, we first have a perfect duty not to act by maxims that result in logical contradictions when we attempt to universalize them.

Imperfect duty
Second, we have imperfect duty, which is the duty to act only by maxims that we would desire to be universalized. Since it depends somewhat on the subjective preferences of humankind, this duty is not as strong as a perfect duty, but it is still morally binding.

Kant’s most revered critic was Arthur Schopenhauer who argued that morality has its basis in compassion (Mitgefühl) not in duty. Joseph Campbell picks up on Schopenhauer’s idea and summarizes it as following in his book The Hero’s Journey, p. 41:

Schopenhauer has a wonderful paper he calls [(On) The Basis of Morality]. That’s the one where he asks, How is it that a human being can so participate in the danger of another, that forgetting his own self-protection, he moves spontaneously to the other’s rescue? How come, when the first law of nature is self-preservation, that is dispelled?

His answer is that this is a metaphysical impulse that is deeper than the experience of separateness. You realize you and the others are one. And the experience of the separateness is simply a function of the way we experience in the field of time and space. This is the realm to which myths apply.

Assuming however the maxim of ensure continued co-existence derived from evolutionary philosophy for Kant’s categorical imperative, Kant and Schopenhauer can be reconciled quite beautifully since compassion results as rationally moral consequence thus resolving the perceived contradiction.

4 comments on “Reconciling Kant and Schopenhauer

  1. Dear Stefan, my best greetings from Japan. I’ve been glad to know in your last statement that you’re working very enthusiastic activities for Humanity+ in Singapore and in China, too. I hope to share them more with you. It would be very kind of you to contact me.

  2. Pingback: Rational Morality » Ayn Rand Contra Existence

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  4. Pingback: Rational Morality » The unfortunate etymology of ’selfishness’ in objectivist ethics

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