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The moral meaning of the world

The moral meaning of the world
The moral meaning of the world
It is sometimes assumed that Schopenhauer regards existence as meaningless, and it seems that pessimism should be associated with meaninglessness. However, Schopenhauer insists that there must a “moral meaning” to the world because human beings have a metaphysical need: we must see the world as pointing to a higher purpose beyond itself. Schopenhauer rejects theism and any optimistic higher purpose, but regards Christianity, which he views as pessimistic, as correctly identifying the higher purpose: negation of the will, which will bring “salvation.” There is, however, a difficulty in construing this meaning as “moral.” Schopenhauer regards morality as a case of willing the well-being of others, but also as a step toward will-lessness, so there is a question whether the “meaning” is coherently characterized. Nietzsche’s analysis of Schopenhauer seems correct: after abandoning any theistic or optimistic meaning, Schopenhauer raises the question whether existence has any meaning at all, but his positive answer retains the commitment to self-negation that he found in Christianity.
meaning, pessimism, morality, negation of will, Christianity, Nietzsche
271-281
Oxford University Press, Oxford
Janaway, Christopher
61c48538-365f-416f-b6f7-dfa4d4663475
Wicks, Robert
Janaway, Christopher
61c48538-365f-416f-b6f7-dfa4d4663475
Wicks, Robert

Janaway, Christopher (2020) The moral meaning of the world. In, Wicks, Robert (ed.) The Oxford Handbook of Schopenhauer. (Oxford Handbooks) Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 271-281. (doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780190660055.013.21).

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Abstract

It is sometimes assumed that Schopenhauer regards existence as meaningless, and it seems that pessimism should be associated with meaninglessness. However, Schopenhauer insists that there must a “moral meaning” to the world because human beings have a metaphysical need: we must see the world as pointing to a higher purpose beyond itself. Schopenhauer rejects theism and any optimistic higher purpose, but regards Christianity, which he views as pessimistic, as correctly identifying the higher purpose: negation of the will, which will bring “salvation.” There is, however, a difficulty in construing this meaning as “moral.” Schopenhauer regards morality as a case of willing the well-being of others, but also as a step toward will-lessness, so there is a question whether the “meaning” is coherently characterized. Nietzsche’s analysis of Schopenhauer seems correct: after abandoning any theistic or optimistic meaning, Schopenhauer raises the question whether existence has any meaning at all, but his positive answer retains the commitment to self-negation that he found in Christianity.

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Published date: 1 April 2020
Keywords: meaning, pessimism, morality, negation of will, Christianity, Nietzsche

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Local EPrints ID: 442888
URI: http://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/442888
PURE UUID: 2063d67f-eae8-4bbd-90fa-537521f3a363
ORCID for Christopher Janaway: ORCID iD orcid.org/0000-0002-9600-8837

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Date deposited: 30 Jul 2020 16:31
Last modified: 13 Dec 2021 02:49

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Editor: Robert Wicks

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