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Title: Schopenhauer's pessimism
Author: Woods, David
Awarding Body: University of Southampton
Current Institution: University of Southampton
Date of Award: 2014
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In this thesis I offer an interpretation of Arthur Schopenhauer’s pessimism. I argue against interpreting Schopenhauer’s pessimism as if it were merely a matter of temperament, and I resist the urge to find a single standard argument for pessimism in Schopenhauer’s work. Instead, I treat Schopenhauer’s pessimism as inherently variegated, composed of several distinct but interrelated pessimistic positions, each of which is supported by its own argument. I begin by examining Schopenhauer’s famous argument that willing necessitates suffering, which I defend against the misrepresentative interpretation advocated by Ivan Soll. I also offer a metaphysical reading of Schopenhauer’s claim that no amount happiness can compensate for the mere fact of suffering, based upon his negative conception of happiness. I proceed by analysing Schopenhauer’s criticisms of two prominent optimists, Leibniz and Rousseau. I attempt to salvage something of Schopenhauer’s counterargument against Leibniz that this is the worse of all possible worlds, and I also examine Schopenhauer’s claim that the optimistic metaphysics of a priori rationalistic philosophy cannot cope with the evidence of meaningless suffering. In the case of Rousseau, I interpret Schopenhauer’s brief objection to Rousseau’s assumption of original goodness, by means of an examination of Schopenhauer’s conception of the contrary doctrine, original sin. Next I consider the metaphysics of Schopenhauer’s account of eternal justice. After defending it against a number of objections, I argue that the nature of his version of eternal justice, which he admits constitutes a justification for suffering, does not conflict with the fact that he so strongly condemns Leibniz’s and Rousseau’s optimistic justifications for suffering. Finally I assess whether and to what extent Schopenhauer’s ethics of salvation are either pessimistic or optimistic. I conclude that the mere fact that salvation is possible is not necessarily a cause for optimism, but that Schopenhauer’s doctrine of salvation is made partly optimistic by the higher form of cognition that he describes as part of it. I also argue that Schopenhauer’s views on the essentially mystical nature of the state of salvation ultimately commit him to being neither positively optimistic nor positively pessimistic about salvation. I conclude overall with some brief remarks about the meaning of Schopenhauer’s pessimism, and how in spite of its diverse nature, it is able to lay down a singular challenge to all future philosophers concerned with the question of suffering.
Supervisor: Janaway, Christopher ; Way, Jonathan ; Woollard, Fiona ; Schoenbaumsfeld, Genia Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: B Philosophy (General)