TBM: Part 2, Chapter 1

by Arthur Schopenhauer

translated by Arthur Brodrick Bullock

Critique of Kant’s Basis of Ethics: PRELIMINARY REMARKS.

It is Kant’s great service to moral science that he purified it of all Eudaemonism. With the ancients, Ethics was a doctrine of Eudaemonism; with the moderns for the most part it has been a doctrine of salvation. The former wished to prove that virtue and happiness are identical; but this was like having two figures which never coincide with each other, no matter how they may be placed. The latter have endeavoured to connect the two, not by the principle of identity, but by that of causation, thus making happiness the result of virtue; but to do this, they were obliged to have recourse to sophisms, or else to assume the existence of a world beyond any possible perception of the senses.

Among the ancients Plato alone forms an exception: his system is not eudaemonistic; it is mystic, instead. Even the Ethics of the Cynics and Stoics is nothing but a special form of Eudaemonism, to prove which, there is no lack of evidence and testimony, but the nature of my present task forbids the space. [1]

The ancients, then, equally with the moderns, Plato being the single exception, agree in making virtue only a means to an end. Indeed, strictly speaking, even Kant banished Eudaemonism from Ethics more in appearance than in reality, for between virtue and happiness he still leaves a certain mysterious connection; —there is an obscure and difficult passage in his doctrine of the Highest Good, where they occur together; while it is a patent fact that the course of; virtue runs entirely counter to that of happiness. But, passing over this, we may say that with Kant the ethical principle appears as something quite independent of experience and its teaching; it is transcendental, or metaphysical. He recognises that human conduct possesses a significance that oversteps all possibility of experience, and is therefore actually the bridge leading to that which he calls the “intelligible” [2] world, the mundus noumenôn, the world of Things in themselves.

The fame, which the Kantian Ethics has won, is due not only to this higher level, which it reached, but also to the moral purity and loftiness of its conclusions. It is by the latter that most people have been attracted, without paying much attention to the foundation, which is propounded in a very complex, abstract and artificial form; and Kant himself required all his powers of acumen and synthesis to give it an appearance of solidity. Fortunately, he separated his Ethics from the exposition of its basis, devoting to the latter a special work entitled the Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, the theme of which will be found to be precisely the same as that of our prize essay. For on page xiii of the preface he says: “The present treatise is nothing else but an attempt to find out and establish the supreme principle of morality. This is an investigation, whose scope is complete in itself, and which should be kept apart from all other moral researches.”. It is in this book that we find the basis, that is to say, the essentials of his Ethics set forth with an acute penetration and systematic conciseness, as in no other of his writings. It has, moreover, the great advantage of being the first of Kant’s moral works, appearing, [3] as it did, only four years later than the Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, and consequently it dates from the period when, although he was sixty-one, the detrimental effect of old age on his intellect was not yet perceptible. On the other hand, this is distinctly traceable in the Kritik der Praktischen Vernunft, which was published in 1788, or one year later than the unhappy remodelling of the Kritik der Reinen Vernunft in the second edition, whereby the latter, his immortal master-piece, was obviously marred. An analysis of this question is to be found in the preface to the new edition by Rosenkranz, [4] from which my own investigation makes it impossible for me to dissent. The Kritik der Praktischen Vernunft contains in its essentials the same material as the above-mentioned—Grundlegung; only the latter has a more concise and rigorous form, while in the former the subject is handled with greater prolixity, interspersed with digressions and even padded with some pieces of moral rhetoric, to heighten the impression. When Kant wrote it, he had at last, and late in life, become deservedly famous; hence, being certain of boundless attention, he allowed greater play to the garrulity of old age.

But the Kritik der Praktischen Vernunft contains two sections which are peculiar to itself. First: the exposition of the relation between Freedom and Necessity (pp. 169-179 of the fourth edition, and pp. 223-231 in Rosenkranz). This passage is above all praise, and undoubtedly was framed earlier in his life, as it is entirely in harmony with his treatment of the same subject in the Kritik der Reinen Vernunft (pp. 560-586; Rosenkranz, p. 438, sqq.). And secondly: the Moraltheologie, which will more and more come to be recognised as the real object Kant had in view. In his Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Tugendlehre this pendant to the deplorable Rechtslehre, written in 1797, the debility of old age is at length fully pre-ponderant. For all these reasons the present criticism will mainly deal with the treatise first mentioned, viz., the Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, and the reader will please understand that all the page numbers given by themselves refer to it. Both the other works will only be considered as accessory and secondary. For a proper comprehension of the present criticism, which, in probing the Kantian Ethics to its depths, bears directly and principally on this Grundlegung, it is very desirable that the latter be carefully read through again, so that the mind may have a perfectly clear and fresh presentment of what it contains. It is but a matter of 128 and xiv pages (in Rosenkranz only 100 pages altogether). I shall quote from the third edition of 1792, adding the page number of the new complete publication by Rosenkranz, with an R. prefixed.


[1] For a complete demonstration v. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, Vol. I., § 16, p. 103, sqq., and Vol. II., Chap. 16, p. 166, sqq. of the third edition. Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, that is, The World as Will and Idea; “Idea” being used much as εἵδωλον sometimes is (cf. Xen. Sym., 4, 21), in the sense of “an image in the mind,” “a mental picture.”—(Translator.)

[2] It seems better to keep this technical word than to attempt a cumbrous periphrasis. The meaning is perfectly clear. The sensibilia (phaenomena) are opposed to the intelligibilia (noumena), which compose the transcendental world. So the individual, in so far as he is a phaenomenon, has an empirical character; in so far as he is a noumenôn, his character is intelligible (intelligibilis). The mundus intelligibilis, or mundus noumenôn is the κόσμος νοητὸς of New Platonism.—(Translator.)

[3] It was published in 1785: The Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, first edition, in 1781.—(Translator.)

[4] His analysis is really derived from myself, but in this place I am speaking incognito.


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