Why is ethical selfishness not true morality

Summary of About the basis of morality

Restoration time in Germany

During the restoration period, the old balance of power created by the wars Napoleons thoroughly mixed up, restored. Under the chairmanship of the Austrian State Chancellor Klemens Wenzel Lothar von Metternich The German Bundestag in Frankfurt am Main not only decided on the common foreign policy of the member states of the German Confederation, which consists of 39 individual states, but also deliberated on how the bourgeois-liberal currents in the individual states could be suppressed as effectively as possible. As early as 1819, Metternich enforced the Karlsbad resolutions, with the help of which he established the so-called demagogue persecution in the German Confederation: press censorship, the ban on fraternities, the dismissal of revolutionary-minded teachers and state surveillance of the universities were among the cornerstones of this catalog of reprisals. A central commission in Mainz examined revolutionary activities. The French July Revolution of 1830 also led to corresponding revolutionary activities in the German Confederation, which, however, were brutally suppressed. After a period of resignation, the bourgeois forces did not stir again until the March Revolution of 1848.


The year 1833 marked a turning point in Schopenhauer's life. He turned his back on cholera-ridden Berlin and settled in Frankfurt am Main. At the time, he noted his reasons in brief: “Healthy climate. Pretty environment. Amenities of big cities. Better reading room. The Natural History Museum. Better acting, opera and concerts. More English. Better coffee houses. No bad water (...) No floods. Less observed. The friendliness of the place and all of its surroundings (...) A skilled dentist and less bad doctors. Not so unbearable heat in summer. ”He had already given up hope of receiving a professorship in the capital. Schopenhauer's main work The world as will and idea lay like lead on the shelves, and his smaller philosophical writings met the same fate. In Frankfurt, too, Schopenhauer was soon seen as a loner and eccentric, who was sometimes observed gesticulating violently in a conversation with his poodle.

In 1838 and 1839, he answered two questions asked by the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and the Royal Danish Society of Sciences. The Norwegians asked whether freedom of will could be demonstrated through self-confidence. The Danes set the task of showing where the basis of human morality lies. Schopenhauer sent his Prize writing about the freedom of the will to Norway and the Price writing on the basis of morality to Denmark. He published both together in 1841 under the title The two basic problems of ethics, dealt with in two academic price publications.

Impact history

The answers of the two scientific societies to Schopenhauer's price papers could not have been more different. The Norwegians awarded the philosopher the first prize in 1839 and thus finally gave him the long-awaited recognition for his philosophical thoughts. The Danes were the only ones who received Schopenhauer's contribution - but no prize was awarded to him. The verdict was: “Subject missed!” In addition, people mocked the fact that Schopenhauer had vilified and insulted some of the most important philosophers - especially Immanuel Kant. Schopenhauer's moral philosophy met the same fate as all of his earlier works: for years it was hardly noticed.

The tide did not turn until 1851, when the philosopher took his Parerga and Paralipomena published and suddenly received a lot of popularity. Once he became aware of him, the intellectual public devoted itself to his earlier works, so that several of them had to be reprinted in 1860, the year he died, including the two price publications. Schopenhauer's ethic of compassion inspired, among other things. Thinkers like Albert Schweitzer and Max Horkheimer. Schopenhauer's most important admirer, however, Friedrich Nietzschewho still very much sympathized with the idea of ​​the senselessly governing will, could do little with the ethic of compassion. Schopenhauer's effect intensified after his death. Artists and intellectuals like Richard Wagner, Samuel Beckett, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann were fascinated by his philosophy. Leo Tolstoy said of Schopenhauer: “When I read it, I cannot understand why his name could remain unknown. There is at most one explanation, the one that he repeats himself so often, namely that there are almost only idiots in this world. "