The Human Character

John E. Atwell
Book Cover

HC: $49.95
EAN: 978-0-87722-748-9
Publication: Nov 90

259 pages
5 x 8

An insightful analysis of Schopenhauer's "will-body identity thesis" that leads to the conclusion that the "vocation of man" is to go beyond man, and thus beyond the body and the very world to which the body belongs


This work places Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) in the mainstream of current philosophy by examining his conception of human agency and responsibility, his unique ethics of the morally virtuous character, and his assessment of life as fundamentally suffering. These notions are analyzed in terms of the cornerstone of Schopenhauer's philosophy, the will-body identity theses. John E. Atwell thus focuses on Schopenhauer's contention that the human will and the human body, being one and the same, cannot have a cause and effect relationship with each other. He examines the philosopher's notion of human character that follows from this thesis and brings Schopenhauer into a dialogue with current philosophers concerned with the nature of human agency, the recent emphasis on "virtue ethics," and, in effect, what, if anything, makes human life bearable.

Particularly significant, observes Atwell, are Schopenhauer's attempt to delineate the relationship between doers and their deeds, his vigorous attack on Kant's rationalistic ethics as clearing the way for his own ethics of compassion, and his doctrine of pessimism generated by the suffering essential to the natural human condition. In putting forth a sort of "virtue ethics," Schopenhauer argues that the key element of ethics is what a person is rather than what a person does. Atwell's central argument is that Schopenhauer uses the will-body identity thesis as the key to his metaphysics ("reality is will") but he tends to abandon that thesis in his acknowledgment of three important aspects of human experience—repentance, compassion, and salvation. This fact raises the question of the importance, and indeed possibility, of consistency within a comprehensive philosophical scheme.


"This in-depth study of aspects of Schopenhauer's philosophy that have not received sufficient attention from other scholars throws new light on this difficult subject…. The book exhibits a thorough knowledge of all relevant texts, and is lucid, balanced, and engaging throughout."
Konstantin Kolenda, Rice University

Table of Contents

Introduction: Schopenhauer as Philosopher

Part I: Doers and Their Deeds
1. The Central Problem
2. On One's Being the Work of Another
3. The Body and the Will
4. Reinterpretation of Substance
5. The Will as the "Ground" of Actions
6. Character of Agent as "Character" of Actions
7. Inborn Wickedness and Nonresponsibility
8. Motivation and Repentance
9. Intellectual Freedom
10. Overview and Criticism

Part II: Ethics and Virtue
1. Actualism and the Nature of Ethics
2. The Meaning of "The Basis of Morals"
3. Kant's Nonempirical Ethics
4. The Natural Foundation of Ethics
5. The Great Mysteries of Ethics
6. Justice and Philanthropy
7. The Metaphysics of Ethics
8. The Acquired Character
9. Conclusion

Part III: Pessimism, Suffering, and Salvation
1. Philosophy and Pessimism
2. Sources and Sorts of Pessimism
3. Metaphysical Pessimism
4. The Worst of All Possible Worlds
5. Pessimism and Human Suffering
6. The Roads to Salvation
7. Eternal Justice
8. Original Sin
9. Conclusion Afterwords: Schopenhauer as Philosopher of Paradox

About the Author(s)

John E. Atwell is Professor of Philosophy at Temple University and the author of Ends and Principles in Kant's Moral Thought.