Schopenhauer's Ethics: Justice
The following extract from On the Basis of Morality describes how, in Schopenhauer's Ethics, the cardinal virtue of Justice derives from Compassion; which as we have read in the preceding chapter, is the only true basis of Morality.
On The Basis of Morality - Part III, Chapter VI, or §17. Translated by Arthur Brodrick Bullock.
f we look more closely at this process called Compassion [Mitleid], which we have shown to be the primary ethical phenomenon, we remark at once that there are two distinct degrees in which another's suffering may become directly my motive, that is, may urge me to do something, or to leave it undone. The first degree of Compassion is seen when, by counteracting egoistic and malicious motives, it keeps me from bringing pain on another, and from becoming myself the cause of trouble, which so far does not exist. The other higher degree is manifested, when it works positively, and incites me to active help. The distinction between the so-called duties of law and duties of virtue, better described as justice and loving-kindness, which was effected by Kant in such a forced and artificial manner, here results entirely of itself; whence the correctness of the principle is attested. It is the natural, unmistakable, and sharp separation between negative and positive, between doing no harm, and helping. The terms in common use namely, "the duties of law" and " the duties of virtue" (the latter being also called "duties of love" or "imperfect duties") are in the first place faulty because they co-ordinate the genus with the species; for justice is one of the virtues. And next, they owe their origin to the mistake of giving a much too wide extension to the idea of Duty; which I shall reduce to its proper limits below. In place, therefore, of these duties I put two virtues; the one, justice, and the other, loving-kindness; and I name them cardinal virtues, since from them all others not only in fact proceed, but also may be theoretically derived. Both have their root in natural Compassion. And this Compassion is an undeniable fact of human consciousness, is an essential part of it, and does not depend on assumptions, conceptions, religions, dogmas, myths, training, and education. On the contrary, it is original and immediate, and lies in human nature itself. It consequently remains unchanged under all circumstances, and reveals itself in every land, and at all times. This is why appeal is everywhere confidently made to it, as to something necessarily present in every man; and it is never an attribute of the "strange gods."
he first degree, then, in which this natural and genuine moral incentive shows itself is only negative, Originally
we are all disposed to injustice and violence, because our need, our desire, our anger and hate pass into the consciousness directly, and hence have the Jus primi
occupantis (The right of the first occupant). Whereas the sufferings of others, caused by our injustice and violence, enter the consciousness indirectly, that is,
by the secondary channel of a mental picture, and not till they are understood by experience. Thus Seneca (Ep. 50) says:
n general, the feminine half of humanity is inferior to the masculine in the virtue of justice, and its derivatives, uprightness, conscientiousness, etc.; the explanation is found in the fact that, owing to the weakness of its reasoning powers the former is much less capable than the latter of understanding and holding to general laws, and of taking them as a guiding thread. Hence injustice and falseness are women's besetting sins and lies their proper element. On the other hand, they surpass men in the virtue of loving-kindness; because usually the stimulus to this is intuitive, and consequently appeals directly to the sense of Compassion, of which females are much more susceptible than males. For the former nothing but what is intuitive, present, and immediately real has a true existence ; that which is knowable only by means of concepts, as for instance, the absent, the distant, the past, the future, they do not readily grasp. We thus find compensation here, as in so much else; justice is more the masculine, loving-kindness more the feminine virtue. The mere idea of seeing women sitting on the judges' bench raises a smile; but the sisters of mercy far excel the brothers of charity. Now animals, as they have no power of gaining knowledge by reason, that is, of forming abstract ideas, are entirely incapable of fixed resolutions, to say nothing of principles; they consequently totally lack self-control, and are helplessly given over to external impressions and internal impulses. This is why they have no conscious morality; although the different species show great contrasts of good and evil in their characters, and as regards the highest races these are traceable even in individuals.
rom the foregoing considerations we see that in the single acts of the just man Compassion works only indirectly through his formulated principles, and not so much actu as potentid; much in the same way as in statics the greater length of one of the scale-beams, owing to its greater power of motion, balances the smaller weight attached to it with the larger on the other side, and works, while at rest, only potentid, not actu; yet with the same efficiency.
evertheless, Compassion is always ready to pass into active operation. Therefore, whenever, in special cases, the established rule shows signs of breaking down, the one incentive (for we exclude of course those based on Egoism), which is capable of infusing fresh life into it, is that drawn from the fountain-head itself Compassion. This is true not only where it is a question of personal violence, but also where property is concerned, for instance, when any one feels the desire to keep some valuable object which he has found. In such cases, if we set aside all motives prompted by worldly wisdom, and by religion nothing brings a man back so easily to the path of justice, as the realisation of the trouble, the grief, the lamentation of the loser. It is because this is felt to be true, that, when publicity is given to the loss of money, the assurance is so often added that the loser is a poor man, a servant, etc.
t is hoped that these considerations have made it clear that, however contrary appearances may be at first sight, yet undoubtedly justice, as a genuine and voluntary virtue has its origin in Compassion. But if anyone should suppose such a soil too barren and meagre to bear this great cardinal virtue, let him reflect on what is said above, and remember how small is the amount of true, spontaneous, unselfish, unfeigned justice among men; how the real thing only occurs as a surprising exception, and how, to its counterfeit, the justice that rests on mere worldly wisdom and is everywhere published abroad it is related, both in quality and quantity, as gold is to copper. I should like to call the one δικαιοσὐνη πάνδημος (earthly justice), the other οὺρανία (heavenly justice).
t will now be seen that injustice or wrong always consists in working harm on another. Therefore the conception of
wrong is positive, and antecedent to the conception of right, which is negative, and simply denotes the actions performable without injury to others; in other
words, without wrong being done. That to this class belongs also whatever is effected with no other object than that of warding off from oneself meditated mischief
is an easy inference. For no participation in another's interests, and no sympathy for him, can require me to let myself be harmed by him, that is, to undergo
wrong. The theory that right is negative, in contradistinction to wrong as positive, we find supported by Hugo Grotius, the father of philosophical jurisprudence.
The definition of justice which he gives at the beginning of his work, De Jure Belli et Pads (Bk. I., chap. 1, §3), runs as follows:
e have seen that "wrong" and " right" are convertible synonyms of "to do harm" and "to refrain from doing it" and that under "right" is included the warding off of injury from oneself. It will be obvious that these conceptions are independent of, and antecedent to, all positive legislation. There is, therefore, a pure ethical right, or natural right, and a pure doctrine of right, detached from all positive statutes. The first principles of this doctrine have no doubt an empirical origin, so far as they arise from the idea of harm done, but per se they rest on the pure understanding, which a priori furnishes ready to hand the axiom: causa causae est causa effectits (The cause of a cause is the cause of the effect)). Taken in this connection the words mean: if any one desires to injure me, it is not I, but he, that is the cause of whatever I am obliged to do in self-defence; and I can consequently oppose all encroachments on his part, without wronging him. Here we have, so to say, a law of moral repercussion. Thus it comes about that the union of the empirical idea of injury done with the axiom supplied by the pure understanding, gives rise to the fundamental conceptions of wrong and right, which everyone grasps a priori, and learns by actual trial to immediately adopt. The empiric, who denies this, and refuses to accept anything but the verdict of experience, may be referred to the testimony of the savage races, who all distinguish between wrong and right quite correctly, often indeed with nice precision ; as is strikingly manifested when they are engaged in bartering and other transactions with Europeans, or visit their ships. They are bold and self-assured, when they are in the right; but uneasy, when they know they are wrong. In disputes a just settlement satisfies them, whereas unjust procedure drives them to war. The Doctrine of Right is a branch of Ethics, whose function is to determine those actions which may not be performed, unless one wishes to injure others, that is, to be guilty of wrong-doing; and here the active part played is kept in view. But legislation applies this chapter of moral science conversely, that is, with reference to the passive side of the question, and declares that the same actions need not be endured, since no one ought to have wrong inflicted on him. To frustrate such conduct the state constructs the complete edifice of the law, as positive right. Its intention is that no one shall suffer wrong; the intention of the Doctrine of Moral Right is that no one shall do wrong. 3 If by unjust action I molest someone, whether in his person, his freedom, his property, or his honour, the wrong as regards quality remains the same. But with respect to quantity it may vary very much. This difference in the amount of wrong effected appears not to have been as yet investigated by moralists, although it is everywhere recognised in real life, because the censure passed is always proportional to the harm inflicted. So also with just actions, the right done is constant in quality, but not in quantity To explain this better : he, who when dying of starvation steals a loaf, commits a wrong ; but how small is this wrong in comparison with the act of an opulent proprietor, who, in whatever way, despoils a poor man of his last penny! Again: the rich person who pays his hired labourer, acts justly; but how insignificant is this piece of justice when contrasted with that of a penniless toiler, who voluntarily returns to its wealthy owner a purse of gold which he has found! The measure, however, of this striking difference in the quantity of justice, and injustice (the quality being always constant), is not direct and absolute, as on a graduated scale; it is indirect and relative, like the ratio of sines and tangents. I give therefore the following definition: the amount of injustice in my conduct varies as the amount of evil, which I thereby bring on another, divided by the amount of advantage, which I myself gain ; and the amount of justice in my conduct varies as the amount of advantage, which injury done to another brings me, divided by the amount of harm which he thereby suffers.
e have further to notice a double form of injustice which is specifically different from the simple kind, be it never so great. This variety may be detected by the fact that the amount of indignation shown by disinterested witnesses, which is always proportional to the amount of wrong inflicted, never reaches the maximum except when it is present. We then see how the deed is loathed, as something revolting and heinous, as an ἅγος (i.e., abomination), before which, as it were, the gods veil their faces. Double injustice occurs when someone, after definitely undertaking the obligation of protecting his friend, master, client, etc., in a special way, not only is guilty of non-fulfilment of that duty (which of itself would be injurious to the other, and therefore a wrong); but when, in addition, he turns round, and attacks the man, and strikes at the very spot which he promised to guard. Instances are: the appointed watch, or guide, who becomes an assassin; the trusted caretaker, who becomes a thief; the guardian, who robs his ward of her property; the lawyer, who prevaricates; the judge, who is corruptible; the adviser, who deliberately gives some fatal counsel. All such conduct is known by the name of treachery, and is viewed with abhorrence by the whole world. Hence Dante puts traitors in the lowest circle of Hell, where Satan himself is found (Inferno: Canto xi, 61-66).
we have here had occasion to mention the word "obligation", this is the place to determine the conception of Duty [Pflicht], which is so often spoken of both in Ethics and in real life, but with too wide an extension of meaning. We have seen that wrong always signifies injury done to another, whether it be in his person, his freedom, his property, or his honour. The consequence appears to be that every wrong must imply a positive aggression, and so a definite act. Only there are actions, the simple omission of which constitutes a wrong; and these are Duties. This is the true philosophic definition of the conception "Duty", a term which loses its characteristic note, and hence becomes valueless, if it is used (as hitherto it has been in Moral Science) to designate all praiseworthy conduct. It is forgotten that "Duty" 4 necessarily means a debt which is owing, being thus an action, by the simple omission of which another suffers harm, that is, a wrong comes about. Clearly in this case the injury only takes place through the person, who neglects the duty, having distinctly pledged or bound himself to it. Consequently all duties depend on an obligation which has been entered into. This, as a rule, takes the form of a definite, if some- times tacit, agreement between two parties: as for instance, between prince and people, government and its servants, master and man, lawyer and client, physician and patient; in a word, between any and every one who undertakes to perform some task, and his employer in the widest sense of the word. Hence every duty involves a right; since no one undertakes an obligation without a motive, which means, in this case, without seeing some advantage for himself. There is only one obligation that I know of which is not subject to an agreement, but arises directly and solely through an act; this is because one of the persons with whom it has to do was not in existence when it was contracted. I refer to the duty of parents towards their children. Whoever brings a child into the world, has incumbent on him the duty of supporting his offspring, until the latter is able to maintain himself; and should this time never come, owing to incapacity from blindness, deformity, cretinism, and the like, neither does the duty ever come to an end. It is clear that merely by failing to provide for the needs of his son, that is, by a simple omission, the father would injure him, indeed jeopardise his life. Children's duty towards their parents is not so direct and imperative. It rests on the fact that, as every duty involves a right, parents also must have some just claim on their issue. This is the foundation of the duty of filial obedience, which, however, in course of time ceases simultaneously with the right out of which it sprang. It is replaced by gratitude for that which was done by father and mother over and above their strict duty. Nevertheless, although ingratitude is a hateful, often indeed a revolting vice, gratitude cannot be called a duty; because its omission inflicts no injury on the other side, and is therefore no wrong. Otherwise we should have to suppose that in his heart of hearts the benefactor aims at making a good bargain. It should he noticed that reparation made for harm done may also be regarded as a duty arising directly through an action. This, however, is something purely negative, as it is nothing but an attempt to remove and blot out the consequences of an unjust deed, as a thing that ought never to have taken place. Be it also observed that equity l is the foe of justice, and often comes into harsh collision with it ; so that the former ought only to be admitted within certain limits. The German is a friend of equity, while the Englishman holds to justice.
he law of motivation is just as strict as that of physical causality, and hence involves the same irresistible necessity. Consequently wrong may be compassed not only by violence, but also by cunning. If by violence I am able to kill or rob another, or compel him to obey me, I can equally use cunning to accomplish the same ends; that is, I can place false motives before his intellect, by reason of which he must do what otherwise he would not. These false motives are effected by lies. In reality lies are unjustifiable solely in so far as they are instruments of cunning, in other words, of compulsion, by means of motivation. 5 And this is precisely their function, as a rule. For, in the first place, I cannot tell a falsehood without a motive, and this motive will certainly be, with the rarest exceptions, an unjust one ; namely, the intention of holding others, over whom I have no power, under my will, that is, of coercing them through the agency of motivation. Also in mere exaggerations and untruthful bombast there is the same purpose at work; for, by employing such language, a man tries to place himself higher in the sight of others than is his due. The binding force of a promise or a compact is contained in the fact that, if it be not observed, it is a deliberate lie, pronounced in the most solemn manner, a lie, whose intention (that of putting others under moral compulsion) is, in this case, all the clearer, because its motive, the desired performance of something on the other side, is expressly declared.
he contemptible part of the fraud is that hypocrisy is used to disarm the victim before he is attacked. The highest point of villainy is reached in treachery, which, as we have seen, is a double injustice, and is always regarded with loathing. It is, then, obvious that, just as I am not wrong, that is, right in resisting violence by violence, so where violence is not feasible, or it appears more convenient, I am at liberty to resort to cunning; accordingly, whenever I am entitled to use force, I may, if I please, employ falsehood; for instance, against robbers and miscreants of every sort, whom in this way I entice into a trap. Hence a promise which is extorted by violence is not binding. But, as a matter of fact, the right to avail myself of lies extends further. It occurs whenever an unjustifiable question is asked, which has to do with my private, or business affairs, and is hence prompted by curiosity; for to answer it, or even to put it off by the suspicion-awakening words, "I can't tell you", would expose me to danger. Here an untruth is the indispensable weapon against unwarranted inquisitiveness, whose motive is hardly ever a well-meaning one. For, just as I have the right to oppose the apparent bad will of another, and to anticipate with physical resistance, to the danger of my would-be aggressor, the physical violence presumably thence resulting; so that, for instance, as a precaution, I can protect my garden wall with sharp spikes, let loose savage dogs in my court at night, and even, if circumstances require it, set man-traps and spring-guns, for the evil consequences of which the burglar has only himself to thank: if I have the right to do this, then I am equally authorised in keeping secret, at any price, that which, if known, would lay me bare to the attack of others. And I have good reason for acting thus, because, in moral, no less than in physical, relations, I am driven to assume that the bad will of others is very possible, and must therefore take all necessary preventive measures beforehand. Whence Ariosto says:
Quantunque il simular sia le più volte Ripreso, e dia di mala mente indici, Si trova pure in molte cose e molte Avere fatti evidenti benefici, E danni e biasmi e morti avere tolte: Che non conversiam' sempre con gli amici, In questa assai più oscura che serena Vita mortal, tutta d'invidia piena.Orlando Furioso, Canto IV, 1. 6
may, then, without any injustice match cunning with cunning, and anticipate all crafty encroachments on me, even
if they be only probable; and I need neither render an account to him who unwarrantably pries into my personal circumstances, nor by replying: "I cannot answer
this," show him the spot where I have a secret, which perilous to me, and perhaps advantageous to him, in any case puts me in his power, if divulged:
or malignant joy [Schadenfreude]11 is the exact opposite of Compassion, and nothing else but powerless cruelty, which, unable itself to bring about the misery it so gladly beholds others enduring, is thankful to chance for having done so instead. According to the code of knightly honour, the reproach of being a liar is of extreme gravity, and only to be washed out with the accuser's blood. Now this obtains, not because the lie is wrong in itself, since, were such the reason, to accuse a man of an injury done by violence would certainly be regarded as equally outrageous, which is not the case, as everyone knows; but it is due to that principle of chivalry, which in reality bases right on might; so that whoever, when trying to work mischief, has recourse to falsehood, proves that he lacks either power, or the requisite courage. Every untruth bears witness of his fear; and this is why a fatal verdict is passed on him.
Footnote 1: Justice here denotes nothing else than that which is just, and this, rather in a negative than in a positive sense; so that what is not unjust is to be regarded as justice. The Law of War and Peace. [Translator's note]
Footnote 2: There is no more efficient instrument in ruling the masses than superstition. Without this they have no self-control; they are brutish; they are changeable; but once they are caught by some vain form of religion, they lend a more willing ear to its soothsayers than to their own leaders. [Translator's note]
Footnote 3: The Doctrine of Right in detail may be found in Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung, vol. 1, §62. [Translator's note]
Footnote 4: The word here translated "equity " (Billigkeit: Lat. aequitas) means the sense of fairness, or of natural justice which determines what is fitting and due in all human relations, as opposed to justice (Gerechtigkeit) taken as positive written law. [Translator's note]
Footnote 5: Motivation is defined in Part II, Chapter VIII, as "the law of Causality acting through the medium of the intellect." It is thus the law of the determination of conduct by motives. [Translator's note]
Footnote 6: However much we're wont to blame a lie, As index of a mind estranged from right, Yet times unnumber'd it hath shap'd results Of good most evident; disgrace and loss, It chang'd ; e'en death it cheated. For with friends, Alas! not always in this mortal life, Where envy fills all hearts, and gloom prevails Much more than light, are we in converse join'd. [Translator's note]
Footnote 7: Schiller's Don Carlos: Act V, Sc.3. [Translator's note]
Footnote 8: "Magnanima menzogna, or quando e il vero Si bello che si possa a te preporre?" [Translator's note]
Footnote 9: It is good to lie, as there result much good therefrom. Vide, Opere di Tommaso Campanella, da Alessandro d'Ancona, Torino, 1854. [Translator's note]
Footnote 10: Man has received the gift of language, so as to be able to conceal his thoughts. [Translator's note]
Footnote 11: It is for Schadenfreude that Kundry was cursed. Now she cannot weep, only laugh with malicious joy. [Editor's note]