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Burgers, T.S.

Opleiding tot leraar voortgezet onderwijs van de eerste graad in Filosofie

What should be Schopenhauer’s summum bonum?

A reevaluation of aesthetic contemplation

My thesis is a quest for the summum bonum in Schopenhauer’s thought. The author of The World as Will and Representation claims that it is impossible to imagine a highest ‘good’, because such a thing would satisfy our will once and for all, which is impossible. However, scholars think that Schopenhauer’s account of the ‘negation of the will’ comes closest to this thing. Contrary to these Schopenhauer scholars I studied, I have detected a conflict between their position and Schopenhauer’s philosophy. It is true that Schopenhauer’s depiction of the negation of the will’s salvation fits neatly with the wish to escape the suffering that people experience. But Schopenhauer admits that complete denial of the will is not something we can achieve in our lifetime. And what exactly happens after our lifetime is a topic for mysticism. All that we know is that a life dedicated to the negation of the will remains painful, ultimately does not help others, and does not provide an outlook for something feasible. We cannot say that the negation of the will does anything ‘good’. because it does not satisfy our will in a way we really want it to.

On the other hand, Schopenhauer does have a very positive attitude towards aesthetic contemplation. Scholars consider aesthetic contemplation as something that only provides a glimpse of what can be achieved with salvation. I think, however, that people enjoying their lives through aesthetic contemplation can do no better. They have something that actually eases and cheers up their state of mind with, and through this aesthetic contemplation they actually positively contribute to the life of others. Aesthetic contemplation is rather ‘good’, because it positively contributes to our will’s fundamental desires. Therefore - and I think the nineteenth century philosopher himself would agree with this – it is aesthetic contemplation that comes closest to Schopenhauer’s summum bonum.

Last modified:16 October 2017 2.40 p.m.