Question of the month- what’s the Most Fundamental Value?
Enlisting the help of a trio of western philosophers, I will attempt to make a case for compassion as our most fundamental value. A value, which true face, contains many core values.
Schopenhauer believed that all living things are driven by a will to exist. This will is a blind drive manifesting as insatiable desires, leading to conflict and suffering. It is this suffering that we all share and is our link. Compassion, literally, suffer with (one another), he proposed was a way of transcending our painful position.
Schopenhauer developed an ascetic( self denial) remedy to our problem of suffering, which essentially encouraged a withdrawal from desire and hence life. (which he is criticised for not doing). On another level he held highly expressions of compassion via contemplations of the will and existence through visual art and music. Music, he considered to be a pure form of the will and in its’ company we share and sooth our pain.
Nietzsche, although greatly influenced by Schopenhauer turned from this pessimism and said YES to suffering as part of the condition of existence, and something to overcome. Nietzsche heads a frontal attack on the church (Lutheran educated), charging them with crippling humanity, with a life denying agenda. The claimed compassion(he saw as pity)of the church served to upturn values and turn people against life, through fear and guilt. Although much of his writing is brutal and polemical, and can be interpreted in many different ways, Nietzsche revitalises compassion into positivity, a position where we can act. A compassion for his fellow man to rid him/herself of illusion and follow a life affirming path. Yes, we suffer, but yes we can stand up to existence.The will to power, he encourages, is power over oneself, and power to suffer and overcome with others.
Compassion I consider to be a reciprocal movement. In the terminology of Jean Paul Sartre- “being- with-others”, where we can find freedom with others through a fundamental commonality, a shared experience. An objectification of the victims of suffering would rob them of their freedom.
I hope these philosophers have helped shape a picture of compassion which is constituted from equality, care, authenticity, courage and empowerment. We must however watch for those who come with the mask of compassion whose, judgemental, divisive projects, built from resentment, aim only to attain power over others.