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Competing Life Goals


B.Contestabile      admin@socrethics.com        First version 2007    Last version 2017





Table of Contents




1.   Introduction

2.   The Structure of Life Goals

2.1 Hinduism

2.2 Plato

2.3 Aristotle

2.4 Personality Psychology

2.5 Cross-Comparison

3.   Perception and Interest

3.1 Basics

3.2 With the Eyes of Love

3.3 The Strategic-Tactical View

3.4 The Sense of Justice

3.5 The Longing for Salvation

4.   Ethics and Interest

4.1 Basics

4.2 Freud

4.3 Nietzsche

4.4 Rawls

4.5 Buddha

4.6 Conflicts

5.   Subjective Goal Conflicts

5.1 Power against Love

5.2 Individual Interests against Justice

5.3 Salvation against Love

5.4 Salvation against Power

5.5 Salvation against Justice

6.   Objective Goal Conflict

6.1 Persuasiveness against Violence

6.2 Cultural pessimism against Optimism

6.3 Theory against Practice

7. Conclusion











Starting point

In a discussion on the subject of life philosophy, one can observe that the participants – despite rational reasoning – often come to completely different conclusions.



Type of problem

- How is it possible that rationally thinking people pursue completely different life philosophies?

- How is it possible that even a single person, despite rational reflection, does not reach a consistent life philosophy?

- How can we deal with these contradictions?



Origin of contradictions

The fact that man is driven by conflicting goals is an anthropological insight:

1. Anyone who loves must forgo the happiness of power and control. Whoever wants to exert power, in contrast, must renounce to the happiness of devotion and trust.

2. The goal self-realization often contradicts the goal justice.

3. The body, which is a source of happiness in youth, becomes a source of suffering in old age. The biological purpose of life is in conflict with the liberation from suffering.

Life goals (interests) influence the perception and thus the emergence of ethical convictions. Contradictory interests lead to contradictory intuitions.

It is also an anthropological insight that intuitions are rationalized, i.e. people seek and find rational arguments which support their emotional convictions.



Dealing with contradictions

There are two fundamentally different strategies for dealing with contradictions:

1. The attempt to solve conflicts and find compromises. This does not necessarily lead to losses. There are often solutions that allow a bilateral profit.

2. The attempt to live with contradictions. Both an individual and a community can react more flexibly to internal and external changes if contradictory assessments are allowed.








German Original


The German original of this paper is available from Konkurrierende Lebensziele.






1 Introduction



Starting point

In a discussion on the subject of life philosophy, one can observe that the participants – despite rational reasoning – often come to completely different conclusions.



Type of problem

         How is it possible that rationally thinking people pursue completely different life philosophies?

         How is it possible that even a single person, despite rational reflection, does not reach a consistent life philosophy?

         How can we deal with these contradictions?





2. The Structure of Life Goals



2.1 Hinduism


In today's world it is almost impossible to survey the diversity of life goals. In order to examine the conflicting goals more closely, one must try to reduce this diversity to a simple structure. The following structure of life goals (Purusarthas) is taken from Hinduism and is based on thousands of years of experience. It is, in this sense, an insight with regard to the basic character traits of man, a result of anthropology .

Hinduism formulates four ways of life, respectively four life goals, which are taken from the Vedas:

1.   The enjoyment of sensual pleasure (Kama)

2.   The acquisition and transfer of material wealth within the framework of family and society (Artha)

3.   A righteous life in accordance with moral principles (Dharma).

4.   The liberation from the cycle of rebirths and from the fundamental ignorance (Moksha).



Love and enjoyment Kama

Vital goal

The pleasant



Economic goal

The useful



Ethical goal

The righteous



Ultimate goal

The redemption




2.2 Plato


The Hindu life goals can be attributed to the Platonic cardinal virtues.

The group of four main virtues is first documented by the Greek poet Aischylos, in his piece Seven against Thebes (Verse 610), written in 467 BC. He seems to expect them to be known. It is assumed therefore that they were already familiar in the Greek nobility of the 6th century BC (...)

In his dialogues, Politeia and Nomoi, Plato adopted the idea of the group of four. He retained courage , justice, and temperance, but replaced piety with wisdom or intelligence. Through this step piety was ousted from the virtue catalog (Cardinal Virtue, Wikipedia).


Virtues are behavioral patterns and these are directed toward goals. The Platonic cardinal virtues are oriented towards the Hindu life goals with the following clarifications:

1)   The spiritual dimension of Moksha refers to the original cardinal virtue piety, the epistemological dimension refers to the cardinal virtue wisdom . The ability to distance oneself from the environment (and from one’s own psychic processes) and reflect them originally served survival. In the course of cultural history, however, the path itself became the goal:

a)     In the Greek culture, knowledge was appreciated as an end in itself.

b)     In the Indian culture the withdrawal from the world was acknowledged as a life goal.

2)  The term Dharma defines an already existing law and was (because of the rebirth doctrine) perceived as a just law. The virtue which serves the Dharma is characterized by respect for the law, service to the community, and the fulfillment of duty. There could only be a "struggle for justice", if the Dharma was endangered.


















2.3 Aristotle


Aristotle largely rejected the philosophy of his teacher Plato (especially the doctrine of forms) and developed his own ethics, the so-called Nicomachean Ethics . Both have, however, developed a virtue ethics, and the influence of the Platonic cardinal virtues on Aristotle’s forms of life and Mesotes doctrine is evident. In the context of the analysis of a good life, Aristotle distinguishes three forms of life:

1)   The life of pleasure – which aims at enjoyment

2)   The political life – which aims at honor;

3)   The theoretical life – which aims at knowledge

These forms of life can be related to the Platonic cardinal virtues as follows (the power-oriented life will be elaborated below):




Theoretical life



Power-oriented life



Political life



Life of pleasure



The pursuit of wealth is not a form of life, according to Aristotle, since money is only a means to an end, but never an end in itself. This point of view could have to do with the fact that Aristotle's personal success was due to intellectual (and not economic) achievements. Nevertheless, Aristotle also considers – in accordance with the Hindus – external goods (like wealth, friends, and power) as conditions that are helpful or even necessary to be happy (Aristotle, Wikipedia). In this paper, we adopt the Hindu position, according to which individual power (Artha) can be an independent life goal, a goal that is clearly different from the compliance with social obligations (Dharma).

1.    Aristotle probably assigned the concept of power – in the sense of social prestige – to the political life. In the ancient Greek society the concept of honor played a paramount role.

2.   Furthermore, one must not restrict the concept of power to the dimension of material wealth and offices. Power is influence in the most general form, impact on the others by unique characteristics. Influence can be exercised by wisdom, beauty, strength, originality, etc., and is sometimes directly related to self-realization.


Virtues, which refer to the Mesotes doctrine, try to avoid the extremes. With regard to the life of pleasure, the goal is, for example, to find the middle between addiction and inappetency. On this basis Aristotle tried to construct a universally valid ideal of the human character. This normative claim, however, is questioned by Buddhist and Hellenistic ethics; see The Moral Ideal of the Complete Life.




2.4 Personality Psychology



Interaction behavior

The Hindu life goals can relatively well be related to styles that are known from the factor analysis of interaction behavior [DTV, p.213] [Berkowitz]. These styles can be described by the two factors dominance and affiliation respectively their reversal compliancy and detachment:


1.   Biological needs, expansion of the self

a.   Affiliation

b.   Domination

2.  Cultural ideals, self-constraint

a.   Detachment

b.   Compliance


















The term Dharma has two meanings:

1.   It denotes the ruling social order. In a factor analysis, this corresponds to the experimental arrangement and the authority of the examiner. In this sense, the term Dharma should be on top of the four life goals.

2.   It denotes the compliance with the social duties, i.e. one of four life goals


Concerning the operationalization of the two factors dominance and affiliation within the framework of the Big Five see Interpersonal Styles.



Weighting life goals

Characteristics such as the interaction behavior have a significant influence on the weighting of the life goals. On the other hand, the experiences with life goals also have an effect on the character:

1.   In the course of life, the individual (actively) specializes on certain life goals or is pushed by socialization (passively) into the roles, which are still available.

2.   Actively chosen life goals are related to long-lasting or transcendent experiences. Experiences like being outside oneself of happiness confirm or strengthen the binding to intensive (biological) forms of happiness. Being outside oneself of pain, in contrast, leads to an escape movement into less risky forms of behavior. Although transcendent experiences often occur by coincidence, they are perceived as intuitively true, and their intensity can even bring down logic. For more information on this issue see Knowledge and Transcendence in Practical Life.




2.5 Cross-Comparison




The term Dharma comprises not only the social order of society, but also religion. Dharma is the image of an ideal society, in which everyone has its predetermined place (Varna).


Varna is Sanskrit and literally means "class, degree, color". There are four varnas:

1.   Brahmanas, traditionally the intellectual elite, interpreters of Holy Scriptures (Veda), priests

2.   Kshatriyas, traditionally warriors and princes, senior officials

3.   Vaishyas, traditionally traders, merchants, landowners, farmers

4.   Shudras, traditional craftsmen, tenants, day laborers

Beneath the varnas are the " untouchables ", also known as Paria (Caste, Wikipedia)


From the perspective of the Enlightenment, this concept is unfair because the principle of equality of opportunity is violated. From the perspective of Hinduism, however, the Dharma is just, because the predetermined place in society is a result of moral behavior in previous life cycles. The Hindu doctrine of reincarnation is implausible, but it is interesting to see that in some areas Western societies have also moved away from egalitarian concepts (see, for example, the The Fall of communism 1989 ). The castes have become multifaceted and permeable, but it is still about the principle of specialization:

1.   The equality of opportunity in our society fails because of the inequality of the innate talents. Even the basic structure of specialization is hardly changed compared to Hinduism: philosophers and theologians (the followers of the Brahmans) still legitimate or sanctify wars, and military strength creates the framework conditions, within which the economy can unfold. Scientists can be seen partly as followers of the Brahmans. Nowadays they dispose of the secret knowledge that makes the warrior caste victorious. In peace, the classic war is replaced by a kind of economic war.

2.   With regard to the class barriers there are some extreme examples in Hinduism. For example, the Parias are not permitted to use the dishes of an upper class member because Parias are considered to be impure. In Western societies the poor can not visit an upper class restaurant for reasons of purchasing power. Class barriers do not apply de jure but de facto.

3.   Western dating agencies and also independently active individuals usually prefer partners from the same social class. This increases the likelihood that the children will also belong to the same social class.


The structure of the ideal state according to the Politeia shows parallels to the system of the Hindus, although Plato replaced the magic of the Brahmans by the rationality of the philosophers.

Plato assigned a virtue to each of the three (assumed) parts of the soul and to each of the three social classes of his ideal state:

-        wisdom for the supreme part

-        bravery for the second and

-        moderation for the lowest

Justice is assigned to all these three, because it ensures the right interaction of the parts within the whole (Cardinal virtue, Wikipedia).


In the following diagram, justice is placed first because it is a kind of framework for the other virtues. Plato's structure of the ideal state, respectively the Hindu caste system, guarantees social stability, similar to the monopoly of violence in democratic societies.



Cardinal virtue

















Lower caste

Lower degree





The ability to distance oneself from the environment (and ones own mental processes) and reflect them originally served survival. In the course of cultural history, however, the path of reflection became the goal:

   In Greek culture, wisdom was acknowledged as self-purpose respectively life goal

   In the Indian culture, Moksha (liberation from the wheel of rebirths ) was acknowledged as a life goal.


The priority of the Hindu life goal Moksha (salvation/ redemption) corresponds roughly to the priority of the Aristotelian life goal wisdom.

The highest form of happiness is attained – according to Aristotle – by the virtue of wisdom (Sophia). For wisdom, in the sense of contemplation or meditation on the origin of everything and the meaning of life, is the highest activity of the highest faculty of the mind (virtue ethics, Wikipedia)

The term Moksha, however, does not only have an epistemological dimension (wisdom), but also a spiritual one. The latter is related to the original cardinal virtue piety , which Plato replaced by wisdom .


The pursuit of the salvation from suffering is just as much a self-sustaining practice in Hinduism as the search for happiness in the Nicomachean ethics: suffering is avoided for its own sake. And the highest goal of life is also in Hinduism only attainable through a virtuous way of living. The different coloriation of the highest life goal is mainly a consequence of the different world view:

      Aristotle accepts the world "as it is" and aesthetizes its laws.

   Hindus see the world as a place of suffering, which one tries to escape but (involuntarily) has to visit again and again.

The ability to detach is an emotional prerequisite for reflection and insight.

     In the case of the Hindus, this ability serves the detachment from the ego and the liberation from the world.

     In the case of Aristotle it serves a better understanding of the position (determination, role) of the ego in the world.

Also the Socratic self-awareness rather serves the task of coping with life than the detachment from this world:

For the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, self-knowledge is the condition for morality (Self-knowledge, Wikipedia).


How is the scientific quest for knowledge related to the Hindu concept Moksha?

The position of a scientist approaches that of a meditator when he/she turns to the deepest questions. But whereas the meditator repeatedly leaves his works (see Sand Mandala), the scientist tends to a power-oriented accumulation of knowledge.





This picture was taken from the internet

(author unknown)



The position of a scientist approaches that of a pantheist when his/her life goal is to understand the natural laws and to identify with them. There is a flowing transition from power fantasies (the striving for omnipotence and omniscience) to religious devotion (as in Spinoza, for example). If knowledge helps to detach from the material world and to immerse oneself (in a quasi-meditative manner) in a spiritual world, then it serves the life goal salvation.


The special position of the life goal salvation was only questioned after the degradation of the religions in the Enlightenment and Modernism (Nietzsche, Freud). Spinoza, who sought a conciliation of religious and scientific world views, still used attributes such as "divine", "necessary" and "good" for the description of natural laws. Without this religious dimension, the cognition of the "highest reality" is devaluated and the life goal salvation is no longer undisputedly superior to the life goal justice (see chapter 6).





3. Perception and Interest



3.1 Basics


For the further investigation, we assume that every life goal is represented in the psyche by a kind of instance. Each of these instances describes reality in a perspective that meets the corresponding interest.



Culturally oriented perception

Biologically oriented perception

Longing for salvation Moksha

Strategic-tactical view


Sense of justice


With the eyes of love




1)  Biologically oriented perception:

a)  Kama: The lover distorts the perception in a way, which increases the attractiveness of the partner.

b)  Artha: The power seeker distorts the perception in a way that increases his influence. Examples: politician, lobbist, lawyer.

2)  Culturally oriented perception:

a)  Moksha: The meditator focuses on his/her inward and detaches from the rest of the world. Concentration is facilitated by a protected environment (save haven).

b)  Dharma: The sense of justice is the ability to evaluate a moral problem independently of individual interests. Insofar it corresponds to an undistorted perception.


Character traits have a major influence on the weighting of life goals. Conversely, the experiences with life golas also retroact on the character: The topic of different perspectives, which are caused by different constitutions and experiences, is taken up, for example, in the novel The Perfect Life [Hampe].


From an evolutionary point of view, the various life goals are different survival strategies. The pursuit of the various life goals is rewarded with different kinds of happiness, but is also linked to specific risks. This relationship is examined in more detail below:




3.2 With the Eyes of Love




The expression "with the eyes of love" denotes a form of perception, which confirms or reinforces the attachment to an object of love:

In the opinion of psychologists, infatuation is accompanied by a narrowing of consciousness, which can lead to a misjudgment of the object of affection. Character flaws of the partner can be overlooked or even experienced as particularly positive attributes (Infatuation, Wikipedia)

The eyes of love look through the so-called rose-tinted glasses:

The hue "rose" is used in the sense of "optimistic, pleasing, positive"; this interpretation dates from rosy or pink. Phrases with this meaning are "rosy times" (...) or "see everything through rose-tinted glasses" (...). The further meaning is "unrealistic, transfiguring", as in "seeing the future in a rose light" or "the world is rose for them" (Rosa, Wikipedia)

In the case of a parental love, the perception is distorted in such a way that one's own child is more beautiful, more intelligent, more skillful, or simply more lovable than the others.



Evolutionary view

The most common forms of love can be explained by the following biological strategies:

1.  Maximum distribution of your own genes by as many partners as possible and as viable partners as possible. To have children is for many people the most meaningful goal of life.

2.   Kin selection


The principle of kin selection says that a selection-behavior is successful, if it maximizes the proliferation and suitability of the genes not only individually but also in the context of relatives. The closer two individuals are related, the more likely they are carriers of the same genes. Altruistisches (nichtegoistisches) Verhalten gegenüber Verwandten steigert also die Verbreitung der eigenen Gene und ist umso lohnender, je höher der Verwandtschaftsgrad ist. Altruistic (non-egoistic) behavior towards relatives thus increases the proliferation of one's own genes and is all the more worthwhile the higher the degree of kinship (Sociobiology, Wikipedia)

Motherly love is biological altruism and therefore not selfless from a genetic point of view.


In this paper, non-biological altruism is attributed to the life goal justice. Religious love is assigned to the life goal salvation.



The happiness of the lovers

The feeling of love has countless facets [Burkhart, 177]. Let us briefly discuss the aspect of spontaneity, which is typical of infatuation. Love’s happiness is often only possible by the devaluation of knowledge and experience, by "living in the moment", by trying to see thing as if it were the first time. The destruction of unpleasant memories and painful experiences is a strategy that makes life appear hopeful and innocent again and again. History is written by winners and the young generation, who rediscovers love, radiates a winning mentality because it has not yet been defeated. But the ability to see things as if it were the first time, also put us in the situation of a child who does not know that the fire hurts [Brenner, 249]:

1.   Spontaneous infatuation often leads to conflicts with rivals, with the family or with social norms

2.   Infatuation is usually not a permanent state; it declines and dissolves.

3.   Infatuation can be one-sided; it does not have to be reciprocated.

4.   Infatuation is linked to an addiction mechanism and creates dependency. Failed love affairs often end in a substitute addiction.

The Makassar tribes consider infatuation with all their physical side effects as a typical phenomenon of youth, even as a disease. Those affected are convinced, therefore, that they urgently need to visit a healer for a therapy (Verliebtheit, Wikipedia)

Painful experiences with spontaneous infatuation favor lower-risk, altruistic or religiously colored forms of love.

Probably for all these reasons, the life goal love in Hinduism was classified as the lowest. On the other hand, it is the only life goal, which is directly linked to the name of a god (Kama). The lover enters a world of magic and surrenders his fate to a divine power. Also see Knowledge and Transcendence in Practical Life.




3.3 The Strategic-Tactical View




In military theory and in warfare a strategy (from ancient Greek strategos; generalship), is the targeted use of force or the targeted threat of violence for political purposes. The Prussian officer Carl von Clausewitz, with his standard work "Vom Kriege", was the first to set up a comprehensive but not universal theory of warfare. Clausewitz considered it imperative that the military is subject to politics and is understood as an instrument of politics (Strategy, Wikipedia)

A good illustration of ruses of war is the 36 Chinese stratagems.

Stratagems are common knowledge in China. They are taught at school and are printed as cartoons.


1.   Kill with the knife of another

2.   Make noise in the east, attack in the west

3.   Hit the grass to scare the snake

4.   Lure the tiger from the mountain to the plain

5.   Ally with the distant enemy to attack the neighbor

6.   The ruse of the beautiful woman

7.   The ruse of sowing the seed of discord


In China being aware of cunning and applying it is respected and cultivated. Chinese authors have named and systematized different techniques of finessing. This is in contrast to the European tradition which outlawed the use of ruses and deceptions (Strategeme, Wikipedia)




Ausgehend vom Kontext des Krieges, wurden die Begriffe Strategie und Taktik nach und nach verallgemeinert und auf andere Formen der Machterhaltung und Machtvergrösserung ausgedehnt. Starting from the context of war, the notions of strategy and tactics were gradually generalized and extended to other forms of power retention and power expansion.


1.     Strategy in the economy

2.     Strategy in game theory

In both examples the means used to exercise power are non-violent. In the second example, the notion of power is no longer limited to material values. In the case of immaterial values, it is about influence, prestige, honor, etc., or even an abstract form profit.

The strategic and tactical point of view is characterized by:

1.   A distorted interpretation (weighting) of the data as far as it serves one‘s own benefit

2.   Forecast (simulation of variants)

3.   Pursuit of the best respectively optimal solution


The strategic and tactical perspective is, on the one hand, the cradle of science (in terms of methodology), but also a counter-program, because it attempts to shape reality to its own advantage. Information is strategically and tactically a means to an end. A realistic description is therefore not necessarily desirable. The misrepresentation and distortion of information can even concern the description of the natural laws. You just have to make sure the opponent cannot spread his/her (possibly more realistic) information.



Evolutionary view

The survival strategy power is a partial aspect within Darwin's notion of the best adaptation. Power can be decisive in the struggle for resources. Those who are successful in this struggle gain in social prestige and attractiveness. Dominance is one of the most important selection criteria in partner selection. In some cultures, male power is also directly linked to the number of tolerated spouses and mistresses (and the corresponding number of offspring).



The happiness of the successful ones

Power and influence are associated with a very direct, biologically induced feeling of happiness and are regarded as a determining factor of social status . A high social status, in turn, improves the chances of winning friends and partners who contribute to personal happiness. Depending on the social rules, however, things are more complex. An increase in power can mean an increase in freedom (at the expense of others), but also the opposite, i.e. a decrease in freedom through stronger social control.

Example: The head of an African village still has the right to an almost unlimited number of spouses and mistresses. In Korea there is a centuries-old custom for the upper-class men to hold several concubines [Seelmann, 2009]. The American President Bill Clinton, on the other hand, was almost deprived of his office because of a love affair.

The happiness of the successful ones is constantly threatened by competitors, jealousy, own weaknesses and a contigent chain of unfortunate circumstances. The risk of losing power and influence is omnipräsent.

Concerning transcendent experiences, which are related to power, see Knowledge and Transcendence in Practical Life.




3.4 The Sense of Justice




A concept that deserves the title "impartial" or "just" is John Rawls’ original position. The interest which lies behind this concept could be described as the interest of an unborn child who does not know his/her future talents and social position. Interests distort the perception, but in this case the interest is precisely to eliminate individual and temporary weights. The Rawls’ concept stands in the tradition of Kant and assumes that a social contract is only capable of winning a majority, if it can publicly be justified. Rawls relies on the normative force of reason. Reasonable contractors submit themselves to the monopoly of power of the state, as long as the state is democratically organized and protects minorities.



Hedonistic view

The assumption that reason enables a better life than irrational worldview is heavily disputed. It would be difficult to prove that the "enlightened", possessive people in the industrialized countries live happier than those in animistic, nomadic cultures. It is, however, equally difficult to prove that the industrialized countries represent indeed a rational ethics. We rather have to do with instrumentally-rational cultures, which are in a merciless competition with irrational cultures. We will therefore continue to count on the healing effect of reason:

1.   Reason is a tool to understand the development and proliferation of suffering and to take counter-measures.

2.   We base the primacy of reason on this healing effect.

Therewith nothing is said about the chances of rationality in the competition between ethics. The promotion of happiness or the fight against suffering does not necessarily improve the chances to survive.



Evolutionary view

1.   The term justice was originally defined by victors, rulers, and privileged ones. From an evolutionary point of view, the struggle of the privileged against the underprivileged continues until James Buchanan's anarchist equilibrium is reached, that is, until the expenditures for conquests and the costs of the defense efforts are balanced.

2.   The engagement for justice is ambivalent. It increases the social prestige (and the survival value) among the underprivileged, but it increases the risk to be eliminated by the privileged.

The origin of the commitment to justice is probably the biological utility function, i.e. the sacrifice for the family with a corresponding biological reward. Nietzsche would probably call the “selfless commitment to justice” a degenerate form of this strategy.



The happiness of the righteous

1.   The happiness of the righteous is the happiness of an idealist. One‘s own destiny, in particular one’s own mortality, loses its importance, see Knowledge and Transcendence in Practical Life.

2.   Reason-oriented justice is a cultural source of meaning, an emotional foundation which is more sustaining than individual power. The risk consists in the persecution and punishment of the righteous by unjust rulers. The failure of his/her effort is a risk which the righteous is sharing with all idealists.

3.   The original position is suitable for evaluating multi-generational projects such as constitutions, population policy or technological progress. But is he also suited to assess the different views regarding the "righteous way of living”? This question must probably be answered in the affirmative, because it would be inconsistent to use a concept for the definition of constitutions, and reject it in education. If the decision-maker in the original position is rational, then he/she tries to promote rational forms of happiness through appropriate educational ideals. Constitution and laws define the limits of tolerance in the search for happiness; see Moral Relativism and the Search for Happiness.




3.5 The Longing for Salvation




In this paper, the term salvation is understood – following the Hindu concept Moksha – as a soteriological salvation from suffering.

The longing for salvation leads to the escape into another world, whereby the everyday experiences are depreciated as an apparent-reality or transitional stage (as e.g. in the Hindu concept of Maja). Similarly, from the viewpoint of quantum physics, the everyday experience could be described as a pseudo-world.



Evolutionary view

The life goal salvation is originally a strategy of withdrawal from conflicts. To retreat means not to oppose the ruling power. With the public renunciation to power, there remains little reason to be attacked (strategy of "not attracting attention"). Nietzsche would probably call the selfless renunciation to power a degenerate form of this strategy.



The happiness of the meditator

Insight meditation tries to control perception and to focus it on the mental processes. The goal is to become a neutral observer of oneself. If this can be achieved, then the observed processes no longer belong to the "ego". The energy which was associated with the processes is detached and turns into a free-flowing energy. This results in a state, which is perceived as the absence of suffering. Insight meditation can be interpreted in two ways:

1)   Psychoanalysis considers it to be a kind of regression (a relapse into the fetal status)

2)   Hindus argue that insight meditation is a profound perception of reality and that we are confronted with illusions (Maja) in everyday life.

Regardless of this epistemological controversy, we can say that meditation is a controlled way of leaving the ego, whereas death is usually an unwanted and uncontrolled alternative. Volunteerely leaving one’s ego triggers completely different feelings than "being deceived" and abandoned by one's own body. We can therefore regard meditation as an exercise that helps us to overcome the fear of death. For more information on this issue, see Knowledge and Transcendence in Practical Life.



Salvation by knowledge
Almost all religions strive for the cognition of the highest reality (the Hindu Samadhi, the Buddhist Nirvana, the Christian Mysticism). In Aristotle, the knowing of the laws of nature has a pantheistic character, so that there is a connection between scientific knowledge and introspective perception of the highest reality.

In Hinduism, the term wisdom is associated not only with intellectual but also with emotional experience. The increase in risk aversion with age is the result of learning through experience:
1. Any kind of suffering can be interpreted as a suffering from transience because every happy or pleasant state (e.g., physical integrity) can only last a limited time.
2. The identification with imperishable values is the key to immortality.

The pursuit of knowledge and the pursuit of happiness are often seen as a goal conflict, which can only be solved by deciding for one or the other, e.g. in the following manner:




Better to be a dissatisfied Socrates

than a happy pig (or vice-versa).


Author unknown





However, the above consideration makes clear that this conflict is not universally valid:
▪ The Aristotelian concept combines the quest for knowledge with the most stable form of happiness.
▪ In Hinduism the quest for knowledge is associated with the liberation from suffering and spiritual survival (Brahman).
▪ In Buddhism, spiritual survival is regarded as an auxiliary construction, which is no longer required, when – in a state of contendedness (Nirwana) – the will to survive fades away.
For more information on mysticism and salvation see Erkenntnis und Transzendenz in der Lebenspraxis.





4. Ethics and Interest



4.1 Basics


In the course of cultural evolution, the biological strategies (chapter 3) developed into ethics with detailed rationalizations. Since each ethics is equipped with a specific perception (intuition, perspective, world view), it tries to interpret reality in its favor [Habermas].


















In the following, we examine some basic types of secular ethics:

1. Individualistic Ethics (Nietzsche, Freud)

2. Normative Ethics (Rawls, Buddha)




4.2 Freud



The pleasure principle

The assignment of Freud to the life goal Kama is based on the central position of the pleasure principle in psychoanalysis.

The origin of all forms of pleasure which can be recognized on the biological level is – according to Freud’s interpretation of dreams – a universal, energetic life force, which he called the " libido " (...). The term "libido" is comparable to that of the " vital force " or " elan vital " in the sense of Henri Bergson (Pleasure Principle, Wikipedia).


Freud ascribed the numerous 'hysterical' attacks in the society (especially among girls from noble houses) to the repression of biological desires. Given the pathogenic social regulations at that time, the physician and healer Freud almost necessarily became an advocate of repressed drives. He associated the term ethics with the pathogenic (in particular religiously based) rules so that the concept of healing was linked to an averting and liberation from ethics (or religion). In order to speak of Freud's ethics, one has therefore to break away from the traditional understanding of ethics . Since Freud tried to heal the suffering of his patients by raising awareness of the repressed biological desires, he seems to assign a moral value to raising awareness. Psychoanalysis is in conflict with revealed religions, because it interprets religions, instead of acknowledging their interpretational sovereignty. Furthemore, the general questioning of norms does not spare other cultural institutions (such as traditional ethics)



Cultural criticism

From the starting point that religion is an illusionary yet extremely relevant creative force in culture, Freud comes to a general suspicion against the institutions of cultural life (...):

"If we have recognized the religious doctrines are illusions, then the immediate question arises as to whether other cultural heritages which we esteem and which dominate our lives are of a similar nature. Possibly the conditions governing our state institutions are also illusions [Hampe, 186]

(In this context the term "illusion" means"happiness promising illusion").


As we have seen, the culture in Freud's eyes "overcomes the aggression of the individual" by weakening his/her physical and emotional powers, by relieving him/her of many of the hardships of life, but ultimately "disarming" him/her with its norms. Culture "creates an instance within the individual" and "monitors him/her like the controller of a conquered city."The supervisory authority, which culture uses to master aggression, is the conscience, or, as Freud calls it, the" superego." Within this psychological instance, the internalized values that human beings adopt from their parents in childhood, exercise a lifelong control [Hampe, 188]


Cultivation, therefore, does not mean the aggression disappeares, but that it is transformed, so that the aggression which is directed towards human beings, takes place within the individuals, in his/her own mental life. In short: the inter-individual aggression becomes intra-individual. If we consider in a somewhat banal categorization aggression and destruction to be bad, peacefulness and constructiveness to be good, then the cultivation of a human being is by no means a development towards the good. It just seems as if destructivity and aggression were eliminated. In fact, however, they are only swept under the carpet [Hampe, 190]

The topic of the culturally controlled aggression is taken up, for example, in the novel A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.



Cultural pessimism

According to Freud, cultural promises of happiness cannot be kept. The assumption that the psychoanalytic liberation of the individual produces a society with less suffering, however, is possibly also a utopia. It is by no means self-evident that real suffering is easier to bear than neurotic suffering. One only has to imagine aggressive "liberated" partners, employees, adolescents and competitors in order to appreciate the burgeouse neuroses once again. For Freud, the (biological) link between aggression and pleasure is in any case the reason for a profound cultural pessimism [Freud].





The idea of freely unfolding

the personality seems excellent,

as long as one does not come upon individuals,

whose personality has unfolded freely.


Nicolas Gomez Davila





4.3 Nietzsche




Nietzsche did not intend to derive or establish morality, unlike classical moral philosophers, but rather to trace the historical development and the psychological presuppositions of certain moral values.

This is, in principle, the program of descriptive ethics. Nietzsche, however, assessed the existing ethics in a way that is far from a neutral description.

Among the numerous thinkers influenced by Nietzsche's genealogy of morality are Sigmund Freud and Michel Foucault

(On the genealogy of morality, Wikipedia).

In the preface to his essay, Nietzsche criticizes Paul Rée's The Origin of Moral Sentiments (1877). Rée and his peers were too much biased in favor of modern, utilitarian, and altruistic moral concepts to understand the genealogy of moral values (To Genealogy of Moral, Wikipedia).



First treatise: Good and evil

In this treatise Niezsche explains the distinction between master and slave morality, a distinction which he first mentioned in Human, All Too Human [Nietzsche 1878]:

1.   Master and slave morality: Master morality is the attitude of the rulers who affirm themselves and their lives, while devaluating the others as "bad" (or "simple"). Slave morality is the attitude of "the miserable [...], the poor, the impotent, the lowly [...], the suffering, the deprived, the sick, the ugly." These people first call their opponents – the rulers, lucky ones, the affirmative – evil and then establish themselves as the "good" opposite. It was above all the morality of Christianity, which in some instances encouraged such a slave morality itself, and in any case favored it and made it the dominant morality.

2.   Resentment: This is the basic feeling of slave morale. Out of misery, envy, and weakness, the "failed ones" create an imaginary world (for example the Christian afterworld) in which they themselves could be the rulers and act out their hatred for the "nobles" (Nietzsche, Wikipedia)

Nietzsche sees the second kind of value system in Judaism and Christianity, the first one in the Roman Empire, but also during the Renaissance and Napoléon. Of course the contrast between these types of morality would still be fought within individual, ambivalent people. In particular in the higher and more intellectual natures today both kinds of appraisal are present and in conflict with each other. On the whole, however, the slave morale had been victorious. Nietzsche himself often expresses his markedly stronger sympathy for the "noble" worldview – though not without reservations and differentiations – and seems to hope that, thanks to his philosophy, the noble worldview can resume its struggle against the "uncouth" morality (Morality, Wikipedia).

Another important concept in Nietzsche's moral criticism is compassion. While the pessimist Schopenhauer put compassion at the center of his ethics in order to implement his philosophy of denial, Nietzsche reversed the thesis of compassion after his break with Schopenhauer’s philosophy: Because life has to be affirmed, compassion – as a means of negation – is a danger. According to Nietzsche it augments the suffering in the world and contradicts the creative will, which always also has to destroy and overcome – others or even oneself. Active shared joy in contrast to passive compassion, or a basic life affirmation (amor fati) is the higher and more important value Nietzsche, Wikipedia).





Whoever wants to be a good person is punished by life.


Niccolò Machiavelli




Nietzsche wrote about Machiavelli: "Machiavellism pur, sans mélange, cru, vert, dans toute sa force, dans tout son âpreté" it was "superhuman, divine, transcendent, it is never achieved by humans, at most brushed".



Second treatise: "guilt", "bad conscience" and similar issues

In this treasise, Nietzsche examines the origin of the idea, people could take "responsibility" for something, and the human memory, which is extraordinary within the animal kingdom. He sees the origin of the moral concept of "guilt" in the material concept of "debts" against a creditor. He suggests the various pretended and real purposes which the punishment has played in the history of various cultures. Punishment was, like all facts, subject to ever new interpretations under new power constellations. According to Nietzsche, the bad conscience has its origin in the civilization of man who, under the pressure to live in an organized society, directs his aggressive instinct inwardly and against himself (The Genealogy of Morality, Wikipedia).



Third treatise: what do ascetic ideals mean?

Nietzsche examines the different forms in which ascetic ideals have occurred in history and are occurring today, as well as their manifold (supposed and actual) purposes. He interprets and evaluates the pursuit of such ideals by artists – Richard Wagner's Parsifal as an example –, by philosophers – especially Schopenhauer's negation of will – , by priests, by the (according to their own opinion) "good and righteous", by the saints and finally by the modern supposed anti-idealists, atheists, scientists and critical, anti-metaphysical philosophers. Their unconditional "will to truth" is the last, delicate form of the ascetic ideal. After a reflection on the present and coming Nihilism in Europe, Nietzsche gives a final reason why the ascetic ideal had hitherto been the only one to be honored, namely, simply in the absence of a better ideal. Man is unable to "not wanting anything", and so he hitherto preferred to pursue "nothingness" in nihilism and asceticism (The Genealogy of Moral, Wikipedia).



Nietzsche's morality

The ideas are pooled by Nietzsche to an ever more radical criticism of Christianity, for example in Der Antichrist. Christianity is not only nihilistic because it denies the value of the sense-perceivable world – a critique that also applies to Buddhism in Nietzsche's understanding – but also, in contrast to Buddhism, because it is born out of resentment. Christianity hindered every higher kind of man and every higher culture and science. In his later writings, Nietzsche increased his criticism of all existing norms and values. In the bourgeois morality as well as in socialism and anarchism, he saw the aftermath of the Christian doctrines at work. The whole modernity suffers from decadence. Against this a "revaluation of all values" is necessary (Nietzsche, Wikipedia).


All three treatises end with the prospect of a new morality, for which Nietzsche refers to his Zarathustra. However, according to all recipients, this new morality cannot be recognized as clearly as Nietzsche's criticism of the previous "morals" (The genealogy of morality, Wikipedia).

The reason why this new morality is not so clearly recognizable may lie in the fact that Nietzsche often speaks of a method and not of a result. If we understand Nietzsche’s concept in such a way that everyone has to create his/her own morality and compete with other ethics, then there can be no clear result. More on this interpretation can be found in the dissertation Morality as self-creation by [Zerm]. It is, however, questionable whether Nietzsche would accept an individually and independently developed ethic that pursues the dissolution of the self (such as Buddhism). His texts describe the striving for power and the will to survive in a completely normative manner.


Freud's ethics differs from that of Nietzsche mainly in that it insists on the unconscious desire for happiness (or pleasure) and questions the value of culture while Nietzsche would sacrifice every pleasure in order to achieve cultural superiority. Freud's and Schopenhauer 's cultural pessimism question the (moral) value of life, while Nietzsche rejects every mental attitude that threatens survival. Nietzsche would rather reject the insights of psychoanalysis than accept a pessimistic result.




4.4 Rawls



The monopoly of power

Social contract theory is originally a thought experiment in order to justify public legislations morally and institutionally. These theories attempt to explain the contractually decided monopolies of power as a logical historical development. The thought experiment, can be divided into a three-step strategy: natural statesocial contractthe state of society . Starting point is a natural state – a legal vacuum – in which everyone is at war with everyone. Thereby the traditional Christian concept of a "grace from above", which ensures peace, is dismissed. The state of nature is so unbearable that everyone wants to dissolve it. The state of society, as a judicial area in which the members of the society live together in an orderly manner, now appears as the minor evil. Therefore, contract theory postulates that those who are in a state of nature will engage for a social contract by voluntary agreement. Contract theory does not claim to describe actual events but is hypothetical. The thought experiment attempts to show that the legal vacuum entails a prisonner’s dilemma situation, that is, the impossibility of mutual trust. The application of the legislation then appears as a peace-assuring resort (Contract theory , Wikipedia)



Contractual concepts

1.   The contract theory of Hobbes is a very pragmatic kind of morality and quite resistant to all the arguments put forward by Nietzsche. An individual decides for a social contract and against anarchy because it hopes for an advantage. The strong and powerful sign the contract because they are willing to pay a price for stability. The idea of rational cooperation has no relation to the principles of morality criticized by Nietzsche (divine will, compassion, charity or other ideals). Successors of Hobbes include Gauthier, Narveson and Buchanan .

2.   Kant starts from the maxim that everyone should be equal before the law, a demand which was originally directed against the nobility. The mutual respect (autonomy of the individual, human dignity) leads to the reciprocity of moral claims. If reciprocity is applied to everyone, then the principle of moral universality emerges [Ulrich, 32]. Kant called for social contracts to be publicly justified so that their logic can be understood by everyone. Successors of Kant are, for example, Rawls and Scanlon.

The first type of contract theory is called contractarianism, the second contractualism (see Contractarianism, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). The Kantian line of contract theory can be described as idealistic in spite of its rational thinking, and is thus in the firing line of Nietzsche. The idea of autonomy and human dignity are achievements of the Enlightenment, i.e. a partial cultural rejection of biological laws. The idea of the coexistence of people on the basis of reason is a cultural phenomenon. If ethics of reason are superior to social Darwinism in the long run, then Nietzsche may also agree with this mild form of idealism. The question whether the normative force of reason is strong enough, however, is completely open.



Freedom and solidarity

The transition from the biological or natural order to a nonviolent, democratic social structure defuses many conflicts of coexistence, but goes with risk as well. According to [Freud], built-up aggression within the community can lead to violence against foreign communities or minorities within the own community (e.g. aggression against those who have a hard time complying with ethical norms). Inward-directed aggression can also promote the spread of depression or neurotic disorders. Rawl's concept of justice is a middle way between ethical laws that strongly interfere with individual life (as in the case of strictly religious Jews or Muslims) and a lawless, anarchist world that promotes only those who are strong or able to adapt. Justice in Rawls’ sense is not egalitarianism, but a balance between freedom and solidarity. The biological forces try to push the laws toward social Darwinism. Rawls' concept (market-based laws combined with redistribution) is a combination of liberal and social ideas, a so-called egalitarian liberalism. For a profound analysis of the conflict between freedom and solidarity, we refer to Rawls Theory of Justice.



Intergenerational justice

The term intergenerational justice addresses two issues:

1.      The responsibility opposite to the elderly:

Keyword "Imminent collapse of the social welfare system, caused by aging, decline in birth rates or over-population".

2.      Responsibility for future generations.

Keywords: "Pollution of the environment, deterioration of the general living conditions and exploitation of raw materials".

(Intergenerational Justice, Stefan Marti)

Also see Negative Utilitarianism and Justice and [Leist].



Private realm

Let us first consider the framework conditions of the law: Rawls' principle of justice basically supports the liberal position as long as the freedom of one does not limit the freedom of the other. This creates in many areas of the private life a kind of market economy with supply and demand. Within the legal framework the law of the strongest applies. The private law (in contrast to public law), which is derived from the private autonomy, represents a freedom of will, which allows the individual to enter into a legal relationship with others (but also to renounce to such relationships). With regard to partnerships, for example, everyone must try him-/herself to find the best mixture of autonomy (freedom) and solidarity (protection).


Because constitutions are valid for a large number of people and for many generations, the considerations of game theory can be applied. With regard to contracts for small groups, however, this theory does not apply. Tomas M.Scanlon, the most popular contemporary representative of contractualism, developed the pragmatic considerations in concluding contracts into an ethical theory [Scanlon].


This theory is based on two ideas

1.  Ethics is a matter between individuals

2.  An act must be judged as to whether it can be justified before the others.


Thereby the following prerequisites are made:

1. All persons affected are fully informed

2. They think rationally

3. They can decide freely


An act is morally justifiable if – under the given conditions – there are no reasonable reasons to reject it. Scanon concentrates on what is morally wrong , and not on what could be right [Voorhoeve, 2]. This concept is reminiscent of Karl Popper:


It adds to the clarity in the fields of ethics, if we formulate our demands negatively [Popper, I9 n.2].


Contractualism is more flexible than ancient virtue ethics because it always involves the context of the act. Theft can be excused, for example, if the thief has stolen for good reasons (Contractualism, Wikipedia).


The weaknesses of the concept lie in the prerequisites:

1.  The persons concerned are often unequally informed

2.  There is no rational thought independent of feelings

3.  Freedom is often restricted in practice (e.g. by material dependency)


         Open and direct communication not only solves problems but also creates conflicts.

         Non-contractable but vulnerable creatures are not protected (e.g. animals and mentally handicapped people)


Scanlon 's ethics has an affinity to Stanley Cavell’s moral perfectionism insofar, as it restricts the normative claims to the method and does not define a contentual goal.




4.5 Buddha


Buddhism originated in a completely different historical environment as compared to Rawls' Theory of Justice . In the following we trey to translate three central values of Buddhism into the present time:




1)   The majority of people have a natural preference for risk aversion. As a rule, this aversion increases from the middle years because the negative surprises increase in proportion to the positive surprises. The retreat-oriented (early) Buddhist way of living anticipates this development.

2)  A just constitution cannot be implemented without violence. The difficult task is to estimate what suffering may be caused in order to avoid an even greater suffering. In such assessments, Buddhism is markedly risk-averse and assumes that the formation of a state is a mis-construction in the first place.

3)  Justice is also a matter of knowledge. Well-intentioned ideologies and relief actions can worsen the situation, if the cultural mechanisms are not profoundly understood. It is therefore a task of rational ethics to understand the different cultures as well as possible. This includes, in particular, the ambivalence of technology; see On the Perception of Risk and Benefit . The many small decisions in a high-technology culture add up to a serious impact on the ecosystem, on native cultures, on the animal world, etc. The individual is unaware of the consequences because they are indirect or long-term. One has to comprehend the structural violence of the system in order to act justly. From a Buddhist perspective, we are on the wrong track if we create complexity that no longer allows us to assess the consequences of daily action.




Compassion probably has an evolutionary foundation and originally served the kin selection. However, compassion also has a cognitive aspect. There are good reasons to see a part of our own self in the fellow human beings (including future generations).

1.   It is not an individual soul that is reborn and subjected to a learning process, but it is genes that are reborn and subjected to a learning process. The genetic difference between humans is only about 0.5% (see Mendel and the mathematics of heredity). Humans are reincarnated to 99.5%.

2.   While many functions in our psyche and body are characterized by a very specific gene combination and life story, we share most functions with all human beings. Insofar, a part of our self lives in the others.

3.   A similar consideration also applies to the relationship between humans and sentient animals. The genetic match with certain primates is up to 98%.

It is difficult to see and emotionally grasp this match because the phenotype varies much more strongly than the genotype. As for the connection to fellow human beings, it is helpful to look at oneself from a certain distance. Whoever reflects the individual stages (phases) of his/her life, the changes of the character, the emotions and the external appearance, will probably confirm that he/she was a different person in the past. Whoever sees his/her life as composed of different persons, can better understand that a substantial part of his/her self lives in the other (see also Hostility and the Minimization of Suffering). Buddha did not know the laws of genetics, but he intuitively sensed that all sentient beings are connected by a complex mechanism. He distanced himself from the Hindu concept of the individual soul, but insisted on a causal transmission of "effects".



Salvation from suffering

The goal of salvation is inextricably linked with self-knowledge. The release of attachments is facilitated by the ability to look at yourself and the situation in which you are at a certain distance. Releasing attachments liberates energy, which can then be directed to other targets. The ideal consists in liberating oneself as painless as possible, i.e. liberation in the right moment, from the appropriate desires. In the second half of life the ego as a whole becomes a hopeless position and requires a new orientation respectively an extended perception of the self. The detection of the right moment can not be described in simple and general rules. It is a question of the constitution, the environment and the biography. This is rather an argument in favor of an individualistic therapy, instead of counseling literature with a claim to universal validity.




4.6 Conflicts


The modes of perception (chapter 3), which are driven by the life goals, exist in different persons, but also as different perspectives within the same person. The fictional lobbyists within our psyche co-operate or fight each other depending on the situation, just as the parties in a democratic parliament. Each party has its own perception of reality. In game theory, the duality of competition and cooperation is known under the term coopetition.


1)  Examples of competing perceptions

a)  The lover gets into conflict with his/her own sense of justice

b)   The righteous fights against the temptation of fame and money.


2)  Examples of cooperating perceptions

a)  The powerful, who uses his influence to enforce more justice

b)  Women who fall in love with dominant men.


From the different life goals (interests) various ethics developed in the course of cultural evolution, each with its own rationalization (chapter 4)

Conflicts between the life goals (conflicts of interests) created corresponding conflicts and discourses between ethics (Chapters 5).





5. Subjective Goal Conflicts



5.1 Power against Love




1)   Power-oriented love: The biological ideal is ultimately the maximization of the number of DNA copies . Love, therefore, is conceived as an addictive mechanism, which pushes for expansion. The pursuit of love and enjoyment is, like the struggle for power, subject to competition. This mechanism was explored already at an early stage in history, in order to meet the corresponding challenges. In Hinduism, Kama is associated with the art of satisfying one’s desires for enjoyment. In order to succeed in the competition, a typology of human emotions and reactions, similar to the one of Theophrastos (a pupil of Aristotle) or the French moralist La Bruyère was assessed and studied. La Bruyère notes, as a quintessence, that egoism, self-interest, and craving for recognition are the true motives of human action.


2)   Romantic Love: The biological goal can also be reached with ethically unsuspecting means. In the case of romantic (true) love, the common is so strong that the need for autonomy moves into the background. In this case neither a contract nor an agreement is needed. The romantic ideal, unfortunately, is not attainable for many and often fades away after a short time. For that reason, it cannot be the basis of a partnership ethics. In general, after a certain time a conflict between power and love arises.

In the parent-child relationship, the conflict is visible, for example, in the parents' attempts to continue their own life in the children. Thereto an extract from a poem by Khalil Gibran:





Your Children


Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of longing

of life after itself.

They come through you, but not from you.

And although they are with you,

they do not belong to you.


You may give them your love,

but not your thoughts.

You may give a house to their bodies,

but not to their souls.

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit,

not even in your dreams.







Love seems so strong to the lover that he/she considers all resistances to be surmountable. Even death cannot frighten him/her.

From the perspective of the loving Vergil’s sentence is valid: Omnia vincit Cupid – No obstacle is too great for love; it defeats everything [Gerhardt, 3]


The lover believes that death cannot affect him. In reality, however, he/she also remains subject to the power of death (and a series of minor destiny powers). From the prosaic perspective of the uninvolved observer the confidence of the lover becomes a dream, perhaps even a delusion, which quickly passes away when he/she is confronted with human reality. A psychologist who does not already consider it a success, if his patient feels good, can probably identify the exuberance of love (which discards the power of death) as a potency-illusion. And an observer, who is experienced in love affairs, thinks about the coming disappointments of the lovers. A compassionate smile, which covers up a touch of envy, is the best that remains for those who believe that they can – by believing in Eros – overcome the adversities of life and death [Gerhardt, 3]


Fortunately, the position of the neutral observer is not the only possible position to recognize the facts of life. The philosophy of science has falsified long since the position, that one must be indifferent and self-forgetful in order to recognize something. We need rather a strong curiosity for reality, if we want to capture it precisely. Moreover, we need a passionate interest in ourselves, the seriousness of one's own existence, and a watchful attention for the way in which we differ from others, if we really want to describe and determine the reality, which consists essentially of subtle and finest differences Love does not make us blind. Rather, it opens the eyes to what is important [Gerhardt, 4-5].


Uncritically living the Eros is still tied to the most dangerous risks [Gerhardt, 15]


It is love that leads us out of the narrowness of existence and leaves far behind the finiteness of death. Nothing great happens without love [Gerhard, 17].



Conflict resolution

Reason and love are not a harmonious couple, but consider each other to be incompetent.





Wer Gründe braucht zu lieben,

beraubt die Liebe ihres Grundes


Hans Kudszus


Who needs reasons to love,

robs love of its reason.




If reason is asked for advice at all, then it refers to an assessment of opportunities and risks:

1.     Risk-oriented view: Whoever loves must renounce to the happiness of power and control. Whoever wants to exert power must renounce the happiness of devotion and trust. Love is more intense but more risky. A controlled emotion cannot be a great emotion.

2.   Opportunity-oriented view: The ideal solution is found when both the need for freedom and the need for protection are satisfied. In this context freedom can have two meanings: not being controlled by the partner, but also being (emotionally) liberated by the partner.

For the functioning of a partnership it is not necessary (and also not possible) that all conflicts are removed by equalization, but that a reciprocal profit (in terms of a life-satisfaction) results from the cooperation of the partners. Insofar, the situation is similar to the one at the workplace, where two specialists with different characters and skills come together. Interestingly, however, there are relationships with apparent gains, so-called collusions. In these cases, the neurotic dispositions of both partners fit together like keys and locks:


The partners play unconsciously for each other clichéd and stereotypical complementary roles to maintain the relationship (...). The collusive neurotic arrangement often leads to an increasing polarization in the course of time, with the result that the extreme positions which become burdensome for one or both partners, for example when one partner becomes more and more dependent, and the other more independent and dominant (Collusion, Wikipedia).


A philosophical approach to conflict resolution is the so-called "wise psychological intervention", which is about looking at the most urgent problems from the point of view of a fictitious third party who only wants the best for the partners [Finkel].




5.2 Individual Interests against Justice




Social Darwinism as a "natural" order implies the following basic conflict between individual and society:

The unlimited striving of individuals for power leads to oligarchies, dynasties, and nepotism. The privileged and selfish minority oppresses the majority or, conversely, is threatened by an opprepressed (or envious) majority. Freedom creates inequality.



Discourse 1

According to Freud, ethics actually does not solve any problem at all, but is itself part of the problem. Ethics is nothing more than the phrasing of cultural ideals, and represents a kind of cultural superego. Insofar as this cultural superego defines rules for the preservation of human cooperation and the avoidance of mutual warfare, ethics itself is a cultural phenomenon, not something that can reconcile the cultural and the natural characteristics of man. In any case ethics can be viewed as a therapeutic project to alleviate the damage that individuals necessarily suffer as a result of the contradictions between their natural characteristics and cultural aspirations. Such a therapy, however, is as little a path to happiness as a leg in plaster is better than an open fracture [Hampe, 195-196].


The relative improvement achieved by such therapy is not negligible but massive. Anyone who has suffered an open fracture no longer doubts the meaning of the therapy. Whoever has known the horrors of a civil war no longer doubts the meaning of a social contract. Ethics does not make people happy, but is nevertheless indispensable as the "minor evil". Ethics as an obstacle to happiness is also an unbalanced view, because it assumes a strong position. The primacy of human dignity (i.e. Kant's maxim that everyone is equal before the law), was originally a challenge opposite the nobility and demonstrates that the ethics has a protective function for the weaker.


Psychoanalysis and ethics sit in the same natural-cultural boat as both pursue a therapy for adults, i.e. both try to treat the damage resulting from natural-cultural disunity. In his psychoanalysis of culture, Freud tries to show the extent to which the cultural achievements are (and will always be) based on sublimation and repression of instincts. Thereby Freud hopes that culture will once accomplish the redirection of human impulses with as little repression as possible and as truly as possible. Hence his interest in Christian ethics. The commandment "love your neighbor as yourself" is for Freud the strongest defense against human aggression and an excellent example of the unpsychological approach of the cultural superego." Freud says, "The commandment is impracticable. Such a great inflation of love can only diminish its value, not eliminate the distress ". [Hampe, 197]


An ethics of reason is not as "unpsychological" as Christian ethics. Kant's demand that ethical laws should be comprehensible to every human being and that they must be publicly justified is a strong alternative to the revealed religions.

Ethics, as a philosophical discipline, is based solely on the principle of reason and differs from the classical self-understanding of theological ethics which assumes ethical principles as based on God's will (Ethics, Wikipedia)

When people realize that it is not a transcendent power that demands to sacrifice their desires, when they realize that all culture is man-made to protect people from nature, and above all from their own nature, then they will – in Freud's eyes – no longer perceive the mechanisms of cultivation as foreign constraints. As long as religious illusions and philosophical promises of happiness have to secure cultivation, culture is threatened at the moment when the corresponding promises and deterrents are disclosed as illusions. As long as the expectations directed at the possible achievements of culture are overstated, that is to say, promise happiness or even immortality, it will always be rejected as something which does not correspond to expectations, and its claims for sublimation will be rejected [Hampe, 198].



Discourse 2

Ethics is rational if it is based on mutual advantage through cooperation. But where is the mutual advantage when it comes to future generations? The current generation draws only a limited advantage from the happiness of future generations. Why should one be careful with natural resources? One does not even have to ignore future generations; it is sufficient set up an (unrealisticly) optimistic scenario, which denies future resource problems.


What is a realistic scenario? Is the optimism of the Enlightenment justified, or is the Hindu concept of cyclic destruction more realistic? The complexity of the system does not allow a reliable prediction in the foreseeable future, so that we depend on probabilities. According to the theses of

  The Cultural Evolution of Suffering and

  On the Perception of Risk and Benefit

there is no reason to give the optimistic scenarios a higher probability. If these theses hold, then we must consider optimistic worldviews as distorted perceptions of reality.


The advantage of a realistic world view is that one will not be disappointed. But why should we not profit from unrebutted utopias? Until the point of refutation (possibly only after countless generations), the utopians live happier than the realists. Only the generation which is ultimately confronted with reality (for example, those who no longer dispose of resources or fall victim to a technological "worst case") pays the price for the happiness of the previous generations.


In order to justify the destruction of utopias, one needs an inter-generational concept of justice. Similarly, the spontaneously acting individual is in conflict with his/her own long-term interests (Example: spontaneous smoking is in conflict with the long-term interest to avoid lung cancer).


Is it not inevitable to go on distance to one’s own future self? We can not live without a certain amount of spontaneity, and spontaneity is in conflict with foresight. The permanent underestimation of the risks, the hope for all kinds of progress and the repression of death contribute to our happiness. For these reasons, it is difficult to deny the value of illusions.



Conflict resolution

One way to solve the conflict between individual interests and the common good is to make the power struggle useful for the community (instead of suppressing it). In Rawl's theory of justice  

  the principle of individual liberty stands for the power struggle

  the difference principle stands for making the power struggle useful for the community.

For a community to function, it is not necessary that the conflict between self-interest and common interest is eliminated by equalizing individuals. It is sufficient that the interaction of varying abilities produces a mutual gain.


Rawls defines the term "justice" across generations, i.e. the current generation is not allowed to live at the expense of future generations, but, conversely, must not sacrifice itself for the benefit of future generations.




5.3 Salvation against Love


The term love is used here in the sense of the Hinduist Kama and corresponds approximately to the Freudian pleasure principle.

Salvation means liberation from suffering in the sense of Moksha.




1.      The biological goal is the survival and replication of the genes.

The Buddhist goal is the libertion from suffering by disconnecting from the biological nature of man.

2.      In meditation, a controlled happiness is sought which is independent of the state of the world, while the psychoanalysis aims at an adaptation to the state of the world. Psychoanalysis can lead to an improved perception (improved in terms of survival) by rediscovering repressed feelings. In meditation, conversely, the so-called "normal" perception is regarded as a distortion (Maja).




A psychoanalytic insight into the Buddhist character would presumably diagnose a neurotic disorder. From the perspective of Freud, the preference for non-existence points to a depression and requires psychological treatment. Similar to the accompanied insight meditation, psychoanalysis allows the observation of mental processes in a protected environment, in the care of a well-meaning companion (analyst instead of guru). In the protection of such an environment, it is easier to open up and find new perspectives. The already existing knowledge functions like a filter, which only passes through the information which confirms the existing models of reality (e.g. a Buddhist world view). The technique of free association, in comparison, produces spontaneous perceptions because there is no time to censor the thoughts. Spontaneity leads back to the "normal", biologically driven life.


Buddha, conversely, considers the so-called "normal" life as an aberration. In psychoanalysis, the Buddhist patient must leave his/her protected observer post and is dragged back into the body. But why should he/she identify with a perishable body, and thus steer for an absolutely certain defeat? Psychoanalysis helps to find a language for lost unconscious content. Buddhism helps to find a language for disclosing conscious deceptions.

1)   If the language already expresses that things are transient, then it is immediately evident that it makes no sense to count on them. Example: In the Korean Buddhist tradition, the same word is used for color, as for desire. The term color has a special meaning because it is seen as a strong characteristic feature of everything. In part, the term color is even used synonymously with thing (...) The human body is perceived as something colored as well (...). From the Buddhist perspective, however, the color of things is at the same time the symbol of transience (...). In Buddhism there is an accordingly ascetic-melancholic view on sexuality, which points to the volatility of all desire [Seelmann, 2009].

2)  The extent to which the Korean language was influenced by Buddhism can not be investigated here. It is noticeable, however, that this language does not know the term "self" and thus promotes a distanced perception of one's own needs, wishes and actions. Examples:

         One does not say "I am thirsty", but "the throat is dry".

         One does not say "I am angry", but "The anger rises".

[Seelmann, 2012]

Buddhism attempts to gain a certain distance from the biological destiny of man. The energy of biological attachments, however, is to be deflected by knowledge and not by compulsion. If this succeeds, then no neuroses and no depression result, but a stable kind of happiness. Buddhism regards psychoanalysis as representing the interests of biology and not as a profound ethics. If the term normality is defined by the adherents of the system "life", then it is not surprising that they classify retreat-oriented ethics as a mental disorder. This mechanism is well known from the history of totalitarian systems.


The crucial point in the battle of interpretation concerns procreation:


1.      The individual is less threatened by nature than by hostile forms of ethics, internalized in the Super-Ego. The paramount ethical weight given to suffering reflects a distorted perception. If the distortion destroys the joy of living then it has sadistic traits. Why should the individual be responsible for the defects of an anonymous system called nature, all the more as he/she is not given the means to bring order into this chaos? According to psychoanalysis the arguments for childlessness are often rationalizations. They result from a lack of opportunity or make it easier (in retrospect) to bear lost chances. From an evolutionary point of view the people who decide to stay childless represent nothing more than unfit gene combinations.


2.      According to Buddhism the creation of egos is simply a misconception. The suffering which is produced by the transience of the ego can only be alleviated by weakening the attachment to the ego. So why create an ego in the first place? Once the ego is created, its perception is deluded by the will to survive. To ask the actual generation if it valuates life positively is like asking an addict about his/her preference for drugs. Why should we create a state which forces us to interpret suffering in an endurable way?

It may be disturbing that evolution does not distinguish between people who lack the opportunity to have children and people who stay childless out of knowledge and insight. But psychologically it makes a big difference. The former have to endure their fate and suffer, the latter control their fate and do not suffer.



Conflict resolution

Attempts to solve the conflict are based on the idea of sublimation.


  Childless doctors and psychotherapists who do not get rich on their patients

  Childless altruists and philanthropists without missionary ulterior motives

▪   People with above motivation who adopt orphans





In life’s vale of tears

the desires burn like the sun.

But when the sun goes down,

one discovers the miracles of the night sky.


Arthur Schopenhauer






5.4 Salvation against Power


The term power is used here in the sense of the Hindu artha and corresponds approximately to Nietzsche's will to power.

Salvation means liberation from suffering in the sense of the Hindu Moksha.




1.      The biological goal is the survival and replication of the genes.

The Buddhist goal is the liberation from suffering by the detachment from the biological nature of man.

2.      In meditation, a controlled happiness is sought which is independent of the state of the world, while Nietzsche strives to change the world. Nietzsche's philosophy can lead to an improved perception (improved in terms of survival), by liberating repressed desires for power. In meditation, conversely, the so-called "normal" perception is regarded as a distortion (Maja ).



Schopenhauer versus Nietzsche

The denial of the world could be justified as follows:

How would we call a regime that promotes the happiness of a majority at the cost of an (arbitrarily selected) tortured minority? We would probably call it an arbitrary government (Willkürherrschaft). If the happy majority agrees with the rule and the agreement is encouraged by means of misinformation, repressed information and threat of punishment (e.g. depression), then we would speak of a fascistoid regime. We would also deeply distrust optimistic forecasts, in view of the suffering and injustice produced in the past. Buddhism (which attempts to reveal the true character of the system and pursues the path of liberation) takes the role of a resistance movement.


In the words of Schopenhauer:

"Look at this world of poor beings under the respect that they only exist for some time by devouring each other - and you will admit that a god who got the idea to change itself into such a world must really have been troubled by Satan." As the work of a demon it were "the worst of all possible worlds", hence any form of optimism had to be condemned as "not only absurd, but also as infamous thinking, indeed", as "bitter mockery of the nameless sufferings of mankind" (Structure and Dynamic of the Cosmos, Ludwig Ebersberger)


A defender of life would turn this view upside down as follows:


How would we call a regime that permanently distributes depressing news in order to discourage people from survival and procreation? We would probably call it degenerated or even mentally ill. If a minority (of philosophers) imposes this world view on the majority by means of brainwashing we would speak of a totalitarian regime. We would also deeply distrust pessimistic forecasts, in view of the regimes notorious world-weariness. Nietzsche’s philosophy (which attempts to reveal the true character of the system and works on anti-depressants) takes the role of a resistance movement.


In the words of Nietzsche:


Summarized: the world, as it should be, exists; the world we are living in is only a delusion, - this (our) world should not exist (…). What kind of people think like that? An unproductive, suffering kind; a suicidal kind [Nietzsche 1885, 402]



Buddha against Nietzsche

From the perspective of Buddhism is life is a counter-program to truth-seeking.

1)   The evaluations that emerge spontaneously out of the unconscious are often objectively wrong (e.g. the feeling never having to die)

2)   The evaluations which would be objectively correct are often missing (for example, there is no feeling for being a tool of biology).

Buddhism sees the unconscious as a producer of deceptions, which can only be disclosed by reason. The infatuation into life creates just as much a distorted perception as the infatuation into a concrete partner, with the difference that life will leave us for sure. The lasting happiness is an illusion which is destroyed by the experience of suffering and death. Rebirth and re-dying is a compulsion, which induces the desire to escape. Whoever looks for advice from the unconscious will never escape. The truth (non-existence as best choice) is repressed by life in the same way as totalitarian governments suppress the truth: by an immense propaganda apparatus that distorts perception, destroys information that is hostile to life, and rewards life-friendly information.


From the perspective of Nietzsche, life decides what is true. Life is very directly associated with the term truth in the sense of "whoever survives is always right". The biological laws require a Dionysian affirmation of the eternal cycles of life and death, arising and passing away, pleasure and pain. We must identify with the basic force that keeps the "wheel of being" in motion (Will to power, Wikipedia). The Buddhist attempt to escape the wheel of rebirth is only the expression of an old and tired culture.



Descriptive view (empirical data)

According to surveys on life satisfaction the overall valuation of the world is positive, despite of the following facts:

1.      In the 20th century humanity developed a potential for self-destruction, see On the Perception of Risk and Benefit.

2.      Suffering increases quantitatively and qualitatively in the course of evolution. Happiness increases as well, but suffering cannot be compensated by happiness across individuals, see The Biological Evolution of Pain.



Conflict resolution

Nietzsche's position is supported by the assertion that humanity would fall into a deep depression without prospects for the future, and that "we" can therefore not help but think positively [Scheffler]. In terms of biological fitness, retreat-oriented philosophies such as Buddhism should have long since become extinct. The fact that this is not so, suggests that negative evaluations always emerge anew, because the reasons for these evaluations do not die out. The conflict could only be resolved (in favor of Nietzsche) if a powerful elite (overmen) besieges suffering by technological progress (e.g. by transhumanism).




5.5 Salvation against Justice




1)   The term Dharma is associated with respect for the law, service for the community, and fulfillment of duty, i.e., with virtues that are also expected in modern times when a reasonable constitution is in force or has to be defended.

2)   Early Buddhism assumes that all communities striving for power and expansion will increase suffering. The longing for the liberation (from suffering) therefore leads to the escapte into another world, whereby the everyday experiences are depreciated as a pseudo-reality.

The withdrawal from the community encounters mistrust and rejection. The passive (useless) minority is threatened by the active majority.




An ethics of reason can possibly be established in the future by means of a global social contract.


Such a contract does not remove competition, but only moves it from the physical to the psychological and structural level. Even if it were possible to mitigate this struggle, suffering would still be immense. The technological scenarios of salvation are as unrealistic as the eschatologies . The engagement for justice must not be linked to a false message. The true message is selflessness and not world improvement. There is only a potential of the individual to liberate him-/hersself.


An ethics of reason, which is not defended, dies out. Only a life-friendly ethics can pass on the government of reason.


The hope of the Buddhist monks that their insights survive is based on the experience that there are niche strategies in culture (as well as in nature). Buddhism does not die out because it describes a piece of reality that no one can evade. Risk-averse, compassionate ethics have little chance in the competition of systems, indeed, but transcendent experiences of suffering (which can be avoided or overcome by reflection) always create new forms of Buddhism.


With a niche strategy, one hands over the power to irrationality, and deprives oneself of the possibility, to positively influence cultural evolution:





The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil

is for good men to do nothing


Origin disputed




The question of the moral evaluation of escapism is more than 2000 years old. We refer here to the discourse between Theravada and Mahajana buddhists.



Conflict resolution

The two contradicting interests can only be reconciled by a risk-averse concept of justice that is able to survive.

Historical example:

   Monastic Buddhism preserved the knowledge about suffering

   Laic Buddhism kept the tradition alive.

The symbiosis survived more than 2500 years.


If all human beings would distance themselves from their biological identity, humanity would disappear. If all men would only seek to achieve their biological identity, there would be no imagination of an alternative happiness for man and no reliable practice for realizing it. Insofar one must not regard the coexistence of anxious biologically-determined people and carefree happiness-pursuing people as a parasitic relationship, in which those who strive for tranquillity exist at the expense of those who work and care. This relationship can also be described as a symbiotic one, in which the ones, by providing the livelihood for the others, create a realm of freedom, where practices of self-liberation – and a corresponding vision for everyone – can be explored and passed on [Hampe, 163].

In contemporary ethics the axiology which comes closest to Buddhism is negative utilitarianism [Keown, 176].





6. Objective Goal Conflict


The conflict between the life goals salvation and justice takes an objective character when it is seen from the following perspective:

How can suffering be better combated?

    by the fight for a juster world (life goal justice) or

    by the withdrawal from this world (life goal salvation)?


The struggle for a juster world is confronted with complex problems:

1.    Under which circumstances should violence be applied and to what extent?

2.   How does cultural evolution work and how does it influence the quality and quantity of suffering?

3.   Does it make sense to be active, as long as the questions (1) and (2) cannot be answered?

As long as there is no theory about the origin and dissemination of suffering (a contemporary doctrine of Karma), the interest to create justice, possibly leads to counterproductive activities. However, it is also unlikely that all altruistic activities are counterproductive.




6.1 Persuasiveness against Violence




Reason-oriented theories of justice have a hard time defining the cases, where violence should be applied (Keywords: self-defense, penal system, moral killing, etc.). But they have even more trouble deciding whether their view of justice should be enforced violently against irrational ethics.

Political systems such as National Socialism make a pact with irrationality and tolerate every form of suffering. From the perspective of an ethics of reason, this is precisely the development that must be prevented. But must it also be prevented at any price? Does the stoic willingness to pay any price for the victory of reason lead to a better world or to a spiral of increasing suffering?




Man is a zoon politikon – a social, community-building living being (Politics, Aristotle)

Whoever wants to live in a rational world has to engage with all the consequences for an ethics of reason. Only a rational ethics creates the institutions that can secure and defend the freedom of thought.


An unpleasant consequence is that one must build weapons systems of the same complexity and destructive power as the competing irrational ethics.


It is immoral to leave the defense of the freedom of thought to others, and at the same time to benefit from this freedom. The denial of such obligations is at least inconsistent for people with a familial commitment.


If a family can only be defended by violence, then this is an argument for childlessness. People without familial commitment can reject military service and engage for non-violent politics.


The discourse on the moral evaluation of nonviolent engagement against armed defense is more than 2000 years old (see e.g. Bergpredigt). In this context we refer here to the discourse between the pacifism movement and its opponents .



Conflict resolution

The best solution is not necessarily the suspension of the opposites:

1.   The combination of different strategies (withdrawal, passive resistance, active resistance) can achieve a better overall result than a uniform strategy. A heterogeneous community is more flexible in assessing conflict situations and has more options.

2.   What is true for the community in this context, also applies to the individual. It is better to keep the options open than to pursue strict rules. The discussion sketched above seeks a general answer to the question of non-violence. It is, however, at least as plausible that there is a whole spectrum of viable strategies, ranging from the hermit and the epicurean to the Aristotelian zoon politikon and to the tyrannicide, depending on the chances and risks of a particular situation.




6.2 Cultural Pessimism against Optimism




Kant’s demand that ethical laws should be comprehensible to every human being and that they must be publicly founded is a strong alternative to the revealed religions. But is it also desirable to enforce the culture of Enlightenment worldwide? It is not only the physical violence that is necessary to secure the government of reason, but also the structural violence of the technological progress, which makes us wonder if it all comes to a good end and is worth its price. The same questions were asked by philosophers more than 2000 years ago, albeit with much less knowledge of the natural laws. As today, there was a wide range of assessments, from deeply pessimistic to totally optimistic.

Greek culture marks the beginning of the scientific and technical development, a development which probably explains the optimistic Greek worldview (as compared to the Indian worldview). We will refrain from balancing the books after 2,500 years, and content ourselves with the observation that the Buddhist truths have not yet been disproved. From a historical point of view, however, we are in a unique situation because, for the first time, a decisive technological improvement of the living conditions seems feasible. The search for the liberation from suffering no longer necessarily leads to the denial of life. If a just high-tech society can eliminate the traumatic forms of suffering for all and sustainably, then this is a strong argument for a life-friendly ethics (as opposed to the alternative "natural state").


There are different degrees of hope:

1.   The hope that suffering can be reduced by cultural progress.

2.   The hope that there are life-friendly actions that reduce suffering (without long-term counterproductive side-effects), even if cultural progress is only an illusion.





Hope is not the conviction that everything turns out well,

but the conviction that something makes sense, no matter how everything turns out.


Vaclav Havel




3.      If all life-friendly actions have a (long-term) counterproductive effect, then only the (Buddhist) hope remains that there is an individual path to salvation.




It is not necessary to know everything or to know increasingly more, but only to know what is essential. Essential is the insight that the prevention of suffering is the top priority and the knowledge how to liberate oneself. This does not require any technology.


Even a Buddhist becomes old and sick and is then thankful for medical care. Western hope rests on the thesis that a mixture of cooperation and competition will lead to a long-term cultural reduction of suffering.


We need a great deal of confidence in cultural evolution to remain optimistic in full knowledge history. It is at least as plausible to assume that the increasing complexity of the environment and the prolongation of lifetime will lead to an increase in suffering (see The Biological Evolution of Pain ). Anyone who lives longer and experiences more intense happiness is more attached to life. Medical progress is likely to trigger a struggle for longer lifetime. Technology is ambivalent and always creates new forms of suffering. The idea of technological salvation is just another utopia to justify the immense suffering in this world.


You cannot predict the future from the past. It is also not possible to turn the wheel of history back and resume the way of living of hunters and gatherers. It is still better to actively shape the future and take the risk of failure than to resign in advance.


For more information on this discourse see

  The Cultural Evolution of Suffering

  Belief in progress against Cultural pessimism.



Conflict resolution

A mutual gain arises from sciences which prevent suffering


1.     Conflict research, peace studies

2.   Simulation of socio-economic systems, e.g. in the context of population policies.

3.   Palliative medicine, antidepressants

Technological progress does not change the life goals. It only changes the means by which the objectives are to be reached. Technological salvation is (at least in some people’s imagination) an alternative to spiritual salvation.




6.3 Theory against Practice




Theorists primarily like to understand the mechanisms and leave the decisions to the others. Practitioners feel the pressure to act and often decide without theory. This is especially obvious in the relationship between the social science and politics. One of the most prominent examples is the Luhmann-Habermas controversy [Maciejewski]:

1.   Habermas maintains that sociology must criticize society and that science has a moral obligation.

2.   Luhman rejects social criticism and interprets sociology primarily as an observation task.

Habermas about Luhmann: “The restriction to observations is wrong, but Luhman’s descriptions have quality” [NDR-Online].

Luhmann on Habermas: "He waits for reason and suggests utopias instead of practicing contemporary sociology" [Luhmann, 1148].

According to chapters 6.1 and 6.2, it is largely unclear whether we live in a world of increasing suffering (i.e. in a terrible kind of hedonistic treadmill), or whether we can influence the course of history. Despite this deficit of theory, we have to decide in practice for a retreat-oriented way of living (childlessness, non-violence) or for an active social engagement.




Has not too much been theorized already? Is not it obvious that the laws of evolution produce arbitrary cruelty and the only reasonable practice is to go on distance to this process? The individual and cultural learning process – if something is learned at all – can be compared with the experiences in a fictitious political system of the type “Omelas metaphor”. The unpleasant is initially suppressed [Tugendhat, 104]. Then the information about the horrible events which are taking place elsewhere cannot be repressed, but we know that the system also has many good aspects. Are we allowed to accept the good from the same hand, which cruelly and arbitrarily punishes others? Or is there even a certain craving for sensation connected with the sufferings of others? The irresponsibility merges into stupidity here, because one assumes that the cruelty only affects the others. But is the public incineration of a man on the pyre of the Inquisition really completely different from the (televised) pictures of a car accident, in which a man burns alive? Is Adorno's association of Auschwitz with the industrial slaughter of animals really so devious? Is the association of Jews stifling in gas chambers and migrants/ refugees (not to speak of animals) which perish torturously in trucks misleading? And are the images of emaciated cancer patients really so different from the images of emaciated prisoners in concentration camps? Interestingly, many philosophers condemn pitiless political systems [Pogge], but use only indifferent categories for the assessment of nature or chance (where similar intensities of suffering occur). However, the dividing lines between conscious, unconscious and random actions are not decisive in the overall development. The suffering in evolution already increased long time before human consciousness emerged [Birnbacher, 52].


From a scientific point of view, one leaves the position of the neutral observer if one calls life cruel. Statistical and historical data can be interpreted in quite different ways. It is not the task of science to support a particular interpretation, but to explore the mechanisms that allow interpreting the same statistics differently. Examples:

- Nietzsche, interprets compassion as weakness and emphasizes the creative potential of life

- Utilitarianism compensates the suffering of the minority with the happiness of the majority.

If one understands these mechanisms, then there is perhaps a chance to influence them.


Nietzsche's "discovery" that interpretations are ultimately controlled by the struggle for survival and that life-friendly interpretations in the long run prevail against skeptical ones is not a novelty. New is only Nietzsche‘s pathetic packaging. Auch die Distanziertheit der Wissenschaft hat keine neutrale Wirkung. The distancing of science does not have a neutral effect. Detachment helps the ruling power, because it can be interpreted as consent. While the majority of people feel that their lives are worth living and life-friendly historians aestheticize the world, it is concealed that this satisfaction is only possible because a minority pays a terrible price. In the situations of extreme suffering, the human psyche shrinks to a burning point, individuality and personality are destroyed. The burning points of all extremely suffering creatures result in a never-ending fire, the modern metaphor of hell.


The indignation about the state of the world also does not contribute to their improvement. Ethics which is hostile to life produces its own (additional) forms of suffering. There is no system theory of suffering, no contemporary form of the Karma doctrine.




The personal engagement distinguishes the sense of justice from the distant observation. These different views can be illustrated by Rawls' metaphor of the original position. If the decision-maker in the original position were an apolitical scientist, then he/she would be content with describing happiness and suffering. But if he/she represents a person waiting for incarnation, i.e. a person that later will be exposed to the risks of this world, then he/she would try to reduce these risks.



Conflict resolution

1.     Luhmann is right insofar as the theory is insufficiently developed.

2.   Habermas is right insofar, as politicians and citizens are under pressure to act and need a guideline for moral behavior.

A compromise could, for example, be to simultaneously pursue a risk-averse policy and improve the ethical knowledge.





7. Conclusion



Origin of contradictions

The fact that man is driven by conflicting goals is an anthropological insight:

1. Anyone who loves must forgo the happiness of power and control. Whoever wants to exert power, in contrast, must renounce to the happiness of devotion and trust.

2. The goal self-realization often contradicts the goal justice.

3. The body, which is a source of happiness in youth, becomes a source of suffering in old age. The biological purpose of life is in conflict with the liberation from suffering.

Life goals (interests) influence the perception and thus the emergence of ethical convictions. Contradictory interests lead to contradictory intuitions.

It is also an anthropological insight that intuitions are rationalized, i.e. people seek and find rational arguments which support their emotional convictions.



Dealing with contradictions

There are two fundamentally different strategies for dealing with contradictions:

1. The attempt to solve conflicts and find compromises. This does not necessarily lead to losses. There are often solutions that allow a bilateral profit.

2. The attempt to live with contradictions. Both an individual and a community can react more flexibly to internal and external changes if contradictory assessments are allowed.








I would like to thank Michael Hampe for the inspiring conversations in the context of this paper.








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