How does human suffering lead Schopenhauer and Nietzsche to their respective philosophical conclusions?

Quick answer:

For Schopenhauer, human existence is meaningless, filled with suffering and despair. Although there is no way to avoid suffering, there is a higher good that can be embodied and striven for through the denial of self-will and acts of kindness and sympathy. Nietzsche held the contrary view and believed that suffering is a sign of weakness, as was the instinct for compassion. He believed that the will was driven to increase feelings of power, the only good.

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Although Nietzsche had once regarded Schopenhauer as a teacher and genius, he came to bitterly reject the fundamental premise of Schopenhauer’s philosophy: that suffering is the defining characteristic of human existence.

Schopenhauer argued that the best a person could do was to live in quiet resignation to life’s meaninglessness and suffering, and that the highest goal of existence was to add value to it by living selflessly and constructively. The only way to rise above life’s chaos and struggle is to deny self-interest and live as if one’s actions could really make a positive difference in the world by embodying humanity's highest virtues, like compassion for the suffering of others.

While Nietzsche did recognize that there was suffering in the world, he viewed it as a weakness that could be eliminated through the cultivation of a new consciousness unconcerned with traditional morality. Nietzsche viewed compassion as another human weakness of character based in religion and traditional morality and felt that the instinct for pity had a depressive, draining effect on the human life-force, standing in the way of one’s personal enhancement. For Nietzsche, sympathy and charity were harmful to humanity because they limited one’s potential to remake one’s self according to one's will. If Schopenhauer promoted a “will to existence,” then Nietzsche was all about the “will to power,” going so far as to call the disabled “parasites” and advocate for eugenics, euthanasia, and suicide.

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