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Friedrich Nietzche - Fundamental Questions

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Queen's University
PHIL 115
Paul Fairfield

Friedrich Nietzche 1844-1900 Twilight of the Idols (1888, year before he went insane)  Very much expected to become a protestant cleric (father and grandfathers were ministers)  1889, complete psychological breakdown.  Not following any philosophers closely. Only influence he notes is Arthur Schopenhauer, influence is minor.  Trying to do something radically new, such as the way in which he writes.  Prior to his breakdown, he was sane (or enough), his writings are not blemished with his insanity. Writing Style  How are we supposed to understand this man? Why he chooses to put things in the ways that he does, it is thought out. (not that he doesn’t have the discipline to put it together)  Wrote rather quickly, but he thought about every single word he ever wrote.  Formal philosophical treatise- one author, lists premises, tries to generate some conclusion from those premises. For the most part, the average treatise is a rather sober document.  Cultural physician- philosophers ought to be physicians of their culture, a modern secular counterpart to a prophet. He should encompass many cultural roles: should be knowledgeable in history, scientific knowledge, an inventor of new ideas, etc. Should not observe ideas in a coldly objective fashion.  Patient comes to doctor because something is wrong with them, physicians must diagnose.Thinks modern culture is “sick.” He has to come up with a remedy, has to fix it, not just point out the problem.  Nietzsche writes a more personal level. Why are we here, what is the meaning of my life?  Sun has gone down, yet we are not in a state of total darkness. Things are semi-illuminated, but it’s getting dark- metaphor for modern culture. Reaches for metaphor on purpose. The sun that has gone down is our traditional, moral, political values, religious and metaphysical beliefs. Moral intuition, had histories-> becomes philosopher’s job to asses where our moral ideas come from.  “God is dead.” the belief is starting to disappear. Nothing new about his atheism at that time. Metaphor, not a literal statement. The grounds for believing in God and all that is associated have disappeared. Secular, rational thought replaces traditional worldviews. Ideas have died, but still provide bearing in our life- only moral ideas we have.  Our moral ideas are false gods that don’t stand up to scrutiny anymore. Our moral ideals and political aspirations, personal ideals, ring hollow. Deteriorated into idols, but we don’t quite realize it yet.  Modern Europe has in a sense fallen asleep. Drifted into semi-consciousness, we don’t think about our values, beliefs, they just go without saying, they are handed down like social norms. Wants to wake his readers up.  Aphoristic style, short sections.  Suppose truth is a woman, unabashed masochist, he even wrote that it was stupid, but there it is.  Also presents ideas in terms of what ifs. Idea of eternal return (thought it was his most important contribution in philosophy). What if, then metaphor. It’s going to get his reader’s attention, provokes them with it.  Wants to write philosophy in the spirit of music- aesthetic, profound, provocative, reaches into core of reader’s being, not just speak to intellect.  Philosophy is an active self-expression. Writes about himself on purpose.  Suppose truth is a woman- it is unattainable, is highly resistant to know it, grasp it. Truth is highly elusive, more so than philosophers think. Something you pursue, highly motivated to understand it but you don’t. No method to pursue a woman, no one-way of approaching someone. The same goes for truth. Painters, scientists, empiricists, rationalists, all pursue the truth in different ways. Many avenues, you pursue it, don’t have it. Day 2  Departing from conventions of writing style. Much more free-spirited. His idea is to write philosophy in his own style, will ask a new set of questions, instead of new answers to old questions.  Writing in aphorisms, unlike conventional books. No coherent line of thought.  How to philosophize with a hammer: not going to bash previous philosophers on the head, but what it means is that we are going to sound out the ideals that have been passed down to us for centuries (like a tuning fork). Justice, knowledge, reason, morality, they all need to be tapped gently, sounded out. We will listen to what the status of them is, do they ring hollow or are they soundly tuned? ALL OF OUR CONVICTIONS RING HOLLOW.  Hyperboles, aphorisms, frequently look like digressions of autobiography. He must remind readers that it is a flesh and blood human doing the thinking. There is no realm of pure rational thought.  Excessive and on purpose, especially the humour. Often exaggerates, and borrows popular language if it helps him make his point. His point bears on the human condition.  Thought of his books as works of art.  More ambitious view of what the philosopher should be. Not a modest role. He is not an egalitarian.  Harsh critic of his contemporaries.  Nihilism- to describe the state of modern culture. The belief in nothing. We don’t have deep convictions about anything, or the ones that still live ring hollow. He’s talking about a trend that is many centuries in the making.  Atmosphere of crisis when there is a vacuum within our culture, and the mind of the character of the individual. There is no centre to your existence, no meaning to it. There is no objective value to your existence or anyone’s.  No longer much of anything we can believe in. God is dead- convictions gone.  The meaning of my life has to be my personal invention, objectively speaking my life is a nullity until I make something of it.  Has to wake up his readers, because they have drifted into intellectual laziness.  Readers that will not just seize the logical force of his arguments, but someone who is of similar kind of soul/ human being. In the same way that an artist is trying to find an audience of like-minded souls who share something profound.  A philosopher who was out of step with the times. Swim against the current.  As if he is speaking to me, this is by design. Bypasses everything and speaks directly to individual readers, in the same way that religious texts seem to be able to change me. His critique of modern philosophy  Shotgun approach to the whole history of western philosophy, jumping topic to topic  Larger line of criticism. Ancient Greek philosophy, a tragedy in the writings of Plato and the actions of Socrates. With the person of Socrates and position of Plato that follows, there is a disconnection of the intellect from the passions. Once and for all separation between reason (essentially human, god-like) and passions (animals have them). If you were to subtract reason from human nature, we would just be animals. The instincts are not human therefore.  In the person of Socrates there is a renunciation of the instincts. Same thing happening in religion- dichotomy between mind and body, reality and appearance, reason and passion, theory and practice, reason and experience. Renouncing instincts, they were also inventing a whole series of radical oppositions.  Dichotomies are still with us, becomes habitual, seems like the way things are.  Nietzsche rejects dichotomies. Usually think in dichotomous terms because the Greeks made it a habit, to carve the universe into so many oppositions.  Apollonian/Dionysian-> Apollo represents sober, rational reason. The kind of thought we find in Plato, Aristotle, and the ensuing philosophical tradition. Contrasted with Dionysis-> God of wine, passion, instinct. Plato gave these instincts a bad name, as well as poetry, art, rhetoric. Dress up accuracies.  Art forms the soul for Plato. We better be careful about what kinds of stories we tell.  Art by it’s nature is 3 steps removed from reality. It is a false copy of something real.  Things at war with each other, reason against passion. Which wins? This is what Socrates and Plato represents for Nietzsche- the victory of Apollo over Dionysus. Passion is morally dangerous, is what we get from this.  We should not take for granted what is passed down to us. Moral worries about passion are dangerous, it doesn’t answer to social norms, and this is what we should worry about.  Wasn’t always this way for Nietzsche, we have to rethink all dichotomies.  Faith in opposite values-> have to get rid of all of them. Uncritically dichotomous and there is no room in it for the Dionysian, no wonder people think philosophy is boring and passionless, because it is that way by design. Passion is an obstacle to truth.  Nietzsche says that philosophy has to be passionate, it is highly charged with emotion. He does not want to reverse victory of Apollo over Dionysus, but what he does is wants to inject philosophy with some Dionysian spirit.  Bring about a balance between the two, restore dynamic tension between the two. Not that we can have pure harmony between reason and passion. Day 3  Notion of the individual: central to philosophy up until today. We had a notion of modern thought, the individual.  First thing you would say about yourself is that what makes you different is individuality. “I’m an individual.”  Nietzsche points out that it wasn’t always so. The individual itself, this category, is an invention of the 17 and 18 centuries. The ancients didn’t think of themselves in quite this way.  Go back a thousand years, if you ask someone what makes you the particular human being that you are: in terms of religious affiliation, I am a creature of God perhaps. The answer is I am a created being first. Nationality, ethnicity, social grouping, socioeconomic class (occupation) might come next. Defined in the first place in terms of cultural and social ties, not in terms of individuality. Who am I as a separate stand- alone being, nothing (in this time). There was not an implicit sense of the self as a unit that stands at a distance from the social.  Descartes and Locke suggest we need to think of the self first. I am not a soul, I am a thinking thing- one singular entity. I am a certain kind of substance, a finite immaterial substance. Nationality is an accidental property; it is not who I am or what I am. My essence is still what it is. Social ties are of secondary status.  Natural environment for Hobbes is a pre-social one. Pursues one’s own conception of happiness, what humans do by nature- rational self-interest.  Justice in the terms of a social contract: what kind of social contract all self-interested people will find agreeable. Basic unit of political analysis is the individual, that is who or what we are (Hobbes).  Thinking is a solitary act done by individuals.  These are examples of how the individual becomes a central philosophical notion. Nietzsche’s take:  Old notion, after a few centuries we forget that the notion of individuality has a history.  He reminds us that human beings have not always thought of ourselves this way. It a modern philosophical category, and is very questionable.  What exactly the individual? Can you go in search of an empirical self? What do you find, some sort of essence of identity? Difficult matter for Nietzsche. Why is it so elusive? BECAUSE IT IS A CONSTRUCT, THERE IS NO SUCH THING. IF MY INDIVIDUALITY EXISTS AT ALL, IT CONSISTS IN SOMETHING I HAVE DONE, IT THE RESULT OF DECISIONS I HAVE MADE, ACTIONS I HAVE TAKEN. Nothing special about me, I am just an organism. What I have made of myself, how I have fashioned myself.  If we talk about the self as a raw given, something that just is before I take action, there is nothing there except the biological entity.  If we are interested in human nature, we should stop asking metaphysical questions. No such thing as my essence, human essence, it’s up to each person to decide. Up to me to decide who I’m going to be, there is no deep truth about myself, it is up to be to decide it. As yet undetermined animal.  Who is Nietzsche as an individual? His response is that it is yet to be decided. It was up to him to write this book. Individuality is more in the nature of a task, a moral and existential task.  Our way of being is more in nature of a project, a lifelong one, a process of becoming something in particular, or failure to become it. My identity is not a given, it is up to me what it is going to be.  Always a set of possibilities about how I might realize myself. Not going to say I am a lawyer, until I become one. I am an aspiring lawyer. We continuously do this.  Individuality does not have a metaphysical core, it is in the process of being decided. More on his critique of metaphysics- category of the self continued (epistemology)  Notion has to be reconsidered. In nature of a task. No metaphysical truth about it. The Will  Is human will free, or is it determined? N. says this is not the question to be asking, there is no deep metaphysical truth about the will. Rejects dichotomy.  Moral question once again. Instead he wants to ask: Whether the will is strong or weak, not if it free or not. Not interested in metaphysical questions, all of it is bad.  Human nature and the will-> moral questions. Is your will strong or weak? Again there is no deep truth to this answer either, it is up to myself to determine this. It is not a raw aspect of my nature, it is up to me to cultivate this. You can become more assertive, resolute. This is how we should think about much of human life, as a project, self-transformation.  We aren’t masters of our destiny, but we can cultivate our identity and will. What underlies his criticisms, what is his alternative?  What is his theory of knowledge, or truth? Has neither because he doesn’t think that he needs one. One conventional way of thinking about the truth: what makes a true statement true is __________. Fill in the blank.  Correspondence theory of truth: meaning of truth is relation of correspondence between a statement and fact on the other hand. View that pragmatists were rejecting.  Nietzsche rejects it too. No way to fill in the blank of that sentence. Truth is not stable, does not have an essence. The notion of truth is useful, but again we have to ask a different question about it.  Reject old answers to old questions (what is it, how do we know we possess the truth?), new question. His new question is: What is the value of truth?  No one before him asks this question, it was a given before. Of course the truth is valued, how can you not value it.  Inherently liberating statement for emancipation from ignorance, poverty, etc. Nietzsche asks if it is really true. Does the truth have the power to liberate, and set us free? No, there are a lot of truths that aren’t very pleasant. There are darker truths: you’re going to die. Does that set you free? Another: you are not the center of the universe. Does this set you free? Not a very pleasant truth either. Shortcomings are truths as well, we all have these things.  Becomes untenable to say that the truth will set you free, as it hurts sometimes. The truth is not inherently liberating.  Truth is a woman in the sense of it being something that you do not possess or own, but something that you value and pursue.  Above all, he questions the value of truth. It is not a self-evident matter.  Foundationalism: Descartes is a good example. A conception of what knowledge is, it has a structure, a foundation. A building stands or falls on its foundation. Everything relies on the foundation, and for Descartes the foundation is the cogito. If all of our knowledge rests on this body of first principles, this is the structure of knowledge. They will disagree about what the foundation is, but all foundationalist philosophers will agree that there are self-evident truths.  Nietzsche opposes this: knowledge has no foundation; there are no first principles or self-evident truths. No certainties. Similar to what James and Dewey argued (experience, radical empiricism). If knowledge has underpinnings it is just ordinary lived experience. Knowledge is possible but highly elusive.  Nature of knowledge that we don’t ever possess the truth. No model of grasping something. Knowledge is a pursuit, it is not an object that sits there and waits for us to grasp it. Day 4  Critique of metaphysics and epistemology. He does not have an epistemology or a theory of knowledge in a formal sense: not a German idealist, or pragmatist, etc. Still has comments on the nature of knowledge.  Influence on 21 century European philosophy  The will to truth is rather weak in human nature; he doesn’t see people loving and pursuing the truth. Yes we pursue knowledge, but the will for truth is not as profound as our will for other things.  What human beings want in short is power and not truth.  The will to truth is a superficial desire. We will intellectual comfort, security, that the universe gives welcoming.  Psychological way- what is motivating people to seek what they do? Security, psychological satisfaction, thinking I know what matters.  Truth itself is not liberating, it does not necessarily promote your happiness.  Ideas are not objective, knowledge is contingent-> depends on a number of things. #1 perspective, the point of view of the knower. All human knowledge relies on the point of view of the knower, it serves knowers. It is not an impersonal thing, it is driven by finite self-interests. More complicated than we believe whatever makes us happy.  Says this about knowledge in general. We can take any object of knowledge, he will argue that approaching that object depends on our POV.  You have to have knowledge before having a position… before having a certain position you need to have a little bit of background knowledge. Knowledge and point of view are inseparable.  An example: Evolution. If you come to university and want to study it, you will take biology. Its too simple to say that the whole field of biology will take one approach on evolution. Scientists will all ask different questions, have different aspects. It depends on their specific line of inquiry, their point of view. They will each have a different methodology; similar terms, and their hypotheses will address different aspects of the phenomenon. Collectively, with all of the biologists input, we will not have the whole objective picture. History would have a point of view, they would want to tell the story of how this debate occurred, the person who came up with it, the oppositions, etc. Different knowledge claims. Two different sets of points of view on the same object. Religious believers would have another position on it, as would geography, philosophy, psych, etc.  This is the nature of knowledge in general. Point is generalizable down to a physical object. A chair for example. Elementary perception, from where I sit I have a specific point of view of the chair. Knowledge claims about it, black, likely plastic, probably made by a machine, etc. Knowledge of the chair is made possible by the point of view I have now, but is also limited by my perspective. Made possible and limited by my point of view. I can’t see the back of the chair from here, I am limited in this sense. For a 3dimensional knowing of the chair, I would have to move around it. Each is simply a point of view.  There is no point of view from which you can know the whole truth about any given object. All object is contingent on point of view, there is no God’s eye point of view on anything that exists. We can’t hold the real world in our left hand, and how it appears in our right hand, can’t look down and do a comparison. All of our knowledge is limited, conditioned.  Notion of perspectivism.  This is not a theory of knowledge, not an alternative to empiricism, or rationalism. There is no formal methodology or foundation, the method is not one but many. If you want to know the truth about something, don’t pick one method, pick many. More points of view of one thing the better if you want to know the truth about anything.  Why is it necessary to analyze and re-analyze the same historical event. Same facts, but what is in dispute- > how we understand it. Political, economic, military points of view. Nature of the historical event that it will have to be re-interpreted forever.  If points of view conflict, they will in fact. If there is a direct contradiction in points of view, then they will have to engage in further interpretation. They tend not to conflict though, they are usually just a different set of knowledge claims. Reveal different aspects of a phenomenon. If you want to know more about something, multiply the truth on it. You’re never going to know it all.  Nature of the thing that it has to be understood and re-understood. Critique of Religion  Saying he is an atheist is an understatement: Not just rejecting Christianity, he rejects all of the major world religions, has a real disdain for it. He despises it.
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