Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Response to panel discussion

In the first section of the Third Essay, Nietzsche writes (in my version), “But that the acetic ideal has meant so many things to man expresses above all the fundamental truth about human will, its horror vacui: it must have a goal – and it would even will nothingness rather than not will at all” (77). I was thinking about this last night after the panel discussion about capitalism. A few things that were said last night… humans have basic needs: food, water, shelter, healthcare. How do we quantify and decided who needs how much of each thing? People working in sweatshops are living lives that could have been much, much, much, much worst had the sweatshop not existed. The people who are living at the very bottom of the economic food chain are living better and have “more” than the people who were living in that place 50 years ago. I think that this idea about simply the ability to will being more important that what it is being willed can speak to these dilemmas from last night. There is not a victory in the fact that people are living “better” than people in their same position 50 years ago if those people are still working to simply live and are exploited to the fullest potential of the system. These people, to me, do not get to even will nothingness.. which is why the question is not necessarily about improving the literal living conditions of the poor, but to improve their status within the system form being that which is exploited to members of a system who are able to will. I might have interpreted this passage from Nietzsche completely wrong… but I stand by my interpretation of/response to last night’s comments nonetheless.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Self-destructive Nature of Guilt

Following Tuesday's class, I have been made aware of my own 'bad conscience', my own guilt, which plagues me in every day life, and which society has taught me is a natural phenomenon. On analysis, however, Nietzsche shows us how unnatural it is, for it is a type of self-torture, a 'will to life' which, previously discharged on the world, is now discharged into ourselves; an internalised rather than externalised cruelty. In this way, man "wounds himself, this master of destruction, of self-destruction" (Nietzsche 121) and renders himself sicker with every deepening feeling of guilt.

Interestingly, the novel "Mrs. Dalloway" provides a exemplary example of this destructive process, and  religion in this case (as with many) is the driving force which encourages and exacerbates guilt. Indeed, guilt seems to be the primary tool utilised by religion to bring people under control. Miss Kilman claims that turning to religion sooths "the hot and turbulent feelings which boiled and surged in her" (Woolf 124). These feelings, however (which could be seen as Nietzsche's 'will to power'), rather that being assuaged, are internalised instead of discharged on the world. This causes Miss Kilman intense suffering and unhappiness. Her very act of "trying to subdue [the] turbulent and painful feeling" (128) fails, because even if she masters it and convinces herself that "it is in the flesh" (128) she will continue to feel a "violent grudge against the world" (129), that is, a resentment stemming from bad conscience or the internalised violence against herself.

Other than religion, what other societal mechanisms wedge guilt and bad conscience in place?

Nietzsche's Economic Claims (Creditor/Debtor Relationship)

So far, Nietzsche's second essay intrigues me the most. In this essay, there is a strong economic tone is entrenched in this idea of the creditor/debtor relationship. Stemming from Nietzsche's history of promises and memory, the concept of costs and prices (not in a monetary sense, but a morality one). 

Historically, man was primitive in the sense that our animal instincts valued the strong, while glorifying violence as a necessity to life. While the strong only dealt with the strong, making promises was economically beneficial to the two parties. If there were no benefits in making promises,  then it would not have existed. This benefit to man explains why promises are carried out. In order for both parties to benefit, the promises must be kept by memory. This is what I understand that Nietzsche's logic lies but I am still unconvinced of this history. This origin of memory is hard to swallow since memory technically is not born out of a concept. Memory is just an operational function of the brain. With that in mind, it is imperative to remember the promises that are made. Nietzsche does not associate kept promises on the grounds of economic benefits, but on the grounds of pain. I think that this is where he bends his ideas a little too far for me to completely appreciate. Memory is not just grounding to avoid pain, but memory is for both the benefactors of an agreement. The way that my ideas carry is like this: agreements are made to benefit both parties, then memory comes into play because the party wants to benefit. The way that Nietzsche depicts it is that memory comes into play because if one does not remember, then pain is in the near future. 

I think that this is such a negative twist of logic. Even though Nietzsche continues with the creditor/debtor relationship and the concept of "owe" and "guilt", I do not think that this is the important part. To me, what is important is this idea that in the creditor/debtor relationship, there is always a hierarchy. I do not think that this is true. When a promise is made, one party is not better than another party. But the party that fulfills the promise is obviously better than the party that does not fulfill the promise, only leaving me to think that promises should not be made if it cannot be kept. Economically, one would not get into a promise if it is not beneficial. 

In my opinion, people do not weigh the cost of an action out of the need to punish those who do not follow through with the promises, but people weigh the cost and prices of actions and promises at the time that the promises are made. 

Tell me what you think. I feel like I am rambling on. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Eternal Return

                During Tuesday’s class, we spent a significant amount of time discussing Nietzsche’s conception of eternal return.  In this thought experiment, one posits that every life being lived has already been lived and will continue to be lived in precisely the same manner for all of eternity.  In this sense, all that happens has occurred already and could not have (and won’t in the infinite loop of recurrence) occur any other way.  It can be said, therefore, that all experience and circumstance is determined (although not predetermined, as we must differentiate between what simply must happen and what is designed to happen).  Nietzsche concludes that this thought experiment, whether it is a reflection of actuality or not, is tremendously frightening to most people who, at the thought of reliving every preceding experience in precisely the same manner, are dissatisfied at in two related ways.  Firstly, dissatisfaction arises from knowing that every non-pleasurable experience must be experienced again without hope of a different outcome.  Secondly, the knowledge that all of existence can, does, has, and will unfold in a singular way causes a feeling of entrapment, as it is easy to feel that agency is stripped from the individual when one considers that his/her ‘choices’ do not coexist with popular conceptions of freedom and will. 
                It must also be considered, however, that the eternal return scenario enables a variety of freedom unique not experienced by most people.  This freedom, I believe, is rooted in a kind of relieved meaninglessness.  If one accepts that his/her actions are not the product of individual will and agency but instead of immutable determinism, he/she is free to experience for the sake of experience alone.  In other words, despite the invisibility of the ‘future’ (which, in this thought experiment, doesn’t exist in relation to typical understanding), one can find solace in realizing that prior notions of moral and ethical obligations are not owned or enacted with purely independent agency by specific people.  Instead, one is free to simply enjoy the experience of living with the comforting knowledge that all which happens is entirely unchangeable. 
                In order to reach this point of acceptance, however, one must be at least satisfied enough with the experience of experiencing to justify the continuation of living.  If presented with this thought experiment as truth, it would be irrational for the predominantly dissatisfied alive person to continue living. 
                Given the implied meaninglessness in this philosophy, I am curious about the relationship of the eternal return scenario with epicureanism, hedonism, and nihilism. 

Illness and the Ubermensch

This week in class we talked about the ubermensch or the ‘overman’ or ‘superman’ and how he is the future of mankind (gendered language here and in the rest of the post is Nietzsche’s not mine). While this ubermensch will go beyond man as he is thought of today, he will also come from man in an almost dialectical manner. If we see our current (slave morality) views of human beings as the thesis, then Nietzsche is arguing that we need an antithesis. This can be seen in the way Nietzsche characterizes exactly what the sickness of bad conscience is. “The bad conscience is an illness, there is no doubt about that, but an illness as pregnancy is an illness” (88). Pregnancy is first of all an illness that can only last for a certain length of time. After nine months, either the illness kills you, or you are then able to return to being healthy. Also, pregnancy is a kind of illness for the mother, but is not for the baby. In fact, it is only because of the illness that the baby can be. It is also only because the mother endures the illness and does not seek treatment for it that the baby is allowed to be born. This ‘illness’ is both a positive and negative symptom of modern society and slave morality. It is positive because it leads to the ubermensch, but it is also negative because it is a kind of nihilism that is life-denying.

Nietzsche describes this illness in reference to Europe. “Here precisely is what has become a fatality for Europe – together with the fear of man we have also lost our love of him, our reverence for him, our hopes for him, even the will to him. The sight of man now makes us weary-what is nihilism today if it is not that? – We are weary of man” (44). Here Nietzsche is recognizing the illness as nihilism, but rather than remove the problem, he is in fact advocating that we must embrace man. This does not mean that we look past his faults, but rather that we recognize the illness for what it is, and move beyond our current, nihilistic conception of ourselves. At the end of the second essay, Nietzsche argues that the “man of the future” will “redeem us not only from the hitherto reigning ideal but also from that which was bound to grow out of it, the great nausea, the will to nothingness, nihilism” (96). This man of the future is not just wishful thinking, but “he must come one day” (ibid).

Given Nietzsche’s insistence on necessity, it makes sense that this man of the future must come. But what will this look like exactly? Is it Hegelian/Marxian insofar as it is a dialectical process?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Necessity and Value

Last class Dr. J mentioned an asphorism from The Gay Science about necessity. Here's a part of that asphorism:

"But how could we presume to blame or praise the universe? Let us be on our guard against ascribing to it heartlessness and unreason, or their opposites; it is neither perfect, nor beautiful, nor noble; nor does it seek to be anything of the kind, it does not at all attempt to imitate man! It is altogether unaffected by our aesthetic and moral judgments! Neither has it any self-preservative instinct, nor instinct at all; it also knows no law. Let us be on our guard against saying that there are laws in nature. There are only necessities: there is no one who commands, no one who obeys, no one who transgresses. When you know that there is no design, you know also that there is no chance: for it is only where there is a world of design that the word 'chance' has a meaning" (Book III, paragraph 109).

Nietzsche's point here is similar to the one he makes in the Geneology of Morals about the strong acting strong and the weak acting week. It is absurd (says Nietzsche) to fault the strong for being strong. It is who they are. In both texts, what Neitzsche is basically saying is that there is no such thing as an 'ought' claim, only 'is' claims. Saying something ought to be a certain way can be true regardless of whether that thing is that way or not. For Neitzsche, this is complete fiction. We may be able to imagine the ability to make such claims, but they have no relationship to the real world. According to this logic, morality is meaningless because it prescribes normative claims about the way we should act.

By arguing this, Nietzsche’s critique goes beyond the current ‘slavish’ moral systems we have today. Yes, asking the strong to be weak is absurd, but in a way, so is asking them to be strong. If Nietzsche is right, then ‘asking’ to do anything is not appropriate, regardless of what we are asking. The insight that ‘there are only necessities’ not only questions the legitimacy of slave morality, but also any kind morality in general. It questions the possibility of values in general. If everything is necessity, then my choosing to value something as good or bad (or any other value for that matter) is also a necessity. In this way, the noble morality falls into a similar problem if it is articulated as the principle ‘might is right’ or ‘might determines right.’ What this principle assumes is that the strong deserve to make choices about what good and bad mean. But this is just as problematic as allowing the weak to determine good and evil.

Perhaps this is why in addition to warning us that we shouldn’t think of the world as perfect, eautiful, or noble, we should also “guard against ascribing to it heartlessness and unreason.” The universe is neither organized nor unorganized, it just is. This appears to me to be a very strange metaphysical stance. It seems like such a world is devoid of any meaning. While many have argued that Nietzsche is a nihilist, Nietzsche himself says that nihilism is one of the worst consequences of slave morality and is something he wants to avoid.

How can Nietzsche advocate for a particular way of looking at the world when there is only necessity? Nietzsche often uses medical metaphors, arguing that people in the modern world are ‘sick.’ How can Nietzsche make a judgment claim about sickness? Why not prefer sickness to health? Sickness, after all, is a natural phenomenon. Isn’t it ‘necessary’ for people in the modern world to be sick?

Judgments as Rank-Ordering

Last class, we emphasized the point that all value judgments should be regarded as rank-ordering and rank-establishing. This is a striking statement, but with some thinking I think we can confidently conclude that it is true. It seems intrinsic to the very nature of what values are (however we may disagree on the finer points) and what judgments do: Values, by definition, are attached to things in order to set them apart as "higher" in some respect, so a value judgment should be establishing something as higher than something else -- at least in some sense. Generally, I think this statement is fairly uncontroversial; however, it does get a little tricky when we examine moral judgments as a subcategory of value judgments. Some of us might be hesitant to admit moral judgments as rank-ordering as well. I still think, however, that it holds that all value judgments, including moral ones, intend to establish rank, and I will attempt here to defend why.

The protest might go: "If we subscribe to some moral system (e.g., a deontological theory like Kant's), then our judgments/actions are not motivated to establish rank but rather to do the right/good thing (like acting for the sake of duty and the moral law). I think Nietzsche's naturalist approach will be helpful in seeing how even these moral judgments/actions are still in fact rank-ordering. Given Nietzsche's set-up of master (aristocratic, Homeric, etc.) values and the oppression experienced by slave peoples, it seems then that moral theories, or morality in general, seem to arise as an expression of ressentiment of these slaves. The very nature of this expression is indicative of the higher motive to invert the values of master morality. We should note a distinction here, a sort of dual-way we can look at morality: either as (1) within a moral system or (2) outside of a moral system (such as the naturalist perspective). Within the confines of a given moral system, actions and judgments are never regarded as rank-ordering. However, if we step outside of these confines into the perspective of the naturalist observer, we see that these ostensibly "good deeds" actually have an ulterior motive to invert the values of the master class -- and inverting values is in fact one way of establishing rank. The ulterior motive of any morality project then seems intrinsically rank-ordering.

For comments, is there a way that we can view morality from an objective third-person standpoint (not as an adherent to the moral system) and still see moral judgments as actions as genuinely for the sake of the good, or are we forced to admit that there is always an ulterior rank-ordering motive?