Monday, March 9, 2009

The Unfaithful Nietzsche

For some reason, yet unseen, I felt like calling my post 'The Faithful Nietzsche' would be an insult to him. Nevertheless, what I've read so far (Tanner's introduction in my text, the Preface, and chapter 1) has been an exhilarating ride. I laughed A LOT! But with that laughter comes a fear that wells up inside. What Nietzsche does is what I remember accusing philosophers of doing when I first began my studies of them a few years ago. He demands that we pay attention to what philosophers are saying from the view that they already know where they want to go! They are just trying to find a way to reason themselves to the conclusion they already maintained! Even worse, I think, is that they then want to apply this term 'truth' to their experience driven-reasonably construed constructions.

Hmmmm.... I've opened up two avenues for discussion and I'm not sure which I value more here.

Fear first, I guess. It is one thing to sit back and enjoy the ride that Beyond Good and Evil takes us on: philosophers, one after another, are set up and knocked down. It's all fine and dandy when Nietzsche is doing that to other's ideas that we don't subscribe to. However, as one proceeds in the reading a kind of tightness wells up in one's gut. This is the feeling that everything is going to go under the microscope. Of course, my beliefs are beyond scrutiny... Or are they? When it's my turn to be looked at am I just as guilty of putting the "cart before the horse?" Uh oh. Please ignore me in my happy little corner over here. But really, that's only an initial fear, I think, for those that truly love what we do, we appreciate our ideas being scrutinized and diminished where they are weak. After all, the process may hurt our egos a little, but don't we come out on the other side either determined to strengthen our arguments or modifying them and, thus, ourselves into something that is at least more defensible? Fear is just the instinctual loathing of the idea of being attacked translated from the realm of the physical to the intellectual. When we reflect on it, even briefly, at least to those who want our ideas to be functional, coherent, and defensible, we should embrace scrutiny. It is ultimately the only way that we can grow. Self-scrutiny fails to be a complete project. I believe we have a natural inclination to endow our ideas with neatly affixed labels that say things like 'Absolutely True,' 'Most Certainly the Case,' 'Of Course!' Unfortunately, this inclination leads us to just file those taken (as in 'we are taken with them' in a romantic sense) ideas as such and never hold them up to the light of day for all to see and ponder. In order for a belief to be justified this 'holding up of' process must take place. Scrutiny is a part of justification.

The other thing - the "cart before the horse" thing - I find a harder time criticizing these days. To me this is just a consequence of being alive. Sure, we would all like to think that we reason to ideas, but that doesn't appear to be the case at all. Our actions are justified only after we perform them and typically only when we are called on to do so. Think about it, it's true, generally speaking. Even when we sit down to specifically reason to a belief it's because a belief that we maintained was called into question and shown to be unjustified. This process occurs because a belief no longer maintains our system of coherence and we must find something to plug the gap. The thing I can appreciate that Nietzsche is saying is that it's all just a perspective. I'm hoping as we progress that he will say that perspective is all we have, though, so, that's ultimately okay. If his message is that we should merely be aware of this (and I suspect as much, given his treatment of the Stoics) and proceed with caution, then I'm quite happy. If something else is going on, I worry for my sanity! ;)

1 comment:

  1. I seem to have had many of the same feelings as you had when reading this. His critic of philosophers made me seriously think about what I have been reading and all the essays that I have studied. I think at times he makes a point this is one of the worries of philosophy. Philosophy doesn't seem to have a field that checks it, instead it checks itself so I could see how at times philosophers may have gotten ahead of themselves and manipulated an argument to support an already held belief instead of searching for the best answer. However, I don't think that this is really what is going on in philosophy for the most part. What I worry about is that if this view is held when reading philosophy then wont we most likely miss the point of what could have been a very well thought out essay that gives great insight into how the world is? I think it is important to remember that in philosophy(as with all fields of study) the claim of having absolute certainty about anything is just not going to happen thus dogma is our problem. Nietzsche points out dogma as the enemy a few times but I feel he seemed to not only target dogma but the actual being the issue. I could be completely misunderstanding him but my feel is that while he is strongly against the dogma of philosophers he seems to be mostly upset by the fact that these philosophers were wrong. In my thinking being wrong is something inevitable in life but being dogmatic and claiming to have found truth and absolute certainty when such claims are most likely impossible are what troubles me much more than people who are merely wrong.