Will to Power (Nietzsche): Lectures 19-24

The last of my sketchy notes from Will to Power (Higgins & Solomon/The Learning Company)…

(I know a few of you are actually following these notes. Please forgive the typos! I’ll eventually clean them up, but I primarily write them for my own understanding and future reference so am not as careful with them as I am other posts. My apologies!)  

Morality

Nietzsche distinguishes between Morality with a capital M and morality with a lowercase m. Different societies have different moralities which is morality with a lowercase m and in the plural. To have an individual morality is to have a rank order of values.

Morality with a capital M, on the other hand, is Morality in the singular. This understanding of Morality is objective and writ large.

Nietzsche attacks singular Morality. He doesn’t attack individual plural morality.

There are no moral facts There are only moral interpretations of facts. Values are not facts in the world and if one appeals to a morality in which these are supposed to be objective, one is always going to be subverting oneself because this is not the nature of values. (The Commandments/facts about human nature are examples of objectified values.)

Values aren’t “in the world”. But they aren’t subjective or personal, either. The truth is more complicated and Nietzsche saw through this very clearly. He was probably one of the first philosophers to do so. To ask if values are in the world or in us doesn’t make sense.

Hume said the values were in us, not in the world. But Hume admitted that when we are worried about values, morality, human behavior, etc. – the question about whether values are in the world is of no interest whatsoever. This is where Nietzsche picks him up. What matters is is what is valuable for life. We experience the world in value laden terms and there is no way to get beyond that. That’s what makes us who we are. It doesn’t matter if it is subjective or objective. What are the values and how do we negotiate them given that different cultures have different values?

Values are culture specific. Different groups have different senses of morality. One of the big issues in the U.S. is always which of these singular moralities with a lowercase “m” are we going to make binding on everyone as a Morality with a capital M? This is what Nietzsche says we have to reject. We have to reject that values were given to us with a capital M from God.

“Thou shalt not” are prohibitions. Morality is seen in terms of what we should not do. Morality with a capital “M” is negative and prohibitive. God given morality is rejected by Nietzsche because the idea of an externally imposed morality is unnatural. We have to understand morality as coming from us.

The modern and most philosophical notion of Morality with a capital “M” is from Kant. Kant said there was a Moral Law and called it “The Categorical Imperative”. It is a command and it is absolutely unexceptional. “Thou Shalt” – no exceptions. Kant has in mind the singular sense of Morality (capital M).

Kant says that we should “Act always that others should act likewise.” We should ask: “What if everyone were to do what it is I am doing?” When you universalize in this way, you take morality out of experience and now understand it as a product of pure, practical reason. It is a rational phenomenon, not an experiential phenomenon. As you universalize as a test of morality, it becomes a rule for everyone. But this doesn’t work. Applying the rule to everyone almost always benefits some and disadvantages others. Universalization isn’t as fair as Kant wants it to be.

Nietzsche says applying the same rule to everyone destroys the exceptions. Nietzsche is always interested in the exceptions. We each have our own individual moralities. Morality (lower case “m”) must come from within – and those are the values worth defending. This is a defense of life in all it’s various forms. It’s the inclinations which give us morality. It is not a rational enterprise.

But even so, to say inclination is good and rationalism is bad is stupid. Some inclinations are healthy and enhance life. Others are stupid and drag life down. It is life itself that is the value. Life by it’s nature is confusing. It is diverse. The defense of life is a defense of diversity. The defense of the individual is a defense of vitality.

Are our values healthy or sick? Do they support life or drag it down? Nietzsche says externally imposed values are unhealthy. Asceticism is life denying. Rational principals are also life denying because they are externally imposed. Reason is opposed to nature in the way Kant uses reason.

Nietzsche likewise attacks modernity. He saw democracy and socialism as a leveling devices. American consumerism makes us all equal in that we have spending power. But it removes any sense of value but the market value.

Immoralism (Virtue, Self & Selfishness)

Nietzsche was a kind and gentle person. His last sane act was to hug a horse to save it from a beating. Nietzsche rejects morality as something universal. Nietzsche did not kill, steal, or commit adultery. He honored his mother and father. He obeyed the commandments but he objected to the idea that these commandments were externally imposed.

He doesn’t reject the content of the commandments. What he rejects is the idea that breaking the commandments relegates people to the realm of evil. That doesn’t explain anything. that they break the commandments consistently is a psychological, sociological problem.

Nietzsche doesn’t reject rational principals. What he rejects is the rationalization of rationality and morality. Kant separates inclinations from reason and says reason is the realm of morality. But once you do that, once you ascertain a person’s moral worth is based upon the moral law itself, you are pushing out of view the inclinations and saying they don’t matter – that we shouldn’t bother looking at them. This pushes aside the actual motives of our behavior in favor of doing the rational thing. But human beings are rarely motivated by what is reasonable, rational, or moral.

Kant says we are not in a position to know what the motives of our behavior actually are. Freud says philosophers before him introduced the unconsciousness. He just made it scientific. Kant was one of the philosophers he was referring to. In Germany, the idea of unconscious has a long picture of motivation as mysterious. Kant uses the unconscious as a way of remaining oblivious to the motivations Nietzsche wants to expose.

For Nietzsche, a kindly act that is understood as acting on principal may very well be motivated by an urge for superiority, a kind of contempt or self-defense. Kant doesn’t let us see this motivation. Instead he gives us a system of rationalizations.

A principal of morality may be perceived as absolute but it often involves all kinds of fiddling. If you have an abstract moral principal, the application of that principal is going to require some gerrymandering and fiddling to apply to the particular case and then it becomes a rationalization. It operates in such a way that doesn’t require we look at the actual motivations behind our behavior. It is possible to be a good person by not doing anything wrong. The focus is never on what you did wonderful – it’s on what you did or didn’t do wrong. For Nietzsche, this is a definition of the sickly. Being a good person and living a good life on those terms doesn’t amount to living a life at all. Existence requires commitment, passion, vibrancy, adventure.

Modern philosophy thinks of ethics in terms of Kant and John Stuart Mill. Kant represents rational principal; Mill emphasizes the general good. These are essentially the same because they are involved with rational principals.

Jesus present Kant with a moral problem. the temptation of Christ shows a person so perfect where the individual is not at war with universal morality. To say Jesus is a good person does not fit.

What ethics consists of are excellences (this comes from Aristotle). To think in terms of virtues is not about being good or obeying rules. It is about being excellent. To be excellent is to be exceptional – not to be like everyone else, The test of having a virtue is that you enjoy doing it. It’s not about being like everyone else.

Nietzsche the Immoralist; Genealogy of Morals

Even now what is sick may have once served healthy moral values. Morality is not just about doing what you want to do. It must also be noble. Mozart doing what he wants to do is noble because his creation of music benefits everyone.

Master morality is doing what you want to do. Slave morality is not doing what you want to do: asceticism, slavery, etc. It’s also following gurus rather than finding your own way.

Morality with a capital M comes about through slavery and persecution. It is a reaction to Master morality.

The term “good” comes from an ancient root which means warrior. It has to do with confidence and price – self-esteem. “I am my own ideal.” It is about pursuing a sense of excellence which is one’s own and that is what the word good means.

The term “bad”, on the otherhand,’ refers to what is pathetic, failure, weakness, pathos, vulgar, what is unsatisfying. Masters speak in terms of doing what they want to do and following this in a straightforward way. Slaves speak in terms of prohibition. “Thous Shalt Not”…. (Not doing what you want to do.)

Nietzsche considered the original development of slave morality a step in the right direction: “The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives births to values.” The way the masters behave, doing anything they want, is not something to admire. It is something despise . If the slaves were in the role of the master, they would not want to behave in that way. If you make masters evil, you can consider yourself good. This is the opposite of the Master view. Masters view themselves as good without question. People who are different from them are bad (unsatisfied, vulgar, etc.)

Master morality is about good and bad. Slave morality is about good and evil. Slaves have to conclude they are good by seeing someone as worse than them (the Masters). What good amounts to in the slave morality point of view is not directly asserting yourself. It involves having more self-control and they veiw the masters as people who haven’t learned these traits. They haven’t learned to internally disrespect what externally they might go along with. this internal move on the part of the slaves Nietzsche thinks is a brilliant bit of psychology. But the problem is that it later ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy that keeps the slave in a secondary position. there is no immediate view of self-worth without the view that someone else is evil.

Nietzsche calls it a transvaluation of values. Evil is doing what those guys do that they think is good. Good is not doing all that. Wealthy is viewed as evil. Strength, power, warrior virtues are flipped and meekness instead is what is seen as virtuous. In modern times, this is like saying ignorance is bliss when knowledge is the virtue of master morality.

How did slave morality become Morality with a capital M? When Constantine converted to Christianity and made Rome a Christian nation around 330 A.D.

Bad consciousness is the twist between master morality and slave morality in all of us. Where both exist, slave morality is likely to take over. Solomon offers an example. Consider a Baboon who exhibits Master Morality. He does whatever it is he wants to do. But he is placed in a zoo and is told stories about the Zoo Keeper who will do horrible things to him if he makes an exception of himself. The Baboon is master of the Baboon world, but the Zoo Keeper will become his Master. This presents a conflict. The Baboon will very likely give in and try and make himself seem like every other Baboon so as not to anger the Zoo Keeper.

Master morality lends itself to a Virtue Ethics. Slave morality lends itself to a Kantian/Judeo-Christian analysis where ethics is understood as universal and the rules are externally imposed and they apply in just the same way to everyone.

Slave morality was originally a good move. But it no longer serves us. Nietzsche doesn’t think we can go back to Master Morality. That’s not possible. But we can move beyond good and evil.

Resentment, Revenge and Justice

The French Ressentiment differs from the English Resentment. Resentment is a much stronger term. Ressentiment means irritation. Resentment seeks revenge. It is a viscous attack. Resentment is a strategy. It turns failure into virtue. It requires putting other people down and getting even with them for their superiority. Resentment is brilliant. The idea is kill someone without them even knowing you killed them.

Revenge is the original meaning of the world justice. Self-revenge is getting even with oneself for doing so well.

As we get used to judging on the basis of negating what is outside of us in order to feel good about ourselves (the blame game), we are constantly at war with ourselves about our excellence. the initially healthy move made by early Christians and Ancient Hebrews of turning the tables on Master Morality has become so internalized that there is almost no way we can get enough support to gain a good opinion of ourselves through our negative views of what is outside of ourselves. We are forced to drag our view down of everyone else in order to make ourselves feel relatively good. But this doesn’t work. It doesn’t provide us with self-esteem.

Nietzsche wages war on guilt and sin. The type of guilt he’s referring to is inward guilt – the belief that we are inherently deficient. Nietzsche says this is an unhealthy way of viewing the self and that it creates resentment.

Sin is judgment from another plane. It is not against oneself or against others but against God. It is impossible to live a sinless life based on the conventional definition of sin. Psychologically what this creates is a need to blame others for our faults.

We are so habituated to the Christian story and we are so obsessed with the need for a God that we will accept anyone who we think adjudicates across the board. This is how Nazism came to power.

Nietzsche calls slaves, not masters, brilliant and strategic. Hegel likewise has Master and Slave switch roles as a battle for recognition. The loser becomes the master slave. The slave becomes creative. The master falls into the slavish dependent position of having to be like others. Nietzsche wants those who are creative and talented but suppressed to turn that around.

Is there a difference between justice and vengeance? Another form of justice is the idea that goods are equally and fairly distributed. Nietzsche has mixed views about justice. He talks about herd morality and uses this term because Herd is considered to be the Christian flock of sheep that are difficult to distinguish but the good shepherd can recognize each individual one. What has happened to this notion of individual differences? Different individuals have different things to contribute to society. But people want to think of justice as an absolute, Nietzsche says it is better to think of justice as personal virtue. Forgiveness is important in this sense, but not as a strategem for getting even. If we have enough going on in our lives, then it becomes easy not to worry about what someone else has done to us.

Will to Power

Solomon and Higgins don’t think Will to Power is central to Nietzsche’s philosophy like other philosophers do. The Will to Power is systematically misleading. Nietzsche doesn’t mean will or power and he probably doesn’t mean “the” or “to”, either.

For Schopenhauer, the will is not individual, it is inside all of us. For Kant, it is individual, but it is external and lies behind our actions. We choose them – we will them. Nietzsche rejects both notions. He maintains Kant’s idea that the will is individualistic, but he rejects the idea of “the will”. He says it is a fiction. Will, in the Kantian sense, is nonsense. There is no agency or force behind “the will”. With Schopenhauer’s understanding, Nietzsche says the idea of a universal will is a metaphysical fiction. Will, for Nietzsche, is really more like motive.

Power is likewise problematic. It is often understood as political or military power. But the term for this in German is “reich”. Nietzsche uses the term “macht” which translates into English as the will to be alive, to feel vital and creative. In this sense, saying “the will” makes no sense. And “to” indicates a goal orientation that Nietzsche rejects. For Nietzsche, “The Will to Power” represents the present – not the future. It is never extinguished. No individual goal can satisfy it. It’s always a drive to enhance vitality and express oneself. The Will to Power cannot be predicted in advance. Any particular goal is a manifestation of The Will to Power. When one goal is fulfilled, another one takes its place.

Life consists of doing what you love. this isn’t imposed on you from the outside. It is discovered by trial and error. If you want to succeed, do what you love. The problem with goal setting is that if you set power as a goal, you make success far less likely. Likewise, to say “I want to be happy” is self-defeating.

Life is a process. It is ongoing. Life is exciting. It is dangerous. It involves taking risks. This thinking is in conflict with Darwin who talks about survival of the fittest. Goals should not be about survival. They should be about being a great “this” or a great “that”. It is the exercise of excellence.

Life is cruel. That’s the way it is. To say we strive for pleasure and an avoidance of pain is likewise a faulty understanding. Creativity doesn’t offer a point of satisfaction. We are desiring creatures. To think in terms of complacency or contentment is to deny the kind of creatures we are.

The Ubermensch is an ideal. It is a full manifestation of “The Will to Power”.

Eternal Recurrence

The idea that time repeats itself over and over again is an ancient idea. Time as a wheel was an understanding in Zarathustra’s Persia; the Vedic Philosophy of India, Ancient Greece (through Heraclitus, the Stoics, and the Pythagoreans). But Christian Orthodoxy rejected it. The church insisted that history is linear. The atonement would be a linear event in time. The Church said that there is only one time and it is linear.

In his notes, Nietzsche plays with a proof for Eternal Recurrence. It goes something like this: Time is infinite. there is a finite number of energy packets (energy states) and consequently a finite number of sequences of energy packets. In the infinity of time, the number of sequences is going to have to repeat itself an infinite number of times.

This proof is obviously flawed and Nietzsche never intended to publish it. But that doesn’t mean Nietzsche doesn’t believe in Eternal recurrence.

If you were to take this thought seriously – that your life is going to be repeated an infinite number of times, then the weight it gives to this life and the moments of this life is incalculable compared to the Christian image that this life is but a blink and it is the next life, the eternal life, that gets all the weight.

Milan Kundera in his book The Unbearable Lightness of Being, played with Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence. If events repeat themselves an infinite number of time and consequently have a certain amount of weight because of this repetition, would we be able to tolerate the idea of that much weight on the way we live our lives instead of rationalizing our lives? The rationalization goes like this:

This will be over soon, then I’ll get what I want. If I just put up with the job now, I’ll get the promotion in the future. There is yet another world waiting for me that is more perfect than this one.

What if, instead, we took the moments of our lives seriously?

The Nietzschean alternative to Christian consciousness where we are always looking forward to the next life is this idea of eternal recurrence. We are so used to thinking of life as linear that it is difficult to understand the idea of time as circular in many cultures (current and ancient). The problem is that we can’t know the difference between an occurrence and a recurrence.

There is a deep prejudice against eternal recurrence in the Judeo-Christian world because of the belief in “free will” even though there is some evidence for it in physics. Nietzsche says that the idea of “free will” is often used as and excuse for blame. It leads to a general reinforcement of uglifying the world around you in order to feel good.

Nietzsche thinks our primary freedom is how we deal with internal drives. Freedom is to feel free to actively engage in your life. To deal with life in the present and fully be yourself. This is the only freedom we have and thankfully is the only one we really want because it is readily available to us all the time.

Nietzsche was clear that there is a sense of immortality for those who excel. Not as in an afterlife, but in the same sense Homer is immortal through his works.

Nietzsche gave meaning to his life by doing something that went beyond his life. Becoming who you are doesn’t end in death. Events after death deeply affect one’s flourishing. [Which makes me think of Solomon, who is dead, but here I am watching a lecture by him as though he is alive.]

Nietzsche says “become who you are”. So who does Nietzsche want us to be? He won’t offer concrete advice. Instead he says in The Gay Science: Give style to your character. Love who you are and what you have to work with and make something beautiful out of it.

The slave takes his flaws and turns them into weapons by re-describing them as good. Nietzsche is a sick lonely man. What do you do when you find yourself alienated from other people? Nietzsche gave shape to himself. The man with the mustache becomes irrelevant to the creation Nietzsche has become.

It’s an art of transfiguration. This is about taking your own traits and giving them a setting. Taking the resources you have and creating a masterpiece. Our endowments are not virtues until we figure out a creative way to use them.

The individual plays off other people and vice versa. If we becomes ourselves, we positively affect others.

Solomon and Higgins conclude the lecture with a quote from Nietzsche:

Whoever has really gazed down with an Asiatic and Super-Asiatic eye into the most world denying of all possible modes of thought (beyond good and evil) and no longer, like Buddha and Schopenhauer, under the spell of morality. Perhaps by this very act without really desiring it may have opened himself to this opposite ideal. The ideal of the most high spirited, energetic, world affirming man who has not only come to terms with and assimilated with what it is but wants to have it again as it was and is for all eternity – insatiably calling out, “Once more”.

Will to Power (Nietzsche): Lectures 13-18

Continued notes from Will to Power (Higgins and Solomon)…

Love Pity and Resentment

  • There is a dichotomy that occurs between doing the right thing and doing what you want to do (self-interest). Nietzsche questions this dichotomy and says that very often that self-interest may be the right thing to do and the right thing to do may be self-interest. People do what it is they are motivated to do. When you practice benevolence you are often practicing a form of subtle revenge. Also, if someone is suffering and I feel pity for them, I’m not making them feel any better. By suffering with them, I’m not making them feel any better. I don’t reduce the suffering, I increase it. Pity for someone casts them into an inferior role. When you pity them, you no longer fear them. You are superior.
  • How much can we actually empathize with another person? When we pity someone with insight and empathy we can understand that we share the world and are subject to the same plight. This is Schopenhauer’s stance. We realize we are all inferior and subject to the same plight. We are victims. Nietzsche says this is pathetic. To think we are all victims together is not a noble notion. He says the idea of compassion is a hypocrisy.
  • Ressintement (Resentment) seems to be a justified and reasonable response to injustice but really it is nothing more than a sense of hopelessness.
  • Guilt goes along with resentment. The major thrust of Christianity is to cure the problem of guilt. But Christianity created the problem of guilt; Christianity makes people feel guilty and then offers them a way out of the guilt. That’s hypocritical.

Love & Friendship

  • Love is a longing for something far beyond oneself.
  • Christian love doesn’t emphasize friendship and it de-sexualizes love. Nietzsche rejects this. Love always has a sexual element.
  • Marriage is a long conversation.
  • A friendship based on mutual enjoyment is much different than a friendship based on mutual advantage. Enjoying someone is much better than using someone for advantage. But even more important is friendship based on mutual admiration – one that makes us want to be a better person because of the relationship. Aristotle said this was the key to friendship.
  • Friendship is also about mutual inspiration.

Women

  • Nietzsche is often thought of as sexist. Some of his comments do seem very sexist but when understood in context, they aren’t as sexist as they first appear.
  • Nietzsche says “Supposing truth is a woman, what then?” (Truth in German is a feminine noun.) People think this is a sexist comment but it isn’t. Nietzsche assumes women are psychologically complex and suggests by this aphorism that truth, like a woman, is reticent to be known. It has to be wooed. (Women are resistant to male demands.) Like a woman for a desiring man, truth cannot ultimately be had.
  • In Beyond Good & Evil (pp. 231-239), he prefaces his comments about women as the comments being “only my truths”. He recognizes that women may not agree with his ideas about them. (That the female perspective is very likely different than his perspective.) He says that women want to debunk fantasies men have had about themselves and that this is not a persuasive approach. It’s giving control to consciousness what is better left to instinct. They are buying into a game men have been harmed by. Nietzsche tries to understand an alternative consciousness – that of women. In doing so, he upholds perspectivism. He doesn’t think women should be more like men. They have will of their own. They have a different perspective than men and this perspective is beneficial.

Top 10

This lecture provided a list of Nietzsche’s top 10 favorite philosophers and top 10 least favorite philosophers. I didn’t write them all down, but here are a few…

  • Spinoza is on the list of favorites. Nietzsche recognized himself in Spinoza. They had much in common: Love of fate; the rejection of pity; naturalism; the attempt to understand the individual in the context of the whole
  • Emerson is also on the list of favorites. (He’s the only American on either list.) Some of Nietzsche’s ideas have names that come from Emerson. Emerson talked about the Oversoul, Nietzsche’s Ubermensch (Overman) is a very similar idea. Emerson talked about the joyous science. Nietzsche uses the term “gay science”. Emerson talked about the “death of God and, like Nietzsche, he rejected orthodox theology for religious reasons.
  • Kant is one of Nietzsche’s favorite and least favorite philosophers. He greatly admires Kant but he also criticizes him because he doesn’t propose something naturalistic. He proposes something dictated to us – even if it is reason doing the dictating.
  • Martin Luther is one of Nietzsche’s least favorite philosophers. Much of Nietzsche’s thought shows clear Lutheran underpinnings. Nietzsche sees depravity in Luther that he rejects.
  • St. Paul is one of Nietzsche’s least favorite philosophers. He is an opportunist. A propogandist. Paul had no use for the life of the redeemer. Paul’s philosophy required the crucifixion. Paul was resentful and had no use for life.
  • Absurd rationality leads to the idea that life is worthless.

History

  • Hegel said that spirit is this worldly. It’s a sort of cosmic consciousness. It’s isn’t otherworldly. Nietzsche agrees with this understanding of spirit.
  • Hegel invented history. The question of whether truth changes through time were not questions actively raised until Hegel. He makes this question a central focus and this thesis is very close to Nietzsche’s. The truth of history is the truth of change. There are many truths and these truths can contradict each other. It isn’t a matter of which ones are right and which ones are wrong. It’s a matter of which are more developed, which are more naive, which are one sided, which take account of others.
  • Hegel said Bacchanalian revel was the truth of philosophy in general. this is very similar to Nietzsche’s Dionysian metaphor. Philosophy is not a neat linear progression. It is not a matter of rational thinking. It is a passionate mess. It is complicated and unresolved.
  • Philosophers conflict and they build on one another in a patterned way. (Not that there is a purpose behind it all – a teleology). Something emerging in a patterned way is what Nietzsche’s genealogy is all about.
  • Darwin said that man is not the ultimate stage but a stepping stone to something else. Nietzsche was against the idea of “the survival of the fittest” because he said it had not been fully established. He says it is about a struggle for power. Nietzsche interprets Darwin as an English theologian – that we are at the end of evolution and man is the result. Social Darwinism says only the fittest societies survive. It is a moral philosophy. Those that perish were meant to perish. those that survive were meant to survive. It’s a harsh doctrine and Nietzsche rejects it. Nietzsche’s had a far more artistic sense. For Nietzsche, it’s not just a matter of simple survival, it is a matter of creativity and imagination. Those who survive are the most creative. What comes out of natural selection in terms of society isn’t the best, it is the weakest; the most common; the most repulsive. The cockroach is most likely the most fit. But is this the best?
  • Nietzsche’s Last Man is most likely the fittest in terms of natural selection. But if it is up to us to choose through our ability to create, is this what we want to choose? Do we want to be the ultimate couch potato living safely and comfortably. Or do we want to live a more risky, creative existence?
  • What we call truth are those things that best lead to human survival. Evolution tells us why we believe what it is we believe not by justifying belief but by showing the place beliefs play in a flourishing life.
  • History can be a form of the “other-worldly” because it is based on the past. But you can’t just go back to the past. You have to live in the here and now.
  • History is essential for many things, but it is not an ends in itself.
  • How do we find a perspective where history affirms life? Antiquarian History is a way of appreciating our past that doesn’t involve white washing. Greece was a culture steeped in cruelty. It’s not enough to just look at the nice parts but as it really was. Our history, ugly or beautiful, is part of what makes us what we are.
  • The underlying value must always be life itself.

Nihilism

  • Nihilism was originally understood as something akin to teenage rebellion. It was a rejection of tradition. Nietzsche rejected German Society so in this sense he could be called a nihilist. But he didn’t reject society altogether.
  • Nietzsche defined nihilism as the highest values devaluing themselves. He’s talking about two values in particular: moral values and the values of the Judeo/Christian tradition. Religion and morality are his focus.
  • Skepticism is healthy. Cynicism is an unhealthy denial of life. Trial and error is skepticism. Cynicism is being tired and weary – being so skeptical that you aren’t open to anything. It doesn’t allow for possibilities. It is closed rather than open.
  • Nietzsche is against Nihilism. But he refuses to take “the truth” as something fixed, absolute and easily accessible. We create the truth through our experience and our living. He is a nihilist in terms of knowledge.
  • If Christians are honest, it doesn’t take much to realize that God is not central to their conception of the real world. Realistically, the Christian God no longer played a major role. Our culture is no longer centered on this God – whether we uphold the idea or not.
  • Are the values we once held valuable? Values change. Perhaps they were reasonable moves at one time but they are no longer valuable.
  • Schopenhauer said asceticism was a way to make life good – renounce the will and maintain peace. Nietzsche rejects this. To fast for the sake of fasting or to sacrifice for the sake of sacrifice makes no sense to him. Is there a deeper motive for asceticism? Someone able to control impulses often feels superior and self-righteous.
  • Nietzsche sees science as having been pursued as a sort of Goethean selling the soul to the devil. The desire for truth is a desire to align finite powers with the infinite. With this thinking, one becomes a representative of humanity rather than an individual. Nietzsche says the scientific world view is a shadow of God that still lingers with us. It’s important not to transpose habits of the past to a scientific world view. We need to resuscitate our powers and not transfer them to the Christian God or some dream of nature we know nothing about.

Will to Power (Nietzsche): Lecture 12, Freedom and Will to Power

This lecture (Higgins & Solomon) was of particular interest to me:

The main thing that distinguishes Nietzsche from the existentialists is that he rejects the existential notion of freedom. Sartre’s understanding of freedom is that it is entirely up to us what it is we become. It’s almost as though we are given a blank slate and can write upon it (besides where we were born, how old we are, etc.) whatever it is we choose to write upon it.

This is not how Nietzsche understands freedom. Nietzsche’s idea of freedom can be summarized in one phrase: “Become who you are”. This is not the same thing as the meaningless comment parents often tell their children – “Be who you are”. Being who you are suggests an unchanging event. Becoming suggests something in process. We are born with talents, abilities and potentialities. But we are rarely thrown into circumstances that cultivate these abilities. It is up to us to cultivate them.

In England and France, a negative conception of freedom, Laissez Faire, had become popular. To be left alone was freedom. But in Germany, the idea of freedom was a positive notion – “freedom to”. Freedom to have a career, freedom to participate, etc.

Nietzsche had a totally different idea of freedom. He said freedom was to become who one is. He believed the idea of freedom as "freedom from constraint" was a fantasy – especially a fantasy of the oppressed. Great art and great things in general are not freedom from constraint. It’s the limits which define greatness and make for creativity. (For instance, the creativity that emerges through Haiku or the Japanese art form that requires a single brush stroke. When the paintbrush is lifted from the page, the drawing is finished.)

We are constrained by culture, biology circumstances of history, etc. For Nietzsche, freedom could only be understood within these constraints. He summarized freedom as “freedom to create”.

Nietzsche is an individualist, but not in the modern sense which emerged in the 12th century.  The 12th century is when the notion of individual first became prominent. The idea of the individual found even more prominence through the Enlightenment and Romanticism. What gets left out of this notion is family, community, etc.  But Nietzsche’s idea that freedom is an individual’s ability to create is not the same as an individuals ability to choose. There are always constraints and determinants on our behavior (something Sartre completely denies).

Nietzsche was a biological determinist. He said that often what appears to be choices aren’t choices at all. But we can “become who we are”. We have to spend our lives creating ourselves – not on a blank canvas saying anything goes – but within the limitations and restrictions of our individual circumstances. It’s similar to the idea of self-realization if you can drop the new-age baggage that goes along with that idea. We are born into a tradition, a culture, etc. that defines are limits.

Nietzsche would not agree with Sartre that it is our choice who it is we become. But he does say that there are many choices along the way that are already in accordance with a shape that has been given to us, from the most part, from birth. In order to become who it is we are, we have to trust our instinct. We are much more in tune with the person we can become through instinct than we are through reason. This is because reason is very often based on compliance with the culture.

We each have our own idea, our own character, our own destiny to fill out. Nietzsche rejects universal will. He asks, “Do we have a will”? Do we decide to do something or is it done through us? How much do we choose to do and how much is an expression of our natures?

This makes agency a subtle problem for Nietzsche. What makes us think we are the agents of our own actions?  Take thinking, for instance. Why are we so sure we are thinkers? Nietzsche says a thought comes when it will, not when “I” will. Nietzsche therefore thinks we overemphasize agency, freedom and choice. There is a sort of fate and it is important that we love our fate (amor fati). But we can and will be something if we work hard enough to cultivate it.

So while he definitely rejects the existentialist notion of freedom, he emphasizes what all existentialists emphasize – the imporance of individual existence and seeing to it that we take responsibility for who it is we are.

It seems true to me that we are born with a certain conditioning that limits our choice to an extent. We are interconnected beings. We don’t live in a vacuum.

Will to Power (Nietzsche): Lectures 1-11

These lectures from Solomon & Higgins were primarily review, but quite interesting. I jotted down a few notes… 

  • Nietzsche very often makes references to images Luther used.
  • I thought this was very cool: Nietzsche thought Christianity had served an important historical function for people. In the passage about the madman, it’s not people who believe in God who the madman assaults. The madman assaults those who think they can eliminate the need God once filled in society. By simply focusing on science they can ignore the needs of humanity for something like myth. Nietzsche thinks this is ungrateful. The way to show gratitude is to think beyond the historical function.
  • Nietzsche says we shouldn’t throw out our desires. What we should throw out is the idea that we can reach perfect contentment and that the attainment of perfect satisfaction is even desirable.
  • Nietzsche is far more optimistic that Schopenhauer. Life involves the negative components, but we can become something that takes joy in.
  • The meaning of life is not in reason, rationalism, or theology. It’s to be found in the passions.
  • Camel stage – treats tradition with reverence. Says “yes” to it. Lion stage – evaluates tradition and asserts individuality by challenging what has been handed down. Say “no” to tradition. We have to fully make our way through the camel stage before the lion stage makes sense. The Child stage is a new affirmation of life. It is boundless energy for what is new. Experimentation. Creative energy – full creative response and full vitality.
  • The Ubermensch is an idea. It is a way of being that involves risk taking. This is contrasted with the Last Man which seeks nothing but comfort – the ultimate couch potato.

Rationality, Romanticism, Consciousness

  • Rationality has several meanings: 1) thinking ability, to reflect; 2) mathematics; 3) instrumental reasoning, to think; 4) having the right goals (Aristotle); 5) reason is the royal road to truth (modern understanding/Enlightenment)
  • Nietzsche, like Aristotle, thinks reason involves having the right goals. He says that reason becomes a tyrant when it is thought of as the royal road to truth (contra-Kant).
  • Kant preached a faith in reason and even brought religion into the realm of reason. Nietzsche felt this idea that reason is universal was a pretension. While France and Britain were moving toward the age of reason, Germany was involved in Romanaticism which puts its faith in the passions and not in reason. Nietzsche saw much wrong with Romanticism, too. He said it was a pretense of passions.
  • Nietzsche says we are animals motivated by drives and instincts. We are natural, biological beings. The meaning of life is to be found in life itself. Not in the upper realms of reason. Like Freud, Nietzsche understood that what drives us are very often things we are not conscious of.
  • Nietzsche asked where does consciousness come from? And he comes up with a theory: It developed because of the need for communication. Consciousness was created in our interactions with others (rather than the traditional view that consciousness was somehow already in the mind). If you live alone, consciousness becomes superfluous. We have cultured, sophisticated, individual instincts.
  • Thinking, for Nietzsche, can be a sort of disease. It can be dangerous because it blinds us to our creativity and uniqueness. Therefore consciousness is dangerous. BUT!! It’s an important stage in our evolution. When a faculty is new (like the advent of language/consciousness), it is always dangerous at first. But as it matures, we learn to make better use of it.
  • Nietzsche was very interested in how language (the new faculty which gave rise to consciousness) expresses the truth.
  • Nietzsche was very critical of the romantics of his time. He said they pretended passion. He said that romanticism is a mask; an act. The reality is that passion contains a quantum of reason and reason contains quantum of passion. Both reason and passion contain an amount of both the Apollonian (reason) and the Dionysian (passion).
  • Nietzsche uses aphorisms because he doesn’t want followers. He knows the reader won’t understand the whole picture by reading a single aphorism so it will take some work to understand. An active readership achieved through a sort of companionship with Nietzsche.
  • Most of philosophy is centered on formal deductive reasoning. Not Nietzsche. Some would say he doesn’t do philosophy at all. He uses a sequence of fallacies; aphorisms, rhetoric, literature and ad hominem arguments. He wants to stimulate our emotional experience.
  • Sophistry is an appeal to emotions and understands argument as an art form because the use of strict rational argument convinces no one. Philosophy is a sort of rhetoric. Socrates was a great rhetoritician. This is what made him so powerful even though his arguments would be readily dismissed in institutions today. So it is no dis-service to say that Nietzsche is doing rhetoric rather than logic.

Truth

  • Nietzsche says there is no truth, there is only interpretation. But he praises truthfulness. This idea is not antagonistic toward science. Science is experimental and Nietzsche is willing to allow any hypothesis which says “let’s try it”. Experimenting with ideas and philosophical view points is kindred with science. Nietzsche says it isn’t good enough to say God created it this way.
  • Science is non-dogmatic. Most beliefs people have held turn out to be false eventually. So why think current theories are the truth? Theories are always tentative. Philosophy should be undogmatic like science. But Niezsche also sometimes opposes science. This opposition is based on the aesthetic perspective. The aesthetic view has ways of seeing that are non-scientific. If science and aesthetics are opposed, Nietzsche says that aesthetics always get the upper hand. If it doesn’t, science easily becomes dogmatic. And when it does, it loses it’s virtue.
  • Nietzsche asks “Why is truth important? Why must we have truth at any cost?” Individual lives are ruined. People have been excommunicated for the truth. The truth has upset entire civilizations (Freud). Why are we willing to pay the cost?
  • Nietzsche comes up with several reasons. Truth isn’t necessarily pursued for itself. It is very often pursued for other goals. The main motivation for searching for truth is sometimes status. Status is the primary objective, not truth. Truth is a means to an end, not the end in itself. “The truth shall set you free.” Truth as a means to an end is based on the idea that truth is rock hard and immovable. If you get the truth, you gain power because claiming to have the truth puts you in a privileged position.
  • But Nietzsche says there is no way of getting to the bottom of things. All we have is our experience which is an interpretation based on other interpretations. It’s all experience and experience is always an interpretation of something else.
  • Appearances depend on being some thing of which there are appearances. There is a gap between the experience and appearances on the one hand and what they are experiences and appearances of on the other hand. There is no way of getting around or behind the appearances and experiences to see reality itself. This is something Nietzsche struggles with. Traditional philosophy, since ancient times, makes a distinction between reality on the one hand and appearances on the other. Nietzsche thinks this is a bogus distinction. There is only the world of our experience and it doesn’t make sense to talk about anything else.
  • But what do we say about our experience? Kant talked about “world in itself” which is the world as God might see it. Kant admitted that we can’t have a conception of “the world in itself”. But Nietzsche says there is no such thing as “a world in itself”. There is no God’s eye view. Even if there were a God, this God would have to see it from a god’s perspective which remains a perspective.
  • What is truth from once perspective is not the truth from another perspective. But this doesn’t mean that one truth need exclude the other.
  • Nietzsche holds what is now called “perspectivism”. There are lots of different viewpoints we can take on things. This does not rule out argument, debate or pursuit itself – just the understanding that it must always be perceptualized. Science, for instance, is a difinitive perspective.
  • Perspectivism is not the same as relativism which says that every view is as good as any other. But it is always a matter of not taking one position and digging in. Philosophy is about shifting perspectives.
  • Where is the truth? It doesn’t lie behind appearances. Philosophical truth is getting a sense of how all the perspectives tie together. You have to be able to entertain different truths at the same time.
  • Nietzsche was a quasi follower of Darwin. The Darwinian notion of fitness as a pragmatic theory of truth fits with Nietzsche’s theories. Imagine a species of creatures who have built into their brains that the future will be unlike the past. If you see lightening strike a tall tree, you rush under the tree during the next storm expecting that lightening won’t strike in the same place twice twice (or having struck this tree it will strike elsewhere next time). It’s easy to see how such a species would be short lived. A species that developed an inductive mind and learns by experience is much more likely to survive and flourish.
  • What are our truths? They are the indispensible errors of mankind. They are the truths without which we as a species would not survive. To ask if these truths exist apart from reality is nonsensical.

No Excuses: Lecture 24, From Existentialism to Postmodernism

Is Existentialism just a fashion? Something that came from France and struck the American fancy and then passed on? Does it just belong the ’40s and ’50s? Is it passe?

Solomon says it isn’t passe – that it’s just what America needs right now. We need to recover our sense of personal responsibility. Existentialism is a welcomed antidote to the wave of victimization and the sense of blame manifested in our legal system, tort law liability suits and every day life.

Existentialism started as a European movement but it’s real home is now in the U.S. Americans are staunch individualists but are keenly aware that there is a strong sense of community that lies at the basis of American society. Americans are very concerned with the idea of self-realization and self-improvement. The idea of making something new of oneself; self-improvement; trying to pick yourself up by the bootstraps defines a good deal of American society. Social mobility is distinctively American and also distinctively Existentialist.

Existentialism is considered passe in the climate of Europe and in American Universities because it is eclipsed by two generations of philosophers since Sartre. The first generation is dominated by Claude Levi-Straus (1908). He came up with Structuralism which is an anthropological insight. He was concerned with the structural similarities which all societies shared in common. He says Sartre is not the universal picture of humanity, but a hyper-intellectual Parisian who is taking his phenomenology as an unwarranted generalization of what human consciousness and human life is like. For instance, could someone who comes from a totally different culture, perhaps a deprived culture, be expected to make the same choices of someone who is already familiar with more choices? Levi-Straus hits an important point here.

But Sartre’s second generation critics are more problematic. In particular, these critics are Michel Faoucault, Jacques Derrida, Gilles Deleuze and Roland Barthes. They have a number of theses in common, two in particular:

  1. “The Death of the Author”. This is the idea that when we read books, the idea that books are written by an author is an absolute way of misunderstanding what a book is about. We shouldn’t confuse the writer of books with the author.
  2. An impersonal play of forces replaces an emphasis on agency and responsibility.

These notions together intend to kill subjectivity – especially the notion of subjectivity as Sartre understood it. Solomon says there is a sort of conspiracy of silence going on here because clearly, this philosophy is based upon Sartre’s philosophy. Whether he is the model or the target, Sartre’s importance in philosophy since his death has been a well-kept secret.

The Postmodernists reject subjectivity and phenomenology and say that there is really only a third person way of looking at ourself. The first person way is corrupt. But this is something that Sartre anticipated. He makes clear very early in his philosophy that there is a distinction between consciousness and subjectivity on the one hand and the self on the other. The Postmodernists reject consciousness and the self altogether.

Postmodernists also reject rationality, objectivity, truth and knowledge (although this has to be carefully stated). The rejection of rationality goes back through the history of Existentialism – that rationality is not adequate to answer the substantial questions we have about life and this pervades all the authors of Existentialism. Sartre is the most rationalistic of the Existentialists discussed in the lecture series, but even he says that when it comes to fundamental choices, there is no ultimate criteria or rational standard or rational guideline to deal with. Rationality doesn’t have the privileged place that it has had throughout history.

Foucault and Deleuze both reject what they call Sartre’s “Enlightenment Project”. It is clear that in Sartre there is a raging sense of rationality and monism – of fitting things together. Sartre says that each of us has a fundamental purpose in life. To understand our fundamental project is to understand why we act the way we do so it has a sort of liberating affect. The Postmodernists seek liberation, too. But they seek it in a very different way. Instead of the monistic gathering together, the Postmodernists seek to get rid of “totalization” or the “rage for unity”.

What the Postmodernists are referring to in terms of Sartre’s “Enlightenment Project” is his idea of Purifying Reflection as a way of thinking about ourselves, personally and politically, which removes us from prejudice and takes us into the realm of pure freedom. But Solomon says a purifying reflection is absolutely essential in understanding the sense in which we must try to get ourselves up by the boot straps and to understand what it is we are doing and why. In an age of mindless consumerism, it becomes essential to ask ourselves what we are doing to our planet, our world, our selves.

No Excuses: Lectures 19-23, Jean-Paul Sartre

Sartre is the ultimate existentialist. He named the movement and when people talk about existentialism it’s usually Sartre’s philosophy they have in mind. Emphasis on freedom and choice and responsibility are the center of Satrean philosophy. (These are not central for Nietzsche or Heidegger. They are problematic.)

The title of Solomon’s lecture comes from Sartres idea of “No Excuses” and is based on the idea that one is always responsible.

Sartre denounced his fellow Frenchmen for their cowardice, their collaboration, cooperation, etc. He questioned their choices and motives. If you want to understand human nature, you have to look at humans under stress and so he watched his fellow citizens while being occupied during one of the most brutal wars in history.

What he noticed is that their answers all came out as excuses:

  • What can I do? Impotence.
  • I didn’t start the war. Innocence.
  • Everyone else is doing it. The herd instinct.
  • I’m just looking out for myself. Self-preservation.
  • I had no choice. Helplessness.
  • I was afraid. The appeal to emotion.

We are absolutely free, so we don’t have any excuses. We are responsible for what it is we do. We aren’t free in the sense that we can choose anything we want to do – but that we always have choices.

Absolute freedom is the absence of ultimate constraints. It is our responsibility to recognize our choices even in the most limited circumstances. We are always responsible for what we make of what is made of ourselves. Also, we are not caused to behave by our emotions or motives, but rather emotions and motives are part of the situation in which we choose what to do. We have a picture of emotion being inside us but intruding upon our rationality. We say, I didn’t really mean it. I was just very angry. But you know that what you said was not just a product of anger, but a deep and cutting insight about something you really feel. There is a sense in which the anger is a choice. When we get angry, we make a decision. We feel that flush and we have to decide – do we keep our mouth shut or act on it?

We are as responsible for what it is we do as well as what it is we don’t do. We make choices to the exclusion of other choices we simply choose not to think about. We are not just responsible for deliberate choices, we are responsible for choices made out of default, or out of neglect. No excuses.

Emotions are choices; they involve alternatives and options; and they involve purposiveness. They are “magical transformations of the world.” He wants to move away from the idea that emotions are bodily upsets of physiological intrusions. They are our responsibility and not a source of excuse.

William James, an American Philosopher, wrote an essay called “What is an Emotion?” in 1884. He said an emotion is an upsetting perception which causes in us a physiological disturbance. This perception of the physiological upset IS the emotion. Sartre says James ignores two important features of emotion. 1) Emotions are necessarily intentional. 2) Emotions are always about something. You can’t just be angry, you have to be angry about something. You can’t just be afraid, you have to be afraid of something. All emotions are intentional in that they are always about something. They can’t be mere sensations or feelings because sensations and feelings aren’t about anything. A headache is not about anything. It might be caused by something, like your mother in-law coming to visit. But your mother in-law didn’t cause the headache. A pain in your toe might be because you stepped on a nail. But the pain is not about the nail. But we are sad or joyful or depressed or angry about something.

Emotions have finality. Emotions are purposive. This is a bold thesis because we typically think of emotions caused in us and if they have a purpose, they aren’t our purpose. An emotion is a strategy, a way of dealing with the world. It is chosen and chosen with a purpose for a reason.

There is a story that comes from Aesop called "Fox and the Grapes" that explains this. A fox sees some yummy, delicious grapes and craves them. But with all of his ingenuity, he can’t reach them. So he says, they are probably sour anyway. What Sartre says is that the fox has made a magical transformation of the world. The grapes haven’t changed. But the fox has changed his attitude – he comes to see them as sour. What has changed isn’t the world. What is changed is the fox’s way of seeing the world. This makes sense from a phenomenological point of view. But what about the magical? The fox refuses to accept himself as a failure. He refuses to see himself as up to the difficulty of getting the grapes. He’s not willing to expend anymore energy on a wasted project. This is using emotions to escape from the world. Emotions are a mode of escape behavior. We have our emotions not because they are caused in us. We have them because they are a way to deal with the world so that we can see ourselves as better off than we would otherwise be.

Sartre rejects Freud’s idea of the unconscious. Unconscious mental events are not just unconscious, but those that cannot be made conscious. They are repressed. Sartre also rejects Freud’s idea of psychic determinism. Sartre thinks they are strategies rather than forces within us as Freud says they are.

Part of the magical transformation of the world is the transformation of the body. For instance, fear could be seen as “getting ready to flee” and the bodily sensations follow from the emotion and are not causes of it.

By separating the discussion into two terms, consciousness on the one hand and the world on the other, Sartre puts himself in the French tradition in which he was raised (Cartesianism). But he had read Heidegger and was convinced by the argument that there is nothing to distinguish consciousness and the world at all.

Sartre says consciousness is freedom. Freedom is consciousness. Responsibility is the idea that we are the incontestable author of our actions. Consciousness is nothingness. Consciousness is intentionality. It is always about things. We don’t have to look at it as a transcendental ego. We can look at it as an activity. It’s like looking around a room with a flashlight. Consciousness is the beam of the flashlight without the flahslight. It is nothing but an awareness of things in this world. Consciousness is outside of the causal relations of the world. Kant says that consciousness imposes causal categories on the world. It is by seeing the world in a certain way that we see things in terms of cause and effect relationships. But when we examine ourselves, that is not how we see ourselves. Consciousness is not an object of consciousness. Consciousness is not a thing.

The idea of Spontaneity allows Sartre to carve out a middle range between indeterminism and determinism. Much of what we do is pre-reflective. We don’t think about it, we just do it. Consciousness acts and it acts without prior causality.

Sartre eventually gives up the idea that all emotions are a mode of escape behavior. Emotions are still not causes of behavior, but they are spontaneous outpourings of consciousness in which one takes the world in a certain way. Not emotions in consciousness, but emotions as ways of structuring consciousness as one way among many.

Consciousness has the power of negation. What I see is always more than what I see. When we see, we are never passive receivers. Consciousness is an activity not only of receiving, but also of shaping. Desire isn’t just seeing the world. It’s seeing the world in terms of what it is we want. We see things in terms of what we can do with them and how they fit in our plans. Consciousness is also able to perceive lack. If we are expecting our friend at the bar, we notice our friend isn’t there. We construe it in terms of what’s not there.

Sartre tries to focus on the key, essential experiences that define our experience in general. He wants to use this in place of the kinds of arguments philosophers have often given. Nausea is a dissatisfaction and revulsion with the meaninglessness of the world. The status of the external world or the status of our knowledge of the external world is in question. The broader philosophical idea is that somehow we are stuck inside our own experience or own consciousness. It’s a philosophical fabrication that comes out of the Cartesian split. But is the world “out there”? Or is it just an idea? Sartre says existence is not inferred from other experiences it forces itself upon us in a way that is undeniable. Anguish is the sudden spontaneous realization that I could, at any moment, take a step and go hurtling to my death if I’m standing on a cliff. Anguish gives one the basic experience of one’s own freedom. Nothing stands between me and my self-destruction, except my own decision.

Philosophers ask, how do I know that other people exist? Sartre says we know other people exist when we notice someone looking at us when we are doing something embarrassing and we feel embarrassed.

His Being in Nothingness is a Phenomenological Ontology. It is phenomenological because it is from the first person standpoint. It is an ontology because we are describing things in this world.

He uses three concepts:

  1. Being-for-itself. When we reflect, we recognize that we are conscious. Consciousness is aware of itself aware of objects all the time.
  2. Being-in-itself.
  3. Being-for-others. Shame and embarrassment.

The self is out there in the world like the self of another. It is an accumulation of actions and experiences. To find out who we are, we have to look back and see what it is we’ve done. Consciousness is an activity directed towards the world and its objects. Sartre also differentiates between self-consciousness (reflective sense) and consciousness (pre-reflective). We shouldn’t always think of consciousness as self-consciousness. Consciousness does not contain the “I” or the “self”. We are both being-in-itself and being-for-itself. We are both body and mind. We have two different sets of attributes. Facticity is the sum total of facts that are true about us. (That I was born on a certain date in a certain year.) Facticity is contrasted with transcendence. This is the sense in one overreaches the facts of ones life. This is also a transcendence of the present. We transcend the present into the future all the time. I am what I am not and I am not what I am.

What we all want is to be pure facticity and pure transcendence. What we really desire is to be God. (God as described as complete in himself. Everything that God can be, he is. God can do anything he wants.) On the one hand, we’d like to determine exactly who it is we are. But at the same time, we have a desire for negative freedom – to be free of constraints. But when you put these together, you get a contradiction. You can say, this is my birthday. But you may think it is too early, or too late and not accept it about yourself and replace it with another fact. How the date plays in his life is subject to transcendence.

Bad Faith: Self-deception about oneself. We can live through our hopes or our fears and deny the facts that are true about ourselves, or simply reject them (like pretending to be 29 rather than 39). Freud says there is a psychodynamic – we cannot take certain positions. Sartre says it is really, “we will not” take certain positions. When we are in bad faith, we misperceive and misjudge ourselves and we do this for a purpose. We don’t want to take responsibility.

Sartre says he is not doing ethics. But bad faith is bad. It is something to be avoided. Sarte is after a theory of integrity.

Being-for-others: Has a paranoid ring to it. Heidegger used Being-with-others which is much less paranoid and non-conflicted. When we say “being-for-others” we think of being used by others, being an object for others, or others being there to manipulate. We are only aware of our own consciousness. We cannot be aware of the consciousness of others. Philosophers sometimes suggests that taking people as other people requires a leap of faith because we cannot prove that other consciousnesses exist. What Sartre says, following from Hegel, is that we can know ourselves only with the recognition of other people. Self-knowledge is not captured by Descartes’s “I think therefore I am.” We become conscious only through our confrontation with others. Knowledge comes, not from observation, but from the experience of being looked at. Being for others is being objectified. We are always on trial in the eyes of others. Sartre says we cannot be indifferent to what other people think of us because this is as much a part of our identity as a clear determinant of who we are.

This leads to another dimension of bad faith: to accept what people think of us as the truth and to define ourselves as who we are for others. (What Heidegger talks about in terms of the Das Man self.) You could be in bad faith in the opposite way and say you don’t care what other people think. This isn’t psychology. It’s part of the essence of being human. We are social creatures in the perverse and disturbing sense that we are the objects of other people’s judgments and how we judge ourselves is very much defined by how we are judged by others.

There is a sense in which we are all guilty: for not living up to others expectations of us or living up to the expectations of others but not living up to our own expectations.

For Sartre, our relationship with other people is basically conflict. It’s always about setting aside their judgments of us or trying to get them to have judgments of us that are in line with our judgments of ourselves. Sartre explains this best in No Exit which is one of philosophies greatest contributions to the theater. The main theme of the play is “Hell is other people”. Our conceptions of ourselves are always compromised by and determined by other people,

It’s not enough to look at the facts about ourselves and what I think about myself, but we have to also take into consideration what others think of us. Even relationships like love and friendship are struggles. Love is a struggle for authenticity. We choose our friends on the basis of our conception of ourselves – those who reinforce the conception of ourselves. If we think of ourselves as not very intelligent, we might take up with someone very intelligent, etc. Friendship is a kind of agreement or contract. “I’ll approve of you in your terms if you will approve of me in my terms.” Friendship involves a mutual identity.

But when we talk about lovers, the picture becomes very different. Sartre introduces love as a seductive strategy. It’s an attempt to win someone over – a sort of control. When this love fails, it results in sadism (a desperate attempt to take control). Or, we can also take a submissive role where the other must please me. When this fails, it results in masochism (a manipulative attitude toward the other). Other possibilities of failed love are indifference (profound indifference – the other doesn’t exist) which can lead to hatred (on the part of the person who wants to exist). Love is a dynamic in which a kind of mutual manipulation is essential.

Sex, like love, is a kind of manipulative strategy in which we try to win over the other to our own self-conceptions. Pleasure is not the aim of sex, but rather a kind of vehicle one uses to control the other person. If you take too much pleasure in it yourself, the pleasure gets in the way and you are very likely to eliminate sex as the power you are trying to attain. Sex is about power. It’s a powerplay.

Hegel uses an example of two people fighting it out until one becomes master of the other and the loser becomes slave. It’s not a stable relationship. Both parties leave quite unhappy. This is the same sort of view Sartre wants to give us. It’s not benign. Sex and love are much more complicated, threatening and dangerous than we tend to think. He’s trying to dig us out of the nonsense about love that has been piled on us for 2000 years.

An example of a traditional myth comes from Plato’s Symposium which is supposed to characterize the true nature of love: Aristophenes tells us love is the product of an ancient history. We were double creatures, two sets of legs, two sets of heads, two sets of arms. Zeus threatened to split us in two and he did. Ever since, we’ve been running around trying to find our other half. The other is a completion.

The idea of completing ourselves with another person is at odds with Sartre’s view. There is no such perfect fit. Even in the best relationship, there is a kind of struggle going on. If you pay any attention to your relationship, what becomes clear is that there is a struggle going on and there is an accommodation over the years that makes it seem like less of a struggle. Sartre says we are trying to maintain our own conception of ourselves in the face of the judgments of the other person.

Solomon corrects Sartre because he says that what Sartre doesn’t take seriously enough is the fact that very often our conceptions of ourselves are not only in the face of the other, but there is a kind of cooperation that takes place on the level of actually trying to think of ourselves in mutual terms. But it is true that the way we think of ourselves is always at risk because of the other person.

Relationships, however stable they may seem, are never truly stable. They exist in metastability – any situation which appears to be perfectly in balance can fall into disarray from the slightest imbalance. The same is true about our conceptions of ourselves. It may seem stable, but it is metastable. One thing can throw the entire thing into catastrophe.

Solomon says he doesn’t endorse Sartre, but what Sartre does is opens our eyes to all the complexities of relationship. Sartre had a life long relationship with Simone de Beauvoir. Despite a few infidelities on both their parts, they maintained an intimate closeness until Sartre’s death. They were one of the main couples, in fact the premiere philosophical couple, of the 20th century. Contrast this with Bertrand Russell, who despite all of his many words, went through quite a few marriages and found none of them satisfactory.

Sartre claimed that true being with others was something people found together under threat. You only learn to be with others in extreme circumstances.

No Excuses: Lectures 15-17, Heidegger

Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) was a theology student and religion permeates all of Heidegger’s philosophy. His Being in Time is central to Existentialist thinking.

He is most concerned with “The Question of Being”. He distinguishes between Being and Beings. Philosophers have always worried about entities and what they are made of and how they relate to each other causally. But they haven’t asked “What is the ground of being that makes the appearance of entities to us even possible?”

Heidegger examines “the being through whom the question of being comes into question.” (That being is us.)

Ontology is the study of being, but it is also the study of the being through whom the question of being comes into question. Phenomenology is the study of our own subjectivity. With Heidegger, this takes on religious sensibilities. There is a sense of passivity. Under what condition can things disclose themselves.

Heidegger does not use words like experience, consciousness, or mind. But it’s difficult to discuss his philosophy in English without using these terms. The first experience is “Being there”. He calls this “Dasein”. This is a way of getting back to the basic, primordial experience and saying in what it consists. Our basic experience is a holistic unified experience of our being in the world.

We are ontological. We ask questions. In particular, we ask questions of being.

The Center piece of his philosophy is to reject the Cartesian tradition. We have to reject the distinction between being in the world and something else; between consciousness and the world outside of us; between the phenomenological world with its intentional objects and the possibility of the objects to which that refers. Dasein and the world are a unified phenomenon. To understand Dasein is to understand the world. To understand the world is to understand Dasein.

There can be no Dasein without the world. There can be no world without Dasein. Dasein is already being in the world and being in the world cannot be separated into components. Dasein blocks the sorts of questions like “Who am I?” What we think of as our identity is a false self-identity.

An uncomfortable fact about Heidegger is that he was part of the Nazi party and he never repudiated the Nazis even though he became disillusioned with them. He said it never achieved it’s potential greatness. It became too much like the other technological societies (America and Russia). Heidegger has brilliant ideas but a despicable past. Nietzsche said that who the philosopher is has a lot to do with what the philosophy is. Heidegger claimed that Being in Time was not an ethical work. But it’s impossible to read it without seeing that it had powerful ethical implications. Heidegger rejected this, perhaps thanks to an inability to come to grips with the implications his philosophy has.

What bothers Heidegger is the problem of alienation. He talks about feeling at home in the world. But the truth is that he did not feel at home in the world and that modern man does not feel at home. Mass consumerism and technology have made it impossible to feel at home.

To talk about knowledge is to enter a domain that, according to Heidegger, we have not understood at all. What philosophers tend to think of is the world as something to be known. But Heidegger says we are not first of all knowers or spectators. Our first of all experience of the world is engagement. To be engaged is to care. Caring is not to be confused with caring for others or about others and should not be confused with anxiety or worry.

Heidegger talks about the World as Equipment. It’s about knowing how, rather than knowing that. It’s not about observing as a spectator, but being engaged in tasks. Under what circumstances do we stop involving ourselves in tasks and start seeing the things as we use as things – as individual instruments or items? Pre-reflection is more important than reflection.

Reflection becomes important when something goes wrong. If you are hammering nails into a floorboard, to think about the hammer and the nails and the floorboard and yourself as separate components is debilitating. But if the head flies off the hammer, then it becomes important to work through what went wrong.

If we are engaged in what we are doing, we don’t notice what we are doing. We are concerned with getting the task done. Heidegger thinks peasants have the answer to the question of being that philosophers since Plato do not because peasants are actively engaged in their world. But this is to be contrasted with using the world as a resource – especially in terms of technology. Technology makes everything the same. Consumerism is something Heidegger despised. These things separate us from the world and from each other. Heidegger’s original flirtation with Nazis was to re-capture rural Germany even though they quickly became more concerned with the same things as what the Russians and Americans displayed.

Heidegger rejects Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” because he says it leads to a split between mind and body. Descartes also said that self-knowledge is immediate and unmistakable. Descartes uses this as proof that there is at least one proposition which is self-evident and undoubtable. But according to Heidegger, we don’t know what our selves are and anything recognizing true recognition is a rare thing.

To be authentic is to be one’s own person. In contrast, there is inauthenticity which is not being one’s own self. Heidegger labels this “Das Man”. It means, “one does not do those things around here”. The Das Man Self is an anonymous, individual or reflective self. It is inauthentic. It is a social, comparative self. But it is an essential part of life.

When we talk about ourselves, we talk about ourself in relationship to a group. We give our identity in terms of our social roles. But our social roles aren’t us.

Heidegger also has the notion of being thrown into the world. What would it be like had we been born in another century? We didn’t choose when and where we would be born and we didn’t choose our parents. This compromises taking hold of yourself not within a vacuum, but within a very particular historical concept. Moreover, when one takes hold of oneself, one doesn’t break free of society. That would be the height of alienation (and technological societies). Rather, one takes a hold of oneself and appreciates ones traditions, ones history (historicity), and one embeds oneself back in ones culture and ones times. It’s easy to see how he saw national socialism and German culture in general not as a herd mentality he should escape but the opposite – something he should reinsert himself into. (This is very likely how he ended up with Nazi roots.)

Heidegger does not refer to time as clock time. We talk about living in the present but the truth is we never do. Whenever we think of ourselves, we always think of ourselves from our past and in terms of our future projects. We are creatures in time.

Inauthenticity or alienation? Is that the choice we have? Heidegger says that this isn’t the choice we have, there is a third alternative.

Heidegger understands existence, in the Kierkegaardian sense – human beings have the ability to appreciate who it is we are. Reflection in the sense of being ontological. Existences precedes essence. Within the context of existence, Dasein has possibilities. We always see our world in terms of possibilities. Existence is a sense of the future – that we have the capacity to make choices. Existence is a freedom to make choices based on what we want of the future. Our moods are what “tune us in” to the world.

Facticity – the facts that are true about us. We are thrown into the world into a particular culture, a particular history, etc. This gives rise to our historicity which is the idea that we are born into a particular historical situation and tradition. Once we achieve authenticity, we reinsert ourselves into our historicity and our traditions. Fallenness is a term that is strongly reminiscent of the fall in the Bible, but it refers to the fact that we fall back from a reflective, authentic position to something Heidegger calls “preontological”. What we do is stop asking questions for a while and we fall back into tasks. This is how we live most of our lives and it is a sort of inauthenticity, but nevertheless, it is part of human existence and should be respected as such.

Heidegger talks about authenticity in terms of three different contrasts: Understanding vs. Curiosity. Modern science is curiosity. Most people when they ask questions are being curious. But this is an inferior form of cognition. Understanding is superior to curiosity. Thinking vs. Calculation. Heidegger does not admire technological advancement because it involves calculative thinking. Real thinking is philosophical thinking. Speech vs. Chatter. There is talk that entertains us, but true speech is something very different. Most of us spend most of our time just chit chatting. But speech is much more profound.

Conscience is the constant reminder within us that we are not all that we would like to be; that we are not authentic. That we are just going along with the crowd and there is this quiet voice that reminds us we could be something more. Conscience gives rise to guilt. This is something built into our very existence – it is the constant reminder that we are not being all that we can be. It isn’t built for a transgressions or an omission, it comes by fact that we are human. It comes by virtue that we are ontological. We can’t help but ask questions about being and who we are. When we quit asking these questions (because we get comfortable in our job or in our marriage or in our habits), there is still a nagging conscience that there is something else.

To be authentic is to start to think about our neighborhood, marriage, job, etc. in a new way – taking hold of them and making them our own rather than simply being in a neighborhood, being in a marriage, being in a job, etc.

“Being Unto Death” is not a celebration of death, it is simply a recognition of death as a necessary fact about us. We need to live with death in mind. When you face death, what you ask yourself are some very basic questions about your life. It is death that individuates us. It is death that shakes us out of our Das Man self. When you face death, you face the sudden realization that you might not be there. When you die, you will cease to be a Dasein, the world will cease to exist for you. And therefore, for you, the world will cease to exist. It’s not the same thing as authenticity although it is one aspect of it, it is a spur that throws us out of our inauthenticity and fallen condition and forces us to see ourselves and our lives a single unity. This is when we start making resolutions of a profound sort.

Are we to be alienated as authentic? Or inauthentic and not living a full life? Once we become authentic, we can re-emerge ourselves into our historicity. (It’s not too difficult to see here an excuse for Heidegger’s Nazi affiliations.)