Wednesday, December 16, 2009

An Analysis of Knowledge (A weekly discussion)

Since the subject of "knowledge" has been brought up, I thought I might ask whether anyone would be interested in me try to step through my dissertation week by week, section by section. In the dissertation I attempt to construct an analysis of empirical knowledge that matches our intuitions concerning knowledge, an analysis that also solves the Gettier Problem. Any interest?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Facebook Philosophy: Epistemology

By Hanno, Lee and c.e.

Lee: The difference between cockiness and confidence is that confidence does not depend on the opinion or view of others, it comes from self assurance through knowledge and experience, unlike cockiness no matter what someone else says confidence will not fade away because there is no need to show off or prove something, it is already known.

Hanno: Hmm. I expect that confidence does not really exist, then. All of our conceptions of self are tied, at least in part, to the opinion of others, unless you are utterly delusional. Imagine you write a paper about things you think you know, and you think it is well written. You show it to your friends, and they say it is unreadable crap. OK, you are confident, you still know it is good. So you show it to your professor, and he blasts it, gives it a D. So you show it to a professor you respect. And he explains why its crap. At some point, don't you lose your confidence? And if not, are you not delusional?

Lee: That is a good point, however I think that if confidence stems from knowledge it must stem from true knowledge other wise it is false confidence. For us to actually know something it must first be true, the example you used could show that the person would not have had the experience of writing good papers nor knowing what they consist of, however you make a good point in the fact that the only way for one to know that your are doing something right is through the opinions, teachings, and guidance of others. But I think that once the person has that true knowledge of what a good paper consists of it would not matter what a professor or the persons friends would say, and I would argue that the person is not being delusional if the paper had been written in accordance to that knowledge. I guess I should have just said that confidence sustainability does not depend upon the opinions of others. But I am not arguing that conceptions of self are not tied to other people, only that once you know who you are and what you can do you dont need to show it off and no one can take it from you (ideally).

Hanno: How will you know you have true knowledge?
I say all thus, of course, as a cocky person.

c.e.: Why must knowledge be tied to truth? Certainly, can't I have a justified false belief? And don't we call that knowledge? I can thus "know" something, which is in fact false. And if knowledge is dependent upon truth (at you would have it then I can only "know" that which is known analytically, since even the synthetic is suspect, and certainly “facts", as they are commonly held, are suspect and generally grounded in assumptions. And as such, we "know" very little. And certainly, whether or not a paper is "good" does not fall into such a category.

That confidence is synonymous with delusion is no way entails that is does not exist. Indeed, we have every reason to believe that there are delusional persons, and if so, then that there are also─as per your argument─confident persons. And thus, confidence must exist.

Lee: well to me personally knowledge must be tied to truth, I would never call a false belief knowledge. There is a difference between believing something and having knowledge about something. For instance, a person believed that he knew his drink wasnt poisoned by his wife (she assured him it wasnt), and low and behold he found out that some men cant hold their arsenic after drinking it. It would be fair to say the he held a belief that the drink wasnt poisoned but it would not be accurate to say that he KNEW it wasnt poisoned. One cannot know that 2 + 2 = 5, only believe it.
4 hours ago

c.e.: Then you're redefining knowledge. And doing so in such a stringent fashion that we "know" very little. Indeed, you'll have to replace almost every daily usage of the word "know"with the word "believe". And that's fishy, to say the least. Our criteria for knowledge is far more lax than that. As such, science can never give us knowledge. It simply lacks the ability, as anything empirical must (on your view).

Hanno: Who is the one redefining knowledge? Perhaps it is you! And maybe we *know* very little.

Lee: Fine Chris Ill just go into epistemological arguments and bite the bullet. I think the notion that knowledge is justified belief in somethings standing on what it is actually true does not infringe upon empirical claims at all. As long as you don’t get into the nitty gritty dream argument that is. I am justified in my belief that 2 + 2 equals 4 because it would be a logical impossibility for it not to. So I can know that, I can also know that water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit because it does so every single time I raise it to that temperature and thus my justified belief can be called knowledge. Having a belief is a prerequisite for having knowledge, but whether or not that belief is true and having justification for believing it is true is what I believe constitutes as knowledge. I don’t think it prevents science from giving us knowledge at all.

In order to say you know something you must first have a belief, the belief must be true, and you must have justification for believing it is true. Thats where my notion of knowledge came from which is tied to my notion of confidence for better or worse.

Hanno: What lee says seems right. But we learn socially. Almost everything you think you know you learned from someone. Which is precisely why your confidence is social, too. The things you actually determine yourself are few and usually uninteresting. It would be narcissistically delusional to think you are right and everybody else is wrong about any topic the least bit interesting.

c.e.: 2 + 2 = 4 is not in the same category as water boiling at 212 F. One is confirmed merely by observation. It is necessarily the case that 2 + 2 = 4. There may be circumstances in which water does not boil at 212 F. Simply because you have never encountered that circumstance means not so much.

What we call knowledge is justified belief. We cannot be guaranteed that G or e are right in any absolute sense. We can only have good evidence to support them. We could be wrong. And as such, we may have knowledge, which is in fact false.

And once we realize justification comes in degrees, it's up for debate as to what constitutes a good(tm) justification. It's not immediately obvious that "My father loves me", and "The mass of a proton is 1.672 621 637(83) × 10−27 kg", differ in kind, or merely by relative uncertainty.... See More

Uncertainty is there. And as such, the line you are drawing between knowledge and belief is either not present, which I will concede is false, or often blurry and prone to smudging, which I will hold is true.

Empiricism can never guarantee truth. It lacks the ability to do such. But it can give us good reason to believe. And when we feel justified in our beliefs, then we call it knowledge. Whether or not we are justified, which justifications are good ones, etc., is still up in the air.

Hanno: There are lots of reasons to think that mere justified beliefs do not constitute knowledge. And not even true justified beliefs, for which you can speak to Dr. Furman, as his dissertation deals with just that claim. For example, I might look up at Big Ben, and the clock says 12:00. So given the belief that Big Ben is an accurate clock, I may be justified in believing that it is 12 o'clock. But we would not call that knowledge if it turned out that Big Ben stopped working, unbeknownst to me. And even if it happened at that moment to be 12, but the clock stuck on 12, I would have a justified true belief, but it is missing something, because it is just by accident that the clock has the right time (a stopped clock is right twice a day). True justified belief plus something extra = knowledge. Thanks to GE Moore for the example.

But be that as it may, my belief that Big Ben is usually right is socially constructed. And if everyone around me told me that Big Ben was not working, or that it was wrong, I would be an idiot to keep having confidence in its verdicality.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


By Hanno

Last year we started doing a series of lectures using film as the background for questions in Philosophy, which we called 'filmosophy.' It is easy to use film to raise philosophical issues when you choose philosophically oriented films, such as the classic 'The Seventh Seal.' I, however, also wanted to explore philosophy in films that were not so obvious, and I wanted to do that for two reasons: First, I thought the audience for heavy films would be small, so the group that shows up would be small, and we were looking for something with more appeal. And second, it is more of challenge to show that there are Platonic overtones to, say, Starship Troopers, than to show questions about the meaning of life in The Seventh Seal. After all, no one thinks Starship Troopers has any philosophical content, while everyone who has seen the later knows there is philosophical content to the Seventh Seal.

I was going to do 'The Truman Show,' Jim Carey's movie about a guy whose whole life is a reality show, only he does not know it. I may still, at some point. But I thought of three others I would rather do:

The Mind/Body Problem and 'Ghost'
The Metaphysics of Time and 'Back to the Future'
Horror and 'Night of the Living Dead'

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The End of Philosophers

Simon Critchley, a philosopher at the New School for Social Research, presents a fascinating and funny examination of how many of the great philosophers met their ultimate end. Critchley is the author of The Book of Dead Philosophers (2008), an examination of the philosophical concept of death.

Daniel Dennett on Philosophy Blogs

Dennett wrote this brief essay as the judge of the 3 quarks daily prize in philosophy. Worth a read.

I wish philosophy blog postings were more like the best science blog postings: short, jargon-free, and lively (if wit is too much to hope for, as apparently it is). Philosophers emerge from a training in which their writing efforts are almost always addressed to a captive audience: the grader is obliged to read the student’s essay, however turgid and ungainly, because that is the student’s right; then later, the others in the field with whom one is engaged in intellectual combat are obliged to read one’s latest sally simply because scholarship demands it. “You don’t know the literature” if you haven’t managed to claw your way through the books and articles of the competition. Moreover, writing something that is somewhat challenging to read, or even unpleasantly difficult to slog through, is seen by some as an enviable sign of depth. It is, I fear, the only way many philosophers can prove to colleagues and students–and to themselves–that they are doing hard work worth a professor’s salary.

Blogs, one might think, would be the ideal antidote, since nobody has to read your blog (not yet–the day will soon come when keeping up with the latest blog debates is the first rule for aspiring philosophical quidnuncs.) Alas, however, it seems that there is a countervailing pressure–or absence of pressure–that dissipates the effect: the blog genre is celebrated as a casual, self-indulgent form of self-expression. Easy to write, but not always delicious reading. (Remember, I tell my students, it is the reader, not the writer, who is supposed to have the fun.)

It is hard to see how blogs could survive without Google. If you are interested in the problem of reference in property dualism, or Buddhist anticipations of virtue ethics, or whatever, you can swiftly find the small gang who share your interest, and join the conversation without having to go through the long initiation process that introduces the outside reader to the terms, the state of the art, the current controversy. That means, however, that those who don’t share that interest will find nothing to appeal to them on those websites.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Oh the places you will go...

For those of you who are still unconvinced of the beauty in librarianship, I give you this job posting that came across the wire today:


Grateful Dead Archivist

The University Library of the University of California, Santa Cruz, seeks an enterprising, creative, and service-oriented archivist to join the staff of Special Collections & Archives (SC&A) as Archivist for the Grateful Dead Archive. This is a potential career status position. The Archivist will be part of a dynamic, collegial, and highly motivated department dedicated to building, preserving, promoting, and providing maximum access both physically and virtually to one of the Library's most exciting and unique collections, The Grateful Dead Archive (GDA). The UCSC University Library utilizes innovative approaches to allow the discovery, use, management, and sharing of information in support of research, teaching, and learning.

Under the general direction of the Head of Special Collections and Archives, the GDA Archivist will provide managerial and curatorial oversight of the Grateful Dead Archive, plan for and oversee the physical and digital processing of Archives related material, and promote the GDA to the public and facilitate its use by scholars, fans, and students.

See the full description here

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Commercialization and Art

By Hanno

I read an argument not so long ago that runs something like this: Movie studios are now owned by large corporations, and these corporations bought the studios when they realized the profits that could be made through blockbusters. These movies make millions and millions of dollars. So the corporate culture is geared now less to making good movies, and more to making the next blockbuster. But blockbusters require two things: major stars and special effects, both of which are expensive. Hence, studios are making fewer more expensive movies, hoping to strike it rich.

Further, these movies must appeal to as many people as possible, and hence must aim at the lowest common denominator, things everyone wants to see. Therefore, they are splashy, lots of explosions, filled with pretty people, and not thought provoking or controversial. They do not challenge the system, they embody it. Independent films have no chance in today's market.

Now I wonder just how true these claims are. First, one may note that there has always existed a tension between the desires of the artist and the desires of the consumer (or the people who pay for the art). An artist who produces for the consumer seems to not be true to the artistic nature of the medium, i.e., they are not being true artists. They are, in a real sense, selling out, chasing the buck.

As plausible as this argument sounds, the reality is more grey. The fact is that artists have always had to pay attention to the desires of the person or people paying for the art work. The Beatles were a commercial group, and their manager choose the look, the music and more with an eye to what sells. The Who, the Sex Pistols, and many more, made music with a conscious eye towards what would sell. They ceded power to their managers to help make this choice, and the manager did more than just get gigs. He would choose which songs to put on the album, for example. Pete Townsend pitched his concept album Tommy to his manager, aware that the manager was not interested in concepts of self, rock opera, mysticism, but in what sells, and Pete let himself be guided by that. 'Pinball wizard' is what made the whole thing work, a pop song about a guy who plays pinball. The bands that make it big do not work with a manager, but for him. And yet, no one can deny the artistic nature of the product. Apparently, art and commercialization are more closely connected than we thought.

The same is true in days of old, where it was not the masses that choose the music, but the patrons of the art, whose taste in art was as suspect as any of the masses. Bach, Beethoven, Rembrandt and many more, worked by commission, or by the whim of the patron, whose tastes they could not ignore.

And the same is true for movies: many classics were produced with commercial interests in mind. 'Star Wars' is a both a blockbuster and a classic movie.

And yet, no one (save Josh) can deny that popular culture can produce popular trash, from Louisiana's own Brittany Spears to the Bay City Rollers to Pat Gibson . So when then does pop destroy art? Does it at all?

Second, I read that there are fewer independent movies, fewer low budget movies, fewer artist movies, fewer thought provoking movies than before, But I wonder just how true that is. Are movies worse, different than before? SteveG argues in his own blog that the blockbusters lack tragic heros, and hence they have been on the decline. Yet if we think about it, there are tragic hero's in today's moves. DiCaprio in Blood Diamonds comes to mind. Is he right? Has the commercialization of the movie industry (and notice that that term 'movie industry' is old, it was an industry already in the '30s!) destroyed tragedy? And with it, the thought provoking movies of old?

Friday, October 30, 2009

New Direction?

by Hanno

Someone told me I have mined this Nietzsche vein for all its worth. I have more to say, but I have been on one topic way to long. Thoughts?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Life and Pain

By Hanno

Just as a work of art or literature has many different meanings, just as we can learn from how others see a work of art, or read a work of literature, so we can do the same with life itself. But we do not need a notion of absolute truth in meaning for that to make sense. In fact, perhaps the opposite: when we demand that others read Shakespeare like we read Shakespeare, because we have the truth, we automatically shut down the other. But is our 'truth' really truth?

Why would we need truth to appreciate art? Indeed, do we not have to embrace the false? Realism in art is always a lie. It really is a statue, not a man. It really is a 2 dimensional picture, not a person. When an artist draws it 'as it is' it is essentially a lie. And then the other forms of art leave even the hint of realism behind. No, I think he is right: to appreciate art, to get something interesting out of art, you must not pretend it is the truth, but embrace the lie, give the lie meaning. Is there truth? Even if so, it will not be interesting without the lie, without the interpretation which gives it meaning.

Does this mean we must accept any lie? No, just because it is an error does not make it an interesting one. just because it is a painting does not mean it is a good one. But the painting is good not because it captures the truth, and indeed, must capture part of the lie.

If i am making any sense (and maybe I am not!)...

I do not think Nietzsche wants the pain gone. Pain is part of life. To want the pain gone is to want life over. That is part of the anti-life vision he decries.

And if you think about your life, there were (are) pains and pleasures, sorrow and joy, bad choices, good choices, evil done to you and good things done to you. But you would not be who you are if you did not fully accept both, and all. All of your experiences shape who you became. You would not be who you are today without the bad times. So to want only the good is to want to be something other than you are. To love yourself is to love yourself as you are, and that requires loving the bad things, too. Loving life requires loving things difficult to love.

And if you think of art, the same is true. Art requires good and evil, pain and pleasure. You love the tragedy in spite of (or even because of!) the bad. Hamlet would not be Hamlet if he did not die in the end.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nietzsche, Life as Art

by Hanno

I want to take a look at Nietzsche's "Attempt at Self-Criticism," his piece where he tries to explain his work "The Birth of Tragedy." He writes:
Perhaps the depth of this antimoral propensity is best inferred from the careful and hostile silence with which Christianity is treated throughout the whole book -- Christianity as the most prodigal elaboration of the moral theme to which humanity has ever been subjected. In truth, nothing could be more opposed to the purely aesthetic interpretation and justification of the world which are taught in this book than the Christian teaching, which is and wants to be, only moral and which relegates are, every art, to the realm of lies; with its absolute standards, beginning with the truthfulness of God, it negates, judges and damns art.
This clearly begins a new critique of morality, and of Christianity, but also offers a view of something else, something important. First, he tells us that the Christian world view is a moral world view. There maybe other moral points of view, there surely are, but the Christian view is the most thoroughgoing example of a moral view. As such, it demands absolute standard, especially truthfulness. This in and of itself is a key to understanding him. As part of the Genealogy, Nietzsche writes that the question which really guides his later work is Why value truth? Is truth valuable in and of itself? Kant thought so. Is truth valuable because the truth is useful? But then it should not be valued if it is not useful. No, it is the unrelenting, unyielding insistence on truth that lies at the heart of the matter.

This world view eliminates, makes impossible other world views, especially artistic ones. Now if we read Nietzsche as valuing the arts above all, we can get a totally new way to read the Genealogy: This is not praising the brute nobles of old, but opening up the possibility of a different world view, by showing that truth is not the only way, morality is not the only way. We can value this world, this life aesthetically, as a work of art, nay, as a work of literature, with all that that implies. It is not the warriors of old that Nietzsche truly admires, but the artists, the brilliant, the wonders.

Truthfulness is hostility to art and to life, claims Nietzsche. But why? He claims that he understood that Christianity was hostile to life long before:
Behind this mode of thought and valuation, which must be hostile to art if it is at all genuine, I never failed to sense a hostility to life -- a furious, vengeful antipathy to life itself: for all of life is based on semblance, art, deception, points of view, and the necessity of perspectives and error.[italics added]
Here is an interesting claim: Life is art, and art is deception, a lie, a distortion. If you think that truth is good, then you think he is damning life. But if art is wonderful, then this vision of life is wonderful, too. And I think he may well be right: the story we tell ourselves about our life, or about the events of day to day, did not happen as we remember. We tell ourselves a story, and it is as interesting and important as it is false. And the story we tell ourselves alters as life goes on, embellishing, and distorting, giving events meaning and significance. We focus on certain features, and ignore others, just as we do when we interpret a work of literature. But it is literally false, it did not happen as we remember it, its meaning is not in the events, but in the telling, in the significance we give it. Our life is a lie. Sometimes painful ("My mother never loved me"), sometimes joyful ("I found my one true soulmate!"). Art does not have to have a happy ending. We can also go back, and rethink what happened to us, the events that shape us, reinterpret our very lives. And when we do, it is our life that actually changes.

But the moral view, the Christian view,
was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life's nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in "another" or "better" life.
If this life is a preface for another, better world, be it Heaven or Nirvana, what does that say about this world, this life? The more you long for a better place, the more you damn this one. the more you long for peace, for rest, the more you show your true view of this life: toil, pain, suffering. And that is to view life itself as something essentially bad. That is life's nausea: this life makes you sick, you just want it to end. The vision of this life as a punishment for original sin is just an example of this train of thought: Life interpreted as a punishment. But who could think that, if they had a fundamentally positive view of life?

So Nietzsche is yearning for a world view that makes this life valuable, worthy, wonderful, and finds that possibility in art, in a different value scheme than the moral value scheme. To the extent that your moral view, your Christian view, does not reject this world, but revels in it, Nietzsche has less of a problem with it. To the extent that your world view makes way for art, values the deceptions that make our life as we live it, Nietzsche is not arguing with you. When you love this world as it is (Ha!), bad and good, true and false, differing view points and all, then you may be living as Nietzsche hoped.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Logic by Combat

By Hanno

So I am in Logic, and two students differ about a problem. One thinks the problem is valid, the other invalid. Then it hits me: Let them fight it out! Instead of trial by combat, we can have Logic by Combat! And the best part is that we know God will be on the side of right. In the beginning was the word, and the word was God. But the 'word' in Greek was 'logos' the root of the English word logic. God was logic! With him on your side, you cannot lose!

Watching logic by combat should be far more interesting than doing truth tables, or proofs.

PS behind on my grading, hope to get my next Nietzsche piece this week, asap.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Dangerous Precedents

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that "Butler University has sued an undergraduate student for making libelous and defamatory statements about administrators on a blog he kept anonymously." [full story] Essentially, Jess Zimmerman, a student, didn't agree with an administrative decision that removed the chair of the Butler’s School of Music. In full disclosure, the chair of the music department also happened to be the student's stepmother. The lawsuit is bizarre, to the say least, since the student's blog were more critical than malicious. He largely questioned certain administrators actions and called into question the handling of the process. Shortly thereafter, Butler University filed a libel and defamation suit against the student.

So as to dissociate the institutional response from the faculty response, several faculty members have spoken up about this case. An English professor wrote an editorial to the student newspaper questioning “the practice of suing our own students for their utterance." Needless to say, the idea of academic freedom is at the center of this debate.

The decision of this case is important for any number of philosophy club blogs, like this one. Philosophy adopts a critical model of inquiry that posits truth as the ultimate pursuit. Attacks are leveled at arguments, not people. Weak arguments are discarded for stronger arguments. Philosophers train their students within this method, for the pursuit of truth. Moreover, philosophers don't sue their pupils when they engage in ad hominem attacks, they point out their error and correct the method.

Topics of philosophical discussion can range from ethical vampires to vegetarianism. Often, philosophical discussions center on politics and power. Nietzsche, for example, is good discussion fodder for critiques of power. At times, philosophical discussion can aim at institutions - whether they be governmental, financial, or educational. A good philosopher encourages discussion and sometimes provokes pupils to engage and speak up about any number of topics. Success can be measured by the number of gadflys produced when the class or session is concluded.

The most engaged gadflys will continue the conversation outside of the classroom, even commenting and posting on a philosophical blog (wink). Jess Zimmerman, a gadfly, began posting and commenting on the leadership and power of the educational institution in which he was engaged. Unfortunately, those in power are the least accepting of critique. This gadfly was squashed.

This case appears to be isolated, but could easily apply to any number of philosophical blogs around the country connected to a university. The precedent at stake is a narrowing of philosophical discourse by punishing any criticism of structural power in the educational enterprise. A topic that may very well occur at any university among philosophy students.

As the article states, Zimmerman's first post to the blog read, “This is not a forum for attack. It is a forum for truth." A statement equally applicable to any number of philosophical blogs, radio stations, and classrooms.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nietzsche On Nietzsche

by Hanno

Nietzsche's metaphor of the lamb and the bird of prey, and his critique of morality as a mere perspective, one which need not be shared by everyone, seems to suggest that some people are exempt from morality: they are apart from, distinct from the herd, and do not share its morality. And cruel. We are cruel, too, we lambs. Just look at how we use morality to sit in judgment of others, how we use truth to be brutally honest, how we tease, and how we then turn our cruelty on ourselves, as we feel guilty about our cruelty. But they are cruel in an immoral way. If they are good, powerful, healthy, ought we put up with them? Ought we to become like them?

Nietzsche writes about his own work in various places. In Ecce Homo, he writes about the Genealogy of Morals, the work where he seems to praise the warrior the most. But he writes there that the first essay, where he describes the history of morality, as one where he shows Christianity is born out of the spirit of resentment. He does not even hint that the opposite, the noble value scheme, ought to be our own. This suggests that the point of the essay is not prescriptive in any way, but rather, is destructive: it wants above all to show that what we take to be universal values are not, what we take to be good was not always so. In short, writers about morality get it wrong because they did not understand the historical nature of all values. The third essay declares that man would rather will nothingness than not will. He means that our need for a reason why we suffer, why we live, is so great, we would rather accept a perspective that makes life itself a bad thing, a punishment, something to be accepted until something better comes our way, than live a life without meaning, without purpose. "A counterideal was lacking," he writes, "until Zarathustra." This counterideal can then not be the ideal of the noble warrior, since that existed before the Christian ideal. But the third essay, too, suggests nothing positive. It does not describe a counterideal, indeed, it is not mentioned until Nietzsche writes later about the third essay. It is not in the third essay at all.

Whatever this ideal is, or ought to be, it cannot be morality, it must be life affirming: this life, the life we live, is the point, and not the everlasting life here after. But what does this mean? And when we look at this, we will see the deeper critique of morality and Christianity.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Nietzsche and Morailty

by Hanno

As I was thinking of how to structure this entry, I realized quickly that i was biting off more than I could chew: sometimes philosophy is not well suited to a blog. Be that as it may, and end of the excuses, here goes:

Nietzsche's critique of morality is multifaceted. In the background of this critique, it may be useful to ask just what Nietzsche means (and hence just what do we mean) by the term 'morality.'

First, Nietzsche argues that the notion of choice is essential to any moral scheme. It is because we have a choice in our words and actions that someone else can sit in judgment of our actions, an essential feature of morality. If we were determined, programmed to act as we do, then it seems hard to blame someone for who they are, or for the actions they take. Nietzsche actually uses this straightforward and traditional critique of morality early in his writings, in the Gay Science, for example. There, he assumes that science, with its deterministic view of physical objects, its Newtonian mechanics, and with its view of man as a physical object, shows that morality is an illusion.

In later works, he becomes suspicious of science, too, and comes to see science itself not as vehicle for truth, but just another perspective, deeply rooted in the moral one: the central drive of science is truth, and that is a central focus of the moral view. As he becomes suspicious of truth, he must rethink his argument. But in a different form it appears again in his more mature writings. For example, in The Geneaology of Morals, first essay, section 13, he writes that an object is inseparable from the things that it does, so that it truly is what it does. Only the illusion of grammar, subject and object, makes it seem different. That is why we cannot ask of strength that it not be strong, because to be healthy is to do healthy things, and to be sick is to do sickly things. What you do is what you are. The fiction is that there is a thing-in-itself, or an atom, or some metaphysical posit, that is different from what it does, and hence can do otherwise. This belief is then exploited, Nietzsche writes,

for their own ends and in fact maintain no belief more ardently than the belief that the strong man is free to be weak and the bird of prey the lamb- for thus they gain the right to make the bird of prey accountable for being a bird of prey.
Thus, the concept of the soul, of something that can make choices, makes it possible to interpret their weakness, their inability to do something, as a choice.

I think this implies, but for non-scientific reasons, a hard core determinism. We are not determined by the laws of physics and biology, no. But we are what we do, we would not be who we are if we did any differently. If there is no thing that can do otherwise, no agent, then it is hard to see how we have a choice in anything we do. And it is certainly true that Hanno would not be Hanno if he did not do everything that he actually did, and will do. If so, the moral view is incoherent.

A second critique of morality, and the one Nehamas highlights, is that the moral perspective denies that it is a perspective. In that, it holds everyone by the same standard, and demands of everyone that they share the same view. In the same section, 13, Nietzsche uses the metaphor of the lamb and the bird of prey:
That lambs dislike birds of prey does not seem strange: only it gives no grounds for reproaching these birds of prey for bearing off little lambs. And if the lambs say amongst themselves: "These birds of prey are evil; and whoever is least like a bird of prey, but rather its opposite, a lamb- would he not be good?" there is no reason to find fault with this institution of an ideal...
This analogy is quite rich, and has been read in different ways. for me, the most important features include first, that just because the lamb creates their value scheme from there own experience is no reason to suppose that those values are in fact universal. Yet morality does just that, demanding that those who do not see the world in that way ought to. And second, that there is nothing wrong in the creation of the lambs value scheme. Given who the lambs are, they are right to form their world view in that way. Indeed, not to do so, not to see the birds of prey as evil, seems crazy. Just do not think that the birds of prey should view themselves in the same way, says Nietzsche. Third, the metaphor shows how the value scheme is created from the weakness of the weak, from the psychological needs of the weak. They are victims, and look at the world as victims. Morality, Nietzsche is saying, is itself a victim mentality, a need for a spiritual revenge, one which is created because actual revenge is impossible precisely because they are lambs.

If he is right, then morality is just a perspective. But the moral view denies this. For Nietzsche, the moral view is also the view of the ascetic, the view that pain and suffering, and the absence of pleasure and living, are good. The ascetic ideal says 'no' to life. Sex is bad. Power is bad. Conflict is bad. Wealth is bad. Meekness, humility, poverty, chastity, these things are good. Nietzsche then associates the values of the monk with the values of morality. We may see that someone like Kant would agree. Morality says 'no' to the desires which make us happy. But the monk, the puritan, the moral crusader, is not content to life his or her life in that way, but demands that everyone ought to live like this, too.

The ascetic ideal has a goal - a goal which is so universal that all other interests in human existence, measured against it, seem small and narrow. It interprets times, people, and humanity unsparingly with this goal in mind. It permits no other interpretation. No other goal counts. It rejects, denies, affirms, and confirms only through its own interpretative meaning (and has there ever been an interpretative system more thoroughly thought through?). It doesn`t submit to any power. By contrast, it believes in its privileged position in relation to all other powers, in its absolutely higher ranking with respect to all other powers. It believes that there is no power on earth which does not have to derive its meaning first from it, a right to exist, a value, as a tool in its own work, as a way and a means to its own goals, to a single goal. . .
It insists that it is the truth, and this is part of the world view, the interpretation itself.

Now, if Nietzsche hopes for an alternative, it becomes a key feature that this alternative does not suffer from these properties, and hence will not be morality at all. It will be a value scheme, yes, an interpretation, yes... but not the life killing moral scheme of 'NO!' And it will not sit in judgment of others. It may well be that other views are the product of weakness, of sickness... but they are the values suitable to those people. They cannot do anything else. The lamb cannot cease to be a lamb just because someone tells them she is a product of disease.

I have a third critique of Morality on Nietzsche's view, but this is already too long, so it will have to wait. Till next time.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Full Disclosure

By Hanno

In response to the FCC's decision to force bloggers to disclose all connections between blogger and corporations, I want to inform my readers that the series on Nietzsche has been underwritten by Random House in an effort to get people to buy more books. They gave me lots of money. Lots. L O T S.

The next part will appear tomorrow, as I am snowed under with grading at the moment.

And remember: Buy books. And read them. Don't just buy them, put them on your shelf, and pretend you read them. Yes, we know you do that. Its pathetic, really. Now go read.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Nietzsche and the Psychology of the Weak

By Hanno

Nietzsche does not believe in truth. There is no 'way the world is,' discoverable by reason' or by any other method. Instead, there are perspectives, ways of viewing the world, or interpretations. And if there is no way the world is, then there is no sense in critiquing ways of understanding the world for not being 'truthful' or matching up with the way the world is. For Nietzsche, your beliefs say more about you then they do about the world. So one can always fruitfully ask whenever someone tells you what they believe: what does this say about them? Nietzsche has deep insight to the darker parts of the human mind, and thus what he finds is not necessarily comfortable or nice. It turns out that many of our prized views are shaped by psychological forces that are not pretty.

Thus, for example, a question about the existence of God turns into a question about the psychology of the believer (or non-believer): what psychological needs make some people believe in such a thing? Kant's adherence to an inflexible moral scheme is not a feature of some moral truth, but rather a feature of Kant's psychology: Why is it that Kant needs morals to be absolute? And Hume's adherence to a flexible moral scheme raises the same kind of question. It, too, is not a feature of some moral truth, but rather flows from Hume's own psychology. It is psychology that shapes beliefs, not the world.

Nietzsche also thinks that physiology shapes psychology. A sickly body is the cause of the sickly mind. We do not choose interpretations or our psychological makeup. It is all determined by our physical well being.

It is also the case that on his view, modern man is man in decline. Weak, effeminate, and above all, sickly. He envisions a war between strong and weak natures, a battle of values, centuries old, roman warrior vs Jewish/Christian, Bird of Prey/Sheep, and the Jewish/Christian value scheme has won. But the scheme is not a choice, the people's value scheme is a product of their psychology and physiology. With the victory of the masses comes the decay of mind and body. Make no mistake about it (and the people who love Nietzsche always get this wrong), the sheep won. There are no more strong birds of prey. We are the sheep. Anyone who thinks he is not is sadly deluded, and more sick than anyone else.

If there is no truth, there still are perspectives that are better than others. On what basis? Psychology. Some perspectives flow from psychological strength and health, others from weakness and sickliness. Nietzsche will then rail against some perspectives, but never because they are not true. Always, it is because they are the product of sick minds.

The principle sickness is spite, vengefulness, which is created by the consciousness of impotence. Find monstrous rage, anywhere in the world, and you will find people who are conscious of their lack of power. But there is more to the story, and this is very important: They let their lack of power define who they are, and the way they see the world. It gnaws at them. They cannot let it go. It is the outcasts in high school who are bitterly resentful at the way they are treated by the social hierarchy, and let that define who they are, so that their very value system is framed as an antithesis for the popular, that they view themselves superior because they recognize the stupidity of the social elite (and they may well be! Truth is not the issue!). Or the popular themselves who need to feel superior to others, a need which manifests itself by putting down the people they hate with a kind of viciousness that shocks, always answerable to deep insecurity. It is people in Palestine, who define themselves though the losing struggle with Israel, alway, always aware that they have lost every battle in the decades long war. It is the people in Israel, who define themselves as a people under siege (doe not that very conception come with it the consciousness of the lack of power?). It is the people in the American South, who remember the civil war, their loss being the defining moment of their culture, and it shapes a hatred for those who won. Etc., etc., etc. From serious politics to trivial social arrangements, the rage comes from the same place: awareness of the lack of power, and that lack defining who they are. The story is the same, because the cause is the same: vengeful spite shaping a perspective, a world view, psychology shaping their interpretation of the world.

The need to feel superior, to demonstrate superiority, is itself the product of the feeling of inferiority, a psychological need. The weak are defined by that need. They may in some ways appear strong. But it is only an appearance. The truly strong can let things go, have no need to feel special, no need to demonstrate superiority. They may do things that hurt others, but are not wracked by guilt about such things, nor do such things as a reaction. If they do something wrong, they learn from it, and move on.

Next: morality

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Nietzsche and Me

by Hanno

When I first began my philosophical studies ages ago at the University of Texas (Hook Em!), three philosophers gripped my attention: Plato, Nietzsche and Parmenides. With any true love, an ember always remains long after the fire burns out. I never lost my love of Plato, nor Parmenides, and I will always be in the debt of Paul Woodruff, Professor of Philosophy and Classics at UT, for having introduced me to both. Nietzsche on the other hand...

It was late great philosopher Louis Mackey who, in a course called 'God and Man' made me read Niezsche for the first time. Niezsche's challenge to conventional morality, his joyful maliciousness, and his love of individualism, of turning things upside down, all griped the young Hanno. I began a serious study of his work, but quickly found myself reading, but not understanding. I spent an entire summer working my way through Niezsche's 'Beyond Good and Evil' as well as other pieces, and while I a was amused, I was not any the wiser. I felt the content disappear the closer I read.

And I became disenchanted with just what I was reading. The abolition of morality as a value scheme sounds fine when you do not like the rules of morality, but when you think about its consequences, it is uncomfortable at best. Mackey told me once that there was no need to worry about 'what if everyone thought like that,' because not everyone would think like that. Only those who can challenge morality are able to do so, and the vast numbers of people are closer to sheep, living in the way only sheep can live. While that makes some sense, I began to fear the non-sheep among us, and that fear was greater than my youthful chaffing under the rules I did not ask for and did not particularly like. After I read other philosophers, like Hume, I began to see those rules as far more important than I understood before. I turned from Nietzsche, and I studied him only in passing while in Graduate school.

But I never left him entirely. When I taught my first Introduction to Philosophy, I was able to choose any works and any theme whatsoever to teach. Much to my surprise, I choose Nietzsche as part of the course, and it has stayed there for 20 years. In the beginning, I loved the reaction he got, but my lectures were empty. I could not teach for more than 1 week in him, as I ran out of things to say. I remember one test question I asked was 'Nietzsche sure is fun to read, but is there anything to what he is saying?' The question itself shows how dismissively I took his writing. Yet I still taught him, and read him.

I did learn in graduate school (from the noted Nietzsche scholar Alexander Nahamas), that there was more to what I read than I thought, but it still seems awful, and false. Nietzsche, I was told, did not believe in truth at all, but in perspectives. He was no a relativist, however, as he believed that some perspectives are better than others. All value was the product of an perspective, of an interpretation of the world, and there was no way around this. The critique of morality lies not on its being false (that would be inconsistent), but in its origin, which was the product of weak, sickly minds, the sheep huddled together for protection. Maybe, I thought. But what serious alternatives are there? The values of the wolf? Indeed, it seemed as if Nietzsche wanted us to return to some barbaric warrior ethos. A moral scheme that raping and pillaging and using/destroying the weak seems straightforwardly misguided. But was that what Nietzsche was advocating? To be sure, many read him that way.

I will in the coming weeks try to make sense of some of Nietzsche's writing, and show that there is more to his view than the idiotic love of 'strength,' whatever that may mean. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Allegory: A Recipe

When baked in a brick oven with some melted thought, given a few splashes of intertextual reading, this pizza makes a delicious and tantalizing meal. The Philo, which has a complex neo-platonic flavor to it, accentuates the Augustine and Aquinas nicely. The Augustine is pleasantly existential and retains its characteristically fresh, clean literalism. The important point in working with Aquinas, as with all medieval flavors, is to let the flavors enliven one another through varied forms of taste; otherwise it will burn and the beautiful flavor will be spoiled. You will need:

1 Creation of the World by Philo of Alexandria
1 Summa Theologica by St. Thomas Aquinas
1 Confessions by St. Augustine of Hippo
1 Additional Creation Story (preferably the revised standard version of the Holy
3 Medium sized attributes of Allegory:

1.) An abstraction in the guise of concrete image. An attempt to evok
a dual interest, one in
the events, characters, and settings presented, and the
other in the ideas they are intended
to convey or the significance they bear.

2.) Its abstract correlatives are clearly discernible and are consisten in their relationships
with the personifications or symbols which represent them in
the surface plot
3.) The philosophical thesis thus acted out is of wide applicability to human experience

In the beginning, thoroughly wash your Philo of any Greek contaminants and place it along side your story of creation. Take the first day to sketch out in your mind nearly all the ingredients from the creation story separating ‘heaven’, ‘earth’, ‘darkness’, ‘the deep’, ‘spirit’, ‘waters’ and ‘light’ from Genesis 1:1-3. This framework is important as we begin to turn these incorporeal ideas into corporeal substance for our sauce.[1] Since one cannot create a good imitation without a good model, do not skimp on this portion of the recipe. The creation story can be served cold from the literal sense of the words, but the flavors most fully emerge when its contents are abstracted in such a way that the ingredients rise above the subtlety of the literal text.

Once this step is accomplished, we will use the next five days to create the cosmological sauce for our pizza. Note: pay close attention to the number of ingredients used as your final prodcut may become disordered, and there is no beauty in disorder. For the sake of harmony, let’s use four different ingredients: neo-platonic, philosophical allegorical, symbolic, and mathematical. Mix these four ingredients together into a bowl and heat under the light of intellect for approximately six minutes. To ensure quality of the sauce, periodically verify the sauce with your external senses; it follows by necessity that if the sauce is visible then it must have been created properly.[2] Once the sauce is heated if there is an excessive amount of indiscernible allegory in the dish, not just a rich creation story, carefully pour it into an abstraction of numerical hermeneutics, bring to a boil, and reduce until a richer allegory is formed. A superior Philo sauce is slightly bland upon first taste but gradually builds flavor upon successive tasting, and should be palatable to those served.

Next take 1 cup Augustine and ½ cup creation story and mix together in a medium sauce pan. Once the dough is in a ball, begin kneading it with your hands. Allow the dough to stick to your hands and let it shape you insomuch as you shape the dough. Roll the dough into a roughly 10" round, like stretching out the firmament of the Book as a skin. Use a pie pin to pound or stretch the dough into an unformed spiritual entity.[3] Take into consideration that an unformed spiritual entity is more excellent than a formed corporeal entity.[4]

As you place the dough onto a baking stone, let the dough form itself into place by its own gravity. It you have implanted the proper amount of goodwill and love into the dough it should transform from unordered restlessness into a rested order. Please note that everyone’s dough will look different. Take ¼ cup of allegorical analysis and drizzle it over the dough. A ¼ cup will retain a thicker crust and make the dough more autobiographical. If you wish to have a thinner, less applicable dough of human experience use ½ cup of allegorical analysis. A good Augustine dough will have a hint of neo-Platonism, the zest of spiritual allegory, and a tang of literal existential.

With the dough in place take the prepared Philo sauce, which should be still be warm from the light of intellect, and spread it over the Augustine dough. The sauce should lie just above the surface of the dough and create dual interest in the sauce as well as the dough.

Finally, take some blocks of finely selected Aquinas cheese (literal, spiritual, allegorical, moral, and anagogical sense) and begin shredding them for application. At first you may object to use so many cheeses but once applied they will fit logically into the pizza. First, stuff the literal cheese into the crust of the pizza and softly pinch down the edges to tuck it into the dough. Once you have soundly placed the literal cheese into the dough, sprinkle 1/3 cup spiritual cheese over the top of the sauce covering the remaining pizza. Again, taking the spiritual cheese, (note: the spiritual cheese has a threefold flavor and each one is distinct) top off the rest of the pizza with thin shavings of allegorical, moral, and anagogical cheese.[5]

Next put the pizza in the oven and let the light of the All-Mighty’s intellect melt the cheeses into one seemingly gelatinous form. Although the layers of cheese you see before your eyes is of one substance, upon the first bite an explosion of flavor will burst forth.

When removing the hot pizza stone from the oven, be careful not to set it on a cold surface, or the stone will crack. While you devour the pizza with unfettered delight realize that all commentary is allegorical interpretation, an attaching of ideas to the structure of poetic or religious imagery. The instant that any critic (or student of hermeneutics) permits him/herself to make a genuine comment about a poem he/she has begun to allegorize. Commentary thus looks at literature or religious texts as, in its formal phase, a potential allegory of events and ideas.[6]

[1] Philo of Alexandria, A Creation of the World. Pg. 5

[2] Ibid. pg. 3

[3] St. Augustine of Hippo. The Confessions. pg. 309

[4] Ibid pg. 309

[5] St. Thomas Aquinas. The Summa Theologica. Pg. 16

[6] Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism. Princeton University Press: Princeton. 1971 pg. 139