I knew that there was something fishy with postmodern philosophy. The idea that there are no indubitable laws of logic governing our discourse, nothing moral or immoral, nothing good or bad, no right or wrong, that language indefinitely defers meaning and the incredulity towards meta-narratives. The meta-narrative of evolutionary dynamics, rationality, morality and of course understanding per se are all central to my project of defining a rational morality. Taking up my Graduate Diploma in Arts with a major in Anthropology and Social Theory was specifically aimed at understanding the roots of these ideas, hoping to find the crucial flaws they must be based upon judging from the results of my own work. And boy oh boy: what a feast!

To understand postmodern philosophy is to understand the unique influence Nietzsche‘s writing had on the key figures associated with the discipline. Foucault for example had the following to say about the patron saint of postmodernity:

“Nietzsche was a revelation to me. I felt that there was someone quite different from what I had been taught. I read him with a great passion and broke with my life, left my job in the asylum, left France: I had the feeling I had been trapped. Through Nietzsche, I had become a stranger to all that.” (Foucault 1988, p. 12f)

In Foucault’s essay Nietzsche, Genealogy, History he lays bare the sources and his reasoning so central to his work: the genealogical method. As I remarked in one of my essays for the Critical Theories subject in which I analyzed Faucault’s essay:

“Exemplary of the differences between linear developmental history and the “gray, meticulous, and patiently documentary” (Foucault 1977, p. 76) of genealogy, Foucault contrasts Paul Ree’s ‘The Origin of the Moral Sensations’ (Rée 2003) with Nietzsche’s ‘On the Genealogy of Morals’ (Nietzsche 2008). He does so by highlighting Ree’s singular adherence to the overarching principle of evolutionary utility by accounting for moral development along a gradual curve. Foucault finds such methods ignoring how truths are invariably influenced by power, making them inherently dubious. He criticises Ree for failing to account for changes in meaning over time, focusing predominantly on records of events within a wrongfully assumed finality as well as ignoring unrealised potentialities. Genealogy on the other hand, Foucault insists, requires a much more profound scholarly knowledge of the subject under investigation while opposing “itself to the search for ‘origins’” (Foucault 1977, p. 77).

What is absolutely essential, crucial, nay: the sine qua non in understanding where Nietzsche made the wrong turn, is that he was basing his critique of Reé on a wrong assumption in regards to the nature of life and what sustains it. In his view, the Christian morality based on altruism was for lack of a better word ‘anti life':

“The most specific issue was the worth of the “unegoistic,” the instinct for pity, self-denial, self-sacrifice, something which Schopenhauer himself had painted with gold, deified, and projected into the next world for so long that it finally remained for him “value in itself” and the reason why he said No to life and even to himself. […] What if the truth were the other way around? Well? What if in the “good” there even lay a symptom of regression, something like a danger, a seduction, a poison, a narcotic, something which makes the present live at the cost of the future? Perhaps something more comfortable, less dangerous, but also on a smaller scale, something more demeaning? . . . So that this very morality would be guilty if the inherently possible highest power and magnificence of the human type were never attained? So that this very morality might be the danger of all dangers?” (Nietzsche 2008, prolog 5-6)

I am still a bit stunned by the irony: post modernity’s ideas regarding the absence of what can be called moral or immoral are based on a wrong conception of altruism being maladaptive when the opposite is the case. In another essay Nietzsche brings his pro-life logic even more to the point in what I like to call ‘Nietzsche’s scythe':

“Must life dominate knowledge, or knowledge life? Which of the two is the higher, and decisive power? There is no room for doubt: life is the higher, and the dominating power, for the knowledge that annihilated life would be itself annihilated too. Knowledge presupposes life, and has the same interest in maintaining it that every creature has in its own preservation.” — Nietzsche, On the Use and Abuse of History for Life

as well as

“The conditions of life might include error.” — Nietzsche, The Gay Science, aphorism 121

Of course the idea that existence is a positive property is absolutely central to my ideas as well. In this context Nietzsche’s quotes seems more like a critique of reason and I must say that I have not read enough on his critic of reason to pass final judgment, but my instinct tells me that he committed a similar folly as he did in his moral views:  a mistaken assumption on the nature of life and what sustains it. And where faulty assumptions can lead to is something that patient readers of my writing need no reminding of.

It then comes as little surprise, that Ayn Rand, having made very similar mistakes in regards to advocating the virtue of selfishness in her philosophy, was heavily influenced by Nietzsche, going as far as to proclaim that Nietzsche “beat me to all my ideas”.

Be this as it may – having been initially quite concerned on how much of an uphill battle I would face in placing my ideas on an academic foundation I am now more optimistic than ever to be able to succeed in my ambitions.

sources:

Foucault, M, 1977, ‘Nietzsche, Genealogy, History’, in DF Bouchard (ed.), Language counter-memory practice : selected essays and interviews, Ithaca, NY : Cornell Univ Press, 1977(1980).
Foucault, M, 1988, ‘Truth, Power, Self: an interview with Michel Foucault’, in LH Martin, H Gutman & PH Hutton (eds), Technologies of the self : a seminar with Michel Foucault, University of Massachusetts Press, Amherst, p. 166 p.

Nietzsche, FW 2008, On the genealogy of morals, Richer Resources Publications, Arlington, VA.

Rée, P 2003, ‘On the Origin of Moral Sensations’, in R Small (ed.), Basic writings, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Ill. ; [Great Britain], pp. liii, 178 p.

4 comments on “Faulty assumptions, Nietzsche’s scythe and postmodernity

  1. I’ve just stumbled across your website. After reading a few pieces such as the critique of Nick Bostrom, I’m intrigued, baffled, and amused by your views. As something of a postmodernist, I think you’re misguided here. As James Hughes argues in the transhumanist context, reason means nothing without starting assumptions. You’ve made a interesting critique of Nietzsche but that line of attack will not bring the whole Foucauldian school of thought crashing down.

  2. Thanks for your comments.

    You’ve made a interesting critique of Nietzsche but that line of attack will not bring the whole Foucauldian school of thought crashing down.

    I think it could actually. In the moment I am putting the finishing touches on two essays that touch on the matter of Nietzsche in more detail and propose an alternative world view rooted in science and reason alone. Stay tuned as I should be publishing quite a bit more on this particular topic in the next few days.

  3. Łukasz Stafiniak on said:

    Hi, I remember you from a couple of years ago but I forgot or haven’t realized about this blog. Sorry nothing constructive today (other than to say that at least Nietzsche got it better than Schopenhauer), but I’ll keep reading.

  4. Oh yes – from the AGI mailing list… Good memory! Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are pretty interesting. While Schopenhauer got his premises wrong (lets deny life) he got the right solution (compassion), Nietzsche got his premises right (lets affirm life) but had disastrous conclusions (egoism, suffering, anti reason and justice). Tricky thing this philosophy…

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