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 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
“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
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
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.
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.