Revaluation of Natural Values

Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption— that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”

– Saint Paul, the Apostle, Father of Ancient Revaluation of Natural Values, First Letter to the Church at Corinth

“While it may be all right for the learned theologian to spend his whole life learnedly investigating the doctrine of Scripture and the Church, it would be a ludicrous contradiction if an existing person asked what Christianity is in terms of existence and then spent his whole life deliberating on that-for in that case when should he exist in it? … One is unable to find out what Christianity is without becoming a Christian oneself.”

– Kierkegaard, the Individual

Re: Ecclesiastes

We are unknown to ourselves, we men of knowledge – and with good reason. We  have never sought ourselves – how could it happen that we should ever find ourselves?

The will to truth which will still tempt us to many a venture, that famous truthfulness of which all philosophers so far have spoken with respect – what questions has this will to truth not laid before us! What strange, wicked, questionable questions! That is a long story even now – and yet it seems as if it had scarcely begun. Is it any wonder that we should finally become suspicious, lose patience, and turn away impatiently? that we should finally learn from this Sphinx to ask questions, too? Who is it really that puts questions to us here? What in us really wants “truth”?

Indeed we came to a long halt at the question about the cause of this will – until we finally came to a complete stop before a still more basic question. We asked about the value of this will. Suppose we want truth: why not rather untruth? and uncertainty? even ignorance?

The problem of the value of truth came before us – or was it we who came before the problem? Who of us is Oedipus here? Who the Sphinx? It is a rendezvous, it seems, of questions and question marks.

And though it scarcely seems credible, it finally almost seems to us as if the problem had never even been put so far – as if we were the first to see it, fix it with our eyes, and risk it. For it does involve a risk, and perhaps there is none that is greater.

All these pale atheists, anti-Christians, immoralists, nihilists; these skeptics, ephectics, hectics of the spirit… They are far from being free spirits: for they still have faith in truth. It is still a metaphysical faith that underlies our faith in science – and we men of knowledge of today, we godless men and anti-metaphysicians, we, too, still derive our flame from the fire ignited by a faith millennia old, the Christian faith, which was also Plato’s, that God is truth, that truth is divine. – But what if this belief is becoming more and more unbelievable, if nothing turns out to be divine any longer unless it be error, blindness, lies – if God himself turns out to be our longest lie? Science itself henceforth requires justification (which is not to say that there is any such justification).

The ascetic ideal has hitherto dominated all philosophy, because truth was posited as being, as God, as the highest court of appeal – because truth was not permitted to be a problem at all. Is this “permitted” understood? – From the moment faith in the God of the ascetic ideal is denied, a new problem arises: that of the value of truth.

No! Don’t come to me with science when I ask for the natural antagonist of the ascetic ideal, when I demand: “where is the opposing will expressing the opposing ideal?”

No! this “modern science” – let us face this fact! – is the best ally the ascetic ideal has at present, and precisely because it is the most unconscious, involuntary, hidden, and subterranean ally!

Does one still seriously believe (as theologian’s imagined for a while) that Kant’s victory over the dogmatic concepts of theology (“God,” “soul,” “freedom,” “immortality”) damaged that ideal?

The ascetic ideal has at present only one kind of real enemy capable of harming it: the comedians of this ideal – for they arouse mistrust of it. Everywhere else that the spirit is strong, mighty, and at work without counterfeit today, it does without ideals of any kind – the popular expression for this abstinence is “atheism” – except for its will to truth. But this will, this remnant of an ideal, is, if you will believe me, this ideal itself in its strictest, most spiritual formulation, esoteric through and through, with all external additions abolished, and thus not so much its remnant as its kernel. Unconditional honest atheism (and its is the only air we breathe, we more spiritual men of this age!) is therefore not the antithesis of that ideal, as it appears to be; it is rather only one of the latest phases of its evolution, one of its terminal forms and inner consequences – it is the awe-inspiring catastrophe of two thousand years of training in truthfulness that finally forbids itself the lie involved in belief in God.

The same evolutionary course in India, completely independent of ours, should prove something: the same ideal leads to the same conclusion.

What, in all strictness, has really conquered the Christian God? Christian morality itself, the concept of truthfulness taken more and more strictly, the confessional subtlety of the Christian conscience translated and sublimated into the scientific conscience, into intellectual cleanliness at any price. To view nature as if it were a proof of the goodness and providence of a God; to interpret history to the glory of a divine reason, as the perpetual witness to a moral world order and moral intentions; to interpret one’s own experiences, as pious men long interpreted them, as if everything were preordained, everything a sign, everything sent for the salvation of the soul – that now belongs to the past, that has the conscience against it, that seems to every more sensitive conscience indecent, dishonest, mendacious, feminism, weakness, cowardice: it is this rigor if anything that makes us good Europeans and the heirs of Europe’s longest and bravest self-overcoming.

All great things bring about their own destruction through an act of self-overcoming: thus the law of life will have it, the law of the necessity of “self-overcoming” in the nature of life – the lawgiver himself eventually receives the call: “submit to the law you yourself proposed.” In this way Christianity as a dogma was destroyed by its own morality; in the same way Christianity as morality must now perish, too: we stand on the threshold of this event. After Christian truthfulness has drawn one inference after another, it must end by drawing its most striking inference, its inference against itself; this will happen, however, when it posts the question “what is the meaning of all will to truth?”

And here I again touch on my problem, on our problem: what meaning would our whole being possess if it were not this, that in us the will to truth becomes conscious of itself as a problem?

As the will to truth thus gains self-consciousness – there can be no doubt of that – morality will gradually perish now: this is the great spectacle in a hundred acts reserved for the next two centuries in Europe – the most terrible, most questionable, and perhaps also the most hopeful of all spectacles. –

Apart from the ascetic ideal, man, the human animal, had no meaning so far. His existence on earth contained no goal; “why man at all?” – was a question without an answer; the will for man and earth was lacking; behind every great human destiny there sounded as a refrain a yet greater “in vain!” This is precisely what the ascetic ideal means: that something was lacking, that man was surrounded by a fearful void – he did not know how to justify, to account for, to affirm himself; he suffered from the problem of his meaning. He also suffered otherwise, he was in the main a sickly animal: but his problem was not suffering itself, but that there was no answer to the crying question, “why do I suffer?”

Man, the bravest of animals and the one most accustomed to suffering, does not repudiate suffering as such; he desires it, he even seeks it out, provided he is shown a meaning for it, a purpose of suffering. The meaninglessness of suffering, not suffering itself, was the curse that lay over mankind so far – and the ascetic ideal offered man meaning! It was the only meaning offered so far; any meaning is better than none at all; the ascetic ideal was in every sense the “faute de mieux” par excellence so far. In it, suffering was interpreted; the tremendous void seemed to have been filled; the door was closed to any kind of suicidal nihilism. This interpretation – there is no doubt of it – brought fresh suffering with it, deeper, more inward, more poisonous, more life-destructive suffering: it placed all suffering under the perspective of guilt.

But all this notwithstanding – man was saved thereby, he possessed a meaning, he was henceforth no longer like a leaf in the wind, a plaything of nonsense – the “sense-less” – he could now will something; no matter at first to what end, why, with what he willed: the will itself was saved.

We can no longer conceal from ourselves what is expressed by all that willing which has taken its direction from the ascetic ideal: this hatred of the human, and even more of the animal, and more still of the material, this horror of the senses, of reason itself, this fear of happiness and beauty, this longing to get away from all appearance, change, becoming, death, wishing, from longing itself – all this means – let us dare to grasp it – a will to nothingness, an aversion to life, a rebellion against the most fundamental presuppositions of life; but it is and remains a will! . . . And, to repeat in conclusion what I said at the beginning: man would rather will nothingness than not will.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Philosophy as Autobiography

However far man may extend himself with his knowledge, however objective he may appear to himself ultimately he reaps nothing but his own biography.

Gradually it has become clear to me what every great philosophy so far has been: namely, the personal confession of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir; also that the moral (or immoral) intentions in every philosophy constituted the real germ of life from which the whole plant had grown.

Indeed, if one would explain how the abstrusest metaphysical claims of a philosopher really came about, it is always well (and wise) to ask first: at what morality does all this (does he) aim? Accordingly, I do not believe that a “drive to knowledge” is the father of philosophy; but rather that another drive has, here as elsewhere, employed understanding (and misunderstanding) as a mere instrument…

In the philosopher there is nothing whatsoever that is impersonal….

“My judgment is my judgment”: no one else is easily entitled to it –that is what such a philosopher of the future may perhaps say of himself.

Even apart from the value of such claims as “there is a categorical imperative in us,” one can still always ask: what does such a claim tell us about the man who makes it?

– Nietzsche

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Every model we make tells us how our mind works as much as it tells about the universe. These are just human symbolic games. The universe itself is bigger than any of our models.

According to Zen Buddhism, and most forms of Buddhism, and quantum mechanics, any description of the universe which leaves you out is inaccurate, because any description of the universe is a description of the instrument that you use to take your reading of the universe — if the only instrument you use is your own nervous system, you gotta include your own nervous system in your description of the universe.

So, ergo, any model we make does not describe the universe, it describes what our brains are capable of seeing at this time.

– Robert Anton Wilson

On Truth & Lies in a Non-Moral Sense

nietzsche-vs-plato

By Friedrich Nietzsche

In some remote corner of the universe, poured out and glittering in innumerable solar systems, there once was a star on which clever animals invented knowledge. That was the highest and most mendacious minute of “world history”—yet only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths the star grew cold, and the clever animals had to die.

One might invent such a fable and still not have illustrated sufficiently how wretched, how shadowy and flighty, how aimless and arbitrary, the human intellect appears in nature. There have been eternities when it did not exist; and when it is done for again, nothing will have happened. For this intellect has no further mission that would lead beyond human life. It is human, rather, and only its owner and producer gives it such importance, as if the world pivoted around it. But if we could communicate with the mosquito, then we would learn that he floats through the air with the same self-importance, feeling within itself the flying center of the world. There is nothing in nature so despicable or insignificant that it cannot immediately be blown up like a bag by a slight breath of this power of knowledge; and just as every porter wants an admirer, the proudest human being, the philosopher, thinks that he sees on the eyes of the universe telescopically focused from all sides on his actions and thoughts.

It is strange that this should be the effect of the intellect, for after all it was given only as an aid to the most unfortunate, most delicate, most evanescent beings in order to hold them for a minute in existence, from which otherwise, without this gift, they would have every reason to flee as quickly as Lessing’s son. [In a famous letter to Johann Joachim Eschenburg (December 31, 1778), Lessing relates the death of his infant son, who “understood the world so well that he left it at the first opportunity.”] That haughtiness which goes with knowledge and feeling, which shrouds the eyes and senses of man in a blinding fog, therefore deceives him about the value of existence by carrying in itself the most flattering evaluation of knowledge itself. Its most universal effect is deception; but even its most particular effects have something of the same character.

The intellect, as a means for the preservation of the individual, unfolds its chief powers in simulation; for this is the means by which the weaker, less robust individuals preserve themselves, since they are denied the chance of waging the struggle for existence with horns or the fangs of beasts of prey. In man this art of simulation reaches its peak: here deception, flattering, lying and cheating, talking behind the back, posing, living in borrowed splendor, being masked, the disguise of convention, acting a role before others and before oneself—in short, the constant fluttering around the single flame of vanity is so much the rule and the law that almost nothing is more incomprehensible than how an honest and pure urge for truth could make its appearance among men. They are deeply immersed in illusions and dream images; their eye glides only over the surface of things and sees “forms”; their feeling nowhere lead into truth, but contents itself with the reception of stimuli, playing, as it were, a game of blindman’s buff on the backs of things. Moreover, man permits himself to be lied to at night, his life long, when he dreams, and his moral sense never even tries to prevent this—although men have been said to have overcome snoring by sheer will power.

What, indeed, does man know of himself! Can he even once perceive himself completely, laid out as if in an illuminated glass case? Does not nature keep much the most from him, even about his body, to spellbind and confine him in a proud, deceptive consciousness, far from the coils of the intestines, the quick current of the blood stream, and the involved tremors of the fibers? She threw away the key; and woe to the calamitous curiosity which might peer just once through a crack in the chamber of consciousness and look down, and sense that man rests upon the merciless, the greedy, the insatiable, the murderous, in the indifference of his ignorance—hanging in dreams, as it were, upon the back of a tiger. In view of this, whence in all the world comes the urge for truth?

Insofar as the individual wants to preserve himself against other individuals, in a natural state of affairs he employs the intellect mostly for simulation alone. But because man, out of need and boredom, wants to exist socially, herd-fashion, he requires a peace pact and he endeavors to banish at least the very crudest bellum omni contra omnes [war of all against all] from his world. This peace pact brings with it something that looks like the first step toward the attainment of this enigmatic urge for truth. For now that is fixed which henceforth shall be “truth”; that is, a regularly valid and obligatory designation of things is invented, and this linguistic legislation also furnishes the first laws of truth: for it is here that the contrast between truth and lie first originates. The liar uses the valid designations, the words, to make the unreal appear as real; he says, for example, “I am rich,” when the word “poor” would be the correct designation of his situation. He abuses the fixed conventions by arbitrary changes or even by reversals of the names. When he does this in a self-serving way damaging to others, then society will no longer trust him but exclude him. Thereby men do not flee from being deceived as much as from being damaged by deception: what they hate at this stage is basically not the deception but the bad, hostile consequences of certain kinds of deceptions. In a similarly limited way man wants the truth: he desires the agreeable life-preserving consequences of truth, but he is indifferent to pure knowledge, which has no consequences; he is even hostile to possibly damaging and destructive truths. And, moreover, what about these conventions of language? Are they really the products of knowledge, of the sense of truth? Do the designations and the things coincide? Is language the adequate expression of all realities?

Only through forgetfulness can man ever achieve the illusion of possessing a “truth” in the sense just designated. If he does not wish to be satisfied with truth in the form of a tautology—that is, with empty shells—then he will forever buy illusions for truths. What is a word? The image of a nerve stimulus in sounds. But to infer from the nerve stimulus, a cause outside us, that is already the result of a false and unjustified application of the principle of reason. If truth alone had been the deciding factor in the genesis of language, and if the standpoint of certainty had been decisive for designations, then how could we still dare to say “the stone is hard,” as if “hard” were something otherwise familiar to us, and not merely a totally subjective stimulation! We separate things according to gender, designating the tree as masculine and the plant as feminine. What arbitrary assignments! How far this oversteps the canons of certainty! We speak of a “snake”: this designation touches only upon its ability to twist itself and could therefore also fit a worm. What arbitrary differentiations! What one-sided preferences, first for this, then for that property of a thing! The different languages, set side by side, show that what matters with words is never the truth, never an adequate expression; else there would not be so many languages. The “thing in itself” (for that is what pure truth, without consequences, would be) is quite incomprehensible to the creators of language and not at all worth aiming for. One designates only the relations of things to man, and to express them one calls on the boldest metaphors. A nerve stimulus, first transposed into an image—first metaphor. The image, in turn, imitated by a sound—second metaphor. And each time there is a complete overleaping of one sphere, right into the middle of an entirely new and different one. One can imagine a man who is totally deaf and has never had a sensation of sound and music. Perhaps such a person will gaze with astonishment at Chladni’s sound figures; perhaps he will discover their causes in the vibrations of the string and will now swear that he must know what men mean by “sound.” It is this way with all of us concerning language; we believe that we know something about the things themselves when we speak of trees, colors, snow, and flowers; and yet we possess nothing but metaphors for things—metaphors which correspond in no way to the original entities. In the same way that the sound appears as a sand figure, so the mysterious X of the thing in itself first appears as a nerve stimulus, then as an image, and finally as a sound. Thus the genesis of language does not proceed logically in any case, and all the material within and with which the man of truth, the scientist, and the philosopher later work and build, if not derived from never-never land, is a least not derived from the essence of things.

Let us still give special consideration to the formation of concepts. Every word immediately becomes a concept, inasmuch as it is not intended to serve as a reminder of the unique and wholly individualized original experience to which it owes its birth, but must at the same time fit innumerable, more or less similar cases—which means, strictly speaking, never equal—in other words, a lot of unequal cases. Every concept originates through our equating what is unequal. No leaf ever wholly equals another, and the concept “leaf” is formed through an arbitrary abstraction from these individual differences, through forgetting the distinctions; and now it gives rise to the idea that in nature there might be something besides the leaves which would be “leaf”—some kind of original form after which all leaves have been woven, marked, copied, colored, curled, and painted, but by unskilled hands, so that no copy turned out to be a correct, reliable, and faithful image of the original form. We call a person “honest.” Why did he act so honestly today? we ask. Our answer usually sounds like this: because of his honesty. Honesty! That is to say again: the leaf is the cause of the leaves. After all, we know nothing of an essence-like quality named “honesty”; we know only numerous individualized, and thus unequal actions, which we equate by omitting the unequal and by then calling them honest actions. In the end, we distill from them a qualitas occulta [hidden quality] with the name of “honesty.” We obtain the concept, as we do the form, by overlooking what is individual and actual; whereas nature is acquainted with no forms and no concepts, and likewise with no species, but only with an X which remains inaccessible and undefinable for us. For even our contrast between individual and species is something anthropomorphic and does not originate in the essence of things; although we should not presume to claim that this contrast does not correspond o the essence of things: that would of course be a dogmatic assertion and, as such, would be just as indemonstrable as its opposite.

What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.

We still do not know where the urge for truth comes from; for as yet we have heard only of the obligation imposed by society that it should exist: to be truthful means using the customary metaphors—in moral terms: the obligation to lie according to a fixed convention, to lie herd-like in a style obligatory for all. Now man of course forgets that this is the way things stand for him. Thus he lies in the manner indicated, unconsciously and in accordance with habits which are centuries’ old; and precisely by means of this unconsciousness and forgetfulness he arrives at his sense of truth. From the sense that one is obliged to designate one thing as red, another as cold, and a third as mute, there arises a moral impulse in regard to truth. The venerability, reliability, and utility of truth is something which a person demonstrates for himself from the contrast with the liar, whom no one trusts and everyone excludes. As a rational being, he now places his behavior under the control of abstractions. He will no longer tolerate being carried away by sudden impressions, by intuitions. First he universalizes all these impressions into less colorful, cooler concepts, so that he can entrust the guidance of his life and conduct to them. Everything which distinguishes man from the animals depends upon this ability to volatilize perceptual metaphors in a schema, and thus to dissolve an image into a concept. For something is possible in the realm of these schemata which could never be achieved with the vivid first impressions: the construction of a pyramidal order according to castes and degrees, the creation of a new world of laws, privileges, subordinations, and clearly marked boundaries—a new world, one which now confronts that other vivid world of first impressions as more solid, more universal, better known, and more human than the immediately perceived world, and thus as the regulative and imperative world. Whereas each perceptual metaphor is individual and without equals and is therefore able to elude all classification, the great edifice of concepts displays the rigid regularity of a Roman columbarium and exhales in logic that strength and coolness which is characteristic of mathematics. Anyone who has felt this cool breath [of logic] will hardly believe that even the concept—which is as bony, foursquare, and transposable as a die—is nevertheless merely the residue of a metaphor, and that the illusion which is involved in the artistic transference of a nerve stimulus into images is, if not the mother, then the grandmother of every single concept. But in this conceptual crap game “truth” means using every die in the designated manner, counting its spots accurately, fashioning the right categories, and never violating the order of caste and class rank. Just as the Romans and Etruscans cut up the heavens with rigid mathematical lines and confined a god within each of the spaces thereby delimited, as within a templum, so every people has a similarly mathematically divided conceptual heaven above themselves and henceforth thinks that truth demands that each conceptual god be sought only within his own sphere. Here one may certainly admire man as a mighty genius of construction, who succeeds in piling an infinitely complicated dome of concepts upon an unstable foundation, and, as it were, on running water. Of course, in order to be supported by such a foundation, his construction must be like one constructed of spiders’ webs: delicate enough to be carried along by the waves, strong enough not to be blown apart by every wind. As a genius of construction man raises himself far above the bee in the following way: whereas the bee builds with wax that he gathers from nature, man builds with the far more delicate conceptual material which he first has to manufacture from himself. In this he is greatly to be admired, but not on account of his drive for truth or for pure knowledge of things. When someone hides something behind a bush and looks for it again in the same place and finds it there as well, there is not much to praise in such seeking and finding. Yet this is how matters stand regarding seeking and finding “truth” within the realm of reason. If I make up the definition of a mammal, and then, after inspecting a camel, declare “look, a mammal” I have indeed brought a truth to light in this way, but it is a truth of limited value. That is to say, it is a thoroughly anthropomorphic truth which contains not a single point which would be “true in itself” or really and universally valid apart from man. At bottom, what the investigator of such truths is seeking is only the metamorphosis of the world into man. He strives to understand the world as something analogous to man, and at best he achieves by his struggles the feeling of assimilation. Similar to the way in which astrologers considered the stars to be in man ‘s service and connected with his happiness and sorrow, such an investigator considers the entire universe in connection with man: the entire universe as the infinitely fractured echo of one original sound-man; the entire universe as the infinitely multiplied copy of one original picture-man. His method is to treat man as the measure of all things, but in doing so he again proceeds from the error of believing that he has these things [which he intends to measure] immediately before him as mere objects. He forgets that the original perceptual metaphors are metaphors and takes them to be the things themselves.

Only by forgetting this primitive world of metaphor can one live with any repose, security, and consistency: only by means of the petrification and coagulation of a mass of images which originally streamed from the primal faculty of human imagination like a fiery liquid, only in the invincible faith that this sun, this window, this table is a truth in itself, in short, only by forgetting that he himself is an artistically creating subject, does man live with any repose, security, and consistency. If but for an instant he could escape from the prison walls of this faith, his “self consciousness” would be immediately destroyed. It is even a difficult thing for him to admit to himself that the insect or the bird perceives an entirely different world from the one that man does, and that the question of which of these perceptions of the world is the more correct one is quite meaningless, for this would have to have been decided previously in accordance with the criterion of the correct perception, which means, in accordance with a criterion which is not available. But in any case it seems to me that the correct perception—which would mean the adequate expression of an object in the subject—is a contradictory impossibility. For between two absolutely different spheres, as between subject and object, there is no causality, no correctness, and no expression; there is, at most, an aesthetic relation: I mean, a suggestive transference, a stammering translation into a completely foreign tongue—for which I there is required, in any case, a freely inventive intermediate sphere and mediating force. “Appearance” is a word that contains many temptations, which is why I avoid it as much as possible. For it is not true that the essence of things “appears” in the empirical world. A painter without hands who wished to express in song the picture before his mind would, by means of this substitution of spheres, still reveal more about the essence of things than does the empirical world. Even the relationship of a nerve stimulus to the generated image is not a necessary one. But when the same image has been generated millions of times and has been handed down for many generations and finally appears on the same occasion every time for all mankind, then it acquires at last the same meaning for men it would have if it were the sole necessary image and if the relationship of the original nerve stimulus to the generated image were a strictly causal one. In the same manner, an eternally repeated dream would certainly be felt and judged to be reality. But the hardening and congealing of a metaphor guarantees absolutely nothing concerning its necessity and exclusive justification.

Every person who is familiar with such considerations has no doubt felt a deep mistrust of all idealism of this sort: just as often as he has quite early convinced himself of the eternal consistency, omnipresence, and fallibility of the laws of nature. He has concluded that so far as we can penetrate here—from the telescopic heights to the microscopic depths—everything is secure, complete, infinite, regular, and without any gaps. Science will be able to dig successfully in this shaft forever, and the things that are discovered will harmonize with and not contradict each other. How little does this resemble a product of the imagination, for if it were such, there should be some place where the illusion and reality can be divined. Against this, the following must be said: if each us had a different kind of sense perception—if we could only perceive things now as a bird, now as a worm, now as a plant, or if one of us saw a stimulus as red, another as blue, while a third even heard the same stimulus as a sound—then no one would speak of such a regularity of nature, rather, nature would be grasped only as a creation which is subjective in the highest degree. After all, what is a law of nature as such for us? We are not acquainted with it in itself, but only with its effects, which means in its relation to other laws of nature—which, in turn, are known to us only as sums of relations. Therefore all these relations always refer again to others and are thoroughly incomprehensible to us in their essence. All that we actually know about these laws of nature is what we ourselves bring to them—time and space, and therefore relationships of succession and number. But everything marvelous about the laws of nature, everything that quite astonishes us therein and seems to demand explanation, everything that might lead us to distrust idealism: all this is completely and solely contained within the mathematical strictness and inviolability of our representations of time and space. But we produce these representations in and from ourselves with the same necessity with which the spider spins. If we are forced to comprehend all things only under these forms, then it ceases to be amazing that in all things we actually comprehend nothing but these forms. For they must all bear within themselves the laws of number, and it is precisely number which is most astonishing in things. All that conformity to law, which impresses us so much in the movement of the stars and in chemical processes, coincides at bottom with those properties which we bring to things. Thus it is we who impress ourselves in this way. In conjunction with this, it of course follows that the artistic process of metaphor formation with which every sensation begins in us already presupposes these forms and thus occurs within them. The only way in which the possibility of subsequently constructing a new conceptual edifice from metaphors themselves can be explained is by the firm persistence of these original forms That is to say, this conceptual edifice is an imitation of temporal, spatial, and numerical relationships in the domain of metaphor.

We have seen how it is originally language which works on the construction of concepts, a labor taken over in later ages by science. Just as the bee simultaneously constructs cells and fills them with honey, so science works unceasingly on this great columbarium of concepts, the graveyard of perceptions. It is always building new, higher stories and shoring up, cleaning, and renovating the old cells; above all, it takes pains to fill up this monstrously towering framework and to arrange therein the entire empirical world, which is to say, the anthropomorphic world. Whereas the man of action binds his life to reason and its concepts so that he will not be swept away and lost, the scientific investigator builds his hut right next to the tower of science so that he will be able to work on it and to find shelter for himself beneath those bulwarks which presently exist. And he requires shelter, for there are frightful powers which continuously break in upon him, powers which oppose scientific truth with completely different kinds of “truths” which bear on their shields the most varied sorts of emblems.

The drive toward the formation of metaphors is the fundamental human drive, which one cannot for a single instant dispense with in thought, for one would thereby dispense with man himself. This drive is not truly vanquished and scarcely subdued by the fact that a regular and rigid new world is constructed as its prison from its own ephemeral products, the concepts. It seeks a new realm and another channel for its activity, and it finds this in myth and in art generally. This drive continually confuses the conceptual categories and cells by bringing forward new transferences, metaphors, and metonymies. It continually manifests an ardent desire to refashion the world which presents itself to waking man, so that it will be as colorful, irregular, lacking in results and coherence, charming, and eternally new as the world of dreams. Indeed, it is only by means of the rigid and regular web of concepts that the waking man clearly sees that he is awake; and it is precisely because of this that he sometimes thinks that he must be dreaming when this web of concepts is torn by art. Pascal is right in maintaining that if the same dream came to us every night we would be just as occupied with it as we are with the things that we see every day. “If a workman were sure to dream for twelve straight hours every night that he was king,” said Pascal, “I believe that he would be just as happy as a king who dreamt for twelve hours every night that he was a workman.” In fact, because of the way that myth takes it for granted that miracles are always happening, the waking life of a mythically inspired people—the ancient Greeks, for instance—more closely resembles a dream than it does the waking world of a scientifically disenchanted thinker. When every tree can suddenly speak as a nymph, when a god in the shape of a bull can drag away maidens, when even the goddess Athena herself is suddenly seen in the company of Peisastratus driving through the market place of Athens with a beautiful team of horses—and this is what the honest Athenian believed—then, as in a dream, anything is possible at each moment, and all of nature swarms around man as if it were nothing but a masquerade of the gods, who were merely amusing themselves by deceiving men in all these shapes.

But man has an invincible inclination to allow himself to be deceived and is, as it were, enchanted with happiness when the rhapsodist tells him epic fables as if they were true, or when the actor in the theater acts more royally than any real king. So long as it is able to deceive without injuring, that master of deception, the intellect, is free; it is released from its former slavery and celebrates its Saturnalia. It is never more luxuriant, richer, prouder, more clever and more daring. With creative pleasure it throws metaphors into confusion and displaces the boundary stones of abstractions, so that, for example, it designates the stream as “the moving path which carries man where he would otherwise walk.” The intellect has now thrown the token of bondage from itself. At other times it endeavors, with gloomy officiousness, to show the way and to demonstrate the tools to a poor individual who covets existence; it is like a servant who goes in search of booty and prey for his master. But now it has become the master and it dares to wipe from its face the expression of indigence. In comparison with its previous conduct, everything that it now does bears the mark of dissimulation, just as that previous conduct did of distortion. The free intellect copies human life, but it considers this life to be something good and seems to be quite satisfied with it. That immense framework and planking of concepts to which the needy man clings his whole life long in order to preserve himself is nothing but a scaffolding and toy for the most audacious feats of the liberated intellect. And when it smashes this framework to pieces, throws it into confusion, and puts it back together in an ironic fashion, pairing the most alien things and separating the closest, it is demonstrating that it has no need of these makeshifts of indigence and that it will now be guided by intuitions rather than by concepts. There is no regular path which leads from these intuitions into the land of ghostly schemata, the land of abstractions. There exists no word for these intuitions; when man sees them he grows dumb, or else he speaks only in forbidden metaphors and in unheard-of combinations of concepts. He does this so that by shattering and mocking the old conceptual barriers he may at least correspond creatively to the impression of the powerful present intuition.

There are ages in which the rational man and the intuitive man stand side by side, the one in fear of intuition, the other with scorn for abstraction. The latter is just as irrational as the former is inartistic. They both desire to rule over life: the former, by knowing how to meet his principle needs by means of foresight, prudence, and regularity; the latter, by disregarding these needs and, as an “overjoyed hero,” counting as real only that life which has been disguised as illusion and beauty. Whenever, as was perhaps the case in ancient Greece, the intuitive man handles his weapons more authoritatively and victoriously than his opponent, then, under favorable circumstances, a culture can take shape and art’s mastery over life can be established. All the manifestations of such a life will be accompanied by this dissimulation, this disavowal of indigence, this glitter of metaphorical intuitions, and, in general, this immediacy of deception: neither the house, nor the gait, nor the clothes, nor the clay jugs give evidence of having been invented because of a pressing need. It seems as if they were all intended to express an exalted happiness, an Olympian cloudlessness, and, as it were, a playing with seriousness. The man who is guided by concepts and abstractions only succeeds by such means in warding off misfortune, without ever gaining any happiness for himself from these abstractions. And while he aims for the greatest possible freedom from pain, the intuitive man, standing in the midst of a culture, already reaps from his intuition a harvest of continually inflowing illumination, cheer, and redemption—in addition to obtaining a defense against misfortune. To be sure, he suffers more intensely, when he suffers; he even suffers more frequently, since he does not understand how to learn from experience and keeps falling over and over again into the same ditch. He is then just as irrational in sorrow as he is in happiness: he cries aloud and will not be consoled. How differently the stoical man who learns from experience and governs himself by concepts is affected by the same misfortunes! This man, who at other times seeks nothing but sincerity, truth, freedom from deception, and protection against ensnaring surprise attacks, now executes a masterpiece of deception: he executes his masterpiece of deception in misfortune, as the other type of man executes his in times of happiness. He wears no quivering and changeable human face, but, as it were, a mask with dignified, symmetrical features. He does not cry; he does not even alter his voice. When a real storm cloud thunders above him, he wraps himself in his cloak, and with slow steps he walks from beneath it.

Further Reading

A Contemporary Nietzsche Reader

A Simple Rhetorical Analysis: “On Truth and Lies…”

On the Preachers of Death

There are preachers of death; and the earth is full of those to whom one must preach renunciation of life. The earth is full of the superfluous; life is spoiled by the all-too-many. May they be lured from this life with the “eternal life”! Yellow the preachers of death wear, or black. But I want to show them to you in still other colors.

There are the terrible ones who carry around within themselves the beast of prey and have no choice but lust or self-laceration. And even their lust is still self-laceration. They have not even become human beings yet, these terrible ones: let them preach renunciation of life and pass away themselves!

There are those with consumption of the soul: hardly are they born when they begin to die and to long for doctrines of weariness and renunciation. They would like to be dead, and we should welcome their wish. Let us beware of waking the dead and disturbing these living coffins!

They encounter a sick man or an old man or a corpse, and immediately they say, “Life is refuted.” But only they themselves are refuted, and their eyes, which see only this one face of existence. Shrouded in thick melancholy and eager for the little accidents that bring death, thus they wait with clenched teeth. Or they reach for sweets while mocking their own childishness; they clutch the straw of their life and mock that they still clutch a straw. Their wisdom says, “A fool who stays alive – but such fools are we. And this is surely the most foolish thing about life.”

“Life is only suffering,” others say, and do not lie: see to it, then, that you cease! See to it, then, that the life which is only suffering ceases!

And let this be the doctrine of your virtue: “Thou shalt kill thyself! Thou shalt steal away!”

“Lust is sin,” says one group that preaches death; “let us step aside and beget no children.”

“Giving birth is troublesome,” says another group; “why go on giving birth? One bears only unfortunates!”

And they too are preachers of death.

“Pity is needed,” says the third group. “Take from me what I have! Take from me what I am! Life will bind me that much less!”

If they were full of pity through and through, they would make life insufferable for their neighbors. To be evil, that would be their real goodness. But they want to get out of life: what do they care that with their chains and presents they bind others still more tightly?

And, you, too, for whome life is furious work and unrest – are you not very weary of life? Are you not very ripe for the preaching of death? All of you to whome furious work is dear, and whatever is fast, new, and strange – you find it hard to bear yourselves; your industry is escape and the will to forget yourselves. If you believed more in life you would fling yourselves less to the moment. But you do not have contents enough in yourselves for waiting – and not even for idleness.

Everywhere the voice of those who preach death is heard; and the earth is full of those to whom one must preach death. Or “eternal life” – that is the same to me, if only they pass away quickly.

Thus spoke Zarathustra.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Nothing is True, Everything is Permitted

nietzsche-art

The Challenge of Every Great Philosophy

A traveler who had seen many countries and peoples and several continents was asked what human traits he had found everywhere; and he answered: men are inclined to laziness. Some will feel that he might have said with greater justice: they are all timorous. They hide behind customs and opinions. At bottom, every human being knows very well that he is in this world just once, as something unique, and that no accident, however strange, will throw together a second time into a unity such a curious and diffuse plurality: he knows it, but hides it like a bad conscience – why? From fear of his neighbor who insists on convention and veils himself with it. But what is it that compels the individual human being to fear his neighbor, to think and act herd-fashion, and not to be glad of himself? A sense of shame, perhaps, in a few rare cases. In the vast majority it is the desire for comfort, inertia – in short, that inclination to laziness of which the traveler spoke. He is right: men are even lazier than they are timorous, and what they fear most is the troubles with which any unconditional honesty and nudity would burden them. Only artists hate this slovenly life in borrowed manners and loosely fitting opinions and unveil the secret, everybody’s bad conscience, the principle that every human being is a unique wonder; they dare to show us the human being as he is, down to the last muscle, himself and himself alone – even more, that in this rigorous consistency of his uniqueness he is beautiful and worth contemplating, as novel and incredible as every work of nature, and by no means dull. When a great thinker despises men, it is their laziness that he despises: for it is on account of this that they have the appearance of factory products and seem indifferent and unworthy of companionship or instruction. The human being who does not wish to belong to the mass must merely cease being comfortable with himself; let him follow his conscience which shouts at him: “Be yourself! What you are at present doing, opining, and desiring, that is not really you.”

I care for a philosopher only to the extent that he is able to be an example. Kant clung to the university, subjected himself to governments, remained within the appearance of religious faith, and endured colleagues and students: it is small wonder that his example produced in the main university professors and professors’ philosophy. Schopenhauer has no consideration for the scholars’ caste, stands apart, strives for independence of state and society – that is his example, his model, to begin with the most external features. He was an out and out solitary; there was not one really congenial friend to comfort him – and between one and none there gapes, as always between something and nothing, an infinity. No one who has true friends can know what true solitude means, even if the whole world surrounding him should consist of adversaries. Alas, I can see that you do not know what it means to be alone. Wherever there have been powerful societies, governments, religions, or public opinions – in short, wherever there was any kind of tyranny, it has hated the lonely philosopher; for philosophy opens up a refuge for man where no tyranny can reach: the cave of inwardness, the labyrinth of the breast; and that annoys all tyrants. That is where the lonely hide; but there too they encounter their greatest danger.

This was the first danger that overshadowed Schopenhauer’s development: isolation. The second danger is to despair of truth. This danger confronts every thinker who begins from Kant’s philosophy, assuming that he is a vigorous and whole human being in his suffering and aspiration and not merely a clacking thinking- or calculating-machine. As soon as Kant would  begin to exert a popular influence, we should find it reflected in the form of a gnawing and crumbling skepticism and relativism; and only among the most active and noble spirits, who have never been able to endure doubt, you would find in its place that upheaval and despair of all truth which Heinrich von Kleist, for example, experienced as an effect of Kant’s philosophy.

“Not long ago,” he once writes in his moving manner, “I became acquainted with Kant’s philosophy; and now I must tell you of a thought in it, inasmuch as I cannot fear that it will upset you as profoundly and painfully as me. We cannot decide whether that which we call truth is really truth or whether it merely appears that way to us. If the latter is right, then the truth we gather here comes to nothing after our death; and every aspiration to acquire a possession which will follow us even into the grave is futile. If the point of this idea does not penetrate your heart, do not smile at another human being who feels wounded by it in his holiest depths. My only, my highest aim has sunk, and I have none left.”

When will human beings again have the natural feelings of a Kleist? When will they learn again to measure the meaning of a philosophy by their “holiest depths”?

This, however, is necessary to estimate what, after Kant, Schopenhauer might mean to us. He can be the guide to lead us out of the cave of skeptical irritation or critical resignation up to the height of a tragic view, with the starry nocturnal sky stretching endlessly over us; and he was the first to lead himself this way. His greatness was that he confronted the image of life as a whole in order to interpret it as a whole, while the subtlest minds cannot be freed from the error that one can come closer to such an interpretation if one examines painstakingly the colors with which this image has been painted and the material underneath.

The whole future of all the sciences is staked on an attempt to understand this canvas and these colors, but not the image. It could be said that only a man who has a firm grasp of the over-all picture of life and existence can use the individual sciences without harming himself; for without such a regulative total image they are strings that reach no end anywhere and merely make our lives still more confused and labyrinthine. In this, as I have said, lies Schopenhauer’s greatness: that he pursues this image as Hamlet pursues the ghost, without permitting himself to be distracted, as the scholars do, and without letting himself be caught in the webs of a conceptual scholasticism, as happens to the unrestrained dialectician. The study of all quarter-philosophers is attractive only insofar as we see how they immediately make for those spots in the edifice of a great philosophy where the scholarly pro and con, and reflection, doubt, and contradiction are permitted; and thus they avoid the challenge of every great philosophy which, when taken as a whole, always says only: this is the image of all life, and from this learn the meaning of your life! And conversely: Read only your own life, and from this understand the hieroglyphs of universal life!

This is how Schopenhauer’s philosophy, too, should always be interpreted first of all: individually, by the single human being alone for himself, to gain some insight into his own misery and need, into his own limitation. He teaches us to distinguish between real and apparent promotions of human happiness: how neither riches, nor honors, nor scholarship can raise the individual out of his discouragement over the worthlessness of his existence, and how the striving for these goals can receive meaning only from a high and transfiguring over-all aim: to gain power to help nature and to correct a little its follies and blunders. To begin with, for oneself; but eventually through oneself for all. That is, to be sure, an aspiration which leads us profoundly and heartily to resignation: for what, and how much, can after all be improved in the individual or in general?

Preparatory Men

I welcome all signs that a more manly, a warlike age is about to begin, an age which, above all, will give honor to valor once again. For this age shall prepare the way for one yet higher, and it shall gather the strength which this higher age will need one day – this age which is to carry heroism into the pursuit of knowledge and wage wars for the sake of thoughts and their consequences. To this end we now need many preparatory valorous men who cannot leap into being out of nothing – any more than out of the sand and slime of our present civilization and metropolitanism: men who are bent on seeking for that aspect in all things which must be overcome; men characterized by cheerfulness, patience, unpretentiousness, and contempt for all great vanities, as well as by magnanimity in victory and forbearance regarding the small vanities of the vanquished; men possessed of keen and free judgment concerning all victors and the share of chance in every victory and every fame; men who have their own festivals, their own weekdays, their own periods of mourning, who are accustomed to command with assurance and are no less ready to obey when necessary, in both cases equally proud and serving their own cause; men who are in greater danger, more fruitful, and happier! For, believe me, the secret of the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment of existence is: to live dangerously! Build your cities under Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! Live at war with your peers and yourselves! Be robbers and conquerors, as long as you cannot be rulers and owners, you lovers of knowledge! Soon the age will be past when you could be satisfied to live like shy deer, hidden in the woods! At long last the pursuit of knowledge will reach out for its due: it will want to rule and own, and you with it!

The Will to Power

What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. Our whole European culture is moving for some time now, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade, as toward a catastrophe: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end, that no longer reflects, that is afraid to reflect.

He that speaks here has, conversely, done nothing so far but to reflect: as a philosopher and solitary by instinct who has found his advantage in standing aside, outside.

Why has the advent of nihilism become necessary? Because the values we have had hitherto thus draw their final consequence; because nihilism represents the ultimate logical conclusion of our great values and ideals – because we must experience nihilism before we can find out what value these “values” really had. – We require, at some time, new values.

European Nihilism

Nihilism stands at the door: whence comes this uncanniest of all guests? Point of departure: it is an error to consider “social distress” or “physiological degeneration,” or corruption of all things, as the cause of nihilism. Ours is the most honest and compassionate age. Distress, whether psychic, physical, or intellectual, need not at all produce nihilism (that is, the radical rejection of value, meaning, and desirability). Such distress always permits a variety of interpretations. Rather: it is in one particular interpretation, the Christian moral one, that nihilism is rooted.

The end of Christianity – at the hands of its own morality (which cannot be replaced), which turns against the Christian God: the sense of truthfulness, highly developed by Christianity, is nauseated by the falseness and mendaciousness of all Christian interpretations of the world and of history; rebound from “God is the truth” to the fanatical faith “All is false”; an active Buddhism.

Skepticism regarding morality is what is decisive. The end of the moral interpretation of the world, which no longer has any sanction after it has tried to escape into some beyond, leads to nihilism. “All lacks meaning.” (The untenability of one interpretation of the world, upon which a tremendous amount of energy has been lavished, awakens the suspicion that all interpretations of the world are false.)

Against this “meaninglessness” on the one hand, against our moral prejudices on the other: to what extent was all science and philosophy so far influenced by moral judgments? and will this not around the hostility of science? or an anti-scientific mentality? A critique of Christian morality is still lacking.

Since Copernicus man is rolling from the center toward x.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Source: Existentialism: From Dostoevsky to Sartre / edited, with an introduction, prefaces, and new translations by Walter Kaufmann

Nothing from Nothing Ever Yet was Born

cathedral

When we hear the old bells ringing out on a Sunday morning, we ask ourselves: can it be possible? This is for a Jew, crucified two thousand years ago, who said he was the son of God. The proof for such a claim is wanting.

Within our times the Christian religion is surely an antiquity jutting out from a far-distant olden time; and the fact that people believe such a claim (while they are otherwise so strict in testing assertions) is perhaps the oldest part of this heritage. A god who conceives children with a mortal woman; a wise man who calls upon us to work no more, to judge no more, but to heed the signs of the imminent apocalypse; a justice that accepts the innocent man as a proxy sacrifice; someone who has his disciples drink his blood; prayers for miraculous interventions; sins against a god, atoned for by a god; fear of the afterlife, to which death is the gate; the figure of the cross as a symbol, in a time that no longer knows the purpose and shame of the cross—how horridly all this wafts over us, as from the grave of the ancient past! Are we to believe that such things are still believed?

–I cannot, at this place, avoid a sigh. There are days when I am visited by a feeling blacker than the blackest melancholy–contempt of man. Let me leave no doubt as to what I despise, whom I despise: it is the man of today, the man with whom I am unhappily contemporaneous. The man of today–I am suffocated by his foul breath! . . . Toward the past, like all who understand, I am full of tolerance, which is to say, generous self-control: with gloomy caution I pass through whole millenniums of this mad house of a world, call it “Christianity,” “Christian faith” or the “Christian church,” as you will–I take care not to hold mankind responsible for its lunacies. But my feeling changes and breaks out irresistibly the moment I enter modern times,our times. Our age knows better. . . What was formerly merely sickly now becomes indecent–it is indecent to be a Christian today. And here my disgust begins.–I look about me: not a word survives of what was once called “truth”; we can no longer bear to hear a priest pronounce the word. Even a man who makes the most modest pretensions to integrity must know that a theologian, a priest, a pope of today not only errs when he speaks, but actually lies–and that he no longer escapes blame for his lie through “innocence” or “ignorance.” The priest knows, as every one knows, that there is no longer any “God,” or any “sinner,” or any “Saviour”–that “free will” and the “moral order of the world” are lies–: serious reflection, the profound self-conquest of the spirit, allow no man to pretend that he does not know it. . . All the ideas of the church are now recognized for what they are–as the worst counterfeits in existence, invented to debase nature and all natural values; the priest himself is seen as he actually is–as the most dangerous form of parasite, as the venomous spider of creation. . – – We know, our conscience now knows–just what the real value of all those sinister inventions of priest and church has been and what ends they have served, with their debasement of humanity to a state of self-pollution, the very sight of which excites loathing,–the concepts “the other world,” “the last judgment,” “the immortality of the soul,” the “soul” itself: they are all merely so many in instruments of torture, systems of cruelty, whereby the priest becomes master and remains master. . . Every one knows this, but nevertheless things remain as before. What has become of the last trace of decent feeling, of self-respect, when our statesmen, otherwise an unconventional class of men and thoroughly anti-Christian in their acts, now call themselves Christians and go to the communion table? . . . A prince at the head of his armies, magnificent as the expression of the egoism and arrogance of his people–and yet acknowledging, without any shame, that he is a Christian! . . . Whom, then, does Christianity deny? what does it call “the world”? To be a soldier, to be a judge, to be a patriot; to defend one’s self; to be careful of one’s honour; to desire one’s own advantage; to be proud . . . every act of everyday, every instinct, every valuation that shows itself in a deed, is now anti-Christian: what a monster of falsehood the modern man must be to call himself nevertheless, and without shame, a Christian!–

Jesus said to his Jews: `The law was made for servants ‑ love God as I love him, as his son! What have we sons of God to do with morality!’

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche & Buddhism

In India our religions will never take root. The ancient wisdom of the human race will not be displaced by what happened in Galilee. On the contrary, Indian philosophy streams back to Europe, and will produce a fundamental change in our knowledge and thought.

– Schopenhauer


It was precisely here that I saw the great danger to mankind, its sublimest enticement and seduction—but to what? to nothingness?—it was precisely here that I saw the beginning of the end, the dead stop, a retrospective weariness, the will turning against life, the tender and sorrowful signs of the ultimate illness: I understood the ever spreading morality of pity that had seized even on philosophers and made them ill, as the most sinister symptom of a European culture that had itself become sinister, perhaps as its by-pass to a new Buddhism? to a Buddhism for Europeans? to—nihilism?

The desire for a unio mystica with God is the desire of the Buddhist for nothingness, Nirvana—and no more!

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Nietzsche on Buddhism in The Antichrist

In my condemnation of Christianity I surely hope I do no injustice to a related religion with an even larger number of believers: I allude to Buddhism. Both are to be reckoned among the nihilistic religions–they are both decadence religions–but they are separated from each other in a very remarkable way. For the fact that he is able to compare them at all the critic of Christianity is indebted to the scholars of India.–Buddhism is a hundred times as realistic as Christianity–it is part of its living heritage that it is able to face problems objectively and coolly; it is the product of long centuries of philosophical speculation. The concept, “god,” was already disposed of before it appeared. Buddhism is the only genuinely positive religion to be encountered in history, and this applies even to its epistemology (which is a strict phenomenalism) –It does not speak of a “struggle with sin,” but, yielding to reality, of the “struggle with suffering.” Sharply differentiating itself from Christianity, it puts the self-deception that lies in moral concepts behind it; it is, in my phrase, beyond good and evil.–The two physiological facts upon which it grounds itself and upon which it bestows its chief attention are: first, an excessive sensitiveness to sensation, which manifests itself as a refined susceptibility to pain, and secondly, an extraordinary spirituality, a too protracted concern with concepts and logical procedures, under the influence of which the instinct of personality has yielded to a notion of the “impersonal.” (–Both of these states will be familiar to a few of my readers, the objectivists, by experience, as they are to me). These physiological states produced a depression, and Buddha tried to combat it by hygienic measures. Against it he prescribed a life in the open, a life of travel; moderation in eating and a careful selection of foods; caution in the use of intoxicants; the same caution in arousing any of the passions that foster a bilious habit and heat the blood; finally, no worry,either on one’s own account or on account of others. He encourages ideas that make for either quiet contentment or good cheer–he finds means to combat ideas of other sorts. He understands good, the state of goodness, as something which promotes health. Prayer is not included, and neither is asceticism. There is no categorical imperative nor any disciplines, even within the walls of a monastery (–it is always possible to leave–). These things would have been simply means of increasing the excessive sensitiveness above mentioned. For the same reason he does not advocate any conflict with unbelievers; his teaching is antagonistic to nothing so much as to revenge, aversion, ressentiment (–“enmity never brings an end to enmity”: the moving refrain of all Buddhism. . .) And in all this he was right, for it is precisely these passions which, in view of his main regiminal purpose, are unhealthful. The mental fatigue that he observes, already plainly displayed in too much “objectivity” (that is, in the individual’s loss of interest in himself, in loss of balance and of “egoism”), he combats by strong efforts to lead even the spiritual interests back to the ego. In Buddha’s teaching egoism is a duty. The “one thing needful,” the question “how can you be delivered from suffering,” regulates and determines the whole spiritual diet. (–Perhaps one will here recall that Athenian who also declared war upon pure “scientificality,” to wit, Socrates, who also elevated egoism to the estate of a morality).

The things necessary to Buddhism are a very mild climate, customs of great gentleness and liberality, and no militarism; moreover, it must get its start among the higher and better educated classes. Cheerfulness, quiet and the absence of desire are the chief desiderata, and they are attained. Buddhism is not a religion in which perfection is merely an object of aspiration: perfection is actually normal.–Under Christianity the instincts of the subjugated and the oppressed come to the fore: it is only those who are at the bottom who seek their salvation in it. Here the prevailing pastime, the favourite remedy for boredom is the discussion of sin, self-criticism, the inquisition of conscience; here the emotion produced by power (called “God”) is pumped up (by prayer); here the highest good is regarded as unattainable, as a gift, as “grace.” Here, too, open dealing is lacking; concealment and the darkened room are Christian. Here body is despised and hygiene is denounced as sensual; the church even ranges itself against cleanliness (–the first Christian order after the banishment of the Moors closed the public baths, of which there were 270 in Cordova alone). Christian, too; is a certain cruelty toward one’s self and toward others; hatred of unbelievers; the will to persecute. Sombre and disquieting ideas are in the foreground; the most esteemed states of mind, bearing the most respectable names are epileptoid; the diet is so regulated as to engender morbid symptoms and over-stimulate the nerves. Christian, again, is all deadly enmity to the rulers of the earth, to the “aristocratic”–along with a sort of secret rivalry with them (–one resigns one’s “body” to them–one wants only one’s “soul” . . . ).  And Christian is all hatred of the intellect, of pride, of courage of freedom, of intellectual libertinage; Christian is all hatred of the senses, of joy in the senses, of joy in general . . .

Buddhism is a religion for peoples in a further  state of development, for races that have become kind, gentle and over-spiritualized (–Europe is not yet ripe for it–): it is a summons  ‘that takes them back to peace and cheerfulness, to a careful rationing of  the spirit, to a certain hardening of the body. Christianity aims at  mastering beasts of prey; its modus operandi is to make them ill–to make feeble is the Christian recipe for taming, for  “civilizing.” Buddhism is a religion for the closing, over-wearied stages of civilization. Christianity appears before civilization has so much as  begun–under certain circumstances it lays the very foundations thereof.

Buddhism, I repeat, is a hundred times more austere, more honest, more objective. It no longer has to justify its pains, its susceptibility  to suffering, by interpreting these things in terms of sin–it simply says,  as it simply thinks, “I suffer.” To the barbarian, however, suffering in itself is scarcely understandable: what he needs, first of all, is an explanation as to why he suffers. (His mere instinct prompts him to deny his suffering altogether, or to endure it in silence.) Here the word  “devil” was a blessing: man had to have an omnipotent and terrible enemy–there was no need to be ashamed of suffering at the hands of such an enemy.

–At the bottom of Christianity there are several subtleties that belong to the Orient. In the first place, it knows that it is of very little consequence whether a thing be true or not, so long as it is believed to be true. Truth and faith: here we have two wholly distinct worlds of ideas, almost two diametrically opposite worlds–the road to the one and the road to the other lie miles apart. To understand that fact thoroughly–this is almost enough, in the Orient, to make one a sage. The Brahmins knew it, Plato knew it, every student of the esoteric knows it. When, for example, a man gets any pleasure out of the notion that he has been saved from sin, it is not necessary for him to be actually sinful, but merely to feel sinful. But when faith is  thus exalted above everything else, it necessarily follows that reason,  knowledge and patient inquiry have to be discredited: the road to the truth  becomes a forbidden road.–Hope, in its stronger forms, is a great deal more  powerful stimulans to life than any sort of realized joy can ever be.  Man must be sustained in suffering by a hope so high that no conflict with actuality can dash it–so high, indeed, that no fulfillment can satisfy it: a hope reaching out beyond this world. (Precisely because of this  power that hope has of making the suffering hold out, the Greeks regarded it  as the evil of evils, as the most malign of evils; it remained behind  at the source of all evil.)3–In order that love may be possible, God must become a  person; in order that the lower instincts may take a hand in the matter God must be young. To satisfy the ardor of the woman a beautiful saint must appear on the scene, and to satisfy that of the men there must be a virgin.  These things are necessary if Christianity is to assume lordship over a soil on which some aphrodisiacal or Adonis cult has already established a notion as to what a cult ought to be. To insist upon chastity greatly strengthens the vehemence and subjectivity of the religious instinct– it makes the cult warmer, more enthusiastic, more soulful.–Love is the state in which man sees things most decidedly as they are not. The force of illusion reaches its highest here, and so does the capacity for sweetening,  for transfiguring. When a man is in love he endures more than at any other time; he submits to anything. The problem was to devise a religion  which would allow one to love: by this means the worst that life has to  offer is overcome–it is scarcely even noticed.–So much for the three  Christian virtues: faith, hope and charity: I call them the three Christian ingenuities.–Buddhism is in too late a stage of development, too  full of positivism, to be shrewd in any such way.–

One now begins to see just what it was that came to an end with the death on the cross: a new and thoroughly original effort to found a Buddhistic peace movement, and so establish happiness on earth–real, not merely promised. For this remains–as I have  already pointed out–the essential difference between the two religions of decadence: Buddhism promises nothing, but actually fulfills;  Christianity promises everything, but fulfills nothing.–

When the centre of gravity of life is placed, not in life itself,  but in “the beyond”–in nothingness–then one has taken away its centre of gravity altogether. The vast lie of personal immortality destroys all reason, all natural instinct–henceforth, everything in the instincts that is beneficial, that fosters life and that safeguards the future is a cause of suspicion. So to live that life no longer has any meaning: this is now the “meaning” of life.

. . .

If there is no other world and there is no fruit and ripening of actions well done or ill done, then here and now in this life I shall be free from hostility, affliction, and anxiety, and I shall live happily.

– Buddha

Further Reading

The Antichrist by Friedrich Nietzsche

God Is Dead: What Next?

Nietzsche and Buddhism

The Buddha and Nietzsche (YouTube)

Nietzsche and Early Buddhism Book Review

Nietzsche’s Anti-Christ: Jesus and Buddhism

Everything the State Says is a Lie, and Everything it has it has Stolen

At this point I can no longer avoid giving a first, provisional statement of my own hypothesis concerning the origin of the “bad conscience”: it may sound rather strange and needs to be pondered, lived with, and slept on for a long time. I regard the bad conscience as the serious illness that man was bound to contract under the stress of the most fundamental change he ever experienced – that change which occurred when he found himself finally enclosed within the walls of society and of peace. The situation that faced sea animals when they were compelled to become land animals or perish was the same as that which faced these semi-animals, well adapted to the wilderness, to war, to prowling, to adventure: suddenly all their instincts were disvalued and “suspended.” From now on they had to walk on their feet and “bear themselves” whereas hitherto they had been borne by the water: a dreadful heaviness lay upon them. They felt unable to cope with the simplest undertakings; in this new world they no longer possessed their former guides, their regulating, unconscious and infallible drives: they were reduced to thinking, inferring, reckoning, co-ordinating cause and effect, these unfortunate creatures; they were reduced to their “consciousness,” their weakest and most fallible organ! I believe there has never been such a feeling of misery on earth, such a leaden discomfort – and at the same time the old instincts had not suddenly ceased to make their usual demands! Only it was hardly or rarely possible to humor them: as a rule they had to seek new and, as it were, subterranean gratifications.

All instincts that do not discharge themselves outwardly turn inward – this is what I call the internalization of man: thus it was that man first developed what was later called his “soul.” The entire inner world, originally as thin as if it were stretched between two membranes, expanded and extended itself, acquired depth, breadth, and height, in the same measure as outward discharge was inhibited. Those fearful bulwarks with which the political organization protected itself against the old instincts of freedom – punishments belong among these bulwarks – brought about that all those instincts of wild, free, prowling man turned backward against man himself. Hostility, cruelty, joy in persecuting, in attacking, in change, in destruction – all this turned against the possessors of such instincts: that is the origin of the “bad conscience.”

The man who, from lack of external enemies and resistances and forcibly confined to the oppressive narrowness and punctiliousness of custom, impatiently lacerated, persecuted, gnawed at, assaulted, and maltreated himself; this animal that rubbed itself raw against the bars of its cage as one tried to “tame” it; this deprived creature, racked with homesickness for the wild, who had to turn himself into an adventure, a torture chamber, an uncertain and dangerous wilderness – this fool, this yearning and desperate prisoner became the inventor of the “bad conscience.” But thus began the gravest and uncanniest illness, from which humanity has not yet recovered, man’s suffering of man, of himself – the result of a forcible sundering from his animal past, as it were a leap and plunge into new surroundings and conditions of existence, a declaration of war against the old instincts upon which his strength, joy, and terribleness had rested hitherto.

Let us add at once that, on the other hand, the existence on earth of an animal soul turned against itself, taking sides against itself, was something so new, profound, unheard of, enigmatic, contradictory, and pregnant with a future that the aspect of the earth was essentially altered. Indeed, divine spectators were needed to do justice to the spectacle that thus began and the end of which is not yet in sight – a spectacle too subtle, too marvelous, too paradoxical to be played senselessly unobserved on some ludicrous planet! From now on, man is included among the most unexpected and exciting lucky throws in the dice game of Heraclitus’ “great child,” be he called Zeus or chance; he gives rise to an interest, a tension, a hope, almost a certainty, as if with him something were announcing and preparing itself, as if man were not a goal but only a way, an episode, a bridge, a great promise.

———–

The sick are the greatest danger for the healthy; it is not from the strongest that harm comes to the strong, but from the weakest.

As is well known, the priests are the most evil enemies — but why? Because they are the most impotent. It is because of their impotence that in them hatred grows to monstrous and uncanny proportions, to the most spiritual and poisonous kind of hatred. The truly great haters in the world history have always been priests; likewise the most ingenious haters: other kinds of spirit hardly come into consideration when compared with the spirit of priestly vengefulness.

That every will must consider every other will its equal — would be a principle hostile to life, an agent of the dissolution and destruction of man, an attempt to assassinate the future of man, a sign of weariness, a secret path to nothingness.

Nihilist and Christian. They rhyme, and do not merely rhyme…

The slave revolt in morality begins when ressentiment itself becomes creative and gives birth to values: the ressentiment of natures that are denied the true reaction, that of deeds, and compensate themselves with an imaginary revenge.

This should dispose once and for all of the question of how the “holy God” originated.

Too long, the earth has been a madhouse!

We have already gone beyond whatever we have words for. In all talk there is a grain of contempt.

– Friedrich Nietzsche

Coping with Nietzsche’s Legacy

I know my fate. One day my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous–a crisis without equal on earth, the most profound collision of conscience, a decision that was conjured up against everything that had been believed, demanded, hallowed so far. I am no man, I am dynamite.

–Friedrich Nietzsche, Ecce Homo, “Why I Am a Destiny.”

Proemium

For us who today read Nietzsche after Heidegger, Nietzsche symbolizes the end of metaphysics (the death not only of “God” but also, as a necessary consequence, of the human “subject”). Whether or not Nietzsche actually succeeded in “overcoming metaphysics”–by means of his inventive myths, his “fictions,” of the Will to Power, the Uebermensch, and the Eternal Return–or whether, as Heidegger would have had it, he was simply the “last of the metaphysicians,” his own “last man” in effect, is a question still awaiting an answer. What I wish to reflect on in this essay is the meaning of what has been and is going on in the wake of Nietzsche’s genealogically deconstructive critique of the Tradition. Where do we stand, where can we stand when the very concept of “ground,” the metaphysical concept par excellence, has been swept away?

A quote from the literary critic Terry Eagleton might help to pinpoint the crucial cultural issue arising out of Nietzsche’s all-out attack on the Tradition. Eagleton writes:

We are now in the process of wakening from the nightmare of modernity, with its manipulative reason and fetish of the totality, into the laid-back [“joyful,” as Nietzsche would say] pluralism of the postmodern, that heterogeneous range of life-styles and language games which has renounced the nostalgic urge to totalize and legitimate itself….Science and philosophy must jettison their grandiose metaphysical claims and view themselves more modestly as just another set of narratives.

In other words, what as a result of Nietzsche’s Fröliche Wissenschaft has been called into question in these postmodern times is that which has served always as the ultimate legitimation of the philosophical enterprise: the search for Truth, for Knowledge, for, that is to say, Science (Wissenschaft, episteme). i.e., the One (Universal), True Account of Things (Reality) (true heirs to Parmenides and Pythagoras, present-day physicists are currently expending a great deal of money and energy in search of what they call the Theory of Everything, “a single equation that describes the entire universe”). What under the inspiration of Nietzsche postmodernism has called into question is the foundational, cultural authority of Science.

The concept of Science is a Platonic invention, but it underwent a new twist at the beginning of modern times with the emergence of mathematical, experimental science of the Galilean sort. Modern philosophy can be said to have begun when, bedazzled by this new development, philosophers took the new science as the supreme model of genuine, foundational knowledge. They were, ever afterwards, to labor in the shadow cast by this great Idol. Even the “free thinking,” godless philosophers of late modernity continued to pay a sort of religious hommage to it. As Nietzsche remarked in the Genealogy of Morals, “They are far from being free spirits: for they still have faith in truth.” And as he went on to say: “It is still a metaphysical faith that underlies our faith in science–and we men of knowledge of today, we godless men and anti-metaphysicians, we, too, still derive our flame from the fire ignited by a faith millennia old, the Christian faith, which was also Plato’s, that God is truth, that truth isdivine.” When at long last Nietzsche took to doing philosophy with a hammer, it was precisely this Idol that he sought to demolish.

To get a sense of what happens when the Idol comes crashing down, listen for a moment to some of what Baudrillard has to say:

All of Western faith and good faith was engaged in this wager on representation [i.e., “science”]: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could exchange for meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange–God, of course. But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say, reduced to the signs which attest his existence [cf. Nietzsche’s “death of God”]? Then the whole system becomes weightless; it is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum: not unreal, but a simulacrum, never again exchanging for what is real, but exchanging in itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.

In other words, as Nietzsche would say, when the value of (representational) truth is called into question, everything becomes (mere) interpretation (“There is only a perspective seeing, only a perspective ‘knowing'”). The world itself becomes nothing more than a “sign-world,” i.e., merely a semiological construct, a mere signifier signifying only itself. In a way which reminds one of the section in the Twilight of the Idols entitled “How the ‘Real World’ at last Became a Myth,” Baudrillard lists the following as “the successive phases of the image”:

1 It is the reflection of a basic reality.

2 It masks and perverts a basic reality.

3 It masks the absence of a basic reality.

4 It bears no relation to any reality whatever: it is its own pure simulacrum (170).

When the “real world” at last becomes a myth, a simulacrum, we are witnessing the death not only of Truth and of Science, but also of Philosophy itself. At least Philosophy with a capital P, as Rorty would say. What are we then left with? Is there anything to be found in Nietzsche’s legacy (“Let us abolish the real world”) other than the most abyssmal of nihilisms? What are we to do when there is no more Truth and no more Reality–and no more Philosophy (Science) to tell us what Truth and Reality really and truly are? How are we to cope with this situation which defines our postmodernity? Perhaps we could pick up some pointers by considering how three eminent thinkers of our times–Rorty, Derrida, Gadamer–have sought to cope with Nietzsche’s legacy, each in his own quite distinctive way.

Rorty

Rorty, it must be admitted, has not had any great trouble knowing what to do after the end of Philosophy. Of the three thinkers I shall be considering, Rorty has been the least discomforted by the heavy burden of Nietzsche’s legacy. Indeed, in the light-hearted joyfulness of his new-found philosophical innocence, he has wholeheartedly embraced Nietzsche’s pronouncements about the demise of Truth. If he is anything at all, Rorty is a carefree, happy-go-lucky nihilist who is not about to let himself be bothered any more by the old concerns of philosophy. Nietzsche’s word about the “death of God” seems to have been the liberating news he had been awaiting throughout all of the years of his exile in the arid waste lands of analytic philosophy. He tells us now that reading philosophy books is mostly a waste of time (it doesn’t contribute to human solidarity): Who, he asks, was ever convinced in ways that matter by a philosophical argument? We ought to read novels instead, people like Nabokov and Orwell, Dickens and Proust. Rorty fully endorses Lyotard’s claim that philosophical metanarratives are out, mininarratives are in. What counts is not to say something “truthful” but something “interesting,” something “edifying.” We should also change the conversation as much as possible, lest it become boring (we do this, according to Rorty, by continually inventing new “vocabularies,” “simply by playing the new off against the old”). Not Socrates’ “Don’t tell a lie,” but Johnny Carson’s “Don’t be boring” seems to have become Rorty’s watchword.

And indeed Rorty has many interesting, even “edifying,” things to say. I have no doubt that his Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature has performed an extremely valuable service to the English-speaking philosophical community (to those, at least, who have lent it an attentive ear). I fully agree with Richard Bernstein when he says: “Richard Rorty has written one of the most important and challenging books to be published by an American philosopher in the past few decades.” Bernstein is also right in remarking on how those who find it a “deeply disturbing book” and those who find it “liberating and exhilarating” are both right and wrong. It is unquestionably liberating and exhilarating, but it is also deeply disturbing, for reasons I shall indicate in a moment.

What is liberating and exhilarating about the book is the way in which it was able to open the eyes of so many people to the utter bankrupcy of traditional, foundationalist philosophizing. European philosophers (e.g., Derrida) had of course already said much the same thing, but Rorty’s easy style of writing served to bring the message home with great éclat. What is announced here so effectively is the demise of modern philosophy, of, in other words, the whole epistemological project of modernity or what Rorty calls “epistemology centered philosophy.” Rorty defines epistemology “as the quest, initiated by Descartes, for those privileged items in the field of consciousness which are the touchstones of truth” (210). Epistemology is a foundational discipline, not itself a science in the narrow sense of the term, but the theory of science which secures for each and every science its legitimacy by establishing for it its foundation and method. Rorty asks whether in these postmodern times, when the Cartesian-Lockean-Kantian “cognizing subject” of modernity–a subject which is nothing but a pure, disembodied gaze upon a fully object world (the mind as a “mirror of nature”)–has been deconstructed, “there still remains something for epistemology to be” (210). His answer, of course, is that there doesn’t. When, for just one thing, one considers all the interesting developments in postpositivist and postpopperian philosophy of science (Kuhn, Hesse, Toulmin, Feyerabend, etc.), it is hard not to agree. Epistemology is now dead, thanks in large part to Rorty.

In Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature Rorty uses the term “hermeneutics,” “a polemical term in contemporary philosophy,” as he calls it (357), to designate this central attempt on the part of postmodern thinking to set aside epistemologically centered philosophy. This is a most fitting term since Gadamer himself has characterized his philosophizing–hermeneutics–as an attempt to overcome the modes of thought of “the epistemological era (l’ère de la théorie de la connaissance).” In his subsequent writings, however, Rorty tends to use the term “hermeneutics” less and less, perhaps due to the influence of Derrida, who quite erroneously has insinuated that hermeneutics remains attached to the old metaphysics of presence. But this, too, is fitting since in this book Rorty gives a hint of what is to come when he says that “hermeneutics is an expression of hope that the cultural space left by the demise of epistemology will not be filled” (315, emphasis added). Unlike Gadamer who has sought, by means of hermeneutics, to provide an alternative, a postmodern option, to “epistemologically centered philosophy,” Rorty does indeed leave us with a culturalvoid. This is precisely what makes Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature a “deeply disturbing” book.

What indeed, we may ask, are the ultimate “consequences” of Rorty’s postmodern pragmatism? I think they can fairly well be summed up in two words: relativism andnihilism. Rorty has, to be sure, protested the charge of relativism, but his responses are evasive and his arguments lack the power of conviction (which I suppose is only fitting in the case of someone who no longer believes in philosophical argumentation). We are inevitably condemned to relativism when, rejecting like Rorty the metaphysical notion of Truth, we reject also all metanarratives, when, that is, we reject the legitimacy of theory, which always seeks some form of universal validity. And, similarly, we find ourselves in a state of nihilism when, rejecting the metaphysical notion of Reality, we go on to assert as well that everyone’s “truths” are merely their own private “fictions,” when, that is, we equate fiction with mere semblance (similacrum) and deny it the power to recreate or refigure, and thus enhance, what is called “reality.”

Rorty says that in a post-Philosophical age the attempt to understand things (by means of philosophical theory) is passé. The important thing, he says, is to learn how tocope. Rorty may have something of a point here. Indeed, one fairly common characteristic of postmodern thought in general is that it insists on the primacy of the practical over the theoretical (this is reflected, for instance, in Gadamer’s rehabilitation of the Aristotelian notion of phronesis: “the primacy of ‘practice’ is undeniable”). It is one thing to accord priority to praxis, to ethos; it is quite another, however, to deny to theory a legitimate and, indeed, central role in the formation and sustenance of life practices and socio-political modes of being-in-the-world–in other words, their justification or, as Habermas would say much to Rorty’s displeasure, “legitimation.” But this is something that Rorty, with his anti-theory stance, does. He ignores the fact that arriving at some (theoretical) understanding of things is a most important way in which humans manage to cope with things (and, I might add, not only cope with them, but critically and creatively engage with them).

Rorty obviously likes to view himself as a kind of social or culture critic, denouncing cruelty and promoting solidarity. One thing that flows from his postphilosophical stance, however, is the rejection of any form of universal theory (diverse cultures or “conceptual schemes” are simply “incommensurable”), and thus any form of philosophical, which is to say universal, critique; for this he would substitute a “de-theoreticized sense of community,” in other words, compassionate feelings of a Rousseauian sort. Having thrown overboard the universalist claims of Enlightenment reason, the best Rorty can do when confronted with “cruelty” is to express his personal distaste for it by not admitting cruel people to his own comfy club of “we postmodernist bourgeois liberals,” i.e., “people who are more afraid of being cruel than of anything else.” Letting it be known that they are not “one of us” (190) is about as condemnatory as he can get. We may believe in something like human rights and the value of the individual, but if we are candid, we must admit that “this belief is caused by nothing deeper than contingent historical circumstance” (189). What right do we have, therefore, to “impose” it on people in other cultures and historical circumstances? None, it would seem, since there are no “general principles,” only historical narrations whose validity (if that’s the proper word) is limited to a given community at a given time. It is hard to imagine what kind of argument Rorty could address to the violators of human rights in China other than to urge them to read George Orwell. I can in fact see how the ruling clique in China could well turn Rorty’s anti-universalist, “frankly ethnocentric,” stance to their own good use when they feel the urge to protest Western denunciations of their barbaric practices as so much interference in their “internal affairs”: Who are we Westerners, we “bourgeois liberals” (a term which is for them an invective), we non-Chinese to tell them what to do anyhow? Rorty has deconstructed the metaphysical absolutism of the Tradition only to land himself in the quagmire of a quite traditional form of ethical relativism.

What, like a number of other postmodernists of a relativist bent, Rorty fails to realize is that philosophical theory and critique need not necessarily be “foundationalist.” He has not realized that in the new postmodern, globalist, multipolar or polycentric civilization which is emerging everywhere in the world, universality and particularity need no longer be metaphysical opposites. It is only for a modernist, essentialist mentality that universalism has to mean homegeneity and cultural imperialism. Like so many other anti-theorists today, Rorty has not so much overcome modernism as he has simply abandoned it for its opposite (absolutism for relativism, necessity for contingency, [essentialist] universalism for “localism”); he is not so much a postfoundationalist as he is a mere antifoundationalist who has simply (as Searle would say of Derrida) “turned the world upside down.” In, as is his wont, merely “changing the subject,” he has failed to work out any viable theoretical alternative to the bankrupt conceptuality of philosophical modernity. Derrida, at least, has realized that “metaphysics” is not simply something one can drop at one’s pleasure, like an old, worn-out pair of shoes, or simply set aside, like a game with which one has become bored or a conversation which has gone stale. Like (as some would say) Nietzsche himself, Rorty has not succeeded in “overcoming metaphysics”–although he has at least managed, willy-nilly, to find a way of coping with the nihilism which, as Nietzsche pointed out, tends inevitably to follow upon the overthrowing of metaphysics. Rorty’s writings can be of value to those who no longer have any principled way of defending the notion of value.

Derrida

Derrida is one of Rorty’s cultural heroes, and it is not hard to see why. As a fellow postnietzschean who also proclaims the demise of philosophy and the end of “man,” Derrida has all the appearances of being a living incarnation of the Rortyan ideal of the nonchalant postphilosophical thinker, viz., the “kibitzer” and “all-purpose intellectual,” the “intellectual dilettante.” Derrida is clearly a child of Nietzsche’s, an heir, as Rorty sees it, to Nietzsche’s joyful wisdom who, beyond all metaphyscial seriousness, extols the playful “innocence of becoming.” Like, you might say, the child idealized by Nietzsche who in his playfulness “constructs and destroys, all in innocence,” who “builds towers of sand…at the seashore, piles them up and tramples them down…in innocent caprice.” For Rorty, Derrida is the great postphilosophical prankster, the “ironist,” the indefatigable turner-out of texts which are mercifully free from the burden of having to actually mean something (qui ne veulent rien dire, as Derrida himself would say), a superb fabricator of “private fantasies.” A number of Derrida’s writings, especially later ones such as Glas (which even Derrida scholars seem to have difficulty making sense of) would, on the face of it at least, seem to be nothing more than elaborate jokes, philosophy just for the fun (or pun) of it, a form of gleeful, uninhibited scribbling which, as Rorty says, seeks neither to demonstrate anything nor refute anybody. Compared to the up-tight analytic philosophers Rorty grew up with, Derrida is undoubtedly a delightful jokester. And yet there is a kind of seriousness to the Derridian enterprise that escapes Rorty’s notice or, to be more precise, that Rorty prefers to ignore, to which he turns a blind eye.

Derrida may indeed be a postmodern gamester, but there is more to his work than “just gaming” (to allude to the title of a work of Lyotard’s). It is of course true that Derrida is no more of a believer in the traditional metanarratives of philosophy than is Rorty and is thus, like him, a kind of postmodern agnostic who sets no store by philosophy’s traditional claim to “knowledge” (scientia) and is in fact out to undermine it as best he can. In some ways Derrida is even less of a “philosopher” than Rorty, since he not only does not have a “position” to defend but does not even engage in arguments against various philosophical positons. What is referred to as “deconstruction” is not a set of theses or beliefs, not even loosely articulated ones like those of Rorty, but is simply, so to speak, a method, a way of reading texts, philosophical ones in particular. Actually, it is not even a “method,” at least not in the modernist sense of the term, i.e., a set of explicit rules to be followed so as to arrive at certain positive results (“the truth”). This is why Derrida insists that what he is doing is not “hermeneutics,” by which he means that his reading of texts does not aim at unconvering a hidden meaning in them. Derrida quite simply does not believe in meaning–a hopelessly metaphysical concept according to him.

The task of deconstruction is in fact to show that philosophical texts do not mean what they seem to mean, do not mean what their authors wanted them to mean (what they “intended”), do not in fact have any “decidable” meaning at all. The aim of a deconstructive reading is to show how texts laying claim to knowledge are full of internal tensions and contradictions or antinomies which end up by subverting their stated goals and their own claims to truth. The purpose of a deconstructive reading of philosophical texts is frankly anti-Philosophical; it is aimed at showing how in every instance the attempt by traditional philosophers to use language in such a way as to get beyond language so as to arrive at some translinguistic, transcultural, transhistorical truth–“transcendental signified”–which language could then be said to “mirror,” inevitably fails. Philosophers who aim at the Truth, at universal essences, cannot in fact escape the gravitational pull of a particular language. Philosophy’s univocal concepts turn out to be nothing more than disguised metaphors of strictly local prominence and significance. There’s no escaping the play of language.

Just as Rorty undermines the “epistemologically centered philosophy” of modernity, so Derrida’s deconstructive undertaking calls into question not only modern philosophy but the entire philosophical tradition, or what Derrida calls the “metaphysics of presence.” This is the aspect of Derrida’s work which, to borrow Bernstein’s words, is “liberating and exhilarating.” Derrida’s deconstructive attack on what he calls “logocentrism” is liberating in that, among other things, it frees us from the tyranny of two particularly insidious notions which, from the beginning, have dominated philosophy: the notions of totality and essence.

The notion of “totality,” i.e, the idea that reality is One, and is, consequently, the proper object of a Unified Science, is oppressive because it invariably leads to the suppression of all sorts of loose ends to things (and to people) which cannot or will not (which refuse) to be fittled neatly into the System. This, of course, was the main point in Kierkegaard’s critique of Hegel. Totality rules out both individuality and alterity (the “multiple forms of otherness” that postmodern thought seeks to safeguard). And as we have learned in our times, in late modernity, totalizing thinking is hazardous to human life because it serves to lend philosophical legitimacy to totalitarianism, i.e., the totalized society (the socio-political equivalent of the unified science dreamed of by modern rationalists). Thus, by discrediting the notion of totality, of a totalizing discourse, deconstruction serves to further the postmodern concern for particularity and difference, diversity and heterogeneity, the fragmentary and the marginal, in a word, pluralism–the kind of pluralism which is the necessary condition for genuine freedom and democracy.

The notion of “essence” is also oppressive and fully merits being deconstructed. “Essence” is the grounding notion of philosophical science, the that-without-which it could not be. Science or Knowledge is, by definition, the knowing of what something is (its “whatness” [quidditas] or essence). The metaphysical presupposition behind this epistemic endeavor is that a thing is indeed just precisely what it is and not something else; essentialism upholds the rule of the Principle of Identity, the cornerstone of logocentrism. The trouble with essentialism is that, as Sextus Empiricus already knew, it cannot but result in dogmatism (dogmatism being, as Sextus said, belief in “the substantial existence of the True”). And dogmatism is oppressive since it legitimates “expertocracy” and “rationalist terrorism,” i.e., the tyranny of those who claim to be “in the know.” To be constrained by essences (which, as Nietzsche pointed out, are simply what some people in the past have said things are and whose sayings have over time become fixed and canonical) is to be imprisoned in a stagnant universe of stringently limited possibilities and fixed, unalterable meanings. Essentialism provides a handy justification for the tyranny of the status quo and of established power structures.

That is the “liberating and exhilarating” side to Derrida’s work. But there is another side to it which, if not “deeply disturbing” (as in the case of Rorty), is, at the very least, disappointing. The trouble with deconstruction is that it does not seem to “go” anywhere. Unlike Rorty, Derrida realizes, as I mentioned before, that one cannot simply toss “metaphysics” out the window and be done with it once and for all. The work of deconstruction is serious and demanding, requiring “the skill of the tightrope walker, tripping the light fantastic on a world-wire over the abysss.” Overcoming metaphysics is thus no easy matter; it is necessary, Derrida suggests, to lodge “oneself within [the] traditional conceptuality in order to destroy it.” There is an honesty here that one does not find in Rorty who seems to believe that whenever it strikes our fancy we can change ourselves overnight by simply inventing new “vocabularies.” That notwithstanding, having deconstructed metaphysics but unable to get beyond it, remaining, as he might say, “on the edge,” Derrida is left, and leaves us, sitting in the rubble of this once magnificent monument to human pride and presumptuousness. This is perhaps why the later Derrida, who is much more to Rorty’s liking, tends more and more to just horse around, turning out texts whose philosophical significance, if any there be, is hard to detect but which are the aesthetic delight of lit crit audiences this side of the Atlantic.

But even Derrida’s earlier, more “serious” works are disappointing. After having deconstructed metaphysics, we are left, in a way similar to Rorty, with an immense philosophical void, with, indeed, a kind of nihilism. Derrida seems to believe that, in the absence of metaphysical absolutes, of a “transcendental signified,” all that remains is the ultimately meaningless play of words which refer not in any way to “reality” but only to more and more other words, in an endless drift, deferral, or dissemination of undecidable meaning (différance), words without end, an abyssmal labyrinth in which we are forever condemned to wander aimlessly about. “The absence of the transendental signified,” he says, “extends the domain and the play of signification infinitely.” “There are only, everywhere,” he says, “differences and traces of traces,” nothing but “a play of traces or differance that has no sense.” Or as Rorty says of his hero: “For Derrida, writing always leads to more writing, and more, and still more.” libido scribendi, ad nauseum, as the Romans would have said (or “logorrhea,” as Allan Megill says). Because (as Derrida rightly perceives) nothing means any one thing in particular, he concludes that in the last analysis nothing means anything at all.

As Rorty realizes, Derrida is an irrepressibly “excessive” writer. For him philosophical works are all play and no work (they do not, that is, seek to produce that effect called “truth”). Philosophy is turned into a form of “literature” (“a kind of writing,” in Rorty’s words), i.e., fiction. Philosophy’s world is but a dream world. When everything becomes textuality and intertextuality and nothing but, the real world of human concerns and human praxis vanishes into the black hole of free-floating signifiers. This is indeed nihilism, a joyful nihilism perhaps, but nihilism nonetheless. Thus, as David Hoy very pertinently remarks: “If dissemination is at times a useful antidote, in excess it may also be a poison.”

I conclude that in simply reversing the pro and the con, Derrida’s joyful wisdom, his response to Neitzsche’s legacy, remains, as does Rorty’s, a captive of the metaphyscial tradition and its tenacious oppositional, either/or mentalité.

Derrida’s rejection of logocentrism is not revolutionary, and because he thinks it is, he is unable to take advantage of the sophistication that the debate on essentialist thinking has already reached; as a result, he jumps from one extreme (meaning is a matter of fixed, immutable concepts) to the other (meaning is a matter of the indeterminate, infinite play of signs). This appears very like the undeveloped response of one who has just been surprised by the realization that real essences do not exist. The conclusion of this discussion can therefore only be that Derrida’s contribution to the debate on language and meaning is not substantial; it fails to establish any coherent new view of meaning or of the way language functions. In lieu of metaphysical fixity Derrida offers us nothing more than uncontrollable “slippage.” A pretty meager consolation prize for so great a deconstructive effort. Carefree and Dionysian though he may appear to be, I do not believe that Derrida has succeeded in freeing himself from the bad conscience of the metaphysicians. For this reason, and because for Derrida, as for those poststructuralists who repudiate the legacy of the Enlightenment, nothing can any longer be said to be better than anything else, only different, I do not believe that Derrida has much to contribute, in a positive way, to what is most needed today now that marxist-leninist ideology has been relegated to the rubbish heap of history–by which I mean the detailed working out of a postmetaphysical, postmodern way of doing philosophy, a form of critical theory free finally of foundationalist and essentialist hang-ups, one which could, by means of theory, advance the cause of a truly universal freedom, i.e., a freedom which would be the prized possession not only of ethnocentric bourgeois liberals like Rorty but of humanity everywhere. Derrida is at least to be congratulated on having abandoned the modernist tactic of previous left-wing intellectuals who extolled confrontational politics (“revolutionism”), in line with Lenin’s exhortation to “suppress the suppressors.” As various postmarxists have now (finally) realized, a politics of violence of this sort contributes only to more thoroughgoing forms of tyranny überhaupt. What is needed is a philosophical defense of universal human rights and individual freedoms, a postfoundationalist reassertion of Jefferson’s Enlightenment declaration that all men are “created equal” and are endowed with certain “unalienable rights.” The notion of universal human rights and freedoms can, however, make sense only if you have a universalist conceptuality with which to make sense of it–only if you have a “philosophy.” The “end of philosophy” and the end of “humanism” proclaimed by both Derrida and Rorty means, of course, the end of universalism, and thus the end, not only of “history,” but of “humanity” itself (it must not be forgotten that the concept of humanity–a humanity–was, like that of history [history being world history, the history of humanity], an invention of the philosophers, a product of philosophical theory).

Gadamer

Disregarding the standard (i.e., pre-postmodern) narrative ordering according to which, as Descartes insisted, one should always begin at the beginning, I turn to Gadamer last. Even though his work antedates both Derrida’s and Rorty’s, its significance is perhaps best understood when viewed in the light of his wayward progeny. It is, after all, a basic hermeneutical principle that we always understand backwards, après coup. As Gadamer himself has remarked: “All beginnings lie in the darkness, and what is more, they can be illuminated only in the light of what came later and from the perspective of what followed.” When examined in the context of what I have said about Rorty and Derrida, Gadamer’s hermeneutics may perhaps be seen to provide valuable suggestions for doing philosophy in a postnietzschean, postmodern age, ones that are not to be found in either Rorty or Derrida.

If the writings of Rorty and Derrida can be said to be liberating, and if indeed the notion of liberation figures prominently in one way or another in what they have to say, the same is no less true of Gadamer’s work. Indeed, Gadamer has no qualms about retelling one of the greatest metanarratives of all time, that of the progressive liberation of humankind. In the context (significantly enough perhaps) of a discussion of Hegel he writes:

[T]here is no higher principle of reason than that of freedom. Thus the opinion of Hegel and thus our own opinion as well. No higher principle is thinkable than that of the freedom of all, and we understand actual history from the perspective of this principle: as the ever-to-be-renewed and the never-ending struggle for this freedom.

One remarkable thing about this text is how it manages to reiterate most of those notions that postmodernists of a relativistic and nihilistic bent have felt obliged to discard, notions such as progress, humanity, reason (philosophy), and history. It would be all too easy, on the basis of a pronouncement such as this, to attribute to Gadamer a residual–or-not-so-residual–attachment to the old metaphysics of presence. Jack Caputo, a great admirer of Derrida’s, does not hesitate to accuse Gadamer of being a “closet essentialist.” Gadamer himself has protested Derrida’s portrayal of him as (in Gadamer’s words) “a lost sheep in the dried up pastures of metaphysics.”

What critics like Caputo fail to notice is that Gadamer (a true postmodernist in this respect) uses Hegel against Hegel. Whereas Hegel believed that “the True is the whole,” Gadamer does not subscribe to the notion of totality or closure, to the Hegelian notion of Knowledge (Wissenschaft). For Gadamer, there is only one thing we can know for sure, and that is that any kind of Hegelian absolute is irremediably beyond our grasp. “Philosophical thinking,” he writes,” is not science at all….There is no claim of definitive knowledge, with the exception of one: the acknowledgement of the finitude of human being in itself.” To acknowledge human finitude is to acknowledge that, for us at least (for any existing individual, as Kierkegaard would say), there can be no end to history–and thus no guaranteed, transcendenally sanctioned meaning to it (i.e., no science of history). The meaning not only of what is but also of what was is always in question (en jeu) and up for renewal. Later in this book Gadamer speaks of “a progress that always must be renewed in the effort of our living” (111). In “Text and Interpretation” Gadamer writes: “[T]he special feature of historical experience is that we stand in the midst of an event without knowing what is happening to us before we grasp what has happened in looking backwards. Accordingly, history must be written anew by every new present.”

As a major stream in the many-branched current of postmodern thought, hermeneutics is much closer to deconstruction than many deconstructions are prepared to admit. Indeed, Gadamerian or phenomenological hermeneutics incorporates a genuinely deconstructive strategy inasmuch as it decidedly rejects the modernistic objectivism of pre-phenomenological, romantic hermeneutics, the kind of hermeneutics which has continued to be represented in this century by Emilio Betti and E.D. Hirsch and to which Derrida’s objections against “hermeneutics” do indeed apply. Richard Palmer emphasizes “the importance of seeing the unfolding of the hermeneutical problematic in terms of the philosophical critique of the metaphysics of modernity” and remarks on how such a critique generates the need for a deconstructive strategy. Palmer in fact views the relation between hermeneutics and deconstruction as similar to that of parent and child.

David Hoy paints a somewhat similar picture. “Dissemination and hermeneutics should not be contrasted so extremely,” he says. According to Hoy, Derrida’s deconstruction agrees with the hermeneutical critique of traditional epistemology; it also, he says, takes “that critique to its extreme limits and [applies] it against traditional hermeneutics as well.” To compare the relation between hermeneutics and deconstruction to that of parent and child and to suggest that deconstruction goes beyond hermeneutics can be misleading, however. Chronology aside, deconstruction is not so much a successor to hermeneutics (“advancing” matters even further), as it is a spin off from hermeneutics–in a direction other than that which has continued to be pursued by hermeneutics itself (a spin off, as Derrida might say, into an “excentric” orbit).

Hermeneutics, I would argue, is as fully “postmodern” as deconstruction. What is often overlooked is that there are, in fact, two quite different trends in postmodern thinking. One writer distinguishes the two types of postmodernism in this way:

The first proclaims that modernity is over, that a new age has begun. The new age makes use of the past, and of modern achievements, but it has its own new freedoms and its own self-definition. The second type of thought is deconstructive, and works to undermine the unities and closures found in modernity, without escaping from them into some new age.

All things considered, this is a fairly apt description of the difference between hermeneutics and deconstruction, “the difference,” as Bernstein would say, “that makes a difference.” One could sum up this difference by saying that whereas deconstruction undermines the traditional notions of “truth,” “reality,” and “knowledge,” leaving nothing in their place (nihilism), hermeneutics has sought to work out a genuinely nonfoundationalist and nonessentialist understanding of these concepts.

For hermeneutics, “truth” no longer signifies the “correspondence” of “mental states” to “objective” reality, and “meaning” is no longer conceived of as some sort of objective, in-itself state of affairs which merely awaits being “discovered” and “represented” by a mirroring mind. “Truth” and “meaning” refer instead to creative operations on the part of human understanding itself, which is always interpretive (never simply “representational”). Hermeneutical truth is inseparable from the interpretive process, and meaning, as hermeneutics understands it, is nothing other than what results from such a process, namely, the existential-practicaltransformation that occurs in the interpreting subject (in his or her world orientation) as a result of his or her active encounter with texts, other people, or “the world.” Truth and meaning have nothing “objective” about them, in the modern, objectivistic sense of the term; they are integral aspects of the “event” of understanding itself, are inseparable from, as Gadamer would say, the “play” of understanding.

In reconceptualizing truth and meaning in this way, hermeneutics thereby also reconceptualizes the pivotal notion of “knowledge.” What is called “knowledge” is not, as Derrida would say, the possession of a “transcendental signified,” a translinguistic “essence” (this is the metaphysical or logocentric definition of knowledge, a definition which, it may be noted, Derrida uncritically accepts). “Knowledge,” for hermeneutics, is nothing other than the shared understanding that a community of inquirers comes to as a result of a free exchange of opinions. For Gadamer, understanding “is a process of communication.” In reconceptualizing matters in this way, and in insisting on the “communicative” nature of human understanding, hermeneutics offers us something more than does deconstruction, i.e., something more than the mere cacophony of everyone’s parodying, fanciful interpretations of things (the “private fantasies” of Derrida that Rorty speaks of).

Accomplished though he be in exposing the “blind spots” in philosophical texts, there is in Derrida’s own writings a rather curious and in any event very significant blind spot. If Derrida rejects the notion of truth altogether, it is because, like the metaphysicians themselves, he equates truth with representation. Gadamer breaks with this understanding of truth and proposes a quite different, genuinely postmodern conception of truth. Truth is not something simply to be discovered (“represented”) but something to be made–through the exercise of communicative rationality. Truth is a practical concept. It is something that can exist only if we take responsibility for its existence. “Philosophy” is one name for the exercise of this kind of responsibility.

In emphasizing the importance of common agreement and mutual understanding in what is called “knowledge,” hermeneutics allows us to conceive of, and to strive to realize, a society which would be something more than a deconstructed Tower of Babel. Gadamer’s dialogical view of understanding (as a communication process) provides the model for a social order based not on coercion or domination (Herrschaft) but on rational persuasion, the kind of tolerant and pluralist social order envisaged by the great rhetoricians and humanists of the past.

I might note as well that because hermeneutics, unlike deconstruction, contains quite definite implications for social praxis, it promotes the exercise of critical reason. The function of hermeneutical criticism is to expose and denouce forms of socio-political organization which oppress and stifle the communicative process–fosterning thereby the development of dialogical communities. As both the theory and the practice of interpretive understanding, hermeneutics, Gadamer says, “may help us to gain our freedom in relation to everything that has taken us in unquestioningly.” The hermeneutical enterprise is indeed, as Gadamer says, one of “translating the principle of freedom into reality.” As Richard Bernstein has clearly perceived, there is, as he says, “a radical strain implicit in Gadamer’s understanding of hermeneutics as a practical philosophy.” This radical strain, he says, “is indicated in his emphasis . . . on freedom and solidarity to embrace all of humanity.”

Gadamer’s hermeneutics is indeed one which “makes use of the past and of modern achievements”–but in accordance with its own renewed conception of such traditional notions as truth, meaning, and knowledge. Because Gadamer does not reject the tradition of Western thought en bloc, he is not condemned to dillydallying around on the margins of metaphysics, reduced to theoretical impotence. Because, unlike Rorty’s “Philosophers,” Gadamer recognizes that human understanding can never transcend its limitations so as to arrive at some atemporal Archimedean point, is always culturally and historically situated, is, indeed, rooted in tradition–and because he realizes that this is not a “defect” in the make-up of human understanding but the that-without-which there would be no understanding at all–because of this, he is able to appropriate elements within the tradition–such as, precisely, the all-important notion of freedom–in order to contest and deconstruct other aspects of the tradition which have consistently led us to misunderstand understanding itself, to form, as the marxists would say, a “false consciousness” of that which we ourselves are. As Gadamer has himself recognized, his hermeneutics–a form of theory which, as he insists, has universal scope, which is concerned with “our entire understanding of the world and thus…all the various forms in which this understanding manifests itself” –is guided by an emancipatory interest and has a pronounced critical thrust to it. The whole point of the self-understanding which is the goal of hermeneutics is, as Gadamer insists, that of “saving a freedom threatened not only by all rulers but much more by the domination and dependence that issue from everything we think we control.”

Afterword

Contemporary hermeneuticists agree with with other postmodernists that science and philosophy must, as Eagleton says, “jettison their grandiose metaphysical claims and view themselves more modestly as just another set of narratives.” This is because they all agree that what the metaphyscians worshipped under the name of “reality” (what Nietzsche refered to as the “being” of the Eleatics) is a Humpty Dumpty that can never be put back together again (though it will no doubt continue, even in its fragmentarity, to give rise to fantasies in the minds of would-be metaphysicians). If “reality” was, as Nietzsche would say, one of our longest and most tenacious of illusions, so also, accordingly, was the notion of “science” or “knowledge.” “Knowledge,” we now know, is but an honorific name for a certain kind of socially sanctioned narration and story-telling. What we now know is that there is no The Way It Is–and that that is indeed the way it is.

One thing that hermeneutics can do for us in this new postmetaphysical age in which the loss of “reality” and “knowledge” could, wrongly construed, lead to nihilism, is to allow us to tell stories with a good conscience–stories which could have the power of making a real difference to our lives. For once we have deconstructed the oppositional conceptuality of metaphysics (reality versus appearance, knowledge versus opinion, truth versus fiction, and so on) and have finally gotten over the bad conscience of the metaphysicians, there is no reason why we should think that fiction need be mere fiction, as Derrida nonethless still seems to think, troubled as he is by the ghost of metaphysics. That form of narration called theory–especially when it becomes metanarrative (theory with universal scope)–can actually help to bring reality into being, can, for instance, help to make of this world a freer and more democratic one.

History in the modernist sense, history as a would-be science providing for human affairs the kind of cause-and-effect explanations and “necessary laws” which were thought to be the glory of the natural sciences, history in this sense is finished. History, postmodernists realize, is a form of story telling, a kind of fiction. The disappearnce of reality in the metaphysical sense does not, however, necessarily entail the reign of the simulacrum, as Baudrillard, a lapsed marxist, so forlonly thinks it does. Fiction and reality are not, or need not be, metaphysical opposites; fiction (the exercise of the imagination) is not the same thing as simulation. New realities can in fact only be brought into being by means of new “imaginaries”; reality is, after all, simply virtuality actualized. Thus, although “history” may be a fiction, this is no reason why it ought not to be taken seriously and why we ought not to strive to write and rewrite it, to make and remake it, in all earnestness, why we should not strive to make history be the history of the struggle for freedom. As Gadamer says when speaking of the principle of which there is none higher, the principle of freedom, the “rational aspect proper to the concept” cannot be “refuted by the facts.” If the “facts” do not agree with the principle, “So much worse for the facts.” The “facts” will simply have to be changed–in the light of the principle, precisely. As Gadamer goes on to say, referring to Hegel:

[T]he rational need for unity is legitimate under all circumstances and…it can be satisfied only by philosophy….Anyone who does not see that this is precisely what history is, that the freedom of all has become an irrefutable principle and yet still requires ever anew the effort toward achieving its realization, has not understood the dialectical relationship of necessity and contingency and so also the claim of philosophy to know concrete rationality.

Rorty notwithstanding, we cannot of course make history turn out to be anything we might like it to be; we are, as hermeneuticists insist, constrained by our tradition. But as hermeneuticists also insist, taking exception to both Rorty and Derrida, although we cannot hope to transcend either historical or linguistic contingency, this does not mean that we are imprisoned in them. Contingency does not rule out an appeal to universality. In contrast to the cultural and epistemological relativists, Gadamer reminds us that although understanding is inescapably language-bound, “this assertion does not lead us into any kind of linguistic relativism.” Or any kind of Rortyan “ethnocentrism.” As Gadamer goes on to say:

While we live wholly within a language, the fact that we do so does not constitute linguistic relativism because there is absolutely no captivity within a language–not even within our native language. …Any language in which we live is infinite in this sense [in that it opens us to the infinite realm of possible expression], and it is completely mistaken to infer that reason is fragmented because there are various languages. Just the opposite is the case. Precisely through our finitude, the particularity of our being, which is evident even in the variety of languages, the infinite dialogue is opened in the direction of the truth that we are.

Perhaps after the demise of Reality and Truth it might therefore be possible to live, and to live well, after all. Perhaps something like a gay science, a joyful wisdom genuinely devoid of any arrière gout of despondency over the loss of metaphysics, is indeed possible.

 

Gary Brent Madison

McMaster University

madison@mcmaster.ca

[From my forthcoming book, The Politics of Postmodernity: Essays in Applied Hermeneutics]

Philosophy Today (Winter 1991), pp. 3-19.

[After Post-Modernism Conference. Copyleft 1997, by the author. All rights reversed.]