Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Man, not God

From The Four Great Errors in Twilight of the Idols:

8. What alone can be our doctrine? That no one gives a man his qualities — neither God, nor society, nor his parents and ancestors, nor he himself. (The nonsense of the last idea was taught as "intelligible freedom" by Kant — and perhaps by Plato.) No one is responsible for a man's being here at all, for his being such-and-such, or for his being in these circumstances or in this environment. The fatality of his existence is not to be disentangled from the fatality of all that has been and will be. Human beings are not the effect of some special purpose, or will, or end; nor are they a medium through which society can realize an "ideal of humanity" or an "ideal of happiness" or an "ideal of morality." It is absurd to wish to devolve one's essence on some end or other. We have invented the concept of "end": in reality there is no end.

A man is necessary, a man is a piece of fatefulness, a man belongs to the whole, a man is in the whole; there is nothing that could judge, measure, compare, or sentence his being, for that would mean judging, measuring, comparing, or sentencing the whole. But there is nothing besides the whole. That nobody is held responsible any longer, that the mode of being may not be traced back to a primary cause, that the world does not form a unity either as a sensorium or as "spirit" — that alone is the great liberation. With that idea alone we absolve our becoming of any guilt. The concept of "God" was until now the greatest objection to existence. We deny God, we deny the responsibility that originates from God: and thereby we redeem the world.

Nietzsche on Free Will

From The Four Great Errors in Twilight of the Idols:

3. The error of a false causality. Humans have always believed that they knew what a cause was; but how did we get this knowledge — or more precisely, our faith that we had this knowledge? From the realm of the famous "inner facts," of which not a single one has so far turned out to be true. We believe that we are the cause of our own will: we think that here at least we can see a cause at work. Nor did we doubt that all the antecedents of our will, its causes, were to be found in our own consciousness or in our personal "motives." Otherwise, we would not be responsible for what we choose to do. Who would deny that his thoughts have a cause, and that his own mind caused the thoughts?

Of these "inward facts" that seem to demonstrate causality, the primary and most persuasive one is that of the will as cause. The idea of consciousness ("spirit") or, later, that of the ego (the "subject") as a cause are only afterbirths: first the causality of the will was firmly accepted as proved, as a fact, and these other concepts followed from it.

But we have reservations about these concepts. Today we no longer believe any of this is true. The "inner world" is full of phantoms and illusions: the will being one of them. The will no longer moves anything, hence it does not explain anything — it merely accompanies events; it can also be completely absent. The so-called motives: another error. Merely a surface phenomenon of consciousness, something shadowing the deed that is more likely to hide the causes of our actions than to reveal them. And as for the ego ... that has become a fable, a fiction, a play on words! It has altogether ceased to think, feel, or will!

What follows from this? There are no mental causes at all. The whole of the allegedly empirical evidence for mental causes has gone out the window. That is what follows! And what a nice delusion we had perpetrated with this "empirical evidence;" we interpreted the real world as a world of causes, a world of wills, a world of spirits. The most ancient and enduring psychology was at work here: it simply interpreted everything that happened in the world as an act, as the effect of a will; the world was inhabited with a multiplicity of wills; an agent (a "subject") was slipped under the surface of events. It was out of himself that man projected his three most unquestioned "inner facts" — the will, the spirit, the ego. He even took the concept of being from the concept of the ego; he interpreted "things" as "being" in accordance with his concept of the ego as a cause. Small wonder that later he always found in things what he had already put into them. The thing itself, the concept of thing is a mere extension of the faith in the ego as cause. And even your atom, my dear materialists and physicists — how much error, how much rudimentary psychology still resides in your atom! Not to mention the "thing-in-itself," the horrendum pudendum of metaphysicians! The "spirit as cause" mistaken for reality! And made the very measure of reality! And called God!

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Punning, Alice and Addison

Here's a delightful quote by some guy called Addison on punning that I discovered in the introduction to Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:
There is no kind of false wit which has been so recommended by the practice of all ages, as that which consists of the jingle of words, and is comprehended under the general name of punning. It is indeed impossible to kill a weed, which the soil has a natural dispositon to produce. The seeds of punning are in the minds of all men, and though they may be subdued by reason, reflection and good sense, they will be very apt to shoot up in the greatest genius, that is not broken and cultivated by the rules of art.

Nietzsche and the Art of Insightful, Unhinged Polemic

Nietzsche is the most entertaining of philosophers, and certainly very insightful, but it frightens me to think that philosophical neophytes might start with him and be taken in by some of his unhinged polemics. Insight blighted -- and made entertaining -- by unhinged polemic such as this from Hollingdale's translation of Twilight of the Idols:

1. In every age the wisest have passed the identical judgement on life: it is worthless... Everywhere and always their mouths have uttered the same sound -- a sound full of doubt, full of melancholy, full of weariness with life, full of opposition to life. Even Socrates said as he died: "To Live -- that means to be a long time sick: I owe a cock to the saviour Asclepius". Even Socrates had had enough of it. -- What does that prove? What does it point to? -- Formerly one would have said (-- oh, and did say, and loudly enough, and our pessimists most of all!): "Here at any rate there must be something true! The consensus sapientium is proof of truth." -- Shall we still speak thus today? are we allowed to do so? "Here at any rate there must be something sick" -- this is our retort: one ought to take a closer look at them, these wisest of every age! Were they all of them perhaps no longer steady on their legs? belated? tottery? decadents? Does wisdom perhaps appear on earth as a raven which is inspired by the smell of carrion?...

And then:

3. Socrates belonged, in his origins, to the lowest orders: Socrates was rabble. One knows, one sees for oneself, how ugly he was. But ugliness, an objection in itself, is among Greeks almost a refutation. Was Socrates a Greek at all? Ugliness is frequently enough the sign of a thwarted development, a development retarded by interbreeding. Otherwise it appears as a development in decline. Anthropologists among criminologists tell us the typical criminal is ugly: monstrum in fronte, monstrum in animo. But the criminal is a decadent. Was Socrates a typical criminal? -- At least that famous physiognomist's opinion which Socreates' friends found so objectionable would not contradict this idea. A foreigner passing through Athens who knew how to read faces told Socrates to his face that he was a monstrum -- that he contained within him every kind of foul vice and lust. And Socrates answered merely: "You know me, sir!" --

Monday, 27 July 2009

Madox Ford and The Good Soldier

From Ford Madox Ford's The Gold Soldier:

suppose that my inner soul--my dual personality--had realized long before that Florence was a personality of paper--that she represented a real human being with a heart, with feelings, with sympathies and with emotions only as a bank-note represents a certain quantity of gold. I know that sort of feeling came to the
surface in me the moment the man Bagshawe told me that he had seen her coming out of that fellow's bedroom. I thought suddenly that she wasn't real; she was just a mass of talk out of guidebooks, of drawings out of fashion-plates. It is even possible that, if that feeling had not possessed me, I should have run up sooner to her
room and might have prevented her drinking the prussic acid. But I just couldn't do it; it would have been like chasing a scrap of paper--an occupation ignoble for a grown man.

Liberalism and Potentialities

In Dewey's essay, Philosophies of Freedom:

(the real fallacy of classical liberalism) lies in the notion that individuals have such a native or original endowment of rights, powers, and wants that all that is required on the side of institutions and laws is to eliminate the obsctructions they offer to the "free" play of the natural equipment of individuals. The removal of obstructions did have aliberating effect upon such individuals as were antecedently possessed of the means, intellectual and economic, to take advantage of the changed social conditions, but left all others at the mercy of the new social conditions brought about by the free powers of those advantageously situated. The notion that men are equally free to act if only the same legal arrangements apply equally to all -- irrespective of differences in education, and command of capital, and that control of the social environment which is furnished by the institution of property -- is a pure absurdity, as facts have demonstrated. Since actual, that is effective, rights and demands are products of interactions and are not found in the original and isolated constitution of human nautre, whether moral or psychological, mere elimintation of obstructions is not enough. The latter merely liberates fortce and ability as it happens to be distributed by past accidents of history. This "free" action operates disastrously as far as the many are concerned. The only possible conclusion, both intellectually and practically, is that the attainment of freedom conceived as power to act in accord with choice turns upon positive and constructive changes in social arrangements.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Mary Warnock on Thinking

From the chapter Materialism and Relativism in Hilary Putnam's Renewing Philosophy:

Mary Warnock once said that Sartre gave us not arguments or proofs but "a description so clear and vivid that when I thinhnk of his description and fit it to my own case, I cannot fail to see its application." It seems to me that this is a very good description of what Wittgenstein was doing, not just in the private language argument, but over and over again in his work.