Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Nietzsche on Philosophers

Going through Beyond Good and Evil again. It's hard to pick out a quote from Nietzsche, because all his statements are powerful, but here's one in the first few pages:

What tempts us to look at all philosophers half suspiciously and half mockingly is not so much that we recognize again and again how innocent they are, how often and how easily they make mistakes and lose their way, in short their childishness and childlike-ness -- but rather that they are not sufficiently candid, though they make a great virtuous noisy to-do as soon as the problem of truthfulness is even remotely touched upon. Every one of them pretends that he has discovered his opinions through the self-development of cold, pure, divinely untroubled dialectic (in distinction to the mystics of every rank who, more honest and fatuous, talk about "inspiration"), whereas, at bottom, a pre-conceived dogma, a notion, an "institution," or mostly a heart's desire, made abstract and refined, is defended by them with arguments sought after the fact.


It is in some ways an ad hominem attack - but it's true. And the actual argument, that philosophers defend arguments "sought after the fact", is not an ad hominem attack. It may be more similar to a genetic fallacy.

Later:

Gradually I have come to realize what every great philosophy up to now has been: the personal confession of its originator...

6 comments:

ADHR said...

Oh, come on. It's not true of every philosopher! (And, if it were, it would have to be true of Nietzsche as well.) There's been broiling debates in metaphilosophy in recent years on exactly this sort of topic -- how much of what any philosopher says is (possibly covertly) influenced by, e.g., social factors, personal predilictions, etc. That's why philosophy, as with all disciplines, is a debate. The idea is that it's more likely to work itself pure if other people, with different prejudices, get to pile on any given idea or argument.

undergroundman said...

Yes, it is true of every philosophy, and Nietzsche is certainly no exception! He would be the first to say that!

The idea is that it's more likely to work itself pure if other people, with different prejudices, get to pile on any given idea or argument.

Certainly. But you're never gonna get anywhere (or so Nietzsche would claim) if you continue to work under the dogmatic assumptions of modern philosophy. You're working on a foundation, or tidying up an ancient building rather than laying a foundation of your own. All Nietzsche wants is for people to recognize that every philosophy is a construction and keep an open mind as you construct your own beliefs.

ADHR said...

I don't think you're reading him strongly enough (although I say this with no access to my copy of Beyond Good and Evil -- it's in a box somewhere -- so take it with a grain of salt). It seems to me he's using this feature as a way of refuting all philosophies. If that's the point, it's basically incoherent: it refutes itself.

Moving beyond that, though, he does seem to be saying that the constructed nature of a philosophical system -- the sense in which is it is a "confession" and not an abstract investigation into reality -- somehow undermines its claim to truth. But this is not the case unless one presumes that the only way for a system to be true is to be an abstract investigation into reality. As soon as we lose our love for the really real, though, then this presumption becomes false: something can be true because it is an embedded, undetached investigation into the world as we see it.

undergroundman said...

I don't think you're reading him strongly enough (although I say this with no access to my copy of Beyond Good and Evil -- it's in a box somewhere -- so take it with a grain of salt). It seems to me he's using this feature as a way of refuting all philosophies. If that's the point, it's basically incoherent: it refutes itself.

Well, refuting all philosophies, including his own, as wholly true. But that's not to say that philosophy and philosophizing is worthless - it's just a creation; a subjective assessment of reality. He's not trying to refute all philosophies, just point out that they're subjective. Nietzsche's philosophy is often called perspectivism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perspectivism). This is the accepted (and correct) interpretation of his philosophy; not the incoherent strawman you're trying to insist upon. (Why you keep trying to insist upon it suggests something -- perhaps fear? You want Nietzsche to be simply and easily incoherent when he is not.)

But this is not the case unless one presumes that the only way for a system to be true is to be an abstract investigation into reality.

Abstract - do you mean objective?

As soon as we lose our love for the really real, though, then this presumption becomes false: something can be true because it is an embedded, undetached investigation into the world as we see it.

Discard with the old notion of truth in favor of a weaker one? Interestingly, Nietzsche comments on that in the beginning of the book:

There may be a few who really prefer a handful of "certainty" to a whole wagonload of beautiful possibilities; there may even be some puritanical fanaticists of conscience who would prefer a certain nothing to an uncertain something -- for a deathbed! But this is nihilism and the token of a despairing soul, weary unto death, however brave the gestures of such a virtue may look. But the stronger, livelier thinkers who are still thirty for life seem to feel otherwise. By taking sides against appearance, by pronouncing the word "perspective with arrogance ... who knows? --perhaps they really want to reconquer old ground, something that we used to possess with greater certainty, a something or other of the old domain of our former faith ... their essential importance does not lie in the fact that they want to get "back" but that they want to get away. A little more energy, wingedness ... and they would want "out" -- not back!

I think I might've posted that in a comment with you. What do you think of it? (Nonsense, I expect.)

undergroundman said...

OK, I skipped a whole page of relevant words with that data. Clarity trumps laziness in this case:

"perspective with arrogance, by valuing the authenciticiy of their own bodies as highly as they value the evidence of their eyes which tell them that "the eart stands still," by thus letting their surest possession slip from their hands with apparent good humor (for what do we believe in more firmly nowadays than our own bodies?) -- by doing all this -- who knows? (skipping what I already typed) ... perhaps the "immortal soul," perhaps the "ancient God." In short, they would discover ideas upon which to build better, i.e. stronger and more serene lives than one can build on "modern ideas." In these thinkers there is suspicion against modern ideas; there is disbelief in everything that was built yesterday and today; mixed up with these there is perhaps some slight weariness and scorn, some inability to stand bric-a-brac of concepts of so many different origins, which so-called positivism nowadays displays itself to be in the open market place. A more refined taste feels nausea when faced with the circus-poster crassness and patchiness of all these reality-philosophasters who have nothing new or genuine about them except this crazy-quilt quality. We ought, it seems to me, agree in this one particular with the skeptical anti-realists and knowledge-microscropists of today; their instinct which drives from away from modern reality is unrefuted. And what do we care about their crooked paths of regression! Their essential importance...

Again, I won't bias your interpretation.

ADHR said...

This is why I don't like Nietzsche, and continentalists in general. It's all just goop to me: thick and soupy, with interesting-looking chunks, but a lot of suspicious floaters as well. I disparage Nietzsche because I think he was needlessly obscure. (The same applies to Hegel, for that matter.) Kant I get, to some extent, so Kant I find interesting and want to know more about. To really get into Nietzsche, I'd need to be persuaded that his view is something worth understanding and taking seriously. And then find a good interpretation to get started with.

I find it interesting that you insist on a "correct" interpretation. Shouldn't that just be a subjective matter?