Morality Monday, May 19 2008 

We have examined how Nietzsche engaged in a critical dialogue in his Beyond Good and Evil; another topic he examines in this ways is morality. “Every morality is, as opposed to laisser aller, a bit of tyranny against ‘nature’” (sec. 188 ) The mention of laisser aller or the freedom to be for we English speakers, emphasizes Nietzsche’s desire to promote what he considers life-affirming. For Nietzsche morality is considered life-denying because it violates the relativity and diversity of life. Moralities impose artificial, homogenous systems of behavior on people that because of cultural, personal, and even spatial distances can never follow them. Further more human nature strains against the bonds of morality, so society breeds obedience into men and corrupts their natural instincts: “obedience has until now been bred and practiced best among humans… Human development has been so strangely restricted… because the herd instinct is inherited best, at the cost of the skill of commanding.” (sec. 199)

Nietzsche identifies the source of the bondage of morality as distinctly Abrahamic. Judeo-Christian values (he does not mention Islam specifically but would certainly include it) have created a climate that distinctly represses: “Their [the Jews’] prophets fused ‘rich’, ‘godless’, ‘evil’, ‘violent’, and ‘sensuous’ into one entity… the slave revolt in morals begins with them.” (sec. 195) In such a system none of the above concepts can be taken on their own merits; all that is possible is a system of binary opposition for “good” things and “evil” ones. Evil things cannot be embraced regardless of context.

Consider, a moment, eating a delicious kabob the vegetables are perfectly roasted, there is a delicate drizzle of sesame oil, and all of the flavors blend perfectly. Yet in the god and evil binary we are considered “sensuous” and by extension evil. We are told to repress our natural reaction to embrace and revel in that experience. In this context it only be denying and debasing ourselves that we can be what they would consider superlative and what Nietzsche would consider herded.

As a result of this position on Judeo-Christian systems we must stop to consider if Nietzsche’s position refers to all moralities or only this sort. The answer, as usual, is yes and also no. Yes because it is hard if not impossible to point to a moral system at this time that does not frame issues in the same kind of binary. Whatever the system we are looking for some bizarre, ethereal good. In philosophy we are told to think toward “higher” forms and to subject the natural workings of our mind to artificial constructions that classify statements with feeling as invalid. Every facet of society is so infected with this thinking that it indeed seems that all moralities do operate in this system. Does that mean, though, that Nietzsche casts the same doubts on all conceivable moralities? Not precisely, because if we can imagine a morality which conformed to a life-furthering model and embraced free human impulses this might be endorsed. But, would such a system be a morality at all or merely life?


Principles of the Philosophy of the Future Monday, May 19 2008 

I. Introduction
In his “Principles of the Philosophy of the Future” Ludwig Feuerbach examines the philosophical tradition up to the point of his own writing and reflects primarily on how that tradition defined man. For the modern philosophers (of Feuerbach’s era) most importantly Descartes (he also specifically mentions Kant and Ficht) man was defined as a thinking being.
This definition arose from the tendency of, what Feuerbach refers to as, “speculative philosophy” to formulate expressions about humanity in direct relation to God, the idealization of reason. In the dynamic of man in relation to reason the activity of man must necessarily be thought and he must therefore be a thinking being.

Feuerbach seeks to revise our understanding of man from a thinking being to a feeling (specifically loving) one. The repositioning of man is the fulfillment of “the transformation and dissolution of theology into anthropology.” (Feuerbach, 1) in the modern era. Feuerbach considered the work of Hegel to be the culmination of the modern period and that Hegel’s pantheistic streak showed its idealism to be a sort of veiled materialism, and in a materialist context it becomes necessary that man must be a feeling thing rather than a thinking one. If there is no noumenal existence then it becomes impossible to define man’s essential activity as the noumenal act of reasoning, of thought.

II. The Philosophy of the Future

To examine the role of human beings Feuerbach first had to determine which part of existence, and therefore which part of human life, had the most reality. He introduces this focus thusly: “The new philosophy, which thinks the concrete not in an abstract but a concrete way, which acknowledges the real in its reality” (Feuerbach, 31) It is important for him to establish that the sensuous (or material) world holds a primacy in the life of man in order to make the argument that the sensuous activity of feeling is therefore similarly prime.

Feuerbach contends that ideas are obtained from unconscious sensuous truths. If we are able to conceive of a form, say a triangle, it is because we have an unconscious sensuous impression of it, most likely a visual image. The problem is that we only understand and become conscious of the sensuous reality once we have deduced the idea; we cannot identify a three sided object as a triangle until we have created the idea of triangle and applied meaning to it. As Feuerbach puts it: “The demand that the Idea realise itself, that it assume sensuousness arises from the fact that sensuous reality is unconsciously held to be the truth which is both prior to and independent of thought. Thought proves its truth by taking recourse to sensuousness; how could this be possible if sensuousness was not unconsciously held to be the truth?” (Feuerbach, 31)

Having established that the senses establish being, “as given to us not only as thinking, but also as really existing being – as the object of being, as its own object,” (Feuerbach, 33) Feuerbach can now move forward into how sensing (feeling) beings can assert and identify themselves as the populous in the realm of reality. Feuerbach identifies love as the means for distinguishing the real from the non-existent. The God of Christianity is humanity idealized and his most emphasized trait, anthropologically speaking, is his capacity for love. It is important to note that the object of the Christian God’s love is always a being, never an idea. Applying the properties of the idea back to the idealized object Feuerbach concludes: “The Christian God himself is only an abstraction from human love and an image of it. And since the demonstrative this owes its absolute value to love alone, it is only in love – not in abstract thought – that the secret of being is revealed. Love is passion, and passion alone is the distinctive mark of existence. Only that which is an object of passion, exists” (Feuerbach, 33).

So, when human beings examine the natural world and encounter objects which arouse strong feelings it is actually a reflection of their own being, most often with this reflection being labeled as God, or the divine. The association of God and fire is the example used by Feuerbach: “Where God appears and is worshiped in the fire, there it is that fire is in actual truth worshiped as God. God in the fire is nothing else than the being of fire which is so striking to men because of its effects and qualities” (Feuerbach, 40). An important distinction is that in this process of labeling and appropriation there is a generalization that occurs. Just as with objects, a person has a tendency to conceptualize himself, what we have called the feeling loving thing, into God. Then in reflection the person realizes God in other men and creates a communication between his own sensuous reality and a community of people. For example, a man experiences greed, thinks about it, creates habits around it, applies these to the idealized man (God), and that idea is reflected back on others. What seems to be communication between God and man, idea and reality, is actually communication between man and man. It is in this way that we may conclude that in the new philosophy the community of persons is made up of feeling beings guided by love to make determinations about the external material world and communicate them to one another. Feuerbach stresses the importance of that communication: “The true dialectic is not a monologue of the solitary thinker with himself. It is a dialogue between “I” and “You” (Feuerbach, 62). Indeed in a materialist conception of reality the thoughts of one member of the human community uncommunicated have in them no reality.

III. Conclusion

Through his work Feuerbach attempted to ground philosophical discussion in material reality. By framing thought around the thinker rather than the concept and objects around their application rather than their form he did much to direct philosophy toward becoming a science of being rather than a science of meaning. The philosophy of his future, especially in the work of Marx, came to focus on man in the world interacting with other men, in large part thanks to his efforts.

Social forces such as governments, economics, and politics could now enter the purview of philosophical discussion because they are such strong elements in the life of man as being.

Alienated Labor Monday, May 19 2008 

I. Introduction
In the arena of modern philosophy the problem of defining membership in the human community has been of paramount importance. Where up until that point thinkers such as Descartes, Berkley, and Hume focused primarily on the interaction of forms and objects philosophers of the modern period began to take a more humanist course.
It became essential to define the actors (humans) in relation to activities of reason. For Hegel and Kant this meant agents existing and adhering to a moral dynamic that was determined apart from humanity by reason (to Hegel reason is given specifically by God). In adopting a materialist stance and divorcing a moral dynamic from anything beyond human interaction Marx was forced to frame his examination of personhood in purely social terms. He accomplished this in his essay “The Estrangement of Labor” by evaluating the status of a person as a dynamic between activities (labor) and objects (products). His conclusion: when a human is alienated from the activity of life (for Marx, labor) in relation to objects they lose what it is that makes them human: “The devaluation of the human world grows in direct proportion to the increase in value of the world of things.” (Marx)

II. Four Aspects of Alienated Labor:

Marx identified four ways that workers are alienated from labor in the capitalist system. First, Marx claimed that workers are alienated from products. As a result of the interaction between private property and social labor a product’s value increases the more labor is put into it. Compare say, a t-shirt to a single stage 2 MeV linear Van de Graaff particle accelerator. The labor in the first case is probably performed by a single individual and the wage paid to that individual reflects the low value of that product. Also, at the very least the worker can own a similar object to the one produced. In the second case the product is the sum of the labor of an uncountable horde of individuals contributing knowledge and effort to this object, so when we consider the worker in the Chinese factory who soldered one of the many circuit boards together, he has no idea what his labor has accomplished, he has been given compensation far out of proportion to the product he has created, and he could never hope to match the value of the product to his labor.

Next, Marx says that workers are alienated from the act of producing. Workers do not own what they produce and “the product is simply the resumé of the activity, of the production.” (Marx) so therefore a worker can never “own” the process of production, his/her very own labor. This separation of actor from act creates a situation in which the act of producing an object that has become alien means that a worker “does not confirm himself in his work, but denies himself, feels miserable and not happy, does not develop free mental and physical energy, but mortifies his flesh and ruins his mind.” (Marx)

Marx’s tertiary facet of estranged labor is that workers are alienated from themselves. To this point Marx introduces the concept of species-life in that man derives his being from nature both physically and in consciousness. Man’s self-definition results from his life activity, but unlike animals this activity (work) is not spontaneous or instinctual. Also unlike animals man can engage in work beyond his needs and in this way it becomes separate from his essential being and able to be commodified. This is where the alienation arises: “Estranged labour reverses the relationship so that man, just because he is a conscious being, makes his life activity, his essential being, a mere means for his existence.” So what should be then end of life is the means and a worker is divorced from the very purpose of his being.

Finally, Marx argues that workers are estranged from other men. He poses this question: “If the product of labour is alien to me, and confronts me as an alien power, to whom does it then belong?” (Marx) Implying that if a product is not owned by a man the one who does own it becomes necessarily an alien other. This alien other who owns the product can not be related to by the worker because they did not participate in the labor process that created that object. The nature of private property comes into play in creating a division between worker and owner: “he [the worker] regards the product of his labour, his objectified labour, as an alien, hostile, and powerful object which is independent of him, then his relationship to that object is such that another man – alien, hostile, powerful, and independent of him – is its master. If he relates to his own activity as unfree activity, then he relates to it as activity in the service, under the rule, coercion, and yoke of another man.” (Marx) In being estranged from object and activities man must in this way be estranged from other men in relation to their position in the process of production. For Marx this manifests as classes, because the process of production creates a psychological necessity for the worker to regard the owner as hostile and separate in the same way he must regard the object.

III. Resolution

How is it that if the process by which man derives survival, meaning, and interaction is so corrupt we can hope for better? For Marx the answer comes in the elimination of private property. For all the estrangement and problems hitherto described Marx identifies private property as the source: “Private property as the material, summarized expression of alienated labour embraces both relations – the relation of the worker to labour and to the product of his labour and the non-workers, and the relation of the non-worker to the worker and to the product of his labour.” If private property were eliminated in a Marxist context this would mean that the process and product of labor would be owned by the worker and therefore be absorbed into his essential being. Given that in this context the worker would not likely want to sell of what is no longer alien to but is indeed part of the worker production would limit itself to social need. Also rather than relying on an arcane web of production to meet various needs the worker would engage in a variety of labor and this form of multifarious expression would be universal and therefore relatable.

IV. Conclusion

In examining estranged labor Marx identified private property as an essential component of class struggle. The fact that the worker did not own the product of his labor creates a tension between worker and task which filters into all of the other relationships that the worker must enter into as a result of labor. Therefore, according to Marx, it is of paramount importance that private property be abolished and the worker free to reclaim labor as the essential activity of his species-being.

Kant and Hegel Monday, May 19 2008 

1. Introduction

The value assigned to the concept of a person is an essential question to all individuals and societies. In the west we have attempted to arrive at a definition through philosophy, and in this philosophy two key perspectives emerge regarding personhood in the context of a society: Kant’s notion that every rational being is an end in itself contained in a moral community, and Hegel’s that humanity is a component in the motion of history toward its ultimate end in the self-understanding of God. Seemingly, the two positions are directly opposed; persons as ends versus persons as means, but in the arcane salad of the philosopher’s words particularities arise that require special attention.

2. Separations and Similarities

2.1 Kant:

Kant presents that persons are ends in themselves and that they have the ability to impose their rational nature upon their will, yet this level of rationality is not always possible, hunger for example or as Kant puts it: “natural necessity is the property of the causality of all non-rational beings, through which they are caused to act in specific ways by the influence of outside causes.” (Kant, 39) so we must consider a person from two standpoints: First as a free and rational actor, and second as a body subject to the sometimes insurmountable influences and demands of the outside world. It is trough this idea of considering persons from dual standpoints that a unity emerges with Hegel where there seemed to be a chasm of difference.

2.2 Hegel

Hegel does not explicitly refer to humanity as ends in themselves, in fact he argues very directly that we are a means by which God comes to understand himself, and history is the process that allows this to happen. Incidentally, when dealing with Hegel we use the term “human” in place of “person” because in Hegel’s conception of history there are only two actors, God and humans; extra-terrestrials, hyper-intelligent cheeses and other possible persons are not a factor in Hegel’s conception of the movement of history toward God’s self-understanding.

2.3 Unity

If persons are both a means and exclusively human to Hegel then how is he at all in concert with Kant, you ask? Well quite your ignorant heart, my gibbering Dante, for your handsome, noble Virgil will illuminate: Hegel conceives of humanity as moving toward an ultimate end, but within that motion we are free, rational actors. From a Kantian perspective we can take Hegel to simply be claiming that we are subject to an extra law in the second standpoint, the motion of history.

3. The Microscope or the Telescope

3.1 Under the Microscope: Ends

It is time to get explicit about each conception of personhood so that we may come to view them with great clarity. Kant views a rational being as an end in itself as an essential component in the ability to create universal laws because, to him, the question of God’s existence is not determinable so laws cannot flow from that source and to derive them from situations and experiences would only provide situational laws (what Kant calls hypothetical imperatives) or as he puts it: “: “Ends that a rational being adopts arbitrarily as effects… are in every case only relative.” (Kant, 95) Food, for example, only has value relative to hunger.

Since his goal is to formulate a universal law (categorical imperative) he must find some other basis; some sort of “groundwork” for a “metaphysic of morals” (titles can be so illustrative). Kant believes that only “something whose being has in itself an absolute value… could be a ground of determinate laws.” (Kant, 95) This something, obviously, is “every rational being” (Kant, 95) This value combined with rationality provides the basis for a being to act morally in that it may regard at least one object as having absolute value and orient its actions around the juxtaposition of absolute and relative values.

This orientation presents itself as the previously mentioned two standpoints. Kant says: “[A person] can consider himself first… to be under the laws of nature (heteronomy); and secondly… to be under laws that… have their ground in reason alone.” This balance is what helps Kant determine where morality exists or is absent. A person may be saving someone’s life because he/she has a tasty grilled panini in his/her briefcase or out of duty to act from moral law. Because the two motives have the same result the only way to determine which act is moral and which has no moral content is by judging to what extent the actor has acted autonomously by imposing moral thought on actions or heteronomously by imposing deliciousness on toasted bread and spicy mustard.

3.2 Under the Telescope: Odds

Hegel argues that philosophy brings the idea that “reason governs the world” to the study of history and that reason shows us that history have a definitive and unstoppable movement toward freedom. God comes to understand himself through this very process. First, there must be a way for freedom to develop on our world, and this exists as the sum of human deeds, or as Hegel puts it: “The question of the means by which Freedom develops itself to a World, conducts us to the phenomenon of History itself.” (Hegel)

So if we, as actors in history provide a mechanism for God does this mean that Hegel was in opposition to the idea humanity had absolute value or that we cannot act autonomously because history is determined? In a sense no, but in another sense yes. No in that Hegel’s conception of God does not have will so in the same way that we could not consider ourselves a means by which gravity achieves the end of pulling we could not necessarily consider ourselves as a means for God.

Hegel uses the example of the building of a house from stone to explain this idea, but we will turn our attention to a more contemporary, less brutish illustration. A number of cars are driving on; let’s say Interstate 80 from Reno, Nevada to San Francisco, California so that the people in those cars might enjoy a nice dim sum in Chinatown. While one driver might be in a Toyota Prius and choose to diligently signal when changing lanes another might be in a hummer and choose to eat bacon while driving and throw draught beer cans from his window. One might go 65 mph, another 80, and in this context the drivers are free to act morally in the Kantian sense. At the same time, however, they cannot, as a collective avoid the perfectly steamed shrimp dumplings on the other side of the Bay Bridge. Hegel describes this process as such: “Thus the elements are made use of in accordance with their nature, and yet to co-operate for a product, by which their operation is limited. Thus the passions of men are gratified; they develop themselves and their aims in accordance with their natural tendencies, and build up the edifice of human society; thus fortifying a position for Right and Order against themselves.” (Hegel)

Hegel’s thinking does, however, present the following dilemma: if history’s ultimate end is the self-understanding of God then all actions within history are influence by this movement, and are therefore in Kantian terms heteronomous. Hegel gets around this and preserves the value of persons in his arguing that the question of God is determinable only in the affirmative, so it is collectively rather than individually that humans have absolute value.

4. Conclusion

To revisit the brilliant example of the highway. We can view Kant as a highway patrolman scanning the roads for violators and obiedients, and Hegel as a government official sending out snow plows and repaving roads to keep traffic moving in the right direction. Both philosophers view persons as having value, but in different ways. For Kant a person is what makes morality possible, and for Hegel people are an essential part of an inevitable history.

What is Noble? Monday, May 19 2008 

Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil expressed his disapproval for what he calls “the slave revolt in morals” as represented in Judeo-Christian morality that created the eponymous binary. If morality condemns natural impulses and represses human freedom what is the proper alternative? What is the way that we can, socially or individually achieve “a good and healthy aristocracy… that…experiences itself not as a function … but as their meaning and highest justification” (sec. 258)? This section Nietzsche’s project is where his strain of perspectivism most shines through. That is not to imply that this means he engages in a sort of reductionist “everything is permitted” egalitarianism, far from it. Those who self-efface, self-destroy will always to Nietzsche be an inferior multitude and those who stand up, command, embrace being will form a community of the noble.

The problem arises in the fact that the great majority conform to mediocrity and slave morality: “The mediocre alone have the prospect of continuing, of having descendants – they are the people of the future, the only survivors. ‘Be like them! Become mediocre!’ will henceforth be the only moral code that still makes sense.’ (sec. 262) The very thing that will perpetuate our civilization as it is will homogenize us to a point of robot-like boredom.

The characteristics that defy this are explicitly laid out: “Signs of nobility: never to think of reducing our duties into duties for everyone; not to want to share or transfer our own responsibility; to count our privileges and their exercise among our duties.” (sec. 272) That last point, to count privileges and their exercise among our duties, is the area most difficult to realize because it is the most removed from our current state of morality.

The noble person in setting himself apart as singular, superlative he necessarily dominates without having to act but rather by being. That also means that the multitudes, trapped in oppressive herd culture, are not necessarily looked down upon. For Nietzsche the aristocrat is to busy looking around and up to bother considering what is beneath them: “Up here the view is clear, the spirit is exalted.’ But there is an opposite kind of person who is likewise at the top and likewise has a clear view—but looks down.’ (sec. 286) This is how Nietzsche distinguishes his ideas from social Darwinism and tyranny. The first type is the noble individual, self-realized and enjoying life. The second we must imagine as someone looking down on those above him—from below.

This sort of person can be pictured as the height of authorized power of the life-denying world. A king or better yet high-priest who demands others deny themselves everything and glorifies himself only in the pleasure of being obeyed without actually being superior. This is who Nietzsche speaks of in a particularly illustrative quote from his unpublished notes:

“But I have found strength where one does not look for it: in simple, mild, and pleasant people, without the least desire to rule—and, conversely, the desire to rule has often appeared to me a sign of inward weakness: they fear their own slave soul and shroud it in a royal cloak (in the end, they still become the slaves of their followers, their fame, etc.). The powerful natures dominate, it is a necessity, they need not lift one finger. Even if, during their lifetime, they bury themselves in a garden house!” (Nachlass, 206)

The Prejudice of Philosophers Monday, May 19 2008 

An important element of Nietzsche’s philosophy as put forward in his Beyond Good and Evil is his critical eye on the philosophy of the past. He makes the point that previous philosophers while claiming to express an objective truth merely stated their preference: “although they all make a lot of virtuous noise when the problem of truthfulness is touched even remotely” (§sec 4) His problem is that philosophers select their conclusions before examining any evidence about the world. Descartes is a perfect example of this behavior. In Meditations Descartes knows that he will eventually conclude that God exists no matter where his methodological skepticism would lead him. To take up arms against this history of fallacious, deceptive thinking Nietzsche adopts a unique style and continues his criticisms against the philosophical tradition.

Do not be mistaken, Nietzsche himself has his own favorite truths for which in Beyond Good and Evil he advocates most rigorously. His system of judgment values philosophies differently: “We do not object to a judgment just because it is false… The question is rather to what extent the judgment furthers life, preserves life” (sec. 4) after all, the great bulk of science is a border of falsehoods that must be reshaped around different possibilities. If he does not object to the falsity it seems a contradiction to his above position. (We will find a great deal of contradictions when dealing with Nietzsche) What is so problematic is the method of arriving at that falsehood and the fact that it is forwarded as truth. How then should one express some notion? Nietzsche’s answer is to merely state one’s position so that is may be evaluated, advocated, or broken. His method for this new style of advocacy is reflected in his chapter of epigrams. These contentions are terse, bold statements which convey a thought with little to nothing devoted to examples or logical arguments. An example that reflects a theme he later develops with some depth: “There is no such thing as moral phenomenona, but only moral interpretation of phenomenona…” (Sec, 108 ) This sort of statement is what Nietzsche believes should be enough for us as an audience. It is a position, bold and to judged on its value rather than meaningless formalism. So then, how is that we can dismantle, or cast doubt upon a statement so atomic other than to simply forward our own disagreement?

For one thing we can ridicule a position. In his criticism of nationalism Nietzsche uses this method with great aplomb. “The most unambiguous signs suggest that Europe wants to be one.” (sec. 256) he says and goes on to point out that in the work of Richard Wagner, a figure whose art was considered to embody the national differences among Europeans, actually shows traits that would be considered most “un-German” by nationalist thinkers. He engages in parody of Wagner’s work to make his point: “—Can this be German? / This fevered shrieking from a German heart? / A German body rends itself apart? /…This nun’s eye-rolling, Ave-churchbell chiming/ The fake-ecstatic pious rhyming?” (sec. 256) If we laugh, if we can see the humor we can therefore see what is humorous about the idea that such art can be considered to have this national characteristic or another. Truly Nietzsche is trying to make “life furthering” assertions and criticisms. To use laughter and one-liners would be unthinkable to most philosophers, but that devotion to mundane language, inane arguments is what makes Nietzsche’s ideas so freeing.