Braver Reading Group: Chapter 4 – Nietzsche’s Will To Truth

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A Thing of This World‘s fourth chapter is dedicated to Nietzsche, a rather interesting choice, as Braver states from the very beginning of the chapter.  Nietzsche’s big beef with realism is its psychological motivations “that cause people to find certain views persuasive” – if realism is a disease, so to speak, then what is the cure (if there’s one) or, more interestingly, what is the motivation behind the philosophical view of reality that is always assuredly there?  Nietzsche’s response is simple: the motivation is weakness in the face of chaos and flux of becoming, realism is but an escapist fantasy, a support group for the weak (“Too overwhelmed with chaos, change and becoming are getting you down, have no friends and nowhere to go, join Realism Support Group this Wednesday”)  In this sense, realism as a belief in the independent reality “out there” is akin to a religious outlook in its search for certainty and its way of dealing with the responsibility to create one’s own world.  This “realism as religion” view is also confirmed, Braver writes, by the simple observation that “God is the oldest and obvious example of an independent reality issuing commands.” [117]  Braver has a section on Nietzsche’s specific takes on “realism” and a section on “anti-realism” which one can easily acquaint oneself with – everything is splendidly compared and contrasted there.  R5 Passive Knower and R1 Independent Reality are most obviously in trouble, and so is R2 Correspondence and R3 Uniqueness.  R4 Bivalence is out of the question as Nietzsche often addresses the issue of “black-and-white thinking” that has overcome philosophy lately.  R6 Realism of the Subject with its belief in a core, atomistic self is surely a myth aimed to help us deal with whatever it is that we are so need to deal with.

A discussion of Nietzsche’s anti-realism then takes a large chunk of the chapter.  It opens with a repetition of the formula:

Realism is the belief system the weak resort to in order to escape the stress of internal and external conflict and flux, as well as the responsibility of choice and creation forced on them by these conditions.  The strong, however, embrace and even celebrate these conditions; they accept that the world is of their own making, and, at the highest, take control of this process. [121-22]

So Nietzsche then is all about A5 Active Knower (like Kant) because the belief in “things” as pre-existing uninterpreted reality is unfounded, and serves the same purpose of supporting the weak and their fear of unreality.  It is also all about A1 Mind Dependence, even if something like “noumena” does exist, it is of no interest to us and therefore the notion is refuted and rejected.

A6 Multiple Selves is where Braver thinks Nietzsche really advances anti-realist agenda:

Whereas Hegel gathers up the temporally spread but logically linked phases of the subject and reality into a limited, rationally structured totality, Nietzsche scatters an irreconcilable multiplicity of power-hungry drives. [125]

Nietzsche does the above in two moves/innovations that Braver shortly describes as following:

1) Niezsche extends the Empirical Directive and inserts the self into the world by identifying it with the body – there is no longer anything like a noumenal or transcendental self (no soul, no spirit, none of the left-over Christian superstitions).  Anything resembling categories is explained in terms of evolution and nature, there is nothing transcendent or transcendental (“Keep moving, people, there’s nothing to see here”).  Any stability is formed through reification and simplification – we need to survive and since only stable, self-identical objects can help us do so, we invent them.

2) Nietzsche disavows simplicity and stability – everything is complex and changing now.  However, any change and adaptations are not rational as “the wills and drives are not debating each other in a mock United Nations.” [127] Apparent stability of anything is a mask, mostly a mask of “will to power.”

Nietzsche’s view of truth deserves our attention, argues Braver, because it is a rather peculiar one as Nietzsche redefines the very value of truth, of the true-false dichotomy. Braver identifies “pragmatic truth” and “corresponding truth” in multiple uses in Nietzsche’s text.  The ultimate result is easy to guess: “The impossibility of correspondence frees us from attempted allegiance to reality, liberating us to create new views for the purpose of making a better life.” [130]  Correspondence truth is making it impossible for us to use our creativity and blocks us from taking control by providing us with a number of fanciful doctrines that fascinate us but fail to provide for any better life. More than that, the insistence on univocal truth is bad for us, it closes off alternatives and oppresses us with its awesome but ultimately annoying (and certainly overbearing) rightness.

In opposition to supposedly descriptive realism (which it is not, of course, because mere description and correspondence are myths used to boss us around) and normative (prescriptive) realism (normativity here is based on the same sort of sources as the normativity of any religion – dogmatic propositions one has to embrace without questions/criticisms – for example, like a belief that we can talk about objects with any references to humans as in some versions of “speculative realism”) , we need normative anti-realism that helps us understand that values are our very own creation and we need to create better ones.

Once we understand that we were creating these ideals all along, we realize that we are not bound to the ascetic, anti-life values inherited from tradition; we can discard those to make more life-affirming ones. [135]

In order to do what we have to do, we let passive nihilism destroy the previous set of commands and then active nihilism can help us create better values.  More perspectives, more ambivalence, less posturing claims of knowing the truth, less assholery of the educated and so on.

The rest of the chapter deals with possible issues with Nietzsche’s pronouncements and I honestly don’t really get most of it as it attempts to find inconsistencies and contradictions in Nietzsche (or at least attempts to critically evaluate his positions, or that’s what it reads like to me) right after the previous discussion told us exactly how little Nietzsche cared for that sort of philosophical exercise, so I’m going to let the readers take a look at it themselves.  Much of it is subtle and sophisticated and I don’t have any sort of expertise here to evaluate it (especially the Step Six Physics section) and simply restating it seems superfluous since it’s a reading group after all.

My main question that sort of popped up here and there as I was reading the chapter dealt with possible political implications of both realism and anti-realism – what sort of politics would a realism of the weak solicit? what about an anti-realism of the strong?  Multiple realists go about their realist ways avoiding issues of politics (“we are metaphysicians, not politicians!”), multiple anti-realists do the same – I wonder if it’s about that time in the book that we have at least attempted to raise the issue of political signification of realism/anti-realism dichotomy?

25 thoughts on “Braver Reading Group: Chapter 4 – Nietzsche’s Will To Truth

  1. Pingback: A Thing Of This World Reading Group. « Perverse Egalitarianism

  2. ME: “Nietzsche’s response is simple: the motivation is weakness in the face of chaos and flux of becoming, realism is but an escapist fantasy, a support group for the weak (”Too overwhelmed with chaos, change and becoming are getting you down, have no friends and nowhere to go, join Realism Support Group this Wednesday”)”

    Kvond: This of course is what got Rorty, in following Nietzsche, to claim that justificatory Realism, and its incarnate Sciencism, to be the lastest avatar of belief in God. It is the attempt to locate the authority of one’s views in a non-human source. As if the “truth” of sentences is found outside of the human practices that create them. As Rorty saw it, God once made our claims true, now Nature does.

    ME: “Multiple realists go about their realist ways avoiding issues of politics (”we are metaphysicians, not politicians!”), multiple anti-realists do the same – I wonder if it’s about that time in the book that we have at least attempted to raise the issue of political signification of realism/anti-realism dichotomy?”

    Kvond: Rorty’s answer to this is that the issue is one of authority. Real states of the world can cause us to hold certain beliefs, but the justification of those beliefs much direct our attention to the community itself, to our invented and shared criteria. If we are not satisfied with an answer or position we do not run into a deadend: “Well, that is just Reality”. Instead one’s gaze is to be turned to the social criteria-driven processes that helped produce the answer, eventually opening up questions of valuation (the values that have oriented our criteria). Do we want to be a society or community with those values?

    [Sorry that this is not in the flow of your book discussion, but your Nietzsche description solicited this response from me.]

  3. I’ve often wondered about something Braver points out, and helps clarify, in Nietzsche–N’s insistence on a certain type of realism or will to truth, what Braver calls his correspondence justification of pragmatic truth. At times N insists on a will to truth that is free of pragmatic considerations, a courage to face the truth–the truth of chaos, flux, and what Braver calls the pragmatic nature of truth for us. There are passages in Genealogy of Morals and Beyond Good and Evil about this. It seems as though the will to power seizes on the will to truth as its most powerful weapon, but whether the ultimate justification is in terms of power or truth is not 100% clear. Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

    • There is a very brief passage in the WtP I believe, where Nietzsche says that the philosopher must bathe in Nihilism once in a while, (if only to clean off the muck of beliefs, etc). In this sense Nihilism is a kind of absolute truth. But he does so so that he can create his own truth (perhaps we can say the truth about truth).

      If the will to truth is the most powerful weapon it would work to directing our gaze towards this nihilism, but then because the will to truth is more than anything still a “will” (which is to say, a power), it will lead us beyond Nihilism, to the fashioning of something right out of ourselves.

      At least that is how I read the perameters of your question.

    • My main issue with Nietzsche, or rather with trying to write about Nietzsche as a philosopher of X, is that it is rather impossible – I give Braver his due for trying to do so but after chapters on Kant and Hegel, Nietzsche is bound to look somewhat incoherent and contradictory. I find that Braver does do a good job of presenting Nietzsche’s views on “truth” and “power” (whether they correspond to Nietzsche’s actual views I can’t tell as my Nietzsche knowledge is not great, especially in terms of some themes like realism or anti-realism) – ultimately, I think power trumps truth in the end.

  4. ME: “ultimately, I think power trumps truth in the end.”

    Kvond: One might say that, or have to completely reevaulate what “truth” is….

    “BGE 43

    Are these coming philosophers new friends of “truth”? That is probable enough, for all philosophers so far have loved their truths. But they will certainly not be dogmatists. It must offend their pride, also their taste, if their truth is supposed to be a truth for every man – which has so far been the secret wish and hidden meaning of all dogmatic aspirations. “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. One must shed the bad taste of wanting to agree with many. “Good” is no longer good when one’s neighbor mouths it. And how should there be a “common good”! The term contradicts itself: whatever can be common always has little value. In the end it must be as it is and always has been: great things remain for the great, abysses for the profound, nuances and shudders for the refined, and, in brief, all that is rare for the rare.”

  5. Great stuff.

    I won’t do a rejoinder for this chapter because all I have to say about it is that I think Braver’s careful reading of Nietzsche by disambiguating between correspondence and pragmatic truth is fantastic. All the sudden these texts cease contradicting themselves.

    This is somewhat ungrateful, but man I would have loved a chapter on Schopenhauer following Braver’s matrix (so much of what people take to be original in Nietzsche is already there in Schopenhauer). That may be something to work on in the future.

    I find Mikhail’s question about the way these metaphysical issues relate to ethics to hang over the book. The Heideggerian-Wittgensteinian “here’s where I stand” take about normative/justificatory matters concerning meaning is one thing; it’s quite another to do that about ethical issues.

    The Kantian view that most forms of moral wrong involve taking yourself to be an exception to a moral law that others need to will seems right to me, as does the claim that embodying this form of irrationality undermines one’s own autonomy. Does someone moved to anti-realism by the travails of the noumenal-phenomenal distinction (and the problems that gave rise to it) have to give this basic moral wisdom of Kant’s up in favor of the Wittgensteinian view?

    In this regard, the one book I would have liked to have seen Braver discuss is Ferry and Renaut’s (in)famous “French Philosophies of the Sixties: An Essay on Anti-Humanism” ( ). [Note that this book was pretty influential in Europe, though it has had zero to negative impact on American Continental Philosophy, which probably rightfully sees it as a mortal threat to the unceasing gravitation to Paris 1968; has anyone ever given a sympathetic paper on Ferry, or any of the “new philosophers” for that matter, at SPEP? Maybe the rise of “philosophers of immanence” (Mullarkey’s quartet of Deleuze, Henry, Badiou, and Larouelle) is changing this?]

    What’s interesting is how Braver really verifies Ferry and Renaut’s basic contention that Foucault and Derrida are Heideggerian through and through, albeit Ferry and Renaut take this to be a criticism and set up a project for recapturing a post-foundationalist humanism (albeit I don’t think they were sufficiently sensitive to the third period of Foucault that Braver’s discussion shows to be relevant to that sort of thing). I don’t know where Ferry’s project went with actual French academic philosophers. I think his work in government and his popularity (c.f. the “new philosophers”) might have hurt his academic reputation somewhat. The basic project is pretty fundamental though.

  6. What strikes me as interesting in placing Nietzsche in the context of the realism/anti-realism “debate” and the overarching history of anti-realism (or post-Kantian philosophy) is N’s insistence that we can have no knowledge regarding the properties of things-in-themselves. Yet, when FN rejects the distinction between the real and apparent world, and with this, things-in-themselves, like the multiple selves, or perhaps more accurately, to take a cue from the empiricists, “bundle selves,” it seems to me N offers a conception of objects we may deem as somehow “bundled,” that is, made up of forces, or to use some physics lingo, “quanta.” However, if this is the case, how can we have any knowledge of the contents of such “bundles?” In other words, either this theory of objects holds that such objects are ontologically distinct from we knowers (which means things-in-themsevles return as somehow outside of N’s perspectivism) or it’s not a problem, we can simply place these objects into N’s perspectivism. The latter solution is somewhat unsatisfoactory, and perhaps it’s because I’ve never really been quite sure what the best way to read N’s perspectivism is, for we don’t want to make the crass mistake that perspectives=beliefs, that quite clearly seems not to be what N is suggesting. At best, I suppose we may think of perspectives as non-doxastic (psychological?) states, such as sense-perceptions or memories, or something like modalities? Can we equate the role Kant’s understanding plays in his conceptual scheme with Nietzsche’s insistence on multiplicity of interpretative schemes? The problem is that Kant accounts for how we ourselves introduce order, but that seems lacking in Nietzsche.

    Sorry, I’m rambling a bit. Just some thoughts. I haven’t had the chance to have a close look at Braver’s Nietzsche chapter just yet.

  7. Shahar: “we can simply place these objects into N’s perspectivism. The latter solution is somewhat unsatisfoactory, and perhaps it’s because I’ve never really been quite sure what the best way to read N’s perspectivism is, for we don’t want to make the crass mistake that perspectives=beliefs, that quite clearly seems not to be what N is suggesting.”

    Kvond: Honestly, there are great affinities between Spinoza and Nietzsche, and as you are right that we cannot equate Nietzsche’s perspectivism with beliefs, because he is talking about power, it really for me that this perspectivism is best seen within Spinoza’s treatment of power, that each idea we have is a kind of affirmation. This is exactly what Nietzsche had in mind, but he would like to undercut the cohesive and rational emphasis of the Spinozist affirmation.

    If you take Nietzsche’s power of affirmation and locate within Spinoza’s theory of ideas as affirmation you generally get a topography of a solution to the debate, deciding where you want to stand in terms of rationality and coherence is then almost an aesthetic choice.

  8. Mikhail: I’ve never studied the political implications of Nietzsche’s thought. He has never struck me as much of a political thinker, though some very smart people find insights there (Cronenburg’s “eXistenZ” mixes realism, politics, and video games in a neat way).

    Chris: I think Nietzsche foresaw his fate with horror, namely, being pored over by scholars obsessing over shades of meaning in his aphorisms, precisely the kind of thing I do for a living. So he made his works a hermeneutic minefield, designed to mess up attempts like this to pinpoint what he actually meant. His ideal reader wouldn’t particularly care what Herr Nietzsche thought, & would only read for stimulation.

    The problem you bring up is precisely one of these issues that ties interpretation into pretzels. We should reject R2 correspondence truth, but partly for the pragmatic reason that it harms or hinders us. We should take up A2 pragmatic values (particularly increasing power) as the criterion of truth, but partly because of the objective facts about our nature and the world (chaos cannot be captured in descriptions, altho even saying this tries to capture one of its facets). So which one wins? Well, each leads to & simultaneously entangles the other, a bit like the liar’s paradox (Jon, any thoughts?).

    Jon: Now ethics is something I talk about, but I take continental thought in general to have given up on the project of determining rules or criteria to guide behavior. Kant’s insight strikes me as very deep too, but you immediately face the question, why shouldn’t I exempt myself when convenient? The answer that you’d be abandoning rationality, betraying your true self, etc., rests on lots of assumptions that have lost considerable ground over the last couple of centuries. In a sense, continental thought has followed the analytic impulse (not universal, but common) to perform a semantic ascent up to meta-ethics, to reflect on what ethics is rather than issuing ethical prescriptions. Without a universal faculty embedded in human nature to count on (Kant’s reason, Hume’s fellow-feeling), we are left with ED cultural, historical elements, starting with Hegel. Or, as with Heidegger and Levinas, we simply describe what ethical features we find in the world, without any knockdown arguments that others must find the same (tho we can phenomenologically find that our experience contains the element of demanding universal assent, it is still my experience of the universal demand).

    Shahar: you identify another of Nietzsche’s intricate puzzles. I think, as does Heidegger, that he argues both ways. Some (mostly French) interpreters have taken this very inconsistency to be the best possible answer. Stating that there is no reality in-itself seems to transgress the very limitations one is trying to impose–how do you know there isn’t one unless you can claim an exhaustive inventory of the universe’s furniture and found it missing? Far better is to set up an antinomy of claims in order to shut down the whole question as an incoherent inquiry. In the end, I can’t be sure of which reading is right, but I do take up your questions in some detail.

    kvond: I agree that Rorty is very helpful here. Your first point is summed up in the title of one of his essays, “Solidarity or Objectivity?”

    • Well, granting that his “most significant thought was that of “will to power” ” for the sake of argument (it’s certainly a reasonable candidate, tho not so obvious that it should be granted this status by default, not even raising the question of whether such a status is intelligible, especially in the work of Nietzsche), it all depends on what he means by power (and will), which is a very sticky and much-debated issue. I think it’s beyond dispute that the idea has metaphysical, epistemological, and ethical aspects, tho nailing down precisely what they are occupies a small army of commentators. So, one certainly CAN study Nietzsche, and his discussions of power, in other fields than political philosophy.

      The next question is whether one SHOULD study it like this, i.e., whether the political ramifications of WTP are so central that ignoring them constitutes a distortion of the idea. This would be the case for someone like Foucault, for whom power is central and has epistemological and metaphysical implications, because he is very concerned with how power-based interactions among individuals bubble up to larger and more abstract societal institutions and governmental structures. Tracing the evolution of these societal effects is crucial to Foucault’s work and any synoptic discussion of his thought that left the political facets out would, thereby, be lacking. Selective focus can be permitted for smaller scale examinations (eg a paper focusing on the epistemological features of power to understand power/knowledge), but broader treatments of his thought, of the sort I attempt to undertake, aren’t entitled to such excuses.

      The question, then, is whether Nietzsche’s views on WTP are like this, making political issues crucial to his thought. And I find very little discussion of how bundles of power interacting with each other amalgamate to form societal forces. The one exception would be religion: this is a large-scale institution whose formation in the interaction among drives for power he talks about quite a bit, esp. in GM. But other than this significant exception (which I do talk about), I see few other analyses of what these interactions issue in, beyond the individual and interpersonal interactions. Do you?

      • I think he says a lot of insulting things in passing about that would be relevant if they were worth taking seriously.

        The only major thing (of course tied to his account of christianity most prominently discussed in GM and The Anti-Christ) I can think of is the critiques of pity and the rhetoric of toughness and fortitude, which does have political implications, the same rhetoric being employed from Hitler, to Stalin, to Donald Rumsfeld and Bush, always quiet effectively in the service of getting people to do vile things.

        I’m not blaming Nietzsche for it; it’s really just part of human wickedness. But I do think a more charitable reading at this point maybe involves trying to not take that aspect of his thinking so seriously. If it’s central to his thinking then so much the worse for his thinking.

        William James’ argument concerning leaps of faith applies to philosophy too. Philosophical choices are often genuine, forced, and momentous, but such that rational debate does not decide the issue one way or the other. In such cases it would be irrational not to consult your passional nature. So I can look at the moral implications of the praise of people being able to set aside pity and on the basis of that reject a metaphysical system.

        Again, I don’t think that all of Nietzsche’s insights rise or fall with his views about pity. I just think there’s a sense in which a more charitable reading renders these views more peripheral than the texts alone or Nietzsche himself might have supported.

  9. Jon: “Again, I don’t think that all of Nietzsche’s insights rise or fall with his views about pity. I just think there’s a sense in which a more charitable reading renders these views more peripheral than the texts alone or Nietzsche himself might have supported.”

    Kvond: Of course we are all free to our opinion, but Nietzsche’s views on pity are central to his view of the world and others. What one can qualify is the “shock” expression of some of his views, for Nietzsche is at once attempting to provoke his reader into a “reaction” but also alternately excite him (not her) to an new or different place. But Nietzsche’s views on pity are core to the kinds of changes he is arguing for, (and his position on pity is not all that far from that of Spinoza, who also takes a technical stand against pity).

    • Point taken. I wish I knew Spinoza better (among other things now, this might make me find Nietzsche less vile in this regard). I’ve really enjoyed the couple of times I’ve gotten your take on Spinoza here at pervegalit and on your blog too.

    • One more thing. Do you think the critique of ressentiment can be separated from the critique of pity? “The last Christian died on the cross” sort of beautifully suggests that they can (and were for Nietzsche’s Jesus) and can’t (for the rest of us) at the same time.

  10. I agree that his views on pity are pretty important. It took me a long time to realize that he is so concerned to root out pity because he felt so much of it. His scorn sometimes functions as an angry overlay on his anguish over how little we’re willing to settle for and how much we could have, his belief that “we are neither as proud nor as happy as we might be” (GS 301, quoted on p. 134). He even calls his own pity cruel at one point, because he doesn’t think that most people can attain such heights, which may be a more appropriate target for your disagreement, Jon. He also points out how condescending and insulting pity can be, which is a very insightful critique that is fully consistent with traditional morality.

    One more comment. I take your point about James, and Nietzsche is the last person to insist we base decisions on rigorous logical proofs. But we also have to take into account the Marxist false consciousness point, namely, that our emotions may very well have been corrupted or trained by highly problematic institutions into untrustworthy divining rods of goodness. Of course, the problem then becomes, what criteria can we rely on to evaluate our criteria, and to choose “better” ones? I talk about this in the later Heidegger chapter & the conclusion, but I think it’s one of the most difficult problems in continental thought. Analytic thinkers are far less troubled by it because of the common (but hardly universal) implicit faith in reason, as were early modern & ancient philosophers (medieval thinkers have a more complicated situation because of the possible conflicts between reason and faith). Continental thinkers are no misologists out to destroy all of Western civilization as, eg, Searle accused Derrida (and anti-realism in general), but they find our relationship vis-a-vis reason very complicated and difficult, admitting of no easy solution.

  11. Great point about Marx! I keep wanting to go back to Adorno. . .

    I love the story about Nietzsche interspersing himself between the whip and the horse as his last act before going irretrievably insane. I don’t know if it’s licit to interpret his writings on pity in light of that. [Like most things Nietzsche, there is an antecedent in Schopenhauer who wrote an essay against horse whipping, but he complained much more about the noise pollution aspect of it than about the cruelty to the horses. Neither Nietzsche nor Schopenhauer would have been very surprised by their sometimes being an inverse relation between personal moral decency and moral decency of philosophical views.]

  12. I have perhaps worded my question a bit hastily and therefore in a manner that might suggest confrontation where I intended only an inquiry. I attempted to suggest that if we are contrasting “will to truth” and “will to power” then the latter has a clear political sense in its wider meaning of interpersonal (social) dimension of life. Even if we do not consider “will to power” Nietzsche’s central concern, it is quite difficult to suggest that among many meanings that “will to power” might have, a political one is not the first suggestion that pops to one’s mind – again, political here understood in a wider sense as that which is not simply personal.

    • I just looked at my response, and the capitalized words look really aggressive & angry; I wanted to italicize them for emphasis, but wasn’t sure how (do I surround those words with [italics HTML code]?).

      Anyway, there’s no question that N is very interested in the interpersonal, but in my mind that isn’t automatically political, in the sense I think of it. Conversely, at least since Hegel, many have seen an internal connection between truth and society–later Heidegger and Foucault come to mind immediately.

      At the risk of beating a (possibly) dead horse, I think you need a realist notion of truth for it to automatically be independent of societal influence. If there’s an R1 independent world out there and knowledge R2 captures it as it is, then it doesn’t matter how you’re brought up or what your communal practices are. This is the enlightenment picture of the courageous scientist fighting off centuries of narrow-minded superstition to tell the truth, a more recent notion of the Greek parhesia (sp?)–telling truth to power–which Foucault got really interested in at the end of his life. If, on the other hand, we cannot separate our beliefs and practices–our inheritance from our community–from how we describe the world (I’m being a bit sloppy here, I know), then truth is bound up with political matters.

      This is a long way to say that the dichotomy you draw is based on assumptions that the thinkers I’m dealing with are challenging. A lot of this is just semantics, tho–I’m thinking of political as involving government and society-wide institutions and you’re using it in a broader sense to encompass anything interpersonal. Some people do read N as a political philosopher in the narrower sense, which I have never seen (tho again, I haven’t studied this angle much).

  13. Jon: “Point taken. I wish I knew Spinoza better (among other things now, this might make me find Nietzsche less vile in this regard). I’ve really enjoyed the couple of times I’ve gotten your take on Spinoza here at pervegalit and on your blog too.”

    Kvond: Thanks for the good words. Nietzsche and Spinoza are very, very close on a lot of matters (so much so, Deleuze treats them as equals of a kind), and Nietzsche as a young man when encountering Spinoza called him of all things his “twin”.

    If you read something like Nietzsche’s…

    “One is necessary, one is a piece of fate, one belongs to the whole, one is in the whole – there exists nothing which could judge, measure, compare, condemn our being, for that would be to judge, measure, compare, condemn the whole…But But nothing exists apart from the whole! – That no one is any longer made accountable, that the kind of being manifested cannot be traced back to a causa prima, that the world is a unity neither as sensorium nor as “spirit”, this alone is the great liberation – thus alone is the innoncence of becoming restored…The concept “God” has hitherto been the greatest objection to existence…We deny God; in denying God, we deny accountability: only by doing that do we redeem the world.” (TI, “The Four Great Errros,” 8 )

    This is PURE Spinoza, and really cuts straight to the heart of a lot of what Spinoza is attempting to show.

    Spinoza is against “pity” which in the latin is closer to “commiserate”, because it creates a chain of sadnesses and disempowerments that are the opposite side of the same affective coin as envy:

    “If we imagine that someone enjoys some thing that only one can possess, we shall strive to bring it about that he does not possess it.

    Schol: We see, therefore, that for the most part human nature is so constituted that men pity [misereantur] the unfortunate and envy the fortunate, and with greater hate the more they love the thing they imagine the other to possesses. We see, then, that from the same property of human nature from which it follows that men are [misericordes], it also follows that the same men are envious and ambitious (E3p32).”

    What he is against is how one can break free from a kind of wallowing in deprivation, the kind of pity that distracts us from real avenues of change in situation.

    For me ressentiment and pity are intimately braided, and Deleuze points out that Spinoza by 200 years already put forth the psychology of the priest.

    I say this all though in great resistence to Nietzsche for with some aristocratic flaire he ever returns to the “individual” as the locus for all change, privileging something that his own position forecloses. If one take much of Nietzsche seriously, any person is simply a locus of confluences, and his/her border must ever be considered in flux.

    • kvond,

      Awesome. That’s great stuff all around.

      I never thought of divorcing the aristocraticism (both the content and tone that sometimes drives me nuts, though to be fair I’m reading English translations) from the critique of pity. It reads totally differently to me now.


      • Glad to hear it. I agree with Lee as well that the reason why Nietzsche is do declaritively against pity is because he so very piteous himself, almost paralyzed with it. In many ways Nietzsche is railing against his own over-sensitivity in a kind of self-diagnosis.

        But yes, my instinct is really ever to separate out Nietzsche’s romantic aristocratic tendencies which are well-braided throughout, from his very significant structural critique, both of culture/valuation, but also knowledge itself.

        I still dislike the guy (and really most people that find Nietzsche the be-all are not all that interesting), but certain admire his strain of philosophy, and the way in which he was able to transform the art/act of philosophy itself, for better or worse.

  14. I just noticed this Braverian passage in Heidegger:

    “Nietzsche’s saying that truth is an illusion, a kind of error, has as its innermost presupposition, one that is thus never uttered at all, the traditional and never challenged characterization of truth as the correctness of representing. Yet for Nietzsche this concept of truth changes peculiarly and inevitably….[to one where] truth is in its essence an “estimation of value.”

    • Which can be seen, quite literally, in Nietzsche’s famous metaphor (if we can allow a literal metaphor!) of the coin of truth:

      “What is truth then? A mobile army of metaphors, metonomies, anthropomorphisms, in short a sum of human relations that are elevated, transmitted, beautified in a poetic or rhetoric manner, and that appear to the people after a long usage as fixed, canonical and binding: truths are illusions of which one has forgotten they are illusions, metaphors that are worn out and literally became powerless, coins that lost their images and are now metal and no longer coins.”

      “On Truth and Lie in the Extramoral Sense”

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