Friday, June 17, 2016

Nagel v Nietzsche: Dawn of Consciousness


While we’re on the subject of Nietzsche: The Will to Power, which is a collection of passages on a variety of subjects from Nietzsche’s notebooks, contains some interesting remarks on consciousness, sensory qualities, and related topics.  They invite a “compare and contrast” with ideas which, in contemporary philosophy, are perhaps most famously associated with Thomas Nagel.  In some ways, Nietzsche seems to anticipate and agree with points made by Nagel.  In other respects, they disagree radically.

Nagel has for decades now emphasized that the mind-body problem is an artifact of the way modern natural science characterizes “the physical” and how it understands the notion of explanation of phenomena in physical terms.  The objective, mind-independent material world is characterized in entirely quantitative terms, and whatever does not fit this quantitative description is treated as a mere projection of the mind.  In particular, qualitative features like color, sound, taste, smell, etc. as we know them in everyday life, along with purposes or teleological features, are taken to exist only in the conscious experiences of the knowing subject.  As Nagel wrote not too long ago in Mind and Cosmos:

The modern mind-body problem arose out of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, as a direct result of the concept of objective physical reality that drove that revolution.  Galileo and Descartes made the crucial conceptual division by proposing that physical science should provide a mathematically precise quantitative description of an external reality extended in space and time, a description limited to spatiotemporal primary qualities such as shape, size, and motion, and to laws governing the relations among them.  Subjective appearances, on the other hand -- how this physical world appears to human perception -- were assigned to the mind, and the secondary qualities like color, sound, and smell were to be analyzed relationally, in terms of the power of physical things, acting on the senses, to produce those appearances in the minds of observers.  It was essential to leave out or subtract subjective appearances and the human mind -- as well as human intentions and purposes -- from the physical world in order to permit this powerful but austere spatiotemporal conception of objective physical reality to develop. (pp. 35-36)

Now, the method in question seems to define the “physical” and the “mental” in such a way that the latter can never be explained in terms of the former, since the former is made exhaustively quantitative and the latter is irreducibly qualitative.  The trouble that qualitative features or qualia pose for materialist attempts to explain the mind thus derives, then -- as Nagel famously argued in his 1974 essay “What is it like to be a bat?” and has repeated many times over the years -- precisely from the way materialists themselves conceive of matter, viz. in the exclusively quantitative terms of modern physics.  (I’ve discussed Nagel’s argument in detail in several places, e.g. in a series of posts on Mind and Cosmos and its critics.) 

Now, some of what Nietzsche writes in The Will to Power seems fairly close to what Nagel says.  Consider the following passages (the numbers in the citations below are section numbers rather than page numbers): 

“In the development of thought a point had to be reached at which one realized that what one called the properties of things were sensations of the feeling subject: at this point the properties ceased to belong to the thing.”  The “thing-in-itself” remained… [A]nalysis revealed that even force was only projected into them, and likewise -- substance.

[T]he physical explanation, which is a symbolization of the world by means of sensation and thought, can in itself never account for the origin of sensation and thought; rather physics must construe the world of feeling consistently as lacking feeling and aim -- right up to the highest human being.  And teleology is only a history of purposes and never physical! (562)

Our “knowing” limits itself to establishing quantities; but we cannot help feeling these differences in quantity as qualities.  Quality is a perspective truth for us; not an “in-itself.” (563)

[I]n a purely quantitative world everything would be dead, stiff, motionless. -- The reduction of all qualities to quantities is nonsense: what appears is that the one accompanies the other, an analogy -- (564)

Qualities are insurmountable barriers for us; we cannot help feeling that mere quantitative differences are something fundamentally distinct from quantity, namely that they are qualities which can no longer be reduced to one another.  But everything for which the word “knowledge” makes any sense refers to the domain of reckoning, weighing, measuring, to the domain of quantity; while, on the other hand, all our sensations of value (i.e., simply our sensations) adhere precisely to qualities… It is obvious that every creature different from us senses different qualities and consequently lives in a different world from that in which we live… (565)

End quote.  That reference to “every creature different from us” even calls to mind Nagel’s celebrated example of a bat, which, because it gets around the world via echolocation, has conscious experiences and sensory qualities radically different from ours, and where mere knowledge of the physiology and behavior of a bat will not reveal to us the nature of those qualities and that experience -- thus illustrating the idea that knowledge of the quantitative features focused on by physical science cannot yield knowledge of the qualitative features that define consciousness (whether human consciousness or some other kind of consciousness).

On the other hand, Nietzsche is far less confident than Nagel is that introspection of our conscious experiences reveals anything of ultimate metaphysical significance.  For one thing, he thinks the Cartesian ego or subject of experience is illusory (sections 481-492).  And in general, he thinks that introspection of our own minds, no less than perception of the external world, really only ever gets us in contact with further representations or interpretations of what it is we are purportedly aware of, rather than with reality:

Critique of modern philosophy: erroneous starting point, as if there existed “facts of consciousness” -- and no phenomenalism in introspection. (475)

“Consciousness” -- to what extent the idea of an idea, the idea of will, the idea of a feeling (known to ourselves alone) are totally superficial!  Our inner world, too, “appearance”! (476)

I maintain the phenomenality of the inner world, too: everything of which we become conscious is arranged, simplified, schematized, interpreted through and through -- the actual process of inner “perception,” the causal connection between thoughts, feelings, desires, between subject and object, are absolutely hidden from us -- and are perhaps purely imaginary.  The “apparent inner world” is governed by just the same forms and procedures as the “outer” world.  We never encounter “facts”…  (477)

[N]othing is more phenomenal (or, more clearly:) nothing is so much deception as this inner world which we observe with the famous “inner sense.” (478)

End quote.  The concepts by means of which we describe the world of qualia and conscious experience, then, in Nietzsche’s view are no more likely to track reality than the concepts we apply to the outer, physical world.  His position seems, accordingly, not unlike that of the contemporary eliminative materialist who takes our mentalistic vocabulary to express mere “folk” notions which might in principle be chucked out wholesale.  Indeed, Nietzsche writes:

Consciousness [has] a subsidiary role, almost indifferent, superfluous, perhaps destined to vanish and give way to a perfect automatism…

From the phenomena of the inner sense we conclude the existence of invisible and other phenomena that we would apprehend if our means of observation were adequate and that one calls the nerve current. (523)

Here the idea seems to be, as in contemporary eliminativism, that it might turn out that “nerve currents” and other purely “automatic” physical processes below the level of consciousness are all that exist, with consciousness itself a “superfluous” illusion. 

But if introspection of the mental world no more gives us knowledge of reality that perception of the physical world, then, Nietzsche seems to conclude, both the distinction between appearance and reality and that between the material and the immaterial collapse:

Critique of the concept “true and apparent world.” -- Of these, the first is a mere fiction, constructed of fictitious entities.

“Appearance” itself belongs to reality… (568)

The antithesis of the apparent world and the true world is reduced to the antithesis “world” and “nothing.” (567)

We have no categories at all that permit us to distinguish a “world in itself” from a “world of appearance”…

If there is nothing material, there is also nothing immaterial.  The concept no longer contains anything. (488)

Hence, while (as we saw in the previous post) Nietzsche would reject contemporary scientism, and while (as we saw above) it seems he would also reject reductionist materialist accounts of consciousness, that is not because he rejects naturalism, but on the contrary because he wants to push through what he regards as a more consistent form of naturalism, an essentially eliminativist form of naturalism -- one that supersedes the distinctions between appearance and reality, truth and error, distinctions which scientism and materialist metaphysics essentially preserve.  Instead he proposes looking at “knowledge” as merely a way in which the organism gains power over its environment:

There is no question of “subject and object,” but of a particular species of animal that can prosper only through a… regularity of its perceptions…

Knowledge works as a tool of power.  Hence it is plain that it increases with every increase of power

The utility of preservation -- not some abstract-theoretical need not to be deceived -- stands as the motive behind the development of the organs of knowledge -- they develop in such a way that their observations suffice for our preservationIn other words: the measure of the desire for knowledge depends upon the measure to which the will to power grows in a species: a species grasps a certain amount of reality in order to become master of it, in order to press it into service. (480)

So, the Nietzschean übermensch or Superman may seem thereby to get the upper hand over the Nagelian Batman of traditional metaphysics (specifically neo-Aristotelian metaphysics, in the case of Mind and Cosmos, as I noted in the series of posts on the book).  However, as you know if you saw the flick Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the appearance of superior power can be illusory, as Batman ended up inflicting on Superman one of the most delightfully brutal beatdowns in cinematic and comic book history.  And the same thing would occur in the case of a Nagel v Nietzsche bout.  As we saw in my series of posts on eliminative materialist Alex Rosenberg’s The Atheist’s Guide to Reality, there is simply no way at the end of the day to make an eliminativist position coherent (and I examined attempts to do so in detail). 

Nietzsche’s position faces obvious incoherence problems of its own.  The very attempt to dismiss the appearance/reality distinction as illusory quite blatantly itself presupposes an appearance/reality distinction, since the very notion of an “illusion” presupposes an appearance that fails to correspond to reality, to the facts, to what is true, etc.  Nietzsche’s pitting of his proposed biological account of knowledge-as-will-to-power against traditional metaphysics itself presupposes that this account is true, corresponds to reality, etc. in a way that traditional metaphysical theories do not.  And so forth.

That does not mean that Nietzsche is wrong to think that less extreme, reductionist rather than eliminativist forms of naturalism are mistaken.  (He is particularly hard on “the mechanistic interpretation of the world” in The Will to Power.)  He is not wrong about that.  The trouble is that since his own more radical position is even less coherent, the solution is to return to the traditional metaphysics that both positions eschew -- as Nagel does, however partially and tentatively, in Mind and Cosmos.

29 comments:

Thursday said...

Ed Feser: photoshop genius!

Allen Hazen said...

Curious fact about Nagel: even though all the rest of us (perhaps a bit more conscious than little Tom of the facts of zoology!) immediately think of the fact that bats enjoy a sensory modality (sonar) that we don't as a key factor in the impossibility of our "knowing what it is like to be" a bat, Nagel's original paper makes no mention of this! I once asked him, and he said he hadn't been thinking about sonar when he wrote the paper, only chose bats as his example because the house he was living in when he wrote it had bats in the attic!
---
If you want to speculate about beings with other sensory modalities, you might also want to consider rattlesnakes (and their relatives, the other "pit vipers"). They have an infrared sense (the relevant sense organ is the "pit organ" on the face, which is essentially a lensless ("pinhole") camera in the way the eye is a camera: the inside of the pit organ is lined with heat-sensitive tissue much as the inside of the eye is lined with the light-sensitive tissue of the retina. The neurology has actually been investigated: nerves from the pit organ "map" to an area of the cortex (not sure you call it cortex in a reptile, but anyway the part of the snake's brain analogous to the optical cortex in ours) close to, and topologically similar to, the optical cortex th optic nerveless map to. So that -- as sheer speculation -- it seems reasonable to imagine the snake's experience as a sort of enhanced visual experience, with added "glow" in the aras where it is looking at hot things.

Anonymous said...

LOL at the Nagel face

john di said...

“...The modern mind-body problem arose out of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, as a direct result of the concept of objective physical reality that drove that revolution. Galileo and Descartes made the crucial conceptual division by proposing that physical science should provide a mathematically precise quantitative description of an external reality extended in space and time, a description limited to spatiotemporal primary qualities such as shape, size, and motion, and to laws governing the relations among them…”

The profound irony here is that modern science is based on quantum mechanics. If a scientific model is not consistent with quantum mechanics then it is not a valid scientific model. The scientific revolution of the 17th century was overturned by the revolution of quantum mechanics. Modern physics is fundamentally different that Newtonian (classical) physics in that it makes no ontological claims. Here’s one of my favorite quotes from Werner Heisenberg who won the Nobel Prize for developing quantum mechanics:
...the natural laws formulated mathematically in quantum theory no longer deal with the elementary particles themselves but with our knowledge about them. Nor is it any longer possible to ask whether or not these particles exist in space and time objectively, since the only processes we can refer to as taking place are those which represent the interplay of particles with some other physical system, e.g., a measuring instrument. Thus, the objective reality of the elementary particles has been strangely dispersed, not into the fog of some new ill-defined or still unexplained conception of reality, but into the transparent clarity of a mathematics that no longer describes the behavior of the elementary particles but only our knowledge of this behavior. The atomic physicist has had to resign himself to the fact that his science is but a link in the infinite chain of man's argument with nature, and that it cannot simply speak of nature "in itself". Science always presupposes the existence of man and, as Bohr has said, we must become conscious of the fact that we are not merely observers but also actors on the stage of life…”

Werner Heisenberg, The Physicist’s Conception of Nature (London, 1958)

Gerard O'Neill said...

John Di

Heisenberg seems to lurch toward subjectivism in that quote.
---------------------------------------------------------------------
The idea of scientists as cold, dispassionate dispensers of objective truth is one myth that I'd like to see put to sleep. Scientists are very much a product of time, place and culture.

john di said...

Gerard O'Neill,
Heisenberg seems to lurch toward subjectivism in that quote.
Not at all. He’s saying that the objective truth is that physics, which is now fundamentally quantum in nature, does not make ontological claims. You have to look elsewhere, not to physics, if you’re looking for the answer to why there is something rather than nothing. That’s the objective truth.

Georgios Scholarios said...

Gerard O'Neill,

"The idea of scientists as cold, dispassionate dispensers of objective truth is one myth that I'd like to see put to sleep. Scientists are very much a product of time, place and culture."

While this is true, the misleading idea nowadays is that scientists never discover objective truth, but only probabilities. At the extreme, some philosophers of science have even suggested that scientific consensus is totally controlled by social conditions. Fr. William A. Wallace's book The Modeling of Nature is a good corrective of this view.

Timocrates said...



The utility of preservation -- not some abstract-theoretical need not to be deceived -- stands as the motive behind the development of the organs of knowledge -- they develop in such a way that their observations suffice for our preservation. In other words: the measure of the desire for knowledge depends upon the measure to which the will to power grows in a species: a species grasps a certain amount of reality in order to become master of it, in order to press it into service. (480)


This is just pragmatism. It is simply idiotic to identify truth or reality with power or the achievement of human goals or desires; that can be an accidental relationship. If there are two builders building the foundations of two different civilizations, and on assumes the earth is flat and the other that it is round, then neither are likely to have any issues until or unless they are tasked with undertaking works on the scale of something like the tower of Babel; but by Nietzsche's criteria, as each theory facilitates mastery and power over creation and perhaps even over other people too, then each is perfectly true. But of course eventually one of them will literally come crashing down making the whole enterprise vain and rendering them powerless. Consequently truth remains real and objective and it is truth, ultimately, that facilitates power (assuming power is the proper end or goal of all our actions).

Pius xii said...

Novus ordo or Tridentine ?

Anonymous said...

Ed, since for Thomists intellectual knowledge is of the necessary and universal, do Thomists then think that we have no intellectual knowledge of things like the sun or the Constitutional Convention of 1787 or even of Aquinas himself? I just met a Thimist who claimed he did not even know that he had been born, since that would be to know about a singular event in the last, and there is no intellectual knowledge of such things!

DNW said...

"The Will to Power, which is a collection of passages on a variety of subjects from Nietzsche’s notebooks, contains some interesting remarks on consciousness, sensory qualities, and related topics. They invite a “compare and contrast” with ideas which, in contemporary philosophy, are perhaps most famously associated with Thomas Nagel."


This is an extremely interesting area, being as you say at the juncture of a variety of philosophical questions including epistemology and theory of mind, and "ethics" - or at least a very startling if deconstructed philosophical anthropology.

And that is not to mention deep consideration of some of those possibly negatively redounding epistemic presuppositions - and their place in the history of philosophy - which inform Nietzsche’s analysis - if analysis is what we wish to call it.

And this will to power business of man as a welling appetite arising from the "We cannot really know what", as "The we know not what" for "No purpose at all, other than to gain power over the ground from which it itself arises" goes right to the heart of the anthropology embraced by the postmodern nihilist; the workings of which we are currently seeing played out before our very eyes every day. It is almost too remarkable, too topical to even be considered ironic.

Frankly I'm surprised that these last two highly provocative entries have not generated much more commentary; perhaps from those who are familiar with both the analytic and Continental traditions.

DNW said...

Just as a qualifying note, I do not pretend in any way to be especially well informed on this area myself. In fact many years ago when first reading Nietzsche I actually, tender minded type that I am - had to put the work I was reading down for a moment in order to wonder what the hell it actually was that I was reading.

Jolting, was too mild a word for it. The uberman is nothing. The eternal recurrence of the same only mildly horrific. But not only was he gleefully yammering on about the antichrist (in his own sense of course), but it soon became apparent that everything: reason, real categories, genuine knowledge, meaning, and even history as meaningful structure went by the wayside. All that was left was some un-nameable residuum. Some pulsation with a maw, just like in some cheap old sci-fi movie.

Now, the entire premise that we can deduce what really is, as residuum from what we cannot in principle really know, as we rat-maze around in this occluded 'field of arising', may be suspect, and logically untenable. And that latter is reassuring at least.

But for me, as a youngster, looking into pit, or what seemed to be it, was quite the experience.

A few years back I was describing a book written about deconstruction, including Deleuze and Guattari, to an older non-philosophical business associate who started on about some "philosophical" topic. After describing some of what I understood to be their "anthropology", the business about the desiring machine, and stops and flows and so forth, he looked at me stupefied and said something like. "They can print stuff like that?"

Imagine living in a world of people, or at least "elites" who have not only seen it (or the like) in print, but internalized that kind of thing; have grown up with it as part of their cultural atmosphere and 'moral' formation.

Well, you don't actually have to imagine it. Just look around. We are living in it.

Gerard O'Neill said...

If it's any consolation to DNW, there is virtually no chance of the Eternal Return being true.
In about 10^98 years, the last of the black holes will disintegrate; by 10^100, there will be...nothing. Ta ta. Universe gone bye-bye.

DNW said...



" ... there is virtually no chance of the Eternal Return being true. "


Thank you for sharing. I'll file that where it belongs.

joel in ga said...

The quotes from Nietzsche seem to bear out Borden Parker Bowne's observation: “If the trustworthiness of reason is to be maintained, it can be only on a theistic basis…we must say that God, as free and intelligent, is the postulate of both science and philosophy.”

Anonymous said...

Gerard,

The Eternal Return is a metaphysical concept which is meant to replace God and eschatology, just as the Will to Power (in its universal form) replaces Divine Will and Providence. The Will to Power, in its diversified form, constitutes the natural law directing particular creatures to imitate God through creative and even violent actions. Together, these two concepts constitute the Nietzschean theology which may be poetic, but it is not lacking in seriousness.

Gerard O'Neill said...

Anonymous

"Nietzschean theology" = syphilitic ramblings

No-one would still be talking about this bloke if he didn't appeal to teenage Randroids, wannabe anarchists and bored suburban reactionaries.

Eduardo said...

He was badly syphilic on AntiChrist. Not the ones he mentioned. As far as I remember from reading about him.

But hey I am pretty sure Mr no-argument is right... Maybe...

DNW said...

"No-one would still be talking about this bloke if he didn't appeal to teenage Randroids, wannabe anarchists and bored suburban reactionaries."


You know this how? Oh yeah, you don't. Just more of your embarrassingly ignorant preening.

And Gerard, all you had to do in order to avoid looking like a complete fool, was to know enough, and be prudent enough, to have typed in "Nietzsche and deconstruction" or "Nietzsche and postmodernism" in some search engine before you opened up your profoundly ignorant yap.

Had you done so, Gerard, you would have instantly come up with something like this: http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/nietzsche.html, (WSU here means Washington State not Wayne State)

or like this,

"The later nineteenth century is the age of modernity as an achieved reality, where science and technology, including networks of mass communication and transportation, reshape human perceptions. There is no clear distinction, then, between the natural and the artificial in experience. Indeed, many proponents of postmodernism challenge the viability of such a distinction tout court, seeing in achieved modernism the emergence of a problem the philosophical tradition has repressed. A consequence of achieved modernism is what postmodernists might refer to as de-realization. De-realization affects both the subject and the objects of experience, such that their sense of identity, constancy, and substance is upset or dissolved. Important precursors to this notion are found in Kierkegaard, Marx and Nietzsche ..." Stanford Phil site

... or, one of the thousands of other sites readily available and by which you might have remediated your astoundingly juvenile ignorance.

But, you couldn't even manage to do that.

Lucky for you Gerard, that your desperate desire for attention overrides any of the feelings of chagrin which someone in your position would normally experience.

JohND said...

Ed,

Good post, but we're dying for information about your upcoming books. It's just so hard to be patient . . .

Scott W. said...

Picked up Last Superstition at the library. The system has four copies. Not bad for this neck of the woods.

Timocrates said...

@ Gerard,

Becoming a Christian is a ridiculous thing. The advantages are none and the net losses are everything. But I think you despise popular thinking. I am probably exaggerating but I believe you have a sense in yourself that any true God/ "religion" is worth everything and more.

Some Christians believe the Earth is not less than six thousand years old. Some Christians believe that we came from Adam and Eve. Some Christians believe that we should forgive those who have hurt us; though, remaining human, most of us still seek justice and (if we can't have it) vengeance.

I personally don't believe you are here to waste time. I think you know the price of being Christian; and yes, you will have to pay it alone. By that, I mean between you and God who made you.

Harrison Jennings said...

For anyone interested, I know Dr. Feser has written a lot about scientism and the limits of the scientific method, here is a book review from NPR about a new book which argues three things: 1. There is only one universe, 2. Time is real, and 3. Mathematics is selectively real. The title of the article is "Has Physics Gotten Something Really Important Really Wrong?" and it's worth the read

Edward T. Babinski said...

Sorry Feser...

We might not ever discover exactly what is happening when it comes to the "mind-body" problem, because the brain-mind might not be able to understand itself. After all, if the brain-mind were so simple we could easily understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn't. Kind of like the principle of Heisenberg Uncertainty or the inherent limitations of designating ultimate principles in math and logic as envisaged by Godel's Theorem. One must also keep in mind that the word does not equal the thing, nor the map the territory, nor the model reality.

On the other hand, neither is it inconceivable that brain-minds might not arise in a cosmos with energy and matter (better to call them energy-matter, a single term) in constant motion.

Part of the problem with trying to prove anything "supernatural" via the "argument from consciousness" "...from qualia," "...from reason," etc. is that such arguments try to reduce the whole brain-mind-body system down to single atoms, and emphasize the difference between an unthinking atom and the thinking brain-mind. But that is simply a fallacy of excluding the middle: Brain-mind-bodies exist as more than singular atoms, they exist as molecules, cells, electro-chemical stimuli, sensory apparatuses, neural connections and incessant feedback activity, the whole natural environment outside of the organism with which it constantly interacts, including its social network and the world of language and all the exchanges that occur on all levels. We even an atheist can point out that we are not just atoms. It makes just as much sense to speak of every single atom being dragged about by the dynamics of each level of organization of which that atom is a mere part. An atom attached to a molecule fits in its place by virtue of that molecule's whole architecture and that molecule is then dragged about by other molecules, and in the nervous system we have sensory organs, incessant input, and feedback loops both internal and external, memories, connectivity that has its own dynamic, and then there's the even more widely networked world of society and language.

For more see Prior Prejudices and the Argument from Reason https://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/01/prior-prejudices-and-argument-from.html

Anonymous said...

Prof Edward Feser, It strikes me as improbable that any philosopher, or any person, for that matter, should prioritize the external, measurable natural world over the internal experience of the person, self, soul, etc. In an existential sense, wouldn't this invariably put the cart before the horse? An account of consciousness may be required for philosophy, however, if the cognition of philosophers is not regarded as the primary and essential source of knowledge, where else could such possibly come from? The "removal" of the conscious, knowing person appears untenable. I suppose this approach leans toward Idealism, but however it's referred to, it strikes me as both a more productive, and more essential starting-point. How reasonalbe would it be to say that there are no persons who experience both themselves (internal life) and the external world, but that objects of perception somehow are more real, and so more "significant" than the inquiring thinker? Plantinga, for one, has prioritized the role of the beliefs of persons, including perceptions of persons in how we account for knowledge of the external world, or anything else at all, including the content of revelation from God, etc. A few thoughts for now, --Donald Lindeman

bmiller said...

Edward Babinski,

It seems you are arguing that there is something more to a material thing than just the energy-matter components. Something that is more or less an arrangement or form than is in addition to those components.

Where did you get such an idea?

iwpoe said...

Nietzsche didn't have syphilis. That's a combination of old medicine and bad slander. Syphilis doesn't actually particularly well fit his symptoms, and they had none of the diagnostic tools we now have upon which they might base that diagnosis. All they had was his evident late-stage madness, the lack of knowledge on how to treat him, and his notoriety (which is made a part of the story very early- since his alleged mad embrace of a horse is simply stolen whole cloth from Crime and Punishment, probably as a cautionary trying to parallel his life to that of Raskolnikov). He likely had something like vascular dementia or perhaps some kind of stroke- some sort of progressive disease that ultimately caused a break.

But his style has very little to do with this sickness. He is constantly hyperbolic, intellectually contrarian, and boundary pushing his whole corpus. He's indeed not systematic, but this is neither unusual in the history of philosophy nor for his goals. Indeed, the thrust of his thought and style is hardly surprising if you read him next to Schopenhauer (the anti-theistic pessimism and maxim making as well as a lot of the Kantian an quasi-Kantian stuff), Novalis (the anti-systematic aphoristic stuff), Richard Wagner (the sentimental, ambitious, grandiose, bombast), Auguste Comte (the scientism), David Strauss (the treatment of scripture by default as a kind of mythico-historico textual accomplishment) and Jacob Burckhardt (the careful focus on the development of cultural history). While I have long parted company with Nietzsche, the dismissal of him as a deluded syphilitic is a kind of confused failure to appreciate what's going on, certainly in the context. Not every man is suited to be fundamental systematic thinker- indeed most intellectuals in all sciences are not -but rather most come to original thought within the present intellectual context. Heidegger and many other readers of Nietzsche see rightly that he takes the thrust of the intellectual context certainly as it built up in Germany to extremes inherent not in his "insane" personality but in the thought itself.

TheIllusionist said...

Silly myth that this arose with Galileo. Actually it arouse out of an obscure Church edict during the Crusades:

https://fixingtheeconomists.wordpress.com/2014/02/18/but-why-on-earth-wont-they-let-us-play/

Trev of Economia said...

I think Nietzsche's view was actually more or less a panpsychist metaphysical idealism crossed with perspectivism. His view of the will to power was definitely as an ontological thing, as a subjective existence of presence corresponding to all objective existence (actually the two being numerically identical, just appearing in different contexts- thus both being appearance rather than reality) with this being the ultimate drive or teleological force of the universe, and human consciousness in the sense of "consciousness of" or cognition (rather than the sense of subjective being) being a side effect rather than the driving force. In his view, the neurons and the thoughts would be equally illusory, while the Will to Power which projects and is numerically identical with both would be the reality. I found this interesting video by a philosopher named Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes who covers this in better detail: https://youtube.com/watch?v=oVoCKLyt2uw