Wednesday, October 26, 2016

"On Those Who Are Sublime" Nietzsche and his critique of Kant's aesthetics

Zarathustra saw a solemn person who was sublime, "an ascetic of the spirit" at whom he laughed because of his ugliness.  This chapter of TSZ deals with Nietzsche's critique of Kant (and possibly Hegel as well) on the sublime and the beautiful.  His main point is that the beautiful is more important than the sublime, although that idea only gets substance when played out in terms of the ideas of the overman and will to power.  Kant's notion of the sublime is rather odd in that, for him, when we appreciate the sublime (what he calls the dynamic sublime) we are really appreciating our own power as humans, we are appreciating the ways in which we transcend even the most terrifying aspects of nature: [from his Critique of Judgment]  "we willingly call these objects [bold, overhanging, and...threatening rocks...[etc.] sublime, because they raise the energies of the soul above their accustomed height and discover in us a faculty of resistance of quite a different kind, which gives us courage to measure ourselves against the apparent almightiness of nature" and, further, "nature is not judged to be sublime so far as it excites fear, but because it calls up that power in us...of regarding as small the things about which we are solicitous [health, money, etc.]...and of regarding its might nevertheless without any dominion over us..." ["even if the volcano destroys my home, I can rise above that":  a kind of Stoic philosophy]

This is what N. means when he speaks of the sublime person as having a "swelled chest" and being decked out with "ugly truths." The so-called "truth" of Kant's sublime man is really just a rather ugly anthropocentrism based on belief in a totally free and transcendent self or soul.  Moreover, beauty is somehow lost in all of this.  

Kant says that there are two main positive aesthetic qualities, the beautiful and the sublime, but for N., they are in dialectical competition...and the winner is not the sublime but beauty.  You would think that N., with all of his talk of the overman, would be more positive about the sublime.  Who more sublime than Nietzsche?  So the victory of beauty comes as a surprise.  But maybe that is because we usually misread Nietzsche, i.e. by way of Hitler.

Of Kant, then, Nietzsche would say:  "as yet he has not learned laughter and beauty."  That is, he takes himself too seriously.  And "out of his seriousness there also peers a savage beast - one not overcome." The sublime person is also in the act of withdrawing from the earth, which, Z. observes ironically, is not to his "taste."  

It is funny to see a reference to taste here.  Of course Kant discusses taste in a different place than he does the sublime, and he only advocates the idea that "there is no disputing about taste" with regards to that which is merely agreeable, not with regards to beauty.  It seems that N. has just misread Kant. Yet, although N. and K. agree that we may dispute about taste, K. may not be serious about that (and N. may see this.)  K. does not bother to set up or describe any disputes over taste, and one wonders what such a dispute would look like for K.  If someone says X is not beautiful and you disagree, you are free to show him (I suppose Kant thinks) that he has failed to be disinterested or to have focused on the look of purpose in the object, or has not allowed his imagination and understanding to go into free play. After all, when you say something is beautiful you are setting it up on a pedestal and expect, nay demand, that others agree. None of this seems to be much like a dispute in which people offer reasons. Instead, it all seems pretty ad hominem and detached from actually talking about the art object or other object of beauty itself.  

N.s comeback is simply: "But all of life is a dispute over taste and tasting."  (I love it that he added "and tasting" since this is very body-oriented and brings taste back from something purely mental where it seems to reside for most philosophers even today.)  The idea that all of life is a dispute over taste may be the same as the idea that whatever we are doing we are setting up values in opposition to the values of others.  We dispute, we argue, and that is what life is about, and this is true even with regards to morality. 

The claim extends aesthetics to all of life:  quite a radical claim. (So much for philosophy's relegation of aesthetics to backwaters.) To make it, N. must expand his notion of taste.  He does this when he says it is "at the same time weight and scales and weigher." These are the things we dispute over.  Moreover life is worthless (or at least not quite human) if we try to live without disputing over these things, over how valuable something is, over what scales to use in measuring value, and over the value of the person who does the weighing of value.  

So, for Z., the sublime person only becomes beautiful or obtains beauty when he gets tired of the anthropocentrism of his take on the sublime.  That sort of person would then be "tasteful" to Z.  That is, such a person has to turn "away from himself" and, of course, following Zs line, he must "jump over his shadow - ...into his sun." That is, he must overcome that miniscule thing which he considers his ego and find his true essence, which what would illuminate: essence can be seen as the overman, but not that it is individualize: his sun.  Z. does not want followers, or rather he only wants followers who follow their suns.

Nietzsche reiterates: "his [the so called sublime person's] happiness should smell of the earth, and not of contempt for the earth."  Kant would have us praise our transcendent souls in the experience of the sublime, but this is not to say "yes" to the earth, which, as we know, is the main message of Z.  Of Kant, and similar philosophers, like Hegel:   "He subdued monsters and riddles:  but he must still redeem his own monsters and riddles, changing them into heavenly children."  All virtues come from what was previously considered vice.  Further:  "As yet his knowledge has not learned to smile and to be without jealousy; as yet, his torrential passion has not become still in beauty."  Beauty will come when the passion of the hero philosopher is transformed into a serenity in which a smile is possible.  He must transform that which within himself would normally be called "evil."  And of course he must overcome, or transform, revenge [the greatest evil]...such an important move for Nietzsche. 

So desire is submerged not in satiety but in beauty, and the graciousness of the great-souled person is suffused with grace. Kant encourages us to be heroes, but the most difficult thing for the hero is to achieve the beautiful:  "No violent will can attain the beautiful by exertion."  Beauty is a matter of subtlety.  

One often associates Nietzsche with the Dionysian alone, but here is a call to the Apollonian as well.  One even imagines the traditional notion of Greek beauty that N. had overcome in his first book coming back in a way.  In Birth of Tragedy we learn that the Apollonian alone is not enough for great art.  But here we find that the sublime have to: "stand with relaxed muscles and unharnessed will" like a statue of Apollo, and that this is their most difficult task.  If you think you are sublime, you are caught up in ego, but to respond to this would be to unharness your will and relax your heroic muscles.  

Now we are prepared for a definition of beauty:  "When power becomes gracious and descends into the visible - such descent I call beauty."  Plato had seen beauty as a matter of ascent:  ascent to the Form of beauty.  N. gives primacy to will to power.  Will to power is not always cruel: sometimes, at its best, it is gracious, gift-giving, and this involves a descent from heights into the realm of the visible.  Beauty then is concentrated visible power found in the gift. The source of the gift determines the power of the beauty.  Thus "there is nobody from whom I want beauty as much as from you who are powerful," to which he adds that the kindness of the powerful should be their final "self-conquest."  (There is no separation of ethics and aesthetics here!)  Grace, graciousness, the creatively powerful individual, the hero of will-lessness, that which conquers itself:  these things form the new conceptual nexus of beauty.  We haven't seen a vision of beauty like this before, or since.  

The powerful (i.e. the powerful in creative action) are capable of "all evil" but then it follows that they should give forth good, a good that is quite different from that which comes out of people who are weak in creative power, and who think they are good just because they have no claws.  The gracious hero is then compared to a column which grows "more beautiful and gentle" and also internally harder and "more enduring" as it ascends.  

So, in conclusion, the sublime person (he who has accepted and lives by Kant's notion of the sublime) only can hope to "become beautiful one day" and thus have "godlike desires."  Although he  would then be vain,  he would would be suitable for adoration. The soul's secret is that only when she has been abandoned by the hero can she be approached by the "overhero."  The chapter ends here.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Nietzsche's attack on God and gods in "Upon the Blessed Isles"

This is part of an ongoing series of blog posts on what I call "aesthetic atheism."  You can see the other posts by using the index function on my blog site.  

In "Upon the Blessed Isles" Zarathustra begins by observing to his disciples that his teachings are like ripe figs that are falling to them and that, in this autumn period, it is "beautiful to look out upon distant seas" i.e. upon that which transcends ordinary experience. Before, people mentioned "God" when they looked out onto such seas, but now it is "overman."  So it is clear that "overman" is to replace "God."  This is followed by a series of aphorism that mainly begin with the line: "God is a conjecture."  This reminds us that God is a hypothesis, not an established reality, a hypothesis set up to serve a purpose.

In the first, Zarathustra encourages his disciples not to conjecture beyond their creative wills.  Since they could not create a god, they should not speak to him of any gods.  But they could create the overman, or recreate themselves as fathers or grandfathers of the overman.  

In the second, he encourages his disciples to limit their conjectures to the thinkable, and, he observes, they could not "think a god." What is "thinkable for man" really can be, from his materialist perspective, no other than what is visible to or even feelable by man.  Previous attempts to think God only seemed to be successful insofar as they denied that our cognitive faculties are faculties of our body.  Instead, "You should think through your own senses to their consequences."  The main consequence of the fact that we access the world through our senses is that immaterial entities make no sense (at least not as an explanation for creativity).  Since we cannot get beyond our bodies we cannot think a being without body, particularly one that has all of the other traditional attributes of God, i.e. all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good, creator of universe. Traditional believers also often say we cannot think God, since we are finite and God is infinite.  Nietzsche and they are in accord about this, except he would go further.  

The next paragraph seems to advocate a kind of idealism:  "And what you have called world, that shall be created only by you." However this is not a Berkeleyan idealism.  Rather, it is one that says:  the world we experience is the one we deal with and this world can be approached in different ways.  One way could be life- affirming, and this way would recognize that whatever we experience is based on our interpretations.  We may be unconscious of this, but when we become conscious of it we recognize that our reason, image, will and love is "realized."  It is so realized when and if we approach this process in an affirmative way. 

Nietzsche refers to the seeker here as a "lover of knowledge":  such a lover creates his/her world in the sense of constructing that world under his/her interpretation, and in a positive way for her "bliss."  It is only through having this hope, i.e. of an affirmative creation/interpretation of one's world, that the lover of knowledge (the philosopher) can "bear life."  The alternative would be a hopeless world that is "incomprehensible" or "irrational."  

The next passage is the most famous.  Zarathustra provides us with an argument against the existence of gods!  But he initiates this proof not by emphasizing its rationality but by insisting that he is revealing his heart entirely to his friends.  This is the argument. (Admittedly it will appear at first quite bizarre, but it needs to be understood in terms of the rest of the chapter!)  

"if there were gods, how could I endure not to be a god!  Hence there are no gods."  The premise indicates that Zarathustra (and presumably all "free spirits" and "noble" individuals) could not endure not being a god if there were indeed gods.  Why?  Because there would be a limit to his accomplishment, his creativity.  We will see from later passages that the problem with the existence of God or god is not envy so much as limitation of one's creative powers.  A god is someone who creates a world.  God even more so is the only creator, so the hypotheses goes, of our world. Remember that in the last paragraph we found that hope for a philosopher only exists in being able to create his/her own world through his/her body, will, and senses, and under his/her own interpretation.

But what about the inference:  "Hence there are no gods"?  The intervening premises must be something like:  (1) human creativity would be impossible if there were gods, and (2) it is obvious that human creativity exists, for example that Nietzsche is creating a book titled Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  So let us then consider the first premise.

In Plato's Ion creativity is understood as coming through divine inspiration of a dramatic sort.  When the poet is inspired, God is literally speaking through his or her mouth.  If God existed then this would be the only path for creativity:  so there would be no real human creativity. As Feuerbach and Marx observed, traditional believers project their human creativity onto God, and then worship something human in this imagined entity.  (Yes, Nietzsche and Marx are in the same boat on this one.)  It is better to recognize our own creativity in ourselves than in God.  The inference can be drawn that there are no gods from the very fact of human creativity; it is we who create worlds.  Of course we do not create the literal physical world but we do create the worlds we experience or the world as we experience it, not God or the gods. (The explanation of the origins of the physical world can be left to science.)  Moreover, when I draw this conclusion, the conclusion can "draw me":  i.e. I can now be shaped by this recognition.  Thus the God conjectured, once thoroughly understood, would entail either great agony or death, i.e. death as a creative individual.  And if you take faith in his own creative powers away from the creative individual then he might as well be dead.

The problem is elaborated in the next paragraph:  the idea of "God" makes everything crooked since it denies the reality of impermanence.  Nietzsche talks about this thought as sending him into a "dizzy whirl" and making him vomit. The idea is simply that any positing of the One (as in Parmenides and Plotinus) and the Permanent (as in traditional views of God) is sickening when not seen as a parable, and even then, it is not as good a parable for man as those that allow for time and becoming.  These later are denied by these thinkers of permanence. So the problem with the existence of God is that it fails to praise and justify the impermanence needed for creativity. But why is impermanence needed.  See below. 

The main reason for religion is redemption from suffering. Nietzsche is not opposed to redemption or even to religion. Zarathustra says, "Creation -  that is the great redemption of suffering."  But the mistake is to think that the creation in question is that of God or gods.  First and fundamentally creation needs not only change and becoming, which cannot come from an unchanging god, but also suffering.  You are not going to get any creation without suffering:  all creative artists, philosophers, scientists know that.  So why speak of God, who cannot suffer, as a creator?  "To be a child who is newly born, the creator must also want to be a mother who gives birth and the pans of the birth-giver."  If you want the birth you will the pains.

Nietzsche follows this with a passage that could easily be misunderstood as advocating a theory of reincarnation.  It does not, and it cannot.  Actually the paragraph is a preview of the doctrine of eternal recurrence and its fundamental connection with the doctrine of will to power.  Zarathustra says:  "Verily, through a hundred souls I have already passed on my way, and through a hundred cradles and birth pangs."  The idea connects with the previous paragraph:  the birth pangs in the creative process happen again and again with the writing of each book, the painting of each painting. We are not talking about afterlives but about this life.   "But thus my creative will, my destiny, wills it" says Zarathustra, which simply means that my will to power is my will to create even through the pangs that go with the creative process.  

In the next paragraph Zarathustra insists that my will (when it wills in this creative way) liberates me from my suffering and, in doing so, brings joy.  To will in this instance simply means to create. Thus if we could neither will nor value nor create any more we could only feel "great weariness."  This is not only true in the arts but also in the pursuit of knowledge, as Nietzsche realizes.  There is innocence in my knowledge, says Zarathustra, because "the will to beget is in it":  i.e. my knowledge (the knowledge gained by the Nietzschean free spirit) is not knowledge if it is just a reflection, it is fresh and innocent only insofar as it creates:  it does not just discover, it also produces at the same time.  In conclusion then, Zarathustra asserts that his creative will lured him away from God and gods and asks rhetorically: "what could one create if gods existed?"  The answer is nothing.  This comment rounds out the argument.  Once I recognize that it is I and not God or gods that create then I need no longer believe in them:  moreover, I could not create anything if God was the creator.  Either God or me.  But my creativity is obvious to me, God's is a mere conjecture.

So my will to create is directed toward man as the sculptor's hammer to a stone, creating, like Michelangelo, the image that sleeps in the stone.  This image is "the image of my images" in that, in creating myself, I create myself as a creator.  And, as Nietzsche constantly reminds us, the images I create and also reveal sleep in the "hardest, the ugliest stone."  They come out of  passions and drives that "the good" cannot approve.  Damage may result from the creative process and yet in the effort to perfect man (or man in myself) the beauty of the overman is present as a shadow, and this, in all of its possibility and potential, replaces God and the gods.  

Aesthetic atheism does not reject religion but finds a successor concept to religion in the idea of man (man and woman, of course) as creator both of great works, of worlds, but also of him/herself.  It finds redemption in this.  

Monday, October 17, 2016

Hume, Taste and a Debate between a Mother and a Daughter about "crop tops."

One of my students talks about a debate with her mom about fashion and taste in regard to crop tops.  My student, T., suggests that her mom is not in a position to judge the styles accepted by her own generation, even on a Humean account, since such judgment requires comparison, and one cannot compare two things so widely different as the styles of these two generations.  I would think that comparison would still be possible but the question remains whether comparative judgment is possible.  Comparison between things in a very narrow category, for example bathing suit fashions for teens of 2016, makes sense when it comes to fashion, but what about comparison between these things and bathing suit fashions of the 20s?  Does comparison do any good here at all?   Hume just has no way of telling us what makes a class a comparison class where practice and comparison will actually work.  Can you fairly judge fashion from generation to generation?  As T. says of her mom "she cannot compare the fashion statements of today to the ones in her days."  Hume, I think, would require that a good judge try to put his mind into the framework of the age under consideration:  in this case, the mom, to be a good judge, must try to put her mind into the point of the of the person designing the "crop top" or the girls who are using it rather than simply criticizing it out of hand because it seems too revealing based on taste preferences that go back to her own teen years. 
Or is this one of those cases where the difference is "innocent" on Hume's view.  He does allow for differences between generations and countries. 

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Freud on Art and Daydreaming taken down by Nietzsche

I have written previously on Freud's "The Relation of the Poet to Day-Dreaming" somewhat positively here, but now I want to think about the relation between his view on art and that of Nietzsche. My basic thesis is that Nietzsche would consider this text to exemplify the Apollonian perspective, and does not sufficiently take into account the Dionysian element in art.  This should seem to be pretty obvious to any reader of both this essay and The Birth of Tragedy, and so I will leave many details out of my account.  A central difference between Nietzsche and Freud is that, whereas Nietzsche sees dreams and day-dreams primarily in terms of clear images, Freud believes that dreams express repressed desires.  So Freud notes a fact that Nietzsche does not note, or refuses to:  the unclear and often confusing nature of dreams, and then gives an explanation of this, i.e. in terms of repressed desires.  However, when it comes to art, Freud can only find one type of art to fit his assumptions.  The type he chooses is notably not ancient Greek tragedy or Wagnerian opera, or any fine art, for that matter, but popular novels.  He chooses "less pretentious writers of romances, novels and stories" read by the largest groups.  In each, the hero is the center of interest, and the writer tries to get our sympathy for the hero.  Note however, that the hero is never seriously in danger in these stories, is never a tragic hero in Nietzsche's (or Aristotle's!) sense.  He always gets his girl, and all of his escapes are hairbreadth. The stories are consoling.  As Freud puts it, the Ego is the hero of all day-dreams and "all novels."  But, I argue, this is certainly not true for all novels, some of which have tragic dimensions equal to that of the greatest tragic plays.  The popular literature Freud describes simply does not deal with the deepest issues of human existence, unlike great novels.  It does not, for instance, address human suffering in any significant way.  Also it does not raise issues of redemption and self-transcendence which are fundamental to Nietzsche's notion of the Dionysian.   The "feeling of security with which I follow the hero through his dangerous adventures" is precisely the same feeling that Nietzsche describes as trust in the principium individuationis, the principle that each thing is what it is and not something else, and the "Principle of Sufficient Reason," which, according to Schopenhauer, is the principle that everything has an adequate rational explanation. For Nietzsche, the ego trusting in these principles in a stormy sea is at risk of facing a violation of such principles, a violation that would terrify him, and that he can only resolve by penetrating the veil of Maya and becoming one with the primordial one.  As the veil of Maya is ripped to shreds, the world is no longer divided into two realms.  

From a Nietzschean perspective, Freud is fairly accurate in his description of the Apollonian art he chooses to portray as the essence of all art.  For example, he says that in the world of the pulp novel "the story is sharply divided into good and bad, with complete disregard of the manifold variety in the traits of real human beings; the 'good' ones are those who help the ego in its character of hero..."  This is certainly true of kitsch art in general, and is certainly not true, as Nietzsche well saw, of tragic art or of any art that is serious. Freud's blatant disregard for tragic art, or even of the art of genius as described by Kant, is evident when he surmises that "even the most extreme variations [of the novel] could be brought into relationship with this model by an uninterrupted series of transitions."  It is ironic that the author of the "Oedipus complex" leaves no room in his most famous article on art for Oedipus himself, or for Hamlet for that matter, even though he also wrote about Hamlet elsewhere.  

For Freud, then, poetry and novels, as well as day-dreaming, are a matter of wish-fulfillment, an nothing more.  His famous formula is:  "some actual experience which made a strong impression on the write had stirred up a memory of an earlier experience, generally belonging to childhood, which then arouses a wish that finds a fulfillment in the work in question..."  

It is only after making this central individual-life-history-related analysis that he raises the issues of the poet who refashions "ready-made material" material which is "derived from the racial treasure-house of myths, legends and fairy-tales."  This is the region from which the ancient Greek tragedies drew much of their material. Freud sees these myths etc. as "creations of racial psychology" and thinks it probable that they are "distorted vestiges of the wish-phantasies of whole nations - the age-long dreams of young humanity." 

But it is more plausible to see these as manifestations of the Dionysian impulse in which, behind the mask of the myth, as Nietzsche argues, there is the god Dionysus himself, or whatever quite similar god or religious figure is found in non-Greek cultures, e.g. Bacchus, Jesus, etc.   Such stories only seem distorted if you think, as Freud did, that the reality behind them is the day-dream of achieving sexual conquest or realizing some ambition....i.e. what he finds behind the popular or pulp (kitsch) literature of his time. Freud however had resources, for example in his analysis of neurosis and in his understanding of the thanatos drive, to provide something closer to a Nietzschean analysis of art properly speaking.  He just did not utilize them in this rather trivial and dishearteningly simplistic essay.   

Monday, October 10, 2016

Kant's Solution to the Antinomy of Taste

There is a problem that we cannot prove that someone else's judgment of taste is wrong, but we can still argue over whether or not something is a great work of art.  What is the point of arguing if there is no proof?  This is what Kant calls the antinomy of taste.  To be more precise, the antinomy consists of a thesis and an antithesis, both of which seem true, and yet they contradict each other.  

"Thesis:  The judgment of taste is not based upon concepts, for otherwise it would admit of controversy (would be determinable by proofs.)

Antithesis:  The judgment of taste is based on concepts, for otherwise, despite its diversity, we could not quarrel about it (we could not claim for our judgment assent of others.)" (Bernard translation)"

The solution to the antinomy is simply that both are true if we consider "concept" to mean something different in each case.  In the first, we are talking about definite concepts and in the second about indefinite concepts.  But how can the antithesis be true (the thesis is not really problematic)?  The relevant indefinite concept is that of what Kant rather obscurely calls "the supersensible substratum of humanity."

There are three hints as to what is meant by this term and how it might apply to resolving the problem.  (1)  Kant says that "the transcendental rational concept of the supersensible, which lies at the basis of all sensible intuition, is [undertermined and undeterminable], and therefore cannot be theoretically determined further."  So we are talking about a "transcendental rational concept" but not one that can be defined.  (2)  We also know that we cannot know anything through this concept and it cannot provide a proof of a judgment of taste.   Rather, it is"the mere pure rational concept of the supersensible which underlies the object (and also the subject judging it), regarded as an object of sense and thus as phenomenal."  I take it that this does not mean that it is a rational concept of the noumenal realm or of the thing-in-itself.  It is transcendental, not transcendent.  So it is like the idea that "everything has a cause" and not exactly like the idea of God or the Soul, i.e. not an idea of reason.  Ironically, however, it is the idea of something that goes beyond sense experience.  But we must keep in mind that this idea happens a priori as a transcendental, not transcendent, aspect of the world of experience.  It lies therefore at the basis of all experience.  (It may be the same as the transcendental unity of apperception as found in the Critique of Pure Reason, and yet it refers in this case to the activity of the genius artist, something that does not happen in the earlier book.) That it underlies "the subject judging it" means that it is the basis for the possibility of judgment, for example that this work of art is great.  The universality of the judgment of taste is, then, not just based on the shared structure of our human experience, i.e. that we all have  "common sense," which is to say the shared faculties of the imagination and understanding that can go into free play.  The universality and necessity of the judgment of taste, and the demand that others agree with us, also requires that there must also be this supersensible substratrum.  (It seems to be neither clearly just a subjective substratum nor clearly an objective one...something in between)  (3)  Also, the concept of the supersensible substratum is "the concept of the general ground of the subjective purposiveness of nature for the judgment" which is to say that this is the basis as what Kant previously referred to as purposiveness without purpose, which we attend to when disinterested.  Even the botanist, when looking to experience of beauty, must regard the flower without thinking about the actual purpose of its parts but only attending to the look of purpose, the look of design.  So, if we have a concept that there is a ground for this subjective purposiveness, this is the concept of the supersensible substratum.  Similarly, the judgment of taste has validity for everyone because the ground lies in the concept of the supersensible substrate of humanity.   (By all rights this should be of any experiencing being whatsoever, and not just of humanity.)  (4)  Another hint is that aesthetical ideas, which Kant had previously explained to us were not determinate, might well be of the same sort, or related to this notion of the supersensible substratum.  Perhaps it is an aesthetic idea or the ground of aesthetic ideas, and perhaps aesthetic ideas refer to it.  (5)  The final hint is that the antinomy forces "us to look beyond the sensible and to seek in the supersensible the point of union for all our a priori faculties, because no other expedient is left to make our reason harmonious with itself..."  Again, the point of union for all our a priori faculties would be the transcendental or perhaps the transcendental unity of apperception, and not the transcendent reality of God or even the rational idea of God. 

Two thoughts about this (1)  It is not clear how the existence of the idea of the supersensible can provide the basis for anything like argument.  At best it can provide a basis for why I might expect, or as is sometimes crudely put, "demand" that others agree with me in my judgment of taste when I am being disinterested when when my judgment is direct to an object insofar as it exhibits a look of purpose.  There is still not answer to the question "what is the point of arguing?"  (2)  The argument seems to hint at an argument from design although with no reference to a person-like God:  so it may be that Deism is the result of this (or the assumption?).  If we assume Deism (or Pantheism), rather than Theism, then there is some supersensible basis for the universal validity of the experience of the beautiful both in nature and in fine art.  It is found in Nature, not in a transcendent realm. We cannot prove that God exists, but at least the requirement of assuming a supersensible ground that unifies the a priori points towards such an existence, but, again, not one that is radically different from the grounds of Nature herself, since the ground of this is transcendental, not transcendent. 

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Does Nietzsche reject Truth in his "On Truth and Lie"? Definitely not.

"On Truth and Lie in an Extra Moral Sense" is a justly famous short work of Nietzsche.   It discusses the nature and value of truth in a way that is radically different from most other discussions of these topics.  The fundamental opposition of the essay is between the rational man and the intuitive man.  But to see it as favoring just one of these is problematic.  Instead, N. gives us clear reason to believe that humanity needs both types.  In a sense the essay seeks to bridge the gap between what C.P. Snow called the two cultures. However, some have seen the essay as mainly a denial of truth itself.  Such writers, for example, Maudemarie Clark in her Nietzsche on Truth and Philosophy (Cambridge, 1990), see a radical break between the truth-denying early Nietzsche and the truth affirming, even Kantian, later Nietzsche.  I will not talk about the later Nietzsche here.  Instead, I will argue against the notion that N. denies truth in this essay, either its reality or its value.  What he does, and admittedly he is sometimes confusing on this point, is to insist that much of what we consider truth is really a form of deception. However, this is not his last word on the topic. Deception, on his view, can actually be quite valuable.  More than that, it is necessary for human life, and essential to what it is to be human.  Man is essentially the deceptive as much as the rational animal, and in fact, is deceptive insofar as he is rational.  The deceptive structure of concepts and categories, deceptive because we take it to be true, to mirror the world of things-in-themselves, which it cannot, is actually immensely useful not only for action and science but also as a framework within which the the artist or creative thinker can function, and without which he or she cannot. The artist functions within that world by way of messing with it, by way of crossing categories and creating metaphors.  What Nietzsche called the columbarium, after the Roman burial building, turns out to be a set of dead things (concepts as dead metphors) that can come alive only with the right, artistic or creative or imaginative, treatment.  

Readers should think of the relationship between the rational man and the intuitive man is much like, although not the same as, the relationship between the Apollonian and the Dionysian in the Birth of Tragedy.  It is similarly a kind of marriage that involves both conflict and reconciliation.  N. speaks of their conflict, for example, when he speaks of ages in which the rational man fears intuition and the intuitive man scorns abstraction.  But there are also implicit reconciliations in the need that the intuitive man has for the very structures set up by the rational man.  You cannot creatively violate structures if they are not already constructed.  The Dionysian represents the inexpressible truth of the real world that underlies all of our experience, and it is expressible only by way of myth of the tragic play.  So too, the intuitive man cannot express what he perceives except in metaphor and image.  Note that even when the intuitive man is dominant, presumably in the classical period of ancient Greece, and has assured "art's mastery over life," it is through a kind of illusion (different from that of the rational man), one based on disregarding the very needs to which the rational man is so attentive, for example "foresight, prudence, and regularity." The point is that there is disguise on both sides, both for the rational man and for the intuitive man, the later disguising needs under or behind "illusion and beauty."  In culture like that of classical Greece, houses, personal style, clothes, and pottery are all invented and beautified with less regard for need than for expression of happiness.  Nietzsche, interestingly, identifies this with the Apollonian world of "Olympian cloudlessness."  So, we are not to strictly identify the Socratic or Alexandrian rational man with the Apollonian:  actually the reverse is true since, here, the Apollonian/Olympian is identified with the man of intuition.  Now, to be sure, the intuitive man is a different type than the rational man, and Nietzsche would certainly rather be an intuitive man than a rational man.  For example, the rational man only seeks to avoid pain whereas the intuitive man reaps "continually inflowing illumination, cheer, and redemption" while at the same time avoiding misfortune.  And when he does suffer he does so more intensely and frequently.  Nietzsche likens him to Thales, the ur-philosopher, who falls into a ditch when looking at the stars.  The intuitive man is just not practical and does not learn from experience.  Nietzsche ends this unfinished essay with a contrast between the intuitive man and the stoical man (presumably a sub-type of the rational man). The later creates his own deception insofar as in misfortune he wears a mask "with dignified symmetrical features."  But if he were to go on he would surely say that the rational man is needed as much as the intuitive man for the further development of culture.

The essay, one might say, is more about intellect than it is about truth.  For example, at the beginning we learn that man is just another animal and that his intellect is a tool much like claws for a bear.  To put human intellect in its place is not to deny truth or to deny that truth exists, however.  For Nietzsche, the intellect deceives us in the first place by the haughtiness and self-satisfaction we get from the knowledge we have (or perhaps the "knowledge" we have).  This seems like such a great thing that man is deceived about the value of his own existence.  His evaluation of knowledge is itself self-flattering.  We think ourselves greater than other species because we have this marvelous thing called knowledge. What the intellect mainly does however (and intellect is not really to be distinguished here from "knowledge"), in its effort to preserve the individual, is to simulate, deceive, flatter, lie, cheat.... etc. So how do we make sense of the notion of the "pure urge to truth"?  That is Nietzsche's main question.  But this question is not, in itself, a denial of truth or a claim that truth does not exist.  
The trouble is with language, the main instrument of our intellect, and more particularly with language in its static, literal, or to be more dramatic, dead state. Nietzsche does not deny that there is a world that we experience or even gain knowledge of.  The problem is with our instrument, or rather with how we usually see it.  We usually see it as paradigmatically literal.  And the problem isn't that literal language is without value.  It has immense value.  The value however is not contained in the notion that it is the main instrument of the search for truth.  Actually, it is metaphorical language that is the main instrument for that search.  Bear in mind that, as creativity researchers have long known, only when creative thinkers break conventional boundaries and use words in non-literal ways do we have advances in knowledge. 

In reading the essay one must always keep in mind the radical distinction between real truth and what we will call "truth." The latter consists of most of the things that are actually held to be true and which constitute, however, a kind of useful illusion.  For example we might think that the explanation for why someone does something honest is because he has the internal quality of honesty, but in fact, "honesty" is just a useful fiction that "explains" without really explaining.  (This kind of fiction can get in the way of being a good teacher, for example when one thinks that a student plagiarizes because he is a dishonest person.  Useful falsehoods are not always useful.)  Truth is available to the intuitive man (or, rather, the intuitive aspects of ourselves and our cultures) whereas "truth" is the only thing available to the rational man.  Nietzsche does not deny truth.  But neither does he deny "truth," since "truth" does have value.  He simply denies that "truth" is equal to truth, i.e. the true truth.  

Clark worries about the common belief that "Nietzsche proves the non-existence of truth, at least of any truths accessible to humans." And yet there is nothing to worry about here since he does not deny such existence and even allows that truth is accessible to the intuitive man (and implicitly to man insofar as it is only by an working together that the rational and intuitive man can arrive at it.)

But part of Clark's concern is whether he denies that "any of our beliefs correspond to reality."  What would Nietzsche say in response to that?  If all of our beliefs are in the form of statements made using words that are essentially dead metaphors then I doubt that he does believe that any of those correspond to reality.   Words that are living may not correspond to reality if one means by that that there is a one to one matching of sentence to fact as in "snow is white" is true if and only if snow is white.  But they could well be said to correspond to reality when they express truth via live metaphor, if by "correspond" is meant that there is a harmonious convergence between the language and that which is expresses.  

Clarke finds an "explicit denial of truth" in the famous paragraph that begins "What, then, is truth?"  Nietzsche follows the question with an answer:  it is a "mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms" so that it is really "a sum of human relations" which have been enhanced and embellished, at first, but then, and this is important, have been used for so long that they "seem firm, canonical, and obligatory."  It is from this point that he comes to the conclusion that "truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are."  Clearly N. is talking here not about truths but about "truths."  The rational man lives with "truths" and with the illusion that they are not dead metaphors.  Ironically the original metaphors from which they came are more true than they are.  Nietzsche speaks of "truths" as "metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power."  This is intended to contrast with the metaphors that have not lost sensuous power,  i.e. the metaphors that give us access to true truth.  Following this, the "urge to truth" is really the urge to "truth," that is, metaphors that are "customary" and hence dead

Relying on "truths" based on dead metaphors is nothing more than lying "according to fixed conventions."  It is an unconscious lie. Clark thinks this is a denial of truth, but it is only a claim about the uses of "truth."  And it isn't even a denial of "truth" since, again, it is not denied that "truths" are immensely useful.  (One could say that Nietzsche holds a pragmatist theory of "truth" but not a pragmatist theory of true truth.)  Clark thinks these are not really lies since to lie you have to consciously tell a falsehood, but of course one can lie by way of being in denial about something one knows deep down.  

Clark believes that N. thinks that all assertions we call truths are actually false:  but this is not true.  It is that all assertions that the rational man calls truths are false.  Only some of the assertions the intuitive man calls truths are false.  So N. is not guilty of claiming that any true assertion is also false and is not guilty of absurdity. The point is so simple, one wonders how carefully Clarke read the text.   Clark's mistake in interpreting and evaluating N.s theory is just another example of what happens when philosophy fails to recognize the centrality of aesthetics to its enterprise.  In fact, her mistake is just exemplification of over-reliance of the rational man, and no real recognition of the intuitive man, or the way in which they two inter-relate, all of which is pretty typical of contemporary professional philosophy.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Love: The Circle Cycle Theory, or Plato's Symposium Take 2

There has always been a close relationship between aesthetics and the theory of love, although one would not notice it by looking at any of the major aesthetics journals.  If aesthetics has a lot to do with love insofar as the object of love is often said to be so because beautiful, then perhaps there can be some fruitful interaction between the two theories.  In fact, the first great Western work on love, Plato's Symposium, is also the first great Western work on beauty.  I have posted on this previously, but will now take a somewhat different angle.  Here I will argue (let's just say it is a working hypothesis) that Plato is essentially right about love and beauty if, and I suppose this is a big if, we make one crucial modification to the theory.  Previously I have argued that one has to interpret the greater mysteries in terms of the lesser mysteries of love, and I am going to stick by that, but now I will argue that there is a fundamental rightness in the greater mysteries if, again, one makes this rather major modification.  I think, and this is purely hypothetical, that the modification can be based on Plato's view about the doctrine of recollection as it is put by Diotima when she describes the lesser mysteries.  This, by the way, will make the new theory of love on offer (1) not dualistic and (2) consistent with a Nietzschean way of seeing things, which will be much to the surprise of followers of the orthodox understanding of Plato.  So here is the theory.  The fundamental problem with the ladder of love is Diotima's (I will use her name from now on, although we have no idea whether the theory is hers, Socrates', Plato's, or something that developed through all three...for now, it doesn't matter) insistence that the lower rungs of the ladder of love need to be cast away once one has reached Beauty itself.  First, that is simply inconsistent, since just before grasping Beauty itself, on the penultimate rung of the ladder, the philosopher is viewing the vast sea of beauty, in a sense seeing beauty in all things.  This achievement cannot be consistent with dumping the beauties and the types of love he or she appreciated prior to ascending the ladder!  So my proposal is to replace the ladder of love with a circle of love, a circle that must be cycled through to gain a full appreciation of love, but in which there is no one privileged position.  (This comes out of my previously developed theory of the circle of appropriate aesthetic appreciation of nature.) The circle will be conceived as something more like a spiral, however (just to complicate things a bit) in that, although there is backward tracking or cycling back, we will not ignore the element of advancement and growth that enters into Diotima's theory.  The cycle theory will be paralleled by a circle of beauty as the object of love.  That is, whatever is said about the nature of love can be transferred over to the nature of beauty itself and vice versa.   Following Diotima (and here I will be using the Jowett translation) the ladder of love is temporal in that one begins in youth with visiting "beautiful forms" loving one such form only, if, interestingly (and I will say more about this later), one is guided correctly by one's instructor.   Beautiful thoughts are then created out of that interchange.  After that comes an awareness of the similarity between beautiful forms, including of course, beautiful bodies.  The intuition is that, once beauty of form in general is observed, the beauty in every form is perceived as "one in the same."  This, as many philosophers have observed, is problematic, since, although I am aware that in saying my beloved is beautiful I am insisting that she shares this predicate with others called beautiful, I am also aware of her unique beauty, and so here beauty is not one in the same.  I will have more to say about the concept of "same" later.  A deeper problem is that the lover will "despise and deem a small thing" the beauty of the original one loved.  The sentence is interesting since Diotima indicates that to make this move (or as a consequence of it) "he will abate his violent love of the one":  it is perhaps the violence of the original love that makes it problematic and worthy of rejection? But let's say that the love of the one other, both in body and soul, is soft and gentle?  If so, then there would be no need to reject it. Alternatively, one might want to give credit to both violent and gentle moments in the cycle of love:  I won't have anything to say about that here. My point is a question to Diotima:  why can't the lover cycle back from love of bodies and forms in general to achieve an enhanced appreciation of his or her original love and, indeed, the unique aspects of his/her beauty as well as the general aspects, or on top of them. 

Diotima continues to the next stage:  the lover moves on to appreciate the beauty of the mind, and to see this as "more honorable than the beauty of the outward form."  A revision here is needed, but not an unreasonable one.  When we love, say a wife or girlfriend, the external beauty is enhanced by recognition of internal beauty, and perhaps internal beauty is also enhanced by external beauty.  There is a cycling between the two.  Surely Diotima/Socrates/Plato could have seen that.  The beauty of the mind is only more honorable insofar as it can be artificially abstracted from the beauty of the body.  If I see a face animated in conversation and the face is seen as beautiful I cannot even separate the animated face from the physical face, and it would be absurd to say that the true face is the one at sleep or in death.  So what sense does it even make to say that the beauty of mind is "more honorable" than that of the body it animates?  Is there even a beautiful mind independent of its manifestations in the body? Diotima correctly situates this question in terms of the relation between lover and beloved in that the lover will take the virtuous soul of a beloved who is not physically beautiful and be "content to love and tend him" insofar as he will bring out thoughts which may improve him.  This very process that leads to the next stage, since these thoughts are already social insofar as they are between lover and beloved.  It is from here that we move on to a larger social stage which is that of thoughts about institutions and laws. Yet the the cycle view is relevant here too, since to speak of my beloved as having a beautiful soul is to speak of that soul in action, the most relevant action being the conversations we (she and I) have about things we value, including movies, art, poetry, literature, politics, family, nature, virtue, disapproval of vice, and of course our love itself.  Love between the lover and the beloved is nourished by their mutual love of other things, i.e. in institutions, laws, and the creative arts.  Moreover, earlier in the dialogue Diotima herself had closely associated the creative arts with the creation of institutions and laws, both as being examples of the higher pregnancy of ideas. 

Jowett's translation does not make clear whether it is the lover or the beloved who comes again to see that the beauty of the institutions and laws belong to "one family" and yet this more general appreciation of beauty can happen to both. The problem is that this is associated with her notion that "personal beauty is a trifle."  It isn't, and cannot be, since personal beauty is enhanced by this process that comes out of the shared life of the lover and beloved or out of the shared life of close friends.  

Then there is the next move up the ladder of love to "the sciences" which, of course, includes all objects of study and skill, including all of the ones that are taught in the university, and not, not only all of what we would call the sciences but also all of the arts (let's not worry about here Plato's negative attitude about the imitative arts). To see their beauty, says Diotima, means that one is not "like a servant" in only focusing on the beauty of one person or institution and serving that one person or institution like a slave.  This is a worthwhile warning and one should take into account that not all movements in the cycle of love are conducive to either autonomy or liberality.  At the same time, a cycle view which calls on the lover to always cycle back to the particular from the general with a recognition that due attention to each enhances each, leads to a fuller and more adequate account of love and also of beauty. Becoming less "narrow-minded," as Diotima encourages us to be, is not inconsistent with continuing recognition of both the physical and mental beauty of the beloved, not inconsistent with that being enhanced by way of the greater knowledge achieved in studying the sciences and a very inclusive and liberal way.  A shared love of the liberal arts is not necessarily inconsistent, and may well help form, a good marriage.

And then the next stage is "contemplating the vast sea of beauty" which is to say, I think, seeing beauty not only in officially recognized objects of beauty but in many many other places as well, in the way a flaneur does when roaming the streets of the city, or in the way John Muir did when roaming the Sierra wilds, and so we find, and here, remember, the relation between the lover and the beloved is still central, that "he [the lover] will create many fair and noble thoughts and notions in the boundless love of wisdom" since wouldn't he also be creating these thoughts and notions also in his or her friends and lovers too?  

The penultimate stage in Diotima's ladder recognizes the revelation of "a single science...of beauty everywhere" which then, Diotima calls on Socrates to understand by paying the closest attention.  So bear in mind that the student of love must follow "due order and succession."  And yet, I argue, this due order and succession should not have to require, contra Diotima, that there is no cycling through that order and no return to love of the individual or the particular thing, or even of such things of everyday life as clothes and food. 

The end of this process is perceiving "a nature of wondrous beauty" which is seen as the ultimate end or purpose of the entire project.  Yes, but the nature of wondrous beauty contains all of the things previously loved and thought to be beautiful.  At this point Diotima (we might as well say Plato here since this is Plato's theory of Forms) describes the realm that is "everlasting, not growing and decaying, or waxing and waning" and also not relative to the individual or the society.  

On one level I do not think there there is a thing of that sort to be seen in the way that we see other things, but one can speak of an aspect of something experienced as beautiful as being as if eternal and unchanging, as if non-relative.  Diotima herself used this idea when talking in the lesser mysteries about the immortality available to humans where what appears to be the same is really new and where succession preserves mortal things "not absolutely the same, but by sustitution" which she thinks "partakes of immortality." 

The cycle view can have a place for this as a "moment":  an idealist moment, one that can enhance the entire experience by informing it with something ideal insofar as it partakes of immortality in this way.  On this view "beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting" is not just by itself because, after all, it is"imparted to the very-growing and perishing beautiful of all other things" and thus is related to all other things in this way, and depends on that relation for its very being. 

Diotima thinks that perceiving this beauty is "not far from the end" which is interesting since one would think that this is the end, but we will see that she herself will express something similar to the cycle view by the end of her speech (which is also the end of the speech of Socrates in the dialogue).  She then reviews the ladder of love and the proper sequence where the ascent is all "under the influence of true love."  Well yes, but is it just an ascent?  Plato himself, in the Republic, speaks of the philosopher entering back into the cave. Heraclitus has said that the path up and the path down are the same, a similar point.  The modification I propose is to be carried out here.  Diotima speaks of the true order as beginning "from the beauties of earth and" mounting upwards "for the sake of that other beauty."  But isn't the mounting to that other beauty also equally for the sake of the beauties of the earth? i.e. for their enhancement as well?  The sequence she describes here is from forms to practices to notions to absolute beauty, but I have argued that it is also one in which forms are only what they are because of their relation to practices and practices are only what they are because of their dynamic relations with forms, and both are only what they are because of their relations to notions, and notions are only what they are because they are premised by a search for the ideal, which then in turn informs the entire cycle, and is itself given life by its relation to particular forms.  

So Diotima says that the life, above all others, that man should live is one of "contemplation of beauty absolute" which I think is true IF such contemplation is understood as mindful (in the Buddhist sense, possibly) attention to each of the stages and moments of the cycle of beauty insofar as each stage implicates all of the others: beauty absolute just is the possibility of this achievement, it is an ideal that cycling through the circle of love strives to achieve, an not an actual describable thing.  

Thus Diotima in the end gets it all wrong when she thinks appreciation of beauty absolute is "not to be after the measure of gold, and garments, and fair boys and youths, whose presence now entrances you [the young Socrates]":  rather it is being after these things in the course of life's going on through stages as richer and deeper in meaning on each swing through the cycle.  The great poets have always seen this, and yet Diotima somehow misses it (Nietzsche was somewhat right about Socrates' incapacity to grasp the Dionysian here).  It isn't just a choice, as Diotima holds, between seeing and conversing with boys with which one is so obsessed as not to eat or drink and the alternative of just contemplating an absolute beauty unrelated to that experience or anything else.  If beauty absolute is really unrelated to that then why does Diotima demand that lovers begin at the initial stage of infatuation?  There is an inconsistency where the lack of relation depends on a deep relation, where our understanding of enchantment with beauty itself and absolute depends on our experience of, although ultimately followed by rejection of, sexual enchantment.  So all this talk of being clogged with "the pollutions of mortality" is a mistake, as Nietzsche and Dewey would have observed.  

Ironically, Diotima herself recognizes a kind of cycle at play here since she concludes that in beholding true beauty "with the eye of the mind" one will be able to "bring forth, not images of beauty, but realities" which means bringing forth and nurturing true virtue and which also means becoming immortal "if mortal man may" a reference which takes us back to her theory of human immortality based on similarity and substitution, not on the sameness only available to the gods: again, the lesser mysteries, especially the passage on recollection, is key to the greater mysteries.  Indeed, let me suggest that the lesser mystery just is the truth of the cycle theory:  recollection is rebirth through substitution, a cycle of rebirth where we constantly recreate ourselves and thus achieve whatever immortality is available to man.