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Alright, I actually found last night’s activity to be quite fruitful…in some sense. While these blogs obviously have nothing directly to do with the Electronic Communications class I am in, it is definitely enhancing my understanding of the material and helping to obselesce “studying alone.” Let’s continue with Kierkegaard’s existential counterpart: Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche was an outsider in the latter half of his (relatively short) life. Whether this has a correlation or a causation to some of his thought is ambiguous, and debatably relevant. Nietzsche agreed with Kierkegaard in quite a few respects, but importantly with his dissatisfaction with rationalism. He claims that we cannot ground morality in rationality. There is an inescapable disconnect between thought and reality–and, like Kierkegaard, he thought that any positing of value via the will is a passionate and irrational one. Nietzsche arguably turned this idea into a metaphysical principle (see Heidegger). Either way, he believed that the ultimate drive of mankind was a will to power.

Instead of a more utilitarian will to life, or will to preserve oneself, mankind has a will to overcome, a will to posit value–possibly at the cost of his life. Following his edict that “God is Dead” (which ought to be interpreted more subtly, that our current metaphysical schema with ultimate Truths no longer functions/is no longer palatable), Nietzsche stresses the need for each individual to take up the absurdity of life, affirm it, and laugh at it. Those who can posit their own will, and do not exert their will in perverse ways or by mere obedience (i.e. the “Herd”) are considered Masters or Ubermenschs. These are the value-positers who do not de-live life through an indifferent logical systematization, but rather they passionately–like a dancer whose movement is always in a state of becoming–posits his valuation. Indeed, one might say the ultimate value is put, not on God or politics or philosophy, but on valuation itself–a sort of aesthetic dominance. Importantly, the ubermensch genuinely orients himself to the “will that wills itself,” and the ultimate affirmation of life–in the face of existential contingency–is affirming the infinite repetition of behavior (i.e. the Eternal Return).

Consequently, morality takes a central role in Nietzsche’s philosophy. Going against Darwin (and James, as we will see), he claims that an “error,” a lie, or a falsehood can preserve and enhance the species. This emphasizes the irreducibility of lived experience which cannot be scientifically quantified, but instead involves a kind of synthesis of the irrational intuition (i.e. Dionysian) and the rational order (i.e. Apollonian). So, an ubermensch, as the transevaluator of his own values, might transgress the status quo, which the Herd considers “good,” and commit an “evil” act, but it is in fact of the highest existential good. Importantly, it is not necessarily a violent act, but is often an empowering and self-sacrificing act for the “species being of man.”

Conversely, the “Last Man” is the over-analytical and utilitarian man who has figured out how to be happy and “blinks.” Lastly (and I’m leaving much, all-too-much out), Nietzsche cites a danger in the current metaphysical schema that considers “everything equal” such as “substance.” No, Nietzsche says, not everything is equal–no two things, by virtue of their unique identity are equal, and to treat us all democratically and equally is to “level down” society at the cost of the Ubermenschs.

Alright, take my immature interpretation for what it is–I’m really going for speed-writing here haha. Let’s consider the quintessentially American philosopher and psychologist William James. Charles Peirce and he are credited with formulating “pragmatism.” In the book (a collection of lectures) that we read in class, one could argue that he rhetorically appeals to his audience–as if they are world-weary and exhausted from metaphysical and philosophic debates, seeking easy comfort. That is what pragmatism can offer. It can be best considered as an empirical and utilitarian approach to epistemology, and particularly anti-intellectual (in the sense that there are only practical truths, not purely intellectual ones).

James–poorly, in my estimate–considers the two camps: the “tender-hearted, optimistic, dogmatic, idealistic Rationalists” and the “tough-minded, pluralistic, pessimistic, realistic Empiricists.” With this straw man set up, James quickly appeals to his manufactured desire for a reconciliation. Pragmatism seeks a “cash value” for truths. That is, they only are true if they link us to other meaningful ideas of experience. To test a truth–to VERIFY a truth–is to consider the two alternatives of the question, test them in practical experience, and whichever gives us the most utility, whichever one WORKS, is true. Truth becomes a linking of facts in a meaningful and economical way. Now we can be relieved of the seemingly unanswerable metaphysical questions–as far as creation goes, God and materialism take on the same meaning–they both practically result in the same function of creation.

James, unlike Nietzsche, seems to think that we cannot outgrow the “shadow of God,” but instead sees a therapeutic value in religion–giving us a much-need “moral holiday.” Again, James seems to appeal to the “Last Man,” i.e. those who seek comfort from tough and contingent metaphysical questions. Indeed, James sees it as an appealing characteristic that pragmatism can encompass two diametrically opposed ideas–so long as it “works” practically in experience. Like a kind of “adequatio,” truth becomes whatever can function instrumentally to carry us from one idea to another. It does not matter if I am missing all the data–if I think X is a clock, and it is allowing me to adequately tell time, then it is truthfully a clock. Philosophy becomes a kind of “techne,” or as a means of manipulating things to our advantage, to our action.

Like evolution, James sees it as a process whereby “new truths are grafted onto old ones.” Obviously, there is little existential or metaphysical thinking, and certainly no Nietzschean notion that a “falsehood” could preserve the species–it simply doesn’t comply with James’ malleable “truths.”

Okay, that’s a good review for me. I’ll be finishing up my chapter essay for this class relatively soon–definitely by Friday. Thanks for reading!

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