Nietzsche – understandable?

March 17, 2007 at 11:28 am (general philosophy)

Nietzsche was surely one of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the 19th century, and his name hardly ever fails to arouse intense debate. Unfortunately, due to the unsystematic nature of his thought and the controversy aroused by his ideas, a prejudice has become attached to his name that puts many people off this most entertaining and stimulating of writers.

My aim here is to stir a serious discussion on Nietzsche with the aim of countering some of that prejudice, because I think that Nietzsche should be read for his insights. Nietzsche is sure to shock and annoy his readers, but he definitely won’t bore them. He startles more often with the lucidity of his perceptions than he does with his effrontery.

Take, for example, these simple truths expressed brilliantly by Nietzsche in Human, All Too Human (HH):

One may promise actions but no sentiments.

Convictions are more dangerous enemies of truth than lies.

Or this statement, also from HH, which is just funny: We are so fond of being out among Nature, for it has no opinions about us.

Then there are statements that are thought-provoking because they’re striking and because we struggle to decide whether they’re true or not:

If she is to become beautiful a woman must not want to be considered pretty.

Profundity of thought belongs to youth, clarity of thought to old age.

The undissolved dissonances in the relation of the character and sentiments of the parents survive in the nature of the child and make up the history of its inner sufferings.

One person sticks to an opinion because he takes pride it having acquired it himself – another sticks to it because he has learnt it with difficulty and is proud of having understood it; both of them, therefore, out of vanity.


Now, to deal with three common prejudices: Nazism, God is dead, and being difficult to read…


Nietzsche loved Wagner’s Tristran und Isolde; Wagner loved Nietzsche’s ideas on the need for a new morality. They became friends.

Hitler also liked Wagner.

That is the extent of the link between Nietzsche and Nazism, except for the commonality of their talk about the Ubermensch. However, on closer examination they used this term in ways so different that they can hardly be equated.

To quote Tom Griffith:

According to Nietzsche, Christian morality is slave morality, a morality created by weak and resentful individuals who encouraged gentleness, kindness, humility, forgiveness because such behaviour gave them some protection against the bold and the strong. Slave morality is essentially a willingness (born of fear) to give up on life in its entirety. By contrast, Nietzsche’s superman (ubermensch) is secure and independent. He feels deeply, but his passions are rationally controlled. Concentrating on this world, not on the rewards of the next, the superman accepts and welcomes life, including the suffering and pain that accompany human existence. His superman creates his own values, a ‘master morality’ that reflects the strength and independence of one who is liberated from all values except those he himself deems valid. The essential thing is the will to power. In its positive sense, this will to power is not simply power over others, but power over oneself, as manifested in the superman’s independence, creativity, and originality.

It is easy to see how talk of master morality and slave morality can be conflated with Hitler’s ideas about the master race and slave races. So it is important to emphasise that this is not the kind of thing Nietzsche is talking about. According to Nietzsche, the superman has not yet appeared, but he mentions individuals who might serve as models: Socrates, Jesus, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Goethe, Julius Caesar, Napoleon. Two teachers, two painters, two writers, two soldier-statesmen. This is hardly the stuff of racist supremacy or totalitarian dictatorship.

God is dead

The most famous assertion that God is dead is not made by Nietzsche himself but by his character, Zarathustra, the ‘madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours.’ Nevertheless, Nietzsche comes very close to saying the same thing:

For all occasions where the Christian awaits the immediate intervention of a God, though in vain (for there is no god), his religion is inventive enough to find subterfuges and reasons for tranquillity. – Miscellaneous Maxims and Opinions

Nietzsche recognised that a pictorial representation of God which was convincing to many people 2000 years ago is unlikely to be convincing to them today, just as the Olympian gods of the ancient Greeks are unlikely to be convincing to many people today. However, he was also aware that even pictorially obsolete gods may represent something real in the world – Dionysus and Apollo just as much as the Judeo-Christian God.

Nietzsche saw an opposition between the two philosophical traditions of the ancient Greeks: “the life-affirming, yes-saying irrationalism of Dionysus and the life-denying, no-saying rationalism of Apollo” (Tom Griffith). In the nineteenth century, which saw the Greek world in its cool rationality, the Apolline element predominated to the detriment of the Dionysian element. In Nietzsche’s view, the tragedy was that Apolline ideology prevailed, moving via Plato to inform “the gloomy self-denials of Christianity.” (TG again).

Nietzsche favoured a ‘new’ morality, which was actually a very old but sidelined morality, as Nietzsche refers to Homer:

Whoever has the power of returning good for good, evil for evil, and really practices requital, and who is, therefore, grateful and revengeful, is called good; whoever is powerless, and unable to requite, is reckoned as bad … the enemy is not looked upon as evil, he can requite. In Homer the Trojan and the Greek are both good. (HH)

In Homer we find only heroes and no villains. In Wagner we find both heroes and villains. And in Christianity we are all villains.

The idea that we define ourselves more by our enemies than by our friends comes up again in Zarathustra:

By our best enemies we do not want to be spared, now by those either whom we love from the very heart. So let me tell you the truth!
My brethren in war! I love you from the very heart. I am, and was ever, your counterpart. And I am also your best enemy. So let me tell you the truth!…
…I spare you not, I love you from my very heart, my brethren in war!

Is Nietzsche difficult to read?

Of course this is a matter of personal opinion, but so is the question of whether chess is a good game. I don’t think that Nietzsche is at all hard to read.

To quote Tom Griffith (sorry to do this so much, but he really puts it much better than I ever could, and he’s much more knowledgeable, of course):

It is difficult to give a systematic account of Nietzsche’s thought, but that is because he is not a systematic thinker. It does not mean the things he says are difficult to understand. And his lack of system can be something of an advantage. It matters much less if you allow your attention to wander while you are reading. You may miss a few things, but you won’t miss a vital step in the argument. What is more, Nietzsche offers so many striking insights that if you miss one on this page, there is certain to be another, equally striking, on the next. This makes him, if anything, the easiest of all philosophers to read.

Many people read Zarathustra and conclude that Nietzsche is unreadable. This is a pity, because Z is Nietzsche’s most unreadable book, and also the least typical of his writing.


Nietzsche is probably my favourite Western philosopher, and not because I take to heart everything he espouses. I just wanted to go some way toward clarifying what is often unclear in people’s opinions of Nietzsche, so if anyone would like to discuss some controversial statements or themes of his, maybe this is the place…


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The Chinese Room and missing semantics

March 10, 2007 at 10:38 am (general philosophy)

In his series of Audio Lectures on the Philosophy of the Mind, John Searle states that his Chinese Room Argument* proves that the mind has semantics. This strikes me as false:

Think of a word, any word, and you will sense that you know its meaning. Try to identify that meaning and you will only find yourself in more words ? or perhaps images. It appears, then, the nature of the mind is syntactical. Every concept finds its synonyms and relations, and defines itself through placement. If so, can we have semantics?

*The Chinese Room Argument is typically used to disprove the functionality of the Turing Test in Strong Artificial Intelligence Theory. The Turing Test stipulates that if a machine can answer questions in such a way as to be indistinguishable to an expert from a human, that machine can be said to be conscious. The Chinese Room presents us with the following scenario: Suppose we place a person in a room with a group of boxes with Chinese symbols inside them. The person in question has never learned Chinese. Every so often, an envelope slides into the room through a slot in the door with more Chinese symbols inside. However, our test dummy has a set of English instructions that dictate to him for each symbol he gets to go to a box and withdraw a corresponding symbol. These he slides back out through the slot in the door where the experts await their arrival. If the English instructions are good enough, the experts can be fooled into thinking that the man inside the room factually understands Chinese; whereas, it is blatantly not the case ? proving, supposedly, that there?s more to understanding than symbol manipulation.

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How a pheomenalist view of experience denies solipsism

March 10, 2007 at 10:36 am (general philosophy)

In a phenomenal view of experience, what happens when I perceive a book is that I have a set of experiences in the n-dimensional continuum of experiences (where n is the number of types of experience; I suggest 1 for each sense and 1 for each type of emotion) which it is suitable to label as ?that book?. The reason the book appears to maintain its identity over time, even when its qualities change, giving me a different set of experiences, is that there is more than one set of experiences which it is suitable to label ?that book?.

So far, so good. But this starts to get very confusing when we consider the self. If an object?s identity is its potential for experiences of it to be labelled in a particular way, how do we develop self-identity? In other words, what is the set of experiences that it is suitable to label ?I??

The problem, you see, is that we do not experience experiences. We conceptualise experiences, for sure, and one set of experiences can cause another set of experiences (I see a snake, I get scared), but it seems very clear to me that we do not experience experiences. Perhaps what we label ?I? is the whole set of experiences, but this would provide no way of separating ?I? from what we see as being outside ?I?, and we do see ourselves as being something distinct.

It is my contention, then, that the only way we can form an ?I? is for us to truly believe that there are other entities who experience that ?I?. That is the only way in which there could be a set of experiences suitable to label ?I??that the set of experiences exists in others? minds. The existence of a concept of ?I?, then, precludes the solipsist?s conclusion that I am the only experiencing entity.

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Evidence of mind

March 10, 2007 at 10:21 am (general philosophy)

What is the mind?

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An Argument against the logical possibility of zombies

March 10, 2007 at 10:15 am (general philosophy)

If zombies are logically possible, then surely it must be logically possible that one day I am a zombie, then the next day I have qualia, then the next I am a zombie etc.

This logically follows from the premises; that the physical world is causally closed, that qualia are not identical (or reducible) to physical states, so therefore they can be absent or present, but the physical processes will go on as normal.

If I can have alternating qualia from day to day then I can have them alternating from minute to minute, or second to second.

But I could not have qualia alternating from second to second, and still have the same behavior. I would notice the “lights flashing,” and say something about it.

Therefore zombies are not logically possible.

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A compelling refutation of the pernicious doctrine of materialism

March 10, 2007 at 10:10 am (general philosophy)

1. The mind is either the brain or is not the brain.
2. If the mind is the brain, then the mind doesn?t exist.
3. But the mind exists, since I need a mind to write this text.
4. The mind is not the brain. Q.E.D.

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Bohr’s complementarity

March 10, 2007 at 10:07 am (general philosophy)

A term coined by Danish physicist Neils Bohr applying to the two mutually exclusive ways of describing light (as a wave and (not “or”) as a particle). Consciousness, as well, seems to be describable under two mutually exclusive accounts: either through a 3rd person account (e.g. pain is a property caused by tissue damage and in turn causes words such as “ouch”) or a 1st person account (pain feels like this: [insert sensation]).

Some philosophers have abandoned attempts to reduce 3rd person accounts to 1st person or 1st person accounts to 3rd person. Instead, they invoke Bohr’s complementarity thesis as a metaphor to explain these mutually exclusive descriptions. Neither 1st or 3rd person accounts has an explanatory monopoly over the other, they argue. Both are true of consciousness.

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To my fans II

March 7, 2007 at 8:50 pm (bizzare, ethics, feminism, general philosophy, Interzis minorilor, literature, philosophy of the arts, politics/law/economy, Rasfrangeri, Raspunsuri, sex, Uncategorized)

I’m not gonna say this twice. This is a blog ment to allow you to express yourself. My posts are not relevant in what concerns MY personality, MY lifestyle, and MY beliefs. Do not, under any circumstance, equalise my posts with ME. And stop sending e-mail on my adress, unless you have something to say. Something relevant, I may add.

Thank you for your cooperation. Tschus!

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The myth of talent

March 6, 2007 at 4:22 pm (general philosophy)

I have always been fascinated by peoples understanding of the concept of talent. I have heard many times in the artistic world that you either have ‘it’ or you do not. I am curious as to what peolpe think ‘it’ is, and can ‘it’ be learned, or must you be born with ‘it’. I am of the belief that, barring physical impediment, anyone can learn to achieve at a high level of proficiency at any art (or just about any task, for that matter). There may be a small genetic variable in the elite of any field (a long legged person is genetically predisposed against being a good sprinter), but this accounts for a very limited number of people. I pose this question, because I have worked hard to achieve what level of ability I have in my field (writing), and I find that comments about talent devalue the work that I have done, and imply that God (or something) gave me these abilities, and I deserve no credit for them.So, what do you think talent is, and where do you think it comes from? Is it real, or just a myth?

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To my fans

March 5, 2007 at 8:01 pm (bizzare, ethics, feminism, general philosophy, Interzis minorilor, literature, philosophy of the arts, politics/law/economy, Rasfrangeri, Raspunsuri, sex, Uncategorized)

As you can see, i am a very, very, very understanding and patient laddie. I am not banning your comments although what you are posting is neither interesting, nor well written, not even original. however, if you will continue to write in this manner, i will delete every comment that doesn’t rise to my expectations. After all, this is not a “my sexual fantasy” forum.
Thank you, Sonia Rott.

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