Facticity, Existentiality, Fallenness – Heidegger

The things we care about is a central focus in Heidegger’s philosophy. There are three fundamental terms for the care structure of Dasein: facticity, existentiality and fallenness.

1. Facticity

Thrownness

Facticity is a part of what he calls “Geworfenheit” or “thrownness”. We are all thrown or projected into the world, arbitrarily born into a given family, within a given culture and at a given moment in human history, these “givens” are facticities.

The task we decide to be constantly engaged in and care about have very little to do with us, they are sort of decided for us by the particular facticity that we were born into.

We are thrown with neither prior knowledge nor individual opinion into a world that was there before and will remain there after we are gone.

2. Existentiality

Existentiality

The second term is existentiality, the possibilities that we have at our disposal. The reality of  being a Dasein is to be a being that has possibilities, and that is what distinguishes us from every other being, that is why we are part of Dasein.

To describe existentiality we must distinguish between two key terms: Existentiell and existential. These sound almost identical but are written differently and mean very different things for Heidegger.

The first one, “existentiell” refers to the aspects of the world which are identifiable as particular delimited questions or issues, whereas “existential” refers to Being as such, which permeates all things and cannot be delimited in such a way as to be susceptible to factual knowledge. In general it can be said that “existentiell” refers to a “what”, a materially describable reality, whereas “existential” refers to structures inherent in any possible world.

In other words, the term “existentiell” refers to an ontic determination (physical, real, or factual existence), whereas “existential” refers to an ontological determination (dealing with the nature of being).

These two are related as an ontic determination is inherently ontological.

3. Fallenness

The final term that Heidegger uses is “fallenness”. It refers to the inauthentic existence of Dasein. As human beings, we fall into certain tasks by default. Because of social expectations and people telling us how we should be behaving, making us fall into a herd mentality. We have all fallen into tasks as it is part of our nature.

Das Man

Heidegger calls the behaviour of mindlessly following other people the Das Man, translated as “they-self” or “the-they”, which is the opposite of the authenticity of Dasein and Being-in-the-world.

It is a mode of existence of Being-with-one-another. We surrender our existence to a formless entity. Instead of truly choosing to do something that we want, we do it because “that is what one does” or “that is what they do”.

We become mere numbers in the crowd, and live inauthentic lives. Heidegger contrasts this inauthentic Das Man with the authentic Dasein, or “owned self”.


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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger

This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.

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Ready-to-hand and present-at-hand – Heidegger

Two of Heidegger’s most basic neologisms, present-at-hand and ready-to-hand, are used to describe various attitudes toward things in the world. We are constantly surrounded by “equipment” as stuff we can work with in a “context of significance”.

For Heidegger, most of the time we are involved in the world in an ordinary way or “ready-to-hand.” We are usually doing things with a view to achieving something. The being of the ready-to-hand announces itself as a field of equipment to be put to use.

Heidegger gives the example of a hammer. When we look at a hammer, our initial reaction is not to deconstruct it and break it down into what it is made of. We simply look at it as equipment to carry out tasks.

Ready-to-hand equipment

Let’s say an expert carpenter is hammering nails, after some time he’ll eventually start to forget about the existence of the hammer and can talk to his fellow carpenters or have his thoughts wander elsewhere, without necessarily being a subject contemplating the hammer (an object). The activity becomes a blur and reveals his surroundings. And by revealing one thing, one necessarily conceals and devalues another.

This is Heidegger’s crucial discovery, when look at our ready-to-hand relation to things, we just don’t find subjects contemplating objects.

However, what if the head flies off the hammer? It would immediately lose its usefulness and appear as merely “there”. Heidegger calls this being of an object “present-at-hand”. It happens when we regard an object in isolation and study it with an attitude like that of a scientist, of merely looking at the object’s bare facts as they are present.

This is not usually the way we see things in the world as. When a hammer breaks, it loses its usefulness and becomes present-at-hand. However, it also soon loses this mode of being present-at-hand and becomes something that must be replaced or repaired. In this case its Being may be seen as unreadiness-to-hand.

The ready-to-hand and present-at-hand levels represent the fundamental structure of Dasein’s being-in-the-world, with the more fundamental of the two, readiness-to-hand, being organised and arranged through Dasein’s care.

Heidegger wants us to discover the blurry areas of existence without the layers of perception that hinders experiencing the world fully.


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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger

This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.

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Dasein and Being-in-the-world – Heidegger

The fundamental concept of Being and Time (Heidegger’s magnum opus) is the idea of Da-sein or “being-there”, which simply means existence, it is the experience of the human being.

The world is full of beings, but human beings are the only ones who care about what it means to be themselves.

“A human being is the entity which in its Being has this very Being as an issue.”

Dasein and human beings are interrelated, without one another, there is no being and no meaning. Existence only exists within our being, and the reality without our being is irrelevant.

If a volcano were to erupt without us being there, would it actually have happened? Heidegger would tell us that it would simply be irrelevant.

“We are ourselves the entities to be analysed.”

Dasein is what is common to all of us, and it is what makes us entities.

Dasein is then not a disembodied, transcendent being, but rather the experience of being that is peculiar to human beings, an inherently social being that already operates with a pre-theoretical grasp of the a priori structures that make possible particular modes of Being.

Heidegger stresses it to be pre-theoretical because a theoretical structure would prevent us from seeing things as they are in themselves. This perspective can then allow things to show as they are in themselves and not through some kind of lens.

Being-in-the-world

Being-in-the-world

He associates Dasein as “Being-in-the-world”, they are often used hand-in-hand. Being-in-the-world is an existential concept that emphasises human existence as a state of living with a highly meaningful orientation. Each individual has a unique destiny to fulfil in this world.

This is an essential characteristic of Dasein. It is defined as an a-priori structure being “grounded” in the state of Being.

Being-in-the-world is Heidegger’s replacement for terms such as object, subject, consciousness, and world.

As mentioned before, Dasein is not a Being that can be observed, how can we then understand it? Heidegger would tell us to study beings, and especially what it is like to be a human being.

We need to look at what is unique about our situation as human beings. But what makes Dasein different from all other beings: rocks, plants, and animals?

To answer this, we must look into the various features of Dasein. These features always remain the same regardless of what time period it is in the world: whether its 1000 B.C. or the 21st century.

Feature 1. Being as an issue

The first feature of Dasein is that it is a “being as an issue for it”. It takes its own being as an issue; for it is ontological being. In other words, it asks questions about its own existence, it is always confronted with the question “what shall I be today, tomorrow or next year?”.

And these questions are to be answered by oneself, he calls it “mineness”. We have no other way of experiencing ourselves or the world as being in any other mode than our own existence.

Feature 2. Care

The second feature is “care or concern”. We not only find ourselves in the world, but we care about it as Being-in-the-world. Heidegger uses the word “care” as a technical term which has to do with our engagement with the world for various purposes.

Things are meaningful by themselves; meaning is not an add-on to existence, but rather the definition of existence. In other words, we are embedded in meaning, and there is no exit from making sense of one’s life.

To be a Dasein is to always be doing something and pointing towards something, to be a being that is constantly engaged in doing tasks that we care about. Therefore, the essence of Dasein is its existence. We are instantly turned into the structures of everydayness and being-in the-world.

What is important is that Dasein is its possibilities, it needs some context within which to work these out. In our case, as the beings that are being analysed, that context is the kind of world we find ourselves in.

Heidegger concludes that “care” is the primordial state of Being as Dasein strives towards authenticity.


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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger

This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.

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Introduction to Martin Heidegger

Martin Heidegger is known as one of the most influential philosophers of the 20th century. Born in Germany in 1889, he is best known for his work in existentialism and phenomenology. Heidegger was influenced at an early age by the Greeks. Aristotle’s Metaphysics which talks about what it is that unites all possible modes of Being, is in many ways, the question that ignites and drives Heidegger’s philosophy.

The most fundamental philosophical question is: “Why does anything exist at all?” Or as Heidegger puts it, “what does it mean to be?”

He was fascinated by the Greeks and spend considerable time reflecting on ancient Greek thought. Heidegger’s thought is a sort of authentic retrieval of the past. He revived the question of Being, which had been largely forgotten by the metaphysical tradition existing from Plato to Descartes. This is why he is also considered as a hermeneut, as he played around with language whilst reinterpreting various philosophical texts.

Plato and Aristotle

William Dilthey who stressed the role of interpretation and history in the study of human activity profoundly influenced Heidegger.

Heidegger also studied the giants of existentialism Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and most importantly had been a student of Edmund Husserl, the founder of phenomenology.

Edmund Husserl

Phenomenology is the philosophical study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. In other words, phenomenologists try to understand the phenomena that surrounds our lives, knowing that we live in a self-defined perceptual world.

Husserlian phenomenology proposes intentionality, which is the characteristic of consciousness whereby it is conscious of something. In other words, it’s directedness toward an object. Seeing man’s situation as that of a subject confronted by objects.

Heidegger began his existentialist philosophy with a profound rejection of this Cartesian dualism regarding object and subject and the distinction between mind and body, which can be traced back to rationalist thinker Descartes, who arrives at one single first principle of human existence: I think. Thought cannot be separated from me; therefore, I exist.

René Descartes

This makes up his famous philosophical statement: “I think, therefore I am”, separating subject from object, mind from body.

However, this self-conscious reflection does not exhaust our being. Heidegger says that before you think, you have to be.

In fact, most of the time we’re just busy getting “stuff” done. It’s this feature of us that Heidegger pays special attention to, the “everydayness” of human existence.

Prior to being a rational animal or a brain, we are firstly just Being. Heidegger tries to capture this Being before it is humanly defined.

Being and Time

Heidegger’s masterpiece Being and Time

His early work as a phenomenologist and university professor culminated in his masterpiece and one of the most significant works of contemporary European philosophy: Sein und Zeit (Being and Time).

It is a long and complex book. Many readers initially encounter its strange and peculiar vocabulary. However, he does use it rigorously and economically, so one gets used to his language. Heidegger’s intention is to reveal the hidden meanings of ordinary talk.

The depth of this work intended a profound change of direction for philosophy. Such was the depth of change that Heidegger found it necessary to introduce a large number of neologisms, often connected to idiomatic words and phrases in the German language.

In subsequent posts, we will be exploring the main ideas of his fascinating philosophy:

  1. Dasein
  2. Being-in-the-world
  3. Ready-to-hand and present-at-hand
  4. Care structure (facticity and “thrownness”, existentiality and fallenness)
  5. Das Man
  6. Authenticity and inauthenticity
  7. Being-toward-death
  8. Temporality
  9. The Turn and the Fourfold
  10. Technology and God

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Greatest Philosophers in History | Martin Heidegger

This video explores Heidegger’s key terms as an introduction to his philosophy. Most importantly: Being-in-the-world, ready to hand and present-at hand, facticity, thrownness, existentiality, fallenness, Das Man, temporality, being-toward-death and the fourfold.

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Finding Meaning in the Pursuit of Meaning

After studying philosophy and psychology by myself for a little less than a year. I’d like to share with you my views on life.

If I were to gave myself labels for my ever-changing and evolving philosophy of life, at this moment I’d consider myself as a mix of the following philosophies:

1. Absurdism

Finding meaning in the pursuit of meaning. Laughing at the comedy of existence, because behind it all, there is nothing. Recognising that the universe is at large indifferent. This is not a cause of conflict as I do not expect to seek meaning from the universe, neither do I believe in a God that can help me find meaning in it, there is no ultimate truth.

The contrary would be philosophical suicide, that is, shutting down one’s mental faculties believing in something that isn’t true but is easy and convenient for us to believe in. This would project us into a supernatural realm, undermining the value and grandeur of this life. We must strive to love this life as much as possible, as it is the only shot we get.

2. Nietschean

Creating value out of the abyss of life, through sheer will to power, which is the inherent condition of all life. Striving to the figure of the Ubermensch while knowing it never to be an end-goal. There is no end, other than Death. Death is something to be embraced, not something that causes anxiety and paralyses us. To recognise what to value in life in the context of the reality of death and of the suffering inherent to life, ultimately to love our fate (amor fati).

3. Stoicism

The stoics are often misunderstood. It is not meant to mean facing pain or hardship without the display of feeling and without complaint. That would be prejudicial as eliminating one’s emotions is bound to end in chaos. It is rather the domestication of your emotions, not the elimination of them.

It is not cold-hearted or lacks empathy but rather deals with life as it is, without illusions. Focusing on everything we can control and not the things we cannot control. Achieving excellence through the virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and temperance (self-control). Not becoming a slave to your vices.

4. Jungian psychology

The psyche is composed of the conscious and the unconscious. We must accept that we have no control over the unconscious and strive to reach individuation or self-realisation, knowing it to be a life-long process.

Avoiding as much as possible having a persona (a mask that conceals our true self), and integrating our shadow (the unknown dark side of the personality). Having a solid foundation in our psyche can help us become much more aware of who we truly are, and that there are elements in our psyche beyond our control.

5. Nihilist Realism

Nihilist realist in the sense that things are meaningful in themselves, it is not an add-on to existence but a phenomena of our mind, it does not exist without our Being as we are embedded in meaning, and there is no exit from making sense of one’s life. Therefore, there cannot be a lack of meaning as we are “condemned” to the pursuit of meaning which is inherent to life.

Thanks for reading. I would love to hear your comments on your particular views of life.


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Kierkegaard and Nietzsche – Giants of Existentialism

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche provided the basic foundations of 19th century Existentialism. It is a philosophy that emphasises the existence of the individual as a free and responsible agent determining their own development.

We all suffer and enjoy the same condition, the human condition, and have done so since time immemorial.

Kierkegaard is commonly regarded as the Father of Existentialism. Nietzsche and Kierkegaard had very strong religious upbringings and both of them studied theology and philosophy planning to work in the Church as a minister and a pastor, respectively, but ultimately changed their minds.

Nietzsche was convinced that people created God and not the other way around. At the age of 20, he wrote to his sister Elisabeth, who was deeply religious, a letter regarding his loss of faith.

“Hence the ways of men part: if you wish to strive for peace of soul and pleasure, then believe; if you wish to be a devotee of truth, then inquire.”

Nietzsche, Letter to His Sister (1865)

Kierkegaard on the other hand, wanted to follow his father’s footsteps and become a pastor. However, his hatred of Christendom, which was represented by the Danish Established Church, didn’t help him with becoming one.

The meaning of Kierkegaard’s whole life hung under a decision and he now saw that choice is everything. He wrote in his journals:

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

They both ended up savagely criticising Christianity, recognising that God no longer exists in the minds of most people. God had died in the hands of men. Kierkegaard’s country and religion were morally bankrupt, the established church made individuals lazy in their religion and many of the citizens were officially “Christians” without having any idea of what it meant to be one.

In 1840, almost one hundred years before it became a historic fact, Kierkegaard had prophesised nothing less than the “total bankruptcy toward which the whole of Europe seems to be heading.”

He wrote:

“So little do people understand me that they will not even understand my complaint that they do not understand me.”

In contemporary western society people go about their daily lives disregarding an all-powerful God, yet surprisingly, they proclaim their devotion to God when questioned. 

In other words, people live falsely religious lives. He hated the crowd and the social scene. When religion is integrated into society, the social scene becomes the religious scene, and for that reason, religion had died.

All extraordinary men who had previously lived, had aimed at spreading Christianity, his task was to put a halt to a lying diffusion of Christianity. For him, Christianity which wants every man to be an individual has been transformed by human bungling into precisely the opposite.

He wrote in his journals:

“My task is so new that in the 1800 years of Christianity there is literally no one from whom I can learn how to go about it.”

Kierkegaard feared that in modern consumer society the individual was becoming absorbed into the crowd, a mere member of a herd. The spiritual life of the individual was being stifled by communal, political, and religious illusions. He writes, it is:

“too venturesome a thing to be himself, far easier and safer to be like the others, to become an imitation, a number, a cipher in the crowd.

The Sickness unto Death

Nietzsche also despised the herd mentality, he calls it a “slave morality”, which is at the very heart of Christianity. Thanks to the self-deception of the resentful man, weakness is turned into merit. He writes:

“I suffer: it must be somebody’s fault – so thinks every sick sheep. But his herdsman, the ascetic priest, says to him, “Quite so, my sheep, it must be the fault of someone; but thou thyself art that same one […]

Genealogy of Morals. Essay III: What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals? §15

However, despite their hatred towards Christianity – they both showed appreciation for Jesus.

Nietzsche presents a Christ whose own inner life consisted of:

“wit, the blessedness of peace, of gentleness, the inability to be an enemy.”

The Antichrist §29

And he goes on further saying that:

“The very word “Christianity” is a misunderstanding—at bottom there was only one Christian, and he died on the cross.”

The Antichrist §39

Kierkegaard was a Christian, but a completely different one in his era. He wanted to become, as he put it: “a Christian in Christendom”. To live an authentically religious life while surrounded by people who are falsely religious

For Kierkegaard, the relationship with God is a personal matter, and he saw the established church as a distraction and interference from the personal relationship a true Christian must undertake.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche both felt that life is irrational. They were problem thinkers who chose not to follow the systematic approach to philosophy as their predecessors did. In this regard, they stood on common ground.

Both of them decided that alternatively, they could develop the other side of themselves, in which case they should remain outsiders.

They wrote extensively but only sold a few copies of their books and were not much recognised during their short lives.

Kierkegaard, like Nietzsche, collapsed in the street and shortly died after, refusing to take the last sacraments at the hands of a “state official”; and asked only to be remembered to all the people whom he had loved but who had never been able to understand his sufferings. Nietzsche collapsed in the street after seeing a horse being flogged by its owner, throwing himself towards the animal and embracing it, although this is a famous event – there is little evidence of it ever occurring. The episode seems similar to a passage which occurs early on in Crime and Punishment, a book of one of Nietzsche’s most revered writers: Dostoevsky. All we know is that shortly after, he remained in a near catatonic state for the last 11 years of his life.

Nietzsche and Kierkegaard never met and never could have met: Nietzsche was a boy eleven years old growing up in Germany when Kierkegaard died in his native Copenhagen. By the end of Nietzsche’s life, however, Kierkegaard was becoming known in Germany. In 1888, the year before the onslaught of Nietzsche’s madness, Danish intellectual Georg Brandes called the work of Kierkegaard to Nietzsche’s attention, he wrote the following letter:

“There is a Nordic writer, whose work would interest you, if it only was translated, Søren Kierkegaard; he lived from 1813-1855 and is, in my opinion, one of the most profound psychologists there is.”

Georg Brandes, Letter to Nietzsche – January 11th  1888.

Nietzsche wrote a letter back to him, stating:

“During my next journey to Germany I plan to study the psychological problem of Kierkegaard, also to renew my acquaintance with your earlier writings. This will be, in the best sense of the word, useful to me – and will serve to “bring home” to me the severity and arrogance of my own judgments. […]”

Friedrich Nietzsche, Letter to Georg Brandes – Nice, February 19, 1888.

Unfortunately, it was too late for Nietzsche as he fell into insanity soon after.

The Roots of Divergence

In much Kierkegaard and Nietzsche are alike, in the moral decline of society and the corruption of religion, in their existential orientation and in their psychological interests, however they were absolutely opposed on what it means to live a human life to the fullest.

This is largely precipitated by Nietzsche’s complete disillusionment with religion in contrast to Kierkegaard’s continued faith in the existence of God.

For Kierkegaard, Christ is the absurd paradox, that God became man. The notion of the Godman is both beautiful and haunting in Kierkegaard. It is too absurd to be defended with rational arguments, it is a matter of a leap of faith, and this is the highest form of human life, that frees us from despair.

For Nietzsche, the death of God is a historical event in response to the decline of Christianity with the Enlightenment bringing about scientific rationality. God, who played a central role in most people’s lives, has now become one of many facets of some people’s lives.

There are still believers and churches, but god no longer defines the role of our world, it is for this reason that god is dead.

This represents a crisis in the existing moral values opening the possibility for nihilism. Nietzsche’s ubermensch or overman is meant to be the solution to nihilism, one who puts faith in himself and creates his own meaning and value. Thus, man must become God.

“Man is something to be overcome. Man is a rope tied between the animal and the Overman – a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal.”

Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Kierkegaard tells us that man cannot in any way become God, and a central feature of despair is the inability of a person to manufacture his own identity, something essential is missing, something that would prevent you from simply demolishing the ideal and beginning all over again with a new ideal, such a person lacks something “eternally firm”.

To become truly oneself, an individual – man must stand before God transparently and in truth, with the only self that exists being God’s infinite self, the self that overwhelms our self.

“The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing: every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.

The Sickness unto Death

Kierkegaard

Kierkegaard saw the problem of religious downfall as an opportunity for renewal in Christian beliefs, a chance to embrace Christianity’s original teachings and return to a dynamic and living faith. In his critique of modern-day religious expansion, he claimed the very dominance of Christianity over his country showed that it is not the way of the few.

As a direct consequence of this widespread moral decline, Kierkegaard stressed the subjective truth over the objective truth. Subjectivity is one of his most recurrent themes.

Truth is not just a matter of discovering objective facts. While objective facts are important, there is a second and more crucial element of truth, which involves how one relates oneself to those facts. Since how one acts is, from the ethical perspective, more important than any matter of fact, truth is to be found in subjectivity rather than objectivity.

While he did believe in the objective truth of Christian theism, he emphasised its personal power to existentially transform the individual. This became the panacea for restoring human salvation through absolute faith in conviction. Kierkegaard called for a leap of faith: to strive for the attainment of a purely Christian life. 

Reason has no place in faith, as God is beyond reason. Kierkegaard rejected both the rationalist tradition and systematic philosophies because they used abstract concepts that had nothing to do with everyday existence. Devotion to a single external principle allows one’s self-identity to remain firm and unwavering in a fluid and unstable environment. Without this external pillar of strength Kierkegaard believed man would be trapped in a state of despair, with no firm basis for the construction of self-identity.

Nietzsche

Nietzsche’s solution was an antithesis to Kierkegaard’s faith. God is a concept of our own creation, we can no longer base our moral beliefs on the idea of a divine, omnipotent being.

Christianity had at its base a slave morality which resents the virtues of the powerful and promotes turning the other cheek.

Nietzsche was appalled by this, he calls for the master morality, which does not intend to oppress others, but rather create new values and ways of life.

While both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche discouraged adherence to the dominant ethos, Nietzsche demanded a renunciation of all established values. He called for a “Revaluation of All Values”.

A new paradigm of thought with human creativity and the creation of new values and meaning. He seeks to offer an alternative in the absence of a divine order so human beings might stop turning their eyes toward a supernatural realm and begin to acknowledge and embrace the value of this world.

In order to avert the nihilism caused by the death of god, he proposes the highest life-affirming individual who loves life and embraces his fate – the ubermensch. A man whose values are independent from external values and affirms life without resentment. One who acknowledges and celebrates the Will to Power.

The Will to Power is the fundamental component of human identity and a psychological analysis of all human action.

It is a constant self-overcoming of an individual for his own sake with power and growth as the driving forces of an individual. Anything not in a state of growth reverts to a state of decay.

The ubermensch who celebrates the will to power is a self-possessed man who has no fear of other men, of himself, or of death and whose simple personality changes the lives of those who meet him and even imposes itself in their minds.

The emphasis on power and sheer force of will is a key factor in Nietzsche’s divergence from Kierkegaard’s philosophy.

Our Present Course

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog – Caspar D. Friedrich

We face a crossroads at the dawn of the 21st century. The rapid advances and widespread successes of modern science force us to examine the same questions posed by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche. As the domain of science grows ever more rapidly in explaining the features and behaviours of the empirical world, there is no need for appeal to God or any other transcendental reality.

Is a return to a Christian worldview objectively possible? In the absence of a religious model to explain the universe, can those who do not possess such a faith in God construct their own moral standards, value and meaning to fill the nihilistic void? This issue is so vital, that it reaffirms the crucial importance of both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche in modern-day society.


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Kierkegaard and Nietzsche | Giants of Existentialism

Søren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche provided the basic foundations of 19th century Existentialism. They can both be considered as the Giants of Existentialism.

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Lovecraftian Cosmicism – Existentialism, Absurdism and Nihilism

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was an American writer of weird and horror fiction, who is known for his creation of what became the Cthulhu Mythos and the creator of the literary philosophy known as Cosmicism, emphasising the cosmic horror of the unknown.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

H.P. Lovecraft, Supernatural Horror in Literature (1927)

H. P. Lovecraft

The main idea in Cosmicism is that there is no god in the universe and that human beings are insignificant in the vast realms of space and time. Some of Lovecraft’s greatest work portrays us human beings as ants on a vast stage. The main theme being humanity’s fear of their insignificance in the face of an incomprehensibly large universe: a fear of the cosmic void.

We are going to be exploring this peculiar philosophy and its similarities with absurdism, existentialism, and nihilism.

These three movements arose from the human experience of anguish and confusion stemming from the Absurd, ultimately diverging to different perspectives on life.

But before this, I’d like to give a brief new perspective on what could be improved from the definition of these three movements explained by Nihilist Enigma:

In this framework, Existentialism is viewed as the pursuit of meaning (most often in the context of death and or suffering).

Nihilism is recognising the reality that meaning is a phenomena of mind. That, in other words, meaning is not a thing that exists in any other context beyond minds.  

And absurdism as being defined in the adherence to existentialism, despite the reality of nihilism.

In other words, the nature of absurdism is in the stark contrast between the seeming meaninglessness of the universe, and our endeavour to forge it.

It is the pursuit of meaning, with awareness of the reality that existence precedes the creation of meaning.

If you are interested in learning more about this, check out Nihilist Enigma.

But for now, let’s move on to the current belief of absurdism, existentialism, and nihilism.

Absurdism

Sisyphus | Characteristics, Family, & Myth | Britannica
Sisyphus

Albert Camus, who gave rise to the philosophy of Absurdism, describes the Absurd in The Myth of Sisyphus as:

“the conflict between the human tendency to seek inherent value and meaning in life, and the human inability to find any in a purposeless, meaningless or chaotic and irrational universe.”

In other words, the inherent meaninglessness in the universe in which humans, nevertheless, are compelled to find or create meaning. In The Stranger, he refers to the universe as a “benign indifference”.

The solution to the absurd is embracing it as a human condition, without falling into the trap of physical suicide (which is going along with the absurd) and philosophical suicide (which is believing in a ready-made belief system).

Camus proposes us to rebel against the Absurd creating our own meaning, while simultaneously accepting it as a reality. In this way, the pursuit of inherent meaning is not possible, but the pursuit itself may be meaningful.

This is the only way our resolution to seek meaning can be found, until one is inevitably annihilated by death – rendering the activity “ultimately” meaningless.

Camus devalues or rejects free will, encouraging that the individual live authentically and defiantly in spite of the psychological tension of the Absurd.

Existentialism

Existentialism - Wikipedia
Existentialists

In Existentialism we can find two different paths: monotheistic existentialism and atheistic existentialism.

Monotheistic existentialism is most commonly associated with Søren Kierkegaard, who wrote extensively on the absurdity of the world a century before Albert Camus. He proposes that one can only find inherent meaning in the universe through a leap of faith, believing in God – instead of embracing the absurd, which he regarded as “demoniac madness” in the Sickness unto Death.

Atheistic existentialism strongly diverges from this point of view – this path is mainly attributed to Friedrich Nietzsche.

Both Kierkegaard and Nietzsche provided the basic foundations of 19th century Existentialism, with Atheistic existentialism being formally recognised after the publication of Being and Nothingness by Jean Paul Sartre in the 20th century.

Without God, however, there is no inherent meaning in the universe – this became a reality, expressed in Nietzsche’s proclamation of the Death of God, with the decline of Christianity opening the possibility for the void of existence.

Nihilism

The Difference Between Nihilism, Pessimism, Cynicism, and Skepticism |  Daniel Miessler
Nihilism

Of all types of nihilism (epistemological, metaphysical, moral, and so on), we are going to focus on existential nihilism, which has received the most literary and philosophical attention. It is the belief that we are insignificant, without purpose and unlikely to change in existence’s totality.

We sometimes experience an existential crisis, a state in which we re-examine our life in the context of death and are impacted by the contemplation of the meaning, purpose, or value of life.

This opens the possibility for passivity (a sign to stop the search for meaning) or to find a meaning regardless of the meaninglessness of life. Nietzsche who was the first philosopher to seriously study and write about existential nihilism, tells us to create new values, through self-overcoming and being one’s autonomous creator – avoiding passive nihilism.

In Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the main character can be seen as achieving a superhuman status because he laughs at the comedy of existence, including his own existence, because he knows that in the background there is nothing but absurdity and emptiness.

If you are interested in learning more about this, I have made a post specifically on Nietzsche’s notion of Superhuman Laughter.

The very goal of atheistic existentialism is then precisely this meaning-making in a world without inherent meaning, through an individual’s free will.

Let’s now move to Lovecraft’s Cosmicism. Although it is a literary philosophy, it has some interesting parallels with the other three philosophies mentioned earlier.

In Cosmicism, one is not to feel terror of the absence of meaning, but rather of one’s powerlessness in the vast, indifferent universe that one is surrounded by. This is similar to Camus’ “benign indifference” of the world.

Cosmicism shares some characteristics with existential nihilism. However, an important difference is the emphasis on the insignificance of humanity and its doings, rather than rejecting the existence of a higher purpose.

Lovecraft wrote a famous statement when he submitted his first major story on this subject in The Call of Cthulhu, which encompasses the main idea of his philosophy:

“[…] all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large … To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all […]”

Lovecraft had a pretty bleak view of life therefore Cosmicism may strike one as nihilistic and extremely pessimistic, however this is not quite so. Lovecraft thought of himself as neither a pessimist nor an optimist but rather as a “cosmic” indifferentist, a theme expressed in his fiction.

Things are important to humans on the human scale, but we simply don’t matter in the cosmos.

Lovecraft created his own fictional universe with powerful extraterrestrial beings and other cosmic forces, which function as symbols for the extent to which we don’t know about the universe, emerging from the depths of space and having accidental relations with human beings, casting us aside as if we were mere ants. In other words, they are not so much malevolent as they are indifferent toward humanity.

H.P. Lovecraft Print - The Art of Matthew Childers
Lovecraft

We can have no view of the scheme of things or our place in it because there may be no such scheme. The final result of scientific inquiry could well be that the universe is a lawless chaos. This is a disturbing vision with which Lovecraft would struggle throughout his life.

Lovecraft believed myth existed in order to shield the human mind from reality, however his own mythos seems to do the opposite: the “Outside” is more frightening than the world in which human beings live.

Universe

Many philosophies and religions are focused on the human, that humanity is the aim and end of everything, Lovecraft says no – that we are mere little specks in the midst of the Cosmos, and that there is so much out there that has nothing to do with us. He was a strong and antireligious atheist, considering religion not merely false but dangerous to social and political progress.

On the other hand, although fascinated by science, he was sceptical of our ability to cope with scientific discoveries that would reduce our inflated self-importance in the universe. In the opening paragraph of “The Call of Cthulhu”, he states:

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

The crucial question here seems to be whether there can be in principle any fact, any phenomenon or any knowledge that would really have for humankind in general, or for that vanguard who will have to bear the brunt of “first contact” with alien spheres and the unknown, such devastating consequences as set in this quotation.

This idea has never happened in human existence, even with such harsh blows to human pride as those struck by Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, none of which caused any such reaction of cosmic despair, but rather rage. In other words, to settle the matter of science and truth into a matter of politics.

In Lovecraft’s fiction “hideous” knowledge is suppressed and locked up, but in our world, what was outrageous to one generation has been accepted almost as a banality by the next.

The human mind is not the centre of the universe. For Lovecraft, human beings are too feeble to shape a coherent view of the universe. He describes humanity as:

“miserable denizens of a wretched little flyspeck on the back door of a microscopic universe.”

This is a refreshing alternative to the anthropocentric philosophies in which so many find intellectual reassurance. It may seem an unsettling view of things; but an inhuman cosmos need not be as horrific as Lovecraft seems to have found it.

One might strike him as misanthropic, but this isn’t quite right – a true misanthrope would find the inhumanity of the universe liberating. There is no intrinsic reason why a universe in which people are marginal should be a horror-inducing place. A world vastly larger and stranger than any the human mind can contain could just as well evoke a sense of excitement or an acceptance of mystery.

Rejecting any belief in meaning beyond the human world, he also rejected the meanings human beings make for themselves. He had no interest in the lives of most people, and from his early years seems to have believed his own would count for very little. He was left without any sense of significance.

So, obeying an all-too-human impulse, he created his own realm of dark forces as a shelter from the deadly light of universal indifference, as a way of expressing this confusing and contradictory reality.

It seems that he found his way to express the paradoxical claim that the absence of meaning to be some sort of meaning.

Lovecraft’s indifference of the cosmos and the insignificance of human beings in it might be imbued with an overwhelming negative feeling. However, it might be argued that conventional religion puts mankind in a much worse position. For compared to an infinite being: omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent God, man as a finite being is much more insignificant. Psychologically it is quite satisfying to give oneself up to a powerful father-figure, and a consolation to have been created in “God’s image” and therefore to partake a little of His properties.

But is it really as depressing as Lovecraft puts it? Can a world without God, where there exists only a number of other finite species in the universe, perhaps wiser and more powerful than us, but in principle of the same limited and finite nature, however strange in appearance, and therefore logically more similar to us strike as much fear as an all-powerful God?

This non-existence of absolute values in the cosmos might very well guarantee our independence and autonomy and our freedom to establish our own meaning and value, unfettered by external laws imposed on us by a god.

That is, it could be a source of extreme optimism, a feeling of freedom – to construct and to pursue our meaning, ultimately serving as a resolution to our desire to seek meaning in an apparently meaningless universe.


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Lovecraftian Cosmicism | Existentialism, Absurdism and Nihilism

This video explores the peculiar philosophy of cosmicism and its similarities with absurdism, existentialism, and nihilism, three movements that arose from the human experience of anguish and confusion stemming from the Absurd, ultimately diverging to different perspectives on life.

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Book Review: The Sickness unto Death – Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard wrote one of the most remarkable theistic existentialist works of the 19th century, The Sickness unto Death is famed for the depth and acuity of its psychological insights.

Writing under the pseudonym Anti-Climacus, Kierkegaard explores the concept of ‘despair’. Despair is a deeper expression for anxiety which is a not-wanting-to-be-oneself. It is a misrelation that arises in the self when once cannot balance the eternal (God).

Although Kierkegaard was Christian, he was a heavy critic of the Danish Established Church. He was solely focused on the individual relationship with God.

The full title of the book is The Sickness Unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Edification and Awakening.

One of the key things one has to get used to when reading Kierkegaard is his use of irony (his hero was Socrates). Throughout the book, Kierkegaard uses double meaning in a comedic way. The Sickness Unto Death is actually considered to be a self-help book, a genre that was unusual back in the day, as it was frowned upon by scholars.

Socrates

The book is centred in being oneself, an individual. Kierkegaard wants us to be who we are.

Introduction

Raising of Lazarus – Luca Giordano

In the introduction he explains the meaning behind “the sickness unto death”, comparing it to the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.

For the natural man or the atheist, the “sickness” which he refers to as “unto death” is resistance to the belief in God. It is the inclination to accept that death is indeed the end, which can bring a sense of meaninglessness.

For the Christian, there is no sickness unto death in the atheistic sense, as he has something eternal – earthly suffering is a temporary inconvenience on the way to eternal life. However, they experience the true “sickness unto death”, which is the fear that their faith is not sufficient to bring them eternal life, giving way to despair.

The book is a psychological exposition with Christianity as its background and as intended for “edification and awakening”.

In the widest sense a sickness is a disturbance in what would otherwise be a state of general well-being. The sickness which is the topic of Kierkegaard’s work is mental, he describes it as a “sickness of the spirit”.

His notion of mental disturbance as “sickness unto death” comes from one’s personal choice, one is responsible for “catching” the illness. The sickness comes to a crisis in the form of a choice between well-being through salvation and a fully conscious rejection of Christianity.

The book presents a step-by-step progression towards this crisis from a state in which the sufferer is not even aware of this sickness. The principal focus is the raising of the level of a person’s awareness of the urgency of the choice.

Part I. The Sickness unto Death is Despair

“The human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation which relates to itself, or that in the relation which is its relating to itself. The self is not the relation but the relation’s relating to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity. In short a synthesis.  A synthesis is a relation between two terms. Looked at in this way a human being is not yet a self.”

So, if you were to read this as a sample of what to expect of the book, it is quite likely that you’d put the book back on the shelf in no time.

But don’t get too far ahead – they simply function as a table of contents for the book. His point is to prove that man really isn’t a self.

For Kierkegaard, the self is not an abstract idea, but rather best understood in the concept of relationship, specifically with man and God. It is not a relationship of the self – for that would mean us being independent from God. Man must be in a relationship with God, such that he must stand before him in truth, only then can one achieve the infinite self. This is at the heart of Kierkegaard’s thinking. The notion of God is paradoxical and too absurd to be defended with rational arguments, it is a matter of faith – and it is the highest form of human life, that frees us from despair.

The Creation of Adam – Michelangelo

It is not our goal to become aware of the self, but rather to stand before God “transparently”, as he puts it. With the only self that exists being God’s self, the self that overwhelms our self.

The closer to God one is, the more of a Self. However, you can have the conception of God and have your backed turned to God, butthe conception of God is an extraordinarily strong requirement of selfhood.

The more we try to become a self the more independent we become of God. Kierkegaard’s idea of trying to define a self is another one of his ironies, as it goes against his general thesis. It is likely intended as to produce frustration in one who believes he can figure out his self alone.

A central feature of Kierkegaard’s account of despair is the inability of a person to manufacture his own identity, something essential is missing, something that would prevent you from simply demolishing the ideal and beginning all over again with a new ideal, such a person lacks something “eternally firm”.

The message of the book of its account of despair is that we are all more or less in despair, we just don’t realise it or we deny it at our peril.

By man trying to become his own self he becomes an imitation. Even if he succeeded in becoming a new self, he’d fail to become his true self and he despairs, he’d be like a “king without a country”. And if he remains his own self, he also despairs, because he wants to become a new self and cannot.

There are three kinds of despair:

Being unconscious in despair of having a self, this is an inauthentic despair because it is born out of ignorance. One is unaware that one has a self separate from its finite reality.

Then we have two authentic kinds of despair: not wanting in despair to be oneself (a state of awareness of the self but which is only in finite or immediate terms) and wanting in despair to be oneself (a type of demonic despair, the most heightened form of it, in which one accepts the eternal but refuses to accept the self that one in reality is, the self that one is in love).

Kierkegaard’s notion of despair has two principal components.

1. First component of despair: The Polarities

The first is a set of polarities: “infinite and finite”, “freedom and necessity”, “eternal and temporal”. The book starts off by saying that the human being is a “synthesis” of these factors and must remain in balance.

The life of a person who gets lost in the infinite without a counterbalance in the finite is given over to imagination; while a person who has nothing of the infinite lives a totally unimaginative everyday life. Imagination must be applied to something specific – or everyday life must become the workplace of the imagination.

Getting lost in the infinite…

Similarly, to have a freedom (or possibility) not counterbalanced by necessity is to treat all projects as though they were accomplished at the start; while to have nothing of the possible is to see oneself bound to a chain of ongoing events that leaves no place for personal initiative. A healthy balance being one in which time and trouble are duly taken in the realisation of possibilities.

The third polarity “eternal and temporal” has to be treated apart. To become aware of one’s self is to become aware of “something eternal”. The eternal represents a goal of human endeavour, a fundamental goal to achieving selfhood.

To not be in despair is to have reconciled these factors, existing in awareness of one’s own self.

2. Second component of despair: “Self” or “Spirit”

But what is the Self? This is the second main component of despair. The idea of the “self”, not as something one becomes, but as a “relation which “relates to itself”. This self-relating synthesis is what Kierkegaard calls “spirit”.

Come Holy Spirit – Lance Brown

The eternal and the temporal allows us to see how we become progressively conscious of the imbalance of this relation, and more particularly, with the imbalance of the first two polarities.

The more aware a person is of having an “eternal” aspect, the closer the goal of “true selfhood”,  turning an imbalanced self into a balanced self.

This despair, however, is not something that should be rooted out. From the point of spiritual development, there is actually something healthy about it. Spiritual development is bound to progress through a state of sickness. The only way out of escaping despair, therefore, seems to be to go through with it.

Part II. Despair is Sin

Despair – Edvard Munch

While in the first part Kierkegaard describes despair and its factors to help the reader understand why it’s a problem, in this second part he talks about despair in religious terms: that it is sin.

His concept of sin is to be in despair before God or with the conception of God. Sin is a condition that may be overcome only by pursuing faith. He stresses that faith, not virtue, is the opposite of sin, this is crucial.

He links the concepts of sin, faith, and despair together, noting that faith is the solution to both sin and despair.

Sin can range from a general indifference to religious matters to an outright rebellion against Christianity.

Since the final paragraph provides the closest thing to an overall summary of the book, it may be helpful to think back over the book using the final paragraph as a key.

“The biggest danger, that of losing oneself, can pass off in the world as quietly as if it were nothing: every other loss, an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. is bound to be noticed.”


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The Sickness unto Death in 10 Minutes | Kierkegaard

Soren Kierkegaard wrote one of the most remarkable theistic existentialist works of the 19th century, The Sickness unto Death is famed for the depth and acuity of its psychological insights.

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(mis)Understanding Nihilism

What exactly is Nihilism? It is often associated to extreme pessimism and believed that it is an active negation of life, or thinks of it as empty of inherent meaning. In other words, that there is no such thing as “meaning” or “value”, no meaning in the universe, no meaning in the search of meaning and no desire in finding meaning.

Well, let’s just forget all that for a moment. Today we are going to look into a complete different meaning of Nihilism offered by Nihilist Engima.


As I’ve come to understand it, “Nihilism” is just the word used for the realization that the universe at large is indifferent.

That there is no meaning beyond that which we make, as the very concept of “meaning” is a phenomena of mind.

That, outside the context of minds, things such as beauty become pointless to discuss.

As does pain, joy, love, hunger, color – Any of it.

It only ever ‘matters‘ if you exist as a mind capable of saying it does;

Capable of experience,
of thought.

There are many who seem to hold the perspective that nihilism is best summed as:

“Nothing means anything” or a self contradicting “Belief in nothing”

leading them right to;

“therefore why ascribe value to subjective meaning when – in the view of a nihilist – there’s no ‘objective‘ meaning”

This line of reasoning seems to me to miss the point entirely.

Have you ever enjoyed an experience? or an interaction with a pet?

Ever appreciate a moment with someone?

Or really enjoyed a good meal or sight or sound?

Have you ever lost someone? hurt yourself? felt Real hunger? been angry, or sad, or proud, or glad, or any of it?

How about these  s y m b o l s ?

within your mind, do they form into something coherent?

something meaningful?

Are these not all, at base, forms of creation of “meaning”?

Is meaning, at base, not inherent to conscious experience?

It is only within the context of Minds that the concept of “meaning” has its foundations.

And it only ever has been.

For even these symbols – through which i send my thoughts to you – have no meaning at all, until they reach you. and it is only through you that the meaning they are meant to carry can take form.

I mean yeah, duh, the universe is, was, and will remain to be indifferent to these concepts that to us are central.

-morality, beauty, value-

But to Us,

to Minds,

They Are Central.

This is not a negative realization.

There’s this fatalistic pessimistic nihilism that’s become the standard way of thinking of the idea. Fixated on the seemingly unfortunate fact that meaning doesn’t matter to the universe – and never did – But this interpretation fails to realize minds as the only context in which the word “meaning” has ever had a definition..

To fixate and get lost in this unfortunate reality – that meaning is only of us – is to lose sight of the core of it all:

The Mind itself.

Just because the universe is indifferent, – uncaring and incapable of care – doesn’t mean we should – or even can – be.

The struggle to discover what is truly worth valuing, in the vast landscape of possible “meaning” inherent to consciousness, is a worthwhile one.

A necessary one, by virtue of existence itself.

Appreciation, respect, love, beauty, these are all ways in which meaning exist, but only within the context of minds.

Meaning arises from Being. 

Being precedes Meaning.

We – through philosophy – should seek to avoid the trap of asserting that the universe is somehow capable of care, or is keeping tabs, or in any way serves as the foundation for what are fundamentally phenomena of mind.

Talking of meaning in any other context, becomes fallacy. 

Supposed or asserted “greater meaning” – founded in something “beyond us” – is failure to realize the only and actual foundation of meaning as the mind itself.

All nihilism really is, is acknowledging the fundamental subjectivity of meaning, and, in the same breath, the indifference of the universe at large.

– Nihle


We’ve often talked about the concept of nihilism in a pessimistic way – especially in the Nietzschean sense. That the death of god creates a void without any value structure, and thus people struggle to find meaning in life and are susceptible or at risk of falling into nihilism. Nietzsche proposes in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, three core teachings: the Overman, the Will to Power, and the Eternal Recurrence, which are substitutes for the disappearance of this “value structure”, and to avoid falling into the void of nihilism.

However, this view of nihilism gives an entirely new viewpoint. People who call themselves “nihilists” often consider themselves pessimistic. But that is not inherent to nihilism, the universe is indifferent and this is merely a reality. Trying to seek for a greater meaning in something superstitious or beyond us in a failure to understand the only and actual foundation of meaning as the mind itself.

Thus, Nietzsche’s teachings are not to be used to fight against nihilism, but rather to embrace it as our reality, and then to strive for self-overcoming and acceptance through the concept of the Overman, the Will to Power, and the Eternal Recurrence.

It is us, our minds, that create our meaning and value.


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Book Review: Genealogy of Morals – Nietzsche

Nietzsche wrote On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic, in response to a book by his former friend Paul Rée, on the origins of morality. This book is among Nietzsche’s most sustained and cohesive works.

Rating

Rating: 5 out of 5.

In the first essay, titled “Good and Evil”, “Good and Bad”, Nietzsche sets up a contrast between what he calls “master” morality and “slave morality” and shows how strength and actions have often been replaced by passivity and nihilism. The second essay “Guilt”, “Bad Conscience” and the Like – looks into the origins of guilt and punishment, it shows how the concept of justice was born and how internalisation of this concept led to the development of what people called “the soul”. In the third and final essay, Nietzsche dissects the meaning of the ascetic ideal.

It is not Nietzsche’s intention to reject slave and master morality, internalised values out of hand or ascetic ideals; his main concern is to show that culture and morality, rather than being eternal verities, are human made.

Preface

He begins stating that “we are unknown, we knowers”. We have taken morality for granted; without exploring their genealogy, he goes back in history and investigates under what conditions did man invent good and evil, if they have any intrinsic value and if they have advanced or hindered human wellbeing. The values of these values were being called into question for the first time.

Essay I. “Good and Evil” “Good and Bad”

The Good and Evil – William Blake

In the first essay, titled “Good and Evil” “Good and Bad”, Nietzsche argues that the concept of good did not in fact originate among those to whom goodness was shown. It was the aristocratic and the high-minded who felt that they were good, in contradistinction to the mediocre people and low-minded, who were mean. This is what he calls a pathos of distance, a chasm separating the ordinary from the noble.

Nietzsche, was considered the greatest philologist of his age, becoming a professor at 24 years old, to this day, the youngest on record.

He started to trace the etymological roots of the idea of “good”, “bad” and “evil” and found out that they all let to the evolution of the same idea: that the “good” developed from the aristocratic and noble, while the idea of “bad” was associated to the vulgar and plebeian.

He distinguishes between the priestly caste and the aristocratic people. The priests were physically weaker and that caused their hate to expand into a sinister shape. They made up in knowledge and became psychologically superior. This was represented by the Jews, a priestly nation who created a transvaluation of values, they flipped everything upside-down and suggested that the aristocratic and strong were in fact “evil”, while the poor and the weak were
“good”. Thus, the revolt of slaves began, the likes of which had never been seen, with the triumph of the morality of the herd over the aristocratic ideal.

Here is where we stumble upon a crucial idea – that the revolt of slaves in morals begins in the principle of ressentiment or resentment. The inferiority complex and jealousy gives way to revenge, ending up attacking the source of one’s frustration.

He talks about master morality and slave morality. The slave morality resents the virtues of the powerful, they turn the other cheek, and this translated to Christianity “the meek shall inherit the earth”, Nietzsche was appalled by this, he calls for the master morality, which does not intend to oppress others, but rather create new values and ways of life.

Thanks to the self-deception of the resentful man, weakness is turned into merit.

Ressentiment proved a powerful tool to overpower the aristocratic race, it is a symbol of the decline of humanity, part of a dreadful and thousand-year fight in the world:

“Rome against Judaea, Judaea against Rome.” Hitherto there has been no greater event than that fight.

Essay I: “Good and Evil” “Good and Bad” §16

The Romans were the strong and aristocratic; a nation stronger and more aristocratic had never existed in the world. The Jews, conversely, were that priestly nation of ressentiment par excellence.

And there is not a shadow of a doubt to who has proven victorious. With Jesus of Nazareth representing the quintessential Jew, Rome is undoubtedly defeated.

Essay II. “Guilt”, “Bad Conscience”, and the like

Guilt, Bad Conscience, and the like

In the second essay, Nietzsche explores the origin of punishment in a creditor/debtor relationship.

He talks about the idea of forgetfulness, an active faculty of repression that helps us to not sink into the past, To actively oppose this, we develop memory – so promises necessary for exercising control over the future can be made.

This control over the future made man calculable, it is the long history and origin of responsibility. Nietzsche calls this control over the future a “Morality of Custom”, when there was no concept of morality, individuals simply punished those who broke their promises, it was a way of expressing anger.

Instead of a compensation in money or possessions, the creditor is granted a sensation of satisfaction in being able to “vent” from the pain inflicted on one who is powerless, producing the highest degree of happiness. Cruelty was a real feast and constituted great joy in the ancient man.

As the maxim goes: “The sight of suffering does one good; the infliction of suffering does one more good.”

Here’s where we find the idea of guilt (schuld) which derives from debt (schulden).

This system of mnemonics is the oldest psychology in the world, where an idea is burned into man’s memory and remain “fixed”, finally keeping in his memory a few “I will nots”.

The criminal was above all a breaker of the word – however, as the community grows more powerful, it tends to take the offense less serious, thus the meek evil-doer is slowly and carefully shielded and protected and the penal law becomes mitigated. The most drastic measure being the foundation of law.

Nietzsche’s idea of a Will to Power is implicitly recurrent throughout the book, where a more powerful force masters a less powerful one, the whole world consists of overpowering and dominating, this is how history unfolds.

The other crucial term is what Nietzsche calls “bad conscience”, to create in the guilty the consciousness of guilt, taming him. He suggests that the ancient man was adapted to the savage life of war and adventure, and with the modernisation of society, all his instincts were “switched off” and rendered useless. Instead, he was confronted with a new unknown world – a world of thinking and calculating. Nietzsche states:

“I do not believe there was ever in the world such a feeling of misery.”

Essay II. “Guilt”, “Bad Conscience”, and the like §16

All instincts which do not find a vent, turn inwards – this he calls the growing “internalisation” of man: which man named soul.

Bad conscience also comes from the relationship of the existing generation to its ancestors. A legal obligation is recognised towards the earlier generation due to their sacrifices, and this has to be paid back to them by sacrifices, temples, and above all obedience. As the power of the tribe grows, so does the need to thank their ancestors. This fear may well be the origin of the gods.

He ends by suggesting a man of the future who will redeem us from the old ideal: the Antichrist and Antinihilist – Zarathustra the godless.

Essay III. What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals

The ascetic ideal

The last essay: What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals? is the most detailed and longest of the three.

The ascetic ideal is best summarised at the start of the essay, it is:

“… the fundamental feature of man’s will, his horror of emptiness: he needs a goal – and he will sooner will nothingness than not will at all.”

Essay III: What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals? §1

This puzzling statement will become clear at the end. Let’s first define asceticism. It is the renunciation of earthly pleasures in favour of a simple, self-denying and abstinent life. He associates the ascetic ideal to three words:

poverty, humility and chastity.”

Essay III: What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals? §8

The ascetic ideal has different meanings for different groups: artists, philosophers, priests, and even scientists. However, the greatest enemy of life is the ascetic priest who belongs to the Church, the champion of the sick herd.

“I suffer: it must be somebody’s fault – so thinks every sick sheep. But his herdsman, the ascetic priest, says to him, “Quite so, my sheep, it must be the fault of someone; but thou thyself art that same one […]

Essay III: What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals? §15

The ascetic priest does not cure physiological depression, he merely diverts it with deadening drugs and hypnotism, this alone is the real physiological cause of ressentiment.

The individual finds delight in the thriving of the community – producing emotional excess, the most efficacious anaesthetic. Thus, “Sin” is born, the greatest event in the history of the diseased soul. However, the ascetic priest prescribes a small dose of the most life-assertive impulse – the Will to Power, which is why Nietzsche also has some respect for them.

The herd’s will for cooperation necessarily brought the Will for Power. The herd organisation is a genuine advance and triumph in the fight with depression.

Nietzsche goes on to give a striking critique of modern science and its absolute fanaticism with the value of truth, claiming not to believe in metaphysics, when they in fact do. Without God, there exists a new problem: the problem of the value of truth. And with the Enlightenment:

“ […] existence has become more random, casual and superfluous in the visible order of the universe.”

Essay III: What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals? §25

Science and the ascetic ideal both rest on the same over-appreciation of truth and the impossibility of valuing and of criticising it. Thus, they are necessarily allies.

He concludes that what is needed is a critique of the value of truth in itself. Even our faith in truth needs to be justified.

He talks of a new ideal, that does not have a will for truth and which is not opposed to the ascetic ideal, but rather is the final phase of its evolution. Christianity developed a self-destructive tool which ended up destroying itself.

The ascetic ideal was simply a means for the tremendous void that encircled man, and the senselessness of suffering of man, it gave him a meaning – and any meaning is better than no meaning, thus closing the tremendous gap of nihilism. It brought, however, a new and more venomous suffering into life: under the perspective of guilt, but in spite of that, man was saved. It is a will for Nothingness, a will opposed to life, but it is and remains a will.

Man will wish Nothingness rather than not wish at all.


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Genealogy of Morals in 10 Minutes | Nietzsche

This video summarises Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals in 10 minutes. It is among Nietzsche’s most sustained and cohesive works consisting of three essays: “Good and Evil, Good and Bad”, “Guilt, Bad Conscience and the Like” and “What is the Meaning of Ascetic Ideals?”

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