Comparative Philosophy Term Paper

  • Length: 12 pages
  • Subject: Black Studies - Philosophy
  • Type: Term Paper
  • Paper: #96992117

Excerpt from Term Paper :


Nietzsche often identified life itself with "will to power," that is, with an instinct for growth and durability. This concept provides yet another way of interpreting the ascetic ideal, since it is Nietzsche's contention "that all the supreme values of mankind lack this will -- that values which are symptomatic of decline, nihilistic values, are lording it under the holiest names" (Kaufmann 1959). Thus, traditional philosophy, religion, and morality have been so many masks a deficient will to power wears. The sustaining values of Western civilization have been sublimated products of decadence in that the ascetic ideal endorses existence as pain and suffering. Some commentators have attempted to extend Nietzsche's concept of the will to power from human life to the organic and inorganic realms, ascribing a metaphysics of will to power to him (Kaufmann 1959).

The insidious process by which we ascribe attributes to our fictitious consciousness has devastating results: "we are unknown to ourselves, we men of knowledge - and with good reason. We have never sought ourselves - how could it happen that we should ever find ourselves?" (qtd. In Kaufmann 1959). Here Nietzsche anticipates Heidegger's critique of Western metaphysics: metaphysics and consciousness lead to what Heidegger would refer to as a "forgetfulness of Being;" that is, they obscure the truth about ourselves and our place in the world. By denouncing claims that knowledge is something exclusively possessed by autonomous thinking subjects, Nietzsche hoped to rescue us from a hopeless project: the project of trying to make existence fit into the limited framework of the traditional transcendental subject. He was attempting the colossal task of undermining and overthrowing the entrenched but deeply problematic categories of subjectivity and knowledge bequeathed to his century by the conventional Enlightenment.

Thus in the Will to Power, for example, Nietzsche writes that "because we forget that valuation is always from a perspective, a single individual contains within him a vast confusion of contradictory valuations and consequently of contradictory drives" (qtd. In Call [HIDDEN] Perspectivism attacks the conventional, Enlightened notion of subjectivity at its roots. For Nietzsche, the critique of the traditional knowing subject and its conventional forms of knowledge excluded the possibility that thought could constitute a world spread out before the eyes of any spectator-subject that had hitherto been known (Call 1995). Nietzsche was not trying to destroy or abandon the concept of subjectivity as such. Rather, he was trying to postulate a new kind of subject which did not yet exist but whose way was prepared by Nietzsche's critique of conventional subjectivity (Kaufmann 1959). Clearly, this is an area where Nietzsche remains very much a child of the Enlightenment. His dramatic critique of the autonomous Cartesian subject and its epistemology cannot mask the fact that Nietzsche is pursuing his own project of subjectivity, and any such project must necessarily retain important traces of Enlightenment.

Perhaps the most surprising component of Nietzsche's cultural critique of modern science is the way in which he tied science to another great Western cultural tradition, metaphysics. The connection between modern science, which attempts to provide truths about this world, and metaphysics, which makes claims about that which is beyond this world, is not readily apparent (Kaufmann 1959). Yet Nietzsche insists that there is a definite relationship here. Nietzsche does not confront his metaphysics to the tacit metaphysics of science; he wants to contest science in order to surmount metaphysics entirely; in short, he wants to demonstrate the collusion of science with metaphysical thought and show how this compels humanity implacably towards nihilism. Thus the association of science and metaphysics brings a new dimension to Nietzsche's critique of the former; his attack on modern science is now motivated by a desire to overthrow Western metaphysics entirely. And this attack on science and metaphysics is carried out under the banner of a war against nihilism, which as we see above is one of the strongest parts of Nietzsche's cultural critique of science (Kaufmann 1959).

While it would be true, then, to say that Nietzsche's critique of modern science is motivated by an association between science and metaphysics, this assertion is incomplete. We have yet to say what kind of metaphysical tradition Nietzsche means when he pairs science and metaphysics. When Nietzsche says metaphysics, he means religious metaphysics (Call 1995). For him, the Christian truth and what we may call the truth of philosophical metaphysics since Plato is the same thing. And it is this kind of metaphysics that, strangely enough, lies behind modern science. We see that despite their surface differences, science and religion, both of which manifest asceticism, resentment and nihilism, are anathema to Nietzsche for the same reasons.

The relationship between religion and Enlightened science becomes clearer. Both traditions seek to improve the human condition in utilitarian terms by increasing happiness, and both claim to have access to universal truth. Nietzsche's critique of science constitutes a definite attack on the tradition of the Enlightenment (Kaufmann 1959). For Nietzsche, science, Judeo-Christian religion and Enlightenment form a kind of "unholy trinity," each contributing in its own way to the decadence and nihilism of the modern world. If the rationalism of Socrates and Plato is the secularized form of theological metaphysics, then it becomes quite clear that rationalist, modern science can be said to have an extremely strong if subterranean link with the religious tradition. (Call 1995).

A popular myth concerning Kant's development, which helps to breed such misconceptions about his true attitude towards metaphysics, is that he started out as a typical Wolffian rationalist, and only began formulating his "Critical" principles after being jarred by Hume out of his rationalist complacency.

Kant expresses his true attitude towards metaphysics quite clearly in a number of explicit statements throughout his writings. He purports:

Metaphysics, with which it is my fate to be in love, although only rarely can I boast of any favors from her, offers two advantages. The first is that it serves to solve the tasks that the questioning mind sets itself when by means of reason it inquires into the hidden qualities of things. But here the result only too often falls below expectation

The other advantage is more adapted to human reason, and consists in recognizing whether the task is within the limits of our knowledge and in stating its relation to the conceptions derived from experience, for these must always be the foundation of all our judgments. In so far metaphysics is the science of the boundaries of human reason. And...this use of at the same time the least known and the most important, obtained only late and by long experience. (qtd. In Despland 1973)

Kant saw his contribution to metaphysics in terms of neither positivistic empiricism nor "pure rationalism" (qtd. In Despland 1973). Instead, he sees himself as offering -- to borrow one of his own favorite expressions -- "a third thing" (qtd. In Despland 1973). The label most often used to denote Kant's synthesis between empiricism and rationalism is the easily misunderstood title, "transcendental idealism" (qtd. In Findlay 1981). But this phrase properly refers to just one aspect of his philosophy. A more general and inclusive title would be to call it a "System of Perspectives."

If indeed Kant is the primary figure in the modern Western philosophical tradition, the theologian can hardly ignore him. To interpret Kant in a way that is philosophically acceptable and yet leaves open a legitimate field in which the theologian can work would therefore effectively establish much-needed common ground between philosophy and theology (Despland 1973).

But the respect Kant evokes from philosophers and theologians is not the only reason for recommending a theologically-conscious way of reading this over-worked philosopher. Kant is far too frequently interpreted in a one-sided fashion, especially by those who (conveniently) claim that large portions of his work are irrelevant to or inconsistent with the "truly Kantian" material (Findlay 1981). Because of the confusion this creates, especially for anyone whose primary concern is not philosophical, many theologians and philosophers of religion have ignored or repudiated the importance of Kant. A typical example is Flew's book on the philosophy of religion, which entirely ignores the relevance of Kant's views on the subject: he devotes only two paragraphs a brief description and trite criticism (Flew 1966).

Kant destroyed not so much the possibility of theology as that of the one-sided rationalist spirit of the Enlightenment, under which he himself had been nurtured. His genius, however, was to have done this without going to the opposite extreme of positivism. In the process of working out his new approach, he proposed numerous theories that are highly relevant to the theologian. But because his theological interests are so deeply imbedded within his philosophy, and because the commonly accepted interpretations ignore this and other important emphases, such as the dependence of his arguments on the principle of perspective, it would be necessary to reinterpret his entire Critical System in the light of such issues before bringing into full view all the details arising out…

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