Wim Klever is a great scholar of Spinoza. His work over the years has traced significant influences upon Spinoza (say, by Francis van den Enden) and surprising influences of Spinoza on others. I am providing a pdf copy of a paper he recently sent me (“Locke’s Disguised Spinozism”) about Spinoza’s influence on Locke. It is a lengthy paper, and I haven’t had time to read it yet, but it surely merits the attention of scholars of early modern philosophy.
Pardon me if this post ends up being obvious to everyone but me, but I’m trying to work out the relation between Nz’s perspectivism and truth, and I need to go back and retrace some steps.
Let’s start with a Kantian/Schopenhauerian division between the phenomenal and the noumenal. In other words, there is the apparent world — what we all take to be real when we’re not engaged in philosophy or religion — and the TRUE world, the real world, the ultimate reality that someone like God would know. Generally, there is a failure of correspondence between our beliefs and TRUTH. Perhaps we get some glimpse now and then, through the logic of pure concepts or through magnificent works of art or genuine moral insights. But on the whole, our beliefs are only metaphors for the TRUTH.
It shouldn’t take long (and historically, didn’t) before we begin to question just how sure we are that there is any TRUTH in this sense. After all, “TRUTH” could be just a concept we have invented, right? It could be a term we came up with in order (for whatever reason) to denigrate our own knowledge, our own experience, and the things we ordinarily value. It also could be a kind of security blanket, since it suggests that the things we love which change and die in our world are not significant in the Big Scheme of Things, and Better Things await when we shuffle off this mortal coil. And so, in this skeptical mode, we may well reject TRUTH.
But what are we left with? We are left with our own experience, and our own values and desires and fears. We may still desire truth, but now this means the kind of truth that we can see confirmed in our experience. And if we delve inward, into truths about the kinds of beings we are, we enter into psychology. Psychology delivers perspectivism. We discover that we, being the creatures we are, orient our beliefs and attitudes around the states we naturally crave — feelings of power, especially. Different people, with different backgrounds and prejudices, will cultivate different perspectives which promote in us the feelings we want to have. “Reason is slave to the passions,” as Hume said. And none of us, not even the scientists, is immune from this condition.
Perspectives are malleable. We can discover that a perspective doesn’t work for us, or no longer works, which means that we are not getting out of it what we want (subconsciously, in nearly every case). We can change perspectives, compare perspectives, and argue over them. As a rule, we take them very seriously, and not merely as perspectives, but as truth or even TRUTH.
But perhaps there are some values in us that are completely intersubjective, meaning all humans have them and try to accommodate them through their perspectives. Nz suggests that we all value truth, and we all value health. The first value, he thinks, leads to perspectives which in the end do not do sufficient service to the value of health. Truth leads to the ideal of asceticism, which both religion and science worship. So, in his revaluation of all values, he proposes that we give the value of health pre-eminent status, and we start building perspectives that encourage us to affirm existence and seek out the means for increasing our own power.
This does not mean there is no such thing as truth, or that truth is not valuable. After all, there are truths about what really is healthy for us and what is not. But it does mean that our intentions and focus needs to shift to something like, “What will this do for us? What effect will this human pursuit have upon our larger pursuit of health?” The result is a radical psychological pragmatism, grounded in a concern for psychological strength. It is rather like urging a new perspective on a suicidal patient, in hopes of giving the patient a reason to live. (And biographically that must have been exactly what Nz himself needed.)
So Nz sees philosophers more as clinicians than as theoreticians. We have seen what valuing truth yields: nihilism and despair. As organic beings, it goes against our nature to want that. So, to serve our nature, we should try out valuing health over truth, and possibly even invent some ideas (like the will to power and the eternal recurrence) with the aim of encouraging in us the great health which says Yes to all things.
But what is the status of Nz’s insights into us as organic beings? It seems like he is broadly accepting a naturalistic, Darwinian account of us, coupled with his own pre-Freudian human psychology, all of which must be regarded as empirical. Are these beliefs merely perspectival? And if so, is there room for an alternative perspective? And if so, does Nz have any reason for preferring his own perspective to another?
My guess is that Nz does not really provide any such reasons. In part 5 of TI (“Morality as AntiNature”), he argues that we cannot ever be in a position to question the value of life/health. We would have to be able to adopt a perspective outside that of being a live animal in order to compare it with our perspective, and we can’t do that. But this all presumes that he has got “the perspective of being a live animal” right. If some one objects that we aren’t live animals, but something else (like incorporeal inhabitants of a body), or that live animals in fact do not value life/health, then it seems to me all he can do is blankly stare at the objector and say, “What peculiar psychological malady is prompting you to say this?” In other words, he can only try to pull them back into his perspective of what human beings are. I’m not sure this puts him in a bad position, since I myself think he’s got our nature right.
Find out more here.
I should have read this book ages ago. I have read a lot about it — you can count on seeing it cited and discussed by any good recent book on Nietzsche. So I have learned from others what Clark says. But this is my first time reading the book, and I am extremely impressed with her scholarly judgment, her philosophical acumen, and her careful study of Nietzsche.
The focus of the book is on Nietzsche’s attitude toward truth, and the effect it has on his view of the role of philosophy. Some of Nz’s most famous quotes come from an unpublished essay, “Truth and Lie in the Extra-Moral Sense,” written in 1873. It is there we find this shiny gem:
What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms—in short, a sum of human relations which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people: truths are illusions about which one has forgotten that this is what they are; metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and now matter only as metal, no longer as coins.
That sure sounds like a denial of truth. But Nz seems to be offering his view of the truth, and criticizing others, throughout every page of every major work. So what gives?
According to Clark — and she provides a close argument for this conclusion — Nz’s view of truth shifted over his career. Fairly early on, when he was still messing with Schopenhauer, he had some belief in an ultimate reality, a noumenal world of things in themselves which exist independently of human experience. He believed at the same time that humans are particularly ill-suited toward having any knowledge of such things. And so the best we can manage is some sort of faulty image, a metaphor, for what is really out there.
But then, as Nz gave up Sch and Wagner, and wrote HAH, he dispensed with the notion of things in themselves. They play no role in explaining anything in our experience, and we cannot even conceive them — so why believe in them? But at the same time, Nz inconsistently held on to the idea that our so-called knowledge is at best a pale, insufficient version of what is really true. But you cannot dis our knowledge without affirming some independently-existing thing whose structure is not getting captured by our thinking.
Eventually — after BGE — Nietzsche gave up the “metaphysical correspondence” theory of truth, and believed truth to be immanent to a perspective. Once we give up things in themselves, we give up the idea of a “God’s eye perspective,” i.e., a perspective from everywhere and nowhere, and affirm only particular perspectives. These perspectives overlap with one another and can be compared with one another — we can see the world through this lens and that lens, and evaluate which lens gives us the better picture, given our own interests and concerns. When we’re concerned with predictive accuracy, for example, Einstein’s lens turns out to be better than Newton’s.
Clark’s account continues. Nz was interested in big philosophical lenses, and (principally in GM) argues that humans have throughout history employed the lens of asceticism: that life is to be lived for the sake of higher, unearthly ideals. The basic human concern this lens was trying to satisfy was our interest in finding something worth living for, and some reason not to fall into suicidal nihilism. Nz argues that asceticism, which was originally religious in nature, gradually evolved into science, and science’s will to truth, which ultimately ends in nihilism. So asceticism has played itself out, and it fails. Nz’s constructive project is to provide a new lens, the affirmation of life, the will to power, and the eternal recurrence, which is a new perspective in competition with the old nihilism. He argues that it has the power to succeed where ascetic religion and science have failed.
I need to read the book again. It is patiently argued, and deserves to be read carefully. Right now it seems to me extremely plausible and significant.
We went up to a salvage yard in Idaho, hunting for stainless steel. Along the way, we stopped at an antique store, where I bought 20 or so 78s, including the one you’ll hear on the video: “One Alone,” performed by Nat Shilkret and the Victor Orchestra.
There’s weird, and there’s weirder. It’s weird to think of a metal-eating bird, who then lays an egg which hatches into an automobile. It’s weirder, I submit, to think of living in a rural western state, and going out at night to hear gypsy jazz performers play along to silent movies that are almost forgotten. The Hot Club of San Francisco was in town (performing tonight as well), playing Django Reinhardt tunes while also showing a couple of weird Charlie Bowers films.
More about Bowers here. In brief: he was making silent films at the same time as Charlie Chaplin, but without the success. He introduced strange, quirky animation into the live action, as needed by his strange, quirky storyline. Example: The Liars Club meets and is disappointed by one another’s lies, so they go out and find Bowers (who is about to commit suicide by firing a cannon with his head jammed in the opening, but he can’t then reach the fuse). Bowers tells a story about a miracle plant-grafting agent that allows him to grow an eggplant containing a hard-boiled egg and a salt shaker. He travels to the country to sell this agent, encounters a farmhouse besieged by a pistol-packing mouse, and sets about growing cats from pussywillows to fight off the mouse. I could go on, but it only gets weirder. You get the idea.
Anyway, I love gypsy jazz, and was at first disappointed to have to watch silent movies while trying to listen, but the whole gizmo worked amazingly well. The Bowers’ films, along with two others, were fascinating, and the combo of film and music really worked. The whole evening, in summary, is this: dally around the fringes, and something interesting is bound to turn up.
Last night we enjoyed a performance by the Pacifica Quartet. This group is fantastic. They have perfected a blending of their voices, so that no single voice overpowers the rest (unless or until the music requires it). And the program was stimulating.
They started with a Mendelssohn quartet (op. 44, no. 2), which I gather is seldom played (interesting article here about how Felix gets no respect — this is, note well, the 200th anniversary of his birth). The piece features an Andante (I’m a sucker for the slow movements) that our program notes called “an ardent love song,” but which sounded to me more like heartbreak, almost Brahmsian.
Then we went behind the iron curtain and heard a piece by the Hungarian composer György Ligeti, written in 1951 (“Métamorphoses nocturnes”). It was a “bottom-drawer” piece, meaning the sort of thing that will land you in a Gulag if you let it out. Very weird, funny, compelling music, constantly shifting, as if you’re trying to shake the secret police.
Finally came my Brahms, op. 52 no. 2 — for some time, my favorite Brahms quartet. The first three movements have a frustrated feeling about them, as if you’re trying to be happy but something keeps reminding you that LIFE IS SHORT AND YOU WILL DIE. But the final movement is triumphant. It oftenn runs through my head when I swim, ever since I noticed that the ba-bum rhythm of the theme mirrors Michael Phelps’ freestyle stroke: wa-wham – pause – wa-wham – pause). I spoke with violist Brandon Vamos afterward, and he thought there is still some hesitancy in the last movement — maybe so, but don’t spoil my fun.
What a fine young quartet!
I had such a great time with Chris (see below) that I concluded, “gotta get me one.” She’s not a true Victrola, but a Columbia Grafonola, of Columbia Record Company. I haven’t really explored thoroughly, so I’m not sure of year or model, but it seems to fall in the 1911-1925 range. Found her at an antique shop in Bountiful, which had 7 or 8 real beauties. The shopkeeper is very knowledgeable.
Bonus points for anyone who can name the tune.
What a splendid afternoon! Chris and I descended into the Music Department archives and loaded ourselves up with vintage 78s: Wagner, Caruso, Berlioz, etc. Then we went to his house, cranked up the Victorola, and had a proper tea with raisin scones and jam. Next time we hope to have cravats and waistcoats!
Tami and Pete enlightened me as to the existence of the “steampunk” genre — folks who write books and make stuff that celebrate the kind of victorian machinery of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Check out this website to see all sorts of steampunked computer stuff — really impressive.
If you have 10 minutes, and (like me) enjoy surrealism and machinery, check out this short film.
I recently finished the trilogy by Philip Pullman, “His Dark Materials.” It is a set of books aimed at young adults, but when I saw the film of “The Golden Compass,” I found the ideas appealing enough to give the books a try. I was not disappointed.
Most of the action takes place in a parallel universe, in which people’s souls (or daemons) walk around outside them in animal form. The relationship between a human and its daemon is complex: they need to be in close spatial proximity in order for both to survive, and they sense one another’s emotions, but they have separate consciousnesses and have conversations with one another. If the psychic link between the two is severed, the daemon dies and the human becomes listless. We learn later that when a human is killed, its daemon turns evaporates into the cosmos while the human’s own spirit is sent to the land of the dead.
We also learn that some stuff called “Dust” permeates this world, and is somehow linked to consciousness, intelligence, and creativity. Humans produce it when they think, create, and initiate. An organization known as the Church is convinced that Dust is in fact Original Sin, and is reacting against it with fear and rage. Dust dates back to the first fall in Eden, it seems, or the emergence of consciousness in early hominids. Also around that time there was a rebellion of angels against God (or the Authority), and it seems that at least some angels are plotting a second revolution.
The Authority was once an angel, but somehow ascended to greater power and ruled the universe. But he grew old, and delegated most of his authority to a mean angel, known as Metatron. By the time we meet the Authority, he’s a benign, senile old fool, and he dies without much fanfare.
(Side note: I now understand why Zarathustra claims “God is dead” rather than that God doesn’t exist. Look at history: in the early days, if you read the Bible, God is active and effective. Later, he acts only through prophets and angels. By the time of the Reformation, he’s well-nigh invisible. Zarathustra is simply confirming what everybody should have suspected: by now, surely, the old man must be dead. We haven’t heard from him in millennia.)
Our world, and a few other worlds, get caught up in the drama as well, because a boy named Will (from our own world) comes into possession of the Subtle Knife, which allows its wielder to cut passage from one world to another. The problem is that whenever this happens, some Dust (known in our world as “dark matter”) starts spilling out through the cut. So Dust, overall, is declining in quantity, and worlds start falling apart, since somehow they need intelligence, perhaps as a human in Lyra’s world needs a daemon. Lyra and Will become second-generation Adam and Eve, though it is their job to preserve the Dust and frustrate the Church’s objectives.
There is fantastic imagery throughout: iron-clad polar bears, zeppelins, witches, tiny warriors riding dragonflies, and so on. It’s a very compelling story, and I’d love to be in a group exploring its many layers of metaphor.
After successfully getting the Monarch Pricemarker to work, Jerry rewarded me with a more difficult task. He presented me with some sort of device (made by Haag-Streit, Bern, early 20th century) with movable arms, multiple lenses, a light source, and calibrated adjustment knobs. The task was more difficult since neither of us knew what it was supposed to do originally.
Okay, you start by taking things apart and seeing what moves. Then you rewire the electrical stuff and see what that does. Then you move all the arms around, try the different lenses, and see what you can see. Then you eat some sugar cookies. Then you take make an educated guess as to its function, and see if you can get it to perform.
It took some time before I guessed that the device and something to do with mental images, and a bit more before guessing that it was related to memory retrieval. (Thanks here to Geoffrey Sonnabend, and his theory of obliscence, which I recently encountered.) On a hunch, I wrote down one of my treasured childhood memories — of befriending a zebra in a petting zoo — inserted it between the viewing lenses and the light source, punching a hole in the appropriate spot, and peering through the lens.
Yes, there was something there to be seen, but somehow it didn’t feel quite right. Aha! It was then that I suspected that the function of the strange but prominently-positioned joystick is to align visual data with associative feelings. Trusting my hunch, I made a label.
And immediately everything came together, just as it was supposed to:
The view through the lenses. Hard to see, I know, but it’s my zebra, just as I remembered him.
UPDATE: One further use for this device is as a slit lamp. Optometrists use them to closely examine the surface of the eyes.
(Thanks to Jeannine for the excellent camera work.)
UPDATE: Here, by the way, is the charmless current model of the Monarch Pricemarker (I think).