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Author Topic: (A) Grim (assessment) contra Nietzsche  (Read 1070 times)
LostInAShaftOfSunlight
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« on: 06/05/09 @ 09:56 »

From an audio lecture series by Patrick Grim, some content from the lecture "A Genealogy of my Morals"

N's Geneology of morals is a deeply flawed book, but useful on at least one account.  On the positive side the Genealogy contains a strategy for evaluation of one’s own moral view.  The history of our ethical concepts may offer reasons to accept or reject them.  They might teach us more than just history, but offer ethical lessons as well about our concepts. 

Now the abrading:

N’s vocabulary and sensibilities incorporated directly into core concepts of Nazi’s.  He was read and re-read by Hitler, and the ideas of GM reverberate throughout Mein Kampf. 
N is a 'despicable racist.' There is a small industry in trying to explain his racism, and trying to explain away his link to the Nazi’s and the death camps.  No one tries to explain away his sexism. 
His Sister is often used a scapegoat, but GM is steeped in anti semitic stereotypes and are essential to the work’s showing the Jewish undercutting of the triumph of the great blonde beast, the aryan ubermensch.

N is not a very good philosopher:

The Core claim of GM is psuedoscientific.  It's central linguistic claim is false: that,

A: The derivation of ethical terms derive from terms applied to itself by a ruling aristocracy, and negative terms for the common or lower class

B: All languages all have this transformation and it stems everywhere from this kind of class distinction

N's evidence is just bits and pieces, a few words.

Grim tried it himself in English.  He looked up good/bad ethical words and traced etymologies.
He came up with a list of 62 words (good, bad, malignant, appropriate, worthy, etc.) with 447 different ethical senses.  The most charitable inclusion still finds that 95 % of the English ethical terms have always been ethical without any ties to social hierarchy


 
« Last Edit: 06/05/09 @ 10:03 by LostInAShaftOfSunlight » Logged

Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.
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« Reply #1 on: 07/05/09 @ 11:29 »

[Grinding teeth in Ubermenschian indignation but with an admixture of infinite patience and humour]

There are a mixture of criticisms here, some worthy of debate, and some less so. Let's have a look!

1. N's vocabulary and sensibilities incorporated into Nazi concepts. Well, it would be nice to have examples of 'vocabulary', but I guess this is a reference to 'will to power' and 'master' and 'slave' types. Firstly, as I've argued elsewhere, will to power is not a rallying call to all the thugs and would-be despots, but - first and foremost - an EXPLANATION of a fundamental principle of life. As such, the real debate concerning its truth should take place in biology and evolutionary theory, and not (just) in morality. Each thing that lives (N argued) tries its damnedest not to die, and to propagate its type. This is a factual claim, and should be assessed as such. Whilst the Nazis used such theories to back up their own weird brand of pseudo messianic thuggery, they ignored N's other point: that, just because the dominant classes were initially the strongest, this does not mean that 'might is right', but merely that the higher type of man will not turn his back on traditional notions of strength and health. Secondly, 'master' and 'slave' were, for N, mental types, and whilst they did have racial components, they are not 'races' (as the Nazis thought). In fact, N is primarily concerned with self-overcoming of our inherited influences, so racial background is pretty much irrelevant in the long view. As to whether Hitler read N, or whether these ideas 'reverberate' through Mein Kampf, I don't know (I haven't read a biography of Hitler or Mein Kampf). However, from what I understand of Hitler, his reading was quite eclectic and not particularly subtle, so I would be surprised if N was the only thing he read that he misinterpreted. However, obviously, we can't argue from effect to cause: i.e. Hitler was a Nazi who read N, therefore N was a (proto)Nazi.

2. 'Despicable racist' is really a double insult in today's terms, where 'racist' is usually a bad enough insult! Firstly, being a racist is merely to ascribe certain stereotypical qualities to races, for good or bad. It is therefore really just stereotyping. However, stereotypes can be occasionally useful: 'don't walk around the trainstation after dark or you'll get mugged' suggests certain stereotypical facts about people who hang around trainstations at night, but it may have some truth in it. The problem with racism is that it frequently makes stereotypical statements which cannot be justified (e.g. to do with intelligence or moral character). Now, it seems to me that N is not this type of racist, so whilst he does make racial general statements, they tend to be subtler than this, often not from the view that one race is 'better' than another, and for good and bad. Furthermore, as regards anti-semitism, he makes a number of positive statements about Jewish culture, not a single one of which would ever have passed Hitler's lips. So, racist, possibly; despicable racist, no.

3. 'His link to the Nazi deathcamps'?! Now, even if N were an anti-Semite (which he arguably wasn't), how is he linked to the Final Solution? For a start, N even suggests that the future of Europe lies with interbreeding and integrating with Jewish culture! How does that translate into genocide?

4. 'No one tries to explain away his sexism'. Well, that's not true. Lesley Chamberlain's "Nietzsche in Turin" is a quite frank portrait of N, warts and all, and there is open admission that the man had 'issues' with women - although, interestingly, he was friends with many women, and they all found him charming! As for the 'industry', well, this is as true of anti-Nietzsche propaganda before WWI and WWII as it is of pro-Nietzsche apologetics afterwards - so, take your pick. I think to label anything an 'industry' is to cheapen the content, which isn't really a form of argument!

5. Anti-Semitic sterotypes in GM. I'm not as familiar with GM as BGAE, to be honest, so you would have to point out examples of these. I'm not saying they're not there, but merely that it's difficult to argue with generalities. My general view of N is that he wasn't an anti-Semite (at least not in the traditional sense). If he was, then it was no more than he was anti-Teutonic, or anti-Anglo Saxon - it all formed part of his critique of culture. However, I'm happy to discuss particular examples if you can highlight them.

6. Blonde beast/Aryan ubermensch. This is a pretty sloppy point. As far as I am aware, N does not make a connection between the Nordic races and the master mentality - aristocracies can spring up in any culture or race (in fact, almost all of them at some point!). The blonde beast referred to is the lion, the king of the jungle, so-called, whom N uses to symbolise the pride and power of the ubermensch (which are qualities, I am presuming, that Nazis do not have a monopoly on!). The notion of the Aryan origins of European culture is actually not a purely Nazi theory, and it was originally a term used to describe the Indo-European culture which sprang up in the area roughly corresponding to what is now Iran/Pakistan (see here). As such, the Aryan people can be seen as a root culture for a wide range of what are now disparate and scattered peoples. Nazi Aryanism springs from the mistaken belief that the Aryan culture originated in Scandinavia, hence the blonde hair. However, the Nordic origins of Aryanism were just another competing theory of the time (one which the Nazis favoured).

7. The last point is a fair one, and it is generally agreed that N does not have (or at least, does not present) sufficient proof for many of his more empirical claims. However, this is not to say that he did not have such evidence, or that he was not in fact on to something - N's style is not to present systematic analysis of ideas in a traditional way, but to use rhetoric, humour, etc. This sometimes gives rise to the criticism that N is 'not a very good philosopher' - which, as a general claim, is weak, for one bad argument does not make a bad philosopher (look at Plato!). We should therefore stick to what facts we have. As with the will to power, the idea that good originates with the aristocracy is an empirical claim, and can be investigated. I will freely admit that I don't have the knowledge or means to assess this claim, but it seems to me that it requires a bit more subtlety than merely checking words in a dictionary! Also, what does '95% percent of these terms have always been ethical' mean?! It seems to assume that 'good' has always meant, 'that which is right' - which, in case you haven't spotted it, is a tautology! What does 'right' mean? Grim seems to be assuming that early cultures are always referring to a non-natural form of 'good' (i.e. like a Platonic ideal) - which, whether N is right or wrong, seems a much harder pill to swallow. It is therefore much more likely that, even if they do not have the meaning that N says they do, moral terms originally had a naturalistic flavour (e.g. 'good' means 'pleasant' or 'what the shaman tells me to do').

Anyway, this is more than enough to keep us going for a while - and maybe should be split into other threads.

By the way, I would not call myself a 'Nietzschean', and my aim isn't to defend him against all attacks. Rather, I simply have sympathy for certain of his ideas, and want to see his philosophy itself discussed seriously (and not subject to sloppy, ignorant, and prejudicial attacks).
« Last Edit: 07/05/09 @ 11:34 by Gareth Southwell » Logged

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LostInAShaftOfSunlight
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« Reply #2 on: 16/12/09 @ 04:23 »

 You say you're not a Nietzschean. Could you expand on this? What would distinguish you from someone calling themselves a Nietzschean?  Where are you most in harmony with N?  Where is there the most discord?

 I remember reading an interview with Lampert awhile back where he says: "I became a Nietzschean..." and "...it was something that I thought of regarding myself. “Who am I? Well, I am someone who has been taken over by Nietzsche.”
http://www.nietzschecircle.com/interview.html

« Last Edit: 16/12/09 @ 07:52 by LostInAShaftOfSunlight » Logged

Man, when I was young I shoved my ignorance in people's faces. They beat me with sticks. By the time I was forty my blunt instrument had been honed to a fine cutting point for me. If you hide your ignorance, no one will hit you and you'll never learn.
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« Reply #3 on: 17/12/09 @ 09:57 »

Hi Sunny - long time no hear!

Firstly, where I disagree:

I am not an atheist. I think there is an interpretation of Nietzsche which can possibly soften his atheism, and propose how a Nietzschean might develop a sort of religious attitude which is in line with his basic principles (I suggest such a line in my book), but if we are honest, this is at the outer limits of Nietzsche interpretation. So, it seems fairly obvious that N was an atheist - not of the cartoon variety (his views were certainly not the sort of standard materialism that you find these days), but an atheist nonetheless. His main religious targets, it would seem to me, are life negation (which he saw in pretty much all religions), and what Sartre would call "bad faith" (i.e. sacrificing your freewill to an external projection of your own values); I agree with both of these criticisms.

Secondly, I am not a nihilist. N's main assertion is that we must devise our own meaning from life, because it does not possess any inherent meaning. Whilst I have great sympathy with this (see below), I am not totally convinced that no such values exist. This is a consequence of my non-atheism, I suppose: if there is some ordering force to the universe, and some possible purpose that human beings have, then that is the basis of our values.

Lastly, I don't think it is healthy to shade under the umbrella of any philosopher or thinker, no matter how great. So, if I am Nietzschean, or Wittgensteinian, or Platonist, then there is a certain orthodoxy that I must abide by - I must toe the party line. Now, this seems silly to me, for it just restricts any possible development that might go against my main allegiance. Furthermore, N himself would laugh at this, for he was less concerned with being Nietzschean than anyone, for we should not guard against getting trapped by our own self-image or sense of who we are.

As for sympathies:

I think the will to power is largely correct. Each organism has a dominant will or force that seeks to express itself in word and deed. Mostly, this is hidden, and its influence is not always discernible, but it constitutes the main impetus of living beings. Because of this, N's "psychoanalysis" of philosophers is quite accurate, I think (or at least, very plausible and interesting). So, I would agree that we need to be aware of WHY we seek knowledge or certainty, and also of the snares of supposed objectivity.

Secondly, in a related point, I think N is right about knowledge. We tailor our perception of reality in line with our deepest psychological and physiological needs. We are not conscious of doing this, but N's greatest contribution (in my eyes) was to highlight this process, and link it to the will to power. So, once again, it is not objectivity that we seek (or at least, not as it is commonly understood), but rather a certain power-enabling perspective. This is perhaps similar to a Darwinian view (we don't perceive objectively, but merely in the way that has helped us survive), and N is quite close to D here, but I would perhaps differ in being open to the possibility that such a process is itself a step in a greater 'unfolding' according to an underlying pattern.

Anyway, those are my main agreements and disagreements. Some of them are not particularly easy to defend, philosophically, but they represent intuitions that I am content to entertain. My main problem with contemporary Nietzscheans is that they are too concerned with being Nietzschean! I admire N greatly, but I am not concerned at all with getting his posthumous approval, whatever that might mean. It is N's spirit and freedom which I find infectious.

I haven't really thought about this before in any explicit way, so thanks for asking - follow-up questions welcome!
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