Intros to European Philosophy: Nietzsche


Previously read: Birth of Tragedy, the, ‘Seventy-Five Aphorisms from Five Volumes’, Beyond Good and Evil, On the Genealogy of Morals, Case of Wagner, the, Ecce Homo.  But, I have n’t read him in awhile: the last time was the gap-year between undergrad and masters.  Also, when the title is European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (ed. M. Beardsley), you ‘re a bit happy to finally have arrived at the end. Of the philosophers to be found therein, I feel most familiar with Nietzsche.  You could accuse me of starting this blog as a place to exercise (probably not exorcise) Nietzsche and Kierkegaard’s stirrings.

Key texts: Beyond Good and Evil (abr.)

Overall impression: Nietzsche was n’t an unfamiliar subject, but I was for once able to locate him against (often) Kant, Schopenhauer, and Hegel.


**’^`’ *


Abstrusest im-pulses


“Indeed, to understand how the abstrusest metaphysical assertions of a philosopher have been arrived at, it is always well (and wise) to first ask oneself: ‘What morality do they (or does he) aim at?’  Accordingly, I do not believe that an ‘impulse to knowledge’ is the father of philosophy; but that another impulse here as elsewhere, has only made use of knowledge (and mistaken knowledge!) as an instrument. (European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche ed. M. Beardsley, p. 808)”

I ‘m quite partial to these sentiments regarding the ‘true vital germ’ of philosophers; they are not chosen for knowledge’s sake but in view to accomplishing some other aim, an aim which is all too often contrary to the means of communicating it.  Beware the one who is elusive in this matter.


Begging the Faculty and Opiates


“But let us reflect for a moment – it is high time to do so.  ‘How are synthetic a priori judgments possible?’  Kant asks himself – and what is really his answer? ‘By means of a means (faculty)’ – but unfortunately not in five words, but so circumstantially, imposingly, and wish such a display of German profundity and verbal flourishes, that one altogether loses sight of the comical niaiserie allemande involved in such an answer… One can do no greater wrong to the whole of this exuberant and eccentric movement…than to take it seriously, or even treat it with moral indignation… But is that – an answer?  An explanation? Or is it not merely begging the question?  How does opium induce sleep?  ‘By means of a means (faculty),’ namely the virtus dormitiva, replies the doctor in Moliere,

Quia est in eo virtus dormitiva,

Cujus est natura sensus assoupire.

[Because it contains a soporific power,

Whose nature is to dull the senses. ~ trans. Monroe Beardsley] (p. 811)”

We should expect scalding remarks from Nietzsche; it is our weakness then to be surprised and reflect little on the content therein.  Opium induces sleep because it has a ‘soporific effect’, just as any other physical explanation fails to explain the phenomena in absence of the physical relation – the same could be said for our explanations of gravity: things fall because the smaller mass experiences the pull exerted by the greater.  We still have no idea why.  Why then we should agree with Kant, if he has ‘explained’ nothing – it does not matter, for Nietzsche, as they are in our mouths only false judgments (p. 812).


Who exactly is doing the thinking here?

“With regard to the superstitions of the logicians, I shall never tire of emphasizing a small, terse fact, which these credulous minds are unwilling to recognize – namely, that a thought comes when ‘it’ wishes and, not when ‘I’ wish; so that it is aperversion of the facts of the case to say that the subject ‘I’ is the condition of the predicate ‘think.’  Something thinks; but that this ‘something’ is precisely the famous old ‘ego,’ is, to put it mildly, only a supposition, an assertion, and assuredly not an ‘immediate certainty.’ (European Philosophers, p. 815)”

Even the something which thinks is imposed by the observer.  So much for Descartes, but then, this is what happens when Nietzsche is allowed the last word: he relishes it.


In a name, prejudice lurks


“But it seems to me again that in this case Schopenhauer also only did what philosophers are in the habit of doing – he seems to have adopted a popular prejudice and exaggerated it.  Willing seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only in name – and it is precisely in a name that popular prejudice lurks, which has got the mastery over the inadequate precautions of philosophers in all ages. (p. 816)”

The will is certainly an important matter for both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard, a matter too much neglected in many prominent philosophical systems (Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, and to some extent Hegel), but it is certainly a complex matter.  It is not simply enough to know that the will to power or the will to action are the reason for which we think and discuss matters, we must not make the mistake of Descartes in allowing it to be simple.


The escape into normalcy


“That the various philosophical ideas do not evolve randomly or autonomously, but in connection and relationship with each other; that, however suddenly and arbitrarily they seem to appear in the history of thought, they nevertheless belong just as much to a system as the members of the fauna of a continent – is betrayed in the end by the circumstance: how unfailingly the most diverse philosophers always fill in again a definite fundamental scheme of possible philosophies.  Under an invisible spell, they always revolve once more in the same orbit; however independent of each other they may feel themselves with their critical or systematic wills, something within them leads them, something impels them in definite order, the one after the other – to wit, the innate methodology and relationship of their ideas. (pp. 817-818)”

Leave it to Nietzsche or Foucault to say a lot in two sentences, with a lot of Nietzschian/Foucauldian asides to mark their respective streams of consciousness, but still to wander on their way.  It makes for interesting reading and it is n’t ‘clean’ in the manner of some philosophers.  That ideas operate within a discourse and are essentially all reactions to each other (and necessarily they are always in response to some finite series of former reactions) is a point which needs making (even as a reaction, it still needs to be said again as the counterreaction is sure to come back).


“[O]ne should use ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ only as pure concepts, that is to say, as conventional fictions for the purpose of designation and mutual understanding –not for explanation. (pp. 818-819)”

I love considering causality, and alternatives to causal explanations, but prefer to note that ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ are useful in day to day discourse as language conventions; but ought to not be thought of formally as useful descriptors.  For Nietzsche, the only helpful causality is the causality of will (because any who wills certainly expects to make a specific change – to will this thing) (p. 823) and for Ghazali it is most important that causality not limit God’s freedom.

  • This is only an aside, but in speaking of experience Nietzsche leaves this: “[E]xperience, as it seems to me, always implies unfortunate experience? (p. 833)”


Fear of the known

“Every deep thinker is more afraid of being understood than of being misunderstood.  The latter perhaps wounds his vanity; but the former wounds his heart, his sympathy, which always say: ‘Ah why would you also have as hard a time of it as I have?’ (p. 849)”

I have elsewhere remarked on this passage, so I only here would say that understanding, as truth or knowledge, is power-language and can so be deemed abusive by one who feels experience has given her a right to speak thusly.

Intros to European Philosophy: Comte


Previously read: non

Key texts: General View of Positivism, the. Ch. I and VI (abr.)

Overall impression: He’s way too fond of the word ‘Positivism’ and was keen to consistently aver that it solved many problems, only he could never seem to successfully explain how.  Needless to say, I was rolling downhill in the European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche and Comte warranted less mental energy than Mach (a pleasant surprise) or Nietzsche.


occasion for theology

“It is to the fact that theology arose spontaneously from feeling that its influence is for the most part due. (European Philosophers, ed. M. Beardsley: p. 735)”

In the previous sentence he states that the life of the individual and of the race is always based in feeling, so this is not a particularly mean or weak conception.  But he’s convinced that the new philosophy will eventually supersede theology’s place in society.  Perhaps there has been a blending such that most theology is this ‘new philosophy’, but he never satisfactorily explains for me what means he by this new philosophy – this positivism(  So I’m disinclined to be so generous with my analysis.

  • trivia note, as per Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (entry by Michael Bourdeau): Brasil’s motto, Ordo e Progresso is at least in part a signal of Comte’s influence


atheism is too theistic

“Atheism, even from the intellectual point of view, is a very imperfect form of emancipation; for its tendency is to prolong the metaphysical stage indefinitely, by continuing to seek for new solutions of Theological problems, instead of setting aside all inaccessible researches on the ground of their utter inutility. (ibidem, p 745)”

This seems most logical; if I were atheistic I would be so in the truest sense and therefore anti-theism on theological grounds would occupy as little of my precious time as possible.  That is, true emancipation would n’t look like the antithesis of theism, but theistic concerns would be minimal at best.  In taking up the opposing point, one legitimates the opponent even as the right for the opponent to occupy that discursive space is argued.

Intros to European Philosophy: Leibniz


Previously Read: My undergraduate research project was on Leibniz’ greatest possible world theodicy (defense of God’s justice – he invented the term). But that was by way of someone else’s approximation, so I was happy to read Leibniz in his own (translated) words.

Key texts: First Truths, Discourse on Metaphysics, and Monadology

Overall impression: I love any reading where Time and Space come into the fold. “Time too may be proved not to be a thing, in the same way as space. (European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche, ed. M. Beardsley. p. 248)” Jackpot. “Space, time, extension, and motion are not things but well-founded modes of our consideration. (p. 249)”


  • Monads. It seems to me to be a sort of atomism, for he speaks of them as simple substances which begin in creation and end in annihilation. Change is continuous in all things – very Heraclituslike.
  • Mention of the Averroists. Leibniz avers that the church fathers were ‘always more Platonic than Aristotelian’ (European Philosophers, p. 278) and the Averroists misused the concept of God being the light of souls. “Truths of reasoning are necessary, and their opposite is impossible; those of fact are contingent, and their opposite is possible. (p. 292)”

48. In God is Power, which is the source of all; then Knowledge, which contains the detail of ideas; and finally Will, which effects changes or products according to the principle of the best. (p. 294)”

For Ghazali, I believe these would be rearranged to Will, Knowledge, and Power. At least, that’s what I noted after reading Frank Griffel’s explanation of Ghazali’s cosmology. Interesting to note the parallel for me.

71. But it must not be imagined, as has been done by some people who have misunderstood my thought, that each soul has a mass or portion of matter belonging to it or attached to it forever, and that consequently it possesses other inferior living beings, destined to its service forever. For all bodies are, like rivers, in a perpetual flux, and parts are entering into them and departing from them continually. (p. 298)”

As I said, very Heraclitus-like (though I seem to perpetually want to say Xenophanes or Hippocratus)

  • He noted the limit of the ontological argument, as it was rejected by Aquinas (p. 307).

From ‘Space and Time’:

“I hold space to be something merely relative, as time is; that I hold it to be an order of coexistences, as time is an order of successions. For space denotes, in terms of possibility, an order of things which exist at the same time, considered as existing together; without enquiring into their manner of existing. (p. 304)”