Nietzsche/Darwin Part X: Nihilism

Friedrich Nietzsche

Since Nietzsche, only in the modern era have ‘spirit” and “culture” been deliberately experienced as fundamental ways in which human beings comport themselves to both themselves and the world, and the word “values” used to describe such comportment. Indeed, such comportment is evaluated in all the areas of knowledge that are studied in the IB Diploma Program. This is part of the gradual movement from empiricism or positivism to historicism, a movement which Nietzsche saw as inevitable.

That we use the words ‘spirit’ and ‘culture’ to describe the Middle Ages or Greek civilization prevents us from understanding these eras since there is no “spirit” or “culture” present in them. It is through the language and thinking of Nietzsche that we have determined how we “know” and “understand” these historical eras and what we call our “personal” and “shared” knowledge in our own era. Nietzsche’s thinking and language permeates the social/human sciences and now has come to permeate the “hard” sciences through the discoveries of modern physics, particularly relativity and indeterminacy, and these hard sciences’ impact on chemistry and biology. As a teacher I have always been astonished at how the young were speaking the language of Nietzsche when they had absolutely no familiarity with him.

Nietzsche considers “nihilism” as that condition where the ultimate values devaluate themselves. The determination of values is grounded in a determination of whether and how something is—or whether that is is “nothing”—no-thing. There is a connection here to beings in their Being; they are not concepts of value since they are “no-thing”. Since “things” themselves have no values in and of themselves it is human beings who give the value to the things.

The “nothing” of nihilism is rooted in a judgement, assertion; it has its origins in “logic”. Nietzsche’s thinking illustrates that the essence of “nothing” cannot be understood but also that it will no longer be understood. For Nietzsche, the modern era is where human beings became the centre and measure of all things. This is not to be understood as an individual ego or subjectum but of human beings as the ground and aim of all Being. (See for example Pope Francis’ acceptance of “evolution” as a “fact”, although his interpretation is somewhat different than that understood by the scientists: the scientist understands evolution as a product of chance or contingency, the output of the chaos of existence and that it has no goal or aim in and of itself; Pope Francis must see evolution as part of the order of the world, an example of God’s will which, at some point in history,  gives the logos to human being, and this comes dangerously close to the blasphemy of thinking that one can make the will of God “scrutable”).

How does nihilism come to be? When Nietzsche writes that “God is dead”, he is not being trite in the manner of the 1960s hippie activist Abbie Hoffman who said: “God is dead and we did it for the kids”. Hoffman’s banality has been echoed by many since. With the death of God comes the devaluation of the highest value, the nullity of meaning and purpose for and in anything. This result is due to the fact that meaning was sought in all events and things and was not found. “Meaning” and “value” are synonymous in Nietzsche: what has meaning has value, and what has value has meaning.

“Meaning” also indicates “purpose”. We see purpose as the “why” of every action, comportment, and event. Nietzsche illustrates what meaning and purpose could have been: “the ethical world order”; “the growth of love and harmony in social intercourse”; pacifism, eternal peace, our globalization and our “international mindedness”; “the gradual approximation to a state of universal happiness”; the greatest good for the greatest number; “or even the departure toward a state of universal nothingness”. Any goal constitutes some meaning. Why? Because it has a purpose, because it is itself a purpose. Ultimately, it is the necessity of the will to will.

What does our reliance on mathematical physics and the everydayness of our comportment to things have to do with what Nietzsche understands as nihilism? Nietzsche can say it much better than I. Let’s have a look at a long passage from his Will To Power (#12) which presages the arrival of our modern era and gives us reasons why the corporation and social networks as institutions have come to dominate our social lives and our politics. Many more extensions to all the areas of knowledge and to all the areas of our current existence can be made by extrapolating on what is said here:

12 (Nov, 1887-March 1888) Decline of Cosmological Values


Nihilism as a psychological state will have to be reached, first, when we have sought a “meaning” in all events that is not there: so the seeker eventually becomes discouraged. Nihilism, then, is the recognition of the long waste of strength, the agony of the “in vain,” insecurity, the lack of any opportunity to recover and to regain composure—being ashamed in front of oneself, as if one had deceived oneself all too long.— This meaning could have been: the “fulfillment” of some highest ethical canon in all events, the moral world order; or the growth of love and harmony in the intercourse of beings; or the gradual approximation of a state of universal happiness; or even the development toward  a state of universal annihilation—any goal at least constitutes some meaning. What all these notions have in common is that something is to be achieved through the process—and now one realizes that becoming aims at nothing and achieves nothing.— Thus, disappointment regarding an alleged aim of becoming as a cause of nihilism: whether regarding a specific aim or, universalized, the realization that all previous hypotheses about aims that concern the whole “evolution” are inadequate (man no longer the collaborator, let alone the center, of becoming).

Nihilism as a psychological state is reached, secondly, when one has posited a totality, a systematization, indeed any organization in all events, and underneath all events, and a soul that longs to admire and revere has wallowed in the idea of some supreme form of domination and administration (—if the soul be that of a logician, complete consistency and real dialectic are quite sufficient to reconcile it to everything). Some sort of unity, some form of “monism”: this faith suffices to give man a deep feeling of standing in the context of, and being dependent on, some whole that is infinitely superior to him, and he sees himself as a mode of the deity.— “The well-being of the universal demands the devotion of the individual”—but behold, there is no such universal!

At bottom, man has lost the faith in his own value when no infinitely valuable whole works through him; i.e., he conceived such a whole in order to be able to believe in his own value.

Nihilism as psychological state has yet a third and last form. Given these two insights, that becoming has no goal and that underneath all becoming there is no grand unity in which the individual could immerse himself completely as in an element of supreme value, an escape remains: to pass sentence on this whole world of becoming as a deception and to invent a world beyond it, a true world. But as soon as man finds out how that world is fabricated solely from psychological needs, and how he has absolutely no right to it, the last form of nihilism comes into being: it includes disbelief in any metaphysical world and forbids itself any belief in a true world. Having reached this standpoint, one grants the reality of becoming as the only reality, forbids oneself every kind of clandestine access to afterworlds and false divinities—but cannot endure this world though one does not want to deny it.

What has happened, at bottom? The feeling of valuelessness was reached with the realization that the overall character of existence may not be interpreted by means of the concept of “aim,” the concept of “unity,” or the concept of “truth.” Existence has no goal or end; any comprehensive unity in the plurality of events is lacking: the character of existence is not “true,” is false. One simply lacks any reason for convincing oneself that there is a true world. Briefly: the categories “aim,” “unity,” “being” which we used to project some value into the world—we pull out again; so the world looks valueless.


Suppose we realize how the world may no longer be interpreted in terms of these three categories, and that the world begins to become valueless for us after this insight: then we have to ask about the sources of our faith in these three categories. Let us try if it is not possible to give up our faith in them. Once we have devaluated these three categories, the demonstration that they cannot be applied to the universe is no longer any reason for devaluating the universe.

Conclusion: The faith in the categories of reason is the cause of nihilism. We have measured the value of the world according to categories that refer to a purely fictitious world.

Final conclusion: All the values by means of which we have tried so far to render the world estimable for ourselves and which then proved inapplicable and therefore devaluated the world—all these values are, psychologically considered, the results of certain perspectives of utility, designed to maintain and increase human constructs of domination—and they have been falsely projected into the essence of things. What we find here is still the hyperbolic naiveté of man: positing himself as the meaning and measure of the value of things.

Nietzsche sums up nihilism as of three types: the failure of a search for meaning and purpose; the failure of positing a “unity” in which human beings were seen as the “centre” of that unity (the humanism that arose from traditional Christianity once God was dispensed with) and the “ascent” to a “true” world beyond becoming (Being) i.e. the cosmological, psychological and theological worlds are worlds in which “nothing” is ever achieved.

Nietzsche states in Section B of note #12 above that the highest values are “categories of reason”. This expression means reason, rational thinking, the judgement of understanding, “logic”—all things the categories of reason stand related to and which determine what the things are and how they are. It finds its ultimate statement in Leibniz’s nihil est sine ratione—“nothing is without reason”; “nothing is without a reason (cause)”. Leibniz calls this “the principle of reason”. In our reading of Leibniz’s statement, if we put the emphasis on the words “nothing” and “is” we can begin to hear what Nietzsche intends in his statements. We can rearrange the statement to make it clearer: “Without reason, nothing is”, “Without a reason nothing is”. As Nietzsche states quite explicitly in the “Decline in Cosmological Values”, “Faith in the categories of reason is the cause of nihilism—we have measured the value of the world according to categories which relate to a purely fictitious world.”

Here, Nietzsche quite explicitly defines “faith” as a way of knowing; not as a relation to a “religious knowledge system” only, but to all manner of “systemic thinking”, to all metaphysical thinking which is based upon “results” brought about through reckoning and calculation and based upon “the principle of reason”. But is there not a contradiction here? Have we not already determined that for Nietzsche “technology is the highest form of will to power” and have we not already stated that the thinking involved in symbolic mathematical physics is one predicate of this technology and that it is based upon the principle of reason? The contradiction is resolved in Nietzsche’s statement regarding all human efforts using the principle of reason: “To stamp Becoming with the character of Being—that is the supreme will to power” (WP #617). Such “stamping” of becoming requires what Nietzsche called his most important concept, the eternal recurrence of the same, for its completion. That technology (enframing, framing) which brings to presence, fixates in terms of place, and makes permanent is the stamp (paradigm) which characterizes the nature of Becoming with the character of Being. But for Nietzsche, this stamping is an error. The delimitation of becoming, its defining and the setting of its limits through technology, is an error in which art is necessary lest we perish from the truth of this error. Art is one aspect of the logos of the techne + logos (the “knowing” and the “making”), the supreme form of will to power. This is what Nietzsche called “active nihilism”. Active nihilism sets out to define truth in its essence on the basis of that which lends all things their determinability and definition and this is what technology is.

Knowledge of the origins and of the necessity of values brings with it an insight into the essence of prior values and valuation. “Valuation” and “valuative thought” come not as “instinctive behaviour” observing itself i.e. not as algorithmic thinking and calculation, a “problem solving” that becomes “conscious” but rather that “consciousness” itself becomes “calculation” as instinct proper. The essence of values has its grounds in “constructs of domination”, the domination that solves “problems”. What Nietzsche sees as “untrue” is the fact that these values (primarily through the thinking of Kant and in the interpretations of that thinking) have been placed in a realm of “existing in itself” within which and from which they are to acquire absolute validity for themselves when they are really only a certain kind of will to power. Axiomatic thinking comes to dominate. What does this mean?

Nietzsche writes at the same time in his life (WP #1027): “Man is monster (beast) and overman; the higher man is inhuman and superhuman: these belong together. With every increase of greatness and height in man, there is also an increase in depth and terribleness: one ought not to desire the one without the other—or rather: the more radically one desires the one, the more radically one achieves precisely the other.”

Nietzsche’s concept of morality is not simply the distinctions between “good” and “evil” as these have been traditionally defined. Nietzsche’s conception of metaphysics is a “moral” conception where morality means “a system of evaluations”. Every interpretation of the world, including the scientific, is a positing of values and thus a forming and shaping of the world according to the image of human beings; it is a “moral” evaluation i.e. a system of evaluations. Man is, indeed, “the measure of all things”, but not as Protagoras understood this. There is no distinction between “facts” and “values” as is the faith and belief of the logical positivists. All evaluations are moral evaluations, thus values. Man in his freedom is bound by and bound to his own positings, what he conceives “truth” to be. This is what “the death of God” means: “first principles” (and “morality” is to be understood as based on “first principles”) do not require proof; they are transparent in themselves; they are “obvious”. This is what the word “axiom” means. “Survival of the fittest” is obvious; it is an axiom. It is a value estimation of being. This is what the word “axiom” means. Symbolic algebraic thinking evolves towards “axiomatic thinking”.  The theory of evolution is taught not as theory but as reality.

Plato began metaphysical thinking in the West with his understanding of beings as “Idea”. The ideas are the “one” in the many which at first appears in our experience of the many. We see many varieties of trees as we walk along a path and in them we see the “one” of “treeness” and so this “one” is. The treeness of the tree is the permanent and true of the tree as opposed to its fluctuating appearance in becoming in the many trees we see about us. The Idea is the essence of the specific tree, what it is of a tree that makes it a tree and not a rock.

In Nietzsche’s metaphysics of will to power, the ideas must be considered as “values”, and supreme values are the highest values. For Plato, the highest Idea is the idea of the Good. “Good” is what makes things “good for something”, and it is this “usefulness” which makes the thing possible; but this “utility” is not human-centred. From this “usefulness” is derived the concept of our “indebtedness” to the thing in its relation to us. If we think for a moment, all our issues with our environment such as climate change or the massive pollution of our rivers and oceans are the result of this lack of thinking and feeling of any “indebtedness” to nature for the things that have been given to us, the things that are not of our own making for we have considered them as “no-thing”.

If we think of our perceptions as composed of discrete pixels or data, a form is necessary to make them perceivable to us i.e. to “bring them to light”, bring them to presence for us, and make them be beings that are understandable to us. The data must be put into a structure that can be recognized so that it can “in-form” us through its “form” (in + form + ation, that which is responsible for the form so that it “informs”). Kant would say that it is the “I think” of the ego that renders the interpretation and thus gives the perceptions Being. Nietzsche interprets this subjectivity on the basis of will to power; it is will to power that provides the form that informs. What gets lost is the sense of otherness and our “indebtedness” or “owing” to the otherness that is not ourselves. The thing becomes a “dis-posable”. No-thing has been given to us that is not of our own making. Because we make it, we know it and if we do not know it, it has no being; it is no-thing.

Nihilism always means that there is no-thing/nothing to the thing, the being as such. From this we can see why Nietzsche would say that the Western thinking that finds its flowering in the technological viewing as such is nihilistic and floats upon a sea of nihilism. The “Wherefore? Whither? and What then?” receive no answer and become forgotten, not asked.

Plato’s concept of the Good does not contain “values” thinking. Plato’s “Ideas” are not values, for the Being of beings is not projected as will to power. On the basis of his own fundamental metaphysical position, Nietzsche regards the Platonic interpretation of beings as “Ideas” and that which is beyond the senses as “values”. Under Nietzsche’s interpretation, all philosophy since Plato becomes “metaphysics as values”, but again it must be emphasized that this is Nietzsche’s decision based upon a view of Nature (physis), a view which is totally alien to the Greeks. The perceptible, what is immediately present for us is measured against “desirability”, that which is “needful” and conceived as the “ideal”. We do not measure Nature; Nature measures us.

Nietzsche, however, conceives these “desirable” things as the “uppermost values” or “morality understood as the doctrine of the relations of supremacy under which the phenomenon ‘life’ comes to be—“ (Beyond Good and Evil #19) Nietzsche’s “de-struction” of this hierarchy and of the history of metaphysical philosophy is not directed toward an understanding of the past that is historiological in nature, but rather, toward that time which is to come. Because beings as a whole are conceived in the realm of the supra-sensuous which is conceived as ‘true being’, God, the moral law, the authority of reason, “progress”, the happiness of the greatest number become the ideals which have been established. These “ideals” become the preserve of those human beings that Nietzsche referred to as “the last men”, that is, the last men before the arrival of the “overman”; but the ideals of the last men are founded upon nihilism. The “overman” is the highest condition of human being as such for he recognizes beings as will to power and judges “their value for life” as their highest being.

The “devaluation of the highest values hitherto” is what is meant by Nietzsche’s most famous expression “God is dead”. Not only is the Christian God dead but all “higher principles” be they the “authority of conscience”, the “domination of reason”, the God of “historical progress”, “the universal, homogeneous state” are also dead. They come to lose their power to shape history. For Nietzsche, the positing of the uppermost values, their falsification, devaluation, de-position, the appearance of the world as temporarily valueless, the need to replace prior values with new ones, the new positing as revaluation, and the preliminary stages of this revaluation are the “logic” inherent in nihilism itself. For Nietzsche, the cause of nihilism is “morality” where ideals of truth, beauty and goodness are valued “in themselves”. When these values show themselves to be unattainable, life appears to be unsuitable and unable to realize these values. “Pessimism” is a preliminary form of nihilism (WP #9).

One can find among the first examples of this “devaluation” the writings of Machiavelli where political philosophy is designed to deal with human beings “as they really are” and not with human beings as “they should be”. The ideal is removed; the standard is lowered, the hierarchy of nature is removed, and a leveling takes place. Machiavelli could be said to be the step-grandfather of what we call today the human or social sciences. That Machiavelli was an “evil man” goes without saying…he himself claims so.

Nietzsche describes the arrival of nihilism in various stages due to the pessimism brought about by the inability to achieve the “ideals” which have been posited for the whole of beings. What he calls “imperfect nihilism” denies the highest values that have been held historically but simply posits new ideals in the old places. So, for example, “communism” comes to replace the early forms of Christianity. These halfway measures postpone the decisive overthrow of the uppermost values. Nietzsche called Kant “the great delayer”, and much of modern thinking uses Kant to retain some kind of faith in a “transcendental” “supra-sensuous” realm.

The thinking that Nietzsche affirms is that thinking which shifts the place where new valuations will become possible. “Values” are conceived as conditions of will to power and beings as a whole are thought of in terms of values. Our language of “empowerment” and “quality of life” are examples of the values-thinking permeating our modern discourse. The value of the totality of beings is captured in Nietzsche’s concept of “eternal recurrence of the same” i.e. the value of the whole cannot be determined but evolves perpetually.

Nietzsche conceives all “meaning” as “purpose” and “end”, and purpose and end are values. Therefore, he can say that “absolute valuelessness”, that is meaninglessness, “aimless in itself”,  is “a fundamental tenet of faith for the nihilist”. Today, science attempts to ignore its own crisis in its understanding of its meaning and purpose and it is indicative that science is will to power for its own sake, the simple will to will. As science, as knowledge, it is “useless” and “valueless”.

Nietzsche/Darwin: Part IX-B: Education, Ethics/Actions: Contemplative vs. Calculative Thinking

If the intelligence is to be illuminated by love, how has this love and its attention, receptivity and consent to otherness been put aside in our relations to other human beings and to the things of this world through our understanding of mathematics, its teaching to our young people, and its uses even as we are not consciously aware of the effects of this paradigm of knowledge on our actions in our day-to-day lives?

Before going on to outline what nihilism is in detail, we will be discussing how our understanding of mathematics has come to determine the principles for our actions i.e. how mathematics as algebraic calculation, the logos/logic, our account of things, determines our ethics or our practical actions. In doing so, we will look at some of the differences between what is called calculative thinking and what is called contemplative thinking or what has been referred to as “attention” in the other writings. If the intelligence is to be illuminated by love, how has this love and its attention, receptivity and consent to otherness been put aside in our relations to other human beings and to the things of this world through our understanding of mathematics, its teaching to our young people, and its uses even as we are not consciously aware of the effects of this paradigm of knowledge on our actions in our day-to-day lives?

In this writing, an examination of a passage from Shakespeare’s King Lear will help us to understand how the Greeks understood the relation of mathematics to human actions and how we have come to misinterpret the famous passage of the Sophist Protagoras who said that “Man is the measure of all things”. We will attempt to make a distinction between Cartesian subjectivity and Protagoras’ statement and illustrate how our understanding of the world and our being in it shapes our understanding of the “shared knowledge” that we have inherited from the past using the Protagoras example as a case of mininterpretation. It should become clear that this writing deals with some of the most important matters for thinking although it provides only hints at possible directions that could lead to further thought.

What we call mathematics is a theoretical viewing of the world which establishes the surety and certainty of the world through calculation. What the Greeks meant by mathematics is “what can be learned and what can be taught”. Our mathematics is crucial in determining our understanding of what we think can be learned and can be taught. The abstractions that we make with our own thinking in mathematics are not those that a Greek would have made. 

Mathematics deals with all beings. Calculative thinking determines that all the things of the world are disposables and are to be used by human beings in their various dispositions and comportments to the things that are. This comportment and disposition is a commandeering challenging of the world and the beings in it, and it is what we have come to call “knowledge”. This under-standing, or ground (subjectum), is that upon which all of our actions are based. This surety or certainty that beings are as we say they are through calculation arises through the viewing and use of algebraic calculation in the modern world. It was achieved in the thinking of the French philosopher Rene Descartes where human beings were conceived as subjectum and the world about them was conceived as objectum. The incredible results of what has been achieved through this calculative thinking have come to astonish us and to determine what knowledge is in our day and what is best to be known and how it is to be known.

Ethics are based on what Aristotle called phronesis: our careful deliberation over what best actions will ultimately bring about the best end result. We sometimes call this “common sense” because it is reason and judgement based on experience. We call this end result of our deliberations our “happiness” or what Aristotle called our eudaimonia, our “good spirits”. In today’s sciences, some have come to call the results of these deliberations algorithms and to consider them as what underlies all the things that are; this is really a re-statement of the principle of reason but it is an unthought of statement. Understanding the algorithm is what will bring about our happiness which in our case is mere “survival”; all higher level mammals have this awareness of algorithms. This understanding is brought about through some species of calculative thought. The algorithm and its understanding itself is a priori. The algorithm as a principle of addressing our practical need of survival is just one aspect of Nietzsche’s “will to power”. Nietzsche calls this algorithmic thinking “true, but deadly”.

We have confused our means of representing nature with nature itself and this confusion erodes our understanding of what it means to be human. We have traded in our “knowledge” of the search for the order of the world into a symbolic manipulation that provides predictive success allowing us to domineer and control nature. Our physics must report its findings in symbolic mathematics; that is its logos.

In the Cartesian view of things, human being as a “self” is defined by the world being referred back to man’s representing through the use of mathematical reason. This “how” of our being-in-the-world is as the distinctive ground underlying every representing of beings in their being. Through algebraic calculation, this representing is a “symbolic” representation. For Aristotle and the Latins who followed him, all beings are subjectum including rocks, animals, plants, but in Cartesian thinking man becomes the unique subjectum and rocks, animals, plants and other human beings  become objectum. Subject “representation” gives being to objects, what the things are to the “representing” subject. “Representedness” is secured through algebraic reckoning/calculation. This is securing is called ‘the correspondence theory of truth”.

Our mathematical calculations give surety, certitude. “Truth” is correspondence, the agreement of our knowledge with the things, how the being with which knowledge is supposed to agree is understood (homoiosis), and how knowledge is to be “pro-duced” when it is “robust”. Knowledge and the “how” of the being must stand in agreement; the being must give its reasons for being the way it is. Knowing is “perception” and “cogitare”, what Descartes called thinking. What is the true is that which is secured, the certain, the being of which the subject can be certain in his representations (here the distinction between what we have come to call the “subjective” and the “objective” comes to the fore). “Method” is required as an advance procedure necessary for securing the truth as certitude. “Method” is affixed to the essence of subjectivity; what we have done to nature, we first had to do to our own bodies. “Method” is no longer simply a sequence arranged into various stages of observation, proof, exposition and summation i.e. the “scientific method”. “Method” is more; it is the name for the securing, conquering procedure against beings in order to grasp them as objects for a subject. The sequence of the titles for Descartes writings indicates this. It is man that determines the beingness for every being. Beingness means representedness through and for the subject. Truth is the certitude of the self-representing and securing representation. If you look at the structure of the TOK program, you can see a concrete illustration of this “representedness” and its method turned into approaches to obtaining and pro-ducing “knowledge”.

This representedness is what we mean when we say “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Any survey of any class of young people will give unanimous agreement to this statement; all young people believe that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. But what is this “be-holding” of the “be-holder”? “Beholding” is the subject’s representing and grasping of what is given  and how this representing gives being to the giveness of the things. The subject is the “beholder”. He “holds” the things in their “be”-ing; he brings them to presence and “represents” them and gives them permanence. To “behold” is to look at something face-to-face brought to presence.  It is “representedness” itself. Beings are given being by this representedness. How this giving of being to things occurs is what we mean by “beholding”: the self-representing of the things that are that gives being to them. That there is a beauty in and of itself outside the subjectivity of the subject is not allowed. Since beauty cannot be understood through calculation and brought to surety and certainty, then it lacks its own being. Its “being”, its “reality” is “subjective” i.e. constructed by the be-holder. There is no room for “beauty” in the world of mathematical physics for there is nothing to love since the beautiful is what we love.

For Descartes, man is the measure of all things for he defines what is and what is not a being. The standard of measure places everything that can pass as a being under the reckoning of representation through the logical steps present in mathematical calculations. Descartes was well aware that he was turning Aristotle upside down and in doing so shifting the position of the being of human beings within the world. It is with Descartes and his centering of the human being as subjectum that what we call humanism truly finds its grounding. Following Descartes would come Newton who would posit that beings are “uniform mass” in “uniform space” in “uniform units of motion”. For Newton to do so would require algebra and the invention of calculus, the predominant method or technique of the most important applied mathematical thinking today, although Leibniz’ finite calculus is more in use than Newton’s and is, really, what is taught in IB mathematics. First comes the philosopher, then follows the scientist as Newton follows Descartes, Darwin follows Rousseau, and Einstein and Heisenberg follow Nietzsche. This is not to say that the great scientists were not themselves also philosophers. Any look at their writings shows that they were. (See, for example, Einstein’s reflections on time and space prior to the paper on special relativity “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies” In The Theory of Relativity, trans. W. Perrett and G. B. Jeffery, 37–65. New York: Dover and Heisenberg’s Physics and Philosophy).

protagorasProtagoras’ view of “man as the measure” comes from an entirely different view of things than that of Descartes because Protagoras has an entirely different view of “truth” than that given in Descartes. For Protagoras, “truth” is unconcealment; for Descartes, truth is correspondence or agreement. For Protagoras, man is not a subject that gives being to other beings. Man perceives what is present within the radius of his perception and takes his “measure” of it. The things about which man concerns himself are what the Greeks called chromata/chremata. These things are those that are are maintained in a realm of accessibility because that realm is one of unconcealment. They are the things of “experience”. The perception of what is present is grounded in the thing’s lingering in the realm of unconcealment as the given. By lingering in the realm of the unconcealed man, too, belongs to the fixed radius of the things present to him. Both are necessary to the other. What is not present in this realm of the unconcealed is the barrier, the web of necessity, the circumference or horizon of the experience of the individual man, a barrier which we try to breach through “fantasy” or the “imagination”.

It is through this restriction of the barrier of the circumference, the web of necessity, that we as individual human beings are an ego, “I”. It is our “personal/shared” knowledge through our experience of which we are the “measure”, metron. For things to be unconcealed requires light which allows the self-disclosure of the thing to be known. This is the opposite of the case with Cartesian subjectivity where the subject renders the thing its being as object. This accounts for the naming of the age following the Renaissance as the Age of Enlightenment; it is human beings who provide the light and this light is the light of reason so understood. Referring to this period of history as the Age of Enlightenment would not be the first time in history that our naming of things was not without its irony nor, undoubtedly, will it be the last. For Protagoras and the Greeks in general, it is through our physical actions/encounters with the world, what we understand as “work”, that we come to understand, experience and “measure” that realm that is unconcealed for us. We moderns understand and measure the world quite differently.

Aristotle in his Metaphysics outlined Pythagorean philosophy as (a) an identification of numbers with the sensible objects; (b) an identification of the principles of numbers with the principles of things that are; and (c) an imitation by objects of the numbers. From this we can see why Aristotle says Plato was a “pure Pythagorean” and why the question of whether mathematics was “discovered” or “invented” can be answered by saying “both”; mathematics as “number” was “discovered” by the ancients for it was a given, and “invented” through the symbolic algebraic manipulation of the moderns. The Greeks rejected the algebra that arrived through the Babylonians because it was “unnatural”. How might this be the case?

Justice makes us recognize bridges (metaxu in Greek) or connections that we are loathe to make between ourselves and the world and between ourselves and our communities. We loathe our “owingness” and our “indebtedness”. In our loathing we construct idols of the bridges themselves: modern mathematical physics (a predicate of the subject technology) is one such idol. In our modern science, a thoughtlessness is present, (according to Simone Weil and Martin Heidegger) which is indicative of the loss of the capacity for attention or contemplative thinking. The use of algebraic calculation undermines the encounter of human beings with the beauty of the world for it conceives of the world as a “machine” to which we can relate as slave or master, not as loving participants.

To use an example, I love to watch surfers as they try to ride the waves given to them at the beaches nearby. The good surfer “works” in tandem with what the wave gives her: if she try to master the wave, the power of the wave will wipe her out; if she submit totally to the wave, the same thing happens. The surfer is a loving participant through her “work” with the wave and what it gives her, and it is this working relationship with the wave that gives to her her sense of participation in the beauty of the world. Her “techne”, “know how”,  reveals to her the beauty of the world in the web of necessity that has produced  the wave and the sensation produced in her of her ability to work with the wave. That she should know that there is a geometry present in her experience of the beauty of the world would increase, not detract from, her experience of this beauty as she would know that she has attained a genuine perception of the world and not experienced some somnambulistic dream-like state.

Mathematical physics assimilation of the algebra that arrived in the 16th century through the 18th and 19th centuries increased the thoughtlessness of science by subordinating “method” as scientific cognition to symbolic formulae devoid of insight; that is, the actions became subordinated to the principles of the actions which became the actions themselves. This lack of insight is what prevails in today’s education. Symbolic algebraic physics represents the collectivization of thought where science becomes a technique of knowledge production and “thought” and ceases to be the responsibility and activity of any single individual. Nietzsche called this “the highest form of will to power”. The “usefulness” of science becomes predictive success (results) and the technological domination of nature (as Heisenberg has pointed out). This is what is called “technology” in these writings. The fact that the woman in Moscow, Idaho and the man in Moscow, Russia can work “collectively” or “collaboratively” illustrates the intractability of the symbolic collectivization (technology as fate) of thought in contemporary civilization. The loss of any relationship to nature is the cost of such collectivization. Globalization, “international mindedness” are “humanist” off-shoots of the ground of this thinking. But, as Simone Weil would say, in our modern science there is simply nothing to love and this will not change no matter what “idealistic” concepts we attach to it.

Algebra is the substitution of technique, “know how” in the manipulation of numbers for genuine insight into the web of necessity that is the world. The manipulation of formulae replaces insight and this manipulation is directed to its “usefulness”.

KleingJacob Klein in his book Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebra points out that algebra alters the very intelligibility of number by making number a symbolic entity. The Greeks understood number as an abstraction not a symbol. I have an abstract idea of “3” through my encounters with three chairs or three cats. “3” means the cats and the chairs. I cannot abstract “-3” because there are no things in nature, no countable collections, of “negative three things”. “-3” designates a symbolic entity. All numbers in the modern conception are treated in this way.  Irrational numbers exist only as symbolic entities.

Because of this lack of connection to nature, the education of scientists and mathematicians today encourages the use of symbolic mathematical entities as replacements for the things that are. It is here that it encounters its thoughtlessness. The arrival of algebra in the 16th century required that nature be viewed in terms of uniform mass in uniform motion through uniform space. Newton’s attempt to retain the physical properties of nature became overruled by Leibniz in his finite calculus and by other mathematicians in the 18th and 19th centuries. As the philosopher Hegel demonstrated, “absolute knowledge” is essentially without a thinker; it is a “collective” thinking of the species human being. The thought of individual thinkers is constituted by the “system” itself founded upon the principle of reason (as outlined by Leibniz).

With the introduction of symbolic theoretical entities in principle (“wave particles”, “curved space-time”), 20th century physics closes off that access to the faculty of “attention” that Simone Weil saw as the necessary ground for that response to nature and the world of human actions that is coherent with love, attention to, reception of and consent to the “otherness” understood as the Good. For Weil, all true thinking is contemplation and all contemplation is prayer.

Simone Weil observes this about modern mathematical thinking and education: “The process of calculation places the signs in relation to one another on the sheet of paper, without the objects so signified being in relation in the mind; with the result that the actual question of the significance of signs ends by no longer possessing any meaning. One thus finds oneself in the position of having solved a problem by a species of magic, without the mind having connected the data with the solution. Consequently, here again, as in the case of the automatic machine, method seems to have material objects as its sphere instead of mind; only, in this case, the material objects are not pieces of metal, but marks made on white paper.” (Weil 1958, 94 Oppression and Liberty. Trans. Arthur Wills and John Petrie. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.) This separation of the mind from our being-in-the-world and from nature is what was “unnatural”” for the Greeks in their understanding of what mathematics and number are and why they rejected the algebra they received.

This separation of the mind from nature is indicated by the distinction between abstraction and symbol. What is the difference between abstraction and symbol? 

What is different, of course, between the Greeks and the moderns is what is meant by “number” and how the being of things in the world is understood. The ideas of Plato, for instance, are abstractions not symbols. When it is said by Aristotle that the ideas of Plato are those Beings that generate the beings or things of experience, what Aristotle means is that the abstraction that is the idea of “house” is a form of genus or “universal” that generates, in cooperation with human beings, the “species” or specifics that are the individual houses of our experience. The “concrete” house is called a house because of its participation (metaxu in Greek), through the ratio (the logos or the “account”, “reason”) created by the mean proportional, to become the constitution of the house’s concrete reality from the “perfection” of the idea “house”. The conception of number in modern algebra is that number is no longer merely an abstraction brought about through the things which we experience and work with in nature but is a symbol, a product of the technological schema or frame placed under nature by human beings. To be a number in modern mathematics is to be a possible value of an algebraic variable.

This shift from abstraction to symbolic requires a change in the view of nature and of human beings’ place within that nature. Our view of nature is “symbolic”: the findings of modern physics can only be reported in “algebraic” calculations i.e. the logos is algebraic symbol. The relation and the logos established by the proportional mean to the things, the human relations to the things that are, is eliminated in so far as it is the algebra produced within the subject that gives “being” and determines the things that are. The things that are are not “givens” in themselves but are “symbolic” constructs from the minds of men. Nature itself is turned into “symbol”.

rutherford-atom-for-carbon_lgWhen, for example, we think of an atom we represent to ourselves a figure that appears probably along the lines of the Rutherford model. But this is pure fantasy: the atom and its being is an algebraic configuration. Number as understood in modern algebra is no longer merely an abstraction from experienced nature but rather a symbolic construction, itself a part of the technological enframing. As a result of this enframing viewing, modern mathematical or algebraic physics gives being to nature itself as a symbolic entity. This is the reason why a woman in Moscow, Idaho and a man in Moscow, Russia can be assured that in their calculations they are dealing with the same entity: the entity is an algebraic calculation. Nature’s particularity is lost in this interpretation as symbol. It is this symbolic understanding that allows for the domineering challenging and control that signifies the technological and is a product of the technological.

I will only say a few words about this difficult topic here. Suffice it to say that Galileo asserted that within the domain of mathematics, human understanding is equal to God (Galileo. 1967. Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems. 2nd ed. Trans. Stilman Drake. Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 103). Descartes, through his understanding of cogitare, removes entirely the impersonal dimension of mathematical necessity (the web of necessity) inherent in the things that are and that is so necessary to the Greeks and in so doing dissolves the mystery of mathematics as a given. Mathematics is the creation and product of the human intellect, reason. Through Descartes, classical science based itself from the beginning on the idea of method as the means of control of our cognitive encounter through our actions with and upon nature according to the demands of the autonomous human intellect, subjectum. The death of God is the by-product of this initiation of humanism during the Renaissance since God is no longer necessary to human beings defining themselves and defining things. The Greek understanding that we are not our own becomes overturned. In the modern we are very much our own and on our own.

For the Greeks, the experience of sensible objects within the radius of our experience of the world is conceived as a circle or “wheel” revolving upon itself. From the diameter of any circle which forms the hypotenuse, the lines or sides of the right-angled triangle cannot exceed the circumference (the horizon, the barrier) of the circle in which it is inscribed. Man’s being is understood as a measured restriction, bounded within and bound to the realm of necessity revealed to him by both what is unconcealed and what is hidden. This realm of necessity is what we call “experience” which in itself is a matter of luck or chance; we might use the metaphor “gravity” for it is subject to the same “laws”. “Experience” for the Pythagoreans was a world of wheels within wheels, circles within circles. Man in his existence was an irrational number for the Pythagoreans, and it was this understanding which led them to their great efforts in trying to understand the nature of number and the nature of man and his existence. Irrational numbers are numbers, such as the square root of 2, that cannot be expressed as fractions involving whole numbers i.e. the part cannot be reconciled to the whole.

Many mathematics teachers today are enamored with the story of Hippasos and his “murder” with regard to the legend of the Pythagoreans. Of course, Hippasos’ “discovery” of the “dangerous square root” is where the Pythagoreans began, not where they ended. Perhaps he deserved to be thrown overboard along with the teachers who teach this story! The Pythagoreans efforts involved rising above the contradictions present to thought from the experience of the world through attention and love to the experience of the world’s order as a whole. The perfection of Greek art and our musical scales and modes are just two of the discoveries that the Pythagoreans bequeathed to the world. For we moderns, through Descartes, man’s experience is a progressing towards a limitless representing and reckoning which recognizes no barriers or horizons with regard to the beings which he encounters. The Greeks would view such viewing and understanding as Descartes’ as hubristic. 

But how can happiness be the end result of what is or what the Greeks would understand as, essentially, a hubristic way of  viewing and being in-the- world? Why choose the word “hubristic” in describing human beings’ comportment and disposition in the world today? Hubris for the Greeks is that pride of human beings which recognizes no barriers or limits and absents the “ego” of self from association with the human community as a whole. These are clearly descriptions of modern human beings’ condition.

We shall reflect on these understandings by examining the passage below from Shakespeare’s King Lear and a subsequent comment on a passage from the play Hamlet.

We are not the first
Who, with best meaning, have incurr’d the worst.
For thee, oppressed king, am I cast down;
Myself could else out-frown false fortune’s frown.
Shall we not see these daughters and these
No, no, no, no! Come, let’s away to prison:
We two alone will sing like birds i’ the cage:
When thou dost ask me blessing, I’ll kneel down,
And ask of thee forgiveness: so we’ll live,
And pray, and sing, and tell old tales, and laugh
At gilded butterflies, and hear poor rogues
Talk of court news; and we’ll talk with them too,
Who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out;
And take upon’s the mystery of things,
As if we were God’s spies: and we’ll wear out,
In a wall’d prison, packs and sects of great ones,
That ebb and flow by the moon.
Take them away.
Upon such sacrifices, my Cordelia,
The gods themselves throw incense. Have I caught thee?
He that parts us shall bring a brand from heaven,
And fire us hence like foxes. Wipe thine eyes;
The good-years shall devour them, flesh and fell,
Ere they shall make us weep: we’ll see ’em starve
first. Come.

Explication of the Passage from King Lear

To attempt a summary and explication of the whole of the greatest work in the English language is impertinent, but a brief introduction is necessary to understand the play as it appears in the scene above.

At this point in the play, Lear and Cordelia, supported by French troops, have lost the civil war for Britain to Edmund’s forces. Lear, as King, has been ultimately responsible for this civil war. At the beginning of the play, he has disowned his ‘truthful’ daughter Cordelia and fallen victim to the flattery and machinations of his two eldest daughters, Goneril and Regan. He has divided the kingdom in two giving each sister control of half, his intention being to avert future strife. At the same time, Lear wishes to retain the appurtenances of a king, the appearances of a king, while retaining none of the responsibility: Lear is satisfied with the appearances rather than the realities of things. It is this satisfaction with the appearance of things that leaves Lear open to the machinations of his two daughters, Goneril and Regan.

Lear’s responsibility is, chiefly, a moral one. Goneril and Regan soon work together to remove from Lear the power and possessions that he once held. Lear becomes an “O”, a zero, a nothing. In his nothingness, Lear becomes mad and rages against the ingratitude shown by his daughters and the injustice that he sees in the nature of things and in the chaos of the created world as it is. This scene above is Lear’s anagnorisis or moment of enlightenment, the moment in tragedies when all tragic heroes recognize the errors of their ways and the consequences of their hubris. 

Lear ends up houseless and homeless and wanders on the wasteland that is the heath in the heart of a terrible storm. Lear’s physical, mental and spiritual sufferings soon drive him mad. The storm’s effect is a purification of Lear: Lear removes his clothing; his ego is destroyed in the madness; he no longer focuses on himself but is able to see the ‘otherness’ of human beings and to feel compassion and pity for them (in the characters of Edgar as Poor Tom and the Fool) because he sees himself and his humanity in them. Edgar, too, has become a ‘nothing’ due to the machinations of his bastard brother Edmund. Lear has gone from King to nothing and he is ready for re-birth. His ego has blinded him to understanding what his true relationship to his god is: initially he looked upon this god and his power as being something which he, Lear, himself possessed. Lear believed that only he himself possessed the truth.

The play King Lear is a play about the consequences of not knowing who we truly are, as individuals and as a species. Lear, focused as he is on his ego, his Self, is willingly duped by machination in the play; he is willingly duped by flattery as this flattery gives recognition to his social prestige. His suffering and madness show him the true worth of social prestige and bring him to a true understanding of his relation to his god and to other human beings, and this relationship is Love. Love is, as Plato describes it, “fire catching fire”. It is recognition that in the most important things, all human beings are equal in that all are capable of the capacity for Love. It is not without reason that Love has been described as a homeless, houseless beggar.

Many critics suggest that the play King Lear is atheistic; Lear has lost his faith in God. Such an interpretation misses what the play as tragedy is supposed to teach. The above passage suggests that Lear has faith in God: what Lear has come to understand is his true relationship to his God, the true relationship of all human beings to God. Lear has lost the illusion of what he had once understood as God and what his relationship was to that God. It is this illusion that is the trap cast for those who believe that they are in possession of the truth or that truth is of their own creation or doing. The God in King Lear is absent: He will not perform some miracle preventing the hanging of Cordelia by the Captain later in the play; He will not destroy the order of the world and its necessity because of Lear’s perceived injustice of this order. Good does not triumph over the evil of human actions in this play and we, too, by our very silence, are made complicit in the death of Cordelia, the death of “truth”.

The play King Lear shows that the purpose of suffering is to allow the de-creation of our selves, the de-struction of ourselves. For the Pythagoreans, the study of geometry served an identical purpose: the purification of our selves through a contemplative understanding of the things that are. When we stand on the outside of the sphere (the circumference) and are subject to its spinning, we suffer the ups and downs of Fate.

This is the “wheel of fortune” motif that runs throughout the play: Fortune is personified in the passage through alliteration ‘out-frown false fortune’s frown’ to illustrate that it is, in this case, one of human making: even with the best of intentions one can incur the worst: good does not triumph over evil in this sphere of necessity but is subject to the same necessity as are rocks and stones. To decreate one’s Self is to have the Self replaced or reborn by an assimilation into the divine; it is to become one of ‘God’s spies’, to see all with God’s eyes and to see all for God. When a human being sacrifices the Self, his most treasured possession, for assimilation in God, “the gods themselves throw incense” upon this sacrifice. We believe our Self to be our most precious possession; the renouncing of this possession is not pleasant: it is done through suffering. It is the great sacrifice.

The centre of the sphere or wheel is both in time and space and out of time and space. The Self as center here is indifferent to the size of the prison, the size of the circle. For Lear, imprisonment is a liberation, not a restriction.”Suffering (affliction), when it is consented to and accepted and loved, is truly a baptism” (Weil, “The Love of God and Affliction”). Baptism is a spiritual re-birth. The spiritual rebirth for Lear is clear from this passage and from Act III onwards in the play. The attempted suicide of Gloucester in what is called the parallel plot of the play due to his suffering is a counterpoint to this: suicide is a sin against the gods because we falsely believe that our self is our own and of our own making. Lear never considers suicide as an option in the play and his release is given to him in the form of a “broken heart”. Gloucester’s realization that suicide is forbidden because we are not our own results in his finding Edgar again and having ‘his heart burst smilingly’. Contrary to our view, in the world of Shakespeare some kinds of suffering have a purpose but the outcomes are purely a matter of chance.

Our personal knowledge, as is shown in our example of Protagoras above, is our ‘sphere of influence’ on our world and on the other human beings who inhabit our world. That sphere should be seen as composed of wheels within wheels with our actions the spokes of the wheels. The spokes reach out to the circumferences of the wheels: from the diameter, the right angled triangle cannot exceed that circumference. The sphere created by the circumferences where the right-angled triangle may be placed, may be large or small; most of our lives are spent in our attempts to enlarge these spheres. In them we are ’empowered’ to carry out our activities, but the prison of ourselves is still a ‘prison’ beginning with our bodies and our egos which are placated by the social prestige which comes from this fulfillment of our ’empowerment’. We become the ‘poor rogues’ and ‘gilded butterflies’ that Lear and Cordelia will chat with, those who have succumbed to social prestige. The outer edges of the sphere in its spinning indicate the fates of those who are ruled by Fortune: ‘who loses and who wins; who’s in, who’s out’. It is the fate of all of us who are dominated by the wish for social prestige, recognition. This fate and our desire for this fate is part of the ‘mystery of things’: to see this we must remain at the centre of the sphere where we are not moved by the wheel’s or the sphere’s spinnings, nor are our desires dominated by the wish for social prestige and recognition.

We may view a similar example of this Shakespearean theme from the play Hamlet where Hamlet speaks of his friendship with Horatio:


Horatio, thou art e’en as just a man
As e’er my conversation coped withal.

O, my dear lord,–

HAMLET             Nay, do not think I flatter;
 For what advancement may I hope from thee 

That no revenue hast but thy good spirits,
To feed and clothe thee? Why should the poor be flatter’d?
No, let the candied tongue lick absurd pomp,
And crook the pregnant hinges of the knee

Where thrift may follow fawning. Dost thou hear?
Since my dear soul was mistress of her choice
And could of men distinguish, her election
Hath seal’d thee for herself; for thou hast been
As one, in suffering all, that suffers nothing,
A man that fortune’s buffets and rewards
Hast ta’en with equal thanks: and blest are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled,
That they are not a pipe for fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of hearts,
As I do thee.

It is easy for most of us to accept fortune’s “rewards” and think that we are ‘blest’, but Horatio takes both fortune’s “buffets and rewards” with equal thanks. For the majority of us, this comportment is well nigh impossible.

Lear, through his madness and suffering, has been re-born (see other sections of the play particularly Lear’s awakening when he sees Cordelia as an angel, a mediator, and in the play she is, from the beginning, representative of truth). His self, ego, I has been destroyed. In this scene, Lear demonstrates the friendship that is the love between two unequal yet equal beings. Lear’s ‘kneeling down’ when asked for his blessing in order to ask for forgiveness is the recognition of this equality. It is no longer the view of the Lear who said “I am a man more sinned against than sinning”, a false view of Lear’s at the moment of its occurrence in the play for it is the view of most of us with regard to our own sufferings. Lear’s recognition of “owingness”, “otherness” and reception and consent to these conditions of human life creates the possibility for friendship with others.

It is with a great and terrible irony that after this speech of Lear’s, the following occurs:

Come hither, captain; hark.
Take thou this note;

Giving a paper

Go follow them to prison:
One step I have advanced thee; if thou dost
As this instructs thee, thou dost make thy way
To noble fortunes: know thou this, that men
Are as the time is: to be tender-minded
Does not become a sword: thy great employment
Will not bear question; either say thou’lt do ‘t,
Or thrive by other means.


I’ll do ‘t, my lord.


About it; and write happy when thou hast done.
Mark, I say, instantly; and carry it so
As I have set it down.


I cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried oats;
If it be man’s work, I’ll do ‘t.

The Captain’s final words are a statement for all of us motivated by social prestige. Human crime or neglect, the lack of attention, receptivity and consent, is the cause of most suffering. On the orders of superiors we carry out acts that we believe are “man’s work” i.e. they are not the work of Nature but we ascribe the moral necessity for our actions to Nature: “I cannot draw a cart, nor eat dried oats” i.e. I am not a horse, an animal. We believe that we are compelled to commit immoral actions because we believe Nature imposes its necessities upon us; and, at times, Nature does indeed do so. But if we live with a thoughtful recognition that there are simply acts which we cannot and must not do, we are capable of staying within these limits imposed by the order of the world upon our actions. Such words as the Captain’s have been used by human beings to justify to themselves and to others the reasons for their actions from the committing of petty crimes to genocides. They see their crimes as performing a duty, just following orders.
The root of all crimes is, perhaps, the desire for social prestige whether that is achieved through position, money or recognition. For the Captain, it is Edmund who will determine what ‘happy’ will become for him by his giving to the Captain ‘noble fortunes’; and the Captain believes it. He will achieve his noble fortunes through the committing of an ignoble act. One would need to look far across the breadth and depth of English literature to find two more contrasting views of humanity in a work than that which is presented here in these two brief scenes from King Lear. Human beings are capable and culpable of both forms of action: we have an infinite capacity for Love and forgiveness as well as a finite capacity for committing the most heinous crimes; only Love is both beyond and within the circle, and all human action is done within the circle (or the realm of Necessity).

Contemplation and Calculative Thinking: Living in the Technological World

The passages from King Lear give us an entry to understanding a practical alternative way of being-in-the-world to the current conditioning or ‘hard-wiring’ of our way of being under the technological world-view operating as it does under the principle of reason. This alternative way involves contemplative thinking as opposed to calculative thinking. This contemplative thinking is open to all human beings: it is not a special mental activity, not subject to an IQ test. It is an attitude toward things as a whole and a general way of being in the world. It is the attitude that Lear proposes for himself and Cordelia on how they will spend their time in prison: while they will still be in the world, they will not be of the world. While they will be involved with the “poor rogues” and “gilded butterflies”, the world of these rogues and butterflies will not be their world.

What does this mean for us? It suggests that we are in the technological world, but not of this technological world; we are here in body but not in spirit. We avail ourselves of technological things but we place our hearts and souls elsewhere. This detachment involves both a being-in and a withdrawal-from. Like Lear and Cordelia, we let the things of the technological world go by, but we also let them go on. Like Lear and Cordelia, the detachment is both a “no” to the social and its machinations, but it is also a “yes” to it in that it lets that world go on in their entertaining of it.

Where does calculative thinking rest in all this? Calculative thinking is how we plan, research, organize, operate and act within our everyday world. This thinking is interested in results and it views things and people as means to an end. It is our everyday practical attitude towards things. Contemplative thinking is detached from our ordinary practical interests and requires a detachment from things as in prayer.

Calculative thinking is not just computational thinking. It does not require computers or calculators and it is not necessarily scientific or sophisticated. It would be better understood in the sense of how we call a person “calculating”. When we say this we do not mean that the person is gifted in mathematics. We mean that the person is designing; he uses others to further his own self-interests. Such a person is not sincere: there is an ulterior motive, a self-interested purpose behind all his actions and relations. He is engaged with others only for what he can get out of them. He is an “operator” and his doings are machinations. His being-in-the-world may be said to rest on the principle attributed to H. L. Mencken, a cynical Nietzschean who helped introduce Nietzsche’s thinking to North America: “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”

Calculative thinking is, then, more of a general outlook on things, our ‘way of life’. It is an attitude and approach that the things are there for what we can get out of them. People and things are there for us to exploit. This general outlook is determined by the disclosive looking of technology and its impositional attitude toward things. Things, including human beings, are disposables.

There is no lack of calculative thinking in our world today: never has there been so much planning, so much problem-solving, so much research, so many machinations. TOK itself is a branch and flowering of this calculative thinking. But in this calculative thought, human beings are in flight from thinking. The thinking that we are in flight from is contemplative thinking, the very essence of our being human. In this flight, we are very much like Oedipus who, after hearing the omen from the oracle at Delphi and its prophecy, rashly flees in the hope that he can escape his destiny. As with Oedipus we, too, have become blind and unable to see in our flight from thinking with our rash attempts to “change the world”.

Contemplative thinking, on the other hand, is the attention to what is closet to us. It pays attention to the meaning of things, the essence of things. It does not have a practical interest and does not view things as a means to an end but, much like Lear and Cordelia, dwells on the things for the sake of disclosing what makes them be what they are. Contemplative thinking allows us to take upon ourselves “the mystery of things”, to be “God’s spies” in the two-way theoretical looking of Being upon us and of ourselves upon Being. To be God’s spies we must remove our own seeing and our own looking, that looking and seeing that we have inherited as our “shared knowledge”, and allow Being to look through us. This seeing and looking is not a redemption that is easily achieved. The pain-filled ascent in the release from the enchainment within the Cave to the freedom outside of the Cave or Lear’s suffering and de-struction on the heath in the storm are indications of just the kinds of exertions that are required. King Lear in his anagnorisis has arrived at the truth of what it means to be, as such, and of his place in that Being. Contemplative thinking is a paying attention to what makes beings be beings at all, but it is not a redemption which can be cheaply bought.

The word “con-templation” indicates that activity which is carried out in a “temple”. It is a communing with the divine and is, essentially, what we call “prayer”. It is not the recitation of proscribed prayers. The temple is where those who gather receive messages from the divine and in this reception pray and give thanks. Lear and Cordelia’s prison is, as such, a “temple” to Lear. Within a temple, one receives auguries. An augury is an omen, a being which bears a divine message which must be heard by those to whom it is spoken. In and through this hearing one is given to see the essence of things and to “give back” those essences to Being. Contemplation is the observing of beings just as they exist and attending to their essence. It is a reserved, detached mode of disclosing that expresses itself in gratitude, the giving of thanks. This attention is available to all human beings who through their love, like Lear and Cordelia, are open to the otherness of beings without viewing those beings as serving any other purpose than their own being.  For human beings, it is the highest form of action directed by what the essence of human being is. As the highest form of human being itself, it must be available to all since it is our very nature as human beings. Contemplative thinking is prayer.








Part IX: Darwin/Nietzsche: Otherness, Owingness, And Nihilism:

Justice as “living in communities” may be seen and understood currently as the domination of corporate institutions over any political or economic alternatives in technological societies. The corporation may be seen as human beings’ highest form of will to power. Computers and automobiles can only exist in societies where there are large corporate institutions. The ways that these instruments can be used are limited to the situations that these institutions develop and create in order to fulfill their own will to power. They are instruments which allow certain forms of community and exclude others; and they also produce the account of justice given in modern political

Simone Weil Spain

philosophies: the instruments and the standards of justice are bound together. The young Simone Weil participating in the Spanish Civil War at the time can write: “Whether the mask is labeled fascism, democracy, or dictatorship of the proletariat, our great adversary remains the apparatus—the bureaucracy, the police, the military. Not the one facing us across the frontier of the battle lines, which is not so much our enemy as our brothers’ enemy, but the one that calls itself our protector and makes us its slaves. No matter what the circumstances, the worst betrayal will always be to subordinate ourselves to this apparatus and to trample underfoot, in its service, all human values in ourselves and in others.” Such thinking is prescient for what we are experiencing today given the judgements that many are making in many Western democracies.

When we speak of praxis as ethical actions in that Area of Knowledge of TOK, we are speaking about human actions which are “owed” by human beings to other beings/things. For instance, as beings in bodies, it is necessary for us to destroy other animals and plants in order to consume their energies. We “owe” it to ourselves to have a healthy diet and to exercise regularly. This is part of an old account of what has been called the “goodness of life”, now called “quality of life” and how we share in it. But what do we “owe” to the plants and animals that we destroy?

“Goodness” was conceived by the Greeks as an overriding claim of justice: in our obedience to the claim of justice we will find what we are fitted for. Our modern conception of goodness is of our free creating of richness and “enhancement”, our “quality of life”. In our modern view, “owing” is always “provisional” upon what we desire to create. Bio-genetics is an example of this. Our understanding of “goodness” and “owing” is interrelated with the arrival of technological civilization. We are free in our desire to make happen and in choosing the means for bringing it about. The whole of nature, including human beings, has become “disposables”, raw materials, “resources” and “capital”. Nietzsche says that “Man is the, as yet, undetermined animal”. The coming to be of technological civilization has necessitated changes in what we think is “good”, what we think the “good” is, how we understand sanity and madness, justice and injustice, rationality and irrationality, beauty and ugliness. Western peoples, and soon all peoples, will take themselves as subjects confronting the otherness of the world as object—objects at the disposal of knowing and making subjects. As shown in the last writing, technological thinking is exclusive and in its exclusivity will create the universal, homogeneous state; but in its exclusivity technological thinking will make that state a great tyranny, a “happy” tyranny (if one can say such a thing where meaninglessness predominates), but a tyranny nonetheless. This is our destiny, and an IB education is an example of the attempt to apprehend and comprehend this destiny by the forms of thought which are the very core of that destiny itself.

The account of what existence means that arises from the technological exalts the possible over what is i.e. “enhancement” and “empowerment” understood as “quality of life” or the belief in “evolutionary progress” or “growth”. The difficulty is that we are called to understand technological civilization just when its realization has put in question the possibility that there could be any such understanding.

When we speak of what is “owed” to the “otherness” that is not ourselves, we are attempting to use a language that can hardly be heard, if heard at all, in today’s technological societies. The French philosopher Simone Weil once wrote: “Faith is the experience that the intelligence is illuminated by love.” Let us deconstruct her statement and try to grasp the relation between otherness and owingness while contrasting it to the nihilism at the heart of Western technological civilization.

The statement contains five key words or concepts: “faith”, “experience”, “intelligence”, “illumination” and “love”. I will try to illuminate these concepts with some impertinent précis here.

“Faith” can be said to be a-holding-to-be-true regarding what we think are our highest principles, values. So when Nietzsche writes: “Faith in the categories of reason is the cause of nihilism—we have measured the value of the world according to categories which relate to a purely fictitious world” (WP #12), he is saying that our science and all “systemic” thinking in general is the cause of our nihilism. To anyone with the ears to hear, the rantings of a Richard Dawkins are just as silly as those of any American TV preacher or self-proclaimed ayatollah; they are all expressions of their “faith”. The crimes committed by all who associate themselves with these “faiths” are done by those who believe they are in possession of the “truth”; and because they think so, they can fully justify to themselves the extermination of other human beings in the name of this “truth” as a result. The god who sometimes does and sometimes does not wish to go by the name of Zeus demands payment in human blood for the worship of false gods.

As explained in the earlier writings, our “faith” in the categories of reason from which our sciences derive and what we think knowledge to be, arises from our “experience” of the whole of things, how we view the whole of things. What was made quite clear is that for many of us our view of the whole of things is “chaos”. We will see how nihilism results from this view of the whole of things. It is our view of the “otherness” of things whether as chaos or as the beautiful that determines how we will define that otherness and ourselves and determines the actions that we will take towards that otherness and towards ourselves.

“Love” is attention to otherness, receptivity of otherness and consent to otherness. This word “love” is one of the words that has undergone a great deal of change in its use in modern technological societies much like the word “virtue”, which in its original Greek indicated “the manliness of a man” then became transformed into meaning the “chastity of a woman”. Another example of how the meanings of words change can be seen when we view what “barbarity” and “barbarous” has come to mean when we see the slitting of man’s throat for propaganda purposes in the name of a “religion” as being more “barbarous” than the killing of some hundred individuals by a missile strike fired in Syria through someone sitting behind a computer desk somewhere in New Mexico, also done for a “religion’s” propaganda purposes. The controversy over Hannah Arendt’s portrayal of Adolf Eichmann in her book Eichmann in Jerusalem: The Banality of Evil was that what people wanted to see was a monster responsible for the killing of millions, but what they got instead was a human being who demonstrated “exemplary family values” but who, according to Arendt, simply did not have the ability to think. Eichmann in his defense insisted that he had killed no one.

A TOK essay title a few years ago commanded students to: “Distinguish between knowing how to swim, knowing a mathematical theorem, and knowing a friend”. None of the papers I read spoke of how students “know” their friends because they “love” their friends i.e. they have paid them attention, received them and consented to their being as good. In their calculative reasoning, the students provided data by which they had come to “know” their friends: if their friends had had fleas, they would have counted them. We know our ‘friends’, other human beings, because we have paid attention to them, have received something of what they are, and given our consent to what they are as good.

This example illustrates the relation between love and knowledge. Their interdependence can be shown when we try to understand what it means to love justice as it is the love of justice that all human beings are primarily called to whether they are called by Nietzsche or by Plato. It is through our growth in our knowledge of justice that we are led to see our perfectibility as human beings i.e. what we are fitted for. When a Christian, through “The Lord’s Prayer”, asks to be forgiven their “debts” to God as they forgive the “debts” of others to them, this indebtedness to others is that of the attention, reception and consent to others required by justice. This rendering of indebtedness to others is not to be understood as a rendering to Caesar. We all know that Caesar does not forgive debts! This indebtedness to others requires a rendering of what is “owed” to them, what is their “due”. Nietzsche makes clear that there are many human beings to whom nothing is “owed” and therefore nothing is “due” except their mass extermination. Simone Weil on the other hand would say: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity”. It is through loving attention that we come to know other human beings and the otherness that is the world about us.

Because we are beings in bodies, Simone Weil says that human love is only love when it has passed through the flesh by means of actions, movements and attitudes which correspond to it. If this has not happened it is merely fantasy and not love. Matter (the flesh) is our infallible judge. We “experience” love of justice through our apprehension of the beautiful in the presence of other human beings and in the world around us. Love is first “friendship”, that reciprocal equality among unequals.

In Plato’s Republic, sight as a metaphor of love and knowledge is used in giving an account of how we come to know what the highest things are for human beings. Love and the intelligence must be in unity if we are to gain knowledge of the most important matters; as will and power are in unity in the thinking of Nietzsche and give us insights into his understanding of what he thinks are the most important matters. For Nietzsche, since we are beings in bodies the will to power is focused on and in service to self-enhancement and “empowerment” as justice.  With the love of justice as outlined here the focus is on “otherness” and our indebtedness to it as the manner in which we come to gain knowledge of “what we are fitted for”. As Socrates makes clear, we are not our own; to put it simply, life is to be experienced as a gift and our proper response to it is one of gratitude. In Nietzsche it is very clear that we are “our own” when it comes to knowledge of the most important matters; life is “chaos” and the proper response to this chaos is the response to the urge to command and control life’s constituents. In giving us this approach, Nietzsche (unwittingly perhaps ) is following the thinking first proposed

Rene Descartes

by the French philosopher Descartes who wrote in his Discourse on Method: “…knowing the force and the action of fire, water, air, the stars, heavens and all other bodies that environ us, as distinctly as we know the different crafts of our artisans, we can in the same way employ them in all those uses to which they are adapted, and thus render ourselves the masters and possessors of nature.” It is this co-penetration of the arts and the sciences ultimately achieved through algebraic calculation that grounds our experience as human beings as subjectum in the world conceived as objectum. 

“Faith” is an “experience” that is not a matter of will, or choice, or merit. “Experience” is what is given to us. Faith is a matter of luck or of chance. Anyone who has spent time in IB workshops or in meetings with their colleagues knows that their intellects are not lit up by love. When “faith” is an “experience” it is not dependent on willing. It is necessary to say this because we Western human beings have had our understanding of will shaped by Kant, Leibniz and Nietzsche. What is being said in Weil’s statement here is something concerning human beings that is at a higher level than the level at which our willing is concerned with our praxis or practical doings. Love knows itself as “needing” (the god Eros is two-faced in being the god of both Fullness and Need). Will now thinks of itself as “empowerment” through creativity. In many of our TOK classes, we degrade the mysteries of faith by making them a matter for affirmation or negation rather than a matter for contemplation and thinking.

To attempt to grasp the difficulty for us to think of “otherness” and “owing” as counterpoints to nihilism, we need to say something regarding the paradigm of knowledge which dominates our technological civilization. “Science” (knowledge) is the pro-ject of reason to gain objective knowledge. “Objective” is that stance we have toward the “chaos” that has been thrown over against us. Reason as pro-ject first produces the “schema”, the “Gestell”, which summons something before us to be questioned and commanded so that it will give us its reasons for being the way that it is as an object. The procedures for this summonsing/commanding we call “method” and when applied and carried out we call “research”. What the tradition referred to as “scholars” now means those who carry out “research”. As the TOK’s program structure indicates, the pro-ject of reason is applied to all the things that are, including God. It depends on the object being questioned. But Nietzsche asserts that this objectifying pro-ject is grounded upon a great sea of nihilism. What is this nihilism which is being spoken of here and why does it arise from the objectifying pro-ject that are the modern sciences?

For Nietzsche, the realization of the foundation, rootedness and growth of nihilism is captured in his statement “God is dead”, by which he means the “Christian God” has lost his power over beings and over the determination of human beings. “Christian God” also stands for the “transcendent” in general in Nietzsche: “ideals”, “norms”, “principles”, “rules”, “ends”, and “values” which are set “above” being in order to give life as a whole a purpose, unity and a meaning. For those who still believe in a God their belief, according to Nietzsche, is comparable to the light of a star which has been extinguished for millennia but which is still gleaming; but its gleaming is a mere “appearance”.

Nihilism is not a viewpoint of any individual person nor an arbitrary historical position among the many possible historical or social contexts at any given time, but rather an event of long duration in which truth is transformed and driven towards an end that such truth has determined. Nietzsche saw that our current century would celebrate the arrival of the liberation brought about by the arrival of nihilism and how our century would perceive it as a gain and a fulfillment of the experiment which began with the arrival of humanism in the West (which found its grounding in the philosophy of Descartes and subsequently “the death of God” because God was no longer necessary) but which was simply a flowering of that seed which was planted much earlier in the beginnings of Western philosophy.

What is clear is that in our modern “thinking” whatever we consider knowledge to be, whatever knowledge, is detached from love, whatever love. One cannot love an object. When we separate “facts” from “values” as we do in our social sciences/human sciences, this distinction arises from a misreading of Nietzsche by both Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, the founders of what are called the social sciences today. “Facts” are identified with objects that are abstracted from what the things are in their wholeness. “Values” are seen as part of one’s own “subjectivity”; values are detached from “objective” being. Nietzsche’s account of knowledge makes it abundantly clear that this is not the case. “Facts” are “values” by the very notion that we consider them “facts”. Justice and beauty are not “values” which we subjectively “create”, nor are stones, plants, animals and human beings simply objects. They only become objects when they are placed into a certain relation to us—that of being at our disposal. Yet, where is there room in our modern societies and their institutions for a thinking outside that predominated by the principle of reason so as to allow the transcending of that thinking and the “objective” knowledge which is “researched” and “produced” there?

The seeking of a unity which springs from a desire in human beings that there be something eternal which is lovable belongs to human beings as human beings. This is shown in the thinking of Nietzsche through his will to power as the what of beings and his “eternal recurrence of the same” as the how of beings, as well as in the many fundamentalist schools of thought present in many aspects of religious thinking in North America and in Asia. In TOK, to describe religion as a “system” is already pre-judging any truth that might accidentally arise through any discussions there. At the same time, to speak of faith as the experience that the intelligence is illuminated by love is not to suggest that love could or should try to bypass the order of necessity reached by the intelligence. Love itself knows that this is futile because only the intelligence, by the exercise of those means which are proper to it, can recognize its own dependence on love for the highest knowledge.



Nietzsche/Darwin Part VIII: Truth as Justice:

Charles Darwin

When Darwin speaks of “survival of the fittest” as the “how” of living beings, he is making a statement regarding justice or the praxis or actions of living beings i.e. how they are required to be if they are to be at all. His statement is an ontological one; it says something about the essence of the being of beings. Whether his statement is compatible with democracy and “equality” as the political ends of action, human beings living in communities, is quite another matter; but we are examining the foundation of the metaphysics of the thinking here. “Survival” is the urge or will to permanence and this will is the command of life itself. “Fittest” are those living beings who are most successful in applying the law of contradiction to the conditions of life, or what has been called algorithms lately, our conception of ourselves as the animal rationale as our essence.

As I have said in these writings on Nietzsche and elsewhere, technology is the highest form of will to power. Technology is conceived as both the means for making events happen and the establishment of the ends or goals of the actions through the use of those means. The word “technology” expresses the uniqueness of the “knowing” that understands itself as “will to power” (“enhancement”) and the “making” of modern civilization that was not present in, for example, Greek civilization. This co-penetration of the arts and the sciences is shown most clearly in Nietzsche. This thinking is Western: the history of Chinese science and the writings of those civilizations based on the Sanskrit of the Vedanta show that such an understanding of knowing and making was not present in them. What was known regarding Nature in the Greek, Chinese and Vedanta was not a knowledge that put the energies of nature at their disposal, a knowledge of nature that viewed the beings of nature as disposables. It was through  Nietzsche, primarily, that our understanding of the arts and sciences was changed from what was meant by those civilizations prior to our own.

Knowledge is the securing of permanence through a conception of truth i.e. it is a value. Art, however, is of a value of higher value and is more necessary than knowledge. The transforming of life creates greater possibilities for the “surpassing” of life including all those noble activities undertaken to alleviate the suffering of human beings that are brought about by the conditions of life. Knowledge posits the fixated boundaries or horizons so that there can be something to surpass. Art and knowledge require each other in their essence. Art and knowledge (techne + logos) come together to bring about the full securing of permanence of the animate world. The securing of permanence comes about through the fixation of chaos through knowledge and the transforming of chaos through art. Knowledge and art assimilate (homoiösis) human beings to chaos. This assimilation is what Nietzsche understands as justice, not justice understood as a moral or legal term. Justice as a holding-to-be-true makes assimilation to chaos possible and necessary. It is what is “right” or correct, exact, the suitable, what makes sense, what fits. Justice is what points in the right direction and what conforms to that direction, to set a direction, and to send someone along the way in that direction. The desire to achieve “results”, for example, and the manners in which that desire will be achieved are examples of what is meant by “justice” here.

Nietzsche sees justice as a “mode of thinking”. What kind of thinking? “Justice as a constructive, exclusive, annihilative mode of thought, arising from estimations of value: supreme representative of life itself”.

What role does “freedom” play here? In Thus Spoke Zarathustra in the section “On the Way of the Creator” the relation of justice to freedom is outlined:

You call yourself free? Your dominating thought I want to hear, and not that you escaped from a yoke.

Are you the kind of person who had the right to escape from a yoke?

There are some who threw away their last value when they threw away their servitude.

Free from what? What does Zarathustra care! But brightly your eyes should signal to me: free for what?

Can you give yourself your own evil and good and hang your will above yourself like a law? Can you be your own judge and the avenger of your law?

It is terrible to be alone with the judge and avenger of one’s own law.

Thus does a star get thrown out into desolate space and into the icy breath of solitary being (loneliness).

Today you suffer still from the many, you lonely one: for today you still have your courage and your hopes intact…

Injustice and filth they throw at the lonely one. But my brother, if you want to be a star then you must shine through for them all the more!

The justice that is the mode of thinking for Nietzsche is not an everyday thinking that calculates by moving back and forth within a fixed horizon without being aware of that horizon. Thinking as poetizing and commanding is the thinking of Nietzsche and it is the establishment of the horizon in advance whose permanence provides a condition of the vitality of what lives. Justice is a way of thinking “arising from estimations of value”. Value-estimation is positing the conditions of life. By “values” Nietzsche does not mean the arbitrary circumstances of life. “Value” is an essential condition for what lives. “Value” is the essence of the making possible. The values of making possible are technology itself. “Values” are what are posited in determining what the essence of man is and what the essence of all beings are. Justice is not one way of thinking among many possible ways of thinking. Thinking is the activity of value-positing itself and is not a consequence of previous estimations of value. It is constructive, exclusive and annihilative. It is “technological thinking”.

This mode of “technological thinking” is “constructive” because it fashions the sort of thing that is not yet and is not yet ready-to-hand. We use the words “invent”, “create”, “produce” to indicate this mode of thinking to ourselves. It is “novelty”. To fashion is to “erect”, to build towards the heights. First, “the heights” must be attained and cleared. Those heights are the drive towards a perfection inherent in every “pro-duction” and “bringing forth” when that bringing forth is completed.

This constructive thought is “exclusive”. It fixes and maintains what can support the edifice of “pro-duction” and fends off whatever endangers it. It secures the foundation and selects the building materials. The most common example of this “exclusive” and “excluding” thought is the “fact/value” distinction arising from the “scientific method” and its applications in the social sciences.

This thinking is also “annihilative” in that it destroys whatever stoppages and restraints hinder the construction to the heights. Annihilation offers security against decline. Popper’s suggestion of “falsification” as a mode of thinking in the sciences would be an example of this annihilative thought, but also most of the conclusions that you arrive at in your TOK discussions. It can be said to be captured in the words of Robert Oppenheimer who led American efforts to develop the atomic bomb: “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and you argue about what to do about it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

This constructive, exclusive, annihilative thinking characterizes the way of thinking by which justice is understood i.e. they are “fitting” for the being that is human being. By being constructive, the thinking moves towards erecting the heights (the goals, the concepts) so that this height may be achieved and surpassed in order to bring about what is fixated in the theories and concepts under and behind itself. It is a self-surpassing way of thinking, becoming master of oneself from moving to a higher height. We call such self-surpassing heightening empowerment.  It is the essence of power.

Power is a kind of force, the storing up of energies. Force is not in control of itself. Energy is the ability to do work. “To work” means to change something at hand into something else. Nietzsche speaks of “energy” and “expressions of energy” rather than of power and power relations. For “Justice as the function of a panoramic power that looks beyond the narrow perspectives of good and evil, and thus has a broader horizon of advantage—the intention to preserve something that is more than this or that person.” To “function” means execution, carrying out—how the power we are referring to is power and empowers. Advantage in its original meaning means “what has been allotted to someone in a distribution before the actual dividing takes place” i.e. what is “owed” to someone in advance. For Nietzsche, justice is the ground of every possibility and necessity of the harmony of human beings with chaos whether this harmony is the higher one of art or the one of knowledge. In this constructive allotment of what is due to other human beings and beings, there are some beings to whom nothing is due. We see something of this in the current agricultural industry, but it is also present in all our technological institutions and technologies.

Much confusion over the thought of Nietzsche has come from the equating of will and power. Nietzsche views will as “commanding” and as self-empowerment, empowerment as the excelling of itself. This empowerment is the homoiösis that is the reciprocal relation of knowledge and art—technology.

Nietzsche’s philosophy may be called extreme humanism: “To ‘humanize’ the world, that is, to feel ourselves more and more masters within it—(WP #614). His anthropomorphism is the end of the history of Western metaphysics, that thinking which thinks beings as a whole, that thinks the what and the how of beings. This end brings about the “overcoming” of the animal rationale together with human being considered as subjectum and ushers in what Nietzsche called the “overman” and what the German philosopher Martin Heidegger called “the technology of the helmsman”.


When we speak of justice in the modern age, we have to understand that that technology understood as justice by Nietzsche, that will to mastery, will be turned towards other human beings. Emotion as a way of knowing in TOK, for instance, founds its inclusion, its origins back in the 1990s in the ideas of “emotional intelligence” and its use as a tool to help create “the kinder, gentler nation” that would become the USA. One does not need Hemingway’s ‘bullet-proof crap detector’ to see the farce behind such aspirations. One finds the shift in this use of “emotional intelligence” or emotion as a way of knowing in the use of the word “sensitivity” today in a number of writings as another false means of hope in looking for a way to escape the quagmire that is the attempt to understand this technology understood as modern rationality. This use of “emotional intelligence” and “sensitivity” is, perhaps, indicative of our inability to use the word “love” in any kind of meaningful way outside of a biological definition that has become the norm in its understanding of love as primarily sexuality.

As our education system achieves its end of producing mass meaninglessness in its demonstrations of the “what” of things (cosmology), the medical profession (psychiatry) with its palliative drugs as the solution to this lack of meaning pro-duced from this view of nature, will be among those most highly regarded. The new technologies of both human and non-human nature are responses to the crises brought about by technology itself. “Technology” is pervasive in our political and social lives and thus in our praxis. What we have done to nature we first had to do to our own bodies, and we are beings in bodies. We are this technology ourselves and solutions to the problems of the thinking within it are not to be found in the logic and rationalism that created the problems in the first place.

When we remember that technology viewed as the systematic application of reason (framing) to the invention of instruments to assist in the objectifying and the commandeering and ordering of the beings of nature for our disposal, we need to understand that these instruments are not merely hydro dams, computers or drugs, but also our systems of organization: our corporations, bureaucracies, and factories. We do not have the dams, the drugs or the computers without the social organizations necessary for their making. In the West, the novelty (Nietzschean creativity, inventiveness) of our civilization has reached the highest level of effectiveness because it is systematically related to our sciences and their co-penetration with the arts. This is now becoming world-wide.

To describe our fate as human beings as technological is not to judge that fate. The fundamental presuppositions that the majority of us inherit as our ‘shared knowledge’ in our civilization and which are taken for granted as the way things are that they are given to us as an almost absolute status (Darwinism, for instance) may be a great step forward in the ascent of human beings. The destiny imposed on us, technology as fate, has brought about the machines that have assisted us in freeing ourselves from many of the limitations that nature has imposed on us. But we ask, as Nietzsche asked, “What for? Whither? And what then?” One can see from the responses to these blogs that “results” are the goal, not knowledge.

The accounts of justice given to us in the dominant ideologies of our age (liberalism, communism, and historicism) come forth from the account of reasoning which is made so clear in the writings and thinking of Nietzsche. The instruments and our standards of justice in using them are bound together in the same destiny and both have come forth from that destiny.



Darwin/Nietzsche Part VII: On Aristotle, Algorithms and the Principle of Contradiction and the Overturning of the True and Apparent Worlds

Friedrich Nietzsche


Why Nietzsche? Nietzsche is the modern conscious of itself. The god of Delphi’s command sends us, directs us towards the path, the journey towards knowledge. “Know thyself” is the imperative that directs us not to see our psychologist as quickly as possible and to get ourselves in therapy as soon as possible, but to know for ourselves, to leave the Oracle priestesses (and psychiatrists) alone to indulge in their volcanic visions from the vent. What we learn while on this path is that we can come to know “who” and “what” we are, both as individuals and as human beings. On the path/journey, “thy self” can be an obstacle, a hindrance to knowledge rather than an aid to knowledge.

Nietzsche and Knowledge:

Nietzsche in Will to Power #515 writes  of the essence of reason and of thinking, what reason and thinking are, and their biological nature: “The subjective compulsion by which we are unable to contradict here is a biological compulsion …” Nietzsche thinks: all thinking in categories, all thinking in schemata i.e. in accordance with rules is perspectival, conditioned by the essence of life (Being) and accords with the rule of all thought which is the avoidance of contradiction.

Aristotle establishes the law of contradiction as the height of reason in Metaphysics IV 3-10. According to Nietzsche, this law has its origin and interpretation as logic in the essence of reason, and reason itself has its origin in life’s securing of permanence. In WP #516 Nietzsche says: “We are unable to affirm and to deny one and the same thing at the same time—this is a subjective empirical principle, the expression not of any necessity but only of an inability.”

This “subjective compulsion” is sometimes readily lacking; any look at the daily news indicates this. But why “facts” and the appeal to “facts”? “Facts” are secured solely on the basis of our following the principle of non-contradiction. What the law of contradiction expresses, what is posited in it, does not rest on experience, just as 2X2=4 does not rest on experience i.e. on a cognition that is always valid only as far as and as long as our knowledge extends at the time. We know 2X2=4 because we already think 4. The thinkability of this equation is made possible because it is something arrived at not from experience at all (Kant Critique of Pure Reason).

Aristotle in Bk IV 3 1005b of Metaphysics writes: “That the same thing come to be present and not come to be present at the same time is impossible in the same and with respect to the same”. We could also use this principle to understand the play Macbeth and the “non-being” of evil in general. Presence is the unfolding of Being. The law of contradiction deals with the Being of beings. Contradiction, for Nietzsche, is an “inability”, not an “impossibility” and not a matter of “necessity”. This means that the fact that something cannot be something and its opposite at the same time depends on the fact that we are not able “to affirm and deny one and the same thing”. Some thing cannot be represented, fixed as some thing and its opposite at the time, that is to say that it cannot “be”.  Confusion, stress results.

When Macbeth asks himself “Is this a dagger that I see before me”, the two-fold nature of beings as both Being and non-being is shown. One dagger is that which represents the soldier/savior of his country, his “manliness” (his “virtue”) as a human being; the other is the murder weapon that he will use to kill Duncan. Lady Macbeth’s bell tolling at the end of Macbeth’s speech signifies the death not only of Duncan but of Macbeth as a human being as well for his is now a mind that sees daggers and is no longer of the nature that is “too full of the milk of human kindness”. The play makes it clear that the old man, Duncan, who “had so much blood in him” is really the one who “outlives”, in his offspring Malcolm, the other that murdered him. The dagger as “symbol” is more “real” than the dagger that is used as a murder weapon.

For Nietzsche, Aristotle’s “impossibility” is an “inability” in our thinking, a “subjective not being able to” and has nothing to do with the object itself. The law of contradiction has only “subjective validity” for Nietzsche; it depends on the constitution of our faculty of thinking. In the event of a mutation in our faculty of thinking brought about by “life” itself, the law of contradiction could lose its validity. Algorithms, for example, are historical not permanent.

We can follow Nietzsche’s own interpretation of the essence of thinking, of the holding-to-be-true and of truth and where truth rests:

“If, according to Aristotle, the law of contradiction is the most certain of all fundamental principles, if it is the ultimate and most basic , upon which every demonstrative proof rests, if the principle of all other axioms lies in it, then one should consider all the more rigorously what sorts of assertions it already fundamentally presupposes. Either it asserts something about actuality, about being, as if one already knew this from another source, that is, as if opposite attributes could not be predicated from it. Or, perhaps, the presupposition means opposite attributes should not be predicated of it? In that case, logic would be an imperative, not to know the true, but to posit and devise a world that is to be called true for us.

Aristotle holds that the principle of the law of contradiction is the “principle of all other axioms.” Aristotle says (Metaphysics IV 3 1005b 33-34) “For according to its essence, this is the point of departure for and ruling for all the other axioms, indeed thoroughly so.” Nietzsche sees the law of contradiction as an axiom of logic and the most certain of all principles. Aristotle’s statement says something about “Being” and about the Being of beings. How does Aristotle hold that the law of contradiction is a law of Being as such? For Aristotle, the law of contradiction is a law of Being; for Nietzsche, the law of contradiction is a command of Being.

Nietzsche asks: “If the law of contradiction is the highest of all principles, “what sorts of assertions does it already fundamentally presuppose”? Aristotle answered this question: the law states something essential about things as such: that every absence is foreign to presence because it steals presence away into its non-essence, thus positing impermanence and destroying the essence of Being. Since Being has its essence in presence and permanence, the aspects according to which things are to be represented as things will have to take the “at the same time” and “in the same respect” into account. (How Being falls into non-essence as “shadow” is discussed in the writings on Plato’s allegory of the Cave and in the comments on Plato’s Sophist. Aristotle’s position on Plato’s account of Being is also discussed in his Metaphysics but this is not the place to engage in thinking about that great disagreement which is crucial for the development of philosophy in the West.)

Aristotle says that if the same thing is affirmed and denied of a being (i.e. the “alternate facts” of our current popular language), if human beings maintain themselves in contradiction, they are excluded from representing things as such and forget what they really want to grasp in their yes and no i.e. they become “mad” because they have displaced themselves from their essence into non-essence and dissolve their relations to things as such. This fall into non-essence appears “harmless” in that our everyday activities go on just as before and it doesn’t seem so important at all what and how one thinks until the catastrophe arrives that was centuries in its generation and growth i.e. the dominance of nihilism. More will be said about nihilism in later writings.

The essence of beings, for Aristotle, consists in the constant absence of contradiction. Martin Heidegger, the great philosopher of the 20th century, believes that Nietzsche does not understand the metaphysics of Aristotle and Plato and therefore does not successfully overturn the Western tradition of metaphysics as Nietzsche himself believes and claims he does. For Aristotle, Being is understood as presence, actuality and power. Nietzsche, instead, becomes deeply entangled in the web that is Western metaphysics.

Nietzsche decides that the positing of the law of contradiction as the essence of beings comes as command. In WP #516 he writes: “In short, the question remains open: are the axioms of logic adequate to reality or are they a means and measure for us to first create reality, the concept “reality”, for ourselves?—In order to be able to affirm the former, one would, as already said, have to have a previous knowledge of beings—which is simply not the case. The proposition therefore contains no criterion of truth, but an imperative concerning that which should count as true”.

How does Nietzsche affirm the possibility of a positing that determines how beings are to be grasped in their essence? This positing is not our thinking and representing adapting themselves to things in order to learn the essence of these things/beings. The law of contradiction determines beforehand what beings are and what alone can count as in being i.e. what does not contradict itself. We experience this “law” as “command”. We can see how this “command” is understood in today’s sciences where the law of contradiction and the “algorithms” of modern biology are perceived as “command” required by “practical need” understood as “survival”. But for Nietzsche, survival is not the highest form of will to power. “Enhancement” through art (techne) is the highest form of will to power.

The law of contradiction is the fundamental principle of a “holding-to-be-true” and makes possible the essence of holding-to-be-true. What we call knowledge has, for Nietzsche, the nature of command within it. Knowledge as the securing of permanence, whether in the form of algorithms or otherwise, is not brought about because it is advantageous and useful. These are “effects”, not causes. The securing of permanence is necessary because it enables a necessity to arise in and from itself, and from out of this necessity arises the “freedom of decision”. (Kant) What brings about this securing of permanence we call “robust knowledge”.

For Nietzsche, the law of contradiction posits a standard: positing, poetizing and commanding are contrasted with copying and imitating something at hand, or what is given in the Platonic mimetic arts. Truth as a holding-to-be-true is a necessary value. Necessity is a must of the commanding (empowerment) and poetizing that arises from freedom. Being-together-with-itself is what Nietzsche means by freedom and what we mean by “empowerment”. This “self-empowerment” is what distinguishes human beings from all living species—and is what essentially distinguishes Nietzsche from Darwin. The human adherence to the law of contradiction he calls an “instinct”, an “imperative” that lies in the realm of freedom. The essence of the compulsion that lies in the law of contradiction does not rest in the “biological realm”, but rather in the human commanding and poetizing, the determination of the perspective and the horizon representing beings, the things that are. Nietzsche calls this will to power and human “empowerment”.

When Nietzsche speaks of art he does not mean art in our familiar understanding of its many genres. For Nietzsche, art is the name for every form of transfiguring, transforming and transposing of life to higher possibilities (“added value”). What truth cannot do, art accomplishes: the transfiguration of what is alive to higher possibilities or the actualization and activity of life in the midst of the truly actual—chaos. Truth fixates chaos and maintains itself in the chaotic apparent world by stabilizing what is in becoming. Art transforms what becomes into its possibilities, frees what becomes into its becoming (genetic manipulation as an example) and thus moves about in the “true” world. Here, the inversion of Platonism is accomplished by Nietzsche from the arising of the techne-logos. The “true” world is the world of becoming; the “apparent” world is the stable and constant world. The worlds have exchanged places in Nietzsche. With this exchange of places, technology thence becomes the highest form of will to power.

Since we ourselves are this technology, how does this embrace become our “fate”? The “true”, as understood historically, is a denial of chaos; as a denial of chaos, it is not appropriate to the truth of that chaos. So: “Truth is the kind of error without which a certain kind of living being could not live”. (WP #493) Truth is an error because it does not harmonize or correspond with the chaos of the real; arts harmonizes or corresponds with chaos. But doesn’t art “fixate” and provide the error of “semblance”?

What is alive always maintains itself in a stand based on a perspectival range of possibilities that are “fixated” whether as the “true” of knowledge or the “work” of art. The delimiting and drawing of a horizon is a giving of semblance (“algorithms” are the latest attempt to define these installations). What is “figured” looks like the actual, but as figured it is no longer chaos but a determined urging, according to Nietzsche. “Semblance” originates where the actual perspective, with its definite point-of-view to which the horizon is “relative” prevails. In WP #567 Nietzsche says: “The perspectival therefore lends the character of the “appearance”. As if a world would still remain after one deducted the perspectival! By doing that, one would deduct the relativity!”

Relativity is where life creates a perspective and looks forward and from a viewpoint. Theories and theses are products of this perspectivism. “Relativity” expresses the horizon-like scope of perspectives, the creations of the “action” of life itself. We call this “world”. World arises from the life-activity of what is alive and is only what and how it arises. The “semblance” of the world is not one of “appearance”. Why not? Because the opening of a world (theory) through perspective and drawing a horizon with that world are not the result of our adapting to the world subsistent in itself or subsistent at all, that is, a “true” world. If there is no longer a measure or estimate with regard to something true how is the world that arises from the action of life supposed to be “semblance” at all? Nietzsche says: “With the abolition of the “true world” the “apparent world” is also abolished”. Few have grasped the depth of the consequences of this statement. Nietzsche was aware, more than anyone before or since, that “the antithesis of the apparent world and the true world reduces itself to the antithesis ‘world’ and ‘nothing’”. He was aware of the nihilism at the bottom of the thinking that we call modernism. What did he counter- pose to such nihilism?

What happens when the distinction between a true world and an apparent world falls away? What becomes of truth?






Darwin and Nietzsche: Part VI: What is “Practical Need”?

What is “practical need”? Everyone seems to know what this practical need is. If what encounters knowing, if what is “out there”, has the essential character of chaos, and if this chaos is rendered back to something living, to how it is bodied and its life, and if “practical need” is what schematizing responds to regarding the apprehension of the chaos of what is encountered, then “practical need” stands in an essential unity with the living bodily life. We today have termed this practical need as “instinctual need” or “basic need” and have identified algorithms as the manner in which it comes to light.

Friedrich Nietzsche

All living beings, according to Nietzsche, are surrounded by chaos. Chaos is seen as dissolution and annihilation. “Life”, however, for Nietzsche and Darwin is the name for Being, and Being means presencing, subsistence, permanence, withstanding disappearance. If life is the chaotic bodying and oppressive urging of the “instinctual” experienced through the senses, the concern of the living must be to withstand this urging that propels towards annihilation (see the Freudian theory of thanatos or the “death instinct”). Permanence and the urge toward it are not contradictory to the “life urge” (survival) but correspond to the essence of bodying life. In order to live, the living being must be propelled towards the permanent, the stable. This is understood today as the compulsion towards the creation and invention of the algorithms common in modern biological thinking and elsewhere, and later we shall see how this relates to how and why Nietzsche considers “art” as of “higher value” than truth. Yet chaos does not provide stability to living being according to both Nietzsche and Darwin.

In Greek praxis is a “doing”, “activity” that actualizes goals, carries out plans that aim at outcomes and results i.e. the algorithms of “experience”. The ability of the human being to stand in the “chaos” we call “empowerment”. Empowerment is the stability that is secured through praxis. This empowerment secures only through making chaos stable and fixed and thus the need for “schemata”. “Practical need” is the need for forming schemata in order to secure stability in the midst of chaos. This stability is achieved through the establishment of “horizons”. The “horizon” is what limits and stabilizes. The schema is not a limit imposed on human being from without. The forming of horizons belongs to the inner essence of living beings themselves i.e. what they really are according to Nietzsche. When Nietzsche says “God is dead” he means that God has ceased to be a horizon for human beings i.e. God has ceased to provide the limits to the securing of stability for human beings within the chaos of Being.

“Horizons” are not fixed in themselves. They are not a wall separating human being from “life”. Horizons point to what has not been fixed, to what is possible. The horizon is a “seeing and a looking” (what we have been calling the “theoretical”). As “experience” or praxis this “seen through” aspect is “perspective” in Nietzsche. The horizon always stands within a perspective. The perspective is a way of “seeing through” to the “something possible” (Aristotle in Metaphysics on dynamis and energeia) that arises out of chaos. It is the way of “looking through” in which the horizon is formed. The looking through and the looking ahead, together with the formation of a horizon, belongs to the essence of life, what life is. The horizon, which sets limits and stabilizes, not only secures the possible in fixing chaos, it also lets chaos appear as chaos through its stability. Because forming a horizon and imposing a schema have their ground in the “experience” of life, in “doing” as the securing of stability, praxis (doing) and chaos belong together. Chaos makes the securing of stability necessary for the survival of the living being. This “practical need” is reason.

Reason is “practical reason” as Kant understood. Reason is the projective perception of what in itself is out to make life possible. Reason unfolds its concepts and categories in the direction of securing the stability of life. The human being, the animale rationale, has projected the perspectives of reason which view the horizon of its most important possibilities, its “values”.  How is this “reason” related to calculation and the correspondence theory of truth? How does this relate to the essence of human being, what human beings are?

Nietzsche says that “man is the, as yet, undetermined animal”. Socrates, on the other hand, says that human beings are “fitted” to live in communities and to think about the whole of things. With the arrival of “humanism”, the focus came to be on the individual, then the community. Human beings “stand” in relation to each other to the things about them. When we speak of “schematizing” we do not mean a schematic ordering in ready-made compartments of the things which have no order; it an “invention” that places things “on account” in a range of configurations that things move in in order to provide human beings with something constant, in order to provide for the possibility of human beings permanence (survival) and security. The science of Newton is such a schema.

In WP #515 Nietzsche says: “In the formation of reason, logic, the categories, it was need that was definitive: the need “not to know”, but to subsume, to schematize, for the purpose of accordance (correspondence) and calculation”. This phrase is not a Darwinian explanation of the origin of the faculty of reason. It is the permanence provided by the schema that brings the fixed things to presence. Representing beings/things and thinking rationally are the praxis of life, life’s attempts to secure permanence for itself. “Concept formation” is not the work of the theoretical intellect (nous as understood in the Greek), nothing foreign to life, but the basic law of the occurrence of life itself.

Following the quote above, Nietzsche writes: “The development of reason is adjustment, invention, in order to make similar, identical—the same process that every sense impression goes through”. This “same” is the understanding of physis or nature in modern science: uniform masses in uniform calculations of velocity in positions of uniform space. These positings of the “identical” are acts of creation, invention what the philosopher Kant described as the “transcendental imagination” in its relation to the account, the logos of the praxis or “practical reason”.  This is the essence of reason: creation must always occur before the thinking that is presently understood as “reason”, as logic, this a priori creation of the categories: the creation in advance of what the thing is, its relations, effects, causality, magnitude, etc. Some modern biologists use the term “algorithms” to describe the phenomenon that Kant called “transcendental imagination”. This creation is of a higher origin, a more primordial origin, one that lies “above” and “beyond” our most familiar everyday doings and what our everyday doings take up believing that the things present are handy and ready for use. From this we can understand why Nietzsche says that “Art is worth more than truth”. The “transcendental imagination” is the root of what we call “instrumental reason”, ‘pragmatic reason’, for it stabilizes (empowers) the self-secure subject determining the constant presence of what is as object. Nietzsche, though, writes: “Finality in reason is an effect not a cause”.

If we recall our discussions of Aristotle’s four causes, the “causa finalis” was the aitia or “what is responsible for something”. By contrast, the common meaning of our word “cause” is “that which brings about an effect”, the causa efficiens, the “sufficient cause”. The “on account of which” is what is responsible for the fact that something else happens and is done on account of it; it is the goal or purpose towards which something aims. Purpose is what is represented in advance. Purpose is a cause. But Nietzsche reverses this.

Nietzsche says that purpose is an effect not a cause. Nietzsche’s position is that the “on account of which” is fixed in advance as something constant; the “accounts” are produced by reason. Nietzsche emphasizes finality or purpose because he believes it to be the fundamental category of reason due to its origin which he equates with the process of life securing permanence. He writes: “An aside—since no one will maintain that there is any necessity for men to exist, reason, as well as Euclidean space, is a mere idiosyncrasy of a certain species of animal, one idiosyncrasy among many….” The particular species of animal called human being is present, without a reason for being that can be determined. The species is so constituted in its own life as to react in a special way with its encounter with chaos i.e. a definite way securing permanence by devising categories based on “reason” and adapting itself to three dimensional space in order to fix and stabilize chaos. All thinking in categories, in schemata, in accordance with “rules” is “perspectival”, conditioned by life. The avoidance of contradiction in reason becomes the rule of thinking. Human beings are compelled by life to avoid contradiction so that chaos is unified and coherent in the scheme. Just as jellyfish develop and extend their strands for grasping and catching, human beings use reason and its grasping instrument, the law of contradiction, in order to find its way around in its environment to secure its own survival and permanence. Reason and logic, knowledge and truth, are biological appearances in the animal we call “human being”, according to Nietzsche. But more needs to be said about the principle of contradiction and its sources.

Darwin and Nietzsche: Part V: The World as Life and “Becoming”:

Friedrich Nietzsche

When Nietzsche writes: “There is no truth” (WP #616) that “truth” is in quotation marks must be seen as indicating that “truth” as understood prior to Nietzsche is an “illusion”, but as “illusion” a necessary condition of life. Life itself demands illusions. Is Nietzsche saying that there is no truth? Not at all. What is meant by ‘truth’ is that ‘truth’ is not what is most important or essential to ‘life’, that it is not the ‘highest value’. For Nietzsche, if the true is synonymous with beings/things (nature) or our common concept of “reality”, how Nietzsche understands beings/things becomes most important. If the true cannot be the highest, and if the true is equivalent to beings/things, then beings/things cannot constitute the essence of the world either. The world/”reality”/ actuality cannot consist in some sort of Being.

In the modern world, truth becomes certainty, a holding-to-be-true, and knowledge becomes the question of the what and the how certainty is, of what being certain of oneself consists in, of what “robust” knowledge is based on.  The essence of truth is based on the essence of knowledge, what we hold some thing to be in its presence when encountering us. Truth as ‘value’ is a necessary condition to life, a valuation that life brings about for its own sake. But what is the essence of life? In attempting to answer this question we can determine what is meant by “natural selection” and come to question the historicism that gave rise to it.

When “theory of knowledge” is erected as a “knowledge framework”, a self-knowing is already implicit in it. This “knowledge framework” is the way we take the things that are in advance and the way we have determined what is decisive in our relation to them (“knowledge” that is both “personal” and “shared” and how we conceive it). In what way does Nietzsche determine in advance what is encountered as “knowable”; and what is the criterion of the knowing relation (logos and what will come to be determined as the logos) to what is encountered and to human beings’ surroundings?

Nietzsche writes: “Not ‘to know’ but to schematize—to impose upon chaos as much regularity and as many forms as our practical needs require.” (WP #516) This statement needs to be held together with what has already been said about “truth”. The “schema” is connected to the principle of reason and its use of categories and is related to how we experience time and space.

What human beings encounter is, according to Nietzsche, “chaos”, and this “chaos” is to be imposed on with a schema of “regularity”, and this “regularity” is determined by our “practical needs” (survival). The praxis of life, not the theoretical, is the ground of knowing and is determined from “experience”. Knowing as representing, as a bringing a world before us is, basically, “schematizing” chaos in accordance with our practical needs. In today’s academic jargon, this “schematizing” is called the imposition of an algorithm.  But, according to the modern biological sciences, this algorithm is not imposed by us; it is imposed by nature or life itself. What is an algorithm?

In a recent popular text called Homo Deus, the writer Yuval Harari defines an algorithm as a “methodical set of steps that can be used to make calculations, resolve problems and reach decisions.” (Deus pg. 97) He goes on to say that “these algorithms undergo constant quality control by natural selection. Only animals that calculate probabilities correctly leave offspring behind.” One can see the last remnants of the principle of reason, first articulated by Leibniz, being used here to explain “life” and its mysteries wherein reason as calculation which controls human beings’ reactions to chaos can now be attributable to “pigs, baboons, otters and chickens” (Deus p. 99). The superiority of the “rationality” of the animale rationale is put in question. For Nietzsche, this is the viewing of ‘the last men’. We will say more on ‘the last men’ and the ‘overman’ at a later time.

Why does “chaos” play such an essential role in and for knowing? The question of “what is knowledge?’ is already a thinking project of the essence of what human beings are and their position within beings/things as well as a projection of these beings/things themselves.

What is “chaos”? In its original Greek sense it means “the gaping that points to the measureless, supportless and groundless” or what we sometimes call “the abyss”. For us, “chaos” means the unordered, the tangled in confusion, something in a shambles. This always implies something in motion. To see things as a “chaos” presupposes a prior order to the things in their relation to one another. Think of your home prior to the arrival of burglars who have turned it into a “chaos”. We must already know this “thing” as our home and how the things within it are supposed to be in relation to each other. We encounter things in our everyday experience as a “chaos” of sense perceptions, that which is constantly and immediately experienced in the knowledge of the living things about us. This fundamental experience of the world as a “chaos” occurs because we are beings in bodies.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra Nietzsche writes: “The apes are too good-natured for man to have originated from them”. The animality of man for Nietzsche has a deeper metaphysical ground than could ever be inferred biologically and scientifically from an existing animal species that appears to be similar to him. What is Nietzsche’s metaphysical ground for the animality of human beings? In our direct statements about an everyday object like our home, “our home” already lies at the very basis as knowledge. What lies in the knowledge of what is given to us and is encountered by us is the “chaos” of sensations through our bodies in “bodily states” through our “living”, what modern biologists call algorithms. This conception of “algorithmic” thinking is founded upon the principle of reason. Modern biology’s “progress” is Nietzschean, not Darwinian; but the consequences of the thinking have not been thoroughly thought through i.e. it is a thinking that is “deadly” in Nietzsche’s words and we will explore what is ‘fatal’ in this thinking at a later time.

For Nietzsche, “chaos” is the “world” as a whole: the inexhaustible, urgent, and unmastered abundance of self-assertion and self-destruction (WP #467) in which law and anarchy are found and dissolve. Our practical needs in this chaos determine our need for a schema through the formation of a horizon and perspective, the dominion of the principle of reason and of the logos understood as reason.

Our next steps will be to determine an understanding of “practical needs”.