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.

Author: theoryofknowledgeanalternativeapproach


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

  1. ” If what encounters knowing, if what is “out there”, has the essential character of chaos,”

    What is perceived as chaotic by one kind of subject may be perceived as orderly by another kind of subject. Do you agree or disagree?


    1. There really is only “one kind of subject” that we can speak of, of course, and the word “subject” itself is quite contentious but it is what is being discussed in these writings. Different human beings can make decisions to perceive the world as orderly but what this “order” is is something that they cannot account for. The web of necessity is orderly, but an “account” of it is difficult. The beauty of the world may be perceived as one of “order” and our response to it may be one of love but what this order is is one of the great mysteries.


    1. “Limits” are the horizons which provide the foundation for our willing i.e. God is a horizon, artificial intelligence is a horizon. Limits are the dynamis and potentia of something. For Nietzsche, these limits are provided by schema grounded in the principle of reason. and what I will later show is “the technological”. The schema determines (and judges) who among us is considered sane and who is not so….


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