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?






Author: theoryofknowledgeanalternativeapproach


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