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, 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” itself 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, “Darwin and Nietzsche Pt. 8”, 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 or culture.

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 to expand on the words of Heraclitus.

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 through the thinking in Medieval Christianity 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” have come to mean when we see the slitting of a man’s throat for propaganda purposes in the name of a “religion” as being more “barbarous” than the killing of some hundred of individuals by a missile strike in Syria fired by someone sitting behind a computer desk somewhere in New Mexico, and it is 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 and was merely doing his duty.

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, and this is expressed in our gratitude and generosity.

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 for Simone Weil, 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 order to secure them. 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 they “experience” such workshops. 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, including the creativity of ourselves. 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”, the “framework”, in which something is summoned 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 to be “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.

Author: theoryofknowledgeanalternativeapproach


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Theory of Knowledge: An Alternative Approach

Why is an alternative approach necessary?

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