Nietzsche: Genius of the Heart by Charlie Huenemann

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Charlie Huenemann, a philosophy professor at Utah State, self-published this book in 2009. I don’t know why, because it’s an excellent introduction to Friedrich Nietzsche’s life and thought. Did Prof. Huenemann have trouble finding a publisher? Did he see it as a money-making opportunity? He has a sense of humor (that’s him in the picture when he was younger). Maybe he thought it would be an interesting thing to do.

Huenemann’s thesis is that Nietzsche’s philosophy was an attempt to make his miserable life livable:

I said it two times . . . and now this will make three: Nietzsche’s philosophy was the means by which he reconciled himself to his life. It was an  unfortunate life, beginning in tragedy [two deaths in the family], enduring through sickness and loneliness, ending in insanity [possibly due to a brain tumor, not syphilis], and then being twisted [by his anti-Semitic but apparently well-meaning sister] into abetting humanity’s worst atrocities.

Nietzsche’s task, as he saw it, was  to develop in himself the right attitude, so that no matter how unfortunate this life turned out to be . . . he would be able to surmount it, accept it, and embrace it. All of the magnificent monsters he pressed into his service — the Apollonian and Dionysian forces, his thoroughly skeptical neo-Kantian naturalism, Zarathustra, the eternal return, the will to power, the revaluation of all values — were, in the final analysis, devices, heuristics, visions and touchstones he needed in to order to accomplish this most extraordinary feat. If readers turn to his books in search of arguments for believing in these monsters, or reasons for taking them to be real, they have missed the entire point. The point was not truth. The point was triumph [204-5].

Academic philosophers tend to shy away from analyzing the personal reasons other philosophers have for adopting certain views. The ideas and arguments are what matter. Nietzsche didn’t agree. He believed philosophical positions (and religious beliefs) are explainable by individual psychology — which is partly what Huenemann is doing in this book. Huenemann considers whether Nietzsche would apply that same formula to his own views and decides he wouldn’t.

[Nietzsche] has a lot to say — indeed, many volumes! — about what is good and noble for human beings, and what is sick, weak and despicable. There are indeed facts about these values. His claim is only that the traditional assignment of values — particularly over what is “good or “evil” — is a huge mistake, grounded in a hopelessly inadequate understanding of reality.

This immediately raises a question about Nietzsche’s own consistency with the gospel he preaches. . . . Consider this comic tirade from a later work, Twilight of the Idols: “Finally, let’s consider how naive it is in general to say, ‘Human beings should be such and such!’ Reality shows us a captivating treasury of types . . . and some pathetic bystander of a moralist says to all this, “No! Human beings should be different‘? . . . He even knows how human beings should be, this sanctimonious sniveler”.

Nietzsche grants himself exemption . . . He thinks what what he is doing is significantly different from what other moralists do. . . .Whereas other moralists act as if they have just been handed the tablets of moral commandments from the sky, Nietzsche believes he is digging up his “commandments” from the earth — indeed, from the forces of life itself. His values are not dreamed up or invented, but wrested through bitter experience from genuine confrontations with a hard and unforgiving world [162-3].

Huenemann says “the supreme Nietzschean value is living power. What leads to the flourishing of living power . . . is good; what stifles or diminishes it is bad [167]“. Nietzsche: Genius of the Heart certainly has living power. It’s a lively, informative, sometimes critical account of one of philosophy’s most distinctive thinkers (and not expensive at all).

Witcraft: The Invention of Philosophy in English by Jonathan Rée

This is a big book on a big subject. It’s 600 pages about the history of philosophy, mainly dealing with philosophy as it was practiced in English. But as the author says:

Philosophy in English is as multi-lingual as philosophy in any other language. It has always been fascinated — repelled as well as attracted — by foreign philosophy, and philosophical terms such as idea, logic, nature, politics, virtue, science and spirit, which now pass as linguistic natives, used to be seen as exotic outsiders [8].

The book’s eight chapters roughly concern the philosophical landscape in 50-year increments.There are chapters devoted to 1601, 1651, 1701, 1751 and finally 1951. But Rée never limits himself to those years. They’re merely labels for different eras. So the principal figure in the last chapter is Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose major works were published in 1913 and 1953 (and composed in German).

Witcraft was written for the general reader, although I don’t think it’s superficial. And it’s not the kind of treatment that the poet Stephen Spender complained about:

In the first lesson we were taught that J. S. Mill’s Utilitarianism meant the greatest happiness of the greatest number . . . in the next tutorial we were taught that Mill was wrong . . . The next philosopher was Locke. We were told what he thought and then why he was wrong. Next please. Hume. Hume was wrong also. Then Kant. Kant was wrong, but he was so difficult that no one could be sure of  catching him out [4].

The author hopes that his stories will bring out “the ordinariness of philosophy, as well as its magnificence and its power to change people’s lives”. He sees it as “a carnival rather than a museum: an unruly parade of free spirits, inviting you to join in and make something new” [9].

In that regard, I especially recommend the chapters that revolve around Adam Smith and David Hume (1751), John Stuart Mill and Mary Ann Evans, better known as the novelist George Eliot (1851), the pragmatic philosopher and psychologist William James (1901) and the intense and enigmatic Austrian Ludwig Wittgenstein (1951). They are all thinkers worth knowing about.

By the way, Wikipedia says that Jonathan Rée is “a British freelance historian and philosopher”. Educated at Oxford, he was “previously a Professor of Philosophy at Middlesex University, but gave up a teaching career in order to have more time to think“.

On Not Having a Good Time

A philosophical anecdote from Witcraft, a book by Jonathan Rée:

Kierkegaards’s works were not available in English when Wittgenstein started teaching at Cambridge, but he encouraged his students to read him if they could, especially on questions of ethics. Kierkegaard, according to Wittgenstein, reminded us that we must choose between alternative ways of living, some based on sensual pleasure, others on ethical renunciation, still other on religious rejoicing; but these “categories of life-style”, as Wittgenstein called them, were so different as to be “incommensurable” [they have no common standard of measurement], and if we took our choice seriously we would realize that it must issue from unfathomable anguish rather than dispassionate observation or calm reason. “Mind you I don’t believe what Kierkegaard believed, ” he said, “but of this I am certain, that we are not here in order to have a good time” [607].

Speaking of which, The Guardian reports that “doctors are seeing more and more young patients”:

Until recently, the majority of coronavirus cases that Dr Quinn Snyder, an emergency doctor at one of Arizona’s largest emergency departments, saw were older people. But since mid-May, when the state’s stay-at-home order was lifted, and particularly after the Memorial Day holiday, the demographic has shifted. Snyder says he has seen an “explosion” in cases among 20-44-year-olds.

Some of those, he said, are coming in severely ill – requiring oxygen, intubation and ventilators. “We even had people in that age group die, unfortunately. So it’s very troubling and it’s very difficult to watch young people die from this disease. It’s horrible.”

As cases continue to soar at record levels across the US, which now has over 2.6m cases, there is growing alarm about a surge in younger people getting the virus. On Friday, [the vice president] said half of new cases in the US in recent weeks were adults under 35.

Speaking ahead of the Fourth of July holiday weekend, health experts in hotspot states – which include Arizona, Texas and Florida – warned numbers will continue to rise and that if young people do not take better precautions, hospitals will reach capacity and states could be left with no choice but to completely shut down.

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ADHS is the Arizona Department of Health Services.

 

Knowing Oneself

From Richard Marshall’s “End Times” series of interviews:

[RM]: You’re interested in the connection between psychoanalysis and philosophy. One starting point is to try and understand the Delphic command: ‘Know thyself.’ How do you think this is best understood? Is it about a particular epistemic attitude or about avoiding self-deception?

[Richard Gipps]: No doubt there are many useful facts to learn about yourself – for example, I now know not to do the washing up in the morning, since at that time of day I’m clumsy and likely to break something. However I rather doubt that in this I would’ve made the Delphic Oracle proud.

Truly ‘knowing oneself’, as I see it, instead has largely to do with undoing what, since Freud, we call our ‘defence mechanisms’. Knowing oneself is often not so much about introspectively discovering facts about oneself, but instead about relinquishing self-thwarting habits which place a kink in our world-relations…. I may well come to know something about myself – that I run certain defences, have certain repressed feelings, etc. – but this knowledge will most likely not, if it remains only of a ‘knowing about’ form, be truly mutative [i.e. tending toward mutation].

What I need instead of factual knowing is to relinquish my short-termist, anxiety-avoiding tendencies which stop me truly becoming who I latently am. Having achieved this I can ‘body forth’ spontaneously, enjoying direct and emotionally alive relations with others – rather than be caught up in some self-stultifying reflexive self-relation.

Knowing oneself is also about becoming more what we call ‘self-possessed’ – a term which indexes not some relation of oneself to oneself, but rather the absence of certain self-thwarting relations to others. She who isn’t self-possessed is inclined to unthinkingly go along with the preferences and values of others (real and imaginary); she doesn’t know how to follow the maxim ‘to thine own self be true’. Becoming self-possessed is a lifetime’s work, and involves a lot of what psychoanalysts call disidentifying from the superego – i.e. learning to spot and challenge and dismantle the fear-derived inner critical voice which disables healthy assertiveness.

Sometimes people think that when they leave a psychoanalytic treatment they will have learned all sorts of things about themselves. What surprises many an analysand is that, after a successful analysis, they often recall very little of the analytic process or the discoveries they made along the way. In fact they will – unlike the characters Woody Allen scripts for himself – altogether be thinking rather less about themselves than they did previously. Instead they find themselves enjoying less inhibited and less preoccupied relations with others: they’ve become less neurotic.

Relativism: A Contemporary Anthology — edited by Michael Krausz

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy says relativism “has been, in its various guises, both one of the most popular and most reviled philosophical doctrines of our time”. I’d say of all time, at least since the ancient Greek philosopher Protagoras said “man is the measure of all things, of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not”. Plato strongly disagreed.

The encyclopedia offers this by way of introduction:

Relativism, roughly put, is the view that truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them. More precisely, “relativism” covers views which maintain that—at a high level of abstraction—at least some class of things have the properties they have (e.g., beautiful, morally good, … justified) not simpliciter [or simply, in themselves], but only relative to a given framework of assessment (e.g., local cultural norms, individual standards), and correspondingly, that the truth of claims attributing these properties holds only once the relevant framework of assessment is specified or supplied. Relativists characteristically insist, furthermore, that if something is only relatively so, then there can be no framework-independent vantage point from which the matter of whether the thing in question is so can be established.

So we might ask whether helium atoms have two protons. Physicists and chemists would say yes, absolutely. A simple-minded relativist might say it depends on our way of thinking or our conception of the world.

Or we might ask if human sacrifice is and has always been morally wrong. Many of us would say yes, absolutely. A relativist, not being simple-minded at all, might say it depends on what culture we’re talking about. It wasn’t morally wrong for the Aztecs 500 years ago. They thought it was necessary to stop the world from ending. It should go without saying that we’re totally against it now.

Trying to understand relativism better, I read this 500-page collection of articles on the subject. More than thirty philosophy professors and a few scholars from other disciplines weigh in. The articles were mostly interesting and not too technical. However, the only conclusions I reached are that there are many kinds of relativism, some more plausible than others, and that I need to take some time and think about which kinds, if any, are plausible to me.