Sunday, March 5, 2017

Chains and Selflessness [2/28/17: More Nietzsche]

            The idea of a normative, judgmental morality, it seems to me, is predicated upon the imagination of multiple possible worlds; a better, or worse, world, in which different action might have occurred, must be imagined and compared to the one that exists, it seems to me.  I don’t think Nietzsche is making a “no free will” argument, but rather that he’s entirely unconcerned with the question; he’s not saying, necessarily, that the present state of the world is the way things must be, but, rather, disdains preoccupation with the idea that it might be otherwise.  He cares for drives, and the world with which they interact—whether “real” or imagined, he cares not.  And, of course, he sees the first and final drive as the drive, or will, to power.  I suppose that’s the part of Nietzsche I don’t really get.  How does he justify the idea that selfishness is inherent, and selflessness is culturally introjected?
            This returns, to a degree, to my group’s presentation questions:  selflessness might be an illusion, and all that.  Saying, “I want other people to be happy,” still begins with I; it is my sentiment that gives the world meaning, and I please myself by pleasing others.  Yet then, isn’t everyone a “master?”  Doesn’t everyone assign meanings and values to the world, even by accepting those that others offer?  The observer gives the world meaning; but I suppose Nietzsche wants it to be intentional.  Is the actor who mindfully chooses to care for others deluded, in Nietzsche’s scheme?  Or is that another, perfectly valid form of “mastery?”  My intuition tends toward the former:  that “selfish” desire is innate, in Nietzsche’s reading of humanity, and all else is bondage.

            Live each moment as though you had to relive, it, I think Nietzsche means by recurrence:  do not deny, or strain, or suppress, but work toward your desires.  It’s not so much “have no regrets” as some curiously directed version of carpe diem.  I could admire it, perhaps, if it weren’t for the particulars of what Nietzsche advises seizing.  I mean, I’m willing to make the argument that everything is selfish, in that all judgment is contingent upon personal affect and sentiment.  And yet, though I might intellectually argue that, I don’t viscerally believe it (in alignment with my definitions from last week).  Perhaps, to be as generous as possible, I just differ as to the nature of that sentiment.  I am inherently skeptical, I suppose, of schemes which mean to explain or drive human behavior from any sort of first principles, or to fully categorize it.  Nietzsche’s “master-slave” dichotomy is…overly simplistic.  No one is fully “active” or “reactive;” no one can be.  Nietzsche says that some people contain both; I maintain that all do.  Nor am I sure the split is all that useful.  Nietzsche would say, I suppose, that my distaste for complete self-interest is a veil, a delusion binding me into regretful slavery.  Perhaps I’m just too “weak” to be happy without my chains.


  1. The imagination of multiple worlds with alternative realities is a bit sticky. In this case, do each of those alternatives only exist long enough to determine its inferiority? Or do those imaginations linger? I guess what I'm asking is if each alternative world continues to follow that course of action or is it that at each cross-road, alternative worlds are temporarily considered and then vanish as soon as a decision is made? I think Nietzsche's ideas that people are inherently selfish actually make a lot of sense. Why selflessness is a cultural value is actually far more curious to me. I understand your concern with Nietzsche's philosophy being overly simplistic. However, I will reiterate what I said in class in regards to this notion - Sometimes we have to simplify life to a mere analogy (the microcosm) so that we may gain some understanding of it that we can then apply to the greater macrocosm.

  2. Ehh? No, they never exist at all. They're simply posited.