Sunday, May 10, 2009

70d Nietzsche and Nihilism

Like vodka and caviar the term 'nihilism' appears to be a Russian product, coined sometime in the second quarter of the nineteenth century. It was not, however, widely used until after the appearance of Ivan Turgenev's highly successful novel "Father and Sons" in the eary 1860s.

Interesting to see that a word becomes popular at a certain moment in history and why in Russia? At least it was closely related to the revolutionary movements in that country.

This movement advocated a social arrangement based on rationalism and materialism as the sole source of knowledge and individual freedom as the highest goal. By rejecting man's spiritual essence in favor of a solely materialistic one, nihilists denounced God and religious authority as antithetical to freedom.

And this all is happening in the period of 1840 to 1890. The period in history where so much was happening in Europe. The Darwinian Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, the revolution in Psychology, the revolutionary development in Natural Sciences.

And in the midst of all his is Nietzsche. He was the first great philosopher, and still the only one, to make extensive use of the term "nihilism". he was also one of the first atheists to dispute the existence of a necessary link between atheism and nihilism.

One the one hand the term is widely used to denote the doctrine that moral norms and standards can not be justified by rational argument. On the other hand, it is widely used to denote a mood of despair over the emptiness or triviality of human existence.

However, what we shouldnt forget is that this concept of nihilism is closely related to a way of thinking that already existsed since the early Greek: skepticism.

But Nietzsche's position in this debate was special and unique. It feels weird to make the comparison, but like Marx had a kind of apocaliptic view on capitalist society, Nietzsche too had such a view though in a completely different context. But he too promissed a revolution, an apocalyse..just listen:

"What I relate is the history of the next two centuries. I describe what is coming, what can no longer come differently: the advent of nihilism. . . . For some time now our whole European culture has been moving as toward a catastrophe, with a tortured tension that is growing from decade to decade: restlessly, violently, headlong, like a river that wants to reach the end. . ." (Will to Power)

But was this the prediction of a total apocalyse of European culture? I dont think so, for when all culture was annihilated there would, according to Nietzsche stand up the Overman (übermensch), a being of ultimate virtue and life-affirmation.

Well...The Nietzschian catstrophe hasnt taken place it seems and at least me, I dont feel like an übermensch, but what about nihilism? Did it die with Nietzsche in 1900? I dont think so. It even has grown and won a lot of ground.

We will see it in full operation when we'll discuss existentialism. If by nihilism one means a disbelief in the possibility of justifying moral judgements in some rational way and if philosophers reflect the intellectual climate of the times in which they live, then our age is truely nihilistic.

Let me finish with a reference to the famous "God is dead" quote and leave you with a fundamental philosophical question. When we have no extra human point of reference, a God or Cosmic order, to derive our moral standards from, then what should be the basis of morality?

The Discussion

[13:45] Herman Bergson: you are free to speak..NIHIL OBSTAT...:-)
[13:45] Mickorod Renard: lol
[13:46] Gemma Cleanslate: natural law
[13:46] : Laila Schuman raises hand
[13:46] Herman Bergson: Laila?
[13:46] Laila Schuman: could you explain what N. meant when he talked about history repeating itself
[13:47] Herman Bergson: Well yes...a sec
[13:48] Herman Bergson: In 1882. while taking a walk, it suddenly struck Nietzsche with the force of a revelation, that the idea of eternal recurrence was the most scientific of all hypotheses and that the prospect of eternal recurrence is gruesome unless one has succeeded in giving style to one's character and meaning to ones life to such an extend that one can joyfully affirm one's existence.
[13:48] Herman Bergson: The basic idea was that with a finite number of power quanta in a finite space and an infinite time, only a finite number of configurations are possible. Here I would believe Nietzsche, but in 1907 George Simmel, a german sociologist, showed that Nietzsche was mistaken here.
[13:49] Vladimir Apparatchik: I've often thought that N's eternal recurrence idea is close to the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics
[13:49] Herman Bergson: For the mathematicians among you: Imagine three wheels of equal size, rotating on a single axis, one point marked on the circumference of each and the three points lined up in a straight line. if the second wheel rotated twice as fast as the first wheel and if the speed of the third was 1/Pi of the speed of the first, the initial line-up could never recur.
[13:50] Laila Schuman: eeeps
[13:50] Herman Bergson: So scientifically Nietzsche was mistaken...
[13:50] Herman Bergson: but in the classic Greek way of thinking I can understand his logic
[13:50] Vladimir Apparatchik: modern chaos theory also shows that idea is mistaken
[13:51] Herman Bergson: but what counts is what he meant....
[13:51] Herman Bergson: in a way life is pointless....
[13:51] Herman Bergson: just repeating itself
[13:51] Mickorod Renard: I wouldnt say that Herman
[13:51] Vladimir Apparatchik: but I think N had a real insight
[13:51] Vladimir Apparatchik: but it's not about time
[13:51] Ze Novikov: so then our task is to infuse life with meaning?
[13:52] Vladimir Apparatchik: its about multiple universes
[13:52] Mickorod Renard: but History has shown that it repeats itself in many ways
[13:52] AristotleVon Doobie: metaphorically, I interpret Nietzsche as meaning to live a life that you would not mind to repeat over and over
[13:52] Vladimir Apparatchik: there are an infinite number of Herman Bergsons
[13:52] Gemma Cleanslate: hmmm
[13:52] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: nietzche meant literal repetition, I believe, Mick
[13:52] Herman Bergson: Yes Ze...infuse life with meaning is probably the most essential task of every human being
[13:53] Gudrun Odriscoll: I think infusing life with meaning keeps us sane in a strange way, even if we are nihilists or existanzialists and say there is no meaning, we are creating story-lines
[13:53] Mickorod Renard: surely he was thinking of breaking the cycle by being different enough
[13:53] Herman Bergson: I agree Gudrun
[13:53] AristotleVon Doobie: of course, this life is the only with meaning
[13:54] Herman Bergson: Yet I want you to think about my last remark in my lecture
[13:54] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: so, there is no intrinsic meaning in anything... we create it ourselves, or society creates it?
[13:54] AristotleVon Doobie: as always I feel that the cerebral employment of empathy is the foundation for the extablishment of morals and not religion.
[13:54] Gudrun Odriscoll: there is an infinite number of hermans in a multiverse world, but is there a multiverse world? vlad
[13:55] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: what did you mean by 'cosmic order' in your question?
[13:55] Laila Schuman: Let me finish with a reference to the famous "God is dead" quote and leave you with a fundamental philosophical question. When we have no extra human point of reference, a God or Cosmic order, to derive our moral standards from, then what should be the basis of morality?
[13:55] Woodstock Burleigh is Online
[13:55] Herman Bergson: yes laila....this is essential to all of us
[13:55] Herman Bergson: for centuries the standards for good and bad were derived from God
[13:56] Mickorod Renard: I would have thought it would be based upon maximum survival
[13:56] Herman Bergson: it no longer is the case
[13:56] AristotleVon Doobie: or were they just credited to God?
[13:56] Vladimir Apparatchik: I don't know Gudrun, but many physicists think so - I think though that N was groping for this concept well before quantum mechanics showed it might be so
[13:56] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: the basis of morality is our intuitions, which are based on instinct that has developed through natural selection.
[13:56] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: seems to me buddhists do not have a god, any person can escape the 'cycle'... but perhaps they have a 'cosmic order'..i'm not sure
[13:56] Vladimir Apparatchik: I think both bubblesort and aristotle are right
[13:56] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: budhists have a moral code though
[13:57] Herman Bergson: no no.....look at it from an epistemological point of view
[13:57] Laila Schuman: this will sound really sacrine... but i think there is a drop of truth in it..... the kind of role/love a mother has for children...
[13:57] Vladimir Apparatchik: morality evolved for good reason - but particular moralities change as we increase empathy
[13:57] Herman Bergson: epistemology is about the certianty of knowledge
[13:58] Herman Bergson: plz hold on for a moment....
[13:58] Herman Bergson: Bubble?
[13:58] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: good and bad never actually came from god... god was a device used to argue that one thing is good and another thing is bad... we still decide good and bad the same way, we just use different arguments to justify it... declaring the death of god did nothing but change how we convince each other that we are right
[13:58] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: yes... sorry, was typing :)
[13:58] Herman Bergson: so again..look at it from an epistemological point of view
[13:59] Laila Schuman: mother earth
[13:59] Herman Bergson: this is the question of certainty of knowledge...
[13:59] Ze Novikov: ' have to go everyone...
[13:59] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Zee
[13:59] Mickorod Renard: bye ze
[13:59] AristotleVon Doobie: Ze
[13:59] Gudrun Odriscoll: bye ze
[13:59] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: bye ze
[14:00] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: what do you mean by epistemological point of view?
[14:00] Herman Bergson: and for centuries we based this certainly on a belief, of which we thought that it was knowledge, not a belief...we knew that God was outthere
[14:00] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: well i was talking to abuddhist the other week.. and she was saying that its not about acceppting it, you have to prove it to yourself by practising it...i was suspicious :P
[14:00] Mickorod Renard: basically,,in early days,,if we didnt love our neighbour cave man he would club us to death
[14:01] Herman Bergson: One thing is for sure....and in that way Nietzsche was right...we have lost that certainty
[14:01] Laila Schuman: mother earth... fertility cults... survival of the species...darwin
[14:01] Gudrun Odriscoll: maybe caveman did club others to death, and then he realised he was alone, and there were really bad sable tooth tigers out there, so he did not kill his brother to be not alone in an even more cruel world.
[14:01] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: I dont' think it was based on belief in god or in scripture... that is why religions are always so full of contradictions... we decide something is right and then support that assertion with God
[14:02] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: well if it was 'certain' in the first place how could we have lost it?.. unless a collective memory wipe went on somewhere
[14:02] Mickorod Renard: maintaining a standard must have been chalenging
[14:02] Alarice Beaumont: well. society and values change with the time!
[14:02] AristotleVon Doobie: it was a 'faux' certainty
[14:03] Alarice Beaumont: the mainstream changes and it's quite difficult to go against it...
[14:03] Mickorod Renard: I think morals go out of the window due to humans going through cycles of egotism
[14:04] Gudrun Odriscoll: society and values change, yes alarice, but basic values are the same or similar
[14:04] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: how is nihilism different from scepticism?
[14:04] Herman Bergson: there hardly is a difference Ap
[14:04] Laila Schuman: N. went deeply into himself... and what he came up with is "the beast" in him... the most primitive part of him... the animal of himself.... that is one reason...but not the only reason... i feel that survival is the basis of good and bad
[14:05] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: I was reading Russel's history of western philosophy the other day... his thesis in it seems to be that philosophy and the world in general go through cycles of indivualism and state worship, like Mick said
[14:05] Laila Schuman: which is partly helped by mother like love
[14:05] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: so nihilism would be a modern form of sceptisim? .. post mordern ? :D
[14:05] Mickorod Renard: ty bub
[14:06] AristotleVon Doobie: Could the Ubermensch merely be the perfected cerebral control of the ancient brain....the mastery of Jekyll over Hyde?
[14:06] Herman Bergson: I would say they are one and the same these days Ap
[14:06] Gudrun Odriscoll: I always thought postmodern is premodern (or feudalist) as Habermas so nicely stated
[14:06] Mickorod Renard: civilisations go through comfort periods,,and during these become egotistical
[14:06] Gemma Cleanslate: interesting idea
[14:06] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: isn't skepticism the beleif that nothing actually exists? Nihilism is the beleif that nothing intrinsically means anything... two different claims, I think
[14:07] Gudrun Odriscoll: Mick, you are right, I was just talking to somebody who has survived the war and he talked about the communitiy spirit after WW2 in the UK
[14:07] Mickorod Renard: yea,,,and suffering brings people back to religion
[14:08] Herman Bergson: Oh we are leaving real philosophy behind.....
[14:08] Gudrun Odriscoll: bur religion does not really help, and religion is often a carrier of suffering
[14:08] Herman Bergson: this is sociology or psychology..
[14:08] Gemma Cleanslate: well that is an individua; response
[14:08] Mickorod Renard: yes,,,but for many in these circumstances have nothing else
[14:09] Gemma Cleanslate: based on individual belief
[14:09] Gemma Cleanslate: yes
[14:09] Gudrun Odriscoll: okay herman, bubbe talked about nihilism and sceptisism, back to philosophy then?
[14:09] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: perhaps the pragmatists have a better way of thinking about it, you should not let certainty turn into some facist restriction on the discovery of new ideas?
[14:09] AristotleVon Doobie: so they cling to something that is spiritual and non existant
[14:10] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: I can never tell where the turf is divided... my first semester I gave a history term paper to a philosophy professor... my second semester I gave a philosophy term paper to a history professor... I only really find the line when I cross it :)
[14:10] AristotleVon Doobie: hence the nihilism
[14:10] herman Bergson smiles...
[14:10] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: :)
[14:10] Herman Bergson: you should have given them to me Bubble
[14:10] Gemma Cleanslate: lolol
[14:11] Gudrun Odriscoll: haha
[14:11] Mickorod Renard: so was N satisfied with the moral standards expected in his time?
[14:11] Laila Schuman: NO
[14:11] Herman Bergson: Laila?
[14:11] Mickorod Renard: or did he want to rewrite them?
[14:12] AristotleVon Doobie: he predicted that it would not change only get worse
[14:12] Laila Schuman: he was not satisfied with the moral standards of his time
[14:12] Herman Bergson: a way he had his own standards formulated in the Overman
[14:12] Gemma Cleanslate: he wanted to be a free spirit??
[14:12] Mickorod Renard: but was that the human inability to stick to the morals laid out?
[14:13] Laila Schuman: as i said... he went into himself... he got the to pure animal/beast in himself... and we are ignoring that
[14:13] AristotleVon Doobie: yes Laila
[14:13] Gudrun Odriscoll: listen who does not want to be a free spirit, I want to be one? Well don Nietzsche
[14:13] Gemma Cleanslate: ;-)
[14:13] Gemma Cleanslate: he did not make it
[14:13] Mickorod Renard: yes and me too
[14:13] AristotleVon Doobie: the beast in us must be controleled by the Ubermensch
[14:14] Herman Bergson: I think that is a good way of stating it Aristotle
[14:14] Mickorod Renard: but if he found an oberman to rewrite morals,,who is gonna stick to them
[14:14] Laila Schuman: and the beast must derive good/bad... from somewhere... and that somewhere is primitive
[14:14] AristotleVon Doobie: ape evolve into man and man must evlove into overman
[14:14] Gudrun Odriscoll: and I am a beast (animal)too, and isn't the Uebermensch a bit of the Superego in Freud's Ego, Superego and Id?
[14:14] Laila Schuman: he has to crawl uphill
[14:14] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: only a sith deals in certainties - obi wan :D (may have got that wrong)
[14:15] Herman Bergson: moment..plz
[14:15] Mickorod Renard: we are not alowed to attach that sort of description to oberman
[14:15] Herman Bergson: I think freud's model doesnt fit in here
[14:15] Herman Bergson: but I think we can come to a conclusion here..
[14:16] Laila Schuman: where does an animal find right and wrong as he evolves a mind
[14:16] AristotleVon Doobie: through cognition
[14:16] Laila Schuman: what helps him survive
[14:16] Gudrun Odriscoll: I thought that Uebermensch is a form of controlling the human animal beast, and Superego is a form of control too. There are differences, sure.
[14:17] Herman Bergson: Well I would disagree Gudrun...
[14:17] Gudrun Odriscoll: And beyond controlling outgrowing it, sure this is a difference
[14:17] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: ooh! someone did ask me the other day 'why did emotions evolve?' .. he was looking for a dawkins like explanation .hehehe
[14:18] Herman Bergson: The übermensch isnt a controling is man in its full glory and freedom
[14:19] Gemma Cleanslate: i am sorry i hae to lleave now. very interesting
[14:19] AristotleVon Doobie: The premier individual?
[14:19] Herman Bergson: the Super Ego is in fact just another word for conscience,,,internalized moral rules
[14:19] Gemma Cleanslate: i am sure we will continue on sunday??
[14:19] Herman Bergson: yes Aristotle
[14:19] Mickorod Renard: I think if everyone became like what an oberman should be then it would be anarchy
[14:19] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Gemma
[14:19] Mickorod Renard: bye gemma
[14:19] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: if things are in a cycle.. what come after the oberman?
[14:19] Gemma Cleanslate: bye!
[14:19] Herman Bergson: Bye GEmma..:-)
[14:19] Mickorod Renard: uberman?
[14:20] AristotleVon Doobie: I think you may be right Mick
[14:20] Gudrun Odriscoll: yes, I agree Herman, this was a bit sloppy of me.
[14:20] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: lol
[14:20] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: bye gemma
[14:20] AristotleVon Doobie: what wars we could have then
[14:20] Alarice Beaumont: c u gemma :-)
[14:20] Alarice Beaumont: ah sorry.... got to go too
[14:20] Mickorod Renard: bye alarice
[14:20] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Alarice :)
[14:21] Alarice Beaumont: bye everybody.. hope i can make it on sunday!
[14:21] Alarice Beaumont: thx Herman!
[14:21] Herman Bergson: Bye Alaric
[14:21] Gudrun Odriscoll: But Overman becomes overman through a process, and one might be controlling the beast to outgrow it and become this free spirited and wonderful ueber-being. not necessarily an anarchist, though
[14:21] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: bye, alarice
[14:21] Gudrun Odriscoll: by alarice
[14:22] Herman Bergson: Nietzsche doesnt speak of a beast inside..
[14:22] Herman Bergson: that should be controlled
[14:22] AristotleVon Doobie: I think that we will only be able to strengthen the beast's cage
[14:22] Gudrun Odriscoll: no, but a lot of today's contributors have talked about this. Good some clarification NOW
[14:22] Laila Schuman: right...he did not see a need to "control" it...
[14:23] Laila Schuman: he threw himself into understanding it
[14:23] Mickorod Renard: yes,,,who is the oberman?
[14:23] Herman Bergson: I think he had some kind of heroic idea of man....
[14:23] Laila Schuman: yes
[14:23] Mickorod Renard: was it to be us as individuals
[14:23] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: got to go too ... i will think about your question herman, thanks again :)
[14:23] Woodstock Burleigh is Offline
[14:23] Gudrun Odriscoll: bye Ap4
[14:23] Mickorod Renard: bye ap4
[14:24] AristotleVon Doobie: I interpreted it as being our evolutionary potential
[14:24] Herman Bergson: Dont forget that Nietzsche's philosophy was highly personal....not about the world but about himself
[14:24] Ap4ch3 Xingjian: bye :)
[14:24] Laila Schuman: yes
[14:24] Bubblesort Triskaidekaphobia: bye
[14:24] Mickorod Renard: yeh,,,but i am not sure now
[14:24] Herman Bergson: about what Mickorod?
[14:25] Gudrun Odriscoll: hi guys, I have to go too. Was good tonight, see you herman, see all of you next time.
[14:25] Mickorod Renard: whether he was thinking about evolving or coppying someone else in history
[14:25] AristotleVon Doobie: bye Gudrun
[14:25] Mickorod Renard: bye Gud
[14:25] Laila Schuman: he was very original Mick
[14:25] Herman Bergson: Well....time to dismiss class..:-)
[14:26] Mickorod Renard: yes,,but I am sure Herman said some ancient greek philos name
[14:26] Laila Schuman: good one professor
[14:26] AristotleVon Doobie: Thank you Herman!
[14:26] Mickorod Renard: thanks Herman

Posted by herman_bergson on 2008-05-23 15:22:43

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