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Tuesday, May 25, 2010


"One is twice as glad to leap after a man who has fallen into the water where there are people present who dare not do so." -Nietzsche*

"What is it that makes a complete stranger dive into an icy river to save a solid gold baby? Mankind may never know." -Jack Handey

*HH I 325 (via Julian Young's bio p. 256)

"merely a plaster cast of a living man"

Whatever may be the original source of a cognition, it is, in relation to the person who possesses it, merely historical, if he knows only what has been given him from another quarter, whether that knowledge was communicated by direct experience or by instruction. Thus the Person who has learned a system of philosophy- say the Wolfian- although he has a perfect knowledge of all principles, definitions, and arguments in that philosophy, as well as of the divisions that have been made of the system, possesses really no more than a historical knowledge of the Wolfian system; he knows only what has been told him, his judgments are only those which he has received from his teachers. Dispute the validity of a definition, and he is completely at a loss to find another. He has formed his mind on another's; but the imitative faculty is not the productive. His knowledge has not been drawn from reason; and although, objectively considered, it is rational knowledge, subjectively, it is merely historical. He has learned this or that philosophy and is merely a plaster cast of a living man.

Immanuel Kant
We haven't thrown this quote around for a while, thought I'd post it here for posterity.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

from Julian Young's Nietzsche biography

I picked up Young's new philosophical biography of Nietzsche recently (review in the nytimes) and I've been jumping around in it, picking different topics as they grab my interest. I'm trying to read it sequentially as well but the evolution of a thought grabs hold of me and then there I go, pillaging. So here's some plunder related to Nietzsche's view of religion:
Given, however, Nietzsche's enthusiasm for Plato's Republic, this picture of the philosopher as 'using' religion to social ends might seem to conjure up the idea of religion as a 'noble lie' and of the ruler as a cynical outsider who is himself not for a moment taken in by the 'pious fraud': a picture of the philosopher king as, like Dostoevsky's Grand Inquisitor, all too aware that religion is the opium needed to control the masses while regarding it, himself, as nothing but superstition.
Actually, though, this cannot be Nietzsche's account of the philosophical leader, since, if it were, he would become indistinguishable from the 'free thinker': the man of 'modern ideas' who looks down upon religion 'with an air of superior, almost gracious amusement...mixed with slight contempt for what he assumes to be "uncleanliness" of spirit that exists when anyone supports a church'.
He will obey communal ethos, that 'morality' which is a function of the unique character, history, and current circumstances of his community.
[H]e will know that they are not the worse for that, that being fictions (or fictionalized versions of real people) impairs in no way their functioning as 'touchstones' of human excellence.

Nietzsche grasps here, I think, an important point about religious discourse: 'Jesus would never do that' can have just as much ethical force for someone who believes Jesus never existed as for someone who believes he did. As The Jane Austen Book Club illustrates, "This is what (Jane Austen's) Emma would do in this situation" can have ethical force. What this shows is that though religion might be a 'noble lie' told to the masses, this does not at all confine the enlightened ruler to cynical detachment. Rather, in reverencing the gods, he knows he is reverencing the best in his community. The situation is like that between mother and child: both can agree that 'Santa wouldn't like that' even though one knows Santa to be a fiction while the other believes him to be real.
[A] good religion must serve human well-being rather than, as with Christianity, subordinating human life to religious prescriptions damaging to human health. 'The gods' should serve man, not man the gods.

p. 430-431
So Young's Nietzsche is pro-religion though not pro-Christianity.

recently noted

Not sure how this works but it looks like Che Guervera is now a "folk saint".

Elsewhere, Carl Johnson considers art and technology. He's soliciting feedback here.