Readings For January 14th

Posted: January 9, 2020 in Readings

Friedrich Nietsche
“On Truth and Lies In A Non-Moral Sense”
(1878)

Oscar Wilde
Preface To Dorian Gray
(1890)

Comments
  1. Amelia Munson says:

    On Nietzsche:

    I found Nietzsche’s fragment very intriguing. He introduces the excerpt with a Hobbes-like argument in saying that humans are inherently evil claiming that the utilization of intellect to deceive others comes naturally and is abundant. He speaks of truth as a social queue in order to retain peace and happiness within a people. In this sense, how would a singular individual live upon the Earth? Would they be destructive and selfish? Or would they try to retain peace with other species on the planet? Would language be necessary? Would they write or sing? Would they produce art? Ultimately, social implications have completely formatted the “illusory” way people live today: through language and relations. There is a constant struggle between other humans to format original and unique ideas inspired by nature. Life would be more less pressing if everyone could see their thoughts and ideas as original and true to oneself. Perhaps the notions of society have created a never-ending battle between creators in which ideas and illusions will become more and more obscure to the point where they could become blatant lies. Maybe living alone on this planet would be a more peaceful place to live.

    • I’m not sure if we’ll get to these reading today, as I need to take attendance – at least once this semester – and get to know a bit about you students. Also, we need to revisit Wordsworth just a bit, as well as consider Coleridge. Nevertheless, it’s good that you have taken an interest in Nietzsche and we will most certainly discuss him very soon.

      For now, I think the important thing to note is that Nietzsche is attempting a radical decentering of humanity. While Galileo fundamentally alarmingly disrupted the notion that Humanity resides at the physical center of creation, it was not long before various authors – Kant foremost among them – began to recuperate that loss by claiming humans were nevertheless at the spiritual center of the cosmos, because they contained within them an inner moral law. At the conclusion of his Critique of Practical Reason, Kant famous states, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” Meanwhile, various proponents of the new ‘human sciences’ were applying the techniques and equipment of laboratory science, along with the statistical analysis of Laplace, to measure and map the average human, a mathematical model which would represent Human Nature. Individuals would be considered normative or deviant to the extent that they conformed to or deviated from this abstraction.

      In Nietzsche, however, we see a radical attempt not only to decenter humans spatial, but also spiritually. It was Kant’s moral law, or ‘categorical imperative’, which taught up never to will in such a way that our actions could not be turned into universal legislation governing all persons, in all times and places. This is to raise personal responsibility to the very highest level. What, for Kant, for be our greatest and constant aspiration, is, for Nietzsche, instead a moral cage in which to confine and domesticate the will. Nietzsche, building off various new pessimistic discoveries – in particular Helmholtz’ and Kelvin’s view that the universe was doomed to suffer heat death, and Nordau’s thoughts are the degeneration of the species – argued that we have no particular reason to think there is anything particularly noble or exceptional about the Human. We are simply a momentary chance occurrence taking place on the edge of nowhere. Humanity, and all notions of a moral center or an eternal human nature, make no sense to him. The determination to live in Truth and act morally, as if everything depended on the purity of our intentions, is a foolish waste of what little time we have left.

      Hence, Nietzsche’s development of the notorious ‘Ubermensch’, who transcends his own human nature to take possession of his own life, to discover his own indeterminate potential. You are correct to say that such an individual would be a perfect stranger to human society, having neither the ability to relate to such a dull herd, nor any responsibility to account to them. It seems to me highly pertinent that Nietzsche, in his personal mythology ‘Zarathustra’, depicts this latter-day prophet as rejecting the company of humanity and choosing instead to live freely amongst the animals.

      So as not to extend this response to much further, I might conclude by saying Nietzsche’s point in the essay in question is this: if conventional morality is utterly without foundation, then it become absurd to expect that literature should have any moral purpose. Not only does this suggestion fly in the face of the conventional morality of Nietzsche’s own day, but it also directly contradicts everything Wordsworth said in his “Preface” about the importance of appealing to our common human nature and writing poems which have some clear ‘moral purpose’. As each of us, along with the entire species, is doomed to disappear forever, the only thing that makes life worth living is to feel as much powerful session as we can, while we can. And art is the best and highest way to achieve this. For Nietzsche, the natural and wholesome emotions awoken by Wordsworth’s poetry and hardly worth the bother. The justification our our brief existence demands art and literature which is far more challenging, bracing, singular, exclusionary.

    • Megan Brooks says:

      I find Nietzche’s very first idea that he mentions to be so interesting. Could it actually be possible that all of humanity’s intellectual endeavors are merely a flicker in the history of the universe. And it makes one ponder the actual point of human intellectual exploration. If our species disappears, what good will all that knowledge do the universe? What gives us the right to believe that our search for truth is beneficial? I feel like this idea stands in contrast to even our current society’s views, not just those of Nietche’s times. Knowledge and truth are considered to be such important things, but is there actually a good reason why? Or is it just something our society has deemed to be important, and it is just as subjective as colors or sounds? It is a new idea to me but I find it so interesting.

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