Monday, September 27, 2010

Friederich Nietzsche

1. Does God exist? If yes, why? If no, why not?
According to Nietzsche, God does not exist. He is best known for his proclamation that “God is dead”. He does not offer arguments for this belief directly, but does explain how belief in God, morality, and value might have arisen. These things, he argues, are not objective qualities of the universe, but rather were created by humans for self-serving reasons. He differentiates between noble morality and ressentiment morality. Noble morality came about through the ‘power to name’ and did not require the existence of God for its justification. The wealthy and powerful ‘blond beasts’ determined that their qualities were good qualities and named them as such. For example, these knights were white-skinned and so named white as good, which made black bad as a by-product of the positive-naming process. Ressentiment morality came about through resentment by the weak, poor, and powerless and did require God for its justification. This resentment was aimed at the people of the noble morality and is a process of negative-naming. The holders of this morality determined that those who are wealthy and powerful are bad and the meek and poor must be good as a by-product of the negative-naming process. This morality was written into the Bible so that it appeared that the qualities of ressentiment morality were the favored of God.

2. What is the connection between God and human fulfillment? Do we need God to be happy?

Nietzsche does not believe that God is necessary to achieve a sense of morality, and many people associate living a moral life with living a “good” and happy life, using the terms interchangeably.  According the Nietzsche, the development of morality does not come from some all knowing higher power, but rather is an ongoing process that is created by people and people’s perceptions and understanding of what actually constitutes “good.”  He explores this in his first treatise of Genealogy of Morality, suggesting if we remove this Godly exterior surrounding morality, morality as a whole loses its holy appeal and becomes something that people feel they are more able to probe, question, and manipulate; their own beliefs created it, so they also hold the power to change it.  This kind of philosophy contributes to happiness because it gives people independence and puts them in control of their own path rather than leading them to believe they are subject to the approval or disapproval of some higher power.  Not only does this sense of control lead to happiness, it also makes people more proactive and likely to actively engage in their own destiny rather than sit back and just let things happen to them.  He addresses this slightly with his argument on slave and master morality, discussing how slaves feel resentment towards their masters and this resentment leads to the buildup of negative emotions towards the masters because of the control they extort over the slaves, while the masters live life more in the moment and take successes and sorrows as they come, neither becoming excited over accomplishments or devastated over pitfalls.  This is representative of a Godly relationship between people and God; people are the slaves and God is the master, and people begin to resent God if life does not go as they wish.
Another component Nietzsche advocates is the power and mastery of an individual’s own free will. In treatise two he discusses how the development of conscience came about because of people’s ability to make promises.  When people make promises, they subject themselves to a sort of predictable behavior because they have to be capable of remembering the promise made and of holding themselves accountable and following through.  Predictability creates a set of social rules and customs, and this gives way to a sense of responsibility and people who can make promises because they have mastered their own free will by showing their capacity to make decisions.  This is the precursor to his philosophy on the will to power, which asserts that people essentially want power other people and the power to control.  This can be seen in large scale all the way down to the trivial, and is the driving factor behind most behavior.  People want others to know that they are the dominant one in whatever setting and will do what is necessary to gain that level of control.  This contributes to happiness in much the same way that viewing morality as an everchanging process contributes to happiness: people like knowing they have the ability to control and make changes regarding their lives and destinies.  Obviously, when certain people are in power over others, this creates suffering on the part of one group.  Nietzsche feels that the concept of God was created by men in an attempt to guarantee that no suffering ever went unnoticed.  In that sense, God is not needed for happiness, but is more of a safe haven for those who are in pain and is someone in which they can justify their suffering because, otherwise, it would be for nothing

3. What practical advice does your philosopher give for how to live a good life?
The good life is attainable by men with a higher nature. It is not a life of happiness (in fact it may even guarantee a difficult life of social ostracism), but it is a life of excellence. To live this life of excellence, one needs a spirit “strengthened by wars and victories, for whom conquering, adventure, danger, pain have become a need; for this one would need acclimatization to sharp high air, to wintry journeys, to ice and mountain ranges” (Nietzsche, 66). This person is creative, strong-willed, and enjoys solitude. So, essentially, the good life for Nietzsche is a lonely life of hyper-masculinity and fascist ideals.

4. How would your philosopher define human happiness, or the good life for human beings? What ethical standards, character traits, and principles are most relevant?

Nietzsche was not a moralist.  He was a moral critic.  He believed that happiness was rather irrelevant to the good life, and that morality was actually an hindrance to human excellence, an excuse for weakness.  Nietzsche wanted people remove themselves from oppression and live a life of excellence. 
The first plank of this platform is to remember that Nietzsche divided good into two meanings: one being that of Socrates, in that a good knife is sharp, and the other being the antithesis of evil.  A murderer is evil, not because they have violated a holy dictate, but because they are a bad person, one who is not using their time and abilities best.  A bad knife cuts poorly, a bad person acts poorly.

Nietzsche correctly points out that morality is not about being good, it is about not being evil.  the ten commandments is composed of many things you shouldn't do, and a couple of things that you should. One shalt not steal, shalt not kill, shalt not commit adultery, these are all ways to prevent yourself from being evil, not a recipe for making yourself good.  Thou shall love your neighbor.   Good people spend their time loving their neighbor, but this is true for the nature of love and neighborliness and is likely as selfish as not.  The commandment recognizes an already existant rule of morality.  The only exceptions are the commandments addressing the name of God and the sabbath.  These can be seen as cultural dictates, not moral issues, and can be dismissed.

This is an important character trait that Nietzsche would approve of, this positive morality, this search to be more than not evil.  It is license to try to be great.  Remember, being a bad person can occur because of failure or lack of talent, being an evil person can only occur by will of a bad person to persist in badness.  A bad person disvalues other lives, an evil person acts on that lack of value by killing.  If they did not kill someone, they would not be a good person, just not an evil one.  A good person values life.  This is a positive statement, and one about the nature of the person, not their beliefs or actions. 

An ethical standard Nietzsche might consider is one of greatness.  Like Aristotle before him, he didn't believe in a morality that limited action to prevent badness, but an understanding of the virtues of a human.  Basically, Nietzsche wanted his knives to be sharp.  He can often seem to be advocating for selfishness or pride, as he does in presenting the ubermensch in Thus Spake Zarathustra.  How ever, remember that Aristotle would not have felt this way: the ubermensch encouraged other people to shrug off their oppression and look to find the good, not avoid the bad.  He was a good person, by his own nature.  His excellence necessitated his pride.  To be meek, to be wary of mentioning his goodness would actually decrease his goodness, by keeping it to himself.

Nietzsche was very against Christian morality because it was not one of native humanity.  To outsource moral discovery to this God is to relieve humanity of the burden to be moral.  If God exists, then it is his job to be perfectly moral.  It is the job of the human to follow his commandments as best they can.  Basically, it is up to God to be good and up to us to not be evil.

5. How would your philosopher describe human nature and its relevance to morality and happiness

            Nietzsche had strong views about the “base” nature of humanity.  He viewed humans as inherently “immoral” beings, but only in the sense that our natural impulses go against the moral code we ourselves invented.  Nietzsche wasn’t quite a moral relativist, mostly because he believed the natural state of humans to be preferable to the “ascetic ideal” we have created.  He called the moral movements of society and religion “slave morality,” and viewed adherence to it as a needless and lifelong conflict with oneself.  Nietzsche believed our society curbs our nature constantly, and that we should embrace the features that appear to make us “base” but would actually lead to greatness.  As such, Nietzsche described himself as an “immoralist,” in that he would not submit to the false morality we created in direct opposition to human nature.
            To oppose the popular moral code, Nietzsche articulated what he called the “Will to Power.”  He believed that all human behavior could be understood as a struggle to gain more and more power over others and over the world.  He later expanded this idea to apply to all living things, suggesting that the evolutionary will to survive was a function secondary to the Will to Power.  He uses war and ancient societies as examples of this aspect of human nature.  In war, we risk our lives for power over others, and ancient heroes did not simply value life – they wanted power, glory and greatness, and often died at a young age to try to secure it. 
Nietzsche saw all human behavior through this lens, which opposed most philosophical ideas of his time (and most philosophical ideas now).  The Will to Power manifests in humans through ideas like ambition, achievement, and striving to reach the highest possible position in life.  It is a struggle for greatness and admiration in your own time and for remembrance when you’re gone.  Nietzsche believed human nature was this desire for power and greatness, not to be “happy” (as utilitarianism might suggest) to be “good” (as Aristotle might suggest) or to be “united with the divine” (as Christian philosophy might suggest).

6. You can give some of the biographical information about your philosopher that is interesting and/or relevant to his views.

The life of Friedrich Nietzsche was ultimately one of tragedy, which could help to explain the bitter nature of some of his philosophical writings.  He was born on October 15, 1844 – a shared birthday of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia, his namesake.  Much is made of Nietzsche’s father having been a Lutheran minister, but his religious influence on Nietzsche was short-lived.  Before Nietzsche’s fifth birthday, his father died of a brain ailment.  Less than a year later (in 1850), his younger brother also died, leaving Nietzsche with his mother, older sister and grandmother, who died in 1856.  These early encounters with death no doubt helped shape Nietzsche and his worldview, although he overcame them and became an accomplished student of theology early on. 
Nietzsche came of age in the 1860s, a time when Europe was focusing more attention on natural sciences and just as Charles Darwin was challenging traditional truths about the natural world.  This was no doubt influential to Nietzsche, who shifted his focus to philology and philosophy and began reading the works of atheistic and pessimistic authors like Schopenhauer and Friedrich Albert Lange. Nietzsche became fascinated with the ideas of naturalism, materialism and the general rebellion against tradition and authority that helped define the cultural movement at the time.
He became a professor of classical philology at the almost unprecedentedly early age of 24, but his first book damaged his reputation as a classical scholar badly.  In the 1870s, Nietzsche shifted his attention to philosophy instead, where he experienced utter insignificance.  His first five books as an independent philosopher sold so few copies that no publisher would touch his sixth, On the Genealogy of Morality in the 1880s.  Printed on a “vanity press,” Nietzsche had to pay the complete cost of its publication, adding monetary worries to his ever-growing list of anxieties.
Nietzsche suffered debilitating medical problems from the time he was a child, with symptoms including bouts of severe, almost blinding shortsightedness, migraines and violent indigestion.  A severe horseback riding accident in 1868 and illnesses in the 1870s worsened his condition, and he was forced to resign from gainful employment by 1880.
It became increasingly clear to Nietzsche that his writings were not well received in his homeland of Germany, and employers made it known that he was not welcome there.  He traveled constantly in search of work and weather more conducive to his health, having broken his relationships with his mother and sister over a failed courtship.  Nietzsche had few friends and lived in solitude, and his unpopular philosophical views destroyed professional relationships as quickly as personal ones.  An exception was Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who was no more pleasant or happy than Nietzsche.
In 1889, Nietzsche suffered a mental collapse.  From a psychiatric ward, he sent what he called “Madness Letters” to old friends and public figures alike, indicating a complete breakdown.  He suffered two strokes before 1890, the latter leaving him partially paralyzed and unable to speak or walk.  After contracting pneumonia, a third stroke killed Nietzsche on August 25, 1900 in the care of his mother and sister.

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