Friday, 21 July 2017

Thought 561: Nietzsche's False Courage


Author's note: I now, as of April 2018, find this 'thought' to be problematic. I think it (uncharitably) misrepresents Nietzsche's philosophy to a degree and was in any event the result of my being seduced by the particular variant of neoplatonism offered by the late esoteric Canadian philosopher Manly Palmer Hall, particularly as expounded in his Lectures on Ancient Philosophy, together with the metaphysical and moral system taught by Philadelphia-based activist Mark Passio, who is currently still alive. 

Perhaps this very conflict between a newly developed and revived Platonism on the one hand - in the form of Hall and Passio's symbolic de-occultism - and Nietzsche's philologic inverted Platonism on the other shows that both spiritual worlds belong together and the existence of one need not preclude the other, in fact maybe even necessitates it. The Heideggerian injunction to move beyond metaphysics, which is to say from a focus on beings that happen to be present to a focus on the very fact of Being itself as it manifests in the presencing of beings, would seem to require finding a synthetic way out of the Plato (thesis) v Nietzsche (antithesis) dialectic.


Nietzsche's False Courage

According to Nietzsche, his philosophy was a form of inverted platonism. 
"My philosophy is inverted Platonism: the further a thing is from true being, the purer, the lovelier, the better it is. Living in illusion as a goal!"
Thus, just as Marx claimed to have stood Hegel's system on its head with his concept of dialectical materialism, so Nietzsche identified wholly with the physical, material realm where Plato had emphasised the metaphysical, ideal realm above all else.

This led to various consequences. 
  • Morality based on the ideal of justice and the good in Plato gives way in Nietzsche to immorality and the glorification of animalistic will-to-power.
  • Plato's ascetic suspicion of the bodily vehicle is replaced in Nietzsche's philosophy by the body and its physiology taking centre place.
  • Plato's focus on eternal truths as opposed to the ephemeral nature of the physical realm contrasts with Nietzsche's genealogical method and the importance he places on the so-called 'historical spirit'. 
  • Where, for Plato, there is only one absolute truth, Nietzsche emphasises the concept of perspectivism, which is to say the relativity of point of view. 
  • Where Plato viewed art with suspicion to the extent of even banning poets from his ideal city because of the artificial deceit of their craft (as opposed to philosophy), Nietzsche exclaimed 'art nothing but art' since he saw it as the great stimulant that compelled us to life and prevented us from perishing from the truth.
Philosopher Hannah Arendt was of course right to point out that in merely inverting Plato, Nietzsche left Plato's conceptual apparatus pretty much intact and it took Martin Heidegger's controversial (and arguably unsuccessful) deconstruction of the 'metaphysical tradition' to really begin to transcend Platonic metaphysics.

My point in this post is really to highlight the problem with over-identifying with the physical as Nietzsche does. For if one lives to embrace illusion and forgo any higher power then, human existence being the existential challenge that it is, this can lead to a psychology of fear, in the sense that the physical is transient, often violent and harmful, and that refusing to see the underlying metaphysical unity behind the variation of sense perception and the diversity of phenomena rids one ipso facto of the grounding and redeeming power of that which does not lie before one.  

The Canadian pianist Glenn Gould once mused that one of the things that might lead one to forgive a great deal of humanity's folly and cruelty is that it has invented the concept of what does not exist. 

Nietzsche, in other words, was a victim of his own materialism and the courage and honesty he felt as a thinker was proportional to the degree of fear he felt in his person having forgone the comfort blanket and consoling solace provided by the invisible realm and its supremacy over the physical realm, whether as a higher power ('God') or as Natural, Moral Law.   

This is why Nietzsche's philosophical courage was in my opinion a false courage which was merely experiencing the failure of his rejection of metaphysics as a sustainable and durable spiritual stance without the self-insight and honesty of admitting as much. 

Like Heidegger after him, Nietzsche dug himself into a hole and trapped himself just as Arendt thought was the case with her one-time mentor (Heidegger) when she penned the little prose tale 'Heidegger the Fox' (available to read in The Portable Hannah Arendt).