On Nietzsche’s ‘Prejudices of Philosophers’: A short critique
Friedrich Nietzsche, although a German philosopher, deviated a lot from the already established German philosophical tradition. His major project of philosophy involved questioning the already established distinct Philosophical traditions, which were usually described by different Philosophers as a will to truth. In addition to this view, Nietzsche represented ideas divergent from what is generally accepted and proposed. His understanding of virtue widely differed from how it is usually understood. For him, characteristics like ruthlessness, aristocratic pride represented and classified as virtues. And what we, in general, consider to be virtues, are eventually derived from ignoble notions, according to Nietzsche.
He believed that in order to construct, one must challenge and destroy that which already exists. He , therefore, proposes a strong challenge to the existing traditional norms- building something new required giving up of old conceptions. In what can be termed as anti-Kantian, Nietzsche believed that man is something that shall be surpassed. He believed man to be just a bridge in the achievement of supermen. Nietzsche professed the conception of Eternal recurrence- which, for him, functioned as a standard of moral worthiness of a particular act. It was used to judge the moral characteristic of an act in the sense that if the individual had a chance to do it all over again, would they still do it?
In another departure from the accepted conception of morality by different philosophers, Nietzsche stated that morality is a cowardly cope-out, in the face of oppression or suppression. He further stated that all that lies behind the curtain of morality, was actually a strong will to power and a conspiracy of the ones with herd morality or the weakened to keep the strong in check. He further states that he has come to realise that all great philosophies are nothing more than a confession of it’s originator and simply a species of involuntary and unconscious auto-biography. Nietzsche claims that there is nothing impersonal in the philosopher. All of the views, thoughts and ideas come as a result of what the personal beliefs of the philosophers are. Therefore, their philosophies cannot be taken to represent any universal truth, as they usually claim.
Nietzsche’s hit the centre stage with his questioning of the conception of Will to truth of different philosophers, which he says is nothing more than the prejudices of philosophers. He begins by unleashing an attack the ‘famous and popularised’ Truthfulness, which almost all philosophers allude to. He poses the question what actually is truth? When all philosophers go on with discussing truth and its importance- Nietzsche poses the most basic and yet the most difficult question to all such philosophers, that of, actually defining truth. He questions why is truth privileged over untruth; why not privilege ignorance or uncertainty over the same?
He argues that we have to understand truth as always linked to a particular perspective. And the importance attached to the concept of truth should also be understood from the needs of that single perspective. He further challenges the approach adopted by many to describe truth as the opposite or the absence of untruth. Here, he contests how anything can originate from it’s opposite. How can Will to Truth emerge out of the Will to deception? His project revolves around questioning this particular popularised will to truth what is this value that we grant to the notion of truth and why not prefer untruth instead.
In defining and arriving at his project of actually pointing out that the widely adopted Will to Truth and truthfulness by philosophers, actually signifies their prejudices- Nietzsche states examples of different schools to give an insight into their prejudices. Stoicism, says Nietzsche, is self-tyranny. The Stoics profess ‘living according to Nature’. Nietzsche contests this notion by stating that this can’t be possible since actually according to nature would mean being boundlessly extravagant, boundlessly indifferent, without purpose or consideration. However, this is not what living actually is- it is valuing, preferring, being limited, endeavouring to be different.
He also alludes to the Categories of Kant, which he considered to be the most difficult thing that could ever be undertaken on behalf of metaphysics. However, Nietzsche contests this conception by questioning the answer that Kant gives to the question of the possibility of synthetic a-priori judgements. Kant answers that these are possible by means of a means, which is a completely tautological argument. Nietzsche considers this whole conception to be a fiction. Interestingly enough he thinks that this is one fiction that is necessary for human survival. Nietzsche completely disagrees with the fact that there is a purpose or teleos to our existence but at the same time acknowledges that such conceptions are necessary for survival.
Nietzsche also disputes the notion of ‘immediate certainties’ and the ease with which philosophers tend to carry on with it. In stating this he refers to the immediate certainties like ‘I think’ or Schopenhaeur’s ‘I will’. He challenges this conviction of Philosophers because he believes that in stating ‘I think’ there exists a whole range of daring assertions for which we don’t really have an argumentative proof for. For if we say, I think, it means that I must necessarily exist, further thinking is an activity, an operation on part of a being, which indicates the existence of an ego and finally, that it is already determined what is to be designated by thinking. This involves a lot of such assertions for which the very same philosophers have not been able to give any answers or evidence.
In referring to one of the other popular prejudices of the philosophers, Nietzsche also mentions the most referred to concept by philosophers, that of- Free will. Nietzsche contests this because- willing, to him, seems to be something complicated, he considers it to be something which is unity only in name. He says that that which is termed as the freedom of the will, is nothing more than emotion of supremacy in respect to him who must obey. In real life, he believes that there isn’t a concern for free or non-free wills, but it is simply a question of strong and weak wills in life. Nietzsche, comes up with a challenging view stating that separate philosophical ideas always tend to resolve in the same orbit, however different from each other they may claim to be, the different philosophies of a range of philosophers are simple a re-recognising, remembering and a home-coming per se, to the ideas that are already in place. So, Philosophy for this very reason, according to him- becomes a kind of atavism of the highest order.
He is also troubled by the theory of Causa Sui, or the self-caused cause. This, he believes, is the best self-contradiction since it is completely a logical violation and is characterised by unnaturalness. He warns the readers against wrongly materialising the cause and effect, like the natural philosophers do. He rejects there being any causal- connection in being-in itself’. Morality constitutes as one of the biggest prejudices for Nietzsche and has specifically penetrated deep into the intellectual world. In the last analysis, he believes that our investigation will lead us to the problems of Psychology, because he considers the discipline to be the path to fundamental problems- which is the queen of sciences.
Nietzsche definitely raises questions of importance, the ones which get the mind thinking and are usually loopholes in the philosophical discourse before that. Truth, even after years of discourse, remains undefined. Socrates, although did purpose a concrete definition of truth but he believed that evil actions resulted from the ignorance of truth. My personal belief would be finding sort of a midway between truth as proposed by different philosophers and as that questioned by Nietzsche.
I argue that Nietzsche stands to score in stating that what Philosophers actually state to the will to truth is nothing more than a means to a will to power. Different philosophers give views and theories of their own, considering it to be an absolute truth. This , however, cannot be possible from the very fact that it is critiqued and contested by some other person. But then, does that mean that truth cannot exist at all, as Nietzsche proposes?
Here is where I disassociate from his conception. Contesting that a universal conception of truth doesn’t exist, does not automatically perish truth per say. There continues to be a conception of truth, personal to every individual. My belief states that truth comes to be known from a removal of falsity. Truth is that which squashes the falsity away. And I understand that this would trouble Nietzsche, because I use the concept of untruth to conceptualise truth. However, it is in opposites and contradictories that we understand the world. War is understood as the absence of peace. Rest is understood as when there is no movement. This does not undermine the conceptions in themselves. It only indicates that their understanding is relative to the existence and understanding of the other conception. Further, I consider my conception of truth to be flexible- one that can evolve, develop and even change with time. This is because, since I take truth to be an individual’s thinking and as an individual evolves through what they read, listen to or write- their concept of truth may also come to change. However, this is not to suggest that there might not be certain principles that tend to stick with the individual, which form the very basis of their concept.
Secondly, to my understanding Nietzsche seems wrong instating that there exists no purpose to our existence. If it had to be so, what explains the difference in species, what makes human life different from others? Having a purpose drives us, it acts as a catalyst in an individual working and operating towards a focussed objective. My conception of truth serves as a purpose for me. It is something that I look forward to completely realizing one day and this idea helps me shape my life and the activities that constitute it, in a certain way. Every individual, I believe, finds themselves a purpose. What would life be without a teleos?- just limited to our basic biological practices, and how would that differentiate us from other living animals or even other individuals? A major part of our existence is defined by the aims and purposes that we chose in life, but Nietzsche goes on to completely disregard it. Even, Nietzsche’s philosophy has a project to it! His project in the text, prejudices of Philosophers involved a purpose- that of squashing the popular prejudices!
Finally, isn’t Nietzsche’s philosophy or his questioning of prejudices of other philosophers, itself a means to will to power? Doesn’t he aim at terminating the ideas of other philosophers, which he terms to be prejudices, by giving space to and establishing the supremacy of his own ideas? His conception of supermen, his consideration of concepts like hatred etc as virtues definitely should indicate his consideration of human equality, or we can only wonder what his views on concepts like economic equality, equal distribution will be. In my view, Nietzsche has very well contested and questioned the unquestioned ideas and philosophies of different philosophies, that people simply accepted. He has made a bold claim stating that will to truth is only a means of will to power. However, I believe, in doing so, he himself makes a shift to will to power and wishes to establish a supremacy of his thoughts , in the very same way philosophers before him wished to. But, this is slightly classic of philosophers! So, even though I am in awe of the way Nietzsche takes a revolutionary turn against the prevailing philosophies of his time, I continue to have my reservations with him.
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