Monday, October 31, 2016

Nietzsche's Genealogy: Feelings, Knowledge, and Beautiful Fictions

We resume my review of Christopher Janaway’s detailed analysis of On the Genealogy of Morals from his book Beyond Selflessness.  Here Janaway points out Nietzsche’s examination of the ascetic ideal as a manifestation of will to power, clarifying what he intends by the concept of will to power in a distinctive way.

“Will to power may manifest itself in healthy or unhealthy ways, creating either unity or conflict in the psyche. The ascetic is sick, because he is split against himself by his need to locate ultimate value in despising and denying himself.  Opposed to this are those ‘rare cases of powerfulness in soul and body, the strokes of luck among humans’ (GM II. 14), whom Nietzsche portrays as well-formed and healthy expressions of will to power. Yet Nietzsche’s thought tracks the intricacies of psychology with a subtlety that strains the boundaries of such classifications.

“Nietzsche calls the ascetic a paradox and a self-contradiction, meaning not that the ascetic in an impossibility, but that he genuinely grows in power (over himself) as he dissociates from and destroys his natural strength.  The ascetic ideal gives its proponent a unity of purpose and strength of will, so that there is a real ‘triumph’ and ‘victory’, not a mere illusion of one.” (page 146)

“…a general theory of will to power…consists in something’s ‘becoming lord over’ something else, it involves something’s giving meaning or ‘purpose’ to an extant thing, and it is ‘the essence of life’ that ‘plays itself out in all happening’.

“First, the will to power belongs to the nature of human beings; it belongs to them qua members of the ‘organic world’.  It is in our nature that we tend to act, think, and feel in ways which enhance mastery over something.  But secondly, our nature is continually reinterpreted by culture. Culture institutions of punishment, for example, are set up to fulfill diverse surface objectives, but can be explained more fundamentally by their function of providing opportunities to take pleasure in being master over someone on whom one can legitimately inflict suffering.” (page 148)

“The overwhelming evidence is that in his mature writings Nietzsche’s aim was to undermine the enterprise of transcendent metaphysics, conceived as knowledge of a real, enduring essence of the world that lies beyond its representation in experience. Nietzsche’s stance toward metaphysics is so forcibly presented in texts such as ‘On the Prejudices of the Philosophers’ (Part One of Beyond Good and Evil) and the section of Twilight of the Gods entitled ‘How the Real World Finally Became a Fable’ that anyone championing a literally meant Nietzschean metaphysics of the in-itself around the time of the Genealogy has a virtually impossible task.  We may proceed, then, on the assumption that the will to power is meant at most to be something empirical, something inhabiting ‘this’ (the observable, scientifically tractable) world, and playing some kinds of explanatory role in it.” (page 153)  

“The ascetic ideal requires the positing of objects whose value transcends that of one's own ordinary existence or of human existence in general. It involves a kind of self-denial or self-belittlement, in which one considers oneself of low worth by comparison with the external entity whose value is supposedly absolute and unconditional. But it also contains an aspiration to rise above oneself: provided that one operates a severe self-suppression, killing off many instincts and drives, one can improve upon the meager value of one’s existence and be brought closer to the thing that has transcendental value. Many apparently diverse cultural manifestations have, according to Nietzsche, been driven by a need thus to devalue ourselves by comparison with some ‘higher’ realm.” (pp. 165-166)

This clarification of Nietzsche's will to power leads to a utilitarian application when considering the fundamental meaninglessness of our humanity.  Will to power is the well-spring from which the "affective" meaning that "we fearless ones" create for our lives emerges within the residue of human feelings.

“Nietzsche claims to have enticed the reader into acknowledging an awful truth: that the real pain of suffering lies in the dread of its having no meaning. The reader is to be unsettled by the progress of this piece, into which Nietzsche transposes his struggle with the life denying philosophy of his ‘great teacher’ Schopenhauer, his disillusionment with the artistic genius and father figure Wagner, his isolation and exaltation in the ‘desert’ where the true philosopher belongs, his vivisection of the atheism and glorious scholarship that are his own inheritance.  On my view the treatise is about what is says it is about, the many guises and unique power of the ascetic ideal, and is at the same time the opportunity to demonstrate the art of exegesis, to show how ‘meaning’ emerges from a process of potentially endless diagnostic analysis.” (page 182)

“It is the affects – the very mental states that for the philosophical orthodoxy ‘twist, color, and distort’ judgment and perception – that Nietzsche portrays as enabling and expanding knowledge.  These points are hammered home in the last half-page of section 12: ‘To have one’s pro and contra on one’s power’ is to make one’s knowledge more ‘objective’; the plurality of affects, the greatest possible difference in affective interpretations, is ‘useful’ for knowledge and makes it more ‘complete’.

“What is an affect? At times, we have seen, Nietzsche talks simply of ‘inclinations and aversions’, ‘pro and contra’, or ‘for and against’ – descriptions that parallel Schopenhauer’s vocabulary and his view that all affects are positive or negative stirrings of the will. It seems that for Nietzsche too all affects are at bottom inclinations or aversions of some kind.  But their range is extensive.  In the Genealogy and Beyond Good and Evil alone he explicitly uses the term for the following: anger, fear, love, hatred, hope, envy, revenge, lust, jealousy, irascibility, exuberance, calmness, self-satisfaction, self-humiliation, self-crucifixion, power-lust, greed, suspicion, malice, cruelty, contempt, despair, triumph, feeling of looking down on, feeling of a superior glance towards others, desire to justify oneself in the eyes of others, demand for respect, feelings of laziness, feeling of command, and brooding over bad deeds.  Affects are, at the very least, ways in which we feel.” (pp. 205-206)

“Some affects are beneath accurate apprehension by ourselves, and some are unconscious.  But all seem to be feelings of one sort or another.  And if we respect the fact that Nietzsche gives such prominence to affects in his discussion of perspectival knowing, we shall have to surmise that for him the inbuilt constraint upon knowledge that makes it ‘only perspectival’ lies in the knowing subject’s affective nature.  So Nietzsche’s perspectivism about knowledge must involve two claims: (1) that there is only knowledge that is guided or facilitated by our feelings, and (2) that the more different feelings we allow to guide our knowledge, the better our knowledge will be.” (page 206)

Of course, this last important point about the growth of knowledge through the accumulation of diverse perspectives is a fundamental tenet of the mature Nietzsche and is echoed by Julian Young’s analysis in a previous post. For me, it is one of the distinctive qualities of the genealogy that merits its appreciation as an insightful work of both psychology and philosophy. It also humanizes Nietzsche because he is talking about human feelings. Rather than objects for control and sublimation, human feelings are the root of authentic human understanding.  This is a profound insight into the importance of the Genealogy

“For him, feelings make knowledge possible.  They are not ineliminable occupational hazards for the knower, but constitutively necessary conditions of the knower’s knowing anything at all.  We may recall that he decries the would-be pure, will-less subject of knowledge as a ‘contradiction’. ‘absurdity’, and ‘non-concept’ – something strictly impossible, not just practically unrealizable.  This strong reading of the first claim is also borne out by the fact of Nietzsche making the second claim, that multiplying different affects always improves knowing.” (page 212) 

Taken a step further, however, Nietzsche not only explores the accumulation of knowledge through feeling but he simultaneously shows us how an close examination of human feelings leads to a profound inquiry as to who we are as persons.  The short answer, as we have seen before, is that you and I are a collection of "drives and affects."

“But faced with the questions ‘Who knows?’, ‘Who thinks?’, ‘Who interprets?’ Nietzsche’s official position is that there is no such subject as ordinarily conceived.  He repeatedly urges that we should be suspicious towards the concept of a subject of ‘I’. The I is ‘just an assumption or opinion, to put it mildly’, it has ‘become a fairy tale, a fiction, a play on words’, and enjoys ‘a mere apparent existence’. Instead we are to think of ‘soul as subjective-multiplicity’, and view the self as a plurality of sub-personal elements in competitive interaction with one another, elements that, as we have seen, are well-like in character (‘’under-wills’ and under-souls’”).

“Nietzsche commonly calls such elements ‘drives’.  In the case of the philosopher, for example, who he is is equivalent to ‘what order of rank the innermost drives of nature’ stand in, and thinking itself is ‘only a relation between these drives’ (BGE 6, 36).  But it is evident that drives are closely related to affects, for he also says that the social construction that is the self is built out of ‘drives and affects’ (BGE 12), and talks elsewhere of ‘our drives and their for and against’.” (page 213)

“If the drives and the affects are all there is to the self, and if the self is to do anything called ‘knowing’, then drives and affects must be capable of representing something outside themselves.  Nietzsche appears to think that this can be achieved through a notion of willing (or striving) combined with one of resistance (or obstruction).  He thinks of will to power as expressing itself towards resistances, and illustrates the process with a model of the protoplasm sending out pseudopodia and feeling around for something it might assimilate into itself.  A sub-personal drive likewise comes up against something other than itself, which it feels as a resistance to its own activity.  It either overcomes the resistance or is overcome by it, giving rise to affects of (roughly) gratification, exhaustion, or reinvigoration – feelings of increase or diminution in power.” (page 217)

But here Janaway sees a “problem” for Nietzsche. “Although the ‘under-wills’ are not to be conceived as consciously willing or consciously representing, we must at least envisage a likeness in kind between the activity of the lower-level components of the multiple self and the states conventionally ascribed to subjects, such as believing, desiring, and feeling emotions.  But Nietzsche does little to enlighten us further on the nature of that likeness.” (page 218)

“A single drive can empower itself by subordinating many other drives to its own activity, and Nietzsche sees organization by a dominant drive as giving unity to one’s character and actions.  That I will to resist my addictive cravings is not ‘up to me’, is not the resolve of an ‘I’ that is external to the complex of drives and affects, but is itself the activity of a strong drive within me.  There is no controlling self that determines ex nihilo what my ends, purposes, and values are.  Fair enough.  But I have to be, in my own self-conception, a sufficiently unified self that I can ‘take sides’ between the various drives that (though I did not originally will them) I find within myself.” (page 220)

“This raises the prospect that Nietzsche’s eliminativist picture of the self may be out of step not only with his re-evaluative project, but also with his diagnosis of the origins of our metaphysical errors.  If only a unified self can make these metaphysical errors, and only a unified self can have the goals and perspectival adaptability that lead to healthier knowing and valuing, then, though we can learn not to think of ourselves as pure metaphysical subjects, Nietzsche’s philosophy as a whole demands that we do not regard ourselves only as complex hierarchies of drive and affects.” (page 221)

“…in support of the view that our interpretations are saturated and constituted by a plurality of feelings he dissolves the self into a multiplicity of affects and drives. But his aims of improving our capacity for knowing and skillfully using our affects demand more of a self than that: he needs his enquirer to be an active and sufficiently unified self that can represent its subject matter truly, that rides on top of the inner multiplicity, and that can self-consciously adopt attitudes towards it.” (page 222)

It is important to consider the basic important mechanical nature of drives in manifesting the will to power on this earth.  Whatever "the second revaluation" might become, it would be built out of the competition of human drives and out of our abilities to (like the ascetic) control our drives. Janaway highlights the fundamental contradiction of this situation for Nietzsche. We are a collection of drives and yet, somehow, we can come to control our drives. So, apparently, our ability to be self-aware and distinguish and address specific drives must reveal that we are something more than just a collection of drives.  He never resolved this circular philosophic quandary. We don’t even know if he thought the apparent contradiction even mattered.  

Near the end of his book, Janaway considers Nietzsche’s genealogy in the context of the ascetic person and human meaning and truth; while Nietzsche is critical of the aims of the religious ascetic, he nevertheless views the ascetic as an example of will to power in the world.

“We have seen that Nietzsche consistently laments the loss of vitality and self-affirmation, the waning of healthy, plural instincts that results from valuing selflessness, but is liable at the same time to admire certain successful transformations of values for their creativity, their impositions of new forms upon the material of humanity, in short their discharge of power and attainment of mastery. In the case of the ascetic priest the element of admiration is at its most intense, because the priest is a threefold embodiment of will to power.  He successfully overturns the prevailing tendency to value the simpler warrior-like virtues and creates new conceptions of the good, achieves command over the weak to whom his priestly interpretations minister, and (most impressively) gains mastery over himself.” (page 224)

“In unleashing such powerful counter-forces the priest makes an unparalleled achievement of the kind Nietzsche admires, yet the values created in the process are those of life-denial which Nietzsche decries as a decline into sickness.  This ambivalence, far from being a defect in Nietzsche’s positions, is close to being its central point.  He refers to the ascetic life as a ‘self-contradiction’, as ‘life against life’, an ‘incarnate will to contradiction and anti-nature’, ‘an attempt…to use energy to stop up the source of energy’.” (page 225)

From a will to power perspective, the ascetic is effective to the extent that he is able to create an illusion of control. It is the creative abilities of ascetic, rather than the specifics of what the ascetic believes or practices, that make him a useful example for the rest of us would-be "philosophers of the future." The bottom line is that we must not allow common morality to interfere with our free and creative discovery of a new (modern and relevant) basis for our personal system of values. 

“We could not live without carving up the world of our experience into causes and effects, measurable quantities, reidentifiable substances as opposed to properties, and so on.  To ask in what sense these categorizations are false raises difficult questions for Nietzsche interpreters….belief or judgments can be valuable ‘for life’ and for the various purposes of human beings, despite their being false; the truth or falsity of beliefs can matter less than what the holding of beliefs allows us to achieve.

“Another common thought in Nietzsche is that there is value in deliberately created fictions, false pictures that are valuable to us not despite, but in virtue of, their falsity.  An example is the well-known aphorism ‘Truth is ugly: we possess art lest we perish of the truth’.  In the Third Treatise, Nietzsche states that ‘art, in which precisely the lie hallows itself, in which the will to deception has good conscience on its side, is much more fundamentally opposed to the ascetic ideal than is science.’ (GM III. 25).” (pp. 232-233)

“Either we discover the truth that the world is nasty, uncaring, and destructive; or we discover the truth that what we are doomed to consider as the truth about the world is forever an illusion.  Both outcomes give rise to pessimism or disillusionment, one over the world’s value for us, the other over our own epistemic impotence.  The central idea either way is that the acquisition of truth needs to be tempered – on pain of despair – by the artistic fashioning of beautiful fictions.” (page 235)

“Only because our values have been and still remain moral ones can the drive to truth be strong enough to question our values.  So we find Nietzsche acknowledging not only that he is included in the ascetic truth-ideal, but that his own formation through the core values of morality itself is a prerequisite of his ability to call the value of moral values into question. Indeed Nietzsche appears here as the instrument of a process that morality is inflicting upon itself.

“If religion, morality, philosophy, academic learning, and science have all been re-formations of the same basic ascetic material, driven throughout by a need to devalue ourselves, to diminish our own particular, transient, and vulnerable existence by comparison with some superior and unconditionally valuable entity of state, the question arises: Why?  Nietzsche’s answer is, in short, that the ascetic ideal enables our existence to be meaningful.” (page 239)

“Where, then, is the arrow of Nietzsche’s longing directed? The close of the Genealogy is not explicit on this point. But his claim that the ascetic ideal is dominant ‘for want of anything better’ (faute de mieux) must surely provoke us to find a more positive alternative, an attitude to one’s existence that keeps the will alive without the self-destruction of willing nothingness.” (page 242) 

At root, Nietzsche’s genealogy elevates the value of the human "self."  For Nietzsche, it is unhealthy to attempt to deny or restrict or minimize the self. Rather, the self is elevated as something worthy of discovery and artistry and affirmation, not subdued or made compassionate (although sublimation and empathy are not strictly ruled out, only questioned.  It is the overman’s place to creatively find the balancing act of all things human, conflict and flow).  Our morality must be revalued for just this reason. We must affirm ourselves on our own terms and find meaning through self-affirmation. 

“Placing high value upon compassion, guilt, and the suppression of our more aggressively expansive instincts, believing everyone’s well-being to be of equal kind and importance, expecting everyone to be a subject of rational free choice capable of acting similarly and blamable for failure to do so – these are not absolute, eternal, or compulsory attitudes for human beings to hold, but attitudes invented and perpetuated to fulfill a host of functions and needs.” (page 246)

“But the Genealogy encourages us to think that there is an alternative: that we could in principle escape from these predispositions, and that, if we could arrive at a place where our attachment to morality was suspended and where we might choose it or not as our system of values, some of us at least might find other values more worthy of our allegiance.  The enormous challenge of finding a evaluative space outside morality itself is continually apparent to Nietzsche, as witness his evocations of the discomfort and danger, the ‘seasickness’ and ‘dizziness’ that his kind of enquirer should be expected to feel before the ‘immense new vista’ opened by his works.  Nietzsche is clear that such a revaluation demands a wholesale suspension of theory, intuition, and accustomed emotional polarities.  It may be that we would find this revaluation ultimately an undesirable or unbearable prospect, or one impossible for us to accomplish.  But to have raised the question of its possibility at all is already a powerful and original achievement.” (page 249) 

“…the goal of attaining a maximally positive attitude towards oneself as an individual, considered as standing apart from others.  Having no otherworldly characteristics and no otherworldly aspirations, Nietzsche’s individual would ideally find positive value in that totality of empirical acts, states, and drives that composes him-or herself.  But this kind of positive attitude, which in general we might call self-love, has two principal manifestations, which deserve separate consideration: they are self-affirmation, or saying yes to one’s life in its entirety and in every detail; and aesthetic (or quasi-aesthetic) self-satisfaction, the shaping of one’s character so that every part of it contributes to a meaningful whole in the manner of a work of art.” (pp. 253-254) 

“Nietzsche’s affirmative ideal is to ‘own’ oneself without remainder: to be so intimately attached to everything about oneself – for no other reason than its simply being oneself – that no imagined possibilities are wished for in preference to the actuality.” (page 259)

“But what is important for Nietzsche is not whether one ever reaches a point of absolute certainty concerning one’s well-dispossedness to oneself, rather that one longs for such a confirmation, aspires towards an ideal of self-affirmation in which one is able to affirm all of the particular parts of one’s life until these affirmations amount to an affirmation of it all.” (page 260)

“…Nietzsche is clear that what constitutes the individual is a composite of hierarchically related drives.  That is what I am, whether I like it or not…The process of ‘giving style to one’s character’ begins with something called ‘surveying all the strengths and weaknesses that one’s nature has to offer’.  This implies not only that there is a ‘pre-artistic’ self, a raw material waiting to be given form, but that, in order to highlight or disguise the elements in one’s character appropriately, one has to have apprehended a great deal (in principle everything) about one’s nature, knowing it accurately enough to grasp whether some particular part is a weakness, attractive or ugly, and if ugly, whether it will respond best to removal, concealment, or viewing from a distance.” (page 263) 

The Genealogy challenges us to transcend unquestioned assumptions regarding cultural values, to create our own foundations for what is 'good,' and to master the plurality of drives and affects thereby manifesting will to power in the world. This is the existential foundation for the "second revaluation" that Nietzsche believes is necessary to find relevant meaning in an otherwise meaningless and indifferent universe.

“A more Nietzschean position is that there is no ‘one way’ to value oneself: facing the truth about oneself has value in the quest for a positive meaning to individual existence, but so too does the fictionalizing or falsifying of self that can be learned from artists. The same duality accords well with Nietzsche’s perspectivism: it is fitting that one should, as it were, have in one’s power both one’s ability to confront oneself full-on and one’s artistry in falsifying oneself, and be able to shift in and out.” (page 264)

“Nietzsche has a radical message for philosophers and ‘scientific’ investigators: your conception of your own activity is at fault because you picture yourselves falsely. There is no primary drive towards knowledge and truth.  We philosophers are composed of many affects and drives, and the notion of a rational self or knowing subject engaged in a self-validating exercise of pure dialectical truth-seeking is as much an insidious illusion as the notion of a realm of timeless objects waiting to be discovered.  Disinterested, detached knowing is a fiction, but a persistently tempting one that we must struggle to guard ourselves against.” (page 265)