Philosophy Today: Diary 9/11 to 9/12/21

In which I argue with, or go beyond, quotes from Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus, Walter Kaufmann, and Bertrand Russell. Plus movie reviews and Hemlock Club notes and the usual blather.

Copyright (text only) 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus (1913-1960)

{9/11/21}  Weight 213.4 at 6:00 am.

Hemlock Club today.

Watched Stay (2005) starring Ewan McGregor, Ryan Gosling, and Naomi Watts, a Rorschach test (without answers) for the viewer.  There are many good things in this absorbing, frustrating movie, endless questions adding up to one giant puzzle.  When clarity comes, alas, it’s just another puzzle.  Good, low-key work by the actors.  Rotten Tomatoes has curious scores of 27% from the critics and 70% from the audience.

The Uninvited (2009) is more satisfying, a fairly standard horror flick with a very appealing cast.  Daddy’s new love is accused, by the dead wife’s ghost, of murdering said wife—shades of Hamlet!  So carefully crafted, plotwise, that it ends up practically a cheat.  I thought I knew, very early, where it was going, but I was wrong on all counts.  Not nearly as great as it wants to be, but it’s not bad.  Rated 32% and 49% by RT.  The featurette added a lot.

{9/12/21}  Weight 214.0 at 5:55 am.

The Amityville Horror remake (2005) held my interest but has little to recommend it, despite a good performance by Ryan Reynolds and a first role for Chloë Grace Moretz (one of my favorites) at age six or so.  23% from critics, 52% audience score, per Rotten Tomatoes.

Also watched Jenifer of the “Masters of Horror” series; lots of pretty boobs but otherwise just gross.  Couldn’t find it on RT.

Finally finished Friedrich Nietzsche:  The Gay Science, which I started in 2019.  At first, per my diary, it didn’t interest me much.  But the last half was some of the best I’ve read of Nietzsche.  My opinion of him is very inconsistent.  I read a bit at the Hemlock Club (i.e., to an audience of one, Nog):

“380 ‘The Wanderer’ speaks.—If one would like to see our European morality for once as it looks from a distance, and if one would like to measure it against other moralities, past and future, then one has to proceed like a wanderer who wants to know how high the towers in a town are: he leaves the town. “Thoughts about moral prejudices,” if they are not meant to be prejudices about prejudices, presuppose a position outside morality, some point beyond good and evil to which one has to rise, climb, or fly—and in the present case at least a point beyond our good and evil, a freedom from everything “European,” by which I mean the sum of the imperious value judgments that have become part of our flesh and blood. That one wants to go precisely out there, up there, may be a minor madness, a peculiar and unreasonable “you must”—for we seekers for knowledge also have our idiosyncrasies of “unfree will”—the question is whether one really can get up there.

“This may depend on manifold conditions. In the main the question is how light or heavy we are—the problem of our “specific gravity.” One has to be very light to drive one’s will to knowledge into such a distance and, as it were, beyond one’s time, to create for oneself eyes to survey millennia and, moreover, clear skies in these eyes. One must have liberated oneself from many things that oppress, inhibit, hold down, and make heavy precisely us Europeans today. The human being of such a beyond who wants to behold the supreme measures of value of his time must first of all “overcome” this time in himself—this is the test of his strength—and consequently not only his time but also his prior aversion and contradiction against this time, is suffering from this time, his un-timeliness, his romanticism.”  p. 342-343 (see above for publication data; footnotes omitted).

My point in reading this was to make clear the difficulty of reading Nietzsche; I often paused during the reading to reread the part just read.  I also commented, starting with the title, that “the Wanderer” was the name given to Wotan by Richard Wagner in Siegfried, and that Wagner had been, first, Nietzsche’s idol, and subsequently, his enemy.  I also mentioned that “beyond good and evil” became the title of one of N’s most popular books.  And I talked about his lengthy sentences and mentioned again the Great Courses lectures on “Great Sentences,” which meant to the lecturer essentially, long sentences.  Finally, I told Nog that I couldn’t read more than a couple of pages of Nietzsche at a time—more than that and I would end up skimming or otherwise getting nothing out of it.  That’s likely an exaggeration, or a half-truth.  I also talked about his message being corrupted by the Nazis, but that, in essence, he is so difficult that he is easily corrupted.

What Nog made of all this, I do not remember; perhaps he had little to say.

I “started the meeting” by asking Nog to explain his decision to not get the Covid vax.  He explained, but also said that he was reconsidering based on my lament that I didn’t want him to die.  We talked a little about Swift’s “Modest Proposal.”  Nog said that his father would say that 660,000 dead was “a good start.”  We’re both agreed on the evils of overpopulation.

There was about five hours of good conversation, but my notes are very skimpy.

I’ve started reading Nietzsche’s The Will to Power.  I’ve tried twice or thrice with this book with a different translation; Kaufmann’s may be more to my liking.  Now, if I could just finish KM, I might know how to finish this sentence.

This afternoon I’ve dipped into a number of different books, and I want to comment on them:

First, a quote:  “…many of our artists long to be exceptional, feel guilty if they are not, and wish for simultaneous applause and hisses.”  Albert Camus:  “Create Dangerously,” in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death:  Essays, Justin O’Brien (tr, ed), Vintage Books, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, 1960, 1988, p. 256. I don’t know about the guilt, but the rest seems to capture very well my attitude towards Kick Me.  Actually, though I anticipate more hisses than applause, I could do without them.

More substantial, in all ways, is this long quote:

“It is one of the saddest features of our age that we are faced with an entirely unnecessary dichotomy: on the one hand there are those whose devotion to intellectual cleanliness and rigor is exemplary but who refuse to deal with anything but small, and often downright trivial, questions; in the other camp are men like Toynbee and some of the existentialists who deal with the big and interesting questions, but in such a manner that the positivists point to them as living proofs that any effort of this kind is doomed to failure. Aware of their opponents’ errors, both sides go to ever greater extremes; the split widens; and the intelligent layman who is left in the middle will soon lose sight of both.

“The existentialists have tried to bring philosophy down to earth again like Socrates; but the existentialist and the analytical philosopher are each only half a Socrates. The existentialist has taken up the passionate concern with questions that arise from life, the moral pathos, and the firm belief that, to be serious, a philosophy has to be lived. The analytical philosophers, on the other hand, insist—as Socrates did, too—that no moral pathos, no tradition, no views, however elevated, justify unanalyzed ideas, murky arguments, or a touch of confusion. In Nietzsche—and more or less in every great philosopher before him, too—philosophy occurred in the tension between these two timeless tendencies, now inclining one way, now the other. Today this dual heritage has been developed in different camps, and between them they have made us aware of the pitfalls of traditional philosophy no less than of each other’s faults. That the existentialists and analysts will get together is not likely. But if the feat of Socrates is really to be repeated and philosophy is to have a future outside the academies, there will have to be philosophers who think in the tension between analysis and existentialism.”  Walter Kaufmann:  “Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre,” in Walter Kaufmann (ed):  Existentialism from Dostoyevsky to Sartre, revised and expanded, A Meridian Book, Penguin Group, New York, 1956, 1975, p. 51.

Now, what’s particularly of value to me in this quote, aside from its general interest regarding the history of philosophy, is the rejection by the analysts of “unanalyzed ideas, murky arguments, [and] a touch of confusion.”  This is a more “objective” consideration than my opening salvo in my Bleak Philosophy: “…a book, a sentence, a position, a map, a method, a truth, anything is personally worthless to me unless I can understand it.”  Of course, there’s also poetry, which defies such understanding, yet has value; but I don’t look to poetry for what I seek in philosophy.

The last item I want to consider:

“The view that seems to me to reconcile the materialistic tendency of psychology with the anti-materialistic tendency of physics is the view of William James and the American new realists, according to which the ‘stuff’ of the world is neither mental nor material, but a ‘neutral stuff,’ out of which both are constructed.”  Bertrand Russell: The Analysis of Mind, Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, 1921-2005, p. iii.

I admire Bertrand Russell greatly, but this metaphysics, which I presume is his “neutral monist” view, which he later repudiated, seems to me not to anticipate the obvious conclusion of modern neuroscience, that “mind” (or “mental events”) are a function of the structure of the body-brain, that is, the relationship among the material bits (which I take to include energy in all its forms).  In other words, my metaphysics, if I can call my inchoate view by such a term, is thoroughly materialistic.  In other words, I see no reason to monkey with the concept of “physical stuff” (or physical events) to try to include “mental events”—which is what he seems to be aiming for.

As an analogy, consider a clockwork—gears, springs, and the like—as a purely materialistic, physical structure that “measures time” (whatever that may mean); do we have to then redefine physical structures to include “time events” or the like?  Perhaps I’m not helping my case with this…but I can’t see “consciousness” (or intentionality) as so utterly different from other functions of organs, such as respiration and digestion, that it needs to contaminate our metaphysics.  I suppose I can be accused of dismissing “the hard question” of consciousness.

Not that I consider metaphysics to be a concept we need.  It’s like we want to establish a Euclidian axiom, from which we can then derive all the facts of the universe.  No, thank you.

Copyright (text only) 2021 by Alan Carl Nicoll
All Rights Reserved

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