God is dead

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If people know only one thing about Friedrich Nietzsche it is that he is responsible for the quote “God is dead!” (Gott ist tot!). This phrase is often taken out of context and abused. There is the Christian T-shirt reaction that in a sick way celebrates the death of a great thinker (there have been other versions showing him drunk):

There are the reactions people write on the walls while in the bathroom: “God is dead. Nietzsche is dead. I live.” To which a second party often writes, “but for how long?”

When Nietzsche’s quote is left by itself for too long some people even try to use logic to show that Nietzsche contradicts his own atheism; namely, “if God is dead he must have lived at one point!”

This all overshadows what Nietzsche was trying to say, that he was actually trying to criticize atheists. Unfortunately for theists he wasn’t criticizing them for not believing in God, he criticized them for not being able to accept the consequences of their own conviction, their conviction behind their godlessness.

Unlike the atheists in the marketplace of Nietzsche’s Gay Science, Nietzsche feels the death of God to be a heavy responsibility – not only as an opening of a new horizon but akin to the experience of a small ship on stormy ocean waters. The atheists in the marketplace, not taking on this responsibility, have rid their lives of the name “God” but not of things godly.

Nietzsche’s passion is experiencing this open horizon, is being on the small ship on open waters and experiencing a wild personal freedom. God is dead. Nietzsche is dead. Try to live passionately.

Meaning in History

I’ve finally returned to and finished Karl Löwith’s book, Meaning in History. I’ve already talked about this book twice so I won’t say much more. I do, however, want to provide a quote (or two) from each chapter to give people a feel of what Löwith was trying to do with this book. It might seem boring but I promise that the quotes are worth a read :)

Preface:

…nations can be hypnotized into the belief that God or some world-process intends them to achieve this or that… but there is always something pathetic, if not ludicrous, in beliefs of this kind.

…religious faith is so little at variance with skepticism that both are rather united by their common opposition to the presumptions of a settled knowledge.

Introduction:

…the term “philosophy of history” is used to mean a systematic interpretation of universal history in accordance with a principle by which historical events and successions are unified and directed toward an ultimate meaning.

Buckhardt:

Marx:

The Communist Manifesto is, first of all, a prophetic document… It is not by chance that the last antagonism between the bourgeoisie and proletariat correspond to the Jewish-Christian belief in a final fight between Christ and Antichrist. …that the task of the proletariat corresponds to the world-historical mission of the chosen people.

Hegel:

The occidental conception of history, implying an irreversible direction toward a future goal, is not merely occidental. It is essentially a Hebrew and Christian assumption that history is directed toward an ultimate purpose and governed by the providence of a supreme insight and will – in Hegel’s terms, by spirit or reason as “the absolutely powerful essence.”

Progress versus Providence:

…man has to replace God, and the belief in human progress has to supplant the faith in providence.

The Christian Hope in the Kingdom of God is bound up with the fear of the Lord, while the secular hope for a “better world” looks forward without fear and trembling.

Voltaire:

…the modern religion of progress [is] an irreligion; for it is a belief in man’s perfectibility… And yet the irreligion of progress is still a sort of religion, derived from the Christian faith in a future goal, though substituting an indefinite and immanent eschaton for a definite and transcendent one.

Vico:

For man, perfect demonstrable knowledge is attainable only within the realm of mathematical fictions, where we, like God, are creating our objects. […] We can know something about history, even the most obscure beginnings of history, because… this world of civil society has certainly been made by men, and that its principles can and must therefore be found within the modifications of our own human mind.

Joachim:

His expectation of a last providential progress toward the fulfillment of the history of salvation within the framework of the history of the world is radically new in comparison to the pattern of Augustine. Augustine never indulged in prophetic predictions of detailed and radical changes within the temporal order.

Augustine:

Only by this reference to an absolute beginning and end has history as a whole meaning.

…the whole scheme of Augustine’s work serves the purpose of vindicating God in history. Yet history remains definitely distinct from God, who is not a Hegelian god in history but the Lord of history.

The Biblical View of History:

…the biblical view of history is delineated as a history of salvation, progressing from promise to fulfillment and focused in Jesus Christ.

Even the articulation of all historical time into past, present and future reflects the temporal structure of the history of salvation.

Conclusion:

…faith in history was to [Burckhardt], as to Dilthey, Troeltsch and Croce a “last religion.”

History, instead of being governed by reason and providence, seems to be governed by chance and fate.

Epilogue:

The attempt at elucidation of the dependence of the philosophy of history on the eschatological history of fulfillment and salvation does not solve the problem of our historical thinking.

…the question arises of whether man’s living by expectation agrees with a sober view of the world and of man’s condition in it.

Appendix:

There would be no American, French and no Russian revolutions and constitutions without the idea of secular progress towards fulfillment without the original faith in a Kingdom of God…

messing with Rawls

festival.jpgI’m thinking about turning this “messing with philosophers” thing into a weekly occurrence – but I suppose that will depend on things, dangerous, time consuming things.

today, messing with Rawls means messing with his “veil of ignorance” which can be found in his book, A Theory of Justice.

You go to the fair with your friends. Your friends consist of males, females and people of diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds. In addition; one friend lifts weights, one friend is confined to a wheel chair, one friend is rich, one friend is poor. There are five of you and together you go to the fair.

You don’t always get along with this group of friends, they don’t always get along with each other and sometimes you wonder why you even bother. Nobody can decide which spectacular event at this fair they want to take part in and two friends consider going home. While returning from the restroom friend 2 notices John Rawls standing at the corner of a booth. The tall thin man is wearing a giant hat, has a long cane and a striped jacket. Friend 2 runs over to Rawls, hands him a five dollar bill and says, “I want to play!”

You are relieved that someone finally made a decision to do something, you fish out five dollars and you all follow your friend into Rawls’ small tent. Inside the tent are five small rooms set up so that they can be used privately. “Today we will be voting”, says Rawls, “but first you must wear these mysterious veils, my veils of ignorance.” Each friend enters a room and closes the curtain, you are the last to do so. Each friend screams as they put the veil on, you scream the loudest. You can no longer see, you no longer remember your name, your gender, the status of your health, your ethnicity, your view of God(s) – all you hear is Rawl’s voice and the confused mumbling of the others (were they friends?), you no longer understand their language. You try to swing your arms in panic but you’ve forgotten how, all you can do is listen to Rawls’ voice.

“Let’s start the game.” You are given mental images of the five of you. You do not know which one you are – the image of the person in the wheel chair focuses for a second then a male, a female, male, female each with a different tone of skin. You are shown their bank accounts – the group consists of people both poor and rich. You are shown their religious affiliation through symbols. Your mind spins as you try and remember which one you are, you are unsuccessful.

“You will create the world you will return to and you will return to this world as you were. To create this world you need only to answer my questions.”

“Will men have more power than women, women more power than men?” Friend 1 wants to take advantage of this opportunity to create a world advantageous to “it”. “I want more power” thinks friend 1. “Am I male or female? I don’t know what I am anymore! If I say “men” and I turn out to be a woman… then I would have made a mistake.”

Rawls, “will this be a world that is dominated by one religious view?” Friend 2 imagines a world where one religious view is given favor while the others are looked down upon. Friend 2 tries to remember their own views on religion but can’t.

Rawls, “will this world be unfair to those with disabilities? Will poor people be unfairly treated and rich people given tax cuts? Will people with a certain tone of skin have more power?” Friend 3 tries to cheat and remove the veil, friend 3 is unsuccessful.

Each question comes as a mental image, waiting for an answer.

After each question is answered Rawls removes the veils one by one and one by one you scream as your memories come rushing back. Friend 4 peaks out the tent and yells, “this is the same world as before!” Rawls thanks you for participating and hands each of you a piece of paper. You ask, “what is this?” He answers, “your social contract.”

Your group leaves the tent an inseparable group of friends.

the castle

castle.jpgThe castle here in Heidelberg is a way station among chaos. I’ve had many fine conversations in the gardens, I’ve been to a ball, I’ve shown it to visitors, I’ve been with friends on late night walks to look over the dark river bordering the lights of old town and, most importantly, I’ve stormed it (when 2006 became 2007, when I had that last beer, when I climbed the walls and locked gates).

I went there again today to re-charge. To sit on a bench and listen to the many tourists walking around. I try to recognize as many languages as I can – Italian, English (British? no Australian), Spanish, Russian, Japanese? I can’t avoid but be included in people’s photo albums. Walking along the garden edges it is almost impossible to escape every frame, every snapshot – I’ve given up on trying.

I’ve found that the easiest way to acquire information on the area is to ease drop, to listen to people explain to others the details of the castle and surrounding areas. Today I got lucky as a German man sat down with a Japanese acquaintance next to me. The German man was explaining everything about the open valley just in sight, about the mountain opposite our bench and what he does with his bike when it is warm.

I use this time to think about each obstacle I face and I plot out the details of its demise. How best to approach A? Step forward, step right. How best to avoid B? Step back, step left. How to keep them happy? Hold your arm up high. Now we’re talking Waltz.

Rucker is one gnarly guy

Retired math Professor, sometime philosophy Professor, science fiction writer, painter (etc., etc.) Rudy Rucker posted his proof of Panpsychism (everything is conscious) and Hylozoism (every physical object is alive). The argument is there for you to follow step for step with all sources conveniently linked (including his video on “Gnarl”). He stamps his conclusions with a QED…

Everything is conscious and alive? Kind of creepy, no?

That is if we accept all of his premises –

the sky outside my window

I have a large window that I hate around 2-4pm because the sun shines in my eyes as I sit at my desk and try to work. I have a large window that I love around 4-6pm because the sun throws wild colors in the air, like last gasps of breath, as it falls beyond eyesight.

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The problem is that I stare out my window instead of into my books.

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messing with Wittgenstein

today, messing with Wittgenstein means messing with his private language argument, specifically the example he uses in paragraph 293 of the Philosophical Investigations.

Imagine you are at a party with your friends and you gather in a circle. Each friend has a box with a their idea of a beetle inside. These boxes are private and no one friend can look into the box of the other. After everyone is satisfied with their box you start to have a conversation with your friends about beetles. Each friend participates in this conversation and each seems to have the same general understanding of what a beetle is, thus making the conversation possible. During this time the beetle in the box may change or may not depending on your reaction to the conversation. The conversation about the beetle continues for a hefty 10 minutes – all the while you and your friends are thinking that you are talking about what is in your boxes, that you have more or less the same thing in your box.

rhino.jpgTo amaze your guests you have invited Wittgenstein over to do his amazing party tricks. You ask him to enter the room after everyone has talked enough about beetles. After the applause dies down and people stop asking him what “Objects” are he announces with a wave of his hand that he will begin his performance. He walks up to friend number 1 and opens this friend’s box, revealing her private idea – a very large heinous beetle is displayed for all to see. He moves on to Friend 2 – a small harmless beetle falls out. Friend 3 – spotted, with two horns like a rhino. Friend 4 – a fly. Finally Wittgenstein moves to your box and everyone holds their breath as he reaches for the lid. You scream, “No!!!!” but it is too late, Wittgenstein has taken your box and shown everyone that it is in fact empty. You feel ashamed, you reconsider giving Wittgenstein his honorarium.

Certain that everyone in the crowd is confused about how they can have a conversation about beetles and yet have different ideas of beetles, Wittgenstein chuckles. Instead of beetles he tells you to fill your box with your idea of love, then of God, then of that certain pain you get in your stomach after eating too much – each time he lifts everyone’s box and varied incantations appear, even after long detailed conversations on each topic.

Friend 3 breaks down in a nervous fit, screaming that it can’t be true. The T-Shirt of Friend 4 begins to show dark sweat rings under the armpits and you, you are ashamed of your box. Seeing that his audience is primed for the grand finale Wittgenstein dims the lights and puts a flashlight under his chin. He yells, “stone!” Friend 1 runs off looking to bring W a stone. Friend 2 covers his head expecting a stone to fall from high. Friend 3 says, looking at a stone, “yes, it is.” Friend 4 thinks W has a sidekick dog named “Stone” that will come running around the corner. And you, you do nothing – you are confused.

He turns the lights back on and takes a bow. You and your friends are impressed, you break out in applause, you feel the urge to run and burn your Frege and Russell collections. Friend 2 suppresses a tear, Friend 3 can’t stop laughing, Friend 1 holds her stone, Friend 4, struck dumb, begins to drool, you – you open the window to try and get some fresh air. As you turn to thank W he hisses, swings his cloak in front of his body, turns into a bat and flies out the window. “Thanks for the language games!!” you yell after his fleeting form.

Want to learn more?