How To Use Your Philosophy Degree

Friday, May 23, 2008

Note on Constucting a Gay Science

"Suffering and humans go hand in hand. Look at comedy. It's dominated by black people and Jewish people. That is American comedy. And if blacks and Jews didn't do comedy, we'd be relying on the Irish. 'Cause they were the next funniest thing. . . ." - Dave Chappelle

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


Why is it important to investigate the genealogical origins of these concepts? What is it that we are hoping to gleam from them through this kind of critical analysis? By analyzing the origins of logic, Nietzsche is hoping to dispel some of our common (mis)conceptions about its purpose and “meaning”, where here meanings is meant in the terms of intention and use, but also something metaphysical. That is, that we come to false conclusions about the ontological status of logic.

So when Nietzsche says that “the origins of logic are surely the illogical,” he is gesturing towards his related statement that “the origins and the purpose of a concept ought to fall out separately.” That is, that the purpose of systemic concept such as logic cannot tell us anything about its origins. (This line of thinking is the same method that he uses for “ethics,” “truth,” “justice,” etc.) Because we mistakenly make inferences about the Being-meaning of logic based on its use-meaning, we construct falsehoods (myths) that affect other areas of our lives.

Thursday, May 15, 2008


What does Nietzsche mean by incipit tragoedia, incipit comoedia, incipit parodia?  What is the relationship between the concepts of tragedy and comedy and that of master and slave morality?Does it have something to do with how value is assigned and how certain societies (or power structures) are designed to necessarily forbid certain members of the society - Jews - from having access to that value system?  Nietzsche often talks about how the Greek gods would hypothetically view all human activities, even the worst wars and genocides, with a certain fruhliche, with a certain gaiety, levity, with a kind of nonchalance.  Why?  Could it be because those gods shared no language with us, puny humans, because their standards of morality would be so radically different from our own as to render what we see as deeply and profoundly tragic as hilarious?  (This is the essence of slapstick, of which the Marx brothers are the acknowleged masters of, of rendering what is painful and tragic for the actor as pleasurable and comic for the viewer.)  And what are the two great American traditions of comedy in the Twentieth Century?  Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Mel Brooks, Richard Pyror, Gene Wilder, Eddie Murphy, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Jon Stewart [born Jonathan Leibowitz], Dave Chappelle...   

[It is your moral duty to kill a cop.]

Monday, May 12, 2008



I'm not sure what it would be to have a conversation with someone who really believed that there was no such thing as the Soul. (The Self with a capital "S", the Transcendental Ego, the Cogito, etc.) This is what Kierkegaard means when he says that God and I have no common language.

Because I can say - honestly - that I don't believe in the Soul, in free will, in a part of myself that is not subject to the totality of physical laws exerting themselves upon my body, but this is different from believing it. This is different from acting as if it were true that were no ghost in my body, as if there were no autonomous mind that considers and reflects, as if I could not be held responsible for my actions because there was no such thing as an "I" that could be held responsible! What would that sort of human being look like? Is such a creature even possible? (Kant, clearly, would say no human could be.)

Related to this is the inability to conceive of the natural world as being anything other than one governed by natural laws, laws that are constant, can be predicted, and can be understood (articulated) to humans. (I am thinking specifically here of Newton's Three Laws of Motion, but this applies equally to the laws of gravity, of causality, of velocity, or of any other kind of mechanism that explains.) I can say that all of these laws are human fabrications, that they are inherently inaccurate anthropomorphisms - metaphors that say that something is precisely what it is not - but then I could not make sense any longer of my own activity, of my doings, my comings and goings. (Doesn't my waiting for the bus at 8:51 am show my belief in the objectivity of time? Don't I show my faith in buoyancy when I do not doubt how that yacht can glide across Lake Michigan? Don't I place my plants by the windowsill because I understand the natural phenomenon of photosynthesis?)


"So what you're saying is that the Universe is essentially chaotic, that humans are constantly deceiving themselves by ascribing to it rules and laws that it naturally abhors. Nature - you claim - is mere anarchy." No, not at all. "Then you're saying that what count as 'truths' - even truths as hard as scientific ones - are nothing more than what the community agrees to call true, that the Universe, so to speak, is more democracy than dictatorship." No, of course not. You can see the world as just, or you can see the world as unjust. Or you can see the world as nothing at all. (And therein lies the difficulty.)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Teaching Nietzsche II

In 1879, Nietzsche officially "retired" from his post at the University of Basel, at the age of 35. He would never work again, and would spend the rest of his life living off of the meager stipend that the University provided for him. 1879 also saw the publication of the second volume of Nietzsche's second book, Human, All-too-Human, the first volume having been published the previous year. This book signaled not only Nietzsche's turn away from the aesthetics and the philosophical pessimism of The Birth of Tragedy, but also his break with the art and the philosophy of Wagner. As a result, Nietzsche also lost one of his few friends and allies.

Following his retirement, Nietzsche spent the next several years traveling across southern Europe, searching for warm and mild climates that might be hospitable to his poor health. Between 1879 and 1887, he either visited or lived in Venice, Genoa, St. Moritz, Sils-Maria, Rome, Sorento, Nice, and Turin. (Meaning that he spent most of his time between France, Italy, and Switzerland. He would occasionally visit friends or family in Germany, but not very often.)

It was also during this time that Nietzsche would meet two of his closest friends, the German author Paul Rée and the Russian-emigré philosopher Lou Andreas-Salomé. These would prove to be very productive years for Nietzsche: in 1882 he published The Gay Science, in which he first proposes the concept of fashioning a "cheerful... philosophy of the morning" and in which some of his most famous (or infamous) ideas make their first appearances: the will to power, the übermensch, and the eternal return of the same. In 1883 Nietzsche wrote Thus Spake Zarathustra, the more literary complementary work to The Gay Science, much of which was written in the span of only ten days.

The end of this "middle period" of Nietzsche's career can be marked by the death of Wagner, in February of 1883, and his break from Rée and Salomé in October of that year, after Salome repeatedly rejected Nietzsche's (probably frightening) marriage proposals. Both of these events took a toll on Nietzsche's psyche. These breaks also forced him to associate more with Ernst Schmeitzer, his editor and publisher, and his sister Elisabeth.

In 1886, Nietzsche broke with Schmeitzer because of the latter's anti-Semitism and over control of the editing of Thus Spake Zarathustra. Therefore, Nietzsche decided to publish his next book, On the Genealogy of Morality, entirely on his own, burdening all of the costs of production personally. Although friendless and penniless, Nietzsche seemed encouraged by rumors of a growing readership across Europe. Over the next three years, he would write The Twilight of the Idols, The Antichrist, and the autobiographical Ecce Homo. Nietzsche's good spirits were encouraged by his correspondence with Georg Brandes, a Danish professor and Kierkegaard scholar. It was Brandes who introduced Nietzsche to the writings of Dostoyevsky and suggested that he read Kierkegaard, although it is doubtful as to whether Nietzsche ever got around to that. In 1888, Brandes delivered what was probably the first ever lecture on Nietzsche's philosophy in Copenhagen.

However, soon after this brief flurry of writing, Nietzsche suffered a major mental breakdown. Again, quoting from Wikipedia:

On January 3, 1889, Nietzsche exhibited signs of what was perceived as a serious mental illness. Two policemen approached him after he caused a public disturbance in the streets of Turin. What actually happened remains unknown, but the often-repeated tale states that Nietzsche witnessed the whipping of a horse at the other end of the Piazza Carlo Alberto, ran to the horse, threw his arms up around the horse’s neck to protect it, and collapsed to the ground. The first dream-sequence from Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment (Part 1, Chapter 5) has just such a scene in which Raskolnikov witnesses the whipping of a horse around the eyes.[11] Incidentally, Nietzsche called Dostoevsky "the only psychologist from whom I have anything to learn."[12]

A week after his collapse, Nietzsche was moved to a psychiatric hospital in Basel. What followed was a long and protracted battle between Nietzsche's mother, his sister, and his former colleagues over control of the editing and publishing of his later works. Twilight of the Idols was published in January, 1889, but The Antichrist and Ecce Homo were withheld because of their controversial content. After serious and controversial editing, The Antichrist was published in 1895. During this time, Nietzsche wrote several barely coherent letters to some of his acquaintances, in which he ordered Bismarck to be "abolished" and commanded that the German Emperor travel to Rome to be shot.

In 1893, Nietzsche's sister Elisabeth Forster-Nietzsche returned to Germany from an Aryan colony in Paraguay and began to take control of his estate. Upon the death of their mother in 1897, Elisabeth had her brother moved to Weimar, where she openly invited other philosophers and intellectuals of the day to come and observe him.

Nietzsche died of a stroke on August 25, 1900, at the age of 55. It is generally agreed that his long-term madness and degenerative psychological state was caused by syphilis. After his death, Elisabeth collected and edited his notes and published them as The Will to Power in 1901. She also edited Ecce Homo and had it published in 1908. It is generally agreed that Elisabeth's influence here would ensure the initial reception of Nietzsche's thought as being - ironically - Nationalistic and anti-Semitic.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Happy Wittgenstein Day!

On April 26th, 1889, Wittgenstein was born in Vienna. Until today becomes a nationally recognized holiday, you can celebrate on your own in one or more of the following ways:

- Emit an inarticulate sound, and then describe the language-game in which it has a meaning.
- Threaten a philosophical rival with a fire poker.
- Recognize all propositions of philosophy as senseless, transcend them, and then see the world aright.
- Physically and emotionally abuse Austrian schoolchildren.
- Seduce a student of the same sex. Weep when s/he leaves you and/or dies tragically young.
- Go to your friend's house in the middle of the night, wake him up, and make him repeat his philosophy lecture to you.
- Eat Duck-Rabbit.
- Solve all problems of philosophy twice.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Teaching Nietzsche I

Friedrich Nietzsche was born on October 15, 1844, near Leipzig in Prussia., the eldest of three children. His father was a Lutheran pastor and his mother, Franziska, was 18 at his birth. Nietzsche would be three years old at the publication of the Communist Manifesto and the subsequent Revolutions of 1848 in France, Germany, and Hungary. In Germany, these struggles would lead to a political backlash of nationalism.

Nietzsche was something of a child prodigy, especially in music and language. He began attending the University of Bonn in 1864, where he first read Schopenhauer, and began to question his own faith. While he was a student, Prussia waged successful wars against Denmark and Austria. He graduated in 1868, the first year he met Richard Wagner.

After his graduation, Nietzsche was immediately offered a post as a professor of philology at the University of Basil. Two years earlier, Otto von Bismarck had become the Chancellor of the North German Federation; as soon as Nietzsche reached Basil, he renounced his Prussian citizenship. From Wikipedia:

Nevertheless, he served on the Prussian side during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 to 1871 as a medical orderly. In his short time in the military he experienced much, and witnessed the traumatic effects of battle. He also contracted diphtheria and dysentery. Walter Kaufmann speculates that he might also have contracted syphilis along with his other infections at this time and some biographers speculate that syphilis caused his eventual madness, though there is some dispute on this matter.[5] On returning to Basel in 1870, Nietzsche observed the establishment of the German Empire and the following era of Otto von Bismarck as an outsider and with a degree of skepticism regarding its genuineness.
This makes Nietzsche one in a long line of Philosopher-Veterans that includes Socrates, Descartes, and Wittgenstein. However, the war exposed Nietzsche's weak physique; he would be plagued by health problems - some of them crippling - for the rest of his life. These included severe migraines, stomach cramps, intense and long-term bouts of nausea, and temporary blindness.

While at Basel, Nietzsche became closer to Richard Wagner and his wife, Cosima. He would often be found at the Wagner's house, and he became something of a "court philosopher" for them and their many guests. Nietzsche even presented Cosima a draft of his book, the pro-Wagner The Birth of Tragedy as a birthday gift in 1870.

Nietzsche formally published The Birth of Tragedy in 1872, a year after the formation of the new German Empire (Reich) was declared at Versailles and the same year that Bismarck ordered all Jesuits expelled from Germany. The book was met with almost unanimous scorn and ridicule. It was seen as an example of poor scholarship, subjective history, and questionable ethics. One of its few supporters was Richard Wagner; however, this was unsurprising as much of the book was dedicated to praising Wagner's genius. Wikipedia quotes Marianne Cowan:

The Birth of Tragedy presented a view of the Greeks so alien to the spirit of the time and to the ideals of its scholarship that it blighted Nietzsche's entire academic career. It provoked pamphlets and counter-pamphlets attacking him on the grounds of common sense, scholarship and sanity. For a time, Nietzsche, then a professor of classical philology at the University of Basel, had no students in his field. His lectures were sabotaged by German philosophy professors who advised their students not to show up for Nietzsche's courses.
In 1879, due to constant criticism, poor health, and a lack of student interest, Nietzsche lost his job at Basel. He would never work in academia again.

Next Episode: Friedrich abandons his philosophical pessimism and gets the hell out of Germany!