The Concept of the Will to Power

Posted by Anti Citizen One on March 30th, 2008

Nietzsche’s concept of the Will to Power is fundamental to his philosophy and yet often misunderstood. It is also constantly discussed by commentators but they seem to state the history of its interpretation rather than interpreting the idea itself. Indeed, Nietzsche warned against this view of ideas – of collecting and cataloging them:

Everything that philosophers handled over the past thousands of years turned into concept mummies; nothing real escaped their grasp alive. Whenever these venerable concept idolators revere something, they kill it and stuff it […] (Twilight)

Another mistake of commentators is to say what the will to power isn’t – most typically in relation to the will to existence. I will try not to use this method and positively define the Will to Power. Most of the ideas are Nietzsche’s own but I am contemporized them in places.

1) The Will to Power is the force that determines good and evil. (Read in a footnote but I forget where.)

If I may assume for a moment that morality has an earthly origin, what else can we say of its source? The source by definition must be outside morality. Or more directly, the source of morality is immorality. For example if we say “it is always good to tell the truth”, we are in fact lying since we are just inventing a false objective truth.

My chief proposition: there are no moral phenomena, there is only a moral interpretation of these phenomena. This interpretation itself is of extra-moral origin. WtP 258

Personally, I am greatly influenced by the “it-ought” problem. I have not yet seen a satisfactory solution and I provisionally conclude there is no external source of ought statements. I do accept that “ought” statements are necessary. “Ought” statements provided by society may be tolerated but are not truth. I conclude that morality is completely discretionary. If course I would still suffer the consequences if I was caught breaking the law but there is no truth at work here.

Another theme in Nietzsche is the how much primitive superstition is loaded into language. Morality is not justified by language, rather language is shaped by moral judgments. A linguistic argument for morality is, by definition and by virtue of needing outside definition, not objective and therefore not truth. This foreshadows Wittgenstein’s concept of language games. The Will to Power’s voice is the language game.

Values did man only assign to things in order to maintain himself — he created only the significance of things, a human significance! Therefore, calleth he himself “man,” that is, the valuator. (Zarathustra, The Thousand and One Goals)

2) The Will to Power is the force that determines knowledge.

Truth is the kind of error without which a species could not survive. (WtP?)

All philosophers love to argue “logically”. Why logic? Why not rather illogical argument? That accusation we can put to all a-priori discussions. The reason for accepting logic is that it seems to be reflecting in the testimony of our senses (a posterior experience). For example, we generally don’t see things as simultaneously X and not X. Therefore any tendency to argue logically is, in fact, an acceptance of the natural world. To disprove naturalism by logic is self contradictory.

Inductive reasoning has the problem of potential over generalization. We may always discover a counter example to a given rule. As Shaw once said “The golden rule is that there are no golden rules”. But we still hold that concepts such as time, space, causality, substance, properties really exist. The ability to do this has no objective basis but we must impose a schema on sensory experience to understand it. To accept that these concepts are real, we must effectively ignore the problem with inductive reasoning – this is an exercise of the Will to Power. We assign value to sensory phenomena and call them arbitrary things: words, language, computer, screen, blog, etc. Note that none of these concepts have any reality except in our minds. But act as if they do – that is valuation.

Science cannot escape the flaw in inductive reasoning but it attempts to mitigate its effect. So called scientific “dogma” is all conditional knowledge and not objectively true – this is an acceptance of the limitation of induction. Also to use valuations of things but to be economical as possible with valuations is an interesting guideline (also known as Occam’s Razor). But since some valuation is necessary to do any science, objective truth via science is unachievable. But ignore the impossibility of the task and do it anyway – that is Will to Power. This economy of valuation causes science to find a description of reality rather than an explanation of reality. The “explanation” could only exist in our minds.

3) The Will to Power is the abstraction of all other drives e.g. Will to Existence, Will to Knowledge, Will to Virtue, Will to Wealth, Will to Political Influence, etc.

4) Will to Power is a discharge of gathered potential for action. The Will to Power is an abstraction of the source of happiness.

What is happiness? The feeling that power increases, that a resistance is overcome. (The Anti-Christ)

This means we should not seek to abolish resistance to our will since it is necessary for exercise of the will. It is therefore a freedom from ressentiment and slave morality (which states what harmful agents are “bad” and should be eliminated). (Note: happiness is not a proof of truth.)

I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage; I do not account the evil and painful character of existence a reproach to it, but hope rather that it will one day be more evil and painful than hitherto— WtP 382 Emphasis mine.

5) Existentially, the Will to Power is a rejection of nihilism.

Ironically, Nihilism claims “life is meaningless” or more accurately “life should be meaningless”. That is itself a valuation of life and therefore a use of the Will to Power. The flaw in nihilism is it is a valuation of life that says there is no “true” valuation. There fore it is a self contradiction.
6) All life has the Will to Power. Throughout history, only a few individuals have ever exercised it on a grand scale.

People always get worried when there is mention of imposition of views from one charismatic leader. The comparison is always of a totalitarian leader and guilt by association. This is not logical. Let me state: “you may not impose ideas on others” is this not ITSELF an idea? And it is value imposed on modern society? This is a self contradiction!

All art and all creating is a value judgment “The world lacks X and should have X. I will create it.”

If I may talk for a moment beyond Good and Evil, we have to be more questioning of our ideals. And yes I am questioning of my tendency to be questioning!

Most influential sources of western culture: Equality (Christianity), The soul (Plato), Right to divorce (Henry VIII), Pursuit of branded goods (Marketing departments), Environmentalism (???)…

7) In some ways, the act of defining the Will to Power IS the Will to Power – since it is act of valuation.

As Brian was accused in the Life of Brian, I am also guilty: “He’s making it up as he goes along!” That is almost the point of The Will to Power. Also a bit like the Wizard of Oz himself: the will to lie to maintain so called “truth” as true. It also reminds me of the justification used by parents though the ages: “Why? Because I said so.”

The one who exercises the Will to Power is closely related to the concept of the superman.

Innocence is the child, and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self–rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea. (Zarathustra)

Anti Citizen One

PS I am half way though Nietzsche’s book called, confusingly, “The Will to Power”. I will explain why sometime later.

Analysing the ethical debate on HFE

Posted by on March 28th, 2008

It probably suprises some readers that a blog on philosophy and politics, that spends a good deal of time discussing ethics and morality (either meta-ethical or applied) should spend so little time discussing possibly the most contentious ethical debate of the 21st century so far (in the UK at least). I refer of course to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill.

Our silence on this matter, other than a comment by me on the issue of rhetoric in ethical debate, and Ac-1’s review of a public debate on genetic modification, is born out of two things. Firstly the acceptance that quite probably we will disagree, and secondly our mutually large workloads at the moment.

Anyway the debate itself now is getting much more heated across the nation, and the press is in overdrive. Today certain papers have a selection of contrasting public opinions on the debate, and from these I have decided to provide a descriptive analysis of the ethical debates taking place around this proposed legislation. As descriptive ethics is an empirical method there will be no value-judgements made as regards whether these proposals are morally right or wrong.

Who Is Right?

First of all obviously this debate has very well defined positions for and against, and indeed the more well-defined (and therefore more deeply entrenched) these viewpoints are, the more contentious and “nasty” the debate tends to be. Both sides then, those who support embyro research and those who do not, define themselves not only with regard to their own beliefs but also with regard to the beliefs of their opponents. Thus an arbitrary act of splitting occurs and the debate becomes one of binary opposites the good versus the bad – only from the panoromic view of the descriptive ethicist (that I am adopting here) these values are empty; for both sides naturally view themselves as being morally good in comparison to their morally deviant opponents.

Some examples from correspondances:

The main contents of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill reveal to us the level of ungodliness to which this nations leaders have sunk.

and alternatively

Religion has always regarded science as its enemy, as the more we learn, the more difficult it is to keep faith.

Thus on the one hand the opponents of the HFE bill are able to define their morally righteous position in contrast to the morally decadant supporters of it. And alternatively one supporter of the bill characterises the views of the opposition as the death throws of outdated superstition. For the opponents of the bill who are religiously motivated the bills supporters are attacking the creation of God (the ultimate error) and are advocating an “unholy gospel” that is becoming an”evil religion in itself” or in other words the fundamental ‘godly’ values that underpin society are being attacked and thus society itself is in collapse. By perfect contrast one supporter of the bill who views all opponents as religious “loonies“, whilst admitting that science is neither perfect nor always succesful suggests it is nonetheless (in comparison to religion) in the vanguard of human progress for “without it mankind will only stagnate.”

First Analytical Conclusion Our first conclusion must be that from their respective positions, the values of the opposite is always incoherent. Thus one is either ungodly (aka evil) or one is superstitious (i.e. stupid). The moral rectitude of the one is only enhanced by the faults of the other. But from our panoramic viewpoint there is a serious problem, who defines Truth and Progress? In comparison to “God’s truth” all human truth seems irrelevant; or in comparison to metaphysical concepts the technological advances and innovations made possible by the natural sciences make all other “Progress” seem inadequate.

Thus already we should observe that there are mutually incompatible value systems in place, a difference as vast as binary form is from decimal.

Types of Argument For

Lets now look at the various types of argument that are being employed by either side – for when we consider the variety of these we should also be able to observe the different language games being employed.

Those who argue for the HFE proposals fall into three categories: the argument from scientific progress, the argument from scientific results, the argument for scientific method.

The argument from scientific progress. This argument is broadly deontological and objective. It argues that science is the best means we have of observing and understanding the material world and that the increase in scientific knowledge is commeansurable with human progress. Ergo if human progress is good, anything that increases scientific knowledge is good. As a result the ethical objections to embryo research (whether on religious grounds or not) are either a) irrelevant considerations altogether (scientific knowledge is always good) or b) of secondary concern (scientific knowledge is neutral it is its applications that may be morally evaluated).

This viewpoint I would suggest is the official scientific view (i.e. that of the professional institutional scientist.)

The argument from scientific results. This type of argument is broadly teoleological and consequentialist and often Personalist. Its first concern is end-results, and may be characterised by the simplistic formula “the ends justify the means.” This does not necessarily imply that “anything goes” but it measures the moral or ethical value of scientific research by its results. Again it is very “progress” orientated (and thus subjective in that respect). But interestingly it is also a type of argument that anticipates a retrospective justification (it is both forward and backward looking). As one correspondent argued:

Science may not always get it right, or produce the results we expect

but, the implication is, without trying we would not know. The logic of this argument is fairly straightforward, the scientific method identifies a problem (in this case incurable illnesses) it proposes a solution (genetic modification) and establishes research protocols (stem cell research) and lists its requirements (embryos – among other things). Scientific researchers then propose a hypotheses, anticipates results, and justifies its research with expectant hope of success. It is not simply advocating tinkering around with a few embryos to see what happens. It has a specific telos/end in view. In this case the means of curing various thusfar incurable illnesses. (Incidentally when such research suceeds it provides evidence and rhetorical weight to the more objective views concerning the rectitude or primacy of the scientific method).

This sort of argument is also Personalist and in the forum of general debate can also become emotivist. It is important to point out that the actual scientific reasons for conducting this research are not personalist or emotivist (in general- though I would be suprised if this were universally true of all research). Therefore Personalist and Emotivist arguments are often employed by those scientists and non-scientists alike who stand to benefit from the success of the research.

Why should our son be denied a possible cure, remission or alleviatio of the chronic illness that threatens his life…?

and

As someone who could potentially derive great benefit from embryo research, I find it distressing to read that some… are against it.

also

I’m disgusted with those who are opposing further embyro research. Why? If your wife was, like mine, suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, you would think very differently on this matter, as any timy glimmer of hope would be a godly thing.

Although many scientists will point to the possible benefits of research and thus would employ teleological arguments, ordinarily such expectations would be based only on the objective beliefs that a) science is the best way to proceed, and b) that it has a proven track record.

This type of argument though is more strongly found in non-scientific supporters, those who stand to gain from any medical benefits procured by the research.

The argument for scientific method. This argument similar to the first argument is Objective and Deontological in nature, and indeed much like the argument from scientific progress it argues that the scientific method provides the best means for observing and understanding the world, and thus for producing results to encountered problems. But this type of argument can proceed beyond scientific practise into a form of scientism or scientific chauvenism, and can argue that its methods alone are the benchmark by which it should be judged and not alternative standards i.e. morality, religion, pseudoscience etc.

This type of arguing, generally found outside of the proffessional scientist class, has a tendency to focus not on the benefits or merits of its methods, aims, or results, but on the failings or inadequacies of its alternatives. Thus two types of logical fallacy tend to creep into these arguments, the argumentum ad hominem and the argument from authority. The best way in which to describe the approach of these arguments is to use a sporting cliche “playing the man, not the ball” in other words arguing on grounds other than the facts of the matter. Some examples are:

We oppose the Roman Catholic Church’s narrow minded, dogmatic objection

and

our religious leaders are attempting to destroy advances in medical science

or

I object to its disingenous propaganda and the sinister pressure it’s applying to elected politicians… If the Cardinals and bishops dont like living in a liberal, tolerant, progressive state, they should relocate to one where the prevailing views are more attuned to theirs…

must not impose a restriction on the majority of people who do not agree with their beliefs.

Conclusion on the arguments for

The first argument, that scientific research should be permitted despite external evalutaions, because all science adds to the pool of human knowledge and contributes to our progress, is a self-justifying argument. It makes sense from within the scientific language game, for it defines itself as rational and progressive. The only problem is that terms and concepts such as progress do not necessarily equate with truth or goodness. All three terms are intepreted and valued in different ways in different contexts. Does an increase in knowledge equate with progress or equate with goodness, and how do we judge if this is so?

The second argument the teleological one seems to me the most sensible – in terms of its not being self-referential or overtly chauvenistic. Its premise is simple, judge us by our deeds. Thus it can argue that certain scientific research is morally justifiable on account of its long-term or eventual benefits. There are however two caveats to this type of argument. i) consequentialist arguments assume that we can know what the consequences will be – can we be certain that the ends indeed justify the means – what if the research ultimately fails to find any cure? ii) Also such argumentation could be used to justify any amount of atrocious behaviour (depending on your perspective), i.e. the atomic bomb: the death of hundreds of thousands of “innocent” civilian lives at Hiroshima and Nagasaki ultimately hastened the end of the war and thus it is assumed fewer military casualties. Could one not from this example justify pre-emptive military strikes against any percieved threat?

The second part of the second argument, the personalist one, is for me a very understandable approach. The gung ho mentality of “he who dares wins” is particularly resonant. Nobody particularly likes illness or suffering least of all if the subject of that illness or suffering is the self or a close or loved one. But further to this general dislike of illness and suffering, it becomes particularly unpalatable when we discover that there is nothing medical science can do about it. Thus when research proposals dangle tantalizingly on a stick above those who are desperate and provides them with hope then a personalist and emotivist motivation for supporting those research proposals are understandable. But there are certain issues that need to be discussed – a personalist approach could be viewed by some as a selfish one (albeit understandable) and one may be inclined to ask about proportionality and perspective. There is also the concern that in the light of personalist motivations the objectivity of that person may be compromised – if we cannot be certain of the success of a research project is it wise to invest so much emotive hope in it or to arouse such emotive expectations for it? Finally there is the argument that in philosophical and rational debate there is no place for emotivist arguments whatsoever – is a consequentialist appeal about possible benefits an appropriate method of discussion?

Finally the third argument for is that from the scientific method. This tends to be more rhetorical and chauvenistic than the other arguments, and has a danger of descending into any number of logical fallacies. But if one was arguing on the grounds of proven track records why shouldnt one argue from authority? Or if one was absolutely convinced that the origins of the fault of the opposition view lay in the persons or motives behind that view (in this case the perception that the Church’s authority is being challenged) why shouldn’t these contextual pieces of information be presented?

Types of Argument Against

I am going to characterise the arguments against the HFE as being Catholic. By this I do not mean that they are solely Roman Catholic or exclusively religious, but that they are universal (the greek word being catholicos). And by universal I mean that most of the arguments against are very similar. The main one is the argument from the right of the unborn child. This argument takes two explicit forms firstly the cryto-religious view that has recourse either to notions of the soul, or to a view of life starting at conception. This form of argument is mostly Deontological and Objective, it argues that the embryo is a human being and has all the dignity and expectation of rights that any other human being (post-natal) has, including the right to life. That right to life – which in the religious language game is either a natural right or a right that is bestowed by God – is an absolute right, thus the opposition to the HFE bill is an opposition to the means irrespective of the ends. Thus a typicl expression of this view from the correspondances goes:

The creation of animal/human hybrids would be highly immoral and unethical. Even if a case could be proved that such a hybrid creatio had resulted in cures for diseases, this could never be justified since human lives should never be sacrificed.

Thus in this type of argument the operative view is that the embryo is a human being in essence if not wholly recognisably so in substance.

The second type of argument against HFE is curious insofar as it seems to straddle both Deontological and Teoleological categories. This is commonly known as the argument from potential. In classical embyro research and abortion dilemmas it establishes the objective rule that it is wrong to kill a human embryo because it has the potential to become a fully rights-laden human being. Furthermore some emotivist variations of this argument beg the question, what sort of a potential human being are we aborting – could it have become the scientist to discover the cure to “x”? This type of argument naturally also then has a sort of Consequentialist flavour to it, although it is more open ended than most consequentialist arguments as there is little way of knowing what type of a person the human embryo will become (in terms of personality and achievements to mankind) – indeed the same argument could be used bizarelly to justify abortion ‘just imagine what sort of monster we might be allowing to be born?’

With regards the HFE bill though this second type of argument is emerging a strongly rhetorical one. On the one hand there are those accusations that the research is of “Frankenstein” proportions. There are the accusations (false the scientists claim) that there will be half-human half-animal hybrid or chimeras created. But a further example of a Consequentialist-type argument is the speculation known as the slippery slope effect. What some critics of the bill ask about the possibility that one day scientists will allow or attempt to let the hybrid embryo go full term?

Conclusion on the arguments against

Just as with the arguments for, the arguments against tend to be deeply entrenched and reliant upon additional underlying values. In this case quite often the arguments rely upon a view of what constitutes a human being, or a view on when life begins. It is not an exclusively religious point of view either relying upon metaphysical notions such as the soul. For example there is an opinion described as longitudinal form that argues that “life” is not easily categorised into development stages – at least not so easily as to be able to take any stage out of context. Rather this view argues one must consider life as an organic continuum, and realise that the stages such as blastocyst, embryo, baby, prebubescent, adolescent, adult, geriatric etc. can only be observed in isolation and out of context. One does not step out of one developmental stage and then enter another, so much as morph from one to another. This argument proposes that the unborn child then as part of this longitudinal continuum should if any human is to be said to have rights, have them also from the moment of conception.

There is interestingly an absence of personalist arguments against the HFE legislation. This is not to say that such arguments do not exist, but that more often than not they would be considered less relevant than personalist arguments for. An example would be those who have lost children in the womb by miscarriage or abortion, or those who are unable to have children who feel that the harvesting and termination of so many emrbyo’s is wasteful.

Overall Conclusion the clash between language games

In conclusion I would just like to make some final observational statements. It should from the above analysis be fairly clear that in arguments for and against there is both a comparitive element of self-justification and a variety of differing emphases on means and ends – not to mention types of argument employed.

But it is this element of comparitive self-justification that interests me the most for it seems to confirm for me a theory of cognitive relativism (this is an observational theory and has no relation to moral relativism). The form of cognitive relatvism that it seems to fit best is in my opinion an ethical version of language games theory.

In this hypotheses, there is an action or a proposition with certain aims and methods – in our case embryo research. In order to enable these actions legislation must be passed, and accordingly a debate about the merits or lack thereof of the proposed action must be held. In such a situation it is feasible that everybody involved in the debate may agree that the proposed actions are justifiable and the consensus may be that it is the right thing to do. Thus the proposed action is approved of and is described in terms of moral or ethical approval. It is even possible that such approval can then be transformed into an ethical standard, held up as an example of the right that should be emulated, and this in turn can then transform into ethical propositions i.e. ought statements.

But there are also circumstances (as here) where there is neither agreement nor any reasonable grounds to believe that consensus may be reached. It appears that those who are for and those who are against the proposed action (HFE bill) are so well-set in their beliefs that what we have may be described as an ethical dilemma.

What is characteristic is that both sides will self-referentially i.e. for their own reasons and motives adjudge themselves to be holding the right or morally correct position. But furthermore they will also define their righteousness by comparison with the opposite view which will be described and characterised as everything that the right is not.

Interestingly though for our analysis it must be said that in this case (as in so many seriously contrasting either/or cases) an ethical dilemma is more of a clash of mutually incoherent forms of life (worldviews).

The Church is putting the ‘interests’ of clumps of cells, with no consiousness, brain or organs, ahead of human beings who are sentient and suffering…

That comment by a support of the bill neatly sums up the irreconciliable difference between the two forms of life that clash and correspond to the for and against arguments in the HFE bill. Those who support the bill either de-emphasize or outright deny the humanity of the embryo, whereas those against the bill see the embryo as fully human in essence and potential. Those who support the bill deny or limit the claims of the embryo to any rights when compared to the fully formed adult, those against the bill believe those rights to be applicable either by necessity or by extension.

Both the fors and the against use strongly deontological and objective arguments, or if not manifest in the arguments themselves these tendencies can be found in the underlying assumptions of both be it the materialist view of the merits of scientific method and its sole claim to progress, or the view that life begins at conception.

Both the fors and against use broadly consequentialist views and both suffer from the same potential uncertainties that plague such arguments. The potentiality of an embyro is undermined by the large uncertainty that it would ever attach to the wall of the womb, develop full-term, live long after birth etc. Similarly for all the hope and expectation attached to the proposed research there is no copperfastened guaruntee that it will suceed, or that any of the possible cures posited will be attained.

In a descriptive overview such as this it would be inappropriate to make value-laden judgements and promote one argument over another. Thus I will avoid any prescriptive propositions concerning the actual case itself. But three things do occur to me that are worthy of note.

1- the alienating danger of personalist and emotivist arguments – In the HFE scenario much is at stake for its supporters and its detractors not least in terms of credibility, but most of all in terms of results. Personalist and emotivist arguments though I would not exclude them as irrational or less-rational than other detached arguments are nonetheless inflammatory and potentially dangerous rhetorical tools. It is not in the interests of humanity as a whole for society to fragment and to alienate groups of each other on account of mutually incompatible or incoherent beliefs. To falsely characterise research scientists as evil-doers hell bent on creating monsters or to attach blame to the religious opponents of such research as the cause of much unneccessary suffering -particularly when the outcome is always less then certain – is to benefit nobody. Thus in the field of rational ethical debate a certain clinical detachment would be advisable as would be the self-regulatory limitation of rhetoric for political reasons masquerading as philosophical debate.

2- A step-back from the cauldron of debate ought to be a necessary part of clinical detachment, and the recent arguments concerning the language used to describe animal/human hybrids needs to be reviewed. As I mentioned in an earlier post of mine, it needs be noticed that the terms of the legislation and thus attacks against the terms of the legislation should not be interpreted as attacks against the research proposal and the researchers themselves even though the moral position may not be altogether different. Thus although the proposal of the researchers may be to use the husk of an animal egg as a receptacle for a human nucleus (with an animal to human ration of 1:99 if not greater) the wording of the legislation itself is vague enough that the ‘spectre’ of a 50/50 animal/human hybrid is sufficient enough in the minds of its opponents to warrant mentionand criticism. Thus the proposed law and not the proposed research is not being attacked.

3- Thus the relative strengths and weaknesses of the consequentialist argument must be mutually appreciated. For although the supporters of the HFE bill are strongly critical of the slippery-slope style argument that condemns the current research proposals on the basis of its potential extreme manifestations i.e. the possibility that one day a 50/50 chimera may be created and allowed to develop full-term – the supporters of the HFE bill are also reliant upon an inverse formula of the slippery-slope argument (what I would call the idealised mountain-top) by having constant recourse to the possible (as opposed probable which has less rhetorical strength) benefits such research could accrue.

However although this style of argument may be valid – no matter how irritating the rhetoric employed, once more clinical detachment is advisable. To condemn the current research scientists and their proposals on account of future faults is unfair, unscientific, obscurantist and an example of “playing the man not the ball” – but it is similarly mistaken to expect that such a slippery slope argument not be employed when it would be unfair to demand of these particular research scientists to make promises on behalf of all subsequent scientists and research projects in the future. Although 50/50 human animal chimeras are not the desired telos of this research it is valid to be concerned by virtue of procedural deterioration that one day this may be the desired telos. A procedural deterioration being where a boundary or a taboo has been crossed further encroachments inevitably entail as the shocking effect recedes.

It is hard as a cognitive relativist at times not to despair that mutual incoherence will ever be overcome and to believe that people/groups will always shout past each other on account of too strongly held underlying views. But it is somewhat conciliatory to believe and hope that we should have the freedom to disagree and debate from our own language game/forms of life perspectives in these ways.

An aphorism on morality

Posted by on March 20th, 2008

Friedrich Nietzsche begged us to look beyond the traditional dichotomy and prejudice of good and evil. Our traditional means of viewing the world involve arbitrary splits; creating them and us.

What we do in dreams we also do when we are awake: we invent and fabricate the person with whom we associate – and immediately forget we have done so. aphorism 138

Out of a desire for moral coherence and convenience we retrospectively and proactively justify our subjective truths my making them into universals.

Our vanity would have just that which we do best count as that which is hardest for us. The origin of many a morality. aphorism 143

In short, systems of morals are only a sign-language of the emotions. aphorism 187

And so he is led to say:

What is done out of love always takes place beyond good and evil. aphorism 153

The medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart similarly taught that the just man does just deeds, but the doing of just deeds does not make a just man.

Whoever loves justice remains so fully established in it that what he loves becomes his own essence. Justi vivent in aeturnum

The just man does not seek support elsewhere, he does not let his acts be determined by external precepts. When you conform with exterior laws, your acts are merely legal. The just man who acts out of intimate assimilation with Justice “is”.

The path, Meister Eckhart preaches, is detachment, or releasement from distinctions, names, oppositions.

Whatever bears a name can be juxtaposed or be compared with something that has another name.

Indeed, before there were creatures, God was not yet God, but he was what he was. But when creatures came to be and recieved their created being, then God was no longer God in himself, rather he was God in the creatures…

Thus we say that man must be so poor that he is not and has no place wherein God could act. Where man still preserves some place in himself, he preserves distinction. This iswhy I pray God to rid me of God, for my essential being is above God insofar as we comprehend God as the principle of creatures. Blessed are the Poor

Thus Eckhart asks us to live life without a why, to go beyond good and evil, beyond the distinctions of creator and created.

If you seek God for the sake of a foundation, Eckhart says, if you look for God even for the sake of God himself then ‘you behave as though you transformed God into a candle in order to find something with it; and when one has found what one looks for one throws away the candle’ Reiner Schurmann quoting Eckhart’s Omne datum Optimum.

So Nietzsche and Eckhart in terms of a moral discourse both point towards detachment or releasement, the living without a why, the going beyond good and evil, the loss of the prejudices of Binary Opposition.

Those who seek something with their works, those who act for a why, are serfs and mercenaries. Eckhart, Justus in perpetuam vivet.

It is interesting to note that this wisdom of letting-be is to be found across the continents and the ages, in the context of Nietzsche’s post-christian paradigm, Eckharts via negativa, and also in the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu’s book of the way. The second ideogram of the Tao is remerkable in its resemblance both to the teachings of the above masters and the analysis of Jacques Derrida and the Post-Structuralists.

When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly. When people see some things as good, other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other. Difficult and easy support each other. Long and short define each other. High and low depend on each other. Before and after follow each other.

Therefore the Master acts without doing anything and teaches without saying anything. Things arise and he lets them come; things disappear and he lets them go. He has but doesn’t posess, acts but doesn’t expect. When his work is done, he forgets it. That is why it lasts forever. Tao Te Ching ~ 2

Public Debate on Genetic Modification

Posted by Anti Citizen One on March 12th, 2008

I just attended a public debate on genetic modification. It went into more technical depth than I was expecting – this was a pleasant surprise. Since the panel were mainly medical professionals or scientific journalists, there was no instant rejection of genetic modification. This allowed what I consider a rational discussion of current and future possibilities. Of course, I am aware that some hold the view that genetic modification is not rational or moral. Various terms in the debate are emotionally charged and usually impairs rational discussion.

A few interesting points:

When asked, most of the audience would not allow direct genetic modification to screen for eye colour of children – but we do this passively anyway because we (usually) have free selection of our mate. This allows crude selection of genes that give certain aesthetic characteristics e.g. eye colour, height, beauty. (Sexual selection theory)

What is the difference between genetic modification and eugenics? Current medical practice is based on informed decisions by individuals rather than state compulsion.

One opinion: as long as it is safe, it should be allowed. Government interference should be minimized.

One observation: medical ethics are mostly concerned with the good of an individual. Most questions about the long term effect on society were not discussed in depth. One valid point was genetic modification was no different to medicine generally. Medicine has radically extended life spans and changed society. To rule out genetic manipulation would be inconsistent with precedent.

My view: people should have maximal personal responsibility. But I suspect most or all (including me) would be greatly burdened to take responsibility for this freedom. “…[S]uch a destiny of a task compels one to run into the sunlight at every opportunity to shake off a heavy, all-too-heavy seriousness.” (Nietzsche.) For example, some cultures would select male children because they are considered “more useful”. (An untimely thought: could a very patient terrorist insert harmful genes into a target population? You heard it here first.) If we had wide free choice, would children all look like celebrites (and out of date ones at that)? I don’t want some special interest group to mess up the gene pool, thank you very much.

Anti Citizen One

Science and Deadly Sins

Posted by Anti Citizen One on March 10th, 2008

I encountered a blog posting about the “myth” of the underdog against scientific dogma.

We love stories like this; in our culture we love the underdog, who sticks to his or her guns, in spite of heavy opposition. In this narrative, we have heroes, villains, and a famous, brilliant scientist proven wrong.

I’m sure you could pick out instances in science history where this story is true, but more often it is not. You wouldn’t know this from the pages of our major news media though; in fact you’d probably get the impression that the underdog narrative is the way science works. Michael White

Not to say that it never happens. The first example of an underdog that occurs to me is John Harrison and his solution to the longitude measurement problem. Interesting though.

In related news, Monsignor Gianfranco Girotti was quoted by the newspaper L’Osservatore Romano suggesting seven new and updated deadly sins. I have only seen the list of sins and not any iterpretation, which would be probably more revealing… But this list was:

  • Environmental pollution
  • Genetic manipulation
  • Accumulating excessive wealth
  • Inflicting poverty
  • Drug trafficking and consumption
  • Morally debatable experiments
  • Violation of fundamental rights of human nature

I mention this because aspects of science appears at least twice. I will just make a few comments on exceptions and contradictions in these guidelines.

Environmental pollution: I hope they don’t mean all environmental pollution as that would be rather – – fatal. For thousands of years we have been using fire, and later power stations to cook and heat our homes. This all releases CO2 which, in a naive reading, would be sinful. We may excuse this one of they mean excessive pollution – but who defines excessive? (Technically breathing releases CO2 – do we have to stop breathing?)

Genetic manipulation: This one falls into the same trap as environmental pollution – selective breeding is arguably a form of genetic manipulation. Presumably cats, dogs, cows, etc have morally acceptable origins. If we want to assume unawareness of genetics excepted these activities, we might ask could creation of new domestic species using genetics be moral? Why are the methods of selective breeding and genetic modification treated differently when they both lead to the same outcome?

Drug trafficking and consumption I assume they do not mean all drugs – since wine is used in Catholic ceremonies. What drugs do they mean? Illegal drugs? Slight problem: different countries have different laws and also laws change.

Morally debatable experiments A few possibilities –
Hwang Woo Suk faking his results (this probably breaks one of the ten commandments but not of the original deadly sins)
various governments and companies experimenting on unwilling or unwitting human subjects.
animal vivisection is objectionable to some people.
experiments involving pregnancy or death – I expect this is the churches primary concern.

I don’t have an automatic objection to this point except perhaps its vagueness.

Anti Citizen One

PS I am just off to finish my genetic/psychotropic drug/massively polluting mad science project that is going to make me a ton of money….

Unusual Activity

Posted by Anti Citizen One on March 6th, 2008

You see hundreds of houses every day. What if one has unusual activity and seems suspicious?

Terrorists live within our communities, planning attacks and storing chemicals. If you’re suspicious of a property where there’s unusual activity that doesn’t fit normal day-to-day life, the police need to know. Let experienced officers decide what action to take.

Just kidding! Those are not my words.

The top two paragraphs are actually part of a new counter terrorist campaign by the London police. Apart from reading like: “don’t think, let the state think for you!” and “anyone different to you might be a terrorist!” it also reminds me of a poster in the TV comedy Red Dwarf:

Betray your family and friends. Fabulous prizes to be won!

Nice,

Anti Citizen One

PS If anyone is weird enough to start reading this from the bottom, you know who you are(!!), you are probably less likely to think I have gone crazy with the start of this blog post…

Flood of News

Posted by Anti Citizen One on March 5th, 2008

Pro-intelligent design activists are attempting to seek protection of their views in the classroom.

The institute also has been pushing an Academic Freedom Petition, which pushes for an academic freedom act, which says that evolution should be taught with its “strengths and weaknesses” discussed and that teachers should have the “right and freedom to present scientific information pertaining to the full range of scientific views regarding biological and chemical evolution.” Orlando Sentinel

What they seem to miss is the intelligent design is certainly a view but not a scientific view.

Not that all religious movements are clock stoppers. It appears that the Vatican’s new best buddy is Galileo: they plan to erect a statue in his honour. They could have been more contemporary and erected a statue of Darwin but I guess they still get (occasionally unwarranted) criticism for the Galileo affair.

I was reading in the IT news site The Register, “Malaysian woman jailed for worshipping teapot” – you might wonder what the IT angle is on this story? To quote them: “Who cares? You get one chance in your career to write the Malaysian teapot-worship headline, and by the Lord Harry and Saint George this hack wasn’t going to let it pass.”

On my recent theme of happiness being a cause or an effect (or perhaps neither), a study conducted by Edinburgh University concluded that happiness is largely determined by genetics. Remember that if you are into hedonism. 🙂

Lastly, not a news item but a quote (and perhaps a motto for naturalists)

“Well, who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?” Groucho Marx

Anti Citizen One

More thoughts on Alien Philosophy

Posted by on March 2nd, 2008

Some time ago I posted on extraterrestrial philosophy, these were mere speculations as to how other ‘cultures’ and lifeforms may view themselves, the universe and its great questions.

In the introduction to a book I’m reading at the moment came a nice little passage that sets the scene for both existential and postmodern thought.

In a passage that has always remained with me, the young Friedrich Nietzsche envisaged the following scene. Once upon a time, on a little star in a distant corner of the universe, clever little animals invented for themselves proud words, like truth and goodness. But soon enough the little star cooled, and the little animals had to die and with them their proud words. But the universe, never missing a step, drew another breath and moved on, dancing to its cosmic dance across endless skies. – Philosophy & Theology by John Caputo

I dont instantly recognise the words of Nietzsche here and where they came from (perhaps AC-1 can be of some help), but the influence of Nietzsche is unimistakeable.

Leaving aside any indepth argument or discussion on this matter, the following thoughts occured to me.

Quite clearly the first target of Nietzsche here is the notions of Objective morality and truth – that something is absolutely always the case at all times and in all places. Secondly (as is the case with Nietzsche) it is that the whole basis of such speculation, including specifically terminological distinctions such as good or bad, true or false, are quite subjective human inventions.

A petty aside may ask, isnt such speculation upon the speculation an equally subjective invention? Such a thought could lead to a reductio ad absurdum or perhaps even to claim that the whole idea is self-refuting. But I wont get into that maze for now!

With regards then Alien Philosophy it occured to me that this analysis of the inventiveness, not to say arbitrariness of human moral and epistemic speculation is rather important. Lets assume there is intelligent life elsewhere in the universe and that much like us they are interested in philosophical speculation. Lets also assume that much like us they have not (despite the possible existence of many Wittgenstein types) have resolved all the questions that philosophy raises.  Would they have what Derrida called binary opposites built in to our thoughts like Good/Bad, True/False and so on? Would they similarly have a notion of objectivity, or would they have their own ‘antichrist’ (as Nietzsche famously labelled himself) debunking the lofty and idealistic claims to objectivity of thought?

And finally in an open-ended and therefore irritating question, lets say we discovered countless extraterrestrial cultures all of whom had similar philosophical speculations and all of whom struggled with the idea of objectivity… what would it take to convince a Nietzcshe that such an objectivity existed?

If we encountered a large number of alien cultures that believed in objective moral values and truths, would – by virtue of their number and perhaps rhetoric – we be consoled into accepting objectivism because they too could believe in it? Or would we be always searching for the exception to the rule – which lets face it when confronted with a vast expanding universe and a near infinite number of possibilities (not to mention parallel and multiverse possibilities) – could provide us with the exception we seek?

Or is it just as likely that even if all these alien cultures believed in objectivity we would just be compelled to extend Nietzsches analysis to all of them – that the “delusion” could be bigger than we all imagined?

I provide no answers. And find but some consolation in the Indian philosopher Samsara’s principle that “what seems, could be” – as unconvinced of objectivity (as opposed to subjectivity) I may be can I really conclusively refute it for now and for all times?

History: Science or Propaganda?

Posted by on March 2nd, 2008

It is as if the capricious gods of rhetoric and irony smiled upon me this morning when I opened the paper and read an article by the never boring (but only occasionally sensible) Peter Hitchens concerning education and the teaching of history. Entitled “So what was your child taught today, sympathy for Mr Hitler?“Hitchens laments the “slow-motion national suicide” that is taking place in the history classes of our childrens schools.

His ire is directed at a worksheet intended for 13 year olds being taught about the Spanish Armada, who are asked to mentally role-play being a Spanish sailor about to set sail, to explore the motivations for the would be invasion of England and to elucidate upon these said motives by drawing up an “anti-english” poster. Further to his already ludicrous outrage, apparently the poor children also had to draw a spider chart illustrating at least four reasons why Spain was angry enough with England that they invasion could have been considered.

What is wrong with this? What indeed is Hitchens question, which he then boldly expounds to us; it is because if we swap the words Spanish with German, the event Armada for the Blitz and then finally Spanish sailor for Luftwaffe pilot we shouldcatch his drift.

Leaving aside the fallacies of the average argumentum ad hitlerum not to mention the barely comparable circumstances of the these two historical threats to England, what else is wrong with Hitchen’s rant. Unable to better himself in presenting the absurdity of his own argument I shall simply leave you to read his words and insightful analysis.

Now, I have actually checked to see how Spanish children are taught the same subject, and I have established beyond doubt that they are not asked to draw an anti-Spanish poster.

Not so long ago, they were taught that Francis Drake, that hero of my youth, was a wicked pirate.

Good for the Spanish.

They at least understand that national history, taught to the young in schools, is the lore of the tribe, the basis of our identity and pride.

It is not a matter of seeing all sides of the argument or working out why other people might have wanted to occupy, plunder and enslave us, as if that wasn’t pretty obvious.

I am in awe at the breathtaking arrogance of the man (ad hominem aside) that history is the “lore of the tribe”, lest anyone need that to be translated for them, I believe he is saying that history is propaganda. That the “basis of our identity and pride” is the myth of our national history, and not actually an account (albeit subjective) of a series of events and motivations.

Pupils are exposed to conflicting scraps of information, grandly called “sources”, and asked to make up their own minds – which means they are robbed of pride in their nation, and left confused and vulnerable to the BBC’s anti-British propaganda and the Leftist monopoly that runs the universities.

Oh I see, so there is something wrong in allowing pupils to “make up their own minds” or in other words to think for themselves?

I’m afraid as Peter Hitchens is well aware (hence the vicious nature of this diatribe) the only propaganda that is taking place here is the notion that recieved historical accounts are fixed, accurate, unbiased, precise and in no need of deconstructive analysis. I guess the nature of his arguing is so vicious purely because the very myths that he extols are the ones used constantly to justify and uphold the status quo of this rotten country that he so admires.

In my previous post Renaissance musings I declare that the postmodern slant on history is one of its great gifts to modern scholarship although by no means does it deserve all the credit for the Scientific method also provides the noble tools of falsification and verification. Tools that when applied sensibly (and as a postmodernist may request sceptically too), allow for us to present history as a reasoned account of events, motives, and causal connections and not simply the self-justifying myths that the establishment wants us to hear and know and think to be true.

Renaissance musings

Posted by on March 1st, 2008

It wasnt until the 19th century and the post-enlightenment proliferation of scholarly acedemic and reductionist study of varying topics that we find the “renaissance” being defined and described.

To this day if one were to conduct a ‘vox pops’ survey on the streets quite probably the majority of people when asked about what the Renaissance was, would (if they had any knowledge of it) refer to some vague notion of it being European, humanist, and progressive.  And those with perhaps a greater awareness of socio-cultural history would probably be able to put a place and time to the term – saying probably Italy + 15th Century = Renaissance.

Indeed the term ‘Renaissance’ generally evokes the image of Italian culture. architecture and characters of that period, Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Gallileo etc. For me personally I always have visions of the Italian City-states, and the flowering of republican democracy.

But of course the Renaissance was much more than just that. It was a time of political and religious upheaval, it saw the rebirth of humanistic philosophy. The dawn of the modern scientific age took place alongside the birth of modern european imperialism, capitalism and all its ‘darker’ relations such as slavery, colonialism, the exploitation of resources.

But funnily enough the Renaissance is a myth, insofar as it wasnt a single cultural, or geographical (or for that matter historically) specific event. Of course we could describe culture (particularly european) as undergoing a seismic shift in capability and ambition, that is not deniable. But what is questionable is the story of what the Renaissance was, the myth and interestingly enough as I referred to at the beginning, the idea of the Renaissance as a period of european cultural, political and scientific flourishing was only conceived of in the 19th century.

Changes in perspective means that we are now questioning the recieved knowledge of the renaissance (or its own account of itself). An example of postmodern historical deconstruction (that has in my opinion been valuable).

There are two things that interest me and perhaps prompted me to post on this. The first was the view that a culture has of itself (and how this fluctuates according to variations in accepted values). The second was the two-way global scale of the renaissance, obviously the European domination of the world, but also the non-european catalysts for this change in capablity and ambition.

I was prompted to muse on the first of these themes by the 19th century Swiss academic Jacob Burckhardt who in 1860 published The Civilisation of the Renaissance in Italy. In this seminal work he argued that the peculiarities of the Italian political environment in the late 1500’s led to the creation of a specifically modern individuality. “Man became a spiritual individual” with the revival of classical antiquity, the greater range of explorers and an increasing unease with organised religion. This was compared critically with the lack of individual awareness that Burckhardt defined as characteristic of the middle ages where:-

Man was conscious of himself only as a member of a race, people, party, family or corporation.

In other words pre-15th century man was a tribal and herd-like animal without any powerful sense of personal identity.

What is interesting from the postmodern perspective is that a deeper study of Burckhardt or his French contemporary Jules Michelet (who drew similar conclusions) is that they were ideologically motivated individuals. Their respective historical metanarratives were written as both an affirmation of enlightenment ideals and as a defence against the collapse of certain of its principles (for example the re-establishment of the monarchy in France and the collapse of the republic). In other words, their account of the Renaissance (of what it was) and their account of its importance relied more upon their interpretation of historical facts presented as a justification for their political, philosophical and religious ideals for the 19th century. Consequently until comparitively recently their “version” of the Renaissance has been the iconic one familiar to us all, but it would seem is also less than accurate.

An interesting aside, as an existentialist reading the above quote of Berckhardts describing Medieval culture, one wonders whether anything much has changed? How many people in the present day define themselves in accordance with the expectations or demands of others? (Refer to AC-1’s post on advertising for some examples of modern herd mentality).

Finally the second point raises some interesting musings. The Renaissance as a non-specific period of cultural flourishing was indebted to external non-modern and non-european influences. There are too many to list them all, so just two shall suffice for now.

Schools and the idea that education should be available for all had their origins in renaissance humanist thinking. But the motivation wasn’t (as we would suppose) to broaden the mind of the individual in order to question themselves and society around them – although this was a desired aim. The reality was learning by rote and vocational based education preparing students for employment – little more than worker-mould factories!

A different example (and one that endlessly fascinates me) that had widespread ramifications for the development of science and economics was the introduction of Hindu-Arabic numerals, the discovery or appropriation of the “zero” and the rise of modern mathematics.

In brief, it was a Pisan merchant Leonardo Pisan, who is known to the world as Fibonacci who in the 13th century used his experience of the Arabic method of reckoning profit and loss in the marketplace, who introduced numerals as we know them. Fibonacci explained the use of the numerals from 0 to 9, the use of the decomal point and their application to practical commercial problems. He also can be credited (bizarre as it may seem to us now) with the introduction of various calculating functions such as + addition, – subtraction and x multiplication into the european arithmetic vocabulary (functions previously unknown).

The arabic commercial practise that Fibonacci borrowed from itself came from a cultural flowering and “Renaissance” that took place in the Islamic east. Indeed the mathematical term “algebra” and its constituent principles are directly taken from Arabic al-jabru (meaning restoration). Furthermore in and around 825AD a Persian astronomer known as Abu Ja’far Mohammed ibn Musa al-Khowarismi wrote a book which included the rules of arithemtic for the decimal positional number system, called ‘Kitab al jabr w’al-muqabala‘ (‘Rules of Restoration and Reduction’). This astronomers name, when Latinized is given to the basis for the further study of one of modern maths cornerstones: the algorithm.