Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Liberals – Essential Beliefs Relativism 132

The blog author generally agrees with the philosophical stances of the "classical liberal" writers from John Locke* to John Stuart Mill. Since the mid-1800s, liberal philosophy has advanced through the writings of continental writers, especially Germans. The civil religion of modern liberals has been incubated particularly by the philosophers Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Jacques Derrida. A short summary of their contributions is offered below.

        *though the blog author disagrees with the assumption of the "blank slate" of the human infant.

Arthur Schopenhauer

Arthur Schopenhauer (22 February 1788 – 21 September 1860) was a German philosopher known for his pessimism and philosophical clarity. At age 25, he published his doctoral dissertation, On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which examined the four separate manifestations of reason in the phenomenal world.

Schopenhauer's most influential work, The World as Will and Representation, claimed that the world is fundamentally what we recognize in ourselves as our will. His analysis of will led him to the conclusion that emotional, physical, and sexual desires can never be fulfilled. Consequently, he eloquently described a lifestyle of negating desires, similar to the ascetic teachings of Vedanta, Buddhism, Taoism and the Church Fathers of early Christianity.

Schopenhauer's metaphysical analysis of will, his views on human motivation and desire, and his aphoristic writing style influenced many well-known thinkers including Friedrich Nietzsche, Richard Wagner, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Erwin Schrödinger, Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, Otto Rank, Carl Gustav Jung, Leo Tolstoy, and Jorge Luis Borges.

Friedrich Nietzsche

Friedrich Nietzsche developed his philosophy, sometimes referred to as Nietzscheanism, during the late 19th century amid growing criticism of G. W. F. Hegel's philosophic system.

Nietzsche owed the awakening of his philosophical interest to reading Arthur Schopenhauer's Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung and admitted that he was one of the few thinkers that he respected, dedicating to him his essay Schopenhauer als Erzieher (Schopenhauer as Educator), published in 1874 as one of his Untimely Meditations.

Since the dawn of the 20th century, the philosophy of Nietzsche has had great intellectual and political influence around the world. Nietzsche applied himself to such topics as morality, religion, epistemology, psychology, ontology, and social criticism. Because of Nietzsche's evocative style and his often outrageous claims, his philosophy generates passionate reactions running from love to disgust, and it has drawn amateurs of all kinds to be heavily involved in the project of interpretation as well. Nietzsche noted in his autobiographical Ecce Homo that his philosophy developed over time, so interpreters have found it difficult to relate concepts central to one work to those central to another, for example, the thought of the eternal recurrence features heavily in Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus Spoke Zarathustra), but is almost entirely absent from his next book, Beyond Good and Evil. Added to this challenge is the fact that Nietzsche did not seem concerned to develop his thought into a system, even going so far as to disparage the attempt in Beyond Good and Evil.

Common themes in his thought can, however, be identified and discussed. His earliest work emphasized the opposition of Apollonian and Dionysian impulses in art, and the figure of Dionysus continued to play a role in his subsequent thought. Other major currents include the will to power, the claim that God is dead, the distinction between master and slave moralities, and radical perspectivism. Other concepts appear rarely, or are confined to one or two major works, yet are considered centerpieces of Nietzschean philosophy, such as the Übermensch and the thought of eternal recurrence. His later works involved a sustained attack on Christianity and Christian morality, and he seemed to be working toward what he called the transvaluation of all values (Umwertung aller Werte). While Nietzsche is often associated in the public mind with fatalism and nihilism, Nietzsche himself viewed his project as the attempt to overcome the pessimism of Arthur Schopenhauer.

Footnote: Nietzsche had a breakdown in 1889 and never recovered his sanity. He died in 1900.

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Martin Heidegger

Heidegger claimed that Western philosophy since Plato has misunderstood what it means for something "to be", tending to approach this question in terms of a being, rather than asking about Being itself. In other words, Heidegger believed all investigations of being have historically focused on particular entities and their properties, or have treated Being itself as an entity, or substance, with properties. A more authentic analysis of being would, for Heidegger, investigate "that on the basis of which beings are already understood", or that which underlies all particular entities and allows them to show up as entities in the first place.[8] But since philosophers and scientists have overlooked the more basic, pre-theoretical ways of being from which their theories derive, and since they have incorrectly applied those theories universally, they have confused our understanding of being and human existence. To avoid these deep-rooted misconceptions, Heidegger believed philosophical inquiry must be conducted in a new way, through a process of retracing the steps of the history of philosophy.

Heidegger argued that this misunderstanding, beginning with Plato, has left its traces in every stage of Western thought. All that we understand, from the way we speak to our notions of "common sense", is susceptible to error, to fundamental mistakes about the nature of being. These mistakes filter into the terms through which being is articulated in the history of philosophy—such as reality, logic, God, consciousness, and presence. In his later philosophy, Heidegger argues that this profoundly affects the way in which human beings relate to modern technology.

Heidegger's work has strongly influenced philosophy, theology and the humanities. Within philosophy it played a crucial role in the development of existentialism, hermeneutics, deconstruction, postmodernism, and continental philosophy in general. Well-known philosophers such as Karl Jaspers, Leo Strauss, Ahmad Fardid, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Jean-Paul Sartre, Emmanuel Lévinas, Hannah Arendt, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Michel Foucault, Richard Rorty, William E. Connolly, and Jacques Derrida have all analyzed Heidegger's work.

Heidegger supported National Socialism and was a member of the Nazi Party from May 1933 until May 1945. His defenders, notably Hannah Arendt, see this support as arguably a personal " 'error' " (a word which Arendt placed in quotation marks when referring to Heidegger's Nazi-era politics). Defenders think this error was largely irrelevant to Heidegger's philosophy. Critics, such as his former students Emmanuel Levinas and Karl Löwith, claim that Heidegger's support for National Socialism revealed flaws inherent in his thought.

Jacques Derrida

Jacques Derrida (15 July 1930 – 8 October 2004) was a French-Jewish philosopher, born in Algeria. He developed the critical technique known as deconstruction, and his work has been associated both with post-structuralism and postmodern philosophy. His prolific output of more than 40 published books, together with essays and public speaking, has had a significant impact upon the humanities, particularly on literary theory and continental philosophy. His best known assertion with regard to his methodology is that "there is no outside-the-text."
Derrida was always uncomfortable with the popularity of the term "deconstruction" and the corresponding tendency to reduce his philosophical work to that particular label. In spite of his reservations, deconstruction has become associated with the attempt to expose and undermine the oppositions and paradoxes on which particular texts, philosophical and otherwise, are founded. He frequently called such paradoxes "binary oppositions." Derrida's strategy involved explicating the historical roots of philosophical ideas, questioning the so-called "metaphysics of presence" that he sees as having dominated philosophy since the ancient Greeks, careful textual analysis, and attempting to undermine and subvert the paradoxes themselves.
Derrida's work has had implications across many fields, including literature, architecture (in the form of deconstructivism), sociology, and cultural studies. Particularly in his later writings, he frequently addressed ethical and political themes, and his work influenced various activist and other political movements. His widespread influence made him a well-known cultural figure, while his approach to philosophy and the purported difficulty of his work also made him a figure of some controversy. His work has been seen as a challenge to the unquestioned assumptions of the Western philosophical tradition and Western culture as a whole....

Charges of Nihilism: Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg, in 1976 briefly labeled Derrida's 1967 criticism in Cogito and the History of Madness, as "facile, nihilistic objections," without giving further argumentation. In 1991, the dispute with Richard Wolin, which was also conducted and publicized through the mass circulation magazine New York Review of Books, also included charges of nihilism. Some critics have argued that the whole deconstructive project is "nihilistic". They claim that Derrida's writing attempts to undermine the ethical and intellectual norms vital to Academe, if not Western civilization itself. Derrida is accused of effectively denying the possibility of knowledge and meaning, creating a blend of extreme skepticism and solipsism, which these critics believe harmful.

In contrast, Derrida said that that deconstruction was enlivening, productive, and affirmative, and that it does not "undermine" norms but rather places them within contexts that reveal their developmental and affective features. Derrida often said that "his interests lie in provoking not an anti-Enlightenment but a new Enlightenment". To provoke this new Enlightenment he had to question the axioms and certainties of the Enlightenment itself.

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Deconstruction will be the subject of the next blog posting. The blog author agrees that deconstructivism is nihilistic and inherently favors chaos rather than conversations seeking truth.

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