Nietzsche’s Virtues

More general comments on Nietzsche’s ideas of virtues after some discussion in passages in Daybreak in recent posts. Concentrating on DaybreakGay Science, and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, which Nietzsche declared to be his yes-saying books, I have the following ideas of what positive values Nietzsche looks for, and the virtues that come after morality, or after the morality of good and evil.

Virtues come out of sickness rather than health, at least some of the time. The merit of virtue at its best is that it disrupts normality and universality. Truly individual virtue must seem sick from some perspective, and is a disruption of normal physiological and psychological functioning.

The above point seems to me to refer to difficulties in taking Nietzsche as a completely Aristotelian theorist of the virtues, and in taking Nietzsche as an adaptationist naturalist in his attitude to the origin of the virtues. That is Nietzsche does not take virtues as emerging from a passive reaction of psychology, or physiology, to external circumstances.

Virtue is individuating and intimately connected with strength of character, in its capacity for self-discipline.

The disruption necessary for the emergence of these virtues is likely to at least seem ‘evil’ and to create something dark and impenetrable in individual characters.

The values emerge from selfishness, and selfishness is the prime virtue. A prime virtue that disrupts common virtues, and emphasises individuation.

There is rejection of values associated with the neighbour, sympathy and pity. These are values in which we lose ourselves in orienting ourselves towards others, and subject others to the tyranny of our desire to change them. They reduce individuation and increase conformity.

The superiority of friendship and hospitality to neighbourliness and sympathy or pity.

There is a wish to give and receive, in forms which do not lead to domination, dependence, and co-dependence.

The above is described in terms of sharing beauty and shelter, the taking away the burden of what someone wants to give from the self, the abundance of the self that is so strong it leads to a painful desire to give it away.

Giving as a giving of the self, so that it can be repeated and perceived, taking as generosity because it takes away a burden, distance between individuals which enables individuals to create in a way which is individual and can be shared.

Original post at Barry Stocker’s Weblog

Nietzsche and Aristotle on Gods, Humans, and Beasts

Yesterday’s post looked at Nietzsche’s relation to Hume’s view of sympathy through his comments on the Neighbour in Dawn 146.  Altruism is an underlying issue there.  We could take Nietzsche as a following a precedent in Hume that undermines selfless altruism, we could take him as breaking with Hume in rejecting an altruism based on sympathy, we could take him as reworking Hume’s ideas of values based on common experience.  I don’t believe it would be a good idea to quickly come down for any of those three options.  Rather than getting into a full discussion of that, I will move onto Dawn 147 (reproduced in full at the bottom of this post, which follows on in discussing human experience of commonality and selfishness.

Just as 146 looks very much like a comment on Hume, or more likely a Humean way of thinking Nietzsche picked up from other sources; 147 looks very much like a comment on Aristotle.  I find this particularly interesting, since there is some recent work on seeing Nietzsche in terms of Aristotle (e.g. Christine Swanton) and Hume (e.g. Peter Kail), and certainly Nietzsche needs to be situated in relation to them.  The naturalist elements may be a big sources for naturalist elements in Nietzsche, though we would also need to think about Lucretius and Spinoza here.

What 147 suggests to me is certainly that we need to think about Nietzsche in relation to Aristotle, but not by seeing him as continuous with Aristotle.  There is a very strong opposition made in 147, though that is not the end of the story either,  A full account of Nietzsche on value (moral values or values of life, there is an interesting issue here of which is more appropriate), should certainly bring in Aristotle on virtue, or excellence. (arete/άρετή); more on that, and all these issues, on other occasions.

The first thing to note about 147 is that it is directed against Aristotle’s well known statement inPolitics I, that man is a political, or social animal.  Aristotle goes on to suggest that life outside the community (polis/πόλις), is only possible for a god or an animal.  In 147, Nietzsche refers to ‘divine selfishness’ and ‘the dear animal world’ in being alone.  He brings up that possibility as a reaction to the possibility of being loved by everyone.  Being loved by everyone, instead of one person, is an unbearable burden.  In this Nietzsche might be following Aristotle.  In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle does suggest that the more friends someone has, the less value friendship has.  He also suggests that a god has a perfect live, which does not need friends, in a life of self-contemplation.  That leads us back to the god in the Politics outside the community.  However, in the Politics, Aristotle suggests a rather grotesque kind of divinity, Polyphemus, the one eyed giant, son of Poseidon.  The divine and the bestial come together.  Nietzsche provides a more positive sense of how the divine and the bestial can combine.

This divine-bestial possibility is staged as a negative reaction to the extreme of universal love, but it is not just staged as a reaction to an extreme circumstance.  Nietzsche is drawing out attention to something disturbing about the ideal of love between humans, how can we respond to universal love? How can we keep our own individuality, decisions and actions?  Love as altruism, this seems not to be eros that Niezsche is discussing, is again undermined as it was in 146.  The implicit target was Hume, or ‘English psychologists’, now it is Aristotle.

Dawn 147

Cause of ‘altruism’. — Men have on the whole spoken of love with such emphasis and so idolised itbecause they have had little of it and have never been allowed to eat their fill of this food: thus it became for them ‘food of the gods’.  Let a poet depict a utopia in which there obtains universal love, he will certainly have to describe a painful and ludicrous state of affairs the like of which the earth has never yet seen — everyone worshipped, encumbered and desired, not by one lover, as happens now, but by thousands, indeed by everyone else, as the result of an uncontrollable drive which would then be as greatly execrated and cursed as selfishness had been in former times; and the poets in that state of things — provided they were left alone long enough to write — would dream of nothing but the happy, loveless past, of divine selfishness, of how it was once possible to be alone, undisturbed, unloved, hated, despised on earth, and whatever else may characterise the utter baseness of the dear animal world in which we live.

Translated by R.J. Hollingdale, Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Original version of this post as Barry Stocker’s Weblog

Nietzsche’s Positive Ethics (Not his Genealogy)

Primary version of this post, with visual content, at Barry Stocker’s Weblog.

In Ecce Home, Nietzsche refers to a distinction between his no-saying philosophy and his yes-saying philosophy. The book which has been most discussed in recent years, On the Genealogy of Morality, is listed as no-saying and we cam take it that genealogy is part of his no-saying philosophy. Three books are listed as part of his yes-saying philosophy: Dawn, Gay Science, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. There’s certainly nothing wrong with studying the Genealogy or the wave of work concentrating on it, but we should be wary of taking that book as definitive of Neitzsche’s ethics. It might be definitive of his diagnosis of ethical illusions, but not of the ethics he is offering. Recent studies of the Genealogy may sometimes recognise it as a diagnostic work with regard to previously existing, but tend to stop there rather than move onto any kind of fully considered positive ethics in Nietzsche. Where Nietzsche is considered as an ethicist with a positive ethics, this often becomes Nietzsche as moral élitist or Nietzsche as aesthete of life. Neither position is necessarily wrong, but there could be more work on the details of what Nietzsche has to offer.

One problem is that at least some of the time, Nietzsche is saying that ethics, or morality, as such is an illusion, and a barrier to life. With that in mind, it could be said that Nietzsche has a philosophy of life rather than an ethical philosophy. However, I don’t think it is necessary to do this, as Nietzsche sometimes distinguishes between better and worse ethics rather than denouncing ethics as such. If we do resort to talking about ‘enhancement of life’, we risk talking about ethics, while calling it something else. In any case, ‘enhancement of live’ sounds like ‘virtue ethics’, though in that context the phrase ‘flourishing of life’ is more normal. It’s useful to discuss Nietzsche in the context of ‘virtue ethics’, and he fits better into that category than the other normal categories of moral theory, nevertheless Nietzsche should also be seen as challenging virtue theory, as it has normally been defined with reference to Aristotle, or maybe Plato, or the Stoics. A complete discussion of virtue theory would bring in (Saint Thomas) Aquinas, certainly complicating things. That’s not something I can go into now. What I do have is a list of points about Nietzsche’s ‘yes-saying ethics’, largely inspired by a recent reading of The Gay Science, Book III.

Virtues are something we should learn to be sceptical about, with regard to defining ourselves with regard to courage, generosity etc.

Virtues begin with adaptation to herd living in the earliest stages of human existence. Later stages of human existence break up the herd, and lead to more individualistic moral systems, or systems of virtues.

The separation of individuals from each other is progress in the human species and leads to progress in ethics. Growth, abundance and variety and signs of natural strength.

Ranking, and comparative evaluation, are necessary and admirable activities. It is important to say what or who, is better or worse than some other thing or person.

We can expect a future in which art, science and ‘practical wisdom’ are unified to create something which would make current law givers, doctors artists, and scholars, look petty (Gay Science 2nd edition, 113). The reference to ‘practical wisdom’ looks like a reference to phronesis in Aristotle, which includes ethics, an impression reinforced by Nietzsche’s reference to law givers, who by Aristotle’s standards are engaged in phronesis, or practical wisdom.

The loss of the world of God based ethics, particularly ethics based on Christianity, creates a sense of being lost in an ocean, and being on the verge of the infinite (Gay Science 2nd edition, 124).

The sense of moral scepticism advocated by Nietzsche partly comes from Christianity because of its scepticism about Ancient virtues. The sceptical work is taken further in Enlightenment’s scepticism about Christian virtues.

Christianity gives use the sense that Ancient virtues of courage, generosity etc, conceal sin, or in Nietzsche’s terms undermine any idea of perfection in a personality dominated by any one virtue (Gay Science 2nd edition, 122).

Nietzsche does not advocate a return to Ancient ethics, he says that it looks childish to us now, and as we have seen thinks Christianity has done a useful job of undermining Ancient ethics.

One criticism Nietzsche has of Ancient ethics is that is morality based on mores (der Sittlichkeit der Sitte), which was challenged by Plato and others, when they tried to introduce new moralities. Nietzsche criticises any ethics which is just a following of existing customs. (Gay Science 2nd edition, 149)

Nietzsche regards the different moralities of different nations as evidence of illusion about the nature of ethics. He also advocates new ethics, and the multiplication of ethical views. This apparent contradiction can perhaps be resolved by thinking about the value Nietzsche gives to the integration of multiplicity and conflict into one organism, or one work of art.

Every experience, and every judgement, is moral, because always embedded in our sense of honesty and justice (Gay Science 2nd edition, 114). This is one reason why Nietzsche is not arguing overall that we can abandon ethics, even if we try to expose ethical illusions. We are always concerned with what justice and honesty are.

One thing that justice requires is to see that different people are not the same and are not equal. Presumably different morality, or different virtues, are good for different people.

I don’t see that Nietzsche is saying that some people should be denied rights, though he does think some people are better others. These are two distinct points in any case.

Nietzsche is against altruism, we should not do something because it is good for someone else, and we should not wish to sacrifice ourselves for that reason. Some of what comes about through altruism may still come about through a self-interested desire for strength, growth and health. Individual health may be associated with generosity and indifference to injury.

Nietzsche against Master Morality

The assumption is widespread that Nietzsche’s ethics can be explained as the master morality which he diagnoses in the Essay 1 of On the Genealogy of Morality. The assumption is widespread among those who are semi-informed, and even more disturbingly among those who have some claims to expertise on Nietzsche. As a reaction to Nietzsche, it’s not totally inappropriate, the texts do provoke the reader to think of master morality as something better than slave morality. That is somewhat different from a committment to master morality as a form of ethics.

Nietzsche sometime says he is referring to a philosophy of life rather than ethics or morality. I believe it would be going to far to say that there is no ethics, or moral philosophy in Nietzsche. However, it is important toı recognise that Nietzsche is challenging (which is not the same as rejecting) the bases of ethics or morality. What he is doing is to find something like what Hegel calls immediacy, and Kierkegaard calls wonder in a reaction to nature and human nature. Though whether that means we can classify Nietzshe with contemporary Naturalists of a scientistic reductionist orientation is another thing. Nietzsche looks at the wonder, or immediacy of the master’s view of the world in the most primitive of moralities, the original master morality. That he explains particularly in relation to Homeric heroes, and in general an approach in which mutual obligations are recognised between masters, but not to those outside the relevant group of masters. From this point of view, the masters define themselves as good, beautiful, truthful and so on. The salves are those who have the opposite of those characteristics.

The slaves are not evil, because they behave according to nature in the master world view, they just behave as they do without evil intention. For Nietzsche, the concept of evil is deeply embedded in ideas of soul, strong personal identity, free will and inner intentions. It is the slaves who have a good/evil dichotomy who assume there is strong personal identity and intentionalism. For the master, there are immediate reactions There is no assumption for strong personal identity and all that might go with that: free will, intentionalism, memory over time. These aspects of master morality are clearly part of what Nietzsche advocates, but it is not what Nietzsche advocates as a whole.

Nietzsche is against a metaphysical theory free will, resting as he sees it on a strong sense of personal identity in which the self is a soul thing rather than a combination of forces as Nietzsche thinks. However, he is not against the ideas of autonomy, sovereignty of the self, or self-creation. These are all given great emphasis. Both art and science are taken as products of the creative self, which creates itself as a it creates a perspective on natural forces in nature or the creation of art. The master is not an artist or scientist. Neither of these would be a complete model for Nietzsche. Nietzsche sees value in the life that is like art, he finds that beauty is a product of the desire for happiness. Happiness comes in life led as self-creating and self-legislating. It is here that Nietzsche sees the origin of value, not in the brutishness and borrishness of the master towards the slave. He does not think that value originates in utilitarian calculations of maximised benefits, or any set of abstract principles or social institutions. Nietzsche refers to the master who forgets offence and only takes revenge where it is immediately possible, but he admires the individual with no need to punish or take revenge at all, much more.

Kierkegaard Against the Ethics of Aristotle

We are concentrating on Fear and Trembling here, which I am teaching in an Ethics course.

For Kierkegaard, Aristotle defines something accurately, that is the Ethics of the Ancient world. In Fear and Trembling, he does this more with reference to Arisotle’s Poetics rather than the Nichomachean Ethics, or any other of Aristotle’s texts on Ethics.

What Kierkegaard concentrates on in Fear and Trembling is the recognition of the sin of the tragic hero. There is disclosure and recognition through necessity beyond the control of the hero. Oedipus’ tragic error is revealed not by his confession but by the plagues which assault Thebes, where he is King.

For Kierkegaard, Aristotle defines a view in which the individual is not responsible for sin. It is the nation, the family or fate. Greek tragedy in Sophocles, Aeschylus and Euripides, shows that a sin is inherited from the family , or fate makes the sin inevitable, as when Oedipus actions to avoid the prophecy of his sin, leads to that sin.

In the modern world, it is clear that the individual is responsible for guilt, bears sin. The idea that ethics may contain conflict between the individual and the universal, for the social good, is replaced by an extreme of individual responsibility. The şissue of sin becomes harder to bear than the ethics derived from social habit in Aristotle.

Ethics must refer to subjectivity, Aristotle detracts from that in his view of humans governed by fate. The difficult situation that must be faced now is the melancholic within. The real anxiety we have to face now, on or own, is the need to have faith which will enable us to endanger another person with our melancholia. We can overcome melancholia as an expression of subjectivity that can only see itself as contingent. That may require silence and an inner suffering, which cannot be explained to another person. The universality of Aristotle’s ethics is replace by the bond that exists between the melancholic person and the person who might be a sacrifice to that melancholia. The melancholia that mişght lead us to think, Like Abraham that God has commanded him to kill Isaac . Ethics at its highest rests on a subordination of universal rules to the inner struggle to find the absolute within the contingency of the self.

Ethics at its highest is not obeying rules, it is developing the self that rises above itself in the dialectic of the absurd, in the passion for paradox, with regard to the actions in which the subject becomes ethical in the strongest sense. The self that can be ethical must emerge from the paradoxes of subjectivity. The self that is ethical because it has the capacity to be unethical. Ethics emerges fully when we take the risk that the unethical will destroy in our relations with others.

Martha Nussbaum and Michel Foucault on Eros and Ethics in Antiquity

Michel Foucault and Martha Nussbaum covered some similar territory with regard to the ethics of the Ancient world with regard to desire, sexuality, eros and love. In Foucault’s case, this was work towards the end of his life in Hermeneutics of the Subject, Uses of Pleasure, and Care of the Self (the last two were volumes two and three of History of Sexuality). In Nussbaum’s case, this was the work that really made her name: Fragility of Goodness and Therapy of Desire.

Comparisons of the two are not very frequent. Foucault tends to be best known amongst literary theorists; Nussbaum is known to philosophers (particularly those working in Ancient Philosophy, Philosophy and Literature, and Ethics) and also to people in legal and political theory. There would be great benefits in more philosophers reading Foucault, there would also be benefits in cultural theorists reading Nussbaum.

There are intermittent comments on Foucault in Nussbaum. As far as I know, Foucault never had anything to say about Nussbaum. As far as I know, Nussbaum’s major comment on Foucault on antiquity, is that Foucault looked at sexuality with regard to the individual, and paid insufficient regard to the interest in its harmful effects on others in Antiquity. I don’t really see a great difference between the fundamentals in how Nussbaum and Foucault present Antique ethics as concerned with the health of the individual.

The underlying difference between the two maybe in what they try to build on Antique ethics. Nussbaum wants to build Aristotelian social democracy, Foucault is concerned with the difficulties of building a theory of political obligation on Aristotle’s ethics, or any Antique ethics. For Nussbaum, Aristotle shows a way out of a rigid concern with inner correctness. Aristotle becoems the bearer of an Antique moral externalism (morally significant actions have causes other than inner intentions). Foucault insists on exploring the difficulties Antique ethics poses for generating a sense universality in ethics and politics. The question for Foucault is how a self partly described in sexual terms has the right to sovereignty because it is sovereign over its passions. Upto the Meditations of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius, this poses difficulty for universalising theory. Aurelius does not even think it worth discussing the state directly, it is his daily rule of his passions which settles the question of the legitimation of his power. Foucault explores to the limit, the idea of particular right to sovereignty. This is important to him as it confirms his libertarian tendency to find all power alien. It should also be said that in Hermeneutics of the Subject that Foucault is working on the distinction between pastoral power and governmentality, which is the difference between state absolutism and limited state. So Foucault is beginning to get beyond the gestures towards libertarianism which leave open the question of what the least bad government is in its exercise of power.

Nussbaum is comparatively indifferent to the problems of power in Aristotle, that it rests on a particularistic understanding of who is fit to govern. Despite her discussions of sexuality and a feminine point of view, there is a Puritan desire for morally perfect government with the right to make people good lurking in Nussbaum. This may look harsh but she clearly does not get why Foucault is suspicious of all power and she is advocating a Communitarian type political theory in which the government is moral in purpose. Some of her reactions show a neo-Puritan political correctness completely lacking in Foucault despite his adoption/kidnapping by the politically correct cultural progressives. In Nussbaum’s Neo-Puritanism, consider her support for Cartherine McKinnon’s proposal to make pornographers open to civil damages because of the supposed consequences of their publications, or her resentment on video that someone commenting on her position on ethical responsibility to animals referred to her ‘hunting bigger game’ (than Rawlsian political contractualism). I’m concerned about the same issues as Nussbaum is, but I thought that was funny remark and that her response was slightly sinister in its wish to enforce her own very constrained view of civility. She clearly thought the editor should not have allowed such a remark.

Foucault was an irresponsible provocateur, Nussbaum is the New Engşand moralist. Clearly Nussbaum is the greater scholar of Antiquity, by a very long way, but she is not convincing when she tries to criticise Foucault for emphasising the distance between Antique ethics and general theories of obligation. It is important that at this time Foucault was developing a more nuanced view of different types of political regime. In all cases he was trying to learn from Antiquity how politics always refers to particularistic sovereignty.

What Derrida takes from Nietzsche in Ethics

Readings of Derrida on Nietzsche
There is a myth about Derrida’s philosophy. The myth of a philosophy which is only concerned with style and not with content. This comes up frequently in discussions of Nietzsche’s ethics. The issue of style and ethics comes up in discussions of Nietzsche because there is a substantial and growing body of work by Analytic philosophers on Nietzsche, particularly with regard to Ethics. While these people do not appear to have made any deep study of Derrida, they have felt it necessary to express brief opinions about Derrida’s reading of Nietzsche. In the tradition of John Searle’s attack on Derrida, they have not found it necessary to acquaint themselves deeply with Derrida’s texts before making dismissive comments. These comments do have some applicaiton, but to Derrida’s more parodic followers rather than to Derrida himself.

Examples of this genre include Nietzsche on Morality by Brian Leiter (see also Leiter’s Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entry on Nietzsche’s Moral and Political Philosophy, the inclusion of politics in Leiter’s entry is perverse since he dismisses in typically pugnmacious style the idea that Nietzsche has anything to contribute to political philosophy) and Nietzsche’s Conscience: Six Characters from the Genealogy byAaron Ridley.

Leiter on Nietzsche
Leiter has a head on attack on ‘Post-Modern’ readings of Nietzsche in Foucault and Derrida, though neither ever adopted the label ‘Post-Modern’. There are a number of Analytic Philosophers around who take Foucault seriously (Ian Hacking, John Searle, Bernard Williams) as Leiter acknowledges but never to the extent of questioning his own use of the label ‘Post-Modern’ in opposition to Analytic or Naturalistic. Derrida, and those who value Derrida’s work, have been consistently damned by Leiter, as bad philosophers hardly worthy of the name (so I must be a complete moron), without any acknowledgement of Analytic Philosophers who take Derrida seriously (A.W. Moore, Tom Baldwin, Stanley Cavell). I’ve discussed Derrida’s relevance to Analytic Philosophy at length myself in Derrida on Deconstruction. This is in the same series as Nietzsche on Ethics, Leiter must be furious. Leiter’s argument is that ‘Post Modern’ discussion of Nietzsche is only concerned with play of style and ignores the extent to which Nietzsche has a theory of human nature, because ‘Post-Modernists’ think of human nature as socially constructed. The latter issue is really more in Foucault’s field. I consider it a misrepresentation of Foucault, but I hope to return to that topic in another blog).

Ridley on Nietzsche
Ridley is less concerned with attacking ‘Post-Modernism’ but shares the assumption that Derrida’s interest in Nietzsche is too undermine all claims to objective truth and depth of knowledge, with reference to the multiplicity of ways of writing in Nietzsche. This isopposed to his own examination of 6 figures of ethical significance in the Genealogy of Morals
Derrida on Language, Context and Hermeneutic Ambiguity
What both Leiter and Ridley must be thinking of is Derrida’s book Spurs: Nietzsche’s Styles. Derrida’s concern there is to argue for a version of the ‘context principle’ in questions of meaning. That is the principle that the meaning of a word is fixed by the sentence to which it belongs, that the meaning of a sentence is fixed by the circumstances of use, and so on. That claim is not in itself foreign to Analytic Philosophy.

In this book, Derrida takes the principle to the length or arguing that fragmentary phrases jotted down in Derrida’s notebooks may have a significant meaning. They may have such a meaning because the hermeneutic ambiguity (uncertainty about meaning) which follows from the context principle (what Derrida discusses as the inseparability of word from context) means that the meaning of the sentence could be a contribution to a major philosophical idea in Nietzsche. ‘I have forgotten my umbrella’ could have Freudian meanings about castration, or it could be comment on constant possibility of forgetting meaning, which would lead us into the really radical kind of contextualism which questions the basis of a claim to constancy in the meaning of words.

Derrida for Empiricism and Against Scepticism
However, there is no attempt in Derrida to assert a sceptical claim, he is trying to resist transcendental philosophical claims about meaning from an empiricist point of view. The point of the emphasis on style on Nietzsche is not to promote an aestheticised kind of scepticism. The point is that the context principle/hermeneutic ambiguity appear in the necessarily plural possibilities of style. Derrida also tackles the question of supposed misogyny in Nietzsche, by emphasising how the references to women in Nietzsche are figures of ambiguity, which demonstrate the ambiguities of context and hermeneutics, including the necessary ambiguity of differentiating depth in meaning from surface meaning. ‘Woman’ tends to be distant and transparent, shallow and ungraspable in Nietzsche.

Derrida and Naturalism
Lieter presumes that Derrida’s approach is opposed to his own emphasis on Moraş Naturalism, that is the view that ethics comes from human nature, described in scientific terms. But,there is nothing in Derrida that opposes Naturalism. Derrida emphasises repeatedly that it he is not an idealist. In Analytic terms, he is not a constructionist or a conceptualist. For Derrida, language is derived from the relations between material phenomena, written or spoken. Consciousness, largely discussed in terms of language, is view as emerging from relations between neurons.
Derrida and Ethics
Derrida does not make any Naturalist claims about ethics, but he certainly always denies that a break can ever be established between the natural and the social. According to Derrida, physical forces are inseparable from consciousness and physicality is inseparable from communication. When writing about ethics though he concentrates on questions on ethical law, particular ethical responsibilities and the constitutive contradictions of law and individual responsibility, as I have emphasised.

These concerns are brought into Nietzsche’s ethics, particularly in The Politics of Friendship. Derrida does not concern himself with any Naturalistic elements in Nietzsche’s ethics. He does however focus on friendship in Nietzsche, on why Nietzsche quotes a statement attributed to Aristotle, ‘O my friends, there is no friend’. He looks at how the friend in Nietzsche is both the self and the enemy, of how Nietzsche suggests a goal of absolute friendship. He looks at how Nietzsche looks at friendship as opposed to despotism. Derrida takes from these thoughts a view of friendship as a contradictory ideal which should be followed, and is inseparable from the political ideal of democracy. The goal is to have perfect communication with someone outside the self, but there could only be perfect communication between the self and itself. However, there cannot be perfect communication, even there because the self conducts an inner dialogue, which turns a part of it into its own external friend. There is no Naturalism in these ethical thoughts, but no abolition of ethics through a mere play of style.

Kierkegaard’s A-Theist Philosophy

Kierkegaard appears to be as Chrisitian and religious as any philosopher? Nevertheless, there are at least two senses in which he was an a-theist.

1. He was no mere Theist. A Theist refers to a God who intervenes in the universe with omnipotent power. For Kierkegaard, that belief in itself was mere paganism. Religion must be Faith, in which the individual is transformed.

2. In light of 1, the claim that Kierkegaard was a-theistic may seem like a mere play with words, which is just a superficially paradoxical way of saying that Kierkegaard was a Fideist, that is he had a theology of faith. But, the rigour with which Kierkegaard pursued 1. leads towards atheism in the normal sense.

What theological commentators like to call Kierkegaard’s ‘fideism’, or possibly his ‘divine commandment ethics’, is Kierkegaard’s definition of faith as subjective experience and as experience of subjectivity. Some would like to relegate such views to Kierkegaard’s ‘aesthetic’ or ‘pseudonymous’ works such as Fear and Trembling and Either/Or, which are considered as merely the way to Kierkegaard’s religious point of view. One response to this, is that there is only the way and there is never more than the way in Kierkegaard, but today I will concentrate on something else.

I spent a lot of time last semester considering Works of Love in an ethics class. I structured an ethics class to contain consideration of virtue and reason in Plato, friendship in Aristotle, sympathy in Hume, universality in Kant, the Utilitarian Maxim in Hegel, the superiority of ethical life to subjective morality in Hegel, all the ethical issues in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morality including the relation between master and slave.

In this context, it is particularly clear that Works of Love is a text concerned with defining ethics. The answer seems to be straightforward: Ethics is based on Christian love, inparticular the commands ‘You shall love’ and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’.

But what comes out of Kierkegaard’s exhaustive analysis of these commands? He is finding a response to Kant’s suggestion that ethics derives from the possibility of a universal command. For Kierkegaard, Kant’s kind of command lacks a place for the individual who commands and is commanded. What does a universal command mean to me, or to you, or anyone?

The command to love makes it clear where the individual fits in. The individual must love the self in loving the neighbour. I can only love my neighbour if I love myself. Self-love is already a relational love. I become the subject and object of love. The command to love myself is not an abstract irrelevance since only in the self-relation of self-love can there be an individual. Individuality which is more than the moment to moment of some pure flow of perceptions in experience must be the relation of empirical self with something in itself more than the moment, but which can be contained in the moment.

What is there in Kierkegaard’s discussion of love which takes us beyond subjectivity? All love with the individual outside myself is intertwined with my own self-relation. There can only be love where there is love of self. That applies to God as well. Love of God is a relation with the absolute, and my relation with the absolute must be the relation with the self which exists as more than the moment.

The theological reader of Kierkegaard may assert that Kierkegaard refers to love of, and obedience to a God outside subjectivity, but can the theologian show this in the detail of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, other than those moments when Kierkegaard uses the formulae of Christian theology. His thought is never in the formulae, it is always in the conditions of subjectivity, of an individual who experiences individuality.

Philosophy. A Note on Lévinas, Putnam, Nozick and Derrida

Robert Nozick between Athens and Jerusalem.

Is he right to think Ethics is Greek or Jewish?

I was recently reading quickly through Robert Nozick’s Philosophical Explanations, a copy I borrowed from an office I use somewhere I gave one course in the last semester, while giving an exam on Derrida. Much to my surprise noticed a reference to a contrast between Greek and Judaic ethics. That created an unexpected link between Nozick and Derrida, since the idea of Greek versus Jewish philosophy, or culture, or ethics, is something that Derrida considers carefully in a long essay on Lévinas, ‘Violence and Metaphysics’, collected in Writing and Difference . The context in which Nozick introduces the distinction between Greek and Jew, is the difference between ethical ‘push’ and ethical ‘pull’. The push is Greek, and refers to the concern in Ancient Greek thought with cultivation and flourishing of the self, in an ethics which is based on the balance and health of the self. The pull is Jewish, according to Nozick, and comes from the Old Testament, or what Nozick calls the Hebrew Bible. It is the pull of ethical law, the obligation to follow commands of the kind handed down to Moses as the Ten Commandments.

Where did an Analytic philosopher like Nozick come up with this? How does a philosopher who usually avoids cultural context, and comes from a way of thinking which regards cultural and historical context as highly secondary to philosophical argument, come up with this historical-cultural generalisation? Nozick gives thanks to his Harvard colleague Hilary Putnam in the acknowledgements section. We don’t expect cultural-historical generalisations from Putnam either, but Putnam did make one major departure from concentrating on Analytic philosophy. Two of Putnam’s texts refer to Emmanuel Lévinas, whose work took European philosophy since Kant as its departure. Lévinas’ work is full of allusions to Hegel, Husserl, and Heidegger and belongs to the French Phenomenological work of Sartre and Merleau-Ponty. Where did Putnam refer to Lévinas and what was that about?

Putnam refers to Lévinas in ‘Lévinas and Judaism’ which can be found in The Cambridge Companion to Lévinas edited by two notable commentators on European Philosophy: Robert Bernasconi and Simon Critchley. Putnam’s essay is rooted in Putnam’s strong Judaism, I am not sure if he is a believer, but then I could say the same about Lévinas who was a Talmud teacher for children as well as an academic philosopher. The point is that Putnam takes Lévinas seriously as an expositor of what Judaic religion is. Lévinas ‘ s philosophy, most famously in Totality and Infinity, rests on a distinction between Greek Ontology and Judaic Ethics, the latter rooted in the Torah, the “Hebrew Bible” and the tradition of study of it. Greek Ontology takes the ‘Same’, that is the Ego or the Self, as primary; Jewish Ethics takes the Other as primary. Putnam briefly but significantly refers to Lévinas’ views on Ontology and Ethics in Ethics without Ontology.

It looks very much like Nozick got the ex-cathedra judgement that the ethics of Obligation from Lévinas via Putnam. He very probably did not consider Derrida’s critical remarks. Like Nozick, Putnam and Lévinas, Derrida was Jewish himself. I won’t recapitulate Derrida’s argument here, I will just note some problems in equating Greek Ethics (often known as Virtue Ethics) with Self-Cultivation and Jewish Ethics with obligation. One obvious point is that the Biblical Jews were following the commands of the God of their nation rather than abstract obligation as such. Their ethical commands are clearly located in the rules and taboos of antique eastern Mediterranean society. In any case, how can we locate obligation in a purely Jewish origin? Nietzsche who contrasted Roman master morality, meaning Greek Virtue Ethics, with Judaic Slave Morality, meaning the ethics of obedience to God, also located the origin of ideas of other worldliness and abstract morality in Plato, even as Plato developed a version of Virtue Ethics. Nietzsche clearly though that Old Testament morality was tied to Jewish national identity, and regarded the morality of obligation as Christian rather than Jewish. Christianity meant the teachings of the historical Christ as interpreted by St Paul, the converted Jew, from the point of view of Neo-Platonist philosophy.

Heidegger certainly thought of the early Greek ethics, as an Ethos which preceded ethical rules, abstraction and obligation in the way of life as it was lived. Ethical obligation arises in Heidegger from a turning away from Being, something that is phenomenal for Heidegger, towards law outside Being trying to dominate it, that law came from Plato.

Some philosophers have regarded Old Testament Jewish ethics as an extreme example of an ethics of obligation. Hegel presents Judaism as excessive in its sense of obligation, in comparison to Christianity, a view he supports with reference to the story of Abraham and Isaac. Kierkegaard looks at the story in a more favourable way, though his interpretation is a critique of obligation which argues that the story shows the necessity to will the unethical in obligation to God, and that ethics can only be properly rooted in a self-relation which becomes a relation with the absolute externality of God.

Kierkegaard argues for an alternative to the ethics of obligation by looking to the self which has to live with the paradox of ethics founded on following an absolute, subjectivity and God at the same time.ş Kierkegaard classifies Kant’s ethics of pure obligation with the Greek following of Ethos of the community, as both examples of following external rules and universality, instead of the paradoxical unity of particularity and universality in absolute subjectivity.

Of course in recent decades a wide variety of thinkers have sought an alternative to obligation ethics in Greek Virtue and flourishing: G.E.M. Anscombe, Michel Foucault, Martha Nussbaum amongst many. Nussbaum though distinguishes between an emphasis in Aristotle on luck and fragility as opposed to the abstraction of a rule obeying moral self in Plato.

Nozick’s attempt to distinguish between Greek and Jewish cannot be upheld, though he uses it with great force for establishing a central ethical tension.