Hermeneutics and Genealogies of Nature III

Jumping on to Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900, Kingdom of Prussia/German Empire), we see a philosopher who came into the topic from classical philology, that is the study of ancient texts and language. His background in that respect has some similarity with that of Vico, though he does not appear to have been aware of his work. Montaigne, however,  does get some acknowledgement.

As a philosopher, Nietzsche also read a lot of natural science of his time and of the previous century. The idea of ‘genealogy’ as a philosophical approach comes from his book On the Genealogy of Morality,  though Nietzsche goes beyond simply looking at the history of words to the ways that interacts with social and psychological forces, which include biological and physiological aspects.

Nietzsche’s approach is of a kind of anti-Hegel, emphasising an idea of nature as both aleatory and material, which is the context to form judgement of the passage below, where the may be some tension between the ‘law’ aspects of science and Nietzsche’s strongly aleatory tendencies, which might be resolved on further inquiry through terms like ‘emergence’, ’supervenient’ and ‘spontaneous order’.


The Gay Science 

Book Four

335 Long live physics!

We, however, want to become those we are — human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves. To that end we must become the best learners and discoverers of everything that is lawful and necessary in the world: we must become physicists lawful and necessary in the world: we must become physicists in order to be able to be creators in this sense — while hitherto all valuations and ideals have been based on ignorance of physics or were constructed so as to contradict it. Therefore long live physics! And even more so that which compels us to turn to physics — our honesty!

The hermeneutic approach comes up in the later German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), who brings an approach originally developed with relation to texts (philology of ancient texts and hermeneutics/theological interpretation of the Bible, Heidegger himself had education in a Catholic seminary before a period as a Protestant Bible based Christian which coincides with the text cited below, and was very well aware of theological issues in general and around the hermeneutics of the Bible) to other philosophical issues including the basis of science and knowledge of nature, which for Heidegger has lost its foundations because of an excessive orientation towards method and control of nature


Being and Time

Introduction II

[…] the ancient way of interpreting the Being of entities is oriented towards the ‘world’ or ‘Nature’ in the widest sense

So what Heidegger indicates above is the desirability of science operating in the context of the broadest understanding of ‘nature’ or ‘world’ rather than trying to follow a reductive empiricist ideal in which science can be seen purely in terms of building up from isolated experiments (something like this can be found in the eighteenth century Scottish philosopher David Hume and the Vienna Circle of Logical Positivists in the 1920s).

Heidegger was to take this approach up later, most famously in his essay ‘Question Concerning Technology’ where he argues for technology to be placed in the context of a letting nature be, rather than an imposition on and control of nature as a mere resource.

3 thoughts on “Hermeneutics and Genealogies of Nature III

  1. The hermeneutics/genealogy vs empiricist/scientific understanding of ‘nature’ is a crucial and highly relevant philosophical theme. Ideally one would want to gain practical benefit from both approaches, which, in the realm of philosophy, would dictate that neither a wholly analytic nor wholly literary method was used. But perhaps literary fiction is the arena in which these vying methodologies might best be reconciled – where the various agencies of disparate and sometimes oppositional characters are able to reside permanently within one work of art.

    • Thanks for the comment. I think there is a limit to how far foundations of science/philosophy of nature can be dealt with through literary fiction, though there are some important examples of relevant literary texts. Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain and Doctor Faustus and Robert Musil’s Man without Qualities could be taken as following up on Nietzsche and there are some interesting texts on this preceding Nietzsche, such as M. Shelley’s Frankentstein and Melville’s Mony-Dick.

  2. Yes, agreed. The point I was trying to make is that to fully understand ‘nature’ we should neither limit ourselves to acts of empirical scientific data gathering/experiment, nor to genealogical discussion/hermeneutics, but rather attempt to reconcile the two (and we do, in fact, oscillate between the two, despite the vehemence of certain commentators on either side of the debate). It is this reconciliation that is best served by literature (not the development of scientific or philosophical foundations or methods, but their reconciliation within the public consciousness). I suppose this might be thought of as a philosophical enterprise in itself, in which case I may also be delimiting certain types of literary philosophy and claiming them for literature – Nietzsche being the case in point (and he does indeed drift into fiction – Thus spoke Zarathustra…)

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