Expanding the Liberty Canon: Aristotle

Notes On Liberty

Apparently  some people have enjoyed the posts on ‘Another Liberty Canon’, so I will keep going on that tack, but with a revision to the heading as I ‘ll be covering some thinkers already accepted into the liberty canon, or at least some of the various canons. I’ll continue to discuss what I think should be brought into the canon, and push the boundaries a bit on those already generally accepted into the canon. I’ll be giving coverage to major figures, with regard to their work as a whole, but at some point I’ll start doing some relatively detailed readings of individual classic works.

I’ll start at the beginning, more of less with Aristotle. I’m sure there are texts and thinkers within the Greek tradition, and certainly in the Near East, southern and eastern Asia, and so on worthy of attention, but for substantial books clearly devoted to the nature…

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Nietzsche from Sympathy to Hospitality

A third post on Dawn/Daybreak (Mörgenrothe), referring to 174. Last few sentences of 174 can be found at the bottom of this post. I74 contains linked criticisms of sympathy and commercial society, which deserve a post of their own. For the moment, I will just look at the positive value suggested at the end of the aphorism. That is the value of creating something beautiful and restful rather than of sympathy in relation to another. The beauty is of more use, suggesting that the Hume and Utilitarian style of arguments both overlook the usefulness of creating something. This undermines the other directed nature of usefulness, sympathy, and utility in values, where we are concerned about pleasure for others rather than pleasure for ourselves. Though that pleasure, for Nietzsche, should certainly not be a maximisation of passive pleasure experiences, but rather the pleasure of activity, and self-transformation, which does not put pleasure at the centre.

The self-transformation, expressed as the construction of a walled garden, both keeps out the other person, and provides something beautiful for that other person. The aphorism ends with the idea of the ‘hospitable gate’, leaving open the question of whether the other person enjoys the beauty before entering through the gate. Are we to take the walls as beautiful, as part of the beauty of the garden, or as what conceals beauty while keeping hostile forms of the outside, storms and the dust of the roadway. The roadway has an ambiguity similar to that of the wall: it threatens the garden with its dust, but also brings the other person who can experience the beauty and the hospitality.

The implied positive value of hospitality can be opposed to the negative value of tyranny, an unmistakably political term. In ‘Of the Friend’ in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche opposes friendship to the slave-tyrant relation, which should lead us to think of such issues in the ethical and political thought of Cicero and Aristotle. That would take us back to the last post on Aristotle and Nietzsche. This is typical of the way political ideas appear in Nietzsche, particularly diffuse, fragmentary and ambiguous, even by his own standards. I hope to return to some of this on another occasion.

The tyrant is opposed to the hospitable, and associated with sympathy. It sympathy which is either ineffectual or a tyrannical control of another person. Sympathy in Hume and Smith is linked with ideas of commercial society, as Nietzsche has suggested (though not through mentioning those names), and also with principles of political and social liberty. Some things to explore on another occasion. For now, it can be said that Nietzsche implicitly defines liberty as being outside relations of sympathy in which someone forces help on another, and relations of hospitality, in which the pleasure of beauty is offered and accepted freely.

In the meantime, the question itself remains unanswered whether one is of more use to another [dem Anderen] by immediately leaping to his side and helping him — which help can in any case be only superficial where it does not become a tyrannical seizing and transforming — or by creating something out of oneself that the other can behold with pleasure [Genuss]: a beautiful, restful, self-enclosed garden perhaps, with high walls against storms and the dust of the roadway but also a hospitable gate.

(German text at NietzscheSource)

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

Original post at Barry Stocker’s Weblog.

Virtue, Economy and the Self: 5 Links

My thoughts for this post came about in the most immediate sense from Will Wilkinson: a post at his blog Will Wilkinson, entitled Now Let us Praise Results-Facilitating Virtue, dated 20th November 2009. Wilkinson is an economics and public policy commentator, with a background in philosophy.  He is responding to an blog post where the George Mason economist Tyler Cowen praises one of his colleagues, Robin Hanson, who responds in his own blog by arguing for the importance of praising consequences of individual actions, rather than the individual concerned.  Links to all of that in Wilkinson’s post.  What Wilkinson gives in reaction to all that is a beautiful little essay on character, virtue, and advantages to the economy.  As he explains, ‘virtue’ as an idea in ethical though refers to the character traits which the good individual forms and which benefit society.  What Wilkinson emphasises is the collective economic benefits of individuals in the society with virtue.

 

Since for non-philosophers ‘virtue’ amy seem like something to do with abstract moralising, it is worth explaining that ‘virtue ethics’ refer mores to a cultivation of individual excellence which serves the ‘virtuous’ individuals and society as a whole.  Virtue on this account is really more to do with strength and constancy of character, rather than giving priority to the demands of external moral obligations.  The Antique tradition of virtue was taken up in Medieval Christian philosophy, most notably in the thought of Thomas Aquinas; and at that point it maybe acquires a sense of moral imposition, though that is something of a brutal generalisation.   That antique sense of virtue has been increasingly discussed in philosophy since the 1950s, along with an increasing recognition that it was still very present in  18th and 19th Century philosophy.

 

For a very handy summary of Aristotle’s ethics by a leading commentator, Roger Crisp, go this podcast posted at the Faculty of Philosophy, Oxford University.  For an equally admirable summary of some later developments in Antique ethics, around Seneca and Stoicism, click here for a link to a recent podcast of am interview of Rick Benitez conducted by Alan Saunders for his PhilosophyZone radio show.

 

The virtue ethics tradition, as mediated by the Antique Stoics, was a major influence on Adam Smith in An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, as well as in his ethical treatise, The Theory of the Moral Sentiments.  For a great discussion of this click here for a pdf of Deirdre McCloskey’s paper ‘Adam Smith, the Last of the Former Virtue Ethicists’.  McCloskey is a professor of economics, history, English and communications at the University of Illinois, Chicago, which gives an idea of the way that she integrates different areas of the humanities and social sciences.  McCloskey points out that Smith’s philosophy and economic thought are shaped by Stoicism and theories of the virtues, and not just the virtue of prudence.  She also has a very good sketch of how economists, and the culture in general, lost sight of this kind of integration until philosophers revived Antique virtue theory.

 

One possible fault with McCloskey’s analysis is in the title, in its suggestion that Smith was the last of the virtue theorists.  This has some justification if we think of how Smith’s thought is distinguished from what was then the emergent moral school of Utilitarianism which very definitely looks at ethics from the point of view of the consequences of actions, and not quality of character.  However, there is at least one major candidate amongst late 19th Century philosophers for the label of virtue ethicist, Friedrich Nietzsche.  We can see his philosophy as a return from theories of external moral excellence to a theories of individual excellence.  That’s a rather large question I can’t deal with here, but an excellent brief summary of why Nietzsche might be considered a virtue theorist can be found in Lester Hunt’s paper ‘The Eternal Recurrence and Nietzsche’s Theory of Virtue’, click for the pdf.

I expect to return to these issues very soon in relation to Benedict de Spinoza and Michel Foucault.

Politics and Ethics in Aristotle: Agonistic Ethics

Primary version of this post at Barry Stocker’s Weblog, where there is a picture of the agora, not just the link.

Image above is a reconstruction of what the agora may have looked like in Ancient Athens.

I’ve been doing some work on Aristotle’s ethics for next semester’s teaching. Going other Book I of the Nicomachean Ethics, I’m struck by how political it is. The good that Aristotle seeks to define is associated with the art of politics which must have the good of the political community as its goal. It’s not just that Aristotle says that politics is a branch of ethics, he says that politics is ethics. The Politics is a parallel treatment of the same subject matter as the Nicomachean Ethics. That is perhaps an exaggeration, but an exaggeration which conveys a truth. What Aristotle regards as the good life is the life of leading citizen of the city in wealth and politics. Certainly the good life requires liberality, and clearly Aristotle thinks you can only manage that with quite a lot of property with which to be generous.

In his ethical inquiries into the Good, Aristotle mentions the city as what educated and conditions its citizens in virtue. How do we get the kind of rulers who will undertake that task. It starts with the pursuit of honour, by which I presume Aristotle largely means liberality and courage. This is a time when a citizen was a soldier so Aristotle is certainly thinking of military courage. Liberality and military courage are marks of aristocracy then and since, and Aristotle clearly does not think the poor and uneducated are capable of much in the way of virtue. Honour is not enough for the good life for Aristotle since it means dependence on the praise of others, so the city’s leading citizens need virtue as a higher goal which makes life truly happy.

Aristotle’s account of virtue is that is not enough in itself, since nobody can be virtuous at all times. He rather quaintly adds that no one can be virtuous in sleep but we should not allow this quaintness to distract us from the basic claim that no one can be constantly virtuous for a whole life time. Virtue itself needs to be embedded, and what embeds it is a life of actions which are unified in three different ways: unified with prudent intentions, unified with each other at any one moment, unified over time between different instance of action at different moments.

This unity of action gives us a happiness which withstands all circumstances, and bad fortune, or at least a lot of them. Aristotle implies there is something rather godlike about such a state, which I take to be a way of saying aristocratic. This is the people who should be running the political community, making and administering its laws, controlling the distribution of property, leading the military forces. Whether we are talking about the Politics or the Nicomachean Ethics, we are talking about the preparation of an aristocracy.

What is the aristocracy? People who compete for honour. Honour needs to become virtue, but virtue still contains honour and competition. The great cultural historian Jacob Burckhardt, thought of the Ancient Greek aristocracy as obsessed with competition. Aristotle’s emphasis on temperance perhaps conceals this to a degree, but we see that he thinks the leaders of a political community are motivated by competition. Ancient Athens had democratic competition of a kind Burckhardt does not care for: the competition of demagogues to control public opinion, the competition for other people’s property through the dishonest use of the legal process. For Burckhardt, that is the decadence of Athens, but maybe that was the height of the competitive aristocratic spirit, certainly they can go together.

Aristotle’s ethics and politics are full of contestation, if not directly acknowledged. They also contain notions of being above such things, the Great Soul, the ruler as friend of citizens, the happiness of a life of competition. But all these are the product of an aristocracy driven to compete, in order to distinguish itself from the law goals, and actions, of the poor and uneducated. The competition to seem at least a bit like an Olympian god.

Sometimes, the ethical dimension of politics is seen as something that counters ambition, competitiveness and agonism. Sometimes, the difference between Aristotle and Machiavelli is supposed to be that Aristotle takes politics to be the continuation of ethics, but Machiavelli takes politics to be a separate sphere of activity from ethics. But what if we wee Aristotle’s ethics as competitive, agonistic and ‘Machiavellian’? Aristotle’s Politics is much more agonistic than Machiavelli in The Prince or the Discourses. In the Discourse, we may see a contestatory and agonistic republicanism, a freedom based on political struggle. Maybe we should see a more radical version of it in Aristotle’s ethics and politics, rather than the safe picture of virtue in control. What virtues then? Maybe agonistic virtues?

Maybe we should see Aristotle in relation to the Athenian agora in every respect. The place where commerce takes place, and political and legal struggle, not far from where the theatrical contests take place, events which united the city as much as the politics, law and religion. There are certainly other elements of Aristotle, but maybe the agonistic Aristotle of the agora has not been respected enough.

Carl Schmitt on Classical Liberalism

Continuing from recent posts about Schmitt’s Nomos of the Earth, I’m addressing the issue of a possible liaison between Carl Schmitt and Classical Liberalism. Schmitt’s membership of the Nazi party and attempts to become a prominent jurist during the Nazi period may make this look like a bizarre claim, and no one I know of claims that Schmitt takes Classical Liberalism as a foundation. Political Romanticism certainly contains some strong criticism of German Classical Liberals.

The supposed Classical Liberal link comes from moments at which Schmitt suggests some respect for private property and the market economy. In Nomos of the Earth, he certainly seems nostalgic for the highpoint of European interstate order in which war and state appropriation of territory did not interfere with private property. Property remained in the same hands, business and commerce carried on as before, in a successful bracketting of war from normal order within, and between, states. In general Schmitt limits his interest in politics as struggle with the enemy to the political sphere and favoured liberal economics.

On the other side, we must note the following points. In Nomos of the Earth, Schmitt also refers to the impossibility of making economics an absolutely neutral sphere in relation to politics. The market economy rests on property. Property rests on appropriation. Appropriation is an act of violence which implicitly contains the political construction of a sovereign who distributes property. The distribution of property is always a political act, something that Schmitt traces back to Aristotle’s comments on distributive justice and even further back into Ancient Greek mythology. Even when he refers to the triumph of the market economy at the high point of the European inter-state order, he includes protectionist economic policies and the forcible opening up of markets, as when Commodore Parry forced Japan to accept trade with the United States. Fir Schmitt, the market economy is something organised by the state and that is not in contradiction with some aggressively interventionist acts of the state. It must also be noted that Schmitt refers to Britain’s maritime empire as a failed ‘catechon‘. The catechon refers to the power which resists the premature coming of the Anti-Christ, but is given a wider role by Scmitt as the force which resists disorder. From Schmitt’s point of view the original theology may be implicit in the secularised understanding. Though Schmitt often likes to adopt a pose of Olympian detachment with regard to political ideas, it’s clear that he finds the sea lacking in the capacity of the earth to ground appropriation and sovereignty. The sea is disorder, the place which escapes law. In The Leviathan in the State Theory of Thomas Hobbes, it is clear that Schmitt’s respect for Hobbes is limited by Schmitt’s respect for individualism under the leviathan -state and that Schmitt links that liberal aspect of Hobbes with Britain as power infected by liberalism resulting from its maritime role. In Nomos of the Earth, Britain is featured as a disruptive power within European order, due to its ambiguous position in relation to Europe: both belonging and not belonging. The maritime power cannot belong to Europe in the same way as a ‘Continental’ power. This is supported with somewhat strained arguments to deny France and the Netherlands maritime power status.

The reading of Schmitt may help liberals of various stripes to give more emphasis to political conflict and the necessity of the state. Schmitt’s articulation however emphasises contradictions between liberalism and the real concepts of politics, and must be seen as resulting in the limitation of liberalism within an economic sphere subject to the political as the superior instance.

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.

What’s Wrong with Republican Political Theory Today? Force, Conflict and the Moment of Decision

Growth of Republican Theory
There has been a recent growth in Republican political theory, though the earliest aspect of it in J.G.A. Pocock goes back some way now. Pocock worked on Civic Humanism in Renaissance Italy and Early Modern Atlantic Republicanism. In the former field, he worked particularly on Machiavelli; and in the latter on James Harrington and the continuation of Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s line of influence obviously goes up to Rousseau, after which the idea of a direct Republican line of influence is harder to maintain.

Kinds of Liberty
More recent work on Republicanism has included Phillip Pettit’s work of normative (analytic) political philosophy of that name, Quentin Skinner’s work on Roman Freedom/Liberty and Machiavelli, and Samuel Fleischer on a third liberty, between the negative and positive liberty I discussed in a recent post, ‘Negative and Positive Liberty: A Short History’. That idea of the third liberty corresponds to the idea of ‘non-domination’ in Pettit. In a comparable manner, Skinner opposes ‘Roman Liberty’ to ‘Liberalism’ which he defines a pure negative liberty, on utilitarian grounds.

Tocqueville and Egalitarian Liberalism
Here I am continuing themes in a recent post on Tocqueville on Republican Politics and the Tyranny of Small Communities, where I suggested that Republicanism recently has been a form of social democracy, a development out of Rawlsian egalitarian liberalism. The recnet Republicans continue Rawls’ theme of defining harm resulting from inequality very broadly, and defining necessary compensation very broadly. For Tocqueville Republicanism is more about maintaining institutions that prevent those with lower incomes from seeking to compensate themselves through limiting the property rights of those with property. That goes along with the wish for institutions that prevent a temporary majority from undermining liberty through any kind of attack on unpopular minorities. Tocqueville’s version of Republicanism has clear precedents in Montesquieu, Locke, and Aristotle. Considering that Tocqueville was inspired by the emergence of democracy as we know it now, in the USA, we could say that this kind of anti-egalitarian Republicanism is at the heart of modern liberal, or representative, democracy. The issue is somewhat more ambiguous than that. Though Tocqueville was against strong egalitarian social measures, he recognised that modern liberty was democratic in the sense that a broad equality of conditions was emerging between citizens of all classes.

State Force
There is another question here. We can place Tocqueville in the context of more egalitarian style liberalism, but we would still need to notice something else about Republicanism, it does not just uphold moral community action, it upholds the state and the authority of the state as something that rests on force as well as consent. That is the dimension that Lockean liberal republicanism and Rousseauesque egalitarian republicanism are overlooking. The state has a an active role in establishing and maintaining republican beliefs, and it uses force against those who threaten those beliefs. Centralised force is necessary to restrain the conformist force which can build up to an irresistable intensity at the local level. as Spinoza suggests, democracy rests on the force of the majority of the people.

Elites and Aristocracy
The point of Machiavelli’s Republicanism is not not just the moral advantage of a community of citizens. While it is important to avoid the still prevalent image of ‘evil Machiavelli’, we should not ignore that recognition of force and coercion in Machiavelli, which does sometimes have a gleeful edge to it. It can be like Nietzsche’ enjoyment of wickedness, which is certainly not an enjoyment of evil for its own sake though. Nietzsche expresses admiration for those states which institute a great political aristocracy, or elite. Tocqueville considered the formation of a modern democratic substitute for aristocracy as necessary in order to maintain liberty under democracy.

Natural and Positive Law
Republicanism in Aristotle is the idea that the political community is a natural good in its own right beyond the aggregation of individual interests. Republicanism in Machiavelli adds the recogniiton that state power is not ‘natural’ and must be instituted, and maintained by force. Tocqueville’s own thought is rooted in Pascal who emphasised that law is based on force in a godless unjust world, as Derrida also emphasises. Pascal finds positive law (law created by institutions, by the sovereign) is not rooted in natural law (objective moral order outside individual interests and historical constructions).

From Mill to Machiavelli

In John Stuart Mill, liberalism retains some elitist-aristocratic aspects, but is on the way to being a doctrine of politics based on consent, discussion and rationality which has difficulty with discussing what makes such activities possible. It is the sociologist Max Weber, who was more able to deal with this because he saw politics in terms of a ‘realist’ theory of pursuing power. Though current Republicanism emphasises politics as a human activity and goal, it lacks any sense of power and the foundations of the state in force. Despite Skinner’s references to ‘Roman liberty’, it lacks a sense of the absolute devotion of the classical citizen to the sovereignty of the state and its laws. They push the more realist ‘wicked’ aspects of Machiavelli aside as they see Machiavelli in rather Rawlsian terms. Machiavelli did not see politics in those terms, he thought that interests permanently clash and not in the sense of constant dialogue, just as Tocqueville thought that politics must be rooted in human pride and the necessary conflicts in pursuing pride. There is something Realist in Machiavelli and Tocqueville, and there is something ‘decisionistic’, that is politics refers to the moment of decision which is never completely justified and is never completely rational.

Aristotle, Hume,Kant and Nietzsche on Ethics

Teaching Ethics
I’ve been teaching Aristotle and Hume (along with Plato, Kant and Kierkegaard) in an Ethics course for non-philosophers at the technical university where I work. Usually I like to teach Nietzsche when teaching Ethics, and reflecting common practice at present, the Genealogy of Morality. Usually I use the Walter Kaufmann edition, but I have also used the Maudmarie Clark and Alan J. Swensen edition. This semester I’ve give Nietzsche a rest, largely because as my students are not philosophy students they are more likely to pick up on the ‘Nietzsche was a Nazi’ myth. They are very good science students, but they lack a context to distinguish unreliable rumours in philosophy from genuine interpretation. I’m sure I’ll go back to Nietzsche again in a course where I’ll think of the best possible way of dispelling the infamous myth, but I’m having a break to get perspective at present.

Aristotle and Nietzsche
In teaching these philosophers I am certainly thinking about Nietzsche at all times (so it’s not really cheating on Nietzsche). One thing I’m concerned about is the assimiliation of Nietzsche to Aristotelian Virtue Theory. It’s a productive exercise t put Nietzsche in the context of Aristotle and Neo-Aristotelian virtue theory, but the differences are important. There is a bestowing virtue in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, but it is egotism. It is true that Aristotle’s virtue is egotistical in some way. As with other Antique thinkers, he’s concerned with the health of the soul, rather than assuming a burden of moral obligation. But, the Aristotelian Virtue is learned over time and becomes habitual in cognitive process with feed back as immediate knowledge of a principle becomes habitual knowledge of how to follow a principle in practice. But in Nietzsche virtue is the expression of a self which does not accept external legislation. It may be tempting to think of Nietzsche’s ‘Overman’ in terms of the ‘Magnanimous’ or ‘Great Souled Man’ in Aristotle. However, the Great Soul man is understood through the mean between excess and lack of virtue in Aristotle. Aristotle prefers the excess of virtue over the lack, so this does lead to some Nietzschean looking thoughts on the virtues of giving and heroism. The Nietzschean Overman experiences great tensions between great conflicting forces and has to be strong enough to integrate them. The Great Souled man follows prudent habits in which we have a set of consistent virtues, which connect with no problem. Nietzsche’s ethics must be understood in terms of self-invention, inner conflict and a spontaneous giving from bursting inner strength; together with a strong distinction between inner life and civic life.

Hume and Nietzsche
There are readings of Nietzsche which make him look like Hume based of the claims that both Hume and Nietzsche are: determinists with regard to the will; have a naturalistic view of philosophy and mental contents; follow a empirical-scientific model for philosophy. I doubt that Nietzsche read much Hume, his reading of the history of philosophy was patchy. He knew the Greek and Roman texts very well, and had only seriously read later philosophers in an intermittent way. This is used as argument against reading him in the context of Kant and German Idealism , but strangely not Hume. I suggest that his idea of Hume, as part of a group British psychologists, largely derives from his friend Paul Rée. The empirical-scientific model in Hume is very subjectivist-empirical undermining the objectivity of science, but that seems to be overlooke din the Humean Nietzsche readings. Nietzsche did not abandon an earlier ‘aesthetic’ view for a later ‘scientific view’, as he sees continuity between science and art. Hume’s ethics of minimising pain and increasing pleasure is reactive by Nietzsche’s standards; Nietzsche’s ethic is one of a strength which can absorb pain and which creates without regard to a calculus of pain and pleasure; the creative uses and increases pain to increase. It seems to me Nietzsche does have a form of libertarianism with regard to the will, based on the indeterminism of nature; and one might argue Hume shuld have done the same if he had been consistent about the invented nature of causality.

Nietzsche, Kant and German Idealism
This whole topic has fallen into undeserved oblivion. It’s true that Nietzsche is against the Idealist view of a strong homology between mind and nature. It’s may also be true that Nietzsche’s main understanding of Kant was through Schopenhauer’s reading, and that he had not read much German Idealism. With Nietzsche though, it is important to realise his talent for strategic reading, on the basis of limited knowledge he was able to grasp the significance of Kant and Hegel for his own ideas, and the conflcits he was interested in. The section on duties to oneself in Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals, refers to the human as the individual who commands and obeys the self. This is a very Nietzschean thought, the human strength which grows from inner conflict. The Kantian self legislates from a subjective point of view, it’s good for Nietzsche, though the universality of reason is not so good for him.

Foucault and Derrida. Antique Ethical and Political Concepts

Foucault and Derrida
Something I’m working on at present is the discussion of antique ethical and political concepts in Foucault and Derrida. Both published work focusing on this in 1984. In Derrida’s case in Politics of Friendship; in Foucault’s case the 2nd and 3rd volumes of History of Sexuality: The Uses of Pleasure and The Care of the Self.

Republicanism and Individualism: Ancient and Modern Liberty
In both cases, there is a turn towards what is known as Republicanism, the political approach according to which citizenship and participation in politics are good in themselves. There is a well established historical narrative that has been discussed going back to the Eighteenth Century according to which the Antique world understood liberty as independence of the nation and the absence of a single all powerful ruler, in which everyday life is very tied up with public rituals and the duties of citizenships, and in which liberty means participation. In this narrative liberty in the modern world is understood as individual freedom from outside interference, the limitation of the public sphere, the right of the individual to be indifferent to public affairs, and in which liberty means individual freedom from constraint. This narrative maybe goes back to Hobbes in the Seventeenth Century, it certainly appears in Montesqueiue, Rousseau, Hegel, Constant, Wilhelm von Humboldt and Tocqueville. Kierkegaard refers to it in his discussion ancient and modern tragedy.

Foucault and Derrida do not challenge this narrative, but they do very effectively show the ways in which individuality appears in the antique world and the ways in which the unity of individuality and public citizenship becomes fractured.

Foucault on Sexuality
Foucault looks at the ways that the capacity to be a citizen is defined in terms of sexuality. The person capable of citizenship has sexual relations with social inferiors, young women or men. This indicates the way that antique citizenship is based on mastery of slaves, or at the very least not belonging to a slave class. capacity for citizenship was also understood in terms of control of the passions in self-mastery. The emphasis both on sexuality as mastery and limitation of sexuality is paradoxical. The paradox becomes greater in antique history as the merit of chastity is more and more recommended for the health of the soul. Foucault clearly has a particular regard for the period proceeding the greater emphasis on chastity. In the earlier period he sees creation of the self, individual freedom, through the emphasis on maximising pleasure.

Derrida on Friendship
Derrida picks up on the role of friendship mostly with reference to Aristotle. Aristotle’s typology of the main kinds of friendship are generally well known as part of his ethics. Derrida picks up on the political significance with regard to democracy. Democracy presumes friendship between citizens. Aristotle’s discussion refers to friendship in political terms, the ruler should be the friend of the ruled. Derrida points out political consequences of Aristotle’s views. Aristotle thought that friendship must be selective, if I have too many friends the idea of friendship is extremely weakened because the available energy is split between too many people. Derrida suggests that logically Aristotle is bound to find that a man’s friend can only be himself or a god. Friendship requires death, because I can only test someone’s friendship completely by testing their reaction to my death. Since democracy is defined as friendship, the politics of friendship is conditioned by the paradoxes of friendship. Democracy must become oligarchic because it rests on selection of friends. The friend is is defined by relation to the enemy, as Carl Schitt suggested. None of this can eliminate the problems of friendship,. Democracy has to become, it is ‘yet’, a ‘to come’.