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.

Philosophical Beginnings of Early Modern Literature

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

If we look at the emergence of modern literature in France and Britain, we could just as much talk about its origins in works of philosophy, and moral commentary, as in the historical development of literary genres.

Does any ‘purely’ literary figure contribute more to the emergence of French literature than Montaigne, Descartes, Pascal, La Rochefoucauld, La Bruyère? A case could be put for Rabelais, but in any case we cannot talk about French literature without talking about these philosophers and moralists. In the case of la Rochefoucauld, we could even see the relations between moral reflections and literature through his private relationship with Madame de La Fayette and his friendship with Madame de Sévigné. The most significant thing is that we can see a big contribution in La Rochefoucauld’s Maxims towards literary style and towards an informal theory of the passions which establishes the themes of French literature.

Literature and philosophy seem less obviously entwined in Britain, if critics put Shakespeare in a philosophical context, they tend to bring in Montaigne. But let us consider the following.

The contribution made to English style by Francis Bacon, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Adam Smith and Edmund Burke.

The sense in Bacon and Hobbes the existence of the arts depends on the existence of sovereignty, law and the state.

Bacon’s use of utopian fiction in New Atlantis. Bacon’s emphasis on an orientation of the self towards the truth in nature and away from distracting idols. That seems to lead in the direction of an anti-rhetorical abstract philosophical language, but it is also the story of a dramatic struggle of the self with distraction. There is a historical and personal account of the orientation necessary for nature to reveal itself. That account includes the supremacy of law, instituted by a state.

For Hobbes, the existence of the arts depends on the existence of the covenant and the artificial man of the state. He believes in the truth of pure reasoning, but finds it necessary to resort to rhetoric to communicate his truths (as Quentin Skinner has pointed out at considerable length). The covenant and the artificial man is explain in the picture of the giant man made up of smaller people, and discussion of personation in drama and law.

In Hume, Smith and Burke we get theories of taste which incorporate permanent physiological sensation and changeable sociable agreement. Burke’s A Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful, has a rhythm governed by the moves from sensation to sociability and back again. Hume offers a theory of the mind as passions, and a theory of taste in which passions are understood as physiological and as formed by the evolution of social agreement. These ambiguities about sensation and sociability enter into Smith’s discussion of taste, of moral sentiments and his discussion of natural and non-natural order in the development of different forms of wealth (as I discussed in a post of 16th August 2009). These are ambiguities about the sentiments, how they affect each other and how they are affected by the external social and natural worlds. Al very germane to the literature of the time.

We might look at early modern British philosophy, as more than the establishment of an epistemological tradition, theories about how ideas of things relate to sensations of things and those things themselves, in which Locke on knowledge of physical is the defining discussion. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but there is a lot to be said for considering other frames, and placing Locke himself in that frame.

The Decline of Theology; the Growth of Aesthetics

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

I’m sure there are plenty of discussions about this, all I can remember right now is Carl Schmitt in Political Theology and Political Romanticism, which address different but relevant points.

As I suggested in yesterday’s post, Hume marks some kind of transition from a ‘Stoic’ belief in the sovereignty of reason overs the passions to a belief in the sovereignty of passion, to use a crude formulation I hope has a useful function in elucidation. The interest in ‘taste’ is tied up with this loss of sovereign reason, not that I’m suggesting that Hume is an irrationalist, but that some kinds of Reason are undermined by him.

One form of Reason that Hume undermines, famously, is metaphysical theology and its centrality to philosophy. While I don’t think there is a such a thing as an outright victory or defeat in arguments about religious and naturalist views of the universe, or the existence of God, Hume and then Kant’s arguments on this topic are nevertheless about as successful as any set of philosophical arguments have ever been in shifting the central pre-occupations of philosophy. This is not necessarily anything to do with abandoning God and religion: Hume avoids such an argument and has been taken up by Faith based thrological thinkers; Kant intended to strengthen a way of thinking about ethics which gives us a reason to believe in God. However, their arguments certainly make it easier to abandon God and religion, and shift philosophy away from putting God at its centre in metaphysics.

Very broadly, the arguments of Hume and Kant depend on making a separation between the evidence of our perceptions, and our knowledge of ultimate reality. There is no way tracing our perceptions back to a unified divine cause. There is also no basis for the argument that there is a kind of being that must exist, because it is perfect being, which means a whole shift away from any assumption that some kinds of beings are dependent on higher kinds of being, and so on until we reach Perfect Being as the source of all beings. That is, we move away from the idea of a hierarchy of being.

In Hume and Kant, aesthetics and taste enter into areas where God would have entered, in earlier philosophy. Ethics in Hume is linked with aesthetic taste, in the explanation of how it is formed and how it develops in human history. Kant harmonises ethics and knowledge with reference to an account of the power of judgement, the first half of which is taken up with aesthetic judgement. Understanding and sensibility are harmonised through beauty, coming into the role Descartes, Occasionalists and Leibniz attributed to God, of harmonising different substances. When Kant talks about harmonising understanding and sensibility he is approaching the issue of harmonising mental substance and physical substance in earlier philosophers. Beauty symbolises moral ideas for Kant, and that symbolism is the model for grasping God. The sublime is a way of grasping God, as what is greater than any force of nature. Agreement on taste is the basis for communicability between humans.

Reason is no longer sovereign over the passions, God is no longer sovereign over events. Taste emerges as a way of explaining how the passions organise and unify different people; the beautiful and the sublime emerge as ways of unifying the faculties of the mind, and grounding social communication. We are not necessarily talking about a total aestheticisation of philosophy here, but we are taking about its ineliminability from a less theological philosophy.

The Death of Stoicism and the Birth of Aesthetics

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

Returning to a topic I addressed on 3rd July, ‘Racine, Hume and the Death of Tragedy’, I’ve been considering the birth of philosophical aesthetics in the 18th Century in relation to ethical changes of the time. I refer to the birth of philosophical aesthetics in the 18th Century, partly because that is when ‘aesthetic’ began to be used as a term for philosophy of beauty and art. There was such a philosophy in Plato and Aristotle, but in the 18th Century we get questions not asked before: what is taste and why does it change? What can we learn about history through poetry? How can aesthetics harmonise nature and human history?

These aesthetic questions arise from uncertainty about the movements of humans consciousness, the feeling that the passions moves beyond the control of reason and not in a sense that can be resolved by focusing on rationality. It is Hume who says that reason can only be, and only should be, the slave of the passions. What Hume meant by the passions is more expansive than our sense of inner intensity. In Hume it refers to a much more general sense of ideas in the mind and the way they combine and bring about actions and thoughts. The important point here is that the mind can never be completely rational, and should not be completely rational, though rationality is a state we should pursue.

The idea of an ethics of reason controlling the passions, would have been something Hume associated with Stoicism. He also associated it with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, but in his time Stoicism was much more at the forefront of what people thought had been bequeathed by the Ancient world. Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, were seen through a Stoic understanding. Hume sometimes refers Cicero, who had a dominant position in republican political thought and as an ethical thinker, which has disappeared since the 19th Century, though has been recently revived. Cicero was maybe not a pure Stoic, but is understood to have been sympathetic to Stoic ethics.

Very briefly and crudely, I am defining Stoicism as rationality over the emotions in a balanced self, which fully understands itself. We can see the force of this ‘Stoicism’ in Montaigne and Descartes, but also the strain placed on it by a philosophical interest in self-reflection. That strain is made clear by Pascal. Jumping back to Hume, whatever relationship he did or did not have with Montaigne or Descartes (who he certainly took very seriously) or Pascal, he belongs to a moment in which ‘Stoicism’ is collapsing though Hume hangs on to a mitigated interest in it. But because Hume, himself, undermines the ‘Stoic’ self through his scepticism about causality, personal identity, and free will, he starts to think of taste for beauty as something variable and subjective, in a way which would have seemed highly peculiar to Plato and Aristotle. Hume needs to think of ways in which human sociability allows common standards of taste to emerge.

The ‘aesthetic’ in Hume emerges from the disintegration of the ‘Stoic’ and this is the background to the ‘aesthetic’ (taste, poetics, the sublime and the beautiful) in Hutcheson, Burke, Vico and Kant.