The discontents of science leading to … ?

Brandon F. writes:

I’ve been enjoying reading Nietzsche lately and wondering what he would think of modern liberals and scientists. I came across this passage this morning and thought to send it to you….

[S]cience today is a hiding place for every kind of discontent, disbelief, gnawing worm, despictio sui, bad conscience—it is the unrest of the lack of ideals, the suffering from the lack of any great love, the discontent in the face of involuntary contentment.
— The Genealogy of Morals, Third Essay, Section 23.)

LA replies:

This passage fits the pattern described by Eugene Rose. Realism / materialism / reductionism, the second stage of nihilism, robs the world of meaning, by reducing all truth to materialist truth and allowing no other truth. The nihilist reacts against this desolating realism, but he does so, not by seeking to restore the truth that Realism denies, but by accepting the realist view that truth is only material-reductionist truth, and so, because that notion of truth is so grim and depressing, rejecting truth altogether and saying that fun, energy, pleasure, excitement, power is what it’s about, not truth. In this way the realist stage of nihilism leads directly to the vitalist stage of nihilism

Nietzsche is the vitalist type of nihilist. He rejects science because of its “lack of ideals … the lack of any great love.” But he does so, not in order to restore the ideals that science trashed, but to replace ideals altogether with the will to power.

See Mark Richardson’s recent discussion of this same idea, where he shows how Rose’s concept of vitalism reacting against realism helped him understand a certain writer.

Brandon replies:

This is what I am trying to figure out about Nietzsche: What kind of truth is he denying and what kind is he affirming? Is there a way to qualify that? I meant to say that he still is getting at some truth … he can’t escape that. Genealogy of Morals is a fascinating, energizing read either way it goes.

It seems to me the very things he criticizes Christianity for, neighbor love, pity, self loathing, have found their apotheosis in modern liberalism. Has the true nature of the Christian ethic been liberated…. exposed by Liberals? I wonder.

If you don’t mind I would like to know if you know fully what he means by the last words of the quote I sent you … “the discontent in the face of involuntary contentment.”

I admit I don’t quite grasp what he means by involuntary contentment.

LA replies:

I don’t know what line means. And I don’t know what it has to do with science.

Maybe he means that modern life as a result of the advances of science has become too comfortable, deadening the spirit.

I read The Genealogy of Morals with great excitement when I was about 21, and was floored by the last sentence, “It is better to will the void, than be void of will.”

You ask, “What kind of truth is he denying and what kind is he affirming?”

Let me relax here and quote my own best shot at an answer to that question, where I explain Nietzsche’s philosophy in 253 words:

Nietzsche was a nihilist of the vitalist type (of which there are a variety of subtypes). For him meaning came not from any inherent truth of existence, but from the will to power. Each people and culture has its own will to power, its own goals and gods. Each of these belief systems has value in that it enhances life. But none of them is really true, and in fact the will to life of each culture requires the suppression of the will to truth. But now we’ve entered the modern, scientific age, in which the will to truth has emerged as a force in its own right. And this will to truth expresses itself in a new type of man, the superman. The superman sees (as the people of the past cultures did not) that there is no truth. Furthermore, he sees that this cosmos that lacks any essence repeats itself eternally. So not only is there the pain and meaninglessness of existence, but man must keep living through the same cycle of pain and meaninglessness forever. However, if he says YES to this Eternal Return, if he embraces all existence, despite its eternal cycle of meaninglessness and suffering, then he rises above the suffering to joy, and becomes a superman.

It is a perfect inversion of Christianity. Instead of fulfilling himself by finding his true self in God, the superman fulfills himself by saying Yes to eternal meaninglessness and horror in a world without God. It is the supreme nihilistic vision.

Finally, you ask, Does liberalism fulfill the “ascetic ideal” of self-sacrifice discussed in The Genealogy of Morals? Interesting question. In a general sense the answer would seem to be yes. But to answer the question properly I’ll have to look at the book again and think about it.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at May 10, 2009 11:59 PM | Send

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