Sunday, June 22, 2014

Five Paradoxes of Nietzschean Philosophy

Nietzscheanism is a faith for all and none
[The following is an excerpt from an essay on a Christian theological interpretation of the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. The (3,000 word) essay is divided into five sections that address what I consider to be the five central paradoxes of Nietzscheanism. Each section is subdivided into three sub-sections (i.e. a, b, & c) which (a) present the explicit contradiction of Nietzsche's doctrine, (b) present the Christian answer to this contradictory doctrine, and (c) present how these doctrines must be interpreted in light of their (a) evident self-contradictions. The subsequent development of the essay will intend to demonstrate how the mutual inconsistency of these five central paradoxes can only be resolved in a Christian theology.]

1.      God is Dead – We have killed Him

(a)   Propositional Self-Contradiction: God is defined, in Classical Theism (cf. Plato, Philo, Augustine etc.) as eternal, immutable and immortal, yet Nietzsche’s proclamation that “God is dead” (The Gay Science, § 125) predicates mortality of an immortal God, as though “God is immortal” and “God is mortal”.  The subject ‘God’ contradicts the predicate “is dead”. Thus “God is dead” is a self-contradictory proposition. Thus, the deity that Nietzsche’s madman proclaims to be dead must either be dead but not the eternal and immutable God of Classical Theism, or, if it is the God of Classical theism, must not be dead.

(b)   Christian Theological Interpretation: For the proclamation that “God is dead” to be true, God must be mortal and capable of death. Christianity concurs that God became a mortal man; was crucified by Pontius Pilate; and rose from death to ascend into Heaven. Hence, Christians may join Nietzsche in echoing the Lutheran hymn that “God himself is dead.” (cf. Eckhart, Pascal, Boehme and Silesius) This Christian notion of the death of God does not, however, mean that the eternal God the Father has died with Jesus Christ (i.e. Patripassianism); or even that the infinitude of God’s being has, in the history of later times become extinguished in the hearts of mankind (i.e. Secularization).  Rather, it means that the historical death Jesus Christ in the fullness of his divinity.

(c)     Sociological Interpretation: The proclamation that “God is dead” is generally interpreted, neither as a definite proposition (1.a) nor as the theological doctrine on the transcendent God of Classical Theism (1.b), but rather as a historicist description of the decline of belief in God throughout Western society. Nietzsche writes, for instance, that “the belief in the Christian God has become unbelievable” (The Gay Science, § 343). This description of the sociological ‘Death of God’ does not describe the necessary non-existence or essential absurdity of the God of Christian Theology.  Rather, it is merely a contingent observation of our society’s diminished collective faith in God. 

2.      Perspectivalism - There is no Truth

(a)   The truth that there is no Truth:  Nietzsche identifies the transcendent God of Platonism, Judaism, and Christianity with the absolutivity of truth. Thus Nietzsche writes “God is the truth, that the truth is divine” (The Gay Science, § 344). The truth of the ‘Death of God’ is consequently the truth that there is no truth.  The truth that there is no truth, however, contradictorily affirms what it denies and denies what it affirms: for if it were true that there were no truth then it would not be true that there were no truth; but if it were not true that there were no truth, then it would also not be true that there is no truth; and hence, in neither case, can it be true that there is no truth. The assumption that it is true that there is no truth results in the paradox, like the Epimenides Liar’s Paradox (e.g. the Cretan says that he is lying) in which the truth of the statement denies the truth of the statement, and is therefore self-contradictory.

(b)   God and Truth: For Christian theology, all positive properties of truth and goodness coincide in God. God’s infinity extends, without finite limit, to encompass every positive property. Since everything that is composed of finite parts must itself be a finite complex of finite parts, infinity can have no finite parts.  Thus the infinitude of God is not merely a complex of finite parts but is rather absolutely simple. Therefore God is, in virtue of his infinitude, both absolute and simple, in whom there is a simple identity of the absolutivity of all goodness, being, and truth. Christians may, in the confidence of their faith, believe themselves to be potentially capable of knowing this absolutivity of Truth, not merely because the Truth is eternally apprehended by God, but moreover because the nature of man is revealed to be made in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26), and to coincide with the nature and self-knowledge of divine truth in the person of the God-man Jesus Christ (e.g. “the way the truth and the light” Jn. 14:6).

(c)    Perspectivism and Idealism: The (1) “Death of God” entails the falsity of all truth, i.e. the truth that there is no Truth, only if (2.b) God is identified with the absolutivity of Truth. However if this identity of God and Truth (2.b) is affirmed then it is also denied when Nietzsche’s madman proclaims the ‘Death of God’.  The identity of God and Truth cannot be affirmed as a true premise from which to deduce the conclusion that God is thought to be dead, unbelievable, and false, simply because the premise, that ‘God is Truth’, contradicts the conclusion that ‘God is dead’, false, and it is false that ‘God is Truth’. To circumvent these contradictions, Nietzsche is forced to alter the meaning of the terms ‘truth’ and ‘God’ to mean that ‘truth’ which is relative to a certain perspective, and that idea of ‘God’ which is created by the mind. Thus Nietzsche writes “There is only perspectival seeing, only perspectival ‘knowing’” (Genealogy of Morals, III 12). Such perspectivism about truth and idealism about God is evidently neither the absolute Truth of Platonism and Classical Theism nor the God of Christian. Rather, it is merely a particular perspective on Truth, or perspectivism, and an idea of God , or idealism, that has been imagined by the human mind. (For more information on Nietzsche’s perspectivism and idealism see Lacewing, Nietzsche’s Perspectivism, and Green, Nietzsche and the Transcendental Tradition)
3.      Overcoming Nihlism – Something from Nothing

(a)   Nihilism: If the idea of God contained absolutely all being, truth, and value (2.b), then the 'Death of God' (1) results in the condition in which there is absolutely no being, truth, or value; in which there is nothing – nihil – or the belief in nothingness. (cf. Rosen, 1968 and Cunningham, 2002) Thus Nietzsche writes “Every belief is a considering-something-true… is necessarily false because there is simply no true world.” (The Will to Power, I.15) Nietzsche proposes an ethic of the overcoming of nihilism, in which this belief in nothing is, first acknowledged, and then (5) surpassed through the free creation of new values. Thus Nietzsche writes “Valuing is creating: hear it, you creating ones! Valuation itself is the treasure and jewel of the valued things.” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra I.15)  However, no new values can be created from the nothingness of values, for nothing comes from nothing - Ex nihilo, nihil. As a consequence of the ‘Death of God’, there is absolutely nothing, and this absolute nothingness eliminates any possibility of the creation of something from nothing.  Any purported creation of something from nothing would violate Parmenides' prohibition: “For never shall this prevail, that the things that are, not are”; the Principle of Proportionate Causality: that every effect must have a cause that is as great as the effect; and the Principle of Sufficient Reason: that nothing happens without a reason; for every act of creation must be conditioned by some prior being, cause, and reason.  Therefore the ‘Death of God’ results in the nothingness of all being, truth, and value, from whence nothing at all may be created, and nihilism may never be overcome.

(b)   The Dark Night of the Soul: Contrary to the classical doctrine of the eternity of matter, Christians affirm that God created world from nothing - creatio ex nihilo. This gift of created being from nothing is recapitulated, as a human drama, in the incarnation of the Jesus Christ, in whom the creator enters into the created world. For the Christian religious imagination, the death of Christ on the cross is tantamount to the annihilation of this prior principle and original source of all created being, truth, and value. The esoteric meaning of “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" or "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mt. 27:46) is that the sympathetic reader should feel within their hearts the infinite despair of hurtling headlong, along with every hope of man’s salvation in the person of Christ, into inescapable annihilation. This abyss of god-forsakenness is the scriptural paradigm of Christian nihilism, the Dark Night of the Soul, in which the totality of objective existence is annihilated for subjective consciousness (cf. G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, §785). It is the contemplative eclipse of all hope and future value, in imitation of the ‘Death of God’ on the Calvary. However, for Christian faith this eclipse is destined to be overcome in the good news of the resurrection, in which all hope that was lost is restored, and all that was annihilated is resolved into new life in Christ. Thus, Saint Paul of Tarsus writes: “Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him." (Rm. 6:8)

(c)    Speculative Good Friday: Nihilism may only be overcome if it describes a relative rather than an absolute nothingness.  This relative nihilism that Nietzsche seeks to overcome is the perspective (2.c) on the nothingness of being, truth, and values, resulting from the sociological 'Death of God' (1.c): a perspective is relative to the perceiving subject just as the sociological 'Death of God' is relative to the society which loses faith in God. The relativity of nihilsm results in the partial, rather than the complete, annihilation of being, truth, and values. While some beings, truths, and values are annihilated, some others are also preserved. Thus, the preservation of some old beings, truths and values allows for some new beings, truths, and values to be created from the old ones. Nietzsche specifically intends to annihilate the beings, truths, and values of Christian theology, along with its epigone of modern Liberalism. Nietzsche's philosophical annihilation of Christianity for the purpose of emancipating the will from reason recalls Hegel’s Speculative Good Friday for the purpose of emancipating the intellect; in which "the pure concept" of philosophy negates the "ungrounded idiosyncrasies of the dogmatic philosophies and of natural religion" to "recreate for philosophy the Idea of absolute freedom and along with it the absolute passion, the speculative Good Friday in the place of the historic Good Friday, and in the whole truth and harshness of its God-forsakenness." (Faith and Knowledge, p. 191)

4.      Eternal Return – Every Instant Burdened with Eternity

(a)   Eternity in an Instant and an Instant in Eternity: The motivation of for the overcoming of nihilism (3) is the Eternal Return, in which every instant is thought to recur infinitely many times for all eternity. Nietzsche writes: “Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again…” (The Gay Science, § 341) Eternity is the infinite duration of all time, while an instant is a finite moment in time. The Eternal Return is the infinite recurrence each finite instant of time so that it may perdure for all eternity. However, since eternity is infinite and an instant of time is finite, and nothing infinite may be composed of finite parts (2.b), the Eternal Return must be either eternity in an instant or an instant burdened with eternity. If the infinitude of time is conceived in a finite instant, then it is finite rather than infinite and not eternal; but if the finite instant is to infinitely recur, then it remains a composite of finite instants and is not eternal. Therefore, regardless of whether the Eternal Return is eternity in an instant or an instant in eternity, a finite instant cannot become an infinite eternity.
(b)   Eternalism and Presentism: For Classical Theism (cf. Philo, Augustine, and Boethius), God is both infinite in eternal duration (i.e. eternalism) and yet present to know each finite instant (i.e. presentism). God is eternal because he transcends all temporal duration, yet God is present for each instant because God knows every act in time. Thus, Saint Augustine of Hippo writes: “But the present, should it always be present and never pass into time past, verily it should not be time, but eternity.” (Confessions, Bk. XI) While eternity in an instant and an instant is eternity is contradictory for human understanding (4.a), it is nonetheless possible for God because God is the prior creator of both the logical categories of finitude and infinitude, as well as the predication of finitude in each finite instant and of infinitude in the infinite eternity of time. God’s eternalism and presentism transcends the world, yet, for Christian soteriology (i.e. the doctrine of salvation), divine eternality-temporality is immanent in the world of our moral practice. Every deed is, not only presently judged by our conscience to be good or evil, but is, moreover, judged to be good or evil by God in eternity; so that every deed is, in each instant, burdened with the moral gravity of eternity.

(c)    Eternity in Imagination: Nietzsche can circumvent the (4.a) contradiction of eternity in an instant only by reconceiving of eternity as an imagined potential infinity of time rather than as a true and actual infinity of time. A potential infinity is a sequence of moments that could potentially proceed to infinity if the process remained uninterrupted for an infinite duration of time (e.g. the calculation of the decimal numerals in the number Pi, π), while an actual infinity is that which has no finite limit, either in itself or outside of itself (e.g. the procession around the circumference of a circle). Since every concept of the imagination is delimited in the intuition of time, and an actual infinity is absolutely unlimited, only a potential infinity of time can be imagined. No actual infinity is conceivable. Hence, Nietzsche’s Eternal Return is merely the imagination of a potentially infinite sequence of moments in time, as though every act in each instance were repeated as many times as one might care to imagine it to have been, or to be repeated. Whether we choose to slavishly obey old values or to freely create new values, Nietzsche asks us to imagine this choice to have been, and to be infinitely repeated, so that we might, with terrible contrition, appreciate the moral gravity of our choices sub specie aeternitatis.

5.      Übermensch - The Creation of New Values:

(a)   Infinite Self-Overcoming: The Overman (i.e. Übermensch) is the infinite overcoming, surpassing, and transcending of every finite self-determination. Thus Nietzsche proclaims: “I teach you the Overman. Man is something to be surpassed.” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, §3)  Nietzsche presents the Overman as the zenith of voluntary self-overcoming. The Overman is exclusively opposed to the Last Man, who is the nadir of slavish self-satisfaction. Nietzsche asks us to choose to become either the Overman or the Last Man. Hence, if we affirm the Overman we must reject the Last Man, and vice versa. Thus Nietzsche writes: “It is time for man to plant the seed of his highest hope.” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, §5) However, Nietzsche’s ethic of the overcoming of nihilism (3) and the Last Man is a potentially infinite (4.c) task of ceaselessly negating, so as to overcome, every finite determination of himself. Since an infinite sequence is never completed, the infinite task of self-overcoming may never be achieved. Since every act is pursued for some purpose, and it would be absurd to pursue any purpose that could not ever be achieved, Nietzsche’s ethic of self-overcoming, by which man should become the Overman, is in principle an unachievable, absurd, and infinite task.

(b)   The God who is Man: For Christian Theology, Jesus Christ is the God-man who, by his divinity, infinitely transcends any possible ‘all-too-human’ goodness while remaining an individual human person. Since God’s infinity encompasses every positive property, which together constitutes the infinite goodness that is called perfection (1.b), and Jesus Christ is fully God (cf. Chalcedonian Formula), Christ is the image of divine perfection in man. Thus, Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes “Paul calls Christ the image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15)… If we are to become the invisible God’s image, we must model the form of our life upon the pattern given us…. [who] having become man through the Virgin, he was tempted in all things according to the likeness of human nature yet did not experience sin.” (On Perfection) Christ is the highest ethical ideal of self-overcoming because, as every act is perused for some good (cf. Plato, Gorgias, and Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics), and Christ is the ideal of God’s infinite divine goodness in man, so Christian ethics admonishes us towards this infinite self-surpassing goodness of Christ. Thus Christ teaches “Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)

(c)    Nietzschean Mythos: The infinitely self-surpassing Overman is the keystone myth in the grand mythos of Friedrich Nietzsche. Since the Overman can never be achieved in any possible person (5.a), it is neither a fact of the world nor of a future possibility that we may ever hope to achieve, but merely a myth created for the purpose of validating the many paradoxes of Nietzschean philosophy. The (1) ‘Death of God’, (2) the truth that there is no Truth, (3) the overcoming of nihilism, and (4) the Eternal Return are credible only if the reader believes that Nietzsche knows that the Overman knows them to be true, in the sure self-knowledge of his own incontestably infinitely self-surpassing greatness. However, since (5.a) the infinite self-overcoming of the Overman is absurd and impossible, none of the other paradoxes of Nietzschean philosophy may be validated by the self-knowledge of the Overman. The Nietzschean Overman knows the truth of the ostensible paradoxes of Nietzscehan philosophy in virtue of his infinite self-surpassing greatness in much the same way as Christ knows the truth of Christian doctrine in virtue of his divinity. Where Christians locate the incarnation of Christ in the historical past, Nietzsche locates the Overman as a potential for the future; and while Christians affirm the necessity of Christ, begotten in eternity before all things, Nietzsche suggests only the slimmest possibility of man surpassing himself to become the Overman. Thus Nietzsche writes: “Man is a rope stretched between animal and overman – a rope over an abyss.” (Thus Spoke Zarathustra, §4)

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Andrew Jeffery said...

You need to understand the use of metaphor here. Nietzsche doesn't literally believe God ever lived. "God is Dead" is a poetic way of expressing that decline of monotheism in European culture and consciousness. Through the metaphor of the Madman, Nietzsche is saying people no longer act and live as though God were alive. They still pay lip service to Christianity, Nietzsche is saying, but they don't really believe themselves. They speak of God as though they were at His funeral.

Andrew Jeffery said...

What I am saying is that you're first "paradox" is no paradox at all, once the sociological interpretation is understood.

One might add that given Nietzsche's general cynicism about the objectivity of philosophical method and linear argument, it would be quite inconsistent of him to turn around and give actual arguments for atheism. He apparently believes all philosophers choose their conclusion first and then rationalize them. (BGE 5) Secular unbelief arises, he suggests, for sociological reasons that have nothing to do with conventional philosophical atheism (BGE 58).

Ryan said...

Yes, I agree that the first paradox may be resolved, by rejecting any reference to a transcendent subject, once it is understood in an immanent and sociological rather than in the explicit propositional sense. Please observe that the first subsection (a) was intended to exhibit the explicit contradiction of the doctrine, and not (c) how it can be resolved with qualifications. I concluded, in subsection (c) that the sociological interpretation is how the (a) explicit contradiction of the 'Death of God' should be resolved. This is why I wrote:

"This description of the sociological ‘Death of God’ does not describe the necessary non-existence or essential absurdity of the God of Christian Theology. Rather, it is merely a contingent observation of our society’s diminished collective faith in God. "