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Shunning idolatry

Tuesday, 29 Dec 2020

Nietzsche on Dr John Dunn. In Ecce Homo Nietzsche thundered - ‘the truth is terrible’. All of us are destined for striving, disappointment, affliction and oblivion. So much of life, Heidegger argued, is devoted to diverting our attention from the terrible truth.

The chatter, pleasantries and customs of our daily routines soften the hard edges of the terrible truths about our moral situation but those truths intrude.

Behind the inanities of bourgeois lie a host of morally distasteful realities seven deadly sins pale in comparison.

We often do not admit to the terrible truth because beliefs about ourselves are mostly illusory. Psychologists have found only the clinically depressed typically have an accurate self perception, that is one that corresponds to what others actually think.

Why keep on living when life promises systemic suffering immorality and illusion? Why not accept Schopenhauer's apparent verdict and give up on life all together?

Nietzsche was obsessed with responding to Schopenhauer's challenge from his earliest work to his very last.

The 1886 prefatory essay to his first book the Birth of Tragedy makes the point that the existence of the world is justified only as anaesthetic phenomenon - what he calls a Dionysian perspective on life.

At the end of his Ecce Homo, Nietzsche writes, ‘Have I been understood? --- Dionysus versus the Crucified!’ He was reiterating his point that whilst the Dionysian affirms life the crucified thinks actual life is fundamentally deficient.

Nietzsche’s Dionysian attitude towards life is purely artistic, celebrating aesthetic value, illusion and deception whilst rejoicing in the destruction of morality and in particular Christian morality.

In what sense exactly can life be justified aesthetically in light of the terrible truths about the human situation?

What aesthetic values might life exemplify that would enable people to justify life aesthetically and resist Schopenhauer's pessimism?

Something can have aesthetic value even if it has no epistemic value that is even if it doesn't help us understand the truth.

In Nietzsche's view it is the mark of aesthetic value that it lacks epistemic value.

However, having epistemic value is often treated as a moral requirement.

The Christian idea of ‘the truth shall set you free’ is what Nietzsche took issue with in the 1886 Prefatory essay to The Birth of Tragedy, ‘An Attempt at Self-Criticism’.

In truth, nothing could be more opposed to the purely aesthetic interpretation and justification of the world which are taught in this book than the Christian teaching, which is, and wants to be, only moral and which relegates art, every art, to the realm of lies; with its absolute standards, beginning with the truthfulness of God, it negates, judges, and damns art.
By ‘the truthfulness of God’ Nietzsche means God reduced to an idol, a fixed point of reference to beworshipped - an abstraction.

Nietzsche is taking issue with the idolatrous view of truth - making an idol of truth.

To live aesthetically is to shun idolatry.

Truthfulness is hostility to art and to life, claims Nietzsche. But why?

Behind this mode of thought and valuation, which must be hostile to art if it is at all genuine, I never failed to sense a hostility to life - a furious, vengeful antipathy to life itself: for all of life is based on semblance, art, deception, points of view, and the necessity of perspectives and error.
Here is an interesting claim: life is art and art is deception, a lie, a distortion. If you think that truth is good, then you are damning life. But the moral view, the Christian view:
was from the beginning, essentially and fundamentally, life's nausea and disgust with life, merely concealed behind, masked by, dressed up as, faith in "another" or "better" life.
Since being able to live depends on illusion in Nietzsche's view, any moral imperative to know only the truth is necessarily an obstacle to life.

By pitting moral aestheticism against truth, Nietzsche emphasised a creative, active element in our justification of life as opposed to lifeled passively in the shadow of a pre-given dead and abstract truth.

It was in some way related to this that Nietzsche declared God to be dead, i.e. that God the idol is dead.

Perhaps the corollary of this is that God, the metaphorical concept associated in some way with the active creation of the cosmos, is very much alive as aesthetic life.

© John Dunn.

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