WAS NIETZSCHE THE END OF REASON?
Nietzsche was famous for his philosophy of satiation of desires and passions because he rejected age-old notions of reason as the element of human beings that separates them from animals. Animals follow their desires and passions blindly and do not have reason as the guiding light of their behavior. On the other hand, human beings have reason, which has given rise to culture and the values and norms that make social intercourse possible. Nietzsche suggested that society was weak if it attempted to constrain the expression of passions and desires. Contrary to other philosophers such as Kant and Schopenhauer, who argued that human beings should seek to obliterate their passions and desires, Nietzsche celebrates the desires and passions as things worthy of expression in human life. Therefore, he advises his readers to abandon the standard conception of reason as a tool for diminishing desires and passions and embrace a higher conception of reason as a tool that can help an individual to express them. Therefore, he argues that human existence is the expression of the will to power. This was a viewpoint similar to the interpretation of evolution as survival of the fittest. The application of evolutionary theory in its most basic form to human beings negates ethical and moral considerations, which is at odds with most philosophical traditions since ancient Rome and Greece. Kant noted that to be moral or ethical is to be rational. Therefore, any conception of reason that discounts morality and ethics as fundamental to human existence cannot be a correct apprehension of reason. The paper argues that Nietzsche was not the end of reason since his conception of reason was based on an archaic view of human beings as pursuers of self-interest without a moral or ethical dimension.
Schopenhauer and Nietzsche are perhaps some of the most influential philosophers in the existentialist movement, which sidelined reason and any form of idealism in favor of the passions as the ultimate measure of human experience. Nietzsche was highly critical of the rational faculties in books such as Thus Spake Zarathustra in which he stated that human rationality is not very rational (Nietzsche, 2018). Nietzsche proposes that reason soils the pure knowledge of perception, which is an example of Schopenhauer’s influence on his philosophical thought. Reason allows human beings to think about phenomena but it does not provide any utility in terms of action. Therefore, existentialist philosophers such as Sartre propose that the will or human actions should determine the human life course rather than ideas or cognitions about life. The will allows for practical life or being while reason is just theory or contemplation of the same. Nietzsche stretches this conception of the differences between reason and perception by proposing that reason changes the data from the senses through its capacity to reshape, reorder, and schematize things, consequently falsifying them. Therefore, he echoes Schopenhauer’s (2016) philosophy on the importance of pure unadulterated perception to art. However, Schopenhauer did not condemn reason to the extent that he considered it a falsification of sense perception. He considered reason a useful tool that could aid in understanding the material world if applied correctly and with good intentions. Schopenhauer strongly condemned philosophers such as Hegel and Fichte, who he accused of knowingly propagating falsehoods in order to advance their philosophical careers or gain fame (Schopenhauer, 2016). He pejoratively referred to such philosophers as ‘bread philosophers’ because of their materialistic ambitions.
While Nietzsche almost worshipped Schopenhauer as the ultimate philosophical genius, he sharply divulged from him in significant ways, particularly regarding the importance of theoretical philosophizing. What Schopenhauer called abstraction in the search for philosophical truth Nietzsche called the castration of conditions or simplification (Schopenhauer, 2016). In addition, Schopenhauer considered abstraction an important tool in the acquisition of knowledge while Nietzsche considered it as a means of obtaining power over things. Nietzsche proposed that human beings did not want truth in and of itself but wanted it to pursue personal ends because of its usefulness. This is another example that could explain Nietzsche’s dissatisfaction with Schopenhauer’s viewpoint since the latter sought truth for its own sake rather than because of its usefulness, as was evident in his endless and acerbic attacks on the ‘bread philosophers’ (Dolson, 1901). By only acknowledging the practical utility of reason and denying its theoretical validity, Nietzsche lays the foundation for a philosophy that acknowledges the primacy of will even in philosophical matters. The will to power, according to Nietzsche, is the driving force behind all beings and the weak ones have failed to reach their full potential. Thus, he proposes that all men, if they are to actualize their full potential, should seek the ubermensch or Superman by giving themselves over fully to their passions and carnal inclinations presumably at the expense of other weaker beings (Nietzsche, 1968). In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche denies the theoretical nature of reason and accords it a practical nature. He regards it a tool for survival such as any other tool that is useful in sustaining the human being. Consequently, Nietzsche does not vilify any human being that falsifies knowledge or reshapes perception to create the human reality but actually promotes such as endeavor (Nietzsche, 1885). To the postmodern reader of Nietzsche’s ideas, this is a horrifying proposition since it suggests negating all ethical and moral considerations in human action as long as it advances the survival of the individual. Consequently, Nietzsche has been tied to the rise of the Nazi ideologies of a master race since his philosophy suggests that a superman is possible through a forceful application of will coupled with abandoning oneself to the passions.
The focus on the passions or the carnal nature of human beings occurred within the context of Darwin’s theory of evolution. The shift between emotion and reason got a boost from Darwinian evolution since it suggested human beings had animal origins, making them subject to the same self-interested pursuit of survival as their animal ancestors. Darwin (2004) proposed that species evolved by means of natural selection and only the fittest survive to create the next generation. This view was later applied to human beings in the early 20th century to justify ‘helping’ nature by selecting and euthanizing the ‘undesirables’ in society to strengthen the human race. While the scientific community abandoned this ‘tooth and claw’ understanding of evolution with the development of concepts such as group selection as opposed to individual selection after World War II (WWII), it held much credence in early 20th Century (Borrello, 2005). During the enlightenment (1715-1789), reason was the preoccupation of academics since it was considered the most crucial element of human nature that made human beings distinctly separate from animals. In the modern era, intellectuals such as Freud, whose psychoanalytical approach to understanding the mind was highly influenced by Schopenhauer, started focusing on the animalistic, chaotic, and irrational forces. For example, Freud contended that human beings were inherently irrational since their actions and behaviors were the results of unconscious forces. The most visible culmination of this viewpoint of human beings occurred during the mid-20th century when popular movements such as eugenics and social Darwinism became legitimate fields of study among intellectuals.
Nietzsche’s ideas about the superman are similar to social Darwinism and eugenics since all these viewpoints propose that human beings are similar to animals in that both seek survival or the maximization of self-interest in competition with others. Therefore, the demise of the weaker was considered supportive of human evolution. In some extreme cases, it was even considered vital for human well-being. Consequently, Nazism, a political movement that sought to obliterate ‘undesirable’ groups of people and races emerged, culminating in the most destructive world war in human history. Humanity fully gave itself over to its animalistic tendencies in outrageous bursts of violence across Europe. This would have appeared to be a vindication of Freud’s theoretical postulation in Civilization and its Discontents in which he stated that man is a beast tamed by civilization (Freud, 2005). On the other hand, the system that emerged because of ideas such as Darwinism would place some human beings above others rather than consider all human beings as equally valid products of the evolutionary process. The premise could be attributed to Nietzsche’s ideas about the superman.
One of the most common and enduring themes in modern and postmodern ideology is that of the genius and the common man. Schopenhauer thought that the genius was a special type of being whose intellect was strong enough to overcome the impulses of the will (Schopenhauer, 2016). In early modernity, intellectuals contributed to the development of unimaginable inventions, which must have appeared superhuman to the imagination of the individuals living in that era. Figures such as Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud and their miraculous insights must have appeared superhuman within the pre-WWII context. Therefore, extremist figures such as Adolf Hitler found fertile ground for the development of eugenics ideas and mass extinction of undesirables. While there were opponents to fascist ideas, there was widespread support for eugenics in Europe and North America respectively. There is little doubt that this would have happened without the Darwinian and Nietzschean ideas on the future of the human being. Considering that animals and other natural beings compete for survival and according to Darwin, only the fittest would survive, thus, it was an eventuality that society would adopt a Darwinian sociopolitical ideology that pitted the strong against the weak. Nietzsche’s role in the development of these sociopolitical ideologies lies in his critic of the traditional understanding of reason according to the ancient Greeks and Romans, and philosophers such as Kant and Schopenhauer.
Nietzsche departed from the traditional view of reason in that he rejected the archaic that reason allowed for a purely theoretical apprehension of human existence. The rationalists of the enlightenment, the Greek and Roman stoic tradition, and the budding empirical scientific community in the western world considered reason a primary element that could lead human beings to the truth. Against this background, Nietzsche carved out his own path during his lifetime by suggesting that ancient philosophers and modern enlightenment intellectuals had ignored the use of reason as one of the most important aspects of reason (Nietzsche, 1968; Nietzsche, 1885; Nietzsche, 2007). Therefore, Nietzsche did not condemn reason in particular but he claimed what modern philosophers theorized about reason. He thought that modern philosophers misunderstood reason’s usefulness and the importance of passions and desires in the human experience. Nietzsche might not have been the end of reason but the reconceptualization of reason.
Nietzsche’s writings contain various elements that demonstrate that he changed what intellectuals thought as reason to ensure that it conformed to the prevailing knowledge about human origins and behavior. Nietzsche abandoned a theoretical understanding of reason in favor of a practical one. In this sense, he was the end of reason as conceptualized since the ancient Greeks until the enlightenment. Nietzsche criticized Socrates in The Problem of Socrates section of Thus Spake Tharathustra, which shows his contempt for theoretical reason (Nietzsche, 2018). He would have preferred the practical application of reason by Aristotle, who is the father of the scientific method. When compared, Socrates and Aristotle represent the theoretical and practical sides of reason especially when these two philosophers are viewed in hindsight. They are the best symbols that can shed light on what Nietzsche attempted to do in his rejection of the common understanding of reason. The only difference is that Nietzsche applied his theory in eccentric ways that led to the development of non-scientific ideologies such as the development of a superman or super race that would rise above their physical and mental limitations in a leap of evolutionary transcendence. This was the major failing in Nietzsche’s argument that led to his sidelining in academic circles and revulsion in post-WWII sociopolitical circles because of the resemblance between Nazi ideology and his ideas about the superman. Nietzsche’s attack on reason as understood by philosophers has led to his sidelining in academia and sharp criticism from critics and commentators, particularly regarding his ‘tooth and claw’ interpretation of reason’s utility. However, scientific materialists who consider the material world the only nature of existence and deny any spiritual side appear to side with Nietzsche in that they consider reason to be a product of evolutionary forces. Therefore, reason can only be a development in human evolution to aid the survival of the human species. Consequently, reason has practical utility and any theoretical utility reason allows human beings to advance survival. This view promotes science and technology since these are useful applications of reason while it negates the usefulness of abstract philosophical theorization. This view of reason could be considered arrogant since philosophies such as metaphysis were the background of the scientific revolution. Now that science has developed its mechanisms for understating the world, intellectuals have abandoned theoretical reason in favor of a practical one, which is called the scientific method.
The analysis of Nietzsche’s view of reason has demonstrated that he wanted to change the view of reason from the traditional theoretical one to a more practical one. The defining element of Nietzsche’s practical conceptualization of reason is his postulation that there is a strong and weak. In the case of the strong, reason is a pastime while in case of the weak, it is a crutch that helps them deal with their inability to live a full life. He considers it a sedative that weak people cling to in order to withstand the blows of life (Nietzsche, 1885; Nietzsche, 2007). In Twilight of the Idols, Nietzsche considers conventional or traditional philosophy as the type that is suited to weak people. He states that in human history, most of the philosophers have been weak. In this instance, he seems to negate the work of most philosophers, including the enlightenment. He suggests that while history has elevated the conventional philosophers as heroes of mankind, they have made mankind weaker by offering a sedative that only serves to increase their weariness of life rather than to rise above their weaknesses by denying all philosophical crutches. Some of these crutches include God, who Nietzsche famously declared that He is dead. Another crutch is the eternal life. Nietzsche thought that the conception of eternity, which is a product of ‘weak philosophers,’ helps human beings to overcome the awareness that one day they will die. He refers to concepts about eternity as Egyptianism (Nietzsche, 2007). This is a sharp critique of conventional philosophy, including Schopenhauer’s concept of eternal justice in The World as Will and Idea (Schopenhauer, 2016). His sharp critiques about the consolations of philosophy equate conventional philosophy to religion. He suggests that conventional philosophy is similar to theism. He adds that philosophical Egyptianism is concerned with the creation of conceptual mummies (Nietzsche, 2007). This is an example of Nietzsche’s virulent disregard for religion and the inherent morality of human beings. In the post-WWII era, group selection and ethical theories about human behavior discounted the view that human beings are inherently selfish. Concepts such as the selfish gene by Richard Dawkins have demonstrated that while human beings can be extremely selfish, they can be ethical and moral particularly with respect to their social in-groups such as family, community, or country (Borrello, 2005). This effectively negates Nietzsche’s view of reason as having only practical utility for the strong-willed.
Nietzsche’s naturalistic view of reason is at odds with current understanding about evolution. He introduces the concept of a higher nature, which refers to the human being’s willingness to live out their desires and passions without the censure of reason. He suggests that human beings should pause their rationality at the most opportune moments so that they can better satiate their passions and desires. Nietzsche introduces the idea of the superman in Beyond Good and Evil when he states that the sacrificing, the noble and magnanimous, who is an exceptional being, does not have the standard conception of reason since he is subject to a higher type of reason (Nietzsche, 1885). This higher reason allows the surpassing of the self rather than seeking the preservation of the self. Standard reason seeks to liberate the human being from the passions while higher reason seeks to form an alliance with reason, thereby allowing the individual to better assert his power over others and meet his or her desires and passions. Therefore, higher reason is a tool for achieving the will to power (Nietzsche, 1968). Nietzsche thought of life as the will to power. In such a worldview, any view of reason that attempts to impose moral constraints on the human ability to achieve the desires and passions is folly. It does not allow for lofty concepts such as ethics and morality, which is a viewpoint vehemently criticized in modern times. Therefore, Nietzsche’s view of reason, although adopted by later thinkers such as existentialists is an archaic one that does not conform to modern evolutionary theory or common sense for that matter. His viewpoint proposes a world in which every individual is persistent in meeting his or her desires even at the expense of others, which is a world that would not last very long as was evidenced in the large-scale deaths and chaos that characterized WWII.
The analysis has shown that Nietzsche was not the end of reason since he only tried to re-conceptualize reason to justify the pursuit of individual self-interests at the expense of other people. His ideas of the superman were based on a false philosophical understanding of the struggle for existence in human and animal life. He was in a social context in which Darwinian principles of survival of the fittest or nature read in ‘tooth and claw’ were widespread, which led to ideas such as eugenics and the higher fitness of some races than others did. His higher reason denies self-control or the control of the passions and desires for the good of society. Therefore, he considers self-control as a denial of self. He considers ethics and morality as folly since they deny the full expression of the human will to power. In Nietzsche’s view of reason, reason is a tool for pursuing self-interest and should not be wasted in pursuing theories or ideas that suppress the will to power such as eternity or religious belief. Rather than support human existence, his view of reason sets the stage for human destruction since the society he envisions is one in which everyone pursues self-interests while trampling other people’s best interests. The modern theories of evolution such as group selection and advanced scientific understanding of human behavior have discounted Nietzsche’s higher reason. Therefore, the research concludes that Nietzsche was not the end of reason.
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