fredag 29 augusti 2008

On Existentialism - and the problem with the paper from Shahrooz Ash

Dear Shahrooz and friends

From a ZOROASTRIAN point of view, the basic problem with Shahrooz's ambitious text (which I understand can please many American university or college teachers) is that it divides ALL thinking into only two fields: Christian and Atheist!

As ZOROASTRIANS, we need to tell these university doctors that there are OTHER options OUTSIDE of the limited scope of EUROPEAN thinking and history.

Zoroastrianism is precisely such a THIRD option. It is neither Atheist nor Christian. Its idea of "divinity" is radically difrerent from the boring alternatives of The Christian God vs Not Having The Christian God.

The thing is that many of the smartest thinkers of the past 200 years - from Hegel via Nietzsche to Derrida and Deleuze - knew this fact very well and were WELL READ on such matters as Eastern philosophy and even Zoroastrian philosophy (Nietzsche as a professor of PHILOLOGY had read Zarathushtra). Most American university philosophers however are ignorant of this fact.

So the problem with Shahrooz's text is not the authority of Shahrooz's teachers but that Shahrooz's teachers should have taken a bigger interest in SHAHROOZ and the culture and history of ideas that Shahrooz himself comes from.

Nietzsche called his existentialism AFFIRMATIVE nihilism, NOT cynical nihilism (which to Nietzsche was merely a nihilism not properly thought through). There was nothing meaningless, hideous, purposeless or dark about his take on life at all, quite to the contrary. Read Nietzsche himself to find out more!


2008/8/16 SHAHROOZ ASH


Shahrooz Ash

The existentialist views life as meaningless, hideous, purposeless, dark and absurd because the universe is Godless with no hope in sight for man. Existentialists claim that human Existence precedes Essence (essence is what makes things what they are). The universe has no intrinsic essence of its own. So, Existence > Freedom > Essence.

Prior to this thought, since the Middle Ages, humans had the view that God had existed first, then in the second stage God created an essence for its creation, and in the third and final stage God created existence. So, God > Essence > Existence.

Existentialism claims that if God exists, then God did not allow humans to decide the future, and so there goes our freedom of choice. Sartre claims we can create our own future. Generally speaking the existentialist is atheist, and if God does not exist, then God could not have created an essence for man.

Hence, we have absolute freedom to pick our own individual values. This allows us to make claims of subjectivity of essence and value. Therefore, our essence has not been established yet due to any rules; we set our own essence by making our own rules, all due to Atheism.

This gives humans all the freedom in the world to achieve their own essence; this means man is not limited or bound by anything, even in terms of ethical values. Ethical values limit a person's freedom to create his/her unique essence. In fact it means each person is allowed to commit any act; this translates to unlimited freedom.

So, each person decides for itself what it is right and what is wrong. Right and wrong in terms of values are relative/subjective for each individual. There is not even one, collective universal human ethical obligation towards any other person.

Furthermore, all ideas must be individual. We must not follow others in terms of our choices in life. This is a part of what makes life livable, the creation of one's own unique essence. What makes life livable is to live in a way which makes us feel real, because what feels real to a person is the only right thing.

People should be authentic when creating essence. According to Sartre, we must not follow any other person's essence if we are to remain authentic. The authentic person will never fit in with other people. In fact the most famous statement ever made by Sartre was, 'Hell Is Other People,' and this is why we must value our own individual values.

All that others do is to prevent us from what we really want to truly be. Others create hell for us and they do this by imposing their own morality on us. The rights and wrongs of others prevent and restrict our freedom. A person must be free of all things including values and ethics.

Sartre claims we do not choose our desires, and we are not in control of desires which enter the mind. However, despite all this, we do not need to act according to our desires. A person might have a desire in mind and want a desire, but to act according to your desire is a free action. Even if a person puts a gun against your head and demands money from you in a robbery, we still have the choice not to hand over the money. Even though one might get shot, it's a choice. It is still a free action to hand over the money. Anything which is not a reflex is a free action, because there is an alternative. Thus, Sartre thinks that not being in control of desires is not the same as having to act in accordance to our desires.

For Sartre, in order not to be held accountable, all we have to do is to take responsibility. He changes the meaning of the word 'responsible'. In other words you are responsible for everything you do, so you really better have wanted to do what you wanted to do. And taking responsibility is how one can deny accountability for all actions; this means in reality no person is blameworthy. Sartre is responsible for the term 'Take Responsibility', meaning no one is actually accountable. Taking responsibility is all that counts and then everyone should forget about it.

The problem of essence:
We create our own essence, but, the paradox is, we do not want an essence because we lock ourselves into being something. And we do not want that, because this means we have labeled ourselves and are no longer authentic. So we are constantly trying to escape what we just have become a second ago, which means a person can never identify or define himself. The minute we find an essence we need to get away from it, and we constantly recreate our essence.

So we never get anywhere. We never end up achieving anything. It is like going round and round. Sisyphus, in a meaningless effort, kept rolling a rock to the top of the hill. Every time he got really close to the top of the hill, the rock would roll back down. He did this all his life. The minute you think you are close to the finish line you have to go to the back of the line and start over again. Hence, there is no real objective, no real meaning. They protest, because the world is nasty and meaningless, and they do not need to like it.

For Kierkegaard we can always get to God by a leap of faith. We live in an absurd world - so why not believe in the most absurd thing, and that is, to believe in God. If you want to be absurd, then believe in God. To believe in God is one of the most absurd things to do, and it fills the requirement of Existentialism. We can get meaning and purpose by a leap of faith.

Schopenhauer and Nietzsche's idea of Will:
Since Nietzsche gets his idea of the Will from Schopenhauer, it would be important to look at Schopenhauer to further our understanding of the will. Keep in mind that Schopenhauer was not an Existentialist. Schopenhauer's world is divided into Thing-in-itself and Representation. This is the continuation of the Metaphysics of Kant. Kant had the world of Things-in-themselves, plural, but for Schopenhauer it becomes singular, Thing-in-itself.

The other difference is, the world of Phenomena in Kant's Metaphysics gets replaced by Schopenhauer and it becomes the world of Representation. He thinks the world of Representation consists of objects, and objects are in experience, which are phenomena. Outside this is the will which has produced our consciousness.

Representation > Consciousness > Phenomena
We are living on the will, and the will represents our consciousness. The will is outside our experience, the Thing-in-itself turns out to be the will, and, its manifestation in nature. We are little boats on a raging sea. The sea represents the will which is outside of our control and it throws us around. So we must resist this in order to survive.

World as Will > World-in-itself
Schopenhauer claims a lot of suffering exists in this world because of this will. Suffering is bad, and he blames the will for suffering. Everything was not for the best in the universe because of evil, confusion and passion. This is unlike the optimistic view of Leibniz, who thought, "We live in the best of all possible worlds."

The body itself becomes the most manifestation of the will, a direct embodiment of the will-to-live. Desire causes suffering and it is because of the will. The will is willing to spit us out in order to survive. The will is merciless and uses us, and all this causes suffering. Like in Buddhism, Schopenhauer wants to end this by denying the will, which ends desire and therefore reduce suffering.

The denial of will, self and self-interest produce a theory of morality and holiness. Morality is the means by which self-interest is put aside for the sake of others, and Holiness is the means by which all will-to-live will cease to exist. "Morality means, do not contribute to suffering."

Furthermore we must renounce the world. Saints, for example, can deny the world and be completely free of things that make us unhappy. Monasticism brings us holiness. Hence we can escape from bad things in the world by renunciation, and obtain real value by denying the world. By denying the will we deny the world, and the highest reward for this is peace. The person who has reached this level knows something others do not. The complete abolition of the will achieves this.

Schopenhauer believes Art and Beauty (aesthetics) can quiet the will, and this provides us with some peace - because, while the mind is occupied by music, it forgets about suffering. The supreme art is music. So he does emphasize Aesthetic value as the means to deny the will. Art can help us to free ourselves from the will, and this is the only form of freedom. The Apollonian form of art makes one happy and lets one forget about the world.

Nietzsche uses the idea of the will, but the will for Nietzsche is a good thing. If it causes suffering then that is a good thing, as long as it is someone else's. In fact we should enjoy the suffering the will causes if we can. Nietzsche thinks suffering is a part of life, and he does not want to deny it. However, both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche agree that the Apollonian world is a way of fighting the Dionysian world. In Nietzsche the optimism exists only in the superman.

For Nietzsche the consequence becomes the predator, and the lust for power. All men want power, and we use our will to obtain power, will to power. The predator does this by killing anyone for any personal reason, this is the real life, mother and child included, a world where right and wrong is subjective/relative, and not objective/absolute.

Justice and compassion is against life and a threat to man's existence. The human world is similar to the jungle. The strong and powerful can eliminate the weak. Anything in terms of action is allowable; even when not a thing is utilized, actions have no recourse. Certainly if power precedes everything else, it would mean ethics cannot limit your freedom in order to gain power.

In Zarathushtra we see the opposite (as demonstrated in Yasna 29). The Cow complains because it is under constant attack by predators. The cow and the soul of the living world ask Ahura-Mazda for a protector, someone to protect them against unwise, unethical and mindless predators. The predators' behavior and action in Yasna 29 is wrong and condemned by the living world. But not in Nietzsche's world. In the book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche states that Zarathushtra made a huge mistake claiming there is such a thing as ethics.

Nietzsche states Zarathushtra started the battle between Good and Evil, and Nietzsche wants to end it. It is here in this book that Nietzsche kills God. He claims God is dead, and with God's death ethical values are also dead. In Zoroastrianism life is good, so killing life for enjoyment, fun and power is wrong and thus, not ethical.

Ubermensch (Superman):
For Nietzsche we get meaning from will. Systems of value were created by people like Zarathushtra, Moses, Jesus, Socrates, and so on. The way value has always been created is no longer going to work. We must take our will and create our own value, through our will. He calls this person Ubermensch. The Ubermensch does not get his/her individual values from anywhere else and anyone else. They create their own values.

Death of God and the consequence:
Nietzsche, in his book Thus Spoke Zarathustra, claims God is dead. This leads us to Nihilism, which means that the world means nothing and is without meaning, purposeless and therefore absurd. In the same book Nietzsche claims that, since our idea of morality comes from God and God is dead, then right and wrong are dead. So we can do whatever we want.

Eternal Re-Occurrence:
Time being infinite and all things being possible mean, our life might repeat. Whatever you want to do, you'd better be sure you want to do it because you will be doing it over and over for eternity. So create your own self, values and essence. This way, you can face your life and be able to relive it again. Create your own dream and painting, not someone else's. Because if not, then you will regret that you were not yourself and did not live a life of your own desires.

Nietzsche's Argument In Support Of Moral Relativity:

1. What is considered right changes over time; this observation is based on history and anthropology. Over time different cultures have had different rules and values. And why is it that they have changed their values over time? This is also evident with the Jewish-Christian morality of the past 2000 years. This shows that what is right is just the view of people. So, if views change over time, so does what is right.

2. If what is right changes, then we can change it by choice. Once again, Nietzsche relies on anthropology to support his claim. The Jewish-Christian morality of the past 2000 years shows that we have changed right and wrong when we have chosen to do so, arbitrarily. We see this pattern of changing right and wrong in other cultures throughout human history. Every culture has done this, and because of this, we can choose what is right.

3. We can change right by choice: (This follows premise 1 and 2).

4. The natural force of all life is towards power and will to power. Any species has will to power in it. If it's a vine growing, it will start taking over a wall, and animals do the same. All organisms have will to power. This is a biological claim. And, we must not suppress will to power. There is an underlying reason for this. Nietzsche claims humans have made a mistake caring for the poor and the weak. Compassion undermines this natural force. A selective group will compete for resources for better or worse. This is the underlying force.

5. Master morality reflects the natural power, will to power. So the real value is power, ruthlessness and selfishness. Plants are not ruthless but they behave that way, Master morality is natural, like other species. Master morality is a biological observation related to survival.

6. If right changes by choice and natural force is power, and because Master morality reflects power, then we should change what is right to Master morality. We should do what is natural; we should not suppress nature because nature is good for the species. And because Master morality represents nature, this means Master morality is good and not the Slave morality of the Jewish-Christian. We ought to adopt Master morality because we have a moral obligation, and our obligations can be fulfilled this way. What is moral is what is good for the species, and that is Master morality. Nietzsche claims that this eventually leads us to UberMansch (superman).

Counter argument to Nietzsche's argument, if he is a Relativist

Counter to #1, (Absolutist Counter):
We are not even sure if the view of what is right has changed, so never mind right itself. The Hindus do not eat beef. This is because they believe our ancestors live within them, and that eating our ancestors is wrong. It is because of this that we should not eat beef. But no culture disagrees that eating our ancestors is wrong. The real point of contention is whether or not our ancestors in fact live within cows. This requires empirical proof; however, this shows our view has not changed over time as to what is right and wrong.

Counter to #2 (Absolutist Counter):
Even if right changes over time, is it even true that we can change it? Is it when someone stands up and decides to change right? Can I change my mind about what is wrong and right about raping a two-year-old child? It seems that we cannot just change what is right when we want to.

Counter to #4 (Empirical):
Nietzsche's premise #4 requires empirical evidence because it is a biological claim, so it must be proven scientifically.

Counter to #5 (Altruism):
How do we know that selflessness is not the natural way? How is he concluding that what we are doing is not natural? Maybe our survival depends on our selflessness and altruism; there are other species which have selflessness. So this is not a good claim, even on biological evidence in nature. Why is our morality not natural? In fact, maybe morality is a part of human nature and we depend on it for our survival. Maybe our species is different?

Counter to #6
If premise #1 is true, then why should I do what he says? There is no morality on relative grounds, so why should we change to Master morality? He cannot tell me there is no morality and rules, and at the same time ask me to do something on moral grounds. This becomes a logical contradiction. Nietzsche does not want any universal rights in terms of morality. If he does not want moral-rules, then he cannot tell me or any other person what to do because of moral-rules. We have no obligation to bring about the existence of superman, because there are no moral obligations.

Counter argument for Nietzsche's argument if he is an Absolutist.

Counter to #6
If he is not a relativist and he is an absolutist, then he is going to have a hard time convincing us that we have made a mistake about not raping two-year-olds. It is hard to support the fact that, what is good for morality is good for the species. We don't do everything that is good for the species. If raping kids or killing the weak was good for the species, should we do it? What is good for the species is not the foundation for morality. We ought to do what is right for morality and not the species. Morality has a different category than that of species. One category is more scientific with a foundation that is different to the foundation of morality. So, it is hard on absolutist grounds to convince us that we made a mistake about right itself. If right itself does not change, then we have not made a mistake and should not get on board with Nietzsche.

The Argument for the absence of Moral Object:
1. If morality is absolute, there are moral objects that can be observed.
2. The proclamation of God would be moral objects.
3. There are no other conceivable objects.
(1 & 3) gives, therefore: 4. If morality is absolute, God exists.

In the above argument, Sartre and Nietzsche have a common view in terms of God and relativity of ethics. They appear to be Materialist, claiming we have no Souls, and God does not exist. If morality has been God's proclamation and if God does not exist, then we must have a different view towards morality. How we ought to act, politically or socially, in moral terms is relative and the choice is up to us. Thus, thanks to death of God we have relativism. We have no values which already exist because we have no moral objects, and this is what is required. Since there are no moral objects then we must choose our own values.

God did not give us values ahead of time, and if God had given us such values, then it must be observable by moral objects which do not exist. God's morality is the only claim to morality we have. So, we can conclude, if morality is absolute, then there must be God and moral facts to observe. Since there are no moral facts it also means there is no God, thus, morality is not absolute.

Counter to premise # 1.
Logical methods are not claims of psychology. All bachelors are married is the same thing. This is regardless of our existence. The existence of rocks on earth has nothing to do with humans existing on earth. Raping kids for fun is morally wrong. This is not a psychological claim. If everyone on earth thought there is nothing wrong, it still makes it wrong, but we can say, 'What a horrible and evil world this is.'

Just because the majority, or even everybody in the culture, thought it was OK, does not make it OK. Everyone thought the earth was round and that turned out to be wrong. The truth of this fact did not depend on what humans thought. There is a truth in itself, as it stands alone, by itself, regardless of human opinion or existence, it either is right or wrong. Ultimately there is only one truth regarding the matter. So, the beginning point and the absolute fact outside of us and the truth of the fact itself is logical, and absolute, regardless of human observation.

Counter to premise # 2.

1. Morally wrong = df (by definition) prohibited by God

Option one: Option two:

2. God prohibited rape because 4. Rape is wrong just
it is morally wrong. because God prohibited it.
3. God prohibited rape 5. If god said rape is okay
because it is prohibited it would be.
by God.

Option # 1 (on the left). Premise # 3 is false. This is because premise # 3 will lead God to say that he prohibited itself, this seems to be self-contradiction. So if premise #3 is false, then this would mean that premise # 1 is also false, So, morally wrong is not what is prohibited by God in this case.

Option # 2 (on the right). Premise # 5 is also false. Rape is wrong because it feels wrong to our senses and our consciousness. Do we follow God's proclamations or our own sense, regardless of what God said, that rape does not feel right? In either case, because both premise 3 and 5 are false, it makes premise # 1 false also.

Socrates reason is that rape or murder contains the quality of wrong, and one can feel and understand this quality to decide that it is wrong. Because this is an innate quality of rape which tells us it is wrong. Socrates says a horse can pull a cart because the cart has the pulling ability and quality. It is unlike a mountain, which does not have the quality of a cart. Therefore a mountain does not have the pulling quality but a cart does. Furthermore, we can identify the quality which permits the cart to be pulled by the horse. The horse is not pulling the cart. Instead the cart is being pulled by the horse.

So rape, like the cart, has the quality of wrong, and we can detect this, just like detecting the cart's quality. This is not a choice just made up by man. Thus both option 1 and 2 in Socrates' argument suggest we are dealing with a dilemma. This puts a hole in premise #2 of the main argument presented by Sartre. His premise #2 can only be true if morally wrong = bd (by definition) prohibited by God. But because this is not the case, it would have to follow that the conclusion of the argument is also false.

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