Thursday, February 9, 2017

"Beyond" Contraries

1. The law of the excluded middle implies that every conceivable proposition must be either True or False; that there is no third way for a proposition to be. According to Aristotle, two terms are contrary if they share the same genus and are “separated by the greatest possible difference” . If two terms are contraries like good and evil or humility and selfishness, a curious logic is invoked in saying that there is something beyond both. 'Neither A nor not-A', and 'Both A and not-A', indicate a third term, an “intermediary” (Aristotle 12a15ff). If A and not-A are mutually exclusive, in fact, then the claim that there is an intersecting, or intermediary, possibility, is impossible; if they are mutually exclusive and constitute the entirety of possibilities, then Neither A nor not-A indicates an impossible zone. Thus everything hinges on whether the two terms are mutually exclusive. In other words, If every act is either good or evil, then to affirm that some act is neither evil nor good means denying that everything is either good or evil, and the person making the argument will most likely be denying the definition.

2. Eckhart calls us to detachment, as a primary virtue that metaphysically unites us with God. His meaning of course is that we are to aim for this perfect union, and that one does so by going beyond humility in not attending to anything but God, since creatures distract, which is enough to find “fault” in them (“Detachment” 91). Humility before other creatures means going out into them, to be attached to them, to care for them, to be worried about them, whereas detachment is a never-having-gone out. The two virtues are closely bound up; “Detachment” “completes” humility—as though detachment contains humility (ibid., 89). And even humility is course corrected if it moves us to nothingness with respect to ourselves. The fact that under God we are all metaphysically equal (mere humanity) seems to be the mode that puts us in unity with God; while humility rests (or never rests, rather) at keeping us under others. Neither above nor below creatures—neither humble nor selfish; and never above God (never selfish), and always below God (humble). Obviously humility with respect to creatures and humility with respect to God must have different meanings; only the latter is detachment.

3. Another way of seeing Nietzsche’s position of being beyond good and evil—returning to master morality, good and bad—is to see it as articulating that Good and Evil are neither mutually exclusive nor fully constitutive. Good, as Nietzsche laments, once meant something different from what it was constructed genealogically to mean; of the couple Good-Evil, what is Good is roughly identical to what is Bad in the “distinct” couple Good-Bad. Aristocratic values are praised and Christian “priestly” values are blamed in his rhetorical maneuver. So the gesture “beyond good and evil” cannot fail to include some sense that there is an alternate definition on the “tables”. In saying that there are different meanings to Good, we are saying that the terms Good and Evil as defined by the priests do not exhaust the moral universe. Thus ,for Nietzsche in The Genealogy of Morals (GOM) the phrase,

1.1] Action X is evil

Can be met with:

2.1] Not in the least, action X is Good, for it is life affirming!

And the phrase

1.2] Action Y is virtuous, proper Good; for it is proper to be self-sacrificial

Can be met with 
2.2] On the contrary, such is bad, lowly, life-denying!

Here, the meaning of Good under the heading 1.2 is redescribed as bad at 2.2, while evil at 1.1 is redescribed as Good at 2.1. We ask, in order to determine what we mean by “beyond” the following question: In saying that Aristocratic values are praiseworthy, is this move a strict inversion of master morality, or does his epideictic rhetoric produce a third term? Relative to the bounds of Christian morality, Good and Evil are fixed as contraries; Nietzsche’s position is, in the least, a naming of slave morality as a privation of his natural, positive, “life affirming” praise. Once stipulated, once returned to traditional values in some broad sense, that is to say, good and bad become rough contraries, approximating the possibilities of Zarathustra. 

The inversion that these responses produce, undermines the way we think about values; values are not a matter of correspondence, but are, rather, perspectives on the way that we would prefer to say the world is. What happens in the genealogical trace of the term Good, is that we can no longer make sense of it in terms of having the appropriate sense; its has been associated with its opposite in a way that makes correspondence no longer a straight shot affirmation—as if it ever were. 

Now, whether an act is justified by the universe in a correspondence sense, is strictly indeterminate one way or the other. If an act is wrong, the nihilist, who doesn't even admit the sense of saying there is a morality divided between good and evil, merely says that nothing external to our language games support us. Beyond our language games there are just consequences at best, that are only ever enacted by some language game. Nothing but actors can produce the possibility of consequences; the universe is amoral and will not do this for us. If someone has wronged us, by our lights, we can hit back, or remain passive. It was never the universe that carried out the need for revenge—we give out own language games this extra gravitas, and thereby delude ourselves that there is anything that cares beyond us. For Nietzsche an act is genuinely bad if it is life denying. Accordingly, all Christian slave morality is bad, even though Christ says that his completion of human virtue in the coming of the Holy Spirit (the counsellor to come) is The Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

4. In denying that there are good and evil people, both Christians and nihilists agree. The marxist wants to praise the worker and blame the boss; the nihilist points to the fact that we are all bosses and workers, complicit in the gears of oppression. There are no good and bad guys means that it is not so easy for anarchist moralists to define the target of their rage. In the nihilist world of brute materialism, there are just consequences, none of which are Just, but rather, only ever what we can get away with given our capacity to will.

Nietzsche, in advocating what is life affirming as good gestures with Primitivism against Thanatos or decadence. Evidently Nietzsche and Primitivism go separate ways as Nietzsche affirms good and bad in a way that celebrates the individual as possibly-Zarathustra, while primitivism is collectivist. For primitivists, we would be free as individuals only if we made the world free of white-settler colonialism, free of us, that is to say. Nihilists would argue that this position is too ends oriented, to good oriented, too Manichean, that such is, perhaps a piece of deliberative rhetoric that is forever deluding itself. The nihilist might then say of Nietzsche, that he, too, is a little too moralistic in his lament. Perhaps the nihilist has no use for the term “good” or “bad” or “evil” and would prefer to generate a series of contradictions out of the mere relativism by which these terms are supported. Not to pick them up, like Nietzsche in his Aufheben, but to cross them out.

Is it good enough for a nihilist to say of moralism that such is what I do, if I do it, ceteris paribus; or is that even too far? Is this perhaps what Nietzsche also said?