Friday, October 19, 2012

Nietzsche I: Who Killed God?

Scott Bradley

I have finished Ge Ling Sheng's initial treatment of Zhuangzi's philosophy (Liberation as Affirmation: The religiosity of Zhuangzi and Nietzsche); he next turns to Nietzsche. Before going there, I'll presume to critique what I've read so far. Fortunately, my initial criticisms of opaqueness of meaning and gross grammatical mistakes seem to have been largely applicable to only his opening pages. As to content, I was a bit disappointed in his presentation of Zhuangzi's philosophy, not because I disagreed with him, but because I was hopeful of new insights. Still, there are some helpful explanations which render it a profitable read thus far.

If I figure I've a decent (intellectual) grasp of Zhuangzi, I cannot say the same for Nietzsche. (Just spelling his name proves to be a challenge.) Thus, I already have a sense of having gained helpful insight into his thought which is very much applicable to the entire project of growing a philosophy of personal liberation.

Truth is who. Nietzsche begins with a negative critique of the concept of truth as espoused in the West. Truth is not an objective reality above and beyond the world, but is preceded by and is an expression of the "will to life". He does not ask "What is truth?", but "Why do we seek it?" The answer is that we seek to affirm our individual lives. And we do this because this is what life does. Life is affirmation. Truth is who because it is the affirming answer which arises from every individual's personal existential reality. It is perspectival.

The sum of Western philosophizing and religionizing, Nietzsche tells us, has been an effort to establish an otherworldly, life- and reality-negating, absolute, immoveable and permanent "Truth". We have set ourselves up for a fall into nihilism. Nietzsche, when he says "God is dead", simply echoes the spirit of his age; he is not himself a nihilist, but someone trying to recreate value out of the rubble. Who killed God? Christianity and Western philosophy killed God by having introduced absolutes into a world of impermanence and flux. Truth, in the Western sense, is a negation of life as it really is.

Nietzsche’s personal project of self-liberation was a “revaluation of all values”, “an act of supreme self-examination”. He sought to discover the false, imposed values in himself so as to freely create his own. Our values are typically ‘imposed’ because they are inherited; we have been born into them. Freedom is to be had in finding those values which truly affirm our actual experience of being in the world.

How this parallels Zhuangzi’s project is quite obvious. He, too, endeavored to free himself from everything artificially “fixed”, whether it be truth or the concept of self, in a world of unfixedness. If he was more successful, and I think he was, it was perhaps because he was not already a casualty of the psychological trauma of the complete collapse of his culture, the Warring States Period not withstanding.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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