Posts Tagged ‘Craig Boyd’


One gets these Hegel headaches sometimes, and after  a particularly long grapple with Phenomenology of Spirit, “Geist” was constantly on the tip of my tongue. It became a fast meme, culminating in “Geistliness,” so that when, in the aftermath of the Platinga lecture, we were thinking of other theologians to bother, and Norman Geisler came up, “Geistler” became an instant construction.

Thinking that we obviously needed to go and see Geisler, we asked the internet where to find him, and lo! he would be speaking not 45 minutes away from us in a few weeks.

Further research revealed something I had not realized about Dr. Geisler, that he had left the ETS because they would not kick out Clark Pinnock, an advocate of open theism. You can read all about it in Geisler’s own letter. Now, granted, this isn’t really that much of a scandal given that it was about eight years ago that this happened, but it was news to us, and we felt that this was a bit harsh. We felt that Norman Geisler needed to be more…open, to Open Theism. After some scrambling around, scribbled plans, shirt making, and rushed driving, we managed to both attend the conference that Geisler spoke at as well as get our picture with him. But, additionally, we managed to get THIS picture with him (Click to enlarge!):

Zachary Porcu, Norman Geisler, Andrew Cuff
 

And, thanks to zippers and buttons, none knew the message of our shirts, either before it was too late, or after.

Two points. First, I want to dedicate this trouble and time that we went through to Craig Boyd, who first took the time to painstakingly explain open theism to me when I was but a junior undergrad, and who humored us enough to sing Bob Dylan songs on the last day of class.

Second, to Dr. Geisler himself, for whom I have nothing but warm affection for. Your arguments got me through many difficult times in my youth and I hope you will take this as an opportunity to laugh about that narrow range of scholar jokes which (unfortunately!) not everyone can enjoy.

As has been noted in other places, if you want your own “be open to open theism” shirts, you will, unfortunately, have to make them yourself.

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Welcome back, you few and faithful.

Let me start by conjuring up a scenario we have all run into. You do a search, or stumble upon some sort of interesting blog. It’s a blog of promise and zeal, and probably has one or two interesting entries in it. Then, as you pick around, you notice that there aren’t that many entries after all, and this is somewhat disappointing. You rationalize to yourself, thinking that it might just be a new blog, but then you check the date and its from 2003 or something, and it’s just been sitting there on the internet, collecting cyber-dust because someone got excited about writing a blog, but never kept it up.

Most blogs die like this, not with a bang nor a whisper, but by abandonment, without even the decency to board up the windows; people just forget, their interest peters out, and they move on to other things.

I had always prided myself in my commitment to updates, and though they didn’t always come regularly, there was always a post, here and there, to remind my wonderful readership that I was still alive.

And so I am; the three couple months scared me and I thought I too was giving up on my own blog, but I’m back now and I’m sorry to have kept everyone waiting for so long. To have people stop me in my day-to-day and ask about Truth is a Snare made me realize that this wasn’t something I should give up on, no matter how bad I felt.

The truth is, after maintaining this blog for over two years, I was burnt out. Intellectually, I encountered some difficulties; the last semester at the new school was extremely rough, and all manner of problems seemed to come out of the woodwork for a joint assault. But I am alive, and that’s more than I can ask for.

Two years! That’s a long time. I rarely see casual blogs get maintained with any level of dedication. I guess I should have some sort of Anniversary post, but that can be saved for next week.

This year I want to start addressing some of the huge problems and considerations that I have been in almost constant thought about for the time that I was not updating; they have been stewing inside of me for a long while, and I think I have them outlined with some sort of coherency. I have, among other things, cultural considerations, primarily about our culture as a mediocracy, issues with the modern movement in intellectual and artistic realms towards the rejection of truth, a treatise on Being (hurray!), a treatise on the Soul, a fleshed-out summary of how Magic: the Gathering works as philosophy, and a return to the inauthentic pseudo-intellectual who haunts and hounds the authentic man.

But first things are first. Next week I will FINALLY wrap up the whole Dawkins fiasco, and this week I will post up my Ethics final paper on Nietzsche, which several people asked about.

My preface for this paper is that I was braindead, and it took me a whopping NINE hours to write, during which I barely met the minimum page requirements. I don’t think I have to say that this was overwhelmingly uncharacteristic of me, but considering it was the very last thing I did finals week, I may be excused on account of the low sleep and food intake.

Please enjoy.

——————-

Zachary Porcu

Craig A Boyd

Ethics

Nietzsche’s Ethics, a Critique

It may be that we have a well-educated society, here in America, or elsewhere in the so-called western world, but the study of philosophy and the geneology of ideas as they grow and evolve from century to century is something that remains, for the large part, inaccessible to the modern citizen. We have what may be called a trickle-down understanding of philosophy, where superficial readings of great works and writings glean off only the most explicit concepts and pass them among the populace, and thence, wrenched from their context, to be confused and misquoted for generations. Nietzsche is one such thinker, and it is precisely this uncritical approach that has allowed his ethical philosophies to become so romanticized by a new generation of skeptics, and to give birth to an equally uncritical kind of normative secular ethics. Indeed, once one takes a critical look at these ideas, presented primarily in such works as Beyond Good and Evil and The Geneology of Morals, one cannot help but see the problems that arise, and all talk of a normative ethics as espoused by Nietzsche becomes meaningless in his own terms.

We must first begin with Nietzsche’s formulation of the age-old labels “good” and “evil,” the way in which he formulates his new definitions being typical of his very un-typical approach to philosophy. Most of us take the terms “good” and “evil” with a host of assumed meanings and definitions, and most of us assume that the two have pretty much always existed. Nietzsche disregards this conception of morality, including also the utilitarian idea at the time, of “good” as the most benefit for the most individuals. Nietzsche asserts that “goodness” did not arise from those to whom good was practiced towards, but rather “it was ‘the good’ themselves, that is to say, the noble, powerful, high-stationed and high-minded, who felt and established themselves and their actions as good…they first seized the right to create values and to coin names for values.”1 Hence, the “good” came about as a positive self-assurance on part of those in power. Note that the important part of the so-called “master morality” is its proactivness. The master, or the powerful, or the noble, are always acting, creating, making, doing, ruling. They reach forward themselves, of their own power and will, and create for themselves their ideas. Hence, their idea of good primarily revolves around themselves, and becomes a kind of self-definition. It is only later that they find a use for the antithesis, for “bad” things, which are those things that are in contrast to themselves. The second thing to note is that this description is not necessarily negative; Nietzsche is not about to take a Marxist turn and begin defaming the ruling classes as oppressors and tyrants. Instead, what is important to note about the “master” or “noble” is that he is free, free to relate to and define his environment, and, of huge value to Nietzsche, free to be creative, as opposed to what he calls the “slave morality,” as we shall see. For the slave, or the “low, low-minded, common and plebeian,”2 is centered around what Nietzsche calls “ressentiment” (basically, resentment). The “low” man starts first in a state of resentment towards the masters, and defines them as “evil.” The slaves “understood themselves to be ‘good’ only derivatively. Judging their masters ‘evil,’ they concluded that they were ‘good,’ in the negative sense of lacking the masters’ evil traits.”3 Again, there are two important things of which to make note. Firstly, “slave morality” is essentially reactive; unlike the masters’ morality, which begins with the positive affirmation of the self, slave morality begins with the evilness of the master, and only lately coming to call itself “good” by contrast. For Nietzsche, it becomes clear that this reactive morality is restrictive; unlike the master, who is free to express himself creatively –indeed, he possesses the very power to definite himself as “good”– the slave can only define himself in relation to the master. This makes him constrained, and in a position where he can be neither creative nor expressive. The second point of interest lies in the distinction between “bad” and “evil.” The master has his own goodness as his starting point, and sees others things as merely not-good, that is to say, “not-like-him.” That is the extent to which the term “bad” has meaning to him. The slave, however, is full of resentment against the master, which solidifies into hatred. In his hatred, he villainizes the master, painting him as not merely “bad,” but actually “evil.”4 Thus, the whole dichotomy of good and evil, according to Nietzsche, is a fabrication of the slaves, of the weak, of the “impotent” whose resentment of the strong, or masters, causes them to flip the value judgments of the masters. The weak make weakness itself the very object of value, and the strength of the masters a crime, or sin.

To further solidify his point, Nietzsche turns to etymology. Beginning in his own language, Nietzsche points out that German word schlecht (bad) is one letter different than schilcht (plain), points out the similarity of root with schlechtweg (plainly) and schlechterdings (simply).5 This supports his theory that, from the perspective of the nobles, of the masters, “bad” originally referred merely to that which they were not. In contrast to the grandness and active creative power of the masters, all that might be seen as “not them” would indeed seem simple and plain by comparison. He then turns to Latin, supposedly to trace the evolution of moral language back even further. The Latin word bonus merely means “good,” but Nietzsche attempts to trace it back to the word bellum (war).6 Here we have the masters’ definition of “good,” namely, that of conquest, of action. Having provided several other examples,7 8 9 Nietzsche makes a fairly convincing case in tracing the evolution of morals language through traditional etymology.

Nietzsche’s formulation of good and evil doesn’t quite reach its climactic fervor until he begins to deal with what he calls “priestliness,” and “priestly” societies, like those of Judaism. Nietzsche conceives of the beginnings of priestliness, and thus of the ideas (and words) “pure” and “impure” as being “from the beginning [they described] a man who washes himself, who forbids himself certain foods that produce skin ailments, who does not sleep with the dirty women of the lower strata, who as an aversion to blood – no more, hardly more!”10 However, as this develops, Nietzsche notes that values like this, in an “essentially priestly aristocracy…could in precisely this instance soon become dangerously deepened, sharpened, and internalized.”11 Eventually, the priestly ways break off from that of the aristocracy and develop in opposition to them. For the masters are strong and vigorous, they live in a state of action and acquisition; the priest, by contrast, lives a life of denying his indulgence in the world of experience, the very world itself. Therefore priests become “the most evil enemies – but why? Because they are the most impotent. It is because of their impotence that in them hatred grows to monstrous and uncanny proportions, to the most spiritual and poisonous kinds of hatred.”12 Here again is the slave-type morality dangerously breaking through. If slave morality grows up in response and in opposition to the masters’ morality, the priestliness would be the most potent kind of slave morality, not only because priests have even less than the common man (by way of their own self-denial) but because they can solidify slave morality into a system in itself, bringing their vengeance not in earthly terms, but exalted into a spiritual, everlasting revenge. Their anger has the room, in such a system, to develop infinitely larger and larger. Thus the “truly great haters in world history have always been priests; likewise the most ingenious haters; other kinds of spirit [geist] hardly come into consideration when compared with the spirit of priestly vengefulness.”13 He sees the ideas of the priest as “dangerous in such a conflict because of their hatred, which they can’t release into a healthy physical form, and their hatred turns into a permanent desire for vengeance.”14 Nietzsche turns at once to the “most notable example,” “the Jews, that priestly people, who in opposing their enemies and conquerors were ultimately satisfied with nothing less than a radical revaluation of their enemies’ values, that is to say, an act of the most spiritual revenge…for this alone was appropriate to a priestly people, the people embodying the most deeply repressed priestly vengefulness.”15 Slave morality, that reactive, unproductive, unfree, uncreative, unimaginative, unreal morality finds its full voice in Jews and, later, Christians. Nietzsche’s antagonism towards the Judeo-Christian system can perhaps be better understood once this perspective is taken. The implications of such a standpoint on one of the oldest and most influential moral systems in history are profound and next to baffling. Indeed, this is no mere critique, no mere nitpicking of a single religion, but the blatant overthrowing of the entire Judeo-Christian system of thinking as it is embodied in all culture as a form of “slave” morality In this formulation, Nietzsche has inverted the values of modern morality (ironically, the morality which he claims is itself an inversion): humility, piousness, meekness, respect, charity; all of which he claims are the reactionary inventions of the “slaves,” mob morality which can aspire to no greater.

There are several issues with Nietzsche’s formulation of ethics so far, the most obvious being his oddly uninformed characterization of Christianity. Nietzsche, as has been shown, sees the Judeo-Christian worldview as one based upon resentment, fostered in hatred, and seeking revenge. These claims, while seemingly supported by Nietzsche’s reasoning, become strange and discordant when compared to actual Christian teaching, both from the Bible and theologians. Throughout the Bible the external is often devalued in face of the internal. First Samuel informs us that “the LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”16 Nietzsche’s formulation of Christianity contends that it is rooted in hatred, which is internalized, and that it raises up a god to fulfill and justify this hatred. But the God of the Bible focuses on the internals, where the man would be fostering self-destructive hatred, not on the external attributes the slaves would dislike in the master, as Nietzsche contends. Furthermore, the Bible contains many warnings against hatred and resentment. Solomon writes, “Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs.”17 John warns, “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him”18 “Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.”19 These passages describe, very briefly, Christianity’s viewpoint of hatred, which it paints in no uncertain terms as a negative thing. John goes so far as to say that even if one things about murdering, one is just as guilty of murder (and a murderer, he notes, has no eternal life.) Nietzsche contends that the Judeo-Christian conception of an afterlife and immortality is primarily a tool for the hatred Jews and Christians feel to continue and perpetuate their desires for vengeance. But John is clearly stating that it is the unhateful who can become true sons and daughters of God. In light of the warnings against hatred so thoroughly present throughout the Old Testament and New Testament, Nietzsche’s claims begin to sound dubious.

CS Lewis further weighs in on the matter and, coincidentally, uses Nietzsche’s exact language. In his book, Mere Christianity, Lewis begins discussing virtue ethics in light of the Christian belief that man will “life forever.” It is worth quoting at length:

Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever. Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature. We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating. We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it. In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed.20

It seems unlikely that Lewis attempted to use such a close term (“resentment”) in describing that aspect of the personality which he identified as the negative attribute of humans. Lewis here brings up the fact that the very things Nietzsche identifies as the main focus of slave morality are the very things that the Judeo-Christian worldview cannot tolerate: hatred, resentment, self-centered feelings of vindictiveness. The fact that such a central point of Christianity – the movement away from hatred and vengeful feelings – would be so overlooked by Nietzsche is odd and difficult to account for, given his rather studious and religious upbringing. Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran minister and “both of his grandfathers had been ministers just as his father had been. In his paternal line, this clerical tradition reached back several generations.”21 Furthermore, Nietzsche went to a Protestant boarding school, and studied theology at the University of Bonn. It is therefore natural to assume that Nietzsche, were he to criticize the Judeo-Christian tradition, would be substantially more informed than the likes of people like Richard Dawkins. Yet, this does not seem to be the case. Christianity, far from a reactive, is actually quite pro-active. It has a value system based on authority and reason, one which stands on its own and asserts its own truth, not a passive reaction against another value set; something Nietzsche surprisingly misses all-together.

Although, bolstering Christianity in light of Nietzsche’s attacks is not necessary to undermine the ethical system that Nietzsche has so far proposed, for his ethics are unable to, in themselves, constitute an ethics in any normal, normative sense. So far, we have surmised what Nietzschean ethics is not, namely, a traditional moral system. Indeed, if the dichotomy of good against evil and evil against good is merely an invention of the slave morality as a reaction against the strong, Nietzsche obviously feels it is not worth considering. He is far more concerned with the ethics of the strong, those who are proactive in their definitions, who act, make, and create. But if we look to the master morality to answer the primary ethical question of “how should we live?” it is not at once clear of what the normative drive consists. Nietzsche, in attempting to move beyond what he sees as the contrived morality of the slaves, asserts that the powerful class “will have to be the will to power incarnate, it will want to grow, expand, draw to itself, gain ascendancy – not out of an morality or immorality, but because it lives, and because life is will to power. … it is a consequence of the intrinsic will to power which is precisely the will of life.”22 Note first that such a formulation of morality fits perfectly alongside Nietzsche’s original description of how master morality forms its worldview in the first place: the masters act, which is their primary mode, and, full of their own manifest creative energy, define goodness as synonymous with themselves and they way they act. The masters will it, and they make it so, only later finding some things which are not like them, and so invent a word for it (“plain,” which later becomes our modern “bad”). But in attempting to define any sort of moral system therein, Nietzsche only states what he considers things to be in their natural state. Given this, there is no ethical choice necessary; the master morality is only behaving in accordance with its nature “not out of an morality or immorality” – for ultimately, there are no such terms in this formulation – “but because it lives.” In equating the “will to power” as the “will to live,” Nietzsche does not interject anything new into his equation, but only changes the terminology slightly. “But because it lives” is not really any different than saying “because.” In the end, we are left without a reason for being creative, bold, action-oriented, pro-active, or even to justify any of the positive connotations we have for these words. Though the Will, for Nietzsche, is the primary thing, it is itself unable to produce any sort of normative, any reason for doing anything.

G.K. Chesterton makes the point very nicely that what Nietzsche outlined as his alternative to conventional morality is merely redundant and meaningless. “You can discuss whether a man’s act in jumping over a cliff was directed towards happiness; you cannot discuss whether it was derived from will. Of course it was. …you cannot praise an action because it shows will; for to say that is merely to say that it is an action.”23 This philosophy of Will can be reduced to absurdity by simply asking what the reasons are for choosing any particular thing or any course of action? Chesterton notes that “the worship of the will is the negation of the will,”24 for “To preach anything is to give it away,”25 If the Will is, as Nietzsche contests, then one should not be in the position of having to choose it as a better alternative to other forms of ethics, as he oddly seems to encourage us to do. Separated both from conventional morality as well as from utilitarian pleasure calculations, the Will to power is nothing short of a declarative statement, a description of something that is, and a descriptive thing cannot bridge the is/ought gap.

Nietzsche, in his new moral conception does not, ironically, go “beyond” good and evil, but rather regresses from them, and in abandoning all call for the normative, thrusts the reader into cold world which is merely descriptive, lacking all normative direction for ethics. The ethics of Nietzsche, then, turn out to be non-ethics, a renouncing of ethics. Though he may have dismantled what he considered to be the primary problem of modern ethical thought, Nietzsche offers us no supplement, no alternative, and doesn’t even do us the courtesy of total nihilism, but leaves the reader confused and starry-eyed about some sort of vague “will to power” which is as irrelevant and removed from ethics as resentment is from the Christian life.

Footnotes


1 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p.113

2 Ibid

3 Magnus, Bernd and Higgins, Kathleen M., The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 49

4 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p.122

5 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p.115

6 Ibid., 118

7 Ibid., 117

8 Ibid., 125

9 Ibid., 126

10 Ibid., 119

11 Ibid

12 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p.121

13 Ibid.

14 Ackermann, Robert John, Nietzsche: A Frenzied Look (University of Massachusetts Press, 1990), p. 92

15 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004), p. 121

16 1 Sam 16:7

17 Proverbs 10:12

18 1 John 3:15

19 Psalm 97:10

20 Lewis, Clive Staples, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 120

21 Magnus, Bernd and Higgins, Kathleen M., The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), p. 91

22 Nietzsche, Friedrich, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (New York: Penguin Books, 1986), p. 17

23 Chesterton, G.K, Orthodoxy (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1994), p. 37

24 Ibid., 37

25 Ibid., 36

Bibliography

Ackermann, Robert John, Nietzsche: A Frenzied Look (University of Massachusetts Press, 1990)

Chesterton, G.K, Orthodoxy (Wheaton: Harold Shaw Publishers, 1994)

Lewis, Clive Staples, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001

Magnus, Bernd and Higgins, Kathleen M., The Cambridge Companion to Nietzsche (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996

Nietzsche, Friedrich, Basic Writings of Existentialism, ed. Gordon Marino (New York: Random House Inc., 2004)

Nietzsche, Friedrich, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future (New York: Penguin Books, 1986)

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