Friedrich Nietzsche and perspectivism

nietzscheFriedrich Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) was a German philosopher known for his body of work criticising religion, morality and contemporary culture as well as his ideas regarding the primacy of the will in human affairs. Like Kierkegaard, he was an aphorist whose work was rich in irony and metaphor. Nietzsche enjoyed only a brief career as a professional academic due to health problems that frustrated him for most of his life. At age fourty-four, he underwent a complete mental breakdown and lived his remaining years in the care of his sister. Like most great thinkers, the interconnectedness of Nietzsche’s ideas can be crystallised through an analysis of his epistemology. Nietzsche begins by dismissing the ideas of rationalist thinkers such as Plato and Kant regarding an objective reality and our minds ability to known it. Nietzsche’s primary reason for rejecting the rationalist thesis is that there is no idea that is independent of interpretation and no interpretation that is independent from an interpreter. Furthermore, each interpreter is influenced by cultural norms, language and etc. Nietzsche’s epistemology of interpretation has come to be known as perspectivism.

There is only a perspectival seeing, only a perspectival “knowing”; and the more affects we allow to speak about a matter, the more eyes, different eyes, we know how to bring to bear on one and the same matter, that much more complete will our “concept” of this matter, our “objectivity” be. – Friedrich Nietzsche, On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic.

Perspectivism at first glance may appear to collapse into relativism – but for Nietzsche this was not the case. While perspectivism is relative in its refusal of  objectivism, according to Nietzsche there are some views that are simply false (such as the view that there is an objective reality). The consequences of Nietzsche’s skepticism caused him to reject a host of philosophical concepts such as substance, being, object-subject and etc. that were generally taken for granted by both modern empiricists and rationalists alike.

Charles Peirce and pragmatism

indexCharles Peirce (1839 – 1914) was an American polymath known primarily in his time for his work as a scientist. However, his popular legacy is the development of the distinctly American school of thought that would come to be known as pragmatism.

Peirce was educated as a chemist and worked as a scientist for over thirty years. Peirce’s philosophical work can best be understood in the light of his scientific predilections; that philosophy was no different to modern science, an experimental discipline that ought to yield real insight into the operations of the natural world.

Peirce authored what he called the “pragmatic axiom”:

It appears, then, that the rule for attaining the third grade of clearness of apprehension is as follows: Consider what effects, that might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have. Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object.

- Popular Science Monthly, v. 12, pp. 286–302

The above signaled the birth of the pragmatic thesis that it is the function of an idea that represents its truthfulness rather than any supposed correspondence to reality. With its rejection of classical and medieval rigour, pragmatism conforms neatly to the spirit of modern theoretical inquiry.

At first glance, the association of pragmatism and the verificationism of positivsts like Comte seems extensive. Yet, Peirce did not neglect metaphysics but rather subjected his philosophical exploration to a thoroughly pragmatic and scientific rigour – the purpose of which was to eliminate doubt and move toward certainty.

A brief argument for dualism

dualism-2Athanasius proposes the following cosmological argument in The Incarnation:

If everything has its beginning of itself, and independently of purpose, it follows that everything would only exist, so as to be alike and not distinct.

And, given that body is homogeneous, it would follow that everything must be sun or moon, or that a man would be only a hand, or eye, or foot.

But as it is this is not so; rather, we see a distinction of sun, moon, and earth; and again, in the case of human bodies, of foot, hand, and head.

Now, such arrangement of separate things as this tells us not of their having come into being of themselves, but shows that a cause preceded them; namely God, the one who makes and orders all.

I thought it would be interesting to adapt this very unique argument into a syllogism for dualism (a less lofty conclusion than Athanasius’).

1) Matter is differentiated in various ways.

For example, an oxygen atom or a carbon atom and etc.

2) This differentiation is contingent and therefore requires a principle of its being.

There is a plurality of material things – that they are one way but they could be another.

3) The principle of differentiation cannot be physical because a physical principle of differentiation would require a physical explanation ad infinitum.

I have argued elsewhere that an essentially ordered series cannot proceed infinitely.

4) The principle of differentiation is therefore not physical.

Therefore dualism is true.

Karl Marx on religion


Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.

- A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right


Religion is the impotence of the human mind to deal with occurrences it cannot understand.


Marx’s view of religion was complex. On the one pole, Marx recognised that man uses religion as a tool to deal with real suffering. On the other pole, Marx saw religion as a weapon of the bourgeoisie – a kind of “chain with illusory flowers”.

While he may have acknowledged what he viewed as the analgesia of religion, ultimately Marx contended that religion had no place in the new communist society. According to Marx, religion is made by man as a type of unreality. While labour in the material world has the power to transform and humanise the labourer, religion offers no such benefit. Marx argued to the contrary that religion causes man to turn away from his labours and embrace phantoms.

Marx encourages his followers to disillusion themselves of religious unreality and take hold of their own existence through the work of their hands and the use of their senses. Marx’s attitude towards religion is typical of the Enlightenment thinkers that preceded him (such as Voltaire, Comte and Rousseau) and would be continued through the philosophy of the likes of Nietzsche and Freud.

Marx on labour and the nature of man

indexI have discussed previously the contrasting theories of Kierkegaard and Hegel in regards to the progress of man. According to Hegel, man advances through the recognition of both his own self-consciousness and the consciousness of other external subjects, resulting in a type of idealistic communal spirit called the zeitgeist. Kierkegaard, contra Hegel, asserted that man progresses by the exercise of his own subjective will. Note that for Hegel what makes man is external and for Kierkegaard internal.

Like Hegel, Marx holds that what humanises man is external. For Hegel and Marx, a man will distinguish between an actual and potential self. This process leads to internal alienation causing the actual self to fashion its potential self into an object to be attained. For Hegel, this involves the information of the idealistic spirit; however for Marx the process is composed of the transformation of material objects by human labour. Per Marx, man is homo faber, a being that is rendered fully human through his influence on the concrete natural world.

The reasons for Marx’s socialist politics follow from his view of human nature. The loss of a man’s labour is equivalent to the loss of the means by which he makes himself human. Marx saw capitalism as the method by which the bourgeoisie controlled the means of production; allowing them to literally steal the humanity of those whose labour provided their income.

Karl Marx and historical materialism

220px-Karl_Marx_001Karl Marx (1818 – 1883) was a political philosopher and economist of German origin. When one hears the canard “philosophy bakes no bread”, the most obvious retort available in the modern era would be the influence of Marx. Marx’s seminal works The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital laid the foundation for the socialist revolutions of the 20th century, the most prominent examples being the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China.

The potency of Marx finds its genesis in the ambiguity of Hegel. Marx was influenced by the Young Hegelians – a group of left-leaning German intellectuals that believed that the dialectical struggle of history had not yet reached its end. However, Marx would create his own unique interpretation of the Hegelian dialectical triad.

Marx’s dialectical theory of history was an inversion of Hegel’s idealism. Marx rejected the mystification of Hegel, instead preferring to place primacy on concrete matter over ideas. In other words, Marx’s progressive theory is materialistic rather than idealistic – the focus of which is the way that a man’s labour may alter the physical world and ultimately himself.

Marx’s dialectical theory led him to believe that he could study the synthetic tumult of history and scientifically reach a conclusion regarding the outcomes of the struggles between thesis and antithesis.  The Marxist conclusion was the inevitably of a widespread communist revolution. While believing in the inescapable socialist revolution Marx was also a firm believer in the importance of a man’s labour, and thus he worked tirelessly during his later years to agitate against capitalism.

After all, for Marx it was “not the point to merely understand the world, but to change it”.

Kierkegaard: existentialism and meaning

sartre-quoteWhat I really need is to get clear about what I must do, not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find a purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth which is truth for me, to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die.

- Soren Kierkegaard, Gilleleie (1 August 1835) Journals 1A

Two of the primary targets of Kierkegaard’s criticism were the Hegelian Idealists and the Danish Church. The thrust of Kierkegaard’s objection to the dogmas of these two groups was that they were teaching the objective certainty of moral and religious truths. Kierkegaard argued that these truths were based on a type of syllogistic logic that ultimately ended in unresolvable paradox and a dreadful sense of the meaninglessness of life.

Kierkegaard’s solution to this problem was to translocate truth from the object to the subject (see the quote above). Kierkegaard invented the concept of the “knight of faith” – a man who uses his own freedom to create himself through a leap of faith rather than attempt to find himself through a rational analysis of external objects. Kierkegaardian existentialism varies from nihilism in that meaning must be manufactured by the individual due to the epistemic limitations of human beings.

Kierkegaard is commonly called the father of modern existentialism; yet, if he is its father than Kant is certainly the grandparent. After all, it was Kant who changed the ethical landscape with his anthropology of autonomy and man as an end in himself.


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