Wednesday, 14 April 2010


Friedrich Nietzsche was the first great philosopher after Darwin. Born in 1844 in Saxony, Nietzsche’s father was a Lutheran pastor. His philosophy was influenced by his Protestant religious upbringing and can be viewed as an attempt to find a way towards a new synthesis of Protestant Christianity with its belief in the heroic individual and classical paganism with its worship of the primordial power of nature.

Nietzsche took seriously the intellectual consequences of Darwin's evolutionary theories. In the Origin of Species, Darwin had claimed that humans, rather than being created in God's image, were in fact the evolutionary cousins of monkeys and apes. For Nietzsche this was devastating news. Rather than the universe being made for humans by God humans were now alone in a universe without any real significance at all.

Nietzsche’s whole philosophy can be seen as an attempt to answer this one question. How do we live in world without something (a God), that guarantees that life has meaning and purpose? In 1882 Nietzsche announced that is 'God is dead' and so began his long philosophical quest to find a non-religious answer to this question and to escape the feelings of despair and insignificance that followed his loss of faith in Christianity. This condition, what Nietzsche termed nihilism or the belief that everything is meaningless, was for Nietzsche the chief philosophical problem facing people in the modern world today.

Nietzsche was also, along with Karl Marx, one of the chief prophets of the modern age. He accurately predicted that life in the twentieth century would be a perilous time; in a world without God, people would follow anyone or anything that offered them some sense of personal significance in universe increasingly perceived to be devoid of any. The twentieth century would be, for Nietzsche, the age of the 'pale criminal'; the false prophet of who offers salvation but manipulates people to their doom. In the light of the atrocities committed by Hitler and Stalin, this is a truly remarkable prediction.

Nietzsche warned of the dangers that lay ahead in the future and urged us not to let them happen. But he harbored little faith in the abilities of the majority of ‘ordinary people’ and so, unlike Marx, denied that any hope for a better future lay with the proletariat. Like many German philosophers, he was something of an elitist and perceived the bulk of humanity as being rather like cattle; a mob who follow a ‘herd morality’. In contrast to the herd, there are, according to Nietzsche, a few ‘great men’ who can rise above the bovine world of common folk. These men live according their own values rather than follow those imposed by others and Nietzsche thought that if we are to avoid the horrors of nihilism we will all have to live like these great men and create our own values for ourselves. Nietzsche thought he was such a ‘great man’ - or ├╝bermensch - and believed that his philosophy would save future humanity from the horrors of nihilism.

Nietzsche's philosophy states that in a world without God-given values it is necessary to be creative and invent new values and new ways of living. For Nietzsche, then, the highest form of human life is art and the great artist is the true saviour of humanity. Nietzsche's philosophy is hence both egoistic, in that it values heroic individuals, and aestheticist, in that it values the artist's ability to create things from nothing.

Nietzsche attempted to invent a new kind of life-affirming spirituality based upon the worship of the Greek God of wine and intoxication - Dionysus. This form of spirituality would oppose life-denying and other-worldly forms of Christian spirituality. In his view, instead of allowing individuals to celebrate life Christianity made people hate themselves and hate life! In fact, Nietzsche believed the Christian worship of a dead God – who Nietzsche termed ‘the crucified’ - to be the major obstacle in the way of the attempt to ‘transvalue all values’; that is to rethink the nature of morality so that a new ethic of art and life could be liberated from religion's grasp.

Nietzsche increasingly came to see himself as a kind philosophical saint and he wrote the strange and aphoristic Also Sprach Zarathustra as a kind of ‘anti-bible’. This work amounts to an aestheticist answer to the New Testament. Here, Nietzsche tells the story of the hermit Zarathustra who decides to ‘go down’ from his mountain retreat into the world of ordinary mortals. He then decides to preach his new gospel, that man must be overcome and that we should all prepare for the immanent arrival of the ├╝bermensch.

By the late 1880s, Nietzsche started to believe that he was the first living example the ├╝bermensch and, partly as a consequence, his mind started to crack. He spent the last ten years of his life insane with only his mother to care for him. His death in 1900 marked the end of philosophical romanticism.

Neil Turnbull

A Society of Creatives?

According to the sociologist Richard Florida, the romantic opposition between the bourgeois and the bohemian no longer applies today. This is because bohemia has been appropriated by capitialism and its formerly antagonistic values have been assimilated into the system .

As a result, he suggests that we moving towards a new 'creative society'.

Who/what are ‘creatives’ exactly? According to him they are a new type of individuals who:

1. are not interested in pay
2. are content-oriented and and for whom job and work environment matter more
3. seek intrinsic rewards
4. seek latitude to use work time and resources to engage in community building and civic action.

What do you think constitutes a creative person? What attitudes, values and dispositions do creative people exhibit?

Neil Turnbull
Another conference of Interest for our Speculative Realism Reading Group.

Warwick Transcendental Realism Workshop

Time: Tuesday 11th of May, 12:00pm (registration) - 7:00pm
Location: University of Warwick, LIB2 and S0.11
Organised by Pli: The Warwick Journal of Philosophy, in conjunction with the Research Group in Post-Kantian European Philosophy

The purpose of the workshop is to examine the arguments underlying the increasing push towards realism in parts of modern continental philosophy, along with approaches that bridge the analytic/continental divide, and to assess the possibility of transcendental approaches to realism within this context. Particular themes that we be focused upon include:-

- The arguments of Quentin Meillassoux, and the possibility of transcendental responses to the problems he raises.
- The relation between epistemology and ontology.
- The relation between philosophy and the natural sciences.

The event will be split into two parts. The first part will take place in LIB2 (in the university library building) from 12:30pm to 5:00pm, which will consist in five papers presented by graduate students on matters relevant to the topic, along with discussion. The second part will be the headline talk, given by Ray Brassier, which will take place in S0.11 (in the social studies building) from 5:30pm to 7:30pm, under the auspices of the department's regular Colloquium in European Philosophy.


Ray Brassier (Philosophy, American University of Beirut) - 'Kant and Sellars: Nominalism, Realism, Naturalism'

James Trafford (Philosophy, Unaffiliated) - 'Follow the Evidence: Realism, Epistemology, Semantics'

Reid Kotlas (Philosophy Grad Student, Dundee) - 'From Transcendental to Abstract Realism: Epistemology after Marx'

Nick Srnicek (Politics PhD Student, LSE) - 'Extending Cognition: Bridging the Gap between Actor-Network Theory and Scientific Realism'

Tom O'Shea (Philosophy PhD Student, Sheffield) - 'On the Very Idea of Correlationism'

Pete Wolfendale (Philosophy PhD Student, Warwick) - 'Objectivity, Reality, and the In-Itself: From Deflationary to Transcendental Realism'