Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Affirmation of Life

This is very nice summary of the problem of nihilism. I found it on the back-cover of The Affirmation of Life: Nietzsche on Overcoming Nihilism. Nothing new but elegantly summarized:

For Reginster, Nietzsche's central motivating problem is the problem of nihilism, a problem caused by the "death of God." His argument then dissects nihilism into two distinct problems: on the one hand, the problem of disorientation, the sense we have that our highest values lack metaphysical grounding or justification; and, on the other, the problem of despair, our sense that our highest values are unrealizable in this world. Reginster argues that the nihilism of disorientation has to be faced and answered before one can grapple with (or indeed be seized by) despair. It is only when we have restored to ourselves a sense of the worth of these values, by some successful answer to the problem of disorientation, that we can feel the full force of the problem of despair. The problem of disorientation, Reginster then argues, is successfully solved by Nietzsche through his doctrine of perspectivism, understood as the idea that all our reasons are contingent. Nietzsche argues that the existence of contingent perspectives is a necessary condition for any practical reasoning, and therefore cannot possibly spell the downfall of our aspirations to find reasons. Reginster then turns to the despair problem, showing the depth of Nietzsche's engagement with Schopenhauer's pessimism. Offering the most philosophically serious and interesting discussion of Schopenhauer I have seen in the literature, he then argues that the doctrine of the Will to Power is Nietzsche's response. Instead of seeking satisfaction, Nietzsche argues, we basically seek the overcoming of resistance. If this is so, we ought to will the continued existence of suffering (understood as the effect of resistance to our will), so that we have struggles still to win.

This is also one of the central subjects explored in The Man Without Qualities (Nietzsche was a major influence on Musil, in fact, Nietzsche and his ideas are explicitly discussed at many times in the book.) Musil is also trying to do the same thing -- search for a new ground and a new way of looking at the world and ourselves which is not based on falsehoods and illusions and which also satisfy all the cravings which make us human. He is also brilliant at capturing this "problem of disorientation" through his psychological essays and portraits.

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