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June 07, 2009




It baffles me that Nietzsche has been this influential. His writing must be truly incomprehensible to have such a wide and varied following.

Joyless Moralist

Oh, Chesterton doesn't understand Nietzsche in the least, but then he never had a particularly strong grasp of any of the modern philosophers. His strengths lie in other areas. He senses the spirit of the problems with modern philosophy, you might say, but he doesn't understand the dialectic at all. And for an "eggs is eggs" philosopher like Chesterton, it's hardly surprisingly that Nietzsche's refusal to state things plainly and simply the way, say, St. Thomas would, would in itself be adequate grounds for a brusque dismissal.

Mackie is a classic example of someone who sees a glimpse of truth (the futility of modern meta-ethics) but then shies away from it. Note that Mackie doesn't actually want to BE a nihilist. Much like John Searle in philosophy of mind, he diagnoses the problem (within a fairly specific context and a very specialized dialogue, but still) but then falls into many of the same errors himself that he has diagnosed in others. I like Mackie pretty well in his way, but he's a small scale thinker. Certainly not anything like in the class of a philosopher like Nietzsche.

Dostoevsky, by contrast, is indeed a powerful opponent of modern errors, who did certainly have considerable insight into the failure of the modern project. But I don't see the comparison as diminishing the greatness of Nietzsche. Diagnosing the philosophical illness of the modern world is a pretty massive project; there's definitely room for more than one great mind to offer insight into it. I guess I'd hazard a thought (with the proviso that I'm neither a Nietzsche scholar nor a Dostoevsky scholar per se, so others could certainly address the question better) that Nietzsche understands particularly clearly, not only how the Enlightenment project has failed, but also just how much it is a *perversion* of Platonic and Christian thought. Of course, he blames Platonism/Christianity for planting the seeds in the first place, whereas Dostoevsky would want to keep the good parts of Christianity while clipping off the mutations. But it certainly isn't an accident that Enlightenment thought arose out of Greek-influenced Christian thought, and Nietzsche sees this particularly clearly.

I still feel that your way of reading Nietzsche is a bit like an elementary composition student taking a list of rules that he got from his textbook, and using them to assign poor marks to William Blake or Mark Twain. Look at the split infinitives, and the sentences ending in 'but', and the regular use of passive voice! What poor writers they were! Yes, of course there is room for criticism of Nietzsche, and certainly those people who look to him reverently like some kind of guru figure are very foolish. (Actually, that's particularly ironic in Nietzsche's case... such people would probably amuse him exceedingly.) At the end of the day I obviously think his conclusions were badly wrong in many respects. But if you're inclined simply to dismiss him as simply a "muddlehead", you really should (as in the composition case) assume that the problem is with you, not with him. He is not easy to piece together, and he has no intention of spelling things out to make it all simpler for you. But that in itself doesn't make him a muddlehead, just difficult. I have a friend who is of the opinion (and this friend knows Nietzsche extremely well, so I simply leave his comment as a thought worth bearing in mind) that Nietzsche's love of truth was so great that he felt compelled to shower her in mud, lest the unworthy identify her and use her for sport. He plays games with you, not because he isn't serious, but because he is, and he doesn't want to cast his pearls before swine. Anyway, as I say, that's his thought and not mine, but I think it's worth considering.

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Nietzsche is very ambiguous and the interpretations of his works don't follow any pattern, that's why idiots like Kahlil Gribran admires this guy.

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I think that you have to critically read and better understand Nietzsche. He is not suggesting positive philosophical paths - in fact he rejects those in many parts of his output.
He also lays traps for the unwary - for example, if you truly read and try to understand what he is trying to say about the Superman, you will start to grasp his style of writing. People rail on about this idea but it is really only a minor concept in the vast majority of his writing - but it is a convenient trap for those who want to try and slot Nietzsche into some narrow point of view.
As the commenter above indicates: you must truly try to read N. with an open mind and not immediately jump to conclusions. Try to understand how his writing is affecting YOU personally - that is ultimately Nietzsche's goal.
If you can break through and do that - you will discover a philosopher that can travel throughout your life with you.
Afterall - some of the greatest thinkers of the past 100 years (think Heidegger, the Existentialists) - still identify N. as their leaping off point.

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