Announcing Philosophy PBL.

Foucault in the morning. Writing a film script in the afternoon and watching films of explicit philosophical content in the evening! This a way to cover another fabulous text and to come out at the end of PBL with material for I.A’s! Comments please. now down to business. What is your view of N’s contention that everything great is steeped in so much blood?


~ by uwcphilosophy on September 8, 2006.

10 Responses to “Announcing Philosophy PBL.”

  1. Despite working with the flagrant relativity and subjectivity of what is “great”, i would say that some of our most pivotal moments could also be seen as some of the most “immoral” due to the cruelty.
    Nietzsche says throughout our history there were even people in the household upon whom we could vent our anger and inherent cruelty. If he’s referring to slavery for instance, this could well be seen to be a terribly cruel but socially advantageous event in respect of Ancient Greece especially. Our words scholar and school come from the greek “scholazo” to have leisure, free time or nothing to do, this is because the rich social elite of Athens lived a decadent life in the city while overseers looked after their slave-run farms out in the sticks. Because they lived off the flagellated backs of others, they were able to spend their time doing “nothing”, but thusly discovered the foundation to a vast proportion of our mathematical, musical, scientific and philosophical knowledge. What if the Greeks had been moral in the same way we are? What would christianity have done to this Hellenic eutopia?

  2. What Nietzsche means by ‘great’ is, quite simply, the foundational concepts upon which society is based. They are great because they pertain eternally and significantly to our construction of the human reality – ideals like guilt, justice, and punishment are great simply because they cannot be ignored. It would be rather strange to suggest that concepts fundamental to our existence and mode of life aren’t ‘great’.

    As to the Greeks; whilst it might be true that they offered much of the basis of Western society, I don’t necessarily see the link between their decadence and their scholarship. Conflict breeds philosophy as much as leisure does; think of vital movements like Marxism and French existentialism, which were born of the chaos and conflict of the external world – Marxism could easily be called a response to the perceived dystopia of Western politics. It is not because of their decadence that they managed to become such great scholars; rather, it just so happened that they were decadent, and it just so happened that they were also great scholars.

    What would Christianity have done to this Hellenic utopia, indeed? No doubt our present situation would have been massively, unpredictably different; simply, if the Greeks had been moral in the same way we are, we wouldn’t consider them Greeks; that is, they wouldn’t hold the values that we see as consituting the Greek ideal. What you are asking, is what would have happened if the Greeks hadn’t been, quite simply, Greek? The answer; who knows?

    Nietzsche’s belief that everything great is steeped in blood is a proposition I wholeheartedly agree with. Note that he (in his typical manner) does not make any value judgements; he does not say, in effect, whether the fact that our society is built upon blood is ‘bad’ or ‘good’. Some might say that the language he employs shows his personal disgust towards this cruelty; yes, I agree with that. And yet he constantly reminds us that our present society would be impossible without it; in other words, an interpretation might be that although it was lamentable, it was nevertheless a necessary sacrifice. Some say Nietzsche values our primitive society more than our current one; yes, I agree with that; it seems he does. Yet he emphasizes that his position is his own personal one; he hates deriving conclusions that say to the reader, ‘Yes, this is the truth.’ That would go against his mantra of perspectivism.

    The actual proposition that everything great is steeped in blood seems plausible, seems true. It is consistent with his notion of will-to-power – the creation of great concepts requires the destruction, the sacrifice, the deformation of lesser forces; it requires, in other words, blood and conflict. If the existence of everything great is a result of the will to power, rather than the workings of endless indifferent mekansms then, yes, this view does makes sense.

    He leaves us in the dark, however, as to the value of this world built of blood.

  3. Ok, my misinterpretation of what is “great” obviously needs clarification. I had supposed that by great things steeped in blood one was referring to, not as Nat pointed out to me, abstract emotions and concepts such as guilt or justice, but discoveries, inventions and otherwise “great” ideas, pivotal to our modern knowledge. I don’t dispute that the development of something such as justice involved a great amount of conflict, but then I would say it is rather difficult to say that a certain moment was a pivotal point at which guilt became steeped in blood. I can, for instance, see more accurately whether certain parts of our knowledge of mathematics and music were born of conflict and blood however.

    I find it interesting to bring up Marx though, as that merely reaffirms my point that some great ideas were not born of blood but the exact opposite; leisure and self-indulgence. The upper echelon of Greek society lived off the ease of life afforded them by having others, namely slaves, generating wealth for them on far-off farms. Thus they had the time and opportunity to study and think and discover so much that we now take for granted. Similarly, Marx lived off the generosity of Engels which meant that he had the time and money, in his freedom from occupation, to devise his political model.

    As for the question of “what if the Greeks had not been Greeks”, that seems a rather fatuous perspective on a humble hypothetical question. I was implying that under our current system of morals, slavery is seen as an abomination and thus it would be impossible for us to live within such a society in which unconditional leisure was given to an entire social stratum because the very means of this, the cruelty to the slaves, is so abhorrent to Christian morality. A better argument, however, would be that the freedom the Greeks had was itself steeped in blood, in that it was only possible through slavery (a bloody and painful concept). In this way I would agree with Nietzsche’s statement.

    If we are to interpret what is great as Nat did, as products of man’s will to power, then it is very likely that conflict and blood were involved as the origins of social concepts such as justice, money, promises or exile are so antediluvian that it is nearly impossible for them to be anything other than that. I agree with Nietzsche’s hypothesis and he crafts a very beautiful justification for their creation but I don’t find the proposal that they are steeped in blood such a surprising one as the establishment of any social construct concerning rules involves conflict. If we are to go back so far that we are talking about a period that precedes even justice then I can see little that would stay the hand of someone that did not wish to agree with the concept of, say, paying back a loan, or keeping a promise. Nietzsche talks about the noble, powerful man being one that keeps the few and careful promises he gives out and it is only the weedy and pathetic that give promises out willy-nilly, unable to keep them. However, I believe that it may have taken a lot of blood before the strong and proud were convinced to keep their promises and follow the rules of the society at large rather than use their physical advantage to do what they wanted.

  4. How does Marx reaffirm your point that great ideas are born out of leisure? Yes, leisure may have given Marx the time and opportunity to pursue his political model, but to say that his ideas were born of self-indulgence is a rather odd leap. On the contrary, his ideas respond to the problems of the political clime at the time; Marx offered a critique of the political economies of his day and consequently offered a new solution. So although leisure (i.e. time and money) allowed him to develop his philosophy, it was inspired i.e. it was born in response to the conflict and the problems of the outside world. Do you think no one would have eventually hit upon the Marxist ideology; do you think that it was a direct result of Marx’s personal self-indulgence, rather than a natural and needed response to a dystopia?

    What I mean by ‘if the Greeks hadn’t been Greeks’ is, quite simply, that of course, Christian ideals would not have worked in Ancient Greece. They, *if they had been Christian, and not in fact, Greek* would not have had slaves. Their entire culture would have functioned differently. And yes, the freedom the Greeks had was steeped in blood, I agree; what I don’t understand is why you ask what would Christianity have done to Greece. Obviously they wouldn’t have had slaves, and so forth; they wouldn’t have acted in the manner that we characterize as Greek; history would have been completely different. Anyway, the hypothesis is rather irrelevant, so let’s leave it there.

    I don’t believe, though, that it may have taken a lot of blood before the masters kept their promises. The master, by his nature, would have only promised what he could have kept; he would not have promised many things, that is true, but the things he did promise I presume he would have the vitality, the active force, in essence, the will, to keep to. They did not need to be convinced to keep their promises; what they needed to be, or at any rate what the slaves wanted them to be, was tamed, weakened, made obedient by the threat of punishment and expulsion. And there we have the origin of guilt, and law, and society.

  5. Nat, I believe you missed Jon’s point about leisure, if you proclaimed the following statement: “to say that his ideas were born of self-indulgence is a rather odd leap”. Karl Marx ideas were brought into light thanks to his family history and his ability to be a free man, who needs to deal only with his philosophical creation, rather with the daily life problem of human beings.
    As we all know, Marx was born into a middle-class family in Germany at the beginning of the 19th century. His family, which possessed Jewish origins (his grandfather was one of the biggest rabbis of the Rhineland in its time), was a scholar based one, which advocated and pursued after the great ideas of the Enlightenment Movement, and its main figures, Voltaire and Rousseau. Marx had a luxury life, full of educational prospects, if in the Gymnasium or later on in the University. He did not have to take care of money, because his family invested a vast amount of money in his education. Moreover, he was part of an elite young group, which was able to study in the “Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität” of Berlin, hence had the ability to pursue philosophical and literate goals and opportunities. These opportunities were given to him just because of his status and his amount of cash in the bank.

    After his educational period, he continued to get support from his family, less from his parents, and more from other members of his family tree. Only because of that, he was able to travel around Europe, and to settle in Paris, and later on in Brussels. One cannot doubt the fact that his clever brain gave him other financial opportunities, but it is very dubious to state that he did not enjoyed from this financial freedom, and only by that pursued his rather hypocritical pieces of works (“The German Ideology”, “the Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts”, “The Poverty of Philosophy” and more). At that time, he was a wealthy person, which was also supported by the “textile boy” – Friedrich Engels. He earned some money from his ‘demos-agogos’ abilities, through the press and conferences around Western Europe, but he did not really worked during his life. He was dependant on wealthy people for most of his life. These people assured that he will fulfill his potential, in term of thoughts. He perhaps lived in poverty, from 1843 until hid death (1883), but at the same time, he allowed himself to use Engels’ money for Alcohol and other bourgeois’ luxuries, just in order to keep his status as a middle-class man. That is why his pieces were rather hypocritical – he pretended to be the savour of the “Working-Class” but he never experienced their conditions. He was a free man in the wonderful world of the 19th century (much better than our days…), and as an excellent performer, he had to do nothing in order to get the support from his family and from Engels. He called for the “Workers of all land, unite” and mocked the Bourgeois, but at the same time was not able to say farewell and goodbye to his bourgeois status. One might argue he was another wealthy philosopher, who complained about the monarchy and the different exploiter status of the world, which was one of the exploiters (of knowledge). He used the working class for his own benefit, and eventually half of the world saw him as a new God. However, this is for another discussion.
    For the current discussion one his ought to argue that without the right financial support, Marx could have been another ignorant European person, and his potential works were lost forever. He had the luxury of doing nothing, and that is exactly what he did (and this is the essence of leisure). He sat all day on his chair, wrote manifestos about thus and thy, drank alcohol, and traveled around Western Europe. He did not even think to experience any physical work. Thus, his work was full of flaws, and relied on a very pretentious assumption, that at some point all the workers of the world will unite and fight against their exploiters, an event that never happened, and probably never will. If Marx was bothering himself to know real workers, instead of arrogant philosophers, his Communist manifesto, which includes the labor theory of value and the concept of exploitation (“Das Kapital), and his Historical theory, which implies that the working class will unite eventually, after a bloody revolution against the traitors of the middle-class (if so, including himself), would have looked different.
    Marx was one of the many German giants of his time, but he used the mob and the elite, in order to pursue his own happiness. His work was a response to the dystopia of the world, but he used the dystopia, and with it, the financial opportunities, in order to pursue his goals. He was not a true revolutionist, but rather a lazy person.
    Nat, you are arguing that it is not relevant if the Greeks were built under Christian moral values (and let me doubt on your assumptions that slavery was an irrelevant concept in ancient Greece, if with Christian values were implemented – after all, we can look at Spain, Great Britain and the United State), but at the same time it is not relevant if Marx’s piece of work was a “natural and needed response to a dystopia”, because without his financial aid, the Communist Manifesto was only an unknown concept in now days.

  6. Again, I reiterate; do you think no one would have eventually hit upon the Marxist ideology; do you think that it was a direct result of Marx’s personal self-indulgence, rather than a natural and needed response to a dystopia? Time and leisure gave him the ability to create it, but the world and conflict gave him the inspiration, gave him the IDEA. The inspiration for the idea itself did not lie in his luxury or his free time; it lay in something other than him, namely, the world. That is what I mean when I say great concepts are not born of individuals, and thus their individual self-indulgence is only a matter of contigency, a matter of chance; what Marxism is, at least in my opinion, is not the individual fancy of a lazy philosopher, but rather a response to conflict. Thusly do I agree with Nietzsche.

    Why don’t we keep the comments more focused on the contention now, please?

  7. Just one last comment about the irrelevant Marx’s discussion:
    It is not enough to have the idea. Many poor and unknown people and potential philosophers had great ideas, but we are not aware that they were. The ideas are indeed a product of the contemporary society, just like Marx’s ideas hanged solely on the Industrial revolution, the French revolution and the continues battles between the different empires of Europe. However, if Marx was another poor and unimportant German citizen, the Communist Manifesto was nothing like it was.
    Great concepts perhaps are not a product of the individual, but the implementation of them, by writing the concept on paper, and publish them, is depends exclusively on the financial abilities of the individual. Hence, the writing process of concepts, which is the only way, great ideas and concepts are coming into life, is the key act of the individual towards the great idea. Marx’s self-indulgence allowed him to create such an hypocritical and intoxicate masterpiece.
    What Marxism is, at least in my opinion, is the collective fantasy of a utopia, but a product of a rather lazy individual, who had the time and money to put effort on the great idea, which was probably taken from several small ideas of other people, who were not able to think about the perfectionist great idea itself, because they lacked the time and the money.

    In addition, about Nietzsche’s argument “that everything great is steeped in so much blood”. I think he is more than right by expressing this thoughts. By looking on history as it is, several genius ideas and concepts were implemented by human beings, only after using an extensive violence against the people who did not believed in that concepts. Human beings knew only one way in order to implement their political and social theories – the iron fist. Every pure idea is born out of a contemporary sin, and becomes a reality after a violent act. One cannot judge, at least in my opinion, that there is no necessity of causing blood in order to implement something, which is greater than we are. Moreover, one cannot judge if it is moral or not – for the Nazis it was moral to kill Jews and others, in order to reach world domination. For others it might not.

  8. How much blood and horror is the basis for all “good things.”, says Nietzsce. Well to affirm this, lets look at what great has come out of a country like Sweden, that has not seen blood for generations.

    Furniture, pop-music and feminism, that is the main exports of Sweden today.

  9. Well, actually, Erik, the socialist take over (and thus the birth of the Swedish welfare state) sprung out of the murders in Ådalen. The events that took place in this little village situated in the Swedish ’outback’, on “Christ-goes-to-heaven-day” 1931, could justifiably be compared to the “Bloody Sunday” in Ireland. Socialistic demonstrators were marching through the city towards the, characteristically enough for strikes/protests/demonstrations, House of the People. I’m not sure about how it happened exactly, notwithstanding, the workers, in feud with their employers over the dismal working conditions, were fired at by soldiers sent out by the government (right-wing led) to oversee the demonstration, killing four innocent people.

    Fuming workers, to say the least, all over the country sought to mobilise against the government; a revolution steeped in blood has probably never been as close as then in modern Swedish history. Someone is known to have proclaimed: “150,000 thousand soldiers of the Red Army is on its way to Sweden; it’s time for revolution”, however, this was, of course, bollocks, and the Swedes merely voted in the Social Democrats instead of undertaking more drastic methods (quite intelligently so for a country of vegetables).

    So is the Swedish welfare state, led by Social Democrats for the better part of the last century, and all the good things it has brought to the nation, actually steeped in blood? It is debatable I guess.

  10. yeah

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