Quora answer: What did Nietzsche think of Kant’s metaphysics?

Feb 25 2012

I want to thank Ali McMillan for his very lucid answer. Mine won’t be so lucid I am afraid.

I had a year long course on Nietzsche where we read about everything he wrote, and I just listened to the Course of Bernstein (http://bernsteintapes.com/) on Kant that is on tape available on the Internet. So of course I am no expert, but I have looked into the matter. Key here is Bernstein’s even more amazing lecture series on Hegel. I really just listened to the course on Kant to make sure I had not gotten anything wrong in my own studies. What I learned from the Regressive reading of Kant done by Bernstein is that he is a much deeper  philosopher than I thought. I was caught up in the architecture of his thought, and had missed a lot of details. On the other hand Hegel was someone I had failed to understand over and over, and it was only because of Bernstein I could get any handle on him at all, and that has only been recently. He was always a mystery to me. But between Bernstein and Zizek I think I am starting to get some idea, but it is going to take a lot more work to feel comfortable with him. But the fact that I got through the Phenomenology of Mind/Ghost/Spirit and lived to tell the tale is definitely a big step forward. Bernstein says flat our that all Continental Philosophers are merely doing rifts on different aspects Hegel’s thought and he describes Nietzsche is just a good Hegelian, which I found a bit shocking. Bernstein does a deflationary reading of Hegel, i.e. reading as little into his high sounding language as possible. Previously, I had read almost every book on Dialectics. What I was most surprised by is the fact than none of those books that I remember, mention the fact that Hegel has not just Dialectics but also with respect to Work developed Trialectics as well right at the point on of before the transition to spirit. Can’t believe that no one noticed that before. So that is the value of reading original texts  for yourself. Sometimes there is something in there that no one noticed before. I use that as a basis to develop Quadralectics in my Dissertation http://about.me/emergentdesign. I could only find one other person who had used that term prior to me, and he meant something completely different by it than I meant, or at least that is my interpretation. Odd that I could not find anyone who had made a serious attempt to build on Hegel’s insight before. So there is gold in them thar hills if you can find it. Just like I could not find anyone who had developed General Schemas Theory previously. So it is possible to have new thoughts, but unfortunately that means having to read a lot of very big books and to understand them, and then see some chink that has been missed which might prove interesting if explored. Hegel is this odd person who seems to have understood everything about the Western Tradition. All the things that I had discovered over the years about the Western worldview and more were in there, somewhere in his Phenomenology of Spirit/Ghost/Mind. He even gets the relation with Buddhism’s emptiness right in his Logic. So right now I am thinking he is the ultimate Western Philosopher, and of course wouldn’t you know it, he also wrote the hardest book to understand that I know of. While Kant has interpreters that bend and twist his thought. Most people who confront Hegel just get a little piece of his whole edifice of thought. We call those people Continental Philosophers. Those people who could not handle Hegel at all and stuck with Kant we call Analytical Philosophers. Those people who think they understand Nietzsche we call post-modernists.

Personally I believe that most philosophers are not understood at all in our tradition, especially by the specialized academics that make it their life’s  work to understand them. One reason for this is that these guys were not specialists they were taking in everything, and Hegel seems to take in more of “everything” than anyone one else as far as I can see. These source Continental Philosophers are not specialists they are doing their best to actually take in everything at once and make sense of it. For Hegel it all revolves around the myth of Antigone and Creon and the confrontation between family and state allegiances (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antigone). Something strangely beautiful about that mythological anchor.

Anyway, all this being said it is not possible for me to look at Nietzsche outside the context of the relation between Hegel and Kant. Now fortunately Zizek not only explains the famously obscure Lacan, but also reduces Lacan and everything else to the relation between Hegel and Kant. So if you can stand to read his work, that gives a pretty good basis for reading the relation between Kant and Hegel as the basis for understanding Nietzsche. Unfortunately Zizek does not really deal with Nietzsche in what I have read so we do not get a complete triangulation.

Now my reading of Nietzsche is through Deleuze, not Heidegger. Zizek does his  best to put down Deleuze and Derrida. But actually Deleuze is a much deeper philosopher than Zizek. So you cannot trust everything you hear from Zizek or his compatriot Badiou for that matter.

So in the end there is still a gap, that I have not completely plumbed. But having had a year long course on Nietzsche where we basically read everything, helped a lot. Nietzsche basically tried to reverse everyone. Schopenhauer is a pessimist Nietzsche is an optimist. All philosophers worship truth, Nietzsche says truth is a lie. Hegel says that only slaves (the Greeks) can have self-consciousness and develop philosophies and conquerors who have slaves cannot (Romans for instance). So Nietzsche sees himself of developing the philosophy of the Nobels, or the Blond Beast as he puts it. Basically Nietzsche says his greatest discovery was the question of the Value of Values. So it is not so strange that Heidegger misinterprets Will to Power as Will to Will. Heidegger is just trying to extend Nietzsche’s own thought in a way that he can take advantage of, but Nietzsche just was not that systematic a philosopher, so not everything in Nietzsche revolves around meta-levels. Nietzsche ultimately comes up with the idea based on evolutionary thinking that the value of values is to support life as living, and thus what ever supports any kind of life can be a value, even extremely strange and perplexing ones like Christianity, just to pick a random example. Basically turn to any page and randomly it will have a denunciation of Christianity, so this is a true random sample. Nietzsche calls it the moral values of Slaves, and sees it as ignoble. Of course, Jesus he does not include in this, just everyone from Paul onward. Basically, Nietzsche hates at least two things, Germans and Paulists, and for him the worse possible thing is the combination of the two, say in the Holy Roman Empire which was German. As a German he hates Germans much more than Jews, who he will occasionally praise. And as a European completely accepting responsibility for things like the Inquisition, all the Wars, like the 30 years war that killed two thirds of the German population, in the fighting between the protestants and catholics, and worse yet colonialism, Nietzsche (the Good European as he has been called), he accepts his part in that whole mess and hates Paulism on account of the atrocities that it has perpetrated on the human race in the name of that odd and slightly questionable faith. Nietzsche hates Christianity only as someone from a completely Christian background can hate it, recognizing itself in himself and wanting to tear it out but cannot. The image he has is someone who has been bitten by a snake inside their throat. If he had not opened his mouth how could he have been bitten. Like Jesus in some odd way he accepts all the wrongs, all the evil, all the ignorance all the violence of Pauism onto himself and calls himself the Anti-christ, which I think we should take seriously, because he is the first to claim it. His is not a rejection or an atheism from the outside, from some safe place, what he calls a headland above the world, but his is a hatred and rejection from the inside, as deeply as he could go inside, is where it wells up from as a great disgust. To him Islam looks good compared to Paulism which is quite something for a European to say, he says that at least the Muslims are men, not slaves or slaves of slaves. And I think that has a lot to do with what was being revealed in his time about the way that the natives were treated by the Colonists in his time, for instance in the slave trade, and the working of slaves to death in the Caribbean, and other atrocities all over the world that were being perpetrated in the name of Europe by the various colonial powers in Europe. Basically Nietzsche has nothing good to say about these colonial powers and can’t decide if he hates the Germans worse than the British or not, for of course we have the British to thank for the Opium War that destroyed China. It is incredible that Nietzsche thinks of himself as a bearer of his tradition to the extent that he is not separate from the horrific things that had been done in that tradition. And it is strange how he takes on that guilt himself, as if he thought he could purify it all by accepting responsibility for all the evil things that were done and that based on that European Civilization could be redeemed, and achieve its potentials for greatness. Of course, we don’t want to push this comparison between Nietzsche and Jesus too far, but in a sense he thought that by becoming the anti-christ he could put to rest all the evils that had occurred between the time of Jesus (the only true christian) and himself in the name of Christianity. He wanted to find a basis for reclaiming our nobility. Unfortunately his sacrifice of his sanity was not enough. He became insane at the moment that he tried to stop the owner of a horse from beating the horse in the street. I think that was the primal scene for Nietzsche, he wanted to put an end to the chaos and destruction being wrought by the colonial powers. He saw that summed up in the beating of that horse, and the fact that he could not stop the owner from beating the horse sent him right over the edge into the arms of Dionysus who was waiting for him, to embrace him.

Hegel was in a similar position with Kant. He realized that Kant’s philosophy was the precursor of the Terror of the French Revolution. Reason when it takes over goes straight for genocide. And the whole of the Phenomenology of the Mind/Ghost/Spirit is attempting to understand what went wrong to produce that effect from the tyranny of reason brought about by the enlightenment. Of course, all we have to do is turn to Blake to get a real picture of this nightmare that comes from the dominance of Urizen in the four Zoas. Blake (28 November 1757 – 12 August 1827) and Hegel (August 27, 1770 – November 14, 1831). Hegel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Wilhelm_Friedrich_Hegel) and Blake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Blake). Hegel tries to work it out, how did our Reason become our greatest enemy for ourselves? All Continental Philosophy is still struggling with this question. Analytical Philosophers are still in that paradise where the enlightenment did not end. They are in denial. For instance Pol Pot (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pol_Pot) was a student of Philosophy in Paris before he went home to foment the ultimate revolution, to do what Plato said at the end of the Republic which was the only way to start over was to kill everyone except the children. The intellectual decides in his own land all the Intellectuals, and even the pseudo-intellectuals (someone just wearing glasses for instance) must go. The best modern rendition of this is that by Levi (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard-Henri_L%C3%A9vy) who is seen on stage with Zizek occasionally. So this question that Hegel struggled with about how reason turns against humanity, and destroys itself and others bodies in masses irrationally is still very much with us. It was in the period between Hegel and Nietzsche that Europe learned the most about the rest of the world it had colonized, and learned about itself in the reports from the colonies for instance say in “The Heart of Darkness” or “Lord Jim” by J. Conrad (3 December 1857 – 3 August 1924) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_of_darkness; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_Jim). If you think about the First World War as Europe turning in on itself when it had nothing else to colonize, then you can think of the the 1800s from Hegel to Nietzsche as the period of the Beginning of the End. The Beginning we see in Shakespeare’s Tempest. The end we see in the 20th centuries ideological struggles that led to the second world war and the cold war and of course the threat of Nuclear Holocaust as M. Berman explains in Coming to our Senses.

In a way we are still trying to work this all out, how things went so wrong when the Enlightenment freed use from Religious superstition only to prepare us for something worse, i.e. the rule of reason that leads to genocide and far worse atrocities than people in the middle ages with all its wars could manage, basically because of the rise of technology at an unprecedented rate. Kant still thinks that there is a chance that reason can be tamed and does his best to reign it in by demanding it be connected to experience in order to have understanding, and not just spin its wheels in dogmatism (read ideologies). Hegel realizes that there is no chance of that, and so searches for something deeper by trying to go beyond Romanticism’s worship of the sublime in nature, to something deeper that can transform Christianity from the inside, which is turning to spirit, the part of the trinity normally forgotten. Recently also appealed to by Zizek in his speech to the Occupy Wallstreet Protesters. “We are only communists in the sense that we want to protect the commons.” Zizek also writes great books attacking Christianity, but as a sublime joke, which because it is totally insane, is not even funny anymore. He thinks of Chesterton as the most worthy theologian because Chesterton admits it is insane. Blake too thought he could purify Christianity. What Blake and Hegel had in common was a hearkening back to Jakob Bohme a German mystic with decidedly strange ideas. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jakob_B%C3%B6hme). Bohme is the key linking these two visions of terror (from a radically different Christian perspective) as the result of the enlightenment’s over emphasis on reason, leading of course to science, leading of course to technology, leading of course to modern weapons of the west developed into tools of mass destruction their time that allowed Europeans to take over the world. Of course, the best book on this is Dialectic of the Enlightenment by Adorno and Horkheimer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dialectic_of_Enlightenment). Enlightenment of course here is not Buddhist Spiritual Enlightenment, but the historical period called the Enlightenment started by Descartes, Leibniz and especially Spinoza, who other than Hume are the direct precursors of Kant.

So as a good Hegelian as Bernstein said, what does Nietzsche at the end of the 1800s think about Kant. He thinks the Horror continues that Hegel pointed out. And as far as I can see it still continues, until someone finds a way to kill off the Metaphysical era, and then it will just get worse still, in the same way that post-modernism just increases the nihilism of Modernism. When Krutz dies in the Heart of Darkness he says “The horror! The horror!”. Marlow relates the dying words of Krutz to this fiance as instead her name. It is precisely this gap between what we do and what we think we are doing that Zizek via Lacan focus upon, so Zizek tells the young protesters on Wall Street “do not let anyone tell you that your desires are wrong. They are your desires” or words to that effect. Lacan’s Jouissance is desire beyond desire, or desire for desire, the hubris of desire desiring itself beyond all possibility of fulfillment. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jouissance). The Horror is the nihilistic opposite of the satisfaction of the desires of the Colonial powers by the suffering and disgrace and looting of the rest of the world not to mention the destruction of the planet and most of its species, probably eventually including ourselves.

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