Sunday, February 14, 2010

It's All About Me, Isn't It?

Humans are unique among living creatures in that we attribute meaning to events and to objects.  Attributing meaning involves complex functions such as memory, emotion, reflection and speech.  For some, every other object (humans included) are meaningful only as extensions of Me, Myself and I.  This is true for many in our generation.  Consider how products are sold by playing to such narcissism.  Burger King made a fortune by telling the individual customer: "Have it your way!"

The question of my importance has been taken up by many philosophers. Kierkegaard and Nietzsche address the question from different outlooks on life. They agreed that anything meaningful must come from within the individual. In Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling and in Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals, each explores the importance of ego and the role of human freedom, but they come to different conclusions.

For Nietzsche the “will to power” is the secret of life and the destiny of humanity. He wrote, "The strong men, the masters, regain the pure conscience of a beast of prey; monsters filled with joy, they can return from a fearful succession of murder, arson, rape, and torture with the same joy in their hearts, the same contentment in their souls as if they had indulged in some student's rag.... When a man is capable of commanding, when he is by nature a "Master," when he is violent in act and gesture, of what importance are treaties to him?..."

Nietzsche's "Messiah" will bring perfection to the world by predation and biological engineering (eugenics) of human populations.  He will replace traditional morality with concepts borrowed from zoology: the taming of a beast and the breeding of a more advanced species.  Nietzsche's savior is a narcissist, who according to Nietzsche's ethical view, believes that "No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself. "  This amorality of the animal kingdom is what constitutes freedom for Nietzsche.

Kierkegaard takes a different approach to human freedom. For him, freedom involves surrender to God-initiated events. Drawing on John Climacus’ understanding of spiritual enlightenment, Kierkegaard argues that learning involves a mysterious change that takes place in the learner at a specific moment of his existence - a moment of enlightenment. In this moment, the learner is absolutely certain that he/she has grasped eternal knowledge. Kierkegaard maintains that this is miraculous and supernatural because it can only be initiated by God through a series of historical/temporal events. This learning (or enlightenment) is highly individual and subjective, and it is unique for every learner. Kierkegaard argues further that individuals are unable to know anything that is certain except through this supernatural intervention in history.  So while the individual is important, the individual's freedom involves relationship with the source of enlightenment. 

Where Nietzsche admits nothing greater than himself, Kierkegaard holds that his own greatness depends on One greater than himself.  What do you think?

33 comments:

Valerie Cornett said...

I like Kierkgaard philosophy, it relates very closely to my belief in the Holy Spirit. When one becomes a Christian, they are touched by the Holy Spirit. This gives them a different view of the world or as Kierkgaard states a mystical knowledge.

debl said...

I relate to Kierkegaard's idea. I agree that anything meaningful must come from within, hence the enlightenment. The enlightenment changes the way you view your world and your reactions to your world. It is not a noisy happening; One must be very quiet to hear the voice of God. Debl

DanielK said...

By far, Kierkegaard's philosophy is way better and more well-thought out than Nietzsche's.

With Kierkegaard's philosophy, he posits a balance between seeking personal and individual self-fulfillment with the outside world. This balance is essential for subjective beings to explore the meaning of their lives while interacting well with others.

The reckless consequences of Nietzsche's rantings would be to abandon all sense of reason and ethics in pursuit of "power".

Alice C. Linsley said...

For those who find Kierkegaard's view compelling, I recommend this essay by William H. Willimon:
http://jandyongenesis.blogspot.com/2008/01/mount-moriah.html

You will note Kierkegaard's influence on this respected Lutheran theologian.

Sydney said...

I must agree with Valerie, Deb, and Daniel that Kierkegaard's philosphy. It makes much more sense to me than Nietzsche's because I can relate to Kierkegaard's more as a Christian. I feel that basically he is saying that when a person "myterioulsy changes" I believe he means this in a form of being saved by God. This is a point in which Kierkegaard also states as being the time when somone is "absolutely certain that he/she has grasped eternal knowledge." This can be taken back to what I commented on Theodicy about free will, that humans have the power to choose to live for Chrsit, and it has to come from within a person.

debl said...

I response to the Mount Moriah reading. When my 21 year old daughter was 12, she had a routine surgery and was diagnosed with a cancer that was extremely rare for a child. I was distraught, for 2 days and nights I cried and prayed; it wasn't until the third night I finally told God if He wanted her, then so be it. She was His child before she was ever mine; I didn't have to like it; but she was His. The next day, extremely by coincidence ( yeah right ), I was directed to the appropriate surgeon. She has done well--reckon I'm just a lot slower and more stubborn than Abraham. Debl

Dora Campbell said...

Since childhood, I had struggled to understand the Bible and the ways of the church, but it was not until I was filled with the Holy Spirit that I gained insight to the meanings of passages in the Bible and truly came to know the Lord Jesus Christ. Kierkgaard’s philosophy is on the right track. Enlightenment comes to each individual and is unique to each, as we are to God. It takes belief, faith, and time spent studying the word of God to receive spiritual enlightenment.

Nikki said...

Kierkegaard appeals to me the most. I too enjoy learning about and from Saints. The moment of enlightenment appeals to me the most.

Dora, I too am a strong believer in healing through faith. I witnessed many dark places in my early childhood without my faith I would not have survived. It carried me through and made me stronger.

Ashley Francisco said...

Of Nietzsche and Kierkegaard's views I must say I find Nietzsche the most appealing. Kierkegaard believed that a moment of enlightenment would provide one with sufficient knowledge of life and destiny whereas Nietzsche believed a beast must be tamed to attain this knowledge. Though I believe a moment of enlightenment is possible I think enlightenment is achieved after one has learned or as been tamed by something. Let's use the example of a haughty individual. Often when one such as this is humbled they are no longer haughty because they have been tamed by something such as the loss of a well-paying job. Whenever the person was "master" of his or her domain he or she never gained the knowledge or wisdom spoke of because they had no reason to seek that knowledge. Though I would never rule out divine intervention such as a moment of enlightenment I have found that things do not come to you. You have to work for things, and knowledge and understanding are no different. Neither is divine intervention because even the bible states, "seek first the Kingdom." Sometimes beast must be tamed before they seek after knowledge and hopefully they will eventually gain that sought-after enlightenment.

SirLazenby said...

I believe Nietzsche has been cast in such a bad light for so long; the basic truth of his writings has been ignored. All he was basically doing was applying Darwin’s theories to proper social construction. It’s just that doing so has become so unfashionable in today’s replacing of commonsense with politically correctness that the truth of many of his messages (that are available to be seen all about everyone everyday) are more for a future generation; not ours.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Nietzsche "was applying Darwin’s theories." That's an excellent point. And for those who believe in the survival of the fittest, Nietzsche's "amorality" is very attractive.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Leslie asked me to post this comment for her. Here it is:

“I have to agree with Kierkegaard that "greatness depends on one greater than himself". I am a christian and can see his point of view. I think that everything that we do depends on tha power of God and the fact that we don't know anything for certain and that God makes all things possible for us.“

Leslie, Kierkegaard is often referred to as the "Father of Christian Existentialism".

Sara Sutherland said...

I also think that Kierkgaard's philosophy is much more compelling then Nietzsche's. I agree with his thought to believe in oneself but more so of Kierkgaards idea that something meaningful must come from something greater. I agree with Dora that it takes time faith and studying the bible and the word of God to learn and understand the spiritual enlightenment.

BT said...

T. Towles:

I think that Kierkgaard's beliefs come from a point that everything that happens must happen due to a higher power (God's will). Where Nietzsche believes that Christian values are not the regulating force in terms of self and that genetic engineering (evolution) is what will ultimately determine self, with no price to high to pay. Completely different viewpoints to get to the same conclusion in my opinion.

ssexton62 said...

I feel Kierkgaard relates more to my christian belief and belief in the Holy Spirit. I think we each have our own unique path to enlightenment. I don't feel comfortable with Nietzsche's philosophy. I believe in the end, it's not going to matter who has the most power. Kierkgaard's view that we must have a relationship with one higher than ourselves before we can ever reach enlightenment is consistant with my christian faith. I feel Nietzsche's view would be much appreciated by Darwin.

Alice C. Linsley said...

In response to T. Towles' comment, we need to clarify Nietzsche. Nietzsche rejected "Christian" values, he detested the Church, belittled clergy and said hateful things about women.

In his book Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche maintained that higher forms of civilization require stricter controls on women. He seemed to gain pleasure from insulting women. He made statements such as these, "Women are less than shallow" and "Are you going to women? Do not forget the whip!"

Perhaps his view of women is best summed in this statement: "And finally, woman! One-half of mankind is weak, chronically sick, changeable, shifty - woman requires... a religion of the weak which glorifies weakness, love and modesty as divine: or better still, she makes the strong weak - she succeeds in overcoming the strong. Woman has always conspired with decadent types - the priests, for instance - against the "mighty," against the "strong," against men. Women avail themselves of children for the cult of piety..."

Sweeney's said...

I believe in Kierkgaard's philosophy. Not matter whether you are Christian, Catholic, Protestant there is a higher power that shows us the way.

The enlightenment changes the way we view our surroundings and the way we react to them. Whether it is a positive or negative reaction. We learn through our faith and our convictions. So I definitely relate to Kierkgaard's philosophy.

Amanda

Alice C. Linsley said...

Keysha asked me to post this comment for her:

"Kierkegaard says in this quote, “A man who as a physical being is always turned toward the outside, thinking that his happiness lies outside him, finally turns inward and discovers that the source is within him.” I truly feel that before you reach full Enlightment and peace within ones self you must depend on one greater than you, God. Nietzsche admits nothing is greater than himself in his meaning of, “No price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” His views on women as Ms. Linsley pointed out in her post I find to be insulting to women in general. He viewed women as the weaker sex and in my opinion placed everything above them in his life. He detested the church and the churches values. I do not believe that you can be all about yourself. Referring to Kierkegaard his philosophical views on Enlightment is very true to me. As a Christian we make many mistakes when we refer to ourselves instead of the one that is greater than us for our direction. It is through our conviction and repentance that shows us the way to a fulfilling life."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Chantelle asked me to post this comment for her:

"If you think constantly of what you want or need you have a limited scope of outlook.

God has instructed us to think of others before ourselves this will benefit humankind and the world we live in. It says in the bible "What you do for the least of these you do also for me" Matthew 25:40.

We must do for the little ones that cannot take care of or protect themselves. We must protect the sick in mind and body. We must help the poor who are unable to help themselves and sometimes we must protect the innocent from the people who should be protecting them. We must protect people from users who take advantage of them and we must protect our world from the people who do not try to conserve its natural resources."

Brittany Gregory said...

I would have to say that Kierkegaards approach to human freedom is much like my own. I do believe that in order to find that freedom one must accept Christ into our life. Many of us do not know what lost is until we have been found or saved. This experience is a changing one that can redirect you on a better path in life. By all means I do not question my faith in God, but Nietzsche holds a good point of view also.
Nietzsche believes the “will to power” is the secret of life and the destiny of humanity. Don't we all seek power in some form? We don't like to settle for less, we strive to be at the top. I think that Nietzsche's philosophy comes in to play when we sin. When we sin we are wanting something more. Whether it be power, materialistic objects, or just the feel of self fulfillment.

AshleyC said...

When reading about the two philosophy's of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, it reminds me of the motivations that fuel today's sciences. On one hand, you have Christians, Jewish, and Muslim influences saying the way to enlightenment and the purpose of life is through divine intervention. On the other hand, you have human beings rising to so much power, they are able to create life through DNA manipulation and cloning. You can pay thousands of dollars in TX and have a favorite pet 'recreated' because a scientist saw himself as God and was able to create life in a beaker. Where does this put him? What does this make him? The Christian Messiah saved our souls and opened the door to Heaven. Human "Messiahs" could be close to finding ways of 'recreated' humans and denying death. Both philosophy's are built on narcissism. You must go through God, but the effect is to redeem yourself! Others find science, knowledge, and power to be enlightening, but all for human advancement.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ashley, are you saying that both Nietzsche and Kierkegaard were narcissists?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Craig asked me to post this comment for him. Here it is:

"First, I will start by saying that I am Christian so I totally believe that there is a higher power, God. So it’s obvious that I agree with Kierkegaard, but not totally.

I think there are interventions in life that God wants us to realize because it’s his miracles that gives us belief in his spiritual power. The piece I do not necessarily agree with is the fact that learning is affected by the higher power. This is where I think Nietzsche made a good point. I believe God allows us to make our own decisions about how and what we learn as we go through life. Ultimately it is our choice rather or not we do good or bad, right or wrong giving us entrance into Heaven. God gives us the choice, it’s not his."

AshleyC said...

When I first read the article, it reminded me of the motivations of different people when it comes to 'The Great Question of Life" Some find their answers in religion, others in science and others in politics. When you asked if I was referring to both philosophers as narcissistic, it got me thinking, it seems we all are in some form or fashion. Just given the fact there are different philosophies shows we are all looking for something to satisfy something in ourselves. That sounds so general, but its the basic question. Why do we search for answers to anything? Nietzche sounds like Hitler to me. Like they were born of the same genes and similar to the power sought by scientist who want to learn to create life. Kierkegaard sounds like a man of faith trying to explain things to a man of intellect. Both discuss answers to the questions they have, and have heard from others. The one question asked more than any other is "Why?" We want to know why because we want to know. We want enlightenment, or the power of knowing, or the security in knowing what we choose to believe is correct. Its all narcissistic when you break it all down. Just a general observation. I guess I just believe all the answers to the question why and how, lie in the reason we ask in the first place.

Ryan Barnes said...

I would have to agree with Craig. As a Christian I believe in Kiekegarrd's theory of enlightment. There was I point in my life when just all of sudden things just make perfect sense. I knew that God did exist without a doubt. I had reached my enlightment. But as Craig was saying about Nietzsche, God does allow us free will. We have the choices of doing right, having faith, ect. Once I had found my enlightment, I am still faced daily with temptations.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Keep in mind that Kierkegaard didn't think of enlightenment as a moment in one's life - like "getting saved". Enlightenment is a process of being filled with light. The Eastern Orthodox call this process "spiritual ascent" and this is what Kierkegaard has in mind. Remember that he borrowed this idea from St. John of the Ladder (John Climacus), a saint held in high esteem among the Orthodox.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Barbara asked me to post this comment for her:

"It appeared as though Nietzsche's philosophy was biologically primitive. His theory in regards to the destiny of humanity and the secret of life was strictly narcissist power. Nietzsche seemed to have had an attitude with conquering "all or nothing," even with such inappropriateness as "murder, arson, rape, and torture." He entertained himself with animalistic concepts of predation, command, and control. Nietzsche's "will to power" replaced traditional morality and permitted "nothing greater than himself." In my opinion, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche was an "odd duck," but according to our other readings he suffered with paranoia, lack of coherence, and grandioseness. Presently being a nursing student, I would almost attribute many of his extreme thoughts and behaviors with being ill.

Soren Kierkegaard's philosophy centered toward eternal knowledge and the spiritual enlightenment achieved when initiated by God. This "state" of mysterious change or perhaps, supernatural intervention allows miraculous individual freedom at a special moment in an individual's life. Kierkegaard believes one's true greatness is determined by a greater power.

Nietzsche and Kierkegaard portrayed very different conclusions with their philosophies, but realized the true meaning of concerns must come from within the ego of every person."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Ryan asked me to post this comment for him. here it is:

"Viewing the previous comments, it seems that all the Christians are siding with Kierkegaard. So let me go ahead and jump on that band wagon! God has a set path for us all and it is up to us to have faith in him and follow that path. God allows us to make mistakes and to gain knowledge from them. Some individuals learn from these mistakes faster than others and succeed in life as others choose not to be "enlightened." However, it is our jobs as christians to lift up the lost and fallen. Through God, we can save humanity. One must realize that God is the only true power and all of our blessings are gifts from him."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Karen says:

"I agree with Kierkegaard's viewpoint. It corresponds with my spiritual belief. As in 1Corinthians 3:16 states "Don't you know that you yourselves are God's temple and God's spirit lives in you". For it is through my spiritual teachings that I know that whatever I am or destined to be is due to God's grace."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Mary asked me to post this comment for her:

"I agree with Kierkegaard and his philosophy about a greater power above his own. In order to have knowledge and wisdom one must obtain a close relationship with God. Surrendering to God helps us as humans to better understand our purpose in life. Once you are "enlightened" your thoughts and views will change for the better. Also, I am partial to this theory due to the fact that I am a Christian."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Timberly asked me to post this comment for her:

"Nietzsche view and opinion towards women is sickening and repulsive. "Do not forget the whip!" To think of women in such a fashion,and be so racist, I wonder how he treated his mother? He must really be into himself in order to justify such cruel opinions.

This statement right here says it all about Nietzsche: "The strong men, the masters, regain the pure conscience of a beast of prey; monsters filled with joy, they can return from a fearful succession of murder, arson, rape, and torture with the same joy in their hearts, the same contentment in their souls as if they had indulged in some student's rag.... When a man is capable of commanding, when he is by nature a "Master," when he is violent in act and gesture, of what importance are treaties to him?..." -Nietzche

Unlike Kierkegaard, Nietzche was not going to surrender to anyone and thought of no higher power than himself. Wittgenstein shared Kierkegaard’s religious inclinations and he once made this statement, ‘To the glory of the most high God, and that my neighbor may be benefited thereby.' That is what I would have liked to say about my work.” I like that he gives credit to God to be able to touch and inspire other people. That is how the heart and mind should work."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Brian asked me to post this comment. Here it is:

"I am a Christian but am one in a way unlike most others. I rarely go to church due to the fact that I believe my faith lies within myself and it is up to me to live the proper life by listening to my inner voice when life throws things my way. I believe that by accepting God I have been given the “knowledge” to make the correct decisions in my life and will know the truth when the time comes. I believe that Kierkegaard is on the right track with his thinking and that through enlightenment, or the accepting of God into our lives we better understand how to make the proper life choices. Now, I guess the one area where I cannot completely agree is that the way he talks about enlightenment, it seems that he says that without God nothing is learned or understood. I believe we all know deep inside what is right. However until each person accepts God and becomes spiritually enlightened the correct choices might not always be made."

Alice C. Linsley said...

Brian, You are correct in that Kierkegaard sees God as the source of all knowing and learning is about the soul as much as the mind. Remember that Plato argued that we really don't learn anything. What we call "learning" is really the soul's re-cognition of Forms which it has known from eternity.