Saturday, November 07, 2009

Consciousness: Conceptualization versus Epiphenomenalism

Paul Katsafanas and Brian Leiter have contrasting views on how Nietzsche views conciousness.

Leiter reads Nietzsche as saying that consciousness is epiphenomenal (at least for ascriptions of moral responsibility to be made); that is, conscious thoughts occur alongside bio-mechanical and behavioral activity, but these thoughts don't actually have any causal relevance of their own. That is, some primary cause causes both a desire to pop-up in consciousness and some action to occur. So, from our first-person experience, it seems like the action occurred because of the desire that popped-up in our consciousness—it seems like the desire caused the action—but, in fact, the desire and the action were both caused by the primary cause (or deep cause). From this scenario, consciousness can be described as epiphenomenal—and I've struggled to accept this conclusion. I do sympathize with Leiter's naturalism, but the conclusion of epiphenomenalism (versions of which have been articulated in Nietzsche on Morality, "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will" and "Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action") seems a bit extreme.

Katsafanas has a startling, bizarre and exciting reading of Nietzsche that I have hesitated to embrace. It is quite startling to hear someone say that consciousness is merely conceptualization (that consciousness is characterized by the turning into concepts of bio-mechanical sensations) as he argues in "Nietzsche's Theory of Mind"; but the more I think about it, the more interesting consciousness as conceptualization starts to appear...

Nietzsche seems to view consciousness as passive, as indicated in many passages, but this does not imply that consciousness is causally irrelevant. He could merely be saying that consciousness is passive because it does not initiate any actions of its own accord.

The activity we call "self-reflection", that is, when we sit back and withhold our actions and desires and contemplate the best course of action, this isn't something initiated by the strength of consciousness, but rather, the strength for "self-reflection" depends on just another drive (or group of drives) that is using consciousness to withhold the influence of rival drives. (Katsafanas discusses "self-reflection" in "Nietzsche on Agency and Self-Ignorance," "Nietzsche's Philosophical Psychology" and "Activity and Passivity in Reflective Agency".) For example, the drive could be using consciousness to contemplate and determine which drives are actually rivals or allies (for its own ends) before allowing the exertion of those allied drives and pushing the repression of the rivals.

About consciousness — well, I don't think the force behind intentions actually originates in consciousness. I think consciousness is like equipment, for example, like a hammer.

Imagine that your inner drives are compelling your arm to smash a gigantic vase. You rush over to the vase and start beating on it and pieces fly everywhere. Now, imagine that you did the same thing, but this time you had a hammer in your hand. Your smashing of the vase would be much more effective with the hammer!

Now, if a philosopher were to interpret Nietzsche as a full-on epiphenomenalist (that is, those who believe that Nietzsche thinks that consciousness is causally irrelevant — i.e., conscious states occur alongside bio-mechanical activity but these conscious states have no causal relevance in the etiology of actions), they would seem to be exaggerating particular passages (or drawing a premature conclusion while ignoring passages that contradict this conclusion). Yes, of course when we look at consciousness on its own (and when Nietzsche does this) it seems like consciousness is passive — no genuine intentions arise out of consciousness — no actions begin in consciousness.

However, when we pick up the hammer, we don't notice any intentions in the hammer either. Nevertheless, the hammer does have a causal impact in that it increases the effectiveness of our drives (it assists in a more effective smashing of the vase). So, the hammer and consciousness may appear passive (on isolated examination), but that doesn't mean that either hammering or conscious thought is causally irrelevant to action — instead, they amplify the effect of the drives (that is their causal influence).

Katsafanas, in "Nietzsche's Theory of Mind", argues that Nietzsche thinks that consciousness is anything that has been transformed into concepts in the mind. This can be explained in two steps. Step one: basically, you have the world and some filtering occurs when you perceive. For example, you could be colorblind and see only with two color cones—so you lose a lot information in the act of perception. Or you could be like most humans and blind to ultraviolet light. There you have your perceptions and some unconscious information, that is all; let's call it, bio-mechanical activity. There are many actions that can take place solely on the basis of this unconscious information. Step two: but then you have consciousness, that is, you have perceptions and unconscious information that have been transformed or translated into conscious states — that is, into concepts.

So just like some information is lost or distorted when you perceive (e.g., like in the case of the colorblind man who can't tell the difference between red and green objects), information is also lost and distorted when you conceptualize.

However, this loss isn't necessarily bad. Actually, it helps make things more precise (to a certain degree); it makes things in the world stand out — this is some form of salience. When Katsafanas is discussing the influence of drives, he gives this familiar scenario: when you are hungry your perceptions of food stand out. Also, I take it that by conceptualization (though I will have to reread his articles and think about this further), he could mean that these saliences can also fall into particular linguistic categories — or something of that sort. Thus, this conceptualization makes our navigating of the world more effective because conceptualization organizes our perception of the world into simple categories whose salience can be determined by the commanding drive.

The concept of salience is illustrated nicely in this painting by Edouard Manet. As you can see, the people and the food seem to stand out while everything else seems to lack some detail. So for the perceiver, the people and food stand out because the perceiver's drives influence the value of his perceptions—and which ones should stand out (to enlarge, click on the image).

Frédéric Bazille has a similar effect in this painting. Except in this case swimming trunks seem to stand out, along with the boys wrestling in the background (to enlarge, click on the image).

To carry these thoughts into a further example, let's add that concepts can be handed down from one person to another. You could be eating food A, and your friend says, "hey, this object B is actually food B"; you recognize, by what he says, that it is also something edible, and you start to eat and enjoy eating object B. Now, whenever you are hungry, object B starts to stand out as well.

So, if consciousness is conceptualization, and consciousness is passive, then the sort of causal impact consciousness has is in making our world sharper, simpler, and easier to navigate and manage. Conceptualization helps guide our inner drives to faster and more effective satisfaction—just like the hammer made us more effective in destroying the vase. Thus, though consciousness may be passive, conceptualization has a causal impact in that it focuses (and organizes) the strength of drives—just like a hammer focuses each of our blows. (Note: certainly, not all drives must pass through consciousness. Also, many skills become unconscious when they have been trained extensively—when the conceptual connections have been trained extensively and assimilated into the body's 'muscular memory'.)

There is also another way that consciousness as conceptualization can have a causal impact — and that is through diverting the strength of drives. A good example is a case of deception. Let's say that someone tells you that object C is actually food C, but it is actually poison C. Your drives then guide you, hungrily, toward object C, only to kill you. This is the sort of deception that takes place, I think, when Nietzsche talks pejoratively about the religio-moral interpretation of sensation. Perception/sensation is translated into concepts in order to facilitate the effectiveness of drives, but sometimes this translation/interpretation is a misdirection of some negative sort.

Nietzsche says, In Christianity neither morality nor religion has even a single point of contact with reality. Nothing but imaginary causes (“God,” “soul,” “ego,” “spirit,” “free will”—for that matter, “unfree will”), nothing but imaginary effects (“sin,” “redemption,” “grace,” “punishment,” “forgiveness of sins”). Intercourse between imaginary beings (“God,” “spirits,” “souls”); an imaginary natural science (anthropocentric; no trace of any concept of natural causes); an imaginary psychology (nothing but self-misunderstandings, interpretations of agreeable or disagreeable general feelings—for example, of the states of the nervus sympathicus—with the aid of the sign language of the religio-moral idiosyncrasy: “repentance,” “pangs of conscience,” “temptation by the devil,” “the presence of God”); an imaginary teleology (“the kingdom of God,” “the Last Judgment,” “eternal life”) A 15; emphasis added.

This "sign language of the religio-moral idiosyncrasy" reinterprets sensations into particular concepts and manipulates our actions as such. This is why (in the same spirit) Katsafanas ties interpretation and valuation together when talking about drives—because with interpretation some sort of evaluation is taking place, something is being wired to a particular end and not to some other.

On the one hand, Nietzsche does criticize unnatural conceptions of consciousness (e.g., transcendent agency); he criticizes those who place the origins of intention in the conscious mind, and I also think that he believes that that people (when we identify people by their conscious mind) lack any sense of freedom of will.

On the other hand, Nietzsche sees embodied freedom of will as a result of a perfectionism in which the origins of the majority of an individual's actions can be traced to their body and not to the environment (as described in Rutherford's article "Freedom as a Philosophical Ideal: Nietzsche and His Antecedents").

Katsafanas has a very nice line, in his article "Nietzsche's Philosophical Psychology", where he says, [W]e can deny that drives, considered in isolation, can reason, evaluate, and interpret, while maintaining that embodied drives — drives considered as part of a whole organism — can reason, evaluate, and interpret 27.

In a different sense (but carrying the notion of unified embodiment), freedom of will cannot make sense when we consider the will in isolation (because agency is trapped in a natural landscape of causes), but we can measure some degree of freedom of will if we attribute that will to a body and trace the origins of action to either drives within that body or external causes. Nevertheless, as a point of elaboration, a higher man functions most effectively in a higher culture, and there can certainly be external causes that are friendly to the affirmative, internal drives of the individual. I'm going to continue thinking about the interactions between drives and external values—a point of obvious importance to Nietzsche in his undertaking of the revaluation.

Leiter discusses Katsafanas on Nietzsche on Consciousness in his blog—here—with some interesting commentary from both of them.

As a post-script, I want to reiterate, however, that even if some part of consciousness seems fabricated, that doesn't mean that it doesn't have causal relevance. Maybe I can say it this way: if some part of consciousness seems epiphenomenal because it doesn't really exist (the content of the belief cannot be found in the world), it doesn't mean that the 'non-existent part of consciousness' doesn't have causal relevance because the delusion itself might influence the way we act. For example, the thought that our consciousness is a unified atom of some sort might be due to some epiphenomenal delusion acquired from our first-person experience of the world (e.g., consciousness seems like a unified atom although it really isn't), but that doesn't mean that the epiphenomenal delusion literally exists in some magical realm where it is kept from having a causal impact. Certainly, for this delusion to shape the way we act and philosophize, our confidence in the delusion and the delusion itself must reside somewhere in material reality, or at least, we must be able to explain the delusion as part of the functioning of some bio-mechanical mechanism. However, I don't think it would be correct to say that 'the deluded part of consciousness' literally exists, as it is described, as an entity in some magical realm (e.g., it would be wrong to say that the "unity" of consciousness does not exist in the world but does exist as a magical thing in a magical realm—epiphenomenalism is also called Type-E Dualism). Rather, I would say that some inference is being developed and believed based on an incomplete picture (e.g., I may think that my conscious perception is continuous because I am not aware of my blindspot or the gaps in my visual framerate), but it would be unnatural to say that the false belief (the continuity of conscious perception) exists as a true belief in some immaterial realm.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

DeCal Syllabus: Nietzsche's Hammer

Update (01/13/2010): The website for the Nietzsche DeCal is now available with details on the course.

Update (11/09/2009): The chair of the philosophy department, R. Jay Wallace, who is also going to be the advisor for the class, has approved the Nietzsche DeCal for next semester!

Here is the syllabus that I've prepared for the DeCal class on Nietzsche. I've decided to integrate the secondary literature into a course focused on comprehending Twilight of the Idols. This DeCal will either be available next semester or next year (however, considering that I am a Junior, and that Seniors have priority in creating DeCal classes, and that the Philosophy Department can only sponsor two DeCals, perhaps I will have to wait for next year). The Department Chair will decide which two classes to sponsor by this Tuesday, the 10th.

Philosophy 198 (2 units)
Spring 2010

Nietzsche's Hammer
An Introduction to the Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche

Course Overview:
This course seeks to convey a general understanding concerning the thoughts and ideas of the 19th-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It is aimed at the introductory level, so students from all majors and philosophical backgrounds are encouraged to attend. However, a fruitful discussion will be dependent, in part, on the careful reading of the passages and the thoughtful contributions of the students. Approximately 6-14 pages of reading will be assigned per week (9.5 pages on average), and we will collectively discuss them during lecture. We will be covering the complete text of Twilight of the Idols (Götzen-Dämmerung) – a short book of about 80 pages that Nietzsche considered an introduction to his philosophy. As a supplement, we will also be reading three lucid articles of secondary literature.

Course Expectations:
(Students must fulfill
all expectations in order to receive two units to pass the course.)
Attendance – Students are expected to have no more than two unexcused absences.
Paper – Students are expected to write one five-page final paper on selected topics discussed in the course.
Participation – Students are expected to be prepared with assigned readings and engage in interactive discussions.

Course Materials:
We will be using the Cambridge translation of
Twilight of the Idols – translated by Judith Norman and edited by Aaron Ridley. The ISBN for the paperback is 0521016886. The text is bundled into a book with several other short works under the title, “The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twilight of the Idols: And Other Writings.” ( link to the book.)
Handouts will be provided for the assigned readings of secondary literature.

Course Schedule:

Week 1 – Introduction
Lecture Tasks & Discussion:
*Short Biography of Nietzsche's Life
*19th-Century Germany & Europe
*Major philosophical influences on Nietzsche's thought
*Listen to “Brian Leiter on Nietzsche's Myths”
Reading for next week: Preface; Maxims and Arrows (i)

Week 2 – Morality
*Nihilism versus Affirmation (The Will to Nothingness; The Will to Power)
*Morality in the Pejorative Sense (MPS)
*Perfectionism & Freedom of Will (Stoics; Spinoza; Nietzsche)
*Discuss Reading
Reading for next week: The Problem of Socrates (ii); “Reason” in Philosophy (iii)

Week 3 – Reason / Being / Logos
*Physiognomic Perspectivism
*Discuss Reading
Reading for next week: How the “True World” Finally Became a Fable (iv); Morality as Anti-Nature (v)

Week 4 – Nature & Anti-Nature
*Descriptive components of MPS
*Discuss Reading
Reading for next week: The Four Great Errors (vi)

Week 5 – Causality
*Discuss Reading
*Define Epiphenomenalism
Reading for next week: “Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action” by Brian Leiter

Week 6 – Epiphenomenalism
*Discuss Reading
Reading for next week: “Nietzsche's Theory of Mind” by Paul Katsafanas (pages 1-14)

Week 7 – The Mind (1 of 2)
*Discuss Reading
Reading for next week: “Nietzsche's Theory of Mind” by Paul Katsafanas (pages 14-24)

Week 8 – The Mind (2 of 2)
*Discuss Reading
Reading for next week: The “Improvers” of Mankind (vii); What the Germans Lack (viii)

Week 9 – Interpretation / Education
*Discuss Reading
Reading for next week: Skirmishes of an Untimely Man (ix: §1-24)

Week 10 – Free Spirits & Art (1 of 2)
*Darwin & Lamarck
*Discuss Reading
Reading for next week: Skirmishes of an Untimely Man (ix: §25-51)

Week 11 – Free Spirits & Art (2 of 2)
*Discuss Reading
*Define Fictionalism
Reading for next week: “Honest Illusion: Valuing for Nietzsche's Free Spirits” by Nadeem Hussain

Week 12 – Fictionalism & Pragmatism
*Discuss Reading
Reading for next week: What I Owe to the Ancients (x), The Hammer Speaks (xi)

Week 13 – Conclusion
*Discuss Reading

Week 14 –
*Extra week to either focus longer on discussing the topic of one of previous weeks or to read an additional article of secondary literature.

(I may change the Katsafanas article from "Nietzsche's Theory of Mind" to "Nietzsche's Philosophical Psychology".)

Monday, November 02, 2009


These are some of my favorite songs ("/") and albums ("^"):

Clint Mansell & Mogwai & Kronos Quartet
/ Death is the Road to Awe (listen)
Explosions in the Sky
/ With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept
/ Your Hand In Mine (listen)
/ Day Five
/ Day Six
Fareed Sajan
/ Tangled In Shipwrecks
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
/ Sleep
/ I'm Jim Morrison, I'm Dead (listen)
/ May Nothing but Happiness Come Through Your Door
/ Moonlight (listen)
Mono & World's End Girlfriend
^Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain
Russian Circles
/ Micah (listen)
Sigur Rós

^ Parenthesis
/ Gong (listen)
A Silver Mt. Zion
/ Sisters! Brothers! Small Boats of Fire are Falling from the Sky! (listen)
This Will Destroy You
/ There Are Some Remedies Worse Than The Disease (listen)
Yndi Halda
/ We Flood Empty Lakes (listen)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday, October 08, 2009

DeCal: Nietzsche on Truth and Autonomy

Update (01/13/2010): The website for the Nietzsche DeCal is now available with details on the course.

The University of California, Berkeley has a neat program called "DeCal," which is short for "democratic education at Cal." Their website is DeCal is a program in which students (mainly undergraduates) teach their own classes. This allows for some flexibility on topics and the combining of uncommon means for approaching a topic, e.g. a course on economic game theory with applications to the real-time strategy video game starcraft. In previous semesters, the philosophy department has endorsed deCal classes on Kierkegaard; here is one of the syllabi used during one semester.

I have been considering the possibility of teaching (or as they say, "facilitating") a deCal class on Nietzsche. I could teach this class either next semester or next year. The first half of the semester would introduce Nietzsche's ideas on Truth as they stand in contemporary secondary literature, while the second half of the semester would deal with Autonomy.

I was thinking of introducing each article of secondary literature in the following format. Let's say we were going to read Hussain's article on Nietzsche's fictionalism: "Honest Illusion: Valuing for Nietzsche's Free Spirits." First I would collect some information on fictionalism, let's say, the article, "Fictionalism," in the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Then, (1a) I would assign the reading of this article, and (1b) we would outline and discuss the ideas during class. After that, (2a) I would assign the reading of a few pages of Nietzsche's aphorisms (these aphorisms will be primarily taken from whichever aphorisms are cited in Hussain's essay). Then, (2b) we will discuss these aphorisms and how they plausibly imply or fail to imply fictionalism. Finally, (3a) I would assign the reading of Hussain's actual article, "Honest Illusion," and (3b) we would discuss the article in class.

Another example: (1) Read and discuss the Stanford article on "Epiphenomenalism." (2) Read and discuss Nietzsche's related aphorims. (3) Read and discuss Leiter's article on Nietzsche's epiphenomenalism of the will, "Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action."

In this manner, I am hoping that (during the 15 weeks, 12 weeks in which readings can be done) we will be able to read 4 articles from the secondary literature: 2 articles on Truth, 2 articles on Autonomy.

At the present moment, I am contemplatng which articles would be good choices. These are my present candidates,

Nietzsche on Truth (Metaphysics & Epistemology):
1. "Perspectivism in Genealogy of Morals" by Brian Leiter
2. "Honest Illusion: Valuing for Nietzsche's Free Spirits" by Nadeem Hussain

Nietzsche on Autonomy (Mind, Action, & Metaethics)
3. "Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action" by Brian Leiter
4. "Nietzsche's Theory of Mind: Consciousness and Conceptualization" by Paul Katsafanas

Additionally, I will incorporate whatever useful educational media (audio or visual) I find (related to the topics or useful in understanding Nietzsche). Here is some media that I am considering,

1. "Brian Leiter on Nietzsche's Myths" from Philosophy Bites
2. "Christopher Janaway on Nietzsche on Morality" from Philosophy Bites
3. "Brian Leiter discusses Nietzsche on Morality" from Elucidations
4. suggestions?

5. suggestions?

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Heidegger On Cartesian Ontology

Today, I had to give a brief presentation on Heidegger's criticism of the Cartesian Ontology; namely, I had to summarize section 21 of Being and Time. This was for the UCBerkeley class on Heidegger.

Here is the actual, paper outline that I handed out to the other students and the professors.

Here is the transcript of the presentation, which lines up with the paper outline in terms of content.

(Right-click and "save link as" to download the documents.)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A Schedule for next Semester

This semester, Fall 2009, I am enrolled in four classes.
  • Heidegger 185 - (seminar) with Drs. Katharina Kaiser & Dorothea Frede
  • Theory of Meaning 135 - with Dr. John Campbell
  • Philosophical Methods 100 - with Dr. Seth Yalcin
  • Attic Greek 1 - (language) with Rachael Preminger
Next semester, Spring 2010, there are several classes which seem appealing. First of all, I'd very much like to enroll in these two:
  • The Phenomenology of Action 189 - with Dr. Hubert Dreyfus
  • Hume 176 - with Dr. Barry Stroud
The other classes that I am considering, depending on times and availability, include,
  • Schopenhauer & Nietzsche 183 - with Dr. Katharina Kaiser
  • Philosophy of Mathematics 146 - with Dr. Paolo Mancosu
  • Philosophy of Mind 132 - with Dr. John Searle
  • Aristotle 161 - with Dr. Dorothea Frede
  • Attic Greek 2
Additionally, next semester, a wonderful graduate seminar co-taught by Drs. MacFarlane and Yalcin is scheduled. However, I'm not sure exactly what sort of preparation is expected for this particular seminar.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Class on "Later Nietzsche"

As many students of philosophy also have noticed, many universities list classes on the later Wittgenstein and classes on the early Wittgenstein. The Later Wittgenstein class focuses on the work in the Philosophical Investigations, and the Early Wittgenstein class focuses on the work in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. Such a focus seems wonderful.

However, Nietzsche is rarely (or never) given this detailed exposure (at the undergraduate level). With a far greater volume of published texts, nevertheless, professors seem to want to teach the contrasting views of the early, middle, and later Nietzsche, all in one semester, and in some cases they lack explicitely made distinctions in their program. (A studious friend who took the class on Nietzsche at Carnegie Mellon, having had to sprint through Nietzsche's published corpus in a single semester, left the class with a gigantic confusion and wondering "whether or not Nietzsche would have agreed with the values of the Nazi party.")

Yes, reading some of the early or middle Nietzsche does help illuminate the position of the later Nietzsche and so would mastering the Tractatus before proceeding to the Philosophical Investigations; however, at the beginning of the semester, a professor could do the task of briefly summarizing the issues of similarity and difference and then continue the semester with an exclusive focus on the delicate material of the later Nietzsche.

Such an upper division class would have many advantages for the student and for future Nietzsche studies, for many reasons: A more detailed exposition of his ideas would be available to students, students would be able to follow it more clearly, and this would spread a more scholarly introduction to Nietzsche himself, advocating a naturalist view and stimulating students to focus on specialized topics for their senior thesis (e.g. refined topics in Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action & Mind, of Language, Epistemology, etc.). The current approach to teaching Nietzsche to undergraduates leaves students confounded, uninformed, misled, and gives them an impression that the prolific writer was confusing, contradictory, and lacking in scholarly arguments. (Why do some philosophy professors attempt to include the entirety of Thus Spoke Zarathustra in introductory courses?)

I spoke to the instructor at Berkeley who will be teaching the class on Schopenhauer & Nietzsche 183, next semester. She told me that her tentative plan was to focus on "Schopenhauer & Nietzsche on Art" at which point my heart sank while she described that we would read from The World as Will and Representation, The Birth of Tragedy, and some excerpts from Nietzsche's later writings. I felt a little better when she reminded me that understanding their views on art would of course implicate understanding their metaphysical views. Nevertheless, as Leiter says in his Nietzsche on Morality,

As Whitman argues, part of what made The Birth of Tragedy an "embarrassment to classicists" was that it represented a return to "the magisterial tradition" of philology, then in disrepute due to the influence of the newer "scientific" model for the discipline.

Even Nietzsche himself finds The Birth of Tragedy to be a poor text (however, he notes in hindsight a few undeveloped inclinations that show evidence of his later ideas). So why in god's name do professors seek to incorporate this absurdity in their undergraduate courses? I could see the use perhaps in historical graduate courses - but why would you expose students to Nietzsche's worst writing? The next worst thing to do would be to add "On Truth and Lies in the Non-Moral Sense" to the syllabus or even Thus Spoke Zarathustra to an undisciplined audience.

At the least, the Schopenhauer & Nietzsche course could be miraculously restructured to "Schopenhauer & Nietzsche on the Will." This course could then focus on the development of theories of agency, beginning with a brief summary of the views stated by Kant and developed by Hegel, leading into a more detailed reading of Schopenhauer's contrasting development, and finally, discussing the influence these individuals had on Nietzsche's naturalistic thoughts on agency. This course would, of course, point out similarities between Nietzsche and Schopenhauer's psychological and physiological views (e.g. type-facts, the unconscious). To continue in this vein, the instructor could include some secondary literature (e.g. Leiter's article on "Nietzsche's Philosophy of Action") as well as some empirical, psychological literature on consciousness and against freedom of will. Now, THAT would make for an exciting class! - Schopenhauer & Nietzsche on Agency.

To end this post, I'm leaving a brief, hypothetical syllabus of a course exclusively on the Later Nietzsche. I'll keep this portion updated, based on any new ideas that come into my mind. (Plus, I'll add more details when I have time.)

Later Nietzsche

This course will focus on the ... course description.

Primary Texts:
On the Genealogy of Morality, trans. by Clark and Swensen.
Twilight of the Idols, trans. by . . .
Course Reader (including aphorisms from D, GS, BGE, A, EH, and WP).

Secondary Literature:
Nietzsche on Morality, by Leiter (introducing ideas of ch. 1 & 2 in lecture, and assigning the reading of ch. 3 & 4).
"Honest Illusion," by Hussain in Nietzsche and Morality edited by Leiter and Sinhababu.
"Nietzsche's Theory of the Will," by Leiter in Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy edited by Gemes & May.

. . .

Recommended Reading:
Nietzsche's Philosophical Context: An Intellectual Biography, by Brobjer.
Nietzsche's System, by Richardson.
. . .

I will update this syllabus.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

3 Quarks Daily - Philosophy Blog Post Contest

3 Quarks Daily is conducting a philosophy blog posts contest. These are the steps.
  1. Public nominations of particular blog posts.
  2. Public voting of these nominations until the night of September 7th, whereby the top 20 will progress onto step 3.
  3. The four main editors of 3 Quarks Daily will select 6 finalists from these 20 (with the possibility of adding up to three additional finalists from the remaining original 64 nominations).
  4. Daniel Dennett will then read through these finalists and select the first, second, and third place articles, as well as providing some commentary on these three. (Contest information, included prizes, detailed here.)
I have nominated the article "Nietzsche's Causal Essentialism" from this blog. Currently, you can read all the nominated articles here. Then you can vote here. Leiter Reports has also provided a generous preliminary opinion here.

Nietzsche on the top-right, hoping that this Nietzsche related nomination will win.

September 22nd:
Dennett seems to be of the opinion that blogs are more likely to be locations for clear writing rather than sporadic, undeveloped thoughts. I'd categorize my entry particularly as a sporadic essay written specifically in the vein of responding to my reading of a particular article (and my essay would be easier to grasp had he read the original article). I'd expect streamlined blogs (those that are presented as self-contained news articles) to be written in the most ordinary language, but numerous philosophy blogs will expect a reader to have a background in the specific areas that that blog discusses. My candidate seems to have fallen into this specialized category and beyond the taste of Dennett, giving him the confidence to call himself an eccentric. Here are his remarks and the three winners.

September 11th:
This is extremely exciting. Having made the top six of the chosen finalists, the blog article will now be read by Daniel Dennett. Three wildcards have been added, and now, Nietzsche must compete against eight other articles in the finals. This is a true reward to have the article read by Dennett. Let's hope that the article makes top three so that we can get some feedback on the article itself - directly from him. Winners will be announced on September 22nd, 2009.

September 8th:
Thanks for your support and enthusiasm. I hope this reflects that the discussion has provided some fruitful insights and inspirations. Here is the list of the semifinalists where "Nietzsche's Causal Essentialism" finds itself in the first position! Let's hope we move onto the final round where Daniel Dennett will decide the winners. Finalists will be announced on September 11th, 2009.

Dennett did not deliver presents to Nietzsche and I this year.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Epiphenomenalist Critique

I have recently been attempting entrance into the deeper caves of subtleties in Nietzsche's thought on the mind and action. Nietzsche, so far in my understanding from reading both him and secondary literature, seems to assert that the mind is epiphenomenal (from a phenomenological account of action), and that our consciousness does not actually cause actions. A couple weeks ago, I discussed this topic after reading a related article.

Basically, Nietzsche asserts that our body is composed of many drives, and that these drives play out their interactions, and the (ongoing) result of this struggle is a deep cause. This deep cause then causes both our motor action and our sense of desire for wanting to act out that motor action. In other words, our mental desires (i.e. motives or intentions) do not cause actions, but rather, a deep cause causes both our mental desire to act and a corresponding action.

From this epiphenomenal picture of mind and action, I began to ask myself, "what is the purpose of this consciousness that does not cause actions?"

(Against the notion of free will, there is an experiment that shows that when you move your hand, the nervous system signal to move your hand becomes active significantly, a few hundred milliseconds, before the person's conscious brain becomes aware of the desire to act ("Bereitschaftspotential"). There is also some contemporary, psychology literature on related epiphenomenal themes, a book I am interested in reading).

To answer this question, as to the purpose of consciousness, all I can conceive of is that consciousness (our subjective perspective) is the visual throne of the body (the primary location of sensation collection). (However, there can be other secondary locations of sensation collection, for example, reflexes that synapse sensory neurons and immediately fire back motor neurons from the spine or even unconscious perceptions, as with blindsight.)

Therefore, whichever drive or set of drives wins out in the "unconscious" struggle (among drives) is then able to temporarily appropriate the visual throne for their advantage. What is the advantage of this appropriation?—that with consciousness, a drive can monitor whether or not its resultant "deep cause" was carried out, and through consciousness, the drive can receive feedback (the strength of the drive can be reduced after the "mental desire" is satisfied).

Having a consciousness allows the body to translate the drives into the organized symbols, shapes, words, flavors (qualia) of our conscious experience in order to effectively satisfy the drives and give them feedback. What is the role of language?—could it be a way for consciousness to simplify the manifold multiplicity of sensations and make it easier for a drive to discern among (conscious) sensory possibilities.

I'm trying to decide if we can say that consciousness does not cause any actions at all or just that consciousness causes very few actions (but that it's nonsensical to identify with these few actions caused by consciousness any more than to identify with actions caused by unconscious processes). Perhaps my thoughts are getting mixed up in this unrefined use of language.

Wikipedia says, epiphenomenalism denies that the mind (as in its states, not its processing) has any influence on the body or any other part of the physical world: while mental states are caused by physical states, mental states do not have any influence on physical states ("Epiphenomenalism"). I don't mind reducing the role of consciousness; however, it doesn't seem to make sense to delete its role altogether (then my experience would just be an inert event). However, I agree with the physicalism that epiphenomenalism implies, that (from a third-person perspective) our actions are the cause of our physiological type-facts and our (social and material) environment, not of a transcendent mind that appears to exist from the first person.

Also, it would make sense if mental states reduced to physical states; however, it seems to me that I am creating problems here by conflating various uses of the term consciousness. Isn't epiphenomenalism a term meant to describe our first-person (phenomenological) experience of what is (from a third-person perspective) an embodied series of physical processes. Therefore, I should be saying "the first-person experience of consciousness is epiphenomenal," while "the material processes that generate such things that we call "consciousness," "actions," "desires," and "unconscious events" are all physical and that it would be nonsensical to call consciousness transcendent from a third-person perspective because these processes occur in a material environment (material body) and because such a thing as a "mind" is nonsensical from a third-person perspective."

In a physical sense, the parts of the brain that we call consciousness (a map constantly shifting per their activation) are those parts which monitor whether or not a desire is satisfied and the desire is stopped (satisfied) when a sufficient stimulus is received; additionally, when a desire is stopped, a different desire is then being monitored. Hence, consciousness, even as a physical entity, remains on the receiving end of sensation; however, it still has a significant role (perhaps, it is that, as humans, we are accustomed to valuing things highly based on their ability to act and this inability to act seems to render consciousness valueless). Nevertheless, consciousness acts indirectly by organizing sensory information (both the affects of drives and the sensations of the environment) to compel, via focusing, several activities among possible activities. However, the focusing, the compulsion, is the result of events outside of consciousness; nevertheless, the fact that consciousness has an ongoing role means that it is essential part of our activity.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Twenty-Three years since I was Born

Yesterday, August 9th, was my twenty-third birthday. Roxanna and I celebrated by going out to eat sushi in downtown Berkeley.

I received some wonderful presents. My parents gave me, in word, the upcoming third-generation ipod touch, an instrument which has revealed itself to be extremely useful. I've been using Roxanna's ipod touch while reading, and the ability to look up words and ideas in wikipedia, or the various academic encyclopedias and dictionaries online, has quickened my pace in reading and acquiring new ideas. Next, Roxanna's parents sent me the wonderful collection of essays on Nietzsche's philosophy of mind and action titled Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy. (I previously remarked on an essay by Leiter, "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will," which appears in this collection. At present, I'm eager to read what other individuals have also presented in this vein.) Finally, Roxanna gave me Paul Ree's Basic Writings, which contains his Psychological Observations and The Origin of the Moral Sensations, two works which influenced Nietzsche.

My favorite of all my presents was Roxanna's other gift, the preplatonic philosopher, Gorgias the Nihilist! Here is a photograph of him, Gorgias, becoming acquianted with Nietzsche, Dostoyevsky, and the rest of the little guys. Hopefully I'll be able to talk to him more after Fall semester's Ancient Greek language class, because at the current moment, Nietzsche is translating all his remarks, and he appears a little shy.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Nietzsche's Causal Essentialism

I recently read Brian Leiter's article titled "Nietzsche's Theory of the Will," published in Nietzsche on Freedom and Autonomy, a collection of essays which I am deeply coveting.

The article begins by discussing the difference between (1) the subjective experience of willing and (2) the naturalistic and scientific description of how willing is actually processed. Nietzsche does not want to place subjectivity or consciousness in a transcendental realm (one that describes the will as autonomous and causa sui, self-caused), but rather in a physical realm where it is subject to the body and the material world, a world which is united in causality. Against a free, therefore, transcendent will, Nietzsche's naturalism entails a type of determinism.

In (1) the subjective experience of willing, a phenomenological account correlates our actions with what seemed to precede them, a motive. However, in (2) the naturalistic and scientific description of willing, a deep cause is the cause of both our action and our apparent desire to act. This is because we merely identify with the feeling of command that reinforces when a conscious desire arises in apparent conjunction with an action and seems prove to the agent that they are causally related. Consciousness is misled into believing (or feeling that) it was behind actions because it also receives feedback from the feeling of command that arises after a desire is satisfied, satisfied through success in the corresponding action. Thus, our consciousness is given a desire by the deep cause, and our body is also put into motion by the deep cause, and hence, when the desire and the satisfied completion of an action are put together, we feel pleasure (the feeling of command).

If, in an alternate instance, our desire was not satisfied, then we would become displeasedly conscious of this result instead of receiving pleasure. Nevertheless, the source of the compulsion to act as well as the compulsion to-desire-to-act is the deep cause. The desire to act does not cause the action, it only measures whether or not the action was fulfilled.

The deep cause makes our mind aware that we must monitor the result of a compulsion to act; this desire (or awareness) carries the deep cause's preference, and the result elicits a particular feeling of feedback through which the body knows whether or not the deep cause was appropriately fulfilled. Additionally, consciousness is our focused perceptions (including internal sensations) turned into manageable concepts. In other words, perception is put into focus (with a desire) by the deep cause.

The types of compulsions and desires that are discharged into action and consciousness by the deep cause are the result of a struggle between a plurality of drives. These “unconscious” drives relate primarily to the constitution of each individual, which for Nietzsche can be called “type-facts”. Type-facts, for Nietzsche, are either physiological facts about the person, or facts about the person's unconscious drives or affects. The claim, then, is that each person has certain largely immutable physiological and psychic traits that constitute the "type" of person he or she is Leiter 115-6. Nevertheless, the notion that our general constitution is predominantly immutable does not prevent the unpredictability of manifest actions, for an individual can have type-facts so inclined toward complex behavior that seems unpredictable to other individuals. The complex of drives in each of us is different, based on our physiological constitution, and the way actions are manifest is based on the structure of the environment.

My favorite part of the article was the very exciting footnote number eleven. In this footnote, Leiter mentions his term causal essentialism, which I think is fucking wonderful. There are two, possible, rudimentary, incompatibilist views of freedom of will, these are libertarian free will and hard determinism. Libertarianism proclaims that freedom of will is correct at the exclusion of determinism. Hard determinism proclaims that determinism is correct at the exclusion of freedom of will. (Check out this diagram.)

However, hard determinism, or classical determinism, has grown to include the connotation that certain, very particular fixed laws govern the universe. So, for example, we could believe that we are causally determined and that particular stable and universal laws, such as Newton's law of universal gravitation, were the immobile structure of this causal determination.

Nietzsche was against this view of classical determinism, with its stable, universal laws. His fatalism took the view that we are determined by our physiology and our environment (a naturalistic conception) but that these determinants struggle to produce a resultnot that there are strict, stable, necessary result determining laws. The very laws themselves must be continuously redefined by their context because interactions among material objects continuously redefine themselves; the rule attempts to modify another rule while it, itself, is modified.

Nietzsche says, We need 'unities' in order to be able to reckon: that does not mean we must suppose that such unities exist. We have borrowed the concept of unity from our 'ego' concept—our oldest article of faith WP 635. The ego, which can appear to us as an indivisible essence, is only unified from our subjective, phenomenological perspective.

The ego is multiplicity, a plurality of relations of tension and release—willing must be understood in this same manner. Willing seems to me to be above all something complicated, something that is a unity only as a word – BGE 19.

Rules are useful fictions that help conceptualize and predict phenomena. Nietzsche discusses this unstable basis of rule following while discussing the concept “thing,” the concept by which phenomena is dissected into manageable parts through language. 'Things' do not behave regularly, according to a rule: there are no things (—they are fictions invented by us); they have just as little under the constraint of necessity. There is no obedience here: for that something is as it is, as strong or as weak, is not the consequence of an obedience or a rule or a compulsion— WP 634. Nietzsche isn't saying that determinism is wrong, but that there is no fixed, metaphysical rule, no obedience to such universal rules. He continues, The degree of resistance and the degree of superior power—this is the question in every event: if, for our day-to-day calculations, we know how to express this in formulas and “laws,” so much the better for us! But we have not introduced any 'morality' into the world by the fiction that it is obedient— WP 634.

All of our generalizations are generalizations for a fictional paradigm, an imaginary world, and this imaginary world must not be confused with the natural world, which operates on forces that enter into conflict and continuously redefine themselves.

There is no law: every power draws its ultimate consequence at every moment. Calculability exists precisely because things are unable to be other than they are WP 634.

In other words, we could say that there are forces but that each force is being redefined as it moves in and out of interactions. In other words, we can map these forces with rules, but rules have difficultly mirroring the more flexible or complex forces.

Digressing a little bit, this dilemma reminds me of the three-body problem (or more generally the n-body problem) in classical mechanics. In my own words and as I understand it, the motion and positions of two bodies can be studied because you effectively combine their masses and their distance, treating it almost as if one body was a non-existent point at a distance and as if the other body took full responsibility for the total mass of the system. However, when you have three bodies in motion, even with the assistance of the most complex computer, you cannot precisely calculate the behavior of the system because each of the three bodies is effectively modifying the motion of the other bodies and is itself being modified. Thus, such problems arise in systems where three or more (i.e. n) bodies interact.

However, to a certain degree, we rarely run into three bodies in motion. For example, when calculating the behavior between the sun and a planet, we could say that it is being influenced by all the other mass in the universe in some way; nevertheless, this influence is negligible. Thus, a physicist would treat such a system as a two-body system. But nevertheless, there are many other cases in which three significant bodies are close enough to each other to make calculations difficult.

A few months ago, I read this passage from a question and answer page on dark matter,

Q: If we are not sure exactly what dark matter is, how are we sure the laws of gravity apply the same way as they do to normal matter?

The physicist answers,

A: We aren't exactly sure! But physicists prefer theories that keep laws universal and assign different properties to the particles. For example, we could formulate a different law of gravity for each planet in our solar system, but it feels more elegant to have a single equivalent law that just needs to know each planet's mass. With dark matter, we know that it is not normal matter. So we prefer a theory that introduces a mysterious new particle rather than theories that introduce a mysterious new particle and simultaneously alter the behavior of gravity.

And all of this reminds me of how Ptolemy's geocentric model of the universe, which was meticulously modified to account for the apparent retrograde motion, did not represent the actual sun-centered solar system, though it was able to track the behavior of the planets fairly well (better than even Copernicus' heliocentric model!—whose model also lacked elliptical orbits). We continuously modify the extensions of our theories until the foundation of our theory is so tense that it breaks and requires reassembly with a new, naturalistic innocence.

Returning to conclude on the exciting new term: causal essentialism describes a world that is entirely immanent (there is nothing transcendent or causa sui) and returns us (the agents) to a vivid world that is in flux.

So what does it mean to be determined? All it means is that the world is immanent, natural, real.

Causal essentialism does not deprive of us of our personal, type-fact constructed physiology, and it does not prevent us from subjectively feeling free and from seeking the re-evaluation of values, a necessary endeavor because expressions of our constitution are satisfied and dissatisfied according to the constraints of current values. Causal essentialism heralds a naturalistic framework for understanding reality. As Nietzsche says, We, however, want to become who we are—human beings who are new, unique, incomparable, who give themselves laws, who create themselves! To that end we must become the best students and discoverers of everything lawful and necessary in the world: we must become physicists in order to be creators in this sense—while hitherto all valuations and ideals have been built on ignorance of physics or in contradiction to it. So, long live physics! And even more long live what compels us to it—our honesty GS 335.

In this vein, we may be constituted by relatively immutable type-facts, we are, however, only able to fulfill the compulsions of our constitution through our understanding that our ability to exert our strength depends on our comprehension of the world of physical matter and the walking horizon of values.

Presently, I am looking into footnote fourteen of Leiter's article, an interesting footnote where he discusses an objection by Katsafanas to his and Deleuze's ascription of the epiphenomenalist critique to Nietzsche.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Nietzsche Grid

Currently working on the Nietzsche Grid. Please offer your suggestions at the Nietzsche Grid Blog.

Thank you.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Das Nichts nichtet

Ludwig Wittgenstein, as quoted in Duncan Richter's article, "Did Wittgenstein Disagree with Heidegger?" carried me first into humor and then into pensive consideration.

In reading about and in discussing Heidegger with my friend Alan Sevier, I began to consider the relevant similarities between what seems to be an existential description of meaning in both Heidegger and the later Wittgenstein. (Existential as in coming forth foremost from subjectively situated behavior versus Cartesian as in drawing in sensation to build, foremost, an objective, spatial picture—the second view taken by Husserl.)

I searched for relevant material online and that is when I encountered the Richter article above—which was disappointing. The article discusses indirectly implicated quotes from Heidegger's writings that Wittgenstein uses in his lectures. The article is dissatisfying because I was looking for an examination of the conceptual similarities between the two philosophers in their dealing with meaning. The author instead focuses on literal overlaps—where one philosopher is mentioned or quoted by the other. Nevertheless, I was entertained by the discussion on Heidegger's sentence, das Nichts nichtet, which Wittgenstein calls, an inarticulate sound.

Wittgenstein says, We would like to begin ph(ilosophy) with something which should be the foundation of everything to follow, of all the sciences, and yet at the same time it is not supposed to be a ‘foundation’ simply in the sense of the bottom course of bricks in a house. […] This dilemma gives rise to the need to begin philosophy with, so to speak, an inarticulate sound. And a proposition such as ‘The nothing noths’ is in a certain sense a substitute for this sort of inarticulate sound.

What sort of mood is this?
—this mood that the creator articulates at the inception of his metaphysics. Does this inarticulate sound represent a frustration or a private excitement that seeks to become known? Is this that rumored creation of language that is said to come forth from the poet in his esoteric abandon? Additionally, Wittgenstein suspends the thought before us, drawing attention and consideration to the possibility that within his articulation the metaphysician is explicitely using words with a regular meaning in an irregular way.

What exactly is a poet?—this god of language said to have brought diverse grunts into fashion. I cannot accept a conventional picture of the term poet; I wouldn't hesitate to consider Kurt Gödel a poet if poets are men who "use language to encounter language," a definition Sevier playfully considered. However, I would say that, in many cases, the use of the word "what" is erroneous, a barbarism of a Socrates, and the word "who" begins the sentence of proper ettiquette. The proper question is "who is a poet?"—after which we would begin naming an individual, and this form of the question brings me relief.

But what is in the question "what is a poet?" that is not in the question "who is a poet?"—a repressed anger, a frustration, an attempt to appreciate degenerate indifference over selective, personal, existential meaning; this lineage of decadence remembers the name Socrates. I recognized Socrates and Plato to be symptoms of degeneration, tools of the Greek dissolution, pseudo-Greek, anti-Greek TI, "The Problem of Socrates" 2.

Nietzsche continues, Whatever has being does not become; whatever becomes does not have being. Now they all believe, desperately even, in what has being TI, "'Reason' in Philosophy" 1.

Perhaps the inarticulate sound that begins a poet's prose is that moment of vague compatibilism between necessity and freedom of will—where one does not give reasons but commands TI, "The Problem of Socrates" 5.

The inarticulate sound can be imagined as many possibilities, but let's imagine these two possibilities: that (α) the sound is a frustration, and henceforth, an embarrassment and that (β) the sound is an excitement, an occurrence of abandoned creation.

In (α), the frustration arises because the dialectician searches desperately for a justification, and the sound represents frustration. But how can the dialectician create?—well, he can certainly lie and fool with confidence. The moment, (α), is where he deceptively mutters a few esoteric words to conceal either his presuppositions or his uneasy conscience.

In the second case, (β), a new space is pushed into existence by he who voices the postulated phrase—a phrase with a personal floor in a floorless existence. Why do I refer to instance (β) as a moment of vague compatibilism? Because that is the moment where the articulator of the sound feels the joy of freedom after and alongside the compulsion of power ("after" because power is given primacy, and "alongside" because power is given concordant flow). Compelled by a thriving necessity, in which the poet's actions are taken over and determined (embodied inspiration), the exertion of strength is a feeling of freedom. In other words, what is determinism from a third-person perspective is emotionally manifest as first-person, Existential freedom.

On the one hand, when lacking a necessary compulsion, we can imagine the anxiety that an individual, as Sartre describes, has in the face of freedom; on the other hand, we can imagine the joy Nietzsche describes when an individual is compelled by Dionysian determinism. Thus, the psychological or existential effect is reversed against what is the conceptualized, physiological influence. If I find myself, in concept, as being deterministically compelled, I can also find myself feeling free when I identify myself as the actor.

I am reading about Heidegger in preparation for the Berkeley seminar on his Being and Time, Division I—taught by Drs. Dorothea Frede and Katharina Kaiser. Returning to the beginning of this discussion, I hope to further disentangle Heidegger's description of meaning this Fall semester.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

An Anticipation

Once I organize the new website at, I will begin to post here. Once Spring break begins, I'll be able to set some time aside to finish organizing everything. My plan is to maintain a current of shareable thoughts here. This Summer will mark the inception of this discussion site, a Summer I plan to spend reading in anticipation of my Junior year.