Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Part 3 of "Nietzsche's Sociobiology of Animal Morality"

"The practices demanded in polite society: careful avoidance of the ridiculous, the offensive, the presumptuous, the suppression of one's virtues as well as of one's strongest inclinations, self-adaptation, self-deprecation, submission to orders of rank--all this is to be found as social morality in a crude form everywhere, even in the depths of the animal world--and only at this depth do we see the purpose of all these amiable precautions: one wishes to elude one's pursuers and be favoured in the pursuit of one's prey. . . . Thus the individual hides himself in the general concept 'man' or in society, or adapts himself to princes, classes, parties, opinions of his time and place: and all the subtle ways we have of appearing fortunate, grateful, powerful, enamoured have their easily discoverable parallels in the animal world" (Dawn, 26).

Here Nietzsche describes an animal capacity for social attunement--for that subtle social dance in which animals respond appropriately to others based on their awareness of the intentions, expectations, and feelings of others.  This is the precondition for all animal morality, because it makes it possible for social animals to create and enforce those social norms of acceptable behavior that constitute a moral code. 

Elsewhere, Nietzsche calls this capacity "sympathy" (Mitempfindung) (D, 142).  This is the capacity to simulate in ourselves what others are feeling, which includes imitating the bodily movements of the other person--"imitating with our own body the expression of his eyes, his voice, his walk, his bearing (or even their reflection in word, picture, music)."  This evolved capacity for fellow-feeling allows us to imagine not only the pains of others but also their joys (AOM, 62).

Thus, the individual comes to know himself by seeing himself reflected in the minds of others.  "What one knows of oneself.  As soon as one animal sees another, it measures itself against it in its mind, and men in barbarous ages did likewise.  From this it follows that every man comes to know himself almost solely in regard to his powers of defence and attack" (D, 212).

Through "sympathy, the feeling of being alike or equal," animals evolve social instincts, so that they feel pleasure in being with others, as is shown in animals playing with one another, and particularly mothers playing with their young (HH, 98).  In primeval human beings, animal sympathy and the social instincts allowed them to enter the "oldest covenant" by which individuals formed a community for the protection of all from threats.

Thus, originally, all morality was the social "morality of custom" (Sittlichkeit der Sitte) (HH, 96-97; D, 9).  Originally, "everything was custom" or tradition. Morality was obedience to the traditional way of behaving and evaluation.  And the individual was sacrificed to the community.  Only much later, in the evolutionary history of culture, with the evolution of knowledge and reasoning in a few human beings like Socrates, was it possible for some individuals to exercise individual judgment in the practice of virtues that they judged to be good for them as individuals and as social animals (D, 9; WS, 44, 86, 212).

Obedience to the morality of custom seems to be selfless.  And, indeed, Paul Ree identified morality as selflessness.  But Nietzsche disagreed, because he argued that what looks like selflessness is disguised self-love.  As a product of animal evolution, morality is rooted in the natural inclination to care for oneself--for one's body and mind--but as social mammals, this care for oneself is extended into caring for others to which one is attached--one's sexual mates, one's children, one's tribal group, and perhaps farther out through the extension of sympathy (HH, 57, 98, 102, 104).

The general conclusion from this is that morality is not the fulfilment of a cosmic or divine purpose, because the purpose of morality is a purely human purpose--to secure the conditions for our momentary existence on earth as the kind of animals we are.  "Because good and evil are measured according to our reactions, we ourselves must constitute the principle of the good" (D, 102).

This is why the evolutionary science of animal morality is so disturbing to most human beings, because it denies that human purposefulness fulfils the purpose of the whole universe.  The evolutionary universe has no purpose. And this universe does not care about or for human beings.  But human beings have evolved to care for themselves (WS, 14; D, 26, 49, 100, 122).  When the human species goes extinct, as it must sometime in the future, there will no longer be any human care and thus no human morality.

On all of these points, Nietzsche's science of morality corresponds with Darwin's science.  In The Descent of Man, Darwin follows Hume and Smith in rooting morality in sympathy, while explaining how this capacity for sympathy could have evolved among social mammals with social instincts.  The parental and filial affections that bound people into families could be extended to tribal communities.  Originally, this was a morality of custom directed to the good of the community rather than the good of the species or of the individual.  But with the cultural evolution of civilized societies--including advances in reasoning and knowledge--there has been more opportunity for individuals to recognize the self-regarding virtues that were ignored in savage societies.  There has also been moral progress in extending sympathy beyond the boundaries of tribal life to embrace all of humanity, and even nonhuman animals.

Immediately after the publication of The Descent of Man, Darwin wrote The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals.  Like Nietzsche, Darwin saw the bodily expression of the emotions as showing the continuity between human beings and nonhuman animals in their moral psychology.  He studied emotions such as surprise, sadness, anger, enjoyment, contempt, disgust, shame, and fear.  He was motivated by two  fundamental concerns.  First, he wanted to refute Sir Charles Bell's claim that human emotional expressions showed the work of divine special creation in endowing human beings with special facial muscles for the expression of moral emotions.  Darwin wanted to show the continuity of humans and other animals in their emotional expressions that would be consistent with gradual evolution.  Second, he wanted to refute the claim that the human races were actually separate species by showing a universality of human emotional expression as an innate evolutionary adaptation uniting the races as belonging to one species.  This would also suggest the possibility of extending sympathy and moral concern to the whole human species.  This research has been extended and deepened in interesting ways by people like Paul Ekman.  (Ekman's work was the inspiration for the television show "Lie to Me.")

Nietzsche's science of animal morality is also confirmed by recent research.  Much of the research in the moral psychology and neuroscience of sympathy (or empathy) shows the evolutionary and neural bases for that capacity for fellow-feeling that Nietzsche identifies as the ground for moral experience.  Previously, I have written some posts on this.

Similarly, the research on the social neuroscience of mammalian biology confirms Nietzsche's evolutionary account of human morality as the extension of self-care to care for others.  I have also written some posts on this.

The ethological research on animal behavior--as surveyed by people like Frans de Waal and Marc Bekoff--also confirms Nietzsche's observations about how the evolutionary roots of human morality might be found in animal societies that create and enforce rules of good conduct.  For example, Bekoff has studied how play among canids (wolves, coyotes, and dogs) is governed by social rules.  Animals assume a crouching position to signal "I want to play with you."  This means that they will imitating the behavioral patterns of hunting, mating, and fighting, but in a playful way: so, for instance, they might bite, but the bite must not be too hard.  Those who violate these rules will be punished by being ostracized from playing and perhaps even excluded from the group.  Individuals excluded from the pack who then must live a solitary life are less likely to survive and reproduce.  Bekoff sees this as an example of an animal moral code, and it looks a lot like what Nietzsche means by animal morality.

Moreover, one can also see that much of the reasoning today about the "social brain" hypothesis--that the human brain has evolved primarily for navigating the complex world of social life--was anticipated by Nietzsche.  I have also written some posts on this.

To be continued  .  .  .

Monday, January 28, 2013

Part 2 of "Nietzsche's Sociobiology of Animal Morality"

I will organize my commentary around words selected from the passage I have quoted--section 26 of Nietzsche's Dawn.

In explaining human morality through the prehistoric evolution of animal morality, Nietzsche was following the lead of his good friend Paul Rée.  Like Nietzsche, Rée had once been shaped by the metaphysical idealism of Kant and Schopenhauer, but then he rejected this and adopted the evolutionary naturalism of Darwin and Lamarck.  In the Introduction to his book The Origin of the Moral Sentiments (1877), Rée rejected Kant's claim that moral consciousness manifests "a revelation from the transcendent world" or the voice of God.  He observed:
"Admittedly, before the theory of evolution appeared, many of these phenomena could not be explained by immanent causes, and a transcendent explanation is certainly far more satisfying than--none at all.  Yet today, since Lamarck and Darwin have written, moral phenomena can be traced back to natural causes just as much as physical phenomena: moral man stands no closer to the intelligible world than physical man."
"This natural explanation rests essentially on the following proposition: The higher animals have developed by natural selection from lower ones, for instance, human beings from the apes."
Like Rée, Nietzsche saw that evolutionary science dictated a move from "metaphysical philosophy" to "historical philosophy" or "scientific philosophy" (HH, 1).  The fundamental proposition for this new evolutionary philosophy would be that "man has evolved," because "everything has evolved," and therefore the human species is not eternal, because nothing is eternal (HH, 2).  Nietzsche embraced Rée's principle, while adding the word "metaphysical"--"Moral man stands no nearer to the intelligible (metaphysical) world than does physical man" (HH, 37).  He commented:
"Perhaps at some point in the future this principle, grown hard and sharp by the hammerblow of historical knowledge, can serve as the axe laid to the root of men's 'metaphysical need' (whether more as a blessing than as a curse for the general welfare, who can say?).  In any event, it is a tenet with the most weighty consequences, fruitful and frightful at the same time, and seeing into the world with that double vision which all great insights have."
Nietzsche conceded that one cannot refute the absolute possibility of a metaphysical or transcendent world beyond the natural world of our ordinary human experience.  But one can show that the belief in this transcendent world has been based on emotional errors and self-deception rather than scientific proof (HH, 9).  But notice Nietzsche's hesitancy about totally rejecting the "metaphysical need" of human beings--he is not sure whether a world without transcendent longings would be a blessing or a curse, because this seems both "fruitful and frightful at the same time."

At some points, Nietzsche speaks of the religious or metaphysical need for redemption as an "acquired need" produced in the Middle Ages that might be eliminated in the scientific civilization of the future (HH, 27, 111, 141, 222, 234, 476).  But at other points, he suggests that such transcendent longings cannot be completely extinguished, and that the culture of the future might require a "double brain, two brain chambers, as it were, one to experience science, and one to experience nonscience."  He explains: "In the one domain lies the source of strength, in the other the regulator.  Illusions, biases, passions must give heat; with the help of scientific knowledge, the pernicious and dangerous consequences of overheating must be prevented" (HH, 251).

Indeed, Nietzsche himself could not give up the transcendent longings of his early life, which reemerged in his later writings, where he used his teachings about will to power, eternal return, and redemption of life through the Ubermensch to give eternal meaning to the world.  He promoted a new religion of Dionysian frenzy.  And while in his middle period he had denied the eternality of the human species,  he later affirmed "the eternal basic text of homo natura" (BGE, 230).  Lou Salomé saw this as a reassertion of Nietzsche's deep religious longings that he had suppressed during his middle period when he embraced natural science.

One can see a similar struggle in the minds of some of those influenced by Leo Strauss and Leon Kass, who fear that affirming evolutionary science and denying the eternity of species will lead to nihilism.  It should be noted that there is no evidence that they actually believe the eternity of species to be true, but rather they believe that the illusion of eternity is needed to hide the "deadly truth" of evolution.  Significantly, these people largely ignore Nietzsche's middle writings and concentrate on the late writings.

But while the later Nietzsche turned away from a Darwinian science of morality, Darwin himself had initiated a tradition of evolutionary ethics that continues today.  Darwin in The Descent of Man had referred to the passages in Kant's writing where Kant affirmed that human beings live in "two worlds," and that the human experience of the moral ought manifests a transcendent world of pure practical reason.  By contrast, Darwin set out to explain the purely natural history of morality as rooted in animal evolution, which is what Nietzsche had done in his middle period.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Edward Westermarck elaborated and deepened this evolutionary account of morality as rooted in moral emotions or sentiments that arose from the evolution of animals.  Westermarck showed how this Darwinian science of morality build upon the tradition of Scottish moral philosophy--particularly, David Hume and Adam Smith.

Edward Wilson's sociobiology revives this Darwinian empiricist tradition of ethics as contrasted with the transcendentalist tradition of Kant and others (mostly clearly stated in Chapter 11 of Wilson's Consilience). 

But like Nietzsche, Wilson was a religious believer in his youth, and he admits that he has never shaken off the emotional power of the religious longing for redemption.  He wonders whether a purely scientific account of morality as evolved from animals can satisfy this religious yearning for eternal meaning.  In Sociobiology, he writes: "The enduring paradox of religion is that so much of its substance is demonstrably false, yet it remains a driving force in all societies.  Men would rather believe than know, have the void as purpose, as Nietzsche said,  than be void of purpose" (561).  (Here Wilson is quoting from Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, 3rd essay, secs. 1 & 28.)

In On Human Nature, Wilson concludes that if "the mind will always create morality, religion, and mythology and empower them with emotional force," then scientific materialism will not succeed unless it harnesses this "mythopoeic drive" to the "evolutionary epic" as "the best myth we will ever have" (200-201).  He suggests that the mental processes of religious belief are so deeply rooted by evolution in human nature that they cannot be eliminated, and so they should be seen as "a source of energies that can be shifted in new directions when scientific materialism itself is accepted as the more powerful mythology" (206-207).  "Scientific materialism," he insists, "is the only mythology that can manufacture great goals from the sustained pursuit of pure knowledge."

But isn't this blending of science and mythology incoherent?  A more reasonable response to the problem here is suggested by Nietzsche in Human, All Too Human.  The scientific "free spirits" who pursue pure knowledge will always be a small group of people, because we can expect that most human beings will not be inclined to such a life of free-spirited science and philosophy.  But in a liberal democracy with freedom of thought and speech, the "free spirits" can live their lives in peace, while most human beings are free to live the lives of practical people, where religious belief has become a private concern of individuals, families, and social groups, but without any coercive enforcement by the state of any established religion.  In contrast to Nietzsche's later writings, these "free spirits" of the middle writings do not need or wish to rule over their culture--and thus they are not tempted to tyranny--although they might expect to have some indirect influence on their culture through their freedom to speak and write.  Isn't this the kind of influence that people like Wilson can have in a liberal society?

There is more to come in future posts.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Nietzsche's Sociobiology of Animal Morality

In 1975, Edward O. Wilson declared on the first page of Sociobiology that it was time to take ethics away from the philosophers and turn it over to the biologists.  He explained that "sociobiology" as the scientific study of the biological bases of all social behavior would have to include the evolutionary explanation of morality.  Later, in 1998, Wilson's Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge renewed his argument for an empirical science of ethics based in evolutionary biology as an alternative to the transcendentalist view of ethics as belonging to a metaphysical (or "noumenal") world of normative imperatives beyond the natural world of animal life.

Wilson's argument for a Darwinian science of morality has provoked intense criticisms not only from many moral philosophers but also from many scientists.  Philosophers like Thomas Nagel have rejected Wilson's proposal as a reductive materialism that fails to recognize ethics as a purely theoretical subject of moral logic that belongs to a transcendent world of normative imperatives, which are beyond the biological world of animal life.  Even the evolutionary psychologists, who agree with Wilson in pursuing a Darwinian science of human nature, have often scorned his argument for an evolutionary ethics.  In 1996, when Wilson addressed the Human Behavior and Evolution Society and explained his biological view of ethics, many of the members of HBES protested vehemently that he was committing the "naturalistic fallacy" by failing to see the radical separation between the empirical world of facts and the normative world of values.

More recently, however, over the past decade, a growing number of biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and philosophers have worked to develop a Darwinian moral psychology that looks a lot like what Wilson had originally proposed.  This research is new in so far as it draws from new knowledge in evolutionary biology, ethology, psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience.  But the fundamental ideas for such an evolutionary moral psychology were first stated by Charles Darwin in 1871 in his Descent of Man.  And one of the first people to develop these ideas in the late 1870s was Friedrich Nietzsche.

In contrast to the writings of his early and late periods, the writings of Nietzsche's middle period--Human, All Too Human (1878), Assorted Opinions and Maxims (1879), The Wanderer and His Shadow (1879), and Dawn (1881)--are devoted to the natural sciences, and especially evolutionary science.  In this middle period, he rejects the mythopoetic metaphysics of Dionysian frenzy manifested in his early and late writings as illusory fantasy refuted by empirical evolutionary science.

As I have indicated in some previous posts, I regard the Darwinian science of Nietzsche's middle period as morally, politically, and intellectually superior to the mythic metaphysics of his early and late writings.  This science is morally superior because it promotes a sober morality of moderation that restrains tendencies to intoxicated extremism.  This science is politically superior because it promotes a prudent respect for liberal democracy that restrains tendencies to tyrannical power-seeing.  And this science is intellectually superior because it can be grounded in empirical evidence and methodical reasoning rather than the delusions of enthusiastic fantasizing.  In contrast to the Darwinian science of the middle period, the distinctive teachings of the late Nietzsche--the will to power, eternal return, and the Ubermensch--are morally corrupting, politically dangerous, and intellectually confused.

The Darwinian moral psychology of Nietzsche's middle period anticipates Wilson's sociobiology of animal morality.  One way to see this is to look carefully at section 26 of Nietzsche's Dawn in the context of his other writing during this period.  So I will begin by quoting that entire section, and then I will organize my comments around some of the language he uses in this section.

Here's the passage (as translated by R. J. Hollingdale):
"Animals and morality.--The practices demanded in polite society: careful avoidance of the ridiculous, the offensive, the presumptuous, the suppression of one's virtues as well as of one's strongest inclinations, self-adaptation, self-deprecation, submission to orders of rank--all this is to be found as social morality in a crude form everywhere, even in the depths of the animal world--and only at this depth do we see the purpose of all these amiable precautions: one wishes to elude one's pursuers and be favored in the pursuit of one's prey.  For this reason, the animals learn to master themselves and alter their form, so that many, for example, adapt their coloring to the coloring of their surroundings (by virtue of the so-called 'chromatic function'), pretend to be dead or assume the forms and colors of another animal or of sand, leaves, lichen, fungus (what English researchers designate 'mimicry').  Thus the individual hides himself in the general concept 'man,' or in society, or adapts himself to princes, classes, parties, opinions of his time and place: and all the subtle ways we have of appearing fortunate, grateful, powerful, enamoured have their easily discoverable parallels in the animal world.  Even the sense for truth, which is really the sense for security, man has in combination with the animals: one does not want to let oneself be deceived, does not want to mislead oneself, one hearkens mistrustfully to the promptings of one's own passions, one constrains oneself and lies in wait for oneself; the animal understands all this just as man does, with it too self-control springs from the sense for what is real (from prudence).  It likewise assesses the effect it produces upon the perceptions of other animals and from this learns to look back upon itself, take itself 'objectively,' it too has its degree of self-knowledge.  The animal assesses the movements of its friends and foes, it learns their peculiarities by heart, it prepares itself for them: it renounces war once and for all against individuals of a certain species, and can likewise divine from the way they approach that certain kinds of animals have peaceful and conciliatory intentions.  The beginnings of justice, as of prudence, moderation, courage--in short, of all we designate as the Socratic virtues, are animal:  a consequence of that drive which teaches us to seek food and elude enemies.  Now if we consider that even the highest human being has only become more elevated and subtle in the nature of his food and in his conception of what is inimical to him, it is not improper to describe the entire phenomenon of morality as animal."
This summary of Nietzsche's account of the animal roots of morality can be confirmed at every point by recent biological studies of evolved animal morality.  In supporting this conclusion, I won't offer many detailed citations of the research, but much of this is well surveyed not only in Ed Wilson's writings, but also in Frans de Waal's Good Natured: The Origins of Right and Wrong in Humans and Other Animals (Harvard University Press, 1996) and Marc Bekoff and Jessica Pierce's Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals (University of Chicago Press, 2009).  Bekoff and Pierce argue that while human morality is uniquely human, other animals have their own moral codes.  They have presented some of their ideas from their book in an article.

I will begin to lay out my reasoning in the next post.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Nietzsche Under Lou Salomé’s Whip

This famous--if not infamous--photograph was taken in a photographer's studio in Lucerne, Switzerland, on May 13, 1882.  Friedrich Nietzsche and Paul Rée are pulling a cart on which Lou Salomé sits, holding a whip fashioned with sprigs of lilacs.  Later, in a letter to Lou, Nietzsche wrote: "Oh, that naughty photographer!  And yet: what a lovely silhouette perches there on that delightful little cart."  Some readers of Thus Spoke Zarathustra have wondered whether the "little old woman" is referring to this photograph when she declares:  "You are going to women?  Do not forget the whip!"  And give the whip to the woman!

When this photograph was taken, Nietzsche was truly under Lou's whip.  Earlier in the day, he had proposed marriage to her for the second time that spring, and for the second time, she had turned him down.

Nietzsche and Rée had been close friends for about seven years.  In March of 1882, Reé had met Lou--a 21 year old Russian woman travelling with her mother--and Rée became enthralled with her after long philosophic conversations.  He wrote letters to Nietzsche describing her spirited intellect.  He arranged for Nietzsche and Lou to meet on April 25 in Rome at St. Peter's Basilica.  Nietzsche first words to her were "From what stars have we fallen together here?"  She replied, "I came from Zurich."

The three of them developed a plan to live together as an intellectual community of three people who could stimulate one another in their philosophic work.  Nietzsche spent many hours with Lou alone, during which she was the first human being to hear about Nietzsche's world-shattering idea of eternal recurrence.  He identified her as "the most intelligent of all females," and as someone who could help him develop his intellectual vision for the future.  But soon Nietzsche and Rée became romantic rivals in their pursuit of Lou, who insisted that she wanted only intellectual friendships with them.  At the same time, Nietzsche's sister became resentful of Lou's influence over her brother.  By late October, Nietzsche found the situation so tense that he left his two friends and never met them again.

From 1883 through 1885, Lou and Rée continued to live and work together, but their love was never sexual.  Lou then married Friedrich Carl Andreas, but forced him to accept that their marriage would never be consummated.  Later, she had a long love affair with Rainier Maria Rilke, who drew inspiration from her for his poetry.  She became a novelist, a poet, a literary critic, and even a psychoanalyst who joined Sigmund Freud's inner circle.  She became a muse for some of the greatest thinkers and artists of her time, beginning with Nietzsche.

During her time with Nietzsche, Lou began writing notes about Nietzsche's philosophy, which eventually led to the publication in 1894 of her book Friedrich Nietzsche in seinen Werken.  This was the first book on Nietzsche, and it is still perhaps the best book ever written on Nietzsche.

As I have indicated in some previous posts, I find that Nietzsche's best writing was during his "middle period," when he wrote Human, All Too Human, which shows the influence of Darwinian evolutionary psychology coming through his friendship with Rée.  Human, All Too Human was also Lou's favorite of Nietzsche's books.  But this is not the common view.  Most popular readers and scholars of Nietzsche assume that his greatest work is found in the early writing (The Birth of Tragedy) and the late writing (beginning with Thus Spoke Zarathustra).  But despite the obvious brilliance of Nietzsche's early and late writing, Lou shows that his middle writing has a scientific basis that makes it far more intellectually defensible than is the case for the other writing, which shows a delusional religious fantasy that has no grounding in reality and thus leads to the madness into which Nietzsche fell.

I see at least four deep insights in Lou's book that open up Nietzsche and the intellectual drama surrounding him and his work.

First, Lou was the first person to see the division in Nietzsche's writing into three periods.  As in The Birth of Tragedy, his early period shows the influence of the romantic metaphysics of Richard Wagner and Arthur Schopenhauer in filling the void left by his loss of his childhood Christian faith.  His second period began with his break from Wagner and Schopenhauer and his friendship with Rée.  This was the period in which he wrote under the influence of modern natural science and a free-spirited skepticism in the pursuit of knowledge rooted in evolutionary science.  After breaking off his friendship with Rée, Nietzsche turned away from scientific naturalism and adopted an atheistic religiosity expressed in his teachings about the Ubermensch, eternal return, and the will to power, which was first shown in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

The second insight in Lou's book is seeing that Nietzsche's philosophizing is autobiographical--that it expresses the personal experiences of Nietzsche himself.  Thus, she applies to Nietzsche what he had said about other philosophers, and he agreed with her about this in one of his letters to her.

The third insight is that the deepest motivation for Nietzsche was his religious longing, so that once he lost his childhood faith in the Christian God, he had to find a replacement for God that would give the world some eternal meaning; and he did this by divinizing himself as Dionysus and eternalizing human experience through eternal return.

The fourth insight is that in contrast to the scientific reasoning of the middle period, the appeal of Nietzsche's early and later writing is purely mythopoetic delusion unsupported by empirical evidence or argumentative reasoning.  For example, she reports that in 1882 Nietzsche told her that he wanted to spend the next ten years studying natural science to find scientific support for his idea of eternal return.  But then when it quickly became apparent to him that natural science could not confirm his teaching, he wrote Zarathustra as a purely poetic expression of his teaching that would not require any grounding in reality.

For me, all of this confirms my conclusion that the Darwinian science of Nietzsche's middle period--particularly, Human, All Too Human--is the only intellectually defensible part of Nietzsche's work.

And yet, the rest of his work is valuable--as Lou shows--by indicating how the Darwinian refutation of the universe as a moral cosmology provoked a turn to art and religion as mythmaking to escape from this "deadly truth."  (As I have indicated in some previous posts, Leo Strauss and his students show this in their scorn for Darwinian science as a dangerous truth, and their preference for Nietzsche's later writings and rejection of the free-spirited evolutionary science of his middle period.)

I do see, however, at least two deficiencies in Lou's book.  First, while she recognizes the scientific character of Nietzsche's middle works as influenced by Rée--which she identifies as "positivism"--she does not recognize this science as specifically evolutionary or Darwinian science.

The second deficiency is that she does not consider the political implications of Nietzsche's teaching in the middle period.  She says nothing about Nietzsche's support for liberal democracy as compatible with a free-spirited science (particularly, in sectons 438-82 of Human, All Too Human).  Thus, she does not see the connection between science and liberalism in Nietzsche's middle works or how his move away from science in his later works leads him to antiliberal politics, which inspired the Nazis.

Perhaps if Lou had agreed to marry Nietzsche, she could have calmed his religious longings and sustained his free-spirited love of scientific knowledge in a way that would have avoided the dangerous delusions of his later writing.

Some of my previous posts on Nietzsche and Darwin were posted in August of 2009.

Monday, January 07, 2013

The Neurological and Philosophical Causes of Nietzsche's Madness

In December of 1888, Friedrich Nietzsche's friends began receiving letters from him with disturbing signs of madness.  He signed the letters as "Nietzsche Caesar," "the Crucified," or (most commonly) "Dionysus."  He identified himself as superior to Jesus as a world-historical figure who would divide the history of the world into two halves.  He was possessed by delusional megalomania and a Dionysian state of orgiastic ecstasy.  He was observed shouting and dancing around his room, naked with an erection.  On January 7, 1889, Franz Overbeck arrived at Nietzsche's room in Turin, Italy, and decided to have him moved to a mental institution in Basel, Switzerland.  He never recovered his sanity, and he eventually died in 1900 in Weimar, under the care of his mother and sister.

Nietzsche's madness has added to the popular fascination with him and his thought because of the romantic notion that the deepest thinkers and artists must risk insanity.  But this madness has also been used by Nietzsche's critics as evidence of the self-destructive and delusional character of his philosophizing.  Some of Nietzsche's defenders have responded to this by arguing that his collapse into madness was caused by a neurological disorder that had nothing to do with his philosophical thought.

My suspicion is that there was a combination of neurological and philosophical causes of his madness.  After all, Nietzsche himself in the writings of his middle period warned about the dangers of Dionysian intoxication and ecstasy and the need for the moderation that comes from a free-spirited science rooted in a Darwinian science of evolutionary naturalism.  In his later writings, however, he turned away from this scientific moderation and back to the Dionysian frenzy of The Birth of Tragedy expressed in the new religious doctrines of eternal return, the will to power, and the Overman.

Nietzsche was diagnosed by the doctors who examined him as suffering from neurosyphilis, a form of syphilis in which spirochaetes (a kind of bacteria) attack the brain.  That has remained the most common explanation for his madness.

But in recent years, doctors examining the evidence have rejected this diagnosis, because many of the symptoms of his illness (including the severe migraines that began when he was a child) don't seem to be explained as caused by neurosyphilis.  Dr. Leonard Sax has proposed that Nietzsche suffered from a brain tumor that would explain many of his symptoms.  Others have proposed that Nietzsche manifested manic depression with late-developing psychotic features.  This is supported by Julian Young in his Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography, which surveys the whole debate over Nietzsche's insanity.

Recently, a good argument has been made for diagnosing Nietzsche as suffering from cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL).  This is a genetically inherited disorder that causes a slow degeneration of the smooth muscle cells in blood vessels that damages the brain in ways that would explain all of Nietzsche's symptoms: migraine headaches, mood swings from depression to euphoria, delusions, visual problems, strokes, and progressive dementia.

But even if one is persuaded by the evidence for a neurological disorder underlying Nietzsche's madness--as I am--one must still consider the clear connection between the Dionysian character of his madness and the Dionysian character of his philosophy. 

When Nietzsche rejected the Darwinian science of his middle period, and plunged back into a Dionysian religious frenzy (announced by Zarathustra) in 1883, was he thereby taking the path that would lead him to madness?  Does this cast doubt on all of the central doctrines of his later works as delusional?

Lou Salome thought so.  She'll be the subject of my next post.

Some of these points have been elaborated in previous posts--for example, here and here.

Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation in Evolutionary History

This past New Year's Day was the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which was formally issued on January 1, 1863.

I have often written about the many points of agreement between Lincoln and Charles Darwin, which includes their evolutionary understanding of slavery and its abolition.

From his reading of Robert Chambers's Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation, Lincoln accepted the idea of evolution, including human evolution. 

Lincoln had a remarkably deep understanding of human cultural evolution that follows the pattern of Darwinian universal history set forth by Darwin and by David Christian in his Maps of Time.

In his "Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions, his "Address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society," and in his meeting with some American Indian chiefs, Lincoln laid out his conception of cultural evolution as moving through three stages of society--from foraging societies to agrarian societies to societies based on commercial exchange and free labor.

Like Darwin and Christian, Lincoln believed that what made human beings unique in the animal world was the human capacity for symbolic speech, which allowed for collective learning in the artful domination of nature for the material, moral, and intellectual improvement of human life. Originally, all human beings lived by foraging--gathering wild plants and hunting wild animals. Some of the native American Indians manifested this way of life. The invention of agriculture--based on the cultivation of domesticated plants and the herding of domesticated animals--supported human civilization as an advance beyond the savage life of foragers.

But despite the advance in civilization in agrarian states, such states were founded on slavery and other forms of coerced labor so that rulers lived by exploiting peasant labor. Lincoln saw that the Industrial Revolution based on commercial exchange and free labor was bringing a new revolution in human cultural evolution that promised the physical, moral, and intellectual liberation of labor. He saw the abolition of slavery as the crucial move towards this new state of society that would bring a "new birth of freedom," in which all human beings would have a fair chance in the "race of life."

Thus, Lincoln's classical liberalism was based on an evolutionary understanding of human history.

A few of my many posts on Lincoln, Darwin, and the Emancipation Proclamation can be found here, here., here, and here.