nihilism

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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Wed May 13, 2020 4:24 pm

Nihilism
Nolen Gertz at the Aeon online site

In moral philosophy, nihilism is seen as the denial that morality exists. As Donald A Crosby argues in The Specter of the Absurd (1988), moral nihilism can be seen as a consequence of epistemological nihilism.


Here things get tricky for me.

Until we are able to grasp an understanding of existence itself [which may not even be possible] what does it mean to speak of nihilism epistemologically? After all, in regard to what we either can or cannot know about the totality of reality itself how are we are not always back to this:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.

Instead, my own understanding of "moral nihilism" revolves around the distinction I make between objective knowledge derived from interactions in the either/or world and subjective/subjunctive claims of knowledge in the is/ought world. The gap between knowledge that we seem able to demonstrate as applicable to all of us and opinions embedded in our reaction to human interactions in which conflicts occur regarding behaviors deemed to be either right or wrong. The part I root in dasein.

If there exist no grounds for making objective claims about knowledge and truth, then there exist no grounds for making objective claims about right and wrong. In other words, what we take to be morality is a matter of what is believed to be right – whether that belief is relative to each historical period, to each culture or to each individual – rather than a matter of what is right.


But: As long as there are things in which objective claims of knowledge appear to be exchanged and then sustained year after year after year, where exactly is the line to be drawn between truth and opinion in regard to conflicting goods?

And each of us here is basically in the same leaky boat that has capsized philosophers going back now thousands of year. Boats filled with holes that are unable to be plugged with arguments that settle once and for all what really is the right and the wrong thing to do.

Here instead of there. Now instead of then.

Except of course in any particular philosopher's head.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Mon May 18, 2020 5:03 pm

Nihilism
Nolen Gertz at the Aeon online site

The 18th-century moral philosopher Immanuel Kant recognised the danger of grounding morality on God or on happiness as leading to moral skepticism. The belief in God can motivate people to act morally, but only as a means to the end of ending up in heaven rather than hell. The pursuit of happiness can motivate people to act morally, but we can’t be certain in advance what action will result in making people happy.


First, of course, if a God, the God does in fact exist, then whether your behaviors are ends in themselves or merely a means to immortality and salvation, what difference does it make if on Judgment Day there is an objective font from which to make that crucial distinction? If you behave virtuously on this side of the grave, is God really going to send you to Hell because your virtue was not motivated by/for the right reasons? Besides, one suspects that human motivation here is almost always going to be a complex intertwining of means and ends. You choose morality because you are obligated to, but also because doing the right thing creates and then sustains human interactions able to be construed subjunctively as the best of all possible worlds.

And if you are able to think yourself into believing that your happiness aligns perfectly with virtue how hard is it to conclude further that this a necessary interaction? After all, there are so many rationalizations available to you in order to embody further still the perfect combination of psychological defense mechanisms.

So, in response, Kant argued for a reason-based morality instead. According to him, if a universal foundation is what morality needs, then we should simply make decisions in accordance with the logic of universalisability.


Where to begin! For example, when the reasons that liberals give for choosing progressive behaviors come into fierce conflict with the reasons that conservatives give for choosing their own rendition of that.

And out on the radical left and the radical right end of the political spectrum, reasons also come into conflict. Karl Marx meet Ayn Rand.

And then there's the "fractured and fragmented" assessments of folks like me.

By determining what we are trying to achieve in any action, and by turning that intention into a law that all rational beings must obey, we can use reason to determine if it is logically possible for the intended action to be universalised. Logic – rather than God or desire – can therefore tell us if any intended action is right (universalisable) or wrong (not universalisable).


If this truly were the case would not every Kantian around the globe today be able to synchronize their own moral and political agendas so as to be as one in regard to the most reasonable behaviors that virtuous men and women are obligated to choose?

For example, in this day and age, is it more logical to continue social distancing policies or to open up the economy? Is it more rational to mandate that all citizens be vaccinated against this infection or to make it strictly voluntary?

And, besides, this logic is still no less backed up by a transcending font. The Kantian equivalent of God.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

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Then here: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=185296
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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Tue May 26, 2020 5:50 pm

Nihilism
Nolen Gertz at the Aeon online site

There are, however, several problems with trying to base morality on reason. One such problem, as pointed out by Jacques Lacan in ‘Kant with Sade’ (1989), is that using universalisability as the criterion of right and wrong can let clever people (such as the Marquis de Sade) justify some seemingly horrific actions if they can manage to show that those actions can actually pass Kant’s logic test.


And logic would seem to be inherently tricky given the gap between its use in the either/or world and in the is/ought world. For example, the rules of language made applicable to a description of a prison execution vs. the rules of language made applicable to a discussion of whether capital punishment is, in fact, rationally, "cruel and unusual punishment".

Then the further leap extrapolating virtue from rationality. If executions are inherently rational, must they then be inherently moral?

And -- rationally -- should this be made a universal truth regarding all executions or given any number of mitigating and/or aggravating sets of circumstances should rationality be assessed only one execution at a time?

Another problem, as pointed out by John Stuart Mill in Utilitarianism (1861), is that humans are rational, but rationality is not all that we have, and so following Kantian morality forces us to live like uncaring robots rather than like people.


In other words, the subjunctive "I". That aspect of my "self" in the brain intertwined with complex emotional and psychological states intertwined further in subconscious and unconscious reactions to the world around us intertwined further still in even more deep seated instinctual drives.

Then the parts rooted in ever evolving and changing historical, cultural and experiential memes?

Is it any wonder then that the biological evolution of matter into the self-conscious mind allowed for objectivism? The capacity of "I", as of now, to just inexplicably "flick a switch" and make all of these convoluted complexities just disappear?

Then the only question is the extent to which it is all nature given a wholly determined universe.

Yet another problem, as pointed out by Nietzsche, is that reason might not be what Kant claimed it to be, as it is quite possible that reason is no firmer a foundation than is God or happiness. In On the Genealogy of Morals (1887), Nietzsche argued that reason is not something absolute and universal but rather something that has evolved over time into part of human life. In much the same way that mice in a lab experiment can be taught to be rational, so too have we learned to become rational thanks to centuries of moral, religious and political ‘experiments’ in training people to be rational. Reason should not be seen therefore as a firm foundation for morality since its own foundations can be called into question.


Here, in my view, in regard to meaning in our lives, folks like Nietzsche are just alluding to this:

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.

The part I take back to the gap between what we think we know about the "human condition" and all there is to know going back to that elusive understanding of existence itself. Where does Kant fit in there?

There is what various philosophers have taught us to think about reason, there is what we have taught ourselves to think about it and there is how that is profoundly, problematically intertwined with "I" as an existential contraption rooted in dasein.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

Start here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=176529
Then here: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=185296
And here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=194382
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Re: nihilism

Postby iambiguous » Sun May 31, 2020 7:13 pm

Symbolism, Meaning & Nihilism in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction
Mark Conard reveals the metaphysical truths lurking under the rug in Tarantino’s cult classic.

Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction is an odd film. It’s a seemingly complete narrative which has been chopped into vignettes and rearranged like a puzzle. It’s a gangster film in which not a single policeman is to be found. It’s a montage of bizarre characters, from a black mobster with a mysterious bandage on the back of his bald head, to hillbilly sexual perverts; from henchmen dressed in black suits whose conversations concern what fast food items are called in Europe to a mob problem-solver who attends dinner parties early in the morning dressed in a full tuxedo. So, what is the film about? In general, we can say that the film is about American nihilism.


Whatever it is one describes Pulp Fiction to be, it is clearly populated by characters that live far, far, far beyond the parameters of what most consider to be a moral universe. Basically these folks are sociopaths. All they ever seem to be concerned with is in satisfying the next itch -- for drugs, for money, for sex. It is ever and always me, myself and I. The only hierarchy that seems to exist at all revolves around might makes right.

And, from my point of view, this is the most dangerous manifestation of nihilism. Why? Because, with people like these, the reasoning mind is "for all practical purposes" defunct. And forget about appealing to human decency. Plus, you can't exactly shame or embarrass or humiliate them into doing the right thing. At least with nihilists who wrap their motivation and intention around an ideological or political agenda -- anarchists, say -- you can appeal to them with some measure of intelligence and coherent thinking.

But not with these grotesque postmodern caricatures. You get out of their way or you do what they tell you. After all, for them everything revolves solely around not getting caught. By the law. Or by those actually able to exact consequences.

The author then provides a three part summation of the movie plot and his take on the main characters.

As I said, in general, the film is about American nihilism. More specifically, it is about the transformation of two characters: Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Butch (Bruce Willis). In the beginning of the film, Vincent (John Travolta) has retumed from a stay in Amsterdam, and the content of the conversation between Jules and Vincent concerns what Big Macs and Quarter Pounders are called in Europe, the Fonz on Happy Days, Arnold the Pig on Green Acres, the pop band Flock of Seagulls, Caine from Kung Fu, tv pilots, etc. These kinds of silly references seem upon first glance like a kind of comic relief, set against the violence that we’re witnessing on the screen. But this is no mere comic relief. The point is that this is the way these characters make sense out of their lives: transient, pop cultural symbols and icons. In another time and/or another place people would be connected by something they saw as larger than themselves, most particularly religion, which would provide the sense and meaning that their lives had and which would determine the value of things. This is missing in late 20th Century America, and is thus completely absent from Jules’ and Vincent’s lives. This is why the pop icons abound in the film: these are the reference points by which we understand ourselves and each other, empty and ephemeral as they are. This pop iconography comes to a real head when Vincent and Mia (Uma Thurmon) visit Jack Rabbit Slim’s, where the host is Ed Sullivan, the singer is Ricky Nelson, Buddy Holly is the waiter, and amongst the waitresses are Marilyn Monroe and Jane Mansfield.


This is something that has always intrigued me. The way our "late-capitalist-postmodern-world" has mass produced literally millions upon millions of citizens who seem obsessed only with 1] pop culture 2] consumption and 3] celebrity.

But: It's almost impossible to link this with nihilism because, well, there it is, everywhere: on TV, in the movies, on records, embedded in virtually every pursuit that the lowest common denominator "masses" are invested in. Even in the midst of a deadly pandemic the "party hardy" "youth culture" crowds are shown trekking to the venues that have come to encompass our me, myself and I pop culture.

In fact, even Pulp Fiction itself becomes just another part of it all. It's not like most of those who left the theaters back then were bent on discussing the way in which nihilism was explored and depicted in the film.

Instead, when most conjure up cinematic nihilists in their head, they are more inclined towards the characters portrayed in Reservoir Dogs. Truly scary fucking men.
He was like a man who wanted to change all; and could not; so burned with his impotence; and had only me, an infinitely small microcosm to convert or detest. John Fowles

Start here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=176529
Then here: viewtopic.php?f=15&t=185296
And here: viewtopic.php?f=1&t=194382
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