The Socratic justification of existence: Nietzsche on Wissenschaft and existential meaning'

Came, Daniel (2017) The Socratic justification of existence: Nietzsche on Wissenschaft and existential meaning'. In: The Nietzschean mind. Routledge Philosophical Minds . Routledge, London. ISBN 9781138851689, 113885168X

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In his first published work, The Birth of Tragedy (BT), Nietzsche famously introduces the concept of an ‘aesthetic justification’ (ästhetische Rechtfertigung): ‘our highest dignity lies in the meaning of works of art—for it is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified’ (BT, 5). The notion of an aesthetic justification of existence has received considerable scholarly attention. As BT is standardly read, it represents Nietzsche’s attempt to elucidate and endorse certain art-based solutions to the existential problem posed by Schopenhauer’s pessimism—the thesis that ‘it would be better for us not to exist’ (WWR, II, 605). Art, on what I shall call the ‘standard reading,’ is uniquely capable of facilitating a justification of existence and thereby repudiating Schopenhauer’s disheartening account of the character of human experience and its objects. Sebastian Gardner, for example, maintains that BT contains the ‘boldest statement’ of an outlook that ‘reappears throughout Nietzsche’s writings,’ namely, that ‘justification can only be aesthetic.’ In a similar vein, Bernard Reginster attributes to Nietzsche the claim that seeing the world as justified ‘is essentially an aesthetic or artistic stance’ and says that Nietzsche ‘dismisses’ the possibility of a non-aesthetic justification. And Werner Dannhauser summarizes Nietzsche’s basic position as that ‘all comprehensive responses to man’s situation which preserve life can be called art; different responses lead to different forms of existence,’ which presumably are supposed to be non-life preserving. In this paper, I want to argue that Nietzsche’s view is more complex than the standard reading suggests, which too narrowly circumscribes BT’s position in respect of the range of existential options open to man in the face of Schopenhauer’s pessimistic verdict on the value of existence. For, in addition to an aesthetic justification of existence, Nietzsche explicitly countenances the possibility of a non-aesthetic justification provided by Wissenschaft (or ‘Socratism’ as he calls it). Nietzsche does indeed, in the final analysis, regard art as a uniquely potent agent for reconfiguring our evaluative stance towards the world and thus providing a justification of existence. But the standard reading is false in its central contention that a justification of existence can only be aesthetic.

Keywords:Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, Socrates, Socratism, Wissenschaft, art, aesthetics, affirmation of life, Schopenhauer, pessimism
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V500 Philosophy
Divisions:College of Arts
ID Code:29794
Deposited On:28 Nov 2017 12:01

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