On the Overman within and without Nietzsche’s Zarathustra


In English versions of the work of Nietzsche, “Übermensch” is translated as “Superman” or “Overman”. The term “Superman” has adopted many connotations as a result of the comic book hero in popular culture, so for most scholars today, “Overman” is the more suitable term.

“Overman” refers to Nietzsche’s conception of a person who has literally overcome himself/herself and transcended all external influence. In essence, an Overman is an extraordinary person who has superseded the human condition and reached a liberated state of free play and creativity.

This state can be seen as the state of the pure and also universal individual—an utterly differentiated person unencumbered by the influence of society and other people, who is in harmony with the deep-down, creative, amoral (not immoral) (interestingly, Nietzsche’s feeling that existence is, at root, amoral is shared by the original incarnations of Taoism and Zen Buddhism) spirit of existence. This person creates their own values and dances through the game of life to the tune of their own soul-stuff.

In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche models three “spiritual” metamorphoses that must be undergone for the individual to reach the state of Overman. These transformations are rather prescriptive in nature, and thus can be seen as a sort of guide to becoming Overman, or liberating one’s spirit.

It should be noted, however, that Nietzsche also felt that becoming an Overman would be incredibly f***ing difficult. A task of the century fit for only the most exceptional people in his famous Master-Slave morality formulation. Nonetheless, I’ve found his Overman metamorphoses to be both useful and tantalizing concepts. Let’s examine them more closely:

Metamorphosis #1: The Camel

The first metamorphosis described by Nietzsche is that of the camel. Of this, he writes:

“What is difficult? asks the spirit that would bear much, and kneels down like a camel wanting to be well loaded. What is most difficult, O heroes, asks the spirit that would bear much, that I may take it upon myself and exult in my strength?”

After this passage, Nietzsche goes on to list several items that may be considered among the most difficult or trying of life’s possible experiences. He indicates that the camel must invite these burdens. For example, he writes, “Or is it this: loving those who despise us and offering a hand to the ghost that would frighten us?”

Nietzsche suggests that before one can become Overman, one must first bear a great many burdens. One must battle with fear, love, truth, death, confusion, thirst for knowledge, and all of the other aspects of human existence. The camel embraces these challenges in the name of duty and nobility. Put another way, the camel does not attempt to evade life or distract itself from it. It countenances life directly and navigates its difficulties, but it does so more so out of a sense of obligation to its society or moral doctrine than anything else. In doing so, the camel is humbled and strengthened. Only through suffering these challenges does the camel gain the strength and resilience necessary to attain the next spiritual metamorphosis.

Metamorphosis #2: The Lion

Nietzsche goes on to describe how the camel ultimately enters “the loneliest desert” before becoming a lion. The lonely desert metaphor can be interpreted as follows: The camel has sought out and invited the struggles that life has to offer. In doing so, it has become alienated to a certain extent. It has become different from others and from the society that produced it; it finds itself questioning existence, both its worth and the value of its pursuits.

The desert can be seen as a place of existential crisis, where the camel ponders whether or not any universal laws or virtues exist to guide it and give it purpose. For Nietzsche, such universal virtues and absolute purpose do not exist. The camel is forced to confront this possibility, and thus, the camel must become a lion. Nietzsche writes:

“Here the spirit becomes a lion who would conquer his freedom and be master in his own desert. Here he seeks out his last master: he wants to fight him and his last god; for ultimate victory he wants to fight with the great dragon. Who is the great dragon whom the spirit will no longer call lord and god? “Thou shalt” is the name of the great dragon. But the spirit of the lion says, “I will.” “Thou shalt” lies in his way, sparkling like gold, an animal covered with scales; and on every scale shines a golden “thou shalt.” My brothers, why is there a need in the spirit for the lion? Why is not the beast of burden, which renounces and is reverent, enough? To create new values—that even the lion cannot do; but the creation of freedom for oneself for new creation—that is within the power of the lion. The creation of freedom for oneself and a sacred “No” even to duty—for that, my brothers, the lion is needed. To assume the right to new values—that is the most terrifying assumption for a reverent spirit that would bear much.”

When the camel discovers that universal truth and virtue may be non-existent, it has two choices: it can reject life as meaningless and probably commit suicide, or it can claim its own freedom and create its own meaning and virtue. To become Overman, the camel must obviously do the latter; it must ascend. To do this, the camel must destroy the largest barrier to true freedom: the duty and virtue imposed by tradition and society. This is what Nietzsche’s great dragon symbolizes. It is everyone and everything that would tell one how to live one’s life. The camel had been a slave to the dragon, inviting life’s challenges but always living in accordance with the values imposed upon it from without.

The camel must reject this dragon of tradition and commands, but it cannot in its current, duty-loving form. Thus, it must become a lion. Its trials have allowed it to attain sufficient strength. The lion symbolizes courage, tenacity, disillusionment, and even rage. Only in this state is the spirit able to deliver the “sacred ‘No.’” The “sacred ‘No’” represents the utter rejection of external control and all traditional values. Everything imposed by other individuals, society, churches, governments, families, and all forms of propaganda must be denied in a colossal, IDGAF-esque roar.

That is not to say that the lion must ultimately believe that all virtues and values imposed by such entities are malignant. Indeed, they could be useful and worthy. However, their rejection is necessary because they come from an external authority and are masquerading as something absolute. The Overman rejects all absolutes and must will his world entirely from within; thus, he must create his own values on his own terms.

Metamorphosis #3: The Child

After the lion has delivered the “sacred ‘No,’” the spirit must yet make one more transformation to become Overman. The spirit must become a child. Nietzsche writes:

“But say, my brothers, what can the child do that even the lion could not do? Why must the preying lion still become a child? The child is innocence and forgetting, a new beginning, a game, a self-propelled wheel, a first movement, a sacred “Yes.” For the game of creation, my brothers, a sacred “Yes” is needed: the spirit now wills his own will, and he who had been lost to the world now conquers his own world.”

So, Nietzsche holds that the lion must again transform in order to forget. The spirit has undergone much duress and turmoil in its transformations, but it must cleanse its mind of the past. In delivering a “sacred “Yes””, the child affirms the day, affirms uncertainty, and affirms the flux of life. The child becomes a self-propelled wheel, in harmony with its fate and with the currents of existence that run through it. The child elects to roll with life, dance and play with it, to be fully and unabashedly what it is. (One of Nietzsche’s favorite mantras, from Pindar, was “Become what you are.”)

Ultimately, for Nietzsche, pure creation arises from this state of play. When one can achieve a child-like state—a self immersed in the instant, pulsing with wonder and playfulness, in-tune with its own deep-down truth—then one can abide his truest will, create his own values, and thus create his own reality. In undergoing this final metamorphosis, the spirit overcomes itself, conquers its world, and reaches the state of Overman. The spirit achieves liberation.

Objections

There are certainly compelling objections to Nietzsche’s Overman theory and his nihilistic views about morality. If universally “good” values do not exist and one is free to create one’s own, what is there to keep one from determining that heinous acts—murder, rape, torture, etc.—are justified? Nietzsche was well-aware of this possibility and even predicted that his ideas would be used as justification for various atrocities. He was right: some rightly speculate that his ideas were indirectly influential in Nazi ideology, and in 1924 two wealthy University of Chicago students who had been influenced by their misreading of Nietzsche were convicted of murdering a 14-year-old boy. Though one might just as easily cite the latter objection against Alfred Hitchcock’s (1948) movie ‘The Rope’ for its simplistic, nihilistic treatment of overtly Nietzschean themes.

The important thing to note here is that Nietzsche was, perhaps more than most philosophers, a compulsive seeker. The objection in the preceding paragraph arises from a sort of utilitarian, consequentialist reading of Nietzsche (i.e. a reading from the perspective that we should act in such a way that our actions will result in the greatest good for the greatest number of people). But, for Nietzsche, this objection would have been yet another example of mankind attempting to impose arbitrary moral standards onto a universe in which none objectively exist. Nietzsche was perhaps less interested in the imaginary moral constructs mankind might use to reduce suffering and more interested in discovering the truth of human existence. But who am I to say these things.

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8 Life Changing Lessons Everyone Can Learn From Lao Tzu


 

1. You already hold the answer to life’s questions.

“At the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.”

“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”

2. You’re freed when you let go.

“By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try. The world is beyond the winning.”

“Therefore the Master acts without doing anything and teaches without saying anything. Things arise and she lets them come; things disappear and she lets them go. She has but doesn’t possess, acts but doesn’t expect. When her work is done, she forgets it. That is why it lasts forever.”

“If you want to become whole, let yourself be partial. If you want to become straight, let yourself be crooked. If you want to become full, let yourself be empty. If you want to be reborn, let yourself die. If you want to be given everything, give everything up.”

“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”

3. Your ego will never give you true pleasure.

“He who defines himself can’t know who he really is.”

“He who has power over others can’t empower himself.”

“He who tries to shine dims his own light.”

4. Evil dies when ignored.

“Give evil nothing to oppose and it will disappear by itself.”

5. Kindness always wins. Evil always loses.

“Treat those who are good with goodness, and also treat those who are not good with goodness. Thus goodness is attained. Be honest to those who are honest, and be also honest to those who are not honest. Thus honesty is attained.”

“Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

6. Be yourself.

“Care about people’s approval and you will be their prisoner.”

“When you are content to be simply yourself and don’t compare or compete, everybody will respect you.”

7. Be humble and you shall be wise.

“The wise man is one who, knows, what he does not know.”

“All streams flow to the sea because it is lower than they are. Humility gives it its power.”

8. Change is inevitable, so embrace it.

“If you realize that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.”

Great quotes from Lemony Snicket on the absurd nature of the human condition


Fate is like a strange, unpopular restaurant filled with odd little waiters who bring you things you never asked for and don’t always like.

Everyone, at some point in their lives, wakes up in the middle of the night with the feeling that they are all alone in the world, and that nobody loves them now and that nobody will ever love them, and that they will never have a decent night’s sleep again and will spend their lives wandering blearily around a loveless landscape, hoping desperately that their circumstances will improve, but suspecting, in their heart of hearts, that they will remain unloved forever. The best thing to do in these circumstances is to wake somebody else up, so that they can feel this way, too.

People aren’t either wicked or noble. They’re like chef’s salads, with good things and bad things chopped and mixed together in a vinaigrette of confusion and conflict.

If writers wrote as carelessly as some people talk, then adhasdh asdglaseuyt[bn[ pasdlgkhasdfasdf.

Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby- awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess.

Well-read people are less likely to be evil.

There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself.

Taking one’s chances is like taking a bath, because sometimes you end up feeling comfortable and warm, and sometimes there is something terrible lurking around that you cannot see until it is too late and you can do nothing else but scream and cling to a plastic duck.

If you have ever lost a loved one, then you know exactly how it feels. And if you have not, then you cannot possibly imagine it.

In most cases, the best strategy for a job interview is to be fairly honest, because the worst thing that can happen is that you won’t get the job and will spend the rest of your life foraging for food in the wilderness and seeking shelter underneath a tree or the awning of a bowling alley that has gone out of business.

Reading is one form of escape. Running for your life is another.

There are some who say that you should forgive everyone, even the people who have disappointed you immeasurably. There are others who say you should not forgive anyone, and should stomp off in a huff no matter how many times they apologize. Of these two philosophies, the second one is of course much more fun, but it can also grow exhausting to stomp off and huff every time someone has disappointed you, as everyone disappoints everyone eventually, and one can’t stomp off in a huff every minute of the day.

The three siblings were not born yesterday. Neither were you, unless of course I am wrong, in which case, welcome to the world, little baby, and congratulations on learning to read so early in life.

They didn’t understand it, but like so many unfortunate events in life, just because you don’t understand doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

I will love you as a thief loves a gallery and as a crow loves a murder, as a cloud loves bats and as a range loves braes. I will love you as misfortune loves orphans, as fire loves innocence and as justice loves to sit and watch while everything goes wrong.

If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives.

It is a curious thing, the death of a loved one. We all know that our time in this world is limited, and that eventually all of us will end up underneath some sheet, never to wake up. And yet it is always a surprise when it happens to someone we know. It is like walking up the stairs to your bedroom in the dark, and thinking there is one more stair than there is. Your foot falls down, through the air, and there is a sickly moment of dark surprise as you try and readjust the way you thought of things.

When trouble strikes, head to the library. You will either be able to solve the problem, or simply have something to read as the world crashes down around you.

Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.

Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course. Piracy, for example, is a tradition that has been carried on for hundreds of years, but that doesn’t mean we should all attack ships and steal their gold.

The best way to keep a secret is to tell it to everyone you know, but pretend you are kidding.

Deciding whether or not to trust a person is like deciding whether or not to climb a tree because you might get a wonderful view from the highest branch or you might simply get covered in sap and for this reason many people choose to spend their time alone and indoors where it is harder to get a splinter.

Wicked people never have time for reading. It’s one of the reasons for their wickedness.

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong.

If an optimist had his left arm chewed off by an alligator, he might say, in a pleasant and hopeful voice, “Well, this isn’t too bad. I don’t have my left arm anymore, but at least nobody will ever ask me whether I am right-handed or left-handed,” but most of us would say something more along the lines of “Aaaaah! My arm! My arm!

Strange as it may seem, I still hope for the best, even though the best, like an interesting piece of mail, so rarely arrives, and even when it does it can be lost so easily.

Everyone should be able to do one card trick, tell two jokes, and recite three poems, in case they are ever trapped in an elevator.

Happiness is an acquired taste, like coconut cordial or ceviche, to which you can eventually become accustomed, but despair is something surprising each time you encounter it.

Having a personal philosophy is like having a pet marmoset, because it may be very attractive when you acquire it, but there may be situations when it will not come in handy at all.

There is a kind of crying I hope you have not experienced, and it is not just crying about something terrible that has happened, but a crying for all of the terrible things that have happened, not just to you but to everyone you know and to everyone you don’t know and even the people you don’t want to know, a crying that cannot be diluted by a brave deed or a kind word, but only by someone holding you as your shoulders shake and your tears run down your face.

The way sadness works is one of the strangest riddles of the world.

Nobody wants to fall into a safety net, because it means the structure in which they’ve been living is in a state of collapse and they have no choice but to tumble downwards. However, it beats the alternative.

The moral of ‘Snow White’ is ‘Never eat apples.’

One of the remarkable things about love is that, despite very irritating people writing poems and songs about how pleasant it is, it really is quite pleasant.

I will love you if I never see you again, and I will love you if I see you every Tuesday.

When someone is crying, of course, the noble thing to do is to comfort them. But if someone is trying to hide their tears, it may also be noble to pretend you do not notice them.

Perhaps if we saw what was ahead of us, and glimpsed the follies, and misfortunes that would befall us later on, we would all stay in our mother’s wombs, and then there would be nobody in the world but a great number of very fat, very irritated women.

You can invent things like automatic popcorn poppers. You can invent things like steam-powered window washers. But you can’t invent more time.

A library is like an island in the middle of a vast sea of ignorance, particularly if the library is very tall and the surrounding area has been flooded.

One can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways.

It is likely I will die next to a pile of things I was meaning to read.

At times the world may seem an unfriendly and sinister place, but believe that there is much more good in it than bad. All you have to do is look hard enough. and what might seem to be a series of unfortunate events may in fact be the first steps of a journey.

Some brief notes on psychoanalytical theories and the pattern of fascist propaganda (Adapted from the original works of T. W. Adorno, L. Lowenthal & N. Guterman)


The brief notes below set to demonstrate the interrelationship of the Frankfurt critique of mass culture and the theory of fascism. Adorno was to call both the mass-culture industry and fascist propaganda “psychoanalysis in reverse.”

The thoughts that follow are comprehensively documented by L. Lowenthal and N. Guterman in their book, Prophets of Deceit: A Study of the Techniques of the American Agitator (1949).
The overall picture of cultural movements that emerge which display characteristics or traits similar to those outlined, principally by Adorno, can be seen to be built upon a twofold understanding:

First, fascistic or neo-fascistic communications displays little or no concern with concrete or tangible ideological issues. Rather it is the case that communications are psychologically based at the level of the individual (i.e. ad hominem) in contrast to an intentional purpose of gaining followers through any rational statement of rational aims. Here communications may be viewed simply in terms of methodically instigate a culturally transformative process through the exclusive use of what Gustav Le Bon named the contagion theory aspect of “the psychology of the masses.”

Second, the approach of what we might call agitation is truly a systemic, rule-based pattern of a limited number of “devices.” These devices are in no way limited to the ultimate destination; the undermining or abolition of the democratic process, but to a greater degree focuses on the content and presentation of communications (i.e. propaganda). Thus, one finds speeches fitting this description commonly to be monotonous, repetitive of simple formulaic motifs, and scarcity of rational ideas can be seen as “indispensable ingredients” of such devices.

After an initial consideration of the two main features outlined above one may turn to the possibility of a psychological understanding; one where it immediately becomes obvious that an association with paranoia becomes all too plain. In this regard, one might profit from a frame of reference provided by Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego (English trans. 1922). It is fair to induce from this work that suggestion and the role of suggestion in mass psychology might play a large part in the weaving of the spells of this agitation.
Here then one does seek to introduce new characteristics to explain the masses using group psychology, instead one looks to the conditions required to surrender natural functioning with more archaic, primitive displays of affect contradictory to normalised rational behaviours. But here it would be a complete misnomer to hastily label fascistic agitations as the reoccurrence of the archaic in the individual but its “reproduction in and by civilisation itself.” In other words, fascist rebellion may not be understood solely in terms expressed through passionate, driven impulsions (i.e say, the structural understanding of the Id), rather, such a rebellion borrows its energies partly from other psychological agencies (i.e. say, perceptions of institutional political ineffectiveness) which become pressed into the service of resentment and discontentment. It is as though civilisation begins to eat itself, so to speak, through the use of the population to do the digestive work where cultural institutions may have already been perceived to have failed to deliver change.

The demagogue and the hypnotist coincide in their use of the technique of suggestion and auto-suggestion. In so doing, the individual can be made to undergo the regressions which reduce them to mere members of a group. That being so, the irrational authoritarian aims of the demagogue centre in the idea of the symbolic image of a leader as all-powerful (through position and status), all-knowing (through intelligence gathering), threatening (through force and might), and readily punitive (through regular punishment of those with opposing views). In these ways, to some, the passive-masochistic attitude of valorous surrender can become quite — irrationally — irresistible. It is here that reasoning gives way to the seductions of the demagoguery, and political behaviour becomes increasingly irreconcilable with rational interests, or the ‘blind faith’ of the followers.

Moreover, the primitive irrational aspect of identification, as an act of devouring, that is, of making the beloved object an internal part of oneself, may provide one with a clue as to how the modern demagogue seems to project themselves as an enlarged embodiment of the individuals’ own suppressed anti-social beliefs. It is as though the object choice here – selfishly – serves to substitute for some unattained ego ideal of our own. Following this thought, it follows quite naturally that the group becomes unified through a number of individuals substituting one and the same object for their egoic ideals and subsequently collectively identifying themselves with one another in their shared egoic focus. Perhaps in this way, the demagogue becomes symbolically positioned as a father to the horde. Put another way, the leader image, through the invariant use of the populist device of the great little man, the voice of the people, or suchlike spokesperson for the horde, gratifies the follower into a twofold irrational desire: a desire to submit to a charismatic, traditional or legal authority, and also a desire to be the authority themselves.

It is noteworthy that another well understood fascistic trope is the device of ritual, ceremony, and strict hierarchical stratification. In this way, one sees the nurturing of responsibility towards that above, authority toward those below.

By logical extension in-group and out-group quickly become consumed in a politics of exclusion and exclusivity. Here intolerance toward differences of opinion banishes the prospect of introspection, and questioning becomes the concomitant messenger of weakness and doubt. The narcissistic gain provided by the fascistic irrational discourse is obvious – the follower is right, better, and purer than those excluded and the bond between those in the in-group is continuously strengthened and ambivalence overlooked to a far greater extent within the in-group than one might ordinarily find.
At this point one crucial question becomes almost irresistible and inevitable; namely, how do fascist agitators, crude and semi-educated as they often are, obtain knowledge of these psychological mechanisms? Any answer here must be tentative, yet Adorno’s answer to this question relied upon a rather straightforward appeal to the rational truth behind irrational motivation.

Fascistic communication and propaganda have only to reproduce the existent mentality for its own purposes to succeed. That is to say, under the prevailing conditions, the irrationality of fascist propaganda relies upon the authoritarian character every bit as much as the authoritarian character is itself a part of modern society, and where both are exploited fully, both can seem rational insofar as the sense of an “instinctual economy”, a Hobbesian brutal-and-short layer of existence, can be alleged to exclusively require reversion to blind power.

Where fascism succeeds it does so by reversing the psychotherapeutic model of independence and emancipation, by means of an increase in the knowledge of the self (“where id was so ego shall be”). Fascism furthers this abolition through a perpetuation of mythical falsifications of actual dependence and actual captivity through wholesale misrepresentation of a fictitious state of imaginary independence and imaginary freedom in the place where dependence and captivity are hidden in plain sight through misinformation, misdirection, expropriation, and mischief-making.

It is the belief of the author of these notes that the very brief thoughts above may have some small bearing on developing and communicating better understanding of the current political complexities in the English-speaking world, and that reacquaintance and revaluing of psychoanalytical thought, as well as more contemporary psychotherapeutic approaches in the systemic-relational tradition, might yet reveal much to explorations into sociopolitical examination and subsequent discussion hitherto overlooked or forgotten.

Bildeston, 20.03.17.

Ame ni mo makezu (Be not Defeated by the Rain) by Kenji Miyazawa (b. 1896 – d.1933)


not losing to the rain
not losing to the wind
not losing to the snow nor to summer’s heat
with a strong body
not fettered by desire
by no means offending anyone
always quietly smiling
every day four bowls of brown rice
miso and some vegetables to eat
in everything
count yourself last and put others before you
watching and listening, and understanding
and never forgetting
in the shade of the woods of the pines of the fields
being in a little thatched hut
if there is a sick child to the east
going and nursing over them
if there is a tired mother to the west
going and shouldering her sheaf of rice
if there is someone near death to the south
going and saying there’s no need to be afraid
if there is a quarrel or a lawsuit to the north
telling them to leave off with such waste
when there’s drought, shedding tears of sympathy
when the summer’s cold, wandering upset
called a nobody by everyone
without being praised
without being blamed
such a person
I want to become

At least 31 great reasons to like the existential thought of Albert Camus


1. “For if there is a sin against life, it consists perhaps not so much in despairing of life as in hoping for another life and in eluding the implacable grandeur of this life.”
2. “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”
3. “Peace is the only battle worth waging.”
4. “There are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for.”
5. “I know that man is capable of great deeds. But if he isn’t capable of great emotion, well, he leaves me cold.”
6. “The need to be right — the sign of a vulgar mind.”
7. “Seeking what is true is not seeking what is desirable.”
8. “People hasten to judge in order not to be judged themselves.”
9. “I would rather live my life as if there is a god and die to find out there isn’t, than live my life as if there isn’t and die to find out there is.”
10. “Life can be magnificent and overwhelming — that is the whole tragedy. Without beauty, love, or danger it would almost be easy to live. ”
11. “At the heart of all beauty lies something inhuman.”
12. “The evil that is in the world almost always comes from ignorance, and good intentions may do as much harm as malevolence if they lack understanding.”
13. “Freedom is nothing but a chance to be better.”
14. “There are crimes of passion and crimes of logic. The boundary between them is not clearly defined.”
15. “Where there is no hope, it is incumbent on us to invent it.”
16. “I rebel; therefore I exist.”
17. “Real generosity towards the future lies in giving all to the present.”
18. “Nobody realizes that some people expend tremendous energy merely to be normal.”
19. “Beauty is unbearable, drives us to despair, offering us for a minute the glimpse of an eternity that we should like to stretch out over the whole of time.”
20. “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger — something better, pushing right back.”
21. “There is scarcely any passion without struggle.”
22. “Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?”
23. “But in the end one needs more courage to live than to kill himself.”
24. “Always go too far, because that’s where you’ll find the truth.”
25. “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion.”
26. “The truth is that everyone is bored, and devotes himself to cultivating habits.”
27. “He who despairs of the human condition is a coward, but he who has hope for it is a fool.”
28. “The habit of despair is worse than despair itself.”
29. “But what is happiness except the simple harmony between a man and the life he leads?”
30. “My chief occupation, despite appearances, has always been love.”
31. “If absolute truth belongs to anyone in this world, it certainly does not belong to the man or party that claims to possess it.”

Phenomenological Approaches to Self-Consciousness (Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy


(First published Sat Feb 19, 2005; substantive revision Wed Dec 24, 2014)

On the phenomenological view, a minimal form of self-consciousness is a constant structural feature of conscious experience. Experience happens for the experiencing subject in an immediate way and as part of this immediacy, it is implicitly marked as my experience. For phenomenologists, this immediate and first-personal givenness of experiential phenomena is accounted for in terms of a pre-reflective self-consciousness. In the most basic sense of the term, self-consciousness is not something that comes about the moment one attentively inspects or reflectively introspects one’s experiences, or recognizes one’s specular image in the mirror, or refers to oneself with the use of the first-person pronoun, or constructs a self-narrative. Rather, these different kinds of self-consciousness are to be distinguished from the pre-reflective self-consciousness which is present whenever I am living through or undergoing an experience, i.e., whenever I am consciously perceiving the world, whenever I am thinking an occurrent thought, whenever I am feeling sad or happy, thirsty or in pain, and so forth.

1. Pre-reflective self-consciousness

One can get a bearing on the notion of pre-reflective self-consciousness by contrasting it with reflective self-consciousness. If you ask me to give you a description of the pain I feel in my right foot, or of what I was just thinking about, I would reflect on it and thereby take up a certain perspective that was one order removed from the pain or the thought. Thus, reflective self-consciousness is at least a second-order cognition. It may be the basis for a report on one’s experience, although not all reports involve a significant amount of reflection.

In contrast, pre-reflective self-consciousness is pre-reflective in the sense that (1) it is an awareness we have before we do any reflecting on our experience; (2) it is an implicit and first-order awareness rather than an explicit or higher-order form of self-consciousness. Indeed, an explicit reflective self-consciousness is possible only because there is a pre-reflective self-awareness that is an on-going and more primary self-consciousness. Although phenomenologists do not always agree on important questions about method, focus, or even whether there is an ego or self, they are in close to unanimous agreement about the idea that the experiential dimension always involves such an implicit pre-reflective self-awareness.[1] In line with Edmund Husserl (1959, 189, 412), who maintains that consciousness always involves a self-appearance (Für-sich-selbst-erscheinens), and in agreement with Michel Henry (1963, 1965), who notes that experience is always self-manifesting, and with Maurice Merleau-Ponty who states that consciousness is always given to itself and that the word ‘consciousness’ has no meaning independently of this self-givenness (Merleau-Ponty 1945, 488), Jean-Paul Sartre writes that pre-reflective self-consciousness is not simply a quality added to the experience, an accessory; rather, it constitutes the very mode of being of the experience:

This self-consciousness we ought to consider not as a new consciousness, but as the only mode of existence which is possible for a consciousness of something (Sartre 1943, 20 [1956, liv]).
The notion of pre-reflective self-awareness is related to the idea that experiences have a subjective ‘feel’ to them, a certain (phenomenal) quality of ‘what it is like’ or what it ‘feels’ like to have them. As it is usually expressed outside of phenomenological texts, to undergo a conscious experience necessarily means that there is something it is like for the subject to have that experience (Nagel 1974; Searle 1992). This is obviously true of bodily sensations like pain. But it is also the case for perceptual experiences, experiences of desiring, feeling, and thinking. There is something it is like to taste chocolate, and this is different from what it is like to remember what it is like to taste chocolate, or to smell vanilla, to run, to stand still, to feel envious, nervous, depressed or happy, or to entertain an abstract belief. Yet, at the same time, as I live through these differences, there is something experiential that is, in some sense, the same, namely, their distinct first-personal character. All the experiences are characterized by a quality of mineness or for-me-ness, the fact that it is I who am having these experiences. All the experiences are given (at least tacitly) as my experiences, as experiences I am undergoing or living through. All of this suggests that first-person experience presents me with an immediate and non-observational access to myself, and that (phenomenal) consciousness consequently entails a (minimal) form of self-consciousness. In short, unless a mental process is pre-reflectively self-conscious there will be nothing it is like to undergo the process, and it therefore cannot be a phenomenally conscious process (Zahavi 1999, 2005, 2014). An implication of this is obviously that the self-consciousness in question can be ascribed to all creatures that are phenomenally conscious, including various non-human animals.

The mineness in question is not a quality like being scarlet, sour or soft. It doesn’t refer to a specific experiential content, to a specific what; nor does it refer to the diachronic or synchronic sum of such content, or to some other relation that might obtain between the contents in question. Rather, it refers to the distinct givenness or the how it feels of experience. It refers to the first-personal presence or character of experience. It refers to the fact that the experiences I am living through are given differently (but not necessarily better) to me than to anybody else. It could consequently be claimed that anybody who denies the for-me-ness of experience simply fails to recognize an essential constitutive aspect of experience. Such a denial would be tantamount to a denial of the first-person perspective. It would entail the view that my own mind is either not given to me at all — I would be mind- or self-blind — or is presented to me in exactly the same way as the minds of others.

There are also lines of argumentation in contemporary analytical philosophy of mind that are close to and consistent with the phenomenological conception of pre-reflective self-awareness. Alvin Goldman provides an example:

[Consider] the case of thinking about x or attending to x. In the process of thinking about x there is already an implicit awareness that one is thinking about x. There is no need for reflection here, for taking a step back from thinking about x in order to examine it…When we are thinking about x, the mind is focused on x, not on our thinking of x. Nevertheless, the process of thinking about x carries with it a non-reflective self-awareness (Goldman 1970, 96).
A similar view has been defended by Owen Flanagan, who not only argues that consciousness involves self-consciousness in the weak sense that there is something it is like for the subject to have the experience, but also speaks of the low-level self-consciousness involved in experiencing my experiences as mine (Flanagan 1992, 194). As Flanagan quite correctly points out, this primary type of self-consciousness should not be confused with the much stronger notion of self-consciousness that is in play when we are thinking about our own narrative self. The latter form of reflective self-consciousness presupposes both conceptual knowledge and narrative competence. It requires maturation and socialization, and the ability to access and issue reports about the states, traits, dispositions that make one the person one is. Bermúdez (1998), to mention one further philosopher in the analytic tradition, argues that there are a variety of nonconceptual forms of self-consciousness that are “logically and ontogenetically more primitive than the higher forms of self-consciousness that are usually the focus of philosophical debate” (1998, 274; also see Poellner 2003). This growing consensus across philosophical studies supports the phenomenological view of pre-reflective self-consciousness.

That pre-reflective self-awareness is implicit, then, means that I am not confronted with a thematic or explicit awareness of the experience as belonging to myself. Rather we are dealing with a non-observational self-acquaintance. Here is how Heidegger and Sartre put the point:

Dasein

The body provides not only the egocentric spatial framework for orientation towards the world, but also the constitutive contribution of its mobility. Perception does not involve a passive reception, but an active exploration of the environment. Husserl calls attention to the importance of bodily movements (the movements of the eye, manipulations by the hand, the locomotion of the body, etc.) for the experience of space and spatial objects. He further claims that perception is correlated to and accompanied by proprioceptive-kinaesthetic self-sensation or self-affection (Husserl 1973c). Every visual or tactile appearance is given in correlation to a kinaesthetic experience. When I touch a shaped surface, it is given in conjunction with a sensation of finger movements. When I watch the flight of a bird, the moving bird is given in conjunction with the kinaesthetic sensations of eye movement and perhaps neck movement. Such kinaesthetic activation during perception produces an implicit and pervasive reference to one’s own body. The implicit self-awareness of the actual and possible movements of my body helps shape the experience that I have of the world. To be clear, however, bodily self-awareness is not an awareness of the body in isolation from the world; it is embedded in action and perception. We do not first become aware of the body and subsequently use it to engage with the world. We experience the world bodily, and the body is revealed to us in our exploration of the world. Primarily, the body attains self-awareness in action (or in our dispositions to action, or in our action possibilities) when it relates to something, uses something, or moves through the world.[4]

Bodily self-awareness, like self-consciousness more generally, has limitations. I am never fully aware of everything that is going on with my body. Indeed, my body tends to efface itself as I perceive and act in the world. When I jump to catch a ball that is thrown over my head, I certainly have a sense of what I can do, but I am not aware of my precise movements or postures—for example, that my right leg bends at a certain angle as I reach with my left hand. I can execute movements without being explicitly conscious of them, and even what I am tacitly aware of is somewhat limited—for example, I am not aware of the shape of my grasp as I reach to grab the ball. Although I may not be aware of certain details about my bodily performance, this does not mean however that I am unconscious of my body. Rather it means that the way that I am aware of my body is fully integrated with the intentional action that I am performing. I know that I am jumping to catch the ball, and implicit in that, as an immediate sense rather than an inference, is the experience of my body jumping to catch the ball. Furthermore, experiential aspects of my embodiment permeate my pre-reflective self-consciousness. There is something it is like to jump to catch a ball, and part of what it is like is that I am in fact jumping. There is something different to what it is like to sit and imagine (or remember) myself jumping to catch the ball, and at least part of that difference has to do with the fact that I am sitting rather than jumping, although none of this may be explicit in my experience.

Another way to think of this is to consider the sense of agency that is normally an aspect of pre-reflective self-awareness in action. If, as I am walking down the street, I am pushed from behind, I am instantly aware of my body moving in a way that I did not intend. The fact that I feel a loss of control over my actions suggests that there had been an implicit sense of agency or control in my walking prior to being pushed. In voluntary action, I experience the movements of my body as my own actions, and this is replaced by a feeling of loss of bodily control in the case of involuntary movement. Voluntary actions feel different from involuntary actions, and this difference depends respectively, on the experience of agency or the experience of a lack of agency—as the case may be if my body is being moved by someone else.

5. Social forms of self-consciousness
A focus on embodied self-experience inevitably leads to a decisive widening of the discussion. The externality of embodiment puts me, and my actions, in the public sphere. Self-consciousness involves not only an ability to make reflective judgments about our own beliefs and desires but also includes a sense of embodied agency. I am, as Paul Ricoeur (1950, 56–57) points out, conscious of being the author of my actions, and this kind of awareness often comes about as my actions are reflected in the presence of others. I can become aware of myself through the eyes of other people, and this can happen in a number of different ways. Thus, embodiment brings intersubjectivity and sociality into the picture, and draws attention to the question of how certain forms of self-consciousness are intersubjectively mediated, and may depend on one’s social relations to others. My awareness of myself as one person among others, an awareness that I may frame from the perspective of others, attempting to see myself as they see me, involves a change in the attitude of self-consciousness. Within this attitude, judgments that I make about myself are constrained by social expectations and cultural values. This kind of social self-consciousness is always contextualized, as I try to understand how I appear to others, both in the way I look, and in the meaning of my actions. I find myself in specific contexts, with specific capabilities and dispositions, habits and convictions, and I express myself in a way that is reflected off of others, in relevant (socially defined) roles through my language and my actions.

The role of the other in this mode of self-consciousness is not unessential. According to Husserl, I become aware of myself specifically as a human person only in such intersubjective relations (Husserl 1973b, 175; 1952, 204–05; see Hart 1992, 71; Zahavi 1999, 157ff. Also see Taylor 1989, 34–36 for a similar idea). Thus Husserl distinguishes the subject taken in its bare formality from the personalized subject and claims that the origin and status of being a person must be located in the social dimension. I am not simply a pure and formal subject of experience, but also a person, with abilities, dispositions, habits, interests, character traits, and convictions, and to focus exclusively on the first is to engage in an abstraction (Husserl 1968, 210). Given the right conditions and circumstances, the self acquires a personalizing self-apprehension, i.e., it develops into a person and as a person (cf. Husserl 1952, 265). And this development depends heavily upon social interaction (Husserl 1973b, 170–171).

This kind of self-consciousness is also the occasion for a self-alienation, famously explicated by Sartre in terms of the other’s gaze. For Sartre, because “our being, along with its being-for-itself, is also for-others; the being which is revealed to the reflective consciousness is for-itself-for-others” (1956, 282). On this view, the primary experience of the other is not that I perceive her as some kind of object in which I must find a person, but I perceive the other as a subject who perceives me as an object. My experience of the other is at the same time an experience that involves my own self-consciousness, a self-consciousness in which I am pre-reflectively aware that I am an object for another. This experience can further motivate a reflective self-consciousness, as I consider how I must appear to the other.

Merleau-Ponty (1945, 415) suggests that the other’s gaze can motivate this kind of self-consciousness only if I already have a sense of my own visibility to the other. This sense of my own visibility, however, is immediately linked with the pre-reflective, proprioceptive-kinaesthetic sense of my body, an insight that goes back to Husserl’s analysis (mentioned above), through Merleau-Ponty, who sees its connection to the infant’s capability for imitation, and forward to more recent advances in developmental psychology (see Merleau-Ponty, 1945, 165, 404-405; 2010; Gallagher and Zahavi 2008; Zahavi 1999, 171–72). In effect, we find ourselves related to others through self-conscious experience that is motivated by the other’s gaze.

This is not the place to enter into a detailed discussion of these rich and complex issues, issues that extend to analyses of phenomena such as empathy, shame, guilt, and so on (see Zahavi 2010, 2014). But it is important to realize that self-consciousness is a multifaceted concept. It is not something that can be exhaustively analyzed simply by examining the inner workings of the mind.

6. Conclusion

The notion of self-consciousness has been the subject of a rich and complex analysis in the phenomenological tradition. Aspects of the phenomenological analysis also show up in other areas of research, including feminism (Stawarska 2006; Young 2005; Heinämaa 2003), ecological psychology (Gibson 1966), and recent analyses of enactive perception (Noë 2004; Thompson 2008). The recognition of the existence of a primitive form of pre-reflective self-consciousness is an important starting point for an understanding of more elaborate forms of self-consciousness that are concept- and language-dependent. Phenomenological analyses show these processes to be more than purely mental or cognitive events since they integrally involve embodiment and intersubjective dimensions.

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Your Children are not Your Children


 

They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

Kahlil Gibran, 1923, 1973.

On Death and What Comes Next by Terry Pratchett


When Death met the philosopher, the philosopher said, rather excitedly: “At this point, you realise, I’m both dead and not dead.”

There was a sigh from Death. Oh dear, one of those, he thought. This is going to be about quantum again. He hated dealing with philosophers. They always tried to wriggle out of it.

“You see,” said the philosopher, while Death, motionless, watched the sands of his life drain through the hourglass, “everything is made of tiny particles, which have the strange property of being in many places at one time. But things made of tiny particles tend to stay in one place at one time, which does not seem right according to quantum theory. May I continue?”

YES, BUT NOT INDEFINITELY, said Death, EVERYTHING IS TRANSIENT. He did not take his gaze away from the tumbling sand.

“Well, then, if we agreed that there are an infinite number of universes, then the problem is solved! If there are an unlimited number of universes, this bed can be in millions of them, all at the same time!”

DOES IT MOVE?

“What?

Death nodded at the bed. CAN YOU FEEL IT MOVING? he said.

“No, because there are a million versions of me, too, And…here is the good bit …in some of them I am not about to pass away! Anything is possible!”

Death tapped the handle of his scythe as he considered this.

AND YOUR POINT IS…?

“Well, I’m not exactly dying, correct? You are no longer such a certainty.”

There was a sigh from Death. Space he thought. That was the trouble. It was never like this on worlds with everlastingly cloudy skies. But once humans saw all that space, their brains expanded to try and fill it up.

“No answer, eh?” said the dying philosopher. “Feel a bit old-fashioned, do we?”

THIS IS A CONUNDRUM CERTAINLY, said Death. Once they prayed, he thought. Mind you, he’d never been sure that prayer worked, either. He thought for a while. AND I SHALL ANSWER IT IN THIS MANNER, he added. YOU LOVE YOUR WIFE?

“What?”

THE LADY WHO HAS BEEN LOOKING AFTER YOU. YOU LOVE HER?

“Yes. Of course.”

CAN YOU THINK OF ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WHERE, WITHOUT YOUR PERSONAL HISTORY CHANGING IN ANY WAY YOU WOULD AT THIS MOMENT PICK UP A KNIFE AND STAB HER? said Death. FOR EXAMPLE?

“Certainly not!”

BUT YOUR THEORY SAYS THAT YOU MUST. IT IS EASILY POSSIBLE WITHIN THE PHYSICAL LAWS OF THE UNIVERSE, AND THEREFORE MUST HAPPEN, AND HAPPEN MANY TIMES. EVERY MOMENT IS A BILLION, BILLION MOMENTS, AND IN THOSE MOMENTS ALL THINGS THAT ARE POSSIBLE ARE INEVITABLE. ALL TIME SOONER OR LATER, BOILS DOWN TO A MOMENT.

“But of course we can make choices between-“

ARE THERE CHOICES? EVERYTHING THAT CAN HAPPEN, MUST HAPPEN. YOUR THEORY SAYS THAT FOR EVERY UNIVERSE THAT’S FORMED TO ACCOMMODATE YOUR ‘NO’, THERE MUST BE ONE TO ACCOMMODATE YOUR ‘YES’. BUT YOU SAID YOU WOULD NEVER COMMIT MURDER. THE FABRIC OF THE COSMOS TREMBLES BEFORE YOUR TERRIBLE CERTAINTY. YOUR MORALITY BECOMES A FORCE AS STRONG AS GRAVITY. And, thought Death, space certainly has a lot to answer for.

“Was that sarcasm?”

ACTUALLY, NO. I AM IMPRESSED AND INTRIGUED, said Death. THE CONCEPT YOU PUT BEFORE ME PROVES THE EXISTENCE OF TWO HITHERTO MYTHICAL PLACES. SOMEWHERE, THERE IS A WORLD WHERE EVERYONE MADE THE RIGHT CHOICE, THE MORAL CHOICE, THE CHOICE THAT MAXIMISED THE HAPPINESS OF THEIR FELLOW CREATURES, OF COURSE, THAT ALSO MEANS THAT SOMEWHERE ELSE IS THE SMOKING REMNANT OF THE WORLD WHERE THEY DID NOT …

“Oh, come on! I know what you’re implying, and I’ve never believed in any of that Heaven and Hell nonsense!”

The room was growing darker. The blue gleam along the edge of the reaper’s scythe was becoming more obvious.

ASTONISHING, said Death. REALLY ASTONISHING. LET ME PUT FORWARD ANOTHER SUGGESTION: THAT YOU ARE NOTHING MORE THAN A LUCKY SPECIES OF APE THAT IS TRYING TO UNDERSTAND THE COMPLEXITIES OF CREATION VIA A LANGUAGE THAT EVOLVED IN ORDER TO TELL ONE ANOTHER WHERE THE RIPE FRUIT WAS?

Fighting for breath, the philosopher managed to say: “Don’t be silly.”

THE REMARK WAS NOT INTENDED AS DEROGATORY, said Death. UNDER THE CIRCUMSTANCES, YOU HAVE ACHIEVED A GREAT DEAL.

“We’ve certainly escaped from outmoded superstitions!”

WELL DONE, said Death. THAT’S THE SPIRIT. I JUST WANTED TO CHECK.

He leaned forward.

AND ARE YOU AWARE OF THE THEORY THAT THE STATE OF SOME TINY PARTICLES IS INDETERMINATE UNTIL THE MOMENT THEY ARE OBSERVED? A CAT IN A BOX IS OFTEN MENTIONED.

“Oh, yes,” said the philosopher.

GOOD, said Death. He got to his feet as the last of the light died, and smiled.

I SEE YOU…