Tuesday, April 02, 2002

This post is in response to Jan's, below.

I do have reasons for putting Schopenhaur to the left of Nietzsche, but you could also think of those labels as arbitrary, as unrelated to the political left and right. But I (currently) do think of Platonism as more advanced than Aristotelianism (think of it in spiral dynamics terms), and therefore more "progressive" and therefore more advanced, and therefore further to the left, but that's just my own personal shorthand. I am much less sure of that than of my basic distinction of the two Goetheanisms.

I'm going to try to restate that whole post in plainer language.

Plato is an idealist. (If you saw the excellent movie Iris, you saw a good example of a Platonic idealist.) When he talks about concepts like love, or justice, or goodness, he believes that these abstractions actually exist as entities in themselves. These are known as the Platonic Forms. Aristotle believes that forms exist, too. But he thinks that they only exist to the extent that they are exemplified by objects or beings. That is, the form "love" is composed of individuals' feelings or expressions of love.

Nominalism is the philosophy that Aristotle tended towards, that abstractions only exist insofar as they exist in concrete examples of these abstractions. I called Plato an essentialist, but anti-nominalist might be more accurate.

I want to use the analogy of Plato's and Aristotle's views on the forms to describe two different ways of thinking about spirit.

I bnelieve that Goethe inspired a generation of German thinkers to think about spirit and the world in evolutionary terms. These thinkers, the German Idealists, included Fichte, Hegel, Schelling, Heine, Schopenhaur, Nietzsche, Freud, etc.

The philosophical dogma is that these thinkers were decisively influenced by Kant. They were, but this does not explain the emphasis on evolution and development that all of these thinkers share and which I believe constitutes their genius. Kant certainly did not emphasize development in his philosophy; quite the opposite. I believe that they were decisively influenced by Goethe, and I hope to present textual evidence to this end.

But it's clear to me that these Goethean thinkers fall into two camps: nominalists of the spirit and anti-nominalists. Schopenhaur actually believed that his "Will to Live" was the fundamental force that the cosmos was composed of. He was therefore a spiritual anti-nominalist. Nietzsche criticized Schopenhaur in "The Gay Science" for believing in "one will". To Nietzsche, who saw himself as a student of the Enlightenment rather than a follower of Romanticism, this belief in "one will" was mystical unscientific nonsense. Emerson, who Nietzsche admired, had the idea of the oversoul which shows that he follows Schopenhaur on this issue.

The interesting question for me is whether Goethe was closer to Schopenhaur or Nietzsche on this question.


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