Philosophically Thinking Through Nihilism: A Reclamation of Embodied Thought For Enhancing Cultural Practices (P. 1/2), by Prof. James Magrini

Introducing Empedocles, Nietzsche, and Nihilism

“So much depends on the development of the Greek culture because our entire occidental world has received its initial stimuli from it […] There are very many possibilities which have not yet been discovered because the Greeks did not discover them. And others have discovered the Greeks and later covered them up again.”  ~ Nietzsche

In his introduction to Heidegger’s Early Greek Thinking, David Krell talks about the history of philosophy in terms of a “nightmare from which we, Dedalus-like, are trying to awake,” unfortunately, as he observes, “indignant refusal and consignment to oblivion are hardly signs of wakefulness” (7). What follows is not however, an interpretation of Heidegger’s engagement with Pre-Socratic thought, if it were, we would be looking at the fragments of Anaximander, Heraclitus, and Parmenides. Rather, I choose to focus on Empedocles, perhaps for one of the reasons Nietzsche found so appealing, namely, Empedocles attempts to “lead humanity across [the bridge] to the universal friendship (koina ton philon) of the Pythagoreans and thus to social reform” (113).[1] Although the issue of social reform on a grand scale is beyond the modest scope of these thoughts, I examine Empedocles’ thought as it moves through Nietzsche’s modern philosophy with the hope of reawakening and reinvigorating the authentic need and drive to philosophize by attempting to understand more clearly what the ancient Greek’s relationship to his world, and by extension, others, might have been like. I want to consider the value and potential in the thought of Empedocles and Nietzsche for inspiring thinking in other directions beyond our contemporary nihilistic condition as Hubert Dreyfus outlines, which might offer a new understanding of who we are in relation to the way in which we inhabit the world.

Daniela Vallega-Neu focuses on the issue of the bodily dimension in thought, but she does not incorporate the Pre-Socratics. However, what she writes about Nietzsche and the loss and the subsequent attempt in modernity to reinstate the exiled body to a prominent place in philosophy relates directly to Empedocles. Vallega-Neu traces the moment in the history of philosophy when a sharp distinction occurs between the sensible and the intelligible to Plato’s dialogue Timaeus, which presents us with a limit to thinking the bodily dimension in thought: “This limit is two fold,” she argues, “since it delimits both the arising of thought as a bodily event and the loss of the event in the differentiation of the sensible and intelligible” (21). We might think of this in terms of the split between soul (psyche) and body (soma). As this dichotomy progresses into modernity, there is a shift from soul to consciousness and body to matter – two separate and unique substances, one immaterial and the other material. “Body shifts away from its connection with soul and comes to stand in opposition to thought, while the question of soul is replaced by the exploration of human consciousness” (Ibid., 22). She cites Descartes’ second Meditation and states that here, Descartes “rearranges nutrition, movement, sense perception under what belongs to the body” and opposes it to thought, which becomes an attribute of the transcendental subject, the “I.” Consciousness replaces soul, and with “the disappearing of the soul the lived body is exiled” (Ibid., 22). What she states next has radical implications for the contemporary direction of philosophy as described at the outset by Krell:

“[The soul] has no place in consciousness, since the feelings and bodily motions of which I am conscious become thought contents that are immaterial and therefore distinct from bodies. The lived body has no place in the material world either, since bodies in the world are accessed objectively as that which can be scientifically (quantitatively) measured. Basically, bodies are not different from corpses” (Ibid., 22).

Vallega-Neu’s analysis begins with Nietzsche and the task of overturning Platonism, and I will certainly have more to say about Nietzsche’s attempt to return the reality of the body-in-thought to philosophy, but first I look to Empedocles by returning to a time before classical antiquity, a time prior to Plato’s entrance onto the philosophical scene. “With Plato,” claims Nietzsche, “something entirely new has its beginning. Or it might be said with equal justice, from Plato on there is something essentially amiss with philosophers” (34). I begin with Empedocles’ On Nature focused on his “embodied” conception of sensation, knowledge, and cognition as it appears in the scholarly literature. I then move to consider Nietzsche’s pivotal role in attempting to reinstate the type of “embodied relationship” to the world present to the philosophy of Empedocles, which was lost with Socratic and Platonic philosophy. Finally, I hope to draw inspiration from this scholarly literature in order to speculate on the legitimate potential this thought has for our contemporary confrontation with nihilism as it described by Hubert Dreyfus. This speculative moment represents the move to engage Empedocles and Nietzsche by demonstrating a willingness, as David Jacobs suggests, “to carry interpretation beyond the limits” of purely scholarly, academic debates (1). Philosophical activity, reminds Jacobs, should not be content to “remain at a safe distance form what is to be thought, by accurately depicting principles and logical arguments,” rather authentic interpretation should seek a “thoughtful connection to the matter of philosophy itself” (Ibid. 11).

The Inception of Embodied Thought in Empedocles

Empedocles shared a unique relationship to the world that has been lost to us, and, as some believe, to our detriment, irretrievably lost. Indeed, the ancient Greek’s relationship to his world is not easily understood from our contemporary perspective, which is shaped in great part by Plato’s and Descartes’ philosophy, wherein we understand truth as a proper function of propositional knowledge, stressing hard distinctions between facts and values, subjects and objects, and the like. The Cartesian notion of knowledge consisting of the conscious mind reflecting on the world as an objective and disconnected fact, as something radically other, was incomprehensible to the early Greeks. This is because the Greeks were immersed in their world in such a way that the human was always already in the world, and to see and experience life in a pre-reflexive manner was, in an important sense for the Greeks, already a form of knowledge of the world.

It is possible to begin to understand the manner in which Empedocles experienced the world by turning to William Barrett’s rich description of Being as found in the philosophy of Heidegger, not so much because it provides a wholly accurate description of what the phenomenon of Being was for Heidegger, but rather because it vividly suggests the manner in which Empedocles viewed, experienced, and knew his world: “Being is not an empty abstraction but something in which all of us are immersed up to our necks, and indeed over our heads” (213). Jean-Pierre Vernant clarifies Barrett’s description of Being and suggests the following about the uniquely Greek experience of the world: “For the ancient Greek man, the world was not that objectified external universe, cut off from man by the impassable barrier that separates matter from mind, the physical from the psychic. Man was in a relationship of intimate community with the animate universe to which everything connected him […] From the start man’s being was being-in-the-world” (12).

Plato, in the Timaeus (45b f.), offers a rather sophisticated description of vision, which was already philosophized by Empedocles within his poem, On Nature. Vision is conceived in terms of the eyes as “light bearing,” or light projecting organs (phosphora-ommata). In short, the eyes projected effluences (“arms” or “tentacles”) in the form of light rays, but the eyes were only one component in the phenomenon of vision. Objects, which were bathed in the light of the all-seeing sun, also projected effluences – vision resembled something of a triangulated process: The two base angles represented the human and object of vision and the apex represented the sun, which the eye resembled in that it radiated light of a similar nature. Below, Vernant describes the notion of being immersed in the world, and here we experience the obliteration of the lines between the physical and psychic:

“By reason of the kinship between the three phenomena, which all consisted equally of a very pure fire giving light without burning, the optical arm combined with the light of day and with the rays emitted by objects. Blending with them, it formed a single body (soma), perfectly continuous and homogenous, which belonged as a whole both to oneself and to the physical world” (Ibid., 13-14).

Empedocles understood both sensation and knowledge in terms of what the Greeks named, “homoios,” which might be expressed in the dictum: “Like is known by like,” or in terms of a sensory assimilation in which “things give off effluences and knowledge results when these fit into the corresponding passages in the senses” (Peters, 87). For example, as Helle Lambridis points out, Empedocles notion of vision was grounded in the belief, as presented above, that the eye gives of effluences in the form of “flames,” or rays of light, and his model for the physical organ of the eye and its function resembles a lantern. The sides of the lantern enclosing the flame, like “fine tissues” surrounding the pupil of the eye, prevent wind and rain from penetrating inside, but do not prevent either the lantern or the eye from radiating light from the inside outwards” (76). In addition, the sides of the lantern are transparent (actually translucent, for the Greeks would have used thinly shaven plates of horn to form the sides) in order to allow the luminescent rays from objects to enter without obstruction.

Indeed all sensation was viewed in terms of the notion of emanating “effluences” and corresponding, diffuse “passages,” or pores, located throughout the human body that were each formed in such a way as to be potentially receptive to specific emanations, which consisted of minute particles of matter that were imperceptible to the naked eye. “These produce sensation by striking the appropriate sense-organs which are perforated by equally invisible ‘passages’”(Ibid., 73). The entire process of sense perception might be envisioned in a three-fold model: (1) Invisible emanations from all things penetrate invisible passages moving into the body. The passages are of different shapes and sizes and the emanations corresponding to one sense-organ have no affect on another sense-organ; (2) We are constructed of the same elements that compose the universe, namely the four imperishable “roots” (stoicheia), earth, water, fire, and aether, and we recognize these elements by way of the senses because the like in us recognizes the like in them; and (3) The idea of like attracting and coalescing with like extends from sensations to knowledge to human feelings and emotions (Ibid., 80-81).

On Nature reconciles the methods of Ionian philosophy with the Eleatic thought of Parmenides, attempting to give a reasoned account of the world, which relies on observation, sensory perception, and rational explanation. Kirk, Raven and Schofield state that it was Empedocles’ response to Parmenides “radical epistemological challenge to cosmology” that made it necessary to stake out his position on knowledge at the outset of the epic poem (285). Empedocles “bewails the very limited understanding of things most men achieve through their senses but he promises that an intelligent use of sensory evidence available to mortals” will make things clear to the understanding (Ibid., 285). In what follows I attempt to understand not only what Empedocles called knowledge but as well speculate on what he might have meant when using the term “understanding.” The senses, according to Lambridis, “convey reliable evidence, if we know how to delimit their bounds,” which for Empedocles meant to “understand each thing in the way that it is best revealed” (81).

For Empedocles, the goal of knowledge was to move from and through the sensible to the understanding of the elements and the process of their combination and re-combination as inspired by the two cosmic motive forces Friendship (Philias) and Strife (Neikos). It is crucial to give an intellectual account of the world that can be substantiated in light of the sensory data we receive. The senses indeed provide us with knowledge, “if one knows how to sift through the evidence. For this sifting, something more than the senses is needed,” namely, “intellect or intuition or Nous” (Ibid., 82). When Empedocles gives an account of thought, or cognition, he refers to it as noema, and even if it might be implied, with respect to the question of thought, that Empedocles seems to be “moving toward a distinction between it and sensation, it is still on a quantitative level. For him and the atomists, it is a special type of sensation that occurs in the blood (here the heart as seat of thought) since the blood appears to be the most perfect blend of the (Elements)” stoicheia (Peters, 10). As Empedocles poetized, “The heart, dwelling in a sea of blood which surges back and forth, where especially is what is called thought (noema) by men; for the blood around men’s hearts is their thought (noema)” (DK 31B fr. 105).[2]

Lambridis is rightfully critical of Empedocles’ belief that human cognition occurs within the breast, as a direct product of the blood pumping in and around the heart. However, although this account cannot be squared with our current neurological-scientific-cognitive understanding of the human, I think there’s something here in Empedocles’ account of cognition that is of great value, which if overlooked or dismissed, fails to do justice to the unique and thoroughly primordial conception of the human being that later emerges in Nietzsche. Namely, we already find in Empedocles a conception of the mind that is clearly dependent on the material-physiological processes of, first and foremost, sense perception, as against the notion of mind as disembodied phenomenon. An analogous understanding of mind, I believe, might be found in Susanne Langer. The language she employs in her description of thinking shares marked similarities with Empedocles’ conception of thought as an embodied activity, that is, neither reducing it to a single material source, say the physical organ of the brain (or heart muscle), nor explaining it terms of a mysterious immaterial substance (ousia). For Langer, thinking is a dynamic process: “The nervous system is the organ of the mind; its center is the brain, in its extremities the sense-organs; and any characteristic function it may possess must govern the work of all its parts” (84). Importantly, she adds that “the activity of our senses is ‘mental’ not only when it reaches the brain, but in its very inception,” whenever our senses are aroused and stimulated; “All sensitivity,” she claims, “bears the stamp of mentality” (Ibid., 84).

As Vernant points out, vision, and indeed all sensation, in varying degrees, was for the ancients linked to knowledge, for to “to see and to know were as one; if idein, ‘to see,’ and eidenai, ‘to know,’ are two verbal forms of the same term, if eidos, ‘appearance, visible aspect,’ also means ‘the specific character of the intelligible form,’ this is because knowledge was interpreted and expressed through one’s way of seeing” (12). Vision was always already a form of knowledge and vice versa. Vernant’s account stresses the intimate reciprocity between the seer and the object of his vision. However, rather than referencing the object of one’s vision, it is perhaps best to state that what is seen is wholly encompassed and immersed within the process of vision, which is irreducible to a subjective phenomenon, “conveying if not a complete identity between the two, then at least a very close kinship” (Ibid., 13). Within the “embodied thought” of Empedocles there is always an intimate link and communion between the world and the human, and thus we return to the important notion of homoios that began the section on sensation in Empedocles. “Knower,” states Peters, “cannot know an object without some sort of identity of elements between them,” and in knowing there is an indissoluble relationship wherein a metamorphosis occurs, for in knowing something “we also, at the same time, become more like it” (87). If we read the following fragment of Empedocles in light of the observations of both Vernant and Peters, the understanding of sensation and knowledge occurring as an embodied phenomenon in terms of a unique way of being situated in the world, becomes clear:

“We see (know) Earth by means of Earth, Water by means of Water, divine air by means of Air, and destructive Fire by means of Fire; Affection by means of Affection, Hate by means of baneful Hate” (DK 31B fr. 109, trans, Freeman).

The Reclamation of Embodied Thought in Nietzsche

“What does nihilism mean? That the highest values devaluate themselves. The aim is lacking; ‘Why?’ Finds no answer.” ~Nietzsche                                                                                                                                

Nihilism, the catastrophic devaluation of our highest values, which is linked to the event of the collapse of the “two-world” metaphysical schema as outlined by Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols, “is the loss of meaning and seriousness” (Dreyfus, 502). In Will to Power Nietzsche states that nihilism is the realization that “the overall character of existence may not be interpreted by means of the concept of ‘aim,’ the concept of ‘unity,’ or the concept ‘truth,’” for that which formerly projected value into the world has been pulled out, “so the world looks valueless” (13). Nietzsche defines two forms of nihilism: (1) active nihilism, which is highlighted by the “increased power of spirit,” and (2) passive nihilism, which represents a “decline and recession of the power of the spirit” (Ibid., 22). Although active nihilism appears to represent the active overcoming of the situation, it is actually the philosophical movement, as related to Dreyfus’ thought, wherein we search out ways in which to lessen the problem by ceasing to further contribute to its development and spread. Thus, nihilism cannot necessarily be overcome, there’s nothing resembling a “twisting free” from nihilism, because as Dreyfus states, “We cannot do anything to prevent or cure nihilism – it is much too wide and deep for that – one thing we can do is to develop the deepest possible understanding of our nihilistic situation so that we do not inadvertently contribute to the problem” (502).

Nihilism is related to the exile of the body from Platonic, Christian, and later secular positivism, an event highlighted by the secularization of Christian thought, or what I term the “deification of reason,” occurring during the enlightenment and continuing through the rise of positivism. Even without God, as Vallega-Nue argues, the belief in the truth of primary principles through reason persists; in short, “Kant’s principle of reason still lives in the shadow of the dead God” (24). In Christianity the body is the locus of sin and is to be rejected for the reason that it impedes the soul achieving its ultimate teleological purpose, which is the return to God in a purified state in a glorious afterlife removed from the material constraints of the physical world. The situation with the body in positivist terms might be likened to the body impeding both rational and moral thought of a pure nature. We find this nihilistic tendency, according to Dreyfus, already present in Socratic philosophy. For example, in the Pheado Socrates talks of the most efficient manner in which to grasp the thing-itself in knowledge, and, as is evident, there is no room for the detrimental influence of the body in Socrates’ idealized epistemic criterion for knowledge: The man who most perfectly acquires knowledge

“[a]pproaches the object with thought alone, without associating any sight with his thought, or dragging in any sense perception with his reasoning, but who, using pure thought alone (theoria), tries to track down each reality pure and by itself, freeing himself as far as possible from eyes and ears, and in a word, from the whole body” (65e-66a).

Dreyfus links this view with technology and the positivistic empirical sciences, which explain things in terms of thematizing the world within an objective and removed form of theoretical knowledge that alone provides us with the “systematic order of all reality,” and this is the nihilistic view already implicit in the ancient Greeks’ belief that “the theoretical, detached attitude was our fundamental access to reality” (510). Dreyfus is highly critical of this mode of world-disclosure that favors “theory” and calculative thought (modes of objectification) above other practical forms of world-disclosure. Theory, thus conceived, is responsible in great part for our current nihilistic situation, and Dreyfus highlights five features of theory that work as an ensemble to contribute to the devaluation of the role of the body, senses, and the emotions in our factical lived world of experience: (1) The drive to objectify the world in thought, wherein the subject is separated off from the ideas he contemplates;[3] (2) The drive to make all things explicit through propositional explanation; (3) The resulting de-contextualization of all things contemplated; (4) The re-contextualizing of the things contemplated into an abstracted system of objective ideas; and (5) The formation of a “world picture” that is linked with a specific historical “mind-set,” and in the end, “the subject stands outside of and over against whatever it is he knows, and sees it as objective, explicit, context-free, total picture” (Ibid., 511). According to Dreyfus, this leads to the false view that the mind is not only superior to the physical world, it also suggests that people primarily live and comport themselves through the use of their minds, and once a context-free world picture is formed at a remove from factical experience, our worldly, embodied, experiential practices lose “meaning and authority” (Ibid., 512). Prior to addressing Dreyfus’ suggestions for approaching science and technology in an authentic manner, for it is not a problem inherent within either of these two modes of world-disclosure that is the problem, rather it is the way we in fact view them, and ultimately, empower them that is at issue, I look at Nietzsche’s philosophy as it relates to both the bodily dimension in thought and the recovery of the body from philosophical exile.

Nietzsche is the first philosopher, ushering in modernity, to return to the form of embodied thought that was earlier described in Empedocles, a thinker prior to the Socratic-Platonic move to privilege of form of world-disclosure grounded in detached, disembodied theorizing as described. Both Empedocles and Nietzsche adopt a similar view of the human’s being-in-the-world as an embodied phenomenon, stressing the intimate connection between thought and body and human and world. Unique to both these thinkers is a view that eschews consciousness as the seat of reason, a detached, immaterial mind that thinks, wills, judges, and imagines, serving as the eternal and transcendental locus of self-identity. In The Will to Power Nietzsche describes consciousness as a surface, as the “last and latest development of the organic and hence also what is most unfinished and unstrong” (184). Consciousness is the residue, the vapor of lived, embodied experience, where dynamic emotions, drives, passions, and affects congeal and are codified in language. In The Will to Power Nietzsche claims, in terms that are reminiscent of Hume, that the idea of consciousness as the hub around which the entire construction of our “inner world” rotates is fallacious, for “everything of which we become conscious is arranged, simplified, schematized, interpreted through and through – the actual process of inner ‘perception,’ the causal connection between thoughts, feelings, desires, between subject and object, are absolutely hidden from us – and are perhaps purely imaginary” (Ibid., 263-264).

As Vallega-Neu points out, for Nietzsche, thinking is irreducible to our conscious activity because it occurs on a much deeper level, at the level of the body, and this she calls the “bodily dimension in thinking,” which manifests in “those occurrences that remain covered up when we focus primarily on the object of thinking: sensations, feelings, affects, tensions, plays of forces” (29). In short, the bodily dimension of the human being is thought, i.e., the body thinks, for what “enters our consciousness in the form of perceptions and representations is the surface of this bodily dimension” (Ibid., 30). Rather than privileging consciousness or the existence and function of the mind, Nietzsche views the body as “the richer, clearer, more tangible phenomenon” (The Will to Power, 489). The bodily dimension of Nietzsche’s thought intimates those aspects of life’s unfolding that are perhaps best described and experienced through the rich language of the experiential and emotional collections of metaphors that he employs. Vallega-Neu suggests that if we are seeking the bodily dimension in Nietzsche’s philosophy, we should seek it in the “performative character” of his writing, which poetizes embodied existence in “the moods and plays of forces that it discloses,” and yet this performative aspect of his thought refuses full disclosure of the body, refusing “objectifying considerations about the body, be it in inner or outer perception” (28). [4]

The body, far from being explicitly cognized and objectified, remains in great part a mystery, all that we are privy to via consciousness are the traces of its existence, power, and movement. Any and all attempts to give an accurate and objective account of the body are ultimately doomed, for it is beyond a categorical understanding. In fact, as Vallega-Neu points out, any and all attempts at absolute epistemological clarity would “reduce its richness to an interpretation that rests on a principle of understanding,” thus we should allow the meaning of the body to “remain in suspense as we take the phenomenon of the body – that is, bodily manifestations – as mere indicators” (Ibid., 27). In Nietzsche’s first move to overturn Platonism he reminds us, with respect to the body, that we should resist “determining anything about its ultimate meaning,” and this is one way in which Nietzsche resists and undermines the objectifying, totalizing tendency in traditional metaphysics, which Dreyfus so convincingly links to nihilism (WTP, 489). Here, Nietzsche puts in question the traditional epistemological model, which adopts the view that categorical knowledge is possible if the correct view of the world is adopted and the appropriate methodology is applied. Nietzsche expresses his unique view of knowledge through a form of epistemological perspectivism, embracing a multiplicity of ways to interpret, understand, and discourse about the world:

“Nietzsche makes us aware of this performative character by putting into question and ungrouding radically the object of any act of consciousness. Thereby what he ungrounds is not this or that object. But objectivity as a whole, that is, the objective horizon in which objects find a specific determination and meaning in correlation to a thinking subject” (Vallega-Neu, 28-29).[5]

According to scholars who resist Heidegger’s metaphysical reading of Nietzsche, the will to power is not “simply another name for Schopenhauer’s metaphysical will but rather designates ways in which life occurs. Thus it is always particularized and includes an impenetrable complexity,” and so according to such an interpretation, the body for Nietzsche is not the essential ground or locus of will to power as an essence, or metaphysical ground of the world (34).[6] Rather, will to power represents the “how” of life’s unfolding, “the play of forces that animate life, and withdraw for the most part from our consciousness” (Ibid., 28). Here is Nietzsche’s second move to overturn traditional metaphysics by philosophizing an anti-foundational view of the human and world, wherein he does not simply reverse the dualistic hierarchy of Platonism, elevating the physical body to the status of “true Being” while devaluating the conscious mind to the status of non-Being. Rather there occurs the radical obliteration of the two-world schema and with the real world the apparent world is also abolished, and so the “end of the longest error” comes to pass with the single world of which its total character “is in all eternity chaos – in the sense not of a lack of necessity but a lack of order, arrangement, form, beauty, wisdom, and whatever other names there are for our aesthetic anthropomorphisms” (WTP, 168). We are set within this world, immersed up to our necks, and indeed over our heads, and this world simultaneously surges through us, in a manner similar to that of Empedocles, and so there is here too, in Nietzsche, a similar sense of the Greek understanding of homoios. For according to Nietzsche, in order to give a creative and authentic aesthetic and stylized form to one’s existence, one must recognize and acknowledge the worldly “chaos in oneself,” and this notion brings us to the notion of the will-to-power in Nietzsche.

Will to power manifests in the struggle with the creative and chaotic forces of life, life as such is will to power, and it is not merely an external phenomenon it is at once, and indeed indistinguishable from, an internal happening. “Chaos is not simply opposed to will to power,” as Vallega-Neu writes, will to power is discharged in the effort to temporarily give form and bring the flux and flow of existence to stand in works of art, and thus chaos is “constitutive for the will to power” (34). Life is conceived in terms of the consistent drive and processes of self-overcoming that occurs in moments culminating in “the downfall or destruction (Untergang) of what is consistent,” that which has temporality been brought to stand (Ibid., 34). This implies the utter lack of ground, and hence the anti-foundationalism that challenges and undermines traditional metaphysics, and in this move we find the “devaluation of objectivity,” and this “indicates a continuous, and groundless re-creation in the decline of what is in its consistency” (Ibid., 34). Engaging chaos through the discharge of will to power, in terms of what has been described as active nihilism, represents the life-affirming movement, which “may be sought in that turning point where what was established is devaluated or loses its power,” and this represents, as related to the theme of this meditation, “the moment of suspension of objectivity by a radical questioning of fundamental values and principles that constitute the objective horizon of our relation to objects. In this moment appears the bodily dimension of our lives” (Ibid., 35).

For Part 2 – Please Click Here


[1] Iain Thompson points out, Nietzsche finds a kindred spirit in Empedocles, for within Nietzsche’s book, The Pre-Platonic Philosophers, his “fascinating treatment of Empedocles supports the idea that Empedocles was one of the great inspirations for Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” a wandering, peripatetic prophet (315).

[2] This is directly related to what Aristotle observed in De Anima when thinking the difference between noesis (psychic) and aiesthesis (physical): “Thinking, both speculative and practical, is regarded as akin to a form of perceiving; for in the one as well as the other the soul discriminates and is cognizant of something which is. Indeed the ancients go so far as to identify thinking and perceiving” (427a). And again, in the testimony of Theophrastis in de sensu: “And he [Empedocles] has the same theory about thought and ignorance. Thinking is of the like, ignorance of unlike by unlike, thought being either identical with or closely akin to perception. For having enumerated how we know each thing by its equivalent, he added at the end that “out of these things are all things fitted together and constructed, and by these things do they think and feel pleasure or pain.” So it is especially with the blood that they think; for in the blood above all other parts the elements are blended” (DK 31B A86).

[3] Dreyfus writes the following about “objectification”: “Objectification starts when Plato posits ideas as ideal objects over and against a knower who, while not yet understood as subject, is already understood as something other than the ideas that he contemplates” (510). Here we have the move to de-center and devaluate the bodily aspects of the human’s Being-in-the-world.

[4] The bodily dimension of thought still requires communication, and as Vallega-Neu points out, “ the “suspicion of objectivity does not mean its elimination, but that its ‘consistency’, its value is transformed,” in Nietzsche “objectivity loses a great deal of its binding force, it fluidifies, so to speak, into a stream of different bodily motions, feelings, and affects; it becomes transparent for the invisible and lets resonate in what is said the unheard” (31).

[5] As Lambridis points out, it is interesting to note that Empedocles convinces us that he did not believe in a “higher than human source of knowledge” (85). Empedocles actually demonstrates a moderate form of skepticism, or what is perhaps more accurately described as epistemological modesty toward ultimate claims to truth. Lambridis argues that Empedocles “feels that even what he has to say about the higher level (of truths) is inconceivable and almost to express by the available linguistic means. As far as I know, he is the only philosopher (pre- or post – Socratic) to have acknowledged himself baffled by the gap between what he ha conceived, and what it is possible to express adequately” (ibid., 86). This epistemological modesty displayed by Empedocles, which is undoubtedly relatable to Nietzsche’s view of truth and the limited “human” ability to acquire it, is for Lambridis, “the sign of a truly philosophical mind” (86).

[6] It must be noted that I incorporate Vallega-Neu’s anti-metaphysical reading of Nietzsche, i.e., a reading that runs counter to Heidegger’s now famous interpretation of Nietzsche as the last metaphysical thinker who remained trapped within the linguistic-conceptual schema of traditional metaphysics, which led him to endorse the Being of beings and the unfolding of Being in terms that are foundational, in terms that indicate an ontotheological view of the world. As Thomson argues, and this is a position I have endorsed in print, Nietzsche “clearly conceives of entities as such as will-to-power and also of the way that the totality exists as eternal recurrence” (148). With that being stated, for my purpose, whether or not Vallega-Neu’s interpretation of Nietzsche is wholly correct is at issue. I state this because of what Julian Young presciently observed about Heidegger’s highly questionable interpretation of the ancient Greeks, specifically as it appears in “The Question Concerning Technology.” In short, although Heidegger’s interpretation of the Greeks does not square with historical reality, it does hold the philosophical potential to offer a “possible world” as food for thought from which we might draw legitimate inspiration for improving our world. “What is really important about Heidegger’s Greeks,” Young argues, “is that they represent a possible future, not that they represent an actual past” (201). The same thing might be stated in this case about Vallega-Neu’s reading of Nietzsche, and in addition, my reading of Empedocles, namely that the value lies in their potential to inspire thinking in other directions beyond the nihilistic condition.

James Magrini teaches Western philosophy and ethics at College of Dupage in Illinois and publishes on philosophy, art, and education in such journals and periodicals as Philosophy Today, Philosophical Writings, Education, Philosophy, and Theory, and American Atheist.

Advertisements

One response to “Philosophically Thinking Through Nihilism: A Reclamation of Embodied Thought For Enhancing Cultural Practices (P. 1/2), by Prof. James Magrini

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s