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Theories of Nature

This week, we are treated to readings involving late nineteenth and early twentieth century philosophy, specifically utilitarianism, pragmatism, and the glorious, terrifying whirling dervish that is Friedrich Nietzsche. Each marks a profoundly new approach to the world, and each recasts long-standing philosophical questions in a different light.

For utilitarians such as Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, ethics is the supreme (and perhaps only) area of philosophical concern. The understanding of the physical world is largely handed over to the physical sciences, but understanding of the social / political world (and one's place within it) remains the province of philosophy.

By establishing pleasure (whether simple or refined) as the ultimate criterion of value and articulating a 'principle of utility' as the means by which action (whether individual or socio-political) is to be judged, utilitarianism hopes to secure "the greatest happiness for the greatest number" of people. Such "greatest happiness", then, is the closest thing that utilitarians have to an idea of "justice". Hence the goodness or badness, justice or injustice, of any action is to be determined solely on the basis of the benefit or harm that its consequences render to the "greatest happiness of the greatest number".

Consequences (i.e. the results of action) are also important to pragmatists like Pierce and Dewey, but they are rather more modest than utilitarians with regard to how clearly the full consequences of any action can be known. Instead, pragmatists are intensely concerned with what *works*. Hence, pragmatists focus upon seeking to discover ever new and better concepts, methods, and hypotheses to account for the *workings* of nature, and don't concern themselves so much with the *knowing* of it. In fact, pragmatists tend to reduce all of our so-called "knowledge" to *beliefs* (i.e. habits of action) about how things *work* in nature.

So from the pragmatist's perspective, the test of "truth" is the test of nature, which is to say that if a belief of ours tends to produce the results we expect of it, then we can regard it as being 'true'. With the understanding, of course, that it will stop being 'true' as soon as it no longer entails the expected result in the wider, natural world.

For Friedrich Nietzsche, however, such outward-looking criteria of 'justice' or 'truth' are woefully mistaken. Nietzsche maintains that such things (or at least as close as we can get to them) are achieved only through the INDIVIDUAL. What is needed, Nietzsche claims, is a "revaluation of values" in a conceptual space "beyond good and evil" (i.e. not limited or constrained by pre-existing and/or traditional judgements of nature and morality) in order for the INDIVIDUAL to discover what is true and false, good and bad, right and wrong FOR HIM (or HER) SELF ALONE.

Such a "revaluing" can occur only in the setting of the hard and lonely labor of the INDIVIDUAL's "self-overcoming". Looking *outward* for moral guidance can result only in either a "master morality" (which says, in effect, "We are better than they are, because we can control them") or a "slave morality" (which says, in effect, "You must be as weak and harmless as we are, because otherwise we will hate you").

Rejecting *both* of these false and stifling (Nietzsche terms them "life-denying") moralities is one of the first steps in moving "beyond good and evil" into the "clear and bracing air" of one's "self-overcoming". We cannot even begin to understand what we truly *are*, Nietzsche maintains, unless and until we stop listening to (and, worse, simply accepting) what the world tells us we *should be*.

So, the question is this:

Of the three approaches to nature (utilitarian consequentialism, pragmatist naturalism, and Nietzschian individualism), which do you believe provides the best (or at least better) answer to the critically important question of "What is the world and my own place / role within it?" And, as ever and always, WHY do you think so?

Solution Preview

The end result of Nietzsche's view of reality is a descent into chaos, anarchy and autonomy (self-rule). This is the every man for himself mentality. There is no such thing as absolute truth or a standard upon which to base beliefs, actions, programs and government policy. Every person has the right and indeed the obligation to pursue their self-interest simultaneously to and independently from their fellow citizens, neighbors and even family. The result of multiple truths is the denial of any truth.

Pragmatists attempt to refine this selfish view of reality to some extent. However, by defining truth or right to anything that "works" for the individual or society they are also inevitably encouraging anarchy and the disintegration of society. Again multiple standards and multiple truths essential result in a denial of any standard or truth. If a certain behavior or policy works then employ it while it works and discard it when it fails to work. While it worked it was right and true and abandoning it was the right ...

Solution Summary

The solution provides discussion, answers and advice in putting together an answer to the original question (see above) on the topic of utilitarian consequentialism, pragmatist naturalism, and Nietzschian individualism, in particular which among them, to the author is of relevance in thinking about one's place in the world.