2015 Personality Lecture 12: Existentialism: Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard

2015 Personality Lecture 12: Existentialism: Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard


This lecture, and the next, are probably the
most explicitly philosophical lectures of
the course.
Then, we move into psychometrics, and biological
psychology.
Those are going to be the most scientific
lectures of the course.
I was thinking, this morning, while I was
preparing this lecture, about why I approach
these topics this way.
Part of the answer is, probably, that it is
not clear that the study of personality – at
least, insofar as the concern is to further
the development of personality, which is a
term associated with the desire for mental
health, or “subjective well-being,” a term
I really do not like, or “meaning” – can be
strictly scientific pursuits.
So, then, if they’re not strictly scientific
pursuits, what should you do about understanding
them?
If you look at studies, after studies, the
problem is you get a very narrow slice of
the domain.
It’s often not very comprehensible because,
in order to understand the results of a study,
you have to have the knowledge – the underlying
knowledge – that is necessary to put the study
in some sort of framework.
That framework is going to be developed by
studying the relevant scientific literature
and psychological literature.
Behind that, the framework has to be expanded
to include the relevant philosophical assumptions.
I do not really think that you can understand
the details without understanding the assumptions.
I also think you are relegated to memorization
if you do not understand the fundamentals.
Memorization has very little to do with knowledge.
You might be able to memorize procedures that
would enable you to act on something, perhaps
to fix an automobile or to play a piece on
the piano.
It is not like those things are not worth
doing.
But for these ideas to take root and have
affect and meaning, you have to understand
them at the right level of analysis.
One of the things I really like about personality
theory, especially the clinical end of it,
though not exclusively the clinical end of
it, is that the people who were conducting
clinical practice and writing clinical theory
during the 20th century were in fact dealing
with the most profound problems that affect
people.
I started my academic career as a political
scientist, while in so far as you’re any sort
of political scientist when you are an undergraduate.
I was not interested in it at all by my third
year because what I found was that, at least
at this time – and I don’t know how much it
has changed – the political scientists had
already decided that people were basically
motivated by economic concerns.
To me that was no use at all because I wanted
to know why they were motivated by economic
concerns.
It is easy to understand people in some sense
if you already decide what they value.
But if you can’t figure out what they value,
or what they should value, that is a whole
different issue – and that’s psychology.
It is a deep question because it isn’t even
obvious whether the question “are there things
you should value” is a reasonable question
or that it can be reasonably answered.
The thing I can tell you about that is most
closely allied with my own experience.
I do not mean personal experience, but say,
experience as a clinician, is that aimless
people are in real trouble.
Now I do not necessarily know why that is.
And I do not necessarily know what that means
for what your aim should be, but I have certainly
seen,
for example, if you had to make a choice which
all of you will in the next five years or
so between pursuing something diligently and
establishing a fixed identity because of that,
or remaining bereft of choice and drifting.
I can tell you that if you drift, by the time
you are 30, you are going to be one miserable
person.
Now I am not sure why that is exactly, and
I am not exactly sure that that necessarily
means that picking something and sticking
to it, which is a form of apprenticeship,
is better than drifting.
It depends what you mean by better.
But I can tell you that not catalyzing an
identity seems to be a mistake, and it is
a fatal mistake by the time you are 40.
It is very difficult to recover from it at
that point.
because you are not young anymore, at that
point.
If you try to catalyze an identity at that
time, which sometimes can happen, you are
competing with all these young shiny people,
who are fuller of potential from the perspective
of an employer, for example, then you are.
It gets pretty dismal.
Anyways, today we’re going to go deeper into
philosophical presuppositions than we have
in the past.
I want to familiarize you with what I think
are the great philosophical and psychological
movements of the 20th century because they
shape you and they shape the world you live
in, in ways that are incalculable.
If you do not understand them, you do not
really know where you are.
You do not know where you are in history and
you do not know what ideas you are possessed
by.
I think I told you when we were studying Jung,
that Jung said that – people do not have ideas,
that ideas have people – which I believe to
be true.
One of Jung’s lasting contributions in some
sense, was that you should know what ideas
possess you because otherwise you will not
know what the hell they are doing with you.
When you think about all the irrational and
apparently counterproductive things that people
do as individuals and also in a mass, you
have to ask yourself if you want to be caught
up in that sort of thing.
If you could be free from it, if you are caught
up in it, just exactly where is it that you
are headed.
Which was also something that Jung thought
you should figure out in case where you are
headed was not necessarily where you would
go if you were making a fully informed conscious
choice.
I think that material that we’re dealing within
the next two lectures, is the most relevant
of all the material were going to cover with
regards to the possession of people by ideas.
The existentialists, who are tightly aligned
philosophically with the phenomenologists,
basically emerged as a psychological movement
after World War II.There are reasons for this.
One of the reasons was that it was quite obvious,
not only that World War II was an ideological
battle fundamentally between Fascism and Western
democracy roughly speaking,
and it was immediately supplanted by another
ideological battle, which was the one between
communism and liberalism, roughly speaking.
The issue of ideological possession and the
relationship between the individual, who is
ideologically possessed, and their responsibility
and the actions of the state, became paramount
concerns in the 1950s, as they should have.
One of the lasting questions that remained
after World War II that still has been insufficiently
answered is,
when the mass goes insane, what is the culpability
of the individuals who compose the mass?
Now you can circumvent that question with
regards to what happened in Nazi Germany by
assuming that it was top-down coercion that
turned the mass of ordinary German citizens
into majority Nazis.
I do not think that there is any evidence
that those sorts of ideas are true.
There is research bearing on people’s willingness
to conform to authority figures.
You know the famous experiments on the prison
experiment.
For example, at Stanford, where undergraduates
were divided arbitrarily into guards and prisoners,
and then they ran a simulation of the prison,
and of course the guards turned into sadistic
psychopaths,
some of them did anyways.
The prisoners turned into cringing victims
in no time flat.
There is obviously an element there that demonstrates
that people are very responsive to situational
cues and that they can go out of hand very
rapidly.
But that does not necessarily mean that you
can use your tendency to be accommodating
to authority or the human tendency to be accommodating
to authority, as an explanation for the rise
of mass movements like Nazism or communism,
because the explanation does not really help.
Okay, some people in the mass were mere followers.
What about the leaders?
Well, maybe they were all followers’ right
up to Hitler, so it is Hitler’s fault.
It is all Hitler’s fault?
You are elevating the guy of the status of
a God at that point.
Now an evil God, but still, if he has got
all the motive power, you cannot separate
him from the idea of Lucifer.
He has become an archetypical figure of evil
at that point.
It’s the same with Stalin and Mao.
We know that they were very, very bad men.
There is no doubt about it.
But to localize all the evil in them and to
consider everyone else victimized followers,
is a convenient idea, but it is not helpful.
That just makes the followers pathetic for
a different reason.
They’re not actively self-engaged in cruelty
for their own purposes apart from conformity,
but they are just as pathetic and evil as
they would be if they were doing it on their
own volition.
I do not see the difference between a bully
and a bully’s henchmen.
In fact, I think the bully probably has more
courage than the henchmen.
It is courage of a fairly peculiar sort.
This is what the existentialists were concerned
about.
The locus of their concern was
basically Nietzsche.
You all know that the reason I concentrate
on Nietzsche and also on Dostoyevsky’s because
I think those two people summed up the 19th
century.
I really think that.
The problems that they laid out and predicted
would unfold in the 20th century, were the
problems that unfolded in the 20th century.
They got their predictions right and I think
they got their causality right too.
Given the inability of social scientists,
including psychologists, to predict large
term mass events, the fact that these two
people managed at 30 to 40 years before the
events unfolded and even longer that not seems
to me that it is pretty much worthwhile to
consider them psychologists.
Certainly Nietzsche thought that of himself.
And so did Dostoyevsky for that matter, and
they had immense influence on people like
Freud and Jung and Rogers, all the people
that we have been studying.
Their thinking is lying underneath every issue
we have discussed.
This is one of Nietzsche’s great statements.
Of what is great one must either be silent
or speak with greatness.
With greatness, that means cynically and with
innocence.
What I relate is the history of the next two
centuries.
I describe what is coming, what can no longer
come differently, the advent of nihilism.
Our whole European culture is moving from
some time now, with a tortured tension that
is growing from decade to decade, as toward
a catastrophe restlessly, violently, headlong,
like a river that wants to reach the end,
that no longer reflects.
It’s afraid to reflect.
He that speaks here has, conversely, done
nothing so far but to reflect as a philosopher
and solitary by instinct, who was found his
advantage in standing aside, outside.
Why has the advent of nihilism become necessary?
Because the values we have had hitherto thus
draw their final consequence.
Because nihilism represents the ultimate logical
extension of our great values and ideals.
Because we must experience nihilism before
we can find out what value these values really
had.
So one of Nietzsche’s claims, for example,
was that as Christianity in Europe transformed
itself into science, he felt that one of the
advantage to the Catholic domination of Europe
for so many centuries, was that the mind of
the Catholic adherents who took the discipline
seriously, or the dogma seriously, learned
to interpret all events under the under the
schema of a single theory.
He thought about that as a form of discipline.
Imagine that if I want to teach you how to
theorize, I might teach you a theory and have
you adopt it.
Nietzsche’s point would be that while you
know a theory, but it also means something
else.
It also means that now you know how to theorize
and the important consequence of learning
a theory may not be the theory.
It may be that you learn to theorize.
Nietzsche also pointed out that once you learn
to theorize, you can separate yourself from
the theory that gave rise to that knowledge.
And so you can start to theorize even about
the theory that you mastered, and he thought
that is what happened to Europe as a consequence
of its domination by Christianity, especially
because of Christianity’s essential insistence
on the utility of the truth.
He thought that was transformed after Catholicism,
into scientific investigation, but that the
Spirit of theorizing in truth, remained intact.
The consequence of that was that the European
mind was disciplined by a dogma.
That it freed itself from the dogma, that
it turned its power on the dogma, and noted
that the dogma itself, seemed to be grounded
in nothing that you could get a grip on.
The way you grip things with an empirical
mind.
And so it fell apart.
That’s not saying much more than science posed
a fatal challenge to religion, but it’s saying
it in a much more profound and interesting
way.
It also explains why he makes this claim,
that nihilism is the logical conclusion of
the great values and ideals.
He did not think about nihilism as a counter
proposition, say to dogmatic Christianity.
He thought about it as the logical outcome
of that.
Is that relevant?
Why is that relevant?
Well think it’s relevant for a lot of reasons.
The first observation might be that a tremendous
amount of mental illness, this is an existential
claim, is grounded in nihilism.
When someone who is depressed, comes to see
you, what they often say is, I cannot see
any point in life.
That isn’t what they mean.
What they mean is, they see the meaning of
life as suffering, which is a meaning, right?
And that is not bearable.
And then the question is, why bother with
it?
And that is the fundamental question of suicide.
It is a philosophical question.
I think it was Camus who said, the only real
philosophical question was whether or not
to commit suicide.
Now you know, that is a little dark, coming
like well maybe Camus could use some SSRI’s,
but you get the point.
And it is inappropriate, in my estimation,
to even discuss depression with someone who
is depressed, especially if they are intelligent
and open, and therefore more tilted towards
philosophical wanderings without actually
addressing the issue.
Why live in the face of suffering?
Okay, so that is one problem.To the degree
that you will find it difficult in your life
to build anything solid under your feet that
you can stand on and believe, have faith in,
let’s say, you are going to be adrift.
The reason for that is a lot of the things
are going to have to do will be difficult
and they will involve suffering, which is
also an existential claim.
So, the existentialist for example, they do
not make the same claim Freud does.
Freud claims that, in some sense that the
normal person is mentally healthy apart from
the mild distress of normal life, and in order
to be psychopathological, you have to have
been hurt,
maybe multiple times or, there are other things
that could contribute to that the existentialist
would say no, no, let us just wait a minute
here.
Maybe the fundamental condition of human beings
is nihilism and suffering, and that something
has to be produced to counter that in order
for life to be tolerable.
Well, I think that is a perfectly reasonable
proposition.
It’s a strange proposition because I have
seen in my lifetime, people who are tormented
by existential ideas who cannot get them out
of their mind.
You know, ideas that relate to the meaning
of life, other people and concern about death,
for example, and the extinguishing of everything
that seems to have any value.
It is a primary concern with them.
I have seen other people for whom those questions
never seem to arise.
Now, I think those people are conservative
people, not very open and probably rather
low with neuroticism.
They are not philosophically curious.
They do not go up chains of abstractions.
Even if they do, they do not necessarily get
disturbed in the most profound areas of their
being by the questioning.
That still leaves plenty of people in the
other category.
Nihilism and atheism are closely related.
They are not identical by any stretch of the
imagination.
Although I think it is difficult for atheism
to describe why it is not essentially nihilistic.
That is Dostoyevsky’s big criticism.
Dostoyevsky’s claim was that without any fundamental
value assumed, then there is no reason why
you cannot do anything you want.
And that is his famous line.
“If there is no God, then everything is permitted”.
All of Dostoyevsky’s novel writing is an exploration
of that idea.
Sometimes it is an exploration of what that
idea might mean if it was acted out in the
life of the given individual, Crime and Punishment.
Another would be, in his book, The Devils
or The Possessed.
It is an examination of what that idea means
if it is gripped by an individual who has
social and political ambitions.
That is when Dostoyevsky basically prophesied,
so to speak, that one of the consequences
of the death of God would be the rise, basically,
of Communist of totalitarianism because essentially,
that is what he predicted in The Devils.
It is pretty dead on accurate prediction.
It was really quite stunning to me when I
came across it.
Nietzsche made exactly the same prediction,
by the way.
For those two men, the death of an ultimate
meaning system, especially one that you see
when you think about something like European
Christianity at its misleading, in some sense,
because the system of beliefs that that constituted
European Christianity and other great belief
systems wasn’t 2000 years old.
It was 25,000 years old.
You know you can think about it as beginning
at year zero but it is a mistake from a historical
perspective.
The ideas that profound religious traditions
are predicated on are generally grounded in
ideas that are much older than the traditions
themselves.
In some sense when at the end of the 19th
century when things fell apart for us and
we can no longer rely on our history predicated
morality to guide us.
It wasn’t merely that we lost an overlay,
a psychological overlay that it be laid on
humanity for 2000 years.
It was way deeper than that.
We do not even know how old those how will
those ideas are.
We know we have some idea about how old they
are there.
They are at least as old as written culture.
But we also know that the people who have
been brought into the main streams of history,
you know, as the world has united people who
were not literate had mythologies that drew
from the same themes.
Some of those people, as far as we can tell,
had lived a lifestyle that was essentially
unchanged for 25,000 years.
Australian aborigines are like that.
There is plenty of evidence that these ideas
are extraordinarily old.
What that means is, when we separate from
them in some sense, not only do we separate
from our philosophical presuppositions, but
we separate from the historical consequences
of our biology.
It is a serious problem.
I think that is partly why it is very difficult
to distinguish between someone who is nihilistic
and someone who is mentally ill.
It is not a radical claim.
People, especially those on the depressed
side of the distribution, will tell you that
they are nihilistic.
They may not use that terminology, although
they often do.
I just cannot see any point, what why does
that matter or why does it matter.
It seems to be a fact that it matters.
It is an interesting fact, that is a phenomenological
fact in some sense, because one of the things
that Heidegger pointed out, he was a founder
of the phenomenological school, was that your
primary orientation to the world, he thinks
in a strange way, that your primary orientation
to the world was one of care.
You could say, what characterizes your experience?
What sort of creature are you?
Heidegger’s answer would be, you are a creature
who cares about things, in so far as your
engaged in the world, your primary orientation
is one of care.
You can think about that as a value.
It is a consequence of your value orientation.
God only knows where that comes from.
Part of it is biological, part of it is developmental,
part of it is historical.
It is very, very complex.
But if you stop caring about everything, you
are in trouble.
That is one of the things that seems to indicate
that caring is actually a fundamental reality.
You stop caring about things, you do not stop
suffering.
It seems that unless the caring counterbalances
the suffering, you cannot maintain an even
keel.
That is partly because it does not seem just.
When terrible things happen to people, they
always say two things.
How it is that being could be constituted
in this manner?
What the hell’s going on at the fundamental
levels of reality, that such suffering has
to be the case?
You will certainly ask that if you have a
child was diagnosed with cancer, for example.
Or you might think, why is this cruelty as
it appears necessarily aimed at me right now
in this place, when hypothetically it could
have not happened at all, or perhaps been
visited on someone more deserving.
Which is the good remain the good are punished
and the evil remain unpunished something like
that.
For human beings that produces a
cry for justice.
How can the world be constituted that way?
That seems to be built into us.
Those aren’t questions we can just avoid.
They’re questions that will arise in your
psyche.
They will arise as fundamental questions when
sufficiently terrible things happen to you.
So the existentialists would say, those are
conditions of existence, you are just stuck
with that.
It’s part of human nature.
It’s part of human being to be perplexed by
those questions.
Then the question is, at least in part, is
there any way of answering them?
Nietzsche said, we required some time, new
values.
Nihilism stands at the door.
Whence comes this uncanniest of all guests?
Point of departure.
It is an error to consider social distress
or physiological degeneration or corruption
of all things as the cause of nihilism.
Now that is a typical Nietzschian phrase because
there are three profound ideas in that sentence.
Each one is in a different phrase.
Nietzsche said at one point, I can write in
a sentence what other people write in a book.
Then he said, what other people cannot even
write in a book.
This sentence is a good example of that.
So what is he say? if you see that people
are suffering and in trouble, one thing you
can say that is that the reason for that is
that the economic system is unjust and they
are layered along the bottom and that is the
fundamental cause of their suffering.
But Nietzsche does not allow that to be a
causal interpretation because he says there
are multiple ways of interpreting your position.
Near absence of material luxury does not necessarily
destine you to one perspective or another.
physiological degeneration.
People are unhappy or suffering because they
are ill in some manner.
You could make that a matter of definition
by saying, that if you’re suffering or unhappy,
you are ill.
But that is not a causal argument.
It is just a different way of categorizing
the data.
Nietzche would reject that because he would
also note that there is some correlation between
physiological health and meaning in life.
But the correlation does not imply causality.
Even if it did, the relationship is by no
means perfect to the degree that you would
want a relationship to be before you accepted
it as relevant.
Or corruption of all things, that would be
the idea that being itself is evil, like an
evil trick, which is what Tolstoy said, by
the way, when he wrote his confessions.
Tolstoy, at the height of his intellectual
power, he was the most famous novelist in
the world and unbelievably well regarded well
throughout the world, but particularly in
Russia.
He was a very socially benevolent man and
well regarded for his wisdom.
For years he was afraid to go outside with
a rope or a gun because he thought he would
either hang or shoot himself.
The reason for that was that he had been struck
by the idea that life is so unbearable, that
it should be eradicated.
He could not think his way out of that.
it was a form of thought that was actually
very characteristic of intellectuals in Russia
during his time and in his place.
Dostoyevsky wrote about exactly the same sorts
of things.
Even Tolstoy noticed that merely observing
that the world was a corrupt and evil place
was not necessarily enough to tilt people
towards nihilism because there seem to be
people who weren’t nihilistic despite the
fact that that seem self-evident to him.
Tolstoy actually turned to the Russian people,
you know what he was very entranced by the
idea of the folk and folk wisdom, and he turned
to the Russian people as a source of new inspiration
like the peasantry.
Tolstoy actually fought for the freedom of
the peasantry and he felt that their simple
faith, so to speak, was something truly admirable
rather than something pathetic and weak from
an intellectual perspective.
He strove to emulate that criticism-less faith.
But of course he could not do it because once
you taking a bite out of apple, there is no
going back, so to speak.
Nietzsche says, distress, whether psychic,
physical or intellectual, need not at all
produce nihilism.
That is, the radical rejection of value, meaning
and desirability.
Such distress always permits a variety of
interpretations.
Rather, it is one particular interpretation,
the Christian moral one, that nihilism is
rooted.
The end of Christianity, at the hands of its
own morality, which cannot be replaced.
Which turns against the Christian God.
The sense of truthfulness, highly developed
by Christianity is nauseated by the falseness
and mendaciousness of all Christian interpretations
of the world and of history.
It is a rebound from God is the truth to the
equally fanatical faith.
All is false.
An act of Buddhism.
Scepticism regarding morality is what is decisive.
The end of the moral interpretation of the
world, which no longer has any sanction after
it’s tried to escape into some beyond, leads
to nihilism.
All lacks meaning.
That is rooted in Nietzsche’s criticism of
Christianity because he believed that Christianity
was exceptionally morally flawed because all
it offered its followers was the possibility
of salvation and redemption from their suffering
after they were dead.
It was projected into some other world.
As far as Nietzsche was concerned, alleviated
people of their local responsibility to try
to improve things here and now
and Jung’s comments about that were essentially,
that it was the proto-scientists recognition
of the fact that the spiritual salvation that
Christianity promised was no longer sufficient,
that motivated the development of science.
So, for the early Christians this is part
of the tension between Christianity and science.
For the early Christians, the idea was that
the earth in some sense was ineradicably corrupt.
That all you can hope for in your earthly
life was suffering and that you should accept
your suffering and hope for salvation in the
future after you’re dead.
Obviously that philosophy appeared insufficient
for people.
In Jung’s hypothesis about the development
of science was that a counter fantasy developed
in the unconscious of the Europeans which
was that
the material realm, which had been defined
as evil, and therefore not worthy of any study
or any pursuit whatsoever actually held the
seeds of the redemption that was lacking.
That was Jung’s commentary on the idea of
the philosopher’s stone because the alchemists,
who were proto-scientists, were trying to
find a material substance that would be the
philosopher’s stone that would offer its holders
wealth, health and eternal life.
Why are we pursuing science?
Well, hopefully, because we think it will
do us some good here and now, in our bodies.
Jung regarded science itself as stemming from
that compensatory dream, brilliant idea.
It is actually the only idea I have ever read
that seems to do a reasonable psychological
account for the emergence of science as a
discipline.
It is a very strange practice.
You have to narrow your interests tremendously
to be a scientist.
You have to focus on one set of phenomena
that might appear as useless to contemplate
as how many angels can dance on the head of
a pin.
You have to devote decades to the study of
that thing to make incremental progress.
Why in the world would people ever be motivated
to do that?
Jung’s interpretation was, there was a deep
counter movement towards the over spiritualisation
of the psyche and that was the revaluation
of matter and its possibilities.
While Nietzsche believed that Christianity
as it stood, at the end of the 1800s, was
an untenable philosophy because he thought
it had abandoned its moral obligations by
escaping into some beyond, and therefore damned
life as it was actually lived by human beings.
He felt that the demise was a good thing.
He points out one other thing.
This is the difference between having a theory
and then learning to theorize.
He says look, if you have been raised in the
tradition, whatever that tradition happens
to be, you have a belief system, whatever
that belief system happens to be, and it falls
apart on you, at any one point
you suffer for two reasons.
The first is, your belief system fell apart
and that is not a good thing.
It leaves everything unfixed and open, and
you drown in possibility, in a sense.
That is a Kierkegaard phrase.
But the second consequence is even worse.
Once you’ve learned that one belief system
that is solid could be demolished and fall
apart, then it’s very difficult ever again
to have any faith in any belief systems whatsoever.
Not only do you become a doubter of your own
creed, you become a Meta doubter, which is
the doubter of all belief systems.
The step from that to nihilism, maybe those
are exactly the same thing.
You could think about that in some sense as
the disease of the critical rational mind.
It can saw off any branch that it is sitting
on.
And you know the utility of that is?
Leave no stone unturned, right?
You are supposed to question things.
The utility of that is, you learn new things.
But the price you pay for it, is that you
are not necessarily ever certain about anything.
You could say, maybe you shouldn’t be certain
about anything but you can forget that.
You are going to have to act as if you are
certain many times in your life.
When you choose a permanent mate, for example,
if you do that which you probably will, because
you’re university educated and university
educated people still do that.
Although no one else does.
So, you are going to pick a career and you
are going to make decisions, one after the
other about which, if you are not certain,
you cannot make.
In which case you have no life.
You are just a whirlwind of chaos, so you
are stuck with the necessity of following
a course of action, which is acted out certainty
that your intellect cannot regard as appropriate.
And that is hard on people.
Why should I choose this instead of this?
Why should I act this way instead of that
way?
I do not know is not a very useful answer
when you are a creature that is cognitively
able, as we are.
This is something absolutely brilliant.
It is very difficult for me to believe that
it was written so long ago.
So this is Dostoyevsky’s criticism of communism
forty years before communism was a political
force.
Dostoyevsky’s thinking really hard about this
nihilism problem.
By the way, Nietzsche read Dostoyevsky quite
extensively.
He is thinking about it.
He thinks well, there seems to be two alternatives.
One is this superhuman nihilism, which is
sort of a variant of what Nietzsche proposed,
because Nietzsche proposed that
it would become the responsibility of every
human being after the death of their religious
tradition, to establish their own values.
He did not think people could do it.
He thought there’d have to be a new kind of
person who could manage it, because you know,
he is basically asking you to generate a coherent
and pragmatically applicable philosophical
structure, out of nothing, during your lifetime.
Good luck with that.
You know, plus, he assumed that people create
values or that they could create values.
That is true to some degree.
We’ll talk about this more when we get into
the phenomenological end of things.
But it is not self-evident, right?
Because one of the things you may notice is
that you cannot force yourself to love someone,
right?
But you cannot just decide to value someone
and then, poof, that happens.
In fact, you may want with all your heart,
or at least with all your mind, to value someone
because they deserve it.
They had never mistreated you.
Maybe you’ve said you would be loyal to them,
and poof, someone comes along and you’re tremendously
attracted to them and off you go, like someone
who is possessed.
Well, did you create that value?
And then, closer to your own experience, can
you actually make yourself interested in something
you are bored about?
Good luck trying that, you know.
You’d rather clean up underneath your bed
than read a paper you do not want to read.
You cannot just tell yourself, well, I need
to read this paper for the following reasons,
and proof, it becomes interesting.
No no, your value systems, whatever they happen
to be, are off doing their own thing.
The reason for that, in large part, is because
they’re possessed by ideas that you do not
know about,
that have these historical roots and that
play you in some sense, like they play puppets
and the stuff is no joke.
Okay so this is what Dostoyevsky said, way
back in the late 1800s.
This was in a book called “Notes from Underground”,
and it is about a man who is like Hamlet.
In some sense, he is a modern man.
He’s a 20th century man really and his problem
is, he is hyper- intelligent and he cannot
figure out what the hell he should do with
his life.
And it is really bothering him
and it is worse than that, because not only
is it really bothering him, that he cannot
get his act together, and act with any degree
of consistency in character,
but he knows, that he cannot do that.
And he tortures himself about his weakness
at the same time.
So he is a very neurotic character.
But he is a sophisticated and intelligent
neurotic.
And so he has run through all the arguments
that you might conjure up, to sort of, talk
yourself out of being neurotic and suffering.
He has nothing but contempt for his own character.
He thinks he is much weaker than people, who
can just act without thinking.
And he’s in this pit, this horrible pit.
And it is a wonderful thing to read.
It is quite blackly comical and it is a great
philosophical and psychological study.
Anyways, in one of the sections of this book,
Dostoyevsky’s protagonist, starts to talk
about alternatives to his nihilistic hopelessness.
and he thinks about utopianism as a potential
alternative.
So what is utopianism?
Well, in some sense, medieval Christianity
promised people redemption after they died.
While a utopian creed does the same thing,
except it promises it, here and now.
Communism was a particular utopian creed and
fascism had the same element.
Although it was, I do not know how to describe,
it was less intellectually sophisticated than
communism.
Communists basically said look, if you guys
just stop being selfish and share, we can
transform the world into a place where everyone
will have enough of everything, and everyone
will be able to do what they want to do.
And because of the natural goodness of people,
if selfishness can be overcome, that will
be the next best thing to a paradise.
It was a powerful idea for people, you know?
80 years of our history was spent assessing
and battling out the validity of that idea.
Hundreds of millions of people died as a consequence
of it.
And you can understand why it was so attractive.
I mean, still utopian ideologies are attractive
to people and it is hard to read radical Islam
as anything other than a utopian ideology.
You know, the idea is, once you establish
rigid sharia, then poof, you know, you got
the kingdom of God on earth.
And part of the reason that the radical Muslims
are fighting against the West, is because
they see what they are doing as a counter
position to Western nihilism.
And is partly because they do not want to
fall into that, you know.
We would say well that is progress.
Yeah, it is progress, by our standards, and
it comes at a price.
and also we do not even understand how it
was that we paid the price.
So the reason I am telling you this, is because,
you do not be thinking, for any time at all,
that these sorts of issues have disappeared
or that they are not relevant.
They’re relevant.
Now the guy who is advising Putin.
His name is Alexander Dugan and he is no admirer
of Western liberalism.
He thinks about it as fundamentally nihilistic.
He thinks that its universal application would
result in the dissolution of all local culture
and the production of this sort of materialistic
hyper- individuality.
He’s an admirer of tradition.
And you know, specifically Russian Orthodox
tradition.
And he believes that the cultures, India,
Russia and China in particular, should develop
their own local cultures, keep the West the
hell out, and act as a counter position to
nihilistic liberalism.
Now you know, you can say what you want about
that.
I think Dugan’s biggest problem is that, you
know, he does not want that the diverse ideas
that characterize the West to bump up against
Russia and dissolve it.
But what he fails to understand is those same
ideas are going to emerge within Russia, anyways
and if you know, if you want to keep them
away outside, you have to keep them away inside
and the Soviets already tried that for 70
years with pretty dire results.
So I don’t think he can get around the problem
merely by putting up walls, but he is going
to try.
And that is what Putin is doing.
So these ideas haven’t disappeared at all.
They underlie all of the great conflicts that
characterize the modern age.
Dostoyevsky criticized utopianism and it its
brilliant, his formulation, so I am going
to read it to you.
In short, one may say anything about the history
of the world.
Anything that might enter the most disordered
imagination.
The only thing one can say is that it is rational.
The very word sticks in one’s throat, and
indeed, this is the odd thing that is continually
happening.
They’re continually turning up in life, moral
and rational persons, sages and lovers of
humanity, who make it their object to live
all their lives as morally and rationally
as possible.
To be, so to speak, alike to their neighbours,
simply in order to show them that it is possible
to live morally and rationally in this world.
And yet we all know that these very people,
soon or later, have been false to themselves
playing some queer trick, often a most unseemly
one.
Now I ask you: what can be expected of man
since he is a being endowed with such strange
qualities?
Shower upon him every earthly blessing.
Drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing
but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface.
Give him economic prosperity, such that he
should have nothing else to do but sleep,
eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation
of his species.
And even then out of sheer ingratitude, sheer
spite, man would play you some nasty trick.
He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately
desire the most fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical
absurdity, simply to introduce into all this
positive good sense, his fatal fantastic element.
It is just his fantastic dreams, his vulgar
folly that he will desire to retain, simply
in order to prove to himself, as though that
were so necessary,
that men still are men, and not the keys of
a piano, which the laws of nature threaten
to control completely, so completely, that
one will be able to desire nothing but by
the calendar.
Clearly that is Dostoyevsky’s criticism of
materialistic determinism, which he felt as
a spiritual threat fundamentally, its proposition
being that animals and human beings were deterministic
machines.
It is a Newtonian worldview and because of
that, everything could be calculated and planned
ahead of time, because it could be predicted
and measured, and that is not all.
Even if man really were nothing but a piano
key, even if this were proved to him by natural
science and mathematics, even then he would
not become reasonable, but would purposely
do something perverse out of simple ingratitude,
simply to gain his point.
And if he does not find means, he will contrive
destruction and chaos, sufferings of all sorts,
only to gain his point.
He will launch a curse upon the world, and
as only man can curse, it is his privilege,
and the primary distinction between him and
other animals, maybe by his curse alone he
will attain his object and convince himself
that he is a man and not a piano key.
If you say that all this, too, can be calculated
and tabulated, chaos and darkness and curses,
so that the mere possibility of calculating
it all beforehand would stop it all, and reason
would reassert itself, then man would purposely
go mad in order to be rid of reason and gain
his point.
I believe in it, I answer for it.
For the whole work of man really seems to
consist in nothing but proving to himself
every minute that he is a man and not a piano
key.
It may be at the cost of his skin.
It might be by cannibalism.
And this being so, can one help being tempted
to rejoice that it has not yet come off, and
that desire still depends on something we
don’t know?
You will scream at me, that is, if you condescend
to do so.
That no one is touching my free will, that
all they’re concerned with is that my will
should of, should of itself, of its own free
will, coincide with my own normal interests,
with the laws of nature, and arithmetic.
Good heavens gentleman, what sort of free
will is left when we come to tabulation and
arithmetic.
When it will all be a case of twice two makes
four.
Twice two makes four without my will.
As if free will meant that.
So what’s his point?
It’s sort of a Garden of Eden point, you know?
What are people like?
Imagine you can reconstruct a paradise on
earth?
You know?
Hypothetically that’s what everyone wants.
We can go live in a paradise, and that would
be the end of the problem.
We’d all live happily ever after.
But in the original paradise story, that’s
what people were provided with.
And the first thing they did when they were
put there, was to do the one thing that they
were told not to do, that would bring it all
crashing down.
And that was immediately what they did.
And so Dostoyevsky’s stories are actually
a retelling of that idea.
The idea was that people aren’t like the utopians
think.
We don’t want it easy.
We don’t want it comfortable.
We don’t want it good.
And the reason for that is, we’d be bored
stiff.
And so that if anybody ever did put us in
the kind of nursery, that would require us
never to exert any effort to do anything at
all whatsoever ever again, even if it meant
going insane, we’d destroy it.
And then he takes that further, he says, and
that is a good thing.
Kierkegaard writing earlier, about 40 years
earlier, said something quite similar.
It is now about four years ago that I got
the notion of wanting to try my luck as an
author I remember quite clearly, it was on
a Sunday.
Yes, that is it, a Sunday afternoon.
I was seated as usual, out-of-doors at the
caf� in the Fredericksburg garden.
I had been a student for half a score of years.
Although never lazy, all my activity, nevertheless
was like a glittering inactivity, a kind of
occupation for which I still have great partiality
and for which, perhaps, I even have a little
genius.
I read much, spent the remainder of the day
idling and thinking, or thinking and idling,
but that was all it came to.
So there I sat and smoked my cigar until I
lapsed into thought.
Among other thoughts I remember these.
You are going on, I said to myself, to become
an old man without being anything and really
without undertaking to do anything.
On the other hand, wherever you look about
you in literature and in life, you see the
celebrated names and figures, the precious
and much heralded men, who were coming into
prominence and are much talked about.
the many benefactors of the age who know how
to benefit mankind by making life easier and
easier.
Some by railways, others by omnibuses and
steamboats others by the telegraph, others
quite easily apprehended compendiums and short
recitals of everything worth knowing.
Finally, the true benefactors of the age make
spiritual existence in virtue of thought easier
and easier yet more and more significant.
And what are you doing?
Here my soliloquy was interrupted for my cigar
was smoked out and a new one had to be lit.
So I smoked again, and then suddenly this
thought flashed through my mind.
You must do something, but inasmuch as with
your limited capacities will be impossible
to make anything easier than it has become.
You must, with the same humanitarian enthusiasm
as the others, undertake to make something
harder.
This notion pleased me immensely and at the
same time, it flattered me to think that I,
like the rest of them, would be loved and
esteemed by the whole community.
For when all combine in every way to make
everything easier, there remains only one
possible danger.
Namely, that the ease become so great, that
it becomes altogether too great.
Then there is only one want left, though it
is not yet felt want.
When people will want difficulty.
Out of love for mankind and out of despair
at my embarrassing situation, seeing that
I had accomplished nothing,
and was unable to make anything easier than
it already been made, and moved by a genuine
interest in those who make everything easy,
I conceived it as my task to create difficulties,
everywhere.
Now, one of the things you might ask yourself
is, sometimes you come to University and people
talk about happiness.
For example, they talk about positive psychology.
I am not a fan of positive psychology, by
the way.
Because happiness is basically extraversion
minus neuroticism and we knew that 15 years
ago.
So we didn’t need to make a lot of noise about
it.
So anyways, one of the things you might ask
yourself is, well, why did you come to University?
Did you actually come to University to make
yourself happier?
Well, let’s think about that for a minute.
Here’s one thing to think about?
We know that if you put animals in a relatively
boring situation, like rats, in a boring situation
and you give them free access to cocaine,
they’ll just take cocaine until they are dead
basically.
Now rats in a normal environment won’t do
that, but bored rats that are sort of isolated,
cocaine is really an excellent thing, as far
as they are concerned.
They’ll ignore sex, they’ll ignore food.
I think they’ll still drink water, if I remember
correctly.
But it is cocaine all the way.
And if you could inject an electrode into
their minds, their brains, which people have
done, you can inject the electrode down into
the hypothalamus, into the part that is associated
with the reward centres.
It is the source of the dopaminergic tract
and you can set them up so that if the rat
pushes a button, they get a jolt of happiness,
basically, and the rat will sit there and
push that happiness button in a rather frantic
way, as if it is looking for something else,
in some sense.
But it will certainly do it, because it is
a peculiar kind of reward.
Now the question might be, would you allow
yourself to be wired up like that?
Now you might think there might be some times
in your life where you think that might just
be perfectly fine idea, but most of you, I
suppose, I presume, wouldn’t do that for second,
for the same reasons, perhaps, that you do
not avail yourself of unlimited access to
cocaine.
Which is a stimulant that is very good at
producing positive emotion.
It is a powerful psychomotor stimulant and
so it affects the parts of your brain that
are active when you are doing something that
you think is worthwhile and productive.
So why not just do that all the time?
That is the question that Aldous Huxley asked
in Brave New World.
You’ve got everything you want, take a drug
to keep you calm and happy, poof; perfect.
Well, is that what you want?
And if answer is no, then you might ask yourself,
what the hell do you want?
You know, one of the things I thought a lot
about lately is, lately being 10 years, I
suppose is
there are these statues that I’ve seen.
I’ve looked at pictures of them online.
There are statues of Atlas, and you know Atlas,
he’s this God who has the world on his shoulders.
And that is his destiny or his curse, to have
the world on his shoulders.
And he might say, well, you know, poor Atlas.
Maybe he should just put the damn world down
and you know, go out for a beer or something.
But then you might also think, well what is
that figure trying to, what is that that idea
trying to indicate cause it’s an old idea.
It is a profound idea.
There’s something divine about a figure with
the world on its shoulders.
Well, I might say that’s the reason you are
in University whether you know it or not.
You are here to take the world on your shoulders,
because that is a sufficiently profound and
worthwhile exercise, so that all the suffering
that you are going to have, might be regarded
as worthwhile.
Because the value of what you are doing is
so high, because that is something you might
ask, is there something that you could do,
whose value is so high, that the fact,
for the existentialists, it’s a fact, that
you’re mortal and vulnerable and prone to
suffering, inescapably.
That you would find that not only acceptable,
but desirable.
You might say that you would pay that price.
You might say that is the existential question.
And one of the things it is very interesting
about that question.
I am going to talk about this a lot next class.
What happens if you make the opposite choice?
I think the 20th century actually showed us
what happened when people made the opposite
choice.
Because as far as I can tell, when people
abandon their Divine responsibility, let us
say, to the utopian claims of a totalitarian
state, or to hopeless nihilism,
the consequence on the one hand, with nihilism
was despair and illness, and the consequence
on the totalitarian end of things, the utopian
end was that you might not die, but you are
certainly going to have a hand in making sure
that a lot of other people do.
And so, to some degree it depends on what
you want for proof with regards to what you
should do.
Now, the conclusion I have drawn from all
this, from reading the existentialist is that,
if it is the pointless suffering of humanity
and the inability to extract meaning from
that, that makes you a nihilist and that justifies
it, let us say.
You are making a claim right?
The claim is, the implicit claim is, that
suffering is bad and should be halted.
It is something like that.
And so maybe you will do that by becoming
suicidal or maybe you do that by becoming
ultimately genocidal, which is also an option
that’s open to more than a few people.
But there is a logical inconsistency in that
as far as I can tell which is that your initial
presupposition is that the suffering is actually
bad.
It should be mitigated.
That should be it should be reduced.
It should perhaps even be eliminated.
If you pick up the cloak of nihilism, or maybe
you pick up the cloak of ideological totalitarianism,
then we know what the consequence of that
is.
The consequence is that everything that is
already really bad, becomes so much worse,
that it is almost unimaginable.
And so, even by the standards of the nihilist,
who says that the suffering of being should
result in its elimination.
The consequences of thinking that way, or
flipping to the other side and adopting some
sort of defensive ideology is that, things
go from being, you know, merely the sort of
bad state of the earth as it is now,
to something as hellish as the Soviet gulags,
or the Russian concentration camps or Mao’s
great experiment in the cultural Revolution,
which probably killed 100 million people.
You know, about which we generally hear nothing.
Now you know one of the things the existentialist
would say is, what is the relationship between
mental health and responsibility?
Now that’s a good question because it also
has to do with something like the definition
of mental health and responsibility.
It is like, if you want your life to be well
constituted, let us say, whatever that means.
And it does not mean being happy.
The reason it can’t mean being happy is there’s
going to be times in your life or you’re to
be called on to act, when you are not happy.
So, for example, when one of your parents
dies, you’re going to make a choice.
You are not going to be happy.
Hopefully, you won’t be.
Otherwise you are tangled in some sort of
Freudian nightmare.
But let us assume that that is not the case.
You are not going to be happy about it.
You’re going to be hurt and maybe even partly
broken.
So what the hell you supposed to do, then?
Well the answer is, you should be more use
than trouble.
Under some such circumstances, that’s a good
thing to strive for, you know?
Because your mother would be, if it is your
father.
And your mother’s to be equally distraught
and so are your siblings and everyone else
you care for.
Maybe by that time, you should be tough enough
so that in that situation, you are good for
something.
Someone has to make the damn funeral arrangements.
Someone has to settle out the will.
Someone has to make sure the family does not
degenerate into horrific squabbling, which
is something that often happens after the
death of a parent.
And you are not going to be motivated to do
that by happiness.
And what if you have a sick child, when you
are a parent.
Maybe it is a chronic illness.
You are not going to be happy about that.
You know it will be a weight that you carry
with you all the time and it is one of those
things.
It seems particularly unjust.
Then, you are no longer happy.
If being happy is the purpose of life, then
you are basically, that is pretty much it
for you.
And you know these catastrophes that I am
speaking of.
You can be certain that you are going to be
exposed to many of those during your life.
You know.
It will be a rare period, I think it is rare,
in anyone’s life where one or more of such
things is not going on chronically.
It is not you, with some terrible health problem,
or some other terrible problem, then it is
a parent or a sibling or a child.
Because you know, you are connected to other
people and their vulnerable to so that is
the law of human beings.
And so if it is happiness and this is what
Solzhenitsyn said about happiness too.
He said happiness is a philosophy, who’s brought
to ruin by the first blow of a guard’s truncheon.
Like yeah, that is about as bluntly as you
can put it.
Here is another, I have time to read both
of these.
I think this is from Kierkegaard as well.
Kierkegaard, by the way, was really the first
thinker who identified what we would describe
in modern terms as anxiety, especially as
existential anxiety or angst.
And it would be associated with the condition
of questioning the nature of existence, the
utility of existence, and so Kierkegaard was
really the first person who formalized that
into something resembling a philosophy or
a psychology
and that he was trying to think about how
that might be overcome.
Given that it seemed to be rooted in fact,
the factual observation.
That is the observation of suffering
and this is a corollary to Dostoyevsky’s comments
even though Kierkegaard’s comments were written
decades earlier.
Dostoyevsky’s critique basically said, you
cannot solve the problem of suffering by formalizing
a utopia and then enjoining it like a mass
animal.
You cannot do that because you are not that
kind of creature.
Even if it was possible, you would not accept
it, you cause trouble because you are interested
in trouble.
You are probably more interested in trouble
than you are at being happy.
So I mean, you know people like that.
That is another marker of serious personality
disorder, right?
I have clients, have many of them, who are
way more interested in causing trouble in
some dramatic way than they are in being boring
and stable.
They will take any form of suffering and inflict
any form of suffering on any number of people
they can possibly get their hooks into in
order merely to escape, you know, drab and
secure normality.
You know, you call those people dramatic,
overly dramatic.
That is one way of looking at it.
And they make, as far as I can tell, a relatively
conscious choice.
Trouble is more interesting than safety.
Kierkegaard says something similar.
But in
a manner that is more constructive, in some
sense, with regards to what you should do
with all that insane energy that you are not
going to be able to encapsulate inside a utopia.
And it has to do with individual responsibility.
There is a view of life, which conceives that
where the crowd is, there is also the truth.
And then, in truth itself, there is need of
having the crowd on its side.
I was on a panel at one point about.
I think we were discussing gender differences
between, obviously between men and women and
there are lots of people.
The social constructionists, in particular,
who think that all the differences; there
is biological sex and then there is gender
and gender is socially constructed and that
all gender differences are socially constructed.
And there is no biological differences in
gender between the two sexes.
Now, virtually no evidence supports that proposition.
If you look at the hard-core psychological
evidence, in fact, it is completely the opposite.
And not only that, as you make societies more
egalitarian, men and women get more different,
instead of more the same.
Now the reason that happens is because, once
you iron out the environmental variability,
by equalizing everything, all that is left
is genetic variability.
So it springs to the forefront.
And so the biggest gender differences in the
world are between men and women in Scandinavia.
and those are partly personality differences.
Women are higher in negative emotion and more
agreeable, among other things, but more particularly,
the differences seem to be those of interest.
So the biggest differences between men and
women seem to be, what they are interested
in. and roughly speaking, women are more interested
in people and roughly speaking, men are more
interested in things.
And so in Scandinavia, for example, you have
20 to 1 proportion of women to men in nursing,
and a 20 to 1 proportion of men to women in
engineering.
And so, you know, the Scandinavia governments,
now and then, try to move that, so there are
more male nurses and more female engineers.
And if they really push, they can move the
ratios somewhat, for a few years.
But as they relax, they snap right back to
20 to 1.
So anyways, I was sighting some of these studies,
and one of the people that I was discussing
said, what are we supposed to do with that?
And I said, I do not know what you mean.
Those are scientific findings.
He said that, yeah, truth has to be established
by consensus.
And I thought I do not want to live in whatever
world you are going to end up ruling, because
truth is not merely established by consensus.
or if you think it does.
If you think it is, then while you are in
a position that Kierkegaard describes, which
is that, as long as everyone else believes
it, then the appropriate thing is for you
to believe it, and also that is the truth.
Like, it is a pretty damn dismal philosophy
and it gets people into tremendous trouble
because no matter how many people think there
isn’t a wall there, anyone who runs at it
head first, is in for a vicious surprise.
There is a view of life, which conceives that
where the crowd is, there is also the truth
and in that truth, is in truth itself.
There is need of having a crowd on its side.
There is a view of life, which conceives that
wherever there is a crowd there is untruth.
So that to consider for a moment, the extreme
case.
Even if every individual, each for himself
in private, were to be in possession of the
truth.
Yet, in case they are all to get together
in a crowd, a crowd to which any sort of decisive
significance is attributed; avoiding, voting,
noisy, audible crowd, untruth would immediately
be in evidence.
For a crowd is the untruth.
In a godly sense, it is true, eternally, christianly,
as St. Paul says that only one attains the
goal.
Which is not meant in a comparative sense.
For comparison takes others into account.
It means that every individual can be that
one.
God helping them therein, but only one attains
the goal.
And again, this means that every man should
be careful about having to do with the others.
And essentially should only talk with God
himself.
For o
nly one attains the goal. and again this means
that man or to be a man is akin to deity.
In a worldly and temporal sense, it will be
said by the man of bustle, sociability and
amicableness, how unreasonable, that only
one attains the goal.
For is far more likely that many, by the strength
of united effort, should attain the goal.
And when we were many success is more certain,
and it is easier for each man severally.
True enough, it is far more likely, and it
is also true with respect to all earthly and
material goods.
If it is allowed to have its way.
However, this becomes the only true point
of view.
For it does away with God in eternity and
with man’s kinship with deity.
It does away with it, or transforms it into
a fable.
And puts in its place, the modern, or we might
say the old pagan notion, that to be a man
is to belong to a race, endowed with reason.
To belong to it as a specimen, so that the
race or species is higher than the individual.
This is 100 years before Nazism.
Which is to say, that there are no more individuals,
but only specimens.
But, eternity which arches over and high above
the temporal.
Tranquil as the starry vault at night.
And God in heaven, who in the bliss of that
sublime tranquility, holds in survey, without
the least sense of dizziness at such a height,
those countless multitudes of men, and knows
each single individual by name.
He, the great examiner says that only one
attains the goal.
Kierkegaard was a Christian existentialist
Protestant.
Dostoyevsky was an Orthodox Christian existentialist.
And Nietzsche, who was also an existentialist,
was a, perhaps the most effective anti-Christian
philosopher who has ever existed.
And he made it one of his conscious aims,
to take a hammer to everything that was foundational
against what was left of Christianity at the
time that he existed.
The reason I am telling you this is because
existentialism is
a strange philosophy.
It brings people with very divergent fundamental
assumptions together.
They share certain assumptions.
And one assumption is that life, in its essence,
is suffering.
And the second is that the individual has
a responsibility to adopt responsibility in
the face of that suffering.
And that is the proper response the proper
response in the nihilism or ideological possession.
It is something else at something that depends
on the person themselves.
Nietzsche draws the same conclusions as Kierkegaard.
A traveller who had seen many countries and
peoples and several continents was asked what
human traits he had found everywhere, and
he answered, men are inclined to laziness.
Some will feel that he might have said with
greater justice.
They are all timid.
They hide behind customs and opinions.
At bottom, every human being knows very well
that he is in this world just once, as something
unique and that no accident, however strange,
will throw together a second time into a unity.
Such a curious and diffuse plurality.
He knows it, but hides it like a bad conscience.
Why?
The last lecture, when we were talking about
Rogers, not the video lecture, but last time
I talk to you about Rogers, I was talking
about instrumental speech.
And that is the speech that you engage in
that is inauthentic from Roger and existentialist
perspective.
When the goal of the speech is to extract
something from someone or something.
The goal is not mere clarity of communication.
And so what that means is that, the speech
becomes separate from the person.
And the speech is being used as a tool for
what some element of the person requires.
And that’s the hiding behind convention that
Nietzsche’s talking about.
Because, when people use instrumental speech,
they’re almost always pursuing something that
other people have told them that they should
want.
It might be status.
It might be career promotion.
Those are two of the major, it might be material
progress of other sorts.
But the problem is that it is only part of
the person talking.
And that part, is the part that is fixated
on that local achievement.
It’s not the part that is attempting to inquire
about what the truth might be in this particular
situation, and to describe it as carefully
as possible.
And that is the clearest speech of the individual.
Now one of the premises of existential psychotherapy
is that that is the only way you can be healthy.
You have to learn to speak and act as a whole.
And you have to be directed towards responsibility
and truth.
And the consequences of not doing that will
be
A. that you will suffer pointlessly which
is the worst kind of suffering and
B. which is worse, you will bring rack and
ruin onto everyone around you.
And it gets worse than that, actually, because
if you do that long enough.
Not only will you bring rack in ruin on everyone
around you, you will want to.
And that seems at least potentially like a
bad outcome.
Well, you can say, if you adopt a firm belief
system that will protect you from that.
It is like the terror management idea of ideology
protecting you from death anxiety.
Which is a, it is a very hopeless philosophy,
that.
Because it basically suggest that the only
reason people have beliefs is because they
are terrified without them.
And that if they engage in any sort of heroic
behaviour, it is merely a fa�ade, which
in the final analysis is empty, although necessary.
That is where the idea of positive illusions
came from, essentially, you know?
That life is so terrible that unless you lie
yourself into tranquility.
You will be mentally unstable and unhealthy.
A doctrine for which by the way, there is
no real evidence.
Anyways, from fear of his neighbour who insists
on convention and veils himself with it.
But what is it that compels the individual
human being to fear his neighbour.
To think and act herd fashion, and not to
be glad of himself.
A sense of shame, perhaps, in a few rare cases.
In the vast majority it is the desire for
comfort.
Inertia, in short, that inclination to laziness
of which the traveller spoke.
He is right.
Men are even lazier than they are timid.
What they fear most is the troubles with which
any unconditional honesty and nudity would
burden them.
Only artists hate this slovenly life in borrowed
manners and loosely fitting opinions and unveil
the secret, everyone’s bad conscience.
The principle that every human being is a
unique wonder.
They dare to show us the human being as he
is down to the last muscle.
Himself and himself alone.
Even more, that in this rigourous consistency
of his uniqueness, he is beautiful and worth
contemplating, as novel and incredible as
every work of nature, and by no means dull.
When a great thinker despises men, it is their
laziness that he despises.
For it is on account of this that they have
the appearance of factory products and appear
indifferent and unworthy of companionship
or instruction.
The human being, who does not wish to belong
to the mass must merely cease being comfortable
with himself.
Let him follow his conscience, which shouts
at him.
Be yourself.
What you are presently doing, opining, and
desiring, that is not really you.
That is s good place to stop, see you Thursday.

100 thoughts on “2015 Personality Lecture 12: Existentialism: Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard

  • Watching this lecture again on Feb 20th, 2019: if "truth can be established by consensus" then Jussie Smollette "is a victim". But the facts seem to show that he is cold hearted evil man who would not blink to send an innocent person or two for a fake crime he carried out, paid for AGAINST HIMSELF! The MSM and Lefty politicians had a consensus without facts and called it "TRUTH"!

  • Good lecture! Thanks for all the time and effort, Peterson. But is Christianity a departure of present and local responsibilities? But what about the issue of time. Secularism is not secularism. In secularism there is not enough time to become happy now (really, think about it! Buddhism seems more reasonable, for we have huge needs, huge needs!). Life ends fast. Meaningful suffering in this life, how can that be justified? And how then can the future redeem the past, if there is no heaven, but only an abrupt end? No, it becomes harder to stay in the present, to be here, if there is little time before i die (But maybe I'll die tomorrow? Tortured fears of the future!). Desperation or passivity. We can only really be here and now, with present and local responsibilities, if there is eternity and happiness after this life.

  • You look like you were drunk last night and took a cold shower before you came. It's all good. We all do it.

  • But in that experiment people of a lower class. Try that same experiment with higher men and the results would be let's get our money get out.

  • Put this moron down and read the bible. Gods wisdom is more valuable than the muddy minded interpretations of this god damned snow monkey's.

  • from where i come from (my former UG university) i wouldnt know how to write an exam for this paper. usually we get notes and memorize it and come back and vomit it in the exam.

  • I listen and understand and agree with Hitchens, Harris, Krauss and Dawkins, but with Peterson I find myself to listen harder, understand less perhaps, but believe what he says ;-). I had a lecturer ones that Said: I might not be true, but can be important and it can be true but not important. Lets say I believe what he says is important.

  • I really enjoy this lecture, it is always difficult to feel something on such a fundamental level with someone but realise your opinions are in total juxtaposition.

  • 53:30

    “Now… one of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately… lately being the last 10 years, I suppose”

    Dr. Peterson never ceases to make me laugh to myself in the middle of the deepest streams of thoughts. So refreshing. Gotta love it.

  • Everything that i see its that through selectin and implementation of values Christianity geneticly produces best scientists than a science based system…

  • catholics learnt to interpret issues from a single theory! but that is what all religious followers do in all religions.therefore every religions follows discipline should be able to theories and learn the underlying values. But that happened only in europe after 1500 years of being in the religion.why it has not happened to other religions or earlier to christianity. Greek thought was already there for very long time.

  • For the first half hour I thought it said venison behind him. But I like to shoot deer and eat them.

    Well, I don't like the killing, but it has to be done to eat them.

  • Can someone else?? https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/threelly-ai-for-youtube/dfohlnjmjiipcppekkbhbabjbnikkibo

  • I drifted for years , and enjoyed it immensely, until around 35 I ended up in rehab, an opiate addict, with a child on the way, a terminally ill father and no life or money or friends left. 8 years on I have a couple of psych degrees and work as a psychologist therapist in a rehab, which is a very meaningful job. I'm a good father and have a decent women. Life taught me the hard way, but i learnt big time. I wouldn't change a thing. My life has been many ups and downs , this has taught me the hard way, but I think in a way book learning alone could not of. Btw Peterson has been a big part of my reinvention and I also tell a lot of folk in rehab to check him out and many do love and benefit from his work like I do. Cheers Mr P 😁

  • a doubt as such is like an avalanche, it grows in strength and at some point it can leave a space with no certainty, but I don't think that it can make a human unarmed in the confrontation with reality. Doubt is a useful tool, and as stronger it can collide with certainty, it needs kind of mastery. You don't have to be certain to make a decision, it's enough to take a path that is the most possible one to take You to the place of destination. The second thing is to take responsibility for mistakes, and this will at some point give You a possibility to doubt more, take action, learn from failure… If You fail about something that You were certain about, it will give a more hurting effect.

  • Whole life has been an existential crisis. Can existence be anything other than how existence is defined here and now? I think we have been thrown into a blip on the infinite timeline that is shaped like a bell curve. Everything we experience is the average of all energy in the universe

  • Although I'm not really into the naturalistic explanations for biblical phenomena, your attempt to warn people about the consequences of "killing God", particularly the Christian God in western nations, and about the danger of attempting to replace that "skeleton" with a man-made value structure like communism, could serve as a naturalistic explanation of the antichrist: A false Christ that will damn all who buy in.

  • I've been going through an existential crisis for about 12 years now. I've been trying to get across to my VA treatment team this very thing, i.e. "I see the meaning of life as suffering, therefore, why go on living?" And I do have VERY philosophical leanings. I study this stuff and psychology relentlessly. I was a nominal Christian for 18 years and it did me very little if any good, other than giving me a little, perhaps misplaced, hope that there was an ultimate meaning in life, ultimate Justice, and a never-ending pleasant afterlife. My dogmatic literal belief in the claims of the Bible were shattered beyond repair about 8 months ago. Since then, I've continued to listen to you, Dr. Peterson, as well as Alan Watts' talks on YouTube. It's helping a lot. I'm an inpatient at the VA Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program in Leavenworth, Kansas currently. I listen to you every day here. I'm so proud of you that you are ACTUALLY helping people put their lives together and find meaning and purpose in life. It's helping me too. I've attempted suicide 3 times, only to be found by someone "miraculously" and taken to a hospital. My hope is that I can find a new reason to keep living…to find a new identity. Thank you for everything you do. And, by the way, I really loved your remark about making no apologies for being an "evil capitalist." Hilarious. $300K-400K per month? NIIIIICE! I love it. You deserve it! If anyone does, it's you. Ayn Rand would have loved you too, I think.

  • 9:20 …. but his time he has made many ASSERTIONS but here,

    He says, "The rise of mass movements say like communism or nazism" …. popular or representative democracy is not a "mass" movement?? He makes so many of these assertions, with finality, and when asked (as is NOT often done) to explain those assertions, he doesn't, he just makes distinctions among them, so in this case he would say something like, Well the difference is that democracy puts the emphasis on the INDIVIDUAL [screams those words] and the rest is group oriented… thus he never answers… or hell say it is the best we know of commander to the rest of them, or Look at her results and see, thus again NOT explaining his ORIGINAL assertion, and sometimes he just says shit like Is self evidently the case…

  • 33:25

    "…once you've learned that one SOLID belief system can be demolished and fall apart; then it's very difficult ever again to have any faith in any belief system whatsoever… you become a Meta doubter which is the doubter of ALL belief systems. [ I assume, and HOPE, he refers to religious and non religious belief systems, a doubter of all, all the time]… The step from that to Nihilism, maybe those are exactly the sam thing… you could think about that IN SOME SENSE as a disease of the CRITICAL rational mind…it can saw off any branch is sitting on…but the price you pay for it is that you're never again certain about ANYTHING… and maybe you SHOULDN'T be certain about anything, but forget that…. Your going to have to act as if you're certain many times in your life…like when you pick a mate or a career and [other decisions] one after the other about which if you're not certain you cannot make "

    wow… so much to unpack here… many assertions. many connections made… notice that right after this many assertions and conclusions he doesn't answer these issues…he only says, "your just a whirlwind of chaos and you're stuck… why should you choose this instead of that…" and this is precisely why I think we overvalue this professor, because though he says all these things, if you look at the things he said, WE ALREADY KNEW THIS, and what he would be great if he could ever do it is to ANSWER THIS ISSUES not just describe them and present them with so much emphasis… anyone who's even madly read about these issues already knows these problems… and yet we all act and decide on a daily basis.. in fact [though this professor doesn't say it Nietzsche himself did give the closes solution to the issues when he spoke about the "bad conscience" and if you research this concept, which Nietzsche liked with the concept of "sin" as opposed to "bad" you might get a closer answer than just making you aware of the issues all over again.
    My point is that we keep saying that when he says what I wrote in quotes people keep saying he has made "incredible insights into …[any topic where he does that]" and he is basically pointing out the obvious, but the solutions are not there at all. Just listen and pay attention to what he says FOLLOWING all these assertions… assertions and connections which themselves ARE debatable.

    And contrary to what you might think from what I wrote, I LIKE JP. This is intended as direct, CONSTRUCTIVE criticism.

    Good luck.

  • 39:00
    "a Utopian creed promises [a solution to this potential crisis,] except it promises it in the right here in and now… like communism which was a particular utopian creed, and fascism had the same element…"

    wow… does democracy and all other systems not promise that, at least in the same level as any other sort??? … meaning, Where does communism promises that EXPLICITLY, or even fascism? and democracy?  
    Pure democracy or communism and of course Utopianism have never existed, nor can they ever exist. Human nature is against CERTAIN ASPECTS of ALL these systems, even if intellectually they all do work.

  • 34:40 "…stuck with the necessity of following a course of action, which is acted out certainty, that your intellect cannot regard as appropriate." and the discussion leading up to that starting around 33:00 helped to bring awareness of why I feel conflicted in what to do. The need to be certain or appear to be certain, despite the uncertainty, in order to act otherwise you're stuck in a somewhat tortuous limbo stage, is something I struggle with as I usually resort to how can I be certain this is right for me at this time? And I need to learn how to be certain enough and ok with that.

  • Lol! Go Jordan. Only white man on modern earth to turn the tables on the bastards. See he's smart he used psychology on em. Daddy always told me the way to influence people was to use psychology on them. Dam daddy was right but this guy really uses psychology on em.

  • A fascinating perspective on a major reason for suicide. As an athiest, nihilism is a definite factor in forming my thoughts of existence. My contemplation of my wonderful (lucky) memories of childhood, family, young adulthood. And middle age have shown me life is precious and worthwhile despite suffering.

  • Would you like yourself to enter the Matrix or live outside of it? Red pill or Blue pill! In both cases you die anyway, but on one case you're aware of your choices and their consequences and on the other case you just sleep yourself to death and become food diluted and force-fed into other sleeper agents/batteries…

  • Don't neglect yourself Dr. Jordan.
    Pace yourself, you're great and your value must be on earth for as long as possible.
    Don't do a Jimi Hendrix- if you know what I mean.
    Love

  • Peterson is a Champion in Platos Cave. He so well defines the shadows. And he is well deserving of his prizes and trophies. I escaped the cave- arrogantly I return to tell about the Sun. But I am a fool in Platos youtube cave. If you turned off your phone and went into the forest for week. You too could escape the cave. Poor guy got so good at living in the cave he will never leave. But he is worse than a fool because he is certain of his beliefs. Beliefs based only on shadows of the truth.

  • Wiley Coyote Running into the wall of a tunnel he painted.
    https://youtu.be/4iWvedIhWjM

    1:05:20 — 1:06:00
    "No matter how many people do not think that there is a wall there, anyone who runs at it head first is in for a vicious surprise."

  • I couldn't get better than a "C" in his class because my beliefs are so different than his. Fundamentally, I prefer to dumb down problems to solve whereas he makes them more complicated.

    Anyone who think you cannot learn to love needs to see Fiddler on the Roof.

  • In all my 6.5 years of acquiring a bachelor's degree, I've never seen a lecturer receive a round of applause.

  • dont gr8 idea's resonate …like piano keys?(on inthru.the collective conciousness) ..'seemz 2 me u & gabor mate important in a msg yet realised!'2 sides same coin maybe'..gr8 stuff tho & thanx*ukdave

  • JBP is conflating the negative perspective of creation of the heresy's with the Catholic Church's ideas in the middle ages. It was the Gnostics and Cather's that despised the created world and thought it was evil…

  • Like that "why has the advent of nihilism become necessary?' Nihilism has been around in the east since before Buddha,it is one of the wrong views Buddha sought to dispel! While i believe Jordan Peterson has been instrumental in rekindling an interest in Philosophy in the 21st century, i also fail to see what any philosophy stance has to do with an employers approval,where does this come from?

  • Peterson is a well spoken man. I wonder if he knows that he even reach people that are not intellectual and that English is not even their first language! Great teacher Dr Peterson.

  • I dont think there are many profesors that are appluded by their studends at the end of their lectures

  • Happiness can be the purpose of human life if this life is a pilgrimage that prepares us for heaven.

  • It is like giving a trophy to all the kids playing baseball. To me that has just caused kids to not want to play the game.

  • 54:30 kinda main question, is mortality a worthwhile and even desirable price to pay for the valuable things you do

  • You should Monetize JP, for all the hours I get from this channel I’d like to think it contributes a few cuts of Tomahawk to your plate. I’ve bought both audiobooks and physical copies but just a thought.

  • I enjoyed this to some extent. But, it is not entirely precise to say existentialist concern themselves with happiness. They are, rather, interested in meaning. There maybe a way that meaning gives happiness, but the existentialist definitely do not equate the two

  • Ironically, it seemed like the people clapping at the end were not being themselves as the applause was somewhat half hearted. Anyway, it was a great lecture. I found the points made about using speach to extract something from others instead of communicating your whole being across, using social norms as a place to hide and the encouragement to follow your conscience…to be rejuvenating.👍👍

  • So Peterson's not arguing for the existence of God, he's arguing for the essential need of humans to believe in a god of some kind — and any god will do, as long as one truly believes. Isn't that pretty much an underpinning for postmodernism in itself?

  • This guy helped me comprehend the philosophy of Nietzsche better than the books of Nietzsche themselves. Thank you JP.

  • as someone who was raised by a buddhist matriarchy in my family, ive always questioned existentialism to the point of nihilism and read some works but never fully understood why i was so depressed. now after having watched your videos, i can understand why my life was so fractured, and i dont want to blame anyone or myself, only to forgive myself for being so distraught with my surroundings. its time for me to be less depressing with the whole "life is suffering" motif in buddhist tradition, but to question why that is so, and how I can make a difference to this world as a subsequent. Thank you Doc.

    I have a scenario question and "what if theory":

    Doctor Peterson, this maybe a farce I believe the reason many men who watch your videos not only were deprived of responsibility, but have no responsible paternal figure due to overprotective mothers, divorce arrangements, and child settlements.

    my question is where is the responsibility of the maternal figure for women who have undergone their respective family's divorce or overextending father, and respective child custody? or is the groundwork for being a mother fairly laidout. or is that a territory/question we don't want to cross/ask.

  • Marvelous lecturer. Perfect? No, of course not. But he CARES about the kids and people in general and the man READS and that's enough!

  • 'You' remember 'me' with all 'your' profound speeches that there's no "I" without a "You";… a real You, not another "I"; … the You behind the mirror of multiple spatiotemporally closed codifications of energy with the tragical aim of continuity …

  • I am a simple blue collar worker at a metal finishing shop. and you are a blessing on my life, Mr. Peterson. I am glad that you are here.

  • I agree with your point about the Stanford Experiment being partially responsible for how prison guards could act the way they did in concentration camps. But I believe the answer is more complex: Fascist Totalitarian governments maintain control through totalization of control and terror, implemented through the threat of death. People in Germany were hung on their front porches if they dared to hide a Jewish person. (and yet nevertheless some individuals continued to hide Jewish people despite the threat of death). People who spoke out against Hitler as well as those who tried to assassinate him, were murdered. Another means of control in Nazi Germany was to withhold a worker's permit unless you gave at least "lipservice' allegiance to the Nazi Party. I believe using fear & terror as a means of societal control is a form of oppression, and yes people do become victims albeit complicit in horrific acts. Hmmm, interesting that Hitler studied American advertising in prison before he wrote out his "manifest destiny"/ "lebensraum" ideology in "Mein Kampf".

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