Where to, humanity?

Mill, Darwin, NietzscheEmersonThoreauPeirceDewey, James… they were all evolutionists, but were any of them baseball fans? (And what difference does that make? None, really. But I wrote the bulk of this post last Fall during the MLB postseason, and now it’s almost time for a new season to begin. This year it really won’t be the same.)

Well, Mill was a cricketer, Nietzsche a “footballer.” Dewey praised the “tense grace of the outfielder.” One of James’s students tried to interest him in the game once, without success:

Morris Rafael Cohen records, “When my revered friend and teacher William James wrote ‘The Moral Equivalent of War‘ I suggested to him that baseball already embodied all the moral value of war, so far as war had any moral value. He listened sympathetically and was amused, but did not take me seriously enough. All great men have their limitations.”

And that’s a good segue to MillDarwin, and Nietzsche. All were concerned, in one way or another, with the prospective greatness of humanity. A common misunderstanding of Darwin’s evolutionary hypothesis had him defending the “survival of the fittest” ethos as social policy. But Darwin was no Social Darwinist, preferring instead the cooperative liberal vision of his countryman Mill.

And then there’s Nietzsche, heralding the Ubermensch (“I teach you the Overman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him?”), aspiring to a personal future “beyond good and evil,” heaping scorn and abuse on comfortable “couch potato” English values (like democracy and “utility”), and insisting that hardship is the cost of greatness.

Nietzsche liked Emerson, and his “self-reliance.” The “Divinity School Address” must have pleased him too, with its repudiation of Judeo-Christian(-Islamic) supernaturalism and “monstrous distortion” of Jesus’ message that our life is a natural miracle, “one with the blowing clover and the falling rain.”

Nietzsche read German translations of Emerson’s essays, copied passages from “History” and “Self-Reliance” in his journals, and wrote of the Essays: that he had never “felt so much at home in a book.” Emerson’s ideas about “strong, overflowing” heroes, friendship as a battle, education, and relinquishing control in order to gain it, can be traced in Nietzsche’s writings. Other Emersonian ideas-about transition, the ideal in the commonplace, and the power of human will permeate the writings of such classical American pragmatists as William James and John Dewey. SEP [affinity]

I confess I used to think more highly of Nietzsche’s philosophy in my younger days. Many have gone through such a phase before “falling out with Superman,” often in adolescence (think of Dwayne in “Little Miss Sunshine”) and coordinate with feelings of personal alienation  and megalomania.  I finally decided he was just too pitifully misanthropic and maladjusted to be a good role model. He made a show of life-affirmation but, I concluded, was really a misanthrope in superhero’s clothing.

But, by the way, his “passionate atheism” is a separate issue. Giles Fraser is wrong to say Nietzsche “would have loathed the high priests of new atheism,” but right to suggest that by “God is dead” he meant something non-literal. And like Gary Kamiya, Fraser is right (that is, in the spirit of his former hero) to transmute his youthful Nietzschean inspiration into something else, to make it his own.

“You say you believe in Zarathustra? But what matters Zarathustra? . . . Now I bid you lose me and find yourselves; and only when you have all denied me will I return to you.”

And what did James think of Nietzsche? Lumped him with Schopenhauer as a pair of rats, and pitied “poor Nietzsche’s antipathies.”

Thoreau reputedly lived a lot like Nietzsche, in (relative) hermetic isolation. But did you know that during his sojourn at Walden pond, on property owned by Emerson, he made regular town-rounds and dropped his laundry off at Mom’s? [pics]

Peirce imagined the ideal end of intellectual history, defining truth as the view destined to be agreed upon. “Agreement” is not a term often associated with Nietzsche.

Darwin Day ’12… V’day & the philosophy of love… Bruces animated… Are We Still Evolving?… Darwin & friendsEvolution & cooperation… best idea ever… meanings evolvebest way to begin each day (Nietzsche?!)…nothing Nietzsche couldn’t teach ya… into thin air (Nietzsche on hardship)…recurrence (“When N. Wept”)… “I am dynamite“… December advice

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