Academic journal article Analysis and Metaphysics

Thinking through Nihilism: The Reclamation of Embodied Thought for Enhancing Cultural Practices

Academic journal article Analysis and Metaphysics

Thinking through Nihilism: The Reclamation of Embodied Thought for Enhancing Cultural Practices

Article excerpt


Drawing on Heidegger's philosophy of the technological "world picture," Dreyfus traces our contemporary nihilistic condition to what he terms "objectifying practices." The drive for objective knowledge threatens to erode our "cultural practices," a form of life expressing our most intimate way of being-inthe-world with others. Looking to the Pre-Socratic philosophy of Empedocles and the modem "active" nihilism of Nietzsche, I contemplate a view of philosophy that is at once an embodied phenomenon and a "non-objectifying practice," in that it unfolds in a manner reminiscence of a work of art. Rather than overcoming nihilism, perhaps philosophy, if properly understood, can offer a rich and productive way to attempt to think our way through it.

Keywords: nihilism, Nietzsche, Empedocles, cultural practices, modernity, scientism, work of art

1. Introduction

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

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

[The soul] has no place in consciousness, since the feelings and bodily motions of which I am conscious become thought contents that are immaterial and therefore distinct from bodies. …

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