Philosophers and the Old Adam

By Hibbs, Thomas | First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, February 2006 | Go to article overview

Philosophers and the Old Adam


Hibbs, Thomas, First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life


Philosophers and the Old Adam PHILOSOPHICAL MYTHS OF THE FALL by STEPHEN MULHALL Princeton University Press, 160 pages, $29.95

STANLEY CAVELL GRAFTED the phrase "truth in foul disguise" to describe Nietzsche's analysis of Christianity. Stephen Mulhall's new book, Philosophical Myths of the Fall, takes CavelPs phrase as a clue to the interpretation of the supple dialectical stance toward Christianity adopted not just by Nietzsche but also by two other German philosophers, Heidegger and Wittgenstein, who together constitute the three most influential philosophers in the second half of the twentieth century.

Mulhall's rich and generally compelling argument could, I suppose, be classified as a version of the secularization thesis concerning modern philosophy. In his famous Heavenly City of the 18th-Century Philosophers, Carl Becker argued that Enlightenment philosophers were not nearly as independent of Christianity as they claimed. They replaced an other-worldly paradise with a socially constructed heaven in this life. For Mulhall, anti-Enlightenment German philosophers are suspicious of any final transformation, offered by either infused faith or rational engineering. Although they suggest remedial strategies, they focus less on redemption than on the fall and less on philosophical reason than on myth.

To put it more precisely, Mulhall's view is that these philosophers "preserve a version of human nature ... as structurally perverse or errant and yet redeemable from that fallen state," but they also "refuse to accept that such redemption is attainable only from a transcendental or divine source." Indeed, the entire notion of redemption is a problem for these thinkers, especially Nietzsche and Heidegger, for whom Christian redemption is at best a diversion from knowledge of our true condition and at worst a fundamental cause of our alienation. Still, Mulhall sees all three thinkers as coming round to some version of human restoration, of at least a partial overcoming of our structural perversion.

Mulhall raises two sorts of questions about these philosophical myths. The first concerns the extent to which the accounts of human descent are parasitic upon purportedly repudiated Christian ways of understanding the human condition. The second has to do with the dubious efficacy of any remedies that, refusing a transcendent response, appeal to the same human condition that they describe as inherently fallen and turned against itself.

BY FAR THE MOST interesting chapter in the book is the one on Nietzsche, who famously argued that the road to modern nihilism is paved by Christian theology as it insists on seeing this life as void of significance except as a means to another world, transcending this one. But Nietzsche, who at one point describes his task as translating man back into nature, offers his own myth of the fall. It has its roots in the Jewish and Christian slave rebellion in morals, a rebellion that-in its celebration of meekness, chastity, and humility-inverts the noble values of antiquity. In contrast to the pagan attitude of generous gratitude in the face of nature, Christians are suspicious of nature, seeing it as deceptive, tempting, and infected with sin. For Nietzsche, humanity's fall consists precisely in its acceptance of the Christian myth of the Fall. Nietzsche's account of our need to be rescued from the Christian account of sin and redemption "turns out to reproduce rather than transcend a paradoxical structure of Christian thought."

While some contemporary interpreters of Nietzsche might find this surprising, it is doubtful that Nietzsche would. In its revaluation of the values of antiquity and its accentuation of ascetic self-overcoming, Christianity anticipates the valuecreating artistry Nietzsche prizes. A wonderful passage from Beyond Good and Evil captures the seriousness with which Nietzsche takes Christianity: "So far the most powerful human beings have still bowed worshipfully before the saint as the riddle of self-conquest. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Philosophers and the Old Adam
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.