Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

By Pat Duffy Hutcheon | Go to book overview

Nine
What Price Immortality? The Faustian Tragedy of Sigmund Freud

Oh God, but Art is long,
And short is Life! And ever,
Despite mine uttermost endeavour,
Will fears my brain and bosom throng.
To find some method man is ever trying,
By which to reach the fountainhead --
And ere one half the weary way is sped,
Why, a poor devil finds he's dying.

------ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

N owhere had there been a more enthusiastic supporter of Darwin than Ernst Haeckel of Germany and Austria. The ideas of this respected scientist, writer and teacher provided a powerful counter-influence in German- speaking universities to the prevailing philosophy of romantic idealism, and to Kant's transcendentalism. However, the naturalistic evolutionary thinker whose ideas may well have been most appealing to the students in those universities during the closing decades of the nineteenth century was neither Haeckel nor Darwin, but a philosopher who charted a very different, and peculiarly iconoclastic, course.

Friedrich Nietzsche ( 1844-1900) epitomized the ultimate disillusionment with both the rationalism and the empiricism of Enlightenment thinkers. However, there is a direct line to him from Marx. Marx had turned Hegel on his head while accepting the basic ontological grounding of Hegelianism; Nietzsche, in his turn, did the same for Marx. Marx saw history as inherently progressive and humankind as ultimately perfectible. For Nietzsche, the human record was instead a tale of degeneration that began with the death of Socrates. Its characters were merely the most unfortunate species of animal: a race the majority of which was cursed by memory and a culturally induced conscience to forever strive impotently for control of its essentially unpredictable tomorrows.

References for this chapter are on p. 170-71.

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