Authenticity, Morality and Truth: A Faithful Nietzsche III

May 18, 2016    By: Jeff G @ 8:25 pm   Category: Ethics,Politics,Truth

This will be the third and final post in my “Faithful Nietzsche” series. To recap, the first post appropriated Nietzsche’s concept of the Übermensch by attacking our own tendency to burden the living prophets with the weight of the dead by ignoring their limitations in stewardship. The second post appropriated Nietzsche’s hostility toward the universal equality around which modern morality is centered, suggesting (similar to Kierkegaard) that to be religious and to be moral are sometimes two very different things. In this third post, I will first unpack my own model of truth. After which, I will compare and contrast my model to that of Nietzsche. While there is quite a bit of overlap between the two models, there still remain several significant and irreconcilable differences.

The Metaphysics of Authenticity

Essentially every account of truth posits some “pure” or “authentic” ideal – about which it tends to be very vague – that tends to be distorted or corrupted by outside – and usually very specific – influences or forces. The classical liberal versions suggest that truth is an corroborable description of the external world and the laws which structure it, free from the distortions of superstitious traditions and dogmatic authority figures. A more Marxist approach is slightly different in that the forces which most distort and corrupt the authentic truth are asymmetries in socio-economic forces: so long as we live in a class-based society, the powerful cannot help but impose a “false consciousness” upon the weaker class(es). Nietzsche’s approach is almost the exact opposite of Marx’s in that he fears the ways in which the weak attempt to organize themselves according to an ideology of universal equality and distort/corrupt the authentic expression of exceptional strength and greatness amongst the nobles. Similarly, Judeo-Christian doctrine insists that the “natural man” (which Nietzsche absolutely loves!) or “weaknesses of the flesh” in addition to the “false traditions of the fathers” are what corrupt the true and authentic expressions of the spirit.

The most obvious problem with this “metaphysics of distortion” is that there seems to be no neutral way of adjudicating which account of “authenticity” is the undistorted and authentic account that we are supposed to be seeking. Each account can all too easily dismiss each of its competitors as an expression of some distorting force – some “false” (not merely “different”) consciousness. Indeed, each specific metaphysics is specifically designed for the primarily purpose of demonizing a very specific competitor – hence their exaggerated focus on distortions rather than on truth itself.

While I do not have a principled objection to the metaphysics of distortion, as such, what I do object to is the impression (which they all cultivate to some degree) that social relations are the problem –  *the* primary obstacle to truth. When other people are thus considered to be bugs rather than features to a normative system, this biases us toward individualistic conceptions of truth that combine a strange mix of mystification and deflation.

The most obvious expression of this individualistic tendency toward mystification and deflation lies in “Robison Crusoe” accounts of truth. In such accounts, a second person (me) passes judgement to a third person (you, the reader) from the outside about the first person (Robinson Crusoe) who we are pretending to be stranded on a desert island and thus beyond all outside judgements of second and third persons such as ourselves. The performative contradiction that is built into such accounts is rather obvious, but there is no escaping it.  Indeed, this same performative contradiction lies at the heart of any and every individualistic account of truth for they all pass moral judgment upon some isolated individual who is supposed to be outside of all moral judgment.

What such Robison Crusoe accounts attempt to do is 1) equate truth with the activity of some isolated, non-social individual (typically the accurate tracking of the natural environment), and then 2) complicate and develop the picture by adding more people to the supposedly deserted island.  Thus, infants, animals, machines or anything else that tracks its natural environment “has” various sorts of truths and falsehoods which are merely different in degree from the truths and falsehoods that we, socialized language users communicate with each other.  By attributing such truths and falsehoods to all such “agents”, however, we are committing the exact same performative contradiction of which we were guilty when we passed judgement on Robinson Crusoe: at no time was the first individual ever alone since we – the readers and writers of the story – were always there with him. It is simply impossible, even in principle, to tell a story about a morally isolated individual.

Truth – a truth that really and truly matters – is not, therefore, a non-social something, some tracking of the natural environment that social beings are, additionally and separately, able to communicate with each other. Instead, truth is an intrinsically social something which social beings such as ourselves are able to collectively project onto non-social beings and events. Other people are not always an obstacle to truth. Indeed, while other people are (obviously) not a sufficient condition for truth, they are a necessary condition for it. Without other people there is no truth that is worth praising or condemning, if only because there are no people to perform the requisite praising and condemning. If truth is praiseworthy, and falsehood is worthy of condemnation, then truth cannot be a non-social activity in which some (perhaps non-human) Robinson Crusoe participates in.

As such, I have no use for a model regarding when a person can decide that their own beliefs are true or not, without any regard for what others might think. Indeed, the stronger we protest that what really matters is what the individual him/herself thinks, the more we inadvertently refute such a claim by communicating it.  What we want, then, is a model where I can decide whether somebody else’s beliefs or claims are true or not. Even stronger, I want a model where I can praise and condemn such a person’s beliefs or claims to a third person such as yourself. This is, after all, exactly what I am doing right this very moment and what Nietzsche, Marx and every other theorist was also doing when they condemned the words and actions of some persons as corrosive distortions to authentic truth. To repeat:

Truth – to the extent that it has moral value – is a practice where we project the values native to our social communications upon the tracking by an individual of their non-social environment, and not the other way around. As such, truth is intrinsically and inescapably social in nature.

Truth as Moral Coalition Building

Indeed, I will go even further than that:

Truth is, first and foremost, an activity in which we build moral coalitions for or against something or someone. Its relationship to the non-social world is purely derivative upon this.

Just to be clear, the account and figure below is not meant to be a “theory” of truth in the sense of adjudicating or prescribing disputes between those beliefs and values that we ought to seek, believe and affirm. Since human beings have always gotten along just fine using the words “true” and “false”, there is really no need for a theorist to come along and tell us what truth “really is”. Of course, this is not what such theorists are actually doing.  What they are doing, instead, is offering – sometimes even prescribing – changes in the ways that we already use these words. Yes, my model attempts to offer a different way of approaching “truth” and “falsehood”, but I do my best to resist the theorists’ temptation to prescribe how and what we ought to think. All such prescriptions to some authentic ideal are, inevitably, thinly disguised moral obligations to which I deny any philosopher or social theorist the authority to bind us.

truth diagram

The figure above illustrates the logic of my model. The x-axis represents how much any given communicative act is in my own interest – how life-affirming it is for the speaker, to use Nietzschean language. All other things being equal, the less a communicative act is in my own interest, the less likely I am to perform it. The y-axis, by contrast, represents how much the community to which the speaker addresses him/herself values or appraised my communicative act – be it in terms of faith-affirmation, emancipation, objectivity, etc.

These two axes create a 2×2 matrix which is best understood in terms of its diagonals. If a communicative act goes against the interests of the speaker as well as the values of the community, it is simply stupid or bad. Since it disincentivizes itself, this type of behavior requires no morally prohibition or enforcement. That which promotes or affirms the interests of the speaker as well as the values of the community is good or smart. Again, no moral requirements are necessary since such acts are already in the speaker’s interest. We might call this upward sloping diagonal a measure of how “intelligent” a communication is, in a very loose sense of the term. By contrast, we can call the downward sloping diagonal a measure of “moral prescription”. Those communicative acts which are in the speaker’s interests but against the values of the community are morally forbidden. Unless there is some kind of moral punishment of these incentivized communicative acts, speakers will tend to continue to perform them. Those acts which are against the speaker’s interest but affirm the values of the community are basically the mirror image: morally required communications which will not be performed absent some moral rewards.

This is where truth and falsehood come in. Truth is the means by which we recruit a moral coalition, as well as affirm our own allegiance to that coalition in favor of morally required persons, behaviors and claims. This moral coalition is meant to incentivize communicative acts that are morally required such that they become more in the speaker’s interest.  Falsehood is, again, the mirror image of this.  It is the means by which we recruit a moral coalition, as well as affirm our own allegiance to that coalition against morally prohibited persons, behaviors and claims, such that they become less in the speaker’s interest. Truth is not a mechanical, abstract and disinterested contradiction of anything, but a moral purification of the community which is organic, fluid and evolving over time.

Nietzsche’s Perspectivism: Compare and Contrast

  1. Truth is communitarian. Nietzsche believes that truth is the interpretation that is most life-affirming – and William James says something similar. What they do not ask, however, is “Life-affirming for whom?” Under my model, the more useful or life-affirming an interpretation is to a person, the more likely they are to hold or affirm it… But that doesn’t make it any truer. Indeed, those beliefs which benefit me at the expense of others are those which we are most likely to call “false.” My model thus turns Nietzsche’s hierarchy of interpretations 90? by insisting that that truth is more a function of the costs and benefits to the audience. If it is life-affirming for them to publicly defend, spread and mount a moral coalition around the belief, they will call it “true”. If it is life-affirming for them to publicly contest, condemn or mount a moral coalition against the belief, they will call it “false”. Indeed, this is exactly what Nietzsche is doing with his high-pitched polemics against Christian morality.
  2. Truth is prescriptive; my model is not. Nietzsche insists that the explanation for any person’s beliefs can be reduced to two things: philology and physiology. Some beliefs are healthier, more life-affirming than others, they being the outcome of a strong and healthy life in which only an elite few partake. The weak will condemn the strong and the strong will be contemptuous of the weak, but inasmuch as moral obligation enters the picture at all, it is only an obligation which the strong have to their own inner drives and instincts (more on this below). While I reject Nietzsche’s biologism as well as his individualism, I do think that his description gets a lot of things right. If a moral coalition is not potent enough to shift the incentives faced by strong individuals, these will tend to communicate more false things and less true things – whether we like it (as Nietzsche does) or not (as the rest of us don’t). What I strongly object to, however, is when Nietzsche clearly implies, if not outright declares that this is a good thing. Since my own model does not depend upon what the particular values or rules of any community are or ought to be, it stands in stark contrast to the prescriptions that Nietzsche builds into his model.
  3. Truth is sociological, not psychological. Nietzsche’s entire project was to replace as much of philosophy as possible with psychology. Consequently, he explains the beliefs we accept and defend in terms of “our desire to be rid of an unpleasant uncertainty, we are not very particular about how we get rid of it: the first interpretation that explains the unknown in familiar terms feels so good that one ‘accepts it as true.’” (The Four Great Errors, 5) While the only obligation that the strong is toward their own, inner instincts and strivings, the weak, the contrast, bow and cower before their own, inner uncertainties and fears. My model, by contrast, replaces a vague fear of uncertainty in the face of unspecified threats with a very specific fear of moral coalitions within the community. Our communications are not aimed at satisfying our inner fears so much as satisfying potential critics and marshaling potential allies within the audience to which we address ourselves. It is solidarity with moral allies, not an individualistic, inner peace that explains the beliefs that we defend as true and condemn as false. Simply put, our moral obligations are to other people, not our private, inner instincts.
  4. Asymmetries of power are relevant, but not determinate. Marx thought that asymmetries of socio-economic power within a community allow the powerful to foist a “false consciousness” upon the weak. Nietzsche thought that an organized coalition among the biologically weak empowered them to foist a “slave mentality” upon biologically powerful individuals. While I fully agree with both of these descriptions, I completely reject the morally loaded terms in which they are couched. Both are clear examples of different groups labeling each other as distortive “false” for the sake of marshaling moral coalitions against the other. Yes, the powerful do, by very definition, exert a disproportionate influence on the interpretations which are reproduced and circulated throughout a community. And yes, these individual can, to some degree and at some cost, be contained by organizing society differently. But I see no non-tendentious reason why “truth”, “falsehood” or “authenticity” must fall squarely and neatly on either side of these divides.
  5. Objectivism and subjectivism are both wrong, and for the same reason. Nietzsche rejects the idea that all people, equally and universally, must answer to the same standards of praise and condemnation. The scriptures agree with him, in that different people within one and the same community have, as a matter of verifiable fact, clearly and obviously been judged, praised and condemned by different standards than others. Indeed, this is the whole point of setting somebody apart to a given stewardship: so that we will accept that person’s communicative act while rejecting the exact same act when performed by somebody else. My model holds that truth is an irreducibly social practice which can never be reduced to the behavior or interests of any single individual, less still to the impersonal/natural environment. Even in cases where an authority figure unilaterally dictates truth within his/her stewardship, this authority can only exist within a pre-existing moral coalition: such a person is only authorized to dictate law to others if and only if s/he is socially recognized as being authorized to do so. Similarly, the impersonal environment does not speak for itself, but instead requires that some person(s) does so who has been, again, socially recognized as having the authority to do so (echoes of Bourdieu here). For this reason, I differ both from Nietzsche’s perspectivism as well as the objectivists that he attacks.
  6. My model is not true… but nor is it false. Nietzsche’s view of his own work and its reception is relatively straightforward: The strong nobles will praise it, the weak will condemn it, and that’s about all there is to be said regarding this physiologically determined process. Such an account, however, leaves little, if any room for asking whether any of this praise or condemnation is justified. Nor is it clear why a noble such as himself should ever bother to share his thoughts with others if his inner drives are all that matter. This point, at which Nietzsche leaves off, is exactly where my own model picks up. Whether a person praises, condemns or simply ignores Nietzsche is not merely an expression of an inner striving, but a goal-directed within our shared, social environment.  Nietzsche did not write his books merely because “that’s just his noble nature”. He wrote it to marshal a moral coalition against modern morality and its calls for universal equality. The overt prescriptions to be found within his writing were quite clearly aimed at furthering his own interests at the expense of the moral majority, and it was for this reason that they condemned his teachings as “false”.
    By contrast, my own model actively strives to strip itself of all prescriptive content, ideally tending toward pure instrumentality. The model can be used to understand, fortify or subvert a wide range of communities, from egalitarian utopias, to benevolent (or malevolent) dictatorships, to the free market of the libertarians, to the strictest technocracy that Pluto or Lenin could ever imagine. Like any other tool in the toolbox, my account is neither true, nor is it false – nor does it pretend to morally bind its audience in any direction at all. In terms of the illustration above, I actively seek for the center of the downward sloping axis of “moral prescription” but the higher end of the upward sloping axis of “intelligence”. How good/smart or bad/stupid it is will largely depend upon the uses to which it is put.
    To the extent that my model does have any moral relevance, this lies in its potential to subvert any dogmatic, intellectual monopoly that pretends to a coercive exclusion of all alternatives. The Catholic Church, some forms of Islam, advocates of scientism, and the Bolsheviks have all, to one degree or another, at one time or another, sought to establish just such a monopoly, and my model is specifically design to subvert all such attempts. Some people from within these communities will, quite obviously, consider my account to be utterly false.  People like me, however, people who value the availability of viable alternatives from which we can freely choose, gladly accept this condemnation as a badge of honor.



  1. Sorry that I fell a little bit behind in posting. Hopefully this rather substantial post makes up for my delay.

    The next 2 or 3 posts will be about Max Weber and his massively influential attempts at integrating Marx and Nietzsche within a largely (classical) liberal framework.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 18, 2016 @ 8:32 pm

  2. “Truth is an activity…” Well, lying seems to be winning over truthing.

    Comment by Martin James — May 19, 2016 @ 10:21 am

  3. I was listening to an On Being podcast with the poet philosopher David Whyte, where he described life as a conversation between the individual and the various cultural forces surrounding the individual. The cultural forces seek to mould the individual to its own moral image, and the individual seeks to mould the culture into his own moral image. But neither is successful. What happens is a conversation, wherein both the culture and the individual are transformed in a new way through the conversation.

    Could I say that Nietzsche’s individualism and modern morality’s communitarianism are two equally powerful forces, like the two axises on your graph? We all experience life as unique individuals, and we all have some of Nietzsche’s pride within us. But we all contend with outside authorities asking us to conform ourselves to some kind of “moral coalition” as you say. Our experience of “truth” will thus be extremely individual, based on the unique conversation we have between our individuality and the outside authorities. This “conversation” would be, as you say, neither objectively true OR false. Is that sort of along similar lines of what you are saying?

    Comment by Nate — May 19, 2016 @ 10:27 am

  4. Martin,

    I’m not sure I would put it that starkly. If we mean that the world is departing from our, LDS moral coalition of which we believe God to take a part, then yes, you’re right. A less committed description would simply say that different truth coalitions are emerging and transforming each other – most of which are hostile to God and His moral coalition.


    That gets pretty close to what I’m saying. I really like your first paragraph and the idea of a conversation. What I would emphasize a bit more is that any such conversation consists of a goal-oriented interests which inevitably have some amount of non-zero-sumness to them, rather than a potentially neutral or harmonious “expression” of something else. In other words, while I clearly distance myself from correspondence theories of truth as well as individualistic pragmatic theories of truth, I also want to reject a coherence theory of truth that focuses on a hermetical coherence in meaning rather than goal-oriented signaling.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 19, 2016 @ 10:50 am

  5. I don’t think we’ve come that far since the Melian dialogue. I think you can measure how much power you have by how little you need to pretend that truth has anything to do with it.

    “Then we on our side will use no fine phrases saying, for example, that we have a right
    to our empire because we defeated the Persians, or that we have come against you now because of the
    injuries you have done us — a great mass of words that nobody would believe. And we ask you on
    your side not to imagine that you will influence us by saying that you, though a colony of Sparta,
    have not joined Sparta in the war, or that you have never done us any harm. Instead we recommend
    that you should try to get what it is possible for you to get, taking into consideration what we both
    really do think; since you know as well as we do that, when these matters are discussed by practical
    people, the standard of justice depends on the equality of power to compel and that in fact the
    strong do what they have the power to do and the weak accept what they have to accept.”

    Comment by Martin James — May 19, 2016 @ 1:15 pm

  6. Martin,

    Nice quote. One claim that I cut from the post for the sake of length, is that the principled neutrality of my model is specifically aimed at finding an intellectual market within as wide a moral base as possible. By being able to speak across different traditions, I hope to build bridges of communication by which different moral communities can be able to understand and co-mingle with each other…. If my model was prscriptive and moralistic, we would simply be back to the situation in your quoted passage where we dogmatically spout moral ideals to those who do not share them.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 19, 2016 @ 3:06 pm

  7. Jeff, your phrase: “while I clearly distance myself from correspondence theories of truth as well as individualistic pragmatic theories of truth, I also want to reject a coherence theory of truth that focuses on a hermetical coherence in meaning rather than goal-oriented signaling”

    …sounds really interesting, but would you mind putting it in plain English, just for me. It sounds like you might be saying that you don’t believe in objective truth at all. Is that what you are saying?

    Comment by Nate — May 19, 2016 @ 3:07 pm

  8. I believe in absolute truth – God’s truth- but not objective truth.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 19, 2016 @ 3:32 pm

  9. Then God’s truth is not objective. Is this in the Kabbalistic sense that “God” is part of the subjective human experience? If that is the case, I could agree with that.

    Comment by Nate — May 19, 2016 @ 6:08 pm

  10. Nate, to expand a bit:

    There are three traditional and mainstream theories of truth in philosophy: correspondence, coherence and pragmatism. All of them fall prey, in my opinion, to my criticism articulate in the first section of the post: they generalize from an individual to the social rather than the other way around.

    Correspondence theory says that a claim is true if it corresponds to how the world just is, regardless of what anybody thinks or wants.
    Coherence theory says that a claim is true if is coheres with the other true claims that we endorse.
    Pragmatic theory says that a claim is true to the extent that it serves as a reliable rule for action. (Nietzsche’s is closest to this, since he thinks that such things are interpretations aimed at a will to power and domination.)

    None of these say anything at all about any moral obligations that we might have to truths I can’t use rather than falsehoods that might help me. They say nothing about patterns of praise and condemnation and other such practical mechanisms and institutions of enforcement. While my model focuses on “claims” that we share with each other, these models focus on private “beliefs” which babies, animals, machines and other totally non-social entities might have.

    Hopefully that’s a bit clearer.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 19, 2016 @ 6:13 pm

  11. Nate,

    I’m not at all familiar with Kabbalism, so I’ll have to pass on that one.

    Objectivism is an attempt on the part of intellectuals to pretend that nature itself is speaking to and commanding us, when it is actually the intellectuals themselves who are doing the talking on nature’s behalf (or so they would claim)…. as if nature had any moral claim over our lives to begin with.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 19, 2016 @ 6:18 pm

  12. Jeff,

    What do you think about this. I think that using the word “truth” in relation to morals, is trying to use the status that the correspondence theory has even though you are saying that it doesn’t really matter. So are you fine with everything in your approach saying the same except that we agree not to use the word “truth” or any other connection to correspondence type behavior.
    Let’s say rather than moral truth we can it moral imagination. Are you fine with every instance of truth being replaced by moral imagination? If so then, I like you approach much better. If not, then why not?

    Comment by Martin James — May 20, 2016 @ 10:32 am

  13. Not sure if you’re understanding correctly.

    “I think that using the word “truth” in relation to morals, is trying to use the status that the correspondence theory has even though you are saying that it doesn’t really matter.”

    Yes, correspondence does matter, but only in a derivative sense. The italicized blocks in the post are definitely the most important claims. The whole idea of thinking that truth with morals is only an imperfect copy, and parasitic upon the truth of environment-tracking is to get things exactly backwards. The latter is a subset of the former and, yes, it has been very well developed within the last 300-400 years. But that doesn’t not change its parasitic nature – no matter how much the liberal thinkers of the enlightenment tried to obfuscate the matter.

    Thus, I’m not totally and uncompromisingly against using truth as a way of describing environment-tracking, so long as we recognize it as a very crass and lowly type of truth.

    “Are you fine with every instance of truth being replaced by moral imagination?”

    Absolutely not! Truth is an obligation to which we hold other people accountable. As such, any individualistic account – including one that would ground itself in one’s private imagination – is totally out the window.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 20, 2016 @ 10:43 am

  14. Consider an example where a boy claims that there is a wolf close by. The fact that I can tell others that I too saw the wolf where he says he saw it is very relevant. If, however, multiple people come back and all tell the community that they searched thoroughly and didn’t see any wolf, this too is relevant to how we praise or (in this case) condemn the boy as a truth or falsehood speaker.

    All cases of correspondence and natural science in general are exactly like this. They all require 1) an original speaker and 2) an additional community which praises and evaluates that speaker within it. Corroborating empirical claims in one among many moral rules according to which such a community does or might regulate communications within the group.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 20, 2016 @ 11:05 am

  15. Regarding objective truth, is there a sense in which authorities other than the intellectuals you are dismissive of, view truths as objective, like religious authorities? I think Joseph Smith was an objectivist when he said “I knew it, I knew God knew it, and I could not deny it.” Or is this still subjective interpretation?

    Or abstractly, apart from the imperfect observations that we make about truth, is there an objective nature of reality which exists outside human experience, in a platonic sense, even if unattainable by the humans?

    Comment by Nate — May 20, 2016 @ 12:07 pm

  16. Jeff G,

    We only care about the example you give because there are wolves. If I’m eaten by a wolf and the group saying there are no wolves, the correspondence of my body to the existence of the wolf is more important to me than the correspondence to the community.
    It seems to me significant the extent to which God is a wolf (can control events independent of what anyone else believes) or God only exists through social belief in God.
    I don’t think Nietzsche can be that relevant to us, because he doesn’t believe in wolves and we do.

    Comment by Martin James — May 20, 2016 @ 12:15 pm

  17. Nate,

    I think that JS quote perfectly expresses what I mean by absolute truth. It is an interpretation which God endorses and to which He binds us. This is why JS refused to deny it.

    Objectivism, by contrast, means a truth that exists independent of what anybody, even God, thinks, desires or interprets about such things. I acknowledge that there is a world outside of what everybody thinks, but 1) is does not interpret or conceptually carve up itself and 2) it does not morally bind or obligate anybody to any such interpretation of it.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 20, 2016 @ 12:21 pm

  18. Martin,

    “We only care about the example you give because there are wolves.”

    Of course. If a claim is irrelevant to the speaker’s or the communities values, then it simply won’t be spoken or paid attention to. It become irrelevant in every sense of the word.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 20, 2016 @ 12:28 pm

  19. I think JS refused to deny it because he had “seen” it. Isn’t this empiricism? How could he know it was “absolute” truth, other than by interpretation? By “endorses” do you mean a witness of the Holy Ghost? Joseph Smith knew his vision wasn’t a Satanic counterfeit, or simple dream, probably because it was confirmed by the Holy Ghost. Is this confirmation what gives a religious authority it’s right to proclaim “absolute” truth? In absence of that confirmation, is the truth still “absolute” for us?

    Comment by Nate — May 20, 2016 @ 3:15 pm

  20. But I’m arguing that things unspoken and unvalued are still relevant to people that don’t believe in them or talk about them.

    Comment by Martin James — May 20, 2016 @ 3:33 pm

  21. Martin,

    You can’t speak the unspoken. Any example you give will, by the very act of sharing it, be suspect.


    Why does that fact that I had an experience, any experience at all, entail any kind of moral obligations of any kind? That’s the basic point that all such individualistic account flounder upon.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 20, 2016 @ 4:41 pm

  22. jeff,
    Save that for the wolves.

    Comment by Martin James — May 20, 2016 @ 9:58 pm

  23. Jeff,
    Either moral obligations exist or they don’t. That is what makes them moral obligations and not social obligations.

    Comment by Martin James — May 20, 2016 @ 10:05 pm

  24. And what, exactly, is the difference between the two that cannot be accommodated within my model?

    Comment by Jeff G — May 20, 2016 @ 10:56 pm

  25. Not too much other than it seems to me that the unspeakable is still important and that a model that privileges speech acts because that is how humans communicate can leave out a lot of important but in communicable experience. I like the model fine as a model but not as an ontology of all things moral. I like Nietzsche in the same way: interesting words but it fails to address a lot of experience. I guess I’m making a meta-critique of the model and you are saying my model already ruled out meta-critiques and I’m just saying, but it is still a model. Not too productive a conversation but I can’t help it.

    Comment by Martin James — May 21, 2016 @ 8:56 am

  26. 1. I’m not trying to explain everything (always your go-to criticism). I’m sure I leave out far more than that.
    2. I never said private experience in unimportant. Only morally irrelevant to the extent that it remains private.
    3. The biggest loophole for you to take here would be to acknowledge that none of our private experiences are ever totally private: they are always communicated to (at least) God.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 21, 2016 @ 9:24 am

  27. The selection bias at play in any appeal to the moral value of utterly private experience exactly mirrors that of the anthropic principle.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 21, 2016 @ 10:09 am

  28. My main appeal to private experience is that it fits so much LDS scripture about choice and consequences. My go-to quote is about God ceasing to be God in Alma 42 and that we are our own judges. Yes, I can see where one can say it is because God is part of the community, but it seems like a strained interpretation compared to one where knowledge, law and morals are not under God or anyone else’s control. I can make this argument from both within your model(authority wants us to believe morals are objective and individual) and from without in terms of an private experience. My argument is not that you can’t interpret most LDS beliefs this way, it is whether your model lets in too much else in addition. I think your model works well where there are clearly too sides: an authority position and a counter authority position and not much ambiguity between the two sides. I think the model breaks down where authority directs principles and the interpretation of those principles requires thoughtful consideration. In this case both sides claim that authority is on their side. You argue that as along as authority isn’t contravened then that process can just play out however it plays out. It is in these cases where I think the consideration of all the principles and experiences is useful including those that go beyond moral speech acts.

    Comment by Martin James — May 21, 2016 @ 1:00 pm

  29. Well, I have two separate models at play here.

    The one discussed in this post has nothing whatsoever to do with authority, etc. It’s simply a description of how people praise/condemn others’ communications. You comment doesn’t really address any of that.

    My other model discusses how people praise/condemn others’ communication within the LDS community. This model is internal to that above. Your comment is definitely related to this, but this isn’t what the OP is about.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 21, 2016 @ 1:26 pm

  30. You’re right I didn’t really address the OP, sorry about that. I have a hard time making Nietzsche do any good work, but I appreciate your continued efforts to use all of the texts and philosophers in an LDS context.

    Comment by Martin James — May 22, 2016 @ 3:35 pm

  31. No worries. Nietzsche does give us some nice critical distance from the modern values which, otherwise, seem so natural to us…. but I would be more than a little afraid of anybody who goes full-Nietzsche.

    Of course, this post is primarily an argument against Nietzsche, so you’d think you’d like it for that reason. I get the feeling, however, that while my views are post-Nietzschean, you’re more of a pre-Nietzschean. In other words, you don’t think he gets anywhere, while I don’t think he goes far enough.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 22, 2016 @ 4:10 pm

  32. I sometimes find it difficult to effectively comment because my historical understanding of the issues is different in a way that makes commenting “within” your posts difficult because historical development is often part of the presentation and motivation of your posts. The historical differences get mixed in with the different philosophers in a way that prevents effective comments.
    In order to find a way out of that, would you be willing to read the introduction to Russell’s History of Western Philosophy. I understand that he is a partisan and so I’m not looking to cite him as an authority. It would just be handy because he puts out a history that, I think, differs from both of our historical understandings and he is also very interested in how religion and philosophy influence each other.
    One way that I like his presentation is that he situates the forces that you think came mainly in the Enlightenment, much earlier in time, even making them fairly timeless issues.
    It is a pretty short section and I’d be very interested the ways you agree with his version of history and the ways you think it is tendentious.

    Comment by Martin James — May 23, 2016 @ 8:01 am

  33. I read the introduction. I’m not sure what part is supposed to stand in opposition to mine. To be sure, he says some things that I wouldn’t be comfortable saying – especially when it comes to his conception of individualism – but I don’t see any systematic differences of any consequence in that intro.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 23, 2016 @ 2:00 pm

  34. Cool. So what do you make of the stoics?

    Comment by Martin James — May 23, 2016 @ 2:42 pm

  35. What do you make of his saying that there is a long history of the tension between too much social cohesion and too little?
    I tend to interpret you as saying that the Enlightenment people invented individualism to fight against the church and authority. I see myself as saying this tension of morality being adherence to an individual code as preceding all of that. How do you see it?

    Comment by Martin James — May 23, 2016 @ 2:45 pm

  36. I also thought you saw things more in terms of a class of people fighting against authority in a somewhat unified attempt at power than an anarchism of mysticism and subjectivity like he describes.

    Comment by Martin James — May 23, 2016 @ 2:52 pm

  37. The main objection that I have to his account is that a lack of social cohesion is not one and the same with individualism. Isaiah Berlin largely elides the same distinctions in his account of positive vs negative liberty.

    Individualism is a morally enforced code of conduct wherein a person has moral authority over his own life. As such, he can defend his actions or choices to others by an appeal to his “being free” to do so, etc.

    A lack of social cohesion, by contrast, is a rejection of all authority (even that of the individual) and moral codes as such. It is brute power relations where a moral defense of one’s actions goes entirely unheeded.

    Of course, Russell himself draws a distinction between stoicism and liberalism (which he acknowledges to be the product of the enlightenment) and it is primarily the latter that I am interested in.

    Comment by Jeff G — May 23, 2016 @ 2:53 pm