12.07.2010

Navigating Past Nihilism

Excellent blog post from Sean D. Kelly on the NY Times Opinionator blog today, on Nietsche's study of Nihilism (Navigating Past Nihilism). Particularly of interest to me was the discussion about finding meaning without self-deception.

Favorite quotes:


...in the European Middle Ages for example ─ that the mainstream of society was grounded so firmly in its Christian beliefs that someone who did not share those beliefs could therefore not be taken seriously as living an even potentially admirable life.  

...the monotheistic aspiration to universal validity, which leads to a culture of fanaticism and self-deceit

But many people carry on in God’s shadow nevertheless; they take the life at which they are aiming to be one that is justifiable universally.  

The suburban life full of “quiet desperation,” according to Brooks, is a literary trope that has taken on a life of its own.  It fails to recognize the happiness, and even fulfillment, that is found in the everyday engagements with religion, work, ethnic heritage, military service and any of the other pursuits in life that are “potentially lofty and ennobling”.

What would such a self-deceiving life look like?  It would be a matter not only of finding meaning in one’s everyday engagements, but of clinging to the meanings those engagements offer as if they were universal and absolute.

The meaning that one finds in a life dedicated to “the wife, the heart, the bed, the table, the saddle, the fire-side, the country,” these are genuine meanings.  

But there are nevertheless many different lives of worth, and there is no single principle or source or meaning in virtue of which one properly admires them all.