“Bryant is thrashing within the grips of the ascetic will, as Nietzsche described it” (see comments section here)

I think Jason was making a valid point here, neither dogmatic nor servile nor even lacking in civility. We should distinguish being critical from being uncivil. Jason was using a sort of imagistic conceptual shorthand to situate and qualify a certain problematic. In Continental circles this is done all the time, and you can’t understand a single word of such thinkers if you don’t understand this dance between concept and image. This allows one to say much in a few words.

In the case of Jason’s statement, he manages to say concisely what I tried to express a little long-windedly in response to Levi’s recent pronouncements ( I think the refence to the ascetic will captures quite nicely the point that Bryant enounces a seemingly objective set of conclusions from science (“the only legitimate conclusions that can be drawn from the state of knowledge today”) but is in fact expressing a very subjective vision of the world and of science.

This pulsation between image and concept is not just decorative but I think it has a quite important function – that of permitting communication across incommensurable paradigms. An analytic approach often insists on commensurability, and feels that remarks coming from a radically different frame of reference are somehow uncivil, aggressive, or even violent and also ridiculous or nonsensical. The Continental approach (but I would argue that this is the case for the pragmatists as well) just does not see such closure of and incommunicability between theories that are semantically very different, precisely because they see another pragmatic dimension that makes communication both possible and potentially fruitful (dare I say enjoyable?).

ANTI-OEDIPUS makes very effective use of this imagistic-conceptual method. It must have seemed very aggressive to closed-minded psychoanalysts, as it treated their profession as a new priesthood submissive to the “ascetic will”. So Jason’s allusion was well-chosen, evoking well-known arguments from Deleuze and Guattari, that they also trace back to Nietzsche. Nietzsche himself uses this same method and was felt to be offensive by the religious-minded of his day and after. I think Jason is quite justified in situating Bryant in this problem-context and even in feeling some amusement at his efforts (thrashing) to escape from its aporia.

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  1. Jason Hills dit :

    Thank you, Terrence.

    Bryant reacted so negatively to the notion that I did not even complete the explication. Though I think we both understand what I mean, further explication might be productive in elucidating some details, especially since I was employing the concept outside of its originating conceptual framework. I will begin by rehearsing the original context, which should also give a guide to how I interpretting the notion so as to apply in the present context.

    Nietzsche, at the end of the Genealogy of Moral, proposes that science is the latest response to the “death of god” and is the new nihilism. He hints that its full force is yet to come (as he wrote it in the late 1880s). By the “death of god,” at least in this instance, he means the west’s inability to find an ultimate ground for their theorizing. Some of the reasons include the secularization of Europe, the overthrow of teological thinking, the new age of scepticism, de-mythologizing, the cyclical hypothesizing and debunking of scientific theory, etc. The contemporary mindset can barely comprehend the change, because we live in such an age of flux that is has become normal, but imagine living during the early years of the epoch of rapid technological and cultural change such that one understands what is to come yet still remembers the relative stability and conservatism of the ages before. In questing about for a new certainty, a new basis upon which to build knowledge, many turned to science. Yet even Nietzsche could see that science cannot grant an ultimate foundation. For those of us who know scientific logic, we know that abduction cannot in principle produce certainty as that would misconstrue abduction. However, the rapid change in culture, morality, technology, religion, produced a desparate public need for fixity and stability. Some turned to religion and became evangelists, etc, and that is what the bulk of the Genealogy is about. But the concluding chapter is about science; some turned to science as the new certainty.

    The need for certainty and foundations within flux is the “ascetic will” as described by Nietzsche. He first articulates it in terms of religion, wherein the “Christian” need to deny life and nature while affirming the “next life” of heaven lead to ascetic popular and monastic practices. We devalue everything of this world and “live” only for the next, an un-natural world of the spirit. Well, the ascetic will of science is just a continuation of this, only rather than denying the vitally human in the name of the non-natural spirit, we deny the human in pursuit of the truth by science. It is in fact the same dynamic, the same move, and thus the same ascetic will.

    We see the ascetic will every time we encounter someone who only believes something can be true if it is proven by science. For whom only scientific studies are worthwhile. This type, called by the moniker “scientism” and its close cousin the scientific naturalist, reduces nature to a concept of nature, truth to the scientific concept of truth, etc. The best post-Nietzschean analysis, at least in my view, come from Husserl’s Crisis of the European Sciences and Heidegger’s later “Question concerning Technology. In the former we reduce nature to what may be mathematicized so that nature is amendable to pure quantative analysis while forgetting that and why we performed the reduction, and in the latter we not only blindly alter our selves through our scientistic concepts, but unwittingly leave ourselves at the mercy of whatever technological affordances arise. (Apologies, but those not familiar with these texts will likely not find this a sufficient summary.)

    Returning to Bryant, what I meant to indicate before he imploded the conversation was that he is replacing nature with a concept of nature, or nature with “objects.” And when this is pointed out to him, as Nietzsche, Husserl, Heidegger noted in their time—or dare I say Peirce and Dewey as well though mentioning them risks Bryant’s ire that I only slavishly follow those two thinkers—he rejects both that has done this and rejects any accounting for himself. This is very much how the ascetic will operates in Nietzsche; it’s not a theoretical or argumentative position, but rather a fundamental orientation of one’s spirit, geist, or mind (though the English term doesn’t have the right connotations).

    The ascetic will, like ressentiment, functions only while maintaining a hierarchical duality. That is, in this case, the duality is between nature as nature and nature as a concept. The former is pre-theoretical and can never be fully captured in thought (unless one is an idealist). What the ascetic will does, which is also what ressentiment does for morality within that realm, is to “flip” the hierarchy. That is, the concept of nature should come from and be subordinate to nature itself, but the scientistic frame of mind subordinates nature to the concept of nature. The idea of nature is more real than nature. In times past, people realized this and either saw it as a mistake, or saw it as the truth and became avowed idealists. The problem we face now with scientism is that it does this is well without realizing it. That is, scientistic types are functional idealists even though they call themselves scientific naturalists.

    This is precisely what I am accusing Bryant of. Months back, I even posted a detailed argument based on Bryant’s invocation of Bhaskar proving this point. I am not the only person to note this. Bryant’s response to this—all denials and aggressiveness—is what lead to my diagnosis of the ascetic will.

    Finally, I wish to touch upon nihilism, since that was the original context of discussion. There are at least two forms of nihilism. The simple form asserts that there is no value. The more sophistic form may admit the existence or assertion of value, but always performatively destroys that value in the next moment. Hence, and for example, Bryant claims to tell us what nature really is, it’s objects (the assertion), but then destroys any possibility of proving that this is true (because objects withdraw from any basis for proof). If we take him most charitably, and accept his theories as an explanatory hypothesis, then in fact he is engaging in epistemology and not metaphysics since no metaphysics can function as an explanatory hypothesis, especially in a realist metaphysic. Again, when asked about this, he denies it and insists that he is not a scientific naturalist, the admission of which would at least render his view consistent.

    This is what performative nihilism looks like. It asserts something, then destroys the basis upon which that assertion can be made, continues by acting as if the basis were still there so as to critique objections, and then “brilliantly” concludes that everyone else is doing the same thing.

    In conclusion, I thank you, Terrence, for the support. I concur with your comments about the analytic approach, which treats “remarks coming from a radically different frame of reference” as “uncivil, aggressive, or even violent and also ridiculous or nonsensical.” I recall my analytic metaphysics reading group last summer—great group of people—who for the most part had spatialized concepts of time and thus found processive metapysics to be an utter obscurity. Even pointing this out to some of the group didn’t help, because they could not conceive and therefore could not understand “what the heck I was saying.” That’s why I try to trace things back to a shared basis, and in the case of nihilism, I traced it back to Nietzsche to *begin* discussion.


  2. Jason Hills dit :

    I added my comment to the blog. For those not familiar with Nietzsche, I wrote another short summary of what we’re talking about that doesn’t presume that you’ve read Nietzsche or are up on history of continental thought.


    • terenceblake dit :

      Very clear, very civil. It gives useful background context not only for Matt’s post but for some of the exchanges over OOO which can seem merely a clash of egos if one does not keep in mind the problematics that are mobilised or repressed by the various participants.


  3. Jason Hills dit :

    Thanks. A person not familiar with the history might think that we’re all just being uncharitable to Bryant, but they weren’t around for the months of conversation when there was charity that still produced the same reaction from him. Hence, I don’t even bother to argue anymore–not because I don’t have them as anyone can search my blog for them–but because the conversation is now pointless. I only engage at all, anymore, to support Matt or note some new highlight in ongoing conversation every few months. Since Matt is taking an ultra-minority, but still very good and defensible position, I want to be supportive since in the wider world it will be rare.


  4. Levi dit :


    Thanks for laying out your position here. I wish you’d done so over at Matt’s blog. I think Nietzsche is far more complex than you present him here. For him it’s never a matter of renouncing or saying « x is bad » tout court. For example, in the earlier portions of the Genealogy he argues that the revolt of slave morality and the development of ressentiment created a being capable of pursuing truth, artistic creation, and capable of memory. These things, in turn, led to the formation of philosophy and science. Likewise, the drive for truth was what ultimately led the sciences which, in turn, let to the erasure of the transcendent world in the form of God, Platonic forms, eternal universals, and so on. In my view, Nietzsche sees this as a positive thing as the idea of a second world leads to the denigration of this world or a reactive nihilism that renounces both the body and the world in favor of a second world. Within this framework, Nietzsche sees the erasure of the transcendent leaving only this world as an opening to the creation of meaning and values from life itself without requiring foundations or a second world. Such a move would be the move beyond nihilism that Nietzsche is trying to initiate.

    I find the view of science you propose as a quest for certainty peculiar. I don’t think anyone– myself included –holds that science generates certainty. At best it generates probabilities. My position is just that science is so far the best method we’ve come across for arriving at knowledge of the physical world, biology, weather, etc. Does what we’ve found hold for all times and places? I don’t know. Will we have to revise our theories as new evidence is uncovered? Absolutely.

    It’s my view that the sciences have consequences for claims for what philosophical claims are and are not legitimate. Here I’m no different than other philosophers throughout history such as Nietzsche in his engagement with the psychology, biology, and physics of his day, Leibniz, Spinoza, and Descartes in their engagement with physics, optics, and mathematics, or Plato in his engagement with Geometry, or Aristotle in his engagement with Biology. In one way or another, all of these thinkers were asking themselves « how do these findings force us to rethink our understanding of being, the world, ourselves, and society? » That’s what I’m asking. My axioms have been described as dogmatic. I suppose, in one sense, they are. I don’t think the embodied nature of mind and its neurological ground is really debatable at this point, and I think that biology has demolished the idea that there’s theological purposiveness or design in nature. I don’t think we can just wave these things away and that we need to face them full-on and attempt to think through their implications. This was the sense in which I intended the term « axiom » in my post. I was outlining the constraints within which I’m trying to think through philosophical issues.

    I am not of the opinion that science is the only way in which we produce meanings. Clearly there are all sorts of people that find meaning through astrology, or through various forms of spiritualism, or through art or literature or many things besides. I don’t think science has much to tell us about art or literature, though as Scott Bakker would say, we shouldn’t foreclose the possibility that in the future it will. Who knows? I’m not holding my breath though. Let’s take the case of Caputo. I agree with nearly everything about what I understand of Caputo’s position (I need to read more of his work to decide). What perplexes me is why he describes it as religious. With Caputo I can find all the meanings that he finds in religious texts. However, to get religion it seems to me that you have to go one step further and holds that supernatural beings exist that are capable of violating the laws of nature. Yet Caputo doesn’t hold this. He just holds that these stories harbor important meanings. I’m even willing to go one step further and hold that religious rituals can have real bodily and psychological effects. Levi-Strauss shows this nicely in his essay on sorcerers and shamans. Here, I take it, it’s not some supernatural power that produces these changes but what the psychoanalysts (and schizoanalysts) have theorized under the title of transference. As Stellarcartographies put it in another thread on Terence’s blog, If God is not there, he/it is not there. This doesn’t somehow entail that people cease to think in those terms, nor that their belief systems don’t have real effects in their lives, only that there’s no referent to these beliefs.


  5. Jason Hills dit :


    Of course Nietzsche’s position is far more complex than I can manage to describe in an off-the-top-of-my-head post *on the internet*. However, having done my M.A. thesis on the Genealogy, I’m certain I could give a more robust account if necessary, and I don’t disagree with your points on that account. But it’s not necessary to give a more robust account. I explicitly said that I was not aiming for a complete description, but one that should give the reader an idea of how I was interpreting Nietzsche (in a historically responsible way) for current purposes.

    Moreover, I was not characterizing « science. » Unless I repeatedly commited the grievious sin of a typo, I wrote « scientism » and not « science. » I’m sure you’re familiar with the distinction. I am not accusing you of scientism, by the way, but of a similar kind of nihilism resulting from the ascetic will. (Actually, that is more of a proposal than finding a singular cause; I think you’re far, far more complex than that, but even explicating this partial view is very informative and elucidating.)

    Finally, I note that you did not contest my claims. You just redescribed your position as if that were an argument. Since we have in fact had the full-out argument on a number of occassions, I’d rather not revisit it.


  6. Levi dit :


    The redescription of my position was important because in this discussion you’ve attributed a number of claims to me that I’m just not making. In your post you speak of science as being involved in the ascetic will because it’s yet one more way of seeking certainty and ignoring the ungrounded nature of being and knowledge. I addressed your claim by pointing out that neither I nor science hold this conception of knowledge, so that criticism just doesn’t fit. Additionally, you spoke of me as ignoring that there are other ways of producing knowledge and meaning. I pointed out that in fact I don’t hold that view. Recognizing that Nietzsche’s views are more complex than the picture you’ve painted here is important. It’s not an attack on you or a denigration of your understanding of Nietzsche. It’s merely pointing out that within a Nietzschean framework we can’t adopt black and white positions such as the thesis that for Nietzsche science is nihilistic and therefore should be abandoned. It’s important to remember that Nietzsche finds the nihilistic moment of the collapse of theological meaning to be tremendously important in freeing us from the nihilism of onto-theological thought that denigrates the world and life. This seems to disappear in your remarks.

    I’m very much interested in hearing your own positions on these matters. You’ve discussed where you find my positions problematic. So where do you stand? For example, do you think that neurology is of philosophical significance with respect to our understanding of what selves are? Are these things that we should take into account as philosophers?


    • Jason Hills dit :


      I will not continue the conversation, because I have no reason to believe it will end any different than our prior conversations. Also, I note that you have ignored, as usual, my qualifiers, caveats, and clarifications–even after I repeated them. For instance, I never said that science was involved in the ascetic will, and I pointed this out to you, and you still repeated the false attribution even after correction. That and a lot of other attributions. If you cannot be find the time or will to read me more carefully, then I’m not interested in furthering the conversation. Oh, and you seem to not recognize the difference between being able to interpret a text as implying something, and the author actually making that claim, e.g., that I read Nietzsche in a « black or white » manner. That’s your inference, Levi, not mine, and only a philosophic neophyte would make the mistake of reading Nietzsche as black or white, which is another thing you attribute to me. Hence, you interact with me as if I had the barest training and not the rigorous Ph.D. with specialization in pragmatism and continental philosophy that I in fact do hold. I recall you accusing me of treating you this way. Let me do you a favor and not respond in the way that you did.

      Good day, sir.


  7. Jason Hills dit :

    p.s. Once again, I am blocking emails on this subject and thus won’t respond of likely read further.



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