Sometimes I can show an ounce of restraint. Sometimes. The other day, I did a review for the movie What Keeps You Alive, and I was struck by a few philosophical undertones that pulsed through that movie. And wow, did I go on a rant. Literally pages worth. I abandoned the movie entirely, had you pull out your 101 Philosophy text books, and then your 201’s and your 301’s, until we found ourselves at a crazy impasse, arguing with Nietzsche and the entire school of post modernity itself, and their lack of resolve to take their ideas to their next logical conclusion.
And so, because I’m a glutton, I’ve decided to excise those thoughts, and drop them here for your consideration. I’m not going to edit them, or pull out the movie references, in case you are following that thread to here, it will still make sense. So with that, I’ll just drop the last half of that review here, whole cloth. And you can do with it what you will.
A Philosophical Digression
I’m thinking this endeavor may very well be ill advised, but I’m going to embark upon it all the same… thank you very much. But why ever, would someone even attempt to discuss philosophy with regard to a movie like What Keeps Us Alive? Let alone the consideration of MORAL philosophy. But I’m going to discuss it all the same. Because this movie makes a really interesting point to me about the logical next steps of atheism, and philosophical post modernism as it relates to ethics. But in order to make my one, itty-bitty point that I want to make, I need to back up and talk about how we got here.
So, the two titans of moral philosophy, recognized really by anyone, were Kant and Hume. Thomas Nagel even remarked that moral philosophy was dominated by the disagreement between these two men. So, Kant… for his part, believed that moral concerns were dominated by duties derived from the law, which in turn created the moral necessity. And on Hume’s part, he believed that it was this idea of “personal merit” was the engine that drove the idea of morality. Basically it was through the lens of our fellow human beings that we learned what traits were valuable, agreeable, and right. Not the other way ’round which is how Kant saw it.
Then, as philosophical ponderings of morality meandered into modernity and onwards through post modernity, the philosophers were careful in their over throwing of all religious scaffoldings of morality and they worked to dethrone these ideas from the populous’ collective mind. It was the postmodernist’s resounding belief that ethics was just theology lock-stepping into this flawed position. Take Richard Rorty’s view on morality. He actively dismantled God’s place in the moral scheme of things. That we, as a people, spent too much time and energy attempting to discover God’s desires, when in fact, we should uncover other’s desires. (Per his book, Achieving Our Country). And it was after this Rorty started this walk along this path that he declared that to be truly human was to logically forget about the eternal entirely. And then, from there, Rorty declares the inexistence of a universal moral reality.
But it’s here where Postmodern Philosophers right turn on us all. But shouldn’t. Obviously, the next logical conclusion along this line of reason would be to torch ethics entirely. I mean, they have declared relativism after all. How could they not have done this already, even if inadvertently? But that isn’t the path that they took.
After denying the existence of God, Rorty moves on to deny the existence of a universal moral reality “to which our moral judgments might hope to correspond, as our physical science supposedly corresponds to physical reality.”7 At this stage, we might ask, If there is no objective moral reality, why concern ourselves with ethical issues? While this seems a reasonable next step, Postmodernists are not comfortable with abandoning ethics completely and instead are driven to search within their worldview for a standard of right and wrong. And this is where postmodernists find themselves caught half way to the net. Because there is no objective way to determine what is right, when caught in an argument with a Nazi, he believes himself and his argument to be right, but there is no way of actually proving that to be true. Rorty believes that he is able to get away with anything that his particular community allows him to get away with. Which, is hilarious, because in Nazi Germany, that community allowed the community to get away with all manner of horrific atrocities. And so by that logic, within their own community, Nazis were correct.
Which brings me to the end of this line with Nietzsche, who basically brings us back around to Kant again as postmodernists chase their collective tails on this topic. Nietzsche wasn’t too concerned in his writings with the finding of a master moral, but he did agree with Kant in that he saw morals as a code that is absolute, not a means to another end.
Logically, in my mind, it would make the most sense if postmodernists, in their destruction of absolutes, would stand up and go all in and utilize Jackie as their poster child übermensche:
“I’m free in all the ways you’re not. You are trapped by emotions. Weighed down by guilt. Your conscience isn’t your source of strength, it’s your Achilles heel.”
Think about it. If the moral law, built into the foundations of our hearts and minds is untrue, then survival of the fittest is the way to go. If you leave your wallet out, I should take it. If there is an opportunity to slit your throat and take your car? There is no real reason why I shouldn’t. Yes, there are utilitarian arguments (you’ll get caught, electrocuted) but those are just Kantian digressions. We, as a tribe, need to setup rules! Which, ultimately shouldn’t matter to an übermensche, or to someone that has overcome the moral law like Jackie. I mean, after all, the übermensche was supposed to arise out of nowhere, and have this superior potential, which would completely master himself (herself) and cast aside the Christian “herd mentality” to create their own value system.
So here’s the point I wanted to make, pages and pages ago, but needed to explain a few things first. The postmodern philosophers have killed God. They have cast off the moral law. And they have aspired to replace it with something else. But ultimately they failed. Horribly. Read Nietzsche and the other post moderns. They are electric in their destruction!! I was sold on their wrecking ball skills. The tearing down of old bastions and old thoughts!? Oh, so majestic. But when faced with the nothingness of void, they lacked the ability to construct the new idea of the real. They failed horribly in their ideas. Nietzsche’s übermensche, that would one day come? And help redefine society as we know it? He basically laid up. Someone else will solve that riddle for me eventually. I hope. But you and I know that there will never be a Postmodern Übermensche that will construct Nietzsche’s moral philosophy out of the ashes of his writings.
And all that to say, when Nietzsche cried out to the world that “God is dead, and we have killed him” he himself would ultimately prove the failure of his own declaration in his inability to take his philosophy to the necessary next step. Instead of walking it all the way to anarchy he sided with Kant and his seminal work, In Critique of Pure Reason, that Kant wrote way back in 1781.
Let me put it to you this way. I was enamored with Nietzsche and his destruction of modernity. I actually agree with him on so many things. That we are not modern giants ready to cast of disease, cast off war, cast off poverty. If anything, we have regressed past the horrors of the Middle Ages into something even more abhorrent. The Knowledgeable Bigots. The Educated Murderers. The Technological Racists. Modernity, and the ideas of an exultant humanity? Laughable. But in his wholesale casting off of everything, he tossed whole nurseries out with the bath water. And in so doing, walked out onto an untenable precipice. As have all of the postmodern philosophers.
But we as a culture? We as a working body of humans that cooperate towards larger objectives and work largely in a fairly unified and purposeful effort? This just rings false to me. That relativism could possibly even work. Take God out of it. Yes, I am a Christian, and yes, that is my presupposition for this entire conversation, but it isn’t a necessity. Even the Greeks saw beauty and morality, etc. as coming from the ideal. That even our drawing of a circle, or a woman, or a landscape, was based upon the perfect idea, or standard in the sky. The ideal is the measure upon which all things should be measured. It is the idea of the perfect that we aspire to. But we cannot aspire to that collectively or individually if we have wandered away from this idea of a perfect standard.
Thought experiment: you and I are sitting on the beach. The sun is setting. And you are absolutely overcome with the majesty, splendor, and brilliance of what you just saw. Right? If the idea of beauty is relative? You and I cannot share that experience together. You exclaim, oh marvelous Moses in a baby basket that is glorious! And my response? What, that? meh. That shouldn’t even hit my radar. But, the fact that we do have shared idea of beauty (the Greek idea of balance, shape, form… power ratios and the like?) allows us to almost commune spiritually in that moment. And my response to your exclamation? Would be totally! That was just mind blowing. The same goes for ethics. Morality. Goodness. Civility. Evil. and the like. Sure, we can argue on the fringes, but if a bank robber kills an old lady on the street on his way out the door? Yeah, we are all, collectively outraged at that. No one even debates this. Right?
In Conclusion –
See? That was one mind blowing digression. I changed out that other ending with a more “normal” movie review conclusion. So hopefully most people over there will be none the wiser about my OCD tirades and insane asylum warranting rants.
But it feels like we, as a collective society, have been duped into believing a failed idea… that of relativism. Experientially it doesn’t pan out. And more importantly, its an idea that has only created endless grief for the postmoderns as they try to untangle that rat’s nest they have inadvertently created for themselves.
Edited by, CY