How is Nietzsche's Will to Power related to his notion of Eternal Recurrence? Wikipedia suggests a connection, but does not elaborate. thanks PS: I am not a student and this is not a homework assignment.

For a lot of people who study Nietzsche it’s not clear that a connection exists. Nietzsche himself considered these his two most important contributions to philosophy, although I’m not aware of any explicit attempt on his part to unite them. And you have to bear in mind that even though he thought these were his most important ideas, it doesn’t follow that they were. I find much deep and valuable philosophical thinking in Nietzsche’s works, but not always where he thought the best ideas were. For instance, Nietzsche has an extremely high opinion of Thus Spoke Zarathustra, while he treats On the Genealogy of Morals as if it were a mere appendix to Beyond Good and Evil. Other readers may disagree with me (although plenty do not), but in my own opinion On the Genealogy of Morals is his greatest single work, one that yields up more insights on every reading; while Thus Spoke Zarathustra is uneven and at most a supplementary part of Nietzsche’s oeuvre. But that’s just an example, by way of...

I have a question about reading certain philosophers, specifically Kant in my case, as "pre-requisites" for other philosophers. I'm not particularly interested in Kant, but I've been interested in Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Heidegger for a long time now. I've heard though that to appreciate any of these three, you have to understand Kant first, so I recently started to read A Critique of Pure Reason. I'm sure I'll get something worthwhile out of the book if I stick with it, but I'm wondering whether you think it's worth taking on this demanding project just to prepare me for reading other philosophers. I'm also curious, in general, do you think there are certain cases where it is vital or important to read one philosopher's work before taking on another's? I've heard too that before you read A Critique of Pure Reason, you should read Descartes' Discourse on the Method, which would be another demanding project.

In the full sense of the word this question is unanswerable. I don’t know a serious educated person who does not worry about it. On the one hand, if you do not read philosophers in the right order you are bound to miss the significance of something the later person says. I’m not saying you run the risk of missing that significance; you are guaranteed to do so. And yet this is a half-truth, because there is plenty you will miss if you start back at the beginning of philosophy and proceed to the end. First of all there’s the obvious problem of motivation that your question implies. If you have to read Descartes before Kant, and Aristotle before Descartes, and so on, you will have been lost or sidetracked before you ever reached the people like Nietzsche and Kierkegaard who first drew your attention. Demanding a strict chronological reading list is impractical. There’s another kind of problem that affects even industrious people who are incapable of being bored or sidetracked. In many cases we...

This is a follow-up to Miriam Solomon's statement describing philosophy: "Philosophy involves more than deductive logic--it involves the exercise of "good judgment" which in fact we do not understand very well." (june 5, 2014) Can someone tell me more about what this "good judgment" is, please? I studied philosophy in college and I can't recall any of my professors ever suggesting that there was some elusive guiding principle in philosophy beyond what could be articulated...Instead, I was taught that it was about starting with premises and then executing deductive reasoning. Are you now saying that there's something mystical in there that philosophers can't articulate but which guides their work? That seems counter the way I learned philosophy, where the professors seemed particularly intent on articulating things clearly.

I can’t resist offering the follow-up to Miriam Solomon’s response, not because I’ll say what she would say, but precisely because I think I come at this question differently from her. So with any luck you’ll get a second perspective on the same fundamental thought. Your professors were right to insist on the clear articulation of ideas and on the careful argumentation that takes us from premises to conclusions. Clarity and validity are two of the most important tools that philosophers work with. Some philosophers will agree with me that other tools or techniques are essential as well, such as the method of philosophical interpretation; but calling for more attention to philosophical interpretation does not have to mean neglecting argumentation. But even if we stick to clear terms and valid arguments, there are going to be more fundamental questions that guide us. What terms are worth clarifying? The important ones, of course. What subjects do we make arguments about? Again, the important...

This is a question about philosophy. Reading the beginnings of Wikipedia's timelines of Eastern and Western philosophers, we find Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, Guang Zhong, Confucius, Sun Tzu and a few more as the first philosophers. By the time these guys lived, there were other written non-fiction (or allegedly non-fiction) works. What is the difference between philosophy and the other non-fiction stuff (especially in those times)?

Any responsible answer to this question has to be highly qualified and surrounded by admissions of ignorance. I’ll try not to get bogged down by describing what we don’t know, but you should realize how inconclusive any answer to your excellent question has to be. I don’t know enough about non-Western philosophers to tackle that part of the question. Let me say a few words about Thales, Anaximander, Pythagoras, and the rest. Not too long ago the standard claim about them was that they turned thinking decisively away from mythical thinking. Where myths described a world before the world we occupy, an earlier time in which different causes made things happen, these philosophers confined themselves to the world we know and the natural processes at work in this world. So, if they were to describe the origin of the universe, that origin would have to follow causal laws akin to the laws in effect today. This is our own scientific understanding of the universe today, incidentally. Whatever brought...

Can being constantly surrounded by ugly things and people ruin own's sense of the aesthetic? Conversely, can constantly being surrounded by beautiful things and people ruin own's sense of the aesthetic?

As long as you mean something straightforward by "sense of the aesthetic," like "sense of taste" or "discernment regarding beauty," I think most people would consider the answer to your first question obvious: Yes. That doesn't mean the answer "Yes" is true, only that it is a common assumption about beauty and one's ability to discern it. The common assumption lies behind arts-education programs for children. The thinking is that if children don’t get exposed to good music, visual art, film, and literature early enough in life, they will not come to take genuine pleasure in it. And where they do not take genuine pleasure in music or poetry, they will have more difficulty telling the fine examples of each from what is crude or catchy or otherwise vulgar. The process probably makes more sense in connection with such complex and difficult cultural productions as Beethoven’s late quartets and Ozu’s films than with natural phenomena. The person completely unexposed to such cultural productions might...

How did the early Philosophers view of the world differ from that of Homer? Specifically, how was the philosophers’ method of trying to understand the world around them different?

That looks like a straightforward question. And a reasonable person might expect some clear statement of the criterion that separates Homeric poetry (or any other poetry for that matter) from philosophical theory. So it’s interesting to realize, at the start, that even in antiquity it took some time for a consensus to emerge on the relationship between the two kinds of discourse. One of the first ancient Greeks to compile an intellectual history was Hippias the sophist, whom we know today from Plato’s rather unflattering portrayals of him in the Hippias Major and the Hippias Minor (titles that merely indicate, by the way, that the former dialogue is the longer of the two and the latter shorter). Socrates makes short work of Hippias in the dialogues, but in real life he was intellectually ambitious and enterprising. His history of thought is lost today, but it came before any history by Plato or Aristotle, and apparently contained philosophers and poets in comparable numbers. Plato, for his...

If an environment, or just a very secluded 'biome' was artificially produced would it still be considered 'beautiful'? Even considering that this particular secluded artificial environment had a perfectly in sync ecosystem, was self-sustaining, and never tired of resources for human use, would it still be beautiful and fantastical even though it was subject to human manipulation of Earth natural way of nature?

This feels like a question informed by Kant’s understanding of beauty. Whether it is or not, it’s certainly a question in tune with Kant; because, for Kant, natural beauty dominates his examples of beautiful objects and sets the tone for his analysis of beauty in general. There seems to be a constant suspicion in Kant that art we find beautiful is somehow a contrivance, something put together in a way that the artist knows will appear beautiful to human beings, or at least pleasant in appearance. And because the artist aims at pleasing the human senses, so-called beautiful art threatens to collapse into a species of the merely pleasant. A beautiful flower, on the other hand, has not been contrived. Kant seems to understand nature mechanistically – or rather, he thinks it is always open to a mechanistic interpretation. And given that it is, the spontaneous appearance of something in nature like a beautiful flower or a magnificent sunset gives one the sense of having discovered beauty, not just...

After all that Plato said concerning the written transmission of philosophy, and his attempt to get around it using the dialogue form, why did a devoted student like Plotinus write treatises instead?

I'm not sure there is an answer to this question. Certainly you don't want to presuppose too much about one theory or another of Plato's dialogue form. In antiquity there were many philosophers before and after Plato who wrote dialogues, whether in order to be consistent Platonists or for another reason. But let's assume that the dialogue form is justified and accounted for by the passage in Plato's Phaedrus about the problems with writing. (A big assumption; not an assumption I would make. But it seems to be your assumption, so I'm accepting it for the sake of argument.) In that passage Socrates says that serious philosophers won't write their ideas down in a way that leaves them vulnerable to attack and misunderstanding, but at most will write "reminders" to themselves about what they think. The dialogue might then be seen as such a reminder. But already we run into a problem. What's to say that the writings of Plotinus are not reminders as well? Why call them by the anachronistic name of ...

what is the reason or purpose for us differentiating between beautiful and ugly.

Many answers have been given to this question. Before we try out such answers, consider one broad way to categorize them. Is experiencing beauty about getting us to do something, or is it about our thinking or feeling a certain way? In other words, if there’s a purpose or function to finding things beautiful, do you think that should be a pragmatic function issuing in action? Or can it be a contemplative function issuing in a kind of thinking (or feeling, etc.)? This might even come down to Yes or No regarding the first question. Sometimes people say something like “The instinct to find people and things beautiful originates in sexual desire. It begins with our wish to propagate.” An answer like that connects the judgment of beauty with action. All the way back to Aristotle, philosophers have objected that beauty can be understood without reference to sexual desire; and in fact it can get complicated to try to trace every sense of beauty to such desire. Consider landscapes, sunsets, etc. More...

I have heard Christian apologists say that the concept of the fundamental equality of human kind originates in Genesis 1:27 and that it was wholly alien to ancient Greek thought. Can anyone think of anything in ancient Greek texts that would undermine the apologists' argument?

Let me talk about political equality, to narrow things down. I agree there is a sense of “equality in the eyes of God” in the Bible passage, and offhand I can’t think of that idea’s appearing anywhere in pre-Christian Greek thought. (I may well be overlooking something obvious, but nothing comes to mind.) But political equality, the idea of equal treatment under the law, is another matter. When archaic Greece first started to emerge as new and newly-reorganized cities on the Greek mainland, on the islands, and along the coast of Asia Minor, their politics, poetry, and architecture reflected the idea of isonomia “equality under the law.” For a capsule description of this cultural and political construct see J-P Vernant The Origin of Greek Thinking, a short but superb book. Monarchs had largely disappeared from Greece by this time (800-600 BC). Cities were laid out with a central space, the agora, that symbolized citizens’ contributions to public discourse and policy. The military had changed so...

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