I was wondering whether or not there is any difference between Nietzsche's view of ethics, as consisting of life affirming values, the superman, and the will to power, and the view of Ayn Rand that morality is doing what is in your own self interest. Arent both of them saying that the moral thing to do is to do what is in your self interest and increase your power, and ignore ideas such as pity and charity?

You are certainly correct thatNietzsche is often enough INTERPRETED in that way.: as if the onlygenuine moral value lay in the self-interest of individuals. This,however, is not Nietzsche's view. To be fair, Nietzsche is adifficult writer and thinker – some would say incoherent – somisinterpretation of Nietzsche is partly Nietzsche's fault. First of all, Nietzsche argues thatthat stage of human development which emphasises and valuesindividuals is not the highest or last stage – it is just anotherhistorical transition. It occurs every time a culture becomes'decadent', and eventually leads to another configuration ofcollective culture. If human individuals are to be valued, then, itis not for their own sakes, but for what they can achieve – giventheir current historical situation – on behalf of the developmentof a mode of human life. Second, the will-to-power does not correlateto individuals. Every 'individual' is always a multiplicity of'wills'; the appearance of being a unity is an effect of...

What does 'all things equal' actually mean? I don't understand the expression at all. It surely isn't to be taken literally...unless one is constructing a thought experiment. But philosophers don't only use the phrase when constructing thought experiments. I'm lost.

Like any real experiment, a thoughtexperiment (or analogy, case study or example) in order to be validevidence for some position, has to be conceived of as beingrepeatable. So, my thought experiment should be compelling onits own terms, and not because of some special context that makes itcompelling. Only then will the thought experiment (or whatever) havevalidity beyond that context. 'All things being equal' is thus akinto the notion of controlling variables.

Was Nietzsche in some sense of the word a pagan? I keep reading he is an atheist but I keep coming across stuff that suggests that he affirmed a vision of the world inspired by the Greeks of vast, beautiful- but indifferent to sentimental morality, forces at the heart of nature.

An interesting question, and the waythat you put matters at the end of your question is excellent. Aprimary issue is that the notion of 'religion' conflates together anumber of different phenomena on Nietzsche's analysis. Let usdistinguish between at least three types of religion: 1. A religionthat projects as its ideal a mode of living specificallycharacterised by fears and weaknesses (for example, Judeo-Christianity, as Nietzsche conceives it); 2. A religion that projectsas its ideal some specific mode of life characterised by a reactionagainst life more generally (again, aspects of Christianity as wellas Nietzsche's rather basic understanding of oriental thought); 3. Areligion that projects as its ideal a mode of life that ischaracterised by an increasing affirmation of all that lifecomprises. Now, depending upon how one defines 'paganism', it couldeasily fall under any of these three descriptions. What isdistinctive about Greek religion, Nietzsche suggests, and perhapsonly in some places or periods...

Just finished reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and I can't help but be completely and utterly confused. His format of hyperbolic and metaphoric employs were incredibly interesting, but didn't quite comprehend the overall message. Maybe this novel is a bit an over-reach of a pure understanding for me. Granted, I've only read rich language in holy books. What was the philosopher trying to gift a reader with his novel?

I fully agree, Zarathustra is not the best place to begin withNietzsche – although many people do, without suffering unduedamage! However, as you have worked your way through it and enjoyedyourself, just a few pointers for getting something further out ofZarathustra: first, don't forget its novel-like characteristics:Zarathustra develops as a character right from the first few pages,and these developments and also his emotional responses to situationsand to emerging ideas are not just for effect, but part of thephilosophical content. Second, to my mind the most philosophicallyimportant symbolic contrasts are between change/ motion andstillness, and between male and female. If, when reading, you payparticular attention to these, many of the more cryptic passages makesense. Notice that these are not terribly original symbols; in fact, they are about as old as symbols get. Nietzsche's 'gift' (a very Nietzschean word you've used there!) is to provide new meanings for very old symbols and very old systems of...

What's the philosophical response to Nietzsche's contention that all morality is merely a trick that the weak play upon the strong to get the strong to rein in their strength?

Nietzsche's analysis of the 'genealogy' of cultural forms (ofwhich moral ideas is the most obvious) is directed not to the past,but to the future. That is, what is key is what happens to subsequenthuman beings because of that origin. So, the fact that moralityoriginated in a lie, a misunderstanding, a violence, an act ofrevenge, etc. -- this matters for two reasons. First, insofar as anotherphilosophy might have justified morality based upon its historicalorigin (e.g. the law of God) or its foundation (e.g. the possibleautonomy of practical reason). But, as asprofessor Taliaferro points out, this argument only really works if there is an absence of any otherjustification provided for the moral system. Second, and I think more importantly, the origin matters because of whatfuture possibilities of human life get lost as a consequence of that origin.So, if the origin is that a group of the weak find a way to recastthe existing cultural values system so that the strong are relabeledas 'evil', then Nietzsche...

Could someone please explain to me what Sartre meant by "negating the absolute."

Unfortunately, this is not a uniquephrase in Sartre, and neither 'negation' or 'absolute' refer only tosingular moments in his thinking. So, we probably need theexact citation in order to help you. However, one possibility is thatthis is a description of the relationship between the in-itself andthe for-itself, that is between being and consciousness. Very crudelyput: the in-itself is 'absolute' in the sense that it simply is, itis all 'here'. That is, there are no 'gaps': neither future nor apast, neither possibility or ideality, nor appearance as opposed toreality in itself. The for-itself, on the other hand, commences asthe opening up of just such a 'gap'. Consciousness is transcendence:consciousness always projects beyond the simply here. Insofar asbeing appears for consciousness, being will have a future or past,other possibilities of being or of appearance. The initial, formaldefinition of consciousness then is this transcending negation of theabsolute in-itselfness of being.

I have read that authors such as Jacques Derrida, Slavoj Žižek and Judith Butler write in such a way as to intimidate or subdue the reader into accepting what they have to say, using rhetorical techniques as well as obfuscation. The accusation that Derrida practiced "obscurantisme terroriste" is a good example of the kind of accusation I'm talking about; Martha Nussbaum made a somewhat similar critique of Judith Butler, and there are several other such instances besides. The core idea seems to be that these writers write using disjointed, heavy-handed rhetoric and difficult-to-decipher prose in order to discourage the reader from challenging their ideas. What do you think? As someone who is not a professional philosopher, I sometimes find myself hard pressed to distinguish between things I am not equipped to understand and things that are actively trying to make me stop trying to understand and simply submit. Do the authors named above engage in such practices, and if so, to what extent? Are there...

I really do not believe that any of the philosophers you mentionseek to 'bully' others in their writing, or to achieve the submissionof their readers. We are all human, so no doubt there areoccasionally misjudged attacks to be found in everyone, but I don'tbelieve these philosophers make it a habit. Although that does notrule out that there may be other philosophers who do this. And itcertainly does not rule out that I often find Derrida in particularexasperating for other reasons. There is a ratio of effort needed toinsight gained that, in many of Derrida's books of the mid or late70s in particular, gets way too high for me. I have had a go atgiving one reason for this difficulty here: http://www.askphilosophers.org/question/1593 There are other reasons, too, not least that a philosopher willnaturally tend to write for his or her colleagues, especially whenthey see themselves working on a particular problem together. Alanguage game can become severely 'denaturalised' in such a case.

Why is Schiller's reductio ad absurdum of Kant's argument considered unfair: “I like to serve my friends but unfortunately I do so by inclination. And so I am bothered by the thought that I am not virtuous. There is no other way but this! You must seek to despise them. And do with repugnance what duty bids you.” Kant does argue that for an action to have moral worth and elicit our moral esteem it must be done from duty and not from inclination. Surely then, because Schiller serves his friends by inclination and not from duty, according to Kant he is not virtuous?

It is unfair for two reasons, at least.First of all, a moral action for Kant is one that is motivated byduty, however, it may be in accordance with inclination. These twomotivations, that is, may be in agreement as to their 'direction'.The better the world is in terms of its moral organisation -- themore it is like a kingdom of ends -- the more these will align.Friendship is one of the ways that a world can be morally organised.This leads us to the second unfairness: friendship is not simplymorally irrelevant. For example, if a friend of mine behaves like anjerk, he or she doesn't stop being a friend. Instead I forgive, orhelp. I have committed my friendship to this person, and that moralcommitment is part of the nature of friendship, surely.

Hume stated that there is a gap between "is" and "ought." What about hypothetical imperatives? For example, it seems that, given a certain state of the material world, if I want to arrive on time for a certain meeting, then I ought to leave the house before, say, 8 AM. Did Hume's statement make room for such constructions, or does he not believe that the premises of hypothetical imperatives justify their normative conclusions?

The usual place people look in Hume forthe 'ought'/ 'is' problem is the end of the first section of ATreatise of Human Nature . Essentially, Hume wants to demonstratethat moral conclusions are founded only upon emotional reactions.This means, among other things, that a moral conclusion concerningsome event or object outside of me cannot be derived rationally froma consideration of the facts concerning that event or object. Or,more simply put, a moral 'ought' cannot be discovered in anythingthat 'is' the case. So far so good. However, Hume admits upfront thatthe emotional feeling I have is itself a 'fact'. Strictly speaking,therefore, an ought (you ought not to do that) not only comes frombut is practically identical with an 'is' (because I feel that it iswrong). This means Hume has to distinguish between two senses of'fact': a fact concerning an object of reason, which is a feature ofan idea or of the relations between ideas, and a fact concerning anobject of feeling, which is the way in which I...

Are certain artistic mediums more adept at expressing human experience than others?

In theplayful spirit of Professor Nahmias, let me defend architecture! What could be more fundamental human experiences than sheltering; being safe and warm; having a place that is yours or your family's; having a place that is private (these are all descriptions of the home); or alternatively, a place to fulfill oneself through work, to trade, to meet in order to debate and decide important matters, to watch theatre or movies, buy or borrow books, to worship, to pay respects, to be healed, to watch the beautiful game, and etc. (public or commercial buildings)? We need to decide what we mean by 'experience', I suppose -- for example, do we mean big human and social needs, as in my answer, or do we mean intimate and personal matters? -- and also what we mean by 'adept at expressing' -- for example, does this mean able to produce an experience, able to communicate its meaning, able to make someone sympathise with an emotion?.