The Two Greatest Living Philosophers Are Only 3.5 Inches Tall.
The NEW Philosoflicks 8: Mr K Meets Mr N in The Eerie, Uncanny House of Cinema.
The OLD Philosoflicks was a series of seven experimental works in philosophy that were published online in the edgy, radical philosophy blog Against Professional Philosophy between July 2015 and May 2016:
OK. So what’s a “philosoflick”?
Here’s what the author of The OLD Philosoflicks said —
In “Let’s Make More Movies,” the epistemological anarchist Paul Feyerabend wrote this:
The separation of subjects that is such a pronounced characteristic of modern philosophy is … not altogether undesirable. It is a step on the way to a more satisfactory type of myth. What is needed to proceed further is not the return to harmony and stability as too many critics of the status quo, Marxists included, seem to think, but a form of life in which the constituents of older myths — theories, books, images, emotions, sounds, institutions — enter as interacting but antagonistic elements. Brecht’s theatre was an attempt to create such a form of life. He did not entirely succeed. I suggest we try movies instead. (P. Feyerabend, “Let’s Make more Movies,” in The Owl of Minerva: Philosophers on Philosophy, Ch. J. Bontempo and S. J. Odell (eds), McGraw-Hill: New York 1975, pp. 201–210.)
By cine-phenomenology, I mean the direct expression of philosophical ideas in cinematic, visual terms, from a first-person point of view.
Intertitles are printed texts inserted into (especially silent) films in order to convey dialogue, descriptions, or expository material directly relevant to but not necessarily covered by the filmed material, e.g.,
And montage is the cinematic technique, discovered by Sergei Eisenstein, of combining, juxtaposing, ordering, and sequencing (more generally, synthesizing) visual images for the production of various kinds of aesthetic and emotional effect.
A philosoflick is an experiment in visual philosophy, blending text and images–employing cine-phenomenology, intertitles, and montage–inspired by Feyerabend and Eisenstein, by Chris Marker’s La Jetée, and by W.G. Sebald’s pictorial novels.
I think that The OLD Philosoflicks were very cool; but I also think that their author barely scratched the surface of what can done with this experiment in visual philosophy.
So that’s why I’ve undertaken a new series of philosoflicks here on Medium — hence The NEW Philosoflicks.
The first in that series was about Nietzsche’s critique of metaphysics, the nature of reality, and the profundity of movies, Nietzsche Does Hollywood.
The second was about human unhappiness, poetic empathy, and the minds, lives, and deaths of non-human animals, Death of Hedgehog.
The third was about our own lives and deaths, What Makes Life Worth Dying For?
The fourth was about what, if anything, might transcend rational human existence, and what we should be doing about it, Pascal Does Vegas.
The fifth, Appearing, by Snaut, was the first in a tetralogy that visuo-philosophically explores themes in the work of Hannah Arendt.
The sixth, Postscript to Appearing, also by Snaut, was the second installment in that tetralogy.
The seventh, Disappearing, again by Snaut, was the third installment in the tetralogy.
But this one, the eighth NEW philosoflick, is about what might happen if a philosophical finger-puppet named “Mr Kant” met another philosophical finger-puppet named “Mr Nietzsche,” as follows—
Mr K: Oh no! Mr N, what kind of cosmic wormhole have we fallen through this time?
I find it both incomprehensible and ironic that I, a world-historically famous 18th century German philosopher, and you, a world-historically famous 19th century German philosopher, should not only find ourselves reincarnated in the 21st century as English-speaking finger-puppets, but also that this would occur inside an eerie, uncanny house, whose only interior decorations and furniture are reproductions of 20th century cinema posters: The House of Cinema.
Mr N: “Incomprehensible” according to our scientific knowledge of the mechanistic universal causal laws of physical nature, you mean.
But you, Herr Doktor Professor-Dude Kant, of all people, should know that the scope of what is conceivable and imaginable far exceeds natural-scientific knowledge.
And even despite what philosophy’s other major Mr K, aka Mr Kierkegaard, wrote about irony — that it’s “infinite absolute negativity”[i]— in fact, for us, irony is all about the multifarious contrast between appearance and reality, isn’t it?
And reproductions of 20th century cinema posters are simply representations of artistic representations of human experience and our “human, all too human,” life in the manifestly real world, aren’t they?
So what could be more congenial to our own philosophical proclivities, thoughts, and writings, than these — conceivability, imaginability, the distinction between appearance and reality, the nature of representation, especially including artistic representation, the cinematographic view of reality, the nature of human experience, and the nature of our “human, all too human” existence and life in the manifestly real world?
Mr K: Oh, you’re such a Philip K. Dick.
How characteristically ironic of you, Mr N, to bounce my own ideas right back at me, using mock-honorific academic titles, while at the same time so very slyly adverting to your own views!
And don’t you dare think, even for a moment, that I’ve forgotten what you so ironically wrote about me in The Gay Science:
Kant’s Joke. Kant wanted to prove in a way that would dumbfound the common man that the common man was right: that was the secret joke of this soul. He wrote against the scholars in favor of the popular prejudice, but for scholars and not popularly.[ii]
— In fact, “the secret joke of [my] soul” was to dumbfound all the Kant-scholars, not the common man.
But in any case, as I understand it, we’re meeting here today in the eerie, uncanny House of Cinema, not to trade ironies with each other, but instead to answer three profoundly important questions:
(i) What did I, Mr Kant, really mean by those two famous sentences from my book, the Critique of Practical Reason,[iii] that are scotch-taped, Luther-wise, for all to gape at, on the door of the eerie, uncanny House of Cinema?
(ii) What did you, Mr Nietzsche, really mean by your equally famous aphorism 341 in your book, The Gay Science,[iv] scotch-taped right alongside my words, again Luther-wise and for all to gape at, on the door of the eerie, uncanny House of Cinema?
(iii) And is there any way of putting those two seemingly radically divergent philosophical thoughts together into a single, unified philosophical conception?
Mr N: Oh, you kwazy kantian.
I say: let’s do philosophy with a samurai sword!
But for the time being, since we’re both here, I’m onboard.
So, let’s start by explaining what we intended to say in those “famous, all too famous” statements scotch-taped on the door.
— Please, please, you go first, Mr K.
Mr K: With great pleasure!
— This could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
As you know, the two sentences scotch-taped on the door right under me are lifted from the Conclusion of the second Critique.
In that book, I argued for:
(i) the existence of a universal Moral Law, called the Categorical Imperative, innately inscribed in all rational human animals, aka, persons, and
(ii) the existence of a capacity in us, also innate, called autonomy or practical freedom, to choose and act from respect for the Moral Law and for the sake of all the human (and, if any, non-human) persons who have the Moral Law innately inscribed in them, in a way that’s
(ii.1) absolutely spontaneous and generated “from itself,” hence undetermined by the mechanistic, universal causal laws of physical nature together with all the facts about dynamic material forces and causes going all the way back to the beginning of the physical universe,
(ii.2) self-legislating, by prescribing the Moral Law to ourselves, over and above the natural laws and all the causal-dynamic facts about the past,
(ii.3) self-determining, according to its own moral principles and the Moral Law, hence undetermined by all egoistic, hedonistic, or merely eudaemonistic, aka happiness-producing (whether for myself or others) motivations,
(ii.4) self-validating, by means of the direct, true conscious experience of my own autonomy or practical freedom, aka The Fact of Reason, and also
(ii.5) self-fulfilling, hence bringing its own higher kind of happiness with it, the happiness of autocracy aka self-control.
Then, in those two sentences, in a final burst of proto-Romantic philosophical prose-poetry, I affirm the fundamental unity of the natural world and its causal-dynamic facts, governed by its mechanistic universal laws, with the choices and acts of the autonomous, practically free person governed by her moral principles and laws.
Therefore, it is as true to say that she exists inside the infinite, sublime natural world, causally-dynamically governed by its mechanistic universal natural laws (“the starry heavens above me”), as it is to say that the natural world, as represented by her, also exists inside her, as the place where the autonomous person chooses and acts from respect for the innately-inscribed Moral Law (“the moral law inside me”).
Here, I suggest that we pause briefly to listen to Copland’s Fanfare For the Common Man —
Mr N: May the opposing causal-dynamic Forces be with you.
— You sure must have been a lot of fun at parties, Mr K.
Mr K (continuing): Lukeskywalking right along….
Permit me to suggest, however, that that’s quite a lot for the common man or common woman to get their heads ever wrapped around: far less, your average dusty scholar or plodding academic philosopher.
And perhaps it’s no wonder, then, that so many common people, dusty scholars, and plodding academic philosophers alike, ever since the 18th century, have found your works to be so bloody boring and your “famous, all-too-famous” sentences in the Conclusion to the Critique of Practical Reason to be the acme of philosophical kitsch?
But, lukeskywalking right along again now, from philo-kitsch to philo-kant-kriticism….
Regrettably, I’m still having a hard time seeing how there could possibly be a fundamental unity between physical nature and autonomous persons, when,
on the one hand, (i) physical nature, including our animal, embodied selves, is strictly causal-dynamically determined by its own mechanistic universal laws,
yet, on the other, (ii) our capacity to choose and act in an absolutely spontaneous way, from ourselves, according to our own self-legislated moral laws would be causally-dynamically undetermined, and thus in violation of those mechanistic universal natural laws.
And if so, then how can we, as “human, all too human” persons, ever act freely in physical nature?
Mr K: Oh, for veronicalake’s sake.
— Aaah. Hmm. Umm. Well, I….
Mr N: Please, if you would be SO kind, Herr Doktor Professor Kant-Dude, as to let me get a philosophical word in edgywise.
Now it’s my turn to explain my “famous, all too famous” aphorism, the one scotch-taped on the door under me.
Let’s start with the thesis, shared by you, that everything in the physical natural world, including us insofar as we’re, after all, human animals, is strictly causal-dynamically determined by the mechanistic universal laws of that world.
And, using our philosophical imagination, now let’s conceive and speculate that the natural world causal-dynamically mechanically unfolds in a strictly deterministic fashion from the beginning of time to the end of time, not just once, but repeatedly, for ever and ever: let’s call that eternal recurrence.
Now imagine ourselves in the midst of that physical natural world, all of us nothing but living finger-puppets of the causal-dynamic forces and laws of physical nature, mechanically feeling whatever we feel, mechanically desiring whatever we desire, mechanically thinking whatever we think, mechanically choosing whatever we choose, and mechanically doing whatever we do, over and over and over again, for ever and ever, eternally recurring, yet all the time falsely believing that it’s all freely chosen and for real.
Then what would morality be?, you ask.
Imagine a strange and awesome demon who comes to you and asks: can you accept and also wholeheartedly affirm your whole actual life in this world, just as it’s happened, is happening, and will happen, eternally recurring, for ever and ever?
If the answer is yes!, I can accept and affirm my whole actual life, past, present, and future, every single detail, for ever and ever, then all your feelings, desires, thoughts, choices, and acts are morally right and good.
But if the answer is no!, I can’t accept it all, I reject and deny many things, for example, I regret this and regret that, feel guilty about this and that, hate this and hate that, blah blah blah, then precisely all those feelings, thoughts, and choices that you cannot accept, are morally wrong and bad.
And notice how very different this is from Christian morality, which demands of us a life-denying, slavish obedience to a (supposedly) all powerful, (supposely) all-knowing, and (supposedly) all-good God, who nevertheless permits the existence of destructive and terrifying natural and moral evil, animal and human suffering, and all other sorts of badness and nastiness, everywhere, always.
In any case, my moral theory is radically beyond all so-called “good” and so-called “evil” in the depraved, dessicated senses of Christian morality.
Mr K: Jimminycagney.
— You are certainly a philosophical badass, Mr N.
But just permit me to ask this:
In your metaphysical and moral vision of things, by virtue of what power inside ourselves, can we either accept and wholeheartedly affirm, or else reject and deny, our whole actual lives and things as they have been, are, and will be, for ever and ever?
Isn’t that, by its very nature, an absolutely spontaneous and self-authored power to choose?
Even if mechanistic natural science cannot explain the nature and operations of this power?
In other words, according to your metaphysical and moral vision vision of things, we have an absolutely spontaneous will-to-choose either affirmation or denial.
That being so, what if we’re essentially not nothing but biological machines, but instead, over and above the mechanical aspects of our biology, essentially something more than biological machines: I mean that we’re rational human animals with an absolutely spontaneous will-to-choose?
Perhaps, then, the apparently kant-killing problem you raise for my moral metaphysics is in fact a problem about mechanistic natural science and the way it understands biological life, rational human animals, and our manifestly real world, and not really a problem about my moral metaphysics?
Then we could both answer the all-important question, “are you really free?” with a world-shattering, YES!
How amazingly ironic that would be!
And am I , Mr K, not saying that the autonomous person is precisely the person who can, in her self-validating experience of the higher happiness that is The Fact of Reason, accept and affirm her whole actual life, just as it was, is, and will be, when it is freely chosen and acted upon by her from respect for the Moral Law innately inscribed inside her?
And am I, Mr K, not also saying that the less-than-autonomous person is precisely the person who would, when questioned by the demon, reject this and deny that, blah blah blah, about her past, present, and future life, according to the Moral Law?
So what, in the end, is the real difference between our two views, apart from the comparatively superficial and trivial fact that —
(i) my view is presented in a complicated, bloody boring, and kitschy way, but
(ii) your view is presented in a simple, exciting, and badass way?
And if that is so, then couldn’t we agree, at the end of the philosophical day, just between ourselves, here in the eerie, uncanny House of Cinema, where nobody else can hear us, that complicated, bloody boring, and kitschy Mr Kant, and simple, exciting, and badass Mr Nietzsche, are in reality metaphysical and moral same-sayers?
Mr N: Oh, travisbickle.
— Aaah. Hmm. Umm. Well, I….
Mr K: Travisbickle to you too, Mr N.
— And now that you’re dumbfounded, it’s time for us to say auf Wiedersehen!
[i] S. Kierkegaard, “The Concept of Irony,” in S. Kierkegaard, The Essential Kierkegaard, trans. H. Hong and E. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2000), pp. 23–30, at p. 27.
[ii] F. Nietzsche, “From The Gay Science,” in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. W. Kaufmann (Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin, 1983), aphorism 193, p. 96.
[iii] I. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, in I. Kant, Practical Philosophy, trans. M. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), pp. 137–271, at p. 269.
[iv] Nietzsche, “From The Gay Science,” aphorism 341, pp. 101–102.
Mr Nemo, Nowhere, NA, Monday 13 November 2017
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