Tiffany once rigorously speculated that she thinks we’re alone now, and that there doesn’t seem to be anyone around. Kierkegaard said God has left us wonderfully and horribly free, and we are continuously faced with the individuality of untethered existential freedom. Both agree that there doesn’t seem to be anyone around, but Kierkegaard accepts the role faith plays in the projection of all desire, belief and action in an undefined, changing world, while Tiffany remains staunchly agnostic, refusing to say whether or not there seems to be someone around, or whether or not we individuals can achieve either faith or certainty in any way that brings us collective closure.
A friend of mine recently brought Lee Braver’s book Groundless Grounds: A Study of Wittgenstein and Heidegger (2012) to my attention, and I must say, it is so far an incredible book. In the introduction, Braver sets out the overall frame of the book, which should be of some interest to anyone concerned with the similarities of the early work of Heidegger and the later work of Wittgenstein:
Both Heidegger and Wittgenstein argue that philosophy that suspends our activity in the world, taking a disengaged theoretical stance, is a problem (Ch 1). Both argue that this problematic view comes about by conceiving of things as changeless, self-contained objects (Ch 2). For Heidegger, this is the “present-at-hand”. For W, it is atomism and private language. Such bare inert objects do not give us a proper and full view of human life and meaning. Both argue that we need to see things as holistic and interdependent (Ch 3). While reality has been primarily understood in terms of knowledge, thought rests on non-rational and unjustified socialization, which includes our spontaneous and responsive activity (Ch 4). This new conception of thought has particular ramifications, calling into question the Law of Non-Contradiction (Wittgenstein) and the Principle of Reason (Heidegger) (Ch 5). Our lack of justification in thought does not make thinking worthless. Rather, it shows us what we take as “groundless grounds”, what we rely upon even if it is always somewhat and in some ways unreliable.
Nietzsche, the great mustachioed one, said that if we want to be great individual, revolutionary thinkers, we each must take an individual stand between the twin dangers of morality and nihilism.
Morality, the dogmatism, laws, traditions, and rules of the cultures that surround us, can prevent us from thinking critically and improving ourselves and our culture. However, if we question everything, this can lead to excessive skepticism and doubt, nihilism, such that we believe in nothing and do not have the courage and passion to take an individual stand and create new meaning and truth.
In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche uses the symbol of the tightrope walker to stand for the individual who balances between opposite sides. We must have the courage to learn from the morals, rules and dogmas, as well as question them freely and critically, taking from them what we each individually choose for ourselves. We can each use dogmatism and skepticism as we want to to create new truth and meaning, transforming the old. This became central to Existentialism, and then later Poststructuralism and Postmodernism.
All new thinking is dangerous and risky, but if we are afraid to think for ourselves, we do not take the risk that could pay off and be revolutionary. The history of religion, law, philosophy and science is made by great individuals who take the leaps that inspire everyone else. Those who think outside the box are the ones who get to change the box.
Nietzsche inspired other great thinkers to question reality. Heidegger said we can be boxed up by our use of time and technology. Sartre said we can be boxed up by social roles and social class. Fanon said that we can be boxed up by racism, institutional and internalized. Foucault said we can be boxed up by institutions that divide the normal from the abnormal, the criminal from the legal, and the sane from the insane.
By learning from these skeptical thinkers, we do not get a recipe or rulebook as to how we should be great individuals or what we should choose to do. Instead, we see how we are boxed up, so that we can think outside the box and about the box, to choose how to think and how to live.