Saturday, March 11, 2000

St. Thomas Aquinas and Friedrich Nietzsche

What is the Good of Society?
Since St. Thomas Aquinas political viewpoints were influenced by his religion and Friedrich Nietzsche thought of himself as an atheist, this proves that views of philosophers can differ. One difference of views is on “What is the Good of Society?”Using current ligature this report will introduce and compare the views of these two philosophers.
Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) lived at a critical juncture of western culture when the arrival of the Aristotelian corpus in Latin translation reopened the question of the relation between faith and reason, calling into question the modus vivendi that had obtained for centuries (Mclnerny, 2013). Thomas, after early studies at Montecassino, moved on to the University of Naples, where he met members of the new Dominican Order (Mclnerny, 2013). It was at Naples too that Thomas had his first extended contact with the new learning (Mclnerny, 2013). When he joined the Dominican Order he went north to study with Albertus Magnus, author of a paraphrase of the Aristotelian corpus (Mclnerny, 2013). Thomas completed his studies at the University of Paris, which had been formed out of the monastic schools on the Left Bank and the cathedral school at Notre Dame (Mclnerny, 2013). In two stints as a regent master Thomas defended the mendicant orders and, of greater historical importance, countered both the Averroistic interpretations of Aristotle and the Franciscan tendency to reject Greek philosophy (Mclnerny, 2013). The result was a new modus vivendi between faith and philosophy which survived until the rise of the new physics (Mclnerny, 2013). The Catholic Church has over the centuries regularly and consistently reaffirmed the central importance of Thomas's work for understanding its teachings concerning the Christian revelation, and his close textual commentaries on Aristotle represent a cultural resource which is now receiving increased recognition (Mclnerny, 2013).
Thomas Aquinas gave more credit to the human intellect than Augustine did (Mannion, n.d.). Mankind did not need divine intervention to think profound thoughts (Mannion, n.d.). One can ascertain the Form by observation of the reality (Mannion, n.d.). We can conceive of the exalted notions of Truth and Beauty without a celestial nudge (Mannion, n.d.). In fact, mankind cannot truly grasp the Forms, because like Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas felt the Form was embedded in the corporeal reality and was not a free-floating entity out there in the ether (Mannion, n.d.). Harkening back to Aristotle, and with a little Christian pride, Thomas Aquinas believed that if a “pagan” like Aristotle can figure all this out, Christians certainly could (Mannion, n.d.). Old Aristotle did not have the advantage of divine assistance, pagan that he was (Mannion, n.d.).
Another welcome contribution of Thomas Aquinas was his holistic approach to the body-mind-spirit that makes a human being (Mannion, n.d.). There was less of “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” thinking in his philosophy than in Augustine's and Plato's (Mannion, n.d.)
Aristotle sought to develop a universal method of reasoning of which it would be possible to learn everything there is to know about reality (Thomas Aquinas, n.d.). Thomas Aquinas found no contradiction in applying this type of reasoning to religion (Thomas Aquinas, n.d.). While he allowed that it was certainly possible for a person to accept religious teachings by faith alone and that this was indeed the best method, he asserted that theology was a science in which careful application of reason would yield observable proof of theoretical knowledge (Thomas Aquinas, n.d.).

Aquinas was given the name, “the angelic teacher” due to his defense of theology and was considered a professional theologian (Thomas Aquinas, n.d.). Nevertheless, among his writings are works easily recognizable as philosophy (Thomas Aquinas, n.d.). He also wrote several commentaries on Aristotle who has garnered the respect and admiration of Aristotelian scholars (Thomas Aquinas, n.d.). Thomas Aquinas sought to make a distinction between philosophy and theology (Thomas Aquinas, n.d.):

Friedrich Nietzsche, born October 15, 1844, was a German philosopher of the late 19th century who challenged the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality (Fredrich Nietzsche biography, n.d.). His father, Carl Ludwig Nietzsche, was a Lutheran preacher; he died when Nietzsche was 4 years old (Fredrich Nietzsche biography, n.d.). Nietzsche and his younger sister, Elisabeth, were raised by their mother, Franziska (Fredrich Nietzsche biography, n.d.). Nietzsche attended a private preparatory school in Naumburg and then received a classical education at the prestigious Schulpforta School (Fredrich Nietzsche biography, n.d.). After graduating in 1864, he attended the University of Bonn for two semesters (Fredrich Nietzsche biography, n.d.). He transferred to the University of Leipzig, where he studied philology, a combination of literature, linguistics and history (Fredrich Nietzsche biography, n.d.). He was strongly influenced by the writings of philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. During his time in Leipzig, he began a friendship with the composer Richard Wagner, whose music he greatly admired (Fredrich Nietzsche biography, n.d.). He was interested in the enhancement of individual and cultural health, and believed in life, creativity, power, and the realities of the world we live in, rather than those situated in a world beyond (Fredrich Nietzsche biography, n.d.). Central to his philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation,” which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life's expansive energies, however socially prevalent those views might be (Fredrich Nietzsche biography, n.d.).
Nietzsche developed the central points of his philosophy in the 1880’s (Friedrich Bessette Nietzshe, 2013). One of these was his famous statement that "God is dead," a rejection of Christianity as a meaningful force in contemporary life (Friedrich Bessette Nietzshe, 2013). Others were his endorsement of self-perfection through creative drive and a "will to power," and his concept of a "super-man" or "over-man" (√úbermensch), an individual who strives to exist beyond conventional categories of good and evil, master and slave (Friedrich Bessette Nietzshe, 2013).
If God is dead, then, what is truth (Borghini, n.d.)? At the outset of modern philosophy, Descartes had relied upon God’s existence to prove that mathematical knowledge and knowledge derived from the senses (what we see, feel, touch, smell …) are reliable (Borghini, n.d.). Now that God is removed from the scene, who is to say that one’s word is more perfect than another’s (Borghini, n.d.)?

To Nietzsche, indeed, truth is a central idea only within the Apollonian systems of philosophy, those that seek to find a rational solution to any philosophical question (Borghini, n.d.). Those systems have allowed science to step on the highest pedestal of intellectual inquiry, without realizing that science itself isn’t but the result of the use of force of some people over others (Borghini, n.d.). Once we come to see that human existence is ultimately wild, ruled by instincts, passions, and emotions, then the idea of truth becomes secondary (Borghini, n.d.). What emerges as primary are health and strength (Borghini, n.d.).
To Nietzsche, at the root of every creative impulse lies an instinct which is instinctual, wild, amoral, and driven by passion; this is what he calls the Dionysian (Borghini, n.d.). In direct opposition to the Dionysian stands the Apollonian tendency, at play when we try at producing a rational explanation of all that there is (Borghini, n.d.). According to Nietzsche, Socrates and his disciples, including Plato and Aristotle were expression of the Apollonian: their own is the expression of a philosophy in which reason attempts to take control over the most instinctual aspects of the soul (Borghini, n.d.). Nietzsche saw this attitude as reactionary, as the will of losers to control those who enjoy life at their fullest (Borghini, n.d.).
In Ethics, Nietzsche called himself an "immoralist" and harshly criticized the prominent moral schemes of his day, including Christianity, Kantianism and Utilitarianism (Mastin, 2008). However, rather than destroying morality, Nietzsche wanted a re-evaluation of the values of Judeo-Christianity, preferring the more naturalistic source of value which he found in the vital impulses of life itself (Mastin, 2008). In his "Beyond Good and Evil" in particular he argued that we must go beyond the simplistic Christian idea of Good and Evil in our consideration of morality (Mastin, 2008). Nietzsche saw the prevailing Christian system of faith as not only incorrect but as harmful to society, because it effectively allowed the weak to rule the strong, stifled artistic creativity, and, critically, suppressed the "will to power" which he saw as the driving force of human character (Mastin, 2008). He had an ingrained distrust of overarching and indiscriminate rules, and strongly believed that individual people were entitled to individual kinds of behavior and access to individual areas of knowledge (Mastin, 2008).
In the absence of God, then, all values, truths and standards must be created by us rather than merely handed to us by some outside agency, which Nietzsche (and the Existentialists who later embraced this idea) as a tremendously empowering, even if not a comforting, thing (Mastin, 2008). His solution to the vacuum left by the absence of religion was essentially to "be yourself", to be true to oneself, to be uninhibited, to live life to the full, and to have the strength of mind to carry through one's own project, regardless of any obstacles or concerns for other people, the weak, etc (Mastin, 2008). This was his major premise, and also the goal towards which he thought all Ethics should be directed (Mastin, 2008).
However, it was not only the values of Christianity that Nietzsche rebelled against (Mastin, 2008). He was also critical of the tradition of secular morality; the "herd values", as he called them, of the everyday masses of humanity; and at least some of the traditions deriving from Ancient Greece, principally those of Socrates and Plato (Mastin, 2008).
He posited that the original system of morality was the "master-morality", dating back to ancient Greece, where value arises as a contrast between good (the sort of traits found in a Homeric hero: wealth, strength, health and power) and bad (the sort of traits conventionally associated with slaves in ancient times: poor, weak, sick, and pathetic) (Mastin, 2008). "Slave-morality", in contrast, came about as a reaction to master-morality, and is associated with the Jewish and Christian traditions, where value emerges from the contrast between good (associated with charity, piety, restraint, meekness and subservience) and evil (associated with cruelty, selfishness, wealth, indulgence and aggressiveness) (Mastin, 2008). Initially a ploy among the Jews and Christians dominated by Rome to overturn the values of their masters, to justify their situation and to gain power for themselves, Nietzsche saw the slave-morality as a hypocritical social illness that has overtaken Europe, which can only work by condemning others as evil, and he called on the strong of the world to break their self-imposed chains and assert their own power, health and vitality on the world (Mastin, 2008).

Borghini, A. (n.d.). Fredrich Nietzsche: Philosophy (1844-1900). Retrieved December 12, 2013, from Philosophy:
Fredrich Nietzsche biography. (n.d.). Retrieved December 09, 2013, from
Friedrich Bessette Nietzshe. (2013). Retrieved November 29, 2013, from The Biograph Channel Website:
Mannion. (n.d.). Thomas Aquinas. Retrieved December 15, 2013, from
Mastin, L. (2008). Friedriche Nietzsche. Retrieved December 10, 2013, from The Basics of Philosophy:
Mclnerny, R. &. (2013, Winter edition). Saint Thomas Aquinas. Retrieved November 26, 2013, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:
Thomas Aquinas. (n.d.). Retrieved December 14, 2013, from All About
Wicks, R. (2013 Edition, Spring). Friedrich Nietzsche. Retrieved November 26, 2013, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

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