Tag Archive: power


From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 6: Nietzsche – Knowledge and Belief

Transcript: First, what’s supposed to be so scandalous about Nietzsche. Nietzsche is supposed to hold the scandalous view that knowledge is a form of power. Now that is scandalous because knowledge is knowledge. It’s objective. You know, like journalism. And it would be scandalous to show that wherever we find knowledge, we will find it structured and constructed around a system (or systems) of power. Won’t find one without the other. Now, one can think of this along the simplest pedagogical models. By that I mean the classroom models. I mean, I ought to know this from teaching the university. I know how to pass along knowledge.

To get someone to believe me in the last analysis, I give them an “A”, which I could replace with a “happy face”. They are used to that, it’s from kindergarten. They are both just symbols, right, of achievement. They’re not getting paid for this stuff. Just give them a little “A”, they smile. That same system starts in kindergarten: “happy face”… “A”… runs through to “F”. “F”, no face… blank. The same thing would work in kindergarten. That form I used looks fair. I mean, I am grading objectively. But the point is deeper. That what the knowledge is based on is my spot of power as the teacher. That’s what it’s based on. Now, you would go: “oh no – it’s based on what’s really true!” Yeah, but… but… how does that get meted out and parsed out? Who decides that? Well the blunt and ugly answer is: we do. The teachers do. We decide.

Now there are clear counter examples to Nietzsche’s argument. In mathematics at its simplest levels, I will grant you, that if we are doing a mathematics course, I could grade objectively. But I will also grant you that nothing of great importance to human values hangs on truths that everyone can accept. That two plus two equals four, that A is A, are all acceptable, and they are acceptable precisely because nothing of very great human importance hangs on them. The moment you go a little beyond that in any direction, even in math class, when you discuss for example the philosophy of mathematics, then the disputes start, and then power at some point has to insert itself and decide.

So, an important part of Nietzsche’s investigation is in the interconnection between the forms of knowledge and power. Forms of… and for the purposes of our course… forms of ethical behaviour and power, ah, are the subject of his most important book. Well, maybe not his most important, but certainly the one that is the most coherent: “On the Genealogy of Morals”, by Nietzsche.

Download: The Self Under Siege (1993) Lecture 5: Habermas and the Fragile Dignity of Humanity.avi

Transcript: In this lecture I want to discuss one of the most important philosophers who is still working, still alive, his work ranges over many areas in social theory, it ranges in areas of philosophy, linguistics and so on, and that’s Jurgen Habermas. Habermas is one of the last great defenders of rationalism in a period in philosophy in which rationalism is not held in very high esteem. In many ways Habermas is an outgrowth of one of the figures that we discussed last time, namely Herbert Marcuse and the Frankfurt School; that would include Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer. Habermas was in fact Adorno’s graduate assistant and so the original project that Jurgen Habermas set himself was to reformulate the kinds of theories being worked on by Marcuse, by Horkheimer and by Adorno. In particular his first venture was to reformulate their distinction between traditional theory – understood as both philosophy and science, both – as opposed to what they called “critical theory”; a theory whose interest was in the emancipation of human beings. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 7: Nietzsche as Artist.mov

Transcript: In this lecture I’d like to discuss Nietzsche as artist, and also – I don’t know if it’s on what we might call the course syllabus, but – Nietzsche and his political uses, and the two are deeply interconnected. I have said that I don’t want to treat Nietzsche as a mere literary figure, and when I say “Nietzsche as Artist”, I have in mind this strong project of self creation, which is to make one’s own life a work of art. A very difficult thing is to sculpt oneself; it’s much easier to sculpt in stone than to sculpt in that invisible mysterious material of the self. View Full Article »

Download: Nietzsche and the Post-Modern Condition (1991) Lecture 6: The Will to Power.mov

Transcript: I’d like to wrap up my remarks about self creation, self invention, and the challenge of The Eternal Recurrence by saying that we need to remember that this has to do… that this has to do with what I mentioned later in the lecture: the love of fate. Loving the place you have found yourself in history. And sometimes that’s a difficult thing to do, and for me that’s a quite personal remark that has to do with my own self invention. To try to love the place I have found myself in history, like many other people now is… I find that difficult. Nietzsche on the other hand thought it might be difficult, but it was a challenge that we should attempt to meet. View Full Article »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 7: Kierkegaard and the Contemporary Spirit.mov

Transcript: Okay, ah, last time I may have dropped out of my West Texas mode for a moment and become a little too philosophical, so I am going to try to restate a few things from Nietzsche in a simple way, quickly, before I move on to some remarks about Kierkegaard. Ah, what I was trying to evoke in you was more the spirit of Nietzsche than the specific text. The spirit of Nietzsche is one of deep suspicion, and that suspicion is that power is intertwined with things that we normally like to think of, even today, as not being dependent on power, for example; truth, goodness, and so on. Nietzsche says they are. View Full Article »

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 6: Nietzsche – Knowledge and Belief.mov

Transcript: Last time, in our last lecture we were screaming about the United States government and its many failings. I want to make clear something, and its… unfortunately in the current context… ah, I must tell you that many of you who came here to hear a course on “Philosophy and Human Values” probably expected more “Philosophy” and less on the “Human Values” side. Well, I hope some of you were here yesterday when I ran through a series of ethical theories; and I think I gave some arguments. That was my “professionalising” work. In other words, that was the display of my rough credentials to do this. View Full Article »