How are we to philosophize without "Isms?" For, although defining a person in terms of an Ism is dangerous--both because it encourages identification of the individual with the doctrine and because it denies her the possibility of becoming that, as a human, she is heir to--grouping people according to a doctrine to which they subscribe is a convenient mental shortcut. Although grouping people into verbal boxes entails the danger of eventually seeing all of the boxes as equal, or similar enough to make no difference, the necessity of seeing the totality of a single human being is impossible. And although the qualities of my existence, or anyone else's existence (an individual's isness), are constantly undergoing a process, both conscious and unconscious, of revaluation and change, the change is usually not great enough over short lengths of time to qualify as noticeable. It is convenient to be able to look at someone and say, "This person has these qualities," in order to know how to relate to that person, how to value that person, and how that person values himself and relates to the world--in short, what he is. To state that a person is something is deceptive, because even as we speak, that person is changing; even to say that an individual has certain qualities is mistaken, because as that individual's process of becoming unfolds, those qualities she possesses change also. How, then, can we relate to anyone at all? How can we differentiate between people?
Friederich Nietzsche suggests an answer to these problems. In Beyond Good and Evil, one of his attempts to sum up his thought--indeed, throughout his philosophical work, as far as I can tell, Nietzsche describe...
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...d of a Buddhist koan, which is intended to break the hold of logic on the mind. However, rather than breaking the hold of logic on the mind, Nietzsche, with his jibing remarks, swashbuckling writing style, self-contradictions, and secrecy, is intending to break the hold of socially determined "masks," or Isms, from the perceptions of the new philosopher who will arise the day after tomorrow. Nietzsche shows us how to philosophize without Isms. The only question remaining is whether we are strong enough to take his advice.
Kaufmann, Walter. Notes to Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil. New York: Vintage, 1966.
Nietzsche, Friederich. Beyond Good and Evil. Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1966.
Nietzsche, Friederich. Thus Spoke Zarathustra in The Portable Nietzsche. Ed. and Trans. Walter Kaufmann. New York: Viking, 1954.
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