Nietzsche is dead

By Jeremiah Reedy

I want to thank Andy Pragacz for inspiring me to broaden and strengthen the claim I made in my February 19 opinion piece. At that time I argued that realism, as defined by John Searle, is the “default position in philosophy” and the philosophy everyone lives by whether they know it or not or will admit it or not. (Those who don’t know it are living the “unexamined life” which Socrates found “not fit for a human being.”) I’m claiming now that animals as well as humans are realists in practice, and I hope to contribute to two new fields within philosophy, animal ontology and the animal epistemology. Animals, for instance deer, obviously know that there are other species existing in a “pre-given” world (Andy’s word) , and that some of those species, e.g. lions, are very dangerous. (A postmodern deer wouldn’t last long, given “nature red in tooth and claw.”) Animals communicate with one another in various ways, e.g. with cries which refer to external entities and threats. Animals, for instance, ducks, that are fooled by decoys have false ideas in that their notions don’t correspond to reality. Hence, animals use the correspondence definition of truth. Animals certainly don’t create reality for themselves through “discourse” so why should we think we do?Andy asks “What place do Platonic ideas have in our lives?” implying “none” or “almost none.” Moreover, he says we don’t need essences. Romans such as Cicero went to Athens to study philosophy, a subject the Romans didn’t have until they encountered Greek culture. When they set out to translate Greek philosophy into Latin, they had to coin many words or give new meanings to existing words. To translate Plato’s ideas, they used the words “species,” “essence,” and “nature.” Organisms that share a common essence constitute classes called species. (Deer will recognize a lion they have never seen before because it conforms to the image or idea of lion they have in their minds.) Platonic ideas thus play a very great role in our lives, and there are as many essences in the world as there are species.

In recent decades academics have paid a great deal of attention to cultural diversity and rightly so. We should, however, give equal time and attention to our common humanity, i.e. the essence we all share. It is because of our common nature that we feel a kinship with all members of the human family, and we commiserate and feel compassion for those who are suffering.

Andy thinks that “life is already (overly) full of philosophy,” but I would say we can never have too much philosophy; we can never love wisdom too much, and very few practice reflection and critical thinking to excess. Also all of the sciences are spin-offs from philosophy. As wonderful as mythology is, myths didn’t put men on the moon, myths didn’t find a vaccine to prevent polio, and myths won’t find a cure for AIDS. In fact, the human race made very little progress until mythology was rejected and replaced or supplemented by philosophy and science. Finally, philosophy has given us the doctrine of human rights which is based on the Platonic notion that all humans share a common essence. Without the doctrine of human rights what basis would we have to criticize abuses here and elsewhere?

Andy’s postmodernism reminds me of Ellen Dissanayake who wrote in 1996, “I can imagine a day when scholars will shake their heads in amazement that the mental exhaust emitted by a few primarily Gallic savants engulfed and stupefied a whole generation of academics in its hypnotic miasma.”

I am not trying to “push postmodernism closer to absurdity;” it’s already there.

Jeremiah Reedy is a Professor of Classics and can be reached at [email protected].