Some celebrate the beauty
of knights, or infantry,
or billowing flotillas
at battle on the sea.
Warfare has its glory,
but I place far above
these military splendors
the one thing that you love.

For proof of this contention
examine history:
we all remember Helen,
who left her family,
her child, and royal husband,
to take a stranger’s hand:
her beauty had no equal,
but bowed to love’s command.

As love then is the power
that none can disobey,
so too my thoughts must follow
my darling far away:
the sparkle of her laughter
would give me greater joy
than all the bronze-clad heroes

Sappho
What is best in life? This question has been asked since the dawn of man; from Plato to Epicurus, Aquinas to Mill. Whether it be ethics or metaphysics, this question defines the whole. There is the Good, there is God, there is Pleasure, there is Duty, each is an answer to what is best. As lofty and admirable as these be, reality rarely reflects it. There are endless arguments for and against each of these positions. I find no reason to parrot them here. What I do intend to answer is the question ‘what is best in life’, as a result of my personal studies, experiences, and influences. First and foremost I prefer the pragmatic to the theoretical. We have the here and now, our own subjective existence, and our responses to that.

Along the vein of Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and the contemporary Richard Taylor, as well as numerous poets, inspired me to inquire as to what is best. Subjectivism has received a mixed reputation, though I am specifically speaking of metaphysical subjectivism in this context. Our subjective experience is all we have. Accepting the premise that there is indeed objective reality, it is only through our subjective can we experience this reality. It is only by the phenomena of consciousness do we experience. It is the only thing we can rely upon to understand ourselves and existence. By this I do not mean strictly empiricism nor rationalism. We experience the whole realm of thought, senses, emotions, passions, and each is to be considered. Even in the radical case of consuming entheogens and hallucinating, that hallucination is incredibly real within the subjective and should not be dismissed without thought. Be this labeled indirect realism or extreme subjectivism, what exists within it is the totality of what we have access to, which is not as finite as it first sounds. Consider the primacy of an individual’s subjective. It can be a suffocating hell or peaceful clarity. I do not mean reductionist angle of each thought, feeling, belief, etc. I am speaking about the whole of the subjective. This is what we experience from the moment we come into this world. It happens within this sphere of experience and processing.

The present physical is what we have to work with, be that as it may. Concepts of a heavenly afterlife and Platonic forms have value in philosophy, but is irrelevant to our day to day living. Other approaches are the adoption of a supposedly ‘objective’ set of morality put forth by a religion or apply the categorical imperative to determine rightful duty. This can satisfy an existential thirst for authority and justice, but is ultimately a kind of outsourcing. It gives up the burden to the Other, be that relieving or inadequate. This is insufficient for myself. Let us derive the answer of what is best from the marrow of experienced existence itself. One may immediately decry this as ethical relativism or only relative to the individual. This is not my statement nor my concern. What I am proposing is that the individual subjective itself determine what is good, bad, and what is best. This does not deny nor disagree with the possibility of objective morality. An objective morality could very well exist, but as an individual we can only work with what we ourselves can experience and decide in the subjective. Even those who outsource to an external set of supposed objective morality do so out of partial faith in its truth and authority.

What then is left but our own subjective experience. Richard Taylor posits that reason without desire, without will, without volition, cannot derive values. It is not reason which decides what is good, rather it is our desires and needs which determine what is good. Reason is an instrument used to achieve that good. Voluntarism, from the Latin voluntas which means Will or desire, is what drives man. The metaphysical Will of Schopenhauer, and the animating power which Nietzsche spoke of is this eternal volition. It propels the individual, all else is secondary and after the fact. Desire or Eros is what drives man and determines what is good, that which impedes that is thus the bad. Be it a primitive man whose desire is based upon his need for food and shelter, and the bad is any force which would impede that. Or the modern man whose desire is based upon the need for self-actualization and passionate expression, and the bad is any force that would impede that. This may appear simple and animal, but such is existence itself as we experience it.

Nietzsche stated that the good is all that heightens the feeling of power in man, power itself. The bad is all that is born of weakness. And happiness is the feeling that power is growing and resistance overcome. By power he did not necessarily mean the banal political or social power, rather an inherent immanence. Deleuze later referred to these relations as immanent evaluation, as opposed to transcendent judgment. What is bad is that which is born of weakness, which would be life-negating, or rather the impeding of power itself. This is the Nietzschean use of voluntarism, and as profound as it is does not satisfy me with its vagueness. Although it could be argued other conclusions of what is good and bad falls well within Nietzsche’s broad statement.

The vagueness and loftiness of Nietzsche’s philosophy is both brilliant and confounding. The concept of Overman and the Last Man seem two extremes. The one which is self-transcending and almost godlike, to the other which is content in its own sluggish comfort. Perhaps between is where the posited position settles. What is best in life is what one loves and had eternal passion for. What is good is that which assists achieve and continue this. What is bad is that which impedes it. This sounds absurdly simple and common, but how often does man truly pursue and embrace absolute passion? For centuries reason has dominated ethics, and the passions dismissed or repressed as lesser. What irony this is for it is passion which animates the whole and without it the subjective, the individual, would be dead in the water. The chosen poem by Sappho expressed this lust for life in determining what is best. There are those who look to transcendent judgment, higher duty, the grand accomplishments of mankind…but it is what one loves and has passion for that is absolute to the subjective. This is as absolute as any supposed objective morality or religious declaration. It is neither arbitrary nor flimsy, it is the full expression of oneself in existence itself. Man is a lawgiver within his own personal existence, and those laws are based on what one loves and the limitless passions thereof. One can either embrace this or forfeit it to an external authority. It could indeed be complete folly and flaw. What one can be sure of is the honesty of the position, embracing the bones of life, and knowing it is from the marrow of ones personal existence that such is derived.

Advertisements