Value as Untruth
On Nietzsche, Bacon, and Lewis
The death of God is a tragedy—man needs meaning to live. But the answer is not to be a slave, fearful of suffering, and so celebrating the fiction that there is something outside of the cave or above us after death.
Nietzsche saw man so concerned with Truth, and although its pursuit has led to glorious art and advances in modern technology, we dismiss untruth as though what we create are not fictional representations of our own philosophical psychology—for Platonists, this would explicate the Forms; for Christians, a Heaven; and yet man has, perhaps rightly, seen these as untruths to the point of untethering ourselves from any meaning at all—an honest reality that was inevitable the moment modernity paraded the individual as sovereign, rationality as desirable, and hence responded postmodernity: you have disillusioned me and yet have done us good, there is nothing left to believe in.
I’m not against the novel ambition of the enlightenment (to seek universalism, or at minimum, establish decorum whereby we treat one another with basic dignities), as I assume most rational people are not; but they removed the shroud of our ignorance when they cut our shackles from watching shadows dance on the walls, to realize only there is no way out except back on our backs, hoping for amnesia that we may sigh in relief: hopelessness was only a dream. We flicked a switch and there was no light; climbed out of the Morlockian depths and there was no sun; and the only response to the absences of illumination is that our individual constitution is devoid of God. Our meaning is so frail that we have resorted to blind faith upon an ever-irrelevant foundation of evidence that only proves the irrelevancy of God Himself.
Is nihilism the willing belief in nothingness? If so, what does that say of Platonism? Christianity?
When Francis Bacon repudiated the traditions before him, he conceived of new ways to restore philosophy. His restoration included commanding nature rather than understanding it; to do so by rejecting Aristotelian logic and reorienting induction, experience, as the center of reality. As Nietzsche sees the pursuit of Truth to have been good for the arts and technology, we also see Bacon’s turn toward commanding nature as another good, but not without the price of anxiety when reality has no grounding but to our unstable subjectivities—to say nothing of the totalitarian sociological experiments of the 20th century.
And so, when C.S. Lewis singles him out to demonstrate the West’s crisis of reason, we see how susceptible to propaganda man becomes when there is no objective value system that he may rely on. Suddenly, we too are able to be commanded as our sensibilities are as easily murdered as a frog for dissection. Lewis’ answer is to recover, rediscover, guard, train, and preserve our “chests,” our spirit, that we may not lose that which makes us human. To recover this, however, requires an objective value system, that either does or does not correspond to reality—the Tao, that guiding self-evident principle underlying reality.
Perhaps the invocation of the Tao to illustrate his point was nothing short of an appeal to universalism; admittedly, a “new Natural philosophy” that is a reformulated conception of the Natural Law, wrought in such a way as to masquerade his own resolve toward Christianity. He tries to escape this by making the exception that an objective value system mustn’t need to conform to reality—you don’t say. But ultimately, he’s right.
We used to “train our emotions,” or preserve our chests, by going to church. Burke’s sublime was that which instilled awe and profound beauty, what man required for himself and society and so went every Sunday for his weekly reminder. The only remaining question is how can an objective value system not correspond to reality? Why—no, not why nor how…Has objectivity itself become nothing?
Is everything an admitted fiction? Or worse, an untruth.