How Nietzsche Outwits Descarte Essay Research Paper

How Nietzsche Outwits Descarte Essay, Research Paper

Friedrich Nietzsche is not only one of the most influential

philosophers the world has seen, but he is also one of the most

controversial. He has influenced twentieth century thought more than

almost any other thinker. In his numerous works, Nietzsche constantly

criticizes and restructures the strongly held philosophical and

religious beliefs of his time. One such principle that he refutes

belongs to his predecessor Rene’ Descartes, and concerns the apparent

distinction and significance of the human mind over the body. Descartes

explains this elaborate theory in his Meditations on First Philosophy,

claiming that the mind (the conscious) is the lone essential part of the

human essence. On the other hand, Nietzsche expresses in his work, On

the Genealogy of Morality, his beliefs that the body (the unconscious)

is key to the human essence. One may find it difficult to decide

between these two ideas, for both philosophers pose good arguments on

the contradicting sides of this famous dilemma.

However, by analyzing them further, I realize

that the qualities of their arguments are only as good as the

foundations that they are based upon; one cannot have an understanding

of the mind or the body without first having knowledge of the essence of

human existence. With this in mind, I will prove that the body is

superior to the mind by showing that the center for Nietzsche’s ideas,

the human essence, is more valid than that of Descartes.

Descartes’ idea of the human essence is based solely on his formed

concept of “radical doubt.” He believes the essence of human existence

to be simply “a thinking thing” [1]. We must now analyze how he

arrived at this conclusion. Descartes is famous for radical doubt, a

concept that questions everything, and assumes nothing to be true unless

it can be proved so with his idea of “clear and distinct perception.”

From this he states that the only thing he can clearly and distinctively

perceive is that “I exist” [2]. He concludes that since he ceases to

exist when he ceases to think, he can then clearly and distinctively

call himself a “thinking thing” [3]. Descartes explains this train of

thought when he says:

From the fact that I know that I exist, and that at the same time I

judge that obviously nothing else belongs to my nature or essence except

that I am a thinking thing, I rightly conclude that my essence consists

entirely in my being a thinking thing. And although perhaps I have a

body that is very closely joined to me, nevertheless, because on the one

hand I have a clear and distinct idea of myself, insofar as I am merely

a thinking thing and not an extended thing, and because on the other

hand I have a distinct idea of a body, insofar as it is merely an

extended thing and not a thinking thing, it is certain that I am really

distinct from my body, and can exist without it [4].

It is obvious that Descartes’ arrival of the human essence as a

“thinking thing” in this way is fully based on his beliefs of radical

doubt and clear and distinct perception. He bases all of his inferences

on other inferences.

Descartes also devaluates the human body and places the mind at the

essence of the human existence based on his concept. Due to his radical

doubt, Descartes quickly omits the body and the entire physical world as

having any significance because of the simple fact that they can be

doubted. He establishes a strong sense of doubt in his senses, because,

according to Descartes, one cannot know clearly and distinctly that they

are not being deceived into their physical sensations [5]. Descartes

thus condemns the significance of the body when he proclaims that it is

“not a substance endowed with understanding” [6]. He places the body

into the physical, unintelligible realm of his concept of dualism,

opposite from the thinking, knowledgeable realm. Descartes now

acknowledges the body as being useful only within the limits of “moving

from one place to another, of taking on various shapes, and so on” [7].

It is from this condemnation of the body into the physical,

unintelligible !

realm that Descartes further places the mind on a pedestal, and at the

essence of human existence. To him the mind is superior because it

thinks, which is in itself our essence. He explains this in the

indented quote I have already cited (4), saying that the mind can exist

without the body. Analyzing things with radical doubt clearly finalizes

all of Descartes’ ideas.

Therefore, Descartes’ argument is not valid because of the fact that it

is solely derived from assumptions. His idea of the superiority of the

mind is based on the assumption that humans are thinking things, which

itself is based on the assumption of clear and distinct perception,

which is further based on the assumption that radical doubt is valid.

Descartes’ entire argument includes the use of clear and distinct

perception, a concept that he concocted, to evaluate what is true and

what is false. It is absurd to dub something valid when it is based on

an assumption, let alone many assumptions. Henceforth, it is false to

grant Descartes’ ideas any relevance because they are derived by judging

things on his basis. Steven J. Wagner, in his essay “Descartes’s

Arguments for Mind-Body Distinctness,” supports this point when he says;

“Descartes’s procedure only makes good sense once we see it as a product

of his system…Too much in Descartes depends on things that are far too


rong” [8]. He explains that Cartesian (Descartes’ thinking) dualism and

the Cartesian mind can only be supported along Cartesian lines [9]. It

requires little intelligence to prove a point when one bases their

argument for it on invalid theories of their own fabrication. The

superiority of the mind in the human essence, therefore, has not been

clearly proven because its ideal is based on Descartes’ numerous


Nietzsche’s idea of the human essence, on the other hand, clearly holds

more validity than Descartes’ because it is not based on assumed

principles. Nietzsche believes the human essence to be one of

competition, survival and a will to power. Unlike Descartes,

Nietzsche’s ideal is based on a foundation of facts. He concocts his

ideal mostly by observing nature and the world around him. Bertram M.

Laing, in his essay “The Metaphysics of Nietzsche’s Immoralism,”

explains Nietzsche’s belief called the “organic process,” whereas the

world is “a continual distribution and redistribution of force or power”

[10]. Nietzsche observes society as a barbaric, predatory world that he

separates it into two groups: one having “slave morality,” and the other

“master morality” [11]. Those who possess master morality, or noble

morality, are the ones who live their lives instinctively by trying to

achieve heightened power, often at the expense of others. These people,

according to Nietzsc!

he, are the active and productive members of society. They exude power

and confidence, and prioritize success over popularity [12]. They are

the ones who gain the power in the “organic process.” Nietzsche

preaches for people to have this kind of morality, for he sees this as

being “good” [13]. On the other hand, those who possess slave morality

are the ones who do not act instinctively and thus are weak. Their

weakness is apparent by observing their lack of productivity and success

[14]. They became clever in order to compensate for not being powerful,

doing things like congregating for chances of greater defense. These

people, according to Nietzsche, developed “ressentiment” towards their

superiors’ power [15]. Nietzsche thus calls them “the regression of

humankind,” because their morality develops out of hatred and a denial

of our bodily instincts [16]. The human essence, therefore, is one of a

desire for power and success. Nietzsche cleverly legitimizes this claim


by comparing it to the `survival of the fittest’ aspects of nature [17].

“Beasts of Prey” hold the qualities of master morality, for they achieve

their goals instinctively at the expense of their prey. They do what is

needed for them to survive. Lambs, the prey, are equal to those

included in Nietzsche’s slave morality because they are weak, and

congregate in herds for protection [18]. The Beasts of Prey are

obviously the ones who survive, so Nietzsche believes that we should

strive to act instinctively like them. Rather than following in

Descartes’ footsteps to leading a trivial argument, it is clear that

Nietzsche based his concoction of the human essence mostly on

irrefutable observations. In this way his idea surpasses Descartes’ in

relevance and validity, thus giving him clear ground to employ this

ideal in proving the superiority of the body.

Finally, Nietzsche uses this valid assertion of the human essence to

prove that the body is more essential to the human existence than the

mind. Nietzsche argues that since the human essence is based on

predatory competition necessary in the “organic process” of the world,

the body is more important than the mind. Instinct, he says, is rooted

in the body that we are given. Thus our bodies define who we are

because they determine what morality, master or slave, we adhere to.

Nietzsche believes that one’s placement within these categories is

decided at birth as an unalterable “assignment” determined by the

genealogy of a person’s morals. Our bodies determine whether we act

according to our natural instincts for success and the will of power

(master morality), or if we turn away from them (slave morality). These

bodily instincts are the key element to our existence, for they

completely govern our personalities. By analyzing the Beasts of Prey

argument again, it is clear th!

at the lambs were born into their existence as non-instinctive and

defensive beings due to their bodies. The bodies of the birds also held

their propensity to act on their natural instinct. In this way the body

is therefore the principal element of our existence; it is the

difference between eating, and getting eaten. Bertram M. Laing

describes Nietzsche’s “body” when she calls it “the source of all

inspiration; the power that breathes or speaks through one is not an

alien deity, but the self, the man as he really is” [19]. The body,

then, is superior to the mind, because it holds our natural instincts

that fully determine who we are and how we will fare in the “organic

process” of our existence.

So as you can see, the body is a greater element of human existence

than the mind. I have achieved this conclusion in a simple, systematic

fashion. I did so by (1) stating that the ideas of the human essence

are the foundations for Nietzsche’s and Descartes’ arguments, (2)

proving that Descartes’ idea of human essence is not valid because it is

based mostly on his own assumed principles, (3) proving that Descartes’

entire argument for the superiority of the mind can now be deemed

invalid as a result of this, (4) proving that Nietzsche’s idea of human

essence is more valid than Descartes’ because it is based on undeniable

facts, (5) and finally proving that the body is superior to the mind

because of the legitimacy of Nietzsche’s argument. It is clear that

Nietzsche has outwitted his great predecessor here.