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In the Beginning Is Philosophy

On Desire and the Good


Brayton Polka

Philosophy, when understood to embody the values that are fundamental to modernity, is biblical in origin, both historically and ontologically. Central to this idea is the question famously posed by Tertullian: What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem? The answer – as based on a comprehensive and systematic discussion of the key texts and ideas of Spinoza, Vico, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche – is that we can overcome the conventional opposition between reason and faith, between philosophy and theology, and between the secular and the religious only if we learn to see that, as Spinoza shows us, both philosophy (reason) and theology (faith) are based on caritas: love – on the divine command to do unto others what you want others to do unto you. Provided throughout is a commentary on how fundamentally different philosophy is in the Greek and in the biblical traditions (in Athens and in Jerusalem). Whereas Socrates argues that (human) desire and the (divine) good are contradictory opposites, Spinoza shows that it is human desire that truly constitutes the divine good of all.
This book would be indispensable to courses (both undergraduate and graduate) in philosophy, religious studies, and the history of ideas – in interdisciplinary courses in the humanities, generally – that focus on the values that are central, both historically and ontologically, to modernity.
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5 Hermeneutics: What Do I Interpret? In Beginning with the Other as the Truth of Myself


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I shall initiate my analysis of hermeneutics—in asking “What Do I Interpret?”—by recalling that in Chapter 3 we saw Nietzsche raise the question in On the Genealogy of Morals of why there has been and still today is no opposition to the monstrous power that is, he tells us, expressed in and through the ascetic ideal. He writes, we remember: “The ascetic ideal expresses a will: where is the opposing will that might express an opposing ideal?” The goal of what we may call the ascetic will to power is so universal, Nietzsche continues, that, in interpreting “epochs, nations, and men … it permits no other interpretation, no other goal; it rejects, denies, affirms, and sanctions solely from the point of view of its interpretation (and has there ever been a system of interpretation more thoroughly thought through?). …” All other powers are allowed to exist only if they submit “to its goal, to one goal.—Where,” Nietzsche asks, “is the match of this closed system of will, goal and interpretation? Why has it not found its match?—Where is the other ‘one goal’?” (Essay 3, #23)

We also remember that Nietzsche does not himself answer this question. Indeed, he makes clear to us that his own “unconditional honest atheism,” his own critique of Christianity, his own very will to truth presupposes, at once historically ← 127 | 128 → and ontologically, the ascetic ideal of Christianity, the will to truth, the will to exist...

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