Thursday, October 2, 2008



The first question is this: is it possible for the individual to transcend the human condition, i.e. become something more than human? It is universally conceded that a person may become something less than human in certain circumstances, - great stress, illness, deprivation, criminality etc. If that is conceded, one should at least be able to entertain the opposite idea. If becoming more than human is possible then the next question is: is there any point is spending the best of one’s life pursuing this aim or is it not better to simply pursue pleasure? The last question is this: is there any point in spending one’s life doing anything else other than pursuing the goal of becoming more than human? ‘Human, all-too human’ was Nietzsche’s characterisation of the bulk of human life. That was a condemnation. One doesn’t have to be a disciple of his to recognise that there is something deeply disappointing about much that goes by the name of ‘human’.

It seems difficult to deny it: personal evolution is progressive departure from those things which are aspects of our animality. In the past, in religious contexts, this personal evolution would have been tied to the abandonment of the lusts of the animal in us. There may have been something in that although ‘abandonment’ is a bit strong since it is more a question of detachment; but much more than the abandonment of or detachment from animal lusts – this happens naturally with ageing anyway, – is the departure from the cognitive modalities of the animal. This essentially means the abandonment of the assumption that one’s knowledge – yes, knowledge and not just belief – is unquestionably, not to say absolutely reliable. There is a sort of knowledge that is given to us by virtue of our sensory-cognitive apparatus; and we call this knowledge ‘common sense’ and consider it folly to question its validity. Science is common sense writ large. What we overlook in our devotion to our common sense is that other consciousnesses apprehend and understand things quite differently because of the way they are constituted. But even our common sense is riven by contradictions. Since philosophy has always regarded the summum of personal evolution as the intellectual appreciation of the timeless abstractions and generalities governing the physicality of life (the laws of nature, if you like) why is it that we generally remain stuck in polarised position-taking, for example in either defending the physical as the source of everything or holding up some incomprehensible ‘spirit’ as the source of novelty? Why can we not come up with a sensible theory of creative advance or transcendence which would get us out of the boring servitude to reductive modes of ‘explanation’ in which the final arbiter of truth is common sense? What is the point of ‘explaining’ if that is always a matter of pronouncing the new always to be the old in another guise, yet more and more common sense? Why can we not see creativity as the action of the inherently innovatory intelligence of nature upon her own structures? Why can we not discover the uncommon sense that yells at us from all of reality? The human devotion to common sense is the principal obstacle to a person’s turning into something that is no longer merely human.

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