Nietzsche, dobetterwithdan, Philosophy

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between happiness and personal authenticity. It seems reasonable that such a connection exists, because a happy life should be our own life.

To get a better understanding of what is required to live authentically, I thought I would explore Friedrich Nietzsche’s notion of the free spirit. For Nietzsche, the free spirit is a sort of steppingstone on the path of one’s development that leads to the possibility of self-creation, self-exploration, and personal authenticity.

This exploration will be completed in 3 parts. Today, I begin with Part 1 – Nietzsche’s conception of the bound spirit.

(Please see Part 2 – The Free Spirit, here, and Part 3 – The Authentic Individual, here.)

The Individual’s Dilemma: the Bound Spirit

Nietzsche thought that the processes of socialization and social conditioning pit the individual as a particular against the individual as he should be given the norms and values of society (e.g., the dominant moral values).  By “society” I mean all forms of human social organization (e.g., families, communities, institutions, cultures, and the like) that come with (or endorse) certain values and norms that members conform to and/or where such pressures to conform exist.

Living as a bound spirit means being bound to a certain way of life, a certain way of valuing, because it is the dominant perspective. We are bound by the norms, practices, points of view, and, among other things, the values that are associated with being a member of society.

The individual qua member of society is like one of the prisoners in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave: bound, he sees what his neighbor sees, believes what his neighbor believes, and values what his neighbor values—the same images and falsehoods make up his reality.

(Check out my article on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, here.)

“The bound spirit assumes a position, not for reasons, but out of habit.”

Nietzsche

To assume a position, “not for reasons, but out of habit,” Nietzsche argues, is to adopt a perspective simply because it dominates, because we are familiar with it. 

Nietzsche thought that the individual will undoubtedly find it easier to live as a bound spirit—a prisoner of society, if you will—than to live as a particular.  As a member of society, his beliefs, values, and the like are validated by the neighbor, and therefore the rightness of his action or belief stems from society’s approval of it.

As bound spirits we accept what we’ve been told is right, we accept an interpretation because we have lived with it and it has become familiar to us. We haven’t explored the possibilities on our own, and we haven’t formed our own reasons to justify the values and beliefs we have adopted.

The bound spirit exemplifies the rule, not the exception, and thus does not face the same pressures to conform, the same resistance, as one who tries to be a particular.

The bound spirit exemplifies the rule, not the exception…

“A man is called a free spirit if he thinks otherwise than would be expected…based on prevailing contemporary views. He is the exception: bound spirits are the rule.”

Nietzsche

Simply put, Nietzsche thinks that everything a bound spirit does qua bound spirit is understandable and relatable because he conforms to the dominant perspective, whereas the free spirit, the exception, will not be understood because of a difference in perspective.

(See my related article The Individual Versus the Collective – Conformity and non-Conformity, here.)

How conformity harms the individual

Nietzsche argues that widespread, prolonged conformity results in habitual acceptance and confirmation of a perspective that, though accepted as a given, no longer works for the individual. The dominant perspective fails the individual because through it he attains neither personal authenticity nor any higher development.  The bound spirit therefore lives in a system within which his full self-expression is impossible, resulting in what Nietzsche calls the “internalization of man” (Nietzsche).

Nietzsche argues that “bad conscience” and “guilt feelings” result from the individual’s inability to express certain instincts and drives outwardly because he is shackled by societal norms. The bound spirit therefore exists in a society wherein the dominant perspective restricts his full (positive) self-expression and the realization of his power, causing him to negate certain natural aspects of his being. 

In an attempt to explain his impotence and justify his existence, the bound spirit blames others who he perceives not only as having power and the ability to realize their own potential, but also as being the source of his frustrations.  The bound spirit’s reaction to a world he perceives as being against him is ressentiment—incapable of expressing himself, he resents and desires revenge against those who have power and who can express themselves.

(Please see my related article, The Death of God – Nietzsche and Nihilism.)

Conformity has led to the diminution of man, “making him mediocre and lowering his value.”

Nietzsche

Living in society means living with persistent pressure to conform to the dominant norms and become a “good” person. Living as such, Nietzsche argues, has led to the diminution of man, “making him mediocre and lowering his value” (Nietzsche). To become something more, to realize his own potential and develop “good conscience,” the individual must first free himself from his fetters—he must perform an act of overcoming.

(To learn more see my article, Freedom & Responsibility)

Ask Yourself: What binds me most? What values, ideas, and beliefs have I accepted simply because I am familiar with them? In what way(s) am I limited by the beliefs, concepts, or the interpretations I accept?

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Want to discover more? Check out these related articles and posts: How to Face Your Fears & Realize Your Goals, The Human Condition – Kafka and Man’s Search for Meaning, Thinking for Yourself – Checking in with Camus, Kafka’s Parable Before the Law, Belief as a Noble Risk, Imagination, and The Importance of Exploration and Experimentation.

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dobetterwithdan, Nietzsche, Authenticity, Philosophy

One thing is needful. – To ‘give style’ to one’s character – a great and rare art! It is practiced by those who survey all the strengths and weaknesses that their nature has to offer and then fit them into an artistic plan until each appears as art and reason and even weaknesses delight the eye.”

Nietzsche

Nietzsche argued that we should approach self-creation like an artist. The artistic work is born from a creative process. It is through the creative process that the work takes shape, is formed, and is ultimately produced.

The work of art is a whole that is comprised of parts. Each part taken individually is not the work itself, but only a component of it. It is only when the parts are taken in their totality that the whole takes shape.

When a painter paints, for instance, some error may become part of the overall work because it could not be removed. In that case, the painter will find some way to use it, to make the whole work even with the minor flaw.

The artist knows how to incorporate and use each component so that it most effectively contributes to the whole—Even the weaknesses of a piece, if done correctly, will “delight the eye.”

(See my related article, How to Face Your Fears – 6 Steps to Realize Your Goals)

Character Development and Self-Creation

Self-creation is a process. It involves creating who we are from the materials at our disposal. If we direct our creative endeavor, if we examine and carefully explore our weaknesses and strengths, we can create a self that gives expression to our whole being, to every part of us.

We should not deny who we are. To live an authentic life we must accept ourselves, our strengths and weaknesses.

The process of self-creation involves finding a role, finding space for everything we are. In the end, every part of us, the good and and bad, is a part of who we are. To deny any part is to deny the whole.

Becoming who we are, our authentic selves, involves a process of self-discovery, self-exploration, and ultimately self-understanding. Through this process we can experiment, try different things out, and ultimately find what works for us and allows us to be who we are.

The important thing, Nietzsche thought, was that we engage in self-creation to find satisfaction with ourselves.  

(See my related article, The World We Create)

“For one thing is needful: that a human being should attain satisfaction with himself.”

Nietzsche

Is Nietzsche correct? Do we need to find ways to incorporate every part of us into the self we create?

Thanks for reading! Please subscribe, like, and share.

Want to Discover More? Check out these related posts and articles: Waiting – Kafka’s Before the Law, Belief as a Noble Risk, Imagination, The Most Important Question, Freedom & Responsibility, The Human Condition – Kafka and Man’s Search for Meaning, Happiness and Authenticity – (Part 1) The Bound Spirit, Curiosity, Perplexity, and the Wisdom of Socrates, Developing a Positive Mindset, and What is Strength of Will? – Nietzsche on Honesty and Authenticity.

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Writing, College

College students across the country will soon be returning to school in some capacity. Covid-19 is on everyone’s mind as students, faculty, and staff prepare for the start of the academic year.

I thought it would be useful to offer some helpful how-to guides and suggestions to help students manage their coursework and succeed, especially since many of them will be completing the upcoming semester remotely.

College Writing

Most students will be required to write an argumentative research paper at some point in college. Writing an argumentative research paper can be stressful and seem like a daunting task. You can reduce your stress and manage the writing process by planning and preparing in the right way.

Here is an easy, 4-step guide to effectively write an argumentative (thesis-driven) research paper. You can use this guide to prepare and as a template to help you plan and write your paper.

How to Write a Thesis Statement and Topic Proposal

In an argumentative paper organization is key: each idea/section should flow smoothly from the preceding idea/section. An effective argument will be focused and will avoid any fluff or unnecessary digressions. To that end, it is important to plan a clear topic proposal.

A well-written topic proposal will make the writing process go smoothly, and it can be used as your introductory paragraph. Following the 4-steps below, you will be able to construct a well-written, focused topic proposal and introductory paragraph.

4 Steps for Writing a Better Paper

Step 1: State the problem you will address in your paper. An argumentative or thesis-driven paper takes a position on some issue. At the outset, it is important to give a clear, concise statement of the issue or problem that you will address. You can state the problem directly or in the form of a question.

  • Example: “Fracking” or Hydraulic Fracturing is an extremely controversial method for extracting natural gas that raises a host of environmental concerns. This paper examines whether it is ethical to continue such a practice.

Step 2: State why the problem matters. This is an important step because you want the attention of your readers. Here it is helpful to think of practical issues or concerns. Why should the reader care about the argument you are going to make? Why should the reader care about the issue?

  • Example: It is important that we fully understand the environmental impact(s) of practices like fracking. Such practices are contrary to human interests (broadly construed) and may hinder our efforts to develop more efficient, sustainable methods for meeting our energy needs.

Step 3: State your thesis. Your thesis statement is the position you will defend in your paper. The thesis statement is the most important component of a good topic proposal and effective argumentative research paper. Be clear and direct when stating your thesis.

  • Example: In this paper, I argue that the practice of fracking is unethical because it (a) causes significant damage to the environment and (b) forestalls further development of better methods for meeting our energy needs.

Step 4: State how you plan to organize your paper. This is where you give the reader an idea of how you plan to make your argument and substantiate your thesis. Think of this as a very concise outline of your paper. Here, it is important to start thinking about the best way to organize your ideas. I recommend including a statement addressing how you will conclude your paper (will you examine the implications of your position, suggest what further research is needed, etc.).

  • Example: For present purposes, I focus only on the practice of fracking. I begin with a brief sketch of what fracking entails. I then highlight two main problems, x and y, associated with fracking’s negative impact on the environment. I argue that given its negative impact on the environment the practice of fracking is unethical and contrary to human interests. I then end with a discussion of some implications of my position and conclude that continuing practices like fracking ultimately obstructs our attempts to develop more sustainable energy practices.

Do you have any suggestions or tips for writing a thesis-driven paper?

Thanks for reading!

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Please check out these related articles and posts: How to Zoom – 5 Things You Should Do When Using Zoom in College, How to Succeed in College – 7 Things You Should Do, Applying to College – Enrolling in School Immediately After Graduation, How to Face Your Fears – 6 Simple Steps to Realize Your Goals, Developing a Positive Mindset – Discovering Small Delights, Waiting – Kafka’s Before the Law, Belief as a Noble Risk, Imagination, and How to Stop Lying to Yourself – Creating Clear Goals.

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“There is a view of life which conceives that where the crowd is, there also is the truth, and that in truth itself there is need of having the crowd on its side.”

– Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard, dobetterwithdan, philosophy, the crowd, authenticity

Recently, I have found myself thinking quite often about the state of social dialogue and debate in our country. In an ideal situation, individuals in the public sphere should be free to engage in reasonable, rational debate to deliberate on issues, to find common ground, to determine the best compromise, to establish best practices, and, among other things, to reach consensus.

Reasonable, rational debate requires, at a minimum, that individuals be openminded, charitable to others, and that we each take responsibility for our own views and beliefs.

In the public sphere, however, it seems that every issue is couched in partisan, polarized, and oppositional terms—making it seem as if there are two clearly defined positions. For instance, when a debate is politicized, it quickly centers around the opposition between the standpoints of democrats and republicans. Any view or position that does not fit neatly within either of these standpoints is simply excluded and dismissed.  

(See my related article, Waiting – Kafka’s Parable Before the Law)

Divisions and polarization are a detriment to public discourse

Even when an issue is not outright politicized, we have come to expect an oppositional framework that is detrimental to rational, reasonable discourse. I have experienced this myself on numerous occasions. Disagreement quickly becomes an all-or-nothing situation as each side refuses to hear the other. You must either accept the other person’s position in full, or you are wrong and represent the opposing side.

I think this trend toward increasing polarization has made it almost impossible to be sensitive to the complexities of the issues and the nuances of individual and social life. We miss a lot and shortchange ourselves when we demand that others agree with us. We grow more close-minded when we only accept views that confirm our own.

(Please check out my related article on overcoming these issues here.)

Do you think public discourse is threatened by the increasing divisions and polarization in the U.S.?

“From becoming an individual no one, no one at all, is excluded, except he who excludes himself by becoming a crowd.”

Kierkegaard

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Want to discover more? Please check out these related articles and posts: The Habit of Thinking, Thinking for Yourself – Checking in with Camus, Character Development – Giving Style to One’s Character, The Road Less Traveled, Freedom & Responsibility, Philosophy Teaches Us, What is Self Mastery? – Stoicism, Self-Discipline, and Freedom, and Are You on the Right Path? – How to Live Your Best Life.

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dobetterwithdan, Sisyphus, Philosophy, Existentialism, happiness

Each time I revisit Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus, I find myself drawn to the final line: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

The gods condemned Sisyphus to an eternity of pointless labor. He is forced to push a boulder up a mountain. When he reaches the top, the boulder rolls back down and Sisyphus must return to it to begin again.

The boulder always rolls back down the mountain…Sisyphus never successfully completes his task. His labor, as the gods intended, is utterly pointless and hopeless.

Sisyphus knows he will labor with his boulder until the end of time. Each time he ascends the mountain, he struggles under the weight of the boulder.

Everything seems certain, his fate has been sealed, it is the penalty for his disobedience. He is being punished by the gods, and he blames them for his torment.

Nothing about Sisyphus’ situation screams happiness. What are we supposed to imagine that would somehow warrant imagining Sisyphus happy?

Why does Camus focus on this myth, on Sisyphus, when he could have presumably focused on some other character, some other tale?

(Check out my related article, Is Life Absurd? – Camus and Authenticity.)

At the end of the myth, Camus points out that we leave Sisyphus with his burden, his boulder. His punishment eternal, Sisyphus will perform the same task, again and again, forever. Why, then, is it imperative that we imagine Sisyphus happy?

“One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

Camus

Perhaps it is imperative that we imagine Sisyphus happy because by doing so we affirm our own freedom to think, to control our attitude, our mindset. As I see it, we see in Sisyphus something of ourselves, and since we make this connection our own happiness depends on whether Sisyphus can be happy.

“Myths,” Camus claims, “are made for the imagination to breathe life into them.” Human beings are imaginative, creative beings, and when we breathe life into a myth, we make it meaningful in a way that is relevant to our time, our struggles, our situation. The myth provides some basic ingredients, as it were, and with them we create an entire meal.

“Myths are made for the imagination to breathe life into them.”

Camus

Camus’ imagination is piqued by the very slight reprieve Sisyphus gets from his physical labor whenever he must walk back down the mountain to retrieve his boulder. Camus calls it a “breathing-space” and “the hour of consciousness.”

As Sisyphus makes his descent, he is free to reflect, to think. It is this opportunity to exercise consciousness, to reflect and think, that interests Camus.

Camus imagines Sisyphus reflecting on his life, on his circumstances, as he makes his way back to his rock. He reflects on himself, his situation, on his life, and his past. Camus imagines that Sisyphus’ perspective slowly changes over time.

At first, Sisyphus is likely upset, mad at himself, angry with the gods, and probably blames the gods for his punishment. With time, however, Sisyphus starts to slowly reinterpret things, to change his perspective. He begins to experiment with different explanations for his current situation and even starts to view things differently.

(See my related article, Understanding Our Relationship to Suffering)

Sisyphus tries out different meanings, different ways of making sense of his life, his predicament. In some interpretations, the gods bear the blame for his circumstances. In others, he is to blame because he defied the gods’ will.

Sisyphus begins to realize that he is responsible for his actions, for how things turned out. For Camus, it is self-reflection that makes Sisyphus’ transformation possible, because he begins to realize his power, his ability to create meaning and to determine how he interprets his life, his circumstances.

Thinking for Yourself

Sisyphus is free. He is free to think, to interpret his world as he sees fit. Sisyphus’ freedom of thought frees him from thinking of himself, his life, as one controlled by the gods.

(See my related article, Waiting – Kafka’s Parable Before the Law)

He is not a victim, he is not bound to an explanation, a perspective, that he does not accept and did not create. His life again (or perhaps for the first time) becomes his own.

We imagine that Sisyphus returns to his burden, his boulder, but he does so having transformed. Sisyphus’ mental state, his perspective, has changed, and with it his world has changed.

Sisyphus has taken control of his conscious life and accepted his fate as his own. Happiness is once again possible for him because he recognizes that the possible interpretations are inexhaustible.

We imagine Sisyphus happy because his conscious life is his own. We realize that this is true for us as well. We have control over the meanings and explanations we accept. We can affirm our freedom to think, to form our own perspective and live an authentic, happy life.

“I conclude that all is well,” … and that remark is sacred. It echoes in the wild and limited universe of man. It teaches that all is not, has not been, exhausted.

Camus

Do you agree with Camus? Is a happy life an authentic life?

Thanks for reading! Please subscribe, like, and share.

Want to discover more? Check out these related articles and posts: The Most Important Question, What we can Learn Living Underground, Strength of Will – Nietzsche, Honesty, and Authenticity, The Importance of Exploration and Experimentation, Philosophy Teaches Us, Curiosity, Perplexity, and the Wisdom of Socrates, To Exist Beyond Good and Evil, The Eternal Recurrence, Authenticity and the Outsider, and Freedom & Responsibility.

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We hold ourselves back when we lack a specific, well-defined standard for evaluating success.

dobetterwithdan, goal, planning, clear goal

We often struggle to make progress toward our goals when we lack a clear way to evaluate our success. We leave ourselves too much room to make excuses and/or misrepresent the progress we have made when we are not specific about what we aim to achieve. We tell ourselves we are making progress to make ourselves feel better, even though we have failed to accomplish what we set out to do.

We hold ourselves back when we lack a specific, well-defined standard for evaluating success. We end up frustrated by our slow progress, and, ultimately, we abandon those projects that would improve our lives.

How, then, can we stop lying to ourselves and create clear goals?

(See my related article, How to Face Your Fears – 6 Simple Steps to Realize Your Goals)

How to Establish Clear Goals

Establishing a clear standard for evaluating your success will help you focus, make consistent progress, identify problem areas, and achieve your goal.

I recommend using a journal to write out your specific goal, your plan for making it happen, and your evaluation of your ongoing progress.

  • Establish your goal. What is your goal and what does success look like? Be specific and set a realistic goal. For instance, if you want to get in shape, your goal might be expressed in terms of a target weight or a set time commitment (1 year). If you want to write, your goal might be expressed in terms of a final project (a novel, a screenplay, or an article) and tentative deadline. It is important that your goal is attainable and that it is defined in a way that allows you to clearly measure your success.
  • Plan how you will achieve your goal. What actions can you take to reach your overall goal? When you plan, it is important that you specify individual achievements that are measurable, that are relevant for achieving your goal, and that hold you to specific time constraints. For example, if your goal is to get in shape, you can set up a weekly schedule that establishes specific time commitments and days on/days off. If your goal is to write a novel, you can establish daily and weekly/bi-weekly writing goals (1,000 words a day and one chapter every two weeks). It is crucial to make your plan realistic and attainable. Your early successes will help motivate you to aim higher as you develop a routine and make progress.
  • Evaluate your progress. Once you have a plan, you need to evaluate your ongoing progress. At the end of each day, write down what you have accomplished. Did you do what you set out to? If not, why not? Evaluating your ongoing progress will help you become more aware of what is holding you back. Honest self-assessment is key to self-development and self-improvement.

Thanks for reading! Please subscribe, like, and share.

Check out my related articles and posts: Kafka Before the Law, Developing a Positive Mindset – Discovering Small Delights, Are You Distracted – How to Limit Smartphone Use, The Importance of Exploration and Experimentation, What is Strength of Will? – Nietzsche, Honesty, and Authenticity, Philosophy Teaches Us, Epicurus on Pleasure and Desire, and How to Change Your Thinking – Change Yourself.

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