19 May 2009

The Innocence of the Infant Gods Whose Dice Decide Our Fate, Nietzsche, Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, section 6

by Corry Shores
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[The following is summary. The image was obtained gratefully from here. The original text is reproduced below.]

The Innocence of the Infant Gods
Whose Dice Decide Our Fate

Friedrich Nietzsche

Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks

we saw that for Heraclitus, everything is in a state of Becoming. But unlike Anaximander, things are destroyed in their passing not as a punishment. Rather, each determinate thing's passing is a justification of Becoming's goodness. Eternal change is sustained by a continual struggle of opposites. This perpetual instability is its "homogeneous, severe justice bound by eternal laws."

Heraclitus' metaphor of struggling fighters supervised by severe judges does not hold entirely. For, there is no regular principle that governs determinately which fighter will win. Much is left to chance. And also, those fighters themselves by means of extraordinary will are able to determine outcomes even despite deterministic laws standing in their way. So Heraclitus' Justice is of another sort.

Justice is merely the right to fight. And so long as strife holds sway, the becoming of every passing instant is justified.

This one continual becoming is the reason why the many things come and go. Hence, the One is the Many.
The contest of The Many is itself pure justice! And after all: The One is The Many.
But Heraclutus does not posit a duality between an underlying process of becoming and the many things that become. The One and the Many are actually identical. For, every moment is Zeus' game. [In the next section we see that it is Zeus as an innocent child rolling the dice that decide our fate.] So the struggle of becoming is always a game decided largely by chance. It is One, because it is always a game. But it is many, because the rules, players, tables, judges, and outcomes are always changing.

So there is always Becoming. But this does not imply that there is a "world of eternal and essential pluralities." Anaximander's solution was to deny true and essential existence of particulars in favor of the metaphysical "Indefinite." It might seem at first that Heraclitus' solution is similar. It could be that if humans existed for all eternity, they would see that really there is an endless struggle of eternal qualities.

However, because the rules change each instant, we cannot equate anything in one instant with anything in another instant. Nonetheless, all the many things are one, because they are all parts of a game, even though the game is never the same. [See this entry for Deleuze's explanation of Lewis Carroll's Chance Changing Games and see (8) of this entry for Gregory Bateson's account.]

We perceive a variety of qualities around us. But unlike what Anaxagoras would say, they are not eternal entities for Heraclitus. And contrary to Parmenides' claim, they are not illusions. They are real. Now, given the way the rules keep changing, can we say that at the end of the Queen's Croquet game, the hedge-hog balls were really the same as when the game began? Or do they not take-on whole new identities as their functional role in the game keeps changing? A chess piece is defined by its rules of play. Hence any object could represent it. But if the piece's rules-of-play change, then so would the piece's identity. Suppose your pawn reaches the board's opposite side. So you promote it to a queen. But there is no extra queen pieces available. We keep it as the pawn, but let it move and function like a queen. We cannot say that the new 'queen' is the same as the old 'pawn,' even though it is physically the same playing piece. So if the "game" of reality keeps changing like the Queen's Croquet, so too are the many things in the world radically changing, even if it seems there are common properties or "essences" that recur or sustain. Yet, because in each case it is a game that the determines reality, the many are one. But because the game keeps changing, the one is many.

Nietzsche will now explain how fire is the world-shaping force for Heraclitus. To do so, he has us first recall Thales' theory that water is the fundamental substance. Anaximander goes a step further. He says that in order for there to be the Moist, there must first be warm and cold. For, the moist emerges from the Warm and the Cold. But they arise from the primordial "Indefinite." And Becoming begins as soon as they do. Heraclitus now modifies and advances the theory even one step further. He says that the Warm is the fiery element of becoming. When water descends, it becomes earth. When it ascends, it becomes fire. Hence the three "chief aggregate stages" of becoming are Moist (water), Firm (earth), and Warm (fire):
from the sea ascend only the pure vapors which serve as food to the divine fire of the stars, from the earth only the dark, foggy ones, from which the Moist derives its nourishment. The pure vapors are the transitional stage in the passing of sea into fire, the impure the transitional stage in the passing of earth into water. Thus the two paths of metamorphosis of the fire run continuously side by side, upwards and downwards, to and fro, from fire to water, from water to earth, from earth back again to water, from water to fire.
However, unlike Anaximander, Heraclitus excludes the Cold from these processes. Anaximander claimed that the Moist emerges from two polar opposites, Warm and Cold. But Fire (warm) is the primary process for Heraclitus that is involved even when things become Cold. If coldness were absolutely antithetical to warmth, as it is in Anaximander, then when things become cold, they would cancel Becoming itself. So nothing can be absolutely cold for Heraclitus. Whatever is cold has some measure of warmth in it.

Heraclitus deviates from Anaximander in another way as well. They both believe that the world periodically ends by an all-destroying world-fire, and each time an ever-renewed world emerges from the destruction. But Heraclitus explains the cause for this pattern using this reasoning: the all destroying world-fire hungers for more world to destroy. When it completely swallows up the world, it is satisfied. But the Greeks considered satiety to be a form of hubris. The world-fire is self-satisfied, and it obtained its satisfaction by placing its importance above everything else in the world. As punishment, the world-fire must give-up the world he consumed. So out of the ashes re-emerges the plurality of things in the world. But then, this would mean that all the things which are becoming no longer justify Becoming. They are victims of its hubris, so they suffer from its guilt. They would seem to be condemnations of Becoming's guilt.

In the next section, Nietzsche explains the child-like and artistic innocence of becoming. The destructive events in the world do not result from divine anger or punishment. Rather, they are the products of chance outcomes rolled with innocently-infantile artistic intentions.

From the Nietzsche Channel translation:


Whilst the imagination of Heraclitus measured the restlessly moving universe, the "actuality" [Wirklichkeit]with the eye of the happy spectator, who sees innumerable pairs wrestling in joyous combat entrusted to the superintendence of severe umpires, a still higher presentiment seized him; he no longer could contemplate the wrestling pairs and the umpires, separated one from another; the very umpires seemed to fight, and the fighters seemed to be their own judges yea, since at the bottom he conceived only of the one Justice eternally swaying, he dared to exclaim: "The contest of The Many is itself pure justice! And after all: The One is The Many. For what are all those qualities according to their nature? Are they immortal gods? Are they separate beings working for themselves from the beginning and without end? And if the world which we see knows only Becoming and Passing but no Permanence, should perhaps those qualities constitute a differently fashioned metaphysical world, true, not a world of unity asAnaximander sought behind the fluttering veil of plurality, but a world of eternal and essential pluralities?" Is it possible that however violently he had denied such duality, Heraclitus has after all by a round-about way accidentally got into the dual cosmic order, an order with an Olympus of numerous immortal gods and demons, viz., manyrealities, and with a human world, which sees only the dust cloud of the Olympic struggle and the flashing of divine spears, i.e., only a Becoming? Anaximander had fled just from these definite qualities into the lap of the metaphysical "Indefinite"; because the former became and passed, he had denied them a true and essential existence; however should it not seem now as if the Becoming is only the looming into view of a struggle of eternal qualities? When we speak of the Becoming, should not the original cause of this be sought in the peculiar feebleness of human cognition whereas in the nature of things there is perhaps no Becoming, but only a coexisting of many true increase indestructible realities?

These are un-Heraclitean loopholes and labyrinths; he exclaims once again: "The One is the Many." The many perceptible qualities are neither eternal entities, nor phantasmata of our senses (Anaxagoras conceives them later on as the former, Parmenides as the latter), they are neither rigid, sovereign Being nor fleeting appearance hovering in human minds. The third possibility which alone was left to Heraclitus nobody will be able to divine with dialectic sagacity and as it were by calculation, for what he invented here is a rarity even in the realm of mysticincredibilities and unexpected cosmic metaphors. The world is the gameof Zeus, or expressed more physically, the game of fire with itself, the One is only in this sense at the same time the Many. —

In order to elucidate in the first place the introduction of fire as a world-shaping force, I recall how Anaximander had further developed the theory of water as the origin of things. Placing confidence in the essential part of Thales' theory, and strengthening and adding to the latter's observations, Anaximander however was not to be convinced that before the water and, as it were, after the water there was no further stage of quality: no, to him out of the Warm and the Cold the Moist seemed to form itself, and the Warm and the Cold therefore were supposed to be the preliminary stages, the still more original qualities. With their issuing forth from the primordial existence of the "Indefinite," Becoming begins. Heraclitus who as physicist subordinated himself to the importance of Anaximander, explains to himself this Anaximandrian Warm as the respiration, the warm breath, the dry vapors, in short as the fiery element: about this fire he now enunciates the same as Thales and Anaximander had enunciated about the water: that in innumerable metamorphoses it was passing along the path of Becoming, especially in the three chief aggregate stages as something Warm, Moist, and Firm. For water in descending is transformed into earth, in ascending into fire: or as Heraclitus appears to have expressed himself more exactly: from the sea ascend only the pure vapors which serve as food to the divine fire of the stars, from the earth only the dark, foggy ones, from which the Moist derives its nourishment.The pure vapors are the transitional stage in the passing of sea into fire, the impure the transitional stage in the passing of earth into water. Thus the two paths of metamorphosis of the fire run continuously side by side, upwards and downwards, to and fro, from fire to water, from water to earth, from earth back again to water, from water to fire. Whereas Heraclitus is a follower of Anaximander in the most important of these conceptions, e.g., that the fire is kept up by the evaporations, or herein, that out of the water is dissolved partly earth, partly fire; he is on the other hand quite independent and in opposition to Anaximander in excluding the "Cold" from the physical process, whilst Anaximander had put it side by side with the "Warm" as having the same rights, so as to letthe "Moist" originate out of both. To do so, was of course a necessity to Heraclitus, for if everything is to be fire, then, however many possibilities of its transformation might be assumed, nothing can exist that would be the absolute antithesis to fire; he has, therefore, probably interpreted only as a degree of the"Warm" that which is called the "Cold," and he could justify this interpretation without difficulty. Much more important than this deviation from the doctrine of Anaximander is a further agreement; he, like the latter, believes in an end of the world periodically repeating itself and in an ever-renewed emerging of another world out of the all-destroying world-fire. The period during which the world hastens towards that world-fire and the dissolution into pure fire is characterized by him most strikingly as a demand and a need; the state of being completely swallowed up by the fire as satiety; and now to us remains the question as to how he understood and named the newly awakening impulse for world-creation, the pouring-out-of-itself into the forms of plurality. The Greek proverb seems talcum to our assistance with the thought that "satiety gives birth to crime (the hybris)" and one may indeed ask oneself for a minute whether perhaps Heraclitus has derived that return to plurality out of the hybris. Let us just take this thought seriously: in its light the face of Heraclitus changes before our eyes, the proud gleam of his eyes dies out, a wrinkled expression of painful resignation, of impotence becomes distinct, it seems that we know why later antiquity called him the "weeping philosopher." Is not the whole world process now an act of punishment of the hybris? The plurality the result of a crime? The transformation of the pure into the impure, the consequence of injustice? Is not the guilt now shifted into the essence of the things and indeed, the world of Becoming and of individuals accordingly exonerated from guilt; yet at the same time are they not condemned for ever and ever to bear the consequences of guilt?

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks. Available online at: http://www.geocities.com/thenietzschechannel/ptra.htm

PDF of Maximilian A. Mügge translation available at


It is found on page 71 of the above book.

The image of Murillo Bartolomé Esteban's Young Boys Playing Dice obtained gratefully from:

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