In this series, starting with Friedrich Nietzsche’s proclamation of God’s death, I’ll examine the shift towards what could be described as a naturalized understanding of the world — an interpretation lacking in both the religious projections of the spiritual era and the lingering anthropocentric projections of the following scientific, or mechanistic, ontology. Drawing from the works of Nietzsche, Jung, and other thinkers I’ll then propose my own analysis of the progression of naturalization, and how it can be arrived at…
‘God is dead’
In order to interpret man’s relationship with the world around him, both in terms of projection and distinction, the monumental shift from the metaphysical, religious perspective to the naturalized perspective should first be charted, including its most significant event: the death of God. Nietzsche wrote in The Gay Science (full text PDF here) that “God is dead,” and we humans are his murderer (GS Sec. 125). “God” in this case isn’t a personal deity but the God of civilization — the defining explanatory force for how the world operates. According to Nietzsche, the death of God leads to the positive effects of allowing solitude, re-valuation of good things due to the decline of morality (GS Sec. 292), and a dismissal of faith, which once aroused nausea (GS Sec. 76). However, the death of God also leads to “metaphysical need” (GS Sec. 151). The death of God is an indication of the receding of the shadow of religion from its reign over human consciousness — that is, the reduction in the use of religious explanations for how the universe operates and our roles in it.
In the wake of the death of God, aided by advances in scientific thought, man developed the mechanistic perspective, seeing the universe as being like a machine, complete with laws of nature. The mechanistic assesses the sensory world through the human constructs the experiences result in via its empirical manifestations, according to its fundamental aims of understanding the world as an ordered entity, through the lens of their human valuations.
A mechanistic universe
GS Sec. 373:
Many materialistic natural scientists [have] … faith in a world that is supposed to have its equivalent and its measure in human thought and human valuations—a “world of truth” … Precisely the most superficial and external aspect of existence—what is most apparent, its skin and sensualization— … might even be the only thing that allowed itself to be grasped… A ‘scientific’ interpretation of the world … might therefore still be one of the most stupid of all possible interpretations of the world … [insisting] that mechanics is the doctrine of the first and last laws on which all existence must be based as on a ground floor.
Nietzsche sees the scientific interpretation of the world as possibly the stupidest because it’s superficial or, conversely, too linked to constructs like human valuations. This “primeval mechanism” on which (apparent) logic is based reeks of the illogic and deception on which it is based (GS Sec. 111). It imposes mechanistic order onto view of the world, supposing that the world has inherent laws but is in reality prone to errors, as humans are. One example of this is a basic “atavism of the most ancient origin” is man’s belief in cause and effect, and, that despite the mechanism behind an occurance, will is seen as being involved (GS Sec. 127). Laden with laws and ideological conjecture, such an ordering ignores the “ground floor” of basic, natural existence.
In addition, a scientific mindset is linked to the constructs of humans: not actually objective, and thus anthropocentric. Humans now anthropomorphize nature, and, conversely, on a reactionary level, define nature as being non-human. This differentiates them from the world of which they so clearly are a component. Even with the dissolving of the distinction between the metaphysical and the empirical world, there is still such a distinction between man and all else.
Reigning shadows of God
GS Sec. 109:
Let us beware of thinking that the world is a living being… Let us us even beware of believing that the universe is a machine… When will all these shadows of God cease to darken our minds? When will we complete our de-deification of nature? When may we begin to “naturalize” humanity in terms of a pure, newly discovered, newly redeemed nature?
The universe as God’s creation featured the traits humans had projected onto God, and with his passing we are tempted to do the same to a world liberated from God’s influence. In reality the world is chaotic and we are merely spectators who can act through our wills, but aren’t fundamentally different from the natural world we inhabit. The universe is neither “eternally enduring” like the now-departed deity, nor does it act with intent (GS Sec. 109). So humans must now both de-deify nature and naturalize humanity to achieve proper understanding of the world they inhabit. Through such a two-fold path the individual will be able to interpret the natural world as well as gain further conscious definition of himself.
A de-deified, de-anthropomorphized universe ontology leads toward the naturalized: that is, the embracing of nature. Naturalization is a process by which views about the world constructed under the premise of order and logic are aligned with the world, as it truly exists. Nietzsche’s proscribes a path towards a naturalized mindset, critiquing the conceptual separation of humans and the world they inhabit, a result of the remnants of God – for God was formerly projected to explain natural forces – using background on morality and the origin of God.
Lingering metaphysical need
GS Sec. 151:
The metaphysical need is not the origin of religions, as Schopenhauer supposed, but merely a late offshoot. Under the rule of religious ideas, one has become accustomed to the notion of “another world”… when religious ideas are destroyed one is troubled by an uncomfortable emptiness and deprivation. From this feeling grows once again “another world,” but now merely a metaphysical one that is no longer religious. But what first led to the positing of “another world” in primeval times was not some impulse or need but an error in the interpretation of certain natural events, a failure of the intellect.
Even with the dissolving of the distinction between the metaphysical and the empirical world, there is still such a distinction between man and all else. In order for humans to become naturalized and move past the problems of natural projection and distinction, they must recognize their own fallible nature and thus the potential for science to error, effectively realizing that science cannot fill every role infallible divine authority and metaphysics formerly inhabited.
For more on Nietzsche’s partial solution to metaphysical need, see my essay, also drawing from The Gay Science, on self-styling and the crafting of one’s self into an aesthetic phenomenon.