In Philosophy, many thinkers search for the nature and grounds of human knowledge. We call this area of study Epistemology. Two important epistemological philosophers are Friedrich Nietzsche and Charles Sanders Peirce. Nietzsche’s work has had a lasting fascination for many, and has developed an almost cult following although his work has found little significance among fellow academicians. Peirce began his philosophy when he retired. His approach to knowledge is that of the pragmatists. They feel knowledge is in part a social product, meaning that we use our intellect to entertain ourselves in a society. Both philosophers have their own views on the nature of knowledge, and methods for gaining knowledge. This essay will explore the unique methods and views of both.
Nietzsche does not feel that human knowledge is a wonderful thing. His view is also very pragmatic. Nietzsche views our knowledge as more of a tool. The opening of his essay “On Truth and Lie in an Extra-Moral Sense” begins with a comparison of the creation of the solar system and man’s knowledge, to the collapse of the sun and mankind’s demise. This long stretch of time was summed up in three sentences. No description was put into the idea of knowledge. For many, knowledge is so grand and complicated that it could never be completely explained. Obviously, Nietzsche feels that we are the only things that would place any value on our knowledge. If we could communicate with other animals, he feels they would feel the same sense of self-importance. Nietzsche’s view on the nature of our intellect is that it is our means of existence. We use our intellect for survival. A lion is the king of the jungle with its sheer power and razor sharp fangs. Amazingly a human could kill a lion. Using the intellect to develop tools to subdue the large beast. If we were not a smart species, the large jaws of countless animals would have wiped us out long ago. In our modern world, our intellect still is our defense tool. Now we use it to fit in socially for our amusement. Now to survive we invented tools like lying, flattery, and deception. Clearly Nietzsche does not place a high value on intellect. He tells us that your intellect even deceives yourself, at night in your dreams, and you can do nothing about it. Nietzsche further demonstrates his value of truth by saying it is a sum of human relations that have been enhanced and embellished. We search for truth as an obligation to society. Nietzsche places little value on our intellect, and sees it as tool that we have used too much.
Peirce offers a more optimistic, yet pragmatic, view on the nature of knowledge. Peirce feels that we all have our beliefs. He says our beliefs guide our desires and shape our actions. As humans we feel more comfortable when we are free of doubt. Doubt being the opposite of belief again. When we enter a state of doubt, the irritation causes a struggle to attain a state of belief. Peirce says doubt leads to inquiry, which leads to belief. Peirce has very specific methods, for fixing our beliefs. These are the actions taken to get back into the state of belief. In the method of science, we use reason and reference to facts and experiences. Just like it sounds, you can test your doubts easily. An example would be that you believe you can fly. To test this you jump off your porch. Quickly you learn if you stay in the uneasy state of doubt, or return to the calm state of belief. The next method, a priori method, is the philosopher’s method. It is the nature of the process to believe what we want to. This method is more pleasing due to believing what you want without fact or reason. For instance, someone could say you have a nice haircut, so you probably will believe it. The method of authority is not as rewarding. In this public method your beliefs are fixed for you by force. The state has control over these beliefs. Although it does not sound good, it is a good thing. If someone believes they should start killing everyone, then thier beliefs need to be fixed by the state. The last method is Peirce’s favorite. The method of tenacity, as its name suggests, is the method of the persistent and the stubborn. This method is a private method, which allows you to hang on to your belief. A good example might be religion. People tend to hold on to their religious beliefs all their life. No matter what happens many people will not abandon their beliefs. Peirce’s method for fixing belief is very appropriate for his belief on the nature of knowledge. As a pragmatist he views knowledge as a tool. His method of fixing beliefs are tools of the mind for the mind.
Both philosophers have very different opinions, considering both are epistemolgical and pragmatic. Nietzsche has a much more pessimistic view of the human intellect. Peirce try’s to explain what we do when we are in doubt. Both offer some intriguing thoughts about the nature of knowledge. I liked Peirce’s essay. I think he is correct that we struggle to be in a state of beliefs. He translated a very specific process that I agree that we all go through. Nietzsche was also very insightful. I agree with his opinion that the human intellect is our survival tool. However I disagree with his lack of respect for the human thought. I think it is a very elaborate system that is a miracle of creation.