International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 155 12th August 2010


I. 'The Enigma of Freud' by Matthew Del Nevo

II. 'Identity of the Dead: What does it Matter?' by Masayuki Yoshida

III. Review of Darryl Naraji 'An American Agenda' by Burton Sankeralli



In the third of his series of articles on the remarkable writer and intellectual Lou Salome, Matthew Del Nevo looks at Salome's connection with Sigmund Freud, with the aim of coming to terms with Freud's 'enigma'. It was Freud, the 'dark humanist', the inventor of a new way of inquiring into the riddle of human nature through practice, who succeeded (where Nietzsche failed) in subverting and transforming the Enlightenment ideal of the disinterested investigator in pursuit of 'truth'.

Masayuki Yoshida, visiting fellow at the Centre for Death & Society (CDAS), University of Bath takes up a question which has been overlooked in recent discussions by analytic philosophers of the problem of personal identity: What are the criteria for a deceased human body being the body of a particular person? If the person simply ceased to exist, it would not explain the attitude which we take to that person's formerly alive body. Nor can we account for the 'partial identity' of the person and his/her deceased body in terms of bodily continuity alone.

Burton Sankeralli is a Caribbean philosopher/ writer, and founding member and convener of the Trinidad and Tobago Philosophical Society. In the first of three articles for Philosophy Pathways, he reviews a work by fellow founding member Darryl Naraji An American Agenda, on the work of Leo Strauss, which dissects the Nietzschean philosophical underpinnings of the Neo-Con movement in the USA.

Burton Sankeralli's review will also be posted in the new ISFP Reviewers Forum at http:---.

If you are interested in reviewing any recent books on philosophy please email me at If you would like to review any of the books on the ISFP Publishing list at https:--- please submit the review copy request form on the ISFP Publishing site. More titles will be appearing very soon.

Geoffrey Klempner



This is the third in my series on Lou Salome: Lou Salome and Nietzsche, Lou Salome and Rilke and now, Lou Salome and Freud. Freud is the best known of these three remarkable men with whom Lou Salome was intimately involved, and who these three remarkable men looked up to, intellectually speaking, and admired. I want to revolve my talk around the enigma of Freud. We have all heard of Freud, we have probably all read something by him, we would certainly have read something about him and I would say, we are all Freudian -- we all recognise a Freudian slip when we make one and we all recognise a phallic symbol when we see people fondling their mobile phones; and we all try to avoid anally retentive males and hysterical woman. Of course, I'm caricaturing, but that is how we think we know Freud, by and large: in cartoon fashion.

I want to start by talking about the enigma of Freud, in order to recall us to his reality. I came back to Freud through Lou Salome. Lou admired Nietzsche, but she did not fall either for him or his philosophy. Her book on him, which perhaps remains the best book there is on Nietzsche's philosophy, shows she is the more mature spirit. And Lou accompanied Rainer Maria Rilke on his entire poetic journey, it was she who first saw most of his works, who advised him when he was working on them, and spurred him on. A year after his death in 1926 Salome wrote a beautiful account of Rilke, a book which understands his work probably better than any other. And we are talking about one of the greatest European poets of the last century, not a minor poet here. The list of 'great names' in Lou Salome's life is impressive. Paul Ree, Wagner, Tolstoy, Buber, Hauptmann, Strindberg, Wedekind, Hofmannsthal, Adler, Tausk (and the list might go on) admired Lou and she was a legend in intellectual circles throughout Europe, her publications being widely known.

So what was it about Freud that stopped her in her tracks? She had been intimate with Nietzsche, she was intimate with Rilke, an inspirational philosopher and an inspirational poet of the first rank, but it was the encounter with Freud that drew her up short. This is the enigma of Freud.

Let us establish some salient points about Freud and let me start by quoting Mark Edmundson, a Professor of English at the University of Virginia.

     Among his detractors, Freud is known as an erotic
     reductionist. He takes the worlds of love and power, with
     their marvellous iridescent shades, and swabs them with his
     dun-coloured brush. But perhaps Freud is not so much a
     reductionist as he is someone who brilliantly exposes the
     state of the psyche when it is at its most minimal and
     besieged. Maybe Freud is not, strictly speaking, a
     reductionist but someone who aptly describes us when we are
     at our most reduced.
     Happy men and women (the enchanted, mystified ones, Freud
     would generally say) look at the psychoanalytical account
     of love and sneer. It's all too simple, too cut and dried.
     But in times of crisis, erotic or political, they may
     return to Freud's purgatorial map for a stark overview of
     the terrain, and some hints about how to traverse it.[1]
What Lou found in Freud was a new kind of humanism, which was not an Enlightenment humanism. It was a dark humanism.

Let me make another point about Freud and give another quotation, this time from Freud himself, from his paper 'On 'Wild' Psychoanalysis.'

     If knowledge of the unconscious were as important as those
     inexperienced in psychoanalysis believe it to be, then all
     you would need for a cure would be for the sufferer to
     listen or read books. However, that would have about as
     much impact on neurotic symptoms as distributing menus
     would have on hunger during a famine.[2]
Freud was not just a dark humanist, but a practitioner. Until then, philosophy was of its nature theoretical, but here, with his man, it was a practice. To make analysis practical in real time was Freud's philosophical move. In the quote just given Freud refers to neurotics. These were his patients, but for Freud neurotic is something we all are, personally and politically to degree more or less. Today, when we blithely say, 'there is no such thing as 'normal'' we express our preconscious Freudianism: and how our language has adapted to Freud. The tendency to put something in inverted commas as I just did to the word 'normal', is the tendency to say 'this is not what it seems', 'there is something behind this', something repressed, something unfulfilled, a wish, a dream, a perversity, or something that is not right.

Here then are two points about Freud, his dark humanism, and his praxis that mark out his enigma.

Lou Salome was well on in middle age and a renowned feminist thinker in her own right when she met Freud. She had no need of study; she could discuss her ideas with the best minds in Europe, but when she met Freud she moved to Vienna to study under him. Here for the first time was a man from whom she had something to learn.

His dark humanism was unlike her own, although she was a realist like him, and practical -- but not yet a practitioner as such. But with Freud's help she would become one. But there was a third thing that marked out the enigma of Freud and stopped Lou in her tracks. Freud was both creative and scientific, something that Nietzsche failed to attain and something Rilke regarded with incredulity, as he saw poetry and science as diametrically opposed. But Lou had always had a sense of 'both/and'' where it came to being both creative and true, not 'either/or'. In this respect, in Freud she met a master.

Freud's work, The Interpretation of Dreams has been through a number of editions. The first edition was 1900, the second, 1908 and the third 1911. In the introduction to the first edition of 1900 Freud notes the difficulty of interpreting material as immaterial as a dream. Dreams recorded in literature or dreams by people he didn't know could hardly be of help -- that is, in getting to the bottom of the matter. Freud writes: 'I had only the choice between my own dreams and that of my patients whom I was treating by psychoanalytical methods.' But the latter would never do because the neuroses of the patients would complicate the dream material. And so, he is left with one alternative: his own dreams. But, he writes, 'if I relate my own dreams I must inevitably reveal to the gaze of strangers more of the intimacies of my psychic life than is agreeable to me, and more than seems fitting in a writer who is not a poet, but a scientific investigator.' What he is saying is that if he uses his own dreams, he needs to be a poet as much as a cold headed analyst.

What does he do? He uses his own dreams and thus, at the inception of psychoanalysis, in the Preface to his great work, Die Traumdeutung, Freud inserts literary poetics within the science of discovery, painful though this is, he says. Painful it may be, but Freud in the next line confesses, 'I could not resist the temptation to mitigate my indiscretions by omissions and substitutions.' That is understandable, but it means that in the first major text of what will come to be known world-wide as psycho-analysis, fiction is ratified as truth bearing. Before a word is read, we are warned of the 'temptation', the 'omissions' and 'substitutions' that have come before the truth in the plain factual sense that Enlightenment science is used to, and which is paradigmatic for any notion of truth in science. But Nietzsche, who went beyond good and evil in this respect, would have known was Freud was talking about, as would, of course, Lou Salome. This is the truth of the new dark humanism: in practice, if not in theory, truth is always that which is sublimated, and has more to do with sublimation than clarity, more to do with the composition of the story or the work, than with coherence in and of itself. Rilke knew this about the poetic work and he frequently declares as much in his letters to Lou. The poetic logic is not lateral but collateral -- running alongside or underneath. The logic is one of depth. And so Freud introduces the poetry of depth to what otherwise purports to belong to the world of Enlightened science and healing.

But ultimately there is no healing, Freud knows: this is what meant by 'beyond' the pleasure principle. The death drive or death instinct is not really a 'drive' or an 'instinct', these words are merely belong to Freud's sublimated poetics that from the Preface to the first edition of The Interpretation of Dreams on, was never Enlightenment science, but a poetic engagement with science for the sake of a dark humanism and sublimated truth. What Freud means by the death instinct is that deeper than any healing is our 'intrinsic propensity' to 'revert to the inorganic'.[3] We may be healed at one level. Say we are neurotic and are healed -- or have cancer and are cured -- but the truth is not this healing but that, 'the organism wants only to die in its own particular way.'[4] We may be able to distract or retract the organism with our means and our technology, but dust will become dust whether we like it or not; it is beyond the pleasure principle. This goes to illustrate Freud's dark humanism and truth in depth.

People think Freud is passe. When Freud isn't being called a reductionist, he is very often labelled a rationalist. Even by those who admire his work. Certainly Freud was rational. His words were based on the observations of experience and his ideas may be traced back there too. But a 'rationalist' suggests a reliance on reason, even perhaps a faith in it, that far exceeds anything Freud would have ventured. Freud was suspicious of reason because of what it hid -- his whole science is geared to this observation. His psychology, though reasoned, unravels a culture of reason, that of Enlightenment rationalism. He didn't think people were reasonable at all -- it's on every page he wrote, so how is it justified to call him a rationalist? But, in a proper Freudian perspective, people who can hardly help themselves, or who delude themselves that they are reasonable, 'well-meaning' or 'spiritual' etc., can hardly be expected to help anyone else, or at least only in incremental or accidental ways. Freud's dark humanism and depth psychological perspective belong to a healing art. And let me emphasise art, along with the scientific stance Freud overtly took.

Here then, we have added to Freud's dark humanism and his praxis, a sense of him as a great creative writer, one who wrote short stories disguised as case studies and poems in prose disguised as diagnostics, whose 'voice' was scientifically modulated, and who as a man was as solid and stable as his material was quite mad. (Freud's wife Martha Bernays, to whom he was married for over 50 years and with whom he had six children, thought her husband wrote pornography and was embarrassed by it.) But Freud's subject was life. That is what he put into words.

Salome understood the poetics of science and life too. She had started out in fiction and as a creative writer, and used fiction to explore life-issues and ideas as they related to imaginatively realised characters. Salome realised that fiction was not the opposite of fact, as those trapped by rationalist frames of reference supposed, but that stories could reveal that which could not otherwise be stated -- or at least, only inadequately. She too had long been trying to put life into words -- as had Nietzsche and as had Rilke.

For Lou, and for the contemporary reader of Freud, I think, all the better if Freud is as much a poet as a scientist, and if Freud is going to fabricate his dreams and then not tell us what is fabricated and what is not. As far as truth is concerned it doesn't matter; because, we soon learn, the truth is not natural anyway. Freud will reveal a new kind of truth. Enlightenment truth is natural truth, but the truth Freud would reveal, if it would not be natural, would not be unnatural either. His truth would be psychological and it would defy the natural/ unnatural dichotomy. The new truth would be one that is revealed and that comes from the depths, which are unconscious. Such a truth is not revealed in the form of a proposition, or even, principally, as an idea (as in the theoretical philosophy of the Enlightenment), but as a personal event -- or, by extension -- as a social event; or as Freud and Salome would see, a cultural event: the total implosion of a civilisation.

Speaking of the implosion of a civilisation: One of the great understatements in literature must surely be the famous first line of Freud's late work, Civilisation and its Discontents. Freud was wise when he was young, but with age his wisdom became more wizened. Das Unbehagen in der Kultur was published in 1930 when Freud was 74. Eight years later at the age of 82 Freud would have to flee Vienna where he had lived from the age of four, to seek refuge in London from the Nazis. Freud had seen the total collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after Austria came out on the losing side in the First World War. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, of which Vienna was the capital, was the last transformation of the Hapsburg dynasty which had ruled central Europe for over a thousand years dating right back to the Holy Roman Empire. It was out of this enormous vacuum that the Nazis rose to power hoping for another thousand year reign. And so Freud, a man with so few illusions, a man who literally spent years listening to people pour out their woes to him, while they lay on his legendary couch, opens his last work, Civilisation and its Discontents with the following sentence of the utmost understated grandeur, beauty and truth:

     It is impossible to resist the impression that people
     commonly apply false standards, seeking power, success and
     wealth for themselves and admiring them in others, while
     under-rating what is truly valuable in life.
It is impossible to resist the impression that people commonly apply false standards; how understated is this given what Freud witnessed? And by the same token people seem to underrate what is truly valuable in life; indeed, what is truly valuable in life? This is the question.

And this is the question around which the relationship of Salome and Freud revolved -- indeed all the major relationships of each of them as well as their writings revolve around this one question, and moreover, they know it. They are not unconscious of it. And this is the pleasure of Lou's relationship with Freud. Nietzsche was brilliant but tragically unwise; Rilke was highly spiritual and correspondingly self-absorbed with his work and the solitude to which it called him. But in Freud, Lou found someone like herself, who served life. Specifically Lou served women and particularly younger women, and specifically Freud served the neurotic people who came to his rooms; but in serving them so well, they served a wider and associated audience.

To serve life in this way, one has to stand outside it a little -- or perhaps a lot; and this is the scientific stance that Lou shared with Freud. But it is not the complacent science of progress, the Cartesian science in denial of death and aimed at the removing of ills and obstacles to the supremacy of mind over matter. Instead, in their psychoanalytical writings Lou and Freud aim at views that (given the obstacles) are serviceable. This is the correct word -- it is Freud's. Freud writes in Civilisation and its Discontents about his views of love and death that, 'they are theoretically far more serviceable than any others one might entertain; they produce what we strive for in scientific work -- a simple answer that neither neglects nor does violence to the facts.'[5]

In 1910, the year before she first met Freud, the philosopher Martin Buber published Lou Salome's Die Erotik in the social science journal he edited. We associate the name 'Freud' with sex, but what sexuality has come to mean in our individualised and commodified culture is not what Freud or Salome meant. What Freud meant by 'sexuality' is more akin to what we might mean today by 'relationality' (which is not really a qualitative term we really ever use), or as we shall see, even closer to 'spirituality' (a word often heard today).

Sexuality in Freud has to do with ties that bind and the web of these ties into which we are born and out of which we never move -- although the web changes -- until we die. By sexuality Freud was pointing to an unconscious and barely conscious quality of our lives, aligning with dream and fantasy, as much as event, which we have almost missed but which affects us all the time in every way. It was a discovery. But today's notion of sexuality, where we use such expression 'my sexuality' and so on, as if it is something one is in possession of, and exercises 'choice' over, as in a supermarket of options, and as if sex is a matter of self-expression, all of which owes more to American behavioural science and the 1960s youth and liberation movements that swept capitalist nations, and got confused with Freud.

Freud reminds us that 'the extended sexuality of psychoanalysis coincides with the Eros of the divine Plato.'[6] But Freud is more observant than Plato of deviation, which he can see, than human deification through love, which he can't. The clear-cut socially endorsed distinction between deviancy and normalcy of development collapses under Freud's scrutiny. Normal and deviant are no longer helpful categories, Freud finds, hence the turn to myth. If anything, there is something mythological -- that is, pertaining to the stories of old, enshrined by Greek legend -- about our upbringing, when examined closely. Here is where the so-called Oedipus complex fits, although Freud went off the word 'complex' in 1913 because people began using it as a piece of scientific jargon. Normalcy and deviancy prove to be chimeras of socially approved morality, but not of actual reality. This was a discovery. And it remains as unacceptable today as in Freud's Vienna, as daily we read in the newspaper that our children need to be protected and paedophilia is among our worst crimes and one of the very few instances of something we still feel confident to call 'evil'.

Perhaps this shows that Freud was missing something that is important to the human soul, which has to do with purity. The most obvious observable fact about children is their innocence and purity and it is this, if it is interfered with, not the psycho-physical interruption of oral, anal or genital stages of development as such that is dangerous and to be deplored. The stages of development Freud outlines in his sexual theory of development take their cue from identifiable drives, desires and behaviours, but the sensibility -- that of purity and innocence -- in which these desires are set is unmentioned. But it is not unmentionable in the least, far from it. It is the first thing people exclaim when they see a baby: 'isn't she lovely'. This absence of talk about innocence and purity in Freud is strange. Strange that Freud sees 'the drive to knowledge' as he calls it, starting in remotest infancy, as more important than the switch, which happens at some stage -- but certainly not when one is four or five -- from innocence to experience. It seems, if you stare at the words too hard, you won't see the poem.

But methodologically, Freud is not at all dogmatic. 'The theory is by no means hidebound,' Lou Salome writes, 'but is adjusted to further findings, and, further, that this man is great simply in that he is the man of research advancing quietly and working tirelessly. Perhaps the 'dogmatism' with which he is reproached derives from the necessity to establish guidelines in the course of his tireless advance, if only for the sake of his fellow-workers.'[7] Too often Freud is misunderstood as a dogmatist. As for working tirelessly, when he first arranged to meet Salome he suggested after 10pm at night, because every day until then he was uninterruptedly engaged.

Sexuality, Lou Salome says, is a word for,

     ... that which we call 'voluptuousness'... it envelops the
     entirety of life within us and around us. The wonderful
     vitality and fullness of life, mysteriously binding us to
     the universe, permeates our being without being pressed
     into the consciousness, so that in romantic language and in
     the enthusiasm of sensuality, of transcendent sensuality, it
     is called 'spiritual', simply because it would be an even
     narrower construction to call it 'physical'.[8]
Of course, in speaking of sexuality in such a seemingly rather romantic language, we must remember that this voluptuousness she speaks of is not a feeling, but something physical, bodily -- oral, anal, genital -- and developmental and displaced by inhibitions and developmental blocks of one or another sort.

Freud would probably agree with Lou about voluptuousness, but he would never admit it in her kind of language. In Civilisation and its Discontents Freud said, 'I can discover no trace of this 'oceanic' feeling in myself.'[9] We must hear Freud's obstinacy here. He can't trace any 'oceanic' feeling, because he won't, he is determined not to, because he is given over to feeling something else, something more important than dissociated limpidity, what he calls, 'the struggle between Eros and death'.[10] Lou would probably agree: at the bodily and developmental level, this is the struggle, which death will win. But it is Freud, not she, nor Nietzsche or Rilke either for that matter, who is the mythical trickster, the go-between or messenger, between Eros and death. And it is in this difference between them that Lou and he met and agreed and that Lou, after her time in Vienna could rejoice, 'that I had met with him on my life-journey and was permitted to experience him -- as the turning point in my life.'[11]

Lou had met Freud in 1911 and after studying under him she would work with him as a practicing psychoanalyst, publishing scientific work in his journal Imago from time to time. Lou learnt many things from Freud. For instance, in her youth Lou tried to shake off all inhibitions and live without them. This was something she talked about with Nietzsche. She even treated motherhood as inhibition. But this changed. Freud taught her about the relation of inhibition to violence. The violence of the First World War consolidated his teaching. And Freud taught her about the relation of inhibition to guilt. In order for culture and civilisation to be built up and for people to flourish, men (principally men, Lou would say) must renounce their drives. By renouncing our drives we internalise the authority that can say Yes and No. But we also increase the desire for the forbidden and the guilt that accompanies it. The aggression that wants to come out and can't, because of prohibition which has become an inhibition, finds other outlets, or seeps through our soul, accompanied by a disguised guilt and displaced in various activities. The higher a civilisation, Freud taught, the more guilt-racked it is bound to be. In her youth Lou thought guilt was wasted emotion, but under Freud she learnt a new respect for its power over violence. Although once violence gets started guilt can't contain it, people become savage once again no matter how high was their culture. And no-one was more cognisant of all this than Freud; Nietzsche lauded noble violence but was devoid of wisdom on the subject; Rilke sequestered himself from violence; only Freud of these three men could stand and meet it.

Before the First World War Freud and his followers were regarded, to say the least, as a bunch of maverick eccentrics, but after the War they found themselves in high demand. Freud had hardly changed, but the world had. The First World War was one in which young men shot bullets into the bodies of other young men like them, only dressed in different uniforms. It was a war fought mainly on the land and at close quarters, so the combatants could see faces, and hear and smell the dying. After the war mental illness was rife and Freud was overwhelmed with requests for help and he sent his disciples in place of himself. They had done the preliminary study. He sent Lou to psychoanalyse five doctors at a mental institution in Konigsberg who were not coping with the huge influx of new patients and their problems.

Her career took off from there. From 1918 Lou was a practicing analyst, taking many patients referred to her by Freud. Rilke died in 1926. The last time she saw Freud was in 1928. She was now 69 and Freud was 72, it was a glorious autumn day in Berlin and they took a walk together in the Tegel park (now an airport). Freud was losing the roof of his mouth to cancer and had trouble speaking, but they nevertheless reminisced. In her memoir written in 1936, the year of her death she recalls how she and Freud spoke about the incident to do with the Prayer to Life (Lebensgebet) she had written, which Nietzsche had loved and set to music, and which he had revised slightly as his own Hymn to Life (Hymus an das leben), indicative of the aspiration of his thinking. She and Freud recalled the time in 1912 when Nietzsche's Hymn had fallen somehow into Freud's hands and he had read it aloud in Lou's presence. She records that 'he read the final stanza aloud in a merry voice, filled with good natured friendliness'.[12]

     Centuries in which to think and live,
     Let all your content be their gain!
     If you have no more joy to give,
     At least you still have their pain.

Freud had folded the poem and tapped it on the arm of his chair and snorted: 'Pah! who'd believe that! A bout of the common cold would suffice to cure a man of such cheap sentiment!' They recalled this awkward moment again sixteen years later, the demolition of Europe lying between their present and their past. 'And then something occurred which I didn't understand myself,' Lou writes,

     ... something I was powerless to hold back, that crossed my
     trembling lips in rebellion against his destiny and his
     'That nonsense I wrote back then out of high spirits: you
     lived it!'
     Upon which, shocked by the openness of my words, I broke
     into loud and uncontrollable weeping. Freud didn't reply. I
     simply felt his arm around me.

1.  Freud. S. Beyond the Pleasure Principle, translated by John Reddick with an introduction by Mark Edmundson. London: Penguin, 2003. viii.

2.  Freud. S. Wild Analysis, translated by Alan Bance. London: Penguin, 2002. 7

3.  Freud. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. 78.

4.  Freud. Ibid. 79.

5.  Freud. Civilisation and its Discontents, translated by David McLintock (London: Penguin, 2002) 56.

6.  Freud, S. The Psychology of Love, translated by Shaun Whiteside (London: Penguin, 2006) 117.

7.  Salome, S. The Freud Journal, translated by Stanley A. Leavy (New York: Basic Books, 1964) 37

8.  Salome. Freud Journal. 186.

9.  Freud. Civilisation and its Discontents. 4.

10.  Freud. Ibid. 58

11.  Salome. Ibid. 131

12.  Salome, S. Looking Back. Edited by Ernst Pfeiffer, translated by Breon Mitchell (New York: Marlowe, 1995) 105.

(c) Matthew Del Nevo 2010


Senior Lecturer in Philosophy Catholic Institute of Sydney 99 Albert Rd Strathfield NSW 2135 http:---



Identity of the dead

A review of the literature on death evinces a considerable dispute over an exact definition over death [E]. Defining death per se is in reality a troublesome task. Many dictionaries formally illustrate that death is defined as 'the extinction or cessation of life' or as 'ceasing to be' and although life per se is difficult to define, most definitions of life whether at the level of physiology, molecular biology and biochemistry, or genetic potential lay stress on 'functional capacity'. Death, thus, can be defined as the irreversible loss of 'functional capacity'.

This formal definition of death is broadly applicable not only to human beings but to non-human animals, plants, etc. However if it is a case of defining human death, we have to recognise characteristics that are essentially significant to a human being. We here define death simply as 'the final and irreversible cessation of a person's life'. Based upon the definition and the recognition, human death can be defined as a process in which a person's dead body becomes vested with the status of a vessel that both signifies his/ her death and objectifies the concept of death. Our major concern here thus is with the blunt fact that the difference between the living and the dead is based on the fundamental existence or absence of life [C]. The dead by our definition are therefore those who formerly lived but who no longer have life.

An absence of life can be illustrated by the empirically recognised character of life, such as lack of autonomy, self-constraint, reproduction, contra-action or adaptation. Lifeless being is understood to move only in reaction to an external action, where they lack any determinant functions for their own motion. Conversely, something that is alive has, at least to some extent, a cause for determining its own motion, i.e., the capacity to function. If the principle of the potential to determine motion, whether or not a person is autonomous, can be identified as one of the defining characteristics of something said to be alive, then the significance of being the dead, because they lack this defining characteristics, depends upon the living in every aspect. Surely, the lack of any purposeful attributes of the dead stems from this fact (i.e., no-life).

Thus the dead have a central place in the living's mental activities such as consciousness, memory and recognition of their character and achievements.[1] Since the dead, whose life is, at least in terms of cellular activity, completely terminated, have no resources for autonomous motion, it is clear enough that they cannot be the subject of motion. Unless the living are conscious of the dead, there would be no continued meaningful existence of the dead. So any meaning of existence of the dead is derived from and within the mental activities of the living. The living can actively involve themselves in the memory of the dead, in contradistinction to the passive involvement the dead have with the living. This relationship is exemplified by the medical circumstance where even if the organs of a patient who is brain dead are functioning, the relationship nevertheless between the living and the patient is unilateral, due to the patient's lack of consciousness, and is not a social interaction.[2] The active/ passive roles are inherent in this relationship when translated into the case of dead persons. Additionally, long after death the dead lack any cellular activity whatsoever, which fully highlights the point that human corpses are categorised as 'real' (res in Latin), which means something relating to a thing rather than to a person.

However, it is true, that despite such a clear-cut distinction between a person and a thing, we believe that a thing, e.g., a desk or a chair, should not be placed in the same category as a corpse. The reason for this is that we hold an assumption that the relationship between a living and a dead person would in normal circumstances be qualitatively different to that between a person and a thing such as a desk or a chair. I note that, on the side of those who observe the dead and the corpse, the difference in such an assumption raises a problem. Also I state that as viewing a dead body as a mere thing cannot convert the subject from being a body to being a mere thing, so the failure to view a dead body as a mere thing cannot change its state of being a thing to a state of being a body. A corpse is a more emotional object than a thing by far. An aversion to dealing with a corpse as a mere thing would be an instinctive reflex. It is considerably difficult to refrain from the emotional resistance, because people have, although there is the difference of degree/ extent, common religious thoughts and beliefs of death so that although the dead have been objectified in the process of the advance of natural science, the dead still remain insufficiently objectified.

In most cases we conceive the relationship between a living and a dead person to be much stronger than that between a person and a thing. The grounds for this difference in relational power lies in the different degrees of perceptual strength a person projects towards objects of consciousness, perception and recognition. The degree of strength projected to any particular perceptual 'object' can be attributed to the impression that a person receives from the object: expectation and desire for it, for example.

Then, what is the source of the perceptual power? My answer is that the source can be ascribed to the living person's memory, where the situational details of how a dead person was as a previously living person are retained. Influenced by such memories, the living resultantly relate to the dead in a different way from that of relation to things. A person as a social being cannot consider biological death of humans as the extinction of them. Human death is regarded as something containing a higher value than something in a thing. Therefore even to utter strangers' corpses, we hardly have the nerve to treat them as a thing like a broken chair and a desk. This is a brief explanation bearing on empirical recognition. Additionally logical recognition can be explicated by recognising the relational strength or bond between the living and the dead. Directing attention to the relationship between the dead and the living and excluding any psychological impressions we may have of the previously living person per se, points out a form of universality that invokes the notion of a causal relationship or a substantially or necessarily dependent relationship. Given the fact that any dead person used to be a living person, the experiential and logical recognition suggests both and that a dead person inherits something, i.e., a partial identity as mentioned below, from his/her former entity and that s/he demonstrates that this 'something' is a reality.

Notwithstanding the brevity of our adumbration above we propose it is plausible, without further argument, to postulate that one of the main factors that we as living persons are conscious of when relating to the dead is a natural assurance that the dead physically retain a partial identity of their previously living bodies except in circumstances where there is no body after death, for instance after an horrific accident or following an atomic bomb attack. At death when a living person hence becomes a corpse, what is assumed not to undergo substantial transformation whilst alive does undergo transformation upon death into another thing. However, this is not a total transformation, rather there is in death a partial retention of the characteristics and form of the previously living person.

Although, the issues surrounding identity or partial identity are the topics of a multidisciplinary subject encompassing the discourses of philosophy and psychology, a brief discussion of the general theory of identity is necessary here to clarify our argument. Whilst most discussions on identity have focused on people, identity appertaining to things has also been discussed (e.g., see [A]). The morning star and the evening star have different meanings despite being identical with Venus. Apparently, however, both stars have the same identity. It would, in this regard, be essential that things have their own names for the sake of being identified but their names are not interchangeable insofar as they have their own identity. If we regard naming as part, at least, of the substance of identity, then we should pay attention to the term 'body' which is common to both the living and the dead body at the transition from life to death. As long as the dead body has not been destroyed or has not disappeared, those who attend a person's death, i.e., his/her transition from life to death, are in no doubt about the fact that his/her dead body is derived from his/her living one. The retained partial identity of the dead body derived from the living one therefore provides a visible continuity between the dead person and the person they were when alive.

A new corpse, whose tissues and organs are, in a broad sense, still alive immediately after death starts to undergo physical alteration and sooner or later begins the process of decomposition. However, what allows us to recognise the partial identity of the dead person is first an attempt to identify the shape of the living body in the corpse. A living body can be represented as a conceivable mode. It exists as not only a physical figure, including a carriage, but also a representation of characteristics. In a sense, the living body can be viewed as a being seemingly in the most natural situation, but its visible shapes (e.g., physique, height and weight) are social products. For the features of a living body may be characterised by multiple social conditions that the person has been involved with. For example, coal miner's shapes of fingers, legs, hands, etc., can be, to some extent, deformed by their vocational conditions. Other similar examples are pianist's long fingers, sumo wrestlers' obesity and boxers' somewhat deformed faces. Any physical features of hair, carriage, action, body, etc., play a vital role in a guide for understanding their social meanings.

A living body is located in the structure of signified symbols. The meanings and values of the symbols are determined by the locus of the symbols in society. In comparison between a living body and its dead body one discerns physical similarities in most cases. If there is in terms of forms or shapes a similarity between the previously living person and their corpse, then this enables us to recognise the partial identity of the corpse. This recognition is frequently found not only in the process of change from a living body to a corpse, but even in circumstances where a corpse is drastically altered into, say, ashes (although this is, admittedly, an extremely thin example of identity.[3]). However, that case does not suggest that the corpse has a visible partial identity of the living body, but rather that any evidence for proving the partial identity should be required. For example, a corpse's false teeth may serve to identify a badly damaged corpse involved in an aeroplane crash. In this case evidence for the partial identity is linked to the victims' ante mortem images that are kept in the observer's memories. In short the observer can experience the reconstruction of their memories through the evidence.

Partial identity

Whilst the issue of the identity of a corpse can be developed through an application of a body-identity theory, it seems that the traditional discussion [4] on personality identity developed not only the body-identity theory but also a memory-and-character theory [F].[5] The latter theory suggests, as its name implies that on the assumption that human memory and attitudes of personality toward a person are important for the construction and maintenance of identity, then the continuity of the living's memory activities constitutes a personality identity of the dead. In particular circumstances therefore, it could be argued that if there was a lack in the continuity of memory and personality then this could equate to a lack of identity for that particular dead person.[I]

It is verging on the ridiculous, however, to think that, as suggested by the discussion on the continuity between a living body and its corpse, the latter still holds the memory and personality of the former entity. It is also not plausible to believe that human ashes retain the memory and personality of the living person. However, in order to argue the plausibility of partial identity even throughout the process of transition from living body to ashes, the role of memory in this process is instrumental. Yet we have to recognise that it is the living who directly or indirectly observe the dead body who form and hold these memories and not the dead person who has the partial identity with his/her previously living body. For further discussion, it is worthy of note that we as living persons involve ourselves in and with other humans. Apart from indirect relationships, in most cases, the memories we have and develop of these other humans are as a result of our mutual involvement. This kind of memory can be called 'personal memory' which is chiefly based on our personal experience.

Furthermore, our memory of a deceased person may be expressed in such terms as 'weak' and 'strong'. Suppose that someone died of an illness. Of those who were involved with the deceased, some hold strong memories about her/him and others hold weak memories about her/him. The strength of a person's involvement with a deceased person may determine the strength of their memory of the deceased. Those who were closely involved with the deceased may have strong memories of how and what the deceased person was and did. But those not closely involved may hold a vague, or weak, image of the deceased person. On the other hand, however, it is clear we can argue that this kind of memory, irrespective of whether it is strong or weak, not only constitutes the partial identity of the deceased but plays a role in enabling us to recognise the partial identity of the body. What allows us to recognise the deceased person is something that is formed from our memories of that person, and moreover is something that is held in our memories, therefore memory has a very active role in constituting, shaping and reconstituting the partial identity of a deceased person.

At any rate, those who remember the dead reconfirm by their memory that the dead inherited their bodily identity from their former living body (i.e., the memory of the physical continuity of the partial identity). Whilst it would be possible to think that the dead were changed into something which is totally physically different from a living person, it would be very difficult to think that a living person loses everything s/he held at death and, after death, becomes something new. Death is the situation which generates them rather than vice versa. However, if it were not for this partial identity of the dead, we would lose the focus of our sentimental activities, e.g., when we grieve a death in front of the corpse, precisely because the corpse per se cannot be identified with the living person we remember. Therefore, it must be warranted to assert that the dead inherit something from their former living selves. What modes do the dead continue to exist as? The modes should be what the dead are involved with in the relation of society and people, but we will discuss this issue in another occasion.


1. Some terms used in this paragraph, such as consciousness, memory, recognition, existence, are sometimes used as philosophical, psychological, socio-psychological terms. Many definitions abound for each of these terms. However, general meanings will be used in this essay for explaining such concepts referred to above, by which consciousness is defined as 'direct recognition that a person holds about a mental fact that arises inside his/her mind'.

2. E.g., although a decaying corpse which emits an offensive smell can affect a living person, this phenomena does not mean an exchange of actions between one subject and another. The corpse is a source of the smell but it cannot get rid of the smell by its intention or will. In this regard, the corpse is the same as a fish that emits an offensive smell.

3. Although the term 'identity' has several definitions in sociology, psychology, etc., it is used in this paper to refer to 'sameness', in so doing it reflects the way Locke [F] used the term.

4. Psychological theorists, such as Parfit [G], Shoemaker [I] and Perry [H], who accept the neo-Lockean theory personal identity mainly ask a question: 'what makes A at t1 the same person as B at t2' [B].

5. Collins suggests that '[t]he setting for the introduction of the idea q-memory is the wide concept of memory presupposes personal identity, so that no reductive analysis based on memory in the spirit of Locke's view is workable' [D].


A. Baker, L. R. (2000), Persons and Bodies: A Constitution View. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

B. Cambell, C. S. (1992), 'Body, Self, and the Property Paradigm', Hasting Center Report, 22(5): 34-42.

C. Chadwick, R. F. (1994), 'Corpses, recycling and therapeutic purposes', in R. Lee and D. Morgan (eds.), Death Rites: Law and Ethics at the End of Life. London and New York: Routledge.

D. Collins, A. W. (1997), 'Personal Identity and the Coherence of Q-memory', The Philosophical Quarterly, 47 (186): 73-80.

E. Evans, M. (1994), 'Against the definition of brainstem death', in R. Lee and D. Mergan (eds.), Death Rites: Law and Ethics at the End of Life. London and New York: Routledge.

F. Locke, J. (1988 [1690]), The Treaties of Government. Edited by P. Laslett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

G. Parfit, D. (1986), Reasons and Persons (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

H. Perry, J. (1976), 'The Importance of Being Identical', in A. O. Porty (ed.), The Identities of Persons. Berkeley: University of California Press.

I. Shoemaker, S. (1984), 'Personal Identity: A Materialist's Account', in S. Shoemaker and R. Swinburne (eds.), Personal Identity. Oxford: Blackwell.

(c) Masayuki Yoshida 2010


Visiting Fellow Centre for Death & Society (CDAS) Department of Social & Policy Sciences University of Bath Bath BA2 7AY United Kingdom



An American Agenda: Leo Strauss, Nietzsche and Neoconservatism By Darryl Naraji Just World Publications, 2008

There is a specter haunting the West. The specter of Nietzsche.

Not only are large areas of the academic curriculum -- such as anthropology, sociology, cultural studies, business management, government administration -- basically courses in Nietzschean philosophy. But the popular understanding of politics along with the way many if not most people in Western societies go about their moral 'reasoning' (please note the inverted commas) and discussion is very Nietzschean.

When we adopt the language of the reification of ethics into discrete 'values' we are talking Nietzsche. Nietzsche's core idea that such values are chosen by the individual and indeed by whole cultures -- in sociological terms that values are 'constructed' -- is in contemporary Western culture taken for granted.

But Naranjit's book An American Agenda focuses on an aspect of the Nietzschean presence in the contemporary world that is very little understood. These may be termed the 'right Nietzscheans'. This school of thought revolves around the enigmatic figure of Leo Strauss. Furthermore Naranjit suggests that this obscure philosopher has been dominating American politics including global policy with the rise of the Neoconservatives.

Now saying this is to stir up a hornets' nest of controversy, a controversy that Naranjit himself traces in his book. He discusses at length the different interpretations of Strauss and his link to Nietzsche. Many of Strauss's disciples deny such a link. But to me at any rate one thing seems clear. That even in the kindest interpretation of Strauss there is set up a dissonance between the ethics of the city -- which is to say the general society -- and the ethics of the philosopher which is to say of those who really know. One can here note two key things. First a skepticism as to whether there is such a thing as ethical truth. Second, the fact that such knowledge of the deadly truth is the preserve of an elite group. To me the case is simply made. The combining of skepticism and elitism points to Nietzsche.

But of course I cannot do justice to Naranjit's finely weaved argument ranging from a discussion of contemporary American politics to very complex philosophical questions. There is a discussion of different interpretations of Nietzsche as well as the 20th century philosopher Martin Heidegger (we will get back to him).

We may crudely summarize the history thus:

In the good old days there were two spheres of knowledge, that of the city and that of the philosophers. The former is that of ethical orthodoxy in the West more recently represented by Christianity (which Nietzsche saw as Platonism for the masses). The latter are the true Gnostics who know the deadly truth... that there isn't any. If philosophers attempt to convey this to the city they may run into trouble, note what happened to Socrates, moreover knowledge of the deadly truth will destroy the city. So philosophers engage in the 'noble delusion': they support the Platonic-Christian orthodoxy of the masses. This protects the city from self-destruction and allows philosophers to engage in their dangerous pursuit of reason in peace.

The modern Enlightenment comes along and ruins all this. Although the real culprit may very well be Christianity itself which -- unlike Judaism and Islam -- is 'a Faith not a Law' and therefore seeks to reconcile revelation and reason, religion and philosophy. The Enlightenment Project attempted to bring together the two spheres by establishing a rational basis for the ethics of the city. When this failed and the absence of ethical foundation was laid bare the door was open for nihilism, the destruction of the city. Naranjit (p. 69) quotes Strauss as saying, 'The more we cultivate reason, the more we cultivate nihilism.'

And so we come to Nietzsche.

He proposes that with the collapse of ancient ethics and in the absence of rational morality that we choose our values by an act of will-to-power. Indeed this is how it has always been except now we are being open and honest about it. But with this explicit realization we now come to a fork in the road. The two Nietzsches.

One Nietzschean position is for whoever who may, to will whatever values they choose unfettered by any rational concerns -- 'decisionism', the absolute freedom of the moment. Strauss attributes this (in my own view clearly incorrectly) to Heidegger. This leads to Nazism. To nihilism the deadly visitor at the door. More recently it was evident in America in the 1960s in the counter-culture. Strauss's disciple Alan Bloom critiques such American nihilism in his very influential popular book The Closing of the American Mind.

The other Nietzschean option and the only alternative to nihilism is to return to the noble lie. In a surprising, remarkable and utterly revolutionary interpretation Strauss attributes this position to Plato. In an esoteric reading of Plato Strauss sees him as advocating his pivotal idea of the Platonic 'Good' as a needed deception for the masses. This good, as the true philosopher knows, cannot be determined. In a single brilliant stroke Strauss can publicly disown Nietzsche while advocating a Nietzschean Plato.

Hence it is the elite who will both their own values and the sustaining of the mask of orthodoxy for the masses. Hence for instance the pseudo-philosophical discipline of political science.

The scene is now set for what Naranjit describes as the confrontation between Heidegger and Strauss in America. However while the counter-culture as Naranjit points out is Heideggerian it is not ultimately nihilistic (although there are definite nihilistic elements) but a legitimate quest for 'authenticity'. This was overtaken at least for now by the conservatism of Middle America. But unlike the old conservatism that possessed a genuine concern for tradition and values Middle America has been increasingly taken over by the Neo-Con disciples of Strauss who put forward 'orthodoxy', the old time religion of Christian fundamentalism, as a balm and a justification for the masses, the noble delusion, in the name of which the knowing elite can will and perpetuate their necessary imperial atrocities at home and abroad.

This is Nietzsche's planetary rule:

     ... train men for the heights, not for comfort and
     mediocrity, a morality with the intention of training a
     ruling caste -- the future masters of the earth -- must, if
     it is to be taught, appear in society with the prevailing
     moral laws, in the guise of their terms and forms. That for
     this, however, many transitional means of deception must be
     devised. (Quoted in Naranjit pg 198.)
What more can I say in review? I rarely enjoy reading a book this much. The argument is engrossing and compelling. And it deals with deadly serious contemporary issues. For me the core of the argument is the first section of chapter four on Strauss's Nietzsche. Here it is established by Nietzschean logic that deception is the highest truth carried out by philosophers who embody the highest most spiritual form of the will-to-power. Hence philosophy is not about describing reality but prescribing to nature 'how it ought to be'.

Finally let me say that it is vital that we come to terms with this in our parts of the world as it is the colonies (that means us) who are at the receiving end of this history. We will also watch with interest how the Straussian agenda will play itself out in this time of economic crisis and in the wake of the recent regime change in the Empire itself. Thus we await the next chapter of the American Agenda.

(c) Burton Sankeralli 2009


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020