Commentary on Political Economy

Friday 13 October 2017

Hannah Arendt and Nietzsche ‘s Invariance

Only yesterday, in the Wall Street Journal, a distinguished physicist insisted against Dan Brown, the novelist, that science cannot confute God. Of course this is so and will remain so until our definition and understanding of the concepts of science and God remain resolutely antithetical: but not if we re-examine the pragmatic implications of this separation between spirit and matter. And the ultimate place to confront this separation is the concept of truth. More explicitly, the enucleation of the concept of truth is the foundation for overcoming the separation or Platonic chorismos of mind and matter and, finally, of ontogenesis and phylogenesis. This is what we are attempting in this next chapter of our The Philosophy of the Flesh. Enjoy.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE FLESH: Hannah Arendt and Nietzsche’s Invariance

Reality in a world of appearances is first of all characterized by ‘standing still and remaining’ the same long enough to become an object for acknowledgement and recognition by a subject. Husserl’s basic and greatest discovery takes up in exhaustive detail the intentionality of all acts of consciousness…” (Life of the Mind, p46).

As we have seen, Arendt’s critique of the Cartesian cogito moves correctly from the observation that “thinking” shows merely that “there are thoughts” (p49). But from this conclusion Arendt does not, unlike Nietzsche (again, p49), proceed as she must to question the entire notion of a “subject”, of a “thinking ego”, and therefore also of Husserl’s “transcendental ego” and its “intentionality”. For what can it mean to say that “reality is characterised by standing still and remaining the same long enough to become and ‘object’ for a ‘subject’”? No matter how hard it may try, thought will never be able “to stand still and remain the same long enough” (!) to be able to identify an “object” and a “subject”, but only “to perceive or intuit” that there is a “thereness”, an ever-present or present-ment (pressentiment or “sixth sense” or Aquinas’s sensus communis) of “reality”. This is so for the devastatingly simple reason that all that thought can ever be conscious or aware of is the “pre-sent”, which is neither “the past”, because even “memories” are “present”, nor quite evidently “the future” – which is a “present pro-jection”. Instead, Arendt stops at the conclusion that “thinking” con-firms the existence of a “reality”, of a “world” from which even the most “meditative” or abstract thought can “withdraw” and yet one that it can never quite “leave”. Presumably, one ought to infer from this “withdrawing without leaving” that Arendt has relinquished the notion of the “transcendence” of thought – but in fact she has not, as she herself demonstrates with the following observation:

Whatever thinking can reach and whatever it may achieve, it is precisely reality as given to common sense, in its sheer thereness, that remains forever beyond its grasp….Thought processes, unlike common sense, can be physically located in the brain, but nevertheless transcend all biological data, be they functional or morphological…(LotM, pp51-2).

Yet again, in her preoccupation or haste to offer “thinking” a privileged place in ontology, Arendt forgets that “common sense” and “thinking” are one and the same thing, that they are located neither “in the brain” nor in any other “organ” (cf. Arendt’s objection to the early Wittgensteinian notion of “language is part of our organism” at p52) as every philosopher from Hegel to Merleau-Ponty (in ‘Signes’ or the ‘Reader’) – whom Arendt expressly acknowledges and agrees with contra Kant (pp48-9) – would tell her. On this specific point, Arendt misconstrues Merleau-Ponty’s charge against Descartes of seeking to distill and then isolate thought from perception for the simple reason that for Merleau-Ponty perception and thought – just like perception and language – cannot be separated as Arendt attempts to do here by “elevating” thought (though strangely not language) to a higher “transcendental” level from (mere?) “biological data be they functional or morphological”!

The reason why Arendt is so persistent, even obdurate, in this “transcendental attitude” is that she thoroughly misconceives the entire “nature” or “ontological status” of abstract thought – that is, of thought that pretends or presumes “to ab-stract from” and therefore to transcend the world, as Descartes’s “meditations” or Husserl’s “epoche” (suspension) were meant to do, albeit in different ways.

Kant’s famous distinction between Vernunft and Verstand, between a faculty of speculative thought and the ability to know arising out of sense experience,…. has consequences more far-reaching….than he himself recognized….Although he insisted on the inability of reason to arrive at knowledge, especially with respect to God, Freedom, and Immortality – to him the highest objects of thought – he could not part altogether with the conviction that the final aim of thinking, as of knowledge, is truth and cognition; he thus uses, throughout the Critiques, the term Vernunftererkenntnis, ‘knowledge arising out of pure reason’, a construction that ought to have been a contradiction in terms for him, (LotM, pp62-3).

Reprising Heidegger’s (and even earlier, Nietzsche’s) critique of the exhaustion of Western philosophy in the erroneous identification of “truth” with “certainty” or “cognition” or “knowledge”, Arendt demonstrates incontrovertibly just how little she has grasped the real problematic of Western philosophy and of the Kantian critique in particular. Arendt cannot understand that if indeed Kant had chosen to con-fine pure reason to the sphere of “sheer activity”, that is to say of pure thought, of pure concepts (Croce), he would then have had to concede the “sheer conventionality” of pure reason and its “abstract thought” – its naked “instrumentality” and cognitive “emptiness” (intuition without concepts is blind; concepts without intuition are empty”). Arendt seeks here to elide and elude and avoid the entire problem of the “ordo et connexio rerum idearumque”! A pure reason that remains “sheer activity”, “abstract thought” with no “empirical” nexus to reality, perception and intuition – such a pure reason would end up being a mere “ghost” and, in its “formal logico-mathematical” aspect, a welter of total, complete and abject tautologies. Arendt herself intelligently identifies this Kantian quandary when she quotes him writing that

“[for the sake of mere speculative reason alone] we should hardly have undertaken the labor of transcendental investigations….since whatever discoveries might be made in regard to these matters, we should not be able to make use of them in any helpful manner in concreto” (p65).

 The problem for Kant as for all Western philosophy has been always, and quite justifiably, to discover the “nexus rerum”, “the purposive unity of things”, the “link” between “objective reality” and “subjective knowledge” of that reality. To negate or deny that such a link ec-sists means effectively that one must then either discard the “content” of abstract thought or else to jettison the “scientificity” of all knowledge! Arendt has simply failed to comprehend this crucial predicament that has been the bane of Western metaphysics and science. Instead, she curiously and naively believes that Kant could easily have abandoned the “confusion” involved in reconciling thought and experience.

But Kant does not insist on this side of the matter [the irrelevance of reason to cognition and knowledge], because he is afraid that his ideas might then turn out to be ‘empty thought-things’ (leere Gedankendinge)… It is perhaps for the same reason that he equates what we have here called meaning with Purpose and even Intention (Zweck and Absicht): The “highest formal unity which rests solely on concepts of reason, is the purposive unity of things. The speculative interest of reason makes it necessary to regard all order in the world as if it had originated in the [intention] of a supreme reason”, (LotM, pp64-5). 

Right in the midst of the passages quoted above occurs the sentence that stands in the greatest possible contrast to his own equation of reason with Purpose: “Pure reason is in fact occupied with nothing but itself. It can have no other vocation, (LotM, p65).

What Arendt fails to understand is something that Kant knew all too well, and that is that unless the “truths” of pure reason” can be intimately “con-nected” to the regularities found in nature, then they can lay no claim to “truth” at all – and, worst of all, neither can the “scientific truths or verities” that Arendt espouses, because there would then be “nothing at all” in those “empirical regularities” that could lend them the status of “scientific truths”. Science would then be exposed for what it is: - sheer “instrumentality”. Arendt is aware of this difficulty, which is why, on one hand, she attempts to preserve the word “truth” for scientific discoveries of a “finite” and “paradigmatic” (she cites Kuhn) nature; whilst on the other hand she seeks to avoid the word “truth”, preferring “meaning”, for the “sheer activity” of abstract thought, preserving thus its “formal” and “non-purposive” quality. Weber does the same with his Zweck-rationalitat, which is in fact “non-purposive” in the sense that it is “instrumental” and not “teleological”, and yet Weber, unlike Arendt, intelligently and perspicaciously acknowledges the “technical-purposive” instrumentality of this “instrumental reason” without dignifying it with a patina of “spirituality” or transcendence as Arendt does!

Thinking, no doubt, plays an enormous role in any scientific enterprise, but it is the role of a means to an end; the end is determined by a decision about what is worthwhile knowing, and this decision cannot be scientific, (LotM, p54).

This is pure Weber: but whereas Weber perceives that thinking is pure instrumentality, “a means to an end”, it is Zweck-rationalitat rather than Wert-rationalitat, Arendt steadfastly refuses the “purposivity” of this notion of “thinking” or “reason”, clinging instead to a romantic notion of “meaning”. Weber sees the “purpose” in “reason” and leaves it at that, at its “technicality” which he confuses with “scientificity” rather than “instrumentality”. Arendt instead is looking for “something more” in “thinking” – wishing to rescue it from, and to give it a “content” or “transcendence” over and above its, (sterile) “purity”. So here is the crux: what can it mean for Arendt, more than for Kant who obviously was ambivalent about the idea, to say with Kant that “pure reason is occupied with nothing but itself and can have no other vocation”? Arendt obviously seeks simultaneously to preserve the “purity” (non-instrumentality and non-purposiveness) of “reason”, and to avoid the “sterility” of such “neutrality” – its tautologous quality – by emphasizing its “meaningfulness”, and finally to redeem the “spiritual” side of thinking – not its “faith”, pace Kant, but its “meaning-fulness”. 

[Kant] never became fully aware of having liberated reason and thinking, of having justified this faculty and its activity even though they could not boast of any ‘positive’ results. As we have seen, he stated that he had “found it necessary to deny knowledge… to make room for faith”, but all he had “denied” was knowledge of things that are unknowable, and he had not made room for faith but for thought , (LotM, p63).

Yet whilst Arendt resists every notion that “thinking” is confined to its “content” – whether as reason or intellect -, at the same time she intuits that if the ontological status of thinking is defined by “thinking the unknowable”, such a “spiritual” notion will reduce both the ontological status of thinking and its content or subject-matter to abstract, ghostly-ghastly sterility and insubstantiality as well as irrelevancy: - which is quite precisely why Kant had said that by rescuing “reason” for cognition he had also rescued “faith”, that is, what lies “beyond” the “materiality” or “instrumentality” or “purposivity” of thinking that is “necessarily required” by “the unity of things”, the nexus or connexio between cognition and world! Arendt is still shackled to the notion that “thinking” transcends the world even though she seeks to avoid the idealistic implications of this position by redefining thought as “withdrawing from the world without ever leaving it”! What Arendt has failed to do is to fulfill the original goal of her reflections on “the life of the mind” – that “philosophy of the flesh” that, as was Merleau-Ponty’s great intuition, does not distinguish between thinking and its content, perception and its “object”, thought and the senses, thought and language, and treats them instead as immanently connected (see quotation from his ‘PoP’ in next section.)

Here is Arendt again emphasizing the “gap” between thinking and cognition or certainty or “truth”:

There are no truths beyond and above factual truths: all scientific truths are factual truths…and only factual statements are scientifically verifiable….Knowing certainly aims at truth, even if this truth, as in the sciences, is never an abiding truth but a provisional verity that we expect to exchange against other, more accurate verities as knowledge progresses. To expect truth to come from thinking signifies that we mistake the need to think with the urge to know….In this sense, reason is the a priori condition of the intellect and of cognition; it is because reason and intellect are so connected….that the philosophers have always been tempted to accept the criterion of truth – so valid for science and everyday life – as applicable to their own extraordinary business as well, (LotM, pp61-2).

The difficulty is evident: the only “test” for “verities” is “truth”; if we renounce the notion of “truth” we are left not with “verities”, but with nothing at all except either “con-venience” or “con-vention”, which are the nemesis of “scientific endeavor” (cf. Mach, ‘EuI’). Furthermore, the “criterion of truth and error” is in fact just as applicable to “thinking” as it is to factual truths: contrary to what Arendt thinks, the opposite of factual truth can be “error” and not just “the deliberate lie” (p59) – because factual truth can be as aleatory or “falsifiable” as factual untruth! The terrifying reality is that Arendt has abolished the notion of “truth”, much as Nietzsche and Weber did, without being able to replace it with a “meaningful” one of “thinking”. When she does attempt to infuse “thinking” with “meaning”, the result is as revealing as it is fallimentary and fallacious.


By drawing a distinguishing line between truth and meaning, between knowing and thinking, and by insisting on its importance, I do not wish to deny that thinking’s quest for meaning and knowledge’s quest for truth are connected. By posing the unanswerable questions of meaning, men establish themselves as question-asking beings. Behind all the cognitive questions for which men find answers, there lurk the unanswerable ones that seem entirely idle and have always been denounced as such. It is more than likely that men, if they were ever to lose the appetitefor meaning we call thinking and cease to ask unanswerable questions, would lose not only the ability to produce…works of art but also the capacity to ask all the answerable questions upon which every civilization is founded. In this sense reason is the a priori condition of the intellect and of cognition; it is because reason and intellect are so connected….that the philosophers have always been tempted to accept the criterion of truth – so valid for science and everyday life – as applicable to their own rather extraordinary business as well, (LotM, pp61-2).

Here we reach the final stage of our critique of Arendt’s notion of mind and thinking. For it is becoming easier to discern where she has gone wrong. The problem is that Arendt seeks, on one hand, to draw a firm ontological line between thinking and meaning on one side and truth and cognition or knowledge on the other side. But then, on the other hand, she wishes to posit “meaning” rather than “truth” as the “spiritual objective” of thinking because – and here is the crunch – she confuses “truth” with “certainty” (!) – which is precisely the conceptual and practical-political “mistake” that Nietzsche first and then Heidegger had exposed! Arendt believes that “truth”, by which she means “factual truth”, is something that, though never attainable in its “totality”, can be ascertained nevertheless either in science or in logico-mathematics – as a matter of fact! So much so that, as we saw above, for her the opposite of factual truth is not “error” but – “the deliberate lie”! Arendt herself puts this point, and her own con-fusion of the concepts of truth-as-meaning and truth-as-fact or “certainty”, beyond all doubt when she states: “Truth is what we are compelled to admit by the nature either of our senses or of our brain” (p61). In other words, not only are we “compelled to admit” logico-mathematical “truths” by virtue of “the nature of our brains” – a “psychologism”, this, that had already been exposed as fallacious by Frege and Wittgenstein -, but also “we are compelled to admit” what Arendt calls “factual truth” by virtue of “the nature of our senses” – which begs the question of how our “senses” can ever know that what they perceive is “truly the truth”!

Arendt here is failing to distinguish between the “truth” of the philosophia perennis and what Nietzsche unmasked instead as “the Will to Truth”. By so doing, and by identifying scientific “truth” and logico-mathematical “truth” with “truth” itself (despite her untenable distinguo between “truth” and “verities” which we exposed earlier above), Arendt is in reality and in effect relegating her own notion of thinking-as-meaning to the ethereal sphere of transcendental irrelevancy. If indeed we were to agree that the task and essence of thought was merely to pose “unanswerable questions”, we would at one and the same time fulfill Hegel’s demand that philosophy be something more than “the handmaiden of the sciences” and consign it to the status, not of “sheer activity”, as Arendt calls it, but of “sheer futility”! For “activity” as abstract and immaterial or transcendent as the one Arendt envisages for the task of human thought, far from challenging the operari of the sciences and of logico-mathematics and denouncing it under capitalism as “Will to Truth”, serves only to confirm its ontological and epistemological superiority as “factual truth” – to which Arendt’s quest for “meaning” is a pallid and power-less reply – the very embodiment of Nietzsche’s Wille zur Ohnmacht (Will to Powerlessness)! Ultimately, Arendt’s confusion of these concepts – thinking and knowing, meaning and truth – condemns her to that very “transcendental attitude” that Kant himself could not escape, though he valiantly confronted it, and that his German Idealist epigones turned into a cult of consciousness.

What undermined Kant’s greatest discovery, the distinction between knowledge, which uses thinking as a means to an end, and thinking itself as it arises out of “the very nature of reason” and is done for its own sake, was that he constantly compared the two with each other, (LotM, p64).

In fact, as we are arguing and demonstrating here, far from undermining his philosophy, Kant’s constant effort to establish the “connection” between thinking and knowing is what elevates his work to the status of “critique”, however limited and imperfect it may have remained. It is because thinking is not “done for its own sake,” it is because of its “immanence” and “materiality” – its “instrumentality”! - that “knowing” in the sense of “science” or logico-mathematics will not and cannot reach the status of “truth” but must remain a “will to truth” that we must confront critically if we do not wish to remain its ideological victims.

Happily, these points are summarized for us by Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenology of Perception:

Once more, reflection—even the second-order reflection of science –
obscures what we thought was clear. We believed we knew what
feeling, seeing and hearing were, and now these words raise problems.
We are invited to go back to the experiences to which they refer in
order to redefine them. The traditional notion of sensation was not a
concept born of reflection, but a late product of thought directed
towards objects, the last element in the representation of the world,
the furthest removed from its original source, and therefore the most
unclear. Inevitably science, in its general eff'ort towards objectification,
evolved a picture of the human organism as a physical system
undergoing stimuli which were themselves identified by their
physico-chemical properties, and tried to reconstitute actual perception*
on this basis, and to close the circle of scientific knowledge
by discovering the laws governing the production of knowledge
itself, by establishing an objective science of subjectivity.* But it is
also inevitable that this attempt should fail. If wc return to the
objective investigations themselves, we first of all discover that the
conditions external to the sensory field do not govern it part for
part, and that they exert an effect only to the extent of making
possible a basic pattern—which is what Gcstalt theory makes clear.
Then we see that within the organism the structure depends on
variables such as the biological meaning of the situation, which are
no longer physical variables, with the result that the whole eludes
the well-known instruments of physico-mathematical analysis, and
opens the way to another type of intelligibility.^ If we now turn back,
as is done here, towards perceptual experience, we notice that
science succeeds in constructing only a semblance of subjectivity: it
introduces sensations which are things, just where experience shows
that there are meaningful patterns; it forces the phenomenal universe
into categories which make sense only in the universe of science. It
requires that two perceived lines, like two real lines, should be
equal or unequal, that a perceived crystal should have a definite
number of sides,^ without realizing that the perceived, by its nature,
admits of the ambiguous, the shifting, and is shaped by its context. (pp10-1)

But let us deal now with Arendt’s claim that logico-mathematical “truths” are “irresistible” just like “factual truths” in science because “we are compelled to admit them….by the nature of our brains and of our senses”, respectively.  


The notion of axiomatic mathematical truth as “despotic” was not lost on the earliest theoreticians of the doctrine of the Ab-solutist State – the “statolatrists” – in Renaissance Europe. Yet again, it was Hannah Arendt who came closest to intuiting the complex problematic of logico-mathematical id-entities or “laws” and the theorization of ab-solute power in On Revolution:

There is perhaps nothing surprising in that the Age of Enlightenment should have become aware of the compelling nature of axiomatic or self-evident truth, whose paradigmatic example, since Plato, has been the kind of statements with which we are confronted in mathematics. Le Mercier de la Riviere was perfectly right when he wrote: 'Euclide est un veritable despote et les verites geometriques qu'il nous a transmises sont des lois veritablement despotiques. Leur despotisme legal et le despotisme personnel de ce Legislateur n'en font qu'un, celui de la force irresistible de l'evidence';26 and Grotius, more than a hundred years earlier, had already insisted that 'even God cannot cause that two times two should not make four'. (Whatever the theological and philosophic implications of Grotius's for-mula might be, its political intention was clearly to bind and
Foundation II:Novus Ordo Saeclorum 193
limit the sovereign will of an absolute prince who claimed to incarnate divine omnipotence on earth, by declaring that even God's power was not without limitations. This must have appeared of great theoretical and practical relevance to the political thinkers of the seventeenth century for the simple rea-son that divine power, being by definition the power of One, could appear on earth only as superhuman strength, that is, strength multiplied and made irresistible by the means of violence. In our context, it is important to note that only mathematical laws were thought to be sufficiently irresistible to check the power of despots.) The fallacy of this position was not only to equate this compelling evidence with right reason –the dictamen rationis or a veritable dictate of reason - but to believe that these mathematical 'laws' were of the same nature as the laws of a community, or that the former could somehow inspire the latter. Jefferson must have been dimly aware of this, for otherwise he would not have indulged in the somewhat incongruous phrase, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident', but would have said: These truths are self-evident, namely, they possess a power to compel which is as irresistible as despotic power, they are not held by us but we are held by them; they stand in no need of agreement. He knew very well that the statement 'All men are created equal' could not possibly possess the same power to compel as the statement that two times two make four, for the former is indeed a statement of reason and even a reasoned statement which stands in need of agreement, unless one assumes that human reason is divinely informed to recognize certain truths as self-evident; the latter, on the contrary, is rooted in the physical structure of the human brain, and therefore is 'irresistible'. (pp.192-3)

Arendt observes that “divine laws” and the “laws” of ethics and of States – in short, “all values” – differ from those of mathematics because the latter describe the constitution of the mind and therefore “cannot be resisted”, whereas the former, however “reasonable” they might seem, require “agreement” unless one appeals to a mystical “intuitus originarius”. Arendt, however, fails to comprehend the enormity of the problem she has dimly perceived, which is the reason why she is unable to enucleate it with the ruthless clairvoyance that Nietzsche applied to it. When Mercier calls Euclid a “despot” he is equiparating the “legislative” power of his geometrical axioms to the “ab-solute” power of despots in that both kinds of “power” effectually do not admit of “questioning” or “agreement”! Grotius, by contrast, is placing mathematical axioms above the power of Sovereigns and of God himself (!) – but in so doing he too is equi-parating the two powers in the sense that mathematical axioms in their “universality” offer a “guarantee” of “truth” and validity that even the power of Sovereigns and of God, in its “ab-soluteness”, cannot proffer. 

The significant feature that escapes Arendt is that both Mercier and Grotius interpret the “truth” of mathematical axioms as a “Value” – as an “ab-solute truth”, one that requires no de-monstration – that can stand as the ultimate, ab-solute guarantee of all human universal values, of that inter esse that is threatened by the arbitrariness implicit in the “ab-soluteness” (the “unanswerability”, the “unaccountability”, the “irresponsibility”) of any and all “political” or “divine” power! And because Arendt does not grasp the profound significance of this “equi-paration”, she is then unable to penetrate the next, the ultimate and most devastating conclusion – one that she eludes, or that eludes her, when she attributes the “self-evidence” of mathematical “truths” to “the physical structure of the human brain” (a “psychologism” already refuted by Wittgenstein and Husserl before him). 

Arendt seeks to keep separate and distinguish the “logical necessity” or “irresistibility” or “irrefutability” of logico-mathematics (as a “power of the human brain”) from the “political necessity” of human coercion. Yet, the devastating conclusion that Nietzsche was first to outline as the “con-clusion” or “com-pletion” or “ful-filment” (in the sense of “ex-haustion”, of “fully-ending”, Heidegger’s Voll-endung) of the Western metaphysical Ratio-Ordo is that it is precisely because human beings can conceive of logico-mathematical id-entities that we have ultimate proof of the complete value-lessness of life and the world! It is the very arbitrariness and con-ventionality of logico-mathematical id-entities that con-firms ineluctably the futility of all “Truths and Values”! Far from being “the ultimate and ab-solute guarantee” of the presence and reality of Reason and Order, of universality, in the human world, either as a hypostatic “truth” or as a “power of the human brain”, logico-mathematical identities constitute the evidence of the ultimate instrumentality of human action, of the ability of human beings to reify and “crystallise” their perceptive and thinking reality, and therefore they represent also the ultimate value-lessness, the ultimate un-reality of “all values and truths and verities”, of all “Truth”! This is what Nietzsche meant by “the trans-valuation of all values”! 

Arendt completely fails to see that both logico-mathematical and juridical-ethical “laws” are con-ventional (Nietzsche and Wittgenstein), and that therefore they too require “agreement” (!) just like juridical-ethical and behavioural laws, which can also be given ab-solute logico-mathematical axiomatic form, as in game theory, and can then become a “fate” (in Wittgensteinian language games), which is the opposite of what “truth” is supposed to be! So, in fact, “self-evident truths” (Jefferson), whether logico-mathematical or practical, are not “truths” at all (thus, the Jeffersonian “we hold” can be applied to the former as well as the latter): – indeed, the required “ab-soluteness” of all ultimate values and truths demonstrates that there can be no such value or truth except for “truth-as-value”. Differently put, “truth” can ec-sist as “value” but not as the actual correspondence of concept with its object (the Scholastic adaequatio rei et intellectus).  Far from being the ultimate protection against political arbitrariness, it is the very fact that the axiomatic rules of mathematics and logic can never acquire the status of ab-solute ultimate truth and value that reveals their ineluctable con-ventionality and therefore the utter “value-lessness” of life and the world, which in turn is due to the im-possibility of “truth”!  It is for this precise and quite understandable reason that Mercier and Grotius both feel “tempted” to equiparate logico-mathematical necessity and political coercion – because “logico-mathematical necessity” is the ultimate instance of the ability of human beings to transmute a symbolic “con-vention” into “political coercion” (indeed into “irrefutable truth”!) and vice versa. This is the “secret” of the Rationalisierung! (It will be recalled that in George Orwell’s 1984 the main character Winston Smith seeks refuge from the pervasiveness of Big Brother’s totalitarian power in the “truth” of the statement “two plus two makes four no matter what Big Brother says”. What Smith fails to perceive is that it is precisely the ability of human beings to devise logico-mathematical identities that exhibits the ultimate futility of “truth” as a “value” and that demonstrates instead its utter instrumentality, and therefore the possibility of Big Brother’s “ab-solute power”.) 

Differently put, mathematical id-entities and logical axioms demonstrate both the ultimate attempt and the ultimate inability of the human mind to con-ceive of “truth and value” as objective entities and represent therefore the ultimate de-monstration of their “un-reality”. According to Nietzsche’s “invariance”, if “truth” existed we could not “think” of it , we could not con-ceive of it, we could not grasp or detect it: – it would be removed to the status of Leibniz’s intuitus originarius, what Arendt calls above “[a] human reason… divinely informed to recognize certain truths as self-evident” - which is why Nietzsche could satirize that the “higher” a “truth” becomes, the less “truthful” it grows because it becomes more “intuitive” and therefore less “provable” and more “de-monstrable”! In other words, the ontological status of “truth” is “invariant”, makes no dif-ference, has no real material and practical impact on human affairs except for its impact as a “belief”, as a “faith”, as a “will to truth”! (This argument as applied to Leibnitz is in Heidegger’s Metaphysical Foundations of Logic.)

Mathematical id-entities and logical axioms are borderline concepts (Schmitt, Politische Theologie); they de-monstrate (in the Wittgensteinian sense of “showing”, “pointing to” but never explaining meaningfully or proving!) both the ultimate attempt and the ultimate inability of the human mind to con-ceive of “truth and value” as objective entities: they represent therefore not only the ultimate de-monstration of the “un-reality” of “truth and values” but also and most terrifying of all the possibility of turning human arbitrariness into a “science” and a “logic”. This is “the Will to Truth”. Arendt came frighteningly close to this terrifying conclusion when she wrote in On Revolution: -

Whatever the theological and philosophic implications of Grotius's formula might be, its political intention was clearly to bind and
Foundation II:Novus Ordo Saeclorum 193
limit the sovereign will of an absolute prince who claimed to incarnate divine omnipotence on earth, by declaring that even God's power was not without limitations. This must have appeared of great theoretical and practical relevance to the political thinkers of the seventeenth century for the simple reason that divine power, being by definition the power of One, could appear on earth only as superhuman strength, that is, strength multiplied and made irresistible by the means of violence. In our context, it is important to note that only mathematical laws were thought to be sufficiently irresistible to check the power of despots.) The fallacy of this position was not only to equate this compelling evidence with right reason –the dictamen rationis or a veritable dictate of reason - but to believe that these mathematical 'laws' were of the same nature as the laws of a community, or that the former could somehow inspire the latter.

To echo Arendt by way of confutation, the fallacy of her position is failing to equate mathematical ‘laws’ with right reason and to believe that these mathematical ‘laws’ are not of the same nature as the laws of a community, or that the former cannot somehow inspire the enforcement of the latter! Even the most “irresistible laws” (Arendt), the “laws” of logico-mathematics, are just as “con-ventional” as “the laws of a community”: indeed, it is the ultimate “con-ventionality” of even logico-mathematical “laws” that demonstrates how all laws, including moral and juridical ones, are ultimately “con-ventional” and therefore political. This is what Mercier, more explicitly, and Grotius, implicitly, meant to say in the quotations that Arendt selected (which she reproposes in The Life of the Mind). It is the fact (understood in the Vichian and Nietzschean sense of verum ipsum factum, meaning that “the truth” is what human beings actu-ally do, from the Latin actus, act, and facere, to do) that human beings can mis-take logico-mathematical con-ventions (agreements) for “irresistible truths” that evinces definitively the “con-ventionality” of all “truths” and all “laws” – their “legal” character, and therefore their lack of “legitimacy”, their dependency on some “authority” that is not and cannot be “ab-solute” (not requiring “further proof”). (On the antinomy of “legality and legitimacy” the reference is to Carl Schmitt’s homonymous work. We will examine the homology of Nietzsche’s Invariance and Schmitt’s notion of “decision auf Nichts gestellt” [made out of nothing] later.)

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