Philosophical Myths of the Fall

Philosophical Myths of the Fall

Stephen Mulhall
Copyright Date: 2005
Pages: 136
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Philosophical Myths of the Fall
    Book Description:

    Did post-Enlightenment philosophers reject the idea of original sin and hence the view that life is a quest for redemption from it? InPhilosophical Myths of the Fall, Stephen Mulhall identifies and evaluates a surprising ethical-religious dimension in the work of three highly influential philosophers--Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein. He asks: Is the Christian idea of humanity as structurally flawed something that these three thinkers aim simply to criticize? Or do they, rather, end up by reproducing secular variants of the same mythology?

    Mulhall argues that each, in different ways, develops a conception of human beings as in need of redemption: in their work, we appear to be not so much capable of or prone to error and fantasy, but instead structurally perverse, living in untruth. In this respect, their work is more closely aligned to the Christian perspective than to the mainstream of the Enlightenment. However, all three thinkers explicitly reject any religious understanding of human perversity; indeed, they regard the very understanding of human beings as originally sinful as central to that from which we must be redeemed. And yet each also reproduces central elements of that understanding in his own thinking; each recounts his own myth of our Fall, and holds out his own image of redemption. The book concludes by asking whether this indebtedness to religion brings these philosophers' thinking closer to, or instead forces it further away from, the truth of the human condition.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2665-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    InAfter Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre suggests that the advent of the Enlightenment disrupted the existing structure of moral reasoning in a distinctive and deeply damaging way.¹ Hitherto, moral principles had functioned as a means of ensuring that human beings fulfilled their telos; they effected a transformation from raw, uncultivated human modes of being to ones in and through which human creatures lived well or flourished, realizing the full potential of their distinctive nature. Since the Enlightenment systematically rejected any teleological forms of understanding of the natural world (for a variety of reasons ranging from the apparently definitive overturning of Aristotelian...

  5. 1 The Madman and the Masters: Nietzsche
    (pp. 16-45)

    As a way of orienting ourselves within this chapter’s concern with Nietzsche but also within the broader concerns of the book as a whole, I would like to cite two closely linked passages from two rather different sources in the writing of Stanley Cavell. The first is taken from an early essay on one of Kierkegaard’s less well-known works,On Authority and Revelation(perhaps better known by its subtitle,The Book on Adler); the second comes from the fourth part of Cavell’s magnum opus, entitledThe Claim of Reason, from a point at which his concern with questions of privacy,...

  6. 2 The Dying Man and the Dazed Animal: Heidegger
    (pp. 46-84)

    It is no secret that the concepts and values of Christianity constitute a fundamental reference point for Heidegger’s existential analytic of the human mode of being (what he calls “Dasein”) throughout the pages ofBeing and Time.¹ He is well aware from the outset that, given that every exercise of Dasein’s capacity to question is historically situated, his own concern with the meaning of Being (“that which determines entities as entities” [BT, 2: 25]) must necessarily find its orientation within the philosophical tradition of questioning about Being—even if it will progress only by putting the achievements and assumptions of...

  7. 3 The Child and the Scapegoat: Wittgenstein
    (pp. 85-117)

    TheConfessionsis the spiritual autobiography of a fourth-century Christian bishop, who, amongst many other claims to fame and influence in the history of Western culture, is perhaps best known as one of the most significant interpreters of the Christian doctrine of original sin. And, as is also well known, Wittgenstein chooses to begin hisPhilosophical Investigationswith a quotation from Augustine—and specifically from that initial portion of Augustine’s text which recounts his transition from infancy to speech, hence from biology to culture, and so from original birthright to social inheritance.¹ (The passage from theConfessionsreproduced above gives...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 118-124)

    I have been trying to show that the three philosophers examined in this book share a conception of human beings as standing in need of redemption, rather than—say—of instruction in avoiding specific cognitive or moral errors, or help in improving (even perfecting) their capacity to grasp and realize the truth and goodness of things. For if redemption is what we need, then our present state must be seen not as one of imperfection but as one of wretchedness—more specifically, one of perversity. These philosophers find that we are flawed in our very structure and constitution—not only...

  9. Index
    (pp. 125-126)