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Transcendence and the Problem of Otherworldly Nihilism: Taylor, Heidegger, Nietzsche

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Abstract:

This paper examines Charles Taylor's case against complete secularization in A Secular Age in the light of Nietzsche's and Heidegger's critiques of the potential for nihilism inherent in different kinds of philosophical appeals to “transcendence”. The Heideggerian critique of metaphysics as ontotheology suggests that the theoretical pluralism Taylor rightly embraces is more consistently thought of as following from a robust ontological pluralism, and that Taylor's own commitment to ontological monism seems to follow from his own desire to leave room in his theoretical account for an ontotheological creator God who stands outside the world and ultimately unifies its meaning. The Nietzschean critique contends that any such appeal to something that transcends the limits of human finitude remains nihilistic, insofar as such valorizations of the otherworldly undermine our capacity to appreciate and experience the genuine meaningfulness of human existence in its this-worldly finitude. The paper explores Taylor's response to this Nietzschean critique, showing that Taylor “deconstructs” the crucial distinction between immanence and transcendence that any “exclusively humanist” worldview must presuppose. Taylor's response only partly resolves the problem, however, because the Nietzschean can still draw a defensible distinction between legitimate and meaningful appeals to transcendence and illegitimate and nihilistic ones. The paper concludes by suggesting that traditional appeals to a transcendent creator God, a heavenly afterlife, and so on, continue to run afoul of Nietzsche's critique of the nihilism of otherworldliness, and that we would do better to explicitly abjure such otherworldly appeals.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0020174X.2011.559050

Affiliations: University of New Mexico, USA

Publication date: April 1, 2011

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