Marinos Diamantides, PhD Senior Lecturer in Law, University of London, March 2003, SYMPOSIUM: NIETZCHE AND LEGAL THEORY (PART II): THE COMPANY OF PRIESTS: MEANINGLESSNESS, SUFFERING AND COMPASSION IN THE THOUGHTS OF NIETZSCHE AND LEVINAS, Cardozo Law Review
In relation to the classical philosophical problem posed by suffering there is, as the two quotes above indicate, an intriguing common emphasis on meaninglessness in the works of Nietzsche and Levinas, which renders fertile the reading together of their two distinct philosophies. The difference is that for Levinas, the acknowledgement of the meaninglessness of suffering without resentment is only the "least one can say." Indeed, Nietzsche exposed man's denial of absurd suffering "only" in order to support his case againstthe sentimentalism of Christian ethics and deontological and utilitarian moralities, which either attribute meaning to suffering or seek to rid life of it, ultimately denying life itself - for to live is also to suffer. Levinas, on the other hand, argued the inevitability of events of senseless suffering breaching from within the hermeneutically ordered world of meaning. Moreover, he viewed this as proof of the inevitability of the idea of infinity in a non-metaphysical sense, for it is "included" into the finite world of being as what cannot be matched by experience or representation, leaving a surplus of awe, astonishment, obsession. Immanence, therefore, is all there is, but to that we add that it cannot cease undergoing the idea of infinity, like an ill man who undergoes his condition. In Levinas' ethical discourse, infinity gets expressed in the "face of the other" and is transformed into obsession with providing succors for meaningless suffering. Suffering, left to its own devices, ridicules experience by always being "too much." In turn, it takes another being that comes to the rescue, thinking itself "infinitely responsible" for all the suffering it encounters, for suffering to be given an appropriate response. With this quasi-transcendental possibility in mind, this paper introduces and critically analyzes Nietzsche's notion of "affirmative compassion," as distinct from moral pity and, gradually, suggests the need for its reformulation as both an instance of will to power and as submission to the ethical imperative to care for the other. Given the un-saintly reputation of Nietzsche, however, the paper cannot but begin by paying tribute to his famous critique of pity, that "morbid emotion" that accompanies the denial of the senselessness of suffering and ultimately compels the nihilistic rejection of life itself. This is done in the first section in which I basically report on my law students' take on Nietzsche in the context of a course on medical law and moral reasoning. In sum, I report that Nietzsche's ideas help one critique the extensions of [*1277] traditional legal doctrines of responsibility for man-made harm - sustained by the beliefs in the causal understanding of the world, in moral autonomy and agency - in relation to litigation that raises questions over the meaning of, and standard of care for, suffering that no one has caused. These doctrinal extensions are, arguably, instances of a hypertrophy of legal consciousness, indicating lack of understanding of the chaotic nature of the world of human affects in the face of absurd suffering and denial of the passion, obsession and delirium that correlate to the dis-equilibrium, meaninglessness and anarchy of suffering. In this connection, I offer a number of examples, often involving judgments that concern kinds of beings that blatantly manifest this senselessness, ranging from insensate beings in coma to the unborn. In the second section, I examine Nietzsche's views on how meaningless suffering affects the man of power. Because of Nietzsche's conviction that cruelty and indifference are no longer options for contemporary man, I focus on Nietzsche's formulation of a "noble compassion" that would be "affirmative" or "life-enhancing" - compassion within a meaningless universe. Such compassion is part of the becoming of beings with a "surplus of power," as opposed to morally submissive or hedonistic beings. Crucially, this is compassion that does not relinquish self-love in the process, and does not lead to the self becoming physically or emotionally "contaminated" by the suffering it witnesses.