Google, Grandfathers and God(s): Nietzsche and Plato on Ancestral Authority

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  • The ever-changing technological landscape is shifting generational patterns of authority. Authority is grounded in knowledge. Knowledge—technical, moral, or otherwise— commonly proceeds from an older generation to a younger one. This is changing. Younger generations in the Western world are posing their questions to Google rather than Grandpa, or God. Such challenges to the hierarchy of generational knowledge are not entirely novel though. The history of Western political thought suggests that they are telling indicators of impending political change.The study engages two examples, one in Nietzsche ("Second Treatise" of On the Genealogy of Morality) and one in Plato ("Book One" of The Republic), wherein lapsed generational authority is discussed alongside the topic of justice. Both authors proceed from a definition of justice associated with ancestral authority and described in the language of debt and credit. Justice is what is owed to one's ancestors. Ancestral knowledge provides the first codification of duties. It is the first sense of law. It describes a clear division between the ruler (to whom one's obligations are due) and the ruled.To date, the vast literature on these authors has not yet considered how the precise concept of ancestral authority informs the political meaning of their works. This is particularly the case for Nietzsche. The contest that he invokes with Plato, his philosophical ancestor, requires meditation on the significance of this idea. This comparative analysis meets this objective in two ways. First, it analyzes the selections to understand what happens politically and philosophically when the primary direction of intergenerational education changes. Second, it proposes that Nietzsche's politics of cultural formation should be understood as a non-nostalgic recovery of ancestral authority. This concept is central in Nietzsche's understanding of the shift from kinship-based models of justice to what he calls in §12 of the Second Treatise, "misarchism" or the "democratic idiosyncrasy" of being against the idea of rule itself. His account of justice describes the theological conditions that informed the shift from tribalism to universalism in the West, and by this account, he forces an assessment of the limits of overwriting the grandfathers' generational knowledge.

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  • Copyright © 2018 the author(s). Theses may be used for non-commercial research, educational, or related academic purposes only. Such uses include personal study, research, scholarship, and teaching. Theses may only be shared by linking to Carleton University Institutional Repository and no part may be used without proper attribution to the author. No part may be used for commercial purposes directly or indirectly via a for-profit platform; no adaptation or derivative works are permitted without consent from the copyright owner.
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  • 2018


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