Legends of the Fall (in Philosophy)

In Philosophical Myths of the FallStephen Mulhall suggests that the horizon of original sin has perhaps not been transcended even by the most radical philosophers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein furthermore suggest that the human condition is so structurally perverse that philosophy cannot account for it.

Overall, however, all three thinkers converge upon a conception of humans as inherently subject to a perverse and enigmatic desire either for or to be God. For Nietzsche, this desire epitomizes our sadomasochistic tendency, appearing as the most extreme available way to punish other human beings and ourselves; for Heidegger, it is the most revealing existentiell trace of the internal relation between the human and nothing; for Wittgenstein, it projects the fantasy of a perspective from which we are excluded by our linguistic connectedness (120).

Not all reviewers have been kind to Mulhall’s strong claim that both the modern philosophers and the ancient religious traditions are “genuinely responsive to something deep and determining in human nature” (121). And it is worth considering whether human sinfulness is a global intuition — a kind of anomic melancholy that accompanies certain sorts of philosophical investigations of the human condition — or a peculiar feature of those religious traditions that begin with the Fall.





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