unravelling at night what she had woven during the day, as a clever ploy to “buy time” and stave off hungry suitors - Odyssey

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Opening Statement:

During these first few minutes allotted to my opening statement I would like to touch on two themes: the first will address why I initially chose Nietzsche as the topic of my thesis and how my understanding of Nietzsche’s conception of life, and his philosophy as a whole, changed over the course of preparing this thesis.  Secondly, once this has been completed, I will then close with a reflection on the nature of my thesis, and the ramifications this discussion has for this thesis defense itself.

Over the course of researching and writing this thesis, and the amount of time it has allowed me to immerse myself in Nietzsche’s texts, my outright admiration has undergone a transformation. This new perspective of viewing Nietzsche has had an important ramification for my understanding of Nietzsche’s philosophy as a whole, and in particular with his conception of ‘life’.  For while I had previously understood Nietzsche’s approach to life as being about truly understanding something of philosophy, value theory, and morality which had previously been unaddressed, I am now of the opinion that his philosophy was intended to be primarily a self-medication; a manner by which and through which he hoped to bring some sort of meaning into his own life.  This is certainly not an utterly original thought in itself, as it has been previously raised by a number of Nietzsche commentators: Hollingdale, Kauffmann, and Lietzer, to name a few.  Indeed, Nietzsche himself seems to make this same point: “philosophy,” he tells us in The Gay Science, “cannot teach us anything about the world, but, rather, will teach us only about the philosopher who wrote it.”  A philosophy, therefore, which seeks to its very end a manner to affirm life seems to speak to a philosopher who himself found life intolerable.  

This is perhaps the most important insight I have attained from the composition of this thesis, for it allowed me to see not just Nietzsche, but all philosophers in a different light.  As students we are constantly exposed to the great minds of philosophy whose books appear as self-help guides for all us ‘lesser’ minds to help us come to understand the world and satiate our desire to learn and understand.  Yet it is helpful to remember, as my inquiry into Nietzsche has revealed, that philosophers are as much students, and as much driven by their desire to learn and understand, as are we students ‘proper’.  Dionysus, it seems, has united us once again.

Philosophy was to be the new love of my life.  Yet what has stuck me the longest from this first introduction to philosophy was a comment made by my professor when he was discussing our final term paper.  To paraphrase he suggested that “in philosophy papers are never really finished.  Philosophy is about thought, arguments, and opinions, and these change over time in direct relation to our exposure to new ideas, and the time we are allotted to reflect on them.  In one sense a paper is ‘finished’ in that there are time lines, due dates, etc. which necessitate that one have something completed and finished to show for.  Yet even after a paper is written, edited, and handed in, the opinion of the author writing the paper will continue to change long after the paper is submitted.”
This is an idea which has stuck with me over the now 6 years of my philosophy degree, and it is one which I have been struggling with particularly over the past 4 months since the submission of my thesis.  For there was a time line.  There was a due date.  And something was required to be printed off and handed in.  Yet my reflection on Nietzsche’s account of life, and my thesis in general, did not stop at that point.  The brain, quite annoyingly, does not come with an off switch.  I found myself wanting to add a sentence here, or paragraph there, to either refine an argument, add in a new idea which occurred to me, or correct a possible misconception regarding my phrasing of a particular point.

This desire was only compounded, however, over the months I received the reports from my committee.  The comments and criticisms outlined in these reports, in addition to providing me with many nervous, sleepless nights, also provided me an opportunity to reflect even further on a number of the arguments I had made forcing me to re-think and re-approach a number of the themes discussed in my thesis.

I mention all this because I find myself now in the awkward position of being at a thesis defense for a thesis which I do not, in every aspect, and every detail, feel can be defended.  As a result, in preparing for this defense I have been forced, in addition to reflecting on my thesis proper, to also reflect on the nature of a thesis defense itself.  What is a thesis defense?  What is it that I am defending?  And perhaps most importantly, is it possible to have changed one’s mind regarding particular aspects of a thesis, while still defending the thesis itself.

It was during this reflection that I came to remember what my first philosophy professors had mentioned regarding the never-fully-finished nature of a paper.  It occurred to me that what is most essential to a thesis is not the concrete finished product that is submitted, but the question or problem the thesis was aimed at answering, and the manner by which that thesis sought to achieve it.  A thesis is defined by its problem, and proceeds through its methodology.  The answer to this problem will invariably be a product of the experiences we have had, the opinions we have been exposed to, and the ability of our minds to dialogue the two, and move forward.  It seems, therefore, that any insight, comment, addition, or modification which further clarifies the thesis’ answer to the problem cannot be regarded as damaging to the thesis itself.  Rather, these are precisely the types of transformations which do, and indeed must, accompany all thought.

It is on this point which I would like to close.  For although some of the comments highlighted by Professors L and S were potent to some of my arguments, I do not believe any of them are fatal to the general purpose, method, or conclusions of this thesis itself.  As such, I believe this thesis as a whole is still a project which is capable of defense, and it is to this defense which I am now happy to engage.

Thank you.



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