Thursday, April 8, 2010

Transformations of Size

The most obvious physical change that occurs to separate Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is their change in height. From the tall, noble doctor, Jekyll is transformed into the stooped, nefarious Hyde. This theme seems to run through a lot of the different books we've read this year - it's equally tied to morality (and also maturity) in Gulliver's Travels, it seems to transform Alice not only in body, but also in mind, until she doesn't even feel like she's herself - not even her memories/thoughts are the same.....this all reminds me of the Castle of Otranto, and their belief that noble blood translates into good, moral conduct.

All of this just kind of made me think about the argument of morality as a biological/evolutionary invention. There's the standard argument that love is really just a biological function that increases the likelihood of reproduction and thus the population, and all that other stuff - altruism, helping the community, etc, so we could survive. But I think it would be interesting to see how our morality is effected in even the tiniest of ways: for example, stature. I watched some show once and it talked about how for women, height in men is the most attractive feature, even more important than facial features. Perhaps that is why height became an association with "goodness" - because maybe we biologically reasoned that whatever is a positive evolutionary factor is good for survival, and that just kind of fell into our morality along the way. That's if you believe in any of that....I think Nietzsche argued a lot about the development of language in much the same way, and how good was associated with wealth and moral depravity with poverty and things like that....

On a side note, Michael Ondaatje wrote this hilarious poem called "The Strange Case" about his alter ego taking the form of his dog. It's really fun.


  1. Here's a supporting bit from Nietzsche's _Beyond Good and Evil_ (1886):

    2. "HOW COULD anything originate out of its opposite? For example, truth out of error? or the Will to Truth out of the will to deception? or the generous deed out of selfishness? or the pure sun-bright vision of the wise man out of covetousness? Such genesis is impossible; whoever dreams of it is a fool, nay, worse than a fool; things of the highest value must have a different origin, an origin of THEIR own--in this transitory, seductive, illusory, paltry world, in this turmoil of delusion and cupidity, they cannot have their source. But rather in the lap of Being, in the intransitory, in the concealed God, in the 'Thing-in-itself-- THERE must be their source, and nowhere else!"--This mode of reasoning discloses the typical prejudice by which metaphysicians of all times can be recognized, this mode of valuation is at the back of all their logical procedure; through this "belief" of theirs, they exert themselves for their "knowledge," for something that is in the end solemnly christened "the Truth." The fundamental belief of metaphysicians is THE BELIEF IN ANTITHESES OF VALUES. It never occurred even to the wariest of them to doubt here on the very threshold (where doubt, however, was most necessary); though they had made a solemn vow, "DE OMNIBUS DUBITANDUM." For it may be doubted, firstly, whether antitheses exist at all; and secondly, whether the popular valuations and antitheses of value upon which metaphysicians have set their seal, are not perhaps merely superficial estimates, merely provisional perspectives, besides being probably made from some corner, perhaps from below--"frog perspectives," as it were, to borrow an expression current among painters. In spite of all the value which may belong to the true, the positive, and the unselfish, it might be possible that a higher and more fundamental value for life generally should be assigned to pretence, to the will to delusion, to selfishness, and cupidity. It might even be possible that WHAT constitutes the value of those good and respected things, consists precisely in their being insidiously related, knotted, and crocheted to these evil and apparently opposed things--perhaps even in being essentially identical with them. Perhaps! But who wishes to concern himself with such dangerous "Perhapses"! For that investigation one must await the advent of a new order of philosophers, such as will have other tastes and inclinations, the reverse of those hitherto prevalent--philosophers of the dangerous "Perhaps" in every sense of the term. And to speak in all seriousness, I see such new philosophers beginning to appear.

  2. After we discussed Nietzsche's Goof and Evil philosophy in class, I still had not grasped its meaning entirely. I guess I interpret this passage as signifying that there is no real difference between good and evil - that these are man - formulated conceptions that, if they are not identical, certainly come from the same source and are necessary to the existence of one another. My take on this is twofold. One, I am in agreement that both good and evil must necessarily exist because the one must be used in order to define the other. But where I am unsure is in considering whether or not there is any difference between the two, and whether or not they spring from the same well, as it were. But I guess in order to have an opinion on that, you need to understand what the "well" so to speak actually is. If you take it to be the human mind, then good and evil doubtless were created in the same manner. If you take it to be God or some other higher power, I guess the answer would be the same? I am unsure.